– We hate unicorns! – cried the thousands of Dragons ripping out of the maze and breathing fire in all direction, so that all of the maze was lighting upwards and glowing under the light of the moons.
– Death to those false xenásun, those fake demimortal spirits! – cried Prince Kherènxhuqhe, and all of the heavens were quavering with the force of the lightning wings of the Dragons opening and closing. – Slaughter the children and kill the unicorns! Let not this lyeû, this color pestilence lie upon the Land! –
– Don’t think Dragons like Unicorns – Aîya muttered to herself as Puîyus came bounding away unto some of the lower and turning regions of the great fractal foam labyrinth, and Ixhúja reached o'er and grabbed Aîya by one of her throats and shook her a little in a motion which surely meant that Ixhúja was quite close to just throwing the Traîkhiim aside if she didn’t pipe down. Éfhelìnye was doing her best to calm her cousin down and brush Aîya’s feathers and embrace her cousin while all the while Puîyus was leaping upwards and skimming down the opening surface of the clockwork while behind them two more Dragons swerved downwards, and several Unicorns bounced high into the air and jabbed their horns right through some passing legs, and as the Dragons screamed in agony and began to tumbled downwards several more Unicorns came leaping upwards and thrust their gnawing skulls right into the belly of the Dragon and began digging their horns into it, and the fall of the Dragons was so great that the shockwaves were spinning outwards throughout all of the fractals and kept threatening to hurl Puîyus aside along with the maidens and wild Traîkhiim he was carrying, and Puîyus had to leap aside right into the heavens to avoid several crashing towers and the beating of the Dragon wings, shockwaves rippling outwards, and as he landed upon a new surface he found that it was arising all about them, and breaking apart and lay about the antlers of several Unicorns wroth to think that Dragons were invading their domain.
– Just saying, Dragons and Unicorns don’t like each other – Aîya muttered.
This creature sure does talk a lot, Ixhúja growled jabbing her thumb at Aîya. Far more than Fhólus does. Let’s toss her out. Only the strong survive.
– I’m sure she’s only talking because she’s nervous – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– And hungry! – – And tired – – And scared! – Aîya’s heads chanted.
Throw! Her! Our! Ixhúja poked Aîya a few more times.
– Nobody is throwing anyone out at all – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Puîyus slipped upon his side and came rolling outwards upon the ground and right before the hooves of the Unicorns, and Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja came spilling about him. The Unicorns were turning their great skulls right towards the children, drool began dribbling out from their fangs, and their horns were swinging from side to side and feeling vibrations and blood. Aîya bounced right upon Puîyus’ stomache, and swiveling around a little chanted – Oh this is a fun little game! Bounce on Puey! Bouce on Puey! –
– Please be quiet! – Éfhelìnye hissed.
– Bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy! – cried Aîya before Puîyus grabbed her by her throats and thrusting her right into his jerkin buttoned her up right next to his chest in an effort to keep her quiet. – Oh nice and warm in here! – Aîya cooed. – I can feel you heart-gizzard! –
The Unicorns were turning and sniffling. Ixhúja drew her sword. Éfhelìnye looked up just in time for several globs of saliva to come dripping right through her hair and spilling down the side of her face, but the spittle only touched her for a moment before dissolving into dust, for nothing impure could touch her skin and remain there. She and Ixhúja nodded and began tiptoeing away from the Unicorns. Puîyus signaled to them and came bouncing up upon some of the growing fractal curves.
– Unicorns fight Dragons, why everyone so scared, we all get to win – Aîya chanted from within Puîyus jacket. – Not like the Dragons are winning and ripping them apart and … oooh look at a that! –
– ?? – asked Puîyus.
– !! – gasped Ixhúja.
– Are the Dragon’s winning? – asked Éfhelìnye as she hopped up beside them. Above them they could see that the Dragons that had been impaled in flight and were falling downwards wee arising again, the Unicorns were screaming even as their horns impaled their foes, for their horns were being snapped right off, and the Dragons were pouncing upon the nekiυmva and crushing their antlers and spears asunder. The Dragons were breathing out flames unto the Unicorns that were bursting out of the walls, this was only slowing them a little since the Unicorns had no mortal flesh to burn, but the children could definitely see that although many Unicorns had been crushed to pieces and their antlers and horns lost, not a single Dragon had been slain yet, for indeed dragonslaying was exceeding rare, and only a few numbers of mortals such as Khiêro and Qhiikhèrkhmair and Puîyos himself had e'er managed to do so.
– The Dragons winning and ripping the Üncorns apart – Aîya sighed.
– Shhh! – Éfhelìnye put her finger to her mouth to silence Aîya.
– Ooh, look at this! – Aîya cried and she buried herself into Puîyus jacket. Puîyus’ eyen bulged a little, he began to wriggle, and surpressing a few laughs found that one of Aîya’s heads was arising inside one of his sarks, and the head turned around a few times and licking Puîyus’ face chanted –You taste like Éfhelìnye. She was eating up your face. –
– Shhh! – Éfhelìnye hushed, while she and Puîyus and Ixhúja continued to tip toe away from the arising Unicorns and the Dragons doing battle with them all above them.
– What a tasty face, so warm and yummy! – Aîya chanted. – You delicious, Puîyos. I think you and I should enter Dance of Life, we get married have a little family of Triîmeling all our own. –
– What did you say? – asked Éfhelìnye. Behind her came stumbling several Unicorns, their necks flowing from side to side, their jaws opening upwards, and they jabbed at the Dragons arising and falling about them, fire and horn clashing together.
Another of Aîya’s heads arose within a different layer of Puîyus’ sark and whispered in a voice far too loud – Say, let’s go ditch the Princesses. Just you and me, oh? Get rid of the Empress first, she’s a little jealous. Oh you so warm. –
– The Pèqlor dancers may be incapable of acting insane, perhaps their insanity is their only way of functioning – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Either way, I won’t have her talking about my Puey in such a fashion. –
She’s a lunatic, Ixhúja whistled to herself. Was I right?
– Khei, at least not a Princess am I! – Aîya shouted. – Can you imagine, all of these Unicorns stomping around us, all these Dragons above us, and a couple of Princesses running beneath them, sweet and delicious and delectable Princesses? Everyone know Unicorns like to kill delicious Princesses, everyone know Dragon want to breathe fire delicious Princesses, wouldn’t want to be these delicious Princesses sneaking away from the Unicorn Dragons te right now. No no no. Their flesh like milk. Their skin, sweet fungus. I’ve heard their noses and ears taste like sweet and soft fruit. In fact, there is no meat supposed to taste better than the khnál the swets that bombones are the Princesses. Yes yes yes. Ixhúja, she tasting all like pomegranite and tasty moonlight. And Éfhelìnye, if I were Dragon to slice her open and grind her bones and drink her blood, I just know Éfhelìnye would taste like sugar and cinnamon and apple, khmaum khmaum khmaum Puîyos don’t you just want to eat Éfhelìnye right now especially since all these great Monsters arising about her just about to fall upon the Princesses the taste of the Princess oh yum yum yum yum. Why everyone looking at me that way? –
Puîyus drew out a kerchief, tied it around one of Aîya’s heads, and very gently tapped her on the back of her head with enough force to knock her into a gentle sleep. At once Aîya fainted, and he drew her out of his sark and into his jerkin, and removing the handkerchief looked up and saw that Ixhúja was applauding just a little at the prospect of Aîya’s finally being completely quiet.
– Unicorns! – gasped Éfhelìnye, and she came running upwards. – It might have been a good idea to awaken them, my Puey, and get them to fight the Dragons, but Aîya’s right, they want the scent of Princesses all the more! –
– Mew – Puîyus nodded and found that they were all just on the very verge of a tremendous battle about to sprawl outwards throughout all of the fractal curves of the labyrinth. And the wave of battle was just about to fall upon them all.
The fractals were exploding as the Monsters arose out of them, their jaws screaming in a savage array, their legs and hooves thundering outwards, the Unicorns arising for to fight the Dragons, and their antlers swinging from side to side, their horns attempting to touch the Dragons, and Prince Kherènxhuqhe and his brothers all children of Qhalúxha were spinning around the exploding fractals of the clouds and raking back and forth and breathing out their flames and rending from side to side. It was an horrendous battle, and even though the Unicorns were being driven mad at the scent of virgin princesses so close to them, although the Dragons were twitching wroth to think that Khnoqwísi’s daughter must be so close nigh claw, still the Unicorns and the Dragons kept clashing against each other even within the exploding waves of the fractal labyrinth. Puîyus knew that it would be difficult enough for them to prevent themselves from getting trampled and impaled and burnt to death, and fighting against such creatures was irrelavent for the cause of saving Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja, and even Ixhúja was realizing as the maze continued to grow out of the oceans in the last few reaches of the emergent Aûm magics, that it would avail them not to remain. The maze was crackling all about them in the tonitruant avalanche of the Unicorns, and Puîyus made sure that Aîya was clutching close unto his neck and golden torq, and he plucked up Éfhelìnye and held her close unto him, and Ixhúja was running unto his side, she kept her violet sword drawn and kept stabbing and thrashing against any of the gigantic hooves that were come too close unto them, and in the slashing of the sword thousands of rectangles and squares were rippling outwards at her strike.
The edges of the maze were like cliffs and caves, and flowing out from the lower echelons were come the Unicorns, they were drawing their legs close unto themselves and making themselves like arrows and were launching themselves against the Dragons swirling high above them all the while, the columns were tumblent downwards one by one like the trees falling before a storm, the Dragons were raking back and forth their claws, but the Unicorns were relentless in their attack, they kept leaping upwards and were attempting to impale throat and thorax and belly, and not a few Dragons found themselves nicked and were bleeding out weather, and not a few Dragons suddenly found antler bursting up through their wings, and sometimes a horn thrust up through their chests.
Puîyus and Ixhúja looked to each other just as several more walls of the exploding labyrinth began to collapse about them, and rolling outwards in whispering mountains of dust and scales fell a Dragon, three Unicorns bursting out from its chest, antlers shaking from side to side, brilliant blossoms of black oil dribbling outwards from the skylord. Puîyus and Ixhúja knew that they would have to start running all the faster if they were going to save Éfhelìnye, let alone themselves, and although these two children of Raven were among the bravest of all of the warriors in the Dreamtime, although they most longed for the glory of battle and retreat was something forbidden unto them in the face of battle, they knew when Dragons began to tumble about them from the burning heavens, when Unicorn corpses began to rain down about them in a growing storm, that this was no longer a place safe for children, and both Puîyus and Ixhúja had fought in mortal battle and in quests and even against fell automata and beasts that refused to recognize these feral children, but the labyrinth all about them was become waves upon waves crashing against each other, columns allof flame twisting around each other and flopping down again. Puîyus came bouncing backwards even as he held onto Éfhelìnye and Aîya, he shook his wrist and the Emperor’s dragon brand sprang into existence about him, and he had to strike from side to side against several Dragon jaws snapping right above them, and he had to deflect the flame coiling up about him. Ixhúja was jabbing at some of the snarling skulls reaching out towards them. The labyrinth was all becoming shadow, hordes of Unicorns stumbling downwards, even as Kherènxhuqhe and his brothers were yanking up the blue re’em by their antlers and crushing their skulls in dragon arms, the Dragons slaughtering the unicorns from side to side even as they themselves were being impaled in many places at once.
Tick tock tick tock tick
Waves of exploding fractal labyrinth was falling all about them. Puîyus came bounding upwards, he came rolling right up unto Ixhúja, and they nodded, for they were both of the same mind at this point. At once in the same graceful movement, a study of elegance itself, Puîyus sheathed the dragon sword and plucked Ixhúja up into the air and as he flew upwards about the bursting fractal walls, and he let her hold up her sword and thrust against the Dragons that were come unto them. In the blossoming explosions Puîyus came leaping about one crumbling skerry bridge and then the next, he could see that the distance between themselves and the shore was shortening, and yet he was losing no distance between himself and the Dragons and the Unicorns, even as they were burning and impaling each other, the Monsters persued the children, and the Drakes and Unicorns were arising in swifness.
Ixhúja was lifting up her xékhur claidheamh mór, the Dragons and Unicorns tumbling down about them even as Puîyus carried her and Éfhelìnye upwards to some of the flowing clockwork towers that were already breaking apart, the hooves of the Unicorns were striking at the children many times, the wings of the Dragons smacking them down several times, the heat of battle brushing against them. Puîyus had to slip up around the edge of the tower even as a couple of Dragons crashed together and roared all the while, their wings breaking through the mechanics, the most dreaded of all creatures, the Dragons flowing through the explosions of fractals, the wings trying to grab them, the hooves trying to snatch up the children to overwhelm them to suck them down and rip them apart with horns. Puîyus kicked aside at a Dragon’s face as the beast and a Unicorn were twining around each other and blocking their passage, Ixhúja struck her sword right into the scales, splashes of oil and light falling about them all. Puîyus came bounding upwards, a couple of Unicorns noticed the children, their jaws opening and snapping as Puîyus flew above them, the nekiυmva snarling and trampling about each other, impaling one another just a little in their eagerness to catch the children, and Puîyus was just barely able to leap about them, and Ixhúja just struggled to jab against the Unicorns, even as the shadows of the Dragons were appearing high above them all, and everything was being swarm’d with blood and shadow, with Dragon and Unicorn, here in the exploding labyrinth.
Puîyus came spinning upwards upon a large and glistening glass dome which was already crackling, slight levin ripples appearing within it, the battle of the monsters so terrible that it was hastening the destruction of all of the maze which the emergent Aûm arts had destroyed, he took a few steps backwards, before him he could see the shoreline and the rustling waves, for the rest of the labyrinth spreading upwards before them was a storm of fractal thorns frothing in the waves, and it was too far to leap and the waters appeared too treacherous for him to swim especially around the Monsters, especially while holding up two Princesses and an hydrophobic Traîkhiim none of whom could swim.
One of Aîya’s heads began blinking and licked Puîyus’ face a little. – Yum yum yum. Good groceries. Good sleep. Say, what’s up? –
– We need a new plan – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – Dragons and Unicorns, Unicorns and Dragons, that was our best distraction. But without a ship, how shall we venture there? –
Ixhúja swung her sword around as if to say, If there be a way for me to fight our way through, I could do that.
– Yum yum yum – Aîya chanted, her other two heads smacking their lips and looking around. – What fun sleep. Miss anything delicious. –
I’m knocking her unconscious again, Ixhúja told her Cousin with blinked and the slight flicker of a sword. Ixhúja eyen were flickering in little grey swirls, and Éfhelìnye was not entirely sure of how she should interpret this particular look.
– No, wait, my Sister – Éfhelìnye chanted. She reached o'er towards Aîya and holding one of her heads and brushing her feathers chanted –Now, I don’t want you go be afraid of anything, if you start getting nervous just close your eyen and hold onto Puey all the tighter. Know that he will protect you. Just be not afraid, and be as quiet as possible. Can you do that? –
– Maybe. – – One can try. – – Say what?– Aîya’s heads were saying at the same time.
Ixhúja swung her sword from side to side, her eyen were bright and dangerous, and she was considering that when Puîyus was still an infant he had been brought upwards unto the sages of the Whispering mountains and they had held him and drawn up the prophecy that Puîyus was incapable of harming an innocent at all, be it a child or wild beast or an adult, and so Ixhúja had heard the story several times from the Sweqhàngqu and Grandmother Tàltiin and even from Grandfather Pátifhar when he had tried to teach her during the great trainride throughout the Seven Central Realms Koâng Qarkuinefhòlta, but she was considering that no such prophecy had been made about her, and it did not bother her to punch and strangle mechanical insects that annoyed her, and thumping a little Traîkhiim about did not seem like something too untowards. Éfhelìnye however gave Ixhúja and look and chanted – Could you just hold your sword a little away from Aîya and towards the Dragons? You’re frightening her! –
Only the weak are capable of fear, Ixhúja told Éfhelìnye in a blink.
– She is not a warrior, my Sister. – Éfhelìnye reached outwards and pulled Aîya out of Puîyus’ chasuble and hugging the Traîkhiim tight told her – I shall hold you, and Puey will hold me. We will not fall. Just be quiet and calm. –
Aîya turned one of her heads towards Ixhúja, and Ixhúja barred her teeth and made a face and cried out – AAAAAAAAAH! –
– Help! – screamed Aîya.
– Ixhúja! – Éfhelìnye cried.
– Thththththththth! – Ixhúja stuck out her tounge at Aîya.
– She going to eat me up! – screamed Aîya.
– Will everyone please be quiet? – asked Éfhelìnye. – Puey’s trying to think, all of the fractal labyrinth is breaking apart, the Dragons are no longer trapped, we not entirely sure what properties the labyrinth even as, the Unicorns are almost upon us … –
– Fhàjhati Xhròpfhe! – screamed Aîya. – Blue Unicorns! Nobody told me nothing about blue Unicorns! UNICORNS! UNICORNS ALMOST UPON US ALL! –
– I want to go home – Éfhelìnye whimpered.
Puîyus barely even noticed the screaming of the Traîkhiim and Ixhúja’s antics, growing up three Sisters and the machinations thereof had enured him unto most forms of maltracting screaming, but at the moment he was a little concerned because the fractal spirals were breaking apart and several huge Unicorns were bursting right out of the spinning clockwork formed of the Aûm arts and the Princess’ dream, and the Unicorns came smashing outwards, billions of bits of coral and square arising about their hooves, their skulls opening upwards to reveal jaw within jaw within jaw, and horns read to slay them all.
– Unicorns! – screamed Aîya.
– Shhh! – Ixhúja tried to shush Aîya.
– Č”usta! Č”usta! – Éfhelìnye whispered.
– Two virgin Princesses right in front of you Unicorns! Hope you don’t find them! – Aîya’s scream arose into an higher octave.
– I must admit, I’m getting a little annoyed with you – Éfhelìnye chanted, as Puîyus adjusted the way that he held her, and the Dragon sword spun outwards into his right hand, and leaping upwards he was jabbing and cutting from side to side, Ixhúja bounding up around them, and they were doing their best to cut against the opening jaws, strange and sepulchral non-faces swinging unto them all the while.
– Whatever you do, don’t find Puîyos! – screamed Aîya. – The lad who defied the Emperor is RIGHT HERE! – Suddenly the Unicorns wre all turning, and bursts of screams roared from their triple jaws, they were breathing out saliva right towards Puîyus and although dark and blind they knew exactly where the Son of Íngìkhmar stood.
– I hope the Dragons don’t find Puîyos here, he’s been kissing the Princess and smells all of her! – screamed Aîya. – And he’s right here! –
Several Dragons vast looming and terrible punched aside the nearest Unicorns and beheld Puîyus standing right at the edge of the spiral, and in their midst, holding the bleeding corpses of several Unicorns whom he was disemboweling himself, arose Prince Kherènxhuqhe, steaming gore dripping down from his mawl. The Prince spat out several cubits of Unicorn entrails, and soaring upwards punched right through the skulls of some Unicorns and screamed – There he is! How dare that filth, a slave and a son of slave, Íngìkhmar’s spawn, kiss holy Khnoqwísi’s child! –
– He was kissing her on the lips too! – Aîya screamed. – Saw it I did. Why everyone looking at me again? –
Ixhúja looked to Puîyus and Éfhelìnye and jumped upwards and punched the nearest Unicorn, and rolling aside juggled her falchion from side to side, jabbed it into some thundering legs, even as Puîyus spun his sword around and soon found himself having to defend Éfhelìnye against the Dragons rushing up against them.
– Puey? – asked Éfhelìnye, as she took kerchiefs from her pocket and began tying them around Aîya’s mouth and silencing her. – I have a question of ìyika, of ancient Þēaw, of the etaingi customs of the land. – Puîyus nodded unto her while still holding onto her, and fighting against the Dragons falling all about them and pushing the children further and further unto the spirals and the abyss of thorn waves spreading out around them. – Only the men of the High Castes may be trained in weapons, there are some weapons which only the men of the Warrior Caste may hold, and although there may be sailors and pirates licensed by the Szlachta Caste posqéje, many of them have naught but knives and cutlasses and not swords at all. Women however are only permitted to touch certain weapons, suicide knives for instance, your Sister notwithstanding, and our Sisters in the Heresy of course. – Puîyus nodded, what she had chanted so far was in accordance with the Law and the Prophets. – My question for you, since I’ll consider you an expert on the customs of the martial classes of the Empire, is whether the sùlrui bludgeon in your pocket actually consider a weapon. – Puîyus nodded his head in negation, although a blackjack could be used as a weapon, it was not a part of a warrior’s training or ecoutterments. – Ah, very well, so are women permitted to touch the blackjack? They are? And Princesses, one must be careful of questions of estate. Ah, I see, because it’s not really a weapon. One moment please. – Puîyus jabbed against some wings slamming about him, while Éfhelìnye slipped her hand into Puîyus’ pocket and drew out the sùlrui blackjack and smacked it into her palm a few times. – Yes, it’s very strong and solid, I like it. –
Aîya was trying to shout despite the kerchiefs tied about and in her mouth, but Éfhelìnye did not need to hear her to know that Aîya was thinking how she for her part did not like this. Éfhelìnye eyed Aîya for a moment, even as Puîyus spun around and parried against some falling wings, and the Princess chanted – And so, Puey, and this is just an hypothetical situation, would a Princess, like myself, be permitted not only to hold the sùlrui but to use it against someone? –
Puîyus nodded in affirmation. Éfhelìnye made sure that Aîya was watching her, even as Puîyus skipped about and fought against the Dragons surrounding him and the Princesses, and slowly Éfhelìnye slipped the kerchief from Aîya’s three heads, and leaning close to her whispered – Be very quiet. Your Empress commands you. – Éfhelìnye tapped the blackjack in her hands. – Don’t think that I won’t hit you. Just because I’m cute, that doesn’t mean I’ll be happy if you endanger my Puey. –
Aîya coughed a little, and then looming about them came several Unicorns stomping their hooves and spinning around and for a moment more concerned with snagging at the Dragons swooping and snapping about them, than at the children who were trying to escape getting crushed and trampled and burnt alive. And Ixhúja and Puîyus came running together and dashed outwards towards the twisting coral fractal arising as spiral before the edge of the fractalizing labyrinth shaking with growing chthonic explosions. And for a few moments Ixhúja and Puîyus thought that the Unicorns and Dragons were about to forget about them, so eager were they to fight the other. Ixhúja dashed up to the edge and yet in the gathering storm still could not see a way for them to escape, and Puîyus came running between some Unicorn legs and had to roll outwards and pull Éfhelìnye up along with him, as Kherènxhuqhe caught up several more Unicorns and crushed them in his bare hands.
– Fee fie fum! – screamed Prince Kherènxhuqhe. – Fee fie fum! – He swung through the air even as he breathe flame upon the stomping Unicorns and the collapsing walls of the labyrinth. – Puîyos is somewhere close. I long to rip him apart – chanted the Prince as he grabbed a Unicorn and ripping off some of its outer skin began scattering out entrails and quavering organs and bone – Just as he flay this creature apart, and glory in its steaming guts! –
Ixhúja looked around, she held her sword before her, she placed a finger to her lips, and she and Puîyus began running backwards towards the spiral and the storm of thorns. Éfhelìnye was looking upwards and found that the Dragons were filling up all of the labyrinth, and most of it was breaking apart and growing into the air, strange properties of the Aumàfhruse still revealing themselves in endless artistry.
– Shhhh – Éfhelìnye whispered to Aîya. The Triîmexhil shivered in understanding.
All was silence.
Prince Kherènxhuqhe grabbed several more Unicorns and ripped open their legs and let glories of organs splash downwards, and his eyen were horrible mirrors swinging from side to side and distorting all things. Puîyus clammered upwards about holding the Emperor’s sword as he drew himself and the Princess about a spiral, and he wondered whether he could succeed and launching himself and ripping out the Eye of the Dragon. Few things in battle were as satisfying as grabbing a still living Enemy and ripping out his eyen, holding the skull as the man screams, and goo and blood splash outwards in gurgling fountains, and if anyone deserved to be blinded, it would be a Dragon whose eyen were mystery and memory and strange reflections of light. Puîyus permitted himself an half smile, for after all, the entire plan had been crazy from beginning to end, with dislodging the Dragons from the experimental ship and spinning it around in a deliberate crash, and just as they touched ocean unleashing the engine that would change realities about them, and bring the Unicorn and Dragon together, and if at the end of the plan he could rip out at least one of Kherènxhuqhe’s eyen, it would be a glory worthy of many songs. Why if he could manage to blind Kherènxhuqhe, Prince among the Cloud Folk, although still battle against him would be terrible, even if Puîyus died it would be an epic remembered until the end of days.
Ixhúja pointed unto a place in the spirals where the Dragons and Unicorns were avoiding each other, a place where the children may be able to make a better stand for themselves, and she signaled unto Puîyus, and just as the two were turning around, and the frothing Unicorns were walking in all directions, and the Dragons continued to petrol the crumbling fractals skies, and explosions were wracking throughout the skerry maze, and Kherènxhuqhe was plucking up unicorn after unicorn and ripping off its skin and torturing it to death, just as a splash of blood and nekiυmva fell right towards Puîyus and dribbled down to Aîya, the Traîkhiim screamed out at the top of her triple lungs saying – Kissy Puîyos Emperor Right Here! He Kissing Éfhelìnye All the Time! Right Here! Right Here! RIGHT HERE! –
– Why don’t you hush up! – Éfhelìnye growled at Aîya, as all of the Unicorns spun around, and the Dragons swivelled in the air, and Prince Kherènxhuqhe spat out some Unicorn legs and gore and chuckled to know that his prey was nigh wing.
– I like the little Traîkhiim – Prince Kherènxhuqhe told his brother Dragons. – Should we let her go or just kill her last? –
Puîyus and Ixhúja were running now, it was a race of Unicorns seeking to impale them and Dragons dashing upwards to coat everything in flame, and Éfhelìnye found herself tiring of Aîya’s panicking, and grasping the blackjack began beating Aîya upon her heads.
– Ouch! – – Ouch! – – That tickles! – cried Aîya.
– How dare you betray my Puey! – Éfhelìnye chanted as she smacked Aîya about her spherical torso and about her whisp ears and her head.
– Ooh! – – Ow! – – That still tickles! – cried Aîya.
Ixhúja ran up to Éfhelìnye and yanked the blackjack from her and murmuring told her cousin in the language of beasts, That’s not even hurting her! Look at her, you’re barely ruffling a feather.
– I don’t really want to hurt her though. –
So you strike her with a bludgeon and don’t want to hurt her? Let me show you. Think of nerves and spine, and when you hit her, remember just how angry you are that someone would cry out Puîyos’ name like that.
– Ouch! – – Ouch! – – Ouch! – cried Aîya. – Okay, this time it hurt! –
– It didn’t hurt when I hit you? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– Not in least. –
– Sister, please let me have the blackjack. Thank you. Now, let’s try this. –
– Ouch! – – Ouch! – – Ouch! – cried Aîya. – Now you getting better. –
Ixhúja rolled out and slashed her sword right through the legs of a Unicorn, and the re’em swayed from side to side, its antlers tumbling downwards, its skull exploding in ripples of goo and flesh, as Kherènxhuqhe caught up the Unicorn and began ripping out its insides and spitting them out. Ixhúja turned to Éfhelìnye and purring in the language of beasts added, Although to be perfectly fair this is not entirely Aîya’s fault.
– Ouch! Ow! I concur! – Aîya chanted.
– And how is that? – asked Éfhelìnye as she poked Aîya a few more times.
Puîyos does have the habit of kissing you all the time, it was bound to enrage Dragons who were the guardian spirits of your family, in some ways Aîya merely acts as kònxhien as one’s souls, one’s conscience. Puîyos should learn to restrain himself rather than trying to kiss you at every opportunity, he is just befluttered by a pretty face.
– I still say it’s Aîya’s fault – Éfhelìnye tried hitting Aîya a few more times, but one of Aîya’s heads bit the sùlrui and held it away, and another head bit Éfhelìnye’s finger, and the third head spun around and cried – That didn’t hurt at all! You terrible at discipline! You going to have all these little Triîmeling infinks running about you and biting you foot-hands all the time, you don’t hit hard at all. –
Éfhelìnye sucked on her fingers, Aîya’s biting did hurt her, and far more than she wanted to admit, and she was also getting a little annoyed with the way that the three heads were weaving from side to side in a rather dragonish way. Éfhelìnye did not wish to start weeping, especially while Puîyus was busy holding onto her and jabbing at the wings and claws reaching out unto them, she could not live with herself if she distracted him, and so she did the first plan that came to her mind, and yanking up Aîya and giving her one last hug chanted – I’m going to send you to visit my older Sister for some time. Bye! – And Éfhelìnye through Aîya into the air, her wings crumbled and crashed against a rolling Unicorn, and she rolled about a Dragon stumbling downwards, and Ixhúja jumped upwards and caught up Aîya by a neck and smacked her about so hard that her three beaks were ringing, and then Ixhúja grinned to tell her, I’m the older Sister, and I’m not nice at all.
– Changed mind, want to stay with the Empress, not her crazy cousin! – cried Aîya.
Ixhúja spun her sword around in one hand, and she tossed up Aîya and caught her by her ankles with her other hand and spun her around in a similar fashion and laughed unto herself as if to say, Then you should have thought about that earlier, ere alerting every Dragon and Unicorn in the maze. Ixhúja thrust with her sword and began smacking Aîya against the ground with her other hand and laughing unto herself thought about all of the fun pain she was going to teach this little Triîm. Fighting a Dragon! Poking with a sword! Kicking a slave! Poking down the slave! Let’s fight a Dragon! Let’s poke Triîm! Let’s punch a Unicorn! Let’s thump a Triîm! Hurray!
– Help! Princess abuse! Princess abuse! – screamed Aîya.
Puîyus thrust his sword right through the horn of a Unicorn, and ripping the horn off threw it right towards the throat of a passing Dragon, and the throat slashed open, a rain of blood and ice falling about him, and leaping aside he bound through the air and did battle with the Dragon’s wings as they were opening and closing all the while and seeking for to slay the children, and he decided just to ignore Ixhúja and Aîya in their most vociferous of play, while Ixhúja was leaping about in her own dragon battle, and sometimes Aîya arose and bit Ixhúja’s hand or nose, and then the two fell upon each other and wrestled even as a Dragon came thundering in the midst of them, and two had to back away lest they be crushed and incinerated, and so the battle continued again and again with lots of screams and pokings and accusations of Princessly abuse.
– Somehow I still hope that, in the end of the day, at the end of the war, that you and I end up with a very quiet home – Éfhelìnye chanted. – And yet somehow I don’t think that is e'er going to come to pass. – She took the sùlrui and slipped it back into Puîyus’ pocket, and all the while everything became the flicker of swords, the swinging of Unicorns, and Dragons arising in flame and splendor. And slowly, slowly, slowly still Puîyus and Ixhúja were being drawn backwards unto the very last of the spirals of the labyrinth, right unto the place where chaotic fractal became storm and thorn.
And so it was that Puîyus and Ixhúja were backing away and were come to the very teeter tottering of the abyss, blasts of flame and wind swirling behind them and unto the precipitous fall, and before them came stampeding the Unicorns and flying the Dragons and in their midst, roaring with rage, Prince Kherènxhuqhe himself screaming – The Lad is mine! Slay the rest as you will! –
And from this very spiral as it swayed from side to side, the children could see all of the growing explosions of the Fractal Labyrinth, they could see how it reached outwards for hundreds of miles, and even though the Unicorns and Dragons were tearing it all apart, and the walls of coral and bone and sand were shattering and letting the waves entering unto the light, still they could see just a little what a marvel such a machine must be, some of the outer wheels extended unto orbits a mile long, the springs were mighty towers, and the thunder of the escapements was the very heartbeat of the Ocean, and even in the crashing of the labyrinth the Children could see that the designs had all been based upon wheel and circle, upon moon and crescent, upon shapes of planet and orbit and dance and life, so that they almost thought, here at the end, that the Fractal Labyrinth crashing down upon itself were some sort of mechanical garden just about to spring unto life, if the Monsters had not come for it first.
Tick tock tick tock tick.
– Puey? – whispered Éfhelìnye, as Puîyus slashed against some clawing wings.
– Mew? – Puîyus asked, as he swerved and dived.
– Neither of us happened to plan on exactly how he would escape from the Unicorns and Dragons, especially if rather than fight each other, they should turn against us? –
– Mew. –
– That would have been an important plan to have. –
Puîyus ripped his sword through the hand of a Dragon, he was not sure whether he severed a finger, but blood and oil were splashing about him, and much of the venom was falling upon Unicorn skulls and dissolving them into splashes of bone and gore. Puîyus carried Éfhelìnye away, at least a few cubits, while Ixhúja was jumping upwards and shoving one Unicorn down and tripping another and trying to stop the coming wave of Dragons from reaching them at the end.
– The Death of Íngìkhmar’s only Son, solenaskita unigenitus, shall be an equisite feast indeed! – Prince Kherènxhuqhe roared, as both of his hands grabbed a Unicorn and crushed its skulls and horn into bone, and his wings impaled several Unicorns and dangled them dying in the air. – I shall cherish every moment of torture as I remove you from your mortal coil cell by cell by cell. I’ll let you keep your eyen for the last, so you can see what I do with the rest of you. Trust me, I shall keep your heart alive and beating to the end. –
– I’m scared! – gasped Aîya, and she scrambled about Ixhúja’s shoulders and wrapped herself about her neck and all three heads drooped down and chanted – Don’t hurt me! I’m already dead! – And she became completely limp.
– How did you like my clock labyrinth – Éfhelìnye asked. – It might not have lasted long, but at least I imagined it all myself. –
– Machines are of no consquence unto Dragons – chanted Kherènxhuqhe. – The purpose of machines are irrelevant. –
– Even my Mother might have been impressed by it, so grand, so calculating, a labyrinth that mirrors the heavens and time itself. –
– Your Mother was not very good at plans or machines now that I think of it – chanted Kherènxhuqhe as his wings hurled aside some dying Unicorns, and he breathed out waves of fire and scattered his einhorned foe before him.
– I’m sure she would have been impressed – chanted Éfhelìnye. – Dance was quite important to her, and this machine is ballet given form. –
– You know nothing of her. You will learn in death, when Kàrijoi’s crystal knife stabs you through your heart – hissed the Dragon.
– Then again, my Mother was impressed by the clockweyth that my Father put in his toys, so she might have liked the great clock and fractal mandala – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– As you when you meet her with the Solar Ancestors Khyòmli. –
– Too quaad how embarrassed you and the other Dragons must feel – Éfhelìnye murmured.
– We are incapable of embarrassment, we who are Lords of Cloud – Kherènxhuqhe breathed out fire right towards them, and Puîyus struggled to keep his sword parting the flames, and the brand glistened of phosphorous and twining triskelia shadows.
– It’s one thing for mindless Unicorns to be trapped and trampled, they are not strong and lordly like Dragons are – Éfhelìnye chanted. – And yet Puey here, just eleven winters of age, was able to fend off, hold off, and out fight the Dragons in the heavens even though we had stumbled into the trap that you set for us, and using but his wits and ship trapped most of you in turn within this maze. Granted, you have the advantage o'er us at the moment, but if I were a Dragon I would be blushing with shame to think that this lad outsmarted you for so long. –
– After I eat his face off, I shall feel the thrill of victory. –
– I’d say that Puey outdragons you Dragons all the moophases of the Month. –
– The last mortal likened to a Dragon was your Father, the Author of the War of Heaven, I doubt you wish that comparison carried o'er unto Puîyos, the Knight’s Son. –
Tick tock tick tock tick.
The Moons were far apart now, the eclipse just a memory, the Moons were spinning around and becoming in ther eclipse, and as the Moons were pulling apart within the darkness of the midnight heavens àkheta, the hour of darkness and ancestors, the Moons were pulling the tides up after them, and the tides were brushing upwards and becoming part of the fractal towers, and all of the labyrinth with its coils and hands were shimmering and calculating time.
– It’s just a tragedy that I never really got to experiment with this Time Labyrinth – Éfhelìnye chanted. – It’s breaking apart, but who knows what mysteries might have resided within it, worlds lost in time, lost dreamlands, strange properties of quanta. I do find time so interesting, don’t you think so? –
– Prepare ye to die now – hissed Kherènxhuqhe, and he threw aside the last of the Unicorns, and Puîyus and Ixhúja were standing at the very edge of the cliff spiral, and beneath them raged the storm. – Especially prepare thyself, oh Puîyos. – The Dragon’s eyen were turning unto Puîyus and reflecting his gaze back unto him manifold. – Betrayed by your wife, trapped by your princess, prepare to enter the graces of the Ancestors who have banished you from your company. No wonder you and your wife shirk from ritual suicide, the aftergloom contained no joy for ye. –
Tick tock tick tock tick
– I just wish I had learned how this labyrinth function – Éfhelìnye chanted as she looked towards Kherènxhuqhe. – I just have the nagging feeling that we’re forgetting something. – She looked back to Puîyus and added – And of course I miss having our happy little ending and living in a little cottage by the sea and learning to burn more food for you and having children, and I’m sorry Ixhúja we haven’t returned you to your forest, and Aîya, I really wanted to bring you back to Fhólus and win this war for Puey’s Sisters, alas alas alas. –
– That okay – chanted Aîya, poking one head up even though she was pretending to be dead.
– Purr – Ixhúja shrugged.
Tick tock tick tock tick.
– It would have been glorious – chanted Éfhelìnye.
And even as all of the fractal labyrinth was breaking apart, and become like Khlakhrátlha that shattered and was sunk beneath the waves of the Eleven Seas Tlhèngpakí, even as the tidal waves crashed downwards and began to consume walls and wheels and spinning disques of the vast clockwork, so it was that the very central tower of the labyrinth sprung open, its casing bursting apart and revealing a delicate moonstructure within, and flowing out from it came beams of rainbows unraveling, and out from the lattice webs shot moonlight flickering from side to side and beaming right untowards all of the crumbling edges of the maze.
Tick tock tick tock tick.
– At least we die with honor – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Princess? – asked Prince Kherènxhuqhe as he drew himself closer to her and Puîyus and Ixhúja at the edge of the cliff, and Puîyus set Éfhelìnye down and she stood up to the Dragon and leaned towards him and chanted – Alas our beautiful lives cut short. Yes, oh Dragony Prince? –
– Why do I get the impression that you’re mocking me? –
Éfhelìnye gasped. – I would never do anything like that! –
Ixhúja began to snort and giggle.
– What’s so funny? – Kherènxhuqhe cried, looking right up to Ixhúja.
– Nothing! – chanted Éfhelìnye. – How paranoid you are. Now, since you’re going to kill us, or kill everyone and deliver me to ritual sacrifice, do I get my last wish or not? –
– No – chanted Kherènxhuqhe.
– Tee hee hee! – laughed Ixhúja.
– So, as to my last wish – Éfhelìnye began. – I’m just going to start kissing Puey for a while, I’m sure you won’t object too much. –
– Touch him not! – gasped the Dragon Prince.
– You’re going to kill us all anyway, I might as well as have my last kiss! – Éfhelìnye tip toed up to Puîyus and wrapped her arms about him.
Tick tock tick tock tick.
– Hah hah hah! – laughed Ixhúja.
– Make her stop laughing! – growled Kherènxhuqhe.
– You two can sort that out, right now Puey and I are busy – Éfhelìnye chanted as she started kissing Puîyus’ cheek.
– Stop that! – cried Kherènxhuqhe. – Khnoqwísi’s child is forbidden to meet any boys, that is the oldest law of the land, the Emperor commanded it. –
– Hah hah hah hah hah! – laughed Ixhúja.
– Tee hee hee hee hee! – giggled Aîya.
– We must scorch the land, we must destroy all life, we must assassinate and execute Puîyos’ family for the sin of … stop laughing! Why won’t you creatures stop laughing! – shouted Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Possibly because all of the fractal labyrinth is converting itself into moonlight of the midnight hour, the central tower has counted down the seconds, the clock is set, the fractals are become milk, the labyrinth become night – Éfhelìnye smiled and she kissed Puîyus’ face with some delicate pecks.
– Tee hee hee hee hee! – laughed Ixhúja.
– Hah hah hah hah hah! – giggled Aîya.
– That’s not very funny at all – growled Kherènxhuqhe. – You die now. –
– It is funny when the moonlight releases a few rather reckless pirates from the heavens and sends them crashing down right towards the nape of your neck! – Éfhelìnye chanted and she kissed Puîyus a few more times. – Ooh, your face is getting sweeter, I think. –
The Unicorns whickered, and the Dragons began to murmur one to another, but Prince Kherènxhuqhe roared – There are no Pirates flying through the air, and certainly not about to land upon me. –
– Is that so? – asked Éfhelìnye, and she waved to a couple of unseen figures behind Kherènxhuqhe. Puîyus and Ixhúja waved back, and Aîya wriggled six antennæ whisps in the same direction.
– There are no pirates about to crash upon me! – roared Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Why not look around and see? – asked Éfhelìnye.
The Unicorns were crawling about, the Dragons were flapping their wings about in wonder, some of the Dragons’ scales were crackling as they began to turn their serpentile heads behind, but the Prince roared in command and chanted – I forbid anyone from looking behind. All of us gaze to our victims, the Princess and the criminals. There is nothing behind us but despair. – And the Dragons murmured a little one to another, and a few of them were trying to look behind, but the Dragon next to them must poked their wings and stomped their claws, and the Dragons sighing all turned to affix their eyen to the Children.
– Are you sure? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– There are no pirates behind us! – cried Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Really? –
– Positive. –
– You don’t want to … to take a little glance? –
– No. –
– You don’t think they’re just about to land upon you? –
– Absolutely not. This is a tricky. –
– For a Princess I’d say I’m doing quite well in tricking Dragons this day, and Puey’s doing well in fighting and slaying your kind, and Ixhúja’s being a good little helper, and Aîya is … Aîya is … well, we all just love Aîya. –
Ixhúja snorted to think that she was once again being likened to an helper, but at the moment her eyen were caught up to the shadows about to touch the Dragon. She snarled a little in Éfhelìnye’s direction though, just to remind her that she was not a little helper.
– Now you shall die – chanted Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– I’ll give you a hug later, Ixhúja – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Oh my, look at the pirates, and goodness me, they look hyper. They’re good at sniffing out sugar, aren’t they. –
– I shall not look behind me – chanted Kherènxhuqhe.
– I know, the mighty Dragon is afraid that my eyen will start mesmerizing him – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I know Puey finds mine eyen alluring, but I didn’t know they could harm a Dragon. –
Kherènxhuqhe was opening up his wings, they were all blinding flames now, and from his body fractal storms were reaching outwards, and he thundered towards the Children, but Ixhúja and Aîya just continued to giggle, and Éfhelìnye reached out to give Puîyus one last hug and kiss.
– Now, die! – screamed Kherènxhuqhe.
– Lwaaaaaa! – came a voice somewhere above Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– Don’t look behind us! – The Prince murmured with clenched fangs. – We slay the children now! –
– Ooomph! – cried Fhèrkifher as he landed right upon Kherènxhuqhe’s nape and rolled out into the Dragon’s gills. The pirate swung about the gills and landing right upon the Dragons snort turned around and bowed to the children and chanted – Sorry about the delay, some of us were caught up in the eclipse. Fun labyrinth. Anyone seen Xhnófho? –
– Watch out for the barrel! – screamed the voice of a Qhíng above them.
– I don’t believe it – muttered Kherènxhuqhe, and despite the Prince’s stern commandment, the thousand Dragons turned their heads upwards, and the Unicorns swung their limbs around and listened to the echoes, as a Qhíng Warrior, once a Prince of his people, came crashing down through the skies and landed upon Kherènxhuqhe’s beak, and a moment afterwards a large cask crashed into his tentacles. Xhnófho let out a belch and smashing open the barrel drenched his beak in several gallons of pink lemonade and hurling the barrel right into the Dragon’s eye screamed out – Here I am, Children! Did someone say something about a Dragon! Hic! Some big ugly stoopid Dragon! Why doesn’t he show himself, that big stinking ugly Dragon! – Xhnófho bellowed a great and uproarious laugh.
– Uncle Xhnófho, the Dragon’s right behind you! – screamed Éfhelìnye.
Ixhúja and Aîya cried in laughter as Xhnófho spun around and gazed right into the Dragon’s eyen, and the flashing and mirror and reflection just sputtered about the Qhíng as he chanted – This ain’t no Dragon, this a big ugly mirror thing! Hic! Now where’s the stinking Dragon that doesn’t let us have any fun at all! I’m covered in bombs and know how to use them! – And Xhnófho lifted up his tentacles and spilling out from his sleeves appeared several sprigs of fireworks sparkling about him. – Where’s the Dragon! Just because you’re bigger and smarter and more cunninger than me, doesn’t mean you can punch around some sweet little larvalings and keep the pink lemonade from me. Show yourself! I can fight a whole ēored of them! –
– That is the Dragon – Fhèrkifher chanted.
– Oh really? – Xhnófho drew his beak closer to the eye. – He’s sure gotten bigger and uglier than before. Are you sure these khnàtlha, these freaks used to protect the Empress? Say Princess! Hic! How why come we use the same word, khnàtlhu for freaks, for monstrocities of nature, but it also means to be serpentine, to be like a Dragon? –
– Ah, I believe the idea is of something corrupted, something once prestine and crystalline but now made … how shall one say it … ugly? – Éfhelìnye asked.
Xhnófho belched towards the Dragon’s eye. – Yeah, I remember when Dragons were okay. Now they’re dumber than Aûm. No, wait … – Xhnófho staggered a little. – At least the Aûm made the bomb that Éfhelìnye set off, built all this big clock thing. Aûm not dumb, just insane. So what have Dragons got left? They’re just stupid. And ugly. Uuugly, jiiiich! By the Immortals, just look at this angry brow, these sparkling flame eyen, this ugly vacant look. –
Fhèrkifher drew out from behind his back a sword and the ovoid object which he and Xhnófho had saved from the exploding vessel at the last moment’s of his existence, and hopping from side to side asked – So, are we going to fight or not? –
– Wait, wait, nobody do nothing yet! – cried Xhnófho. – I’ll give you the signal, Master Puîyos mine Emperor – and Xhnófho staggered and winked, and slipping closer to the Dragon’s eyen chanted – I’ve always wanted to do this. Lifelong fantasy of mine. That, and drinking all the lemonade in Khmàrsitel. Hhhhhhhkhthththth ptooii! –
– How uncouth! – chanted Fhèrkifher shaking his head.
Ixhúja and Aîya just laughed, and the Aîya squealed – That has got to be the grosses thing I’ve e'er seen! –
Xhnófho spat right into Prince Kherènxhuqhe’s eye, and as the Dragon’s entire body became blinding steaming flame, Fhèrkifher slipped upwards and began dragging Xhnófho away, and Xhnófho winked unto Puîyus with large and obvious blinks, and all at once the battle upon the crumbling fractal cliffs was begun, or at least the skirmish.
Princess Éfhelìnye spun around, for Puîyus had disappeared from her sight, and all of the Dragons were rushing together and crashing right towards the Pirates, and so wroth was Kherènxhuqhe become that he was clawing and smashing and incinerating everything about him, and yet always missing the leaping and whirling of the tiny insignificant and completely hyper Pirates swinging about him and chuckling all the while. Kherènxhuqhe in his desparation swung around and his wings impaled through the first creatures they could find, and he ripped out the throat of one Dragon and impaled a couple of Unicorns, and was struggling all the while to toss them aside. Éfhelìnye looked around, she found that Ixhúja and Aîya were finally recovering from their laughter, and that Ixhúja was coming forwards, and keeping her sword before her, and standing before Éfhelìnye purred and in the language of beasts told her, To be serious, my Cousin, one still has no idea how to escape this mess.
– The last part of the plan was always going to be made up as we went along – Éfhelìnye chanted, and all at once she heard the crashing of bones and the growling of Dragons and the crumbling of moonbeams of labyrinth, she found that Puîyus was swinging about one Unicorn’s horns and, wrenching it right off tossed it to Xhnófho to use as an impalent spear, and Puîyus disappeared in the next blink of an eye and soon was swinging about another Unicorn’s horn and snapping it off tossed it right to Fhèrkifher, and Puîyus spun around and faded away, and the Dragons and Unicorns came leaping outwards to fight in all directions.
Ixhúja was laughing as she was fighting to protect Éfhelìnye and Aîya, it was ay-glorious to test one’s wits and strength against foe stronger and more cunning than oneself, in fact she had been trained for this all the days of her life since she was six winters of age and had been taken out of the pure white laboratory for the first time in her life and held up in automata arms and brought out unto the gardens and beheld life with her waking eyen, and her Father the great Khan Jhkhaîxhor pitted her against machines and monsters brewed from his vats, so screaming and struggling and thrustling and hurling and parrying and ducking and slaying were nothing new unto her, she did not even mind having to defend both Éfhelìnye and Aîya at this point, she knew they would be rubbish, inefficacious with weapons anyhow, but it did disturb her to have to thrust sword against the Dragons themselves even if it were for defense, she cared not for the Unicorns, they were grotesque and brutal, the sick minds of the Xeriîqe were recreating them for some fell and labyrinthine purpose quite beyond her, but Dragons were so beautiful and graceful and ancient, it pained her heart to stop them, even to save her own life.
But the true mælstrom of the fight was about Puîyus, the one whom the Dragons feared would become the new Emperor, the one would not give them free reign like Kàrijoi was, but would seek to change them all into something else, and hopping about Puîyus were a couple of rather vexatious pirates whom Kherènxhuqhe had no reason to love at all. And Kherènxhuqhe was pounding against the fractal floor of the labyrinth, even as the walls began to crack about them, and tidal waves of moonlight began to wash outwards and froth about some of the outer Unicorns struggling to reach unto the children. And although Xhnófho had seemed very silly with his guzzling of the pink soma and spitting in the Dragon’s eye, in battle he was a spinning dæmon, his tentacles jabbing in many directions at once, and he kept cutting Unicorn and Dragon alike with the horn Puîyus had plucked, and his tentacles were writhing about and spinning swords in their midst, and Fhèrkifher was jumping high into the air and striking against nose and snort, he used the horn as a vault and to jab against hands opening about him and trying to claw them with jade talons, and when the flames came too close unto them he’d yanked unto Xhnófho’s sleeves and they’d all come rolling away acrobatic together, even as the Prince roared and tried to smash them. The pirates were rending off the Dragons as best they could, and they were doing a good job of keeping the main onslaught of the Drakes from arising and completely swamping the children, but Puîyus was the one who was inflicting the real damage, he smashed right through the skulls of the Unicorns with his bare fist, and he was knicking at the gills and snorts and faces of several different Dragons at once, and the wings were bleeding, and Kherènxhuqhe felt his own blood dribbling downwards and covering one of his eyen right where Puîyus had wounded him before. And in the battle, in the flashing of wing against the flamescent sword, the labyrinth rustled and began to collapse upon itself, and the children were still finding themselves trapped at the precipace of the spiral cliff before the thorn storm below.
Fhèrkifher rolled outwards and came bounding right up towards the Princess, and bowing before them he set down the glistening ovoid and asked he – Divine Empress, and other holy Princess, and little Traîkhiim chap, I’m not sure I e'er caught your name, charming I’m sure, question for you, did either you or the new Emperor … –
– My name is Aîya! – cried Aîya as she wriggled about Ixhúja’s neck and strangled her a little. – I child of the dead, am I. –
– Wonderful! – smiled Fhèrkifher. – Divine Empress, did you or … –
– Now thinking of it, never caught your name! – Aîya cried.
Ixhúja nodded, and her clockwork insects began spilling right out of her tentacles and began swirmswarming about Aîya’s ears and beak, and the mechanical wings and claws shut her mouths tight so that she could gasped with her nostrils and struggled all the while. Ixhúja purred to hear the sound of merciful silence again.
– What was the question? – wondered Fhèrkifher. – Lwa! Empress, did you or honored Puîyos figure out the entire … getting out of her with your lives situation? –
– Not entirely, no – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Xhnófho and I know what to do – Fhèrkifher chanted. – There is only one task for you left. Two tasks, actually. – He reached into his cloak and drew out the spherical apparatus that Grandfather Pátifhar had entrusted unto him, and he tossed it to Éfhelìnye, and it slipped and skipped and slid about her fingers for a few moments before she grasped it, it sprung to life for a moment at her touch, and then died down. – All you have to do is return to Grandfather Thiêfhilos, safe and alive. He can guide you, through that. Put it in your pocket, oh Empress. –
– And what is mine other task, oh beloved Uncle Fhèrkifher? –
Fhèrkifher grinned and bowing unto her chanted – Please remember me and Xhnófho with honor. Feel free to exaggerate any of our deeds, quests, piratical pillaging prowess, anything at all when you tell our story to your children and children’s children. Lwa, go on and live long enough to have great-grandchildren while you’re at it, but just tell them the story of the Pirates Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho. –
Prince Kherènxhuqhe came crashing down right beside them, and rolling down from his snout fell Xhnófho and he was carrying Puîyus in his tentacles and dropped him right before Éfhelìnye, and Xhnófho shouted – Be sure to mention all the cookies that we plundered, and all the lovely young ladies who smacked Uncle Fhèrkifher in the beak! –
– You can leave that part out – chanted Fhèrkifher, as he helped Puîyus to his feet. – You can mention all the times when Xhnófho passed out from too much sugar, when he was supposed to be at temple or sailing or doing anything productive. –
Xhnófho drew several fireworks from his sleeves and hurled them at the Dragons about to fall upon them all, but the mounting explosions rippled in a wall, branches of reds and oranges and whites branching outwards and slowing the Dragons for a moment. – By Tyekelíli, I don’t care what stories you tell about us, just as long as someone remembers me! Tell the seedlings of the Aûm, tell everyone about Xhnófho the Pirate Suzearin! –
– Why don’t you just tell them stories yourselves? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
Fhèrkifher drew out a cigar and lit it even as several Dragons were arising about them, and Puîyus and Ixhúja arose to beat the Dragon back. – I’ve always want to pass with a good last smoke. Nothing is as fulfilling, as delicious, as a good swìxa zigad in the midst of battle. – He drew out some fireworks from his pockets and lit them with his clove cigar and hurled them exploding right towards the Dragons.
– Oh, be sure to call us Uncles Xhnófho and Fhèrkifher – chanted Xhnófho, as he reached into his pockets again.
– I thought we settled on Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho? – Fhèrkifher asked.
– Please don’t tell me that in the Undergloom we’re going to be arguing about this for all eternity! –
– Mayhap the Ancestors will be merciful and keep my family away from yours. –
– Nobody’s that lucky, Fhèrke, we’ll even be pillaging the Dead. –
– I don’t understand – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I just know that both of you will survive the war and get married and have children of your own, perhaps they will become pirates in time, and you’ll always be there to sweep me and Puey up unto adventure, why you’ll invade our cottage from time to time, you’ll always be our Uncles and … –
Aîya came rolling off of Ixhúja’s neck and trotting up unto the egg poked her head inside and gasped – Look, it’s a tiny little bed or a ship or a something but it’s a ship! –
– Collapsible lightweight papyrus material, the Qlùfhem vessel was shedding it at the last moment – Fhèrkifher chanted – It is somewhat xhlàsi, caoutchouc. – He shook his cigar, and the ashes were falling into the waters that were already reclaiming the fractal labyrinth.
– It’s really quite simple – chanted Xhnófho as a few of his sock puppets came spilling out from his sleeves, and affixing them together he set a wig of red yarn on the top and shaking the puppet around cried – Look! I’m holding Éfhelìnye right here! –
– Capture her at once! – shouted Prince Kherènxhuqhe was he arose and swerved downwards, and by then Fhèrkifher was kicking out the marionette of Grandfather Pátifhar and tossed it to Xhnófho who placed a wig of blue yarn on it, and the Qhíng warrior shouted – Behold, I’m also carrying Puîyos in my tendrils! –
– Slay them all! – cried Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
Xhnófho tossed the puppets to Fhèrkifher and cried out saying – Now he has the Children! –
Fhèrkifher tossed the puppets back and sang out – Now my friend has the Children! –
– Who has them now? –
– You? –
– Or me? –
– One of each! –
– Now both! –
– We have the children! –
– We have the children! –
– And you don’t! –
– And you don’t, you stinky old Dragon! –
– Who? –
– We! –
– Let’s go! –
– Let’s! –
Kherènxhuqhe roared and spinning downwards breathed out flames throughout the exploding spirals and cried out – Slay the pirates, and deliver the Children unto me! –
In the growing clouds of smoke, as all of the Dragons were descending, as everything became soot and ash and mounting grey, and the labyrinth sunk into the seas, the waters already arisen a few cubits, and somewhere in the darkness Princess Éfhelìnye could see Xhnófho’s outline, of antennæ and beak and quetzal feathercrest and tentacles that never slept, and Xhnófho turned back to the Princess and bowed unto her, and then disappeared into the deep, and the last she could see of him clearly was the motion of his tentacles as he juggled a couple of pirates into the air and sang out – Who has the Children? Who has the Children! Checkmate! Hah hah hah hah hah! –
Éfhelìnye spun around, suddenly she found herself in Fhèrkifher arms, he leapt through the air and yanked open the filament egg and set her down right into it. Éfhelìnye looked around, it was tiny, it reminded her of a box kite all wrapped up around itself, and the walls of the egg were translucent paper such that she could see the waves arising up about the cliff and eating away at the maze, and the thorns arising to strangle all things. Within half a moment Fhèrkifher arose, he plucked Puîyus and Ixhúja down right next to Éfhelìnye within the egg. Puîyus and Ixhúja’s heads knocked together a couple of times, they appeared dazed, and Éfhelìnye knew they had been hurt but was afraid to ask the details. Fhèrkifher looked to the children and bowed and chanted – Remember, always have a back up plan. Even if it is but a silly one. Find your Grandfather. Hurry. –
– Wait wait wait! – cried Éfhelìnye. – You and Uncle Xhnófho need to come with us! –
– Too small. We need to keep the Dragons busy for you – Fhèrkifher tapped the flower in the middle of the egg, and already the door began to fill with bloodclots, and all of the paper shell of the egg began to grow thicker, a single rocket growing out of the flower. – Be a good Empress, oh Éfhelìnye, I know you will. Have lots of children! Remember our story! Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho, the greatest Pirates of the Dreamtime! Checkmate! Lwa! Lwa! Lwa! – And already the egg was spinning around, and Éfhelìnye found herself trapped within it, and as the egg arose, a streak of light arising from its single jet, she could hear outside the minishing cries of – Lwa! Lwa! Fairwell, oh my bairnlings! – And then Fhèrkifher’s voice was lost in the rush of flames, and the screams of Dragons and Unicorns fighting in the labyrinth sinking into the seas.
– No! No! NO! – screamed Éfhelìnye as she fought against where the door had been, or at least she thought where it had been, as the egg’s surface spun around and reformed itself, and crackling through it she could see but shadows of the battle outside. – Go back! Return for them, I command it! I am Éfhelìnye, Khnoqwísi’s only Daughter, you have to obey me! I want my Uncles back! I love them, please return! Please! – She looked back, tears were streaking down her face. – They’ve always taken care of me, they made me laugh even when they were sad, they took me away from Monsters and revealed all of the wide world before my gaze. – She fell upon her knees and saw that Puîyus and Ixhúja were both unconscious. She found that Aîya was curled up into a ball and shivering with fear, and when Éfhelìnye plucked her up and brushed her feathers, she found that Aîya was weeping with all three of her heads, and Éfhelìnye rubbed her faces and found some comfort in the fact that the Traîkhiim like the children of the Xhámi Færie are capable of tears while all other species of the Real Folk lament in other ways. Éfhelìnye weeping fell upon her knees and took Puîyus’ hands and patted them a little, and she kissed Ixhúja’s face, and after what seemed unto her far too longer, the Feral Twins began blinking their eyen, and felt pain in their shoulders and ribs where a great Dragon had taken them up and slammed them against living and panicking fractals.
– Mew? –
– Purr? –
Éfhelìnye sniffled. – We may be safe. Those twain most certainly are not. – Tumbling down from her pockets fell a couple of chess pieces, and without looking at them she just knew they had to be the pirate pieces.
Puîyus and Ixhúja bounced up within the small egg, the jhuináxhyong emergency boat which the Qlùfhem vessel had created of its own filaments, and gazing out through the spinning of white and crackling xylem and phloem of the shell, they could see a little the fractal explosions as all of the labyrinth was breaking apart, spiral after spiral rippling outwards in growing waves, clockwork and mandala and wheel burning and falling into the moonlit sees. Puîyus peered with his everkeen eyen, and tapping Ixhúja on the shoulder pointed unto the blur of images bleeding through the walls, in flashes of blood and flame.
– What do you see with your eyen very bright? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
– … – Puîyus muttered.
– Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho are fighting. –
– … –
– And they’re playing toss. And laughing. Dragons all about. Dragons falling upon them all. – Éfhelìnye burst out into tears and slumped upon the floor of the emergency transport. Puîyus looked around for whatever rudder or lever or mechanism he could find, but seeing only a single flower in the center he arose and sniffed it, and could find no method of returning the ship to the sinking maze for to fight and save the Pirates. He licked the floor, and spinning out from it came some snapping wires, and deciding that this must be some broken and fell machine, he drew a sword and was about to start smashing it into bits, but Ixhúja ran up to him and clasped his wrists and shaking his head seemed to tell him, Trust me, my Brother, smashing machinery never repairs it.
– ?? –
You don’t have a single bit of clockwork acumen in you, do you?
– … – Puîyus sheathed his sword. Éfhelìnye was weeping now. Ixhúja motioned Puîyus to stay away from her, as she reached unto the petals and tried to figure out the controls of this Qlùfheman shipcraft, and she listened to the little crystals spinning around in the artificial petals and wondered. Puîyus sunk down next to Éfhelìnye and let her crawl into his arms and weep, and Aîya fluttered up and flopped down upon them all. After a few moments Ixhúja plucked down some of her mechanical insects and opening up some compound eyen gazed inside the flower and looked at the fials and pulleys within, and whistling unto herself she turned back to Puîyus and Éfhelìnye and tapping her hands together purred and in a language of sorrow and regret told them, One regrets to inform you that this is a one way trip, already dreamt up by our Pirate patrons sag̃us. We cannot abandon ship in the midst of the heavens and in the midst of this storm of thorns. We travel and leave the pirates. They fight to give us time to escape.
Princess Éfhelìnye wept, and her tears anointed Puîyus’ face and neck and hair, and she cried until she fell asleep in his arms, and Aîya’s wings were blanket about them. Ixhúja stayed awake a little longer, but there was barely even a need for her to keep watch, the escape pod was a sonic ripple through the storm, and they were trapped within it, and so after a time she crawled up to her companions and wrapped herself and Éfhelìnye and Aîya up within the marvelous dreamcloak that Puîyus wore, and so it came to pass that in the crashing storm and the thunder of the thorns many leagues away from the explosions of the fractalized labyrinth, the Puîyus and Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja and Aîya the Child of the Dead came spinning upwards above the shores of Syapàkhya and were soaring upwards in a straight course towards some of the living ships which had been allies of Grandfather Pátifhar and Sieur Íngìkhmar. And so, it is further told, late in the night, many hours later, Puîyus and Ixhúja were awakened by the sounds of the storm and the clash of thunder, and the roaring of a great and princely Dragon as he screamed out and chanted – Do you mean to tell me that all these hours we’ve been fighting o'er some puppets! If Emperor Kàrijoi should learn of that, shamed shall we be until the last chiliastic day! Find the Children. Kill the Children of the Land. – And the sound of the Dragons and their volitation was great and rolled throughout the night, and in the darkness and the streaks of lightningflash, neither Puîyus nor Ixhúja could hear any sign at all of the laughter of Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho, the pirates whom they loved, illustrious, famous, the greatest of the sailors of the cloud seas.