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Essay
This page contains a fan fiction written by Red.
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For Rainy's Contest

Summary

Inkpaw has lived in his sister's shadow ever since he was two moons old. This lack of attention has caused him to have a distant disposition, which other cats find odd, and many believe him to be too arrogant to socialize with other cats. On the inside, though, his heart has melted for bright, bubbly Shoalpaw, whose sunny attitude may just be a facade for her true feelings.

Chapter One - Ink

A brawny she-cat stepped out of the shadows, spring-green eyes glittering. Her black-and-white pelt was well-groomed and sleek, and a malicious smirk curled her lips. She flexed curled, silver claws, scoring long lines in the dirt beneath her paws.

"Ivypaw?" I breathed, stepping into the moonlight.

Ivypaw advanced on me, but she seemed to grow in size until she towered over me like a Twoleg over a kit. The tip of my tail just brushed her chin.

"Ivypaw?" she said incredulously, disgustedly. "How dare you call me Ivypaw! I earned my leader's name moons ago, but you must have still been in the nursery then, you scrawny little runt. I'm Ivystar, and all Clans fear me! I rule with an iron claw, and every cat in RiverClan will bend to my will. Soon, every cat in the forest will follow, and I will dominate!"

I recoiled, and felt the sharp edge of a rock pierce my pad. I uttered a soft scream - and felt my head brush the brambles of the apprentices' den.

"Shut up, weirdo," someone muttered in the darkness.

I blinked to adjust to the dim light of the den. I could make out the sleek, lithe pelts of the RiverClan apprentices - of the many RiverClan apprentices. Specklepaw's pale, creamy coat speckled with brown stood out across the den, while her sister Springpaw twitched in her sleep, her dark cream fur a shade deeper than Specklepaw's. Beside the sisters lay the four identical seven-moon apprentices, three toms and a she-cat, Tigerpaw, Lionpaw, Leopardpaw, and Wildpaw. I caught sight of my sister's patched pelt, nestled in between two dark brown tabbies. In the nest nearest to me slept Hailpaw, a silvery she-cat with ice-blue eyes. Beside her were Sunpaw and Russetpaw, and Featherpaw and Shadepaw. Between the latter, in a patch of moonlight, slept Shoalpaw, a beautiful she-cat with a thick, dark-gray coat and beautiful, blue-green eyes that weren't the same, murky color of most turquoise-eyed cats, but a definitive, river-like color.

I had had a crush on Shoalpaw since we were three moons old in the nursery, just a moon after Ivypaw started her spiel of intense dislike directed towards me. She was always in a group, sure, but she was never part of Ivypaw's gang of bullies.

The moon's brilliance was starting to fade as the sun rose, sending brilliat, dawn-colored rays into the camp.

Stepping carefully between the sleeping bodies of cats, I made my way into the main camp. A few cats were seated in groups here and there, sharing prey, but for the most part, the majority of the Clan was still asleep. I heard rasping snores emanating from Shellstar's den - signifying that our leader and deputy (who were mates) were still in deep slumber.

I plucked a scrawny thrush from the fresh-kill pile in the center of camp. Thrush weren't common RiverClan prey, but we managed to catch them in Newleaf, when all of the fish were still testing the water. I was particularly fond of the taste, for reasons I can't identify.

"ThunderClan mange-bag!" a voice yowled from the apprentices' den.

All ears and eyes around the camp were instantly alert, gazes flashing cautiously towards the edge of our territory, where we could just make out the large rocky outcropping we named the Moonpile because of the way it sparkled in the moonlight.

Ivypaw stalked out of the apprentices' den, Darkpaw and Longpaw right on her heels. All doubts that she was the one to yowl the insult were erased from my mind as she shot me a pompous glare.

"ThunderClan mange-bag," she repeated in a hiss, letting the words linger in my ears.

I eyed my half-eaten thrush, then glanced back up at her. She was facing away from me, inspecting the fresh-kill with one perfectly-groomed paw. She sank her claws into a shiny carp, and dragged it through the dust towards her. She bent her head to scrutinize the fish - then, deeming it unworthy, rolled it to her cronies, who squabbled over it for a moment before settling on a half and half distribution of the prey. Ivypaw was now examining a large trout.

"Hold on, young'un," rasped an elderly tom, ambling up to the fresh-kill pile and signaling for Ivypaw to halt with a flick of his gray ears. "Warrior Code says elders are to eat first, y'know."

"Oh, I know," Ivypaw said earnestly, "I was looking for the best to give to you! And Darkpaw and Longpaw took a carp to the medicine den--" She turned to face her friends, then let a look of clearly faked horror slide onto her face as she realized the two were already digging into their breakfast. "I told you two to take that to Berrywhisker's den! Have you any respect for the Warrior Code?"

Darkpaw and Longpaw looked flabbergasted, but picked up their mangled prey and took it to the medicine den without a word. Ivypaw turned back to the elder and flashed him a dazzling smile.

"Here you go, Minnowfoot," she said cheerfully, sliding the carp towards him. The elder accepted it, and dragged the prey back to his denmates.

Ivypaw turned to look at me, and her green gaze darkened to the color of the pine trees that line the border between RiverClan and ShadowClan. She slunk towards me, flanked by Darkpaw and Longpaw, who were starting to realize that this lack of prey was becoming a daily routine. All three had their tails low, sweeping the ground like ThunderClan cats'. "Inkpaw," snarled Ivypaw threateningly, and she raised a paw to bat at me. I cowered, and felt words slip out of my mouth, tangling into one long sentence that was barely distinguishable, but distinctive as some form of defense.

"I'm just an apprentice," I whimpered, half to myself, half directed at Ivypaw, "don't hurt me, I'm just an apprentice, I've never done anything wrong, I didn't even get to fight in any battles yet, I don't have any battle scars, I've hardly trained--"

"Which just proves your worthlessness," growled Ivypaw, lowering her paw. "You worthless bit of bones! You can't even fight, you're useless at hunting, you can barely drag yourself out of your nest every morning, you're too much of a runt. You belong in the nursery still - look at that pelt of your's! Covered in the fluffy," she flicked her tail at my fur, "down of a kit!" She swatted at my tail. "Inkkit, go back to the nursery where you belong."

As she stalked away, sharing superior glances with her friends, I felt my heart sink a little.

Even my own sister thought I was worthless.

Chapter Two - Shoal

"Hi Shoalpaw!"

"Hey, Hailpaw, get me some fresh-kill!"

"Sure thing, Russetpaw!"

"Shoalpaw, train with me later?"

"Sure thing," I replied good-naturedly. Featherpaw flicked his tail at my flank, batting playfully at my ear with a gray paw. "Hey, save the training for later all right?" We both grinned.

Russetpaw grumbled slightly as Sunpaw charged into the camp from the upper entrance, sending a shower of rocks sprinkling into the camp. The dark red she-cat shook dust from her ears and bounded down to join the rest of us near the fresh-kill pile at the center of camp. Sunpaw followed, with Shadepaw by her side. Springpaw was close on their heels, her bright green eyes glittering.

"What's for breakfast?" announced Springpaw, grinning.

Shadepaw, silent as ever, lumbered to the fresh-kill pile, eyes wide as she took in the bountiful supply of prey. With hooked claws, she plucked out a shiny pike, large enough for the seven of us to share.

"Mm," Springpaw murmured, eying the prey hungrily. We all shared a laugh at Springpaw's growling stomach, and her ever-present, insatiable hunger.

As we settled down in a circle, the pike in the middle, and took turns eating, I noticed Inkpaw slipping out of the apprentices' den and drifting inconspicuously towards the nursery, ears flat on his head, golden eyes flashing around camp. He pressed his skinny body into the reeds, attempting to blend in with the mud-covered grass. Unnoticed, he ventured into the nursery. He must not have noticed my eyes following him - for when he stepped out a moment later, looking a bit ruffled, he seemed positive that no one had seen him enter the nursery.

"Hey, Inkkit!" yowled Sunpaw. "I didn't think you would be allowed out of the nursery!"

Russetpaw, Featherpaw, and Hailpaw all laughed raucously, but my eyes softened at Inkpaw's hurt expression.

"Sunpaw, that wasn't very nice," I said, and rose to my feet, suddenly not hungry. I curled my tail over my back, and, to the bewildered expressions of my friends, marched over to Inkpaw.

The small apprentice looked quite startled, and he shrank back into the reeds. His yellow eyes darted nervously, as though looking for way of escape.

"I'm sorry for Sunpaw's behavior," I said gently, stepping closer. He recoiled into the reeds. "She didn't mean it, really, she was just having a laugh. And she really likes Featherpaw, so she wanted to make him amused, and--" I broke off, aware that I was rambling. I took a deep breath, trying to recover. "I mean...what Sunpaw did was wrong, and I hope you'll forgive us for laughing."

"You didn't laugh," Inkpaw mumbled under his breath, eying his paws. He shuffled forward a bit.

I was taken aback. "N-no, I didn't."

Never laugh when others are hurt, Shoalpaw. You're giving power to the bullies, and once you give the bullies power, they'll see you as their minions. They'll see you as an asset. The victims will see you as a bully, Shoalpaw. You don't want to be a bully.

I felt tears pricking at the corners of my eyes.

"I-I've got to go," I said quickly. "See you, Inkpaw!"

Without waiting for a response, I vaulted out of camp, feeling the muscles in my legs, strengthened by moons of swimming, stretch as I leaped for the upper entrance. My claws scrabbled at the edge, but I pulled myself up, feeling my shoulders wrench. I cringed, but scrambled towards the river, which snaked away through the tall trees towards the Moonpile.

The sparkling river comes into sight, weaving underneath the pile of shimmering white rocks.

I skitter to a halt, and already the tears are tumbling down my face, into my fur, but I make no move to stop them. I sit at the edge of the river, my body heaving with sobs, and let myself cry. I don't bother to speak, I wouldn't be able to formulate any words.

The river's current is swift and swirling, tendrils of icy blue looping out of our territory. The shade of the Moonpile causes the water to darken, as though a huge cloud has moved over the sun. Fish flicker in and out of their hiding spots in the banks of the river, tiny bursts of color in the mass of silver-blue. I heard the bubbling of the brook far back in RiverClan territory, at the source of the river. Berrywhisker, our medicine cat, claimed that herbs grew verdantly and plentifully there, and loved taking the apprentices out to fetch some of the precious leaves or stems. that could save a cat's life.

A loud yowl was ripped from my throat, my only expression of grief.

"Father!" The voice coming from my mouth wasn't mine, it wasn't a cat's, it was too awful. too loud, too heart-wrenching. "Father, come back! Why'd you leave?"

As I turned my tear-blurred gaze back to the water, I imagined I could see his yellow eyes looking up at me.

Don't cry, darling Shoalpaw, he would have said. I'm still here, with you. I've just been relocated, that's all. Relocated to a better place - where war doesn't tear us apart...where there is plenty of prey to go around, and all of the bullies have been banished. The only thing that makes this not a paradise - is you are not here as well. But I'm with you in your heart, Shoalpaw, don't ever forget it. I love you, my sweet.

I tore my eyes away, blinking quickly to dry my tears.

It was no use crying over someone who was gone. Someone who was gone, and would never come back.

My father was dead. He was long dead, and there was nothing I could do to change it.

Chapter Three - Ink

I slunk behind Herontail as he led the way to the training hollow, tail waving merrily. That was the thing about my mentor - while oblivious to my odd habits and Ivypaw's taunts, he was very cheery and wasn't as contstantly exasperated with me as the other warriors always seemed to be.

"C'mon, Inkpaw, pick up the pace!" Herontail encouraged, standing amongst the reeds. He beckoned with a tail the color of ash, and I followed wearily. Behind me, my friend Squirrelpaw (inappropriately named aside from his tail: his pelt was as dark as dusk) and his mentor Brindlenose, a young tabby she-cat that was clearly crushing on Herontail, followed close behind. 

"Okay," Herontail said authoritatively once Squirrelpaw and I were seated in front of him. Brindlenose paced a little bit behind Herontail, her white paws sinking into the slightly wet earth. "We're not going to be practicing in water today, rather, I want to do some ground moves. Once you've mastered those skills, Brindlenose is going to teach you about sky tactics - that is, using trees to your advantage. The latter could assist you in any of the territories save for WindClan, but we're not to argumentative with them, and they're normally the ones sparking battles here, however, this doesn't mean you can slack off, all right?"

Squirrelpaw and I nodded, and padded towards our mentors for instructions on how to beat each other. I could see Brindlenose whispering conspiratorally with Squirrelpaw, and I scowled as I turned to my own mentor, who was grinning gleefully. 

"Now, Inkpaw, Squirrelpaw knows you get distracted easily." I tried not to squirm underneath Herontail's eager gaze. "So what we're going to do - what you're going to do - is you're going to stay completely focused. We're practicing one move..." He trailed off into a detailed description that left me slightly confused, and then, without pausing, barreled into his directions. "So when he comes at you, leap to the left and rake your paws across his flank. All right? Brindlenose is signaling that he's ready, so let's go."

Squirrelpaw plunged toward me without any warning. I steeled myself, recalling the fact that when I was in real battle, claws would be unsheathed. This assisted me to focus as Squirrelpaw dove for my belly. 

It was in that instant that I forgot what to do - one of the most awful things (among others) about myself. I might have been queer, but my horrible memory was what made everything worse. It was even more embarrassing learning and forgetting the names of my Clanmates. That was embarrassing, but - concentrate, Inkpaw!

Squirrelpaw was right in front of me, and I pushed upwards with my hindlegs. I hadn't expected to go so high, but I was in the air and landing just behind my friend, who was still plowing onward. He spun around, his flank open to me, and instead of scratching his side with my paws, I charged forward just as he had done, head bowed. I crashed into his flank, knocking the breath out of him with a yowl, and I blinked sweat out of my eyes. He was lying exposed on the ground, and I pounced on top of him, pushing my paws into his shoulders and prodding him playfully in the stomach. He muttered something unintelligible at me, and I purred.

"That was great," Herontail enthused. "Now..."

***

"I bet I can beat you to the top," I teased.

It was one of the rare moments when I felt happy, I realized, free from Ivypaw and her cohorts' taunting gibes and sneering remarks. I was away from Shoalpaw and her group of friends, who didn't tease me but made no effort to stop it either, and never refrained from commenting cruelly whenever I screwed up. I was with Squirrelpaw, though, my only friend, and that was what mattered. He was the only one - aside from Shoalpaw, but we rarely had a moment together - who I didn't mind being myself around.

Squirrelpaw snorted, and darted up the tree ahead of me.

The rest seemed to happen in slow motion. 

Squirrelpaw, his claws extended and dug into the bark of the old tree, seemed to send shreds of the thick brown substance downwards, raining into my eyes and temporarily blinding me. Nothing, though, could have blocked what came next from my view, as Squirrelpaw's paws slipped from the slim branch and sent him plummeting to the foot of the tree, fox-lengths below. He let out a single screech - and was still.

I couldn't breathe as I scrambled down, not heeding Brindlenose's instructions to make sure I came down carefully. My paws skittered, but nothing could stop me from reaching my friend, form being their when he took his last breaths.

I reached the bottom of the tree, leaping beside my dusky brown tabby friend. His breathing was shallow, his amber eyes were already glazing over. He offered me a weak smile, and I could hear the two mentors behind me muttering. I bent down and gave Squirrelpaw a fierce lick on the head - StarClan couldn't take my best friend from me now, surely - but he had already gone.

"He should have died when he hit the ground," Herontail was saying softly. "It's a miracle that he survived so long."

"It was StarClan's will," Brindlenose said solemnly.

"We should get back," the tom said heavily. He turned to me, eyes sympathetic. "Inkpaw...that seemed to happen so fast. Do you know the situation, do you know why--"

"I don't," I interrupted. "We should go back to camp though, like you said."

Herontail looked broken as he heaved the tiny apprentice's body onto his shoulders. Grim-faced, we padded out of the small training area back to camp, the news weighing on our shoulders like boulders.

Chapter Four - Shoal

"...and ShadowClan has been stealing prey." 

Our Clan rippled with disbelief. Iceheart was perched in front of us, delivering news to the Clan that Earthstar was too weak to announce. The elderly leader had come down with an awful cough and what a bit of a chest infection, as diagnosed by Reedwing. Iceheart knew - as did the rest of the Clan - that this was Earthstar's last life, therefore, Iceheart would probably become Icestar all too soon.

"It's true," Iceheart said reproachfully, her blue eyes flickering. "Springpaw, Sorrelfoot, and I caught them. They admitted to it too - but said we'd have to fight them to get them to stop." He opened his mouth to continue, but was interrupted by a grief-stricken yowl. 

Oakdawn tripped out of the nursery, her gaze fixated on the three - no, four, I realized - cats trudging somberly into camp. Brindlenose and Herontail, I recognized, as well as Inkpaw. He looked especially torn, and I already heard whispers going around my friends, suggesting that Inkpaw had hurt Squirrelpaw in training - but then no, someone argued, such a weakling couldn't hurt a fish. I turned to reprimand the apprentice, but I was greeted by a sea of curious eyes. 

Squirrelpaw, whose name was such a misnomer, was draped lifelessly over Herontail's back. His head lolled against the gray warrior's shoulder, and his golden-amber eyes were as glassy as the stars. I removed my gaze from the apprentice, glancing up at the sky. One star twinkled particularly brightly, and I let a low whimper escape my lips. My friends behind me shifted from foot to foot, clearly unsure what to think.

"Squirrelpaw," Brindlenose choked, tears dripping from her eyes, "he fell from a tree...we were practicing climbing...all my fault, it was my idea to practice..." She let out a horrible wail that didn't sound like anything that could come out of a cat's throat - but seemed strangely familiar.

It was the same noise, one of grief, of guilt, that I heard in my ears whenever I went to the river.

Reedwing rushed out of her den, stroking Brindlenose's flank with her tail. "Shh," the medicine cat soothed. "Go to my den, Antpaw will make sure you get poppy seeds, while I prepare Squirrelpaw for..." Brindlenose let out another wail, and Reedwing ushered her into the den before redirecting her attention to Squirrelpaw. She gently helped Herontail slide the small tom off of the warrior's back, and lay him to rest on the marshy earth of the camp. Iceheart bounded down to pad beside the apprentice - her younger littermate, I realized with a jolt - and murmured a few words in Reedwing's ear before padding quietly to Earthstar's den.

My eyes slipped from Squirrelpaw onto Inkpaw. The tom was seated behind his mentor, a few tail-lengths away from his best friend, head bowed. His tail was wrapped neatly around his black paws, and he was unmoving. He could have been frozen, dead in that position, for all I knew. 

"No one to protect him now," Ivypaw, Inkpaw's sister, crowed from behind me. I turned, gaze steely, but the she-cat was lost in the throng of cats torn between the disappearance of their deputy and the fallen apprentice. 

I let out a sad sigh. Springpaw wrapped her creamy tail around my shoulders and followed me to the apprentices' den, soothing words tumbling out of her mouth. Whatever she said though, I couldn't be bothered to listen close enough, wasn't worth it. She hadn't known Squirrelpaw as well...but who was I kidding? I didn't know him well. I only pretended to, wanted to, all because Inkpaw did. I didn't care much for Squirrelpaw before, but Inkpaw's grief made me wish I had known him better. He was Inkpaw's only real friend - and however mean that sounded, it was true. The worst thing was, though, he wasn't that kind of cat - he was as sweet as could be, really, only a bit tremorous, and because of it, everyone made fun of him. While I could exercise control only my friends' taunts, I could do nothing about his sister. 

"Let's sleep," Springpaw said softly. She settled down in her nest, ignoring the loud, rasping snores from Hailpaw, who couldn't resist after waking earlier than the sun rose for the dawn patrol, and closed her eyes. I forced myself to do the same, letting my thoughts drift to my warrior ceremony tomorrow...my name...my friends...those approaching the life of a warrior along with me...Squirrelpaw...and Inkpaw's face, twisted as he had looked up after hearing his sister's words, would forever haunt my dreams as they transformed into nothing short of nightmares.

***

"Your name will be Shoalskip."

"Shoalskip! Shoalskip! Shoalskip!"

The rest of my friends, who had been left behind in apprenticehip, chanted, eyes bright with enthusiasm. I grinned at them as I stepped away, standing beside Springpelt. Specklepaw was up next, and she would be followed by Ivypaw and Inkpaw. 

"Timberleaf, has Specklepaw fulfilled her training?" Earthstar croaked, voice like a pair of creaking trees. Timberleaf nodded. "Good, then, Specklepaw? Your name will be Specklefern."

Specklepaw - Specklefern, rather, beamed as our Clanmates chanted her name. She settled down beside Springpelt and me, disregarding the informality of Earthstar's ceremony.

"Herontail, is it your belief that your apprentice, Inkpaw, has completed his apprentice training and has learned to the best of his abilities?" Earthstar amended his wording this time, looking appraisingly at Herontail, who was stiff-legged, probably still upset from yesterday's events. The warrior, however, nodded. "Then, from this moment on, you shall be known as Inksplash."

There was a weak cheer. 

"Inksplash!" I yowled loudly into the silence that ensued. My friends caught on, until the shouts of his name became tumultuous. Earthstar gave a feeble smile, as though he understood - I doubt he did - and beckoned Ivypaw forward.

I wasn't focused on Ivypaw's smug grin, rather on Inksplash's downcast gaze. I smiled slightly at him, as he looked up, and patted the spot beside me with one paw. "Sit here," I said cheerfully. Inksplash blinked at me, then took a seat a bit farther than I had indicated, but next to me no less. I grinned brightly as the newly named Ivyleg shot me a glare through narrowed eyes. 

Sure, we were stuck in the middle of a budding war with ShadowClan, and even though we were already preparing ourselves to fight, to take the lives of those who were making our own miserable, a small victory such as gained trust could mean the world.

Chapter Five - Ink

"We're going to do a different sort of activity today. Warriors, split into groups." 

Iceheart was standing at the front of the hollow in which, only sunrises before, my best friend had died. I refused to go near the old tree that had sent him tumbling to his death - and if we were forced, within our squadrons, to climb, the climber would most certainly not be myself. 

"Not by squadron," Iceheart added, smiling slightly. She watched as we scrambled about for a minute or two, then gave a sigh and began separating us. "Specklefern, over there, and Springpelt, you too. Shoalskip and Inksplash, you'll be joining them." The four of us scampered to the opposite side of the reed bed, where some of the older warriors were already waiting. "Herontail, you go on the opposite side, Brindlenose you go on Inksplash's team. Tigerpaw, Wildpaw, join Herontail, and Leopardpaw and Lionpaw join Brindlenose. Sunpaw, you go to Herontail, you too, Featherpaw and Hailpaw. Russetpaw and Shadepaw, join Inksplash and Brindlenose. Darkwhisker, Longfoot, you and Ivyleg can join Herontail. Older warriors, divvy yourselves up evenly." Iceheart turned away tiredly, shutting her eyes tightly. I looked away as a few more warriors flocked to join us.

RiverClan truly was massive, I realized. We didn't even have all of our warriors here - but all of the apprentices were present. Most of us had pelts of varying shades of white, gray, black, or blueish-silver, though there were the occasional golden and cream-pelted cats and a tortoiseshell here and there. But for the most part, if a hawk or magpie were to swoop and pick one of us up - it would be unable to, due to the churning mass of similarly colored cats and a lack of a still, distinguishable target. Remarkably good for defending tree attacks from ThunderClan or ShadowClan.

Iceheart called us all to order. "Team Ashfeather," that was the team with Herontail and Sunpaw and the others, "your goal is to get this sprig of lavender over here!" Iceheart placed a sprig of the pale violet plant on a rock, then trotted across the reed bed to a rock of equal height and size and placed a clump of horsetail. "Team Fernheart," that was us, "you will be striving for this horsetail. I will be the referee, make sure you don't draw blood, all right?" She nodded shortly, and the cats mimicked her. 

"Ready?"

Fernheart, one of the oldest warriors in the Clan, with a pelt the color of storm clouds, gestured us to fan out behind her with a flick of her tail. Ashfeather, who was Fernheart's mate, did the same to his team. 

"Go!"

We launched forward. Fernheart flew into a tussle with Ashfeather, the two raking each other's flanks with sheathed claws and trying to get the upper paw. Herontail grappled with a tom from my team named Stonetalon, while Brindlenose swiped at Herontail, her white paws flashing amongst the gray fur of her ally and opponent. Featherpaw and Russetpaw were already tangled in a screeching knot of fur, while Hailpaw looked on awkwardly. She soon sank beneath Shadepaw's night-black pelt, the long-limbed apprentice doing everything he could to squash Hailpaw flat as a leaf.

I stood there a bit awkwardly, unsure of who to fight. No one seemed eager to battle me, and I wasn't eager to attack anyone else.

I felt a nudge on my shoulder as Ivyleg and Darkwhisker pushed past. Longfoot was engaged in a tussle with Wildpaw, her sister from a younger litter. The tortoisehsell pelt of Wildpaw disappeared beneath Longfoot's gingery brown one. Ivyleg and Darkwhisker launched themselves onto Cloudstorm, who had pushed one of our warriors back with a satisfied snarl. 

"Go for the horsetail." Breath stirred my ear, and I turned to see Shoalskip's sea-blue eyes disappearing. I turned to the rock at the other end of the reed bed - and pushed off.

I was flying through the air, my paws barely touching the marshy ground. Three wrestling cats flew past me, and I leaped over Ivyleg, who was struggling to her feet after Sunpaw pushed her down. The two screeched at each other as I leapt over them, my paws barely skimming Sunpaw's fluffily-tipped ears. I landed gracefully, something I almost never accomplished, and continued to run.

Out of nowhere, a head barreled into my side. 

"That's for that move on your opponent," Herontail yowled gleefully. "Now come on, let's see how you fare against your mentor!"

Abandoning all thoughts of the apprentices jeering at me, forgetting all of the times Ivyleg had snarled discouraging words in my ear, or hissed a taunt across the fresh-kill pile, letting the recollections of every mean word slip from my mind, I closed my eyes for a moment. When I opened them, Herontail was charging towards me, eyes dark with exertion as he pushed his muscles to their maximum.

At the last moment, I spun aside, my paws lashing out and knocking Herontail's legs from beneath him. He landed with an Oof!, and I immediately scampered onto his back, pressing my pads onto his shoulder blades just as he had instructed me to. 

Not willing to be beaten, Herontail pushed up his front half and sent me flying off of his back. I landed with a crash at the base of the tree - the tree, I realized. As Herontail advanced, his eyes sparkling, I realized that had been his intention all along - to see if I really was strong enough to deserve my warrior name. Disregarding the fact that I was standing where my only friend ever had died, I swatted him in the face.

He recoiled, just a triumphant yowl came from the rock.

Ivyleg, her black and white pelt practically glowing with pride, stood with the horsetail in her mouth, silhouetted against the setting sun. Iceheart called the game to a stop, and we all halted, panting. At Iceheart's word, my team flocked around Ivyleg.

She was borne down to us, and when she neared me, I gathered up my courage. "Congratulations," I said, forcing my voice to remain bright. Her smile wavered a tad when she turned to me, but I kept my gaze from transforming into one of malice. If I hadn't bent down to hear it, if her mouth hadn't been right at the level my ear was, I wouldn't have believed it myself. 

"Thanks...Inksplash."

Ivyleg was lost amidst the crowd, then, and I felt a smile warm my face.

Chapter Six - Shoal

It was the day after the horsetail-lavender battle, and Springpelt, Specklefern, and I were returning to camp after a long and tiring exercise involving a sort of relay race - each group, having been assigned new 'squadrons', as Iceheart called them, sent one cat out to run to the length of the river, then run back. The next cat in the squadron would repeat the action, and it would go back and forth. Whichever squadron's cats all returned back the fastest would be the winners.

My team - Ashfeather, Sunpetal (a newly named warrior), Darkwhisker, Inksplash, and I - had come in second place, losing only to Herontail, Brindlenose, Russetpelt, Cloudstorm, and Fernheart, a team composed unfairly of nearly all senior warriors, so we really should have won. 

It was funny, though, the changes a cat could go through. Only days before, just a sunrise after the death of his friend, Inksplash had been a sullen, bullied tom who had eaten alone and slept in the coldest spot of the apprentices' den. But now, after the mock battle the day before and the races earlier today, he had changed so much. He was cheerful, willing to share fresh-kill with every cat, and it seemed that even Springpelt had taken a liking to him. His eyes always sparkled whenever someone came close to him, and he gave kind words to everyone. The most remarkable of all, though, was that even though his sister had returned to her snappy, sassy self, he treated her with mellowness, not wavering from the kindness that he gave to everyone. He really was sweet, but his sister made him not believe that. Some part of me wished it had been me, and not the battle as a whole, that had made him feel the way he did now, but as long as he was happy, I was content.

Or so I tried to tell myself.

"I'm in the mood for a nice big trout," Specklefern announced. Springpelt grinned.

"Not if I take the last one!" She broke into a sprint, and after looking apologetically at me, her lighter-furred sister followed. 

I didn't mind, really. It had been ages since I talked to my father, and I really felt as though the time had come and I needed to do so again. It was a cathartic experience, I'll tell you that much, letting everything I had been holding in the past quarter moon or so out. I was always careful to make sure no one heard me - and I made sure that no one could hear me yowl, though mainly I just spoke to him now. I had accepted that he had died, that much I was sure of.

The birds were chirping loudly as I sank to my usual spot beneath the tree just at the edge of the river. The water swirled below me, churning, a mass of sparkling silver and blue. I imagined I could see his eyes in there, shining just as the water did, telling me that everything would be all right.

I took a deep breath. 

"Dad...hi. I haven't talked to you in forever, and I'm sorry." Don't apologize, he would have said. I can wait. "I know you can wait, Dad, but I feel obligated to please you, up in StarClan. Not obligated, I mean, I want to talk to you, I do, but I feel like the less frequent I do it, the angrier you will get, you know?" I know, Shoalskip, darling. "The thing is...though I've gotten over you being gone, and I realize I can do nothing to bring you back, I just miss you. So much. And at times, it feels like you never existed...because even though you've done so much for the Clan as deputy, Earthstar and Iceheart were so much different from you. Earthstar needed someone young to keep him active, and I guess she made him realize the changes that needed to happen. They've redone almost everything you built up.

"But enough about the Clan. I'm sure you want to hear about me, right?" I always do, I could imagine him saying, his deep voice reverbarating off of the rocks. "Well...I ended my apprenticeship, obviously. I'm Shoalskip now. I love the name, it makes me think of all the fish, combined with the rocks that Twolegs sometimes threw and bounced off the surface of the water. It makes me think of bubbling brooks and pretty things. Also, we've been training nonstop. Though ShadowClan has been stealing prey, which is a usually minor offense, we're going into a whole battle. Iceheart is doing her best to make sure we don't lose, and with all that we've been doing, ShadowClan has got to train in water or train in the sky to be able to beat us. We've covered tree drops, and racing, and achieving goals and objects and things, and targeting, and doing a whole bunch of one-on-one and three-on-one and two-on-one activities, as well as fighting those bigger than us and smaller than us, and everyone in between. ShadowClan don't stand a chance, huh?" Not with you as a fighter!  "Anyways, Dad, there's something I have to tell you...

"See...I know we've said it a lot. But I never mean it as much as I do now. Dad, I really love you. You are my inspiration, you're what I think of during battle and my legs can't push me anymore. Imagining your face waiting for me, your scent and your warm fur waiting back with my Clanmates who were cheering me on, that spurred me to go faster. A-And I...I don't know what to say. I love you...I love you, and I miss you more than I can ever say."

"That's sweet."

I whirled around.Standing in between the trees, looking faintly embarrassed but touched, was Inksplash. His dark pelt stood out against the pale, peeling brown bark, and his yellow eyes were friendly. 

"I--you weren't--"

"I'm sorry for...for you know, interrupting, and even though I don't remember your father much, the little fragmented memories I have of him combined with the words you just said - he truly was wonderful, Shoalskip. Then again, I could tell that by--never mind," he finished lamely, eyes burning bright with humiliation. 

I smiled faintly. "Thanks. He was. Really wonderful, I mean." I shrank a little bit, trying to keep an embarrassed grin off of my face. 

"Want to walk back to camp with me?" Inksplash blurted.

I purred. "I'd love to."

Chapter Seven - Ink

Springpelt, Specklefern, Sunpetal, Shoalskip, and I had just finished up an ample meal of minnows and a thrush that Herontail had caught. Cats were seated all around us, and the sun had already set, though vestiges of pink and red remained in the sky. 

Shoalskip and I had returned from the river amidst a clamor of excitement - it had been announced that the ShadowClan battle would be taking place tomorrow. We would take the battle to them, as soon as the first patrol of the morning stalked past our border, a squadron of apprentices and a few warriors would surprise them. Once one or two went for back-up, another wave would surge out from the trees, overpowering what few cats remained. We would chase the ShadowClanners deeper into their territory, where they might be more comfortable, but our sheer numbers would overwhelm them. However soon enforcements arrived, we would send out wave upon wave of cats to push them back. Eventually, we would drive them to the furthest point of their territory from their camp, so the supply of reinforcements would be cut short. We would make our victory swiftly, with a single, lingering threat to stop the prey-stealing or we would keep attacking, and depart. If they continued to steal the prey, we would go from there and take appropriate measures.

"Everybody," Iceheart called, "it's time for bed. Go to sleep, and get a good night's rest. You'll be waking just before dawn, with enough time to eat a quick meal and give yourself a grooming depending on the speed of your eating, then we'll depart."

I nodded, and gulped down the last of the thrush, spitting out feathers and pushing them towards the dirtplace tunnel with a wrinkled nose and disgusted expression. For some peculiar reason unbeknownst to me, Springpelt giggled loudly, earning a stifled grin from Sunpetal and Shoalskip. Specklefern was too interested in Tigerstrike to care, however.

The stars were high in the sky by the time I got comfortable enough to even consider sleep. My nest was now considerably closer to the center, an idea brought up by Shoalskip. Her friends readily agreed, having accepted me without any argument. I slept just one cat away from her - Specklefern slept between the two of us. She claimed it was to make sure we didn't sneak out or anything during the night, but we both knew it was really so she could keep an eye on Tigerstrike.

The sun had barely risen when a large face was peering into my own. Wildwing giggled and pulled away, announcing to the groggy den that it was indeed time to get up.

I dragged myself out of my nest, padding to the fresh-kill pile and hauling a shimmering pike out. I pulled it to the side, awaiting Shoalskip and whichever of her friends would join me for breakfast this morning. I was halfway through my internal debate on whether I should begin to eat or wait when Ivyleg stalked up to me, Darkwhisker and Longfoot giggling scornfully behind her

"Planning on eating that all yourself, fatty?" Ivyleg growled.

I smiled pleasantly back up at her, though a cold knot of anger was filling my stomach, taking up room that my appetite usually occupied. Instead, however, I answered with a cool, "Why, yes, indeed I am. I sure hope you aren't, you don't need it."

Ivyleg's eyes widened in shock, and she glanced down at her considerably plumper body (I insisted to Shoalskip that everything I told Ivyleg as insulting retaliation was indeed true) before letting out a furious noise of contempt and stalking away, tail waving.

"What'd...what'd you say to her this time?" Shoalskip asked, interrupting herself with a yawn.

"I told her she shouldn't talk about herself when calling me 'fatty'," I replied, unable to keep a grin from rising to my lips. At this, Shoalskip laughed, and beckoned Tigerstrike and Specklefern over to join us in munching on the untouched pike.

We were just burying the bones when Iceheart came up to us, her gaze dark but flecked with fiery determination. "Shoalskip, Tigerstrike, Specklefern. Inksplash." She nodded at me, as though praising me, with a glint of pride in her eyes. "It's time."

***

Tigerstrike, Wildwing, Ravenpaw and Marigoldpaw (two of Lilytail's new kits, apprenticed the day before but allowed to previously view fighting sessions) were the patrol that would stop the ShadowClan cats and launch the battle. They were at the head of the group, shuffling silently through the darkness towards our border, guided only by the moon, which was already sinking as the first signs of dawn appeared on the opposite horizon.

"There they come," Shoalskip hissed to me, pointing with her tail. The group halted - and we dispersed, as trained to do, into the trees. Only the previously named four cats stayed out, prowling along the border and pretending to patrol.

"RiverClan weaklings," taunted the ShadowClan cats, supposedly safe behind their borders.

"Say that again?" Wildwing challenged.

"RiverClan weaklings," a different cat repeated. "Sending out sunrise-old warriors and a pair of kits to patrol? My, you must be getting desperate." The cats laughed raucously, and I felt Shoalskip tense beside me. I bit my lip to keep from yowling out an insult.

"Stay. Calm." My voice wasn't even a whisper, but Shoalskip heard it and forced herself to relax.

"We'll see who's weak. RiverClan, attack!"

Chapter Eight - Shoal

The ShadowClan cats only laughed, but soon stopped with expressions of contempt morphing to fear as the RiverClan cats pushed forward. Though we were out numbered four to six, we also had the element of a bit of surprise - and Marigoldpaw and Ravenpaw were better fighers than the four of the ShadowClan apprentices combined. They couldn't have been much more than kits, and surely had no training whatsoever. They were sent fleeing back with orders for reinforcements.

"First wave," Inksplash muttered beneath his breath. Sure enough, Cloudstorm, Russetpelt, Brindlenose, and Herontail launched themselves forward with screeches, claws sinking into the pelts of the unsuspecting ShadowClan cats. However, the kits - apprentices, I corrected myself - must have been speedy runners, otherwise too scared to slow down, for more ShadowClan warriors came quickly. We were outnumbered again - but not for long.

"Second wave," I hissed.

They leaped into the fray, yowling.

"Third," he countered, his voice not even reaching a mutter.

A group of cats surged forward, screaming curses and letting out yowls of vindictive pleasure as ShadowClan realized they were outnumbered now. More enforcements arrived, however, expediting the fourth wave of cats. One group left..

"And fifth," I cried, as Iceheart gestured us forward.

I locked my gaze on a ginger tom with amber eyes, who was trained on Inksplash but clearly distracted by Springpelt almost dancing with her own opponent. He moved his bloodthirsty gaze to her and began to slink forward - I didn't let him get close.

I barreled into his side, headbutting him in the flank just like I had seen Inksplash do countless of times in nearly every training session. He had even done it to me, when I was unlucky enough to be his opponent and not an ally. The tom whirled, as predicted, and dove for my belly - clearly tactics weren't much different between Clans - but I swiped at his paws and sent him sprawling.

He hauled himself to his feet, just as I saw him grin. Without even looking behind me, I spun and raked my claws across the air - which just so happened to be occupied by the face of a creeping ShadowClan she-cat. She howled in pain, flailing her paws in an attempt to hit me. The blood trickling from multiple cuts above her eyes was blinding her, however, and not one of her blundering blows came close to me. The ginger tom's claw nicked my ear, however, and swatting the she-cat in the stomach and sending her wailing, I sank my claws into the ShadowClan cat's shoulder and pushed him to the side, battering his belly with my hindclaws. He spun away, tufts of patchy fur coming off of his stomach, and I didn't wait for the victorious feeling to disappear from my stomach as I watched him limp away. I directed my attention to a massive tom lumbering towards Sunpetal.

Inksplash appeared at my side, his thick tail waving. "The brown tabby?" he inquired. I nodded, and we raced for his flanks. 

"You leap, I'll get this side," I hissed, and he complied.

The tom was soon sandwiched between two angry RiverClan warriors - us - and yowling in pain as our claws pierced his flanks. It was one thing when one flank was dripping blood with a long, deep gash, but a whole entire experience when both had that kind of wound. He limped away without even nearing Sunpetal, and Inksplash gave him a bite on the tail that sent him sprinting back towards their camp.

"How's it going?" screamed Iceheart, flinging a ShadowClan cat off of her back and not waiting for a reply as she grabbed his paw in her jaws. 

"Great!" we yelled. 

"Let's help Tigerstrike," I told Inksplash, at the same time he advised we go for the three apprentices that had cornered Marigoldpaw. Assuming that we would go with his plan, I plunged towards the coppery apprentice from my own Clan, leaping on the back of the largest apprentice and sinking my teeth into his shoulders. I looked around - but Inksplash was tugging a thick she-cat off of Tigerstrike. Tigerstrike hobbled away weakly, pushed back towards camp by Iceheart.

Though the one apprentice had vanished, and Marigoldpaw was engaged in a violent tussle with one of the others, the third was getting ready to yank Marigoldpaw back by the tail. I cuffed him on the side of the head, which sent him tumbling into the base of the towering pine tree, shaking the base of the trunk enough to send pine needles showering down on us like sharp green rain.

The apprentice scrambled back up, still realizing that his true opponent was not Marigoldpaw, but myself. Being so much smaller than me caused him to be at a disadvantage, and as he continued to slide towards Marigoldpaw, I was big enough to hook a paw around his midsection and drag him towards me. 

"Pick on someone your own size!" a voice roared in my ear, and a powerful blow sent me flying over the heads of cats and landing on a ShadowClan warrior, who, by the glassiness of her eyes and the stillness of her limbs, was clearly dead. I scrambled off of the warrior, dazed, and staggered back towards the tom who had assaulted me. He was leering as he came closer.

"What's such a pretty she-cat like you doing fighting?" he taunted.

"What else am I supposed to do?" I snarled, mustering up the wittiness but not the strength.

"Mate, have kits."

"Kits are for sissies!" I yowled, lunging at him. I fell far short, and he didn't even have to sidestep, only gave a cruel laugh and brought his powerful paw down on my neck.

Chapter Nine - Ink

It was all over.

We had quite a bunch of casualties, though only a few seemed fatal. Tigerstrike had already returned to came on Iceheart's orders, but Cloudstorm was looking really bad, as was Russetpelt. Both had gashes on their flanks deeper than the ones given to the one ShadowClan cat.

Worse, though, was Shoalskip.

Iceheart had ordered Wildwing and me to stay behind and search the battleground for any dead. We found two ShadowClan warriors, a battered old tom who appeared far too old even to be fighting (he should have been dead, Wildwing thought), and a she-cat with glassy eyes and limbs so stiff she must have been killed at the very beginning of the battle. 

...and then, there was Shoalskip.

The beautiful gray she-cat's eyes were closed, soft, pinkish-gray eyelids masking the orbs brighter than the river. Her ears were angled away from her head, flat, as though she had fallen asleep hissing at another cat. There was a short nick in her ear, and her legs were looking a bit bloodied, but no wound she possessed was as bad as the one staining her neck. It was covered in blood, on the back of her neck, as though her opponent had slammed his paw down on her with claws unsheathed, drawing blood as well as bruising and possibly fracturing one of the bones in her shoulder from the force. I wasn't any medicine cat - but I knew, with a sort of resignation, that it would be a miracle if Shoalskip could survive this.

"Come on," I whispered to Wildwing. We pulled Shoalskip onto my back, just as Herontail had done to Squirrelpaw all those moons ago. The only difference, I forced myself to remember, was that Shoalskip wasn't dead - the faint beat of her heart against my shoulder was enough to prove that. 

As we made the short trek back to our land, the sun was halfway to its highest point. Daylight blazed down on us, warming my fur and causing the perspiration beaded around my muzzle to drip onto the dew-wet grass.We wove through the sparse trees on our land, the soft grass soothing on my pine-needle scarred pads.

With Shoalskip on top of me, Wildwing and I hobbled into the camp. As soon as Reedwing spotted us, her eyes widening in shock, she helped slide the she-cat off of me. Shoalskip gave a faint moan as her body hit the ground, and Reedwing clucked sympathetically, with a quiet, "Oh, poor thing!" The medicine cat carried the battered warrior to her den with the help of Sunpetal and Lioncloud. 

"How's it going?" I asked Iceheart tiredly as she emerged from Earthstar's den.

Immediately, just from her eyes, I knew something was wrong.

Iceheart's normally crystal-clear blue eyes, so bright she could have been Shoalskip's mother, were clouded over, darkened by fear rolling like storm clouds past her pupils. She squeezed her eyes shut quickly, opening them and trying to clear her fright as she faced the Clan. Her tail, which was usually as skinny as a stick, was fluffed up to the normal size of Squirrelpaw's. Her paws trembled as she placed them, one in front of the other, moving forward with deliberately slow steps.

She took a deep breath, and announced to the Clan, "Earthstar has passed."

"No!" Oakdawn cried. Earthstar had been her brother from an older litter, and the two had been extremely close. "No."

"I'm sorry," Iceheart whispered, sinking to the ground just in front of Earthstar's den. "He..."

"When did he pass?" My voice asked without my permision. I cursed myself, mentally, as Iceheart turned a blank gaze to me. 

"During the battle," she replied, her voice brittle. "He was still in his den. He was coughing. Had a bad case of whitecough. We never realized it - Reedwing didn't even know. She doesn't know, still, she's tending to her patients. I order no one to tell her until she's done treating the wounded. It will unhinge her, and our warriors will not get the proper--"

"Earthstar is dead?!"

"Who told her?" Iceheart asked in resignation.

No one responded, but Reedwing seemed to collapse, sinking to the earth like a bird with its life clawed out in mid-flight. Her eyes were welling with tears. Everyone knew, that even though medicine cats were forbidden mates and kits, that Reedwing, though middle-aged, had developed a bit of a crush on the elderly leader, and always had a soft spot where he was concerned. She did nothing to hide that fact now.

"Inksplash, order Antpaw to continue taking care of the wounded," Iceheart said sharply, leaping down from Earthstar's den to comfort Reedwing.

I heeded her orders, dragged myself to the warriors' den, and fell asleep.

***

It was the next day, sunhigh, when I finally awoke. I was confused, at first, as to why Shoalskip wasn't next to me. By the time I remembered, I was halfway into the medicine den, a request already forming at my mouth. Reedwing and Antpaw stepped outside to allow me a moment with the pretty gray she-cat in the moss-and-bracken nest, the pretty gray she-cat who had yet to stir since sunhigh yesterday.

"Shoalskip," I began. "I know this is a really horrible time to tell you. Considering...you know...about your wound and all. But, in the same way, it's the perfect time to tell you. You can't hear me. You'll never know about this, and perhaps it's better that way. But Shoalskip - I love you. I always have. Ever since three moons, ever since Ivyleg started teasing me and taunting me and calling me fat, ugly, and worthless. Every time you told your friends to stop calling me names and to stop laughing, and you smiled kindly at me, that just lit me up on the inside. I have changed a lot, I know, I used to be the weirdo that everyone hated, I'm sure you hated me at one point, but now I have friends other than Squirrelpaw - who isn't my friend anymore, really, I mean, he is! But he's not here to share this friendship. If you do go to StarClan, Shoalskip, and I really beg you not to, tell Squirrelpaw that I miss him. I know you'll probably hate this comparison - but it's like you and your father. He was so kind to me when no one else was, Shoalskip, and he's such a wonderful cat. I loved him as a friend as much as I love you as...well...more than a friend, I guess."

I opened my mouth to say more - but a thick shape had entered the den.

And from the smirk on her face, I could tell she had heard every single word.

Chapter Ten - Shoal

I let the words wash over me. I heard them, sure, but I could barely comprehend them, I could barely comprehend my own thoughts let alone the words of a stranger - but in my heart, I knew it wasn't a stranger. There was only one person it could be.

Even though I couldn't see, I felt a shadow fall over me.

"Aw," a voice, easily recognizable now that my brain was moving a bit faster, "is little Inkpaw in love? Is he about to admit his true feelings to the love of his life, an ugly as the Dark Forest she-cat with friends who only love her because they pity her for being an orphan?"

"Her friends don't pity her," Inksplash retorted to his sister. "They love her."

"So it's a massive love-fest, isn't it?" snarled Ivyleg contemptuously. "How sweet. I think my heart might just melt from all of this." Inksplash snorted. "What's so funny, whimp? If it hadn't been for me, you would have most definitely been killed in that battle. You're too weak even to defend yourself; you're fat, and ugly, and worthless! You don't belong in RiverClan, only the strong belong here. As soon as Iceheart becomes leader, we're going to make sure you're banished far, far away from the Clans."

Somewhere between her words, I had opened my eyes, seeing Ivyleg facing me, with Inksplash with his back to me. Her eyes, green as the leaves in Greenleaf, were filled with glee. 

Though it sent a burning pain through my neck to do so, I pushed myself up. Neither heard me, they were too busy throwing insults at each other, cutting scars not on their skin, but in their minds. Every insult, every rude word, hurt them both. And it was up to me to put an end to it.

"You're worthless!" Ivyleg screeched. She raised her paw, claws extended, and swiped it across Inksplash's face. Though he was dripping blood, quick as a flash, he had Ivyleg flipped over onto her belly, and was standing on top of her, hindlegs pressing onto her spine and forepaws digging on her shoulders. I noted that his claws remained sheathed, but his words were as sharp as daggers.

"Say that again?"

I realized, then, that he didn't need me to stand up for him. He was Inksplash - he wasn't Inkpaw anymore. He was a strong tom with a strong realization that he needn't be pushed around by his sister. He was his own person, and while he only told his sister truths, she only told him lies.

"You're worthless," Ivyleg repeated, sounding like the ShadowClan cats in the battle - earlier? Yesterday? Sunrises ago?

Inksplash pushed his pads down with more force on his sister's shoulders. His words, as icy as snow that fell in leaf-bare, and though barely above a whisper still permeated the den. "I am not worthless. I am strong. My name is Inksplash, and I am a loyal RiverClan cat. I won't tolerate your bullying any longer, and I hope this teaches you a lesson, Ivykit. Only kits bully each other, and all bullies are jealous cowards."

With that, he stepped off of Ivyleg, turned to go, and noticed me.

"Hey," I said weakly, my voice hoarse from disuse. Ivyleg turned to me, her eyes glazed with panic.

"How much of that did you see?" she wailed.

"All of it," I said coldly. "Enough to inform Icestar of it, and get you put back on apprentice duties for seasons to come." Ivyleg whimpered, muttering something that sounded like a plea for us not to tell, but I ignored her, only turning my gaze to Inksplash and smiling. "I...I heard everything you said."

"You did?" He sounded upset.

"I did." An embarrassed smile came onto Inksplash's face, and he turned to leave, with a mumbled excuse about bringing fresh-kill to Reedwing. "But Inksplash?" He turned. "I...I want to tell you something." I purposefully said nothing more.

"And?" he prompted, waiting for Ivyleg to slink out of the den with her tail between her legs.

"I feel the same way."

Epilogue - Summer

My name is Summerpaw. I am an apprentice of RiverClan, and my mentor is Icestar. My father, Inksplash, is one of the youngest deputies RiverClan has seen. My mother, Shoalskip, is one of the best hunters and most loyal warriors the Clan has likewise seen. 

I have no siblings. Yet, at least. I know my mother wants more kits, despite the fact that, in one of the stories Cloudstorm, an elder, told me, she yelled at a leering ShadowClan warriror in the Great Battle, that only sissies had kits. That was only because he was alluding to the fact that she was too pretty to be a fighter, in order to distract her, Russetpelt, Cloudstorm's mate, had said. 

My best friend is Crowpaw, the son of my father's mentor, Herontail, and his mate Brindlenose. He's got legs longer than any SkyClan cat's (they're an ancient Clan Cloudstorm told us about), and can run as fast as the wind blows. He prefers running (like a WindClan cat, Russetpelt says), just the way I like hunting.

ShadowClan have backed off since the Great Battle; they're done with prey-stealing. At least with RiverClan - some cats in other Clans, mainly ThunderClan, have reported issues, but we're not ThunderClan, and it doesn't affect us.

Leaf-bares have also been kind to us. The river hasn't frozen lately at all, then again I've only been alive for one leaf-bare, so I can't say much. But we've always been able to bring back fish, and we haven't gone hungry yet, and Cloudstorm has predicted that we won't go hungry in the future.

All in all, life in RiverClan is greater than anyone could predict.

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