On the Road

Posted: February 20, 2017 in Panther, Sylvester
Tags: , ,

It would be another week before they were able to start their journey. The wait time was spent in preparation; Eve shared with them the direction she came from, she wasn’t sure where the Colony was from their current location but Panther was sure he knew the way. They practiced fighting, planned escapes and rendezvous points should anything go wrong, and spent time learning to hunt as a group.

Sylvester had been impressed by the dedication Eve had shown to the instruction she was given on hunting. She watched, she listened, she asked pertinent questions when needed, and by the time they were ready to leave she was capable of bringing home food for them all.

How’s your leg?” Sylvester asked. It was just him and Eve at the moment. They were taking a leisurely pace as they journeyed toward the Colony. They were two days out and it was going to take at least another three days before they’d arrive on the outskirts of the territory. They were taking a less direct route as Panther wished to avoid getting too close to the human zone, the most direct route would have had them cutting directly through it. They were moving at a slower pace to conserve energy in case they needed to flee.

Panther was off on one of his solitary excursions. He had taken to disappearing multiple times throughout the day. He would return to adjust their course, share a meal and a conversation and then he’d wander off again. He’d return to curl up with them at night and be off after they broke their fast.

It feels knotted. Less pain than before but not one hundred percent yet,” she answered.

Sylvester matched Eve’s pace as they walked. She knew what her leg could handle, he just kept pace with her. They provided companionship and a sense of safety for each other.

Did you know your mother?” Eve asked him.

Yeah,” Sylvester answered. “My mother was really good with her kittens. We always had shelter, we always had food. She taught me to hunt. I think the hardest thing she ever did was let me leave. Her kittens were everything to her, I suspect she would have rather we had all stayed together.”

I didn’t know my mother,” Eve offered, “our kittens are raised by the community. We are moved to a nursery at birth and raised by experienced matrons. The new mothers are shuffled between nurseries for a few weeks before returning to their regular duties.”

These matrons teach you to hunt and fight?”

No,” Eve answered, “the matrons take care of us. They evaluate our natural tendencies so they can assign us to our duties. We get sent to our training at three months of age. We get our permanent placements when we reach one year. The only lessons we receive from the matrons is on history of the Colony and a citizen’s responsibility to the larger community.”

I was assigned to keep a burrow clean,” Eve continued, “if we hadn’t been struggling to find food I would have never left. There never would have been a need, it would never have entered my mind to have gone. I was given a quick briefing on hunting and assigned to a group. I guess the idea was that the more bodies they had out there, the more food that would be brought back.”

The conversation drifted to small talk; the weather, favourite foods. They enjoyed the fresh air, they allowed themselves to be distracted by melting snow and the sound of spring approaching. Panther returned at dusk and they enjoyed a meal together before drifting off to sleep at the base of a tree.

They were still at least a day away from their destination when they stopped to have a relaxed meal together. Prey had become more scarce as they had approached the area where the Colony was located. Panther wandered away less often and for shorter periods of time as they approached their destination.

Did you see any sign of the dogs?” Sylvester asked. Panther had been vague about his disappearances but Sylvester had given a lot of thought to it and it was the only thing that made sense, especially when you considered Panther’s obsession with the silent canines.

No,” Panther answered, “but I didn’t get too close to their territory. I was trying to determine if they had expanded their hunting zone.”

Have they?” Sylvester asked.

It’s hard to say,” Panther replied.

They rested at the foot of a tree, nestled between a pair of roots that broke through the ground’s surface. The ground was damp, the temperature was warm enough to melt the snow and warm the cats’ bodies. Panther sat with his back to the base of the tree, his eyes and ears alert for any sign of visitors. Eve lay on top of one of the roots, her front paws folded and used as a pillow under her head, her eyes were partially closed. Sylvester lay up against the other root, his head raised so he could watched Panther as they talked.

What do you think is wrong with those dogs?” Eve asked. “I mean, their silence was eerie, unnatural.”

I can only guess,” Panther began. “I’ve devoted a lot of thought to it. We can assume a large level of arrogance, a predator only fails to mask its scent if it believes that none of its prey could flee from it. It suggests some truth to the belief that dogs turned on each other, if they are still warring among themselves their primary food might be each other and their might not be any need for cleanliness.”

I guess that makes a bit of sense,” Eve admitted. “A frightening, morbid bit of sense.”

Now, if you believe the myth,” Panther continued, “these dogs are the descendants of the dogs that went insane. This behaviour could be nothing more than learned behaviour, passed down through generations but the root has no real world reason for it other than the originator survived and bred. The silent approach, and even the smell, could have increased the chance of survival. Masking their presence in a war zone could have helped their pack avoid notice and prolonged their lifespans. Or it could be any number of things that just haven’t occurred to me… yet. We just don’t have enough information available.”

We were always taught the dogs’ fall was an absolute,” Eve mentioned, “not a myth.”

We have no honest way to know,” Panther explained. “There is no one alive today who could have witnessed the events. The story has been passed down through countless generations changing a tiny bit with each retelling. At this point it’s really less fact and more colourful storytelling. Making it more of a myth than a history.”

So you don’t believe it happened?” pushed Eve.

We know something happened,” Panther answered. “Dog behaviour changed significantly. They seemed more interested in destroying each other than hunting, than even survival. The desire to cannibalize your own kind seems like it’s insanity, especially when it happens essentially overnight. This obsession seems to have been so strong that they have never expanded their territory preferring to fight over the ruins of the human zone. And that’s not even considering how we cats responded to the disappearance of man.”

Such as?” Eve asked.

As a species we still use human names for ourselves,” Panther explained. “Despite no cats alive today having ever seen a human, let alone resided with one, we still use their naming. Whether we’re part of the Colony or a solitary cat, we still insist on human names.”

The Colony is a prime example of another human influenced behaviour,” Panther continued. “Feral cats are solitary creatures, they band together almost exclusively for breeding and child rearing. Once the kittens are old enough they are left on their own. They’ll fight over territory and the survivors will get to breed and start the cycle over again. The natural state of the cat is that of the solitary hunter. Places like the Colony still cling to the lifestyle forced on our ancestors by humans; multiple cats kept together in a confined space.”

There’s security in the larger numbers, though,” Eve argued. Her head was up, alert now, and her eyes were open and focused on Panther. “You can divide duties up among the population and put the best people in the best positions. You get added safety, better productivity, and people can focus on improving a select group of skills rather than having to be able to do everything.”

Specialization isn’t always a strength,” Panther countered. “You have suffered losses among your hunters and are feeling the result. Cats are going hungry as you train new hunters to replace your losses. They’ll be an adjustment everywhere as the population is shuffled around to new jobs and you wait on the young to be trained in their fields.”

If an enemy was to get into a burrow it would be a slaughter,” Panther warned. “The confined spaces make it more difficult to flee and the bulk of your people haven’t been taught to defend themselves.”

That’s not an issue with our type of cat,” Panther said. We wild cats have to know how to fight, we have to know how to hunt, we have to be able to do everything. We become good or we die. That’s the natural way of the cat.”

Guys,” Sylvester interrupted, “we are not alone.” While his companions had been talking he had taken it upon himself to stand watch. He hadn’t moved from his resting spot he had instead relied primarily on his hearing, sense of smell, and, to a lesser degree, his eyesight.

He had heard their approach first. Multiple footsteps suggested about three animals that he estimated were about his size. The footsteps were slow, cautious. They must have heard the talking and were now attempting to sneak up on Sylvester and his friends. The strangers had gotten fairly close as Sylvester could smell the faint scent of cat. They would be from the Colony as they had a familiar scent to Eve.

I hear them,” Panther acknowledged. “I can smell them too.”

It could be a hunting party,” Eve suggested, “or a security patrol.”

Only one way to find out.” Panther sat up straighter and raised his voice, “You might as well come on out. We mean you no harm.”

Eve dropped down to the ground and sat beside Panther. It seemed like a good idea to provide a united front to Sylvester’s mind, so he quietly joined his companions. They didn’t have to wait long before three cats moved out of what little cover existed.

All three of the newcomers were smaller than Panther or Sylvester but just a bit larger than Eve. They were all skinnier than Eve had been when she had first appeared at the clearing. Two of the cats were nervous looking, the third seemed wary but had an air of confidence about him.

Why are you out here?” the third cat demanded. He was a silver haired cat whose body was broken up by dark grey stripes. He had yellow eyes that gave the impression of a cold, hard individual. His voice was a deep, threatening growl. “Which burrow are you from?”

North third, sir,” Eve stepped forward to answer. “I was sent out as part of a hunting party a few months ago, sir.”

You’ve been gone for awhile,” the silver tabby noted. “You seem well fed. How come there is no food for the rest of the Colony? The three of you could have brought a nice bounty back and filled some empty bellies. It was selfish of you to gorge while the rest went without.” His tone had become accusatory.

I didn’t…,” Eve stammered out.

Hey,” Sylvester pushed his way into the conversation. He didn’t like the silver cat’s approach. There was an arrogance to him, he was a bully and Sylvester wasn’t willing to accept any of that. He moved his body between Eve and the silver cat. “We are not one of yours.”

Immediately the other two cats took a couple of quick steps backward. Sylvester tried hard not to smile at that. The silver didn’t budge, he stood his ground and locked his cold eyes onto Sylvester’s. There was some credit to be given to this cat, Sylvester thought, he was significantly larger than the newcomer.

Sylvester… don’t,” Eve whispered. Sylvester glanced quickly at her, there was a nervousness projected from her.

Who are you?” the silver cat snarled in a dangerous manner.

Sylvester was a bit surprised by the change in tone in the other’s voice. Bravery was expected but the aggression was a shock. The size difference should have been enough to deflate the situation, it didn’t seem to phase the stranger.

Who are you?” the silver cat repeated, each word drawn out almost as a separate sentence. He narrowed his eyes and pushed his nose closer to Sylvester. He had dropped his tail and the fur along his back had risen up.

Sylvester,” Panther’s voice was soft, gentle, a stark contrast to the silver cat’s tone. “Take a few steps back. We are not hear to fight.”

Sylvester felt Panther brush lightly against him. He didn’t want to back down, it felt wrong. He was sure he could beat the silver in a fight. Even if he lost it would be better than backing down from a bully. He hesitated, he trusted Panther and Panther wanted him to step back. Reluctantly he took the requested steps back, his eyes never left the silver cat.

You can talk to me now,” Panther addressed the stranger. He had moved forward and placed himself in front of both Sylvester and Eve.

Fine,” the silver agreed, his voice still held its edge. “Who are you?”

My name is Panther. My companion is Sylvester,” he indicated Sylvester with a quick point of the chin. He nodded toward Eve, “this is Eve. She’s one of yours. We were escorting her home after nursing her injuries and restoring her to health. She has some news concerning your safety she’d like to relay.”

The silver’s eyes widened at that. He watched Panther carefully, he seemed to be considering what he had heard.

So… do you allow us to get her home,” Panther’s voice turned icy, “or do we see how many of you are left alive after we remove you from our path?”

Panther didn’t make a move, just said his piece and waited. Sylvester smiled as the silver cat took a half step backward, his certainty bruised. The other two strangers turned and bolted leaving their leader behind.

What’s the danger?” the silver asked with a softer tone to his voice.

Dogs, sir,” Eve answered quietly, “they killed the rest of my hunting party.”

Okay,” the silver responded. “I’ll take you.”

Previous Episodes

  1. The Bird
  2. A Partnership Begins
  3. And Winter Makes Three
  4. Eve
  5. Panther
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