[Takes place several days after 'these ghosts that i chase'
Despite her earlier convictions, Batbite hadn't yet spoken to Strom. As she wandered aimlessly, she told herself that she would
, that the time just wasn't quite right - though what that meant, and when it would be, she couldn't say.
If she was honest with herself - something she was trying rather desperately to avoid these days, it seemed - then it had nothing to do with timing. There was no right time for anything, really. Things just happened, and they had to live with that. Perhaps it was a grand plan set in motion by their ancestors in the stars, something fantastical to imagine and beautiful to behold; or perhaps it was the work of the Dark Forest, heard only in whispered horror stories.
Or perhaps it wasn't guided by one thing or the other at all, and it was their own paws that laid out their paths. Maybe both, maybe neither - life was full of uncertainties.
That was her problem, in the simplest of terms. She didn't know anything. She had no idea if Oakstar was even still leader of ThunderClan, if her brothers were there at all. If the shadows she kept seeing in the corner of her eye meant something after all.
If she'd ever be able to stop following after shapes she couldn't quite make out, if she'd ever be able to stop chasing ghosts.
She was sure they weren't dead cats. Even if that were
possible, and she certainly had her doubts - StarClan lived in the stars, after all; and as for non-Clan cats... Well, she knew little of their customs, despite her heritage. Her only memories before ThunderClan were of her and her siblings, and a lingering resentment toward the faintly fading shadow of her mother.
No, her ghosts weren't dead. But she didn't believe they were alive, either. They were shadows, perhaps, haunting an anxious cat who'd been in relative isolation with her partner for too long. How long since she'd come across another cat that wasn't Strom? Hadn't she left to explore
and to escape the things that weighed heavily on her shoulders? What was she doing with her life?
a life, and a family, and cats that had trusted her - however foolish a choice that
was, in hindsight - and she'd thrown it all away. She wasn't sure if that was something to regret or just accept. She'd found something here, after all, that the clans wouldn't have let her have. Love that had settled in her heart, making a home there before she'd ever noticed it; and the realizations that followed.
She'd found happiness here, however short lived it might have been.
But thoughts of love led her mind to wander, as it often did. She'd accepted that if she returned she would bring Strom, so long as he was willing to go. Would they accept him? He wasn't just
a former RiverClan cat, after all; he'd left his clan the same as her. Would they see him as unreliable, or a liability? Would they turn him away for sins she also shared?
Would they turn her
away, for casting them aside as she had? Oakstar had let her go, but that didn't mean that he had to take her back. She'd broken her oath as a warrior, after all. Maybe she'd done so when she spoke it, swearing her allegiance to a code she didn't quite believe in.
ThunderClan, she believed in. Or she had, at some point in the past that felt so distant now. Presently, wondering whether they were the same was giving her something of a headache. Well, perhaps she hadn't so much believed in ThunderClan
as she had the cats that called it home. Oakstar, Beartooth, Pricklebush and Mossbloom, working together to keep everything working as it was supposed to. Her brothers, dependable where she wasn't. Her fellow warriors, and each kit and apprentice and elder, each playing their part in their own way.
How were they faring? There was no way for her to know.
She stopped pacing and sat where she was, tail curling around her side. Looking up to the night sky, she watched the stars in silence for some time. Wondered if they were watching over her now, despite her wavering faith. It had never been rock-solid, as it seemed to be for so many, but instead would rise and fall as time passed. Was their influence major or minor, aside from the lives they gave and messages they shared?
There were so many stars dotting the sky, it almost seemed like they were just little dots of light. She wondered what she looked like to them - maybe a little dot of shadow, a speck on black on the beautiful landscape all around, desperately searching for something
. Could they see more than her faith wavering? How indecision and uncertainty plagued her mind, how every choice was right and wrong all at once?
They had seen her before, but she had lived among their more devout followers then. Here she was, torn between begging them for help and cursing their inaction, unsure of whether they were listening at all. Stars were pretty things, after all, but frustratingly silent most of the time.
She rose to her paws, turning to walk away, when in the faint glow of moonlight a shadow caught her eye. She turned to catch a passing glimpse of it, which was all she ever seemed to get, and was met with a flash of black. A trick of the light, she supposed, and nothing to worry about. It wasn't anything she wasn't used to by now.
Shaking her head to clear her mind, she chose to make her way to the stream that flowed not far from here. It was too cold now to swim, seeing as it was the middle of leaf-bare and her long fur would leave her drenched in the cold, but the sound of flowing water often helped her clear her mind.
Once she arrived she noticed that the usual sound of running water was muted, and saw that the stream was covered by a sheet of ice and surrounded by snow that glittered wherever the light hit it. Wondering if it could hold her weight, she reached a paw out to test her curiosity. It didn't give way, so she added another, her front paws on the ice and her back paws resting on the snow. One hesitant step became two, and then she stepped forward with confidence, though that confidence vanished in an instant as she slid across the ice.
She slid across the frozen stream again, this time on purpose, and wondered if this was what it felt like to fly. Her paws stayed on the ice, but the way she glided across it - not quite the way she meant to, but each attempt was better than the last - made her feel like she was soaring somehow. She kept at it for a while, trying not to wobble and to instead glide across the water, until she kept going and slid directly into a bank of snow.
She emerged more or less unharmed - just a little dazed for a moment - though the solid black of her fur was now dusted with white, and prepared to return to her little game. As she moved to step onto the ice once again, though, she spared a glance down at her paws only to find that the ice was broken. It must have happened when she crashed into the snow bank, she supposed."That's enough of that for one night,"
she murmured, speaking only for her own benefit. There was another glimpse of shadow-black, and she turned to inspect the water. She probably shouldn't humor them as much as she did, but she'd given up on ignoring them ages before.
Green eyes stared back at her, the water showing a figure with a shadowy black pelt. At first, she thought her mind had finally given up and decided to give her ghost a solid shape, but then she noticed the tiny bits of that white dusted the figure's fur here and there, and she realized it was just her reflection.
Then again, what was the difference? She chased her own tail just as often as the illusions that plagued her, after all; and she could never quite catch either. She waited for a few moments, half expecting something odd to happen, but nothing did. She was simply a cat staring into the water, watching her own reflection. When had she become enough of a stranger to herself that she couldn't recognize her own face at a glance?
Maybe that was all it was. The ghosts she'd been chasing were just her own shadows, pieces of herself that were just distant enough to feel like strangers. Or memories, the images of cats she knew and hadn't seen in moons now.
As she made her way back to the barn the only thing she was certain of was that she couldn't live like this much longer. The barn had been home for a time, but it was time to leave it behind - not now, not before talking it out with Strom, but soon.