BUY THE STARS [duckstep's nine lives ceremony] May 2, 2016 4:35:09 GMT skyy and her socks, shanny, and 1 more like this
Post by crescendo on May 2, 2016 4:35:09 GMT
( THE JOURNEY )
you bought a star in the sky tonight
The rain had not let up when she and Magpiestar had left camp behind them. Duckstep was hyper-aware of the fact that their pace was relentlessly steady—she longed to ask the older tom to slow down but the words died in her throat whenever she thought to actually speak them. Everything seemed to be rushing her along, and she couldn’t bring herself to ask him to make allowances for her old injury. Especially considering the words that he’d spoken earlier.
Me? Duckstep glanced uncomfortably at the old tom as the smudge of the forest fell behind them. The two cats were making their way across the moor, and though Duckstep knew their intent would grant them safe passage she loathed how open the two cats were on the moorland. The storm raged overhead, and Duckstep wondered if it was StarClan themselves rioting against the decision that Magpiestar had made. But, like her want to slow their walk, she couldn’t bring herself to outright question the tom’s decision in making her deputy of his Clan.
No. Not deputy. She’d hardly had the title—and that alone had stunned her—before his announcement of retirement. Duckstep couldn’t help but think that, even if Ashenfang didn’t feel ready for it, it ought to have been him padding after Magpiestar toward the moonstone. Instead it was her, a cat with a terrible limp who had once thought she’d never even be a warrior. She was young and inexperienced—heck, she hadn’t even gotten her warrior name until she was older than most apprentices ever were.
“You sure StarClan’s not trying to revolt?” Duckstep asked—trying hard to keep her voice light to hide her misgivings. Magpiestar either didn’t hear her or did not feel the need to give a reply for the statement. Duckstep flattened her ears as they reached the edge of the Thunderpath and charged across it without incident. The further they walked the more pain her leg was giving her, and by the time they cut for the shape of Highstones she couldn’t bear weight on the appendage at all. Shame bubbled through her as Magpiestar finally adjusted their pace to allow her to hobble after him, her bad leg awkwardly held aloft.
The old was throbbing incessantly. It always hurt, don’t get her wrong, but the she-cat couldn’t remember a time since she’d first fallen on it that it had been so glaringly bright in the forefront of her mind. It was like a loud chant had started up in the bone, shrieking steadily and without relent: “Pain! Pain! Pain!” over and over again. Her worry at the sudden rank had vanished under a tidal wave of it and by the time they actually reached Mothermouth Duckstep couldn’t even think of anything else. She gratefully sank to the ground in front of the cavern, wincing as her leg trembled and twitched with painful spasms. She shouldn’t have pushed herself so hard.
“I must go inside for my own ceremony,” Magpiestar’s eyes were on her for a few moments. Duckstep wanted to groan at the thought of descending into the cavern with no rest, but the old tom—perhaps sensing that she desperately needed the break—simply told her that he would come to fetch her when it was time for her own ceremony. She watched the black and white leader vanish into the cavern, and stayed very still near the entrance. As she waited the rain eased, and she could see the moon
Slowly the pain dulled to something she could cope with. It still hurt far more than normal, but she gently pulled herself to her feet and tested the injury on the ground. Pain arched through her, but she could bear it. A sigh of relief rolled out of her, though the tabby-and-white warrior felt a spark of dread at the thought of the agonizing walk home. Then again, she was going to be leader at that point, maybe she could set the pace? The thought of telling Magpiestar to slow down brought her some vague amusement but her nerves had begun to mount once more. How could Magpiestar be certain this was the right choice?
A moment later his face appeared out of the cavern, and Duckstep hurried over to him. “Magpiestar?”
“Magpiethorn,” the old tom corrected her quietly. Duckstep winced, uncomfortably aware that she’d half hoped that StarClan would turn the former leader away and demand he keep his position. Or perhaps that the clouds would cover the moon and keep it from happening at all. The gravity of his name change weighed heavily on her shoulders, and she stared into the mouth of the cavern with fear throbbing through her every bit as sharp as the pain earlier. “You must not speak until the ceremony is complete. When you reach the cavern rest your nose against the Moonstone and sleep. The ceremony is secret, and most not be spoken of to any cat. Do you understand?”
Am I going alone? Duckstep thought with alarm even as she nodded. She wished desperately that she’d brought Sharpfrost with her. That she could have. The she-cat was again uncomfortably aware of how much her friend better suited this position than her, and half wanted to tell Magpiethorn that he had made a mistake. It seemed less frightening with the knowledge that he was no longer a rank above her—actually technically she was above him. Being the new Clan deputy and all.
What? And make him look a dottering old fool for choosing you in the first place? What will you tell your Clan-mates? You couldn’t do it? Magpiethorn glanced up, and Duckstep knew that while the moon was still high she needed to hurry to get her name and lives. No, she could not come back to the Clan unless StarClan themselves turned her away. Despite her fear she felt a burst of courage and took a step forward into the darkness. It swallowed her wholly, and she was aware that even with keen night-sight a cat couldn’t see what was in front of them.
Following Magpiethorn’s relatively fresh scent, she descended deep into the cavern. It seemed to her that the walls wanted to crush her, and the cold seeped into her aching leg like fangs. She did not falter, she walked steadily and quietly onward, until a faint glow could be seen ahead. It grew steadily brighter and brighter until finally she stepped into the open room and knew, beyond any doubt, that what lay before her must have been the Moonstone.
Duckstep had never entered the cavern when she’d traveled here before her warrior name. Now she was breathless at the wonder of the silver stone, it seemed as though a star had fallen from the heavens themselves and glimmered brightly before her. Outside she could still see the moon, and Duckstep wondered how a cat could even begin to find a voice in the face of the glimmering stone.
She limped forward, aware of the chill that had settled around her. Water droplets left from the rain glimmered like stars on the tips of her whiskers, and as she settled against the stone before her she pressed her pink nose against the blinding stone. For a moment there was no doubt in her, she was swept so thoroughly by the sheer awe of seeing what she saw that there was no room for doubt. Slowly, she closed her eyes. It felt as though everything in her was slowly freezing. She could feel her own breathing edging, quieter, quieter, quieter.
It was as though she were ice itself—or perhaps cut from the cold stone in front of her. Everything stilled, and Duckstep, half worried that the stone had stopped shining, cracked open her pale green eyes. They flew open a heartbeat later, and she scrambled to her paws with a gasp of surprise. The cavern had vanished, and sprawling before her was what seemed to be the grassy clearing at Fourtrees. Several cats sat in a ring around the brown tabby, and the warrior hobbled in a circle as she drank in their presence.( THE CEREMONY, LIFE I )
because your life is dark and you need some light
“Dapplefall,” Duckstep breathed—the words fell from her mouth before she could wonder if StarClan’s territory was somewhere she should be silent as well. It hadn’t taken long to spot her mother, honestly. The calico warrior was standing next to Rockclaw, and the way the stars glimmered in her fur made her look more beautiful than Duckstep could ever remember her being. A strange feeling of grief and joy warred in her chest, and Duckstep found her gaze flicking past Dapplefall to pick out more familiar faces if she could.
Hazelstream isn’t here, Duckstep thought with mild surprise. She raked her eyes over the clearing again to make sure she hadn’t missed Sharpfrost’s sister. Maybe the she-cat didn’t support her, but it seemed odd that a cat so significant in her life would not be amidst the ranks of StarClan. Duckstep started slightly when a sudden loud voice—no a collective of voices—crashed over her.
“Welcome Duckstep, are you ready to receive your nine lives?” No one single cat seemed to be speaking, it was clear the words came from all of them at once. A shudder ripped through Duckstep despite herself, and she took a deep breath.
“Yes—I’m ready,” Duckstep’s voice came out steadier than she expected. The cats rippled with something like relief, and she wondered if they had been able to sense her unease and worry on the entire journey. Dapplefall—her mother whom she’d spotted earlier—padded out of the tight ring of cats. Duckstep’s throat closed at the sight of her, and she leaned forward eagerly to touch her nose to her mother’s even as the she-cat spoke while she walked.
“With this life I give you hope. Use it to believe that, no matter how dark or bleak things may seem, there is always a bright future to strive for,” Dapplefall’s eyes glimmered with warmth. Duckstep’s own pale green eyes widened as the dappled cat’s nose pressed against her own—instead of the warmth of a greeting something suddenly froze her rigid in place. A strangled yowl wanted to drag out of her throat, but she couldn’t give voice to it for some reason. Instead she stood as still as a stone under her mother’s nose.
It was like flame—fire burning first steadily warm and then gathering in strength. She could feel crushing despair that washed over the fire like water trying to drown it, but it would flicker and catch. For a moment she saw herself, young and broken in the medicine cat’s den—and then realized with a jolt that she was seeing through her mother’s eyes as the image flickered to Rockclaw and heart wrenching despair crashed through her that must have reflected his death. When Dapplefall finally stepped away Duckstep was standing with her head bowed and her eyes wide.
Is—is it like this every time? Duckstep glanced up, wanting desperately to ask her mother. The tabby’s words died before she could speak them, Dapplefall’s gaze was warm with pride and she brushed her nose against Duckstep’s head. “Mom—I… I miss you.”
“Be strong little one,” Dapplefall murmured, nosing her gently before padding back to the ring of cats.( THE CEREMONY, LIFE II )
you named it after me, but i'm not yours to keep
Next was Rockclaw—Sharpfrost’s father, and the tom who had taken Dapplefall as a mate before the she-cat had wasted away after her difficult birth. His untimely death had played a hand in Dapplefall’s as well, and Duckstep wasn’t sure how she felt about him. Not that he’d ever died on purpose. The sight of him, standing as tall and proud as he ever did, filled Duckstep with some determination. She held her head high, forcing herself to stay still as the tom stepped forward.
You’d be proud of your kits I think, Duckstep wanted to say. Then added silently, Though Cuckookit is a pawful.
“With this life I give you self-respect. Use it to remember that, while you are the Clan leader, you are yourself as well. Never do what you feel is wrong in your heart, never let your morals be swayed no matter the persistence of another. Keep your honor as well as your Clan’s honor in tact always,” Rockclaw meowed. He touched Duckstep gently and pain again flashed through her. It was a less distinct pain than her mother’s, tempered somewhat perhaps because Duckstep hadn’t been that close to Rockclaw.
Even so, when tom finally stepped back Duckstep was staring hard at her paws. Her mind was buzzing—her mother’s life had seemed to have stemmed from her own life experiences. Was there a time that Rockclaw had given into some cat’s whims despite not really wanting to?
The question was in her eyes when she looked up, but Rockclaw had already begun his return trip toward Dapplefall. Duckstep winced, wondering if she should have spoken sooner. Another question was on the tip of her tongue, and she was tempted to shout it after him. To ask him whether or not he knew where his daughter, Hazelstream, was. She could have sworn that she spotted Birdsong amidst the ranks, but the younger warrior was still gone.
But why? Surely she’s here somewhere, Duckstep blinked.( THE CEREMONY, LIFE III )
because you'll never see that the stars are free
The next cat to step forward sent shock rippling through Duckstep. She knew that proud tilt of head, the scarred muzzle, and reddish coat anywhere. Sure he was no longer grizzled around the edges—the silver-white that had crept along his muzzle had vanished entirely. He looked young again, younger than Duckstep had ever seen him. “Weaseltooth?”
Weaseltooth dipped his head as he walked. His face was as stern and serious as ever—her former mentor had died in the elder’s den at the beginning of the moon. He did not look old now, though she couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable under the tom’s gaze. After all, he had abandoned her when she had needed him the most. He hadn’t believed in her becoming a warrior, and now here he was to give her a life to go with her newest rank.
You never thought I’d be standing here, did you? Duckstep thought, and thought she saw regret flashing in his eyes. Duckstep lifted her head, proud despite herself. After all, she’d clawed her way through pain to earn her warrior name. It had been Sharpfrost who stood her during that time, not Weaseltooth.
“Duckstep…” Weaseltooth trailed off, blinking at her warmly for a moment. Duckstep was startled by the gentleness of his gaze, and the pride that glimmered there too. “I can never ask you to forgive me for leaving you when you needed me most, but I can give you the chance to never allow it to happen to another cat. With this life I give you faith, not merely in the warrior code and StarClan, but in those that are in your Clan. Believe in them even when it seems as though they should not be believed in, take it to heart that if you think the best in them that they may be more inclined to being all they should be.”
What hit her now was what she imagined lightning might feel like. It hurt, yes, but filled her with a gathering sense of determination. It flooded through her until she was so full of the feeling that she could hardly handle it. An unwavering, unshakable sensation that flooded her from whiskers to tail tip stole her breath away. This was what it was to have faith in those around her, to believe with all her heart that they would back her and be loyal to her.
By the time she came to, Weaseltooth had loped quickly away. Duckstep’s ears were ringing terribly, and she felt her stomach plunge nervously. She wasn’t even half through all the cats, and she wondered if a cat had ever died from taking on all the lives given to them.
( THE CEREMONY, LIFE IV )
oh we don't own our heavens now, we only own our hell
Duckstep squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, trying hard to remain standing tall. She needed to believe in herself, if she thought she wasn’t able to do it then surely she wouldn’t be able to. Be strong, she could do this. Feeling steeled, the brown and white tabby cracked her eyes open. The cat sitting in front of her was not one she had been quite close to, but she recognized her immediately as Fawnwhisper. The queen had died of Greencough, but there had been a lot of scandal as to whom had fathered her litter.
Something like respect flared through Duckstep despite herself. Fawnwhisper had never told a cat whom had fathered her kits, likely out of loyalty to the tom. Even if she had gone against the code, Duckstep couldn’t help but feel a touch of admiration for her sticking by what she believed in. She dipped her head in greeting, mutely watching as the queen stopped in front of her.
“With this life I give you loyalty,” Fawnwhisper meowed. Duckstep wondered if she imagined the flare of defiance in the other cat’s eyes, but stayed quiet and did not flinch away as the queen’s nose rested against her forehead. “Use it to stay true not only to your Clan but also your heart and those that you love.”
Duckstep closed her eyes against the wave of pain that smashed into her. There was an undercurrent of tightness in her chest, and she wondered if they were residual feelings Fawnwhisper had had about her secrets—or if it was the disease that had finally choked her to death. When it was over she opened her eyes, and wondered if she should say something to the she-cat. Promise to watch over the kits that had been left behind perhaps. Before she could find the words though, Fawnwhisper had vanished back into the ranks of StarClan.( THE CEREMONY, LIFE V )
and if you don't know that by now then you don't know me that well
There were some soft growls that followed the next cat to step forward, but Duckstep watched with something like interest despite herself. The cat clearly smelled of SkyClan, despite the stars in his pelt, and he stopped in front of Duckstep with eyes glimmering with amusement. She blinked, leaning over to peer around him before snapping to attention as he spoke. “My name is Snailheart. I’m a friend of your great-grandfather—despite a border separating us he was the closest friend I had ever had. I’m proud to see his kin here to step forward and lead the Clan he loved so much.”
“Oh…” Duckstep blinked—she was about to ask whether he was referring to some cat in Mossfang or Dapplefall’s lineage before she broke off as the cat leaned forward. Snailheart exhaled slowly.
“With this life I give you an appreciation for friendship. Cherish those that you call your friend, but be willing to extend your paw to make friendships as well. Remember that sometimes kindness can be just as powerful as claws or fangs.” Snailheart’s solemn words sent a ripple of what seemed to be anger through the StarClan ranks behind him. Duckstep half winced despite herself—no wonder they were angry. Things had been tense along the SkyClan border, and she knew that an attempt to extend friendship to SkyClan would only be viewed as weakness by new leaders and her Clan. Was he hoping that by giving her this life she would regard SkyClan as friends? But what of her own Clan?
The questions were drowned out by the feeling that swept through her. She was surprised that it wasn’t painful—she was acutely aware suddenly of all those she loved in her Clan. Of Sharpfrost, of the way her dearest friend had never faltered or wavered at her side. She was aware of the love she held for cats like Cuckookit, for those younger than her that stumbled and struggled through the world. She was aware of how good it felt to know when others relied on her—and to realize she could rely on them too. When the sensations flickered out, Snailheart blinked warmly at her and stepped back into StarClan’s ranks.( THE CEREMONY, LIFE VI )
all my life i've been so lonely all in the name of being holy
The next cat to bound forward was considerably younger than the ones that had come before him. Duckstep realized with some alarm that he must have been apprentice-aged when he died. Though he smelled of RiverClan she couldn’t put a name to his face. He must have passed well before her time. Even so, the enthusiasm that glimmered in his eyes was infectious, and she found herself wanting to bound after the young tom.
“Hey! I’m Shrewpaw,” Shrewpaw’s whiskers twitched. He leaned forward and purred. “With this life I give you a spirit for adventure. Always remember that you can only learn so much by sticking to one thing, and never be afraid to step beyond your comfort zone to learn something great and new!”
Duckstep—perhaps because of how nice the last life had been—was thrown by the pain that charged through her at this one. It made her grit her teeth, a feeling like blazing exhilaration set every hair on her pelt on end. She could see herself running through open fields that were nothing like RiverClan’s, only to be covered by a dark shadow. Piercing pain flooded through her and she realized that she was being lifted from the ground in the vision—dragged higher and higher. Terror pounded through her, and the vision cut off before she began to drop. She was shaking despite herself, terrified and all-too acquainted with the knowledge that Shrewpaw must have died due to the bird that had plucked him up.
And you still appreciate adventure? Duckstep thought, watching the young apprentice bound back to his Clan-mates.( THE CEREMONY, LIFE VII )
still you'd like to think you know me, you keep buying stars
The cat that came next she didn’t recognize either. Though his scent was also of RiverClan she could taste the smell of herbs on it as well. Curiosity prickling at her paws, Duckstep watched the tom as he padded forward. She thought he shared a glance with—ah! That was Mousestar he looked at! Duckstep had been young when the leader had passed on into StarClan, replaced by Magpiethorn.
So this must be Lionbite, he would have mentored Yellowstrike, who had cared for Duckstep after she’d fallen. The she-cat watched him carefully, nodding respectfully when he stopped in front of her. Nervousness fluttered in her belly, what would the old medicine cat give her as a life?
“With this life I give you appreciation for the companionship of your medicine cat,” Lionbite’s tail flicked toward Mousestar in a gesture that seemed to be teasing somehow. Duckstep blinked, thinking of Nettleheart and his attitude. She wasn’t the sort to try and argue with StarClan, but the tom didn’t exactly seem like the sort that she would be able to get very close to. Somberly, Lionbite continued, “Remember that a medicine cat is your closest link to StarClan, their friendship is invaluable to a Clan leader.”( THE CEREMONY, LIFE VIII )
you could buy up all of the stars but that won't change who you are
As the pain of the last life faded away from her and Duckstep watched Lionbite return to where he had been before, she couldn’t help but half wish she had no more to take. She felt full to bursting with strange energy, and she knew well that there were still two more lives remaining. Duckstep shut her eyes, before opening them as the newest cat stepped forward. It was another RiverClan cat, one she didn’t know from her life personally as well. Like Shrewpaw, Snailheart and Lionbite he had died before she had become part of his Clan.
“I’m Snakefoot,” Snakefoot meowed. He pressed his nose to Duckstep’s head before she could respond and meowed. “And with this life I give you the strength to put your Clan above all else. Remember that your faith, your love and kindness belongs to them before it belongs to any cat over the border.”
She’d been squeezing her eyes shut to prepare for the pain of this life, and was struck by the ferocity of feeling that it also had. She’d seen flashes of some of the lives those that had gifted her had given her, but this one had a strange heavy pang in her chest too. Raw, sharp, bitter—Betrayal. She felt as though someone she cared for deeply had turned their back on her when she needed them there.( THE CEREMONY, LIFE IX )
you're still living life in the dark
Mousestar stepped away from the other cats. Duckstep felt dizzy and peered up at the tom. Was he angry that she was taking Magpiethorn’s place? Did he think that she couldn’t do it? She tried to find doubt in his gaze, but there was only something steady and warm that she couldn’t put her paw on. He nodded to her, and leaned forward until his nose rested against her head. She felt suddenly as though she were an apprentice standing in front of Magpiethorn once more. Ready to take a name that she had once believed she never would carry.
“With this life I give you courage,” Mousestar meowed somberly. Duckstep swallowed, “Use it so that you may, in the common seasons, face whatever fear may try to beat you down. Stand tall, stand strong and lead your Clan without faltering. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability that one has to conquer it. Do so, Duckstep, and never let RiverClan down to the best of your ability.”
The life that flooded her had images flaring through her head again. Not Mousestar’s own life, she knew with immediate certainty, but her own. She saw herself, small and young as a storm howled around her. She saw herself climbing a tree, higher, and higher, and higher. Fear pounded through Duckstep, terror that made her want to cry and shy away from the cat who had his muzzle firmly pressed to her head. She saw herself—saw through her own eyes—as she fell. As she fell once more, and knew exactly what would come of the crash at the bottom.
Duckstep jerked as the life’s energy finally stopped. The pain in her leg was sickening to her, and Duckstep’s head was whirring. She felt half-betrayed by the RiverClan leader, but when she lifted her eyes and saw unmistakably that Mousestar at least backed her in this. Even if she feared the future, even if she doubted herself, she had those in StarClan that did not.
Mousestar flicked his tail—a gesture for the new leader to stand. She stood shakily, aware that she felt as though she were spilling over. Or maybe as though she were shining with all the light StarClan had to offer. Even so, she managed to hold her chin high and felt herself tremble with sudden anticipation.
“I hail you by your new name, Duckstar. Your old life is no more,” Mousestar meowed. A shudder rippled through Duckstar at the new name. It sounded foreign and terrifying, but then again, he had just given her the courage to face what frightened her. She swallowed as he continued. “You have now received the nine lives of a leader, and StarClan grants you guardianship of RiverClan. Defend it well; care for those young and old; honor your ancestors and the traditions of the warrior code; live each life with pride and dignity.”
“Duckstar! Duckstar! Duckstar!” The heavens themselves shouted her new name. Duckstar held her head as high as she could, letting their faith flood through her for a moment. She knew that in the days to come there would be difficulties, but she would have the courage to face them. She would not take this gift for granted.( AWAKENING )
it's just who you are, it's just who you are
When she woke darkness met her gaze. The stone had grown black, but she could swear she heard the chanting of her name even still. Slowly, Duckstar pulled herself up into a sitting position. She felt charged with energy, even the pain in her leg was hard to pay attention to. She could run all the way back to RiverClan if she needed to. To the moon itself if they asked her.
Hoping to carry this feeling with her home, Duckstar turned and headed for where Magpiethorn was waiting for her at the entrance. She couldn’t shake the strangest feeling that the cat she was had, in some small way, died through the ceremony. No—as though she had been born again. As she stepped out of Mothermouth and nodded mutely to Magpiethorn she couldn’t help but daring to hope that the future looked a little brighter than she’d thought.