Chapter 38 || Shadows
The taste of sap hung thickly in the air, flooding Batchaser’s senses. His blue eyes scanned the forest, paws crunching on pine needles and tail waving through the foliage.
⠀⠀ShadowClan hadn’t changed. The pines towering above his head blocked out the sun, and the branches strewn along the tree tops gave almost a cold chill to the area. The needles under his paws were sticky and pointy, clinging to his pads like mud. He flicked them off with a paw and grunted, ears twitching. It’s been so long... Batchaser thought with a frown. It’s been ages since I was here. And nothing has changed... Well.
⠀⠀Only the lack of cats was different. ShadowClan had been very aggressive and territorial during Fallenstar’s reign, and now it seemed like there weren’t even patrols. Much like RiverClan, the borders were stale, but not non-existent. That had to be a sign, right? I wonder if they’ll remember me. He huffed. Time seems to pass differently in StarClan and the Forgotten Eternity... it was only a few moons there. It’s been at least fifteen down here. Maybe more..! He shook his head and continued walking. If ShadowClan did remember him, then Batchaser’s life was going to be a lot easier.
⠀⠀“Come on. You can’t be serious.”
⠀⠀The voice caught Batchaser off guard. His eyes widened slightly and he dropped low to the ground, slinking into the blankets of undergrowth to shield his body. He crept forward slowly, peering through the bushes. He saw a huge, long-furred black she-cat pacing aggressively. “Why do you say that?” she snapped in return to the previous voice.
⠀⠀Batchaser’s heart thundered when he saw the white she-cat standing to the side, the scent of herbs clinging to her pelt. Cloudflame! He screwed his eyes shut and remembered the last thing he’d ever seen as a living cat. Cloudflame had stood over him, trying desperately to help, but... to no avail. That’s one cat that’ll remember me. I wonder what they’re arguing about, though?
⠀⠀Cloudflame narrowed sharp yellow eyes at the unknown black she-cat. “Because you don’t want to do anything to protect your Clan.”
⠀⠀“I can’t do anything.” The black she-cat shook her head and rose to her paws, standing at least two heads over Cloudflame. Her muscles rippled under her fur and she showed her teeth. “I would appreciate it if you did your job and healed, Cloudflame. I don’t need your advice.”
⠀⠀“My job may be in medicine, but I’m also meant to guide you when needed.” The black she-cat whirled around to storm off, but Cloudflame skidded to a halt in front of her. “Listen to me!”
⠀⠀“Or what?” Cloudflame was quiet. The black she-cat grunted and shouldered her way past the medicine cat. “That’s what I thought.”
⠀⠀Yeesh. Batchaser shook his head and waited for them both to leave. I could talk to her, I guess, but... I’d rather make a surprise entrance.
⠀⠀Before Cloudflame turned to walk away, she froze in place, tail-tip twitching. She whirled around, claws unsheathing, and suddenly dove into the foliage where Batchaser was hiding. He yelped in surprise and felt her paws sink into his shoulders, weight spinning on top of him. He rolled out from the bushes and grunted when his back was slammed into the ground, Cloudflame growling as she glared down at him. Her expression morphed into one of disbelief and shock, and she leapt off of him, shaking like a leaf. “B-Batchaser?”
⠀⠀“Yes,” he mumbled, staggering to his feet and swaying slightly. He shook the clinging pine needles from his black pelt and glanced up at Cloudflame. “Nice to see you, too.”
⠀⠀“Oh...” She raised her gaze and examined her surroundings. “I didn’t know I was in StarClan.. this whole day has been... fake?”
⠀⠀Batchaser sighed heavily, drawing her attention. “No,” he said, “I’m... I’m not here to talk to you from StarClan. We aren’t even in StarClan.”
⠀⠀Cloudflame narrowed her eyes. “You’re pulling my tail.”
⠀⠀“I’m not,” he defended, brows narrowing. “I’m here. I’m- alive, or whatever. Dead-alive. Alive-dead. You get it.”
⠀⠀”Batchaser.” She stomped forward and smacked him in the muzzle.
⠀⠀“I’m not here to play games! Is it a prophecy? Is something happening? I need to know, you- oh my StarClan, are you bleeding?”
⠀⠀“No, really?” he snapped, wiping the beads of blood off of his face. Ugh! Living cats were so annoying!
⠀⠀“Oh, no.” She shook her head and dropped to the ground. “You’re actually here. You’re- how are you alive? I thought you died! Everyone did! We... we buried you...”
⠀⠀Batchaser rolled his eyes. “Get up, Cloudflame. I did die, but I came back-” He shook his head at her confused expression. “Look, it’s too much to explain. Right now-”
⠀⠀“You smell like RiverClan.” She scrunched her nose.
⠀⠀“Because I just came from there.” He bit back for a moment, hesitating. Could he tell her that RiverClan was back in the territories, ready to join the other Clans again? She’s a medicine cat, and it’s her duty... I can trust her. “I helped them. RiverClan is back in their home. ShadowClan is the second biggest annoyance, so here I am.”
⠀⠀Her eyes widened. “RiverClan is back? In their territory? They’ve been missing for so long- we figured they had left-”
⠀⠀“Well, they’re here,” he cut in, voice breaking from stress. “Look, seriously, I’ll have to explain this later. Can you take me to Spiderstar?”
⠀⠀“Well, you just missed her.” The she-cat’s tail-tip twitched in agitation and she sunk her claws into the ground.
⠀⠀“Oh.” Batchaser’s voice fell flat and he squinted, thinking of the huge black she-cat. That was Spiderstar? Why does her name seem so familiar..? Oh well, it didn’t matter. Not right now, at least. “Will she care if I come to camp?”
⠀⠀Cloudflame shrugged, turning on her heels. “Probably not,” she said, grunting, padding forward without another word. Batchaser hesitated but eventually followed, jogging to catch up to her side. He matched the medicine cat’s strides, frowning. She sighed. “What’s wrong with your face?”
⠀⠀“What?” he asked, looking at her, slightly offended. “My face is fine!”
⠀⠀“Well, you’re scowling, so no.” She hooked her claws into the soft grass underpaw. “Come on, spit it out.”
⠀⠀“See- that.” He felt slightly out of place, like the world had been tipped on its head. Cloudflame was once sweet, kind, and hardly argumentative. Now... “You’ve changed.”
⠀⠀“Of course I’ve changed.” She cast a glance at him. “I don’t know how you came back, but other cats don’t get that chance. I only have one life, and I have to do my best with it. I-” Cloudflame growled as she walked. “I’m the one that takes care of this Clan. Spiderstar and I... we don’t get along. And if I have to be rude and obnoxious to get things done, then so be it.”
⠀⠀I guess I understand that. I’ve changed myself. He let the silence thread between them, but it wasn’t awkward or tense. It was... it was nice.
⠀⠀He flicked his head toward Cloudflame’s soft, rough voice. “Yes?”
⠀⠀She stopped and fully turned to him. “Is- is Lynxbite- have you seen her?”
⠀⠀Pain. It gripped his heart in pointed claws and sunk sharp fangs through his mind. The memories of his former mate were still raw with emotion, but he could also remember the poison in their relationship. Cloudflame noticed his grief and set her tail on his back, smoothing his black fur down. “I-” Batchaser sucked in a deep breath. “No. I haven’t.”
⠀⠀He could see the heartbreak in Cloudflame’s eyes, but it was instantly masked. “Well,” she said slowly. “Perhaps she didn’t want to see you.”
⠀⠀Batchaser laughed bitterly and continued to walk, feeling the anger lap in his chest. “Oh, thanks,” he said sarcastically. “That makes me feel so much better.”
⠀⠀“Batch- Batchaser!” She sighed and caught up with him in a few quick strides, closing the gap between them. “Hey. Look, I’m sorry. I just- she’s my sister, you know? I want make sure that she’s okay.”
⠀⠀“She’s dead, Cloudflame,” he said, voice rough with exhaustion from the topic. She flinched. “I don’t know where she is. I don’t know where my kits are. I wish I did, but I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”
⠀⠀Her eyes widened slightly. “Wait, hold on- was that- was that a sorry I heard? Batchaser apologized? Oh, StarClan! It’s a miracle!”
⠀⠀Batchaser was thankful for the subject change and rolled his blue eyes. “Okay, okay, let’s not go yell to the world about it.”
⠀⠀“I’m just surprised,” she said. “I don’t ever remember you apologizing to anyone.” She smirked and tilted her chin upward. “You’ve changed, too, Batchaser.”
⠀⠀Have I, really? He wasn’t entirely sure, but hoped that he was doing a little better than before. He was trying not to be as rude and snappy, but sometimes it was impossible to deal with these cats. Still. I’ve made friendships I never would’ve made before, when I was truly alive. He almost smiled at that. He was thankful for Pearlsnap, Applestar, and Beetlepaw. They were good cats.
⠀⠀They continued to walk and the silence deafened the forest, engulfing the front of camp in looming darkness. Batchaser relaxed at the sight of the entrance, face falling from cautious to happy. I haven’t been here in so long... He exchanged a glance with Cloudflame, turned away, and padded into camp.
⠀⠀Not much was different. The leader’s den had been patched up with brambles and vines, Batchaser noticed, but there was nothing else that stood out much. This is a sight for sore eyes... He rolled his shoulders forward and twitched his tail, glancing around camp. He noticed a few cats sitting near the fresh-kill-pile, but they didn’t even bother to turn and look. Batchaser frowned. This is weird.
⠀⠀“Foxshade,” Cloudflame called to a russet-furred warrior eating a finch. He turned to her and rolled his eyes. “Where’s Spiderstar?”
⠀⠀“Why would I know?” he snapped, fur bushing. Foxshade tilted his head and returned to his conversation with another ginger cat. Cloudflame weighted her paws, frowning at the lack of a clear answer. No wonder she’s stressed! Maybe I should say something...?
⠀⠀“Hey.” Batchaser walked past Cloudflame and glared down at the warrior.
⠀⠀Foxshade paused mid-sentence and groaned, looking toward him. ”What?” He squinted. “Who are you?”
⠀⠀“I’m the cat that’s about to make your life miserable if you don’t tell me where Spiderstar is,” Batchaser growled.
⠀⠀“She left a while ago,” the ginger she-cat said, smiling softly. That was slightly more helpful. “I’m sorry, who... are you?”
⠀⠀”Cloudflame.” Foxshade stumbled to his paws and whirled on the medicine cat, fangs baring. “Who is this? Your secret lover? He smells like fish!”
⠀⠀“Why in StarClan’s name- no!” she snarled back, claws unsheathing. “Are you stupid? My loyalty is to my Clan and the warrior code!”
⠀⠀“When did that ever stop anyone?” the ginger she-cat muttered.
⠀⠀Batchaser sighed and stood back as Cloudflame and Foxshade squabbled. Well, ShadowClan sure is trusting of each other... He frowned when Foxshade’s claws slid out and pierced the ground underpaw, slick fur beginning to bush. “Stop lying, Cloudflame!”
⠀⠀“I’m not lying!” she snapped, waving her tail to the black tom. “He’s a friend! An old one! He...” She frowned and swiped her head over her shoulder to look at him. “Batchaser, tell them.”
⠀⠀“Uh.” Batchaser shrugged and raised a paw, waving. “Hi? I came back from the dead and I’m here to help.”
⠀⠀The ginger she-cat raised her brows and fumbled to her paws. “Hng,” she said as her muscles popped. “Sorry, what? You’re dead?”
⠀⠀“Fireshine,” Foxshade grunted. “You can’t be serious. You believe him? You believe Cloudflame?”
⠀⠀“I saw your mother give birth to you,” the white-furred medicine cat hissed. “I’ve healed you more times than either of us can count. You should be thanking me, but instead all you do is question me! Why wouldn’t you believe it? He was a ShadowClan warrior! He died in a battle!”
⠀⠀Foxshade sneered. “Really? You’re from StarClan? Prove it!”
⠀⠀How in StarClan’s name am I meant to prove that? Batchaser thought back to his encounter with Sunpaw and wondered if he could somehow recreate what happened. Probably not. I don’t even know what I did the first time. “Look,” he started, “I—”
⠀⠀“Shut up!” another cat snapped from the side. “We’ll let Spiderstar deal with you! For now, you’re our prisoner.” He stepped up and sniffed Batchaser. “Eugh. RiverClan!”
⠀⠀“Don’t tell me to shut up,” Batchaser hissed back, unable to control his anger. “I’m not a prisoner. I was a former ShadowClan cat! I died, then died again, then woke up- look, it’s confusing, but I just helped RiverClan and now I’m here!”
⠀⠀“Fish-eater!” some random cat taunted from the back of the gathering crowd.
⠀⠀“Let’s run him off the territory!”
⠀⠀Batchaser cringed and flicked his ears back. Dear StarClan....what has ShadowClan become? He couldn’t imagine something like this ever happening back in his day. Even worse, warriors were beginning to turn on each other, and he could see the hint of a fight between two toms.
⠀⠀The camp fell silent at the rough, deep words. Batchaser tilted his head up and narrowed his eyes through the darkness. He suddenly froze, sinking his claws into the ground to steady himself. A huge gray tabby tom moved through the masses of bodies, fur ragged and green eye sharp. His muzzle was gray with age, and one of his eyes was completely ripped from the socket. Only a deep, jagged scar was left behind.
⠀⠀“Gorsebrush,” Foxshade muttered, dipping his head and scrambling out of the way.
⠀⠀The old tom flicked his ear in acknowledgment and glanced down at Batchaser. He wasn’t sure if Gorsebrush remembered him, but Batchaser certainly remembered Gorsebrush. He was a senior warrior by the time I received my warrior name...
⠀⠀“So...” Fireshine looked between the two toms. “Are we gonna chase him out, or..?”
⠀⠀Gorsebrush’s whiskers twitched in amusement, and a small smile made its way on his jaws. “No,” he said. “Batchaser. I remember you.”
⠀⠀The other warriors gathered around exchanged surprised glances, eyes widening. Batchaser was surprised, but instantly relieved to hear those words. He really didn’t want to be run out of a Clan right now, especially his old home. And I need to fix this place.... That could come later, though. “That’s good to hear,” Batchaser replied, and grinned when Gorsebrush’s smile widened.
⠀⠀“I don’t remember seeing you happy,” the elder said, sweeping his tail to keep the other cats behind him back. “I can’t believe it’s you. How are you here?”
⠀⠀“Oh, a little purgatory and some zombification,” he shrugged. Batchaser was pretty sure that wasn’t a word, but. Oh well. “I was, uh, kinda sent by StarClan to help the Clans..?” He wasn’t exactly sure how to word it, because Batchaser was the last cat his ancestors would pick. Still, he was here. That had to mean something. “RiverClan was first, and now I’m here. I’d really rather not get attacked today, though.”
⠀⠀“Yes,” Cloudflame sighed, exhausted as she padded up to the two, turning back to the rest of the Clan. “Batchaser is only here to help. StarClan sent him, and both Gorsebrush and I remember him. Please. We must let him save ShadowClan.”
⠀⠀There was a long thread of silence before Fireshine dipped her head. “Of course,” she said, “any warrior of ShadowClan is a friend of mine, dead or not.” Before he knew it, the entirety of the Clan was bowing, like he was some kind of king.
⠀⠀Seriously? This is pathetic. Batchaser had to keep himself from rolling his eyes, and instead nodded in return to the cats. “Thank you,” he said in his most I-am-really-thankful-you-all-didn’t-murder-me voice, “I’ll do my best to help, and I hope we can connect the link between StarClan and the Clans once more.”
⠀⠀Everyone began to disperse and Gorsebrush eyed Batchaser. “How long are you staying for, StarClanner?”
⠀⠀“As long as it takes,” he responded, looking over at Cloudflame. “Where will I be staying?” It would be night soon, but it was already so dark in the pine forest that he couldn’t completely tell. It’s sundown by now, I imagine.
⠀⠀The medicine cat sighed. “Follow me.” She led Batchaser across camp and paused, glancing at an orange tabby apprentice eating a thrush next to the fresh-kill-pile. “Asterpaw. Go fetch our guest some new bedding.”
⠀⠀She jumped to her paws and whirled around, blue eyes sparkling with excitement. “Of course, Cloudflame! I’ll be right back!” The apprentice scurried off and Cloudflame rolled her eyes, padding into an empty den on the side of camp. “This is the nursery, but we have no kits or queens so you’re free to stay in here for as long as you like.”
⠀⠀“Thanks, Cloudflame,” he murmured, dragging his paws into the den. Batchaser suddenly realized how tired he was, and wondered how he’d been able to keep up with the Clans for so long. At least tonight I’ll get some much needed sleep..
⠀⠀“Here you go,” Asterpaw called from the mouth of the cave. She waddled inside and dropped the soft bedding at Batchaser’s paws, grinning. “It’s- it’s an honor to have you, sir!”
⠀⠀Sir? This is seriously weird. He only fake smiled in return and plopped into the nest as soon as the apprentice was gone. “I have a headache,” he muttered, rubbing his temple with his paw.
⠀⠀“I’ll give you some feverfew when you wake up,” she said, then paused. “Batchaser, do you really think you can help us? Things.... they’re bad right now.”
⠀⠀“Don’t worry about it, Cloudflame,” he murmured, burying his muzzle into the soft nest. “I saved RiverClan and I’m not even a medicine cat.... I think I can fix my own Clan.”
⠀⠀There was hesitation, but Cloudflame reluctantly accepted his words and turned to leave. Batchaser heard her walk away and sighed heavily, curling in on himself. Let’s hope I can, he thought anxiously. They seem to trust me, but Spiderstar is caught in her own world. I have to fix things before it’s too late... He thought about StarClan, and found himself missing home. The sooner I get this over with, the sooner I can fix everything...
⠀⠀That was the last soothing thought Batchaser would have in ShadowClan.