An Interruption of Peace

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    The rain had finally stopped and the floodwaters were receding back to the ocean. The Clans were free to return to their respective homes and yet, Pantherpaw did not feel satisfied at all. In fact, he felt unusually restless. The events of what had happened over the past moon did not necessarily affect him personally– he loss of his home and the move to find somewhere temporary to stay until they could return to their camp. The rift that was forming between himself and his siblings. Not even the loss of one of his mother’s lives, which he personally witnessed, shook him. Instead, he found himself strangely intrigued by the violence.

    He watched, motionless by the gorge with the rest of his clanmates, as Wisteriastar dove into the treacherous waters to save the life of his sister, Sorrelpaw. At such a moment, Pantherpaw had not felt fear for either the lives of his mother or sister or any anxiety at the outcome of their fates. He had merely watched from an outsider’s perspective, as if what would happen to his kin was a complete separation to any identity of himself. Of course, Sorrelpaw had been successfully rescued, returned to safe grounding and unharmed aside from perhaps a bit of shock from the experience. The tip of his tail twitched and a feeling akin to disappointment overwhelmed him. The emotion was unexpected to him and Pantherpaw had wondered why the well-being of his sister bothered him so much, but he quickly received an answer to the nagging in his chest.

    Right before them, a log was viciously swept through the current and side-swiped Wisteriastar; she went down with a sickening thud and the black apprentice grew rigid, his yellow eyes wide as he watched her fall, motionless and bloody on the battered ground before them. His breath left him and he stared down at her lifeless body, almost as if he were drinking in every last heartbeat that passed with her death. However, such an experience was cut abruptly short as his mother gave a wild twitch and the life returned to her once more. Pantherpaw’s heart was racing and he felt that incredible restlessness again, but this time it manifested in his paws as they twitched eagerly. The yearning he felt to relive this experience was already overwhelming and he struggled to suppress the craving that screamed from deep within his very being as he silently followed his clan to ShadowClan territory.

    Pantherpaw had not spoken a single word to any cat present the entire time, even to those who had given him friendly greetings and asked of his well-being. He didn’t care. Absolutely none of them mattered to him. They were expendable resources and temporary companions during their stay. SkyClan and ShadowClan cats alike spared him wary glances but he took no notice of them. He was far too preoccupied by the feeling of a caged bird flapping wildly from deep in his chest. It wanted out and he didn’t know how long he could keep it there.

    Tonight was the night of the Gathering and Pantherpaw had rejected Forestmask’s offer to bring him with him. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to be surrounded by other cats anymore. Pantherpaw had left camp, sneaking away from the guard at the top of the rocks above the waterfall and ventured on his own through RiverClan territory. It was peaceful and quiet tonight. A good portion of his clanmates had left to go to the gathering tonight and the territory echoed the absence. And yet, there remained and awful sense of foreboding before him, something he couldn’t pinpoint exactly why until he caught wind of a certain scent.

    The scent of death.

    The dappled apprentice’s breath quickened and his paws hastily pursued the source of it before he could even register where he was going. It was almost as if something were calling to him, pulling him forward. Pantherpaw came across a trail of blood, sloppily splattered through the reeds and left haphazardly to and fro all over the ground. His yellow eyes narrowed and he quietly continued to follow the line of red. Soon enough, ahead of him loomed a figure, black as the night sky, hunched over what he assumed used to be a piece of prey. But the animal that had been thoroughly culled was beyond recognition, far past the point of killing in order to feed oneself. Pantherpaw felt himself trembling at the gruesome sight, and far from the excitement he felt at witnessing the loss of one of his mother’s lives, now he felt pure terror.

    It was almost as if the scent of his fear alerted the figure ahead of his presence, and it whipped around to face him, reflecting a glimmer of orange from the shadows. There was not a single sound of a growl or a bark or any sort of noise that something like a badger or a fox would make should they find a piece of quick and easy prey like a cat. No, there was something far more ominous about this, this… thing as it stared at him quietly from where it lingered. And then, slowly, there was movement as it began to approach him. If Pantherpaw thought he was tense before, then the complete and utter paralysis he felt in this very moment was a harsh wake-up call to him. He was powerless to flee, no matter how badly he wanted to.

    As the figure moved from the shadows and into the soft light of the looming moon, a face shaped before him. Narrow and ragged, the tom’s face was as hollow as the rest of him. His fur was as dark as the shadows he had hidden in earlier, with the exception of a bare tuxedo pattern of white. It appeared thick, whether from genetic trait or from a matted lack of grooming, Pantherpaw couldn’t tell for sure. It was littered with graphic scars, telling of his way of life. The blood from his kill earlier marred his body, fresh as it dripped over his chest, his forelegs and his muzzle. It seemed much too excessive– how could there be that much blood from a living being? It was almost as if he had stripped it of everything it had to give. The orange he had seen earlier was reflected in the spindly tom’s eyes as they peered down at him.

    “Can I help you?” He asked, his tone empty. His voice was harsh and deep– scratchy, almost as if he wasn’t used to using it anymore. The tip of his tail twitched, almost as if he were annoyed that he had been interrupted and yet… Pantherpaw didn’t recognize this tom. He didn’t smell of RiverClan. Was he a loner? No, a loner couldn’t be so baselessly violent… A rogue, he had to be. Pantherpaw’s pelt stood on end and he found the words to reply completely stuck in his throat, his paws still wouldn’t move and his tail trembled helplessly behind him. He had never found himself afraid before. And afraid of a rogue, no less? But there was something different about this one. There was something animalistic from within that told him he should avoid conflict. An instinct to be far, far away from here.

    He jumped at the haggard sigh the tom gave. “Honestly, I’m sure your mother taught you some manners. I asked you a question. Why have you bothered me?” 

    It was almost as if his words had lifted the fear that held him down. “Wh-who are you? Why are you in RiverClan territory? You can’t.. You can’t be here!” Pantherpaw swallowed, cursing himself for the evident anxiety that cut in his voice. But to his surprise, the tom in front of him laughed, a sound that was so completely off-putting and unpleasant from someone like him that it made him wince. It was a shrill sound and it made his ears flatten to his skull at the utter atrocity of it.

    “I can go wherever I like,” He snorted, turning his chin at him, “Who’s going to stop me? You?” The tom sneered at him, “No one in the Clans has ever been able to prevent me from doing what I want to when I want to. I’d honestly love to see you try.” The way he spoke, the way he carried himself– it wasn’t arrogance. It was like he was speaking fact, like the sky was blue or that water was wet. The unease Pantherpaw felt only kept growing and growing, it was so overwhelming at this point, the apprentice was struggling to breathe.

    “You still haven’t answered my question!” He spat, anger overcoming him, “Who are you!?” 

    The tom turned to look at him once more, his orange eyes as empty as ever. “My name is Jetstream. I abandoned clan life long ago and I’ve been roaming your territories freely ever since.” That was all he gave, but at least now, Pantherpaw knew his name.

    “Well, Jetstream, I don’t care how long you’ve been here. You can’t be anymore.” The apprentice returned his gaze fiercely, though it was a bluff. He was truly, truly scared and as much as he hated to admit it, he wanted nothing more than to return to camp safely under the protection of his mother. “Wisteriastar will be back home soon and she’ll drive you out of RiverClan territory soon enough.” 

    He hadn’t thought a single moment of the words that came out of his mouth, but once Jetstream’s eyes widened and a sickening delight rounded them, he wished he had. “Oh? Wisteriastar, huh?” He parroted, leaning closer to him as he spoke. “My daughter has finally reached leadership, then? How delightful! Perhaps I should pay her a visit soon.” A grin split his expression, one that was as broken and twisted as he could possibly imagine, yellow teeth glinted from his maw and Pantherpaw winced at the sight of them.

    It took his brain a few heartbeats to catch up with the tom’s words. “Your daughter?” He echoed, shock reverberating through him. He was related to this vile creature? “You can’t be! I’d know who you were if you were my mother’s father!” Pantherpaw shouted, digging his claws into the ground below in a vain effort to steady himself. And again, it appeared that he had revealed something he certainly shouldn’t have, for the glee that glowed in Jetstream’s eyes only appeared to manifest even more.

    “My daughter has kits of her own?” He had repeated, this time getting to his paws and steadily approaching him. Pantherpaw stiffened again. Despite the fact that he had grown substantially through his apprenticeship and he was arguably going to become one of the biggest toms in his Clan once he were to become fully grown, Jetstream still towered over him. But it was not a height in terms of bulk like his own, rather one that came from his skinny frame. It shocked him to see toned muscles rippling beneath the tom’s ragged pelt, yet it was something that only further confirmed the dread he felt earlier. Even if he were tall and skinny, Pantherpaw should surely not underestimate Jetstream, or he had a feeling like this encounter could cost him his life.

    When he hadn’t replied, the lanky tuxedo tom simply continued on, “Then it must be safe to assume that you are my grandson,” The stood directly in front of each other now, staring each other eye-to-eye, “You resemble me a lot.” Jetstream said matter-of-factly. “How interesting.” 

    “I’m nothing like you!” Pantherpaw retorted immediately. This was unlike anything he had ever experienced from the plethora of cats he had met before, this tom with this threatening aura about him that seemed to challenge his very existence.

    “Oh, no?” Jetstream’s eyes went wide and his expression parted to something unceremoniously childish. He leaned in closer once more, so close to him that Pantherpaw could smell the rank of his breath bathe his face. His orange eyes peered into him and it felt almost as though he were peering into his soul, reaching around for something to hold on to. “I see it in you.” Was all he finally said, five words that sent a feeling of despair and hopelessness churning through him, so much so that he swayed on his paws and plopped back on his haunches.

    It was then that it all finally clicked for him. Was this what had been connecting him to the thrill of watching the experience of death occur? This was the link. Jetstream was responsible for his ties to the restlessness that fluttered inside of him. He stared back at the rogue, his jaws hanging silently open. Pantherpaw didn’t know how to handle all of this– this chance encounter that changed his life. It was terrifying and he didn’t know where it would lead him, but it was obvious to him that this may as well have been the only hope he really had from here on out. Jetstream could potentially be the one and only cat that truly understood him.

    Almost as if he could sense the yearning within the young tom, Jetstream grinned at him. “Ah, it’s been such a long time since I last had an apprentice. I think my last one actually died, ahaha.” The haggard tom chortled, leaving out any details of the account. Had he died during training? Was it an accident, or was it deliberate? He would never know. “But if you’re still up for it, I suppose I could meet with you late at night out here every once and a while.” 

    Pantherpaw didn’t hesitate. He got back to his paws and for the first time, he met Jetstream’s hollow eyes evenly. “Yes, please.” 

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