They’re Coming!

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At the Hive, Captain Avery’s screeching alarm yanked Vernon from his troubled dreams of nameless shadows creeping in from all sides, and threw him into a harsh reality of impending doom and death. How Lilian had remained asleep he couldn’t fathom, but leaving her to enjoy a few more moments of peace, he flew outside to find out what the hell was happening.

The Captain of the Dark of Night Aero Squadron flapped through the dwindling spatter, stark against the lumpy sky, lit in a final blast of lightning. Spying the Queen’s Liaison, he landed on a branch above the Hive.

“Sir,” his breath burst hot on Vernon’s face, “a patrol of grounded Flyers has discovered five slain Guards right here in Central Fen.”

“The General’s henchmen?”

“It looks that way, Sir. They’re too far apart and too recently dead to believe there was only one killer.”

Vernon closed his eyes. “And Cyrus? The Guard outside the Bower?”

“I’m not certain. If he’s one of the victims, he’s been dragged away and hidden. But we found another body — an enemy’s — close to the Bower.”

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Getting to Know Her Friends

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Photo credit: Burrard-Lucas

Relegating her new worry about Cassandra’s safety to her trust in King Arnie, Queen Lilian faced her duty to interview the Alliance leaders she had requested to visit her. Too many lives depended on their secret plans for her to trust Fen’s fate to leaders she didn’t know.

“Commander Torlex of The Arids’ Rebel Army, Sirehta of the Viper Brotherhood, I invited you here to share your plans so that we may coordinate our strategies.”

Chuckling deep in his throat, rain dripping from his protruding chin, and his eyes thoroughly bloodshot from lack of sleep, Commander Torlex turned to Sirehta. “It was your brilliant idea, I think you deserve the honor of sharing it with the Queen.”

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When the Storm Breaks

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Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht

“I remember the process you’re talking about, Arnie.” With her eyes closed, Queen Lilian gazed at the pointed end of a memory that still cut into her heart. “We haven’t used it since Mother died.” She opened her eyes and willed her face to smile.

King Arnie asked, “Could we use it for Randall?”

“Of course. We’ll prepare a work area tonight, and they can bring his body in the morning.”

“Thank you, Lilian.” The King looked at his feet. “I tried to keep him safe, and I failed.”

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Casualties

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Bog’s army had arrived in time to help push General Hai’s troops back across Fen’s border, at least for the night. Now, at the end of a day filled with conferences, bad news, and tough decisions, Queen Lilian heard the same remorse in King Arnie’s apology that she’d expressed to Vernon earlier.

“No one saw it coming, Arnie.” she said. “What’s important is that Bog’s army is here now, and Commander Torlex has taken the Arids’ Alliance Army across the northwestern corner of Fen to cut through the enemy.”

“Torlex is a cagey one,” King Arnie confided. “He’s hinted he has a secret attack plan that’s going to take the General by surprise, but only his army knows what it is.”

“Do you trust him?” Lilian asked.

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Invaded

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The urgent buzz of an approaching bee snatched Drago’s attention from the Crone’s trail. “Clifton!” he shouted as the Queen’s nephew shot past. “What are you doing here?”

Banking hard to reverse direction, Clifton dropped to hang in front of the Runner. “Drago — you’re all right! We were worried when we didn’t hear anything from Fen.”

“What do you mean, you haven’t heard anything? My shift is just starting, but two Runners went out yesterday. The first one should have reached you by last night.”

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Her Story

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Photo credit: Paul on Flickr

Sini and Viola watched Commander Torlax’s forces advance into the night until the vibrations in the ground faded to stillness.

Smiling, Viola picked up one of the Leftenant’s wings. “Tell me how you did this.”

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Commander Torlex

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Sini followed Viola to the salty playa where the Nocturnals of the newly formed Arids’ branch of the Alliance Army stood ready to deploy south to join the Freelands’ forces.

“—and my brothers will continue to coordinate the Alliance’s covert missions while the forces of Bog engage the enemy from the west,” Cahret said. Nodding toward the dignified iguana on his left, he indicated the next speaker. “Commander Torlex of The Arids.”

The Commander raised his chin, accentuating his underbite. “We who live in The Arids are tough. Our lives are hard, but we don’t abandon our homeland looking for something easier. Our ancestors handed us a history filled with scarcity and endurance, strength and survival.” He scanned the faces in front of him.

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