How you holdin' up, Princess?" The Inkling father stood over his child, rubbing her shoulders as he tried his best to calm her down. "First day of school's a big step. It's okay to be a lil' nervous."

"I don't wanna go," the child mumbled. "I wanna stay with you, Dad…" She took a step back as her pale orange sundress ruffled in the wind.

School season was starting for the youths of Inkopolis, just in time for the autumn season. It was still sunny enough for the girl to wear her dress, though she was beginning to regret doing so. Still, it was her first day and she wanted to look at least somewhat presentable, and her father had suggested it.

Matches your tentacles, he had said. That looks good, right?

The father kneeled down and brushed the short tentacles away from her eyes, smiling gently. "Ahh, I know squiddo. But this is a nice place - real fancy from what I've heard. You'll make friends in no time."

The child shook her head and clutched tightly to her Lil' Judd plushie. She had spent the previous night unable to sleep, anxiously waiting for this day to come. Her first day of school - and quite literally, in fact. Unlike most of her peers, she had never actually been to an educational institution, having been homeschooled for all of her life.

When she asked about this, the teacher, her father, apologized and would reassure her, saying, "I'm sorry, squiddo. Cash is just a little tight right now. I'm gonna get you into a proper school soon. Promise."

She didn't know why he was apologizing. She was more than happy learning from him, even though his classes weren't exactly the most educational in the traditional sense. He seemed more focused on keeping her physically active and making sure she had the skills to take care of herself if she ever found herself on her own. That thought of that happening scared her. He was the only family she had, and she couldn't imagine losing him.

The child readjusted her small orange backpack and jostled it nervously. To say it needed a little patching up would have been an extreme understatement. It was more likely to fall apart if she pulled on it too hard. Still, it was the best she had and she wasn't going to complain. The little girl looked up at the entrance gate of the school as all around her, fellow students were saying goodbye to their parents. Emblazoned in wrought iron, was the name of the school securely fastened to the gate's arch.

"Inkblot Academy," she whimpered. She had never even heard the name before, but just standing outside the entrance was enough to intimidate her.

"Alright, I gotta go to work now. I'll be back to pick you up later." He looked at his daughter's face as she hung her head and avoided his eyes. He gave a half-smile. "Hey. Look at me." He placed a gentle hand on her chin and pushed it up. "'Member what I taught ya? Keep your chin up, shoulders high, and look everyone in the eye. You look strong, you'll feel strong. Got it?"

She bit her lip and did as her father instructed. It seemed to help her calm down, at least a little bit. "O-Okay, Dad."

"That's my girl!" He gave her a hug and stood up, adjusting his cap. "Make a lot of friends, okay? Love you."

The young Inkling simply nodded as she watched as her father heaved his worn gray jacket over his shoulder disappear in the distance. "Don't go…" she whispered.

She stood in place, too nervous to move until she noticed that everyone else had already left. She was on her own now. Taking a deep breath, she squeezed her plushie tight and stepped through the gate. Proceeding straight forward, it wasn't long before she found herself in the school's main courtyard. It wasn't especially large but because she had never been to a school before, to her it was practically gargantuan. Art pieces, ranging from murals, to wall paintings, and even sculptures were displayed throughout the courtyard, no doubt made by previous graduates of the Academy. It made the area look refined and sophisticated, yet the brick exterior of the buildings lent the Academy an almost urban, retro kind of feel.

There were children dotted around the area, some in groups, some sitting on the benches and chatting with each other, and some simply on their own. Inklings and other forms of sea life like Jellyfish were excitedly making friends as they waited for the school day to officially start. The lone Inkling girl closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. Look strong, feel strong.

Squaring her shoulders, she put on a painfully wide smile as she approached a Jellyfish sitting on a bench, sipping on a juice box. "H-Hi!" She stuttered. "I'm new here, wanna be friends?"

The Jellyfish looked at her and shook his head slowly. "Sorry, I'm actually waiting for my friend."

"O-Oh, okay. Sorry," the young girl mumbled, dejected. "I didn't mean to bother you." She turned and walked away, biting her lip. Look strong, feel strong, she reminded herself again.

Having been shot down on her first try, she found it difficult to approach anybody else. Whenever she would gather the courage to walk up to someone and introduce herself, they would more often than not ignore or dismiss her. As time passed, it seemed that all the others had already congregated into small friend groups. It wasn't long before she found out that she was only one standing on her own.

I have to talk to someone, she thought. If she couldn't make a friend now, it would have been extraordinarily difficult, even impossible, to do so later. She would be devastated if she had to come home and tell her father that her first day in school was terrible. She scanned the area and her eyes landed on a trio of female Inklings dressed in fashionable clothing, sitting on a railing. One of the Inklings made a comment and the other two laughed loudly. Growing desperate, she approached them and smiled widely.

"H-Hi there. I'm new here and you looked like you're having a lot of fun so I was wondering if we could be friends?"

The three immediately ceased their conversation and looked at the young girl standing in front of them. One of the Inklings, wearing a black sweater and skirt raised her eyes skeptically. "Um, and who are you again?"

"O-Oh, sorry. I forgot to tell you my name. It's R-"

"Don't really care," she said, rolling her eyes as her friends giggled. "Listen, what makes you think we want you to hang out with us?"

The young girl's eyes widened as she took a shaky step back. "I-I'm sorry," she squeaked. "I-I just wanted to-"

"What's with her clothes?" The girl on the right guffawed. "Did you, like, fish that out of the dumpster or something? I think I saw a hobo wearing something like that on the car ride here."

"Ugh, and that backpack. It looks like it'll fall apart if you blow on it too hard." The girl on the left mockingly puffed air at the young girl who flinched.

The lead girl hopped off the rail and approached her, grinning with amusement. "And, oh my cod, is that a stuffie you're holding? You actually brought your stuffed toy to school?" She turned to her cohorts with an incredulous look on her face and burst out laughing, her friends following suit.

The young girl squeezed her animal toy tightly, tears welling in her eyes. I didn't even want to be here. Why do you have to be so mean? She was about to turn and walk away when a high-pitched voice yelled.

"HEY! Leave her alone!" In the distance, another Inkling girl with long, yellow tentacles that reached down to her waist was watching the scene. She had her hands on her hips as she glared at the trio. Stomping over, she stood in front of the young girl on the verge of crying and held her arms out in protection.

The lead bully crossed her arms and sniffed disdainfully. "Um, why are you sticking up for this dork? Better yet, why don't you mind your own business?" Her two cronies nodded quickly beside her.

"It became my business when you started bullying her" she retorted. "This girl just wanted to make friends!"

"So? It's not our fault she thinks she can just talk to us even though she looks like she's homeless."

The yellow-tentacled Inkling narrowed her eyes. "And you think that's a good reason to make fun of someone? You're, like, really pathetic." Turning away from her, she put an arm around the girl, who was bent over and sobbing quietly. "Hey, let's go. It's okay." She whispered words of reassurance as she guided her away from them and towards a shaded area of the yard.

The lead bully stared after them furiously but otherwise made no move to reply. Her friend to her left raised an eyebrow. "Hey, Shelly, why didn't you say anything to that loser? She looked just as poor as the other one."

"Because I know who she is," Shelly hissed. "She was at one of the dinner parties my parents got invited to."

"What?" Her friend asked incredulously. "Aren't your parents, like, super rich or something? Why was she there?"

"Doesn't matter! All I know is, she's made an enemy of me, and I'm gonna make her pay" She glared at the girl holding the stuffed toy being walked away. "Her friend too."

The young girl sniffed as she sat down and wiped her nose. She clutched her stuffed cat close to her chest and hugged it tightly. At that moment she wanted nothing more for her father to come back and take her away from this place.

"It's okay," her mysterious rescuer said. "They were just being jerks. Most squids aren't like that. I know you just were just trying to make friends. I, um, saw you trying earlier."

The young girls' ears burned in embarrassment as she realized that someone had watched her completely fail at making conversation with others.

"If you want, I could be your friend." She scratched the back of her head and smiled sheepishly. "I'm new here too and I don't know anybody."

The young girl looked at her and sniffled. "R-Really? You want to be my friend?"

"Yeah! Totally!" She replied enthusiastically. "I'm Alice, by the way. Nice to meet you!" She held out her hand.

The young girl slowly smiled and shook it. "M-My name's Rain. It's nice to meet you too."

"Four came to your defense?" Eight asked. "That was very noble of her."

"Noble," Three repeated, snorting. "Yeah, that's probably what she'd call it too."

Outside, the faint sound of Four's muffled voice could be heard, as she whined on the phone to Marie.

Eight idly twirled one of her tentacles. "It is surprising to learn that you were once a timid child. It is quite unlike you now."

"Damn right it ain't like me now," Three said. "I'd love to be able to go back in time and have a go at those three bitches now. I'd send them crying to their mommies." She chuckled deviously as Eight looked at her with concern.

Three noticed her gaze and sighed. "But, uh, yeah, that's how Four and I met, way before the Splatoon. She stood up for me."

Eight was happy to hear that, at the very least, their first encounter was a positive one. With how their relationship was now, she half-expected them to have been mortal enemies from the very start. The Octoling pulled her knees closer, smiling. "As an aside, I am glad to finally know your real name, Three. It is strange, but It makes me feel that I have grown closer to you."

Three turned away and mumbled, her ears turning red. "Yeah, whatever, just don't go sayin' it to the others. Anyways, there's more to this story so listen up."

Eight nodded. "Please continue."

...

A few minutes after the two had exchanged greetings, there was a loud bang from one of the entrances of the courtyard - the unmistakable sound of doors being flung open. A hush fell among the children as booming footsteps shook the area, shaking the art pieces with every step. Rain shivered and pulled her stuffed toy closer as Alice stood up to try and get a better view of what was happening.

From the main Academy building emerged a behemoth of a lobster, walking on two legs as thick as tree trunks as his gigantic tail was raised behind him. He was donned in a striking and well-fitting suit and wore a pair of Rockenberg 18K Aviator sunglasses. The children froze as he stopped in the middle of the yard, everyone too scared to do anything more than breathe. He raised one claw, and without saying a word, beckoned to form up in front of him. The children were quick to understand the message and gathered up, forming a loose and disheveled mass in front of him. He held his claws behind his back and stared down at them.

For a long moment, there was total silence until one particularly brave Inkling child spoke up. To Rain's horror, she recognized the voice came from Alice, who was standing right beside her.

"Um, are you the Headmaster?"

The lobster turned to her, which made her flinch unconsciously. He shook his head ever so slightly as a high-pitched voice replied. "Haha, a good guess, but no. This is Shellback, my most trusted aid. My name is Headmaster Shore and I am the head of this most wonderful academy."

Everyone looked around in confusion, unsure of where the voice was coming from. With a slow and deliberate motion, Shellback lifted his claw and pointed upwards at his head where a small, silver clam sporting a monocle and top hat sat. "Well hello children," he cheerfully greeted.

"You're the Headmaster?" Shelly asked. "You're super tiny!"

"Why, yes I am! But I fail to see what my size has to do with my capability to lead this Academy. You are small yourself, yet I do not disparage you for your size. Indeed, all I see in the crowd in front of me is untapped potential."

"Gesture with your arms, if you please Shellback," Shore whispered. The lobster nodded and held out both claws to the side, addressing the entire crowd.

Clearing his throat, Shore proudly announced, "I would like to formally welcome all of you to Inkblot Academy. As Inkopolis' first and only private educational facility, we expect that you all follow Inkblot's creed and code of conduct. I'm quite sure your parents have briefed on these, but I would like to add an addendum that was not included in your welcoming packages. As you all may or may not know, we have lowered our tuition requirements this year, to allow for those struggling financially to acquire a formal education and giving them an opportunity to better themselves. A brilliant move, I must say, and I am very pleased that the motion was approved by the board. What this means for all of you is that we do not discriminate against others based on their social background. We have accepted students from all manner of standing and we expect you to all treat each other with the same respect and dignity that you would treat any of the staff here."

Alice leaned in and whispered in Rain's ear, "Ooh, I like this guy."

"Furthermore, in much the same way that we ask that you respect the staff and each other, we ask that you respect the Academy. This means not only taking care of the premises itself, but to uphold the values and traditions by which we at Inkblot have built our foundation upon, If you follow this, and the rules listed in your welcoming package, there is no doubt in my mind that you will all have a wonderful time here. Now, without further ado, please follow me and you will be sorted to your respective classrooms. Shellback, if you would please."

The lobster grunted and beckoned the children to follow him inside, which they did, forming a shaky, but functional line behind him.

Rain stuck close to Alice, not wanting to lose sight of her amongst the crowd. "The Headmaster seems nice," she said to her. "M-Maybe this place isn't so bad after all."

Alice smirked and put an arm around Rain, who squeaked at the contact. "Yeah, I think we're gonna have a fun few years here, don'tcha think?"

As they stepped inside, Rain marvelled at how everything looked. It was just as she had read about in books or seen on TV. Lockers lined the walls of the hallways, which were wide enough to accommodate at least five Inklings standing arms apart. Pictures of past graduating classes were hung on the walls, and trophies secured behind glass cases were proudly displayed.

Shellback led the group into the gymnasium where the children were split into one of two classes. Much to her delight, Rain was assigned to the same class as Alice. Unfortunately, it seemed like they would also be sharing the class with the three Inklings who had bullied her earlier. Still, the Headmaster's earlier speech about everyone being treated equally had put her at ease and she was getting excited to officially start class.

It only took half an hour for everyone to be sorted. Once that was done, Headmaster Shore approached a podium in the gymnasium atop Shellback. "Ahem, now that everyone knows where they belong, the teachers' assistants will now be handing out your official Inkblot Academy uniforms. They are appropriately sized to you, based on the measurements your parents sent in during your application. You will be given several sets and you will be expected to wear them to class every day, starting tomorrow."

Rain couldn't help but smile with glee. She wasn't expecting there to be a dress code, and she had no idea the Academy would be providing clothes. Not only would this solve the problem of trying to fit in with her less-than-stellar wardrobe, but it would also help ease the burden on her father's financial struggle.

"And that's not all," Shellback continued. "They will also be handing out commemorative Inkblot Academy lapel pins celebrating your first day of school." To demonstrate his point, Shellback held one such pin in the air for all to see. "Keep these close to you, because you are expected to present them on graduation day, several years from now. When that fateful day finally arrives, it is my hope that you will be able to look fondly upon them and remember this moment. Your very first step to higher learning!"

As one of the teacher assistants passed by and handed her the small bronze pin, Rain stared at it in awe. Inkblot Academy, she read the name aloud in her head. She proudly clutched it in her fist and beamed with pride. She was officially a student of this school, and she had a strong feeling she was in for an amazing time, with unforgettable experiences and even fonder memories. And at the end of it all, as Headmaster Shore had said, she would be able to look back at her time here and how with her newly acquired skills and knowledge, she would have been well equipped to take on the world.

"Yeah, so I was fucking wrong."

Eight looked shocked. "I am sure you must have at least had some good memories of your time there."

"I really didn't. Turns out being homeschooled all your life doesn't prepare you for the real thing."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you know, it just was a little hard for me to pick things up." Three scratched her cheek and frowned,

Eight blinked. "You were unable to physically carry objects because of your educational background? That is most perplexing."

"No! That's not what I meant. It's just, I wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed back then, alright?"

"...I see," Eight said after some hesitation.

Three stared at her. "You have no idea what that means, do you?"

"..."

"..."

"What is a shed?"

"Grraaggh!" The exasperated Inkling threw her arms up in frustration, unsure of why she was even trying.

"Look, I was dumb, okay?! Stupid, an idiot, whatever the shell you wanna call it. I did real bad in class. I couldn't understand half the shit they were trying to teach me." Her face was burning from anger and embarrassment. "And it's not like I wasn't trying," she added. "I actually stayed inside to study over recess."

This surprised Eight. To hear that Three struggled so much academically didn't make sense to her. On the battlefield, Three was a tactical genius, able to dictate the flow of battle and make decisions on the fly that would more often than not secure victory. "But what of Four? Did she also struggle in her studies?"

"She had some of the highest grades in class," Three spat. "And I don't even know why, I swear to cod I'd never seen her open a book. Shit, even now I think all she reads are those trashy fashion mags."

"But if she was performing so well, she must have offered to assist you, given your close relationship."

Three's face twisted in disgust. "Don't even get me started. It was 'cuz of her I failed in the first place!"

"Hey. Hey, Rain." Alice kneeled down by Rain's desk, watching her friend crinkle her nose as she scribbled notes on a sheet of paper. Rain seemed to be struggling especially hard with today's topic - multiplication involving fractions - so she had elected to stay inside during recess to review her notes.

Rain glanced up from work and turned to Alice who had an expectant look on her face. "Hi, Alice."

"You wanna go outside and plaaaay? It's recess right now, we should be playing games and going on adventures!" She frowned. "Not, you know, doing this stuff."

"I-I can't," Rain mumbled. "I don't really get this part at all and I think I'm falling behind…"

"But can't you do that at home? I really wanna spend time with you and we never see each other after school." She neglected to mention the fact that the two spent the majority of their time in the Academy practically glued to each other's side. In the months since the school year started, she and Alice grew close and did everything together. From school projects to gym class, the two paired up with each other whenever they got a chance. Alice even managed to convince the teacher to let them sit beside each other, arguing that "she couldn't see from her seat", despite the fact that she was sitting in the front row and Rain was sitting at the very back.

Much to Rain's surprise, the teacher relented, asking where she would have liked to sit instead. Alice had, of course, chosen to sit beside her.

"C'mon, pleeeaaaase?" Alice's pleaded once more. She looked up with big, sad eyes, her bottom lip quivering ever so slightly. Rain knew this look all too well. Whenever she wanted to stay inside to study, Alice would always try - in most cases, successfully so - to convince her to do it another time.

But this time, she really needed to stay inside and study. She had been asked to stay after school several times by the teacher to discuss alternative learning plans. One of the suggestions he had made was to spend one day a week staying inside reviewing her notes. That plan, of course, was routinely sabotaged by the squid kneeling down next to her desk. She wanted to say no and refuse Alice's invitations, but she would always bring up the fact that they never saw each other outside of school. A thought started to brew in her mind.

Rain tapped her pencil on her desk. "U-um, okay. I'll go outside and play."

"YES!" Alice stood up quickly, her long tentacles bobbing in the air.

"On one condition."

"Anything! Name it."

"I want to go to your house after school today." She smiled coyly. If Alice always complained about never having enough time together outside, surely this would fix that problem. Additionally, there was another reason why she wanted to go to her house. Alice never talked much about her family and other than the fact that she was an only child, she knew next to nothing about them.

Alice's face fell at the suggestion, which made gulp nervously. Was it really such a bad idea?

"I-I don't know, I'd have to ask my dad first and… stuff…"

"Oh," Rain said in disappointment. "Okay. Don't worry about it, Alice. I-It was a dumb idea anyways."

Alice bit her lip and twiddled with her fingers nervously, debating something in her head. She looked at Rain and asked, "Rain, we're friends, right?"

Rain blinked in confusion. "Y-Yeah. Of course we are."

"Best friends? BFFs?"

"If that's what you want…"

"And we'll be super BFFs forever and ever till we die, right?"

"O-Okay." Rain didn't want to say anything, but she was extremely happy Alice thought so highly of their friendship. A small part of her was always a little scared Alice didn't think they were really friends.

Alice inhaled deeply. "Okay then." She nodded and beamed. "You can come over."

The sudden change in attitude caught Rain off guard. "Oh… um, great! Thanks..."

"No problemo, squiddo!" Alice grabbed her best friend's arm and yanked her out of her seat. "Now c'mooon, I wanna try playing pirates and search for hidden treasure in the playground. I call being the Captain!"

Rain giggled. There's no helping it, I guess. "Okay. Let's go treasure hunting."

...

As the school bell rang, signalling the end of another day, the pair of best friends were walking back together as they had always done. They had reached a fork in the road where, normally, the two would say their goodbyes and parted ways. This time, however, they were now heading in the same direction towards Alice's house. Rain was obviously very excited about the visit, while Alice seemed to be getting more and more nervous as time went on.

"Are you okay?" Rain asked in concern. "You look like you're gonna faint."

'Fine! I'm fine!" Alice quickly replied. "We're, um, getting close now."

Rain took a look around her. She didn't know exactly when, but the scenery around them had changed drastically. The street they were walking by had widened out and looked better maintained than she had ever seen before. In fact at some point, the sidewalk they were walking on had changed from concrete to cobblestone.

The houses in the area were also a sight to see - the neighbourhood looked like something she saw on TV, with fancy villas lining down the stretch of road and each with their own immaculately kept yards, the grass coloured a beautiful emerald green and flowers of all sorts arranged by the sides. She didn't even know places like this existed in Inkopolis. She slowed down and glanced around nervously.

"U-Um… are we in the right place? Everything looks so… fancy."

Alice didn't respond and kept marching forward, nervously clamping down on the handles of her backpack until her knuckles went white. When Rain realized her friend wasn't answering, she picked up her pace to catch up. After ten minutes of walking in silence, she finally spoke up."

"Alice, please just say something."

"We're here," she said, stopping in front of a particularly large and ornate silver gate.

"O-Oh, yay. I'm really excited to finally see your-" She gasped as her eyes focused on Alice's house. Although, looking at it now, using the word 'house' would have been an understatement. The building behind the gates was nothing short of a palace. It had to have been three stories tall, at least, and she could even see it was taller than the palm trees planted in front of it. Tall white columns supported the front of the structure, giving it a regal and majestic air.

Rain was at a loss for words. She had no idea how to react to this. Was it a prank? Some sort of practical joke? It certainly seemed like something Alice would do, and she was sure any moment now she would spring her with a 'Gotcha!'. But the resigned, slightly panicked look on her friend's face told her this was for real.

"I say, who goes there?" An elderly, moustached Jellyfish sporting a tuxedo and bowler hat approached the gate from the other side. " Ah, if it isn't Mistress Alice. Back from school already? Welcome home, I hope you've had a wonderful day."

Alice rubbed her arm. "Y-Yeah, hey Jellvedere. I'm back. I, uh, brought a friend from school with me."

The Jellyfish butler squinted his eyes to get a better view. "Oh, marvelous! The Master will be so pleased to hear you've finally made a friend at the Academy." He bowed to Rain, lifting his hat off his head slightly. "Pardon my rudeness, Madam. My name is Jellvedere and I am the head butler of the Squidwell family, a position I have held for many, many years. May I have your name?"

"U-Uh… I-I…" She had trouble getting the words out. No way was this real. She couldn't believe it. Alice had a butler? How had she not known about this until now?

"Rain," Alice answered for her. "Her name is Rain. Um, can we just go inside please? I wanna take her to my room." Right now, please. Rain looks like she's gonna pass out…

"Of course, Mistress Alice. I shall fetch the cart immediately." He turned and walked off, leaving the two standing outside.

"You're… you're rich," Rain finally mumbled, after an awkward moment of silence.

"Surprise?" Alice smiled innocently. She sighed when she saw the look on her friend's face. "I wanted to tell you, I really did! But it's just that… whenever I tell people I'm rich they start treating me differently. They only wanna talk to me because my family has cash. And, well... I was scared you'd do the same thing."

"I know you're probably really mad at me and I'm super sorry but please don't hate me-"

Rain stopped Alice by placing a hand over her mouth. She shook her head. "It's okay, Alice. I'm not mad. I mean, I was just surprised. You being rich doesn't change the fact that we're best friends."

"Rmmlly?"

"Of course not. Remember the day we met? You stood up for me when those bullies were teaming up on me. I'll always remember that, and rich or not I'm always going to be your friend."

Tears welled up in her friend's eyes. Alice suddenly rushed forward and wrapped both arms around Rain crying, "Waaaaah! I love you, Rain! Let's be BFFs forever times a million! No, a bajillion!"

Rain giggled. "Yeah. BFFs forever."

The pair turned as Jellvedere returned with the cart, honking the horn. Pressing a button on the vehicle's console, there was a loud buzz at the white gates of the mansion swung inwards. "I have arrived, Mistress Alice and Rain. Please do take a seat, and we shall be off."

"Why do we need to ride this?" Rain asked as she stepped into the vehicle. "Your house is right there."

"It's actually farther than it looks, but yeah, I think having to ride this thing is dumb. I keep telling Jellvedere I can just walk but he never lets me."

As the cart moved forward, it suddenly angled forward as it went down a steep incline that wasn't visible from the outside. Alice was right about the distance. If they hadn't taken the cart, it would have taken another 10 minutes for them to reach the front door.

The front "yard" was breathtaking, much like the others Rain had passed by on the way here. The only difference, though, was that this was about five times the size. She caught the eye of several Inklings and Jellyfish who were tending to the grounds and waved at them timidly. She thought back to her own house. It was cramped, a one-bedroom apartment in one of the lower-end neighbourhoods of Inkopolis. She didn't even have a yard, much less a gate or fence. While she never complained about her circumstances - her father was doing everything he could to give her a comfortable life and she was grateful for what she had - a small part of her still wished she could have something like what Alice had.

Jellvedere pulled up to the mansion entrance, stepped out of the cart, and made a move to help the children out of the vehicle. Before he could do so much as lift his tentacles, Alice grabbed Rain's hand and jumped out, sprinting inside with her panicked friend in tow.

"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon I wanna show you my room."

Rain squeaked as she was pulled along, past the doors and into the extravagantly decorated entrance lobby. She wanted to take a moment and look around at the amazing architecture surrounding her but Alice yanked her up the carpeted grand staircase, past several twists and turns in the upstairs hallways until finally she was pulled into her room.

"Ow, Alice… you didn't have to run so hard…" She pulled her hand free and gently massaged it. It had turned red from how hard Alice was gripping it.

"Hehe, sorry, I was just so excited." She spread her arms and grinned widely. "Welcome to my room! What'cha think?"

Her room, much like the rest of the mansion, was excessively large and spacious. Rain estimated it was bigger than her own room and kitchen combined, and then some. It was decorated much in the same way as the rest of the mansion, with a small crystal chandelier hanging from the roof, and a king-sized bed draped in a flowing silk canopy. However, what struck her as odd were the other aspects of the room, namely the decorations and colour palette. It was pink. Very pink.

"It looks amazing, Alice. It looks like a princess' room." If it was physically possible for an Inkling to live on a pink cloud in the sky, she imagined that this room would be the closest you could get. The bed was pink, the dresser was pink, even the walls were pink. A soft white rug covered much of the ground and bright, fluffy curtains covered the window at the far end side of the room. A plethora of stuffed toys sat on the foot of Alice's bed, each dressed up in cute and frilly outfits. It was totally out of character and not at all what Rain had expected. If anything, she imagined Alice would be more interested in more boyish things.

Alice rubbed her arm and smiled sheepishly. "Yeah, I know what you're thinking. But this was all totally my dad's idea, I didn't pick these colours."

Rain approached the bed and picked up a plushie of an Inkling wearing headphones and a stylish hoodie. "Where did you get these? They look really fresh." She could tell the make of the clothes were of high quality, definitely not something you could get at a store.

"Oh, I had dad get someone to make those for me after I saw it in a magazine." Her friend's eyes sparkled as she explained, "Don't tell anyone but I'm actually really into clothes and that kind of stuff."

Rain raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Really? It doesn't really seem like your kind of-"

"It's true!" Alice asserted. "I don't really tell anyone about it 'cuz it's kinda embarrassing, you know? You're, like, the only one I've ever told this to. Not even Jellvedere knows about it."

"I don't think it's embarrassing at all," Rain reassured. "I didn't think it was something you were into, but if it's something you really like, nobody should make fun of you for it.."

"Aww, you're so nice, Rain. I'm gonna be a super big fashion designer someday, just watch. Then I can make a whole bunch of clothes and you can try them on!"

Rain clapped excitedly. "I'll wear them for sure. You're gonna get super popular and maybe you'll be the most famous Inkling in all of Inkopolis."

The pair squealed happily as they held hands and envisioned what the future would be like for both of them once Alice made it big. However, the sound of someone clearing their throat behind them interrupted their discussion.

A tall, blue-tentacled Inkling with tentacles slicked back stood by the door, having opened it without them even noticing. He wore a black, branded polo shirt, and while Rain wasn't familiar with the name of the company, even she knew it from an extremely high-end brand. His top was complemented with a pair of brilliantly white pants that looked like it had never been touched by so much as a speck of dirt. A slightly amused smirk rested on his lips.

"I see you two are enjoying yourselves."

"D-Dad!" Alice frowned and stomped over to him. "I told you to knock before you come in."

"Ah, silly me. I apologize, but I just heard the commotion and was curious to see what the commotion was all about." He held his hands behind his back. "I see you've made a new friend."

"So? That's none of your beeswax!"

His mouth twitched. "That's quite the… interesting vernacular you've picked up, Alice. We shall have to correct that later. Ah, but my apologies, I am a poor host to be ignoring your classmate like this." He stepped forward, his long legs reaching Rain in only two strides. He offered his hand. "Good day to you. My name is George Squidwell. I am Alice's father, if you've not yet surmised."

Rain hesitantly shook his hand. He was smiling at her, but she was still nervous. There was an air of intimidation around him that she didn't like, and his eyes seemed to be studying her every movement.. "N-Nice to meet you, sir. My name is Rain."

"Sir? Ah, no need to be so formal with me, dear. You can simply call me Mr. Squidwell."

"O-Okay," she gulped.

"So, how did you two meet? Alice never deigns to share her stories from the Academy with me, and alas, I am kept out of the dark on most of her affairs."

"That's 'cuz you're so annoying about it, Dad!"

"U-Um," Rain stammered. "She saved from bullies on the f-first day of school."

"Hah! She did, did she? " Mr. Squidwell patted his daughter on the head, which made her huff. "Well done, Alice. I see you've inherited your mother's strong sense of justice."

He looked at Rain. "Ah, if I may be so bold, may I ask as to the sort of profession your parents are involved in? To have been able to enroll you in Inkblot Academy, they must be quite prominent in their fields."

"Daaad!"

"I don't have a mom anymore," Rain mumbled. "Sh-She died when I was young."

Mr. Squidwell shook his head sympathetically. "I'm terribly sorry to hear that."

"B-But my dad's a super hard worker!" She was quick to add. "He helps make super pretty buildings!"

He nodded appreciatively, his blue eyes sparkling with interest. "Does he? A real estate magnate or a proprietor of commercial buildings, I assume."

Rain scratched her head. "U-Um, I'm not really sure what those mean but I don't think that sounds right."

"Hm. Then he is an architect or an engineer of some sort? It is still a respectable career, no doubt backed by years of schooling."

"No," Rain said, shaking her head. "He makes the buildings. He wears a vest and orange hat and works with a bunch of other squids to help… m-make it…" She trailed off as she noticed a frown starting to form on his face.

"Ah. I see." He pulled his arm in front of his face and took a look at his watch. "Well then, I'm afraid I must be going. I have several teleconference meetings I must attend soon. You two enjoy yourselves."

He turned and walked towards the door. As he was about to exit, he turned his head sideways and said, "Alice, I must speak to you after dinner tonight. I expect you to be there." Without another word, he left the room and closed the door behind him.

"D-Did I say something wrong?" Rain whimpered.

"Forget it," Alice waved her hand dismissively. "It's probably just something dumb. But anyways, I wanna show you something else really fresh. Have you ever played any video games before?"

"Four never mentioned she lived in such a place before," Eight said thoughtfully. "I believe she lives in an apartment complex on the east side of Inkopolis right now. I wonder why she is still not living in the mansion?"

Three shrugged. "Shell if I know. But, man, her place was loaded. Makes Pearl and Marina's place look like a shack in comparison."

"Did you visit often?"

"Maybe a couple times a week. But it wasn't easy. Surprise, surprise, turns out her dad was a massive prick. When he found out my dad was a construction worker, he told Four I wasn't allowed to come over anymore. Something about not wanting her to 'associate with commoners'," she spat. "Typical rich douchebag, you know the type."

Eight frowned. "I do not think that is not a good reason to prevent two individuals who are friends from being able to interact with each other." She paused. "But if you were barred entry, how were you still able to visit?"

Three chuckled. "Well, here's the funny thing. Four got super pissed at her dad when he told her I couldn't come over anymore so she showed me a secret entrance in the back corner of the yard. Turns out there was a little hole in the fence there, covered by a bunch of shrubs. You couldn't really see it if you walked by, and you couldn't really fit in there unless you went squid form, but nobody else knew about it, even the staff. So me and Four would just hang out in her room in secret, making sure we kept our voices down. 'Course, shit got tense whenever we'd hear someone coming but I never got caught.

"I am glad to hear that," Eight said. "So you were still friends throughout your time in the Academy?"

"Yep. All the way to graduation."

"But… something must have happened to cause the rift between you two. If you were as close as you said, there must have been a reason for your relationship with her as it is now."

Three grew silent and stared at the empty white wall in front of her. "...It happened in the last year of Academy, 'bout three years after we met."

Eight nodded. "What happened?"

Three's expression turned dark and she slowly turned to Eight. She stared at her with cold eyes, her body trembling with anger. The Octoling shuddered as Three answered, her voice trembling with a hatred she had heard only once before, when the three of them had gone shopping for clothes.

"That year," she hissed. "She ruined my life."