– I believe I’ve seen this Dragon before – Princess Éfhelìnye whispered. – Perhaps when I was but a babe. – She was swaying from side to side, several times she almost fell down, but Puîyus was keeping his hand upon her and swinging his sword from side to side as the Dragon swatted back and forth with his kean and crystalline claws. Puîyus turned back and for some reason saw that Éfhelìnye was smiling a little, gracious and beatific her expression was become, and he did not understand for the Dragons were flowing out of the tides of the Moons and archways of flame were spilling all about them, and they were strong and terrifying to behold, for Dragons are the most parlous of all creatures in the Dreamtime, the Land of Story, save perhaps the Kàrijoi himself Sómpanaswaqíren the Dragon Emperor. Puîyus slahed from side to side and heard Éfhelìnye’s cooing and she chanted – Are the Dragons not beautiful, do they not shine with light indescribable? –
Puîyus slashed against a long and winding tail rippling about him, and jumping upwards jabbed against an hand, and saw gnarled scales and burning claws, hideous the Midnight Dragon was become. And yet Éfhelìnye leaned against him and chanted – Or perhaps it was that long, long ago the Dragons were beautiful and bought joy and happiness to all, and their task was to relieve the worlds of guilt and sorry. They were once creatures of crystalline light, and rainbow was the canopy of their wings, in ancient days they sang the songs that drew out the realms from the Ocean of Music, in old days Dragons were the guardians of children and virgins and priests and women, in ancient days Dragons were the guards of my blessed and honored Mother, they were part of the beauty of marriage and the land. –
Puîyus spun his sword around and jabbed it through the twining hands spilling about him, and all of the Qlùfhem vessel was shaking from side to side within the parting clouds, for in the midst of the Midnight Dragon many others of his kind were appearing and snagging the ship and hooking about it, and Puîyus tried to thirl their hands and wings and feet. He turned back to Éfhelìnye and saw that she was rubbing the bandage on her wrists, he wished she would not do that, it would just make her bleed again, and she was reaching to her side and a bit of blood was appearing there and drawing downwards and tricking upn the deck, splatters of sacred blood.
– I don’t know what happened, my Puey, but everything fell and shattered and grew dim – Éfhelìnye was saying. – Dragons turned from protecting women and priests and virgins and children to hunting them. And some of the beauty of the worlds was lost. –
Thunderous and fell the deck was shaking, the golden solar sails blasting from side to side as the Midnight Dragon landed right before the Children, and his silver black wings opened upwards unto their brightest extent, and the Midnight Dragon, Prince Kherènxhuqhe swung his head from side to side, and his eyen were burning wounds. The Prince laughed and cried out in a booming and yet musical voice saying – Why now, if it isn’t the little Emperorling exactly where and when your cowardly wife bade us to find you. I must say your little wife was quite compliant in leading us right to your death, rather than her taking her own life to save yours. Well did the Elders chose her for you. –
Puîyus slashed the flames of the Eilwiyusàrtyai from side to side, bursting golden light dripping out from it, and Prince Kherènxhuqhe grabbed some of the outer wings of the ship and yanked it all closer untowards him. Puîyus growled to keep Éfhelìnye behind him, and yet could not help but see the light of Prince Kherènxhuqhe’s eyen, and the vox draconis was quite soothing to hear, and the eyen were reflecting a soft and luminous face framed with gold. Puîyus’ eyen were opening. He knew that Dragons being demimortal spirits xenásun and jhkhaûqha wyrms were incapable of lying, for their language was part of Babel itself, the song of the Immortals themselves who were incapable of lying, and yet the Dragons could always speek from their own perspective or from a different story or dream, and the actual truth lie elusive in the words. Slowly Puîyus was setting the Dragon Sword down. Prince Kherènxhuqhe’s eyen opened up all the wider. By now Puîyus knew that he could see the form of a maiden somewhere within the eyen, she was dressed all in white and a golden veil lay within her tresses, and she was more beautiful than he had e'er imagined her before.
– Thy bride thee awaiteth – whispered Prince Kherènxhuqhe. – Even now he is being prepared, within the fleet of glass and hot air balloons of the Aûm warriors. The Twin Duchesses adorn her to make her ready for you. –
Puîyus took a few more steps froward. He peered forwards, he could not quite see the veiled maiden, but he thought that it had to be Fhermáta. He could see that a betrothal ring lay upon her finger, and at once he was made away of no longer having his own betrothal ring. Perhaps Fhermáta was still holding his ring for him, haply at any moment she was about to turn and lift her veil away and smile unto him and place the ring back into his hand and tell him that all was forgiven, and the Ancestors would once again gaze upon him face to face.
– Thy bride waits for thee at the end of all story – whispered Prince Kherènxhuqhe as he drew the ship towards him, and his claws reached out unto the gossoon. – How else didst thou think the story would end, oh my Son? The wedding feast is prepared. Go to her. – And Prince Kherènxhuqhe smiled, and flames arose all about his jaws and formed a sparkling halo about his brow, his wings were unraveling about him and rippling a little like a great and fluidic cape.
Puîyus took a few steps forwards, his hands were reaching upwards as he walked right up unto the Dragon’s jaws, and for a moment he let his imagination run riotous within him, for he thought what a joyous hour it would be to return unto the darkness of the Nethergloom and the Ancestors would be there stretching out their hands to welcome and honor him, and out of the waves of dust and time Fhermáta would arise, the winds of death rustling through the golden sheen of her hair, her hands outstretched towards him, they would embrace each other and forget all cause for tears, and Fhermáta would return the ring unto him, and together hand in hand they would arise and all of the seas would part, and they would come unto a place all of flowers and cyprus and reeds and the ghost of Khwofheîlya would be waiting, and so at long last Puîyus would be reunited with the Mother who was taken away from him when he was so young.
– All of thy Dreams will come true – whispered Prince Kherènxhuqe. – Embrace the Dragon, and we shall honor you with death worthy of an Emperor. The love that your new bride has for you is sparkling, sweet and exquisite, come unto us, and let your perfume mix with the taste of her affection. –
And the beat of the Dragon wings, and the beat of Puîyus’ ambulation and the gnawing of Dragon jaws, and the silencing of the experimental and forbidden Aumàfhruse motors of this vessel, and the silence of Puîyus’ hear were all become the same music, the dirge, the death knell, as the Dragon Prince upended half of the vessel to draw the lad right untowards him, and the other Dragons came spinning out of the lunar eclipse and were flickering and batting and swatting aside the rather peskisome Pirates that were attempting for to slow them down. And Prince Kherènxhuqhe smiled, for he knew great would be his honor and that of all of the Children of Qhalúxha for delivering unto Emperor Kàrijoi the child who had so long defied him and dared to replace him by marrying his only Daughter, and the Dragons were licking their jaws, and flames were sprouting up about their fangs, and they contemplated what reward Kàrijoi would grant them, and they thought that surely it would be license to hunt down and destroy all of the last of the women and priests and virgins and children left in the Land of Story.
Puîyus lifted his hand up untowards the memory of Akhlísa held within Prince Kherènxhuqhe’s eyen, and stumbling forwards just knew that it had to be Fhermáta trapped upon the other side of shadows and death, and his heart completely still now, he longed to return to her and be forgiven.
– PUEY! – cried Princess Éfhelìnye. – NO! –
Prince Kherènxhuqhe opened up his claws and revealed the shadow of a maiden dressed all in whites and gold and an intricate labyrinth pattern was flowing about her garment, and her tresses were flowing a little in the flame breezes, and the maiden was reaching out her hand right untowards Puîyus as if beckoning unto him.
Puîyus felt arms about him and stumbled as Éfhelìnye caught him by his waist and hurled him down unto the surface of the shaking deck. She was almost wrestling him down khnanaptálu jhkhòkhoqu she was tackling him down tqàqhaqha just as Puîyus and his Sisters and Cousins did unto each other when they played the rather boisterous game of Xhwongeîthe. She hugged him by the neck, but when Puîyus tried to arise to set her aside, Éfhelìnye placed her bleeding hands unto either side of his face and drew him away from the Dragon’s gaze.
– Puey, do not look into the Dragon’s eyen! – Éfhelìnye hissed.
– … –
– Please trust me, Puey. I know that Dragons were once beautiful, and perhaps they can glow in pulchritude once again, but they are not lovely now. Listen to me, Puey. Do not gaze unto the Dragon Eyen, look only to me. – Éfhelìnye looked back and saw that the Dragons were hissing a little. – Once you served the Khnesqekaîxhren with honor, the Virgin Empress, but you betray her memory now. –
Prince Kherènxhuqhe growled at her and barred his teeth all of jagged jade knives. – All things shall fall under the dominion of the Emperor, all the living, all the spirits, all the dead. –
– My Mother Khnoqwísi would not be pleased with you – Éfhelìnye chanted, and when she spake the Moon Empress’ name, Kherènxhuqhe recoiled as if struck, and several more Dragons were spinning around and hiding their faces in their wings, and some of the Dragons were bursting out into brilliant clouds of flame, their scales glistening as jasper and chrysolyte and obsidian, and a few of the Dragons even arose and dove back into the growing eclipse seas drifting out from the Moons. Éfhelìnye smiled a little to know that at least some of the beings in the Dreamtime remembered her Mother’s name.
Prince Kherènxhuqhe turned his massive head back towards the Princess and plasma drool was rippling down from his fangs, and his gills burst out with crackling webs of light. – Do not think that you can escape the doom placed upon you, oh little Princess. Your fate was written long ago, it was older than most of the realms of the Dreamtime, it is part of the blood of reality. This gossoon belongs unto the Dragons unto us the Windlords xhwàtlhotsu born of Qhalúxha long ago knyrykeos. –
– My Mother loved and cherished all living things – Éfhelìnye chanted, and she embraced Puîyus and kept turning his face towards her and not unto the flames and dwimmerlaikry of the Dragons. – She would hardly approve of your hunting and harming and chasing after my love. I know you remember her, the Khnesqekaîxhren Bride Empress, the Twúmal Daughter of the Air, the Qwasiêla Moon Empress. –
– Those titles are dead unto us! – hissed Prince Kherènxhuqhe. – Kàrijoi alone is master. His is the word of death. –
– Notecuiyoé, Cihuapillé, Nochpochtziné, my Mother, championed children and maidens and marriage, she who was foster Daughter to the Ancient Sorcerer, she who was the Bride of the Viceroy kingdoms. Do you remember her name? I’ve been able to discover it, to weave together the name that was lost and died on Midsummer’s eleven years ago. Can you say her name, my Dragon slaves? –
– The Rainbow Serpents are thralls unto none – Prince Kherènxhuqhe cried.
– The Rainbow Serpents are slaves unto Kàrijoi now. But it was not so when my Mother was alive and breathing life-giving air. Can you say the name with me? Khnoqwísi Euláriya Tsetseîlwa Xhefhiênil Teîl Khmàkhura Xhráqa Khlála Fhufhìnye Fhlóra Khnukeîya Khraîyeil Pìpra Khaliláma Kàlafhen, the Empress, my Mother. –
The Dragons screamed. Most of them flung themselves away from the Qlùfhem ship, and Prince Kherènxhuqhe scowled alittle and coughed out blasts of flame towards the children, but Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho came rolling upwards for to hold up shields before the children, and deflected the rolling flames a little. Kherènxhuqhe drew himself up upon the deck and beat his wings and cyclonal storms came bursting up and out of him.
– Mew! – Puîyus cried out, as he lifted up his hand towards Prince Kherènxhuqhe, and the Poet Warrior Xhluntakhlaûselar tried to arise and touch the sparkling vision of veiled Akhlísa somewhere within the smoke and memories of the Dragons.
– Look at me Puey. LOOK AT ME! – Éfhelìnye kept turning Puîyus’ face away from the Dragon, even as the Dragon hosts were crawling about the side of the ship and raking against it and drawing it away from the hills and coastline and back unto regions of froth and wind waves and the long bones of shattered skerries. – To gaze into the eyen of a Dragon is to look into a mirror maze that can never end. Some men see themselves, others see a lost love, but all grow lost and forlorn within it. Do not look at the Dragon’s eyen, only look to me. –
– Mew mew mew! – Puîyus gasped, and he struggled against Éfhelìnye as he struggled to arise.
– Fhermáta is not here, Puey. It doesn’t matter what you think you’re seeing, Dragons do not think and remember as we do, time to them is all a jumble, truth is complex with them. Perhaps they saw her long ago, I do not know, but she is not here now waiting for you. I am. Look at me, my beloved. –
Puîyus blinked a few times. Éfhelìnye was wrapping her arms about him, and scintillant about her head were halos opening about her, visions of stained glass spinning about her brow and reflecting the colors of the rainbow. – Mew? – asked Puîyus as he reached out his hand to her face.
– I am alive, I am here. The Dragons are not coming to return to you in triumph to your Ancestors. They are grown sick and strange. Please trust me. I’ve spent my entire life in the Khwònojhe in the Forbidden Gardens deep within the Ice Palace, and flowing about came the sea of Dragons and Dragon flame always for to watch and guard me. –
Puîyus’s were clearing a little, and for the first time he could feel the rocking of the Qlùfhem ship in its dangerous course drawing o'er the wrath of the seas, for the first time he felt the heat of the Dragon flames and could see them clearly, most of the Dragons were spinning upwards and howling within the winds and breathig out columns of flame as they left the lunar eclipse that filled all the welkin, he could see Prince Kherènxhuqhe gnawing against the side of the vessel and beating with his silvery black wings, and flames were bursting out from his scales and the Prince was gnashing his teeth in angry anxious fear at hearing the name of the Empress again. And Puîyus looked around and saw that none of the Ancestors at all were present, nor Fhermáta, but only Éfhelìnye as she hugged him. Ice and scales came flowing down his eyen as he beheld anew. And Éfhelìnye helped him upwards and embraced him, she was real, not a glamour or illusion cast by Dragon eyen.
– Trust me, oh my Puey – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I would never do anything to harm you at all or e'er speak a true falsehood. – She reached o'er and kissed his face a few times and added – Except maybe to steel a few kisses from you, but that’s quite acceptable, and even the Immortals would be on my side, but aside from that I’m completely loyal and trustworthy. –
Éfhelìnye bounced up to her feet and pulled Puîyus upwards, and for a few moments they both looked around and gazed in horror and perplexity to find themselves upon a broken vessel adrift beside the darkening twilighting moons and swarms of Dragons weyring all about them rising and falling and breathing out storm and flame, and Prince Kherènxhuqhe gnawing off the edge of the vessel and glaring at the children and preparing to attack. Puîyus walked upwards and found the sword that he had with so careless hand discarded, the Eilwiyusàrtyai Dragon Brand, and as he touched the hilt of it twòjuju zichiz pharisch all at once plasma and numbers came blazing back out from it, and as he swung the sword from side to side, fountains of light and flame began to undulate about it in a distinctive and rolling dracontine pattern. Puîyus looked around and saw that the majority of the Dragons were spinning around in the heavens and preparing themselves to swoop down together and attack, while just a few of the Dragons were spinning around and biting at the edge of the ship and ripping out bone and casement and shreds of solar sails. The ship was beginning to veer in dangerous sways to the left and to the right, and bursting out from the rigging came some bits of machinery and wheel and the sound of the groaning of the aumàfhruse experiments as the ship was bending in the gravitational sway of the moons and the gnawing of the Dragons.
Puîyus looked around and thought, for the last time he had fought a Dragon it was just one, Lord Qàrqhin, and the Dragon Lord had been distracted by many other soldiers and men before Puîyus had come along, and moreover Puîyus and Qàrqhin fought each other in the tumbling ice and trees of Eréjet the frozen waterfall city, it was a place that neither of the combatants had chosen and so afforded advantage unto none, but here Puîyus was outnumbered and in the heavens and in the flaming darkness of the moon where the Dragons had trapped him, and Prince Kherènxhuqhe was gazing down upon him with bright and cunning eyen. Puîyus looked downwards unto the splash and riot of the seas, and the twining bone sgeir that lay below, and his thoughts were turned towards shield and aireal battle and what he had to do to survive, let alone conquer. Leaping down from the crackling solar sails and the flowing of the mast came Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho those pirates extraordinaire, and Fhèrkifher’s fulvous mustachios were singed a little, sparkling smoke arising out from them, and Xhnófho was dancing about and beating out the flames from his quetzal beard and his flowing feathercrest.
– Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch! – cried Fhèrkifher as he beat the flames away. – I don’t mind getting caught in a pyromachy, but at least leave me looking presentable! One never knows when one will meet comely young lady who may be impressed by the dashing-dare-do of a rogueish Pirate! –
Xhnófho’s antennæ were twisting about and beating out the flames of his feather hair and beard, and muttered – Not the feathers! Why does everyone try to harm the feathers! The alpha and beta maidens always like one’s feathers, that’s the reason one has a quetzal pyéyeu feathercrest in the first place. –
– Are you alright, Puey? – Éfhelìnye asked as she embraced Puîyus again, and he looked to her wrists and saw that she was still bleeding a little and shaking for fear.
– Feathers are lovely and elegant and fine indeed – Fhèrkifher smiled –But they are hardly as impressive swinging through a window, cutlass and sword in hand, and landing before a maiden and winking at her like this. –
– You children will have to excuse your Uncle Fhèrke here – Xhnófho chanted pointing to Fhèrkifher with a few tentacles. – With the chaos of the war and the crumbling smuggling ways, it’s been quite some time since he’s gotten slapped by a pretty maiden he’s been trying to impress. Fhèrkifher, if it will make you feel better we can all take turns slapping you about, it’s the least friends can do. –
– You’re just jealous because of my infamous smile! –
– My smile’s great, none of this lip nonsense, it’s all about the antennæ, my friend! – Xhnófho spun around and let his antennæ spill about him in curves, undulous and free.
– It looks like you’re wriggling yours ears! – Fhèrkifher scoffed.
– I’m a Qhíng, we don’t have ears! – Xhnófho muttered.
– I can wriggle mine ears! – Fhèrkifher wriggled his ears from side to side, and Xhnófho responded by twisting his antennæ from side to side, and they looked to the children and chanted – Which do you like better, ear twitching or antennæ wriggling? –
Puîyus and Éfhelìnye looked to each other and shrugged. – We like them both! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – But I don’t think we can wriggle our ears. Can you, Puey? –
Puîyus was able to make his ears prick up just a little, but try though he might, he could not quite bewriggle them earwise from side to side. For a few moments Fhèrkifher wriggled his ears and Xhnófho his antennæ and Puîyus struggled to emulate them, and Éfhelìnye looked on a little amused, until at once Puîyus stopped and pointing to the flowing dance of the Dragons, and their rising and falling about the mast, and their approach away from the eclipse of the Moons. And Puîyus kept his hand tight about the sword which the Emperor had given unto him, and looking around watched the storm forming upon the seas and the twisting of the skerries below.
– Puey, I certainly hope you a plan – Éfhelìnye chanted – Because I sure don’t. –
Puîyus tugged upon his silvery blue tresses and thought about bone and coral and considered for a moment. But already the battle was upon them again, for Dragons were swooping downwards and preparing for to attack once again, the Dragons were spinning upon the edge of their wings and raking from side to side against the filaments and embrasure of the vessel. Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho were staring at each other and wriggling ears and antennæ and sticking out their tounges, but once the Dragons came spinning out towards them, the pirates rolled out from side to side and drew their swords once again and prepared to defend the children.
– Nobody told us there would be Dragons! – both Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho cried out at once. And before them came spinning claws and raking wings dashing downwards.
– One would think that honored Grandfather Thiêfhilos in his wisdom foresightque would have guess this would come to pass – Fhèrkifher chanted as he bounced upwards and jabbed against some claws and rolled away from the flames. – Unless of course this is another one of his ridiculous training exercises, which it’s not, considering that holy Dragons are involved. –
Xhnófho slipped upwards and slashed his whip-sword against the coming limbs and twining breath of a Drake and chanted – Does this mean that revered Grandfather Thiêfhilos is going to award us with guerdon of extra cookies and sugar and lemonade if we survive this, considering the mortal hazard of dracomachy? –
– You seem to forget, my cater-cousin – Fhèrkifher chanted as he ducked some spinning wings and came tumbling backwards. – We’re not getting paid at all! –
– Right. We were ordered to come. Not to mention blackmailed. –
– Stupid Syìplet gold! –
– Stupid us for going after that gold. –
– But at least it allowed us to meet the children. – Fhèrkifher looked upwards and saw that Puîyus was fighting the Dragons with the sword of blossoming flame, and he was twisting and yanking and thrusting the brand faster than the Dragons could see. – How are you fairing? Oh my! That’s some fancy swordplay. You didn’t learn that from me. –
– Or me – chanted Xhnófho.
– Possibly Grandfather Thiêfhilos, but even he’s not that good. He fights like this – and Fhèrkifher spun around and used his sword as a cane and wobbled about and started jabbing at the Dragon in a rather senescent way and chanted – Look at me, I’m so old and cranky, I fight like an old, old goomer. – Fhèrkifher jumped upwards and rolled about the mast and then started jabbing his sword against the claws and cried out – But this is how I fight, look at me, I’m a dashing dare do pirate, strong and crazy! I’d imitate Xhnófho’s techniques but I’m lacking several limbs and suckers to do so. –
– That’s quite impressive, play acting with swords – Xhnófho chanted. – Perhaps we can add it to our repetoire. I’d imitate Great-Uncle Kàrnaka, but I’d need some practice to imitate his finesse. –
Puîyus was spinning the dlak sword from side to side and striking at the claws and wings of the nearest Dragon with stupendous speed, and bursing upwards from the sword came smaragd clouds and ripples of heat and growing light. Éfhelìnye was standing behind him and pointing at the Dragons that were descending about the mast and twisting their heads about and breathing out their lycegenes flames, and Puîyus was able to twist his sword into the growing slough of fire and redirect the flames a little or at least cut them apart in splashes and jab them apart. In the gathering of the Dragons and the mounting of their flames and the growing of their wings uabhasach as they came for to approach them, Prince Kherènxhuqhe was twisting and coming and growling all the while. Éfhelìnye looked upwards and narrowed her eyen at him, she could see that as the Dragon open and closed his wings, that new unraveling eclipses were marching out from him all the while, vast and terrible to behold.
– The child fights well – whispered Prince Kherènxhuqhe. – An honor it is to deliver it to the Emperor er that we can begin our feast upon all the land. –
– My Mother Khnoqwísi would approve not of these horrors – Éfhelìnye chanted with grit teeth. – And neither do I? –
Kherènxhuqhe grinned a smile all of rewel fangs, and clouds were bursting upwards from his jaws, as chanted he – Didst thou think that saying her divine name would cow us down for all time? We knew beautiful Khnoqwísi, in fact we knew her far better than you do, oh little Éfhelìnye. You are surely unworthy to wear the moonlit crown that rested upon her silvery brow, in fact you are far less worthy to be the new Moon Empress than this lad is to take Kàrijoi’s place, strong and mighty and merciless Kàrijoi the Master of Death itself. –
And at that Kherènxhuqhe arose and roared, and began roaring and jabbing and rending at the gunwale of the vessel. Puîyus had to take several steps back, for Prince Kherènxhuqhe was coming with such force and biting and beshredding the edge of the vessel, that all of the Qlùfhem vessel was beginning to twist and rumble a bit, and the sound of metal and springs and bones cracking arose all about the children. Puîyus held up his hand and signaled unto Éfhelìnye to stay behind him, for he was thrusting and parrying with the incandescent Eilwiyusàrtyai brand, numbers and plasma bursting outwards in sanguine patterns, but even as he did so several smaller Dragons were arising and landing upon the edge of the masts, and others were entwining themselves within the ropes and gunwail and slowy tearing it apart, the weight of the drakes and the undulations of their tails were knocking aside the barrels and urns of the deck, and several of the golden wings of this vessel were aching and flexing beneath the onslaught of Prince Kherènxhuqhe as crept he closer and closer towards the Children, and this time when Puîyus fought the Prince he remembered the old stories which Grandfather Pátifhar and his Father Íngìkhmar used to tell him of the danger of a Dragon’s mirror eyen, and heeded Princess Éfhelìnye’s advice, and was slashing back and forth at the wings that were spinning around him and trying to cut him with long and jagged jade claws, and the swinging of the sword and the thrusting of it drew out long and rumblent eruptions of light, so that Emperor Kàrijoi’s sword was a little like a flowgrowing volcanic spume springing into life and frothing out with spumes of light and plasma and lava, and when the sword struck against a wing sparkles arose and little tartan patterns as of beating wings, and when he jabbed against the legs and the claws snatching about him, the sword reflected imagines of crystals slashing against glass. And all the while he was fighting and so busy not looking at the old and cunning Dragons, that he failed to notice that the vast and enigmatic eyen of the Rainbow Serpents were no longer flashing towards him, and that Prince Kherènxhuqhe’s eyen were no longer mirrors wherein the goldentressed maiden remained entrapped in amber and time, but rather all of the eyen were turning, and all of the Dragons were gazing out with flower faces, and cascades of petals were flowing out from their eyelids, and lightningbolts were reaching outwards and were partially their eyelashes and were partially squalls such as storm throughout holy Eilasaîyanor, and the eyen were reflecting placid pools and skies of Tràrma the Plasma Sea, and glassen temples and frozen seas and the cwms where the ancient turmtowers of the Holy Caste reside and the great tutelary walls of the City a light-year in distance, and the statues of saints and viceroy kings and lords whilom and Pètekoakh the Lanthorn Temple and the ancient and crumbling ruins in forbidden Jhètrukh the whispering mountains that crawl into the City and flow outwards throughout all of the continents of Khatlhàntikh, these and a thousand other sights were sparkling from the great ecumenopolis Eilasaîyanor Solúma Jheirqtàlpa Khelèlkhonor Ausélinor, the shining jewel of the East. Puîyus spun around, the wings of the Dragons were trying to surround him as the Drakes were crawling up about him and jabbing in many different places at once, and he was cutting against jaw and neck and claw but only occasionally leaving a wound, and it took him a moment to realize that the Dragons were unhastened in their coming against him because their attention was intent upon something else.
– Holy Starflower, glorious Éfhelìnye, the only blossom of Khnoqwísi – spake Prince Kherènxhuqhe as he drew himself downwards and his silvery black wings were opening up to their extent and flowing out from him came waves of frost and rustling dark clouds, and he waddled down the length of the deck while unto all sides of him other Dragons were arising and affixing their gaze right untowards the Princess and not untowards Puîyus who was trying to fend them back. – Xá’ Éfhelìnye! – cried several other Dragons. – Taê tlhàpta taê khmiînte taê’ itàlija taê’ eiyuláriyayòntet éfhe! Oh sweetness, oh charity, oh euphoria, oh hope and life! – Many other Dragons were singing at the same time, and all of them were turning their shining eyen right towards Éfhelìnye, and the eyen were a little like lighthouses arising out of mist and mirror, the light bursting outwards in bridges and searching and waiting all the while. And although Puîyus was fighting and slowing the claws of one Dragon and slashing against the scales and wings of another and drying one or two aside, still the Dragons continued to crawl forwards and all of them were mesmerized by Éfhelìnye almost as if she had become the Khyèqhoir.
Slowly Princess Éfhelìnye looked upwards, it just seemed to easy to do, and the flashing eyen about her, beautiful and strange, were just beckoning her with images of flower and glistening Khniîqhekhan dreams. And the coming of the Dragons, for some reason, now that she thought of it, was very graceful, balletic they were swirling about her, at first she had found their monstrious and terrifying, they had all of the strength of dæmonkind and yet were spindly and vast at the same time, like gigantic spiders mixed with storm, but now she saw just how shining the scales were, rare and strange, and all of the Dragons were dreaming out images some of her home city and some of the continents of Khatlhàntikh and some of the Forbidden Gardens which she knew so well.
– No reason there is that thou shouldst fear us – came the voice of Prince Kherènxhuqhe, and as he drifted closer towards Puîyus and Éfhelìnye no longer was he thunderent upon the deck, but lissome he was flowing from side to side, and his wings were long rainbow blurs drifting from side to side crackling a little, and flowing from his eyen were the trees and petals of the Forbidden Gardens. – Thou surely knowst that we share the same blood, the Children of Qhalúxha and the Princes and Princesses born Pfhentókha, we all share the same tnún blood which is the ichor of the Immortals. That almost makes us kin, at least in terms of fosterage, does it not? – whispered the Prince of Dragonfolk, and his wings were crackling with flames bursting out from the iridescent streaks, the reds and oranges and golds bluring into the fire, the colors rustling about and rolling a little like water.
Princess Éfhelìnye swayed a little from side to side in an almost serpentile fashion. – Yes, yes, it is true the Xhelkhajàkhta the House of the Sun is of the blood of Dragons and Immortals. –
– Then why seekest thou to flee from thy distal kin? – whispered the Prince. – More alike than un art thou and we, the Windspirits that animate the land. –
– Yes, yes, isn’t that so, Puey? – Éfhelìnye wondered, and she laid an hand upon Puîyus’ shoulder as he jabbed and struck and parried and continued to back away from the Dragons arising about him in all directions.
– Would it surprise thee to know that Dragons were present at thy birth? – asked Prince Kherènxhuqhe. – We gathered in all of our sky phatries from the fhorthakeyetúyer the four quarters of the Dreamtime, we came in our numerous hosts, we arose through wave and burrowed up from ground and were filling up all of the clouds and traveled upwards through bejeweled and flaming clouds, in rushes of golds and ruby reds, and came out unto the Outer East even unto holy Eilasaîyanor when the tidings came to us that Khnoqwísi’s time was come, for all the Dragon clans rejoiced. –
– Were you there? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– It was fhlólaja the first day of spring when you were born, for both you and Kàrijoi have the same Starday and the same fate. – Kherènxhuqhe drew himself downwards and the Dragons about him were breathing out flows of petals and light, and his eyen were opening up a little and revealing shadows also formed of petals, the outlines of Kàrijoi and Khnoqwísi from years ago, coiling petals were their garments and dreamcapes and the twisting triangles of their crowns.
– Great Uncle Táto was not present for my birth – Éfhelìnye mentioned to herself, although the Dragons could hear her every word. – Grandfather Pátifhar never mentions it. All that I know is that I was born when the flowers first began to bloom, and it was the last day of peace, before the Great War against Tsànyun began. –
– Would you like to see your Mother? – several Dragons were asking at once.
Puîyus jabbed his sword through hand of a passing Dragon, and the beast did not even cry out as splashes of light and storm flowed out from it. The Dragons were barely even paying him heed now, they were almost trapling him o'er as they were turning and twisting their faces and glowing eyen right towards the Starflower Princess. Puîyus knew that if his heart were still beating it would be racing now in horror, for the Dragons were surrounding the Princess and breathing out their own heady perform. Puîyus punched aside several large and gathering wings about him, and shoved aside some strong legs and arose flying through the air.
– Well do we remember your Mother – chanted Prince Kherènxhuqhe. – We can share those memories with you. Is that what you desire? –
– I desire that greatly? –
– More than anything else in the worlds? –
– I can think of one thing that I desire more, but he is already with me … – Éfhelìnye looked away, distracted, and when she turned away from the Dragon eyen, for a moment all of the eyen blanked and became completely dark and blind, and gusts of shadow were spilling out from their jaws. Puîyus came leaping through the air and grabbed Éfhelìnye by her arms and twisted her aside, and placing his hands about her face kept her from looking at the Dragons.
– !! – Puîyus gasped.
– I just wish to see my Mother, Puey. –
Puîyus looked back. All of the dragons were grinning at him, and Prince Kherènxhuqhe drew his head right towards the children and began a long and terrible smile which consisted entirely of rewel fangs jabbing each other at odd intervals, a smile almost larger than the Dragon’s face, and the triple-forked tounge was licking out from it, and storms of smoke were arising.
– I don’t even remember what my mother looked like, Puey – Éfhelìnye whispered. – Even the statues and stained glass imagines I saw of her seem rather indistinct, as if she were not entirely real … –
– !! –
– We remember many things – all of the Dragons were saying – But especially we remember our Empress Khnoqwísi whom no mortal man may name. –
– I have to know, oh my Puey – Éfhelìnye whispered.
– !! – Puîyus gasped. He kept his face towards Éfhelìnye but he could feel all about them gathering flames licking upwards, and walking right out of the flames were several different simulacra of the cælestial and divine Empress, for different Dragons were remembering her in different ways or had experienced her in differing situations, and so sometimes Khnoqwísi was dressed in gowns all of glowing white and silver, and sometimes she was a young maiden riding a triceratops while Grandfather Pátifhar lead them, and sometimes Khnoqwísi was the Empress yclad in shining golds and the crystalline qhaûnthe p-skhent lay upon her brow or a diadem all of growing diamonds, and once she was carrying her khátatlhùmpa staff, and once she was playing chess with Kàrijoi and many of the phantoms of the Empress were spinning around upon the deck and foaming flowers were forming about her feet while she spun around and engaged in the most complex and beautiful dance, and Puîyus found that he himself was having difficult keeping his back unto all of this, let alone keeping Éfhelìnye’s attention untowards him.
– Aren’t you in the least bit curious to learn about your Mother? – asked Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Grrr! – growled Puîyus.
– Yes, yes, I am – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– You know Dragons cannot lie – Prince Kherènxhuqhe quod.
– Dragons can only speak the truth of Babel – the rest of the Dragons were hissing.
– Yes, yes of course … – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Rrrrr! – Puîyus cried, and he shook Éfhelìnye by her shoulders a few times, and yet although he was trying to remind her of just what she had just instilled in him, of the danger and illusion and dreams that flow from Dragons and their most powerful blood, still he felt a prickling at the back of his mind, and his thews were becoming like water, and his jaw was aching, and his bones were like ice, and behind him he could sense the presence of goodness and kindness walking out upon a field all of grasses and trefoils.
– I am very curious … about my Mother … – Éfhelìnye chanted, and her eyen were glowing with a slight silvery light. Puîyus tried to keep turning her face away from the Dragons gathering behind them, but in order to do so he kept turning backwards and saw that a beautiful woman was walking through the storms of the Dragons, and the clouds and wings were parting unto all sides of her, and her rainment was all of glowing silvery white, and her eyen were large and compassionate, and a bouquet rested in her hands. The diamonds of her diadem were all sparkling in sidereal patterns, her girdle was glistening with all of the phases of the moon, and about her neck was scintillating the rainbow flashing in all of its glories. Puîyus knew at once that this was Khnoqwísi, for he had dreamt about her once, that she was dwelling in a great midnight castle and that she cared for him when he was wounded and adorned his hair with performs and glories. And even if he had not dreamt of meeting Khnoqwísi before, had not dreamt of her with the spirit servants and in the large and winding halls where Kàrijoi came to meet her, he would not have to be told who she was, the Empress was the Mother of the Land and recognizable unto all of her children.
– Aîjanyayéfhe’ aîjanyakhlìnyat, oh my life and my beloved – Khnoqwísi chanted as she walked right on top of the trefoils and the blades of grass, and she disturbed them all not in the least. – Well did thy Father clepe thee, for thou art our life and our beloved, our Éfhelìnye. – And both Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were turning now, and listening a voice which sounded like bells and the happy dance of waters in a full stream, and Éfhelìnye sighed a little and did not notice the bleeding in her wrists, and Puîyus’ heart began to beat again to see the beauty of Empress Khnoqwísi.
– Well do I remember when you took your first step, my child – Khnoqwísi chanted. – I was still very weak, I never did fully recover from giving birth to you, but your Father used to carry me around, and sometimes I had enough strength to walk within the outer gardens. I’m sure you remember them, these were the gardens upon the floating continental platforms of the Ice Palace all about the flying minarets. Back then they bloomed with life and flowers imported from an hundred timelines, before your Father brought Winter and destroy did all of the blossoms. –
– I’ve been unto those platforms, Mother – Éfhelìnye chanted. – After Puey rescued me from the Dragons, but nothing grows there now. –
– I remember holding up your arms, you were still very tiny, and your legs were struggling to put one in front of the other, and I held you up o'er the grasses and flowers. You kicked a little, rather than try to take a step, and I knew even then that you would be a dancer like unto me. –
– I still find dancing easier than walking – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Gliding, spinning, sliding, they are easier than merest ambulation. –
– You were not alone when you took your first step – Empress Khnoqwísi chanted, and lifted up her hand she made an elegant gesture towards the Dragons who were arising and scintillating unto all sides of her. – My protectors were there, the piasa children of Qhalúxha witnessed your first foray at dancing. –
– That is true – chanted Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– We are loyal vassels of the Kayipóxiro Taotepwepùrlta Lranepwéru Xhelkhajàkhta, the Divine Family of the Pwéru – all of the rest of the Dragons were saying.
Princess Éfhelìnye took a few steps towards her Mother. – I knew it, I could just feel it in mine heart that once Dragons had been noble and beneficient, that they had loved you as I love you, before, before something went wrong. –
Empress Khnoqwísi reached outwards towards her Daughter. Éfhelìnye made a few stumbling motions towards her, for in the brightness of the drake eyen and the heaviness of the wyrm breathe her body had forgotten how to move and needed to learn to walk once again. She reached out to her Mother, and Khnoqwísi fell upon a single knee to embrace her Daughter. Puîyus tried to arise to stop Éfhelìnye, he contemplated eleven different ways to fly through the air and grab her by her waist and tackle her down, and yet he found himself trapped in flowing amber. Behind Khnoqwísi the Dragon’s eyen were white blazing Suns. Éfhelìnye wiped away some tears from her face and cried out – Mamà! Oh, Mamà, how I’ve missed you! So many times I’ve lain down in dreamless sleep and longed to know your face, so many times I’ve rolled o'er and wept myself asleep and prayed unto the Ása that I at least glimpse you in dreams, and the Immortals honored and blessed as they are, have never seen fit to grant that request. And now that I see you, there are ten million stories that stories that I wish to hear from you, and a billion words I wish to stay to you. Oh Mamà, aîyÀtiwu’ aîyÁmii! How I have missed you so. –
Puîyus fell upon his knees, and the Dragon sword once again came spilling out from his hand. Princess Éfhelìnye was just about to embrace her Mother, and Puîyus’ imagination was bursting with possibilities that Khnoqwísi would arise and become a Dragon or that all of the Dragons would come flowing out from her to pounce upon the Princess and rend her asunder, and yet all that came to pass was that Éfhelìnye embraced the simulacron of her Mother, and it broke apart into insubstantial smoke and wind and blew out about her, and Éfhelìnye was left kneeling and trying to gather air and her tears.
– She was naught but a memory, our Child – Prince Kherènxhuqhe chanted, but he and the rest of the Dragons were not breathing flame and not grasping the ship to tear it apart, but were tall and majestic and terrible in their splendor. – But we remember her, although but a little. If questions thou hast of her, you should ask us or your Father who knew her best. We do not lie. Dragons cannot lie. –
Éfhelìnye squeezed her bleeding hands together, for the blood was flowing out from the bandages Puîyus had wrapped about her wrists. – Yes, I would learn more of her, I am the seed left too long in the darkness at waiting for the first glances of light to shine upon my face. –
– We are your Parents – the Dragons were all whispering in unison. – From before our birth we have served the House Pwéru, from your birth we protected you in the Forbidden Gardens, and now we come to you. Oh our child, oh our Daughter, do you not recognize us who are Dragons? –
– Yes … I saw you in the seas before my Father’s harīm. –
– We protected you, we were the flames of even and morn, we were your first light and your last, we were milk and honey and water for you. Before the Dragons there was no Princess, and if we had never been you could not exist. We be the same blood, oh Princess, oh child, oh daughter. –
Puîyus came tumbling downwards, for the weight of the eyen glaring down upon him were of several stories and gravities flowing downwards at once, and when he moved he thought that his bones would surely break from the stress of it all. He struggled to grasp the sword, and yet when he did so he felt lighter, and the solar storms began to burst out from the blade. He struggled up unto his feet and staggered towards the Princess.
– Do you not wish for your parents to forgive you? – the Dragons were saying.
– Do you not wish to return your Father, for Kàrijoi to forgive you? – Prince Kherènxhuqhe was saying.
– I do not wish to think of my Father e'er again – Princess Éfhelìnye quod.
– You ran away from home – chanted the Dragons.
– You broke your Father’s heart – Prince Kherènxhuqhe was saying.
– I …I just had to leave … Puey came for me … – Princess Éfhelìnye was rubbing her brow and growing rather weak.
– You escaped from the Forbidden Gardens – chanted the Dragons.
– The only place completely safe for you, the only place where you could do no damage to others – Prince Kherènxhuqhe was saying.
– You ran away with the very first boy you had e'er met. –
– A slave and a son of slave, dirt, dross, barely even worthy of your attention. –
– You broke into the castle of the Atlhamáxha, your Noble Cousins. –
– You consorted with Pirates. –
– Associated with clockwork. –
– And a Princess from the very wrong side of the family. –
– You escaped to Jaràqtu. –
– You started the Slave Rebellion. –
– You started the War of Heaven. –
– You try to elope with this creature. –
– You have broken your Father’s heart. –
– I … it was … it all made sense … I have a plan and it’s a very good one! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I just have some problems in keeping it a linear, it verges about like a cochleate. Do you like shells, I love shells, they’re so windy and curvy and … –
– You ran off into battle – the Dragons chanted.
– You had this lad challenge the Emperor in front of all men – Prince Kherènxhuqhe was saying.
– You have offended the Ancestors. –
– And worst of all, although you claim to love the lad, you lead him closer and closer to certain death – the Prince whispered.
– I … you … it’s … ur … ? – Éfhelìnye began.
– Death. Death. Death. Death – the Dragons were intoning.
Prince Kherènxhuqhe arose and his coils were twisting about Éfhelìnye, and dark clouds were flowing about her, and within the clouds were the towers of Eilasaîyanor and all of the Suns eternally setting, mire and sadness and quag arising from the Dragons, and yet not malice not craft not wileness, but just a deep and unwinding melancholy flowing from them all.
– Do you wish to save Puîyos’ life? – Prince Kherènxhuqhe asked.
– I would die without my Puey – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Do you wish for Puîyos to die? – the Dragons asked.
– I cannot even contemplate such a fate – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– And yet you lead him to death, you march him unto certain woe, you sing the song of the Khànguku särens, and take him by the hand and lead him unto a fate you would not imagine for your worst foe – Kherènxhuqhe hissed.
– I have no enemies, all men love the Starflower Princess – Éfhelìnye whispered even though her voice quavered with doubt.
– The hands of all men have been lifted up against you – chanted Kherènxhuqhe as he circled Éfhelìnye again and again, and his breath was become the winds the rustle down through the iceclad continents of Khatlhàntikh, trees rustling from side to side, leaves blasting alittle, his eyen always upon her. – Because of you Kàrijoi must cleanse the Land, because of the law all living creatures must die, remember the basic harmony of the worlds, it is forbidden for any mortal to speak with you save those of the Divine House, it is a sin for anyone to see your face, save for those of the Holy Pwéru, the Emperor has no choice, you were the one who chose to ran away from us the tutelary Dragons who had been guarding protecting serving you all of the days of your life, the Emperor must have needs to destroy all those who have seen you been touched by your presence enlightened embrightened resurrected by your goodness! Kàrijoi is not the villain, he is not the creature cloaked in darkness, he is not dripping with blood and bringing fear in the night, he was the warning, the Emperor, the prophecy made flesh, and you are the one leading Puîyos unto destruction. –
– No! – gasped Éfhelìnye.
Kherènxhuqhe opened up his wings and woe was bleeding right off from him. – What else can Kàrijoi do, now that you have started the War consuming all things, now that you insist on dragging his child around and making the last of the Elders bow down in homage before him? Kàrijoi can either crucify him or sacrifice him alive or destroy him in battle, but no matter what happens it will be of your doing. You have been the architect of all this web, you are the pebble who was thrown upon the placid and frozen lake, and you set it cracking about you, and the pieces tumbling within, and the waves bursting outwards to break the dam and bring avalanche and storm unto all. We are the Dragons, we are the storm children of Qhalúxha, and you know that only truth can we speak. –
– I will not let Puey die – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I don’t think you’re telling all that you know. –
– Then consider this – the Dragons were speaking with a single voice. – One option comes to us, a way to end the fighting, to stop the cannons of this war and the ritual destruction of every wharf and city and nation and land. –
– A single way for you to save Puîyos’ life – chanted Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Can you do it? – asked the Dragons.
– Will you risk it? –
– Will you risk all for this lad? –
– Can you do what Kàrijoi himself cannot do? –
– What is your plan, then? – Princess Éfhelìnye asked.
– Return with us – the Dragons were all saying. – Bring Puîyos with you, convince him if you can, trick him if you must, drag him kicking and screaming in the extreme, but bring him unto your Father vast and magnificient Kàrijoi the Master of Earth and Sea and Sky, and beg forgiveness at his feet. –
– And perhaps Kàrijoi’s heart will be mended, and he will restore peace to the Land – Prince Kherènxhuqhe was saying.
– And then what shall happen unto my Puey? – Éfhelìnye asked.
The Dragons bowed their heads in sadness and chanted – Even we cannot guess that outcome. Perhaps the Emperor will let both of you go and release you to your own lives and fates in the outer worlds. Perhaps he shall prison you again in the Forbidden Gardens with us to watch o'er you for the rest of your days, perhaps the Empeor will forgive you but still crucify the lad, or perhaps the Emperor will do nothing. –
– But forgiveness is your only chance to end the war and save Puîyos’ life – Prince Kherènxhuqhe chanted, cloudstorms flowing from his gills and jaws.
Princess Éfhelìnye now found herself circling about the Dragon Prince and walking about his tail and the flowing cloud crennelations thereof. – Are you asking me to surrender unto dread Kàrijoi? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– There is no shame in that – the Dragons chanted.
– Are you saying that the proud children of Qhalúxha have surrendered to my Father? –
– We are saying that obedience will bring life. –
– This is no trick, no guile, no deceit – Prince Kherènxhuqhe chanted. – If you truly do love this lad, than you will take a chance, no matter how small, to save him from a terrible death. –
– And if Puey and I should refuse to return to my Father? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– It is your decision – chanted the Dragons.
– Your Puîyos decides is of no concern, we were sent to find you and slaughter him, or at least return him to your Father – Prince Kherènxhuqhe chanted.
– But if we should resist? – Éfhelìnye asked.
–Then we are to hunt you down through all the fields and whispering mountains and cities, through all of the nations and viceroy kingdoms and timelines, through all the waves and about all of the plains and throughout all of the empyrean heavens, we are to track you and capture you and hunt you down by whatever powers are granted unto the most beautiful and wonderous Piasa Dragons – so Prince Kherènxhuqhe was saying. – If Puîyos should die in this battle, so be it. If you should die in this battle, what a tragedy it will be. –
– Surrender or death is not much of a choice at all now, is it? – Éfhelìnye asked. She looked around and saw that the small Qlùfhem vessel had been drawn downwards through the heavens, it was just a few leagues above the churning oceans, and the movement and power of the Dragons was reaching downwards into the sea and causing the waves to cast themselves against the ground in gales and hurricanes slipping upon the shore, and the beating of the great reptilian wings was so great that the bone skerries that strangled the shore were breaking apart, and legions of fishes and squids and octopodes and orcs were arising and struggling within the waters and crying out all the while trying to flee before the thunder of the passing of the Dragons. She looked around and far off in the heavens saw the gaping sky wounds where the Xakhpàlqe vessels had been doing war against each other and their spinning darting weapons had destroyed the sqòqhi rainbrella ship, and she turned around and saw that they were all come deep within the glistening eclipse of the moons, the ship drawing within the waves of darkness, elevens of Dragons perched upon the deck and the eyrie layers of the broken master and solar sails. Prince Kherènxhuqhe was in the very center of the host, but all of the rest of the Dragons were silent save for their hissing and the swaying of their necks and the crackling storms flowing up from their wings. She looked around and saw that Fhèrkifher lay upon the deck and that a Dragon was pinning him down with his leg, and that the pirate was struggling to reach for his sword and fan which lay sprawling out upon the floor just beyond his reach, and she looked upwards and saw that long and barbed wings were grasping Xhnófho and holding him tight before jaws opening upwards and flamement mounting, and Xhnófho’s antennæ and feathers were wilting alittle in the gathering heat. She looked back and saw that Puîyus was staggering up to his feet and was grasping the Emperor’s sword and dragging himself towards the Princess, and as Puîyus arose and sloughed from his shoulders the extra weight and heat and gravity hanging upon him, he felt as if his bones and neck were breaking, he felt almost as if spiders and wheels were crawling about beneath his skin, but as he approached the Princess and stood up before the glowing Dragon eyen, the gravity began to minish from him.
– May we think about your offer for a moment? – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted as she bowed towards Prince Kherènxhuqhe and the rest of the Dragons.
– Please do – spake the Prince of Dragon kind, as he looked down to examine his jade and crystal talons, and think of new ways to crush soldiers and knights and scorch all the land.
– This is dangerous – Éfhelìnye whispered. Puîyus nodded, and tapping his hands together told her that he had heard everything which was chanted.
– And yet did we hear everything which was unsaid? I wonder. Do you believe the Dragons were telling the truth? – Puîyus nodded in affirmation. – I think so also, that’s what makes this so dangerous. What do you think? –
– … –
– I agree. Two pirates down. Can you reach them? –
Puîyus rubbed the side of his nose.
– Where is my Cousin and Aîya? –
Puîyus tapped his fists together.
– Yes, that bothers me too. I get a little nervous when I don’t hear Ixhúja’s making a racket, because then she can be getting into some real trouble. Do you have a plan? –
– How crazy is the plan? –
– How can I help? –
Puîyus’ hands spun about in some elegant cheremes to tell her, How skilled are you at calculating the arc of nightmares?
– I’ll have to give it a try. Let’s not be specific yet. Our every word, movement, glance, is watched by many bright and baleful eye. –
Puîyus looked around, and part of his mind was calculating all that he would have to do, for Grandfather Pátifhar and his dearest Abbá Íngìkhmar had trained him in all manner of stratagems and chess maneuvers, in his mind the Dragons were great marionettes dangling about the ship, and flowing upwards at the edge of the cobweb strings stood Kàrijoi as the puppeteer, and various trajectories and possibilities were flowing in his mind concerning the pirates themselves, who were smaller sock puppets left upon the deck, or so he imagined them, and in the stage he was even finding a place for Ixhúja and perhaps even Aîya. And yet another part of his mind, even as wargames were splashing ot from his thoughts like molten wax flowing upwards from the surface and congealing and forming their own worlds, and yet some of his mind was oil dripping downwards and forming its own reality flowing out from him, and the oil was far less cunning and calculating, and thrived on thoughts of family and sentiment, and the oil was thinking about the vision of Empress Khnoqwísi, and he kept imagining in his mind the sight of little Princess Éfhelìnye as she must have appeared as an infant, and he was reminded of the drawings that she had saved from the memories of the cottage wherein she had grown up, the cottage which had appeared again for her when Puîyus had descended into her khmenánotkh her own dragon dream and found her trapped within her own wanhope and taking crayon and color had drawn out for her the images of loveliness and hope of her own life and some of the very pleasant memories that he had of her, and when Éfhelìnye had passed through the cottage she took the drawings and set them in a folder and given them to Puîyus for safekeeping; and he still kept them near his heart and looked at them from occasion from time to time, and so he could imagine Éfhelìnye when she was very little, in white cloths, with a bonnet upon her head, and golden thread was sparkling within the cloth, and Khnoqwísi was standing above her and holding her tiny hands and encouraging her to take her first few steps of dance. Yes, Puîyus continued, Éfhelìnye had no doubt been a very lovely baby. Puîyus could not remember taking his first step, in fact Grandmother Tàltiin and Auntie Qtìmine used to tell him that he went from his first few steps right to running around, although he did not like running too far, he liked to stay very close to his Mother Khwofheîlya, but not too close, for Siêthiyal was already developing little razor baby teeth and was not afraid to bite her Brother a few times if she thought he was getting far too much enough and she not nearly enough. And yet, Puîyus knew, he barely even remembered infants at all, or even the idea of them, for his generation had been the very last one whom the Emperor had permitted to be born, for Kàrijoi was enforcing ritual mourning upon all of the Land, he was drawing away all of the love that he once had for field and forest and flower, he was takening the heavens and bringing Winter unto all, and so sometimes when Puîyus had to imagine the idea of babies he thought of kittens and ducklings and dovekins and lambchens and dinosaurlettes and bunnies, and yet even they were dwindling, the Emperor had stopped the hatching and growing and birth and seeding of all manner of bird and fish and kine and thunder lizard, and all things were turning unto death. Puîyus looked to Éfhelìnye, and they held hands, and she could feel in his touch that he had been thinking of something both very sad and yet also rather beautiful. She gave him a querying look, and he drew his hand across his palm and it looked a little like a couple of figures attempting to walk. She understood at once, and tried to imagine how she had looked in the gardens with her Mother holding her hand and drawing her upwards, for even though it had only been a simulacron of her Mother, the memory was true indeed.
– Are we ready? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
Puîyus smiled. He reached into his pocket and drew out the chess pieces that had fallen from Éfhelìnye, the Sorcerer and the Pirate piece, and he set them spinning about his palm and then clasped them right into Éfhelìnye’s hand, and his fingers danced together and spelt out the words, At some time I shall need you to explain to me your strategies of fhwènge, of zugzwang, for such are of vital importance for endgame.
– Yes, it is always fun to make one’s opponent move against his will. –
Puîyus nodded, it was good for an opponent to be weakened, to hesitate by his own hand. Puîyus brushed an hand through his silvery and melancholy blue tresses and drew out some glyphs that meant, Playing tnúpa chess in the exaulted presence of Dragons.
Éfhelìnye smiled an half smile. She and Puîyus turned to the Dragons, and the hosts and Prince Kherènxhuqhe were looking at the children and felt a little unease in their hearts, for it were the Children who were the ones speaking in riddles and laying out the rules of a game rather than the cunning Dragons, and the nebulous Pteixhàthwufha windspirits were not entirely sure how to understand this situation, and a few of them were looking from side to side and wondering whether they themselves should fear to look into the eyen of the children. Éfhelìnye was smiling a full smile now, and it did nothing to set the Dragons’ minds to ease.
– And what is the decision of the Starflower Princess Éfhelìnye and this Knightling of whom she has grown rather fond – asked Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Oh, I’m not just fond of my Puey, I love him dearly, he is the song of my heart and the boy of my dreams – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – He and I shall be married, he will become the new Emperor, and all of you shall bow down to do him homage. Oh yes, I understand this now, you are all very afraid. You thought that you understood the game, my Father was trying to bring all of the worlds unto a certain order, but he did not realize that the pieces have wills of their own and can form their own strategies up and down the length of the board. Oh yes, all of you Dragons are terrified of what shall come to pass if Puey and I success. –
Prince Kherènxhuqhe snarled. The Dragons arose and began crying out in flames, they were beginning their storm, wrath was to be their answer.
– I don’t think you Dragons thought that Puey and I would live this long, and now that we have you’re panicking, because if Kàrijoi does not set things back the way they were, none of you know what shall become of you – Éfhelìnye chanted. – If the Emperor brings extinction, what shall the Dragons do, will the worlds be ash and death for all time? If I return to the Emperor, you return to being his guards and slaves and favored creatures. But what if the unthinkable happens, what if Puey and I survive and conquer the Emperor, what if Puîyus takes the steaming Starburst Crown and sets it upon his brow and all men bend their knees before him? Oh, this is fate that none of you can contemplate, it is a vortex of possibilities, horror that consumes your heart, none of you can fortell what an age he will usher. –
– The Princess does not understand what she is saying – Prince Kherènxhuqhe hissed, and the Dragons were screaming now and grabbing the golden solar sails and ripping the ship apart, and the Dragons were diving and swirling about the shadows of the lunar eclipse and preparing to fall upon the children now. – We served your Mother. We brought order to the worlds. We were song and might. You cannot understand what you say. We were there at the beginning of all things. We were singing the music of the seas. We laughed as the dimensions arose out of froth. We were part of the song. And you would end that, you would shatter the last harmony that binds all things together, you would topple down the last Son of Khriîno and Pfhentókha, your own Father, and begin a dynasty whose purpose none of us can guess. You do not contemplate rebellion against the Crystalline Throne that was, you contemplate changing the very dance of creation! –
– Monster! – cried the Dragons. – Creature! Quantum Dæmon! Abomination thou art! – the Dragons were crying one by one as they spun about Princess Éfhelìnye, and she and Puîyus held each other and saw that the Dragons were taking to the possibility of this fhwèngot, of this zugzwang with far more vehemence than they had thought.
– Perhaps you Dragons have forgotten that the point of tnúpa chess is to rescue and marry the Princess – Éfhelìnye chanted – Not to bring chaos throughout all of the board. –
Prince Kherènxhuqhe’s entire body became flame. – Slaying the Princess is also acceptable endgame, for the Children of Qhalúxha that is. –
– Oh! – Éfhelìnye gasped.