New Plans

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“This wasn’t the plan, Anthony.”

The Stinger shrugged. “What can I say? The General’s schedule opened up at the last minute, and he’d like to conclude this arrangement without delay.”

General Hai hovered above an assortment of Stingers, both Creepers and Flyers. Scorched spots on nearby plants testified to his touch.

Peering through the haze emanating from the smoldering wasp, Elliot asked, “How did you enter Fen without being seen and apprehended?”

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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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Back Channel Communications

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Holding up both arms, the Assassin moved into the open and stopped well away from the Prince. “As you can see, I also am un-armed. Or un-clawed, to be more precise, thanks to your dear friend Randall. You wouldn’t happen to know where he is, would you? He ran off before I could thank him properly.” Elliot said nothing. “No?” Anthony asked. “Ah well, if it’s meant to be… So, Elliot the Faithful. How good to see you again.”

Neither of them moved.

“What do you want, Anthony?”

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Sergeant Bufo

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Photo credit: David Gray

“Hold on there, Jeremy!” A heavy voice rolling from a wide-mouthed toad on her way down the steps stopped him. “The prisoner stays right there. Go get the Queen’s Liaison.”

Jeremy hopped to it.

Sergeant Marina Bufo was a commanding presence. Even larger than the Crone, she filled the confined space with the illusion that Duggla had no air of her own to breathe.

“So you’ve got something to say, huh?” Sergeant Bufo asked.

“Not to you,” the Crone mumbled taking shallow, suffocated breaths.

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The Message

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The Crone’s windowless cell in Fen’s lockup allowed her to take one step in any direction before bumping into a wall or a gate of narrowly spaced bars. Anger and contempt seething in her gut, she didn’t hear the stealthy scratch of clawed feet creeping down the rough hewn stairway leading from the jail above to the shadow-filled dungeon she occupied.

She jumped, bumping her head on the low ceiling, at the honeyed whisper in the dark.

“Good evening, Madam Duggla. I come with a message from the General.”

Gasping, the Crone spread her bulk against the back wall as far from the bars as it was possible to be.

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Stuck

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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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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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“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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Unexpected Visitor

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Princess Cassandra began every morning in Cassandra’s Clearing, its sweetly optimistic raspberry scent wafting through the crannies in her mind, inspiring pleasant thoughts and images wherever anxious imaginings tried to take hold.

Sitting with closed eyes and a calm heart, she could think of Elliot as she’d last seen him instead of worrying about what might happen to him because of this war. She could anticipate his return and becoming parents together, without impatience. She could spend hours daydreaming about what their child would be like when it finally arrived.

She attributed her serenity to the joyful aroma of raspberries, and believed others would find the same restorative powers here that she had. So even though Queen Lilian had designated Cassandra’s Clearing as a private space for the Princess, Cassandra welcomed anyone who needed a peaceful place to rejuvenate a worldweary spirit.

That’s why she felt no alarm when an unfamiliar voice glopped into her meditation. 

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Drago Galadeen

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“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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