18. Ministers of Peace

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They ducked into an alleyway, sure and safe from sight and sound of their assailants of the Fallen Alder. Dwain dared a glance out into the river of mammals that passed by. He studied a handful of faces, sniffed the mixture of scents off the air. No one resembled or smelled like angry and drunken cats, raccoons, and pigs.

Dwain exhaled relief and turned around to find Regina directly before him, shuddering and shivering with fright as she stroked her bushy skunk tail over and over, nuzzling her cheek into its soft fur in an attempt to dissolve the calamity that embraced their realities now.

"Reggie. Reggie, I'm so sorry." Dwain pulled her into his arms and held her as she quivered in silence. "Shoulda listened ter ye from the start ... Donno what I was thinkin' yeah ... I'm so, so, so sorry..."

"It's okay," she mumbled against his chest.

But it wasn't okay. Dwain cringed against the flood of pain that overwhelmed him then. Venturing into the Fallen Alder – it such a stupid thing to do. Finding the Elder so easily was too good to be true. He thought he heard the maiden from before say Alder instead of Elder but he was too excited and determined to find out what had happened to the remaining villagers that ... that ...

...that it was simply easier to just ignore the red flags that flew at full mast, and instead ride upon the rushing winds of eager hopefulness. It was easier to put the little skunk he vowed to protect in unnecessary danger – all for the sake of his own ego. All for the sake of his own beliefs in an invisible sage who rallied whedakind against whedakind.

Your Alexia the Sage is but wartime propaganda, and the Zuut is but flesh and blood...! Dwain cringed back tears and nuzzled his cheek into the top of Regina's head.

"Can ... can you ever forgive me, Reggie...?"

Regina sniffled, nodded against his chest.

"Let's go back, yeah," Dwain decided. "Looks though Ages was right, after all. We can't do this on our own, yeah. Might not be anyone left to speak the tale, but us..."

They left the safety of the alleyway and wandered the streets for a time. The roads and buildings all looked the same to both children, and though they attempted to head back towards the marketplace on their own, it was clear that every direction they went led down the wrong path. As the day crept on, and the father sun stretched farther east, KeetoTown glowed with a golden sheen of early evening. Soon, night fall would come, and they would remain lost.

But Dwain knew Astral would come looking for them. He wasn't afraid of the old porcine, how he would react. What could he do? The hog promised to bring Dwain and Regina to KeetoTown, and that's exactly what he'd done.

As far as Dwain was concerned, Astral had fulfilled his promise; never was it his intention to help the lost kits to unearth the remnants of AltusVillage, to seek out refuge and discover the whereabouts of those who were lucky enough to escape the carnage with their lives.

But with that knowledge came also a deep realization in Dwain's heart. A realization he wondered if Regina, also knew – but did not dare to speak. If there were any other survivors, and they made it through the woods and to KeetoTown, if they – like Regina and Dwain – went about asking about those others who may have made it out as well. And if so, did those survivors meet the same angry fate that the patrons of the Fallen Alder were happy to oblige?

Dwain shuddered the thought away.

Someone had said the other towns and villages found themselves victims to a similar fate as Altus, though.

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