16. A Visit to the Elder's House

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Phalanx's distant brays were an alarm sounding above Keeto's serpentstone peaks as Regina and Dwain fled deep within the crowd of market venders and traders, weaving and shoving through whomever stood between them and wherever their little footpads frantically led them – all the while with their paws firmly clasped, so as not to be torn apart by the sea of mammals they swathed blindly straight through.

They ran and ran and ran until their lungs gave out and their footpads ached. Dwain and Regina ducked beneath the shade of a storefront's overhang, where they squatted on their haunches, sweating and gasping for air. Regina looked up, dared a glance about their surroundings, and found that the market was nowhere within sight, smell, nor sound.

Dwain faced her, standing at the very edge of the overhang's shadows. He eyed her, chin dipped, spines a quiver, tongue lolling out the corner of his mouth as he struggled to breathe. The crowd that crested behind his shoulder was an unending river of fur and scent mixtures that tickled the nostrils. Hundreds of mammals must have passed by the storefront, Regina thought, who were all so totally oblivious to the two gasping children shivering within the shadows there.

Regina spotted the otter from before – the one who tried to offer her the orchid. His visage weaved in and out of the gaps between mammals that swallowed him up - but there he was, standing tall upon a soapbox as he goaded all those who brushed past him with confident salesmammalship. One flower for just one apple. A whole bouquet for a dozen eggs.

Very few passersby paid him any mind.

Regina waved at him – just a polite little gesture – but she was too small and the flower-otter was too far away and distracted by his own dealings to notice her at all.

Dwain gave her a judging look. "Who're you wagging yer arm at?" Sudden fright came over his features, and he spun around to search the crowd. "It's not Ages, is it?!"

"No – no, just a boy selling flowers," Regina said. "He wanted to give me an orchid when we drove through."

"Wanted to give ye nothin' Reggie, he was trying to sell it ter ye..." Dwain straightened and thumped his chest a few times with the blunt end of a balled fist. "Right, then. Where, first?"

Regina really pondered the question. They could brave the streets, try to wrangle the attention of whomever would listen – while risking a chance of getting trampled or pushed around and lost from each other. She shook her head and concentrated, feeling the muscles of her brow all knit together.

Then Elder Rombard's porcine face wavered into her mind's eye.

"What about the Elder's house?" she asked. "Maybe they can help us."

"The Elder's house?" Dwain scratched at the spines on the top of his head. "Does KeetoTown have an Elder?"

"I don't know."

"They must, if Altus did," Dwain said. "One way to find out. I'll be back, yeah."

And with that, he stepped out into the crowd to harass whoever he could pin prick. Regina watched as a pawful of passing wheda completely ignored Dwain as he vied for their attention. A couple others shook their heads, possibly confused or unable to hear him over the sound of the busy street.

And then a maiden with her betrothed stopped as soon as she saw him waving his arms around like a lunatic. Regina drew a few paces forward, strained her ears to listen.

"Oi! Allo! Oi! Hi! Which street's the elder's house on?"

The maiden and her betrothed exchanged looks. She crouched down to Dwain's level to converse, but her voice was swallowed up by a loud ruckus down the road – confetti and what sounded like sparkler fireworks went off, followed by a loud cheering. The maiden's betrothed tugged her arm, dragging her to a stand, as she still spoke to Dwain – and then they both were gone, headed towards whatever all the excitement was about.

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