Chapter 35 || Blue Death
Batchaser stood still, eyes wide and body shaking with apprehension. The wails of cats around him echoed in his ears, tearing away his sanity for one small moment. He squinted through the rain pelting down, realizing that he was being herded toward the medicine cat den with Beetlepaw.
⠀⠀Once inside, the air grew stuffy and Batchaser nearly choked on the terror and horror radiating from every RiverClan cat. He briefly glanced over at Pearlsnap, who was yelling at Beetlepaw. “Fix him! Come on! Do something!”
⠀⠀“Please.” The medicine cat’s sister was standing over him, tears dripping down her cheeks. “Please, you can’t leave me. I’ve lost everyone. Please, Timberfall..”
⠀⠀More began to crowd around the unmoving body and Batchaser’s ears flicked back. This isn’t good. I was planning to leave today, yet it seems they may need my help... He wasn’t very skilled in medicine, only having learned a little bit from his mentor during his apprenticeship, but he knew the basics. He could do this. He could do this.
⠀⠀But without all the noise.
⠀⠀“Pearlsnap.” Batchaser swiveled his head to the she-cat, who blinked back at him. “Get everyone out. I need some quiet if I’m going to do anything.”
⠀⠀Timberfall suddenly began to convulse, paws shaking and eyes slicking over, looking pale as the morning clouds. He began foaming at the mouth and Pearlsnap stared, petrified.
⠀⠀“Pearlsnap!” Batchaser yelled, snapping the deputy out of her trance. “Out! Come on! Hurry it up!”
⠀⠀She obeyed and quickly shoved everyone out of the den. Applestar shouldered past her, green eyes wide and dark. “You weren’t a medicine cat, were you?”
⠀⠀“No,” Batchaser admitted, “but I’m the closest you’ve got to a medicine cat.”
⠀⠀Applestar hesitated. “I... okay, I’ll leave you to it.” He quickly turned tail and left the den, tail streaking out behind him.
⠀⠀Beetlepaw shifted to follow, but Batchaser held out a paw in front of him. “You stay with me.”
⠀⠀“Me?” he asked incredulously. “I’m not a medicine cat..”
⠀⠀“Neither am I.” Batchaser huffed, turning his gaze toward Timberfall. “But I need assistance. You’re small and agile. Please. Help me out here.”
⠀⠀Beetlepaw blinked and eventually dipped his head. “Of course, Batchaser. What can I do?”
⠀⠀He swallowed thickly, flinching when thunder crackled over their heads. “Okay. Okay, I’ve got this.” Batchaser quickly grabbed a hold of his nest, reckoning that it was clean enough, and propped it under Timberfall’s head. The foam was dripping down the medicine cat’s chin, beads of white trickling onto his chestnut fur. “Hurry. Get a ball of moss from the back of the den.”
⠀⠀Beetlepaw sped off, the breeze brushing Batchaser’s fur. He placed his paws on Timberfall’s shoulders and pushed him to the side, facing the outside of the den, hoping that he could empty out whatever else was in his stomach. Beetlepaw picked his way back to the mouth of the cave, sticking the wad of moss outside and letting the water soak it.
⠀⠀Before he could paw it over to Batchaser, Timberfall gurgled and vomited all over the floor. His chest heaved with each choke and his glazed eyes flickered open, tears involuntarily streaking down his cheeks. Beetlepaw’s claws sunk into the ground, scrunching his nose. The rain was quick to wash it away, and with a few more extra moss balls, Batchaser had successfully cleaned it up. Disposing the moss, he eyed the medicine storage and sighed.
⠀⠀“Poppy seeds.” The raspy voice startled Batchaser and he whipped around, eyes widening. Timberfall was attempting to stand, paws shaking under his weight.
⠀⠀“Don’t stand,” Batchaser said quickly, rushing over. Beetlepaw’s tail flicked over the medicine cat’s back. “I’ll get you poppy seeds. What else?”
⠀⠀Timberfall shook his head and collapsed back in the nest, unable to speak. Batchaser didn’t have to say anything — Beetlepaw has already brought two poppy seeds over. He nosed them to the medicine cat and Timberfall weakly lapped them up, exhaling.
⠀⠀Batchaser watched as Timberfall tucked himself into the nest and he figured he was okay for now. Not like he actually knew how to do anything else, anyway. Batchaser gave a small nod to Beetlepaw, who scampered to the fresh-kill-pile, fishing out a small bird and running to the apprentices’ den.
⠀⠀Batchaser seated himself under an overhang right outside of the den, tendrils hanging down and tickling his head. He grunted and ducked away, ears flicking back droplets of water falling from the murky gray sky. Threads of dark gray split through the clouds, lightning flickering in zigzags far above. Batchaser hoped this storm wouldn’t last long — he imagined the river would be impossible to cross now, due to the sheer intensity of rain that had already fallen, and that meant more time in RiverClan. He was by no means a water cat, already disliked Applestar and Pearlsnap, and found himself readier than ever to leave Rushingkit so he could get down to business.
⠀⠀Unfortunately, mother nature didn’t seem willing to comply to his wishes.
⠀⠀After a long beat of silence, thunder rumbled again and the pounding of pawsteps in the mud broke Batchaser from his trance. Pearlsnap was making her way over, eyes narrowed and claws unsheathed.
⠀⠀Oh, great... Batchaser rolled his eyes and turned his head to the side, watching the deputy’s every move as she came to stand beside him. “Look, I’m not a medicine cat. I never was. But I did what I thought was best, and you can at least be grateful for that.”
⠀⠀Pearlsnap eyed Batchaser, looking at the dark shape slumped in the den. “How is he, then?”
⠀⠀“He’s alive.” Batchaser watched the mud ooze through his toes as he pushed his paws into the ground.
⠀⠀“Is it... the Blue Death?” Pearlsnap sounded unsure and even — dare he say it? — scared. For someone that worked so hard to act tough and mean, she was sure cracking under the pressure of a vital Clanmate’s health.
⠀⠀Batchaser craned his neck up to the sky, wishing to return back home — to StarClan. “I’m not even sure what the Blue Death is. Applestar only briefly explained it.”
⠀⠀Pearlsnap shifted on her paws beside him, sitting down slowly. Her voice grew soft and somber. “It’s a disease that hit us hard in the old camp. We’d noticed the river had become brown and murky, and when I was sent to check it out, one of our apprentices drank the water.” Her eyes darkened. “She died two days later.”
⠀⠀Batchaser narrowed his eyes in thought. “But surely Timberfall wouldn’t have drank from the river after that happened?”
⠀⠀“It spreads quickly,” Pearlsnap murmured. “If he went anywhere near the old camp, then he most likely caught it from there. Timberfall isn’t stupid, but he puts his Clan before himself. Perhaps he was trying to accomplish something by going back..”
⠀⠀The black tom sighed, the spray of rain cooling him down. “And the symptoms..?”
⠀⠀Pearlsnap bristled. “It always started with seizures. Some would live a few days, but their mouths would foam up so horribly that they couldn’t breathe. We couldn’t feed them or make them drink clean water. It was a terrible time.”
⠀⠀Unsure of what to say, Batchaser only nodded. “I see.” He stared past her, looking toward the camp entrance, and wondered if he could make it to the camp and back without catching the Blue Death. It was a risk, but he needed to check it out. The whole thing just didn’t make sense. I’ll have to check it out later, but for now...
⠀⠀He stood to his paws, ignoring the mud caked on his midnight fur. “I’m going to take a nap. You have to promise me that when I’m gone, you’ll make sure he isn’t crowded.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw Cloverpetal pacing in and out of the warriors’ den. Batchaser jerked his head toward the she-cat. “Especially his sister. She can visit him and stay with him, but don’t let her freak out. That’s the last thing Timberfall needs.”
⠀⠀“Of course,” Pearlsnap said quickly, rising to her paws. “I can go talk to her, if you’d like.”
⠀⠀“Okay.” Batchaser nodded to her and paused, a smile flickering on his lips. “I like you better this way. Don’t be such a grump.” Like I’m one to talk, but it really is nice seeing another side to every cat down here.
⠀⠀Pearlsnap rolled her eyes. “Whatever,” she huffed, but there was a sprinkle of amusement somewhere in there. “Sleep well, Batchaser.”
⠀⠀Without another word, the black tom turned and padded into the den. He glanced at Timberfall, who was sleeping soundly, and decided he could use some rest as well before he went along with his plan. Exhaling, Batchaser flopped into the medicine cat’s old nest near the back of the den and rubbed his back against the bristles of the weeds. He stared at the ceiling and briefly wondered what was going on in StarClan right now. If only he could be back home..
⠀⠀The past four days had not only been hectic, but had been so stressful for Batchaser that he hadn’t actually had any time to go explore RiverClan’s old camp and see what he could find. Nowadays, he really only slept and watched over Timberfall. When did I become this cat’s caretaker? he hissed to himself, but promptly realized that if not for him, the Clans wouldn’t have been in a war, and thus another medicine cat could’ve come to help. Every fault always led back to him. It sucked, but Batchaser could accept it.
⠀⠀Timberfall had suffered another seizure, though this one had been less extreme than the first. The vomit was easier to clean up, and he’d mostly been dry-heaving by the time Batchaser had awoken. The poppy seeds seemed to be working — y’know, Timberfall wasn’t dead yet — and both he and Beetlepaw could force feed the medicine cat what they needed to. Fish would’ve been easier, but without the river, that was impossible.
⠀⠀The storm had thinned out, but there were still showers of rain every now and then with the sun peeking through the clouds. Batchaser rose drearily from his nest, gazing out at the light spilling over the camp. It was a nice, cool day today, and he figured this was his best chance to leave.
⠀⠀Batchaser rolled his shoulders forward and opened his jaws into a yawn, stopping to check on Timberfall before heading out. Beetlepaw came running up from the apprentices’ den. “Hi, Batchaser. Pearlsnap said you might need me today.”
⠀⠀He and Pearlsnap had been keeping each other company for the past few days. Last night, Batchaser had told the deputy that he needed Beetlepaw to watch over Timberfall while he found the old camp and figured out what was going on with the river. He’d grown quite fond of Beetlepaw, actually. He was quiet but had a fiery determination inside that he really respected. Despite not being a medicine cat, he knew more about herbs than most other warriors did. That was really helpful to their case.
⠀⠀“Hey,” Batchaser greeted, scratching his ear with his back paw. “I need you to watch over Timberfall for a while. I’ll be back later.”
⠀⠀Beetlepaw nodded slowly. That’s another thing Batchaser liked about Beetlepaw. He didn’t ask many questions. He was the silent accepting type.
⠀⠀“What, you have more important things to do with your time?” Beavertooth sneered, walking over from where’d he’d been listening in by the fresh-kill-pile.
⠀⠀“What, do you not have more important things to do than fatty up?” Batchaser snapped back, tail lashing. Despite being saved by him, his patience was on a thin line with Beavertooth.
⠀⠀The large brown tom bristled, yellow eyes flashing into a formidable glare. “Watch it, kid. You’re not a StarClan cat anymore.” His claws unsheathed.
⠀⠀Batchaser glanced down at the threat. “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.”
⠀⠀Beavertooth stared at him for a long while before his white claws slipped back into his paws. “You’re not a RiverClan cat, so don’t start acting like one.” He bared his teeth and whipped around, stalking out of camp.
⠀⠀Batchaser shook his head and sighed, tilting his head toward a confused Beetlepaw. “Don’t worry about it,” the black tom assured. “It’s nothing. Just make sure Timberfall is okay.”
⠀⠀The apprentice breathed out. “Gotcha.” He slipped past Batchaser and entered the medicine den, blanketed by writhing shadows. Batchaser wasted no time and made his way out of the camp, following a winding trail through the forest. Pearlsnap had given him directions, but it had been moons since he’d actually lived. He really didn’t remember where all of the Clan camps were.
⠀⠀The tread was nice, though. Despite the undergrowth trickling over the path and the sticks littered all over the forest floor, Batchaser took comfort in the familiar feeling in the air. Life. He could hear birds chattering, a quiet stream somewhere farther off in the distance, and the scuttling of mice in the bushes every now and then. It was different from StarClan. Batchaser didn’t realize how much he’d missed it until now. Not being out of camp for days had really affected him negatively. Now...he finally felt free.
⠀⠀Batchaser found himself nearing an overhang of dripping wet branches, the leaves flicking water droplets onto his head. He squinted his eyes and shivered, ducking his head and crawling through a small space. When he poked his head out, all of the noises of the forest died away.
⠀⠀The black tom scrabbled out of the space and twitched the dirt off of his body. He was standing at the edge of the camp, brows furrowed. Apprehension tightened in his belly and Batchaser slid forward, uneasily glancing around the old RiverClan camp. He could feel the thickness here — like all of their grief and terror had been left behind in this very spot. The drowning out of the forest spooked him more than he’d like to admit, but as he neared the camp entrance and heard the roar of the river, he figured that must have been why... right?
⠀⠀Batchaser looked down and was mildly surprised to see a set of pawsteps leading into the medicine den. He gaped for a moment before pushing his paws forward, shouldering his way through the vines covering the mouth of the cave. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he spotted a pile of dried and rotten herbs in the corner. Batchaser scrunched his nose up, padding forward and poking them with his claw. Was Timberfall here? If so, why would he be trying to gather dead herbs? Maybe it’s some that we don’t have in the store.. I’ll have to check when I return ho—
⠀⠀He’d almost said home. Batchaser grit his teeth together and whipped his tail back and forth, turning and stalking out of the den. He began to think of how he’d acted the past few days. I’ve let these cats grow close to me, and now I’m subconsciously calling RiverClan home. This isn’t good. I dropped my guard, and now I’m vulnerable. The tom sighed heftily. I need to go back to being mean old Batchaser... that’s who I am. That’s who I’ve been for longer than the old me. The grumpier he was, the more cats would stay away from him. That was best for everyone..
⠀⠀Batchaser lost himself in thought for a moment before a horrible stench filled his senses. He nearly gagged and doubled over, stricken at the dreadful smell. What in the world..? He ran out of camp and jumped through the bushes, swaying between the thinning forest. He could hear the river growing closer, but with it came the worst scent he’d ever been unlucky enough to witness.
⠀⠀The black tom reached the bank of the river. His eyes widened at the thread of silver and brown and green streaks reflecting off of the water, a myriad of rainbows glittering in the sunlight. His paws scrabbled at the pebbles lining the edge and he turned to the side, eyes stinging. This doesn’t reach far, but it’s enough... Batchaser bit his lip in thought. The river wasn’t this bad where I jumped in the river with Rushingkit. It definitely seems to be spreading there, though.
⠀⠀Despite wanting to throw up and get as far away from the river as possible, Batchaser decided it was best to see if he could find the source. He wondered if his senses were duller than your average cat, mostly just because he’d gotten out of StarClan — or, purgatory? He couldn’t imagine having been a RiverClan cat living here. No wonder they fled. I would have too.. can’t say I blame Applestar.
⠀⠀The river continued winding for what felt like ages, and the stench was honestly becoming hard for Batchaser to handle. But the end was coming near, he could tell because of how narrow the land had become, and the rush of the water was less prominent. And what he saw next was disturbing.
⠀⠀His jaw dropped wide in horror when he saw a metal Twoleg contraption toppled over on its side, black and gray liquid splitting out and trickling into the river. It covered every inch up here like night, and Batchaser couldn’t even see the patches of moss under the surface. Bubbles popped every now and then and he jumped away before any of that black goo could stain him. He turned his head, trying not to throw up, and screwed his eyes shut. Oh, StarClan.. this is.. not good..
⠀⠀And the longer Batchaser looked at it, the more he realized this seemed to be a hopeless fix. Looks like Applestar’s going to be seeing me soon..