Polemos had lived with the Ferox for about four moons now, and every day it felt more and more like home. At least... until this moon. Strange things were stirring, and every time he left the camp, it felt vaguely as though someone had their claws at his throat. At first he shrugged it off, but after a few days of the same thing, he could no longer deny what this sensation was; there were creatures out here with a vicious bloodlust. It only became worse as patrols began finding prey animals ripped apart and left for the crows. And then news began to trickle on of Solus cats just... vanishing. A sense of foreboding, of being prey in ones home settled over Ferox land like dust.
Polemos knew with all his heart that something was wrong, something was coming... or it was already here. Whenever the Gatherer went hunting by himself he had the horrible feeling that he was being watched by someone... or something. On patrols it felt as though someone was following just behind them, just out of sight, planning how to kill them. The clouded leopard hadn't felt such malice in the air since his last time in the Coliseum. Nothing else was comparable, not even the steely glare of the Hunters. And yet, food still had to be brought home, and so with a nervous flick of his tail, Polemos left the camp at a steady trot, planning on catching as much as he could before the malice forced him back home.
He was getting near to a river than had been stolen by a Solus cat when the breeze changed, bringing with it the scent of rabbit. He turned away from the border, padding silently through the undergrowth, ears perked and jaws slightly parted to catch the scent. He froze; the rabbit was on the other side of a wide bush before him. He could smell it, and hear it scuffling around in the grass, and if he listened close enough then he could hear it's little heart thumping. Polemos slid into his hunting crouch and silently glided across the forest floor on silent paws. He rounded the bush, ears pressed flat to his head as he slipped into tall grasses; he was trying to make himself small enough to not be seen above the tall stalks. He scarcely dared to breathe, lest he move the grass and alert the rabbit to his presence. Once more, the leopard froze, but this time he was in pouncing range, although he still couldn't see the rabbit through the grass, he knew he was close now. His muscles tensed, and he held still but a moment longer before he launched himself out of his cover, claws out and ready to deliver a killing blow.
But in front of him was not a rabbit, but a cat, a leopard like himself, but bigger than he had ever imagined a leopard could get. This leopard was a rusty golden color, almost as though his fur had been permanently stained with blood. His shoulders were broad, and his teeth, which the cat was showing by way of a cruel smirk, were long and deadly looking. His eyes flashed with silvery green fire, surrounded on either side by jagged scars going down from the cats' left ear to the edge of his muzzle; when he smirked it wrinkled the scarred skin strangely, giving his already terrifying appearance a touch of gruesome horror. Time slowed, and Polemos processed everything very quickly from this point on; the other cat had his claws buried in the grass, some of it had been torn up and tossed aside, a dead rabbit sat between his paws, it's blood spread all over the forest floor to make the rabbit scent stronger, and he had beat his tail softly against a piece of wood to mimic the heartbeat. This was an ambush.
Polemos tried to twist out of the way even as he was soaring through the air. The other leopard reared up and hooked his claws into the Gatherer's shoulder, spinning on his back legs to propel Polemos head first into a tree. As he sat, dazed, trying hard as he could to regain his paws and clear the blurriness in his mind the leopard was on him again. Polemos turned, a paw raised, and aimed for his face. The other cat dodged easily, bringing his own paw up to grab Polemos's and slam it into the forest floor, pulling a cry of pain from the smaller of the two. The clouded leopard dove forward, ramming his shoulder hard into the other cat, driving him back into the bush with a roar of fury. And the bloody-gold colored cat scrambled to escape the branches, Polemos cuffed him round the ears, almost ripping one, and leaving a bloody scratch across his nose. With a yowl of fury, his assailant tore himself free of the bush and leaped on top of the smaller cat, his claws ripping into the flesh of his back and making blood spray through the air.
A moment passed, and the primal drumbeat sounded in Polemos's ears once again, followed closely by fear; it was not a fear of the cat with was grinning cruelly down at him as he dug his claws into meat and bone, nor was it fear of death, it was fear of himself, of what he might do. But he couldn't let his fear lead him away from this, he needed savagery if he were to make it out alive. The small cat slithered around under the larger, eventually flipping around to lay on his back. He reached up, lightning fast, with all four paws, gripping the other cat hard. He jerked the cat closer to him, bearing his fangs, leaning his face up so that his breath blew the fur back on the others face. A growl rippled through his chest and up his throat, before he shoved upwards as hard as he could, sending his opponent high into the air. By the time he had regained his paws, the amur leopard was falling to the earth.
With a hiss and a snarl, the other cat was on his feet again, crouched down and ready to leap. Polemos tensed, his eyes flashing with pain and rage as he prepared for the next assault. When the leap finally came it was not straight for him as the clouded leopard had expected, but for the empty space a few pawsteps to the left of him. The amur leopard, the nameless behemoth, lunged towards the smaller cat the second his paws hit the ground, sending his sprawling in the dust. Before he could regain his paws, his opponent was on top of him, pinning him to the ground with paws that seemed like they could be as big as his head. He opened his mouth and leaned down, quick as a snake. Just before those cruel fangs closed on his throat, a voice called out. "Stop," it commanded with simple, quiet authority.
The amur leopard froze, his teeth just piercing his neck flesh, and Polemos was startled at the amount of control such a bloodthirsty cat had. He raised his head and turned to look over his shoulder, Polemos could see nothing of this newcomer, and he didn't know if they were friend of foe. "Release him," the voice ordered calmly, and to his surprise, the amur leopard stepped back, glancing ruefully back at the clouded leopard in the dust. He scrambled to his paws, panting, his fur bushed out to twice his normal size. "Relax. If we were going to kill you, well, you would know by the being dead already." Polemos's turned his green gaze on two female snow leopards standing side by side. From behind them emerged another snow leopard, a male, he held his head low, his narrowed eyes fixed on Polemos, with an obvious warning 'Do anything stupid, and I would happily separate your body from your throat.'
All four cats exuded such strength, such bloodlust, it chilled the small leopard to the core. One of the snow leopards, a female, and the one who had spoken, stepped forward a pace. She wore a cape made of furs and feathers, maybe some leathers, and she held her head high, the way a leader does.
From behind her, the other female suddenly giggled eerily. "Aren't you the unlucky kitty?" she asked with a wicked grin. Suddenly it all came crashing back, Polemos had met that leopard once before, when he Flora, Zihark and the Solus cat had been attacked; this was the feline who had stopped the assault then.
The one in the cape glanced back. "You know this cat?"
"We attacked him, and a few of his friends a few days ago," she said with a snicker.
The caped one looked back at him, with her own smirk. "Oh, this is amusing." She took a few slow steps forward, looking elegant and dangerous. "I am sorry," she said in a voice that showed she really wasn't sorry at all. "But my subordinate here," she continued, resting the tip of her tail on the shoulder of the amur leopard for just a second. "He just needed to shed some blood, and I figured it couldn't hurt to show you what we are capable of. She leaned in really close now, her hot breath ghosting over his face. "If I were you, I would run on home and tell your leader that it would be wisest to leave, give us your lands and go, before your pelts get added to our armor," she said in the calmest voice imaginable, which only made it more unnerving. It would've been easier if she had been snarling, he had to force himself not to take a step back away from this eerily calm cat who wanted to flay him for fur to line her den. The other three watched on, and their expressions only made what this mysterious leader cat had told him more believable.
"What are you waiting for boy?" growled the male snow leopard. "Run." Polemos glanced between all of them once more before he turned tail and ran. He could hear them laughing behind him as he retreated.
Polemos stumbled into the camp as the sun was sinking in the sky, blood dripped down his flanks and the fur at his throat had grown a little matted from the punctures the huge amur leopard had left there. He stumbled and nearly fell, but a shoulder caught him, he looked over to see the Head Gatherer, Zihark. "My god lad, what has happened to you?" he exclaimed, holding the leopard steady. Polemos didn't speak, but forced his tired legs to move towards the Anecdotists den. "Flora!" he cried out, his voice breaking as he fell into coughing. He stumbled into the den before falling to the ground there, Zihark nearly falling with him. Flora rushed up to him, her eyes flying wide when she saw him bloodied and battered.
"Polemos! Are you alright? What happened?" she gasped. Polemos blinked up at her through bleary eyes, fighting staying conscious despite the pain he was in.
"It was them," he choked out.
"Them?" she asked, before sharing a significant glance with Zihark.
"You have to be more specific lad," Zihark urged gently.
"THEM," Polemos hissed out before falling into another coughing fit. "Those beasts that attacked us."
"Oh, no," Flora whispered.
"You... they told me... They want us to leave. They want us to give up our lands and leave." Polemos struggled to his paws.
"Stop lad, before you fall over again," Zihark said, once again taking up the task of supporting the leopard.
"We cannot let them win," Polemos growled weakly.