He could have sworn he was standing in Moorclan territory. The stench - albeit quickly fading - smelt of the moor dwelling cats confirmed it and yet here he stood, staring out into emptiness. By his lonesome self for Sakura was in their camp, safely tucked away from danger as he went out hunting. Hunger had driven him to cross the normally carefully maintained border, however, the lack of life left his curiosity to fester into unease. Why was nobody here? Surely Moorclan couldn't disappear, right? Were they chased from their home or did something more terrifying and unfathomable occur? Had the disease wiped them out? What about Creekclan? What about him? For a brief moment, a pair of lemon eyes and white fur flashed in his mind, whole and beautiful one moment only to be broken and bloody the next. His heart twinged, the air disappearing from his lungs as a silent gasp escaped from him. The amount of emotion that railed into him left him reeling, unable to catch his breath as he attempted to regain his bearings. Tears had almost fallen, eager to show the world his weaknesses, but he managed to swallow his guilt... His self-loathing as he forced himself to breathe. To think beyond the grotesque image seared in his mind's eye. To focus on the empty feeling of his stomach; the constant gnawing pain he felt whenever his body demanded sustenance, even if said sustenance came from a metal tin and smelled moldy.
A weak chuckle left his maw, a mixture of both pain and suffering, and finding a twisted kind of humor in the spiral regression of his downfall. Oh how far he's fallen. Reduced to nothing but a sack of flesh barely clinging on to life. He never understood why he continued to push on. Why he didn't just give up, lay down and finally sleep, never to wake again. He supposed the youth in his care had a part to play in his resistance. Maybe he could finally rest once he knew she would be safe and well looked after... Perhaps then he could give in. He saw no future for himself, having long given up hope of returning home to tall trees eclipsing the sun and reaching for the sky. Of happier times where he had nothing to worry about but what games he would play with Sablefox the following day. Happiness seemed to be out of his reach, unattainable while it floated around his subconscious like a mocking phantom creeping in the dark. Perhaps Starclan believed he was unworthy of happiness, of joy and peace and no amount of redemption would ever fix that. He couldn't blame them. It would be nothing short of a miracle were his ancestors to welcome him into their ranks. A miracle he didn't ever hope to entertain. It was too painful otherwise.
For a while the burgundy white tom wandered about aimlessly, looking but not really seeing everything. Prey was scarce, much to the toms misfortune and disappointment. Very little moved and what did it was not worth hunting. It would not be a lot to share between himself and Sakura anyway. He'd be going hungry if he ever caught that, not willing to tempt himself with a bit of food when Sakura could have a full belly and he could just eat tainted crow-food, provided that was still an option. It's quite funny how once upon a time he would have scuffed at eating such horrid things. The smell of rot and decay being so overwhelming he gagged the first-time hunger drove him to such lengths. Now his stomach was ironclad, his nose numb to the smell and his taste bugs dead to the slimy feel of it all. His dull coat, haunted eyes, and frail frame certainly mirrored his less than stellar appearance, further proving his current diet was doing him more harm than actual good. Not that he had much of a choice in the matter in the first place.
It was unfortunate (or rather fortunate depending you ask) that crow-food was unavailable to him. He was too far from the town to rely on scavenging for scraps of food. He now had to use his hunting skills, something he wasn't wholly successful at half the time. This time around he was hoping to bag a bunny. Something large and with enough meat on it that Screechclaw could share with Sakura without fear of going hungry himself. The problem was finding them first and then actually catching them. The drool coming from him at the memory of fresh meat left him feeling invigorated, inspired to actually succeed in his hunt. A quick prayer to his ancestors brought along with the smell of a rabbit. Not too far off from what he could tell. It was more of a coincidence than a miracle or divine intervention, but he nonetheless mumbled a quick prayer in gratitude as he headed in the direction of the scent.
A quick look around and the brown hare stood out. It was nibbling on grass, lazily grazing about without a care in the world and completely unaware of the predator eying its back. What happened next was beyond Screechclaw's comprehension. One moment he was chasing the rabbit, completely unaware in the change in scenery or the blatant scent markers warning intruders to stay away, and then a dead rabbit laid limply from his jaws. Sides heaving as he tried to regain his breath. The sharp shriek of fear and pain from the hare falling silent from its sudden death was still ringing in his ears. A quick look around quickly told him he had run a lot farther than he originally thought. Even the air didn't prove to settle his unease despite its subtle familiarity. It smelt different, but the same like Creek, Moor, and Gorge decided to become one, blending together to make something entirely new and unique and itself all on its own. He couldn't place his paw on it, but he knew he was in immediate danger and if one thing living life as a rogue had taught him it was that instincts were never wrong.
He tried to get away. He truly did. A quick, sharp turn had him speed walking towards the direction he came, rabbit being dragged as it slowed him down. But he was unwilling to drop and abandon it, hunger over riding his common sense. Though none of that mattered in the end. The sound of a stick snapping and sharp growl took care of that. And all he could do was freeze, back still towards his attacker as he tried to figure out a way out of this mess he found himself in.
The bulky framed feline had been trying his paw at the new tactics a new friend had passed onto him. The sodden marshes which butted up right against Moorclan's old territory provided a seemingly average place to catch one or two tiny, nearing pathetic fish. They were just tests, practices of his new learned skill. Sablefox was quickly learning that the water was not something he particularly liked being around. The tom buried his two fish by the marsh and ventured further through the territory, veering in the direction of the moors across from the marsh. The ground gradually became drier, the grass longer, and naturally the striped tabby began feeling more and more at home. Although trees were sparse, leaving the tabby rather exposed, the long grass hid most of his presence.
The tom had kept his past hidden; buried deeply into the soft soil of the earth where none would uncover it. The atrocities committed by Gorge in the past were like deep stains on the tom's conscience. He had several scars stricken across his body to demonstrate that the past was in fact reality and not some sick, twisted dream. Those were the sunrises where too much was lost. Blood was shed, lathering the ground that the warriors of Gorge walked upon. Sablefox had blocked many of the dead from his mind. Moons had passed with the tom's buried secrets remaining deep in the soil. But, with the merge of the clans to defeat one illness, the feelings had started to reemerge.
Sablefox still held distaste for the other clans in his mouth. Gorge would always be superior in his mind, but he had kept his thoughts silent on that and agreed to put aside such ideals until the three clans could successfully defeat the common problem. The wounds Gorge had left on the forest - in particular Creek, were deep though. Deep wounds took time to heal and deep wounds were very rarely so easily forgotten. Cats hailing from Creek would often avoid those with the scent of Gorge on their pelt; veering away from them at nearly all costs. Everyone kept to themselves, unless otherwise specified. It was not going to be easy for all the sins and wrongful crimes, the stories, the rumors, and of course the hatred instilled upon birth, to suddenly vanish over night.
The tabby shifted through the long grass; his head poking up above the top with ease. The edge of MoorClan's abandoned territory was nearby; the hauntingly abandoned grounds. Sablefox imagined walking through his old homelands on his lonesome would send chills down his spine, filling him with pangs of sadness as he'd gaze upon the empty dens and bare camp grounds. His mind shifted quickly as a unusual scent lingered under his nose. The male's nostrils immediately flared, his green eyes narrowed into slits.
Drawing towards the scent with haste, Sablefox pushed up off his back legs and landed a tail-length between himself an the intruder. The intruder smelled heavily of rogue, his oily brown fur shaping his lean, malnourished figure. A deep rumbling growl rose up in the warrior's throat as he stepped forward towards the intruder, placing a paw intentionally on a small twig. Your time is up, he thought.
The rogue had his back to Sablefox; giving Sablefox the advantage. Tactics and strategies of battle flooded to his mind as he prepared himself to send the rogue back to where he came from. He noted a rabbit dangling loosely from the jaws of the intruder. It was obvious that hunger had motivated the tom to come running into OneClan. Sablefox had already decided that if the enemy continued to run, he would leap up and descend onto the intruder with the full weight of his body. But, it seemed the intruder was frozen; held in place by fear, perhaps aware of his mistake. "Drop the rabbit and leave now," he said, warning the burgundy figure in a deep, husky voice.
Torn and shredded ears swiveled backwards towards the voice. It sounded so familiar, bringing along a tickling sensation in the back of his mind as he tried to place where he's heard the voice. It sounded of a home long forgotten but at the same time, it didn't. Despite the familiarity, it did nothing to calm his unease and actually seemed to do the very opposite. 'Stop it!' He shook his head, trying to rid himself of such thoughts. Thinking never did himself any good in the past when those stupid enough decided to challenge him. His torn ears and scared pelt weren't there for decoration. Sure some might have been from his time in Gorgeclan with Bonestar, but a lot more of them were from fights over food and territory while living as a rogue. This particular situation was no different. He swallowed the spittle collecting in the back of his throat before dropping the prey with reverence. It certainly would have been funny if it weren't for his current circumstances. He almost looked like he was complying, but his training with Bonestar and street smarts had taught him to always fight for what's yours.
His body tensed, hackles starting to rise as an almost guttural growl nearly shook his entire body. He slowly turned around to face his challenger, careful to not trigger an actual fight with his back turned, but warning the other that he was prepared to fight - even to the death as he shot such a menacing glare at the silvery-white tabby across from him. He killed that rabbit, he was starving, and Sakura was depending on him. If the cat honestly thought he was just going to scamper along without his prize he had another thing coming. This situation was exactly like living in the two-legs hamlet. He would not be cowed so easily and the savage presence he so easily mustered showed the ferocity he was willing to fight with. "I hope you aren't afraid of dying today, boy." Screechclaw hissed out in a gravelly voice from lack of use, the insult flying from his mouth with such ease despite the other looking about the same in age.
He narrowed his dull green eyes in a challenge, daring the other cat to continue on this path of certain death. One would be dying today if neither backed down and Screechclaw had every intention in it being the other tom. For a moment he calmed, seemingly at peace with the way of how things turned out. He stood with his head held high, a cocky smirk on his lips, and ears pressed forward in attention as he glared the other cat down. For a moment he looked every bit of his former self. Condescending, arrogant, and eager for a fight. However, the ghost that appeared had disappeared just as quickly, leaving room for doubt. The sneer still stayed as he took a threatening step forwards. "I suggest you turn around and forget that I was ever here. Blood doesn't need to be shed when generosity is just as effective," he spoke calmly, borderline soothing despite his ragged and threatening appearance. He would much rather avoid a fight, but he was willing to do so if it meant he could eat.
In the interlude that presented itself, Screechclaw looked the other tom over, wracking his brain over why this cat seemed so familiar and why he reminded him so much of home. If he was being honest the silvery-white tabby looked almost identical to him, only wider with more compact muscle, muscle Screechclaw was envious of when he had much the same when he had a guaranteed meal every day. However, the tickling didn't cease and instead only grew stronger as he continued to stare, confusion etched on his features, taking away the harshness of his aggressiveness. 'No!' Then he seemed to deflate, body sagging as verdant colored pools widened in astonishment, tears collecting at the edge of his eyes as a pathetic sounding laugh came from him. The laugh was primal, a concoction of mirth and relief, and every bit of disbelieving. It was sharp and rocked his whole frame as his head bowed down towards the ground, trying but failing to collect himself. "Oh how the gods mock me," he wheezed out in a whisper, managing to talk around the sharp chortles of sardonic laughter. "How we meet again," Screechclaw looked up, green eyes empty as his laughter finally settled. "Brother."
The enemy stayed frozen and silent for what felt like an eternity. The tom suddenly dropping his kill, his kill that belonged to OneClan. His hackles seemed to drop; it almost seeming like perhaps the torn up tabby was above to cave. Sablefox studied the enemy and his shredded ears and horridly scared body. Sablefox swallowed hard, narrowing his eyes further. You're not going to give up, are you? As the burgundy tabby suddenly growled lowly, turning to face Sablefox, Sablefox narrowed his golden eyes and stood fearlessly at his post. The rabbit was killed on OneClan land, making it OneClan prey. The warrior code was strict about such things and he, he would not allow some mongrel to simply take prey from OneClan. Not when the clan itself was going through enough struggles. A rabbit could feed a queen and her kits effortlessly.
As soon as the enemy's posture demonstrated that he was ready for a fight, Sablefox too was ready. The warrior knew he would not hold back, not for the sake of a rabbit to feed a young family. OneClan had several young kits in it's care now and with the spore, there were fewer warriors to provide for such small but growing families.
Sablefox raised a brow as the tom referred to him as a 'boy', amusement flickered in his deep green hues. The two were similar in age, the insult merely glossing over the top of Sablefox's pelt. He had enough chatter and was ready to fight the entitled mongrel. However, as his gaze slid back over the tabby, observing his features now that the two were face-to-face, something niggled at the back of his neck. The other puffed himself up, almost as though cockily stroking an ego. Perhaps he had not seen his own reflection as of late? Sablefox did not see the torn loner as a threat. He was skinny obviously driven by hunger. Sablefox was in pristine condition; his muscles bigger than ever, his gaze as sturdy as ever.
"What is killed on OneClan territory belongs to OneClan. If you are willing to die for a rabbit, then that is entirely your decision," he said, fairly simply. The tom flicked his tail beside his flank, curiously watching the other. The signs of battle was clear; the two would fight, but alas Sablefox was determined to 1) remove the mongrel from OneClan and 2) see that he does not dare place his paws back on their land. A new wound or two would surely fix that; for generosity was not an option not when it came to the bellies of hungry kits vs. a stranger. "I will not let one of my own feel hunger in their bellies all for the sake of an egotistical rogue," he said. Sablefox spoke coolly, as if the threats and his own venomous words were simply gliding off his tongue. Sablefox was fiercely loyal to his warrior code and the preservation of OneClan, namely GorgeClan. But, of course, they were merged. Warriors were dying due to the spore. One would not die due to hunger, if he could help it.
The tom seemed to deflate slight, a wheezy laugh rumbled from the rogue. For several moments, Sablefox stood there cautiously; watching and waiting. Was this some unusual tactic? Was he having some kind of episode? Sablefox felt terribly unsure about what the tom was doing, albeit as soon as the explanation slid from his maw..Sablefox tilt his head gently to one side in disbelief. The rogue called him brother. Sablefox felt doubtful, the image of his huge, hulking brother gradually falling to mind. It had been so long...The image felt blurry, but the more he concentrated, the more his expression gradually widened in awe. "Screechclaw? Is..Is that really you?"
The two had not seen each other in a number of moons. The warrior he had once known did not seem to be in his face right now, not entirely. The great hulking size had seemed to diminish gradually, his body now slender and long. Although he knew not to underestimate the tom's capabilities in battle. Even without his size, he could still make a formidable opponent. "StarClan, you look awful," he muttered under his breath. "I-.I could have sworn you were dead," he said, stifling a short laugh, "Seems you proved me and the ancestors wrong." Sablefox had quickly forgotten about the rabbit that the two were squabbling over, his eyes running across the fluffy male with intrigue. It was truly a surprise. After all these moons...Screechclaw was alive.
The twitch of an eye was nonpreventable as he narrowed his eyes at his brother. "Of course I am." He couldn't help but spit out as an offended look crossed his features. The very idea of his brother thinking he was dead infuriated him. Was he that quickly forgotten? Expected to perish as a nameless rogue unable to be buried and reunited with his ancestors? "I'm sure whether I was alive or dead wouldn't matter to you. I'm just a black stain on your fur you'll try to wash away." The words came out harsher than he intended, a bitterness leaving him he had tried to keep suppressed. There was no point in dwelling on his past mistakes or all the bridges he's burnt down in the effort of sparing those he held dear from the cruelties of Bonestar.
Whether intentional or not the comment about his appearance had the brown and white tabby growling in annoyance. "You wouldn't know the half of it would you? Looking as healthy as the day I left," he snarled the word out as he rolled his evergreen eyes. They both knew he didn't leave willingly. He was chased out, abandoned, and forsaken by those he had sworn to protect until his dying breath. The abandonment and betrayal he felt was still fresh even with all the moons that have passed, especially when the cat standing in front of him in mint condition did nothing to talk Fangstar out of her decision. And perhaps in the end Screechclaw was happy for that. His brother was healthy and didn't deserve to endure the life of a rogue. He was a good cat and a damn good warrior, perhaps even better than Screechclaw himself. But that didn't erase the unintentional loathing Screechclaw felt festering in his heart as he endured and suffered as a rogue; starving and being forced to let go of his morals and inhibitions in a bid for survival. He lost. Badly. And he didn't expect to be winning for a long while.
Who would have thought the paths the two brothers traveled would always be interconnected together no matter how far they strayed from one another original path. "At least you are healthy. I suppose that's all I can ever hope for, huh?" A sad chuckle left him as he glossed over Sablefox's smokey gray fur with a practiced eye, noting anything new and old and cataloging it in the back of his mind for further introspection at a later date. When satisfied with his brother's wellbeing he nodded his head, a small thin smile gracing his features. There was so much to talk about with his brother, so much to be said that it hurt, but he couldn't be sure if this was the same Sablefox that he had left behind all those moons ago. They were on opposite sides now. Screechclaw was apparently trespassing into this Oneclan and he was an unwelcomed guest. He may love his brother, but he was hungry and Sakura was waiting on him. He didn't want to fight his brother, but if it came down to it he would. A rabbit may not seem like much, but to the burgundy male, it was everything.
In a bid to distract his brother Screechclaw asked the one question that was burning on the tip of his tongue. How is mother? She eating and sleeping alright?" He imagined his mother would be in the elders den, hopefully living her life contendly with little to no scorn for being the dam of a monster. He wished no ill will towards the queen who gave him life and despite it all stood by him, even when he pushed her away. In the very least Screechclaw knew what unconditional love was. Both a blessing and curse in his opinion, but he couldn't fathom what he'd be like now had Jasmincloud turned her back on him.