hell is so close to heaven [dimstar's nine lives] Jan 24, 2016 12:53:46 GMT -5 Fawntastic likes this
Post by Insidious on Jan 24, 2016 12:53:46 GMT -5
While the snow had stopped, the suffering did not. White blanketed the earth at all intervals, making the ground slick, and the trees weighted, bent and broken, like something of a metaphor for the cats beneath it. The occasional branch gave under the pressure, landing with enough force to crush whatever was below it. If one of his escorts happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even if he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, there was no doubt in his mind that a life would end, so he paid attention to where they walked, and accounted for what, above, looked like it was ready to cave.
To his left was Sandviper, and to his right, Starlingcry, with Smokefur just ahead. They made excellent time despite the weather conditions and, thankfully, there had been no unnecessary stops along the way. The journey had been smooth, had been efficient, which was nothing short of what he expected. He did not speak when his voice was not called for and, resultantly, any and all attempts at conversation had died fairly quickly. It, perhaps, was not the kind of leadership that anyone expected, or that anyone was used to, but it was a necessary change. He had known that for a long time and, it seemed, StarClan now did, too.
Under his command, NightClan would flourish. He was certain of it.
The Moon Tree was fascinating - to the common eye - but the stoic tom regarded it with something along the lines of indifference. Nobody needed to usher him forward. Any words of encouragement would have fallen on deaf ears. He had been prepared for this moment for what felt like millennia. He had accepted the responsibility of NightClan the second that it was placed on his shoulders, and it did not weigh him down in the slightest, only solidified his resolve to ensure that his clan never knew weakness again.
He touched his tail to the flank of either warrior, and then tipped his head to the medicine cat, a silent thanks for making a safe trip to the Moon Tree possible. Stepping forward, stepping upward, ascending deeper into a starry void with each confident stride, the tom welcomed blackness, welcomed darkness, embracing warmth, comfort, and certainty with each deep breath that lulled him into a restless sleep. He closed his eyes to nothing, and then opened them to everything.
Nine cats. Alive. He was not so foolish as to think that it was real, that it was anything more than a dream, but now, more than ever, he could understand why, for leaders before, and for leaders current, it would have been convincing. As they stared, patient, waiting for something, for him, he only stared back, realizing that if he reached out he would be able to touch and to speak with these cats who had died - the cognizance was rather underwhelming.
"Are you ready to receive your nine lives, Dimgaze?" The tip of his head was immediate. He was ready to become NightClan's leader, and the process that was about to unfold did not intimidate him. The sight of these cats, all of which had died, all of which had impacted his life, did not stun him. The experience, itself, was impossible to describe, for these were faces he had not seen in a long time, but he found, with each exchanged glance, that he did not miss any of them. Their deaths had been inconvenient at best, as all NightClan deaths were, but it had been simple to move on, and simpler yet to remain focused on the clan's future - a future that, in his eyes, did not apply to the dead through anything stronger than their memory. After this, he would return to the living, to a clan that would depend upon his leadership, and none of the nine would be affected.
But Ratscar had affected him, hadn't he? He had affected the stoic warrior (though he had been an apprentice at the time) as much as a cat could. Dimgaze would have recognized his dark fur, his scarred face, anywhere, and at any given time, because nobody, not even him, could forget the first time that someone had tried to kill them. It wasn't Ratscar specifically, no, or else he undoubtedly would have lost his place among the stars in favour of a much crueller fate, but it might as well have been the mighty tom whose claws etched into his skin. He had watched, after all, like the battle was another one of his tests. When Fogwisp appeared, and when she pressed her head into the space below his chin, Dimgaze had known that his mentor was lost to him - as good as dead. Now, however, he was no longer lost to him, and Dimgaze held the entirety of his attention much like he had on that bitter night. Amongst the living, he had been held responsible for Ratscar's death by a handful of distrustful cats. He could only absently wonder whether or not his mentor felt any guilt whatsoever for putting him through such a trial. He had never seemed like the type to be pulled under by his emotions, but his capacity for it was, of course, infinitely larger than Dimgaze's had ever been. "With this life, I give you the gift of restraint. Your self-control throughout hardship is admirable, but you can make dangerous decisions far too quickly. -" He would have laughed if he knew how, because he was not the only one who could risk everything so thoughtlessly. - Know when you walk a thin line, Dimgaze. There is much that cannot be reversed." And those were the golden words, right? Ratscar leaned forward and touched their noses, and suddenly could not reverse becoming his mentor, could not reverse trying and failing to mould him into something cold when he was already inexplicably frozen and, most importantly, could not reverse becoming a bystander to his apprentice's near-death, but ironically having himself stripped of his final intake of air. Dimgaze had not watched, he analyzed. He could not have saved Ratscar, but he would have. That was the difference between them. That was, when Ratscar pulled away, seeming to shudder from the effort of the life far more than the one who received it, reason for the quiet intensity between them. He did not apologize, whether because he did not want to, or because he knew Dimgaze did not need it, of little relevance to either of them. Meeting one another's eyes, the soon-to-be leader dipped his head, and Ratscar did the same. Dimgaze had forgiven him before Fogwisp had even attacked. When their noses touched, and he received his first life, nothing between them was hidden, and Ratscar had been reprieved.
For a moment he had to wonder what had made Strawberryfrost's role in his life exponential enough to warrant the giving of a life. She was thrown into apprenticeship at the same time he was thrown into warriorhood, their paths hardly with reason to cross, but she had shown enough promise, and enough dedication, to capture his interest no matter how fleetingly. He recalled the occasional training session in which he had the pleasure to tag along. Her mentor, Hollowcry, had not been opposed to his presence as much as disinterested in it, which had suited the young warrior of the time just fine. With every day she became a little more of a machine. With every day she pushed herself a little harder to reach that sought out perfection. It was rather glorious for the tom who knew not of excitement. She wanted to be nothing short of the best, and Dimgaze had been able to appreciate that about her. She was the embodiment of what a NightClan warrior was supposed to be, which made it almost... shameful that she had died. In StarClan, it seemed, she was no less powerful, and he regarded her with muted respect. She was quick to get to the point, a trait he both shared and prioritized, and it was so like her to be purposeful, so familiar to him, that he would have been taken aback had he not the sense to discern reality from a dream. "With this life, I give you the gift of commitment. Do not just meet expectations, but exceed them. Be devoted to and determined in everything you do, and you shall not fail." He was overcome by a sense of duty. There was nothing inside of him that was more important than sharpening not only NightClan, but his ability to be worthy of holding a place within it. He saw vivid episodes of Strawberryfrost pushing herself to her limits, of refusing to fail in spite of the aches, the pains, and it filled him with mirrored initiative, and brought him back to the hardships of his apprenticeship that he had overcome with such passionless ease. Strawberryfrost pulled away, and a comfortable silence stretched between them. Death was not a failure, and he would have reminded her of that simple truth had she needed it. Nothing about her was weak, and nothing about her cast the illusion of having been beaten and overpowered; she was unbeatable, rather, and had made NightClan prouder than she realized. Just like with Ratscar, he did not need to use words to give Strawberryfrost insight into his opinion of her. His opinion was a reflection of NightClan's, for he was nothing if not the bits and pieces of his clan strung into a form of life, and he would have needed to be blind to miss the way she brightened. In StarClan, she would continue to solidify the impression of her clan's unquestionable power, for she was a symbol of that, no?
Next was a cat who had been deputy for a short time. The sight of him was unmistakable, his name not one forgotten, for the silvery tom was not quick to disregard those in his clan who held a position of leadership. That, however, was not the first name that came to mind when he looked into his eyes, but rather that of his sister. Even harder to forget was a traitor; Dimgaze frowned upon nothing as sharply as switching allegiance, and that a cat of status had shared his blood with someone who did just that was on the brink of unacceptable. Alight in Dimgaze's mysteriously coloured eyes was judgement, but not for Lizardsnap, not exactly, and that would be clear. He had always possessed a certain curiosity as to what the former deputy thought of his sister after she made her decision to leave. While the opportunity to ask was there, he did not. As far as he was concerned, there was only one answer, and he would not beguile Lizardsnap's honour by giving him a chance to choose the wrong one. "With this life, I give you the gift of awareness. Have faith in your clan, and stand by those who in turn stand by you." Dimgaze had not been expecting more, and for a cat who was not ordinarily caught off guard, he was forced to consent that, with this one, there was more than what met the eye. "To do so ignorantly, however, is a crime, so acknowledge that there's a difference." Dimgaze was showered in pain, but not physically. It was the pain of broken trust, and the pain of believing in what ultimately defied the believer. There was more than pain, though, because there was faith, and there was the kind of trust that was pure and unflawed. He saw through the deputy's eyes, and then he died at the claws of a blurry face. There was something to see, and that he could not see it would have been frustrating had he not known to expect anything less from this ceremony. When Dimgaze opened his eyes, he saw betrayal, and he saw it clearly, because some lives could not be delivered to the proper extent with eyes closed and unseeing. Lizardsnap had suffered an injustice, and Dimgaze was overcome by the need to see it corrected. Looking into his face, into the deep lines that set his wise eyes, this had never been about Timberwing, and it was wrong of him to make it so. He was more than a deputy because he had faith in what others did not, such being an ownership that few could stake their claim to. He was an individual, truly, bottomlessly, and it was pitiful that Dimgaze could not be moved by that revelation. Lizardsnap, yet again, surpassed expectations, however, as he regarded the warrior of immaculate indifference with eyes somehow stubbornly fond. He could see beyond the mechanics of Dimgaze, and into the heart that had faith before this life. His challenge would not be trusting his clanmates, it would be knowing when to doubt them. It was a crime not to acknowledge the difference. Those words would resonate inside of him long after Lizardsnap was gone again.
Hawkscreech was a volatile spitfire of a cat. While anyone else might have shrunk under the threat he wordlessly posed, or braced themselves for the worst of his wrath, Dimgaze beckoned him closer with soundless confidence. There was a time where he suffered the tom's inextinguishable flame of a voice, for there were few that had not in the time he plagued their forest - but not their clan. Dimgaze saw his fire as a source of strength, and that would ultimately reflect upon the whole. It was that unspoken praise, equipped with his ability to stand strong, composed, in the face of Hawkscreech's temper, that awarded him insight into the better half of Blackwolf's father. It was not better, as much as it was arguably less flawed, for it seemed that up until his death, and even into it, he had an wide expanse of enemies who scorned his name. Hatred only stood to fuel him, to push him, and while the respect he had from his peers was constructed of fear it was nonetheless respect. Dimgaze saw convenience inside of a cat who acted according to their own will so long as, of course, it did not hurt the clan. Hawkscreech had hurt it in, perhaps, an emotional sense, but that did not matter when it was emotion, itself, that hurt it above all else. "With this life, I give you the gift of resilience. Remember that an obstacle can always be overcome. You can only be defeated by that which you give the power to defeat you with." There was nothing light about the brush of the disheveled tom's nose, a force behind the contact that made it feel like a punch. He was taxed by the burden of defeat or, rather, the attempt of defeat, which made overpowering it give way for something all the more peaceful. When he pulled away, Hawkscreech sported one of his rare smiles, his expression smug, dignified, because he had gotten to share in a brief moment of Dimgaze's weakness when the life almost won, and that was what he fed on, wasn't it? Hawkscreech was not a monster by any means of the word, but he a cruelty about him, and it built a resolve in his peers to forever strengthen. He gave NightClan a source of power in a way that Strawberryfrost didn't: Where she worked for it, he demanded it. The difference, however, was slight, because in the end it resulted in the same thing - NightClan's prosperity - and such was the source of Dimgaze's power. Seemingly satisfied that his clan was not being tossed into the paws of an undeserving wimp, Hawkscreech turned, his job completed to the potential Dimgaze had known from the moment he first laid eyes on him that he was more than capable of reaching.
Gracklefire's father was a cat he knew well, if not only because, out of everyone who thought him capable of murdering one of his own, Crowface had been the most critical, and the most insistent. Standing before him now as he did, Dimgaze observed no guilt, no remorse, and he wanted it no other way. He had not tried to eliminate any suspicion surrounding him, for he did not feel as though he had anything to prove, and that, he knew, only made him seem more at fault for a crime he did not commit. Crowface was justified in his concern, and Dimgaze could respect his resolve to ensure no dangerous cat made a home of their clan. "With this life, I give you the gift of integrity. You're an honest cat - I know that now - and do not lose sight of what you value because of somebody's suspicions." Dimgaze never would and, meeting the proud warrior's eyes a moment before their noses touched, he saw a light, an amusement, having come a long way to accept the soon-to-be leader as he was, and to learn that silence did not sit hand-in-hand with deception just because both were sometimes questionable. The life filled him with an eagerness, or something of the like, at least, to never change; a steadfastness more grounded than he had ever thought possible. Crowface did not need him to change. That was good because, had he the need, he would never see it fulfilled. What he needed was to know that Dimgaze did not possess the capacity to betray his clan. That was an impossible thing to know without dying, a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless, but now that Crowface could access that knowledge he could see beyond what tunnelled his vision and through to the stoic warrior's capabilities as a leader. His leadership would be diligent, and branded by the kind of purpose only a genuine machine could unlock. There had been a time when Crowface questioned him, yes, but there had been a time when Dimgaze allowed himself to be questioned and, for that, they stood on even ground. Crowface did not smile, he smirked, and while Dimgaze did not do the same, he did not need to, because at long last Crowface understood him. In the end, that had been what he wanted, no? Perhaps it was wrong of the silvery tom to deny him that understanding when he had been alive, but Crowface had always liked a challenge, and Dimgaze liked to indirectly satisfy his clanmates for the eventual betterment of his clan; now he could see that, before, even when he had worked against him and labeled him a traitor, that Dimgaze had only ever worked for him and labelled him loyal.
He should have felt more than he did. His legs should have wobbled. His eyes should have softened around the edges with the kind of love a son could only feel for his mother. The she-cat, so much smaller than he remembered, nuzzled his neck, a warmth in her pretty eyes that he matched with apathetic coldness. It would have caused any other parent pain, but she only smiled, for this was the son she knew, the son she raised, no matter how briefly, and him standing before her now, close to being crowned leader, made her so much prouder than she could properly express. "With this life, I give you the gift of passion. I know what is important to you -" her eyes darkened, "- I know what is not -" suddenly they were inside the memory of his apprenticeship ceremony, the day she died, the day Fogwisp killed her and, the reason for the crack in his mother's happy charade, the day her son did not grieve, "- but open your mind to the possibility, Dimgaze, that more than one thing does." She touched her nose to his, and if not for the quivering of her whiskers against his face, he would not have recognized the way she winced. The life, of course, began with his clan, because it always would be his clan above all but, unexpectedly, he saw his mother's face, Strawberryfrost's, Ratscar's, Lizardsnap's, and so many more that, for once, it was him who pulled away. When he saw their faces, he felt nothing beyond a need to protect them, and that was how he knew that everything had remained the same in spite of Silverfur's passion. It was through protecting them that his passion exceeded the clan alone. That would need to be enough, and from the look on his mother's face, it was. The she-cat opened her mouth, as though there was something else she wanted to say, but no words came, and it was not long afterward that she rejoined the ranks of StarClan. She did not need to say it aloud, for her body language expressed it more loudly and more clearly than her voice ever could - I love you - and through not saying it directly, she would not need to face the burden of not having the words returned.
He almost did not recognize her, for he saw no reason to dwell upon those who, through betraying his clan, did the same to him. There was no forgetting the first cat who died at his claws, every detail of her face, every corner of her body from which he drew blood, but the second cat who died at his claws was hardly as monumental. Everything about her was tense and, when she lifted her eyes to his, he observed that she did so with considerable effort to remain composed. It seemed incorrect, borderline unbelievable, that someone he killed, someone he sent to StarClan, would intend to give a life to the same cat who took their only one. Whatever distrust between them was pushed aside for the sake of keeping this quick and professional; there was no forgiving her murderer, and there was no guilt inside of him for committing the crime. "With this life, I give you the gift of mercy." She put so much emphasis on the word that it allotted for a pause. She stared so deeply into his eyes as if, within the bottomless, ghostly depths of white, she imagined she would find the remorse that, from the stars, she had been searching for since her death. "You can command a cat's brain, Dimgaze, but not their heart. Remember that." The touching of their noses was awkward. It was nothing like it had been when she was named his apprentice. In a flash of blinding emotion - but not his own - he was tossed into her perspective. He saw what she saw, and he felt what she felt. He saw the TreeClan tom through her eyes. He felt the way she was drawn to him, to his clan, and watched in a series of picturesque memories how their lives together unfolded after she left NightClan. There was a sudden blackness, a sudden nothingness, but while Leafstorm would've expected him to pull away from it he went towards it. Disgusted, the she-cat pulled away and, while not disgusted, but on some level disturbed, he pulled away, too, wanting no part in her emotional existence. The blackness had represented the moment that her life ended; when her kittens lost a mother, and the TreeClan tom lost a mate. The gift of mercy was inside of him, but he did not connect to it. If he could kill her again, he would, and the span of that knowledge was spread thinly between them. Dimgaze viewed her as a traitor, and a warrior who had fallen victim to love; but to her, to anyone, perhaps, she had only fallen victim to his claws. "You don't regret taking me away from my family, Dimgaze? My kittens?" The tabby's voice had taken on an edge, vicious, but pleading, and it rewarded her nothing but a blank stare because the answer was written in stone. He had nothing to say to a cat who turned its back on NightClan and, having tried her best to broaden his perspective, but ultimately failing as was the only plausible result, she left him standing there to receive his next life with, similarly, nothing to say.
Gracklewing had been restored to the glory he had always known her to possess, and to think she had ever lost it in the first place would be a crime. His intention was not to degrade Ratscar and everything he had taught him for, in spite of his final moments, he had been useful in Dimgaze's upbringing, but he would always look to Grackewing as his true teacher. She could not mask the way she approached with such quickness, wanting to make use of their time together. The fondness in her eyes was rather surreal, and while he would normally opt for his apathy, it was different with her despite being the same because she knew to not expect anything more than precisely what she got. It was impossible to understand him completely, but somehow she did, and somehow she was amazed by what she discovered. Nobody would ever be able to know him like she did, for the two of them were connected, the two of them were similar despite her emotions, and it was for that reason alone that for the first time throughout his entire ceremony, he leaned forward and did the honour of taking her life instead of receiving it. "With this life, I give you the gift of judgement. You were the most perceptive apprentice I've ever had, Dimgaze -" He was alive with the sensation of sight, and what a curiosity it was to be able to see inside of her mind and unfold its complexities. She pulled away from him, but only after he had gotten everything that he needed from her. To this day she acted like more of a mentor than a comrade, always striving to satisfy his brain when she knew, she knew, it could never be filled with enough knowledge. - but do not abuse your mind. StarClan knows nobody will ever quite understand it like I do." She smirked, then, and he would have, too, if not only because her snark was so oddly familiar to him. She lingered longer than necessary, and while he allowed it for a moment, it was not long before he began to incline his head in dismissal. Gracklewing took no offence from this, and he knew that she would not have. Instead, her smirk only deepened, because she knew even though he would prefer for her to return to the living with him, he was far too sensical, far too realistic, and intended to see this through to the end with as little obstacle as possible. She consented to what he did not need to say aloud, and even though she did not turn around to steal one more glance, she did not need to in order to know that he was watching her a tad more closely, a tad more intently, than he had with any of the others.
It was time for his final life, and he was not the least bit surprised by who was there to greet him. Ravenstar squinted as she sized him up, and it made for a rather unusual analysis to be on the receiving end of given her petite stature. He returned her stare nonetheless, knowing as well as any other NightClan cat that her size did not measure her strength. She had been dedicated to her charge, and someone like him, having eyes for the clan alone, could appreciate how everything she did was for NightClan's benefit. She served them diligently for many moons, and that would not be forgotten. He would personally attend to ensuring their future generation of warriors did not grow up unbeknownst to the leader he succeeded. After some time, she finally seemed pleased by what she saw in front of her. He was not grateful to have passed her test, but it was still of some reassurance to know that he held Ravenstar's approval. He wanted what was best for his clan, and it was fitting that she could see that. "With this life, I give you the gift of loyalty. I've no doubt where your priorities lie, so continue to do right by NightClan no matter the costs." The emphasis she placed on that word - right - did not strike him as unusual, and so he met her halfway to receive his life, unbothered by how he had to lean closer to the ground in order to touch his nose to hers. He was alight with a drive to protect NightClan that he already knew wholeheartedly, so it was without difficulty that he sunk into the life, embraced it, and allowed it to settle inside of him and begin to represent everything that he already stood for. He pulled away from the small, but undoubtedly mighty she-cat, and was almost taken aback by the sharpness in her eyes. Almost. He immediately understood that there was something more she wanted him to grasp from what she had said, and she was not going to rejoin the ranks of StarClan until she had pushed him onto the right track. It seemed the final chorus of his ceremony was about to begin where he was from this point forward crowned the leader of NightClan, but she silenced the startled murmurs with an impatient slash of her tail. "You must disarm anyone who fails to do right by NightClan, do you understand me? You must get him out of my -"
"I hail you by your new name, Dimstar." Eight other cats began to speak in unison, overpowering the last of Ravenstar's words. The black-and-white leader shot a look over her shoulders that was sharper than knives, but soon all of them were at her side, and she had no choice but to accept that NightClan's fate was now in Dimstar's paws. Tight-lipped and with a vindictive glow in her eyes, she joined the eight StarClan cats in finalizing his ascension to leadership. “Your old life is no more. You have now received the nine lives of a leader, and StarClan grants you the guardianship of NightClan. Defend it well; care for young and old; honour your ancestors and the traditions of the warrior code; live each life with pride and dignity.” There was a moment of riveting silence in which Dimstar's shoulders rose with a deep intake of air, not to the point of smiling, but so far beyond the point of referring to himself as only a warrior of his clan.
"Dimstar! Dimstar! Dimstar!"
He met Ratscar's eyes for the last time in what he assumed would be a long while, watching the scarred tom - his mind suffering just as many wounds - stalk towards a place that had already given him the forgiveness he desired. He could rest peacefully amongst their ancestors knowing Dimstar did not hold him responsible. Strawberryfrost pranced into the backdrop of stars with the efficiency of a machine, and he indulged himself in watching the way she could convey her loyalty with so much as a step. She had died, that was true, but she was still an excellent warrior of NightClan. Lizardsnap carried himself with the dignified grace of a former deputy, and he was so far beyond being entitled to his rank. Dimstar could not hope to begin understanding the trials he faced, but what he knew was his faith in his clan, in the individuals that made it up, and that was more powerful than whatever power he once held. Hawkscreech knew how to make an exit, and had things been different for Dimstar, he would have come to admire how he accepted exactly who he was. The world could come crashing down around him, and he would criticize it for not doing its absolute worst. Crowface did not share in a final moment of redemption because neither of them needed it. Dimstar could respect his resolve for the clan's well-being, and could only hope that some of his clanmates on the ground would reflect the tom's ability to say what needed to be said. Silverfur's eyes seemed to shine with the weight of the love she carried in her heart. She had not been a part of her son's life for very long, but he knew that she had not missed a single thing, and that she never would. Her story was a messy one, but she would never regret the means through which she got to bring someone into the world. Leafstorm did not so much as spare him glance, and he did not blame her. She was not with her TreeClan family anymore, and while Dimstar would never understand what she had meant - because NightClan was her family, and it had been her choice to leave them behind - she had strength within her, and had come a long way from the apprentice he trained. She could have been a wonderful NightClan warrior, and it was a shame to see her potential wasted. Gracklewing was as ready to leave as she had been to arrive, and she regarded him, her most prized apprentice, with so much pride that it stretched across the distance between them and enveloped him. She had complete faith in him as the next leader of NightClan, and his faith in it, too, was a manifestation of her own. Ravenstar lingered, but only briefly, and she had not lost the urgency with which she ushered him towards a truth she could not say. He tipped his head, and that was all she needed. She could trust that, whatever it was, he would find out, and he would do exactly what had to be done. The great leader of NightClan turned-tail and vanished into the wide expanse that was StarClan, and he lifted his chin to see her off, a muted respect behind his closed eyes that he opened to the darkness of a cold cave.
It took an abnormal amount of effort to push himself onto his paws, the affects of the vivid dream making him light-headed. He emerged briskly, giving himself no time whatsoever to lurk inside of the Moon Tree, or to mull over the events that took place while receiving the nine lives of a leader, when he had a clan anticipating his return. Starlingcry, Sandviper and Smokefur were waiting there to greet him and, in the presence of their new clan leader, flanked him on either side and offered brief congratulations before beginning the long, tiring journey back to their camp.