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Captain Harper of Fen’s Hive Elite left The Arids the same way she’d arrived a week ago: hidden in plain sight among a cloud of desert bats. At the border, deepening dusk covered her departure from the colony to deliver her covert mission report to Queen Lilian.
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Sirehta’s brothers had spread the word among The Arids’ disaffected residents of a meeting that might save their futures. Now the meeting place was crammed with silent creatures. Cahret rose from his coil to face those who had answered the call.
“You are here because you hate tyranny, yet you do not know how to stop a tyrant. Alone, you hide in your own defense, but you believe you are too weak and helpless to protect anyone else.”
Shifting beneath a hard skin of shining scalloped scales, a pointy-faced insectivore lumbered to her feet. “Each of us grows to become our own protector. We can’t be responsible for anyone else.”
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“You wanted to see me, your Greatness?” Elliot panted, out of breath from racing to answer the King’s urgent summons. I’ll have to remember this whenever I send for anyone, he thought as he willed his heart not to explode.
Smiling from shoulder to shoulder, King Arnie announced, “I wanted you to be the first to know. I’m going to be a grandfather!”
“Congratulations! That’s amazing! How did—“ Noticing his father-in-law’s arched eyebrow, Elliot blinked. “Wait a minute. Does that mean… Are you saying… Am I going to be… a dad?”
“That’s right, son!” The King slapped him on the shell. “I just got the news from the Runner. Congratulations to you.”
Elliot turned to leave. “I should be with Cassandra.”
“Of course that’s up to you,” King Arnie said, “but she did send a message. She said to tell you she’s fine and she knows how important your job here is. And she’s hoping you’ll find some time to set up a house with a nursery — she said that would make you the greatest hero ever.”
“Then that’s what I’ll do,” Prince Elliot the Faithful father-to-be declared. “I can’t believe it. I’m going to be a dad!”
With visions of fatherhood fuzzing up his brain, Elliot zipped out the door to share the news with his friends, trailing an exuberant, “Wooooo-hooooooooo!” behind him.
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“The last time we saw Elliot, he was leaving the Freelands, headed to Bog with Knights of Service Barry and Trevor to help prepare for war. He didn’t even know Cassandra might be pregnant. So what’s up with that?”You. Justifiably.
“I live to serve. . .”Me
Sweat dripped from Elliot’s face onto the latest stack of provisions he and his team had prepared. The urgency he felt had deeper roots than the need to get Bog ready for war. He hadn’t seen his exquisite Cassandra in a week.
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“Man, maybe we should give Sam and her mom some privacy to work out their feelings. What about those snake guys King Arnie sent to The Arids on a secret mission? How’s that going?” You might be thinking.
“All righty, then. Meanwhile, out in The Arids…” Me, accommodating as ever.
“I hear you’ve been looking for me.” Girdliz’s soft, fuzzy voice drifted down from the boulder through heat-shimmered air onto Sirehta’s back as he slithered past over the relentless dust of The Arids.
Raising his head… his neck… his body to cock an eye at the stony little lizard, the viper nodded like a drowsy sunflower in a summer breeze. “Yes. I understand you are no friend of the General.”
Scrunching his forehead to scrape its scales together, Girdliz jittered from foot to foot. “He’s scary,” he confided. “Scary and mean.”
“And your fear makes you helpless?” Sirehta asked.