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Orphans & Outcasts: Chapter Four

You speak of missing me when I am but a thought away.

You are surrounded by our children, who still love you.

The Dragon has not yet taken from us our Dynasty.

He has stolen our ability to give life, but he has not taken our will to live.

You will succeed in your task, Nefertem.

I do not doubt you, so do not doubt yourself.

I look down from above and I see the work you and our children do.

I am proud.

Save Livila.


We are Zaprexes.

We save worlds, or we die trying.

NORTHERN TOWER – private communication linkage –

01010011 01100101 01101011 01101000 01101101 01100101 01110100

Sneak Peak of Coming Audiobook - Watch this Space

Jarvis was sure he was back in the box that had imprisoned him. The Human part of him was frightened; it feared the enveloping darkness groping at his limbs and tugging at his skin. But the protector bot whispered reassurance.

He had no reason to fear. The darkness meant him no harm. The longer he floated, drifting in the rhythm of a gentle river, the clearer the new world became and gradually he was immersed in scatterings of tiny lights. It was as though he was swimming in the night sky-sea, swirling and dancing with the stars themselves. Jarvis stared at his skin, admiring its new texture, covered in the same pattern of stars as the network surrounding him. Each time he stepped he left behind an open glowing footprint and through that hole he was sure he could see Pennadot, but he had never seen Pennadot from far above before. Maybe he was in the sky-sea; he had become a star. Maybe he was dead and he was travelling to the Sun.

“No, you are not dead, my precious little body. This is the network of the world, the Data-Stream, or, as you mortal flesh-bags call it, the Secondary Realm. Welcome, Jarvis of the Plains People, to the greatest machine the Zaprexes built—otherwise known as my prison.”

Jarvis froze. The sense of beauty and tranquillity of his surrounds was broken. Something immense was behind him, choking him with its enormous existence, wrapping around him like a cloak with fingers. His head turned, eyes settling upon a flame-haired figure standing on a red-lit circle, with corresponding chain patterns across pale, freckled skin. It was a boy, younger than he was, perhaps about Clive’s age. But no boy he knew, not even annoying, bothersome Clive, had ever looked so cruel. He was reminded of a spider, crawling towards a helpless fly tangled in its web.

Jarvis was the fly.

He gasped, as suddenly the boy was inside his own circle, and the red hue was all around him, burning away his blue colours.

“Your body is not my style. Not really what I was going for—a bit mundane. But I suppose I will grow to like it.” He leered. “Funny that: growing into something. Me, trying to fit into you. I am the size of a planet. I don’t think it will work, no matter what my minions tell me.”

Jarvis flinched as a hand touched his chin. The skin was hot. A sharp pain struck him in the skull and he held his head as light dazzled his eyes. It was unbearable, worse than when he had felt the protector in the Zaprex Way Station die in front of him. Claws dragged into his skull, trying to tear through the layer of the protector’s program, and it was fighting back, screeching at him to regain control and win against the boy laughing at them. How could he fight something that was in his head?


Jarvis jerked back. He had been so transfixed by the bottomless pits of eyes void of everything, unable to move and speak, terrified by the hopelessness that had gripped him. He had not moved, though he had believed he had.

The high-pitched screech that rang out was like a blaze through the starry realm, sending a pulse into the galaxy. Everything swelled into rivers, forming long arms that unfolded from a singular point and standing in the centre of the spirals was an infuriated Zaprex holding up a finger.

The protector that shared his body confirmed that it was indeed a Creator and his relief was immeasurable. If only the sweet face was not set in such rage, it would have been beautiful.

“Back away from the protector bot,” the Zaprex snarled, “or I will unleash upon you everything I know if you come even one grid-step closer.”

Jarvis gasped. The movement was involuntary; he floundered away from the smirking boy standing behind him, splashing into the silver spiral. He dashed across its surface, kicking up starry codes as he moved.

“It is all right. Do not panic. He cannot hurt you with me here. Follow the sound of my voice; come to my grid-polygon.”

Jarvis ran. It felt as though he ran for miles, when it may have been mere metres, but there did not seem to be such a thing as distance in this eerie world. Eventually he found himself surrounded by the swelling of stars, coating him protectively.

The Dragon was still there, just beyond him, leering with empty eye sockets and a wide, toothy grin that chilled him to the core. A touch stirred him and he looked down at the beautiful fairy. It was not the Time Master, who had led him to the Zaprex Way Station. The Time Master had an air of great age; this Zaprex was tiny and he guessed it was young.

It was a child.

The Dragon waded closer to them, making the hair of the Zaprex behind him stand on end in a static charge. It hissed in irritation.

“Hello, little Key! How lovely of you to join us—”

“Silence! I know what you are trying to do and it is not going to work. If you attempt to take over this protector bot again, you will not get a chance to enjoy having a body. When we meet face to face, I will tear it apart!”

The Dragon’s hands fisted and Jarvis cringed as the black world rippled. He watched in horror as the boy’s image wavered. But the Zaprex waved a hand and stabilised the distortions.

“It is strange, little Key, how different you are to your beloved people. It took them centuries to decide on violence, and, even then, it backfired on them.”

“Do not think that you will bother me with tales of my people, Dragon. I am beyond that. You cannot taunt me. Now you will either remove yourself from my presence, or I will make you.” The Zaprex levelled the Dragon with a glare.

“You think you can fight me? Not even the combined forces of your entire Empire could defeat me!”

“No. But I will send out a distress signal that will run an anti-virus in this area, and I am sure you do not want that, do you? They are a bit like jailers to you, I imagine…heh?”

The Dragon hissed, spitting liquid as it turned sharply. “You are nothing like Hazanin. Hazanin was a crazy lunatic, far easier to manipulate—”

“Insult my Positive Parent again,” the Zaprex snarled, stepping closer, yellow eyes glazing into a red film,” and I will show you just how much like Hazanin I am.”

“Such ferocity.” The Dragon bent forward. “Do you get that from your Human guardian, or from the Kelib? Oh, which one will I kill first when I am free? Maybe…the Human—”

Jarvis flinched as the Zaprex moved. It was like a flash, so fast the light could not keep pace with the imp. It appeared before the Dragon and lashed out, the Dragon stumbled back with a shout. The surface beneath them scattered with symbols as the Zaprex swung out a leg, smashing it into the Dragon’s waist and striking him against the floor. Around them alarms flared. Jarvis curled into a ball as the blackness turned red, as red as the eyes of the small Zaprex. The Dragon choked, hands flayed out in a protective shield.

“You cannot harm me!” the Dragon rasped. “It is against the mandate of your people to kill. You cannot kill me! You cannot kill; you value life too much. If you hurt me, you will destroy the very memory of your race. You…do not want to do that…do you…little Key?”

The Zaprex lifted its foot. “My people are already dead, Dragon. I am the last one, therefore I think I can decide what I want to do to honour them. Now be a good little worm and slither off to your hole.”

In a burst the Dragon scattered into flecks, only his haunting voice remaining.

“We will meet again, little Key, and you will burn, just as your people did!”

The Zaprex shook itself and Jarvis watched as remains of the Dragon’s clinging flakes rippled off the imp. “If I burn, it will be because I choose to burn, Dragon,” it muttered.

Jarvis would have held his breath but he was sure he did not actually have breath to hold in this realm of energy. His mind could not comprehend that he was within another plane of existence—the place of Elementals and spirits. His family—was his family here? His eyes darted toward a bright star in the distance, the giggling he could hear. It might have been Ki’b, or even his sister.

The Key snatched his wrist.

“Do not follow the will-o’-the-wisp; we only lead you astray.”

“What are they?” He looked down at the pixie, and the flowing heads of the antennae daintily bobbing free from the centre of its head. The Zaprex smiled sadly.

“They are other Zaprexes. Lost programs. There was a great calamity; I do not know what it was, but it was a terrible disaster that broke the cycle of my people’s existence, a cycle that I must begin again. Come—you are part Human; you will want to escape into the bliss of Eternity. I need to get you back to your terminal.” It tugged his hand gently and he stumbled after the floating Zaprex. “This way.”

The trails of the galaxy followed them, as though they were connected to the fairy’s movements, though what it represented he could not fathom, and the protector within him had no knowledge of the Key to feed into his mind. It appeared as though the tiny imp was in deep thought, muttering to itself, something about a ‘Gifu and Positive Parent’. It was beginning to look despairingly concerned, the grip on his wrist growing tighter.

“Are you all right?” Jarvis offered softly.

The Zaprex squeaked and turned sharply. It stared at him with bright eyes, unblinking under the curls of its soft raven hair. Suddenly it beamed a huge smile and twirled away from him in a dance.

“I am fine,” it chirped.

“I…ah…” Jarvis rubbed his nose, hearing a giggle from the Zaprex. “I should thank you for saving me.”

A nonchalant shrug returned his thanks. “It would appear you called me here, so I had to come.”

Jarvis frowned. “I called you?” The signal—was it possible that the signal he had sent out through Bez-at:_Who_Lingers_by_Water had already been heard, and by a Zaprex? Of all the possible recipients he supposed it would be a Zaprex who would have picked it up first. “The signal I sent out—you heard it?”

“So you did send the song?” The Zaprex settled on its heels. “The frequency you used is set to a particular molecule; it would resonate with only me and those who are related to me. How you received this information is beyond my comprehension right now. It is rather…unpleasant…and I request that you reduce the volume or turn it off. I doubt it is having a nice effect on Gifu. Poor Gifu. His brain must be all mushy by now.”

Jarvis frowned. Surely he was not addressing the Duamutef, Lady of the Tower, Titus had told him about? That was the only other possible Zaprex connection that he knew anything about.

“I am sorry. I am rather,” he rubbed his hands together, “new at working Zaprex technology.”

“I presumed this was the case when I saw you were a hybrid. Like I said,” the Zaprex smiled, waving a hand about dismissively, “tone it down or turn it off. Actually…why are you sending out a song, anyway?”

Jarvis jogged to keep up with the dancing pixie who had skipped ahead of him. Whatever was he supposed to say to it? Was it all right to tell a Zaprex what was going on? Master Titus would approve, would he not?

“We’re Messengers, you see, and my Master received a message from Commander Zinkx about the eruption of Coltarian come the Midsummer Solstice. My Master was sure that if we used this song to get a signal out, someone at the House of Flames would pick up the message I coded into it.”

The Zaprex advanced on him, causing him to skid to a halt. “What is your designated code?”

Jarvis frowned. Code? The protector bot within him threw up a few symbols, and he relaxed. He almost chuckled. “You…ah…mean my name? It’s Jarvis, son of Jerark, of the Plains People. I was captured by Twizels but we escaped some months ago, along with some other children. We were being taken to Utillia, though we are not sure why. My Master saved us.”

“My designated code is Semyueru,” the Zaprex touched its chest, “but you are welcome to call me Sam. It is what my protectors call me.”

“Sam.” Jarvis smiled, letting the word pop out of his lips. It was so very simple.

“I actually like Sami.” The Zaprex tipped its head to one side, a tinge of blue touching its cheeks. “My newest companion has begun to refer to me by that name. I think it is a form of affection, though I am not sure. My processing of such things is still in progress. Well, Jarvis of the Plains People, how did you become a hybrid?”

“Oh,” Jarvis laughed. “I suppose I followed a will-o’-the-wisp into a Zaprex Way Station. The Time Master, actually, but I didn’t know at the time who I was following. I was attacked by a machine inside when I found this crystal—”

Tugging open the rim of his silver suit, Jarvis relaxed at the sight of the precious triangular prism still attached to the chain around his neck. He pulled it out, revealing it to Sam. The Zaprex had gone entirely slack, but by the vibrating buzz in the air, he had the feeling the imp was suppressing a vast amount of energy.

“My Master, thankfully, came and dealt with the machine but not before I was contaminated by its philepcon liquid.”

He heard Sam breathe in sharply. The Zaprex twirled a hand in the air, bringing up an information screen suspended in the air, flicking through pages of scrolling symbols. The smile that had formed over the imp’s face began to dissolve and its antennae flopped.

“I…should warn you…the area where you are currently is going to destabilize soon.” Sam glanced up.

“It is?”

“Yes. Have you not been picking up the warning signal?”

“You mean the weird blinking thing on the side of my vision.” Jarvis tapped his temple. He had not thought anything of it. It had been around for days, almost since they had entered Utillia. He had believed it a malfunction in his optical lenses.

“Yes, that.” Sam sighed heavily.

“Oh, that’s what it’s for?”

“Yes, you need to get out of here and leave wherever you are now.” The Zaprex shoved him roughly.

Jarvis stumbled. “Can you come with me?”

“No. The defragmentation station in your ship is defective, but, even so, I would not abandon Gifu and Gibo. And there is no defragmentation machine on my side either. This is problematic. Your body is also damaged, but you are recovering. Nothing vital was hit. Fortunately the lung that was injured has already begun its transformation. I am impressed, Jarvis; you absorbed the philepcon liquid of a protector class robot and survived. According to the user-manual in my hard-drive, if they do contaminate a carbon creature, they usually reject the host…as per protocol. Maybe it liked you.” Sam drew up another information screen, surrounding them both in a scattering of holographic displays. Jarvis spun around. It was the central control room he had been in. He gasped. Master Titus. He could see the Hunter bending over a body—it was his body.

“So, I really am a Changeling?” Jarvis murmured.

The Zaprex shifted, studying him before laughing suddenly. Jarvis frowned at the bubbling giggle.

“That was the correct term for a hybrid that was not born from a Zaprex-Human union, yes. Once…long ago. I suppose you will be the first in a very long time. Here—this is your terminal. You must log out.”

“Thank you.” Jarvis inclined his head. “It had been an honour to meet you.”

“The honour has been mine, Jarvis of the Plains People: you have my last Map piece.” The Zaprex pointed to the crystal prism around his neck. Jarvis wrapped his fingers around it. Sam giggled, tugging out a necklace of its own, holding it forth. Jarvis’ eyes widened at the sight of three triangles, set together in a prism. Sam held it elegantly in the palm of its hand, causing the crystals to shimmer to life, activating at a silent command. Jarvis squeezed his own precious crystal protectively.

“This is…this is yours?”

“I need it for my function to save the world.”

“You do? Can you take it now?”

Sam shook his head. “Without a defragmentation station, no, matter cannot pass through the Data-Stream. If the Time Master led you to it, then this is part of a bigger painting that you and I cannot see. Maybe this is what you carbon creatures call luck…fate…I do not know. If you are willing to take the task upon yourself…” Sam tilted its head to one side. “Jarvis, I must ask you to wait for me at the House of Flames. I will come for my Map piece and you must guard it.”

Jarvis inclined his head, bowing low. “It is a task worthy of someone who is carrying the blood of a fairy-machine. Khwaja Denvy will be very glad to know that I can do this for you, little Key.”

The fairy touched his forehead and he looked up. Its face was a mixture of confusion and amusement, and he wondered if he had said the right words. The protector bot within him hummed that he had, but maybe it was the little Key who truly did not know how to act before him. Sam scratched behind an ear, motioning to a bright glowing screen.

“Go, and may the Sun guide your path,” it whispered. “And, ah, try not to log into the Data-Stream again. Ever. Best not tempt the Dragon to eat you…”

“I won’t. I assure you of that.”

He sucked in a deep breath, unwilling to leave the presence of the fairy and the harmonic song it radiated. Jarvis squeezed shut his eyes. Truly he could have remained by the Key’s side forever, lost in its song, but he focused on Ki’b’s face, her happy smile, and her bright laughter; it was as sweet as any Zaprex’s. Slowly he stretched out his hand. His fingers brushed the screen. Folding white light streamed around him, and he was pulled away with a tight tug. The rough sensation of being shoved back into the tight confines of his body was painful, and a bolt of electricity jolted him upright with a loud shout. Jarvis fumbled around, clutching at his burning chest, gasping for air.

The bullet was still wedged in his side, the wound beginning to sizzle and crackle. He felt over it for the hole. At least the bleeding had stopped. His philepcon liquid had dealt with the damage to the hull, but something had indeed been struck, and it was not yet connected to his cybernetics, so he could not figure out what it was.

A twittering laugh echoed off to the side of his ear and he cocked his head, frowning in confusion. He looked around the control decks, finding only himself and the wreckage of the fight. Jarvis tapped his ear, before giving his head a whack. If Sam was still in the mainframe, maybe it was laughing at him through the terminal. He pouted and glared at the floating glass desk. This was just what he needed, a fairy laughing at him for his stupidity at getting shot and almost consumed by their great enemy.

Another giggle. This time it faded away, leaving his philepcon liquid aching tightly against his bones. The fairy was gone and he was alone.

“Jarvis! Oh, yeh sweet little laddie!”

Well—not entirely alone.

The reason he had been ruthlessly cast into the strange world of the Secondary Realm became clear as Titus’ heavy body smothered him. There had been a ghastly fight between the scavengers, the Twizel, and his master. Had his master won? Surely he had if he was now hugging him. Titus did not seem bothered that his cloak was steeped in Twizel and Human remains, nor that he smelt horrendously foul. He dragged him into a crushing embrace, stuffing his face into his chest. Jarvis choked back a gag.

“Master…I…my chest. I am wounded.”

“I thought yeh were dead! Yeh friggen heart had stopped. Don’ yeh ever do that ta me again, yeh little scallywag.”

His master pulled away and studied him with an unimpressed scowl. “We need ta patch yeh up.”

“I am fine, sir, really.” He might have been swaying on his feet a bit, but he could stand. “Did you get the Ki’rayh?”

He looked around the room and noted the butchered bodies. It was a scene he was glad Ki’b and Penny were not witness to. Surely his master had not done all this damage. He knew the man could be ruthless to his foes, but they were mainly Twizels who copped his merciless wrath, not mortal men.

“Ah, no, it got away.” Titus sank back and Jarvis felt the need to hyperventilate as the freckled features of his master vanished, replaced with the skeleton. “I never had one get away before,” the Hunter snarled. “This one was different, Sonny Jon. Yeh would not have believed it! Something was not right. This is gonna come back and bite me in the totu, I know it is!”

Titus grabbed Jarvis’ arm with a bony hand. “We got another problem.”

Jarvis squeaked as he was hauled through the control room and dumped in front of the young Kattamont male who had thrust him out of harm’s way and into the terminal. Jarvis felt his chest, grateful that his new metal skeleton could absorb a rough landing, because whatever had thrown him had done it with almighty force. With his hull already breached by the bullet, he shuddered at the thought of what could have happened had the wound ruptured more than it already had.

“It was him?” Jarvis whispered at the slumped-over feline. “He did this?” He stared around at the ruins of the CCR, and the bodies that may as well have been shredded. His chest constricted, but if the agonizing torture and deaths of his family had done one thing it had at least desensitised him to everything else he had seen since that fateful day.

“Oh, yah.” Titus thumped down his heavy stone-giant sword, leaning on it casually. “I would like yeh ta meet Aaldryn Silvertide—an archaeologist who explores Zaprex ruins to learn about ancient Utillia.”

“Did you knock him out?” Jarvis turned sharply, glaring in accusation at the skeleton.

“Nope. Even if I wanted, I wouldn’t be able ta. He’s got a bit of an advantage, this fella—havin’ a god in his head.”

Jarvis back away suddenly.

“A…god!” he spluttered out. He had put his sword to the throat of a god? What type of god? One of the Kelibs’ forest-gods? Ki’b would flay him alive if he had done that!

“Oh, well, they like ta think that’s what they be.” His master chuckled. “Nah. They’re just Elementals with a bit more clout than their offspring.” Titus clicked his bony fingers. “Here we all thought the Titan of Fire was the only one to survive the culling of the Olympians. Come on, yeh wind-bag, stop pretending to be snoring! I know yeh’re in there. I can feel the residual energy yeh’re radiating. I’m an Elemental, too. Don’ try ta hide from me.”

Aaldryn’s head lifted, though limply, like a straw doll, his eyes glazed. His lips moved without there being any sign of consciousness within what should have been a vibrant and powerful figure.

“Prometheus lives?”

Fold, over fold, Titus’ skin returned as though painting his skull. A kind smile formed over the man’s features. It made his freckled cheeks light up handsomely. “Yes, yeh big horn-blower, he does. Yeh’re not alone.”

“My children have not spoken of this to me, and my children fly to all corners of the Northlands.”

“Coltarian has its own weather system. Possibly they can’t get in there.”

The Kattamont’s chest inflated. “True.”

Titus spread his hands. “So, trust me when I say Prometheus lives. Yeh know I’m telling yeh the truth, ’cause yeh can feel it in my bones.” He touched his chest, giving it a pat of assurance. “Prometheus is goin’ to be shooting fire to learn yeh be lazing about just over the border.”

“I am not lazing about!” The wind-god stood suddenly. Jarvis stumbled back at the sight of the Kattamont’s limp body swinging upright. “I protect this mortal’s life, and the lives of those around him. It is my repentance, thus I shall forever remain bound to mortal flesh! And this land is decaying. There is a rot within it that I and my children have been trying to repel for centuries. I will never again ascend to the realm of Olympus.”

Jarvis frowned. “What is Olympus?”

“It be what the Elementals call the Secondary Realm.” Titus heaved his sword over his shoulder. “Wind-god—”

“Khamsin. My name, little Shadow, is Khamsin.”

Tah, tah, whatever.” Titus shrugged. “I think Prometheus’ chains are being broken. The Obelisks are falling one by one. Coltarian is in danger of erupting. Any idea who could be doing that? Yeh’re old, right? Older than the hills, and I bet yer memory is better than old man Denvy’s.”

Khamsin eyed Titus thoughtfully.

“How do you know so much about what I am?”

“The Titan of Fire used ta rock me to sleep when I was a wee little laddie. I am the last in a large family, and was not welcomed by my brothers, so yeh could say, I was raised by the Thyrrhos. Got the hair for it, yeh know.”

Khamsin snorted. “Typical of Prometheus. His love of mortal kind has been the doom of us all.”

“Hey—” Jarvis narrowed his eyes. “You just said that you’re looking after Aaldryn and those around him. Isn’t that the same thing?”

“Do not speak of things you know nothing of, Changeling. You have much to learn.” The Kattamont’s body stood limply. “Prometheus once regulated the ebb and flow of kinetic energy throughout the planet’s sectors. It may be possible, by eradicating my siblings’ system, one could gain control of it. You would need to seize control of Icarus, though. And the Towers as well.”

“Icarus?” Titus turned to the wind-god in confusion. “Who is Icarus?”

“I do not know what it is called now, but it was one of the Cities of Gold. This cub that contains me is part of a crew who searches for their wonders.”

“I don’ like the sound of this.” Titus frowned and Jarvis blew out as his master began to undo his medical supplies, inching towards him as though he was unsuspecting prey. “The Dragon really is up to something. We gotta get back to Coltarian sooner rather than later.”

“Before it blows up? Yes.” Jarvis sniped back.

“That would be preferable.” Titus’ glance was disproving. Any other smart comments would likely result in a far more disgruntled master. It was time to play it safe.

Jarvis looked at the Kattamont. “Ah, where is Aaldryn? That is his name, right?”

“He thought he killed you. He is unconscious. He rather liked you.”

“So you killed all these men?”

Khamsin shrugged. “They were just men.”

Jarvis frowned. He wondered if Aaldryn felt the same, or if this was only the powerful elemental god speaking.

“By the way,” Titus began unrolling bandages from his kit, kneeling beside him and cutting through his shirt with a knife, “what happened to yeh, Little Weasel? Yeh had no heartbeat for a long time, laddie.”

Jarvis winced as Titus inspected the bullet wound, spraying it with alcohol from his flask. His hull sizzled. It was about as happy as he was at the treatment.

“The bullet is still in there, sir.”

“Aye, but I don’ wanna take it out without my full medical kit. I got a feelin’ yer philepcon liquid is stopping the pain right now, but a possible overload of your systems will hit yeh soon. Yeh aren’t quite a full hybrid yet, laddie. I’ll carry yeh on my back.”

Jarvis pouted. That would look so heroic when he returned to Ki’b. She was going to have a fit at him for this and would never again let him out of her sight. His chest inflated as he remembered—Sam had given him a task and, no matter what, he had to complete it.


Titus’ hand scrubbed through his hair. “Laddie, wake up.”


“All right, I think yeh’ve lost too much philepcon liquid. Yeh’re spazzing out. Khamsin, we need a way outta here. How did yeh and the scavengers get in?”

“Wait! Master!” Jarvis held out his hand, stalling the hunter before he could gather him into his arms. “Please. You need to hear this. When I hit the terminal, I connected with the Secondary Realm and I met the Key! That signal I set out, it hurt the Key. I need to tone it down.”

Titus held up his hands in frustration. “What? But that code should only be linked to Duamutef.”

Jarvis got to his feet and staggered up the stairs, towards the terminals.

“Well, it isn’t, sir. The Key picked it up too. And…” Jarvis stopped fiddling with the controls and turned to beam at Titus. “It gave me a task!” If his chest had not been aching so much, it might have swelled with pride.

“A task?”

“Aye, sir! I must take this,” Jarvis held up the dangling sliver of crystal, “to the House of Flames. It isn’t just any old thing. The Time Master led me to it. It’s special. The Key needs it.”

Titus’ looked up at the ceiling. “Oh, for the love of mah wife, I knew the Time Master was in on this!”

Khamsin’s voice bellowed from beyond them. “The Time Master is moving again? Does this mean the nest of the beast has begun to stir?”

“The Dragon is rising, Khamsin.” Titus looked across at the young Kattamont and skewered the elemental god with a stare that made Jarvis shrink back. “Yeh’re gonna have ta choose which side yeh’re on.”

As if he were moving a show puppet, like those the bards used in the market squares, Khamsin moved Aaldryn’s limp body, viciously confronting Titus’ dark aura with one just as engulfing. “The wind does not choose a side. The wind is free. Let us be clear on that.”

Jarvis squeaked as Titus lifted him and threw him over his shoulder. “The wind also runs away! I hope, Khamsin, that this time we can rely upon yeh not ta flee from the field of battle when we most need the wind. Come on, let’s get back. Khwaja Denvy is likely to be worried by now and this tyke needs mending.”

“Not before I fix the signal!” Jarvis waved his arms about.

Tah, fine, fine!” Titus relented, setting him down.

Jarvis smiled weakly. His master looked haggard from the battle, but his gaze was a worried one, and he knew the Hunter was concerned entirely for his welfare. His hair was ruffled fondly. It was nice to be worried about.

Illustration of the Zaprex Semyueru

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