lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate — thistle



He doesn't see the point in testing his own mettle and skill against any of these cats. He'd watched what they called a battle and left before its resolution unimpressed, the whole of them reeking like some desperate, wounded prey animal limping away from its hunter. How is he meant to find a proper challenge among them? A challenge worthy of proving his worth? It's an impossible task the Primals have given him: ten battles, ten trials. But he sees only empty, swift victories that will never be testament to his prowess, and if he cannot demonstrate that, then he is Cub forever.

Never let it be said he quits, however. He's followed one part of the group to their little backwoods bog, has observed from a distance as returning "warriors" shuffled through the mud to lick their wounds. Cub has watched, has bided his time, and now: fruition for his patience.

He's found one close in age, injured but healthy enough. He sits at the stream, staring into it as though something intelligent sits between his ears, and while Cub remains skeptical about the viability of a fight, he doesn't hesitate to make his challenge known. Shoving through the undergrowth, he stands across the current, appraising the dark feline. "You don't look like much, but you'll have to do. Maybe I will make it a quick death for you."

That said, he lunges, aiming to drive his claws into the junction of leg and chest.

Nothing had gotten better. The rushing of adrenaline had left only aching in its wake– his heart and his lungs, his paws. His head. Looking into the water reveals only himself, as much as he expects there to be ghosts lingering around his shoulders. Another pair of eyes. His father's? The cat that he had fought? They had been so– so afraid. It was a victory. The more he tries to remind himself of this, the more he hates it. Being around camp just meant that he had to see all of them. The empty-eyed ghosts, the hollowed-out survivors. The water shows him the same. his wounds are a stark crimson to brown and white, even against darkened water. His eyes, once flames, were nothing but dying embers. What was the purpose in breathing life back into that fire now? What use was there in life if all it was going to be is a battle?

Again and again and again, they fight. And again and again and again, Thistle cannot seem to pull adrenaline's claws from beneath his skin and choose the easiest route of them all. When an electric shape parts the undergrowth, the marsh cat does the only thing he is capable of: jerks out of the way, murky water splashing up his fur as a temporary curtain between the two of them. His grief-addled mind is slow on the uptake; claws lash through his fur and prick at the upper layer of his skin, fresh beads of blood rising upwards but he ignores them. "The battle is over!" Thistle insists, though his voice is more level than it should be in the midst of battle. "There is no need for this."
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Faced with an opponent and all he can do is beg diplomacy? Cub realizes this cat has mistaken him for one of the others, which is even more insulting. Him? Some trussed up, pampered creature wanting a taste of a freedom they've floundered to keep, let alone earn? Unbelievable. Cub laughs in his face and flings murky water from his paws. "What battle?" He sneers, beginning to circle him slowly, carefully kept just out of swiping distance. For now. "I saw more tears than blood, more hesitance than a kit learning to walk."

The expected thing would be to lunge at his opponent's back during his pacing circuit, so Cub doesn't. Instead, he rushes his side, aiming his claws at the muscles of Thistle's shoulder.
Diplomacy– the world could use more of it, could it not? He had thought that the time for it came and went. Now, he thinks he understands it. Craves it. Wishes that he could cling to it for the rest of his life. It was missed words that had put them where they were. He would not be to blame for more blood needlessly shed. Even if it means he would be met with nothing more than cynicism and a sneer. Some of the water Cub flings from his paws splashes itself across his face, stinging at the cut. He grinds his jaw against something biting– whether it's his words or his teeth, he can't quite tell. Or maybe it's a barrier to the bile rising up. "Better to hesitate than throw yourself into it without thinking." Thistle had not thought that life would come back to him this easily. A spark, a surge. So, so undeserved.

It's enough energy for him to keep his distance; he doesn't pull away from his claws this time, instead shoving himself closer to interrupt the momentum. The bite of pain sears through his mind but still he doesn't pull away, twisting to try and sink his teeth into Cub's foreleg.
Diplomacy is the resort of the feeble of body and heart. There's no negotiating with the winter, with brutal summers or heavy rains, with infection or thirst. There is nothing in this world that can be bought with cheap, placid words. All of it must be won with teeth and blood, and the sooner these thin-skinned, delicate-bellied clan cats learn that, the sooner they'll achieve something akin to true strength. But they won't, and they never will if they expect they can simply talk themselves into survival. "Hesitation," Cub counters, "is death."

His blow meets flesh as he knew it would, but the clan cat twists to latch onto his leg and Cub snarls, even as he revels in what is finally resistance, finally a spark. Cub rears back and aims to open the skin above Thistle's eyes with his claws, intending to draw enough blood it blinds him. He would go for his eyes themselves, but this fight is only now growing interesting.