Stuck

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Photo credit: Faysal Akbik

With Clifton winging his way west and the few land and air forces remaining in central Fen now following Sheela to the front lines, Queen Lilian looked inward. “None of the patrols reported any movement along those borders. Why didn’t I know this was going to happen?”

Shaking his head, Vernon reasoned, “They must have gone well north of The Arids before turning east, figuring no one would look for them coming from that way.”

Lilian’s brow wrinkled. “I should have thought of that.”

“My love,” Vernon persisted, taking her hand, unless you had sent patrols across the border, you couldn’t have discovered they were there. No one knew. None of the spies sent to the Arids managed to infiltrate the General’s War Council. Even Lady Lucy hadn’t gained enough of his trust to learn their strategy.”

The entrance Guard called, “Drago Galadeen and Madam Delilah.”

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Invaded

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Photo credit: Jayaram Jahgirdar

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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Unmasked

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Photo credit: macrojunkie

“She says she comes from The Arids with information that can save Fen,” Vernon informed the Queen as he escorted her to the Audience Chamber.

“You sound doubtful,” she observed.

“No one here knows her,” he said. “I think it’s wise to be cautious.”

“I think you mean ‘skeptical’,” the Queen teased.

Vernon remained serious. “What if she’s one of the General’s spies?”

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Captain Avery

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Photo credit: Birch Leaf Photography

Scaling the tree next door to the Captain’s, Drago Galadeen called, “Captain Avery, sir!”

snoring scimitar beak snapped shut, a pair of gleaming citron orbs snapped open, and the feathery face surrounding them swiveled two hundred and seventy degrees, searching for the call’s source.

“Who is it? What happened? Did they attack?” the owl asked, now as alert as if he’d known Drago was coming. “What are you doing over there, Galadeen?”

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Captain Harper

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Photo credit: National Park Service

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.

The Queen granted her an immediate audience.

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Seeking Hearts and Minds

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Photo credit: Ann Kreilkamp

“How did Lady Lucy die?” Clifton demanded.

“She was undercover, gathering information from The Arids, and the General found her out,” the runner answered.

His vindication washed with tears, Clifton was adamant. “I knew Lady Lucy was loyal to the Queen! I need to tell Barry.”

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Tipping the Flower

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Photo credit: Katherine Ricarda

“What are you thinking?” Arturo asked Clifton.

“It should be easy — I’ll ask to stay with the Hiverarchy while I’m here. I can talk to the workers about the Alliance, and maybe start a… buzz.” They both grinned. “Kýrios may be the Most Revered, but he’s not a dictator, he’s an advisor to their Queen. He’ll listen to the majority even if he doesn’t agree, and he’ll share what he hears with her.”

“What if he still advises against joining?”

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