8. The Canine Empire

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Canines had devastated AltusVillage. There was no denying the fact. That's what the kits had said, and that's what the pools of their memories had shown – unfiltered and honest like a child's mind is. Astral had seen for himself the razing of the crop field and the destruction in the streets. He had been consumed by the thick smell of burning hay intermingled with fear and confusion. He had been trampled under footpad, buried beneath a pile of the dead and dying. He'd seen it all, felt it all, as though he himself had been there midst the carnage, fleeing for his very life. But still, the question remained:

Why?

Astral stoked to life the glowing embers of his study's fireplace while the answer eluded him. Canines had devastated AltusVillage. That's what the children had told him, and that's what he had seen through their memories.

But it was impossible.

Canines were a peaceful species now. Lowly, kept to themselves for the most part, no longer a foundational danger to all who were not canines – those who were common wheda. In all of Astral's seventy-one years, such a threat was only ever a piglet's tale. A lost merchant was more likely to stumble over the fleeting backside of a rodent bandit than to ever cross paths with any rogue canine.

Not with the forces in DoblahProvince at work, with the Zuut heralding a time of global unification, at least...

Though Astral was convinced of this, something sinister tugged at his soul: stories passed down through the generations, of when the world of Vida was in its infancy and the hierarchy of mammals was strictly defined. Stories of how the wilds ran red with chaos and ferality, where only the fittest and smartest survived – even among kin.

Stories of an age when canines ruled the world.

Astral shook his head, shuffled into the kitchen to brew some tea. But that was so long ago. Eons. Their dynasty had since crumbled. Tribes once segregated by species had unified under a pact of peace through the teachings of the Aznain faith. It was by the hand of the Goddess that the wolves, the hounds, the coyotes, and the foxes were pulled down from their thrones, pillaged of their power, and made inferior to those they once ruled and devoured.

Canines had devastated AltusVillage. Don't deny the truth you know within the fibres of the universe.

Astral closed his eyes. But, how could such a thing happen?

And most important – why?

The wise old hog strode out of the kitchen, kettle and tea-bag still in his hoofs, and searched the study high and low until what he was looking for appeared wedged between other leather tomes stacked upon the wicker rocking chair by the dormant fireplace. He set down everything on the nearest table, carefully wriggled the book free, and wiped a hoof across the perfect line of dust that coated its previously exposed edge. The runic lettering melted into the cover glinted in the dim glow of the study's candlelight.

A History of the Canine Empire

Compiled by Edwin Goodrich and Ingrid H. Dunham
Forward by Professor Ulric Eavesmount, Ph. D

Published by
Mecia Collegiate

Department of Historical Preservation

Astral slowly cracked the book open to the middle and carried it over to one of his tables, flipping through until something of value decided to gleam off the page. He rubbed an itch under his snout and plopped the book down on a harvest table adorned with a shrine of wax candles, where he did all of his research – the only clear spot in the whole cabin.

He read from a passage: After the execution of the Wolfen Emperor Nahon Gaumont, the canines were exiled from their indigenous provinces to the northern Icelands of ZeephTerritory. There, the canines had no influence over matters of wheda – a canine term meaning "weak mammal; herbivore or lesser carnivore; not canine." The term has since been repurposed as a symbol of strength and perseverance against the Canine Oppressor.

Astral clucked his tongue, regarding the passage with slight scrutiny. It had been more than 200 years since canines ravaged the countryside and ruled every corner of the map. Even if the Zuut was well-intentioned, jagged remnants of the Old World remained in minority. The current use of the term wheda was proof of this. That's just how societal evolution worked. Historical evil may be vanquished – but the ghosts never truly dissipate.

A thoughtful revelation sparked. Without the aide of the Zuut and his new empire, Astral wondered if the canines would still find themselves locked away from the rest of the world. It was by the Zuut's gospel that renewed ideals of tribal peace and unity became absolute law across the GabrielSea – taken from the very Aznain teachings desecrated by the Retainers in lieu of bloodshed. The Zuut's Vidian Civil Alliance pardoned the canines of their empirical atrocities, accepted all those who were exiled into its folds, arms open and without question.

But the facts remained. AltusVillage had fallen – but at the paw of rogue canines?

Impossible.

But if those of Altus believed in the strength of a legend of anti-Alliance propaganda such as Alexia the Sage, and the Alliance had a new force willing to prove their loyalty to those who pardoned their exile ... could it have been ... the Alliance who was behind the slaughter?

No. Astral shook his head. That doesn't make any sense.

But there were the Retainers – the very antithesis to what the Zuut and his Vidian Civil Alliance aimed to strive for. That's why the world was at war, to begin with. It was the Retainers – a fanatical group of wheda, bent on the preservation of traditionwho saw the Zuut as a threat to global peace and structure. The peace treaty he wished to introduce, his act of reinstating canines as members of society ... the Retainers fought tooth and nail against this, and all that the Zuut stood for. Even if what the Zuut stood for meant global peace – all mammals, united under a single banner.

The world was at war between the Alliance and the Retainers, all because of a simple peace treaty – the alleged and frankly illogical idea of the erasure of centuries of peace against the threat of canines. Because of this, the Retainers were considered terrorists – and the statement was true. They plotted assassinations, slaughtered hundreds of Alliance supporters by the shadow of night. They allegedly used the arcane forces of Mana to somehow weild the raw elements of the world like weapons against all those who opposed them – against the Zuut's own rabble of militant supporters.

But AltusVillage was a rural farming community. Innocuous, tucked away within the moors, sheltered from the feral realities of the world. Canines had no reason to exist in Galhiest, unless they were there by order of their Zuut.

But ... why would the Zuut, who declared world peace and unification of all mammal-kind, corrupt his own treaty? Why go to so much trouble to send exiled canines halfway across the world, just to eradicate an insignificant little farming village?

Suddenly, something Dwain said at supper suddenly panged at the forefront of Astral's memories:"Alexia the Sage will come and lead us all to the Mountains in the South – and there, she will wash truth and justice across all of Vidian soil with the blood of our canine enemies, and the vile wheda who anchor with 'em."

Astral gasped.

Perhaps because it was ... to wipe out the threat of...

"...terrorists," he whispered, horrified.

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