STEP INTO THE ARENA // nine lives


A loon's mournful cry could be heard overhead as Soot trudges off into the night. Her dark blue fur allows her to blend in perfectly with the inky and star-glittered backdrop of the night... but she was not hidden from all eyes.

A hawk had lingered over her for the longest time... Soot had feared she could be dinner. It felt like an eternity for her to finally step out of the tall grass, for her to finally meet the now perched hawk's gaze.

Now she was following it... not for the intent of trying to recklessly hunt it solo either... but there was a tug. A nag she could just not shake. Follow me! It almost seemed to say as it led her in the direction of the mountains that stood with pride in the distance. Slowly but surely the terrain she treaded on grew rocky...

As they near what appears to be a small cave, the hawk descends and perches itself atop a boulder. Its beak points to the cave's entrance and its beady eyes stare daringly at her. Go in.

Soot doesn't even think- and usually, she would before diving right into a shadow-filled cave! Her foolishness stemmed from her conviction that this hawk was not just any hawk, but a messenger from the stars. There was something mythical about it, something friendly.

So she squeezes in, braving the unknown and allowing the dark to swallow her whole. Several times she bumps her nose right into what she can only assume to be a rocky wall. The leader wouldn't be shocked if the rocks had been sharp enough to cause minor bleeding to her sniffer. As time goes on stumbling through the dark, she thought she'd never see the light of day again... but the very first glimpse of light she sees again is the most brilliant- hypnotizing light she's ever seen in her life!

Abruptly the cave opens up, the first thing she notices is a huge and blinding... crystal...? She's pretty sure that's what it is, but it's enormous... and gorgeous! Oh, she adored the way it reflected- oh? The moon! Craning her neck upwards she can see that the ceiling of the cave opened up, displaying the moon above her perfectly... It's what was illuminating the crystal... what made this place so beautiful. She catches a glimpse of a hawk's silhouette in the sky above, confirming to her that she was in the right place. This is where she was supposed to be.

It's what she thought with one-hundred percent confidence anyways- until she spots her.

Soot never forgot an opponent... Soot never forgot an enemy.
A filthy pine cat laid before her paws, sound asleep, nose pressed against the giant rock. What the hell was she doing here?!
Soot tiptoes around her to the other side of the stone, half expecting some other unwanted guest to be on the other side... yet she saw no one.

The devil tempts her for a few split seconds, no one was around... who would ever know if a little accident happened here tonight? If she rid the clans of a SkyClan- a kittypet pest?
She doesn't even unsheathe her claws though, it's all talk, all thought. For starters, the she-cat before her was sleeping... there was no glory in killing a slumbering cat. Two, she doubts the stars had sent her here to kill her- no... and the mission they had for her was far more important.

Three, while she'd never admit it?
She didn't particularly fancy killing... but if it had to be done, she would do it in a heartbeat.

Onto the task at paw... she isn't sure what propells her to do such a thing... but curiously she mimics the sleeping felines stance. Crouching down, she presses her dark-toned nose into the cool stone. She closes her eyes. This is stupid... Soot grumbles in her mind after several minutes pass and opens her eyes.

She's not in the cave anymore... but some far and vast star-glittered clearing.
Did she really fall asleep?! Was she dreaming again?
Soot has dreamed off far too many odd things as of late... but again, this was different.

Starry figures appear all around them, and though she was too shocked in the moment to count them all, there were nine.

A small, stunted figure separates from the collective of nine. In life, his fur had been dingy, almost gray, but he himself glitters with stardust now, all the way to his jet-black tail. Yellow eyes that had shifted with caution and fear of judgment glow round with wisdom and patience.

Ash steps forward, shorter even than Soot, though not by much, and stands before the blue queen. He looks like he has not aged a day--and he hasn't. He never will.

"Welcome to StarClan, Soot. We've brought you here for a reason." He swishes his tail like a kit unable to contain their energy. In a small but powerful voice, he asks her, "Are you ready to receive your nine lives, Soot?"

He glances back at the other marsh cats gathered and he gives them a smile. With confidence in his step, he moves closer to the smoke and arches his face towards hers, so their noses are centimeters apart.

"With this life, I give you courage. You are already a brave cat, but now you must use it for the well-being of your Clan. They depend on you and your bravery now." Without warning, he tips forward on his toes and their noses brush.

The energy that shoots from Ash to Soot is like a bolt of lightning, searing the flesh so it is warm to the touch, her fur standing on end until the wave secedes.

He backs away from her and dips his head. "Don't lost your nerve. There are eight to come." With an enigmatic smile, he turns tail and disappears into the throng of glittering feline bodies.

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Marigold suspects that he is one of the last cats Soot would expect to see here. But he's come with a message, no matter how small, that he hopes would set her on the right path.

Even though he has already passed on into the afterlife, his fur still prickles at the sight of the blue smoke. The last time he'd been face-to-face with her, it had been in the midst of war. She'd taken his life... and now he's here to give her a new one. How ironic is that?

Marigold allows Ash to go first, pale yellow eyes watching as Soot receives her first life. Then, as he scurries away into the throng, the cream tabby steps forward. He does not allow his nerves to overcome him. He pads towards Soot with his head raised high and a gentle smile on his face.

"Hi," he greets. How awkward it is to be cordial with the she-cat who'd been his enemy a mere half-moon ago. "I hope you remember me." Marigold ducks his head with an uncomfortable puff of laughter.

He clears his throat, standing tall. "With this life, I give you compassion. Use it to care for every cat, young and old, clanborn and kittypet, as you would for yourself."

Marigold leans forward, his nose brushing hers. What would begin as a comforting warmth would blaze into a searing pain, as if the blue smoke were engulfed in flames. The heat would ebb and fade as he pulls back. His voice lowers to a soft murmur as he gazes at Soot. "I don't hold any resentment for what happened." The young tom doesn't know if she even cares, but he wants her to know regardless. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. "I wish you and WindClan the best."

Dipping his head, he retreats back into the crowd of starry spirits.
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She feels like a stranger in this vast sea.

Her head lies bowed. Broad shoulders frame the slouch of her form. In front of her, the queen is endowed with gifts unimaginable, life after life, chance after chance to make a difference for her clanmates and for her kits.

Soot had been little more than a group mate to her. No, perhaps less. Their interactions had been few, but harsh whispers of her feats around the clearing were plenty. She was furious, a queen embued with rage, the likes of which she's never before seen. Whenever she'd return, hate and vitriol on her tongue, Dewdrop would always draw her own kits closer. And here she stood, ready for her blessings. The leader of a clan. Dewdrop's brow creases in unease. What a world.

She steps forward, her weariness undisguised on her features. In front of her, she sees a foe. A cat unafraid to spat and snap at her enemies, even with a belly swollen with kits.

In front of her, she sees a queen soon to be endowed with a mother's love, that overwhelming desire to love and protect when you see their faces. It had pushed her herself, gave her what she'd needed to become something more, to become someone better. She can remember that feeling, that faithful day. Her posture straightens with the memory, she sucks in a breath, tense features relax into soft resignment—

and she falters, remembering that they— that she is gone.

— She regains her strength, recalling that she can make a difference for those who watch over them now. She let's out a breath, doesn't allow her voice to shrink with what she feels. "Hello," she greets, and she dips her head. When she lifts her gaze again, she doesn't allow herself to shy away.

She has little else to say, and in the absence of this, she shares with her a glance. "With this life, I give you Devotion, undying love and loyalty to your Clan. Use it to do what's best for them," her words are succinct, and with a hardened look, she brushes her nose with hers.

The intensity of her own resolve surges through the both of them, then. Hot and all-consuming. Though she threatens to break, she stands her ground.

And with that, she backs away, a cold flame burning within her eyes. "...Treat them as you would your own children." A gaze of cool steel would soften into something carefully hopeful, before she retreats into the shimmering crowd behind her.