16. A Visit to the Elder's House

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Dwain scampered back to Regina. Excitement glinted in his eyes. A wild little giggle was on his lips. In all their time together, this was the first that her friend looked genuinely gleeful – happy – a bounding look of awe and wonder, as if the Harvest Festival was surely upon them.

"C'mon, Reggie!" He grabbed Regina by the paws and pulled her into the street with such lustre that she was afraid her footpads would touch air and her poncho would bloom out and carry her wind-bound, like a kite.

"Where – Dwain! Where are we going?!"

"I know where the Elder lives, yeah!"

And down the street they went, cutting through the hips and legs of anyone and everyone around without even thinking to excuse themselves. And despite all her protests and complaints, Regina's voice went ignored as Dwain kept a firm chin skyward, scanning and studying for landmarks – in lieu of being unable to read the street signs – yanking her in all different directions before her poor little legs could think to keep up.

They made a sharp turn into a narrow, shadowy, street alley. Only a handful of mammals loitered here, smoking squatting against the alleyway walls. As Dwain dragged Regina forward, she met the eyes of a sullen feline drawing towards them, puffing away on a rolled cigarette with paws jammed into his trouser pockets. He knocked past them without even excusing himself.

A chill of fear rippled through Regina. "Are – are you sure the Elder lives down here? Maybe we should go back..."

"Don't be silly, Reggie, I know what the lady back there tol' me, yeah. Turn at the steepled chapel and make a hard left when ye can't go straight no more, and we did jus' that, yeah."

A double door entrance jutted out into the left-pawed side of the street, deep within the murky alleyway. Regina braved a glance about her and found that the door they'd come across was the only entryway in sight within this alley.

Back in AltusVillage, Elder Rombard lived on a court-shaped street near the centre of town, surrounded by other homes of friends and relatives. His home wasn't large, nor fancy, in fact you couldn't much tell it apart from any other house in Altus. The teachings of Mother Azna declared that no mammal was greater than another mammal, that all mammals were made equal, and no mammal should fail to provide equity to others in need. Elder Rombard lived by these teachings like they were his sworn duty.

This place, however, was dark, and rotting, tucked away like a shameful blight from the rest of KeetoTown. This was a place where foul-smelling wheda hung about. What sort of Elder could live in such a horrid place, unless he or she of course took Mother Azna's laws of humility to such extremes?

"Come on," Dwain urged. With a firm tug on her wrist, he led Regina up the steps of the double doors and through the threshold.

Regina kept close to Dwain, clinging tight around his arm as they entered into a dimly-lit hall, where grownup wheda who stank more of ale and wine than they did of their natural musks met their gazes at every pace. "Dwain ... Dwain, I don't think this is the Elder's house..."

"Wot? 'Course it is. I know where I'm goin' yeah." However, something in Dwain's voice betrayed him.

A broad archway appeared at the end of the hall. Silver daylight seeped across the bottom edge of the threshold, out towards the kits. Regina squinted until the muscles around her eyes started to ache, as she tried to make out the garbled details of what may or may not be waiting for them, ahead. "Where are we going?"

"Beyond the door? I see a real long table, like. Lots o' stools. Dunno, mebbe this is his meetin' room, yeah. There's more folk ahead, I can smell 'em fierce."

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