Brownfur was flying through a canyon, the wind soft and airy under his wings, and a river winding far beneath him. The canyon and the river widened until it flowed into a sparkling lake so wide that he could not see across it, and in the center of the lake was an island with pine trees and boulders on its shore. He felt intensely curious about what was on the island, but as he tried to fly towards it, he didn't seem to be getting any closer.

Suddenly, a mighty gust of wind threw him off balance and sent him sprawling down to the water below. Before he could hit the lake, though, a terrible pain seared in his sides and he saw the island growing further and further away. "I must have been caught by a hawk!" he thought, but he was too busy trying to escape its grasp to look up and see.

It seemed like the harder he fought, the tighter the grip around him became, and he was bleeding a little where the claws dug into him. Claws… not talons. He looked up at the creature that had attacked him and found himself looking straight at Silverstreak. Then he bolted awake

:::

Night was coming quickly, but Brownfur wasn't getting much sleep, as hard as he may try. It seemed like every time he closed his eyes, Silverstreak's face was glaring back at him. Being awake wasn't much better. He could have sworn that he could feel the presence of the feather he'd hidden in the crevice of the cave wall. The thought of it seemed to symbolize to him what he'd gotten himself into. That's ridiculous. I really do need to stop overthinking things.

He had to remind himself to breathe as he waited for trial. Why would I go and offer to defend some random bat like that? And when I nearly made the situation worse for the last bat I defended! He remembered what Oakwing had told him about not being able to stop once he'd started defending.

The light that came into the cavern turned a deep gold and began to dim as bats stirred around him in the growing darkness. He gulped and tried to ignore the feeling of sickness he had at the thought of the coming trial. Last time I did it on the spur of the moment. I hadn't had time to worry about it like I do now.

He was half relieved when he heard the screeching of a sentry announcing the trial to the colony, but the other half was still anxious. He mustered up all the energy he could, then stretched his wings and flew to the small cave where the trial would be held before the spectators could arrive. Only the elders and Goldeyes were there, the elders whispering amongst themselves in the center of the cave, and Goldeyes sitting silently in the corner.

He made his way over to where she was. "Hey," he said.

"Hey," she sighed.

Neither said anything for a while, until Brownfur finally confessed, "I don't know much about defending."

"I figured as much. There aren't any real defenders left."

Brownfur knew this was true, but he couldn't help feeling offended that she didn't count him as a "real" defender. He attempted to cover up his hurt pride and said, "I've done this before. I can do it again." He had meant to sound sure of himself to encourage her, but instead his voice came out as a nervous-sounding whine.

Goldeyes didn't respond.

"I believe in you," said a voice. "Hey, Brownfur!" said another, higher one. Brownfur turned to see Oakwing entering the cave, followed by Swiftsoar.

Brownfur's heart leapt a little at the sight of them. Maybe there was some hope, afterall. Oakwing can give me some advice!

"Hey!" a sentry barked. "Only those directly related to this case are allowed in here before trial!"

"I am this young defender's mentor," Oakwing said calmly, gesturing with his wing towards Brownfur. "Swiftsoar here was involved in a related case recently," he added.

"If you say so," the sentry said. He still sounded suspicious, but he left the room and didn't argue anymore.

Brownfur felt honored that Oakwing would say that he were his mentor, even if it was just to be allowed in the room pre-trial.

"I meant that about being your mentor," Oakwing said, as though he knew what Brownfur was thinking. "If you want me to, that is. You'll need someone to help you win this."

"Thank you, sir! It means a lot to me! I just…" His voice trailed off.

"What is it? Do you have a question?"

"That's the problem. I know so little about defending, I don't even know what to ask." He resisted the urge to hide under his wings in embarrassment.

Oakwing laughed, to Brownfur's irritation. What was so funny, anyway? "Don't worry, lad, I'll help you out. We just need to straighten out our facts first. What do you know about this case?"

"Well, I woke up this morning to some sentries screeching at Goldeyes about how proper bats sleep upside-down. She said that right side up was the only way she could sleep, and then they pushed her around a little until Silverstreak called trial."

"Good, good," Oakwing muttered to himself, looking thoughtful.

"What do you mean, good?" Brownfur exclaimed. "From what I see, Goldeyes straight-out broke the rules and I don't have any excuses for her!"

"Hey!" Goldeyes said, standing up. "I only broke the rule because-"

Everyone ignored her and Oakwing continued to Brownfur, "Hmm… I hoped that you would be a little better at problem-solving than this. You're not a natural-born defender, that's for sure."

"What? Aren't you supposed to be a little more encouraging?" Brownfur asked. "What kind of mentor tells their apprentice that he's not a natural-born defender?"

"The honest kind. Now think about the situation. Do you see anything wrong with the picture?"

"The whole thing is wrong. For starters, she should be able to sleep however she wants to. It's not like she's hurting anyone. But I guess that's not a good excuse. Silverstreak and the elders won't sympathize with that. I think…"

"Go on," Oakwing encouraged.

"If… if the sentries knew Goldeyes was sleeping upside-down… then they must have been awake during the day in order to see her sleeping at all!" Brownfur was at first pleased with this revelation, then waited for Oakwing to tell him that he was wrong.

Oakwing was obviously disappointed, but also calm. He waited a few seconds, then said, "Well, that's something, at least. It won't win the trial for you, but at least it'll give you time."

"So, did you have something else in mind that I should have noticed? Something that would win the case?"

"What kind of mentor would I be if I did everything for you and never made you learn?" Oakwing gave him a wry smile, then turned and flew out of the cave.

Once he was gone, Brownfur said, "That's it? He tells me I have no natural talent for this, then flies off without telling me some vital piece of information that he seems to know!"

"He's a weird one," Swiftsoar admitted, "but he's only trying to help. Don't be too mad at him."

They heard a sentry shrieking in the main cavern, "The trial is about to begin! The trial is about to begin!"

"You can't go anywhere without hearing those annoying, bossy rats with wings," Swiftsoar said, referring to the sentries. "Well, I guess I'll go take a seat and give you time to think before the whole colony gets here."

Great. The trial's about to begin and all the information I've got is that the sentries were awake during the day.

Bats filled the room, and Silverstreak took his place next to the elders. The head elder stood up and spread his wings. "Attention, everyone! This is a strange situation, as there had not been any trials since the Freeflier Incident, and now we're having two in one moon. Today a young bat named Goldeyes is is being tried for the crime of sleeping right-side up."

"Is that all?" somebody called. "She's crazy, not a criminal."

"We have found that the breaking of lesser rules encourages more felonious acts, because they think they can get away with it," the elder explained, sounding very rehearsed.

"Also," Silverstreak added, looking pointedly at the head elder, "we feel that we were too gracious in the last trial by letting Swiftsoar off with only a warning. This is attributed to the fact that the hawk was killed, and because there was bias in the council."

The elder looked back at Silverstreak. "Although we were a little too lenient," he said, his voice stern but calm, "I can assure you there was no bias involved." Silverstreak scowled, and the elder continued to the crowd, "Are there any defenders who wish to represent Goldeyes?"

Brownfur hesitated, then stood.

"Ah, the defender from last time," the elder said quietly. "I hoped for your sake you'd stay out of this business, but I admire you for doing this. Good luck." He raised his voice for the audience to hear. "This young bat has broken the law by sleeping right-side up. Do you have any objections?"

Brownfur, still tired from not getting enough sleep, took a moment to realize he was being spoken to. "Oh, um, yes sir!"

"Okay, then let's hear it."

"I ah… I…" Who am I kidding? I've got nothing. "I think that we should have witnesses!" he blurted, because it was the first thing that came to his head. "Yeah, witnesses. What kind of court is this?" He could see Silverstreak and all but the head elder growing nervous, so he ran with it. "And whose side are the elders on, anyway?"

"What is this, a comedy act?" a bat in the crowd shouted.

Silverstreak didn't find it amusing. "The elders are the judges, so they are completely unbiased," he growled. It was obvious that he was struggling to stay calm.

Brownfur thought of the head elder. He seems like he wants to help me, but he is my opponent in trial. And he and Silverstreak keep butting heads… "Unless the elders are being blackmailed into being prejudiced against defendants!"

Silverstreak stood up quickly with a whoosh. "That is a ridiculous accusation! Besides, I will not have you changing the subject in the middle of trial!"

But Brownfur was on a roll now. He hadn't even remembered his distraction about the sentries being awake during the day, but he'd found something even better and wasn't about to stop now that he'd found his only chance of winning. "How many others were wrongly banished because of our flawed system?" he shouted. I can't believe this is actually working. "Who's with me?" Many in the crowd cheered. This is really working and all I'm doing is saying the first thing that comes to my head.

The cheering continued on and on. It seemed like it would never end, and Brownfur basked in the pride he was feeling at that moment.

"Order, order!" Silverstreak called, but his voice for once seemed small and quiet. He sighed and had a word with the elders, then tried to raise his voice over the noise and said, "Since we will obviously be getting nowhere tonight, this trial will now come to a close. We will discuss the issues brought up this evening and will reschedule the trial for some other time. Thank you." He growled and rubbed his forehead, then slunk away from the crowd and took off through his private tunnel.

The elders also left, followed by all the bats in the crowd. Several congratulated Brownfur. (On what, he had no clue. It wasn't as if he'd won the trial or anything, just postponed it.) When the room cleared, Brownfur sunk to the ground, exhausted from all the energy he'd put into his speech.

Oakwing flew over to him. "Congratulations," he said.

"Why does everyone keep saying that?"

"Because they're simple-minded fools who don't realize there's been no great victory."

"Thanks. Of course." No great victory. Thanks for reminding me.

"But don't blame them: they're just glad someone's finally standing up to Silverstreak. I am too. And… I apologize for what I said about you not being a natural defender. I mean, it's still true, but… well, you're a natural speaker and you've got a lot of spunk."

Brownfur looked up at Oakwing. "You mean it?"

"Of course, lad. I don't say things I don't mean. Now come on and let's go study up before the trial."

Brownfur groaned. "Right now?"

"Yes. Now come on." As they flew out of the cave, Oakwing added, "We still haven't gotten further than the fact that the sentries were awake during the day."

"Hey, that was an important revelation!"

Oakwing laughed. "You've got a lot to learn."

"Why?"

"Because sentries are allowed to be awake during the day in order to keep an eye out for criminals."

Brownfur groaned and Oakwing laughed again.

:::

For the rest of the night, Brownfur studied in a secret cave with Oakwing on the history of the Freefliers and techniques used by defenders. They even held mock trials with Oakwing playing the role of Silverstreak, the defendant and all the elders, and Brownfur as the defender. Brownfur lost trial after trial, but Oakwing insisted that it was still good practice.

He still didn't know what would win Goldeyes' trial, and his new mentor surely wouldn't give him any hints. At least he'd bought some time.

Finally, morning came and Brownfur was dismissed. He would return the next day for more schooling, but for now he got some much needed sleep.

The next evening, he awoke to the screeching and cheering of hundreds of bats. What is going on? I could sleep for a good hour more if they'd let me. He groggily opened his eyes and stretched his wings.

Immediately, he was jolted awake by someone shouting, "There he is!"

A rush of bats flapped over to crowd around the place where he was perched on the ceiling of the cavern. "Uh… hi. Can I help you?"

"Out of the way, out of the way!" A small female bat knocked the others out of the way, surprisingly strong for her size. "How do you plan on winning Goldeyes' trial?" she squeaked.

"Excuse me?"

"The trial!" she huffed. "Do you have any secret information you'll use to turn the trial around?"

Who are you anyway? "Um, well, if I did, would I be telling you?"

He didn't say it rudely, just matter-of-factly, but the feisty little bat was apparently offended. "Ugh! I can't believe you celebrities, always looking down on us, denying the public valuable information…" She continued muttering to herself as she flew away.

Celebrity? Brownfur thought. Am I really a celebrity?

He was relieved when he saw a familiar face in the crowd. "Don't mind the reporters," Oakwing called to him, "They'll be all over you like flying rats now that you're famous and all. Come with me."

Brownfur flew through the cloud of bats that clamored around him, until he finally got to Oakwing, panting from fighting back hundreds of curious bats. They somehow got out from under the reporters' and fans' radar, and disappeared into Oakwing's secret cave without anyone noticing.