Why, hello, my faithful readers!
As you can probably tell, I'm back! I am so sorry I didn't update sooner, but my computer was having an update-thingy and wouldn't let me publish this! Grrr!
On a more cheerful note, I received more reviews while away and more favourites! I am now on 50 reviews! You guys are seriously the most awesome people I have ever had the pleasure to meet! I can't even say how grateful I am, it's impossible to put in words...
But now, on to answering those reviews!
Liliana Dragonshard – Hey! Thanks for reviewing! And for following and favouriting my stories!
Spiderweave – Yeah, I like 'Sage' as well, which was partly the reason I chose it! And you'll see her in this chapter!
Silverthornofriverclan – Yay, you got an account! And yeah, sure, no problem!
WyldClaw – Yeah, I feel a bit mean, putting her through that! But hey, I'm evil like that!
HelloFelicity – I agree. I don't like how often births all seem to be really normal. I mean, sure, a lot of them will be, but a little variation is good! And I have gone back and corrected all those mistakes (I think)! He is called Stonekit not Stormkit, but I sometimes get confused because he was originally called Stormkit! Hehe, I guess I got that colour thing wrong then, but someone once told me that it did matter, so that's partly where my reasoning comes from. And I spent ages trying to think of suitable way to end it, but this way shows us a little more about Hazelkit's personality too! Actually, I have an idea for Finchpaw! You'll find out later in the story!
And now, the moment you have been waiting for (I hope)! Without further ado, let me present:
Ravenkit woke up suddenly, feeling a paw kick her in the side. Wincing, she blinked open her eyes and raised her head blearily, staring around to see who or what had awoken her. Her eyes fell on Stonekit, who was thrashing around in his sleep and muttering "No, Leafstar, don't go!" Confused, Ravenkit prodded her brother cautiously with a small black paw and recoiled, as her sleeping brother lashed out with his hind paws, narrowly missing her face. His blue eyes shot open and he scrabbled wildly with his paws, before rolling over and glancing around with a wild, haunted look in his eyes.
Alarmed, Ravenkit touched the thrashing tabby lightly on the shoulder with her tail. Stonekit's head whipped around, tail bristling, but he relaxed slightly as he saw Ravenkit and flattened his fur. "What was that for?" he demanded angrily, glaring at her. Stung by the unfairness of his words, Ravenkit glared back.
"You were thrashing around in your sleep," she answered, meeting his angry gaze. "You hit me with your paws and woke me up!"
Stonekit snorted. "Oh, I'm sorry if I can't control my paws when I sleep!" he retorted sarcastically. Trying to keep down her growing annoyance, Ravenkit ignored her brother and mewed "You sounded like you were having a dream. Was it bad?"
"That's none of your business!" her silver-furred brother hissed, and something inside Ravenkit snapped. Resisting the temptation to rake her claws over Stonekit's ears, she stalked towards the nursery entrance, where sunlight streamed onto the sandy floor, showing the dust floating in the air.
Her paws made no noise on the soft floor, as she made her way over to a small hollow in the ground next to the gorse wall, a favourite place of hers. Enjoying the warmth of the slowly climbing sun on her back, Ravenkit observed a small group of cats entering the camp: the dawn patrol had returned. She spotted the grey-white pelt of Cloudfeather, who had been made a warrior two moons ago, proudly carrying a small hare in her jaws.
Ravenkit watched as the new warrior dropped her catch on the fresh-kill pile, which was fairly low, and felt fur brush her side. She turned her head to look at Hazelkit, who had settled himself next to her and started grooming herself. Ravenkit was suddenly aware of how much he'd grown; he was much bigger than her and she could see his strong body beneath his pelt.
She watched him lift his head, pausing his washing to look down at her. "What did you do to Stonekit to make him so annoyed?" Hazelkit asked, his light green eyes glimmering with amusement. "He practically ripped my whiskers off when I passed him!" His whiskers were twitching, but Ravenkit could quite imagine the situation. She recounted what had happened to her brother and Hazelkit purred. "Oh, he's always grumpy! But," he added, glancing back at the nursery and lowering his voice, "he'll cheer up for our apprentice ceremony at sundown!"
"Our-" started Ravenkit, confused, but then her words died out. Their apprentice ceremony! Of course! How did I forget? she wondered, as she looked excitedly at Hazelkit, who was staring at her in disbelief, his eyes wide.
"You forgot?" he exclaimed, echoing her thoughts, glaring at her playfully. She glared back.
"Shut your mouth, before a rabbit hops in!" Ravenkit told him, enjoying the banter. She prodded her brother playfully in the ribs, just as she heard a rumble from his belly.
"You made me hungry!" he complained, staring longingly at the hare on top of the fresh-kill pile. "I'm going to eat something!" Ravenkit felt her whiskers quiver in amusement.
"Greedy furball!" she teased her brother. "You can't be hungry already! How about we visit the elders instead?" she suggested. There was no response from Hazelkit, and she turned to look at him, only to find that he was still staring longingly at the fresh-kill pile.
"Alright," he nodded reluctantly, tearing his eyes away. "But only if we get to eat afterwards!" Just then, Flamekit came dashing out of the nursery and, seeing Ravenkit too late, skidded right into her. Taken by surprise at the weight, Ravenkit staggered before managing to sidestep her fire-coloured sister. Her eyes fell upon Stonekit, who had followed Flamekit out of the nursery. Their eyes met and, as Stonekit blinked at her, Ravenkit knew he was sorry. She blinked back, hoping that her brother would understand.
"Come on!" urged Flamekit impatiently, her tail-tip twitching. Then, without waiting for them to reply, she bounded off towards the elders' den. Ravenkit saw her ginger tail vanish into the thickly-woven walls of the elders' den and raced after her, followed by her brothers.
The elders' den was one of the only dens constantly in use, through every season. In late new-leaf and in green-leaf, Foxpelt preferred to sleep out in the open along with the warriors. Stormsky, on the other hand, insisted that it was too cold for his bones and stayed in the sheltered confines of the warm den.
As Ravenkit slipped through the entrance, she saw Bramblepaw clearing out old bedding, pawing old moss and heather to one side in a pile and filling the nests with new, soft moss, a green bundle in her jaws. At the sight of her old denmates, Bramblepaw's eyes lit up, and she nodded a greeting, unable to speak. Ravenkit saw Foxpelt raise her ginger head blearily at the sound of pawsteps, having evidently been snoozing. She blinked her eyes and slowly sat up.
"Hello, little ones!" she greeted them, purring.
"We're not little!" protested Flamekit.
"Yeah!" chimed in Stonekit. "We'll be apprentices at sundown!" His white chest was puffed up with importance and Ravenkit resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. Honestly, if he sat up any straighter he'd topple over!
Foxpelt sighed. "Apprentices so soon! I remember the night you were born; it was a very warm green-leaf evening. Eagletalon was pacing up and down so impatiently that it was impossible for any cat to get to sleep!" Her pale amber eyes twinkled merrily. "We thought that Oakleaf would only have three kits but, just as she settled down again, a fourth kit came!" The ginger elder looked at Flamekit.
"What? Me?" asked Flamekit, surprised. Foxpelt nodded.
"And here you are, six moons later, about to become apprentices!" She purred at them and looked dreamily out of the entrance and into the distance.
Ravenkit wondered what the elder was thinking. Tentatively, she asked, "Can you please tell us a story, Foxpelt?" At first, she thought the ginger she cat had not heard, but then the elder shook herself.
"Of course!" she meowed, drawing herself out of her thoughts. "Settle down and make yourselves comfortable."
Doing as she was told, Ravenkit settled herself on a spot of soft sand. She felt Hazelkit settle himself next to her, fur pressing against hers in the chilly air. "I will tell you," began the elder, "about SkyClan."
"SkyClan?" echoed Stonekit, sounding confused. This time, Ravenkit did roll her eyes.
"If you'd be quiet, you'd find out!" she hissed exasperatedly. Stonekit glared at her.
"Sorry," he muttered, a note of sarcasm in his voice. Ravenkit ignored it.
"I have already told you about how the Clans left the forest where their old territories were, and how they arrived here," went on Foxpelt, ignoring the interruptions, "but I have not told you much about the great leader Firestar." The elder paused for a moment before going on. "He was very wise; one of ThunderClan's best leaders. He was well-known for trying to avoid battles where possible, and so some thought him cowardly, but he was a strong fighter when his skills were needed."
"What did he look like?" interrupted Flamekit.
"He had a pelt of flame and dark green eyes," the elder told her.
"Just like me!" crowed Flamekit triumphantly. Ravenkit fidgeted with her paws. I want to hear the rest of the story!
"Anyway," Foxpelt went on, "he had many troubled nights, which had the reoccurring dreams of cats on a journey, fleeing from something, though he couldn't see what. In the end, he decided to share tongues with StarClan at the Moonstone. So he did, travelling past WindClan territory to the underground cavern. There he dreamed of his former mentor and leader, Bluestar, who told him that there used to be five Clans in the Forest, not just four."
"Five Clans?" repeated Hazelkit, as though he didn't understand. "But... But how? There have always been four!" Foxpelt shook her head.
"No, there weren't," she told them gently. "You see, monsters had started encroaching on SkyClan's territory, which was next to ThunderClan's, destroying their camp and scaring off all the prey. Though no cat knew it at the time, the forest was being cleared to make room for Twoleg nests."
"And then?" asked Flamekit, her dark green eyes wide.
"Well, the Clan leader at the time, Cloudstar, brought all of SkyClan to the next Gathering, even kits and elders. He asked the other Clans if they could share their territory, so that SkyClan could live on, but they refused, saying that, because there were four trees at Fourtrees, maybe that was a sign that there should only be four Clans."
"What, they practically drove out another Clan because there weren't enough trees?" asked Ravenkit, astounded. Foxpelt just nodded her head gravely.
"Yes, but you can see what the other Clans were thinking. I mean, one Clan's territory barely supported one Clan in leaf-bare. No leader wants their own Clan to suffer."
"But what about SkyClan?" asked Flamekit impatiently.
"What about Firestar?" Hazelkit questioned at the same moment.
"Well, SkyClan left the forest, journeying to find a new, suitable home. As for Firestar, he returned to his Clan, carrying on life and, while patrolling, he saw a cat; an old friend of his when he was a kittypet. The cat told him of strange dreams that he'd been having. Dreams about fleeing cats."
"Just like Firestar!" breathed Ravenkit quietly.
"Firestar decided to escort his friend back to his nest," carried on Foxpelt, having evidently not heard her comment. "As he jumped up on the fence, a Twoleg thing like a really high barrier," she added, seeing confused looks. "Anyway, he saw that his friend's nest was set in a dip in the ground."
"The old SkyClan camp!" exclaimed Ravenkit, forgetting to be quiet. Foxpelt nodded her head at her in approval.
"Correct," she praised her. "Those were Firestar's precise thoughts. This, he concluded, was why his kittypet friend had been having strange dreams and he stayed outside his friend's Twoleg nest that night."
"Urgh!" Flamekit shuddered. "I'd hate to spend any time close to twolegs!" she spat in disgust. "Yuck!"
"Quite," agreed Foxpelt, wrinkling her nose. "But it was worth it. Cloudstar visited Firestar in his dreams and told him to rebuild SkyClan."
"What?" exclaimed Hazelkit in surprise. "So SkyClan had disbanded?"
"Yes," agreed Foxpelt. "They had. Firestar returned back to ThunderClan and he and his mate, Sandstorm, went off in search of the missing legendary Clan."
"What, without knowing where to go?" asked Ravenkit in astonishment.
"Well, Firestar had a vague idea, but they mostly guessed," admitted the ginger elder. At that moment, Stormsky entered, his long-furred grey pelt ruffled up slightly. He stopped short upon seeing the kits.
"Can't I get a moment's rest?" he grumbled. "I've been outside, trying to look for a decent piece of fresh-kill, and I can't even go to my own den without being disturbed? Young cats these days are so lazy!"
"No, they're not," soothed Foxpelt, trying to calm down the elderly cat. "It's hard to find the best prey now that leaf-bare has arrived and rabbits have started going to ground. Every cat does their best. And look, Bramblepaw is here and she's lined your nest with fresh moss." With a start, Ravenkit looked around her. She had completely forgotten that the dark golden she-cat was in the den. She spotted Bramblepaw pushing moss together in a very neat pile and Ravenkit suspected that she was listening in.
Stormsky just snorted and padded slowly to his nest, before curling up in it and closing his eyes. A moment later, he opened them. "This moss is damp!" he complained, shifting in the nest.
"That's because it was collected this morning," explained Foxpelt, and Ravenkit caught a slight note of impatient in her voice. "It will dry soon enough."
"Hmph," was all that Stormsky replied, as he closed his eyes once more. Foxpelt took a quick glance at her denmate, before carrying on with the story, lowering her voice so as not to disturb Stormsky.
"Anyway," went on Foxpelt, and Ravenkit leaned in to catch every word. "Where was I? Oh, yes, so Firestar and Sandstorm set off."
"How did the Clan manage without a leader?" queried Flamekit, eyes puzzled.
"Well, Firestar's best friend and deputy, Greystripe, and the medicine cat, Cinderpelt looked after the Clan while they were gone." The elder furrowed her brow as she struggled to recall the names of cats of old.
Ravenkit shut her eyes and tried to imagine going out into the unknown to put back together a Clan who might not even exist. There would have been many challanges. "And?" Flamekit's demanding tone broke into Ravenkit's thoughts and she opened her eyes. "Did Firestar and Sandstorm find SkyClan?"
"Yes," replied the elder slowly, "and no." She must have sensed Ravenkit's confusion, because she carried on quickly. "You see, SkyClan had disbanded many seasons ago, but Firestar and Sandstorm met an old cat named Sky, who lived in a gorge where SkyClan's camp had once been. They found out that Sky was descended from a SkyClan cat and that, though he had only heard of the lost Clan from stories, he believed in StarClan."
A slight scuffling noise caught Ravenkit's attention and she noticed Bramblepaw edging up to them, under the pretext of clearing away more old moss. She hurried back to the entrance and grabbed some moss in her jaws. "What did Firestar do then?" asked Stonekit curiously.
"Well, he and Sandstorm started recruiting cats who were willing to join SkyClan. They started with two kittypets, who became Charrypaw and Sparrowpaw and, later, Cherrytail and Sparrowpelt.
"What?" asked Flamekit incredulously. "They recruited kittypets?"
"Don't forget that Firestar himself was once a kittypet!" Foxpelt reminded her, stretching her paws. "Besides, they had hard paw pads and were used to walking on stones, so Firestar thought-"
"That they might have been descended from SkyClan!" finished off Ravenkit.
Foxpelt gave her a nod of approval. "Exactly. More and more cats joined; kittypets, rogues and loners. They even met a kittypet who had been having strange dreams and later became SkyClan's medicine cat! But then, they discovered why SkyClan had disbanded."
"Why?" Ravenkit heard her sister ask, half-excitedly, half-curiously. Ravenkit, too, leaned in closer and closer to catch every word.
"Rats," mewed Foxpelt.
"What? They're too small to do anything!" scoffed Stonekit.
"Oh no they're not," replied Foxpelt quietly. "My own brother, Thrushtail, was attacked by them once. He was hunting alone at the horseplace when they swarmed over him." The ginger elder's mew was filled with grief from long ago as she added "They took his life."
Silence met these words and, for as few long moments, nobody said anything, while Foxpelt looked at her paws. Then, unable to hold herself back, Ravenkit padded over to the grieving elder and pressed her own black fur against hers. After a while, Foxpelt looked up again and, though her eyes were still filled with the sadness of the long-ago memory, it no longer looked as though it would overwhelm her.
Ravenkit gave the elder an encouraging look as the elder murmured "Thanks, Ravenkit," into her ear, too quietly for anyone else to hear. The young black she-cat just blinked back at her, before settling herself back down next to her littermates, ignoring their stares which prickled the fur on the back of her neck. She turned to concentrate back on Foxpelt, who took a deep breath, ready to carry on telling the story.
"Anyway," she continued, trying to act as though nothing had happened. "There were so many rats; so many more than SkyClan cats. The leader could also speak cat." Ravenkit thought that this was taking it a bit far, but she carried on listening to the tale. "There was a battle between them in the rat barn. They were overwhelmed and Sandstorm had to choose between saving Firestar and saving another cat, Rainfur, who then died on the battle." Ravenkit felt her heart give a pang for the she-cat in the story; to make a difficult choice like that, knowing it could save a live or take one, would have been very hard.
"Many cats were injured but, in the end, Firestar leapt down from a tree and killed the lead rat. The others fled, leaving SkyClan victorious. Now, Firestar's quest was complete and he and Sandstorm could return home."
"But," started Ravenkit, confused, "who would be leader then? Obviously, Firestar couldn't have stayed, could he, but they still needed a leader!"
"Firestar had that worry, yes, but he told Echosong, the medicine cat, to sleep on the SkyRock, which was where she would be closest to her SkyClan's warrior ancestors."
"And?" asked Flamekit impatiently. "What happened?"
"Patience, young one," chided Foxpelt, chuckling. "Echosong had a vision of dappled leaves on the ground. The signs pointed to one of the warriors, Leafdapple." Ravenkit nodded. That makes sense. "So Leafdapple then became leader."
"Hang on," mewed Ravenkit slowly, thinking about the situation. "Where did she receive her nine lives? I mean, there wasn't a Moonpool or Moonstone or whatever there, was there?" She mulled the question over in her mind, trying to think of a solution.
"No, there wasn't," agreed Foxpelt, shifting out of her nest as Bramblepaw padded towards her nest, armed with moss under her chin and in her jaws. "But she received her lives anyway."
"But how?" persisted Ravenkit, perplexed.
"Well, as the Skyrock was where cats were closest to SkyClan's ancestors, she and Echosong fell asleep there and, in her dreams, Leafdapple was given her nine lives. When the ceremony was over, she was proclaimed Leafstar."
A slight movement caught Ravenkit's eye and she swivelled her head to look at Stonekit, who had a strange look in his eyes, his muscles tense. The name clearly meant something to him, but Ravenkit couldn't figure out what was so special. Clearing her thoughts, she tuned back into what Foxpelt was saying. "So Firestar and Sandstorm knew that their work was finished and they travelled back to ThunderClan," the elder finished off, clambering back into her nest and nodding her thanks to Bramblepaw, who dipped her head in turn.
Just then, Owlstorm's broad brown head poked through the den entrance, looking around. "Haven't you finished yet, Bramblepaw?" he asked his apprentice. "You've been in here long enough to clean every nest in the Clan! Or have you just forgotten how to hunt?" Though his voice was stern, there was a teasing twinkle in his eye.
Bramblepaw bounded towards her mentor but, before she could reach him, she slipped and her paws skidded sideways. The dark golden apprentice tried to regain control but only succeeded in crashing into Owlstorm's flank. She fell on the ground in a heap, looking dazed, and Ravenkit couldn't suppress a purr of amusement.
Bramblepaw scrabbled back to her paws and shook her fur, spraying sand everywhere. "Sorry, Owlstorm!" she apologised, before bounding past him into the clearing. Her mentor rolled his eyes, then shook his now-dusty pelt and hurried after his apprentice, brown tail flicking out of sight.
Ravenkit dipped her head politely to Foxpelt and mewed "Thank you for telling us about SkyClan, Foxpelt!"
"No problem," replied the ginger elder, yawning and stretching herself. "But now I want a nap! Buzz off!" She pretended to shoo them out, flicking Stonekit's ears with her white-tipped tail. Ravenkit allowed herself another purr of amusement, before following Flamekit, who had already started leaving the elders' den.
"Bye Foxpelt!" the ginger kit called, pausing for a moment and looking over her shoulder, before racing on. "Come on!" she yowled, and Ravenkit picked up her pace, racing side by side with Hazelkit, Stonekit following them. "Let's go and get Sagekit, Larkkit and Brightkit; then we can play moss-ball!" The flaming she-cat disappeared into the nursery just as Ravenkit rolled her eyes at Hazelkit at her sister's bossiness. He returned the look, his whiskers twitching.
As they approached the nursery, Ravenkit fell back a little, allowing Hazelkit to draw ahead and enter first. She was suddenly aware of how much smaller the nursery seemed compared to a few moons ago. Tonight I'll be sleeping in the apprentices den! she realised excitedly. Upon entering the nursery, she saw Flamekit already talking to the other three kits, trying to persuade them to go outside.
"It's too cold!" Sagekit was complaining, huddling closer to her siblings.
"Yeah!" chimed in Larkkit, his golden fur ruffled up."And moss-ball is boring!" Feeling a little disappointed about her denmates' reactions, Ravenkit padded over to the small tom, hoping to change his mind.
"Come on," she coaxed. "It'll be our last time before we're apprentices!"
"So?" retorted Larkkit rudely. Flamekit tried again, joining in Ravenkit's persuasions.
"Please, Larkkit!" pleaded Flamekit. "It'll be fun. Besides," she added, "warriors need to endure every type of weather!" There was a pause. Then: "Fine! I'll play!" gave in Larkkit. "But moss-ball's still boring! Why can't we pretend that ThunderClan are invading?" he suggested.
"Okay," Ravenkit agreed. Anything to shut up his whining for a bit!
"Let's go then!" yowled Brightkit and she charged off. Ravenkit's gaze followed her path and, suddenly, Stonekit appeared through the entrance. The cream-coloured she-kit swerved to avoid him and ran, head-first, into the bramble wall. Letting out a yowl of agony Brightkit staggered out of the wall, her fur pulled backwards and filled with thorns. "Rabbit dung!" she hissed, plucking a thorn from her pelt.
Ravenkit, unable to watch the young cat suffer, hurried over to help her, ignoring the purrs of amusement from her denmates. "Here," she mewed, pulling a thorn from Brightkit's fur between her teeth and pulling it out, turning to spit it out back into the thorny barrier. Brightit's head twisted around to look at her.
"Thanks, Ravenkit," she murmured, her dark blue eyes filled with gratitude. "You're a good friend." Ravenkit, who had another thorn between her teeth, was unable to reply, but nodded. She carried on plucking out thorns and smoothing down her denmate's fur, checking first to see if any had pierced the skin.
"There we go," she told Brightkit, who was smoothing down the last bit of her cream fur. "I don't think any have actually broken your skin, but I'd see Amberleaf if it hurts." The black cat turned back to her littermates.
"Done?" enquired Sagekit, looking at her sister. Brightkit just nodded.
"Right then," Flamekit took command. "Who wants to be WindClan leader? Apart from me?"
"I do!" The reply came from Stonekit and Larkkit at the same time. They glared at each other.
"I should be the leader!" insisted Larkkit, "because I thought of the game!"
"But you'd be a rubbish leader!" scorned Stonekit. "I'd be much better!"
"No, you wouldn't!"
"Stop it!" commanded Ravenkit, silencing her squabbling denmates, rolling her eyes. Toms! "Flamekit, you can be WindClan's leader and Hazelkit can be ThunderClan's leader." Flamekit nodded her approval, before taking charge once more.
"Larkkit, you can be my deputy and Stonekit can be Hazelkit's deputy."
"Hazelstar!" corrected Hazelkit teasingly. Flamekit ignored him.
"Brightkit, you can be in ThunderClan and Ravenkit will be a WindClan warrior," the fiery kit carried on.
"And me?" asked Sagekit. "I want to be with Brightkit!"
"Okay then," agreed Flamekit. "Now let's go!" The ginger she-kit led them out of the nursery and Ravenkit quickened her pace to catch up with her team leader.
"So, what's the plan?" she asked in an undertone, falling into step with her sister.
"Plan?" echoed Flamekit. Ravenkit sighed. She surely doesn't expect to win this without a plan, does she?
"Yes, a plan," she hissed, trying to be patient. "To make sure we win!"
"I- I don't know," stuttered Flamekit. "I didn't think that far." She looked panicked. "What do you think?"
"Well, started Ravenkit, as Larkkit joined them on Flamekit's other side, "I thought that we should try to knock their paws out from under them, before jumping on their back once their off-balance." Flamekit nodded and even Larkkit twitched an ear.
"We could pounce on their tails if that doesn't work, to make them turn around. Then we could knock their paws," he suggested, his usually slightly arrogant tone gone for the moment.
"Good idea!" Flamekit seemed relieved. Ravenkit was impressed by the tom's forethought.
"Right." Flamekit's tone became louder and more leader-like. Ravenkit tensed herself, ready to spring. "WindClan, attack!"
She bunched her muscles and sprang, landing a mouse-tail from Stonekit's paws. He immediately swiped at her head. She ducked only just in time, feeling the air above her head ripple as his hefty paw passed. Ravenkit crouched low, belly fur brushing the sand, then swiped a paw at her brother's leg. As soon as she hit it, she knew that she had aimed to high and her blow did very little. Then, a dark grey paw swiped at the flank and, too late, she realised that she had forgotten to back out of the way.
She rolled a little way, over the uneven floor, before pushing herself to her paws again and propelling her body towards Stonekit once more. The silver tabby leapt for her back, but Ravenkit ducked with amazing speed, moved forward a couple of paces and spun around, facing him. "Too slow!" she gloated, as he whirled around. Before he could make another move, she swiped once more, this time aiming her paw lower. This time, her paw hooked around Stonekit's leg and he toppled over. Raising her forepaws of the ground a little, she pushed his broad back and struggled to send him rolling as her had done to her. Though he was the same size as her, he had grown heavier and she tried with all her might to push him away. With a great effort, she managed it, knocking him away from her and down the small slope.
Ravenkit looked around her and saw that Larkkit was outnumbered two to one by his sisters, who were working together to drive him back. Ravenkit leapt away from her still-rolling brother and towards her teammate. She narrowly missed Hazelkit and Flamekit, who were fighting a well-matched battle and sneaked up behind Sagekit and Brightkit. She caught Larkkit's eye and nodded slightly, jerking her head to tell him to concentrate on fighting.
As the golden speckled tom's paws flailed in the air trying to keep his sisters back, Ravenkit slid, silent as a snake, along the ground, drawing herself closer to the fighting littermates. Then, a tail-length from them, she leapt; not at Sagekit, nor at Brightkit, but hurling herself in the gap between them, knocking Sagekit away. However, even though the spiky-furred kit was almost four moons younger than her, she was larger already and Ravenkit's weight did little except make Sagekit stumble. She managed to get back to her paws and shoved the black she-kit away.
Ravenkit's body ached from the impact as she rolled over and over on the ground, away from the fight. She winced as she rolled over a hard stone and struggled to dig her claws into the earth, but sand just slipped through her paws. Gritting her teeth in frustration, she extended her claws as far as they would go and reached down into the ground, grinding to a halt. Spitting sand out of her mouth, she started to scrabble to her paws when a weight on her back pinned her down.
"Who's slow now?" crowed a voice in her ear that she recognised as Stonekit's. She struggled feebly, trying to free herself, but she knew it was no use. She didn't have her brother's strength or weight. She saw one large forepaw on the ground next to her and presumed that the other was pinning her down.
"Alright, I give in," admitted Ravenkit, going limp.
"Good," purred Stonekit triumphantly and the weight on her spine lifted. At that moment, Ravenkit threw her body back. A plan had been forming in her mind, ever since she ruled out struggling as an option. Instead she had waited until he let go to make her move.
Now, her body cannoned upwards into her brother's and, taken completely by surprise, he was thrown off her and onto the floor. Ravenkit spun around and leapt on top of her brother, planting both paws either side of him, digging her claws into the ground, her senses alert, in case Stonekit tried her trick on her. However, he did not move; he was apparently winded.
Whilst her littermate was distracted, Ravenkit risked a glance around to see what was happening around her. To her surprise, she spotted Larkkit standing over both his sisters. He had somehow managed to pin them both down at the same time, a paw on each of their backs. Ravenkit knew from experience that the young tom was already very strong for his size, but she still had no idea how he managed to get them both on the floor. Her gaze travelled towards Flamekit, who was being held down by Hazelkit, her fur being pushed into the sand.
Ravenkit pricked her ears as her brown tabby brother bent his head to talk to Flamekit. "I believe," he mewed softly "that this victory belongs to ThunderClan." A slight scuffling noise from beneath Ravenkit made her look down and she saw Stonekit struggling, his silver fur streaked with sand and dust. She cuffed his head gently and told him "There's no point in struggling." She hoped she sounded stronger than she felt, for she wasn't sure if she could keep him pinned down if he used all of his strength against her, despite the fact that she had the upper paw.
The back-pelted kit lifted her head again to look at her other littermates. Now, their positions were reversed. Flamekit was on top, pinning down Hazelkit's back, pressing his muzzle into the dust, whilst the tabby struggled to free himself. "Well, I believe otherwise," replied Flamekit in answer to Hazelkit's previous statement, not troubling to keep her voice low. She looked around at Ravenkit and Larkkit, her teammates and yowled "WindClan wins!" Her pelt seemed to glow like the flames she was named for in the sunlight. Ravenkit, deciding to let Stonekit up, hopped neatly off him and to one side.
The silver tabby scrambled to his paws, shaking his pelt, his bright blue eyes glinting. "That was a mean trick!" he told her, mock-glowering at her. Ravenkit purred.
"Not mean; just clever!"
"You'll make good apprentices, all of you," purred a deep voice from behind them. Ravenkit turned to see Eagletalon, who was looking at his kits with pride in his clear blue eyes. Flamekit and Hazelkit rushed over too, coming to speak with their father.
"Did you see me do the move you taught us?" squealed Flamekit excitedly. She demonstrated it, balancing on her hind legs for a moment and swiping her paws, before dropping to the ground again.
"Very good," praised Eagletalon. "I'm glad you have applied what I taught you!" The young ginger she-cat basked in his praise, her green eyes shining.
"I'll be the best apprentice ever!" Ravenkit vowed, hardly able to keep her paws still.
"I expect you all to be the best," Eagletalon told them, warmth in his gaze as he looked at his kits. "But," he added, "in the meantime, I suggest that you get yourselves cleaned up! Your ceremony will be soon and you don't want to be apprenticed looking like your fur is made of sand, do you?" Ravenkit looked around at her littermates, noticing their dusty pelts for the first time, before looking down at her own.
Her usually black pelt was now almost the same colour as Hazelkit's brown tabby one. Ravenkit looked back up at the sky and was surprised to see that Eagletalon was right: the sun was starting to sink lower and lower in the sky. She had forgotten that that leaf-bare days were light for a shorter amount of time that green-leaf ones and she hadn't realised how darkness had started to creep into the corners of the camp.
Eagletalon's deep voice broke into her thoughts. "Well, go to the nursery; Oakleaf is waiting for you." Ravenkit hurried after Flamekit and Hazelkit, who had already started heading off to where their mother was waiting, their pelts already starting to fade into the shadows of the late sunlight.
As Oakleaf's tongue rasped over her back, Ravenkit turned to look at Stonekit and Flamekit, who had already received the same treatment from their mother. She rolled her eyes at them. Honestly, you'd think that I didn't know how to groom my own fur! But when she Oakleaf paused for a moment and lifted her head, Ravenkit saw the pride shining in her brilliant green eyes and couldn't bring herself to say the words out loud.
Instead, she waited as patiently as she could while Oakleaf cleaned her fur. Out of the corner of her vision, she saw Hazelkit hastily cleaning his own dusty fur, looking eager to avoid having his fur licked off. Finally, Oakleaf straightened up with a final lick to Ravenkit's head, before starting on Hazelkit, who struggled to get away as she smothered his fur. "She she lick you this hard?" he complained, looking exasperatedly at Ravenkit, clearly not expecting an answer.
He waited until Oakleaf finished grooming him, still struggling occasionally. Just when she had straightened up again, Ravenkit heard a well-known call from outside. "Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather beneath the Sandy Ledge for a Clan meeting!" Duststar's voice rang out over the camp, loud and strong.
"Quick!" hissed Oakleaf gathering Ravenkit and her sibling together with a swipe of her tail. "It's time." Through the bramble and gorse wall, Ravenkit could see the Clan gathering together at Duststar's call, emerging from dens, and gathering in a ring around Duststar. A flash of ginger fur caught Ravenkit's eye and she recognised Foxpelt, who was beckoning Stormsky out. The grey tom padded out stiffly and he too joined the throng.
Ravenkit turned her attention back to her siblings. She got into line behind Stonekit, with Hazelkit behind her. "Go on!" ushered Oakleaf and Flamekit, who was at the front of the line, headed out of the nursery. Ravenkit held her head high, wishing for a moment that she could just sprint to the Sandy Ledge. Then, she chased the thought away and followed Stonekit sedately, her tail twitching.
As Flamekit reached the crowd gathered beneath the Sandy Ledge, cats parted to make way for them, allowing them a straight path to the clearing beneath Duststar. Ravenkit thought she would burst with anticipation, as she stood next to her littermates in front of her leader.
"Hazelkit, Flamekit, Stonekit and Ravenkit, step forward." Ravenkit took a few steps forward, her legs trembling slightly with anticipation.
"You have now reached six moons of age and are more than ready to become apprentices. Hazelkit," Duststar gestured with his tail. "From this moment on, until you receive your warrior name, you shall be known as Hazelpaw." Ravenkit saw her brother's eyes glancing from side to side, looking for the cat who would become his mentor. "Your mentor will be Thornflower. I hope that she passes on all that she knows to you."
Thornflower stepped out from the crowd, her light amber eyes wide with surprise; she clearly hadn't expected this. "Thornflower, you have received excellent mentoring from Smokedrift and have proved yourself to be loyal and courageous. I hope that you do your best to pass down these qualities to Hazelpaw." The pale ginger she-cat looked up at her leader.
"I'll do my best, Duststar," she promised, touching noses with Hazelpaw and leading him to the edge of the crowd to watch.
Duststar continued, looking down at Ravenkit and her remaining siblings. "Stonekit," he called, and Ravenkit watched Stonekit shifting his paws from side to side. "From this moment on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Stonepaw. Your mentor will be Waspstripe." The black-striped tom stepped forward, his dark blue eyes bright with excitement. "You were mentored by Sunstripe and I trust you to pass down your wisdom and forethought to Stonepaw."
Ravenkit watched as Stonekit stretched up to touch his dark grey nose with his mentor's, before following him into the crowd and sitting down next to Hazelpaw. Now only she and Flamekit were left. Duststar turned back to them and called forth: "Flamekit." I knew it thought Ravenkit. I'm going to be last. "From this moment on, until you receive your warrior name, you shall be known as Flamepaw. Your mentor will be Cloverheart. I hope that she passes down all that she knows to you." As the young tortoiseshell she-cat stepped forward, Ravenkit noticed Hazelpaw glancing her way sympathetically.
"Cloverheart, I know that you will pass down your faith and patience down to this young apprentice." As Flamepaw took a few paces forward to touch noses with her mentor, Ravenkit became more aware of being the last one of her littermates to become an apprentice. As Flamepaw, too, left the clearing, she was left alone, everyone watching her. She forced herself to hold her head high and look up at Duststar.
"And finally, Ravenkit," Duststar announced. "From this moment on, until you receive your warrior name, you will be known as Ravenpaw. Your mentor will be," Duststar paused. Ravenpaw twitched her tail, itching to find out who her mentor would be. "Shadestep," decided Duststar. Ravenpaw felt a mixture of emotions. She knew that Shadestep was a good fighter and a strong warrior, but he was one of the few cats who still mistrusted her and her siblings for being half-clan. She saw the smoky warrior step out of the crowd, towards her.
"Shadestep," Duststar addressed the grey tom. "You have proved yourself many times over to be a strong warrior and I hope that you pass down your honesty and determination down to Ravenpaw." Ravenpaw stepped forwards, trembling, towards her mentor to touch noses with him. She expected there to be some sort of mocking tone in his blue eyes, but saw only determination and pride. She followed him to the edge of the throng and sat down next to Hazelpaw, who was purring happily.
"We're apprentices!" he told her excitedly. Ravenpaw shoved him with a paw.
"Really? I hadn't noticed!" she replied sarcastically, making her eyes wide. Hazelpaw shoved her back. Then, from somewhere behind her, she heard Ashpaw starting to chant.
"Hazelpaw! Stonepaw! Flamepaw! Ravenpaw!" The rest of the Clan joined in, chanting their names to the darkening sky. "Hazelpaw! Stonepaw! Flamepaw! Ravenpaw!" Cats surrounded them, mewing congratulations.
But through the group of cats, she saw a light grey tabby tom glaring at her, his mouth resolutely shut. Lakepaw. Ravenpaw stared back into his light blue eyes until he looked away. Then she turned back her attention to the cats around her and let their words wash over her! I'm finally an apprentice!
Phew! That was the longest chapter I've ever written! It was 6,631 words long! That kind of makes up for the massively long wait, doesn't it?
So anyway, my little kitties are apprentices now! I love them so much, and I'm already really attached to them!
So uhm... Ahem... Please review!