Calls of war echoed through the streets. Screams of horror, cries of grief, and yowls of anger pierced the humid air. Bodies fell to the ground with a thud, blood was spilt, and claw met fang as cats spat and threw themselves at each other. It was the symphony of nightmares, whose audience was reluctant indeed. And yet to one cat, in that instant, all fell silent. No sound reached his ears beyond an eerie whisper, as his horror and grief drowned out everything else. Like that distant voice that speaks to you as you're sleeping, barely cutting through your dream-state...
Only, this wasn't a dream, nor a nightmare. No, this was very real.
He remembered entering the captured area. He remembered seeking his quarry, clinging to his powerful resolve. Even as his fellow patrol members urged him to get moving, he refused. Valeria was here. He WOULD find her. Quintin WOULD get his mother back. And Arkita's conscience would be clear.
But that never happened. Hours passed. And he came to a chilling conclusion.
She wasn't here.
He had failed.
Now a voice in the back of his mind taunted him. "You left me behind," it said, in the form of a whispy bobcat he knew too well, in the corner of his imagination. Besides her were two similar forms. "You never came back Daddy! You didn't save us. And now we're gone."
"It's all your fault..."
Forcing himself to emerge from his newfound grief, the gladiator took one ginger step, trembling. Then another. And once more he was still. He didn't budge as a few cats passed him, even when one of them urged him to go on. In this moment, he wasn't capable. He had to stop and dwell on what he'd done. He had come so far. Seen so much. Tried so hard... losing Sophia had hit him hard. Quintin was like the herb that would heal him. The hope of rescuing Valeria was the bandages on his injury. But now he had gone backwards... the wound had been reopened. Even for someone so strong in heart and will as Arkita, it was difficult, and painful.
But his will to survive soon kicked in. As always, he pushed his agony aside, if only for the moment. He might have lost his motivation, and he would still have to deal with this later. But he couldn't break down. Not here. Not now. Besides, he had a son to get back to.
The shadow guardian burst back out into the city with a rush of adrenaline. He turned down an alleyway, the same one where he had first properly met Penelope, a landmark of his last escape, the last thing he had actually done right. He was going to do it again. What would happen when he got home? He couldn't think about that right now. But he was going to do it right this time.
As he turned a corner, he was greeted by a snarling hunter. The dark lynx met his opponent with enthusiasm. Nothing would stop him now.