26. Parting Ways

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As the days drew closer to the inevitable, Regina and Dwain spent much time together locked at the elbows, inseparable as they had ever been, even since kithood. When the days were hot, they went for long walks in the forest, where they picnicked by whatever streams could be found. When the evenings were cool, they lay in each others arms under the safe glow of barn loft lamplight, where they shared memories, hopes, secrets, fears, and kisses. In the mornings between days and evenings, Dwain took great care to show Regina how to properly maintain all that made the Hollow stand: weathering and mending the fences, the cabin, and the barn; wood-cutting and carting; providing regular maintenance to the wagon cart; as well as how to abide the demands of Phalanx Andromedon. These were all responsibilities that Regina yearned to fully grasp before his absence was to come. As Dwain taught her, she was eager to learn.

In this time, a definite youthful energy charged between the both of them, not seen since Regina and Dwain first arrived in Astral's care. It was a charge of energy that even seemed to revitalize Astral to some degree. He began to leave the sanctuary of his study in favour of short walks around the property. In a brash decision doled out by dumbfounded clarity of self-aware obviousness, he partook in acts of self care: indulging in nightly elixirs and salt baths meant for KeetoTown's marketplace, sold as cures for sore muscles and general aches and pains.

As a parting gift, Dwain presented Astral with something the old wizard both detested, but stoutly needed in his study: a small and sturdy cot, for long nights of steadfast research.

With Dwain and Regina spending as much of most days together before the eventual drew upon the Hollow and changed life for them forever, Astral found that the slightly-neglected chores around the cabin had fallen into his stead. But it was a blessing in many ways, for Astral soon cultivated a rekindled joy in simple meal-making and potions-brewing that had been lost in the time he had grown old and frail.

As the final days rolled on, Regina felt a deeper connection with both Dwain and Astral. And as they all sat around the supper table those nights, ushering in on decadent meals, and everlasting laughter and jovial conversation – it became clear to Regina that the bonds of family she and Dwain and even Astral had yearned for all these years – those bonds were not forged and tempered from simple bloodlines –No, they were forged and tempered, instead, through what was made from mammals who dedicated themselves unconditionally to each other. Mammals who had been through hell and back together. Mammals who had seen and done things together no other mammal could ever fathom or tolerate.

The Hollow may be our home, but this is my family – and family is an unbreakable thing, beyond time and space, Regina came to realize. The Hollow is a temporary place for all of us, our spirits, but the bonds of family stay true no matter where in the world we decide to go. And no matter how far apart our hearts travel from each other, this bond will never, ever, crack. Family – true family – the sense of such a thing is like home, in and of itself.

Family will always be there for you, for each other, everyone.

No matter how far you go.

~

The night before Dwain was to depart, Regina dreamt of moonlit mountains, and a darkness that engulfed the very lands beyond the stretch of the GabrielSea. She dreamt of flames amidst city streets and of horned monsters made of emerald steel. She dreamt of four gemstones that shattered into whipping winds that wailed with the anguish of a thousand distraught souls. She dreamt of steam and iron, of sunless days and moonless nights. She dreamt of fiery, yellow-eyed, canines with faces void of mammality and ferality. She dreamt of her own death – alone, but with eyes all upon her – a swift knife stroke – voices, chanting – her very blood, spilt upon dunes of Men. She dreamt of the Eye of the Goddess – an eclipse awakening over a cracked and ruined world. And with the Eye came Vida's very destruction.

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