Chapter 33 || Rushing Rapids
The storm rustled the branches of the trees towering above Batchaser’s head. The black tom moved forward through the territory, fur prickling with anticipation and ears perked for any potential dangers. His paws softly brushed over the amber leaves below, crunching and cracking under his dried pads. The tom huffed, tail flicking, face scrunching up into a grimace as the sweet scent of the oak trees drifted into his senses, about as strong as ThunderClanners and their egos.
⠀⠀Well, at least I was able to convince Cypressfall to let Rushingpaw come with me, Batchaser mused, eyes flickering over to the small silver tabby. Not that it was any easier getting away from Jackalstar and those others, at least they’ll be preoccupied with WindClan and ThunderClan. Though...I am expected to investigate the ShadowClan problem after dropping off this little idiot to RiverClan, then we’ll be closer to saving the Clans and closer to getting home.
⠀⠀A pang of guilt made Batchaser shiver, ears twitching. He knew he’d promised Cypressfall not to insult Rushingpaw, but if it was in his head it didn’t count, right? Well, it doesn’t count to me, the black tom snorted, watching the leaves fall from above.
⠀⠀The day was crisp, orange and pink streaks coating the sky in speckled and splotches, like a blue dappled cat’s pelt. The sun was soft and almost cool, the breeze that flew between the branches helped to blow away any potential heat. After sleeping close to the Moonpool the previous night, he and Rushingpaw had trekked out to RiverClan as quickly as possible.
⠀⠀Though I wonder if we should’ve gone across WindClan territory instead... Batchaser turned his head across his shoulder, slitted eyes gazing toward the rolling slopes, stalks of grass blowing in the wind from afar. Daisies sprinkled over the moors and trees were placed in a few clear spots every now and then, but it was otherwise impossible to hide anywhere. And if we ran into a patrol.. who knows what they’d do, rip us to shred for being rogues. I somehow doubt that any sane cat would believe we’re actually from StarClan.
⠀⠀Except Sunpaw, but that was besides the point, Batchaser had actually showed his power there... Did I, though? I mean she let me escape..that must account for something, anything works as long as I’m away from Doestar...
⠀⠀The tom stood still for a moment, looking back over the hills and watching the bubbling storm in the distance, rumbling and groaning as the danger neared. Batchaser knew he and Rushingpaw would need to make it to the river before it started raining or else it would be impossible to cross for who knows how long. He could swim in a lake- not rapids. And seeing as Rushingpaw died by falling into the water... Batchaser glanced back at the silver tom pouncing on a pile of leaves. Well, I’m not exactly determined in either of our skills.
⠀⠀“Okay, time to move on,” Batchaser muttered, flicking Rushingpaw’s ears with his tail and sliding forward over the leaf-strewn ground. He noticed that the branches were losing their colors- it seemed to be leaf-fall, and Batchaser didn’t actually mind this season, but knew leaf-bare was nothing looked forward to by the Clan cats. And if the war is still going on...
⠀⠀Pushing those thoughts out of his head, the black tom waited for Rushingpaw to follow before moving under the trees, fur brushing over the undergrowth. He’d decided that it was most safe to travel inside the territory instead of right by the lake- they had a better chance of being missed here, plus their scents were mostly covered and their pelts could better blend in. He wouldn’t have been as cautious if it was just himself, but seeing as Rushingpaw was here, Batchaser knew they had a larger probability of getting captured by ThunderClan. Only because he’s loud, the warrior added dryly.
⠀⠀Continuing over their course lead to little sound, not even the birds seemed to sing here. Batchaser could clearly remember the pines bringing all kinds of prey, and for a second, a pang shattered his chest like dry ice. He frowned, but only momentarily before catching up to Rushingpaw, who had strayed a little farther ahead. He didn’t need to remember his old territory right now. StarClan was his home anyway.
⠀⠀“Careful,” he said, eyes darkly cast over the territory. Even if it felt like they were alone, Batchaser didn’t fully trust his senses. Anyone could be lurking.
⠀⠀“I’m careful!” the little tom purred, chest puffing out and eyes sparkling with kit-like innocence. It still wonders me how he’s even an apprentice... “Trust me, I’ll see any danger coming, you can count on me!”
⠀⠀Pawsteps suddenly sounded from slightly afar. Batchaser stiffened, muscles tensing and eyes widening, fear burning all over his body and causing his fur to begin bristling. The black tom roughly grabbed Rushingpaw and shoved him aside, scrabbling under a bramble bush and hissing in pain when the thorns jabbed into his sensitive skin. I keep forgetting I can get hurt down here... Waving his tail in front of the apprentice’s face to silent him, Batchaser narrowed his eyes and stared out at the forest, claws unsheathed and digging into the dirt below in case they needed to be used in a possible upcoming situation.
⠀⠀The sharp tinge of ThunderClan reaches the black warrior’s nose and he knew immediately that these were threats, lurking about the forest and just ready to bring something- or someone- back to Doestar. And seeing as they already know me, it’ll be impossible to talk my way out of anything! Stifling a growl, Batchaser continued watching the treeline, bracing for incoming claws or a screeching excitement pointing out their hiding place. Please, StarClan, let us pass by ThunderClan without being caught...
⠀⠀After a few more minutes of waiting, the pawsteps sounded again and Batchaser became alert once more. He noticed brown fur slipping between the foliage, voices rushing to his ears and causing his eyes to slit. A smallish brown tabby tom with dark green eyes appeared from the trees, tail flicking nervously behind him and eyes looking like a murky pool of regret and fear. I don’t remember seeing him in ThunderClan...
⠀⠀“Thymeclaw!” A younger voice sounded from behind the tom, causing his head to jerk back quickly, almost as if he was expecting to be attacked. But his fur smoothed when he apparently recognized the cat, who was a pale brown tom with black stripes and yellow eyes that glowed like sunflowers dancing in the wind. “You left me behind again!”
⠀⠀Batchaser narrowed his eyes; this other tom didn’t seem particularly annoyed or anything, in fact, quite the opposite. A certain affection seemed to pass through these two cats. Hm...Thymeclaw seems older, so perhaps they’re related somehow? Father and son? For some reason Thymeclaw didn’t seem like a very strong parent, but Batchaser couldn’t say much.
⠀⠀But it momentarily stopped when a huge black tom ducked his head under the leaves, blinking his dim yellow eyes when he appeared in the clearing. An air of authority definitely surrounded this tom, and he almost seemed surprised when his eyes landed on Thymeclaw. “Oh. Fancy seeing you here, Thymeclaw. How is your deputyship going?” The words seemed almost accusing, as if there was a rivalry between these two, but Batchaser couldn’t completely tell.
⠀⠀The brown tom looked almost embarrassed, shuffling his paws in the soft dew-covered grass. “Oh, yes,” he murmured, ears flicking back. “It’s doing well, thank you... and, Raveneye, I’m sorry about your mother. She was a fine deputy and an even finer cat. M-My condolences, for the ShadowClan fight, where...” Thymeclaw looked lost. “Where she was killed.”
⠀⠀Well, someone doesn’t have a way with words, Batchaser thought. But I guess Raveneye’s mother was killed in a battle with ShadowClan? And Thymeclaw is the new deputy? The black tom eyed him with a frown.
⠀⠀Raveneye just stared at Thymeclaw before turning away, flicking his tail and not responding. The giant black tom opened his jaws, letting the scents drift in.
⠀⠀“Anyway,” the unknown pale brown tom finally spoke up, attempting to break the awkwardness between everyone. “We should get on with this hunting patrol. Doestar won’t be happy if we return to camp empty-pawed.”
⠀⠀Raveneye didn’t respond, most likely because he hadn’t been on a patrol, while Thymeclaw looked at the tom with glittering eyes. “Great thinking, Bumbletongue!” He cast an anxious glance toward the huge black tom, who was standing and staring into the treeline, eyes drifting toward where Batchaser and Rushingpaw were hiding. The little silver tom began to shake, whether from anticipation or fear, Batchaser didn’t know. But he grabbed Rushingpaw to hold him in place and accidentally snapped a frail leaf from under him, grimacing, heart beating out of his chest. No! We’re so close to the border, too!
⠀⠀“Did you hear that?” Raveneye rumbled, sharp yellow eyes scanning the clearing, claws unsheathing from his monstrous paws. Batchaser had to hold himself back from giving Rushingpaw a hard glare. Idiot! I should never have agreed to come.
⠀⠀“No,” Thymeclaw responded, ears pricking. “I was talking to my son.” So that’s how they’re related...but there’s no time to dwell! We just have to stay silent, and StarClan help Rushingpaw do so!
⠀⠀Raveneye curled his lip. “Rogues—they’re here, or just recently passed.” Batchaser narrowed his eyes. I’m not a rogue.
⠀⠀“Do you think it was the cat Doestar captured yesterday?” the deputy asked, beginning to sniff around the bushes curling around the clearing. Raveneye grunted in response, sliding forward silently and brushing into the foliage, leaving the open to investigate further. Bumbletongue looked slightly lost and decided to follow the black tom.
⠀⠀It was almost like life stopped as Thymeclaw made his way near the bramble bush, grunting at the scent that inevitably was distinguishable when getting closer. Rushingpaw closed his eyes tight, fur lifting, while Batchaser tensed his muscles. He was ready to protect his friend, and no cat would stop them from returning the apprentice home, especially not some lowly deputy! But it seemed that Batchaser’s worst dreams came true, because Thymeclaw met the warrior’s dark blue eyes, staring into a trickling coldness that didn’t dare to move. The brown tom seemed to hesitate for a moment, then swept his body away and padded after Raveneye.
⠀⠀Wha... What?! He let us go? Just like that? He had to have seen me! It was impossible for him not to! We made eye contact! Questions reeled through Batchaser’s head. He was having a hard time understanding why he, an enemy cat, was just let go by their enemy’s deputy, especially when Doestar wanted him captured. What was going on?!
⠀⠀“No time, let’s go!” Rushingpaw murmured, taking the lead this time and scrabbling out from under the bush. Batchaser blindly followed the silver tom, choking when thrumming pawsteps sounded from behind. Raveneye...
⠀⠀“Faster! Come on!” Batchaser would have grabbed Rushingpaw by the scruff since his ear-tips only met below his shoulder, but feared that would slow both of them down even more. The ThunderClanner was gaining on their tails, but Batchaser saw the pines in the distance, swaying with the wind and welcoming them to the darkness. Come on, a little further, we can make it....!
⠀⠀And then claws. Batchaser gasped out a small breath, flicking his head around letting his paws fly toward his attacker. It was Bumbletongue! Growling, the black tom removed his grasp from under the ThunderClan cat, sliding between his legs and raking his claws under his belly. Brambletongue yowled in pain and sliced his claws down Batchaser’s flank, earning a hiss. The StarClan warrior eyed his opponent: on the smaller side, lean and most likely used planned attacks, it should be easy to avoid them, right?
⠀⠀Batchaser’s momentary pause lead to another scratch on the face. He could feel blood dribbling down his cheek but adrenaline pumped through his veins, trickling excitement into his burning paws. The black tom smirked and dodged a blow, using his hind paws to propel himself forward into Bumbletongue. The smaller brown warrior grunted as the two tumbled down in a tangle of legs and tails, Batchaser ending up on top and sinking his claws into Bumbletongue’s shoulders. The ThunderClanner’s eyes flickered with momentary fear before filling with determination. “If you’re gonna kill me, do it quickly. This is for my Clan!”
⠀⠀Batchaser rolled his eyes. Ugh, ThunderClanners... “No, I’m not killing you,” he snapped, tail lashing. He knew Raveneye and Thymeclaw would be coming soon, he needed to run. “But don’t even think of chasing after me again. I’m doing my duty to clean up the mess I created within the Clans, now let me do it peacefully or we’ll have a problem.”
⠀⠀Bumbletongue curled back his lips and snarled. “I answer only to Doestar, not to some filthy rogue!”
⠀⠀Anger flickered in Batchaser’s chest. “I’m not a rogue, you braindead-” But the pawsteps of Bumbletongue’s Clanmates were nearing, so he knew he needed to get out fast. “Fine, be ignorant, but just remember that you’re getting yourself involved in something far beyond your intelligence.” Narrowing his eyes, Batchaser smacked the tom in the face to daze him and ran off. He leapt into the pine trees, letting the thickness carry him down a path, ears buzzing with static and limbs heavy with exhaustion. He hadn’t battled another cat in so long, he almost forgot how to. But I’ll improve...
⠀⠀Batchaser finally stumbled close to a pine, letting the air fill up his lungs and eventually deflate his puffed chest. The black tom lifted his head, looking through the darkness with weary eyes. This part of the forest was foreign to him, perhaps it was because he hadn’t been in his home for so many moons... Then a rush of fear struck Batchaser so hard he tensed up completely, breath leaving his jaws. Where’s Rushingpaw?
⠀⠀He’d almost completely forgotten about the little silver tom, Bumbletongue had taken all of his attention away! And now he’s probably lost somewhere in the forest!Stifling a growl, Batchaser stalked forward, sniffing the territory and trying to pinpoint a scent. There’s nothing... Ugh. A twinge of worry was beginning to bother him though. Even if ShadowClan’s scent was stale...that doesn’t mean they’re not patrolling the remaining area. Rushingpaw wasn’t caught, was he?
⠀⠀“Batchaser? Batchaser, are you here?” A pause. “Batchaser...! Batchaser! Where did you go?”
⠀⠀The tom immediately relaxed, eyelids falling, jaw unclenching and tongue dropping from the roof of his mouth. Stupid little weasel! I’m going to kill him! Batchaser’s anger took over for a moment as he stalked through the foliage, not caring about the ruckus, just caring about getting his claws on that stupid apprentice. What was he thinking? We were almost caught! We basically were!
⠀⠀“I’m here!” Batchaser yelled back when the idiot continued calling his name. There was silence until a streak of silver flashed in the tom’s vision and bowled into his side. Stunned, Batchaser looked up and saw it was Rushingpaw, smiling.
⠀⠀“Agh! You stupid little brat, get off of me!” The ShadowClanner batted Rushingpaw off, eyes blazing. “Do you have any idea what you did? We were caught because of your trembling! Now Doestar will never leave the borders alone! Uggghhhh....” Batchaser dropped his head in his paws and groaned. Now everything was going to be so much more difficult.
⠀⠀Rushingpaw flinched, fur bristling. “I-I didn’t mean to...!” His eyes were wide and round. “Please don’t be mad. I won’t do it next time!”
⠀⠀“There may not be a next time!” Batchaser snapped. “Especially if you keep at it! Next time you might be the one attacked, and if it’s a skillful warrior, you’ll stand no chance.” He curled his lip. “Clearly your mentor didn’t teach you well, maybe even not at all. I mean, a RiverClan cat drowning? I’ve never heard something more ironic!”
⠀⠀Batchaser couldn’t stop the words from tumbling out of his mouth before it was too late. The damage had already been done, and Rushingpaw felt it. The silver tom began to shake and blinked away wet tears, trying to wipe them with his paw. “F-Fine!” he wailed. “If I’m s-so stupid, then I’ll find my own way home!” He lifted his chin in the air and whipped around, stalking toward RiverClan’s border.
⠀⠀Batchaser growled. “Go ahead, you ungrateful little brat!” Red began to speckle the edges of his vision. He was really that mad. “If you die, it’s your fault!”
⠀⠀Rushingpaw didn’t respond. The black tom flexed his claws in fury, tail lashing back and forth behind him. Whatever, he’ll come back eventually, Rushingpaw needs me. I just need to wait it out and act like I don’t care. But the longer Batchaser waited the more anxious he grew. The warrior peered into the dark pines, willing the silver apprentice to come running back, but not even the shrubs shivered. He leapt to his paws, fear gripping his heart and closing his throat. He’s not coming back, is he?
⠀⠀Batchaser began to run. He blindly flew through the tangles of branches and undergrowth, paws numb with guilt and confusion. The shrubs his paws harshly snapped below began to rise to shoulder-height, tickling his nose and underbelly, flowers crunching under his claws. The storm rumbled in the distance, promising a heavy rain that was sure to last for days. The wind seemed to pick up, whipping Batchaser’s fur back and stinging his eyes for a moment.
⠀⠀But he wasn’t even tired. No hint of exhaustion tugged at his chest to bring him down; in fact, Batchaser felt the exact opposite. Rushes of adrenaline pumped through his veins and prickled his fur, urging him on to find Rushingpaw. I’m not letting anything happen to him. I already promised Cypressfall. And thinking about disappointing her was a slippery slope Batchaser didn’t dare to climb.
⠀⠀The smell of pine and sap was most noticeable here, but he could see the grass sloping into dips before the river, and the trees dotting RiverClan’s landscape farther out. Batchaser gasped out when his back leg caught on a bramble bush. Thorns dug deep into his sensitive skin, spilling trickles of blood and causing him to growl in anger, impatience and annoyance. He didn’t have time for this, especially when Rushingpaw’s life was possibly in danger. Because of me, he reminded himself.
⠀⠀Untangling himself from the bramble vines, Batchaser dug the back of his paws into the ground and scrabbled forward, tail waving behind him and sore feet pounding on the forest floor. But the shadows seemed to dissolve into the hills and he could hear the distant rushing in the distance. The river.. Bunching his muscles, Batchaser propelled himself forward and spat away the grass splitting forward in front of him, leaving a winding, flattened trail behind him.
⠀⠀Now, as he neared with the storm in view, crackling in the distance, the black tom stumbled close to the rapids. The sound filled and muffled his ears, deafening the world around him, taking all his attention and crushing it into spluttering waves. The slope curved into a sharp downward angle, stopping where the white bubbles pattered against the dirt. Sandstone and gravel blanketed the bottom of the river, large piles of rocks jutting slightly out of the surface, slick with droplets of water. Batchaser’s paws teetered dangerously over the edge, gaze cast around the area to try and spot Rushingpaw.
⠀⠀Hope leapt into his chest and released as a relieved yowl. The black tom stumbled near the edge of the river, desperately hoping to reach the little silver tom. Rushingpaw was perched on the middle of a fallen log, pelt slicked down from the splashes that would rise up to the bark, covering his paws in a damp coat of darkness from the mix of substances below. Batchaser felt his heart stop for a moment as the apprentice took a shaky step forward, eyes wide with fear. What in the name of StarClan is he doing?!
⠀⠀“Rushingpaw!” Batchaser yelled out, stopping at the base of the log. “Stop! Come back! You’re not going to make it to the other side!”
⠀⠀The tom twisted his head around, surprise trickling into his sight at recognizing Batchaser. But he stiffened with determination, small rounded ears pricking. “I’m going home,” Rushingpaw growled through gritted teeth. “You can’t stop me!”
⠀⠀“Just come back, please!” A wail rose in Batchaser’s throat, scratching the sides and pricking tears into his eyes. I can’t let anything happen to him! But Rushingpaw ignored him, turning his body around and stepping forward once more. The black tom faltered, unsure of what to do. I really don’t know if I can make it across..
⠀⠀Every sound seemed to deafen when Rushingpaw slipped, paws dropping out from under him, body crunching the log in half and plummeting into the river. Batchaser didn’t move for a moment, shock gripping him in its ugly claws, before he shook himself out of his trance. He looked into the rapids, calculating, considering, but knew there was no time to think. I must act now...
⠀⠀With that in mind, Batchaser leapt forward into the river, coldness seeping into his fur and dragging him down. He gasped in as much air as he could before his head fell under, paws fumbling frantically as his body was swept forward. He opened his dark eyes in the water but it was blurry and it stung, as if his face had been slashed over by another cat. He tried to feel the bottom but it was too deep here, and he could feel himself sinking further and further below. Panic scratched that part of his mind and caused him to unsheathe his claws, attempting to grab hold of something, but it was a fruitless attempt. The rapids were too strong.
⠀⠀Just find Rushingpaw, he told himself, chest burning as he held his breath underwater. Bubbles speckled near his vision and his sight began to darken but Batchaser wasn’t about to give up. Especially now that he saw Rushingpaw close, figure swirling around as he was caught in a mini tide. Straining his limbs, the black tom slunk his claws into the apprentice’s shoulders as he passed, holding him close while continuing to be thrown back and forth across the river. Water entered his gaping jaws and filled his chest; it felt like his lungs were exploding.
⠀⠀At least I have Rushingpaw... but this did little to ease his growing anxiety, spilling over his mind and crushing his hope for life. All he saw in the future was darkness, an impenetrable looming shadow that stood high above him, crunching him below sharp claws and emptying his heart. It’s so easy to die... and I don’t know if I can fight it..
⠀⠀The next few moments were a blur. Batchaser hardly felt like he was in his body anymore, he could only notice the prickles of pain shooting in his chest, choking his throat and causing him to gag under the rapids. He was growing weak and tired, his injured legs giving way from below, pulling him to the rocky ground. His head suddenly bowled into a large stone, a pained yowl leaving his lips. Black spots were becoming more apparent, harder and harder to ignore with the passing seconds. He could feel the gaping wound in the back of his head, undoubtedly spilling blood, but there would be no trace of it, just like there would be no trace of his and Rushingpaw’s death.
⠀⠀I failed. I couldn’t save him, I couldn’t save myself, and I couldn’t even save the Clans I destroyed... but I’m so tired.. I just want to sleep. Can’t I just sleep? I’ll wake up again, I know I will...
⠀⠀Batchaser wasn’t so sure, but knew he couldn’t move another muscle. He was drowning, nature squeezing him to death and taking him without question, and no one was here to help. It was my duty...and now I’ve let everyone down..
⠀⠀And then he felt it. Sharp claws prickled his body, pulling him up to the surface. He gurgled on the water sloshing in his chest, but air swept over his face, and it was a glorious feeling at last. A dark shape moved beside him, but Batchaser hardly had time to think. He held on to Rushingpaw with his last power and was thrown to the sandy shore, world buzzing before him. It felt like angry bees were swarming in his chest, stinging him from the inside out, not letting him gasp a single breath while doing so. He didn’t let himself panic but Batchaser knew he had a low chance of living. Even if someone had saved him, it wouldn’t matter.
⠀⠀But hopefully Rushingpaw is okay..
⠀⠀A grunt rose up from beside the black tom but he was too exhausted to glance over. Someone obviously saved us.. But Batchaser couldn’t ignore the throbbing cut on the back of his head, a heavy liquid seeping into his pelt and coating him in crimson. His blue eyes flickered down to see the blood pooling around his body, water spluttering out of his mouth as he heaved over the soft grass. Hope was still hard to come by and Batchaser honestly wasn’t sure if he could last any longer. He just wanted to close his eyes and sleep, but knew that would result in immediate death.
⠀⠀But it feels so good... I can feel it tugging at me..
⠀⠀“You should be thankful I saved you,” a sharp voice grumbled, and Batchaser saw the dark shape standing over him. Yellow eyes glowed like a rising sun, gleaming over the land and reflecting off of the morning dew. “Applestar won’t be happy to have unexpected guests, but I suppose you were found half-drowned. Perhaps he’ll be kind.”
⠀⠀The weight was lifted off of Batchaser as the mystery cat threw him onto his shoulders, grabbing a silver blur form the side in his jaws. Rushingpaw...? But everything was becoming so hard to handle. His mind dreamt of the warmth of sleep, and Batchaser couldn’t be happier to let the numbness overtake him. But is it right? What if I do die? Somehow, it didn’t seem so terrifying. At least then Rushingpaw will be back in his home Clan and with his family...unlike him, I have nothing to lose. And I suppose that’s a good thing...
⠀⠀He breathed out, shadows burning at the edges of his vision, filling his mind with darkness as he fell into a dreamless sleep.