(n) the realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own
The forest is still, the cool darkness of the night enveloping it like a soft cocoon. The usual soft light that bathes the forest during the night is absent - the dark clouds hide the moon from view, leaving the forest far darker then its occupants have come to expect of it. Crickets chirp in the dark, the occasional owl hooting. Small feet can be heard running over the leaves scattered across the forest floor - a nighttime melody. The forest is a beautiful composer.
Rain begins to fall from the clouds. Heavy, unrelenting sheets of rain that threaten to engulf the forest in an eternal flood. Upon reaching the forest, the raindrops struggle to breach the protective canopies of leaves. However, their resilience pays off, as well as their numbers; the drip of drops falling from leaves echoes through the forest.
The dim form of a cat slips through the dripping forest. The gloom makes it difficult to make out much of the cat, although their broad shoulders and rather square head are visible, as well as their gleaming yellow eyes. The rain doesn't seem to bother the cat; they walk with purpose and agility. It is clear they know the forest well, as they avoid all the small obstacles in their path despite the overwhelming darkness.
A sudden boom of thunder rolls across the scene, and the yellow-eyed cat looks up, startled despite themself. However, the cat quickly shakes their head and continues on their chosen path. It is painstakingly clear that they have a destination in mind; they walk deliberately and with purpose. Something glinting in their sun coloured eyes hints that their intent is malicious.
And suddenly, the cat stops, like they have reached an invisible boundary. Their eyes run over the surrounding quickly; something about them seems snakelike. Perhaps it is their calculating gleam. They cock their head slightly, a small purr rumbling in their throat, and sit down. It is clear that the cat is completely at ease. Why else would they begin licking a paw idly?
A sudden flash of lightning seems to crack the sky in two. The raw, jagged power of the bolt ruffles the black-and-white fur of the cat; for, in the brief light of the lightning strike, the scene was illuminated. The cat is broad-shouldered and muscular, her fur short and wiry. She's predominantly black, although a ring of fur around her neck, her muzzle and a splash of fur on her underbelly is white. Her ears are nicked.
The brief flash of light revealed something else; she isn't alone. A second cat sits a few tail-lengths from her, his amber eyes narrowed. His most noticeable feature is his amputated tail; it's only a whisker-length long. His fur is lengthy, white in colour, although his ears, a few spots along his back and what remains of his tail are a ginger-brown.
"Hello Driftclaw," the white tom sneers, his amber eyes gleaming coldly in the darkness. Thunder booms again.
The black-and-white she-cat, Driftclaw, dips her head to him. She seems far less angry then he does; his cold fury is palpable. Her calm demeanor seems to infuriate him even further; her calm response causes the fur on his back to lift. "Oh, Finwhisker. It's been such a long time, hasn't it?" Although her tone is relatively friendly, the bitterness she feels is clear.
"It has," Finwhisker agreed, getting to his paws, "of course, it was deliberate, at least on my part. You know full well that I never intended to see you again, once we'd made our goodbyes." The definite tone of his voice causes Driftclaw to flinch slightly. Although Finwhisker seems quite unaware of it, it is plain that the she-cat still cares for him.
Bitterness burns bright in Driftclaw's eyes as she answers, "Then why come here? Why meet with me?"
Finwhisker approaches Driftclaw, his amber eyes narrowed to slits. His voice is a low hiss when he speaks. "Why? Because how else would I get the chance to see you again? To look upon you again, to speak with you once more?"
"You... wanted to see me?" Driftclaw asks, clearly puzzled. "But you just sa-"
Finwhisker cuts her off before she can continue. "I was with you for two moons, Driftclaw. I spent two moons sneaking out of camp to the border and meeting you. But we broke the warrior code, Driftclaw. The warrior code wasn't made to be broken."
"We loved each other," the she-cat responds at once. "And what is more important then love?"
The tom pretends to consider this for a moment. It is clear, however, that this is merely to mock her. "Oh, I don't know, maybe the warrior code? You broke it, Driftclaw. A ThunderClan she-cat isn't supposed to end up with a SkyClan tom like me."
"No," Driftclaw agrees, "I've found someone better now. A she-cat from the same Clan as me. She's lovely, absolutely lovely. And I love her. And perhaps that proves your point, that forbidden love isn't real. But I don't think like that. Love is love, despite where you come from."
Finwhisker is silent for a moment; this time, the emotion seems real. "I wanted to see you for a reason, Driftclaw. Ever since I left you, ever since we said goodbye, I've been plagued with guilt. Not guilt about breaking your heart, no, guilt about breaking the code that defines every aspect of my miserable life. And I've figured out how to solve it. I know what I can do to make that guilt go away.:
This clearly puzzles the black-and-white cat. "What do you mean by that?" she asks.
"I mean it's time to take something out of the field," the brown-and-white tom answers. "And you know what that something is? You." With those rather chilling words, he leaps onto Driftclaw, ending her life with a quick snap of his jaws.
Finwhisker shifts slightly as he gazes up at Clan's leaders, the five silhouetted against the surprisingly bright moonlight. Nothing of much importance has been discussed so far, but it is Hazelstar's turn to speak. Judging from her agitated expression and narrowed eyes, she knows about the murders Finwhisker has committed.
The funny thing was, unlike so many murderers, Finwhisker knows quite a lot about his victims. They had been, in fact, friendly with him. He had had a short affair with Driftclaw and had taken part in a friendly rivalry with Snowfang since they had been apprentices. He had interacted with Beepaw and Furzepaw sparingly, but they had seemed to like him.
Hazelstar straightens up, sending a furious glare at Scorchstar before speaking. "ThunderClan has something rather major to report, I'm afraid." She narrowed her eyes at Scorchstar, who seems rather surprised and a little indignant. Of course, he doesn't know about the four bodies lying in ThunderClan's camp, all of them drenched with SkyClan scent.
"Although, of course, perhaps Scorchstar would like to announce it instead?" the dilute tortoiseshell suggests, her green eye blazing with both ice and fire. Although rather tiny, the she-cat is a strangely impressive figure. Her clawed out eye adds to the intimidating look, and Scorchstar flinches beneath her glare. Finwhisker snorts slightly; he is disappointed. Scorchstar is supposed to be a strong leader, not a quivering mouse-heart.
To Finwhisker's relief, Scorchstar narrows his eyes and sits up taller, looking down at Hazelstar with his piercing yellow eyes. "What are you talking about?" the lithe tom asks, clearly trying for a scornful tone. It doesn't seem particularly genuine, and Finwhisker feels his dislike and disgust for his leader grow considerably. Leaders are supposed to be the best actors, supposed to inspire belief in others. All Finwhisker wants to do is claw Scorchstar across the muzzle. Hardly the sort of belief Scorchstar is supposed to inspire.
"You know full well what I'm talking about," the tortoiseshell hisses in response. "Don't pretend, Scorchstar. Don't you dare pretend." Although there is some hysteria in her voice, Finwhisker is impressed by her conviction. The crowd is swaying towards her side, despite the fact that she hasn't yet revealed what has gotten her tail in a twist.
Thornstar, ShadowClan's leader, steps forwards, his cream-and-yellow fur slightly ruffled. It seems his fellow leaders' argument is irritating him. Finwhisker feels relief spread through him; it is common knowledge that ShadowClan's leader's is skilled at making Hazelstar's stories fall apart. "If you have something to say, Hazelstar, I advise you simply say it."
The dilute she-cat's fur bristles, but she sighs and forces her fur to lie flat. "Fine. You want to hear what I've got to say? Good. About time." She takes a deep breath; Finwhisker can tell she is remembering the gruesome sights of the dead, the four lying in a line, their bodies stiff. The memory seems to resolve her determination, although her fur spikes up once again and her eyes narrow even further.
"Oh, great Clans!" she cries, dramatic as always. "Don't we have a wonderful life? Yes, we live hungry most the time, yes, we claw each others' eyes out from time to time, but it's a great life, isn't it? We claim to be so far above rogues, and of course we are. No, we're most definitely not even worse then those we scorn. Most definitely not." With this, Hazelstar lets out an insane, scornful sound that cannot help but alarm Finwhisker.
Hazelstar continues, her tone still scornful. "Oh yes - the warrior code is said to protect us, but it does nothing. Nothing at all. Did it stop a ShadowClan cat from taking my eye when I was just an apprentice? No. Does it stop warriors dying in conflicts seasonally, despite there being no need for their deaths? Once again, no. There is never any need to take a life from someone. Never."
Thornstar interrupts Hazelstar there. "Hazelstar," he mews warningly, gesturing at the moon with his tail. The clouds seem to be creeping towards it, like StarClan dislikes Hazelstar's words. She glances up at it, sighs, then stares at her paws.
"Fine. I'll just cut to it. Last night, a member of SkyClan crept into ThunderClan's camp in the middle of the night and slaughtered four cats: Snowfang, Beepaw, Driftclaw and Furzepaw."
The section of the Gathering SkyClan is sitting in immediately erupts in yowls of protest and indignation. Being a good actor, Finwhisker leaps to his paws, lashing his tail and yowling his horror at being accused of such a thing. Finwhisker plays his part well; none of the ThunderClan cats who eye SkyClan suspiciously find their eyes latching onto him. He has always been a good actor.
Scorchstar lets out a yowl of protest once his Clan's have died away - which makes Finwhisker give him a disappointed look. His leader is supposed to be a better actor, and yowling far too late is the mark of a bad performance. He could accept that from a normal warrior, but not his leader. A leader should be able to lie as easily as breathe.
"How dare you!" Scorchstar hisses, the fur on his back spiking angrily. Although his yowl was less then impressive, Finwhisker is pleased to see that there is spite in his leader's eyes. "SkyClan would never do such a thing, you snake-tongued fox-heart!" The insults less then please Finwhisker; although efficient in shocking Hazelstar. The insults make Scorchstar seem far too petty.
Thornstar sends Scorchstar a look. "Don't, Scorchstar." He then turns back to Hazelstar, clearly not sold. "What evidence do you have to support such a ludicrous statement?"
Hazelstar meets his eye. "You said it yourself, actually," she says after a moment. "It's too ludicrous. Why would I say such a thing if it wasn't real? No-one would believe it. And I've got the bodies to prove it, actually. And the bloodstains. Will that do? Is that enough evidence?" There is a slightly mocking edge to her voice.
Finwhisker nods slightly to himself; he has always thought of Hazelstar as a rather weak cat, but she seems stronger then his own leader. He snorts slightly at the thought of Scorchstar. How the tom had ever come to be the leader of SkyClan, Finwhisker isn't sure.
"In that case," Thornstar says, studying her, "I believe you." He leaps off the branch, his voice raised to a yowl. "The Gathering is now over - make sure to guard your camps well tonight, for it seems there is a killer among us. Among SkyClan." He directs a significant look towards the section of the island in which SkyClan sits. With that, he departs, ShadowClan cats following him.
Puddlestar, leader of WindClan, looks skeptical - Finwhisker doubts that he will take Thornstar seriously, and makes a note to attack WindClan's camp the next night. He'd weed out the rule breakers in there, too, just as he had done in ThunderClan. ThunderClan would be prosperous now that he had eliminated all those who broke the warrior code. He is doing the Clans a favor by killing their code-breakers.
The Clans leave the island fairly slowly - it seems all but WindClan are edging away from SkyClan nervously. Finwhisker watches them, his whiskers twitching in amusement. They have nothing to fear from him - unless, of course, he knows they had broken the code. But the fear in their eyes is glorious.
Finwhisker licks a paw idly, struggling to prevent a self-satisfied expression from flitting over his face. SkyClan is in uproar. Finwhisker's littermate, Leafclaw, rears onto hir hind legs. "This is ridiculous!" ze yowls, falling back onto all four paws. "Hazelstar is going to far with this. A murderer among us? Ridiculous! The other Clans have never forgotten that we joined the lake territories latest. We've been here for moons and moons, yet the other Clans still view us as the outsiders."
The tail-less cat looks up, not all together surprised to see how his littermate is taking Hazelstar's accusations. Leafclaw has always been a very verbal cat, skilled at working up a temper and swaying a crowd towards hir way of thinking. Finwhisker is glad to hear hir rant like this, for he knows that this will make it easier for him to slip out of the camp. If Leafclaw can persuade SkyClan that Hazelstar is simply biased towards SkyClan, he will be able to commit more murders. Will be able to pay WindClan a visit.
"I believe in every cat who calls SkyClan their home," Leafclaw announces, the passion in hir voice sending tingles down Finwhisker's spine. He purrs ever so slightly: his littermate really is a skilled orator. "None of you, none of any of us, is capable of killing in cold-blood. We are not murderers." Leafclaw sits down after this, hir short speech met with yowls of approval.
Finwhisker's whiskers twitch ever so slightly. "Ah, Leafclaw," he says, getting to his paws and heading for his nest, "tell that to the squirrels you kill almost daily." He catches a glimpse of his littermate's face as he turns to curl into a ball, and the expression on Leafclaw's face causes amusement to grow within him, and he purrs to himself.
It takes a while for Finwhisker's fellow warriors to join him in the warrior den, but, eventually, the center of the camp is free of cats. Finwhisker can hear the snuffling breathing of his Clanmates, and can tell that he is the only cat in SkyClan that isn't frolicking through endless fields of sleep. For some strange reason, this realization leaves the tail-less cat feeling far lonelier then he ever has.
The white cat slips out of his nest, deftly dodging his Clanmates' paws as he makes his way out of the warriors' den. To his delight, he finds it just as easy to slip out of the camp as he found the night before, if not, perhaps, finding it easier. The thunder of the night before had resulted in a delayed setting out time, due to the noise making it harder for his fellow warriors to drift off to sleep.
Finwhisker keeps quiet as he slowly treads through SkyClan territory. He hardly notices when he crosses the ThunderClan border, although he makes sure to veer as close to the lake as he can without wetting his paws. He is not fond of water, as he once almost drowned while heading to a Gathering, many long moons ago.