– I’ll have you out soon, I just know it – Éfhelìnye chanted, and her fingers reached out for the lock and searched for the movement and music within it. She looked up, and the Automata were remaining still and bowing their heads before her. – I wish I could think of a joke or funny story to tell you know. I know that when my Puey was very little he and his baby Sister Karuláta were playing with a door, and she somehow managed to slam it against his thumb. His Auntie rushed him away to the healer, but even today Puey has some white lines on his left thumb and and an extra joint there, just like this. – She wriggled her thumbs back and forth. – Perhaps a little like this. Puey would probably make a better lockpick than I am. Oh, just a moment. –
– You must leave us now, oh Princess – the Automata were saying. – He is already here. –
– This lock is easy. I’ve got it! –
– RUN! NOW! –
The door swung open and Éfhelìnye took a few steps back. For a moment the cage just exhaled about her, the force and movement of the Tánin Automata as they arose and departed was taking all of the energy out from it, the metallic struts and glass of the osyrga was deflating like a quqlimùqli balloon flower which was pricked by a thorn. The Automata marching all around her was tall and shimmering and so battled from thralldom and battle that they were no longer even symmetrical, many of them only had a single good leg working, others were hobbling partially upon limbs and partially upon just bits of wood grafted onto to them. These particular Automata did not have limbs ending in claws or scythes or spinning swords, so Princess Éfhelìnye thought that of original they must have been intended to be khyètlhefho housecarls, and they were even stooped and shuffling a little like so many Þéowincels, the wheels of their joints servile grinding against each other. And as they were rushing outwards, Éfhelìnye rested and dusted her hands off and rested for a few moments and thought that all of the works of her hands had been good, and she set her lockpicking tools back in their place and turned around and wondered just what she was going to do next.
This moment was that particular juncture when the plan was at its weakest, this was that specific point where she often had trouble formulating the next portion, that actual escape from the ensurent chaos. For now as she looked around she could see that all of the living ships that were left within the dying and choking waters were exploding one by one by one, the cages were all sinking, entire regions of wall and tower and cityscape crashing downwards along with the tidal bores of dead trees and death soil. The remnants of the ship, where she found herself left, was breaking apart into several exploding chunks and sinking into the waves. She looked around and saw that the Ravens were descending and attacking all of the slaves who were surviving their íxoi their exoxus, the oefs swooping downwards and attacking feather and wing and beak, the birds rising and falling and screaming all the while, the slaves struggling in the waters, many of them completely covered by the scavengers of illomen, others of them weighed down by the movement and beating of the wings, some of the slaves were struggling to keep the ravens from drowning them and ripping off their skin, and the slaves that struggling made it onto the shore were finding that all of the ground of this city once of circles and rondures was breaking apart and falling into the death of the seas. Éfhelìnye looked around, several of the exploding vessels were breaking apart and revealing within the mounting flames huge wings beating from side to side and the outline of serpentile heads, and noe a few of the living ships were arising and become collars and necklaces about the necks of Dragons as they gazed from side to side and breathed out long comet streaks of fire. By now the hordes of the Ravens were descending and covering much of the statues and edges of the city which had no yet sunk into the seas, and Éfhelìnye was straining and looking from side to side in the hopes that somewhere in this chaos Puîyus would come swooping out for to find her, for she had no idea how to return to the shore now that all of the living ships were exploding, and she could see no flotsom sturdy enough to help her float.
Suddenly several Khmàfhlort and Qriî came running down the side of the crumbling ship, and Éfhelìnye looked from side to side in growing fear. A few more slaves came bounding up about her. She could taste the blood within her mouth, and despite her attempts to constrain herself, she began to hiccough a little in little singultous lúnx hickock, hicket, hick·hop, hic! Hi! Hic! Hic!
The smoke came billowing all around Éfhelìnye’s rubescent ballet slippers, the smoke was twining up about the hem of her dress, she took a few steps back and almost slipped, for the ship was sinking into the waters and the surface was brimming with froth and blood. Several columns of fire and smoke were arising up from the remants of the ship, the last of the slaves were screaming as they attempted for to escape, but the Khmàfhlort that were stampeding outwards found long jade talons ripping right out from their chests, and the slaves wriggled a little as they felt their own life’s blood sweeping up the side of the impaling claws. A few Qriî were screaming as they rolled outwards, but other talons smashed right against them and left them but twittering twitchgoo. The side of the ship erupted and folding outwards came a few wings which unto Éfhelìnye looked nothing like stone shuffling about, with veins of marble and thews all of obsidian rustling from side to side, slowly the wings unflext themselves, and bursting upwards from the center arose the torso and head of the Dragon, he turned his gaze from side to side, his eyen were flashes of red, and all about his head was a brilliant feathercrest of gold and pink and slight green flames. The Dragon chewed upon the air a little, smoke was arising from his nostrils, and then he gazed down upon the Khmàfhlort slaves in his grasp, and turning his fires unto them burnt them all alive and sucked in the sweet savor of their terror horror agoniaque. The Dragon coughed out a little and wiped the Qriî slaves right off of his palm, the Dragon felt as if it were swatting flies, to annoying it was to trample upon these little Qriî with their bubbling waxsome eyen. But then again, the taste of the fear of these Qriî was just so delectable. The Dragon burst upwards and cracked the rest of the ship apart into several sinking sheets, and reaching upwards grabbed several more Qriî and gazed into their burning eyen.
– How interesting, the way you see the movement of space and time – the Dragon smiled. – Would you like to see how I see? – And the Dragon grinned, and his eyen began brilliant and burning mirrors. The Qriî burst into flames one by one, and the Dragon inhaled the dust and thought about how it was that mortals must contemplate time, how they felt it as series and progression, how the grammar whichby Mortals experience causality was so different unto those who are the Children of Qhalúxha.
Princess Éfhelìnye took several steps back but there was nowhere else to go unless she wanted to try swimming through the bodies and froth and blood. The Dragon before him wriggled out of the crumbling ship, and she could see that this particular Dragon was somewhat different unto the ones that she had seen before, for it was smaller, perhaps only the size of a drasil diplodocus, its wings were flexing from side to side and were not the great sky-spanners that Lord Qàrqhin or Prince Kherènxhuqhe had, they were smaller and sparkled all the while. The Dragon brushed one of its limbs right into the waters and yanked up some of the slaves that were trying to escape and pulling them upwards blasted at them with a deep and fiery breath, and the skin was shorn right off from the slaves, their eyen bubbled out, they were screaming masses of muscle and bones until they broke apart in draconiform grasp. The Dragonlette, she could see, was actually small enough to fit inside a house, or a least a modest crannog such as the Sweqhàngqu used to have, she could almost imagine pulling away the chairs from one side of the table and bidding the Draogn to sit there at bord, and the rest of the Sweqhàngqu could all sit comfortably about it, such was the Dragon’s size, although the Dragon’s manners and propensity to burn folk alive and taste their thoughts was probably not the best of table manners. Still, though, she thought that the Dragon would probably be an excellent kunínoro deipnosophist, it must all sorts of stories of days past and poems collected through the ages and insights into the minds of spirit and mortal alike. The Dragon brushed its petrescent wings from side to side and thrust them into the boiling waters and drew out a few more slaves, the wings were growing claws against them, but the Dragon was only large enough to grab a few, it was not as vast as Kherènxhuqhe who smote down entire armies in his wake. The waters were already arising about Éfhelìnye, the ship was almost no more, she tried to turn away from the Dragonlette and yet despite its feircesome manner she found him fascinating, he was not as bent and twisted and sharp as the other Dragons she had seen before, and it was not just that he was so young and small, the flames flowing out from his gills were not like horrific rockets and jets scorching the air, he was almost avian in his spinning grace, and flowing from his wings came a mansuete shower all of flame and water and ice all at the same time, and the smell reminded her a little of the dance of moonlight within her Father’s gardens, the movement of wind among the trees, the beauty of all of the earth. And Éfhelìnye wondered to see such a beautiful creature, although still a formidable and parlous one, as it ripped apart slave after slave after slave.
Suddenly the Dragon turned his head aside, and his eyen affixed right unto Éfhelìnye. She gasped and hugged herself and expected the eyen to become pillars or fire, to see mirrors flowing within mirrors, changes and paradoxes drifting within the gaze, but the eyen just blinked a few times and began clear white and golden orbs. The Dragon watched her, he made no effort to capture her, to arise in flame and terror and snatch her upwards, rather he continued pealing away the skin of the slaves and breaking them apart in his claws, and then, even as he watched her, he dipped his wings into the waters and drew out a few more struggling slaves and threw them down upon the sinking ship before the Princess. The Dragon’s wings became a blur. Éfhelìnye skipped back in flight and almost slipped upon the growing pool of blood. The slaves were Traîkhiim and Khmàfhlort and Qriî and Tánin, and the Dragonlette picked up the largest, the Khmàfhlort and crushed her head in his palms and let the organs drip downwards, and then the Dragon’s blur wings impaled the Traîkhiim and Qriî and began to tear them apart.
– I know you, Princess – the Dragonlette told her. His tail was swishing from side to side in an almost feline manner, she thought that indeed some of the diplodocoi in the ancestrial farms of the Sweqhàngqu must be larger than this Drake. How old could it be, she wondered, she had no idea how long it takes for a Dragon to age and reach its full reptilian splendor, perhaps the Dragonlette was just a few thousands of winters old, she could not even guess. An education in sqánga, in cryptolacustribestidracontology had not been something which Grandfather Pátifhar or Great-Uncle Táto had instilled in her. The Dragon dusted off some of the crushed flesh and feathers of the slaves, a few of the Traîkhiim were beating their wings in their attempt to escape, but the Dragon just looked upon them and reduced them unto dust, and then it reached and grabbed a few of the Tánin Automata which were making their attempt at escape.
– Ah, now this is the proble, this is the question – the Dragon chanted as it picked up one of the clockweyth wihts and let it dangle before his face. His snout snapped a few times and ripped off the claws and limbs of the machinery, and a talon arose and slipped right into the wheels and began to grind them backwards, and the Automaton squealed in pain. – It has always been a dilemma with us, just what are we going to do with the Tánin volk? They seem to be everywhere verŝajne, they appeared in one world after another, one timeline after another, almost with no concern for causality let alone the ban that the Prophet set upon their creation. I suppose it was inevitable, Emperor Kàrijoi our Master did impression his Imperial Mad Scientist in the Qreûralirkh the Labyrinth of Worlds, and when Prince Jhwèsta finally did escape he slipped through memory and time and ended up sojourning in thousands of worlds and left the Tánin wherever he went. And yet that still leaves us with a perennial question, just what are we to do with them? It is quite delightful the way that these toys frighten children so, and yet they can be a bit vexing, especially since so many dragon scales were employed in the creation of these apparatus. – The Dragon breathed out fire against the machine struggling in his grip, and the Tánin wriggled and squirmed from side to side and screamed out all the while, its skin though revealed within it xylem and phloem all of pumping salt, the hame of the machine was of the same texture of dragon skin, and the Automaton screamed as the Dragon burnt it away layer after layer after layer. – In the end though the Prophet was right, these Automata should just be smashed at sight. No good can e'er come of such hybrids, such mongrels! – The Dragon crushed the pwànkhafha sklavo and hurled the pieces aside, and then it turned its eyen and attention right towards the Princess.
Éfhelìnye turned around and knew that an attempt to swim in the blood and froth and among the corpses and drowning slaves and the growing horror about her would be preferable than whatever new monstrocity this Dragon had in mind, even if it were a small one and did not strike her as terrible as the other Dragons she had met. She tried to force herself to throw herself right into the waters, even as the sherd of hull continued to bobble and sway about her, she wished that she were just brave enough to throw herself into the waters and take her chances, but behind her she could hear the Dragon approach, it was batting aside several bits of burning ship, and some of the stray towers and bits of wall that were crashing into the waters.
– Oh yes, I remember you very well, oh little Princess – the Dragon was saying. – You probably don’t remember me at all, do you, there would be no reason for you to, the Dragons that were swimming in the flames around the islands where you prisoned were Drakes far older and more terrible than I am. I am just the least of our phatries, the lastborn generation descended from Qhalúxha. –
Éfhelìnye slipped into the waters, but claws wrapped around her waist and threw her back unto the boat, and the Dragon smashed through burning wood and crumbling stone and twisting about the Princess drew his face towards her and chanted – Do you dream about us, little Princess? Do the Dragons swim in your mind, just as we did around the little illusionary islands of your girlhood? –
– No – Éfhelìnye whispered.
– We dream about you. We dream about nothing else. You are a part of us, just as we are a part of you. You are part of my story – whispered the Dragonlette, young Àrqotha the great-great grandchild of Qhalúxha of old. –
– I’ve been in a lot of peoples’ stories recently – chanted Éfhelìnye, as she struggled out of the coils twisting about her, and the wings flapping about her, and the Dragon batting his head towards and snapping his jaws. Àrqotha drew his eyen closer unto her and stared at her, his triple-forked tounge was reaching outwards and snaked itself all about Éfhelìnye’s face, and the Dragon tasted her for a few moments even as the Princess shouted – This is the grossest thing that I’ve e'er witnessed! Stop it now! Puey! PUEY! PUEY! –
– I’ve always wondered how you would look when you became a young woman – Àrqotha whispered as he licked her face several more times, and although Éfhelìnye struggled against him, she felt a little as if the Dragon were one of Puîyus’ pet dinosaurlings running up to her and licking her fingers and face but without any real harm intended, and although she did not like the feel of the texture or the texture of the saliva, the Dragon’s scent burgeoning about her was still all of moonbeams and dust.
– Please let me go! When Puey finds you … – Éfhelìnye began, but the Dragon’s tounge smacked her a few more times as it traced about her face and hair.
– We have such an history together, thou and I – Àrqotha was saying. – We traveled together through the upper dust tides, we traveled through the very heart of our worlds, and we came out together before the sounding of the seas. Yes, you are quite lovely. The Elders were right about you. You remind us all of her. –
– PUEY! PUEY! – Éfhelìnye shouted.
Flame was bursting out from Àrqotha’s snout, his eyen became prisms affixing right towards the Princess, the Dragon hovered backwards a few more cubits even as it was grasping the Princess, and his wings were beating back and forth and smashing the burning living ships and bobbling cages and all of the quarters of the cityside as they came falling into the waves one by one by one. – Don’t you understand who you are! Don’t you understand what she meant to us! Now be silent, do you want the Prince to hear you! –
– PUEY! PUEY FIND ME! – Éfhelìnye screamed.
– You can be a very stupid little lass, why can’t you think for a moment! – Àrqotha’s teeth were grinding together, his wings were spinning upwards and impaling passing Ravens right through their eyen and shaking the skriking birds away. Àrqotha felt rage swelling up within his gills, but so as not to harm the Princess he turned and burst out storms of flame against the slaves and the Automata armies that were invading the crumbling shores. The Dragon drew his face right towards the Princess and spinning around in the air hissed at her saying – If you will stop screaming for an eyeblink and listen, you may understand there is a way to save yourself! You have to understand, little Princess, the worlds did not begin the day you were born, on the contrary, that is almost the ending of the story. We Rainbow Serpents were present in the first few hours of creation, we were the ones who served the Khnesqekaîxhren the Virgin Empress, she trusted us, we were the ones who … –
Éfhelìnye blinked for a few moments. She was panting. She could feel blood searching into her face, her cheeks, her brow, she almost felt giddy, and before she could even stop herself she yelled at the Dragon – Don’t you dare start talking about my sacred Mother Khnoqwísi! You have no right to mention her to me! You’re nothing but an horrid gold-glusting princess-persuent Dragon, and you sully my Mother’s memory when you even dare to mention her in my presence! –
Àrqotha screamed at her and threw her down upon a burning ship. Éfhelìnye rolled o'er and coughed out some blood, but before she could arise coils spun around her and Àrqotha roared at her saying – We knew your Mother, you little whelp! Don’t you understand, this is not the world she intended to leave you … –
– DON’T MENTION MY MOTHER AGAIN! – Éfhelìnye screamed.
Àrqotha smacked her across her face and threw her out of the ship and against the burning mast of another one. Éfhelìnye came spinning around, dazed and bleeding. The Dragon wrapped her up in his claws and shaking her told her – You’re as stubborn as your Father! Perhaps you are the true villain of the piece. –
Éfhelìnye could feel that her cheek was gushing blood, she barely cared at this point, she wiped her face even as Àrqotha was carrying her upwards, and glaring at him chanted – I will have you dead for that! Don’t think that I have even the slightest sympathy for a wretch like you. Maybe my Puey will rip you open, perhaps I’ll get Abbá Íngìkhmar to thrust impaling spear right through your eye, but either way I shall have your heart cut out beating from your chest and hold it. Then you can see just how similar I am to whatever memories you think you have of my honored genitrix xhréxha! –
– You don’t understand the past, aîfhìmfhama, silly and frivolous girl! – Àrqotha was hissing now. – Unto those of us who are demimortal spirit, this is all an illusion, and we shall awaken at any moment. It was the death of your Mother that caused the nightmare to grow permament, to trap us within … –
– PUEY! – Éfhelìnye screamed.
Àrqotha spun around, his wings reaching outwards and become like sword flames scraping against each other, and he roared asking – Who is this ‘Puîye?’ Is she an handmaiden of yours? What a silly name for a girl to have. –
– That’s because it’s not a lass’s name, you stupid skink! –
– What did you call me? –
– A wee tsenatiyokhaleyiîlii, a small female magma skink! –
– Never call a Dragon a a saúra, an eut evet eft! –
In the explosions of the living ships clouds upon clouds of mist were spilling outwards, and leaping out from them, his sword dripping with the feathers and blood of ravens, and slashes of kèxhefhe dragon scales drifting meco off from him, arose Puîyus, and he was panting from battle, and the mist was flowing out from him in greater and greater ripples of coiling about his feet. Puîyus was sniffing the air, his heart was thundering within him, but it was not from the excitement of the battle, nor the explosions of the living ships, nor the ravens and machines and Dragons all about, but rather it was because the mist was drifting out from him and solidifying xhlìqhu, the mist was taking upon itself the shape of banners and swords and helmet, the mist was becoming like the warriors of the Sweqhàngqu and flowing all about them were the runes and regalia of his most ancient and aristocratic warrior clan, and Puîyus was laughing a deep and fey chuckle, to feel all about him that the Ancestors were trying to creep through the tears of time that the Dragons were creating, the Ancestors coming for the Princesses and the heir who was defying them, and all he could do was shake his head and feel the battle reaching out unto him in all directions.
– PUEY! – Éfhelìnye screamed. – An horrible stinking Dragon has me! –
Àrqotha sniffed himself. – I smell like the Moon! – he gasped.
Puîyus came sliding down through the waves and coils of the mist, he was swinging the Emperor’s flame sword from side to side, and now as he was bounding upwards his eyen caught those of Àrqotha’s, and Puîyus began to roar. At first it was just a deep rumble, it was a little like the tremor of continents, the shaking of earth and grass and hill, but as he continued to scream all of the dying waters choking with fishes and slaves began to boil because of the shrillness of it, and several leagues of harbortown broke apart and fell within, circles and rondures of the city, and the scream became deeper and louder, so that the fleeing slaves were stumbling upon the tips of hand and paw, Traîkhiim were blasted from the air, Ravens came tumbling downwards, the Automata were whirling about and crashing in the frost and the mud, and the Dragons in the heavens were turning their heads one by one and hearing the ruckuss arising from the exploding vessels, and still Puîyus arose and screamed as he spun through the air and aimed himself right at Àrqotha the Dragonlette, and Puîyus’ cry was become the growing and mounting cries of the Dragons themselves yfilled with some of the same deep and dread harmonies. And Àrqotha, when he saw Puîyus throwing himself into the air, and he saw Puîyus’ bright face, the Dragon recoiled and breathed out walls and flame untowards him, and looking at the Princess he screamed – This is Puîyos, the Knight’s Son, the slayer of Lord Qàrqhin! Don’t you know who that is! –
– Yes, he’s my Puey and he loves me and he’s going to save me from you! – Éfhelìnye shouted.
– I am the one trying to save you from you! – Àrqotha yelled at her. – So this is the one you call Puîye! You give a maiden’s name to a mighty Dragonslayer! –
– I think he’s cute! If I were you I’d release me, Puey’s killed Dragons a lot bigger and stronger and scarier than you! Then Puey will sweep me into his arms and kiss me, as soon as he thrust his sword through your chest and rips out your heart! –
– You’ve ruined everything! Your sweetheart is a Dragonslayer! You’ve destroyed the entire plan! – Àrqotha spun around, Puîyus was hopping upon the heads of some passing Ravens and just about to fall upon the Dragon and engage him in battle. Àrqotha looked around, in the vast eruptions of the heavens he could see that many of the Masters of Dragonkind were descending. Within any moment now Prince Kherènxhuqhe would be arriving, and if he should come there would be no hope at all for the Princess. Éfhelìnye was trying to wriggle out of his grasp, he batted her from side to side a few times, but that was only making Puîyus’ eyen glisten with rage. Idiot Princess, she was ruining everything with her screaming.
– Maybe your Mother was right – Àrqotha muttered with snarling jaws. – Maybe your Mother was completely insane. –
– KILL THE DRAGON! – Éfhelìnye shouted. – Puey will flay the scales from your body, and I shall make them into a nuptial garment for him, a cloak fitting for a Crown Prince of the Dreamtime. –
Puîyus arose, and Àrqotha swirled around and around and smacked his tail against Puîyus and threw him against the face of a cliff, and tonnes of sand and chalk and ice came crashing down into the waters. Éfhelìnye was gasping in horror. The Dragon looked around and saw that landing upon the side of a burning vessel lay another Princess, a virgin he could taste, of the blood of Pwéru he could smell. Ixhúja looked from side to side, in one arm she was holding Aîya, in her other arm she was holding a few of the severed heads of Automata who tried to stop her. It would be a waste, she thought, to discard these tropheys, so with a few swift hacks she ripped off some chose wheels and tucked them into her pocket, and then looking upwards saw that Àrqotha was twisting around and around like a whirlwind and that Éfhelìnye was trapped in his arms, and bursting from his shoulders were rainbow flames streaking in triangular ripples. Ixhúja sighed, drew a sword, and gave her cousin a look that meant, I leave you alone for five minutes and you have to get into trouble again!
– I couldn’t help it that there are Dragons about! – Éfhelìnye shouted. – I was busy freeing the slaves! –
Did any of them bother to thank you? Ixhúja sighed as she tossed her sword in the air and caught it by the hilt.
– Not exactly, not in words … but I know they appreciated it. I’m not quite sure what to think about the legends that are passing among the slaves right now … –
I don’t as a rule fight Dragons, but once again I’ll have to make an exception for you. Ixhúja patted one of Aîya’s heads and looking up gave Éfhelìnye a look that meant, Honestly, just a few moments alone, and you have to fall into a Dragons’ arms. I just think you’re a magnet for trouble. If I didn’t know better I’d say that you plan trouble from the rising of the Suns to the setting of the same.
– Why is everyone blinking and looking at each other like that? – asked Àrqotha.
– Newly Empress can read all sorts of language – Aîya chanted.
– Thank you – chanted Àrqotha. – You are quite helpful. I’ll eat you last. –
– Did you hear that? Hear that? I we quite helpful. Quite honored. I we get eaten last. We the dessert! Can barely wait! –
The white cliffs exploded beside them, and Àrqotha spun his head aside to see whispering mountains of chalk and dust shuffling downwards, and in the growing clouds of debris Puîyus was arising and shoving himself outwards. He punched aside several clifffaces, hurled up some bits of the wall and threw them right at Àrqotha’s face, and the Dragon ducked and drifted downwards and gaped to see that Puîyus was shoving aside the rest of the cliff and shaking dust from himself, and taking up the Emperor’s sword looked upwards and caught Àrqotha’s glare.
– How is that possible? How did he do that! – Àrqotha bellowed, and long whisps of smoke were arising from his nostrils. – The entire cliffside fell upon him, and he pushed it aside. –
– Oh, Puey does that several times a day, usually before breakfast – Éfhelìnye sighed. – He is quite skilled at thinking in the ways that tree and flower and even hill and rock do, he has no difficulty in just slipping among the rest of the scurrying rocks. I’m sure we can talk about the miracles of my Puey later. After Puey rips your beating heart out, I’m sure you can contemplate that fact as you drift in whatever void is reserved for Dragons. Puey! I’m up here! I’ve caught a beautiful Dragon for you to add to your record. –
– I caught you! – Àrqotha chanted. – And you just called me stinky before, odiferous, asna nuka mismelön lusmelon äs eirqwírpa! –
Puîyus jumped upwards upon the top of the cliff. Behind him the mist of his Ancestors were flowing upwards, the vague impressions of soldiers and warriors of long ago, the motion of their insubstantial marching, the shimmering of their regalia and flags, and yet although the Ancestors were taking up sword and impaling spear and pounding against the confines of the mist and Nethergloom, they were but shadows and not quite able to thirl into this world. Puîyus drew the sacred dragon sword and spun it around for a few moments, flames and numbers were arising up from it, and catching Éfhelìnye’s eye, he bowed down unto her and held up the sword for her inspection.
– I love you, Puey! – Éfhelìnye shouted. – Now slay the beast! –
– I’m trying to save you! – Àrqotha growled. – I’m the one rescuing the Princess! –
– Then let me go! –
– I rescue you Puîyos the Knight’s Son! Do you not understand what danger he represents? He is far more parlous than my Prince or any of the Dragon Masters. – Àrqotha breathed out echo after echo of fire right towards Puîyus and punched him aside so hard with the edge of his wing that once again Puîyus was slammed against a cliff, but Puîyus was already scrambling up to his feet and preparing to jump again. Àrqotha spun aside and found that the little Khnìnthan Princess was also springing into the air and swinging her sword around, she pricked him in his limb and he smacked her away, and the Dragon raked his claws right towards her. He looked upwards and new that Prince Kherènxhuqhe would be descending at any moment now. Talk was useless on Khnoqwísi’s Daughter, little Éfhelìnye was so completely blinded by her affection for the Dragonslayer that she did not understand that the Emperor would destroy her for loving the lad. There was no time to argue, and there was little pleasure in making these foolish mortals suffer needless. Àrqotha spun himself around faster and faster now, his wings were shooting out flames, vortices were spinning from his body, and the winds were keeping Ixhúja and Puîyus away from him as they kept trying to leap upwards and do battle against the Dragonlette.
– We’ve done this before, my Starflower Princess – Àrqotha chanted. – We shall flee from your enemies. –
– PUEY! – Éfhelìnye screamed.
Àrqotha’s wings became lightning and amber crackle, and all at once he ripped open several gaps in the heavens. The chasms were bleeding downwards in long splashes of quicksilver and dew, and the Dragonlette beat against the edge of the reality for several more moments. All of the heavens were shattering around the Dragon, and all at once Àrqotha breathed in his winds, and all of his body became moondust and fire. Puîyus and Ixhúja were on opposite sides of the cliff, they nodded unto each other, with a single mind they were deciding how they were going to snatch Éfhelìnye from the Dragon’s grasp. Aîya’s heads were bubble bobbling against each other and whispering – Oh, how exciting! A battle, a real life Dragonbattle! This is something we shall recreate in our Dance for generations and generations and generations to come, when the new Emperor was fighting the Dragon to save the Empress. Oh, sigh! Wuv, oh true wuv! Do you think Fhólus would fight a Dragon for me us them? No, probably just hide in his or her nest and beshaking self all the while. –
Àrqotha’s tail spun around a few more times and ripped right through the shimmer of the heavens, and he impaled through the flowing causalities, riptides and time bleeding out from the wound. He knew he had to leave now. The Children were leaping upwards unto him. He spun around for the last time and waited for Puîyus and Ixhúja to arise bounding high in the air, both of them were quite magnificient in a mortal sort of way, Puîyus was completely absorbed upon Éfhelìnye, his eyen right towards her, all of his thoughts towards hers, but his mind and body were all become battle and were already calculating eleven different moves and thrusts and parries against the Dragon. Ixhúja was resplendent in quite a different way, she was cunning and prowess and power, she was swinging her sword through the air long er that she could hope to reach the Dragon, her eyen were sparkling with winedark mischief, she was arising at the crest of her arch, Puîyus was descending through his leap, Àrqotha finished spinning around, both Children arose towards him and thrust their sword before them, and suddenly Àrqotha shimmered and became a wind of dust, and reappearing just a few spans away his wings were beating outwards in a wonderous blur and he breathed comets of flame towards the two children and right untowards the rifts in the realities behind them. Puîyus and Ixhúja spun up and around each other, they were like leaves caught in a wind, they reached out and tried to grasp each other, but already they came colliding upon the ground, for they had not too far to fall before they crashed upon the dust of the ground. And the mist was flowing around them and wrapping around the legs of the two warrior children.
– Be not afraid, little one – Àrqotha chanted. – I shall save you. –
– PUEY! – Éfhelìnye screamed.
– You will learn to live without love, it is the only way you will be permitted to survive. –
Éfhelìnye reached out towards Puîyus, she could see that the dust and mist were exploding all around him and that marching out before him and materializing were the soldiers and warriors of the Ancestors of the Sweqhàngqu. Leading the warriors came King Èmfha, his shield and sword glistening as bright as they had been lin life, and the warrior king tossed his weapons aside and reaching out towards Puîyus smacked him across the head and knocked him unconscious. The King nodded to his warriors, and then swooping downwards picked up Puîyus and held him in his arms, and began carrying the lad back into worlds of steam and and incense and piety.
– We should inform the holy Matriarch that we located her Son – chanted King Èmfha. – Let not the word go out to Khweisalápa and her brood though, her Daughters just won’t stop talking about the warrior child. –
Princess Ixhúja rolled around in the dust. Aîya sprung out from her grasp and looking upwards and seeing the Ancestors materializing about her, she just nodded and chanted – How nice. You are like the Traîkhiim. I should probably start screaming in horror. Aaaahhhh! –
– What shall we do with the abomination? – a soldier among the Ancestors asked.
King Èmfha smacked Ixhúja across the head and left her unconscious and let the smoke and incense flow about her also. – We should inform the Matriarch that we have the … oh! My lady! – The King took a few steps backwards and saw that flowing out of the dust of the Undergloom was come a tall women, her face completely hidden in an hornèd masque that reached unto her waist, and a staff lay in her arms. She removed the masque, and her red tresses spun back and forth in the winds. By now Àrqotha was arising higher in the heavens and he was holding Éfhelìnye tight to his pulsating and bejeweled heart, but she could see from the distance that it was Grandmother Xhàtrajhil. The warriors and maquáhuitlmen were all bowing unto her. The Grandmother came, Khwofheîlya’s Mother, she waved her hand o'er Ixhúja’s face, and here in the presence of the Dead all of the clockwork insects tumbled out from her, the dragonflies and moths and locusts, and they came spilling down all about Aîya whom the Ancestors were ignoring. Xhàtrajhil shook her head and chanted – Such a beautiful child. Such a waste. Oh, you must let me have her. I shall give her to my Daughter when I am ready. –
– Yes, holy Grandmother – King Èmfha chanted. – May we ask what you intend to do with the abomination? –
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil smiled, and spiders descended from her rubescent tresses. – I shall play chess with her. If she know not the rules of the game, then I shall teach them unto her. And when I am finished of her, I shall permit Khwofheîlya to play with her. –
– We obey Khwofheîlya, the Queen of the Dead – King Èmfha chanted with a nod.
Xhàtrajhil picked up Ixhúja in her arms, and the King was carrying Puîyus. – Good, good, good – chanted the Grandmother. – Do we need to start preparing young Puîyos for his betrothal? His bride is just a few miles away. Ah, what a lovely couple they shall make. What lovely grandchildren Khwofheîlya shall have. –
The shimmering portals to the dead were closing, mist and incense billowing upwards, the warriors and soldiers were already marching within and disappearing unto their own reality, and King Èmfha Empúqher Khlùsyus Khmùsqus Khnàsyo of the most bellipotent Sweqhàngqu came walking, and all the while he was holding Puîyus in his arms. Grandmother Xhàtrajhil came the last, she nudged Aîya a few times with her wooden shoe and stomped upon a few of the clockwork insects, and then looking upwards caught Éfhelìnye’s eye and smiled unto her. Éfhelìnye could feel her heart breaking within her, as veils all of cobwebs were flowing down to cover Xhàtrajhil’s eyen, and then she drew the masque down for to cover all of her face, and then she turned around and entered the shadows of death, and the Undergloom began to knit itself together, the incence and mist drifting back, the light and energy fading away, and all become shadow blasted away by Dragonsight. For a few moments Éfhelìnye could see the slight outline of Grandmother Xhàtrajhil’s manes, but even that was was fading, a few patterns of masque and horn breaking apart and become part of the darkness and destruction of all this world.
Àrqotha was soaring higher and higher now even as the rest of the Dragon phatries were swirling down to investigate the rather reptilian cry which Puîyus had admitted before, and as he gained speed he told the Princess – One day you shall thank me for this. Let the Dragonslayer contend with the Dead. You must learn to purify yourself of love, that is the only way you will live. –
– I hate you – Éfhelìnye hissed. – I think you’re worse than Kherènxhuqhe! –
– I save you because of your Mother. We cannot afford to lose you as we lost her – and at that Kherènxhuqhe’s entire body was become light and flame, he was whirling upwards faster and faster, his wings were making the sound that armies of nose fifes would make as they surge upwards, and in sparkles and whisps he and the Princess disappeared and faded right out of the planes of this reality.
Just a few eyeblinks later Prince Kherènxhuqhe and several of his cohorts came crashing downwards, he threw aside clouds of ravens, they smashed right through tower and wall and scattered Automata and slave from side to side, and gazing out beheld the devastation. None of the living ships remained, not a single cage, none of the rondures or circles of the city were left, just flame and wave and miles upon miles of land sinking into the boiling seas where bodies were floating.
– Was the lad here? – Prince Kherènxhuqhe roared. – I smell his enchantment. I smell the glamoury of death. –
The rest of the Dragons were pouring outwards and ducking into the waters and causing them all to boil from the heat of their gaze, other Dragons were swirling around the crashing hills and whispering mountains, they were almost sweeping aside the stone and earth in their attempt to taste a trace of him. Everything was become soil and flame and confusion, and several Dragons came bursting up from the waters, dead soldiers and slaves tumbling about their bodies and evaporating all the while.
Prince Kherènxhuqhe spun unto the dust shores and there saw a little Traîkhiim whistling to herself and gathering up some little clockwork insects and set them inside her feathers and all about her neck, and beginning a most jaunty little trot, Aîya began to walk away untowards the North.
– I don’t know nothing, I don’t know nothing, I don’t know nothing! – Aîya was singing, when the ground all about her ripped open and Prince Kherènxhuqhe arose before her and cried – Hast thou seen the Dragonslayer gossoon? –
– I don’t know nothing …? – Aîya shuddered.
– Tell me what you know, and I shall make your death painless – Kherènxhuqhe roared.
– Now, why everyone always threatenent poor little Aîya? – the Traîkhiim shrieked. – Seems verŝajne that no matter wherewhen I turn or go or wend there always someone big and terrible and big always say, You tell me what I need to know and I eat you last, or Obey me and your torture not so torturous, and Do as I say, painless death guaranteed. –
– What do you know! – roared the Dragon, fires arising from his jaw.
– Never nobody asking, How you today, Aîya, what a lovely day we having here, Aîya, don’t you think the day so beautiful and magnified, nobody ask me about my feathers or my breakfast, nobody care at all about Fhólus what about my dear dead parents nobody never stop to ask me about them. –
– Tell me! –
– Oh sure, just to be polite courteous one to pretend to care about my parents one could just say something nice to be, you look so very beautiful today Aîya you trying a new dance position why yes I am thank you very much for asking. No no no it always begin and end with the threatening. That and the strangling. –
Kherènxhuqhe’s jade talons snatched up Aîya by one her necks and shook her about, and gazing ito her eyen he rumbled – I can make you reveal to me what you know. If you know anything at all. If there is a single thought in your brain. Do you even have a brain? –
– Maybe I left the brain in the labyrinth or in the dreamlands of the dead. If you let me go, mayhap I can go find it. –
Kherènxhuqhe snorted and threw Aîya down and mumbled – The Triîm knows nothing. Scurrying rocks and air have more consciousness than this one has. – And at that the Dragon shuffled around and bound upon the ground and was roaring unto himself all the while.
– I know where Puîyos is I know where Puîyos is I know where Puîyos is! – Aîya laughed.
– What did you say? – Kherènxhuqhe cried.
– Nothing. Sigh. I go now. – Aîya made sure that the clockwork insects were grasping onto her like so many kàpwa kaŝvojaĝantoj beclingent unto her neck and feathers, and shuffling from side to side laughed out – I know where Puîyos is! I know where Puîyos is! I know where Puîyos is hah hah hah hah hah! –
– Oh? – asked Kherènxhuqhe as he jumped up and pounded right upon Aîya, as if she were a small tsìstetsi nutra caught by a cat.
– I know where Master Puîyos is! – Aîya’s three faces were laughing.
– And where may that be? –
– In my xhlòxha, in my gizzard heart gigeria maĉostomako! – Aîya flinched. Her heads grinned one after another, one two three. Kherènxhuqhe stared at her and lifted up his hand and was just about to pound her into xhepánga and chrism, but then a slight smile crossed the Dragon’s face, and he bellowed out with laughter and shouted – Run away, little slave! Seek peace, before the Emperor destroys all things. You’ve heard a moment’s respite from me. –
Aîya breathed out a gasp relief, and she slipped up unto her triple limbs and wavered from side to side, and trotting out a little she giggled unto herself, and her wings began to flap about her, and turning one head back to the serpent Prince she cried out – I know where Éfhelìnye is also? –
– Ah? – asked Kherènxhuqhe, as he arose in the heavens, and his wings were becoming the movement of lava and thew and storm as he prepared to resume his search.
– Éfhelìnye is flying through the sky. –
– Is that so? –
– Yes. There is a Dragon what thinks he’s the hero, the true knight, and he wants to save the Princess. Hah! A Dragon saving a Princess. –
Kherènxhuqhe chuckled to himself and chanted – That has got to be the most ridiculous thing that I’ve e'er heard. Hmm! A I suppose the Dragon wants to save her from other Dragons, maybe even the Emperor himself! How strange, how so very passing strange! –
And at that, Prince Kherènxhuqhe was arising into the air and was swirling in the presence of the other Dragons arising and bobbling all the while, and Aîya giggling and zum zum buzzing unto herself, and making sure that the sibärik insects were holding onto her, she began to flutter into the air, two heads pointed before her, her third neck and head scanning all of the skies to make warn her of danger, and she sang unto herself – I’m finding Fhólus! I’m seeking Fhólus! Wait until I find Fhólus! What a story I have to tell him. Do you little people want to help? –
– Buzz buzz? – asked Qìfhte.
– Oh, he they we not going to believe this at all! Anyone have any food? –
Aîya turned around and drifted higher into the air, her wings scintillant from side to side, and she headed in the direction of the North, the dead sea lost unto her sight, the dead forests looming all about her, and dragons and ravens were unto her right and left, and the Children of the Land missing from the face of the earth.