Quite possibly the only Ducks fic and the only thing of this sort I'll ever write — certainly the only one I've ever written. This idea has been bugging me since I read "Darkness Falls" six months ago (The author's name is Dendraica, it's on FF.Net, it's an awesome story. In short, READ DARKNESS FALLS! End of free publicity).
Anyway, the idea kept bugging me, so I finally jotted it down at 12:30 last night — just so it'd shut up and let me sleep! Before anyone asks, the religious views in this story in no way reflect my own or that of any established religion. They're just a part of this story — although the idea of the Puckworld religion involving saints comes from Darkness Falls. Any comments are welcome — I thrive on feedback.
Puckworldian Embassy, Anaheim, CA, Earth
Nosedive sat on his bed, a well-read comic book in his hands. His eyes roamed restlessly, from page to room to ceiling and back again — looking but not seeing.
Restless. The way he always felt after the season ended, when there were no longer any weekly battles on the ice to channel his boundless energy. He tossed the comic book aside and flopped backwards onto the bed, staring at the ceiling.
And, as it always did in the restless times, The Question came sneaking back to bother him.
A knock at his door provided momentary distraction. "Come in."
Duke stuck his head in the door. "Heya, kid. Headin' for the ice to get a little practice in. Wanna come?"
Nosedive shrugged. "Nah."
"You sure? Next season'll be here before ya know it."
"No, thanks. I might catch up with ya later."
The older duck shrugged. "Suit yerself."
Maybe it was something in the look Duke gave him, or in the tone of the older duck's voice. Maybe it was just his restless mood. But Dive decided to ask.
The gray-feathered duck paused in mid-exit. "Yeah?"
"Anyone ever ask you for Absolution?"
Duck arched the eyebrow above his good eye. "Does this pertain to anythin'?"
"Just curious." Dive shrugged.
"Ah-huh." Duke paused for a moment, thinking. "No. That's really kind of a . . . middle- class sorta thing, ya know? Thieve's Guild members don't go in for that sorta thing, much." The eyebrow arched again. "Not thinkin' of dyin' on us, are ya?"
Nosedive snorted. "As if, old man."
"Good." He paused. "Catch ya later, kid?"
"Yeah. Sure." Dive responded. Duke nodded and closed the door.
Dive had to smile. It had been years since he'd been a kid. In many ways he'd outgrown the cocky, selfsure teenager he'd once been. But to Duke L'Orange, he'd always be "kid".
Yeah, a lot had happened since those teenage days. The defeat of Dragaunis. Tawnya's perfection of the dimensional gateway. Their return to Puckworld.
And the formation of the InterDimensional Hockey League, the existence of which allowed them to make their permanent home in Anaheim as "goodwill ambassadors" — and, of course, as occasional superheroes.
Dive sighed. A lot had changed, but one thing never had.
The Question . . . .
Prison Labor Camp #127, Puckworld
Six Months After the Saurian Invasion
Nosedive scurried along the perimeter of the camp, avoiding the merciless robotic gaze of the guards and wondering what in the name of DuCaine he was doing this for. His one free workday in the month — he could certainly find better things to do with it. Like sleeping. Or searching for some word of his brother. Six months he'd been here. That meant only six precious free days since he'd come to this nightmare. And here he was, spending one of them on a trip to the prisoner's "infirmary."
Not that the word really meant anything. The drone guards and the few traitorous Puckworld-born overseers had no interest in maintaining the health of their prisoners. Injuries that could be treated were treated on the spot, or at night in the barracks, and if they healed, fine. If they didn't heal, or if they were too severe for a duck to keep working, the overseers treated the injured to a cursory "physical". Those deemed too injured or ill to be of use were permanently taken off the work roster.
If you didn't work, you didn't eat — and you didn't sleep in the barracks. The infirmary was where those ducks whom the Saurians didn't consider useful went to await their time to die. Dive suppressed a shudder as he approached the thrown-together collection of huts that marked the infirmary.
The she-duck guarding the outskirts wasn't much older than Dive, and she would have been pretty if not for her burn-scarred face and the empty sleeve in her prisoner's uniform. She held out her single arm, giving him a quick glance. Her face twisted into a bitter sneer. "You're *whole*. What are you doing here?"
Nosedive stuttered the name he'd been told to give, and she nodded in understanding. "So *he* wants you." She pointed. "Just go that way. He's in the last tent."
Nosedive ducked into the low doorway of the thrown-together tent, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the dimness. The only other figure in the tent shifted on his pallet. "So you came?"
"Yeah." Dive shifted from foot to foot, already uncomfortable.
"Why?" He coughed. "Curious?"
"Sure." Dive shrugged, studying his feet. "I guess."
"So am I. Come closer, let me see you."
Nosedive reluctantly advanced a few steps, knowing what the other duck would see. His blonde hair was in bad need of a cut, his white feathers turned gray from six months of grime. His body, always leaning a little too much towards the thin side, had by now reached the point of being gaunt.
The figure nodded. "You know who I am." It wasn't a question, but Dive answered anyway.
"Yeah." He'd recognized the name, could even remember seeing the other duck on TV. Back when there'd *been* TV. He'd been one of Puckworld's leading senators, a real political power. Now he was just another dying prisoner.
"You know why you're here?"
For the first time, Dive raised his eyes. "You want Absolution."
That earned him a half-laugh that turned into a cough. "Sharp kid, aren't ya?" The duck cleared his throat. "Yeah, boy, that's it. I'm dying, and I'm scared of my soul getting caught out in the cold." Dive could feel the other duck examining him. "Your folks believe in that sort of thing?"
Dive shrugged. "Dad didn't. Mom always did." *And I don't even know if Wing is still alive to believe it.*
Another cough. "Well, the principle is simple. You find a duck, an innocent — someone who reminds you of the duck you used to be. Confess to them your greatest sin — the idea being that your sinful self is asking forgiveness of the innocent you once were. Forgiveness," He coughed again, "For the worst thing you've ever done." A long pause. "If the innocent forgives you, your soul's free to enter the Beyond. If not . . . if you don't receive Absolution . . . your soul lingers in the Outer Dark. Caught in limbo . . . until they Absolve you."
"Or caught forever if they don't." Nosedive knew all of this. It was simple Lower Catechism stuff, the sort of thing that pretty much everyone learned. Even someone who didn't believe in the Absolution knew the basic principles and the simple ceremony — thanks to TV and movies.
"Yes." The other nodded, his breathing audible in the dim stillness. "Will you Absolve me, Nosedive?"
Dive took a deep breath and sat cross-legged on the cool dirt of the floor. "Confess to me what you've done."
The other duck coughed, cleared his throat, and took a deep, ragged breath. "You know who I am, and what my job once was. I was a politician, a leader — and I was a good one. I told people what they wanted to hear — that jobs were plentiful, that crime was low, that peace and freedom were virtues that everyone enjoyed. But it wasn't so, my boy. I knew it wasn't so."
"There was hate breeding in our cities, violence lurking in the darkness. Strife between races was growing, multiplying like the cancer that is killing me now."
"The guild wars." Nosedive guessed.
Another half-laugh. "Yes, the guild wars were part of it. The only visible part, the only part that the average citizen could see. Thieve's Guild fighting against Assassin's Guild. Southern Guilds in conflict with the North. A small conflict . . ." A cough. "But one that was spreading. In a few years, in perhaps a few months, it would have grown beyond the guilds. Race would have begun fighting race, boy. Our world had been too long without a common enemy. We were on the verge of finding our enemies in each other."
The other paused, took a long breath. "I couldn't let that happen. I thought . . ." He swallowed. "Once, long ago, our races stood strong together. We fought together against a common enemy. I thought we could do so again."
Dive sucked in a breath through his teeth, eyes widening as he pulled back from the figure on the pallet. "Saints and Gatekeeper . . . ." He glanced over his shoulder, to where the dim evening light shone through the tent flap. "You called them. The Saurians . . . you . . . ."
"DuCaine left us the knowledge of how to unlock the dimensional gate." The other duck said without emotion. "Of how to free our ancient enemies from limbo. And because I loved my world, boy . . ." His voice grew quiet. "I used what I knew."
Dive scrambled back a few feet, his mind whirling. "My father . . . my mother . . . ."
"Thousands of our people, boy." The other duck's voice was desperate. "If I'd been right . . . we would have drawn together and fought back. There would have been heroes, boy. But I was wrong." His voice broke. "Saints forgive me. I was wrong."
Dive got shakily to his feet, trembling with emotion. His eyes blurred with hot, angry tears as the other duck continued speaking.
"I confess this to you, Nosedive. This, my greatest sin. I ask you . . ." He paused. "I *beg* you. I have wronged you, wronged my past, and wronged the Saints. In the Names of the Saints, I ask you . . . Absolve me."
Nosedive balled his fists, searching for words; but all that would come to him was the image of his mother at their household altar, murmuring her daily novenas.
"Please." The other duck whispered.
*"Saints whose examples guide us,"* His mother's voice murmured. Dive felt himself backing up . . . .
"Wait." A note of pleading was in the older duck's voice.
*"Gatekeeper who guards the Beyond . . . ."* Dive felt the doorflap of the tent at his back.
*"In the name of the Infinite Holy,"* Her memory finished the novena, *"Let only the deserving be Absolved."*
Dive turned on his heel and fled the tent without a word. His mother's words drowned out the shouting of the old man . . . .
*"Let only the deserving be Absolved."*
Nosedive rubbed his eyes and sat up. Years had come and gone, but The Question still bothered him — should he have Absolved the old man?
It wasn't a sin to deny someone Absolution, he mused as he left his room. You were supposed to follow what your heart told you about it.
Problem was, he wasn't sure his heart had been right.
He paused outside the door to the Dimensional Gateway — or, at least, the room where the gateway appeared. It was far too unstable to leave it open all the time, but with Tawnya's improvements it was simple to open. Even Grin, who was pretty much technology-illiterate, could bridge the gap to Puckworld without help. Dive opened the door.
The room was featureless except for the control panels for the gateway and the warnings stencilled on the walls — WARNING! EXTREME SUCTION WHEN PORTAL IS OPEN. UNSECURED OBJECTS WILL BE PULLED THROUGH THE GATEWAY. Then, in smaller letters below, THIS PORTAL OPENS DIRECTLY TO EARTH EMBASSY, PUCKWORLD.
Dive closed the door again with a sigh. He and the other members of the team traveled between dimensions pretty frequently, these days. Mallory even had an off-season job with Puckworld Security. And the fact was, Puckworld was better than any of them had remembered it being before the invasion.
Sure, some of the countryside was still a little scorched. But a lot of the criminal guilds that had flourished before were struggling to survive, now — especially the Brotherhood of the Blade, which had lost two of its best members in Duke and Falcone.
*Yeah,* Dive thought, *And most of the interracial strife cleared up pretty good, too.*
After all, what was the point in hating someone because their plumage was a different color? Everyone — black, white, gray, and beige — had suffered together when Puckworld fell. Being slaves for a while had done a lot to improve people's relationships with each other.
So in a way, hadn't the old guy been right?
Dive shoved his shoulder against the door to the rink, savoring the bright, dry chill in the air. Duke caught sight of him and skated over. "Hey, kid. Decided ta join me?"
"Yeah. I've got nothing better to do than kicking your tailfeathers."
Duke snorted. "As if." He eyed Nosedive. "Ya know, kid, I was thinkin'."
"About what?" Dive leaned against the wall.
"Well . . . ya know the thing I always though was pretty cool about the Absolution?"
Dive shifted. "What's that?"
"Doesn't cost ya anything to give it. All ya have ta do is say three words, and forgive a total stranger. No cost to ya. No feathers off your back." Duke's good eye bored into Nosedive. "Know what I mean?"
"Yeah." Nosedive nodded, not meeting Duke's gaze. "I know what you mean."
Duke looked like he was about to say more . . . but then he just shrugged. "So, you gonna practice, or are ya gonna stand there all day?"
"Sure." Dive straightened up. "I'll go get my blades."
Nosedive finished tightening his skate laces and stood up. Duke's words were eating at the back of his mind. "All ya have ta do is . . . forgive a total stranger . . . ."
Dive shrugged the thought off and grabbed his hockey stick.
He'd gotten almost to the edge of the ice before another thought started nagging him — this time, one of his mom's novenas. Without thinking, he began to mouth the words that Mom had uttered so often after Dad left home.
"Blessed Saint Zane, by whose example we strive to live . . . Holy Saint whose virtue is Forgiveness, guide us and teach us to imitate your virtue. Blessed Saint Zane, let us learn from your example that forgiveness costs nothing to give, and is blessed to receive. Amen."
Nosedive paused at the edge of the ice, letting his gaze sweep the vast rows of empty seats. He took a deep, long breath and blew it out, watching it turn to fog and drift away.
"In the Names of the Saints." He paused. "In the Names of the Saints, old man . . .
I Absolve you."
He stepped out onto the ice and glided towards his teammate, wondering idly if one could hear it when a soul entered the Beyond.
And for the first time in years, the young duck's soul was at perfect peace.