1. Smoke Upon the Moors

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Part One:
The Light Chapter

Regina Lepue awoke to the distant bray of ponies outside her open window. Across from where she slept, she saw several streams of light shimmer into the midnight sky over the barrier of thuja evergreens that protected the crop fields beyond the village gates. The young skunk kit wondered in partial wakefulness if Mr. Spikeclaw and his three sons were out among the wetlands, letting off fresh fireworks in preparation for the coming Harvest Festival, in just a week's time.

Regina loved the Harvest Festival. It was a seven-day-long celebration of a year's hard work of slaving over the crop fields. If the Goddess, Mother Azna, blessed AltusVillage with a fruitful harvest, all was well for preparation for the village's trade agreement with KeetoTown, across the moors.

But of all the villagers, Regina loved the Harvest Festival most, because it also marked the coming of her own little celebration. Regina Lepue was but a mere stone's throw from her eighth birthday.

Summer air howled in from the night air, called to her. She could hear the exterior shutters shiver against hooks that held them open. Slowly, Regina crawled out of bed and crossed the darkness of her bedroom. A warm gust tousled the fur upon her face and brought her drowsy skunk mind to dull awareness.

To her disappointment, the fireworks didn't explode into radiant plumes or intricate constellate images. They instead arced the air over the village, vanished past the top of her window frame.

She leaned out her window in wait for more fireworks to appear. Regina wondered if her papa had returned from his meeting yet and prayed he wouldn't come to kiss her goodnight, only to find her up and out of bed at such a late hour.

Outside, several dozen more streams of light let off into the air, arcing again over the village. Some of the fireworks glanced off the cobblestone. Others pierced neighbouring hay-thatched roofs.

These weren't real fireworks - were they?

This perplexed Regina. She hoisted herself up over the edge of her windowsill and took a hard look at whatever it was that now lay blooming, smouldering, a few feet outside her bedroom window.

It was a feathered stick, its very tip a raw ball of fire, with a small ceramic orb tied to the flame-licked portion of the shaft. The unmistakable scent of kerosene filled Regina's nostrils. The liquid seeped out from a crack in the orb, forming a small pool in the street. An instant trail of fire followed.

Regina gasped.

A loud crackle startled her, like the sound of a felled tree splintering right above her. It was then that she realized the hay ceiling had bloomed to life, burning away to caustic smoke that filled the bedroom.

Flames dripped around Regina, upon the woven carpet made by her mother. She watched dumbfounded while flakes of fire drifted around her, catching to the drapes, to linens, to paw-crafted toys, to anything they whispered past.

"...gina...! - Regina!!..."

Her bedroom door burst open against the roaring shoulder of her papa, with mama close behind. The sword scabbard at his hip swayed with frantic immediacy as he swept into the room. Regina was in his arms in an instant. As he drew away from the fiery carnage, Regina watched in horror while her bed became quickly devoured by fallen chunks of burning roof-thatch.

"What's happening?" her mama cried. "Thomas, what's-"

"They've found us, Gloria," he said with finality.

Thomas Lepue led his family through their small home, where flames had already started to descend the simple walls of field rock and consume everything. Regina and her parents headed to the entry space, where the front door stood wide open and waiting for their escape.

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