Note 1: I reposted the last chapter after editing a lazy mistake pointed out to me by Malchus-Fireheart. Thanks, sweetie. Note 2: I've been asked by several people about the spelling of 'tiger' as 'tyger'. This is not a recurring typo. It is a reference to William Blake's poem, "The Tyger," which inspired this story. In more modern prints, especially children's books, it is edited as 'tiger' with an i, but I think that takes away from the distinctiveness of the poem.
This chapter is a bit short because it's a transitional chapter and it didn't really fit in with anything else, but I hope you all like it anyways.
"I dreamed I saw a great wave climbing over green lands and above hills. I stood upon the brink. It was utterly dark in the abyss before my feet. A light shone behind me, but I could not turn. I could only stand there, waiting."
– Eowyn, The Lord of the Rings
Thunder rumbled, rolling through the thick air like a wave churning in the ocean. Already humid air grew thicker and sharper, electrified and tasting too hot to abide. Birds screamed and chattered, rushing from one tree to the next and then back again and again and again, ready to dive. Frogs and lizards and rodents scurried to their holes, scrabbling their claws across dry, cracking bark that was just starting to wither with the sudden onset of wet air. Crocodiles groaned, rolling in mud, snapping at the heady air and testing for the first drops of much-awaited rain.
Mowgli stretched his arms out. He stood ankle-deep in mud, wiggling his bare toes and occasionally giving a gentle tug with each leg so that the top layer of mud wouldn't dry and make it too difficult to move. All the hairs on his body were prickling, making his skin crawl, as the first breath of the oncoming storm swept across the jungle and pressed hot-and-cold swirls into his skin.
The sky groaned with the weight of dark clouds, the first droplet landed, and Mowgli smiled.
Raksha howled, calling the pack home. She had not joined the hunt that day, not with her pups still so dependent on her, but Rama was leading the pack and she wanted him home. Lightning had not struck, not yet, but it would. It would. She could taste it on the air and feel it in her strong legs. The air was waiting for lightning.
"If rain is coming, is Water Truce over, Ami?" Grey whispered to her when they were all safely huddled inside their cave. He hoped that it wasn't over – he liked going there and playing with Bagheera.
"Not until Peace Rock is covered," she told him, but that meant, essentially, yes. Heavy rains were coming, and it wouldn't take long before the Rock was covered. Not long at all.
Rama, returned with enough food to hold them all over until the weather cleared, tucked himself next to Raksha and let the pups sleep between them while he rested his head against his mate's shoulder. The young wolves who were no longer pups but not yet adults shifted anxiously, having never felt the air turn so hostile before. The elders moaned, stretching and scraping their claws across the cave floor, trying to scratch the ache brought on by old wounds seizing under the weather's influence. At the cave's narrow entrance, Akela watched and waited while thunder drummed in the distance.
Mud slurped at Mowgli's legs, catching him and pulling him down as he struggled against it, but it could not best him. He had been walking these rivers for almost as long as he could walk, and they were no match for him. Besides – there wasn't much depth to the mud, and if he stepped quickly, he wouldn't sink any further than the upper curve of his ankles. It wasn't wet enough for that, not yet. In another hour, it would be, if the rain kept coming down as hard as it was. If Mowgli let his feet sink all the way down, his feet his solid earth when the mud was hardly more than halfway up his calves.
Mowgli trudged along, muscles straining against the pull of dense mud on his legs. It was easier, in some parts, to get down on all fours and pull himself forward. Fallen logs and jutting rocks were good leverage, but there weren't many of them on this stretch of water. The crocodiles frequented this river often enough, and they kept the waterway clear, especially when there wasn't any water. The crocodiles here were so large and so heavy that they could barely walk properly, so they preferred to slide along the mud. Rather than scrape their bellies on rocks and twigs, they kept their domain uncluttered. It was easier for them, but much less convenient for Mowgli.
Water was starting to trickle sluggishly down the once-dry riverbed, and Mowgli frowned at the weak flow that was making streaks through the green scum that had collected on the muddy surface. There should have been more. It was raining so hard that he could barely see ten strides ahead, so where was all the water? The river should have been at a steady rush by now.
A crocodile growled as Mowgli passed, slapping her tail threateningly against the mud, daring him to come within reach of her massive jaws. Mowgli cautiously gave her a wide berth, wishing for Shere Khan's presence. All of the crocodiles were rightly afraid of the tiger, but there was no telling what some of the less friendly ones might dare to try while Shere Khan was away. Mowgli was proud of being smart enough and strong enough to make his own way, but he missed his abba's protection.
He wanted to hiss back at her. He didn't do it, but he curled his lip a little bit, just so that she could see his teeth. She chuckled, a scratchy, unpleasant sound, and began to heave her body upstream, in the direction he just came from.
"Stupid hatchling," she hissed, chuckling raspy as she went, but Mowgli ignored her.
There was a rumbling noise in the distance, but it was only thunder, of course.
Lightning finally cracked the sky open, shrieking angrily as it dove to strike a tree. The tree, browned and elderly, sizzled dangerously, still dry from the terrible dry season, but the rain protected it from catching fire, if only by a little.
The rain then began to pour in earnest, as if the first lightning strike had been its signal to race to the earth.
Rain pushed down on the jungle, breaking the trees that had died in the heat and pressuring the living ones to bend and groan. The dry, cracked earth choked on it and could not soak it in. Water pooled in the dips and then overflowed into the flats and rose up and up and after. The water was still slow to move in the river, but it was steadily rising, and soon, Mowgli was wading. He waited for it to start to flow and push against him, but it didn't, and he was grateful. The mud and high water were making things difficult; he didn't need to be battling against a strong current, as well.
Again, Mowgli slipped, struggled to right himself, and wished for Shere Khan in his frustration.
Shere Khan had never left Mowgli alone for so long. Mowgli would have liked to have gone with him, but he knew he would only slow the tiger down. He was pretty fast himself, and strong and tough and determined, but not enough to keep up with a tiger. Maybe when he grew up, if he worked very hard, he would be strong enough and fast enough. But he was still very young, and he would have to be patient.
Patience is rarely an attribute of the young. But that was alright, for the moment. The cave that Mowgli called home was just around the next bend, and he would be there soon.
Shere Khan was trapped in a tree, which, admittedly, was not the safest place to be. He had dragged his kill up with him for fear that it would be washed away. Not because he was traveling over the river, but because the river was overflowing. It wasn't so bad, but it was bad enough that Shere Khan would rather chance being in a tree during a lightning storm than try swimming. He only hoped that Mowgli was at home, in their cave, which ought to be high and dry, even in this mess.
Of course, though, hope was probably too much to rely on. Shere Khan knew that Mowgli was just like him and that the man-cub would never stay in one place if he could manage to get away. He could only imagine what the boy was getting up to while unsupervised. If any of the crocodiles had taken a snap at him, oh, Shere Khan would tear them to pieces.
Crocodiles, when in groups, could be savage, but they thought a great deal of themselves. They were, above all, pompous lizards. It dignity to deal with crocodiles – they demanded it, as if they were royalty. Shere Khan, once the King of the Jungle, had never cared how anyone acted towards or how he himself acted towards them, as long as his authority was respected. Crocodiles, however, took jungle hierarchy to a whole different level, and Shere Khan had changed himself in order to protect Mowgli. He acted differently, even spoke differently, so that they would respect him and he didn't have to constantly get into fights with them. Admittedly, it wasn't a bad change – Shere Khan felt more kingly now than he had when he was really a king, and that might come in handy.
Maybe… if he ever went home… they would see him differently. Not just a troublemaker who happened to be King because of his size and strength, but as someone who actually deserved the title. Perhaps.
It was true. He had only been King because he was stronger than the others. Truly, it ought to have been Bagheera who held the title. Bagheera was far more dignified; far more concerned with the lives of others. Shere Khan had never been those things.
"Maybe," Shere Khan told himself, "after it stops raining."
Trees that had died and fallen in the extreme heat groaned as water built up against them, pressuring their bodies to crack and give. They blocked the river firmly, damming the flow from moving forward, but they were weak and the rain was coming down so harshly and the water was rising and rising and pushing –
Something at the very base of the dam cracked.
It was barely anything at first. Just the lightest push of a current starting to flow. What sounded like thunder was rumbling loudly in the distance. Mowgli hardly noticed it and did not care at all, for he was nearly home safely. The river could rage for all he cared, as long as he was in his cave while it happened.
But then it did happen.
Mowgli stood with water up to his chest, watching in frozen horror as a wave so large that it cast a shadow towered over the shores. It was carrying massive, ancient trees and breaking others as it roared and rushed mercilessly towards him. And Mowgli stared, mouth open in a silent cry, and in his terror, he could not will his legs to move.
The wave struck him.
"Ami! Ami, help!"
Okay… that was fun. Just a reminder: I write fanfiction mainly as writing practice, so I appreciate any and all feedback.