Chapter 1: The Testing
The sky was grey. Not dark and gloomy, but a pale, dreary, tiring grey. It spread across the land as layers of clouds covered the blue and sun overhead. The trees swayed gently to a faint leaf-fall breeze. Squirrels and mice scurried back and forth, hiding in their burrows and nests when predators neared. The river roared and crashed on the rocks that jutted from the riverbed, sending splashes of silver and white in the air, bursting with tiny water droplets and mist each time.
This was the home for the cats of StormClan. Some were pacing back and forth nervously along the edge of the river, their paws stepping on the damp, smooth pebbles that lay beside the water, but not enough so their fur would get wet. Though they trained furiously to battle the crushing current, many still held a little spark of fear in their chests when they remembered what the river could do to them, and had done to many members in the past.
Others rested in their dens or just in front of the entrance. The dens built by large, flat boulders, branches and sturdy planks of wood, coated with some dried mud to keep everything together. However, it wasn't much use in the violent weather, and many still preferred to simply rest outside.
An aged sandy brown she-cat stood tall on a high boulder that loomed over the crashing river. Sprays of foam and mist were sent upwards every time the water collided with the shore or stones, making the she-cat's pelt slightly damp. But she held her tail and head high, her ears pricked and bright eyes clear, claws easily gripping the surface of the smooth boulder. She studied the river with a careful gaze, and then nodded to herself, her lips curving up in a faint, almost undetectable smile.
Some distance away, a smaller grey and white she-cat laid on her side by the nursing den, her tail sweeping back and forth swiftly and her gaze darting here and there nervously, anxiously. A slightly larger tabby tomcat clenched his teeth, his eyes narrowed, as he paced around beside the she-cat, the same expression on his face.
Any cat in StormClan would know why they were acting this way with a simple glance at their expressions. Almost every parent would, of course, be anxious, nervous, and downright frightened when this day came. It was dreaded for some, exciting for others. For the parents, it was a mix of eagerness, but mostly horror.
This was the day of the testing.
It was certainly an overwhelming joy if the readied kits pass, but if they don't… Well, no mother or father dared think those thoughts.
The grey and white she-cat released a nervous breath, and the dark tabby tom sat down beside her, entwining his ringed tail with hers and nodding to her in encouragement.
"It's going to be alright, Snowflower," he whispered lowly to his mate, but though his voice held sympathy and strength, a faint lace of fear was still visible in his blue eyes.
The she-cat glanced inside the nursery, where four kits were leaping and tumbling around. Her mouth formed into a tight, straight line.
"But Jayclaw, they're still so young," Snowflower argued gently, her voice cracking a bit. "This isn't fair. Why is it held so soon?"
"Every cat has to experience this at the same time," Jayclaw replied, trying to reassure her. "Besides, our kits are very strong. I'm sure they'll get through the test."
Snowflower laid her chin down on her paws, gazing into the distance off to nowhere, her green eyes filled with a anxious yet wistful look.
"I hope so."
Inside the nursing den, a dark-pelted tomkit, the largest of the four kittens, growled mockingly and pounced on a scrap of prey. Even at a young age, about a moon, his strong limbs and sturdy figure proved difficult to get past in a fight. His determination and fierce nature was also something to admire in the clan.
A light grey tabby tom leaped in and fought with the dark grey kit for the prey, baring his fangs and unsheathing his small, but already sharp little claws. He growled as the scrap of prey was stolen again, and chased after the first tomkit.
A white she-cat with clear, light blue eyes sat on the side, quiet for the first time since she was born. The usual optimistic and bubbly chatterbox was now feeling very nervous and frightened for her entire being, and what will happen to her. She knew this was the day of her testing, and also her littermates' too. She knew it as well as every other cat.
A last tomkit, the smallest of the four, laid in the shadows in the back of the den, his grey and white pelt consumed by the darkness. He stared at his older siblings with unblinking, piercing blue eyes, staying silent. He knew the others wanted to train. They wanted to get stronger, wisely use the last possible few minutes before the time of the testing. For it could very well be their last.
"Cats of StormClan, gather under the Riverledge for a clan meeting!"
Snowflower's green eyes widened and Jayclaw's body tensed. They both stood up and gathered their four kits, proceeding to sit under the Riverledge, a high boulder that overlooked the large roaring river they lived beside. It was the place most clan meetings were held at too.
Cats from dens poked their heads out at the StormClan leader's call and filed to stand under the ledge. Some padded out from trees and leaped over rocks from outside of camp, returning from border patrols or hunting patrols. Soon, the whole clan was gathered at the spot.
An aged but sturdy dark sandy-colored she-cat stepped up onto the Riverledge. Her pelt was criss-crossed with scars and scratches, her muzzle lashed as well. Some hairs on her muzzle were greying, but her piercing eyes were still full of strength, and her posture clearly depicted a leader of authority and power.
"Cats of StormClan," she began loudly as she saw all the cats here, "I, Larkstar, have gathered you here today, now, for a special ceremony that I am sure all of you are familiar with." She stood up taller and a spark of excitement arose in her gleaming orbs. "Today is the day of the testing."
Murmurs and whispers suddenly rippled throughout the crowd. The testings were always a time of mixed emotions. For different cats, they would feel different about it, but almost every cat would feel some nervousness or fear.
The leader raised her tail and stared down with narrowed eyes, signaling for the cats below to pay attention. She nodded when they did and continued.
"Four kits have reached the age of one moon," Larkstar yowled into the clearing, a faint, eager but crooked smile on her face. "As I'm sure you know, one moon is the age that kits will endure the testing. By one moon, they should have developed enough strength and technique to prove themselves. This a test of skill, courage and power, three of the most honored things in StormClan. Only the strong, fearless and clever will make their way to an apprentice, and then a warrior."
The cats below stayed silent for the same speech that was made at every testing, every time a kit or some kits turned one moon old, but continued to listen intently and wait for the actual test.
"The kits of two of our respected warriors, Snowflower and Jayclaw. They are Thornkit, Brightkit, Dewkit and Rainkit," Larkstar announced.
She turned her attention to two cats sitting in the crowd, toward the front and nearer to the Riverledge and the river. Then she glanced at four kits who were waiting nervously, fidgeting below the ledge.
"Thornkit, Brightkit, Dewkit, Rainkit," the leader repeated. The kits' ears pricked up and their eyes grew wide, glancing up at her. "Come here please."
The four kits' steps were filled with fear, some with more fright than others. Some stumbled, others tried to make their walk as slow as possible, maybe to make their life last a bit longer. The crowd held their breath. The kits finally made it to the Riverledge, standing beside the leader and facing the gathering of cats.
"Remember, you may not help or try to save each other," Larkstar repeated the rules, directed more at the four kits who were about to endure the testing, but also to any crowd members who didn't remember. "You may use anything around you to your advantage, but no interactions with other cats. This is an individual test."
One kit gulped, one shuffled their paws, another tapped their tail nervously and impatiently, but the largest one continued staring at the crowd with a leveled gaze, not feeling intimidated at all.
Larkstar looked to the clan deputy and nodded.
The deputy, a sturdy, well-built brown tomcat named Hawkshadow, joined the leader and four kits on the top of the Riverledge, and the other cats tensed, some not even aware they were holding their breath. The deputy was the one in charge of the actual time of the testing. He or she was also forbidden to have mates or kits, similar to the medicine cat, to avoid any biased actions at times for their own kit's testing.
"Let the testing begin."
Hawkshadow grasped the kits' scruffs tightly in his jaws one by one, and held them at the edge of the ledge, above the crashing river below. The drop wasn't too low or too high. Not low enough so it would be too simple, but not high enough so the kits would have any serious injuries or even deaths.
The crowd stared intently, especially the kits' two parents. Some even wanted to look away, but most couldn't rip their gazes from the scene. Hawkshadow stepped to the very edge until his paws couldn't inch forward anymore. He raised his head, the kits, dangling from their scruffs in his jaws, hanging over the water.
"Release," Larkstar commanded.
The deputy opened his jaws again. Every cat watched closer than ever, straining to see and stretching their necks or widening their eyes. The leader smiled.
The four kits fell and crashed into the roaring river. After a few heartbeats, their heads disappeared under the water.
Whew! Staying up late to finish the chapter. Again, please review and also check out my other story, Elsewhere, if you haven't yet already! :D Kind of a cliffie at the end of this chapter, but oh well, cliffhangers are fun. Well, for the author. XD Tell me what you think o' the chappie! :D
By the way, for anyone who didn't catch that, the deputy of StormClan is not allowed to have a mate or have kits like the medicine cat because he/she may be hesitant or biased to his/her own kits when the testing comes for them. The medicine cat is also not chosen to do the testings because it kind of goes against their natural, trained instinct to save/heal injured cats or cats in danger.
Warriors Fact #2: Blackstar, the ShadowClan leader, has six toes on one of his feet.