21. Secret Memories

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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.

Astral shook the nagging thought away.

It was late – near dawn. He patted back a yawn, hobbling through the kitchen that night to make some tea. He hadn't slept well, having instead kept himself aloft with deep thoughts and further research into the nature of canines.

Astral found his pipe laying neglected on the countertop. There was still a bit of duskroot left in it. He put the pipe to his lips and lit it, puffing sweet-tasting herb down his lungs while filling the kettle with water from the well bucket, left over from supper that night.

The canines no longer mattered, he decided, and prepared some loose leaf pekoe into his favourite tin cup.

What of the birthmark upon little Regina's back, though? There was a story of such a thing, the moon star. What was that damned thing he'd read so long ago?

He cursed a failing memory and hung the kettle over the fireplace, on his way back to the desk where all of his research was laid out that night. Astral lit some candles and settled upon his stool to resume his work, puffing away off his pipe. The crackles and snaps of the roaring fireplace faded into distant folds as runes of worlds of long-since-passed conjured up in his mind's eye off the pages of the open tomes and scrolls that blanketed the table.

The Aznain Faith.

Astral snorted alert when the thought struck his memory alight. The Aznain Faith. There was a legend, within the lore of the Aznain faith – he remembered now. The legend of the moon star. It and the stories of the Goddess Mother Azna were tied – where they not?

But, how? Astral clenched his teeth round the stem of his pipe. The book was somewhere in this study. He glanced about the cluttered study, pushed his stool away from the desk, determined now to find it. The book of the Aznain faith – that which built the foundation of the wheda's revolution over the tyranny of the Canine Empire – the damnable thing had to be here. Somewhere.

A muffled cry sounded from beyond the kitchen.

Astral froze where he sat. Gyrating teeth ground down against his pipe's stem. He waited in semi-paralyzed silence for the sound to repeat itself – not convinced by his old and ailing porcine ears. Moments passed, and no aftermath occurred. Astral relaxed his shoulders. He went back to his research, completely forgetting such stuff of moon stars and mother goddesses.

But Astral's heart tightened with innate knowing.

Something was wrong.

He pushed out of his stool, hoofs making audible clacks against the hardwood when he landed. He shuffled through the kitchen and around the table, towards the bedroom, where the door stood ajar. Pure darkness seeped across the floor from within.

Astral slid partway into the bedroom to survey the situation. The children were fast asleep in bed, snuggled cheek-to-cheek beneath the thick duvet blanket. A small, sad, smile parted the old wizard's lips as he watched them, let his ears perk to the quiet waves of their heavy breaths in slumber.

The wider world had proven its harsh realities to Dwain and Regina. To be faced with the threats of death and destruction once again, and despite such, to achieve the long journey to KeetoTown they'd both yearned for – only to learn what both of them had already seemed, and wanted to refuse, to know. The bitterness of the world's sour honesty would remain with the children, forever.

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