17. The Retainers

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The milk was warm and refreshing to Regina – who didn't realize just how thirsty she actually was until that very moment. They'd been through so much that day as it was, that the notions of thirst or hunger simply didn't seem to exist within the boundaries of traumatic reality. She could feel her eyes grow heavy with ease, but snapped awake when words Astral uttered once before suddenly came to mind:

...From here on in, you both are in great danger...

...Take great care in who you speak to...

Dwain guzzled down the last of his glass and slapped it down onto the bar top with an audible gasp of satisfaction. He wiped milky residue from his muzzle with the back of his sleeve, and nestled into his seat, sitting upright and confident, now. Muriel seemed amused by this, leaning into the both of them with her cheek nestled against a fist, elbow balanced upon the bar top.

But Regina could feel all the eyes on them. She dared a peek and found that the two felines and their friend, at the end of the bar, were watching them. They seemed filled with suspicion, as they quietly drank their concoctions and ate from an available bowl of shelled nuts. The burly cat, in particular, seemed darkly interested the children. Regina looked behind her and found that the raccoon and the pig had gone back to their own business, sulking in the silent depths of the drunken mind.

"Canines attacked our village," Dwain said. "Reggie and I's is lookin' fer our family, yeah."

Shock befell Muriel then. "Bless me stars, you poor things...! Where ye from, then, yeah? Hewittstown? Places all over the map be goin' up in flame these past few months..." She grasped for his paw and opened her mouth to speak when someone interrupted her.

"Ain't no damned canines in Galheist, boy." It was the burly feline, Francis. "Sure it ain't one o' yer dumb lot, set a firework in a back lot shed, yeah? Coverin' up wit lies, ye are. Blamin' the Zuut, as crazy as he is fer takin' 'em all in – he'd never send his dogs to kill the wheda he swore to protect."

"It's not a lie!" Regina snapped at him.

The sharp of her tongue surprised Dwain. It surprised even Regina, herself, but she remained steadfast in the declaration, and let herself glare at Francis until his own wretched glare scared off the little bit of her nerve that she clung to.

"It's not a lie," she said again, quietly this time, and brought the tall glass of goats milk to her lips with both paws.

"I'm sorry to hear your plight then, loves, but Francis is right, there," Muriel confided to the two children. "There ain't ever been no canines in Galheist."

"That old Astral Ages tol' us the same thing," Dwain said with a scowl.

Muriel blinked at him. "Who then, love?"

"Astral Ages. He save' me n' Reggie when we came up the Blood Hills, yeah. They set our homes ablaze! Came into the streets from the moors, totin' torches an' fiery arrows – we know who we saw then, yeah! He tol' us no way in scurvy hell did canines swim alla cross the ocean jus' to attack AltusVillage. So we's come this way to find our families, and under the guidin' justice of Alexia the Sage, we'll—"

A sheen of ice filled the room at that very moment. The air became still, silent. None of the patrons, nor Muriel spoke a word. They'd all seemingly froze in mid-sip, mid-chew, mid-sentence.

No one even dared to utter breath.

All eyes were on the children, the orphans of Altus.

Dwain faltered, visibly nervous, now. "—reclaim ... what was taken from us, yeah."

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