As the sun rises just above the horizon, sending trickles of golden-violet light down a once dim sky, I see him already out of his nest, gazing with his head high and prideful amber eyes around the camp, asking to join every single patrol he can, telling the others how he would catch the plumpest prey and fight off any intruders courageously if they dare set paw on the Clan territory.
I scoff and roll my eyes, burying my pale grey muzzle deeper into my soft nest of dry moss.
He was a warrior apprentice, much like me, but different in all the ways. He was called Lionpaw, maybe for his glossy golden pelt every cat considered perfect, maybe for what others called a "simply brave and strong personality". Either way, he was named after one of our great ancestors. And with that fur-ball around, I'd be surprised if one day he stopped boasting and acting like the best every cat has ever seen.
I never liked him. He never liked me either.
He was outspoken, talkative to the point where it was simply irritating, and he'd constantly talk about how strong, brave, courageous and loyal he was, how he'd do anything for his precious Clan. Me, on the other paw, was almost exactly opposite. Quiet timid, never the first to try things and I preferred to keep to myself, to stay out of others' way and problems.
He often pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me out of what I wanted, teased me and acted ever innocent when I confronted. I could hear him bragging from the shadows, from the very back of the apprentice's den, and suddenly his voice got closer. I groaned silently in my mind and tried to hide inside my nest, but I knew it was impossible.
"Echopaw, come on, you sleepyhead! The whole Clan is already up except for you! To be a proper apprentice you need to be dedicated, or else you'll never be a good warrior," Lionpaw exclaimed as he strutted in. Narrowing my eyes, I looked up at him.
"And I suppose you're going to be the best warrior ever?" I cocked my head.
He twitched an ear, as if silently asking, Do you even need to ask that?
"Well, of course," he meowed as if it was the most obvious thing ever, and flashed a prideful grin at me. "Now get up already! The patrol is waiting for you, stop keeping them waiting, you slow-snail!" He trotted out and I hissed, reluctantly standing up to face the bright sunlight.
As I met up with the border patrol, we started off into the forest, walking into the dense trees. All the time, Lionpaw trotted with his tail and head high right beside the patrol leader, telling directions like he knew more than the senior warriors. I stayed in the back, head down, ears flattened against my head as my mind wandered elsewhere, trying not to just strut up and start yelling at the boastful young tom.
Suddenly, a strange, strong and filthy smell hit my nostrils. The others seemed to scent it too. Before my mind could even know what's happening, I saw Lionpaw's amber eyes widen and he stood still, fur bristling as his claws unsheathed.
In a flash, a dark ginger-brown creature burst out of the leaves, eyes glinting with anger as it saw us. It lowered its head and I could just feel the aggression from it, feel the fear from us. All of us, except for the one cat who just started fighting like there was no tomorrow.
"Lionpaw! What are you doing, are you stupid?!" I yowled as I watched him rush over and pounce onto the larger creature. "Get over here! You can't beat that fox alone!"
The patrol started to separate. While some went back to camp to warn our Clanmates, the others moved in to help. Hesitantly, I stood still with fright against the fox's sharp fangs and claws, massive and strong body as well as it whipped its tail and head around angrily.
I tried to dodge its blows, but finally, as I was distracted for a split second, I could feel it getting closer, see, out of the corner of my vision, its giant muzzle coming to snap down at me and break my neck in half. For some reason, I stood frozen. My mind told me to run, to get out of there, but I couldn't.
I shut my eyes and knew this was death.
But all of a sudden, a force knocked the fox's head away and gave me some moments to escape. When I still didn't move, a figure knocked me away, faint yelling at me to run. I looked up, saw Lionpaw and his determined amber eyes staring down at me.
He… saved me? But I didn't have time to speak.
"Echopaw!" I shook my fear off and looked at him directly in the eyes as his once blurry words started to register. "Echopaw, what are you doing? Run! We'll handle this!"
I gazed around at the fox, towering over us. I looked at him, his slashed muzzle and the others' scarred pelts. Then I shook my head and stood up straighter.
"No. I'm staying. I'm fighting with you."
I saw his eyes widen. For a second, I almost was sure he'd offend me again, saying what a weak, small apprentice I was and how I'd never be able to defeat a fox. But instead, he smiled.
"Well, come on then!"
As I leaped through the air and felt the wind against my fur, slashing with all my might to save my Clanmates, I saw him beside me, fighting hard as well. Maybe I'd been wrong about him. After all, I do owe something to him now. I'd say "thank you" later, but now I fight. And maybe…
Maybe it was time to see that fur-ball in a different light.