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READY, AIM

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Balanced with Fairy-precision, the round stone accommodations in Cogs Village glow sleepily in the pale light of dawn, golden light peeping from alcoves and shedding their sparkling effulgence upon the lake spread before it.

Above, the air thrums with excitement, anticipation and energy as silver-haired Sprat Marail spreads his feathered wings and shouts orders to the Painters zig-zagging across the sky. Whether by luck or on purpose, his shouts match the harried yells of Squad Leaders and Senior Painters as the occupants of Cogs Village sleep on.

Alighting atop one of the massive trees bordering the lake, Sprat watches as a squad of Fairies lowers a blue/white toadstool cannon into the canopy. Using branches to hold the mechanisms, they make short work of readying it to propel Painter Squads across Realms.

All around the lake, every treetop soon houses its own toadstool cannon, Squad Leader, Senior Painter and a team.

Fairies take to the skies as, with a creaking-snap, one of the branches supporting a cannon gives way and sends the toadstool spiralling toward the lake. Squads immediately converge, throwing ropes and nets woven from young branches to stop its descent. Sprat joins them as the toadstool cannon is borne upward with difficulty, touching a hand to the rope as though doing most of the hard work.

Finally safe, the squads part and return to their own treetop.

In near unison, Squad Leaders shout and a Painter stands ready at the cannon. Another yell and the Painter is hoisted inside. A sharp hand movement sees the toadstool cannons ratcheted upward, pointing in different directions. Finally, a woven tendril of cotton fluff and hornbeam is lit by mirror and sunlight.

BOOM! Several cannons fire their occupants off into the sky.

Wings back, hands by their sides, the Painters soar through the air. Eyes streaming at the velocity, their faces grim and determined. Readying their Prismsprayer and counting slots on their Ballistics Belt, these brave Fairies hurtle towards near-invisible Realm Portals.

Back in the canopy, Sprat flings an arm across his forehead, blocking the sun so he might see the tiny squad in the moments before they vanish but he’s distracted by a shout going up – the next wave of Painters readying themselves for cannon fire.

Some remembering to put their safety goggles on before they’re pushed unceremoniously into the toadstool, others waving off attempts at a reminder, they’re soon ready and, with another BOOM, fired off into the sky.

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