Night had already fallen and gone, and the sun begun its weary climb to the pinnacle of the sky one more by the time Darren and Jacey had managed to organize a town meeting. A few otters who possessed exceptionally loud voices stood atop some of the sturdy cottages, cupping their paws to amplify the sound.
"Counsel in the main hall! All creatures over fifteen seasons must attend!"
Curious, Overtmontagers all around halted their various chores and activities to squint up at the message-bearers. One of them, a gruff voiced shrew, hailed up to Tugrun, "Oi! Whot's this all about, eh?"
Tugrun shrugged, looking slightly embarrassed. "Beats me, mate. They ain't told me nothin', either."
The shrew frowned and trudged off in to the hall, grumbling to himself, "Two meetin's in this short o' time? Whot's our 'ome comin' to?"
A female squirrel who was gaining in years caught ear of the shrew's pondering. She shuffled her way to the cottage Tugrun was perched on. With large, beseeching and borderline poignant eyes, she stared up at him. "Oh, dear, I hope it's not any bad news, we've had quite enough of that lately. What do you think will happen?"
The tough otter smiled down at the kindly creature, a grandmother of two. "I'm sure it's nothin' t'worry your pretty old 'ead about, marm. Everything'll be just fine."
This seemed to placate the squirrel. She smiled and pulled her dress closer to her in the wind. "I'm glad to hear that from you, Tugrun. You have a nice day, now, darling."
Tugrun also smiled, but his was distinctly tinged with sadness. Although his words were sincere, he had a pressing feeling that things were going to turn out anything from fine.
Rayne and Kadak looked toward the sounds of the hearty shouts from where they were supervising young ones in the snow-covered orchard. They glanced at one another, then at the odd ten or so toddlers playing in the snow. Rayne spoke first.
"Who's gonna watch them if we go?"
Before Kadak could answer, Trune, who they had thought to be asleep, called out, "I will. You guys can fill me in later."
Kadak was hesitant to go; he had a strong feeling that it was more bad news. He turned to Trune, who was lying sprawled out in an empty wheelbarrow. "Maybe I should stay, ol' lad. You might fall asleep."
Trune hopped out of the wheelbarrow to prove he wasn't tired. "See? Common guys, it won't take long. I'll go the next one. Promise."
Rayne took one look at what Trune thought was a trusty smile and laughed. "You're such a liar."
The mouse kicked snow at her with a chuckle. "I know, but ya have t'admit, I 'ave t'do a lot less'n you do."
Grabbing Kadak's arm in hers, Rayne started walking off to the main hall, half dragging her apprehensive friend.
"We'll tell you all about it as soon as we get back."
Trune made to go back to his wheelbarrow when he noticed in dismay that the young, impressionable creatures had immediately taken to kicking snow at each other. He waved his arms at them, shouting, "Hey, ya liddle toads! Knock that off!" He was greeted with a face full of snow, followed by uproarious infant giggles.
As they trudged through the moderately deep snow towards the meeting, both Rayne and Kadak were inwardly pleading that for once, the news would be something to smile about. Rayne kept a thoughtful, heavy silence, but Kadak had a habit of babbling on about completely irrelevant subjects when he was nervous. The otter was too absorbed in thought to really concentrate. She zoned into his ramblings, her mind drifting in a haze.
"…I mean, why do they call them blueberries, anyways? If it were up t'me to name them, I would've called 'em violetberries or even purpleberries before I decided to start callin' them blue."
The offhand tirade brought a fond smile to Rayne's face. That was the thing she loved about her hare friend. Even if he was mid-complex, he could always make you laugh, whether he meant to or not. She grinned and shook her head at him affectionately. Then, something on the very edge of her line of vision caught her attention. She stopped in her tracks, staring up at the sky with full intent, mouth agape. Kadak looked over at her, confused. He turned his face upwards also, but quickly lowered it again. His expression was puzzled.
"I say, what're you starin' at? I don't see anythin'."
Rayne became excited suddenly. She pointed a webbed paw up, bouncing on her footpaws. "No, no, look again!"
Kadak squinted in the sunlight, and spotted Midaselia high above the mountain. "Some kind of bird. What's so special about it, eh?"
She had no means of verbally explaining the correlation made in her mind between this and her dream. Rayne stopped staring, and looked frantically at Kadak. She uttered two words before she took off at a sprint towards the stone-engraved staircase. "The fox."
The hare stood alone for a moment, completely unsure of what her statement had meant. Kadak frowned to himself. He began to follow her at a lope, his long legs gaining the distance quickly. As he ran, he murmured to himself, "Huh, don't know who came up with the bally expression 'mad as a March Hare'. It seems so much more fittin' these days that it should've been 'mad as an everything else'."
Rayne arrived at one of the windows cut out of the side of the mountain. Her mother, who had been peering out dozily, looked at her panting, anxious daughter in confusion. Rayne caught her questioning glance, and shook her head, hurrying next to the window. "No time to explain right now."
Fauna pursed her lips. She didn't have the slightest clue what was going on. Moving closer, she watched over Rayne's shoulder.
Her wide blue eyes scanning the landscape, Rayne checked and rechecked the forest outside Overtmontage from afar. The slumbering trees were dead-still in the cold winter air. Everything was silent and overwhelmingly white. Desperate, the otter kept searching, until at last, her efforts were rewarded. A branch of a tree, just one branch, shivered ever-so lightly. Just a twitch, really. That was enough for Rayne. She about-faced and started waving wildly to the hawk soaring high above the mountain top. When the bird continued flying normally, she cupped one paw around her mouth, shouting, "Hello up there! Ma'am! Could you come down here please? It's important!"
Midaselia was patrolling the forest below keenly from the skies. Her ears, almost as sharp as her excellent eyes, picked up noise, different from the male otters' alerts about the meeting. She wheeled, and stared down at the source. Another otter, motioning her with one paw in the air. Sensing it was important, the rough-legged hawk folded her wings tight to her body and began her fast dive downwards.
Fauna gaped in incredulity at Rayne. Glancing around herself for an escape route, she grabbed at her daughter's arm, gasping, "What in the world do you think you're doing? Are you trying to get us attacked?"
Rayne wrenched her arm free, holding up both paws to halt Fauna's frenzied actions. "Mom! Really, it's okay! She won't hurt us!"
Fauna caught eyes with Kadak. The hare shrugged, looking concerned. She lowered her voice, trying to decipher the look Rayne was giving her. "Rayne, how do you know that?"
Still waving Midaselia in, she avoided eye contact with her mother. "I…I don't know. But please, just trust me. I wouldn't ever let you get hurt."
Unable to avoid flinching slightly at the hawk's advancing position, Fauna took a deep breath. She placed her paw lightly on Rayne's shoulder. "I believe you."
Rayne smiled at her. "Thank you." She suddenly herded them over, saying, "Now haul tail, or you'll get landed on."
Midaselia came to a graceful landing where they had been standing an instant before, her talons scraping the snow-covered rock. She immediately recognized Kadak and Fauna's scared expressions; she was quite used to being stared at. Folding her wings over her back neatly, she bowed her head at them, politely lowering her bright eyes. "Please, friends, don't fret. I promise you, I'm of no threat."
Rayne patted Fauna reassuringly. "See, mom? She's quite friendly."
Kadak wiped a bead of sweat off the bridge of his nose. "Whew! Coulda fooled me! Like havin' a flippin' arrow shot at you!"
Midaselia laughed. "I'm sorry, young one; it would've taken me far longer to get down here if I didn't dive."
Already relaxed, Kadak shook the bird's talon in his paw. "No worries, marm, I'm all better now, wot! You can call me Kadak."
She shook her paw warmly, nodding. "Very nice to meet you, Kadak." She looked to Fauna, who still looked a little nervous. "And you are?"
Rayne's mother fiddled with a small knot in her fur. "Fauna. I'm sorry if I seem unwelcoming, it's just, well, it's not every day I meet a bird of prey."
Midaselia extended her wing instead of her pointed talons for Fauna to shake. "Oh, no need to worry, love. I never did take part in that barbaric lifestyle. I actually live off of mostly fish, with some vegetation, if I can find something that I like."
Noticeably calmed, a smile crept across Fauna's face. "Might I ask your name, ma'am?"
When the bird told her, the otter's smile grew. "My, what a lovely name."
Midaselia made a small chirping sound that signified pleasure. "Thank you very much. I'm named after my mother. She was quite the bird, indeed." Finally, she turned to Rayne, who had been waiting patiently. "Now," she said with a twinkle in her eyes, "The only one who wasn't frightened of me. What's your name?"
The otter shook Midaselia's talon heartily. "Rayne. I'm Fauna's daughter."
Knowingly, the hawk examined Rayne's features. "I thought I saw some family resemblance. But, introductions aside, what did you call me down here for? I do hope you don't just go around waving at potentially dangerous creatures."
Rayne shook her head. "No, no. I need your sight; it's much better than mine. Here. Could you look out this window?"
Midaselia perched on the sill, looking into the still maze of trees. "What am I looking for, missy?"
The otter stood next to her, showing the bird a small section of trees a touch to the left of the window's main focus. "Alright, look there. Now, tell me, what kind of creature exactly do you see?"
The hawk's huge eyes reflected the scene back upon themselves, tinged in black and gold. She didn't seem to see anything, but then, she suddenly stiffened to attention. "I see a fox."
Rayne bit her lip. Never in her life had she wanted more to be wrong. "Does he have a hook for his left hand?"
Midaselia turned away from the window, nodding solemnly at her.
Thinking quickly, Rayne pointed the main hall out to Midaselia. "Go there, and find the badger Jacey. Bring her back here, and show her the fox."
Before Midaselia took off to the air, Kadak started loping down the stairs. "Follow above me, I'll make sure nobeast gets frightened."
With a flutter, the hawk became airborne, and swiftly tailed Kadak.
Only mother and daughter remained on the rock ledge. Rayne slumped wearily against the wall. All the urgency of the situation had made her weary. Fauna sat down beside her, unsure what to say. She fumbled for words before she finally managed to ask her daughter the question that was plaguing her mind. "Rayne, I… You still never answered. How did you know that she wasn't dangerous? How did you know about the fox?"
Rayne looked at her feet, sighing.
Fauna was beyond confused. She grasped her daughter by the shoulders, looking into her eyes. Her voice was quite; careful. "Rayne. How did you know?"
The idea of lying to her mother was quickly dismissed. She would never stop asking after all this. She took a deep breath. "I dreamt it." When Fauna just stared at her, Rayne felt extremely stupid. "Mom, I don't even know anymore. I see things in my sleep sometimes. I hear a voice. I know who it is, but I have no idea at the same time. Everything comes true. I-"
Fauna interrupted her. "I knew something was special about you from when you were very small." Her features indicated her mind was somewhere faraway.
Rayne held her paws pleadingly. "Like what? How am I different?"
Her mother snapped back into the present all at once. She gazed at her with a loving fascination; the way a newborn infant is looked upon. "I don't really know how exactly to say this, but… Rayne, you're a Seer."
Rayne was lost for words. Before she had a chance to regain her voice, her mother placed a finger gently to her lips. "Don't speak. Just listen." Fauna's tone never wavered, but Rayne could tell indefinitely that this was hard to say. Once again, a veil seemed to be thrown over the older otter's eyes. She stared off into the distance, a fond, sad smile playing across her face. "I doubt you would remember your father. He was a wise, strong beast. He cared for you and your brother more than the world. Whenever he looked at you two, you could just see his eyes light up. Wherever he was, he was happy, as long as he was with his family. The love he felt for all of us was indescribable. I knew that he would give his own life if it meant we would live. I just never thought that it would come to that. We had a good life here. It was so peaceful. I guess that the peace had to come to an end, just as it is here recently. He was well respected at the head of the Counsel of Overtmontage. Everybeast came to him for advice. He was so selfless. He would've gladly given anybeast the shirt off his back if they were to ask him for it. Of course, he was fiercely protective of you, your brother, and me. Not that we were in any danger within Overtmontage's walls. But, that's how it all happened." Fauna stopped to swallow a large lump creeping up the back of her throat. "One day in the summer, I suggested that we should have a family picnic in the forest. You know, not too far out, but enough that it'd be a little adventure for you kids. I could tell he wasn't too keen on the idea, but since I had already suggested it, he lacked the heart to disappoint us. So, we took a wicker basket of food that Chef Fred prepared for us and headed into the woods south of here. Chase took us to a small creek. It was only about a five minute walk. He thought it would be fun for you two to swim in. You were only about three seasons old, but you were quite the little swimmer. We had our lunch without any problems. You and Shay had been playing in the water for a good hour afterwards. You kept coming out of the water, though. You kept telling your father and I that we were 'gonna get catched by fozes'. You didn't know how to speak properly yet. I didn't believe you. I thought you were playing some sort of a game. You told us that one of them had a…'spike-ball'. Your father took it more seriously than I did. He made sure that the hatchet he'd brought in case we needed firewood was close. I told him not to worry, that you were just playing. And it seemed that way, too. We stayed for a couple of hours more and nothing happened. We were just about to head back when we were ambushed by a band of foxes. It-it happened so suddenly. One minute we were sitting there laughing and joking together, and the next…" Her voice cracked out, and she took a few seconds to regain her composure. "And the next, we were surrounded by four foxes with loaded bows aimed straight at each of us. A fifth one stepped out of the trees next. I'll never forget his face. His eyes… They were so bright, so deceptive. The eyes of a child. He was twirling a mace back and forth like it was a plaything. He walked up to us and checked in our basket. It was empty except a few pieces of bread and a beaker with a couple drops of cordial in it. He threw the basket into Chase's face. Chase never even flinched. I remember that. The fox didn't seem mad. That's the part that really scared me. He was calm. He asked your father if we had anything of worth. Chase told him we didn't, which was true. We never brought anything except the hatchet and our lunch. The fox looked at you and Shay. He said something about getting a fair amount off you two from a slave trader. After he said that, he just grinned an awful grin at Chase. Something inside Chase snapped. I'd never seen him get that look in his eyes before. It was raw fury. I've never seen it in anybeast else, not in my whole life. He moved like lightning. The fox was still grinning when Chase grabbed the hatchet and swung it as hard as he could at him. He ended up cutting the fox's left paw clean off. I'd never seen so much blood before. Chase grabbed up you and Shay in his arms and passed you both to me. He told me to run. Before I could say a word, he tackled the fox flat to the ground, swinging over and over again with that hatchet. That was the last time I ever saw him. I had no choice. I had to run. When we were finally back safe inside, Shay asked where his daddy was. I couldn't tell him that his father was dead; in my mind, I could see him walking through the gate any second. I told him that he would come back. But you, you just looked at me. It wasn't the kind of look you would ever expect a child to give you. It was so serious. It was old, mature. You told me that your daddy wasn't coming back. You told me that you saw them shoot him and put him in the river. But that was impossible for you to know. I was carrying you in front of me. But, sure enough, when we sent out a search party, they found his body floating face down in the creek, filled with arrows." Fauna's face twitched strangely. She fell silent.
Rayne stood there, wordless, for a long while. This was the first time she'd heard what really happened to her father. She waited for the tears to come. It was their absence that would plague her subconscious the rest of her years.