It was raining.
Rama had never liked the rain. The instinctive aversion to water shared by all fire 'mons was as strong in him as ever. Even as an Eevee he had hated water, hated how it felt on his fur, how it weighed him down, how it muffled sounds and smells. These days it irritated him even more. Though still strong, he was no longer young, and his eyes were not what they had once been. Neither was the rest of his body, he reflected; he fluffed out his yellow ruff, wrapped his tail around his paws, and tried to ignore the aches in his knees that the rain always seemed to bring on. He wondered idly if La'Shanke got these aches too. She had been full grown when he was only a kit; he remembered her as an assistant to the shaman at the time, a tall Jolteon now long in the grave. Surely she felt her age some days.
He was feeling his tonight. It had been so many long years since he had taken the mantle of leadership from his own aging father. He ruefully reflected on those early years. There had been mistakes - far too many mistakes - and the rain sheeting down outside his den reminded him of a disproportionate number of them.
He should not have moved the pack so quickly. He should not have moved so close to that human city. He should not have been so adamant, so inflexible, so angry.
He should not have banished Chalran.
He should not have ignored La'Shanke.
And as the rain outside his den intensified, he thought of Demi, the young Jolteon mother, and sighed.
There was another mistake. The young silverpelt Kasu had not deserved the treatment she had been subject to. At the very least she had deserved an explanation, one Rama had not given. Certainly he was not the only 'mon at fault, but he was pack-leader and she had been as much his problem as Demi's or La'Shanke's. He sighed and laid his muzzle on his paws, ears folded back.
Just one more mistake. And it had taken the loss of his son, his wonderful Cheggah, for it to be rammed home to him just how much of a mistake it had been. The spirits alone knew where Cheggah and young Mahk were, and whether they would come home. Demi had good reason to be moping about, with both her kits gone so suddenly.
The hard truth was that the pack was safer without the little silverpelt; she had been a hazard at best. Rama doubted anyone had ever told her why. It had been his duty, La'Shanke's duty, Demi's duty; none of them had done it. He wondered, idly, if she had ever found out. Surely she had. He hoped it had not been through experience.
Similar reasoning had guided his banishment of Chalran. He was not at all sure that had been a good idea anymore.
Not even a psychic 'mon could change what had been, however, and while the thought did not comfort the pack-leader, it did at least afford him a sort of shield.
It was raining.
Emeria, Queen of the mountain, ignored it as best she could. Once in a while her lavender fur would ripple as she carefully shook the worst of the water off, but other than that she gave no sign of discomfort.
She had wanted to be a queen, once upon a time, when she had been an Eevee and was young enough to believe in tales of kings and queens who ruled whole regions without a hitch. She had all but fallen into the job at the insistence of her father, and quite frankly after many years trying to keep the peace she was heartily sick of the whole business. One of the troubles with being a Queen was that every 'mon seemed to think that she could handle some impossible problem better than their own pack-leaders.
Another was that when one 'mon holds great power, someone else invariably wants it.
"I can't say for sure who they are, Lady," the huge Blastoise before her said in his slow, mellow voice. "They've been meeting all over the mountain 'n it's hard for me to get close."
"Can you hazard a guess as to how many?" Emeria pressed. She sat ramrod-straight on a tall rock, only just managing to get on eye level with the hulking water 'mon.
"Hard to say," he murmured. "More than thirty, less than forty-five."
Emeria gave a little start. That was over half her pack.
"'n they're getting the other 'mons riled up, too," he continued.
"Wonderful." Emeria shuddered, not from the rain.
"You suspect someone?"
"I'm certain of who their leader is, but I don't know where he is and in any case I've no definite proof. This is serious, though. More have gone to his side than I had originally thought." Emeria sighed. "Cataract, the whole problem is, I am suspect as well. The rumors, I'm sure you've heard them?"
Cataract actually chuckled. "Oh, of course, an alliance with the powers of darkness. Some dark 'mon came to you for sanctuary, I'll bet."
"Close enough," Emeria told him seriously. "The 'mon in question is leading a small coalition like himself. They're Eons, like we Espeons, only black. He calls himself an Umbreon."
"More Eons, eh?" Cataract quirked an eye ridge. "Is there no end to the variants of your kind?"
"I'm beginning to believe not."
"Does he intend to stay, then?"
"I don't really know. I wouldn't object if he did - he's quite a nice fellow, really - but I got the impression he's something of a wanderer." Emeria thought for a moment. "His comrades don't seem any more inclined to settle than he, really. Fortunately they also aren't inclined to join the opposition. Have you heard of the powers of the dark 'mons?"
"I hear they're immune to your sort of power." Cataract, for all his slow speech, was not stupid. Emeria mentally reassessed him - again.
"Exactly. I'd rather have them on my side if I can get them to commit - if not, then I'd at least not want to face them."
"I can understand that." Cataract glanced up at the sky. "This storm is only going to get worse, Lady. If I were you I'd take to my den and stay there for a while."
She smiled. "Good advice indeed. Be well, and thank you."
"No problem, Lady. Good luck." He turned and ambled slowly away. Emeria waited until he was completely out of sight before making a very unladylike dash for her den.
It was raining.
As if she didn't have enough troubles. Zhara sneezed and curled her body even tighter in misery. Days of forced marching had got her no closer to knowing what exactly was going on. Kasu was crazy for wanting to live out in the forest, if this was what forest Eevees did in rain. Zhara sneezed again. She was exhausted, her fur was matted and soaked right through, and she was very hungry. She spared her best glare for the pair of Manectrics (for this was what they had called themselves) crouched nearby and was morbidly amused to see them looking as miserable as she.
She was convinced the pair were idiots at best. What was this nonsense they spouted about her "unique powers"? She had strange fur, but no strange powers. The number of times she had explained this had made no difference. They remained completely convinced of her so-called power and insisted that she had to come to their boss immediately. Some 'mon called Aheba on some dreadful mountain. Zhara seethed inwardly. How dare this Aheba drag her from her nice home? How dare he subject her to this and expect her cooperation?
If that was indeed what he expected, she would show him a thing or two, yes indeed! She bared her teeth. Oh yes, he would regret this. And then she would find some way to travel in comfort back home to her Melissa. How was the poor girl getting on without her lovely Zhara? She was quite sure she didn't know, but the image of her dear girl crying was enough to drive her wild.
She gave the Manectrics another hate-filled stare and brooded spitefully on her plan. Oh yes, they would all pay!
It was raining.
Mahk squinted across the plain at the dark shape before him. It sort of looked like a mountain, but with the rain it was hard to see. He shook off the needle-sharp points of his fur and stared at it.
Would his little sister really have gone there? Surely not - but then, she'd done nothing but surprise him for quite some time now. If she had some reason to scale those slopes, she just might have. He shook himself again and turned to pad back to the makeshift hollow where Cheggah hid from the rain.
"Miserable day," the big Flareon grumbled as Mahk returned. Mahk only grunted in reply.
They stared out at the rain for a very long time before Cheggah spoke again.
"Didja see anything?"
Mahk considered his reply carefully.
"Sort of. There's a mountain range out there. I think maybe she did come this way."
"But you can't be sure." It wasn't a question.
"No. This rain destroys all scent. She could have gone anywhere. But she pointed toward the west that day, so I'm gonna keep going west."
Cheggah laid his head on his paws in an unconscious imitation of his father and sighed. Mahk copied the movement, thinking of his mother and how upset she must be.
He'd make it all up to her. As soon as he came home with his little sister.
It rained on as a little girl cried herself to sleep after another day with no sign of her pet.
It rained on as an old Vaporeon tried fruitlessly to contact the spirits for some warning of what came next.
It rained on as an Espeon enjoyed the success of his plans thus far.
It rained on over a little silver-furred Eevee and her friends, safe in a little cavern below the great mountain, unaware that all hell was preparing to break loose just overhead.