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Orphans & Outcasts: Chapter Seven

As you sit upon your high throne, watching jigsaw pieces of lands fit together, do you ever wonder what we little ants are doing down below you?

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The Zaprex Nefertem

Denvy had not been able to dream since the yoke had been firmly locked around his neck. It had drained him of all dreamathic abilities. The darkness of sleep had become a bottomless pit of empty nothingness that swaddled him like a choking death. He despised this lonely, hollow, echoing, dreamless sleep. Always his dreams had overflowed with the rolling of faces from his long past. He wandered the bright sunlight-filled halls of his childhood. Therein the welcoming arms of his family waited. Dreams were the eternal escape from reality, to a peaceful time of harmony, when songs had ruled the Lands of Livila.

He knew now that he was asleep; a dreamathic was always aware of sleep, even if there was no dream to be had. Through the veil of slumber, he could feel the ache of stiff limbs. Skin was on fire. Yet as he drifted through the black tar, a dot kept appearing.

It was a mere speck in the ocean of sludge-sleep, blinking on and off, but it should not have been there with the yoke on. He could not dream; even a little white dot in a sea of nothing was a dream.

He stepped towards it, one foot-paw at a time. With each step he grew lighter. The burden around his neck became lighter, and the burning sensation down his back eased until it was entirely gone. As they had been in his youth, his muscles became flexible and his bones less brittle. Denvy stirred, fluttering his eyelids. They were not caked shut by conjunctivitis. His lungs were unburdened with mucus, no longer crackling with illness. He beamed brightly, studying himself in the reflection of the glossy floor beneath his foot-paws. A childish, very cubby face looked back at him. He was barely old enough to have been more than a decade past his birth. He was a cub! How delightful a dream this was. Denvy chuckled, prancing down a long hall until he skidded to a sudden stop in alarm.

He was in a familiar world. This was the world of his past—the vast, sprawling city of Tikal. His people had called Tikal the Rainbow City, and truly it was a place of dancing light. The endless arching windows, bejewelled with colours, dazzling white reflective floors and pillars of glass. Interlinking towers and walkways entwined like the webs of giant spiders. Only here there were no spiders, but, instead, little Zaprex ants scampered about.

Denvy frowned.

His fur spiked around his neck as he finally felt the presence nearby. The mere tingling it sent against his skin triggered a flood of awe, love, and hope as he smelt the soft scent of lilies. A faint static discharge nibbled against his foot-paws as the floor beneath him rippled due to a Zaprex’s wings releasing their excess energy. Denvy’s lips parted. Gradually he dared to turn. He had to know—

He had to know if his dream had kept the image of the one who had created him.

Could he still recall the Zaprex who had given him the spark of life?

Across the long hall, a lone figure sat upon a futon, dressed in a simple blue chiton, patterned with azure lilies.

“Nefertem,” Denvy murmured.

He had disturbed the Zaprex with his glee, and a rather amused face was now studying him. Stunning sapphire eyes danced with mirth. Denvy felt his limbs slacken. They were exactly as they should have been—old, weary, but ever welcoming in the silver-tinged features of the delicate fairy.

“Maahes, whatever brings you here?” Nefertem set down the tattered book it had been reading, one nimble finger tracing the worn brown paper as though the tome was precious. In the light from the towering window, the graceful Zaprex’s semi-transparent chiton constantly changed colour, mimicking the surrounds. “I thought you were playing with the other cubs who came up from the surface? Hazanin organized the whole thing for your hatching-day.”

Denvy crinkled his nose. Hatching-day. Yes. That was what Zaprexes called their day-of-birth, but he had no recollection of this particular memory, or this dream. He slackened, staring around at the vast hall, empty of all but him and his creator.

“Maahes, is everything all right?” Nefertem’s body whirred as it floated up from the seat. Ethereal wings expanded, flowing freely in strands of glossy energy. On slender heels, Nefertem landed beside him, barely reaching him mid-waist. Long ears twitched rearward in enquiry, though the smile he received was tender. It terrified him.

Nefertem should not have been smiling.

Nefertem should have been weeping. Everything the fairy loved, everything the fairy had worked for, was decaying and falling to ruins. Denvy squeezed his paws tightly. This Nefertem was a dream of a time before the Thousand Sol-cycle War. It did not know of the horrors to come.

“I think I am lost, Gifu,” Denvy whispered.

“Lost?” Nefertem blinked, expression flipping from a pleasant glow to a calculating frown for a brief moment. It lifted his paw and gave it a gentle pat.

“Mayhap something has gone awry in your navigational software. I shall have a look this evening during your hibernation.” Nefertem turned, tugging gently on his paw. “Come along. We cannot get lost in our own home, can we? Walk with me.”

The stroll was slow, for Nefertem’s steps were far shorter than his long strides, and he tried to compensate for the elegant Zaprex. They stopped constantly to allow Nefertem to engage in conversation with the patrons of the glowing halls and high walkways. It was the noise that confused him. It was like wind through a forest, only the forest was far below them, deep in the bowels of the city’s inner sanctum. After passing another dozen Zaprexes, chatting happily and breaking his heart with their impish smiles, the noise intensified. He had not heard it for so long it was no wonder he had forgotten the sound. The dream he had conjured up was so accurate it had even recreated the buzzing hive melody of Zaprexes all dwelling in one hub. Hearing the harmony almost made him lose his footing beside Nefertem.

His foot-paws halted and he stood limply, allowing the song to seep deeply into his core. Tears trickled down his cheeks. He had forgotten what it had been like to be connected to such an immense symphony. For so long, it had just been him, Hazanin, and a few of the Ancient Ones who held on to the vagueness of hope. And their combined melodies were so weak.

This was true harmony—what the Zaprexes did best.

“Everyone dies,” he choked out weakly.

“The Sun sets on every Empire, Maahes. It will even set on ours.” Nefertem’s hand curled into his fur.

“No, you don’t understand Gifu. Everyone dies. I lose everyone.”

“When you are lost, what do you do?”

Denvy frowned. The Zaprex’s tone was gentle and yet urging as though tugging his mind in the direction it needed to turn. He stared out across the scene he had long forgotten; even in his dreams it had been vague and blurred. Never was it this crisp.

“You find your way home,” he murmured.

“Yes.” Nefertem nodded. “You find your way home. Denvy. It is time for you to go home. Your home needs you. It is calling you, across time and space, drawing you in, even if you have not yet realised it.”

The overwhelming flood of emotion took him by surprise. Through his foot-paws, a dreamathic bond of immense power bombarded him. His fur stood on end and his fan-tail expanded to full frill at the familiar gush of love and warmth as Tikal’s artificial intelligence made a mental connection deep inside his mind. A knitted web filled the hole the yoke had torn open, and, so faintly, he could see a flicker of dreamathic threads surrounding him.

He was actually here. Denvy staggered back, his breaths coming in sudden, sharp gasps as he struggled to take in the real, fresh, untainted air. The Dragon still slumbered in this world. The Zaprexes still ruled. They were healing the shattered planet piece by piece. The Towers were brimming with life. He was home, before the Thousand Sol-cycle War.

Twisting sharply, Denvy stared down at Nefertem.

“This is impossible. I’m home. I’m home?”

Nefertem’s hands curled behind its back. “Hazanin must be dead in the future if Time is rippling. Interesting. I suppose that means the cycle is broken in the future. Troubling, but not unexpected from Sehkmet’s calculations.” The Zaprex twirled about. A door to the side of the hall opened, revealing an outside balcony. He followed the fairy through the entrance, blinking in the sunshine. Raising a paw to shade his eyes, Denvy watched sky-ships glittering in the rosy pink sunset across the sky-sea. His hearts raced at the sight and he wanted to vault over the edge of the boulevard. But he could not join them. He could not fly with them. This was not his time.

“How am I here?”

Nefertem shrugged. “It is likely that, in the future, the mainframe of the Northlands is being reset and you are being caught up in a reality ripple. I’d expect a few hiccups to happen if it’s a single sector reset and not a full world-system reinstall. Even then, I couldn’t hope for a hundred percent wipe out of the old desktop and mainframe.”

Denvy ruffled his air-gills. He had to trust that Nefertem was correct. After all it was the scientist behind the sector-gods and the sectors of the Lands of Livila. While it might not have created the actual Towers, it was the combined Pantheon themselves that had built the software within them. His creator and Hazanin had been the two Zaprexes remaining who had devised the plan to pull the Northlands together, creating its rotational spin to replace the Towers.

“Why am I here?”

“You said you are lost; you have found your way home.” Nefertem joined him, taking out its book as it seated itself on a nearby seat. “I think your consciousness is trying to tell you something.”

Denvy opened his mouth. Nefertem lifted a hand, stalling his words before they escaped his mouth.

“My dear Maahes, you know very well that telling me anything now will not change your reality. It will simply change a reality that is not yours. Your past has already happened, my future has not. They cannot merge.”

Denvy slumped into the seat beside the fairy. “Everyone dies…”

“You don’t.” Nefertem pressed a kiss to his forehead. “And, therefore, my song lives on in you, my dear son. Hold on to that.”

So originally - a long time ago - when I first started planning the sub-series around the character left behind from the Main Series I actually had the series titled "Cities of Gold" - and the first three books were titled The Dreamer's Children, The Dreamer's Castle and The The Dreamer's Son - but over time the series itself evolved to include more than just Denvy and his Cubs but the overall events around the entire Northlands therefore 'The Northland Rebellion' became the title of the series.

The Dreamer's Children became Orphans & Outcasts - and The Dreamer's Castle turned into The Mirror's of Tikal. The entire plot for The Dreamer's Son I ended up uprooting and moving to shove into the very, very end of the WHOLE combined series of both The Northland Rebellion and The Dynasty of Earth and Stars as it focus' on Jarvis - and well - things happen with Jarvis. Complicated things.

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