Queen Madalena

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Elliot 196
Photo credit: Eric Tourneret

“Wait out here, Clifton. Let me talk to her first. And you —” Sam glowered at her half-brother, “you better hope she doesn’t make me stay here, because you aren’t gonna like me if I have to stay here.”

“What makes you think I like you anyway?” Andre retorted, but Clifton saw worry and a hint of doubt in his eyes as he left them at the entrance to the Innermost Chamber.

~~~

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Damage Control

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Elliot 195
Photo credit: Stephane Mahe

Dinner among the recruits was a noisy, energetic affair. Sharing stories about their training — their failures and their triumphs — brought laughs and complaints, taunts and praise. Their natures began to sort them into a team of leaders and followers.

As word of Sam’s prowess spread beyond the stinging Fliers to the other training groups, she became the most sought-out trainee in the Meadow.

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Sam

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Elliot 191, Scott Bauer
Photo credit: Scott Bauer

Inside the hive, Sam slipped into a small chamber out of sight around a corner. The first creature to exit a short while later was a darkly exotic female, the like of whom Clifton had never seen.

“Come with me,” she said as she walked past him.

Feeling his heartbeat in his wingtips, Clifton stammered, “Uh, sorry. I… uh, I’m… waiting for someone.”

“Yeah. Me.”

“You’re Sam?”

“Yeah. What of it?”

“Nothing,” he assured her. “It’s just that… well, I was expecting a… a guy.”

Sam crossed her top arms and stuck her lower fists on her hips. “You males are all alike. Andre didn’t tell you he’s my little brother, did he? Well, half-brother really; Mother used to travel. Come on.”

Sam interrogated Clifton as she hurried him through a maze of empty honeycomb.

“So what’s this war about?”

Clifton felt a need to match his speech to the speed of his legs. “This crazy tyrant wasp in The Arids calls himself General Hai and claims he’s the rightful King of Fen. He wants to take back the Hive and take over Bog and the Freelands, too.”

“Is he?”

“Is he what?”

“The rightful King of Fen?”

“No!” Clifton exclaimed. “The Hive has been in my family for generations. There was a wasp uprising against Queen Lilian’s mother a long time ago, and that became the Great War. Another attack happened recently, but it was personal.”

Sam turned left into an unoccupied reserve storage room and shot Clifton a pointed look. “All wars are personal against somebody, aren’t they? What about the rest of the Kingdom?”

Clifton stood tall. “We support the Queen. We’re free to live the way we want to — within the law — but nobody thinks the laws are unreasonable. We’re happy.”

“Except for the wasps, apparently,” Sam commented.

“No,” he corrected her, “including the wasps who are citizens. Only the Great War’s exiles were unhappy. In fact, my aunt is engaged to a wasp.”

“What?”

“We have good lives in Fen,” Clifton told her. “I can’t imagine not having friends from other tribes.”

“We don’t need friends from other tribes,” Sam countered.

That belief must be so old nobody questions it, Clifton thought. “See, that’s what’s changing. If the General comes to the Freelands, it’s going to be a lot easier for him to take over if he only has to fight one tribe at a time. First he’ll conquer the wasps, then he’ll move on to the bees or the voles or somebody else. His army is greater than any of your tribes alone. If you guys don’t help each other, the Freelands won’t be free for long.”

Sam’s brow furrowed. After a longish pause, she issued an order.

“Take me to this Alliance of yours. I’m signing up.”

To be continued. . .

Previously, on Elliot’s Adventures ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Next time . . .

Raindrops and Tears

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Elliot 184
Photo credit: Wallpaperpassion.com

“…and Lady Lucy is dead.” Queen Lilian repeated in disbelief.

“Yes, your Magnificence,” the drenched Hopper said as rain dripped from his antennae to the floor. “She didn’t know the Assassin had escaped from the Freelands and beaten her back to the Arids. The General caught her in her lie, gave the order, and the Assassin carried it out.”

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Drago Galadeen

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Elliot 183
Photo credit: Igor Siwnowicz

“If you know who I am,” Sirehta replied bringing his face close to the speaking crack in the wall, “you have the advantage. Come out and let yourself be seen. You will come to no harm.”

Two twitching antennae and a round little head poked out from the crevice. Locking eyes with the viper, the oversized hopper scaled the wall to rest on a protruding stone at the top, facing the snake full on.

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Just Another Chink In the Wall

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Photo credit: C. Rumarosa

Flying to hang in front of Sirehta, the General scraped a sparking red powder from his back with a rear leg, and said, “To seal your commitment, each of you will submit to marking. Allow me to demonstrate. Pietro!”

Scuttling forward, the little Stinger stopped directly below him. The wasp descended to press his foot against Pietro’s back which began to sizzle and steam, leaving a grooved scar. The General rose, scraping his back again. It was only then Sirehta noticed the youth’s carapace bore countless identical marks.

“Is this agreeable?” the wasp asked.

Sirehta waited for each of his brothers to nod in approval.

“It is,” he replied.

Lowering his head, he resisted his instinct to snatch the General out of the air, and accepted the searing pain without flinching.

So it was with each serpent.

Instructing Sirehta to remain behind, the General divided the viper force into pairs and sent each team in a different direction.

“Your first assignment is to scout to the edge of the Arids and rid the region of any who don’t belong here. Report back to me at dawn.”

“How are we to know which don’t belong?” Cahret asked.

“Residents are marked. Report back at dawn.” General Hai retreated to the cavern without a backward glance, followed by his loyal throng.

The General’s response chilled Sirehta’s blood. Alone, he watched his brothers blend into the night until a tiny voice coming from a chink in the wall caught his attention.

“Psst!” it insisted, “I know who you are.”

To be continued. . .

Previously, on Elliot’s Adventures ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Next time . . .

Sworn

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Elliot 181
Photo credit: Fallout

Incautious, the voices grew louder and more distinct the closer the vipers crept. Cahret slithered up the side of a coarse rock wall to peer over its horizon onto a bed of chattering Stingers.

“…but the bat should’ve been ours — we held her down,” one complained.

“Yeah,” another echoed, “what’d that old Crone do she should get it?”

“Not so loud!” the largest ordered. “You want the General to hear you whining? He’s not gonna keep her around forever, and after he’s done with her, who do you think’ll be feasting then?”

“So we’ll get the old bat in the end, huh?” the first one gloated. Shrieking laughter pierced the sky.

Cahret slipped over the rocks to call through the darkness. “Can you take us to your General?”

Below, a flurry of scurrying answered.

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