Skykit blinked open her eyes to find bright golden sunlight pooling into the nursery. Nearby, she could hear her denmates scuffling in play, and their shrieks of laughter and hisses of annoyance as they scrambled over each other and their weary mother, fighting to be the first to grab the scrap of moss they were playing with.
Beside her, Skykit heard the soft breathing of her mother. Dovewing lay asleep, her dreams untroubled, her ears pressed against her forehead to blot out the sounds that could all too easily disturb her.
She's one of the Three, Skykit remembered. Sleep had been difficult for everyone as Frostkit and Jaggedkit grew in size, strength, and noisiness. They threw themselves around the nursery and disturbed everyone; it was a wonder how their mother Mapleleaf managed to have enough patience with them.
For a moment, Skykit was tempted to wake her mother. She remembered the dream all too clearly. Her paws ached from the hard stone, and as Skykit lifted them to lick the pads, she felt tiny flecks of grit come away on her tongue. As if I really was walking down there, she thought to herself, snuggling closer into Dovewing's soft, fluffy underbelly fur.
She was still in awe that she had seen Rock, the ancient guardian who dwelled beneath the surface, and who watched the Clans with unseeing eyes. Dovewing had told her many times about Rock, about the tunnels, and the dangers the silent, shadowy catacombs beneath the earth held.
Skykit's mind was still whirling with all she had heard from him. If I have insight, why didn't it allow me to see into the future, and to find myself meeting Rock first?
"Mine!" squeaked Frostkit, her tiny paws like bits of fluff batting furiously at the scrap of moss.
"Hey! Give it back!" Jaggedkit leapt onto his sister and pushed her to the ground, but his clumsy swipe missed the moss, which was still held fast in Frostkit's claws. She let out a squeak of satisfaction and quickly wriggled out of Jaggedkit's weak grip; his crooked paws weren't strong enough to hold her.
Skykit felt oddly alone, even though the nursery was fairly crowded. Perhaps it was because she was the oldest kit in the nursery; actually, she was going to have her ceremony to become an apprentice this very morning. She didn't feel any apprehension, however. She knew it was going to be her time eventually, and she looked forward to it. But she found her mind troubled, and she felt very distracted.
I have a great destiny, she thought, flexing her paws against the soft tendrils of bracken that lined her nest. And I only learned of my powers—no, my ability and my gift, Rock called it—just last night.
Almost quizzically, Skykit glanced at Dovewing, who twitched one ear but continued to sleep. How did Mother find out about her power? Skykit thought. What is her ability? What is her gift?
Skykit frowned, thinking. Dovewing had the power to sense things very far away, to even reach beyond the barriers of the dead to listen and hear. Skykit had heard how Dovewing had admitted her powers to the Clans over and over, and she always felt a small thrill twist in her belly whenever she heard of how the Clans had reacted, particularly when Dovewing let her senses spread into the Dark Forest. Perhaps that was her ability. But what was her gift?
"Give it back, Frostkit!"
"No! It's mine!"
A small white bundle of fur shot past Dovewing's flanks, a scrap of moss clutched in her teeth. Jaggedkit bounded awkwardly after her, stumbling over his mismatched paws. Their protesting shrieks stirred Skykit from her thoughts, and irritably the small dusky gray she-kit glanced at her younger, noisier denmates.
"Can you two keep it down before you wake our mothers?" she hissed.
Frostkit and Jaggedkit paused, and glanced quizzically at Skykit.
"You're awake early," Frostkit mewled.
"So are you," Skykit countered. "You're making enough racket to bring a horde of badgers trampling into the camp."
Jaggedkit flicked his black-and-white tail irritably. "So? We're not disturbing anyone."
"You're disturbing me," Skykit frowned.
"So? You'll be sleeping in the apprentices' cave tonight." A sullen look came over Frostkit's face, and she looked enviously at Skykit. "You won't have us to be bothered by."
"Not for another few moons, at least," replied Skykit.
She climbed carefully out of her nest, trying not to disturb Dovewing, and stood before her denmates. "What are you exactly doing?"
"Playing catch-the-moss!" Frostkit replied indignantly, swishing her long bluish tail.
"Why don't you do it outside?" Skykit suggested, gesturing towards the knotted bramble walls. "There's plenty of warmth out there. It's the height of greenleaf. Why not take advantage of the fine weather?"
Jaggedkit scowled. "You may be able to go out whenever you want to but Mama says we can't go out without a queen watching out for us," he muttered mutinously.
Or watching out for you, at least, Skykit thought sympathetically. Poor Jaggedkit had been crippled since birth. Jayfeather had massaged his legs day and night for weeks after he had been born but his crooked paws had never mended. He was able to walk, but there were doubts among most of the warriors for Jaggedkit's future. Still, Jaggedkit could move around all right, just not as smoothly as others.
"I'm allowed to go out whenever I want because I'm six moons old today," Skykit reasoned. More sympathetically she added, "Don't worry; soon Mapleleaf will be letting you go out whenever you want." She swished her tail towards where the pregnant queen Hollythorn slept. "And think about it this way; soon you'll have some new denmates, and you'll be the oldest in the nursery."
Hollythorn was one moon pregnant. It wouldn't be long before she'd be giving birth. And being Mapleleaf's sister, her kits would be Frostkit's and Jaggedkit's kin.
"Do you want me to find you something on the fresh-kill pile?" Skykit offered.
The kits looked vaguely interested at the mention of fresh-kill, but before any of them could reply, a drowsy mew cut across the nursery. "They can wait for something warm, thank you."
Mapleleaf was awake. The bright orange she-cat with the small brown flecks dotting her pelt opened two sleep-glazed eyes and yawned, stretching a little in her nest. She frowned sternly at her kits. "You two haven't been causing a ruckus in the nursery, have you?"
"No, Mama," replied Frostkit and Jaggedkit in unison, their eyes wide and innocent.
Skykit purred to herself as she watched Frostkit and Jaggedkit head back to their mother. Soon, her own mother and Hollythorn would also be awake.
Now that Frostkit and Jaggedkit were dealt with, Skykit could turn her attention back to the matter that troubled her most; her dream. Her paws still ached, but not as much, and she was feeling nervous about what Rock had told her.
I have a great destiny. I have a power. But what does he mean, that StarClan can't help us anymore?
Maybe, Skykit told herself, she should go and speak with Jayfeather first. The grouchy ThunderClan medicine cat was one of the Three, and had a particularly powerful connection with StarClan. He shared Skykit's ability to relive memories through the eyes of others. Maybe he would have an answer. Had he seen Rock lately? Skykit knew that Jayfeather had a unique connection with the Ancients, and particularly with Rock. Maybe he had felt something.
Still feeling unsure, Skykit looked back at her mother. But she made up her mind. She'd tell Jayfeather first, and then she'd tell Dovewing. Skykit pushed her way through the bramble-laced entrance and into the clearing.
Bright sunshine was spilling into the hollow, and the air felt warm and comfortable. Skykit breathed in the deep forest smells and felt her paws tingle with excitement. This was the day when she'd become an apprentice, and go out and see the forest for the first time. Looking around the fallen beech tree, Skykit could see her leader—proud, noble Bramblestar—standing atop the rockfall that led up to his den, looking out over his Clan. His deputy, Squirrelflight, was busy arranging patrols for the day, and Skykit could smell all of her Clanmates' scents mingling with the warm greenleaf air.
"Cinderheart," Squirrelflight was meowing, "take Amberheart, Thrushsong, Moleclaw and Seednose hunting. We need to restock the fresh-kill pile as quickly as possible. Ivypool, lead the dawn patrol with Rosepetal and Hazeltail. Take your apprentices with you, and go and have a sniff around the ShadowClan border."
Skykit watched with interest as the aligned cats headed off to their duties. Amidst the dappled pelts that flashed before her eyes, Skykit watched as Cinderheart, the proud, gray she-cat who once broke her leg and was Cinderpelt, but chose the path of a warrior, trotted towards the thorn barrier with the four other warriors just behind her. Amberheart was one of the three youngest warriors who had witnessed the Dark Forest's battle in the hollow, though she and her two brothers Dewclaw and Snowfoot had only been less than a moon old at the time, Skykit remembered with interest. And Thrushsong was Cinderheart's and Lionblaze's daughter. She looked proud to be hunting with her mother.
Skykit also observed the dawn patrol head towards the thorn barrier. Ivypool was with the Dark Forest, Skykit thought, with a small shiver, as the silvery tabby she-cat headed towards the exit to the forest that lay beyond. But she chose to go undercover and help ThunderClan instead. She nearly died. Hollyleaf saved her life.
Five greenleafs on, Ivypool was a senior warrior, and she was mentoring her second apprentice, Stormpaw—Foxleap's and Cherrypelt's daughter. Rosepetal and her apprentice, Larkpaw, Stormpaw's brother, along with Hazeltail, quickly followed on behind.
"Squirrelflight," Skykit heard a tom meow. She recognized him to be Flamefur, even before she saw his bright ginger fur appear around the rotted beech. "Do you need another hunting patrol?"
"Yes, actually. You can go with Poppyfrost, Dustpaw, Blossomfall—"
"And me." Bramblestar leapt swiftly down the rockfall, landing on the rotted beech, and looked down at his warriors. "I feel like hunting today. Can you hold the hollow until we return?"
"Of course, Bramblestar," Squirrelflight replied warmly. Skykit recalled that since their long estrangement upon Bramblestar discovering that Lionblaze, Hollyleaf and Jayfeather were not his kits nor Squirrelflight's, and after Squirrelflight had become deputy of the Clan, the pair had grown closer, becoming mates once more. There was friendly talk amongst the many elders who had known them best, though the pair were too old to have any more kits.
In fact, Squirrelflight's soon to join them, Skykit thought to herself, watching the newest hunting patrol head out. The daughter of Firestar watched them go, her fire-coloured pelt gleaming in the early-morning sun, but there were white flecks to her muzzle and chin and a dull tone to her green eyes, once bright and sharp with wit and alertness. Leafpool had only recently gone to join her old friends at the beginning of newleaf, not a few days before Frostkit and Jaggedkit were born. And there's no doubt who's going to become the next deputy of the Clan. Bramblestar's getting on a bit as well.
She watched as the handsome golden tabby warrior emerged from his den, shaking out his rumpled tabby fur, golden eyes scanning the clearing. Lionblaze, even though many moons had passed since he had fulfilled his destiny, was as strong and as fit as he had been all those seasons ago.
"Squirrelflight," Lionblaze meowed evenly to the deputy, dipping his head.
Squirrelflight, with a small purr, dipped her head in response. It seemed the pair had forgiven each other, and Lionblaze had forgiven his mother, as eventually had Jayfeather. Skykit watched with fascination as the mighty, undefeatable warrior leapt lightly up onto the tree trunk and looked around the hollow, the sun catching on his fur.
He's definitely a grandson of Firestar; his pelt shines just like flame, Skykit thought to herself. She felt a shiver of awe pass through her as he turned his majestic sun-golden eyes onto her. Then he lightly leapt down from the beech tree and padded over to her.
"Good morning, Skykit," he meowed, dipping his head politely to her.
Skykit returned the gesture, and felt a tremor of apprehension pass through her. This cat was one of the Three. He had been her mother's mentor, and was her close friend. What would he say if he knew of the power which she wielded? "I hope you are well?" she asked politely.
Lionblaze nodded. "As well as any cat can be, I suppose." He flexed his mighty shoulders and said, "Did you happen to see where Bramblestar went?"
"Out hunting," replied Skykit. She paused, and then mewed anxiously, "But he'll be back for my ceremony, won't he?"
"Of course. I don't think Bramblestar would miss it for anything," replied Lionblaze warmly. He suddenly stopped and narrowed his eyes quizzically at Skykit. "You seem troubled, little one. Are you all right?"
Skykit quickly nodded. "Yes, I'm fine. I was just going to see Jayfeather, actually."
"Why? Does Dovewing feel ill?"
"No, Mother's fine." Skykit hesitated again, wondering if she should confess to Lionblaze about her dream about Rock. He had firstpaw experience with the ancient guardian, after all. He had met Rock before, and he did possess the ability of great strength, and the gift to never be defeated in battle. Would he understand?
Lionblaze looked kindly at Skykit. "Are you all right?"
"Well...I did have a dream," Skykit confessed, a little nervously.
Lionblaze's attention sharpened. "Is it like your other dreams?"
"You know of those?" Skykit's fur bushed up.
"Dovewing told me," Lionblaze admitted sheepishly. "She hears you a lot when you fidget at night and wake her up."
"And she told you?" Skykit allowed irritation to make her fur stand on end.
Lionblaze's whiskers twitched. "There are no more secrets here in ThunderClan, particularly not between kin. Now, what did you dream about this time?"
"Well...I went down into the tunnels, actually..."
Lionblaze's expression grew somber. "You went down there? Into the tunnels?"
Skykit nodded, feeling nervous. "I was going to ask Jayfeather..."
"You should; my brother has more experience with Rock than any other cat in the Clans," Lionblaze said earnestly. "But you can confide in me, if you want to. You know I'm always here for you, Skykit. We are kin. I hate to see something happen to you."
"Thank you." Skykit appreciated Lionblaze's concern for her, but she didn't really want the fuss. "I think I'll see Jayfeather. Is he awake?"
"If not, give him a prod and once he stops lashing out, he'll be all right," Lionblaze remarked, eyes gleaming with amusement. "Do you want me to come with you, just to make sure...?"
Skykit shook her head quickly. "No, I'll go alone."
"Very well. I'll make sure to be the first to call your name at your ceremony." Lionblaze gave her a friendly nudge with his broad forehead. Then he padded away from the nursery, heading towards the apprentices' den. For a moment, Skykit watched him go, and then she headed towards the medicine den.
As she slipped inside, almost at once Skykit heard an irritable voice meow, "Great StarClan, Briarlight, if that is you moving from your nest one more time to fetch poppy seeds for Whitewing then I swear I'm going to do something violent."
"Um..." said Skykit uncertainly, hesitating in the doorway.
There was a rustling of ferns, and then Jayfeather appeared around the corner, glaring irritably in Skykit's direction. Skykit felt her fur prickle uneasily on her shoulders. Though every cat in the Clan knew that Jayfeather was blind he always unnerved them by looking exactly at them, as though yes, he could see them quite plainly. Jayfeather's expression softened slightly as he detected who was in the den.
"Good. At least Briarlight's staying in her nest this time," he muttered, padding confidently towards Skykit. "Well? What is it? Are you feeling ill?"
Skykit shook her head and flicked her tail nervously, wondering how to put it into words. She also recollected that Jayfeather was blind. "No, I'm not sick," she said quickly. "But..."
"Yes? Out with it, I've got to check the store for yarrow and dock. Have a feeling we're running low. And marigold's almost out, I'll have to go out and collect some more, so I'm not exactly free for the morning." Jayfeather sat down abruptly and curled his tabby tail over his forepaws.
Skykit took a deep breath. "Last night, I...I had a dream."
"Oh, what a surprise," mewed Jayfeather sarcastically. "What did you dream about? Chasing butterflies, and you stubbed your toe?"
"No," said Skykit, her humility giving way to annoyance. "I dreamed about entering the tunnels."
"The tunnels, huh?" Jayfeather's ears pricked. "Did you enter?"
"I woke up already in them, and something told me to keep walking down them," Skykit explained. "So I walked through the tunnels..."
"Was it raining?"
"What? No...no, it was a clear night. Anyway, I walked through the tunnels and came into a big chamber, that chamber where you can see the river, and where a lot of light came in from the ceiling, and where there was a stone ledge where Rock sits. Rock was there, waiting for me."
"Waiting for you?" Jayfeather's grumpiness had disappeared now, and his eyes were bright with interest. "Was he expecting you?"
Skykit nodded, remembered, and said, "Yes. He said he had been waiting for me to come to him. He told me that I had a great destiny, and that I have powers."
Jayfeather's expression was unreadable. Skykit hesitated, remembering her ability, to hear the thoughts of other cats echo in her mind. Would she be able to use this ability now? Could she look into his mind and hear his thoughts? For a moment, she wondered how, and suddenly found that it just came naturally. She gazed into his unseeing eyes and into his thoughts, almost at once to feel his emotions; shock was the most evident one that came to mind.
Almost immediately after she realized this, a sort of dark cloud slammed over his mind, cutting off his thoughts, and Jayfeather's glare scorched Skykit's fur.
"My thoughts, I prefer to keep private," he growled.
"S-sorry," Skykit stammered, tucking her tail tighter around her paws.
Jayfeather paused, letting his anger subside, and then commented, "I see. You do seem to have a kind of power, yes. You can look into my thoughts, the same way I can look into yours. What did Rock say you can do?"
Skykit frowned. "Aren't you going to look into my mind?"
"Of course, to make sure you're telling me the truth. But speak anyway."
"Well...Rock said that you and I share the same ability, to look into another's mind and relive their memories and hear their thoughts," said Skykit. She felt something probe against her mind, as though something was turning over her thoughts and her memories, searching out for something. She didn't like this feeling at all, but she didn't protest. "But that you and I have different gifts. You have the gift to walk in dreams. I have the gift to...well, to see into the future."
Jayfeather stiffened. He withdrew from Skykit's mind and asked, "He said that you possess insight?"
Skykit nodded, remembered, and affirmed aloud. "Yes. But it wouldn't really develop until I grow older."
Jayfeather was looking quite intrigued. "So you have the ability to look into the future. How interesting..." He stood up abruptly and unseeingly looked down at Skykit. "Did he say anything else?"
"Yes. Rock told me that I have a great destiny, and that I have to use these powers to protect my Clan. That...that StarClan wouldn't be able to help with warnings and insight to the Clans anymore, and that there was a big danger coming to the Clan, something which Rock refused to tell me about."
Jayfeather frowned thoughtfully. "I can certainly understand about StarClan. Their connection to the living world has almost been severed since the battle, when they came back to fight for ThunderClan. The connection hasn't been strengthening or weakening, but it's been difficult for me to get into StarClan with the Moonpool." He scowled, lashing his tail. "Tigerstar and his Dark Forest damaged StarClan beyond repair, I think."
"Dead cats can still go there, though, right?" Skykit asked.
"I believe so. Just living-to-dead communication will be shaky."
Jayfeather looked seriously at Skykit. She was startled to see such earnestness flashing in his jay-blue gaze. "Skykit," he mewed, "I think that Rock may be right in you having a great destiny."
"You think so?"
"You're a daughter of one of the Three. It's unsurprising that you've been chosen for whatever lies ahead for ThunderClan and the lake," replied Jayfeather, flicking his tail disdainfully. "It's possible your power could exceed my own. You have the ability to see into the future, the way Rock can see. With insight, ThunderClan will be unstoppable, prepared for anything."
"Jayfeather," Skykit mewled after a moment, a little hesitantly, "after Firestar died...in the ending of the battle...didn't you say that you, Lionblaze and Dovewing all seemed to lose your powers?"
Jayfeather paused, remembering. "Yes, we did," he said eventually. "We thought that our destinies were completed, and that we'd never get our powers back."
"How long did it take for your powers to return?"
Jayfeather shrugged. "A season, two seasons. We didn't exactly have much use for our powers, though. So we didn't really miss them. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I was just wondering how long it would take me for my powers to gain full strength," Skykit mewed. "Rock said my power would grow with me."
"Then you just need to grow and not worry about stupid things." Jayfeather turned away, heading towards the ferns. Without invitation, Skykit followed him.
"I don't think it's stupid," she protested, as Jayfeather resumed his original task, sorting useless chervil from potent. "I think that it's important that I learn to wield my powers as soon as possible. The danger that is coming to the lake could come quite soon. I have to be ready."
"You believe your destiny is to stop this threat, whatever it is?" inquired Jayfeather, not glancing over his shoulder from his work. Not that there'd be much point in it, anyway.
Skykit nodded. "Rock told me that, outright."
"I don't suppose he mentioned the Three at all?"
"No. He said that your destinies were completed. Mine is about to begin."
"Ha!" Jayfeather pushed a pile of wilted chervil to the side. "Typical of Rock to say that. He hasn't cared terribly much for the Three, apart from keeping us focused on our own destinies."
"What about the Ancients?" asked Skykit. "Did they care for you?"
Jayfeather stiffened, as though he had run into a wall.
Skykit wondered for a moment if she had said something wrong. Should she apologize? Then she heard Jayfeather mutter quietly, "They were different. Very different."
He turned around. His expression was still unreadable. "When I was with the Ancients, I was Jay's Wing, and I could have had a different life. I did have a different life."
For a moment, Skykit was tempted to try and enter Jayfeather's memories, though she was sure the blind medicine cat's guard would be up now.
"You should go and get yourself ready for your ceremony," mewed Jayfeather. "Because that's the only thing you should be worrying about now; the present." He turned back to his work. "I only discovered my destiny when I was an apprentice, and when I walked in Firestar's dreams. You've been forewarned; you have time to prepare and learn to control your power as it grows."
"Do you know what's going to happen to me?" asked Skykit quietly.
Jayfeather frowned. "How should I know? It's your destiny, not mine, and destinies are best left to be uncovered."
"Keep still," said Dovewing, planting a paw firmly on Skykit's tail. "You can't go out to the ceremony looking like some rogue's kit."
Skykit tried to wriggle away from her mother, feeling her tongue rasp down her pelt into smoothness. "I can do it myself," she complained.
"Oh, go on," purred Hollythorn where she slouched near the nursery walls, watching with eyes half-narrowed with amusement. "Let your mother groom you one more time, little one. This is the last time you'll be in the nursery...perhaps for a while."
Skykit twitched her ears at the pregnant queen. "Isn't it a little early to be thinking of mates?" she inquired. "I'm not even an apprentice yet."
"True, that," Dovewing replied casually. "Oh, stay still, you little mouse!" Skykit was trying to pull herself away from her mother, but gently she drew her daughter back and swiftly rasped her tongue over Skykit's ears.
Skykit was privately glad that Jaggedkit and Frostkit were outside. They'd have been laughing their whiskers off by now. Reluctantly she paused, letting Dovewing groom her dusky gray fur into smooth sleekness. Outside, Skykit heard Frostkit and Jaggedkit tumbling in play-fight, mewling what there could be at the fresh-kill pile. She heard paws pattering out of distance from her hearing.
"Mother," she mewled, "What are Frostkit and Jaggedkit doing?"
Dovewing pricked her ears but didn't slow in her work as she replied, "They've just bumped into Birchfall and are having their whiskers chewed off by his words alone."
Skykit chuckled to herself. Birchfall, her grandfather, could be grouchy at the best of times, though he was nothing like Mousefur had been, the senior warriors and her mother often joked.
"There," declared Dovewing, drawing back and allowing Skykit to leap lightly out of her nest. "You look lovely."
"All ready for your big day," Hollythorn added.
"Will you come and watch me?" asked Skykit.
"Of course. I wouldn't miss it for anything," replied Hollythorn.
Feeling nervous now, Skykit turned back to her mother. "What can you hear? Are there lots of cats gathering outside?" she mewed anxiously.
Dovewing nodded, her eyes warm. "All the patrols are returning, and they're all gathering in the clearing."
"Is Bramblestar back?"
"He's in his den, having a word with Squirrelflight. Perhaps he's deciding on your mentor."
Skykit's belly twisted into an uneasy knot at the mention of a mentor. Who would she receive?
There were lots of good warriors. ThunderClan had many, many warriors, more warriors than any other Clan, and Skykit wondered who Bramblestar would pick for her. Vaguely, she wondered if Lionblaze would be chosen to be her mentor.
Skykit trembled with trepidation at the thought of being trained by the warrior who could not be defeated in battle, by one of the Three. Surely she wouldn't have that honour?
But Lionblaze had trained Dovewing. Surely that meant he would train her daughter?
"Stop looking so worried," Dovewing teased, jolting Skykit back into the present. "Any cat would think you've been asked to clear out a badger nest. I'm sure that Bramblestar will find you a good mentor."
She paused, pricking her ears, and then remarked, "Bramblestar's just come out of his den. He seems to have made a decision."
Apprehension fluttered in Skykit's belly, and soon she heard the rallying call.
"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join here beneath Highledge for a Clan meeting!"
This is it! Excitement scorched through Skykit's fur, nearly making it stand on end.
"Your father's coming to get you," Dovewing purred, running her tail soothingly over her daughter's back. "Don't worry, Skykit. Everything is going to turn out just fine."
My apprenticeship isn't the only thing I'm worried about, Skykit thought. She looked back at her mother, considering, and then decided against it. I'll tell her later.
Sure enough, Skykit soon heard a cat approaching the nursery, and then Bumblestripe's head and shoulders appeared in the entranceway.
"Is she ready?" he asked, his eyes bright with excitement.
Skykit nodded, quickly bounding to her father's side. "I'm ready, I'm ready!"
Bumblestripe purred, retreating out of the nursery and allowing Skykit to quickly clamber out into the bright hollow. "That's good to hear. You'll promise to train hard?"
Skykit breathlessly nodded, seeing so many cats gathered beneath Highledge. "I'll train to be the best apprentice ever."
"That's all I ask of you." Bumblestripe looked proud as he turned and walked slowly to Highledge. Skykit fell into step beside him, forcing her movements to seem relaxed and solemn. Behind her, Dovewing and Hollythorn pushed their way out of the nursery and padded after them.
"Now, you two, you'll behave and be silent and watchful unless you want to be sent back to the nursery like two misbehaving kits," Skykit heard Mapleleaf say nearby. Glancing around, Skykit saw the queen sitting at the back of the gathered Clan with Frostkit and Jaggedkit crouching at her paws, their eyes shining with excitement.
"We'll be good," Jaggedkit promised earnestly.
Skykit turned her attention back to the front, feeling her breath catch in her throat. All of the Clan really was here. Many pairs of eyes turned and gazed in a friendly way at Skykit, the many dappled pelts blending together to make one. Skykit looked up at Highledge to see Bramblestar looking down at her. His dark brown tabby fur, streaked with white hairs from impeding age, shone and glittered in the greenleaf sun.
"My friends," yowled Bramblestar a moment later, "we have gathered here this morning to perform one of my most favourite duties."
Cheerful yowls and meows of agreement rang up around the hollow. Skykit glanced a little apprehensively towards where the five apprentices sat together in one big group. One of them, who Skykit recognized to be Fernpaw, glanced towards Skykit, and gave a reassuring nod.
Skykit looked back to the front, to watch as Bramblestar gracefully bounded down the fallen stones from Highledge, landing lightly on the grassy ground to stand near his deputy. With a swish of his tabby tail, he gestured to Skykit. "Come forward."
"Good luck," breathed Bumblestripe, and Skykit, taking a deep breath, made herself walk slowly and sedately forward towards Bramblestar. Her leader. All eyes in the clearing were trained on her and she was determined not to muck it up.
She paused beside Bramblestar, and her leader gazed down at her with bright golden eyes. Then, his fluffy tail swept around once more, and brushed lightly against Skykit's shoulder. "This kit, for six moons, has learned and abided by our rules and customs, and I believe that she is ready to take the next step, becoming an apprentice!" he called.
The Clan yowled in agreement.
"From this moment," Bramblestar went on, his tail never leaving Skykit's side, "until she receives her warrior name, this apprentice will be known as Skypaw."
"Skypaw! Skypaw! Skypaw!"
Skypaw heard her new name being called out by the Clan in one unified voice, and she felt herself tremble inside, not with anxiety but with pride. She was an apprentice. She was a true Clan cat. Her gaze swept around her Clan as she turned around to face them, her chest puffed out with pride, to see her mother and father calling her name loudest of all. She saw Lionblaze sitting beside Berrynose and Cinderheart, his friendly golden gaze trained upon her, warm like the sun they were coloured as. She saw the apprentices, watching her with some level of satisfaction, as though they were saying, So, you've made it to our sacred ranks as an apprentice. You'd best work to keep your title, little one.
Then the cries of the Clan died away, and Bramblestar let silence hold in the hollow for a moment. Then, in a voice bold as day, he turned his gaze to one of the warriors and said her name.
Skypaw realized with dazed senses that the ginger she-cat who now proudly stepped forward, her chin held high and her eyes sparking with excitement, was going to be her mentor. Cherrypelt turned her amber gaze to Skypaw, and she saw friendliness and warmth in her new mentor's gaze.
"You fought in the battle with the Dark Forest," said Bramblestar. "You have learned valuable techniques on fighting, and the Clan believes it is time for you to receive your first apprentice. Train Skypaw well; let the warrior code guide us."
Cherrypelt, excitement burning bright in her eyes, touched noses with Skypaw, accepting her as her apprentice. "I will do the best I can, Bramblestar," she meowed solemnly.
Skypaw felt a nervous jolt in her belly as now, with her ceremony over, she remembered what Rock had told her. I have a great destiny. I have a power. I can see into the future.
She turned her gaze to Jayfeather. As though he could see her, he discreetly shook his head.
No. We mustn't let the Clan know yet, Skypaw agreed. But I'm sure that I'll have to reveal myself in time. There can be no secrets in ThunderClan. Not anymore.