Bound to Stars

Chapter 36 || Mission Impossible

“No.”

⠀⠀“What do you mean, no?” Batchaser peeled his lips back, glaring at Applestar with a fiery look.

⠀⠀“There’s nothing in the world that would convince me to leave my warriors to you,” Applestar growled, squinting his green eyes. “It doesn’t matter what you saw. In fact, I don’t care. What have you done for RiverClan again?”

⠀⠀Batchaser’s eyes widened, shock pulsing through his body. “Excuse me?” he snarled, face drawn into a scowl. “What have I done for your Clan? Oh, I don’t know, maybe watch over your medicine cat while he dies?”

⠀⠀“I didn’t forget what you said.” The huge ginger tom shook his head. “Remember? Hm? RiverClan isn’t your priority right now?”

⠀⠀StarClan... Batchaser wanted to scream at this ignorant tom that it didn’t matter what he’d said before, but that the river was black with death and it would only spread from there. “Well, that’s before I discovered what was causing the Blue Death!”

⠀⠀“You don’t know it’s causing the Blue Death!” Applestar leapt to his paws, bushy tail lashing. “Why would I lend valuable, healthy warriors to a cat who has never led in his life?”

⠀⠀Batchaser felt the fury rumbling in his chest, filling him full of a hot, lapping fire. “It must be,” he said, teeth gritting. “You didn’t see what I saw. You didn’t— the river is right by the camp! If your cats drank from that water, then that’s why they grew sick.”

⠀⠀“You suddenly a medicine cat?” Applestar sneered.

⠀⠀“I’ve sure been acting like one.” Batchaser was shocked. Why wasn’t Applestar taking him seriously? He was a StarClan cat; wasn’t that enough? “Why won’t you just consider?”

⠀⠀“There’s nothing toconsider,” the leader snapped back, but his voice fluttered in fear. “I’ve put my Clan in danger and was able to move us away from sickness. I’m not letting them return just because of your word.”

⠀⠀“Then come see it with me!” Batchaser stood, paws anxiously leading his body back and forth across the cave floor. How did he convince Applestar to help him?

⠀⠀“I...” The ginger tom hesitated, biting his lip in thought. Batchaser paused, ears perking. Was Applestar amusing his idea? “I can’t. I’m sorry. I...”

⠀⠀Disappointment writhed in Batchaser’s belly. He truly felt like throwing up. Coward! he wanted to scream, but was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. ”Why?” he decided to press, not intent on giving up this easily.

⠀⠀Applestar shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

⠀⠀“Of course it does!” Batchaser stared at the leader, brows furrowed. “What’s going on here? Why won’t you come with me?”

⠀⠀“I-” Applestar took a step back, curling his lip. “Why do you care? You’ll be out of here as soon as Timberfall heals—”

⠀⠀“He may never heal! Not if we don’t fix this!” Batchaser’s voice gave out and he wondered what he was so upset about. Maybe the added days of stress had taken more of a toll on him than he’d originally thought. “Your duty as Clan leader is to protect your Clan. All it seems like you’re doing now is protecting yourself.”

⠀⠀“You don’t know anything!” Applestar snarled, leaping forward. Batchaser quickly dodged out of the way, paws sliding on the stone. Applestar faced him, shaking like a leaf. “I was chosen to lead after Lionstar died, deputy-less. I was never equipped for this job, but I did the best I could. I brought my Clan to safety and I’ve been protecting them ever since. Don’t lecture me on leading — you’ve never even done it!”

⠀⠀That was true. Batchaser... he was no leader, but he knew the difference between right and wrong, only because of his past mistakes. “I may not be a leader, but through my time as a StarClan cat I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve changed. You... you seem to just be stuck in the past.”

⠀⠀Applestar’s fur bristled, but he backed away from Batchaser, sitting down across from him. “My mate died because of this sickness,” he finally whimpered, face drawn into sadness. “I— I’ll never let go of the grief. Every time a Clanmate has died because of the Blue Death, I take the pain too because I know how it feels to lose someone you love. The guilt weighs down, and eventually...” He shook his head miserably. “I’m a terrible leader. I know. But I’m on my last life, and I need to stay strong for my Clan. I can’t risk my life yet.”

⠀⠀So that’s why... Batchaser thought, tail twitching. He’s on his last life and thinks he could die if he explores with me. Applestar was selfish, but he meant well. “You won’t have to deal with this loss anymore if you just help me,” Batchaser murmured. “Trust me. I came from StarClan. I’m not going to let you down.”

⠀⠀Applestar sat in silence, thinking. He was muttering under his breath, which wasn’t weird at all, but Batchaser had bigger fish to fry than the RiverClan leader’s mental problems. The ginger tom finally lifted his head, and Batchaser felt his heart lift. He had to allow this. He had to— after that half-tailed speech he’d given, there was no way he’d decline!

⠀⠀“I’m sorry, but no.”

⠀⠀That disappointment returned, weighing heavy in Batchaser’s chest. He narrowed his eyes, voice growing cold. “Fine,” he said. “If you want your cats to die like this, then suit yourself.” The tom whipped around and stalked out of the den, leaping down from the rock to the mud-soaked ground, paws squelching in the water. He padded past Pearlsnap, who glanced at him curiously, and entered the medicine den with a puff of air.

⠀⠀Beetlepaw turned to Batchaser, brown eyes widening. “Are you okay?”

⠀⠀“I’m fine,” he muttered, squeezing past the apprentice and eyeing the herbs stored in the crooks of the tan stone. He pushed his paw forward and gently plucked out an ivy leaf wrap, clawing chamomile out. The tom bent over and lapped up the white flowers, pushing the leaf away and standing fully.

⠀⠀Beetlepaw slid in front of him, black fur bushing. “Where are you going?”

⠀⠀Batchaser groaned. ”No where,” he snapped. “Now leave me alone. You need to watch over Timberfall, anyway.”

⠀⠀The apprentice shook his head. “He hasn’t shown any symptoms all day. C’mon, what’s going on?”

⠀⠀He hesitated, ears twitching. Batchaser didn’t want to be disrespectful, considering this was Applestar’s Clan and not his, but Beetlepaw was his friend—he deserved to know. “I found out what’s causing the Blue Death and Applestar doesn’t want to lend any warriors to help me. So, I’m going alone.”

⠀⠀Beetlepaw’s eyes widened. “You found the cause? What is it?”

⠀⠀“It doesn’t matter. Applestar doesn’t want anyone helping. Stay here.” Batchaser tried to push past Beetlepaw but the smaller tom stopped him with a paw. ”What?”

⠀⠀“I’m coming. If Applestar seriously won’t help you, then I will.”

⠀⠀“He said no warriors—”

⠀⠀“I’m not a warrior yet, am I?”

⠀⠀Batchaser’s ears pricked in surprise. Beetlepaw had him there. The black tom smirked. “You’re good. Maybe too good.”

⠀⠀The apprentice smiled. “Either way, I’m coming. I want to help.”

⠀⠀Batchaser nodded slowly. “Okay. You can help, then. I’ll put a warrior on Timberfall duty.” The tom paused and turned, scraping more chamomile from the ivy leaf and pawing it over to Beetlepaw.

⠀⠀The apprentice raised his brows, obediently lapping up the traveling herb. “Are we going far?”

⠀⠀“I don’t know yet.” Batchaser sucked his teeth, plan rummaging through his head. He didn’t actually know how far the Twolegplace was, and wasn’t intent on taking any risks. They needed to keep their strength up, as much as possible.

⠀⠀Beetlepaw didn’t question further and followed the warrior out of the medicine den. Batchaser spotted Makofoot and got her attention. “Watch Timberfall for me.” The she-cat grunted in response and muttered something under her breath, but took her post by the mouth of the den and sat.

⠀⠀Before they could even make it out of camp, Pearlsnap slid in front of them with raised hackles. “Where do you think you’re going?”

⠀⠀Oh, great. Batchaser peeled his lips back; he’d argued once today, and wasn’t afraid to do it again. If it ensured the safety of RiverClan, then... “We’re going to fix your stupid Blue Death.”

⠀⠀Pearlsnap’s eyes widened and her fur smoothed slightly, expression a mix between suspicion and shock. “What do you mean? If this is true, then you must tell Applestar!”

⠀⠀“What do you think I was doing earlier?” Batchaser shook his head, scowling. “He won’t listen — he already said he’s not sending any warriors to help. And, no offense, but I’m not letting you stop me either.”

⠀⠀The she-cat hesitated, head twisting from the leader’s den to the two cats. She eventually sighed. “Fine. You can go.”

⠀⠀Batchaser breathed out a sigh of relief. “Thank StarClan. Beetlepaw, let’s go.”

⠀⠀Pearlsnap narrowed her eyes. “I’m coming with you.”

⠀⠀The black tom was taken aback, but quickly regained his posture. “Good.” I’m impressed. She’s not going to listen to Applestar? We’ll see how this goes over later...

⠀⠀“Hey! Where are you guys going?”

⠀⠀Batchaser cringed at the high-pitched voice and whipped around to see Rushingkit padding up after them. The ShadowClan tom shook his head. “It doesn’t involve you. Go hang out with your sisters.”

⠀⠀Rushingkit’s ears flicked back. “They’re sleeping..! I wanna go! Didn’t.... didn’t I prove myself in the Forgotten Eternity?”

⠀⠀Pearlsnap and Beetlepaw exchanged a glance, slightly confused. Batchaser only felt annoyance at the kit’s pestering. “Yes, you did, but now you don’t have to pretend. I won’t let you be in danger anymore, not after I learned..” He trailed off, unsure if he should specify. They both knew, anyway. “Just stay here. We’re dealing with it.”

⠀⠀Batchaser turned, ignoring Rushingkit’s hurt stare, and led the other two out of camp. He pulled himself over reeds and brambles, tail flicking behind him as their journey began. “This is the way to the Twolegplace, correct?”

⠀⠀Pearlsnap glanced at him. “Yes. Why are we going there?”

⠀⠀Batchaser blew out softly. “I have a plan. You may not like it, though.”

⠀⠀She twitched her ears. “Try me.”

⠀⠀Before Batchaser could explain his idea, the old camp came into view. Pearlsnap and Beetlepaw faltered slightly. “We could get sick if we go in there,” the apprentice muttered.

⠀⠀“That’s why we’re going around.” Batchaser beckoned the two to follow him around the edge of the camp, fallen leaves breaking beneath their paws. Shafts of light broke through the storm, sun spilling over the ground and dappling their pelts in golden splotches. Batchaser squinted through the light as the trees thinned out into rolling slopes, blades of grass swaying below their bellies. The Horseplace was a small dot in the distance, a few Twoleg houses scattered to the side. There it is...

⠀⠀“You never explained the plan,” Pearlsnap went on, catching up with Batchaser in a few strides. Beetlepaw struggled to keep up, small legs working quickly against the ground.

⠀⠀“Well.” Batchaser flicked his tail, musing. “You didn’t see the river, not like I did. It’s... it’s black, completely black, like you’re looking up at the night sky and there’s no stars. I followed the water and found a Twoleg contraption tipped over, spilling that black substance into the water.”

⠀⠀Pearlsnap raised her brows. “And...? Your plan?”

⠀⠀“This is going to sound stupid, so don’t laugh.” Batchaser wondered how much StarClan and the Forgotten Eternity had changed him. Clearly a lot. “We’re going to lead a Twoleg to the contraption.”

⠀⠀Beetlepaw burst out laughing from behind them. Batchaser rolled his eyes and continued on, ignoring Pearlsnap’s amused whisker twitch. “I’m sorry, what?” the apprentice wheezed. “We’re.... we’re working with Twolegs?”

⠀⠀“Yep.” Batchaser popped the ‘p’ and smacked Beetlepaw in the face with his tail. “Don’t make fun of me. This is the only way to stop the disease from spreading even further.”

⠀⠀“Batchaser, this...” Pearlsnap shook her head. “This is dangerous. There must be another way!”

⠀⠀“There isn’t,” the ShadowClanner stressed. “I’m sorry, but this is our best shot.”

⠀⠀Silence followed the group as they continued making their way toward the Twolegplaces. Pearlsnap eventually sighed. “I’d do anything for my Clan. I’d die for them. So if this is something I have to risk, then... so be it.”

⠀⠀Beetlepaw purred. “Me, too. Even if I think this plan is insane, I trust you, Batchaser. I just hope Timberfall is okay while we’re gone..”

⠀⠀Pearlsnap’s ears flicked up. “You’re worried about him, huh?”

⠀⠀The apprentice sighed wistfully. “Yeah. Pollenstrike hates when I’m in the medicine den, though. It sucks. I really... I really feel like I belong in there!”

⠀⠀The deputy tilted her head in thought. “Perhaps I could discuss with Applestar and Timberfall—when he gets better—about making you a medicine cat apprentice.”

⠀⠀Beetlepaw stopped, head swiveling. “Wait. You— you really mean that?”

⠀⠀“Of course. You’ve shown yourself to be equipped and hard-working with medicine, and you’re spectacular when taking care of other cats. It’s perfect.”

⠀⠀Batchaser groaned. “Look, I love this little heart-felt chat happening behind me, but we’re nearly to the Twolegplace. Can we just focus now? Medicine cat discussion later.”

⠀⠀Pearlsnap grunted but quieted down as they rounded the Horseplace fences, eyes widening at the horses grazing on the fields. Batchaser narrowed his eyes, leading the group toward the barns. We’re close... I just have to hope to StarClan—even if they can’t hear me right now—that this works. This is RiverClan’s last hope.

⠀⠀The sound of heavy footsteps stopped Batchaser in his steps. Without a second thought, he dove into the nearby bushes, Pearlsnap and Beetlepaw swiftly following. The black tom crept close to the fence, poking his head around the side of the barn. His eyes widened when he spotted an adolescent Twoleg trying to pry open something on the barn. Oh, please, please, please.. follow us!

⠀⠀“So what’s the plan?” Beetlepaw whispered, voice small and hushed.

⠀⠀“I already told you—”

⠀⠀“No, I mean now! Like... do we scratch the Twoleg? How do we get it to follow us?”

⠀⠀Batchaser sighed. “I don’t know. Just let me deal with that.”

⠀⠀Pearlsnap rolled her gray eyes. “You’re a zombie cat and you want to... y’know, risk your life? For RiverClan?”

⠀⠀“Zombie cat? Seriously?”

⠀⠀“Yeah, I mean, you were brought back to life or whatever, at least that’s what Applestar told you, so technically—”

⠀⠀“Guys! Shut up!” Beetlepaw hushed them quickly and pointed to the Twoleg, who was now staring at the bushes. It narrowed its eyes and stuck its fingers in its mouth, whistling. The cats exchanged glances and Pearlsnap’s fur spiked, claws unsheathing. Suddenly, a white ball of fur raced around the corner, beady black eyes gleaming in the sunlight. Spit dripped from the small dog’s mouth as it sprinted toward the group, paws propelling it forward.

⠀⠀Batchaser was about to turn tail and run—Pearlsnap and Beetlepaw prepared to do the exact opposite—before a silver cat dove above their heads, landing on the ground in front of them.

⠀⠀“Rushingkit!” Batchaser yowled, muscles tensing. “What are you doing here?!”

⠀⠀The kit scrabbled away from the dog, making his way toward the Twoleg. It glanced down at Rushingkit and hesitated, hand hovering in the air. The dog tried to make a run for the silver tom but the Twoleg called it off with a yell. The bushes must be masking our scent, but... Cypressfall will kill me if anything happens to him!

⠀⠀Rushingkit pushed himself against the Twoleg’s ankle, purring loudly, wrapping his tail around its leg. The Twoleg bent down to pet him but Rushingkit whipped around and began to sprint, ducking under the fence and glancing at the group. “Come on!” he whispered.

⠀⠀The Twoleg stilled before following, throwing itself over the fence and running through the undergrowth. Batchaser led the way to the river, Rushingkit keeping close behind, flicking his body through tangled branches and thick roots. The Twoleg continued to follow, pushing the brush away with his hands. Batchaser heard the dull roar of the river before they made it to the bank, sand slipping under their paws. The black tom instinctively grabbed Rushingkit’s scruff and pulled him into the foliage, pressing close to the earth. Pearlsnap and Beetlepaw scrambled next to them and did the same, the rapids blocking out any clear thoughts or words to share.

⠀⠀After a moment, the Twoleg appeared and stumbled into the clearing, bending over and breathing heavily. It lifted its head and suddenly groaned, shoving its hand over its mouth and staring at the silver contraption spilling inky blackness into the water. It flanked the shore and touched the river, flicking the black from its hands. After a few more moments of exploring, it seemed to lose interest in Rushingkit and sprinted back toward the barn, sand kicking up behind its feet.

⠀⠀The cats exchanged glances. “Um,” Rushingkit mused, “should we... wait?”

⠀⠀Batchaser wanted to be angry at the kit for risking his life and possibly their lives by confronting the Twoleg, but simply couldn’t. Affection pooled into his heart and he smiled at Rushingkit, nodding. He’s growing up so fast..

⠀⠀And so they waited. And waited. And waited.... Pearlsnap almost gave up and led the group back to camp, but a rustling nearby alerted the cats. The adolescent Twoleg appeared, but behind him were at least four other older Twolegs.

⠀⠀Excitement. It tingled in Batchaser’s paws and caused a small laugh to leave his jaws. He never genuinely laughed, but this... this was surreal. A Twoleg had listened to them. To cats. It was a miracle.

⠀⠀“Well...” Beetlepaw looked between the three others, whiskers twitching in amusement, “I guess that worked out well.”

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