Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chess with Dragons

And the Dragons were arising one by one, and they were opening up their wings in doubles and in fours, and they were turning their long and flowing necks, bursts of storm and flame flexing from their gills, their horns were scraping through the luminous æther, their eyen were opening upwards and were diamond mirrors bright, and the Dragons were crawling about all of the surface of the surface of the vessel, they came clawing up and down the surface of the deck, their talons scraping against the crennelations and walls and barrels, they came slipping all about the cords and ropes of the mast and were tearing the golden solar sails all about them as they rushed froward and breathed out crackles of flame and ice at the same time, and as the Dragons were coming they were breathing out a great and gathering storm, as their scales were breaking apart and flowing about their thews, prismatic sparkles of lava and heat were flowing up out of them, and in their passing icicles and fire were flowing at the same time and bursting out of the winds. And heading upwards in the very midst of this great and crashing concourse of Drakes arose Prince Kherènxhuqhe, great-grandson of Qhalúxha of old, and the Dragon was roaring all the while and in his rage yanking up barrel and shaft and solar sail and hurling them right towards the Children of the Land and shouting out – Riddle not with Dragons! Vex not the patience of Dragons. Task not the wrath of Dragons! Your blood now belongs unto us, oh little Princess who darest to taunt us with memories of Khnoqwísi who was stolen away from us. Your flesh now belongs unto us, oh little Emperorling who darest to stand upwards and try to struggle against the might of the khrūsophúlakes Serpents. We shall follow you, chase you, hunt you, capture you, bend you, rend you, and slaughter you, we shall follow you throughout all of the ruins of Syapàkhya, we shall chase you throughout all of the eclipses of the moons, we shall hunt you unto the blasting forces of the Northwind, we shall capture you at the forbidden shores of Jaràqtu, we shall bend you and rend you and slaughter you in despair, in flame, in mælstrom, in corona, even unto the gloomlands of the Dead! And we few who are left of the phatries of the Moon Dragons shall drink up your fear, we shall taste the equisite pain of your horror, we shall sacrifice you alive! – And Prince Kherènxhuqhe’s entire head was blinding red flames, his horns brilliant obsidian columns flowing out of them, and dripping down from his jasper and jade fangs came drips of light and plasma bright. And before him came running Puîyus and Éfhelìnye, they came slipping out before the reaching and snapping of several Dragons at once, for the Dragons by now were so overcrowding the vessel, they were almost crawling about each other in complex insectoid arrays, they were filling up the decks and shattering the bone oars and weighing the vessel down, and their sheer numbers and terrible wrath was such that they were hindering each other from capturing and killing Puîyus and Éfhelìnye.
Several Dragons in their rage came crashing together, their necks and wings scraping against each other, and stabbing each other with jabbing claws and raking tails, and it was through this hurricane of wings and frost and fire that Puîyus and Éfhelìnye came running and slipping among them, and Puîyus came bouncing upwards when several large Dragons came spinning around and were tyring to grab the edge of the prow, and he held Éfhelìnye in one arm and came soaring upwards and kicked against the jaw of the dragon to his left and rolling around in the air kicked against the horns and ears of the next Dragon. As he came sliding down the back of the third Dragon he was spinning his flaming sword around and around, and as the first two Dragons arose and dove down to grab him, Puîyus jumped upwards and cut against both of them even as the Dragons screamed out and collapsed right upon the same back down which he had been sliding moments before. He came soaring right off the tail of the Dragon and spun around in the air, Dragons were arising unto all sides of him and trying to rake him down, and he crashed against the belly of one and thrusting the sword deep within and came tumbling downwards, a rain of scale and frost and wind falling all about him and the Princess.
– Break their bones! Spill their blood! Make them suffer like no other mortal child has e'er suffered before! – screamed Prince Kherènxhuqhe as he grabbed a couple of his brother Dragons by the throats and squeazed them until bone broke through their flowing scales, and for good measure his wings beat back and forth and with their impaling claws rended right through the necks and claws of some of his passing kin, and he dashed upwards and began pounding against the deck and breathing out walls of flame and cried out – Destroy Puîyos and Éfhelìnye! Let theirs be the last death in the Land. –
Puîyus came rolling down upon the deck and drawing Éfhelìnye up beside him found himself fighting a battle at several sides at once, for the Dragons nearest to him were all raking and drawing their heads down towards him to snap at him, and beyond and above them came the walls of flame that Prince Kherènxhuqhe was breathing out right untowards him, and with Kàrijoi’s flairing sword he was able to absorb and deflect the flames like a living solar shield about him, but he could not stop even for an heartbeat, for the Dragons were all about him and trying to draw him and Éfhelìnye unto their fearsome jaws.
– Isn’t this marvelous? – Éfhelìnye asked as she clapped her hands. Puîyus jumped up to her and shielded some snapping claws from impaling her and shovig her down rolled aside and parried against some large and snapping jaws. – I refer not only to your most excellent and perfect prowess in being able to fight against the Dragons in the first place, but also to our discovery of a flaw in their overall strategy. Grandfather Pátifhar told me that the warriors of the most aristocratic Jarjhíxhoxe caste must learn not just poesy and courtesy and arms but also the game of tnúpa jórqha, and I can understand why that is so necessary. –
Puîyus yanked her head down as sparkles of flame came roarrushing right towards them, and taking her by the hand they came leaping upwards upon some long and bending gunwails where the Dragons were crawling all about them. – We know that someone is making a mistake, either the Dragons or my Father who gave them the order, we know that they actually wish to return to the way things were rather than carry out their orders. And this is the fhwèngot, the zugzwang of the problem, just like in the game. –
– Mew! – Puîyus cried outwards, and he bound upwards and found himself fencing against three different Dragons at once, one head was trying to bite him, one head trying to strike him, and a third was breathing out flames, and he was having to lung and cut and duck and strike against all three of them in rapid procession. He turned back to Éfhelìnye and saw that she was sucking her lips and playing with a few strands of her sunset tresses and in deep thought and she continued saying – The fhwèngot with the Dragons is that they are at a disadvantage because they are being forced to move. The Dragons would have prefer to take us back to the Emperor, but when we refused, they were forced into this, a weaker position, moreover they’re hovering on the edge of trying to obey the Emperor and still be dragonish and go a lttle crazy. The fact that the Dragons must make a move means that they have been weaker now. The fhwèngot is not completely precise, I must tell you, Puey, I’m using it as a metaphor, but the Dragons realize that they are having to make a concession, even though they lead us into a trap, in their place, in the darkness of their eclipse, and yet not to the outcome that they desired. –
Puîyus was certainly glad that Éfhelìnye was skilled at words and art and at various types of creative thinking, and in this case, although he was not entirely certain of all of the strategies of tnúpa chess, he could understand her metaphor. He jumped upwards and was drawing away the waves of brimstone and fire blasting against him and Éfhelìnye chanted – Puey, I think you are an excellent playing of the game, perhaps one of the top eleven players or so. Sometimes you tend to move your pieces with a little too much emotion, say if I form an ēored against your Sorcerer pieces, you may grow angry and do something hasty, and sometimes I don’t think you even trust your own Clockwork Automata pieces too much. And yet you have a remarkable ability to find new avenues of attack, to disarm your opponents. Sometimes when I play you … to your left! – Puîyus spun around and kicked against the Dragon’s jaws and slammed his sword against the snout, and rolling downwards took Éfhelìnye by the hand and came leaping outwards unto a place of burning barrels where they would have a better place to fight. – Sometimes when I play you I almost find your movements naïve, you’re sending lonely and valiant Knights against my fortress, you’re almost daring me to send out stronger pieces against him, and then later one, in just a few moves you’ll reveal many weak pieces scattered throughout the board ready to choke off my line of attack. I think it’s a little like this now. By refusing to play the board as they offered us, the Dragons are forced to make a concession. In Tnúpa usually the superior side must engage in fhwènge, but in this case it is the weaker. I am not entirely sure why right now the Dragons are wishing that we’d just surrender, but their vehemence convinces me it must be so. –
Three Dragons came crashing down through the layers of the burning deck, and rippling out from the Dragons came heat waves and bending metal and frost, and so vehement was this storm that Puîyus and Éfhelìnye fell down several times and had to hold onto each other, and Puîyus struggled to find footing upon some of the falling ridges and bones of the ship, and pulling Éfhelìnye up after him, soon found themselves surrounded by these three Drakes all of whom were breathing out fires, while all of the edge of the ship were being gnawed into pieces by the crawling Dragons, and the ship was veering off both towards the darkening eclipse of the Moons and unto the jagged skerries of the broken shoreline. Puîyus was cutting through the splashing of the fires while Éfhelìnye slipped up next to him and began counting on her fingers and chanted – Just as ballet has its own positions, the basic positions of Tnúpa are where both sides would have potential benefit were it their turn to move, where one player is at a disadvantage when it is his turn to move, and where both players are at a disadvantage when it is their time to move. When one play is forced to move and to his disadvantaged, he is squeezed into the zugzwang, when both players must move to their disadvantage it is mutal and reciprocal zugzwang, it is hugging and kissing zugzwang. –
Puîyus jumped upwards and spun his dreamcloak about his and Éfhelìnye’s face as waves of plasma and flame came trickling about him, but when he spun the cloak aside and the three Dragons lunged they just crashed into each other and found the children not, for Puîyus was bounding up high into the air and holding Éfhelìnye with him, and together they came falling unto the burning cordage of the mast and struggled to grasp there. The dreammantle of its own accord came fluttering back unto his hands, but the childrenhad not even a moment of respite, for some Dragons came bursting right out of the deck and were biting against the mast and ripping the ropes asunder, while others were orbiting around the burning layers of it and trying to rake and jab against the children. – Yes, it would seem that all of the Dragonish moves at the moment are bad, they are panicking, they do not realize that at endgame one must take great care in chosing the movement, because with so many pieces taken away the possibility of a draw is too great – Éfhelìnye chanted. – And I am afraid that in our particular game, a draw for the Dragons is a loss for them. A critical mistake, and the Dragons will not be able to return to the life that they remembered. –
Puîyus was hanging onto the ropes with his wooden shoon while swinging his sword from side to side against all of the Dragons tempting to coil around himself and the Princess, and he was so engaged in ducking the claws and thrusting against the raking wings and trying to stab against the jaws, that part of him was questioning whether indeed Éfhelìnye’s hypothesis was correct, that the Dragons were panicking and so weakened in their game, for at the moment he was the one on the defensive having to deflect and parry against the Rainbow Serpents coming against him in many different directions at once, and the Dragons were slowly breaking apart the Qlùfhem vessel and had control of the skies within the growing lunar eclipse, while he and the Princess were struggling for their very lives. Puîyus managed to jab the Dragons and prick them across their snouts, and so for a moment, while they were screaming in agony and wrath, he and Éfhelìnye squeezed hands and came climbing up the ropes of the mast and came to the tumbling towers and could look out and see the horroric state of their affairs. The ship was almost completely unrecognizable because of the mass of weyrment flowing about it, the vessel looked a long series of shattering seashells and the creature that had once dwelt inside of it was bursting out from the coils of it and unfolding wings and tails and claws in all directions, most of the ship was already burning and freezing as the Dragons were struggling against each other to reach the children, but Puîyus had already fought in many different locations and then slipped away and left the Dragons to their own confusion here in the darkening of the eclipse, and in the very center of the vessel came bursting Prince Kherènxhuqhe and in midnight smoke searching for the children all about, his baleful eyen glowing and reflecting all of the flames and battles of the War of Heaven the Tlhexetsopwekùthuwo which Kàrijoi had begun even within this day of days. Puîyus struggled up unto the top of the crumbling flame towers, and Éfhelìnye was leaning against him and looking out and felt themselves drawn into the shadows of the Moons and the roar of the skerries far aneath them.
– Mew mew mew – Puîyus nodded.
– Yes, the battle was change, we must bring the offensive against the Dragons – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I do not quite understand all of the intracies of your plan, but I do not have to, and I trust you. For as long as I can remember I have been dreaming about you and even in my dreams enthralled and hoping just to catch a glimpse of you. Even when I was dwelling with your Clan in Jaràqtu as a guest-friend, whenever you would leave to do chores or to train with Grandfather Pátifhar, I would run after you and hope just to see you even in passing, and when you were gone and I would write poetry for you in secret, I knew that you had the mind of one who could defeat the Dragons and become the new Emperor. –
Puîyus felt a twinge of heat upon his cheeks and he turned his face away from Éfhelìnye, for he was sore embarrassed to hear her when she spoke of her affection for him, and he was not at all convinced that his plan to rid them of these Moon Dragons even had a chance of success, and he certainly had no desire in his spleen to replace dread and puissant and terrible Kàrijoi as the new Empyreal Emperor, but Éfhelìnye leaned against him and chanted – The Dragons are just a momentary distraction, you shall scatter them aside with the strength of your arm, and I know it to be true, because so often when I’ve seen you in your waking or in your sleeping, when Fhèrkifher tried to teach you to smoke and Xhnófho tried to teach you to play cards, when you were mending fences or lighting incense before the images of your ancestors, just being around you filled me with such joy that I cannot help but sleep and have crystalline dreams of you and your winedark eyen. –
Puîyus held up an hand and spelt out unto her signs to tell her, Too much, immodest, you exaggerate what little talents I have.
– Oh Puey, I almost feel sorry for the Dragons, for they are like timorous shadows before your solar rays, yo are the son of polite courtesy, kind and ineffable, you are a blessing unto all mortals, you are destroyer of the proud, you are slayers of vices, you are a prince of virtue. When I am around you I can feel sorrow flow out from me, and I fall in love with only the good and wit h you and your smaragd eyen. –
Puîyus was drawing out a length of rope from his belt and twisting it around into hook and loop patterns such as he was wont to use against the dinosaurs of his Father’s plantation that had needs to be tamed and against the wild beasts of the forest which did not heed the sternness and kindess of his voice, and turning unto Éfhelìnye he nodded a little, and she knew that the first portion of their plan was ready. He blinked a few times, he could feel his face flushing a little rhododactylous bright, for he wanted to tell her that he was still not convinced that the particular dream of his heart would work, but it was the best plan drawing itself unto him out of the thousands in the seas of warrior possibilities flowing up unto him.
Puîyus turned to Éfhelìnye and smiled, and in a language of lips and teeth and grins asked her, In the honored game of Tnúpa Jórqha is there a name for a completely crazy manouver right in the very heart of the enemy’s stronghold?
– Ah, yes – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I believe that’s called the Puey Move. One has to be very special to perform that strategy. It essentially consists of completely reinventing the entire game from the inside out. – Puîyus drew out the lasso and spun about his head, and Éfhelìnye ran up and flung her arms about her neck and cried out – Prepare for one Puey Move! The Dragons won’t know what’s hitting them! –
And in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, Puîyus spun the rope about and caught the edge of the wing of one Dragon passing by, and he and Éfhelìnye came spinning up and high throughout clouds choking with smoke and the darkening eclipse, and they found themselves spinning through the bursting flame towers of the Dragons searching for them in all directions. All of the reaches above the ship were spinning mælstroms of Dragons arising about each other and coughing their flames and jabbing from side to side and trying to snatch up the children and rip them into pieces, and the Dragons with their flaming wings and phosphorescent scales qhàlkhat noctilucent were gnawing against the air and hissing and wondering exactly what would be the best means of making these children suffer, whether they should be tormented first by having their skin burnt off alive and their muscles and entrails plucked out one by one, or perhaps the Dragons could just burn off some of their limbs and let them scream in horror, and in the end how should the Dragons rip apart their souls to feed upon their horror, how could that taste grow and bubble and ferment and age unto a good and ripe complexion, these and the rest of the recipes of horrors the Dragons were wondering in the growling burning wings as Puîyus came swinging about their claws and beating wings, and Éfhelìnye held onto him tight and did not doubt at all that their plan would work, no matter just how wód it may seem unto them.
Prince Kherènxhuqhe came ripping right out of the deck and spinning around him were several other midnight Dragons, and in the terror of the breaking beams and the bursting towers of the vessel, and the screams of the steam engines that were trying to hold this experimental ship together, the Prince came pouring outwards in growing lava flames, and turning back and seeing that some of his brother Dragons were still pinning down Fhèrkifher and grasping Xhnófho and ready to rip them apart, Kherènxhuqhe snorted out several furacanes of growing gloam smoke and growled – The peskisome Pirates mean nothing to us, the Emperor has begun extinction, we can aid him in it; the Children are our concern. Go ahead and disembowel the Pirates, I care not. –
– Lwa! – gasped Fhèrkifher.
– Fhus! – cried Xhnófho.
Suddenly spindles of light came splashing down right before Kherènxhuqhe’s gaze, and his mirror eyen darted from side to side and caught the descent of the Children as Puîyus and Éfhelìnye came landing right before him and rolled out in a brilliant flourish, and with a flicker of his hand the rope came spinning right back into Puîyus’ grasp and spun about his belt. Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho, although yanked up and tossed by the Dragons still managed to applaud a little even though they were grown dizzy and just about to have their flesh burnt off of them and their entrails drawn out.
– What an entrance, lwa! – gasped Fhèrkifher. – I wish I were that jaunty! –
– That really was an excellent ingress, wasn’t it? – asked Xhnófho.
– Spectacular. –
– Too bad we won’t live to see it’s like again. –
– Alack, one cannot wish for the skies all the time. –
– Ochon! Ochon! –
Prince Kherènxhuqhe spun his head backwards towards the Dragons about to rip the parts apart, and in bursts of black flame and twining silver cloud screamed – Shut up! Here, now you can live long enough to see our devouring of the children alive! – Kherènxhuqhe turned his head back and to his surprise saw that Puîyus on bended knee was kissing Éfhelìnye hand and then getting up and shrugging, thrust his hand into his pockets and began walking away nonchallent away from the Princess. When he had gotten a few paces away he began skipping and whistling a little. The Dragons all slithered upwards a few cubits closer towards Princess Éfhelìnye, and the Dragons looked one to another, their mirror gazes reflecting the Crystalline Throne and the great Ice Palace Twiêkes, and the reflections of the Emperor standing upwards and grasping his sacred Khátatlhùmpa staff and casting all of the worlds into midnight darkness and banishing Puîyus and Éfhelìnye from his presence for all time for their dishonor in seeking to be wed one to another. The Dragons shrugged and slipped upwards a few more cubits and completely surrounded Princess Éfhelìnye and saw that she was left all alone and completely undefended.
– Huh? – asked Fhèrkifher.
– Wha? – asked Xhnófho.
Prince Kherènxhuqhe shoved several Dragons asie and bit some wings and horns and pushed himself into the circle and looking around, tendrils of smoke arising from his nostrils, his gills and neck all frozen storms breaking apart and refreezing with layers of lava flowing within them and he whispered in a deep and rolling voice saying – Why does the Knight’s Son forsake thee? Alone, defenseless he has left you … that does not make any sense at all. –
– I know, it doesn’t – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– But … but he is Puîyos Khàtamakh Serqheyewítsa, the Son of Khiêro … –
– I know. –
– He is most desirous to defend maidens and Princesses, he longs to die in glorious battle saving them from monsters and time dæmons and Dragons. –
– That’s what I thought also. –
– But then why … –
– Pardon? –
– Why did he just leave you undefended, unescorted, alone in the midst of raving midnight Dragons? –
– That’s a good question. –
– But … but … that is Puîyos, the Dragonslayer, the Hero of the Dreamtime. –
– It’s perplexing, isn’t it? –
– Why did he leave? –
– Why did he walk away? –
– Yes! – Prince Kherènxhuqhe looked to his fellow Dragons and they were all nodding their heads together and wondering the same querry.
– Are you asking why Puey just left me all alone? –
– Yes! – gasped several Dragons at once.
– It’s complicated, do you have any time? –
– Actually your divine Father is sending the Dæmons to shred time … just a moment will surfice. –
– Puey and I are no longer best friends. –
– Huh? – asked Fhèrkifher.
– Wha? – asked Xhnófho.
– Hesh up, you two! – screamed Prince Kherènxhuqhe. – I’m just going to have you eaten alive as soon as my curiosity is sated. – The Prince punched aside several more Dragons and drew his head closer unto Éfhelìnye and asked – Whatever do you mean? –
– Puîyus and I were best friends since the moment we left, but we’ve decided that we never want to see each other e'er again. Our friendship has dissolved, it is like frost dissolving before the coming of the Suns, it pools and rills outwards, it has become a slush mess. – Éfhelìnye wiped a tear from her eye.
– That’s very sad – several Dragons chanted.
– I think I’m going to cry – Éfhelìnye chanted, her lips trembling.
– Oh please, don’t, oh Khnoqwísi’s daughter! – gasped Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Oh, I shall just cry! – Éfhelìnye spun around and clasped her heart. – I feel like burning inside. –
– No, don’t do that – the Drake Prince chanted. – Many times we remember seeing your Mother very melancholy and dancing in the gardens beneath angry and beclouded skies, and the mist and darkness would crash together, but in the end the reul Stars would arise and all of the clouds like curtains would part for her, and she would dance happy again. No matter how sad you feel, just remember that the Stars will continue to shine upon you. –
Éfhelìnye wiped a few tears from her eyen. – How can I even think of dancing when my heart is frozen and dead? –
– I’m going to cry! – Fhèrkifher blubbered even as his captor Dragon held him, and the Dragon was shaking a little in sadness.
– Oh, my eyen redden, my ear-globes blush! – Xhnófho cried out.
– If the Qhíng could be singultient, even you would weep! –
– If you had ear-globes, they would be red with sorrow! –
– Aiyo’ akhan! –
– Oiyo’ okhon! –
Fhèrkifher wept and Xhnófho lamented, and the Dragons were looking one to another and not at sure how they should respond. Éfhelìnye wiped a few more tears from her face and spinning around in a lissome piourette chanted – I suppose it is better this way, that I never see Puîyus again. I don’t think we would have been happy together as Emperor and Empress, neither of us are completely enthused with the idea of rebuilding the holy and apostolic Synod of Lords and trying to please our Elders by recreating the Empire into the shadow of what it once was, I am not sure I would have liked to have send him off unto many wars to secure his power, and he would surely have grown weary of my endless pursuits of art and puzzle, why who has e'er heard of a philologist ballerina artist Princess, it’s just ridiculous. And so we must never set eyen of each other again. –
– I think your Mother would have been very happy at how unique and special you have become – Prince Kherènxhuqhe chanted. – The billion, billion worlds of the Dreamtime are certainly enriched by having an artist ballerina philologist Princess, especially of the Pwejhoqèrti, the Royal Pwéru Xhámi Caste, it makes you rare and precious beyond all honors. –
– I suppose … – Éfhelìnye sighed quite audibly. When she exhaled several other Dragons breathed out at the same time in sympathetic harmonies. – I suppose this was all for the best, after all, sometimes when Puîyus was busy rescuing me from burning buildings and insane war machines and all other of troubles wherein I had managed to trap myself, I would notice his saving other princesses all the time when I thought I was his one and only. Oh sigh! – Éfhelìnye lay an hand to her brow and staggered back a little as if about to faint, and several Dragons arose and tried to catch her.
– Don’t fall, Khnoqwísi’s child! – Prince Kherènxhuqhe gasped.
Éfhelìnye stumbled into the jade claws opening up about her and whimpered – Why sometimes I would feel a shadow of doubt about him, just the hint that Puîyus had other sweethearts aside from myself, and I tell you know, I could not possibly abide by that. –
Sevearl Dragons were nodding their heads in agreement and saying – Oh yes, we’ve noticed that Master Puîyos does had an inordinate host of dearhearts about him, all manner of maidens to be saved, swooning distressed damsels, not to mention bevies of princesses. –
Éfhelìnye paused for a moment. – Does he? –
– Oh, quite many – chanted the Dragons.
– At least as far as we can guess – chanted Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
Éfhelìnye put her hands on her hips and chanted – Are you sure? Who else are these other so-called sweethearts of my Puey? –
– We barely pay attention to the details – chanted Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Master Puîyos most certainly prefers golden tressed maidens – the Dragons were saying.
– Ah yes, he does like the flavicomous lasses – the Prince chanted. – That-sa, at least, we have noticed. –
Éfhelìnye’s fists were clenching and she clenched her jaw and muttered – They just make me so angry, I just want to yank their hair and punch them in the face! Fatuous, silly, frivolous nigheanan gazing untowards my Puey, I just want to punish them all! I just want to squeeze their heads right into themselves and break them in all manner of dragonish delight … –
– But at least you’ll never see him again, so you need not worry. –
– See whom? –
– Master Puîyos, of course. –
– I’m never going to see him again! – Éfhelìnye gasped and staggered backwards a little.
– Because you and he are no longer best friends. –
– Ah! – Éfhelìnye sprang back to her feet and spun around and struck a pose and chanted – Yes, alas, alas, Puîyus and I have no desire to be wed and to challenge my Father. In fact, ye I beg, return me in shame to my prodigal kàrijer Father, and I shall fling myself at his feet and beg for his forgiveness and ask to be accounted as only a slave. –
And at this the Dragons were arising, many of of them were grinning one to another with flaming and fanged smiles, for returning unto the Emperor and seeking his mercy was surely the very best option, and the Dragons about the deck began to flutter upwards, their wings becoming a sharp and triangular blur, and streaks of squalls were flowing about them, and other Dracones were yanking themselves up from the crusts of ice and congealing stone formed of their magma flow, and their wings were beating back and forth and breaking apart the stone and ice, and the Dragons were spinning around each other and leaving the vessel, they looked a little like several massive schools of flying fishes arising up from the leaves of a tree, at first just a few fishes arise and begin to spin around each other, and then the branches and leaves begin to sway as an hundred more fishes arise to follow the leader, and as if with single mind all of the fishes turn to the left and then to the right, they begin spinning widdershins and clockwise higher and higher, and sometimes in the very center of the vortex some of the fishes are spinning in the opposite direction, and some of them come drifting back down to the branches contrariwise, but slowly the swarm begins to grow as all of the trees empty themselves and the fishes now in their thousands are all singing at the same time, their beaks and gills shining, the light of the sun spilling upon the scales and the flowing path of their tails, just like that the Dragons were arising only vaster now, and their tails were becoming blurs of color, their wings the very shadow of rainbows, the Dragons were pulsating upon the very edge of Song, and soon Princess Éfhelìnye could see that the strange and eachtardhomhandachsome ship was swaying and opening about her as a thousand Dragons were arising one by one and spinning about the burning ruins of the wings and the crackling tendrils and the flames which had once been rope and solar sail, and although not all of the Dragons had arisen yet, the ship was beginning to turn and veer a little back on course, it was bubbling back upwards and recovering a little. The Dragons that still held Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho were remaining and still held their victims tight, and Prince Kherènxhuqhe was arising and fluttering and spinning around Éfhelìnye, and his mirror eyen were gazing upon her and light up in whites and golds and silvers, but Éfhelìnye just continued to spin around in a few graceful arabesques, and the Dragons were rushing upwards all about her, and some of them were already returning unto the growing darkness of the eclipse and the vast worlds of the Moons flowng above the ruins of what had once been the nations of Syapàkhya.
– Haply Emperor Kàrijoi will find favor with thee and forgive thee of all thy trespasses – so Prince Kherènxhuqhe was saying as he undulated about the Princess and all of his body was ice and scale flowing about each other, and the flowing muscles within were sparkling fires. – I think that thy Mother would have prefered it this way, with thy being safely returned home unto the house of thy childhood. –
Éfhelìnye looked around. She imagined that the Qlùfhem vessel were the back of a xhèpte brontotherium quite trongornvylish and that so many gadflies were spilling about its ridges and its strong shoulders, and the emela-ntouka at last weary of such passages was come running unto the waters and splashing within üncorn and the mayflies arose and the insects were zum zum zum buzzing and flowing unto all sides of the arsinotherium, and were spinning about its back and horns and forming their own orbits and yet seemed just on the verge of falling upon their host a little, such was she imagining as the Dragons arose and darted about the regions of the burning and crippled vessel, the Dragons departing but not leaving too far away, and as the majority were arising and becoming part of the orbit of the ship in its journey untowards the eclipse of the Moons, she could see that they were all turning and regarding her with their opening eyen of mirror flames and reflecting back unto her her own face a thousand, thousand fold.
– And yet another memory have we of your Mother, most beautiful and divine Khnoqwísi – Prince Kherènxhuqhe chanted as he slipped about her and his gills were becoming light and his rainbow wings were spreading outwards, and ash was falling from his jaws. – We remember so many times in the Ice Palace that she used to play chess with her Father, and when your Father was away she used to play chess with Grandfather Thiêfhilos, the much-enduring Sorcerer. –
– Yes, indeed? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– And yet how did Khnoqwísi learn to play chess in the first place? – Kherènxhuqhe chanted, his eyen becoming hexagonal patterns, his scales swaying about each other in patterns of movement and strategy.
– Surely my foster Grandfather taught her, did he not? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– Actually, your Grandfather did not teach her at first – Prince Kherènxhuqhe chanted, and pouring out from him came mist and cloud covering all of the vessel, and arising about his shoulders came the necks and glowing mirror eyen of several more Dragons. – We ourselves, the Dragon Children of Qhalúxha, taught your Mother how to play Tnúpa Jórqha chess. – And the Prince smiled, and all of the Dragons were smiling their fang smiles. – So, shall we take you back to your Father now? –
Éfhelìnye took a few steps back. – I suppose … that would be mete and right to do. –
– Are you ready then? –
– Ah … –
Prince Kherènxhuqhe drew his face down. – Where is Master Puîyos now? –
Éfhelìnye spun around and shouted – Do it, Puey, now! –
– Did you think you could trick a Dragon? – roared Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Check! – chanted Éfhelìnye. – And yes, I, along with Puey my best friend, are tricking you. – Éfhelìnye took a few steps back and when she looked up she smiled at the Dragons, and suddenly all of the lunar eclipse began to scintillate about them.

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