In the Shadows of Kings (9 Lives) Oct 24, 2012 21:41:52 GMT -5
Post by Fawntastic on Oct 24, 2012 21:41:52 GMT -5
The hollow cavern gaped open like the maw of some colossal beast. The chilly wind that seeped out from it's darkened throat was not the least bit comforting, and Lionstep felt every fiber of his being tingle with some unknown feeling – as though fully aware, just unable to describe, the spiritual nature of this place. Heart hammering, he dipped his head in one last final farewell to his escort party, nodding once to Spottedfeather as the she-cat padded along after him. He was leaving them as Lionstep, deputy of TreeClan, but he would return to them a leader. Drawing upon the strength of a thousand cats who had made the same journey he had, who had felt their hearts shake with fear at their magnificent, terrifying futures, who had gazed upon the faces of StarClan with just as much wonderment and worry as he soon would, Lionstep plunged into the cavern. It was cool beneath his tough pawpads, his oversized steps making not even a whisper of a sound against the sacred grounds no Clan could lay claim to, this neutral place of pure spirituality enough to make the fur stand up on his shoulders.
Calm down, you will be safe here, a voice seemed to say, carried on the same wind that was making Lionstep's throat run dry. Those words of advice arrived a fraction too early – he had not yet gazed upon the Moon Tree, in all it's magnificent crystalline splendor. It was as though it had been wrapped lovingly in starlight, the moon gleaming it's ghostly pale light down upon the white, frosted bark.
"It's beautiful," breathed the stunned TreeClan cat, his words accompanied by icy clouds that hung in the air for a few seconds and then dispersed, the chill penetrating the thick golden pelt and mane he had always worn so proudly. There was no need to speak from this point on, and it was with a sense of ceremony and great, anxious anticipation that Lionstep padded forward to the thin tangle of roots at the Moon Tree's base, expected to lie in one of the hollows so that he may share dreams with StarClan.
What he was feeling wasn't a sensation of finally, at last I can become leader like I've always wanted, rather, he was cloaked in a sense of doubt and grimness that was clawing at him like a starving badger. What if StarClan refused him? What if they felt he was too young to become leader? What if he wasn't ready for this? What if... There weren't enough roots of the Moon Tree to evenly match all the questions ricocheting through his brain right now, but it was with a deep sense of purpose that the former deputy realized, none of his questions would ever be answered if he sat around fretting like an old badger.
Casting a glance back at Spottedfeather, he gave her a smile full of confidence that he didn't feel, dipping his head to her respectfully for the last time as Lionstep, deputy of TreeClan.
"See you on the other side." he mewed, and noiselessly slipped between the Moon Tree's roots to settle down against the cold hard ground; bathed in moonlight and now feeling as though the eyes of StarClan would peer into his very soul, Lionstep closed his eyes.
I'm no longer at the Moon Tree.
Amber eyes fully opened, it was with a start that Lionstep realized he had been transported – well, his spirit at least – to StarClan's Claws, the gathering place of the Clans for many moons now and many many moons to come. It was fitting, he thought, staring up at the massive pointed stones, that he should be judged here before all of Silverpelt, and blessed with 9 lives if found worthy – or crushed between StarClan's powerful talons if not. Suppressing a shudder, the muscular golden tom felt no bigger than a 3 moon old kit in this place of infinite quietness, the air as still as death; Lionstep hardly dared to breathe. Oh no. What if StarClan didn't come? What if he was trapped here for all eternity? What if this was the punishment for being unworthy? Endless solitude?
Out of an unconscious faith in his warrior ancestors that had lasted the span of Lionstep's life, the tom threw his head back, almost opening his mouth in a desperate plea to the warriors of Silverpelt to let him go, when the stars did something astounding.
All at once, the quietness of StarClan's Claws ended, and the air was left thrumming as though filled with a thousand heartbeats and pawsteps, nine warriors of StarClan descending before his very eyes – their bodies painted silver in the moonlight, their fur gleaming like stars, but as they landed in a circle around him, Lionstep was able to make out a few familiar faces.
"Father!" For an instant, Lionstep felt like a kit again, excitement rushing into his heart at the sight of the silvery warrior before him, Badgerstripe's ever proud visage looked even prouder tonight as he matched Lionstep's golden-eyed gaze with his own. Badgerstripe said nothing, but his eyes glittered with the light of Silverpelt. Everything in his father's face seemed to radiate the words, I'm proud of you, my son. Slowly drawing attention away from his father, Lionstep then looked upon the other faces he had come to know and love; Whitewing, Redbird, Distantstar, his father, and what appeared to be the former medicine cat, Dustcloud. The others however, were nearly a complete mystery to him – all but one non-TreeClan cat who stood with his head held high, his eyes blazing with the brazen glow of countless battles and a tiger's pride.
It was Warhawk!
Shocked, Lionstep made as though to step forward and apologize to him, but the voice of all, united into one chorus, halted him where he stood, senses on high alert beneath the stares of StarClan.
"Welcome, Lionstep. Are you ready to receive your nine lives?"
Like the feeling of liquid fire and ice shooting through his veins at the same time, something within him stirred – a part of him that had not shown itself until now, a part of him that forced the intimidated warrior to pull his shoulders back, to lift his head up high, to put the strength back into his shaking legs and answer with unrestrained surety.
It was Badgerstripe who stepped forward first. Fate had cut the warrior down before he had seen his son grow up and become deputy, but at least he could not only see him become leader, but he could bestow the gift of Lionstep's first life and his blessing along with it. Looking to his father with a heart that ached but eyes that glistened with warmth and affection, Lionstep realized with surprise that he was even taller than Badgerstripe now. Having always known him as that strong-shouldered, brave silver warrior he'd been so proud to call his father, the idea that he had at least physically surpassed him was one Lionstep hadn't expected. "I've missed you," whispered the golden tom, purring from the bottom of his heart as Badgerstripe rested his chin against his son's bowed head.
"With this life, I give you a father's pride." Spoke Badgerstripe, "The whole of TreeClan are now your kits, Lionstep. Use this life to watch over them with all the attentiveness and support a decent father can give." Badgerstripe's familiar comforting scent surrounded him as Lionstep drew back a mouselength, wanting nothing more at that moment than to see his father's face. Radiating with that fatherly pride he had spoke of, Badgerstripe leaned forward to touch noses with his son – the golden deputy completely unprepared for the life flooding into his body. It felt as if his chest might burst open with all the warmth and kinship he felt not just for Badgerstripe, but for the entire Clan – every cat was his charge, every cat deserved his attentiveness, his support, his guidance – even the elders he could now look at with a father's pride. Afraid his heart would explode with the fullness of this feeling, Lionstep stayed where he was, life surging through him as Badgerstripe stepped back and another cat padded forward.
The solid white warrior met Lionstep's gaze with a firm, resolute one of his own, humor glittering in the eyes of a cat Lionstep had not had the pleasure of knowing as well as he should've. Fate too, had robbed Lionstep of his first mentor long before his time. Whitewing! Stepping up to receive his second life, he leaned forward to lick his former mentor's shoulder in a sign of respect, which he sadly had not given Whitewing much of when he'd still been alive. Whitewing however, seemed to bore him no grudge, and instead spoke in a clear, warm tone;
"With this life, I grant you the gift of courage. May you charge into battle with all the strength of LionClan, TigerClan and LeopardClan combined, so that you may never run away from any danger and hostility the Clan may face."
Meeting Whitewing's nose with his own, Lionstep gasped as the air was suddenly lit on fire, the screaming and howling of a hundred cats fighting – the tearing of flesh, the spilling of blood, the yowls of triumph, the cries of anguish – fearlessness the likes of which Lionstep had never even comprehended flooded his system like the rains of New Leaf. Limbs shivering, this life given had taken a great deal out of him, but his eyes were stinging with a glow of battle, and for a few seconds, Lionstep stood before the cats of StarClan as the bravest warrior TreeClan had ever known, basking in the feeling that he could take on the whole forest and everything in it.
Whitewing then moved away, and a mighty StoneClan warrior charged forward to take his place, the fierce eyes of Warhawk filling Lionstep with a sense of dread and deep remorse, all traces of that fearlessness from earlier dissipating like water before a raging fire.
"I'm sorry, it was an accident – you never should've died." He looked to Warhawk with eyes filled with unspeakable pain, wanting, begging the StoneClan warrior to understand that it had never been his intention to knock him into the river, that it had truly been a senseless accident. Warhawk gave the smallest of nods, curt and dignified, the StoneClan warrior lifted his chin up before the TreeClan deputy, his strong voice echoing against the tall stones of StarClan's Claws.
"I give you the gift of good judgment and forgiveness," he mewed, Lionstep's whiskers twitching in surprise. "Good judgment so that you may guide your Clan away from senseless dangers and needless deaths, and the Forgiveness," Warhawk continued, meeting Lionstep's eyes with a calm steadiness that belied the ferocity by which Warhawk had lived. "To forgive yourself and others for that which is sometimes out of your control."
Relief flooded into his system as he realized Warhawk did not blame him for his death, the courageous tom acknowledging that his own foolish actions had been the cause of his demise and no one else's. Eager for the reconciliation, Lionstep quickly moved forward, meeting noses with the StoneClan warrior.
The roar of rushing water pounded into Lionstep's ears as he felt the earth sink beneath his paws, his weight carrying him down to a watery grave, his vision rippling once with the churning of the water before it went black, the strength leaving Lionstep's limbs with horrifying rapidness, every air way choked off in an instant. Experiencing the warrior's death for himself, it took all the strength of the shaken warrior's soul to meet Warhawk's eyes again, the proud StoneClan tom stepping back amongst the ranks of fellow StarClan cats. Barely able to stand, weak from the all-too-lifelike experience of drowning, it was the warmth of a very familiar scent that broke some of the spell, his very first apprentice, Redbird, standing in front of him. She had died protecting her kits from a fox that had broken into the nursery, and it was with all the anguish Lionstep thought his heart could bear that he had been the one to hold on to her kits, as they wailed to StarClan, grieving over their lost mother. Straightening up, Lionstep looked into the young russet face of the warrior queen before him, memories of hunting together, battle training and border patrols with the sprightly she-cat made his heart pang with sadness.
"Your kits are growing well," mewed Lionstep, Redbird blinking gratefully at him. "I won't let anything to happen to them, I promise."
"I give you the gift of protection, so that you can defend your Clan and the ones you love against impossible foes."
Especially weary of this life given, Lionstep dipped his head respectfully to Redbird, understanding of the sacrifice she had made for her kits now that he had cats who were just as special to him. He would've easily died for Dawnpaw, had fate ever asked it of him. Touching noses with his former apprentice, Lionstep felt as though he were being ripped asunder by the force of this life swarming into his body – his claws were as sharp as a tiger's, and his teeth could tear the flesh of anything that wanted to harm his family – his breath coming out in ragged, uneven pants at the sudden power surge. The fear of losing the cats he loved shook him like a leaf in a windstorm, and Lionstep felt completely drained as the power left his body, Redbird gone and replaced by, to his bewilderment, two small almost identical she-kits. At first, Lionstep was certain he'd never met them, but when he leaned in to scent each in turn, the former deputy was almost floored by the familiar smells and memories that all rushed him at once – they were his littermates!
"Lavenderkit," he mewed slowly, the names coming back to him after so many moons, "and Cherrykit." One was a little lilac she-kit, her pelt as long and as soft looking as their mother's, their sister Cherrykit bearing a slightly more ruddy pelt than Lavenderkit, but both gave him looks of the utmost warmth and friendliness. Lionstep felt his throat tighten.
Sorry that he never gotten the chance to know them, he listened intently as his kin spoke in unison.
"With this life we give you compassion, so that you make look from the smallest kit to the oldest elder with unending kindness and patience." Touching his nose to each of theirs, the life his younger sisters had given him was warm and light, swelling within his heart like a tide, slow to recede but leaving a lasting impression. He purred, nuzzling Lavenderkit and then Cherrykit before they left him. The pleasant fog that had settled over his being was devoured in an instant at the sight of Distantstar, his two very young sisters bouncing back to stand beside Badgerstripe as the former TreeClan leader stalked forward to meet him. Distantstar's illness, the deathberries, the conversation he'd had with the Medicine Cat – it all flashed before his eyes, and Lionstep swallowed a large lump of guilt, but Distantstar was now looking anything but sickly. Gleaming with all the radiance of a celestial-bound cat, his former leader rested his chin against Lionstep's forehead, as though he were nothing but a kit again, about to be made an apprentice for the first time.
"I grant you Empathy, young Lionstep. May you understand the highs and lows of your Clanmates, their joys and their sorrows, and never take anyone's feelings for granted." Touching noses with Distantstar, he saw the calm strength reflected in the older tom's eyes, and he drew relief from the understanding gaze of the once-living TreeClan leader. The life Distantstart had given him felt as though a bird had nestled somewhere in his breast, refusing to leave, an ever-present feeling over his heart that wasn't necessarily unpleasant. Saying his goodbyes to Distantstar in his head, hoping the leader could hear him, the view of a small brown tom creeping forward caught his attention.
"Dustcloud," he mewed, looking into the eyes of the former TreeClan Medicine Cat. He had been Spottedfeather's mentor, and had healed many of Lionstep's battle wounds and training injuries when he'd been apprentice.
Dustcloud's eyes were still filled with that age-old wisdom that he remembered, and just as nostalgia was beginning to settle in, the Medicine Cat spoke.
"I give you the gift of wisdom, so that you may lead your Clan with a clear head and a calm heart." Dipping his head respectfully, Lionstep accepted his seventh life, long claws digging into the ground at StarClan's Claws to grip the earth – body tense in case this was another violent one. But the surge of power-depleting energy never came, instead, Lionstep was witness to a thousand lifetimes in the single blink of an eye – a dozen experiences, a dozen rights, a dozen wrongs, and he had become judge, jury and executioner to all of them, his head spinning with the knowledge that had passed through it so quickly. Trying to collect himself, Lionstep glanced to the remaining two StarClan cats, the fur along the nape of his neck prickling with a peculiar sense of familiarity.
The 8th cat stepped forward, a long-bodied, thick-furred warrior with a dark pelt and even darker ears, his smoky ancestor aptly named Smoke-ear, if he was remembering correctly. Smoke-ear was Sandfur's brother, which made him Lionstep's uncle. Smoke-ear had died bravely in battle, and had been known for his remarkable speed and tireless energy. Had Lionstep been a younger cat, he would've leaped at the possibility of getting Smoke-ear's speed, but the warrior standing before his mother's kin was not the same reckless youngster he'd once been. Smoke-ear seemed to acknowledge this, his golden eyes warm, dark pelt glistening with the light of StarClan behind it.
He leaned in to address his nephew, voice a low baritone, words clipped.
"I give you the gift of boundless vigor, so that you many never tire in the face of adversary both within and without, and can keep running, keeping striving for brighter days than the last."
"Thank you," breathed Lionstep, able to get in a word edgewise before he and Smoke-ear touched noses. In a breathless moment, the golden tom felt as if he'd run across the whole forest a hundred times, the adrenaline coursing through his blood and bringing him back to life, heart pounding, eyes ablaze with the true meaning of boundless vigor. Inhaling deeply so that his chest swelled, Lionstep exhaled as he kneaded the ground with his paws, feeling as though his energy had been restored to him, as though he'd rested for a dozen moons and was now ready to lead 6 patrols and hunting parties all before sunhigh. If Lionstep hadn't known better, he could've sworn he'd just heard Smoke-ear chuckle something about Youngsters these days. So willing to run laps around us older folks. He would've responded with a bit of cheek at being called a youngster, but the last and final StarClan cat had taken center stage.
Illuminating the whole of StarClan's Claws, the golden cat was even larger than Lionstep, and his heart staggered in shock at the possibility that he was truly standing before a warrior of LionClan, the mane, the claws, the nobility all present before his wide golden eyes. It was like looking at the embodiment of the sun, this cat radiating warmth and strength, dignity and power pulsating out of him like heat waves, making Lionstep appear small and insignificant in comparison. Utterly starstruck, Lionstep looked up into the eyes of a cat he had never met, yet felt as though he'd known him his entire life, the name floating in on a warm Greenleaf breeze and into the young tom's heart.
Sunstar. This cat was Sunstar, a leader of TreeClan? No, before TreeClan had ever been called TreeClan, back when the Clan had been known by another name, and had been the thunder and lightning embodied, with this mighty harbinger of light as their figurehead. Utterly awed, Lionstep dipped his head respectfully, finding it hard to tear his gaze away from Sunstar, who regarded him with fathomless eyes of spun gold, a low rumbling purr resonating from the majestic leader's chest and into Lionstep's being as he spoke.
"My successor. My blood. My promise fulfilled. I have watched over you from the moment you were born, sure of your destiny and of the strength you will bring to TreeClan. I give you the gift of Faith, Duty and Strength, so that you may use it to watch over the Clan that you, I, and many who have come before have loved from the depths of our hearts."
Feeling electrified, Lionstep hung on Sunstar's every word, his transfixed expression bathed in golden light that permeated from the older tom's pelt, chasing back the darkness of night. Sunstar smiled coyly, as though he knew something that for all the lives Lionstep had been given, his younger kin would never get the chance to know. Sunstar pressed his nose to Lionstep's, presenting him with the ninth and final life.
It struck with the howling fury of a hurricane, the heat of a blazing forest fire, the icy breath of the coldest winter, the rumble of the fiercest earthquake. Lionstep almost thought he were dying, the pain, the sorrow, the pleasure, the joy, the life was so intense he was sure he couldn't bear it. Gasps turning to a soundless yowl, Lionstep clung to the earth for all his sanity and shaking soul, forced to carry the weight of a thousand lifetimes and a thousand flames filling him to the core, shredding the old Lionstep into leaf-thin pieces to be scattered to the wind. Feeling as though he'd been stripped of his essence, scraped raw of any impurities, he let out a strangled noise, shuddering as the sharp tingling in his paws started to subside, Lionstep miraculously standing despite having not an ounce of energy left.
It was as though he'd died and lived a hundred times over, the lives of all his ancestors – from Sunstar to Cherrykit – had passed through his body, each leaving him their blessing and a little bit of themselves, the energy eventually dissipating into the blackness until he was left shivering, utterly hollow. Swallowing dryly, his eyes now burned with fervent determination, his massive paws heavy against the ground as the cats of StarClan, led by Sunstar, completed the ceremony. He wouldn't let them down.
"We will now hail you by a new name, your old life is long gone. Lionstar, we entrust to you these nine lives of a leader, StarClan and I, Sunstar, grant you the guardianship of TreeClan. Look after your Clan well, defend them, love them as though they were your own flesh and blood. Adhere to the warrior code, follow our ways – but never forget to live with pride, dignity and the courage to do what you feel is right."
Sunstar's voice vibrated as it blended with the voices of many, the cats gathered before him speaking as one as they addressed him by his new name.
"Lionstar! Lionstar! Lionstar!" Exulting his name to the heavens above, Lionstar felt swayed by the swell of voices surrounding him, their eyes sparkling, their voices strong and unshakable as their bodies began to ever so slightly fade...
The ceremony was coming to a close.
Reluctant to say goodbye, a hard lump returned to the TreeClan leader's throat, and he tried to make eye contact with each of them in turn, trying to show Badgerstripe, Redbird, Cherrykit, Lavenderkit, and Whitewing the depth of his love for each of them, and to Dustcloud, Distantstar, Warhawk and Sunstar, the unparalleled respect he had for these once great, noble cats. "Thank you," he breathed at last, the scents of all nine cats, young and old ,overwhelmed and comforted him with this immense responsibility they had now given him, the cats disappearing along with StarClan's Claws – the cold ground of the Moon Tree's cavern penetrating this perfect, frightening, wonderful, indescribable dream.
Waking with an acute jerk of his muscles, Lionstar rose from beneath the Moon Tree's roots, the moonlight no longer streaming in as brightly as before.
Lionstar exiting the gaping cavern to step into the forest a newer, stronger, more dependable version of himself.
It was impossible to say the experience hadn't changed him; Lionstar felt as though he'd been purged of all his impurities and born again, the faith StarClan and Sunstar had in him was enough to put the warmth back into his body, to stave off the tiredness a little longer – at least until he had greeted the escort party. The first thing he did was stretch out his front paws, then his back paws, and at last he turned to look to Dawnpaw first, smiling with warmth at his beloved apprentice, his eyes then drawn to Lionsong and Noblepaw.
He was still shaken up from the ceremony, but as far as anyone other than Spottedfeather was concerned, they needn't know that. From the moment he'd been crowned Lionstar, he was determined to show an unshakable side of himself. Like the towering oak tree, the king of the forest, he would become a pillar of strength for the whole of TreeClan – no matter how hard the wind blew, he would not fall, no matter how hot the fire got, he would not burn, not so long as there were cats who still needed him.