Chapter 39 || Mist
Tendrils of darkness wrapped over Batchaser, covering him in a damp coldness that felt eerily familiar. He flexed his talons and lashed his tail through dead air, eyes screwing open. He was met with pure black except for the speckles of stars twinkling in the sky. The darkness melted away into a pale green field, blades of grass crunching under his weight.
⠀⠀What the.... Batchaser frowned and slowly stood up, swaying from the sudden dizziness. He craned his muzzle toward the speckled sky - which looked so, so close - and hoisted himself on his hind legs, reaching a paw out. His claws glistened over the dapples of stars, but they immediately turned to dust under his touch. Batchaser coughed and reeled back, shaking his head to get the cloudiness out of his vision.
⠀⠀It wasn’t cloudiness, though. Batchaser realized that mist had risen from the ground, covering the ground in a thick, heavy gray blanket. He slowly moved forward, motions awkward and choppy as if he were walking through a swamp. The mist was almost whispering, sliding around his feet and pulling at his fur. Batchaser hissed and leapt forward, a cloud of air puffing up around him.
⠀⠀He recognized the voice immediately. The black tom turned his head over his shoulder and spotted Jackalstar at the mouth of the slope, staring up at him, more confused than ever. Batchaser bounded down toward her, swiping away the murmuring mist. “What’s going on?” he asked.
⠀⠀Jackalstar shook her head. “I don’t know,” she admitted, gaze heavy and dark. “We need to find the others, though.”
⠀⠀The two exchanged a glance. “Shellstar,” they said in unison and jogged toward the voice. Through the thickness of the haze, Batchaser could make out the blurred shape of a white tom leaping away from the mist at his paws.
⠀⠀“Shellstar!” Jackalstar snapped, garnering the black-striped tom’s attention.
⠀⠀“Just... I don’t know!” She shook her head in exasperation. “Come with us – we need to find Galewhisker, Cypressfall, and Rushingpaw-”
⠀⠀“I’m here.” Batchaser startled at the appearance of the gray tom, who’d blended in perfectly with the dull-colored world behind Shellstar.
⠀⠀“Agh....” An echoey voice pulled Batchaser’s attention from Galewhisker and he turned, spotting Cypressfall. The calico she-cat trampled through the area, speeding up when she noticed the group. “Can someone tell me why the mist is trying to eat my paws?”
⠀⠀“Wait–” She looked around, fur spiking. “Where’s Rushingpaw?” Cypressfall dropped an accusatory glare at Batchaser.
⠀⠀The black tom threw his paws up in the air defensively. “He’s staying in RiverClan, better than ever with his sisters. I guess he’s not coming to these dreams anymore.” That was probably better for everyone - they didn’t need a small annoying cat to deal with in such a serious time.
⠀⠀Cypressfall puffed out a breath of air. Batchaser couldn’t tell whether it was relieved or upset, deciding to glance at her before turning back to the rest of the group. We’re down one.... but how has everyone else been doing in their situations? Maybe they’d been making progress already. Maybe they could even return home early!
⠀⠀“Galewhisker.” Jackalstar sat down and ignored the mist tugging at the fur around her paws. Batchaser followed suit, and eventually, so did the rest of the group. “Do you know what this place is?”
⠀⠀The gray tom hesitated, pale green gaze blinking back confusion. “I... I’m not sure, to be truthful. I’ve never seen this place before.”
⠀⠀“This can’t be StarClan, can it?” Shellstar asked, worried.
⠀⠀“Of course not!” Jackalstar hissed, but even her voice sounded flat and unsure. “I mean- this- this can’t be StarClan already. We’ve been trying to save the Clans! Why would something like this happen?”
⠀⠀Batchaser screwed his eyes shut and momentarily blocked out the growing bickering among the group. If this is already StarClan, then what is there left to do? He frowned. But I know cats that believe in StarClan. Sunpaw, Doestar, all of RiverClan, now most of ShadowClan.... how can we already be fading away if so many know we’re real?
⠀⠀Cypressfall lashed her tail through the mist, causing Batchaser to jerk and tune back into the conversation. “Maybe this isn’t now- maybe it’s a vision, or a sign of the future. I don’t see anyone else, so how can it be StarClan?”
⠀⠀“Maybe everyone faded away,” Shellstar panicked. “No! They can’t have!”
⠀⠀Galewhisker frowned, not doing his usual duty in calming the former WindClan leader. “Maybe we should all talk about what we’ve done the past two weeks.”
⠀⠀“I would like to hear what’s happening in RiverClan,” Cypressfall said suspiciously, “and why you’ve been there so long! Seriously. I’ve been idling around ThunderClan territory for a half moon, what have you and Rushingpaw been doing? Eating fish? We don’t have room for wasted time!”
⠀⠀“Uh,” Batchaser snapped, slightly offended. “No thanks to you, I’ve been helping RiverClan.”
⠀⠀Jackalstar made a face. Shellstar and Galewhisker exchanged a glance.
⠀⠀“Oh, don’t look so surprised!” The black tom batted at the grass under the blanket of mist, scowling.
⠀⠀Cypressfall grunted. “And what exactly have you two done?”
⠀⠀“Well, hardly thanks to Rushingpaw, I saved RiverClan from a sickness. The Blue Death!” Everyone looked confused and Batchaser waved them off. “Whatever, it doesn’t matter. I had to act as a babysitter but we definitely have RiverClan on our side. In addition, I’ve moved them back into their original territory.”
⠀⠀Jackalstar flexed her claws impatiently. “Fine,” she huffed, “when you leave RiverClan we’ll need some place to regroup. Formally talk about our next course of action.”
⠀⠀“What about dreams?” Batchaser asked. “And I’m not-”
⠀⠀“Dreams are unpredictable,” Galewhisker interrupted. “We cannot count on these visions bringing us together.”
⠀⠀Batchaser narrowed his eyes at the tom. Well, I guess no one needs to know I’m in ShadowClan now!
⠀⠀Shellstar nodded gravely. “Then we must find a sheltered area to meet, where no one will see us. But where?”
⠀⠀“It needs to be somewhere out of sight but where we can all access...” Jackalstar shook her head. “I don’t know. The Moonpool and Gathering Island are too far for anyone to walk.”
⠀⠀Galewhisker shifted his gaze to the calico she-cat. “Cypressfall, can you think of any suitable places near ThunderClan? Behind them, perhaps?”
⠀⠀She shrugged. “There’s a river running down for a pretty long time, not sure about good shelter though. A few tall trees.”
⠀⠀Shellstar hummed thoughtfully. “I suppose we could climb a tree and speak up there.”
⠀⠀Batchaser rolled his eyes. “What are we, squirrels? I’m not climbing a tree just to meet. We need to find somewhere better.”
⠀⠀“And what do you suggest?” Jackalstar grumbled, scratching a paw over her ear.
⠀⠀The black tom shrugged. “I don’t know, but we’ll have to find something eventually, right?”
⠀⠀“We don’t have time for eventually!” Galewhisker said, voice raising. Batchaser’s eyes widened slightly and he looked at the usually calm and emotionless tom. Galewhisker whisked his tail back and forth. “If this is a vision of the future, then we don’t have time to wait. We need to act now.”
⠀⠀“How, though?” Cypressfall challenged. “Only RiverClan has been helped! There’s still ShadowClan, and the rumors aren’t good - and ThunderClan is more ambitious than ever. I can’t keep holding them off with distractions and strange scent marks. Soon, they’re going to strike.”
⠀⠀Jackalstar pushed her paws into the ground anxiously, tearing at the grass with pearly-white claws. “What’s their plan?”
⠀⠀Cypressfall frowned, hunching her shoulders forward. “From what I’ve heard, Doestar is planning to take over the rest of the territory - make one huge Clan, everyone under her reign.”
⠀⠀“That’s preposterous!” Shellstar snarled, leaping to his feet. “There have always been four Clans!”
⠀⠀“Not soon,” Batchaser muttered.
⠀⠀Galewhisker looked worried. “If Doestar succeeds with her plan, then I fear StarClan will disappear forever.”
⠀⠀The weight of his words hung in the air, heaving down on Batchaser’s shoulders. What could they do? We need to unite the other Clans somehow - take down the tyranny in ThunderClan, reverse the mindset that’s been placed there. It was certainly easier said than done. “RiverClan is growing stronger,” the black tom hesitantly offered. Jackalstar narrowed her eyes at him. “Applestar is behind my command, and they have a strong deputy. I’m in ShadowClan now-”
⠀⠀“Did anyone tell you to go to ShadowClan?” Shellstar snapped.
⠀⠀Batchaser glared at the white and black tom. “What, like I’d take orders from a cat that killed me?” Shellstar’s eyes widened and he froze, apparently becoming a mute. “ShadowClan is weak. They have no loyalty, no ambition, hardly enough warriors to fill camp. There’s no rock holding them in place - and I’m going to try, but without a deputy, and with a clueless leader....” The tom shook his head hopelessly. “I don’t know if I can help them before Doestar’s plan is initiated.”
⠀⠀Jackalstar growled and slammed her paw into the ground, beginning to furiously pace back and forth. “I can’t help because I’m stuck in WindClan,” she growled.
⠀⠀“I can,” Cypressfall offered with a small shrug.
⠀⠀The white and brown she-cat looked at Cypressfall. “You need to continue distracting ThunderClan to buy us time.”
⠀⠀“Jackalstar, they’re not taking the bait. Their interest is on the other Clans, not a rogue that hasn’t even taken much food. And even at the tail-end of leaf-fall, they still have enough prey to feed their entire Clan twice over.” Cypressfall sighed. “There’s nothing more I can do.”
⠀⠀“The best thing we can do is let leaf-bare take its course,” Galewhisker said quietly. “Then, maybe we’ll have a chance to stop them.”
⠀⠀Jackalstar shook her head. “Stop them how? We can’t attack our former Clan!”
⠀⠀“They’re hardly a Clan!” Batchaser growled back. “They have an insane leader and they all blindly follower her like a bunch of mindless sheep. We have to attack!”
⠀⠀“What, in leaf-bare, when the other Clans are starving and hungry?” Shellstar growled. “I can’t let that happen to WindClan again.”
⠀⠀“Last I checked,” Batchaser spat, “you weren’t WindClan leader anymore.”
⠀⠀“Just-” Galewhisker puffed out a small breath of air, silencing the others. “We need a plan. A good one. Us arguing here while valuable time passes isn’t going to help anyone. I suggest we think of something to do and meet up in a dream in a few days.”
⠀⠀“And with me in ShadowClan, I think I’ll come up with a few ideas,” Cypressfall said.
⠀⠀Whatever. Batchaser blinked slowly and saw the stars in the sky begin to burst into balls of shadows, effectively covering the sky in a dark blanket. The ground began to fade away under his paws and he realized the dream, or the vision, or whatever this was, was ending. The tom closed his eyes, relaxed his body, and the eeriness of the area was replaced with a warm, cozy nest.
⠀⠀Batchaser jerked back in surprise, not having expected to wake up so quickly. The tom opened his jaws into a yawn, rubbing at his eyes. Mmm.. He had a lot to think about, mostly his annoyance at having to deal with Cypressfall if she really came. Great. It’s just like the Forgotten Eternity all over again.
⠀⠀Muttering under his breath, Batchaser slowly lifted himself from his nest and was nearly blown over by the cold draft that filled the cave. When did it get so freezing? The tom poked his head out of the den and squinted against the harsh wind lapping against his face, blowing back his whiskers as he stood. Thick sheets of clouds covered the once clear sky, small white flecks falling to the ground.
⠀⠀Oh. It was snowing.
⠀⠀“Batchaser! Batchaser!” The tom’s ears flicked and he turned his head, raising a brow as Asterpaw raced up to him. The ginger she-cat’s blue eyes glistened. “It’s snowing!”
⠀⠀“No, really?” he said sarcastically.
⠀⠀“Yeah!” she replied, unaware that he’d been facetious. So much like Rushingpaw... With a pang, the tom walked past Asterpaw and plopped down at the fresh-kill-pile, ignoring her completely. How in the world am I supposed to fix ShadowClan when I don’t even know where their leader is? Even Applestar had been easier to talk to than Spiderstar.
⠀⠀“Batchaser!” He groaned and dragged his paws away from the measly pile of prey, fixing his dark gaze on Cloudflame. Asterpaw looked as well.
⠀⠀“What?” he grunted.
⠀⠀“Asterpaw! With me. Hunting patrol.” A golden tabby tom walked past the black tom and flicked his tail, motioning for Asterpaw to follow.
⠀⠀“Aww. I can’t spend the day with Batchaser?” she asked.
⠀⠀“Sorry,” the golden tom shrugged. “Cloudflame wants us out of camp.” He dipped his head to the medicine cat.
⠀⠀“Brindlespark,” she said, smiling softly. Asterpaw padded behind her mentor, tail dragging in the dirt. “Would you mind bringing along.... hmm, Redgrowl and Furryflank.”
⠀⠀“Furryflank is already out,” Brindlespark frowned.
⠀⠀Cloudflame looked surprised. “Really? For what?”
⠀⠀He shrugged. “I don’t know. Snowytail suggested they mark the borders since Batchaser is here now, so no one forgets we’re a Clan again. She and Granitepaw went along.”
⠀⠀The medicine cat growled. “Fine, take whoever you want.” She whirled on her paws and stalked back into the medicine den, white tail-tip disappearing into the darkness.
⠀⠀Batchaser clicked his tongue awkwardly and motioned toward the medicine den. “So- um- yeah, I guess I’ll just- yep.”
⠀⠀“Wait, who else do we take?” Brindlespark asked.
⠀⠀Batchaser made a face. “Why are you asking me?”
⠀⠀“Umm....” He shifted on his paws. “You’re from StarClan, so...”
⠀⠀Ugh. Why did I even say I was from StarClan? Batchaser shrugged and pointed to a gray tom with black stripes that emerged from the warriors’ den. “Take him.”
⠀⠀“Ashleap?” Brindlespark hummed and turned away. “Let’s go, then.” Ashleap realized his name had been called and hurried after the mentor and apprentice.
⠀⠀Well.... Batchaser moved his paws toward the medicine den and blinked through the swath of shadows, noticing a shape in the corner of the den. “Cloudflame?”
⠀⠀“No. It’s just me.” A slightly gruff, amused voice caught Batchaser’s attention and he tilted his head. Gorsebrush stared back with a pale green eye.
⠀⠀“Oh,” he said.
⠀⠀Gorsebrush laughed. “I’ve never heard a cat so disappointed to speak to an elder.”
⠀⠀“Oh, it’s not-” Batchaser’s ear tips burned with embarrassment as he stumbled over his words. “Sorry, I’m just looking for Cloudflame.”
⠀⠀“There’s a hole in the back of the cave,” Gorsebrush smiled, pointing toward the dip in the ground that lead to Cloudflame’s part of the den. “Pretty sure she stomped off. Good luck talking to her in that mood.”
⠀⠀Batchaser grunted. “Wonderful.” He picked his way across the cave and peered down, hoping there weren’t spiders or anything. “Thanks, Gorsebrush.”
⠀⠀“Wait-” The black tom turned and warily eyed the elder. “This may sound naive, but are you really going to help the Clan? Or are you here for something else?”
⠀⠀“What do you mean?” Batchaser frowned and sat down.
⠀⠀“Well, I’d understand if you’re only using ShadowClan to get to ThunderClan - after all, they are the heart of the prophecy-”
⠀⠀”What?” Batchaser seethed, jumping to his paws and glaring at the old tom. “Why would you even question my loyalty to ShadowClan? I would never do something so- so selfish! I wouldn’t hurt that many other cats for the sake of saving ThunderClan.”
⠀⠀The black tom immediately faltered once his own words rang in his ears. I did use someone, though. I did something horribly selfish just for the sake of making myself feel better. Just for the sake of enacting revenge. I used Paleheart, and now, because of me, the Clans are in disarray.
⠀⠀Gorsebrush blinked at him then twitched his whiskers. “I see you haven’t lost any of your fire.”
⠀⠀Batchaser sighed. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap.”
⠀⠀“That was more like a rant, but either way, I accept your apology. I’m sorry if I was intruding or rude. I shouldn’t have questioned your motives.” Batchaser squinted, trying to detect if there were any hidden meanings under Gorsebrush’s words. He couldn’t tell.
⠀⠀“Well, I’ll be back,” he muttered. “Feel better, I... guess..?” Without waiting for an answer, Batchaser plunged head-first into Cloudflame’s den, shifting his body through cracks in the rocks where a shaft of light streamed in. He found the cleft and used his paws to scrabble through, breaking some of the wet earth. His paws fell on pine needles and he breathed in the fresh forest air, masses of trees above blocking out most of the snow falling from the sky. Batchaser closed his eyes. Home.
⠀⠀But he wanted to find Cloudflame more than anything now. She’d called to him earlier, so maybe she had an idea? Perhaps she needed help? Batchaser wasn’t going to take Gorsebrush’s advice and leave her be; he didn’t really care whether she was snappy or not. Just gotta find her.
⠀⠀Opening his jaws, Batchaser caught the hint of a scent trail and began to follow, paws sending needles and small leaves flurrying elsewhere. His fur bushed to keep himself warm and realized the scent was growing closer. Good. The black tom emerged from the forest into a clearing, where a small rise in the ground lead toward the edge of a mound. Batchaser narrowed his eyes and lifted himself to the top, scanning the flattened ground below. He realized he was almost out of ShadowClan territory, out to the north. Hmmm...
⠀⠀The crackling of twigs stole Batchaser’s attention. He turned his head back and glared into the darkness of the pine forest, willing Cloudflame to appear. When he tasted the air, however, her scent was gone.
⠀⠀Batchaser’s blood went cold. The tom looked around, the sudden feeling of unease dropping like rocks in his belly. Before he could make another glance around the clearing, a sharp pair of claws dug into his back and forced him to the ground. Batchaser yelped and hardly registered what was happening, paws flailing uselessly. The weight on top of his back lessened just slightly, but by then he was tumbling over the side of the small, steep hill, body flattening the speckles of snow on the ground.
⠀⠀A voice rang in his ears but Batchaser couldn’t hear it. He felt the cold trickle of blood on his back and wondered if this was it, if he was going to die here before he could even complete his mission. A heavy thud on his side jerked him back into consciousness and he saw large black paws in front of him, pearly-white claws glinting with blood.
⠀⠀“So, Batchaser,” a harsh voice whispered in his ear, causing him to shiver. “What brings you back to ShadowClan?”