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A crash of lightning followed the shape into the bower. Miranda lay senseless beneath the invading mass of muscle and rage.
Colored spots before Elliot’s eyes throbbed in rhythm with his pounding head. He gritted his teeth against the agony in his side. Thinking only of shielding his daughter, he sank into cold, black emptiness. Cassandra’s voice called to him from far, far away.
“Elliot!” Her cry surged and expanded to a scream of desperate cramping lost in the thunder’s drumming.
The beast’s voice rumbled its own thunder. “Where is General’s Assassin?”
Arturo winced as he moved to stand between the Prince and the invader. Clark followed him.
Glad you could join us for the next special episode of Elliot’s Adventures. If you’re new here, you can catch up by returning tothe beginning, and reading really fast…
Trevor lay face-up in the mud, peering through the deluge splattering in his eyes at the scaly, barbed creature holding him down.
Bending his knees, muck squelching at his heels, the Knight jabbed the stinger into the belly hanging over his face while he thrust his hips up, flipping the attacker over his head. As he sprang to his feet, another electrifying bolt gleamed off each scale of the spiky creature scrambling to right himself. If they’d had fur, it would have been standing on end. Blood dripped from the fang’s gash.
For a heartbeat, their eyes locked. “What happens to me matters not,” the Knight’s foe declared. “We are many and we are here.” He lunged at Trevor and grabbed his arm, twisting till it popped, as he spun to slice across it with the barb at his elbow, tearing at muscle.
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Lying in wait for the next contraction, Cassandra stretched her eyestalks to see around Miranda. “What’s wrong with my husband?” Miranda and Arturo exchanged looks, but neither answered. “Tell me.” The Princess bit back tears. “Why hasn’t he moved?”
Arturo touched her shoulder. “He’s still alive, Cassandra, but he’s very badly injured. The Assassin’s stinger went through his shell, into his body. He’s still bleeding.”
The Princess turned to Miranda. “You have to help him. Please,” she begged.
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“But, Mother,” Andre implored, “what was I supposed to do? Samantha’s team wouldn’t leave her alone with us, and when she took us to the front, I watched her kill two wasps with a single move — like it was nothing.” He stared hard at her as if that would communicate the full horror of what he’d witnessed. “There’s no way I could have forced her to do anything.”
Covering her face, Queen Madalena tried not to begrudge her son the senseless deaths and injury his friends had suffered. She tried not to blame him for the head-strong willfulness of his sister, even as anger, disappointment, and remorse tried to tear her heart apart. Her silence lasted longer than she knew.
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Late afternoon scents of mint and lavender drifting from the cup Miranda held, resisted mixing with earthy undertones of rainy dirt and blood. The Bower’s mushrooms lit the raging storm’s false night, glinting green on tears Vernon wiped from his cheeks. Standing behind Arturo didn’t shield his heart from the sight of Cyrus sponging away the blood still flowing from the gash beneath the jagged breach in the Prince’s shell.
The Princess, unconscious at her husband’s side, stirred and moaned a growing growl. A glimmer touched the emptiness in Cassandra’s mind like a child’s hand warming a frozen rock. It grew into a vice grip forcing a web of cracks from its center, leaking her last waking memories into the once merciful oblivion: the Assassin falling at her foot… his bulging eye… his burbled dying breath… his legs scrabbling in the dirt… Arturo struggling to shove the spasming Stinger off him… throwing herself past them, trying to get to Elliot, falling instead into an abyss of nothingness that now squeezed her toward its surface, extruding her insides out.
The first contraction since her collapse flooded panic through her, straining her eyes open, heaving her lungs, and pushing her to her foot. Elliot! Where am I? The room began to spin.