– Hi! – chanted Fhèrkifher.
– Ciao! – chanted Xhnófho, and his tentacles arose and gagged and strangled the Duchesses all the more, and Fhèrkifher drew out his sword and impaled them again, and the Duchesses completely became stained glass and were writhing all the while.
– Terribly sorry about all this – chanted Fhèrkifher. – A little violent I suppose. – He grinned and stuck his sword into the Contessas again.
Siêthiyal covered Akhlísa’s eyen and shook and was wondering why she had just been hugging the Duchesses a few moments ago, and they were twisting labyrinthine stained glass. Xhnófho smacked the eyestalks around and chanted – I’m afraid Uncle Fhèrkifher and I need to do something drastic, we can’t trust these machine flower brides to remain dead. –
– There’s more than one way to fall through a stained glass window – Fhèrkifher chanted as he smashed his sword through the glowing and living glass which was become the flesh of the Duchesses.
– One must always learn to make an appearance – chanted Xhnófho. – I’ve learnt from the best. –
– Oh come now, I learned from the best that one must always have an extra method of escape! – Fhèrkifher stabbed the Duchesses again and bowing to the maidens chanted – I think your escape is just about to arrive. Oh. He’s been busy indeed. Not a lot of people can catch warships about to crash into a Dragon. –
– They’re awakening again – Xhnófho chanted. – The creepies will be stronger and creepier than before. –
– Than I’m afraid we need to leave now and keep these creatures away from you two – chanted Fhèrkifher, and at once he and Xhnófho started running. The twin Duchesses were screaming and slashing stained glass windows, and breathing up from the celia and mouth-trunks were come a steady stream of burning sherds of glass, and the Duchesses were like living scissors and knives all at once. Both Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho were cut many times as they ran right off of the edge of the burning web, and as they plunged into the abyss, they both kept their hands on the Duchesses to strangle and stab them and keep them away from the children, and long streaks of stained glass arose up from the Duchesses and spread upwards in long and arching miles.
Prince Kherènxhuqhe turned. In just a couple of seconds the burning spiral of a once mighty vessel was about to impale him right through the chest. Kherènxhuqhe chuckled to himself, his jaws was bleeding through, it was still shattered and dislocated from his last altercation with Puîyus the Dragonslayer, his sense of smell was confused with his own oozing black blood dribbling in his nostrils, but he could feel that the Imperial Concubine was nigh claw. He spun his head around. He looked down. Upon the burning webs were all that remained of the Temple Balloon, just a few miles of exploding machinery, just a few storeys and scant rockets breathing out miles of black soot and flame. The Dragon began to chuckle unto himself, his own flames eating away at the storms of meteorites and falling living ships crashing down upon him, his huge enigma eyen gazing from side to side, and glancing down he saw the Imperial Concubine shivering in her white labyrinth nuptial dress and her pesky Sister holding onto her, and all that Prince Kherènxhuqhe could do was chuckle deep and long and clear.
But Puîyus, Íngìkhmar’s Son, the only child of Khwofheîlya, the Dragonslayer who had defied Emperor Kàrijoi by asking permission to be betrothed and wed unto his only Daughter, did not permit the Dragon to laugh much longer. Siêthiyal and Akhlísa could not quite see what was happening, for the explosions and whirls of fire about the Dragon were so great and bursting outwards in such haste that they just could not discern the movement within. But they could see that something swift and strong and altogether miraculous was coming to pass. Several large warships were just about to crash against Kherènxhuqhe’s face, but at the last moment the shadow of a lad appeared and caught one ship up by the stern and bunted it away and grabbed the other by the prow and hurled it aside, neither ship striking dragon or each other. A few skiffs were just about to veer into beating wings and be ripped apart, but one by one the skiffs were yanked up, a lad was swinging about the beating wings and threw one ship north and one ship south and the other in a great spiral away from the battle. Several Dragons were chasing after some Qhíng vessels, and a blur of melancholy blue hair appeared, and the living ships were all punched away from the Dragons, and the Dragons felt cold steel puncturing their necks and gills and jaws for a few moments, a frore and harsh sensation they did not like. Prince Kherènxhuqhe was beginning not to chuckle any more, for the contracting bubble of exploding living ships was breaking apart, suddenly eleven living ships veered away at the last moment, suddenly someone was plucking up the glass hot air balloons speeding away at sublight speed and kicking them aside, someone was hopping about the solar sails and turning them in the opposite direction, and the Aûm flotilla was as if turned inside out and was expanding away from Prince Kherènxhuqhe. Qhíng vessels were no longer crashing into each other or the Aûm, rather a Ghost was appearing and breathing the living ships away, a Ghost who was like wind and rain and autumn leaveas, a Ghost who could turn aside an entire exploding fleet. Prince Kherènxhuqhe stopped chuckling. Suddenly a familiar shadow came leaping up right before his face. The Prince spun his head around. Puîyus landed upon the prince’s gill and spinning the Emperor’s sword around thrust it through the neck of the Dragon and impaled him all the way through, and when Kherènxhuqhe attempted to roar, clouds of spume and soot and shadow erupted from it, so loud and terrible that Puîyus thought the Dragon’s head was about to explode, although it failed to do so. Puîyus came hopping away, the Dragon was swatting at him as if a fly, but already Puîyus was shoving aside several more suiciding Aûm hot air balloons and he threw most of them deeper into the Northwind and towards Jaràqtu where they could rest from their burdhens.
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were just a few seconds away from crashing against the Dragon, but both of them were too thunderstrook to realize it, as they saw the melancholy blue ghost leaping around and appearing, a violet and familiar dreamcloak rippling in the skies and disappearing, and entire living ships plucked out and sent flying safe away.
– Is that what I think it is? – asked Siêthiyal. She looked to her Sister and seeing that she was gaping, closed her mouth for her lest she catch flies.
After a few moments Akhlísa whispered – I think that’s … that’s Puey. –
– He’s throwing warships about as if they were toys. –
– Yep, he’s tossing warships about as if they were toys, bathtoys, bathtoys in the bath. Puey. Our Puey. –
– It has to be Puey right? –
– He won’t stay still long enough, but I think … did he just knocked those two Dragons together? –
– He caught them by the tails and … smacked two Dragons together. That’s clearly not possible, is it? –
– My Puey … saving an entire fleet? I must be dreaming – chanted Akhlísa. – Do you want to pinch me or poke me to make sure? –
– No … no … we’ll dream our good dream together. –
– I wish he’d stay still I can’t see him very well. Do you think Puey’s gotten more beautifuller since last time we saw him? I bet he’s even more beautiful than before. Yep, my Puey, cute and handsome and beautiful. I hope he’s not angry with me though for leading the Dragons unto him … I should have taken mine own honored life rather than let the Dragon sip into my thoughts … maybe Puey will forget though. –
– He stabs a Dragon through the head. I couldn’t even get through clockwork, he stabs through scale and sinew and bone … –
– Yep, my Puey, beautiful and strong, he’s going to be my husband don’t you know. Yep, he’s mine, very strong and famous, that makes me valuable and important I’ll have you know. – Akhlísa marched from side to side and chanted – I suppose not all of us can be so blessed as to have such a fine specimen like Puey for a lord husband, but some of us are special and others of us are just not quite as special. – Akhlísa tapped her Sister on the back and chanted – Like! You! –
– Khlís? –
– Yeah, not quite as special as I am but we’ll forgive you for all of your inadequacies yes? –
– We’re about to crash. –
– Wha? –
– Hold on. –
– Oh. –
Prince Kherènxhuqhe was wiping fountains of blood from his snout and throat and eye and could no longer see and smell as he could, but about him was come the maddening scent of the Imperial Concubine and her guilt and fear and love, and all Kherènxhuqhe could do was roar all the louder, fountains of blood and fire rushing up from his snout and incinerating the air. And all at once shafts of flame came smashing right up unto his chest, and a spiral sword of the Temple Bloom glistening red hot bright impaled the Dragon right through his chest, and several stories of burning tower and screaming motor and streaming comet steam ripped through the Dragon, and the miles of glass and hot air balloon remmant were rammed right into the Dragon’s flesh. Kherènxhuqhe screamed all the louder, and the force of the crashing and the concomitant explosion was so great that Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were both thrown several hundred yards away, was which to the best since the first half of the vessel vaporized on impact and clouds of screaming fire were rippling upwards and devouring the blood. Kherènxhuqhe grumbled. He reached downwards and snapped the webs and metal of the glass and hot air balloon in twain and drew out the sword piece and evaporated it in his talons,and the other portion he grabbed and began to burn. And so the great Temple Balloon, the greatest of the vessels of the Duchesses’ personal armada was destroyed, the huge city glass and hot air balloon wherein had resided the ancient steam laboratories and the alien quarters and the golden meditation halls and the roseate stained glass window through which history and Khlàmfhors of Old had gazed down upon his people. The balloon became dust. The Dragon shrugged and ripped out the pieces, for not even the fire storm and fleet and impaling could stop it.
Blinking blinking blinking blinking
– Mew? –
– Purr. –
– ?? –
– !! –
Siêthiyal felt as if every bone in her body were broken and on fire at the same time. She was not even aware that she had been knocked unconscious for several moments. She was not particularly aware of anything at all aside from strong arms holding her, and the rustling sound of silk and felt and the slight jangle of jewels and the smell of perfume which she usually associated with the Brother whom she had not seen in so long, the other child whom Khwofheîlya had bore. Her eyen were heavy, she was being carried, and all around her came the sound of flames and explosions and growls and purrs and hisses and clicks which she recognized instantly was the tounge of wild plantimals, and she wondered what bird or fish or tiger or lion were speaking now somewhere in the raging winds that surround Jaràqtu.
Ixhúja, one needs you to take her home, came a voice in a melancholy and mewling language. She is very tired. Take our emergency boat and sail right into the Northwind.
Perhaps Jaràqtu will not open for me, came another voice, purring and clicking and with a slight tremor in it. Jaràqtu is not kind to aliens.
Thou art also a Daughter of Jaràqtu, thou shalt find a way, came the warm and melancholy voice. Siêthiyal could feel an hand brushing through her hair. She has endured greatly. She is more of a Sweqhàngqu than I am. Jaràqtu will part for you, you shall be safe within.
One found another maiden in the wreckage, all veiled and in white, came the purring voice. Clockwork was flowing in her hair, she might have been from Khnìntha, but her hair was golden like your people. Her face was covered, but she appeared rather pretty.
Take her with you, came the voice which Siêthiyal now knew had to be her Brother Puîyus’. I must stay and find Éfhelìnye and save as many Qhíng and Qlùfhem and Thùlwu as I can. The whales stumbled into the wind, perhaps I can return a few into the ocean.
Do not stay too long, came the voice of a maiden very familiar unto Siêthiyal. The Dragons may return in greater numbers, just get Éfhelìnye and go. I’ll take your Sister back and the other maiden. You may like the other one, she’s very exotic, labyrinth patterns are her dress. Perhaps you’ll make another sweetheart.
Ixhúja, one should not say such a thing.
Puîyos, you’re going to be Emperor, you should have a Concubine or three, it helps to seal alliances. Here, let me take Siêthiyal. I’ll take her and your new sweetheart into the Northwind. But don’t tarry too long. You can’t save everyone.
One can try. Uncles Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho sacrificed themselves to save us from the labyrinth, the least I do can is save others. And I can tempt to slay Prince Kherènxhuqhe, or at least make him suffer for his crimes.
Just find Éfhelìnye, came the Khnìnthan Princess’ voice in the language of plantimals. Siêthiyal could feel Puîyus’ arms leaving her as she was placed in Ixhúja’s grasp, and although Siêthiyal was not fully conscious she wanted to awaken and twist and squirm, for she had no idea what Ixhúja was doing here and accompanying Puîyus and whatever the little crazed pariah heretic wanted, it couldn’t be in the best interest of Puîyus and his family. Siêthiyal tried to force herself awake, but she felt as if deep and cold weights were pressed down upon her limbs and eyen, all she could do was shiver and feel and hear, and even the sensation of hearing was fading away. For some reason she thought that she had been carrying something of great importance, something she had been trying to save and protect all this while, an egg of some sorts or a seed, something soft and crystalline like a chrysalis, although she could not be sure and not even remember whether she still had it with her. It seemed like something Éfhelìnye would do, to have patience and take pity upon some poor creature. Siêthiyal felt that she was fading away. She felt Puîyus’ warm hand upon her face, and then his lips pressed unto her forehead, and then the sound of walking and of bone oars being drawn out and of being placed next to another sleeping figure, and Siêthiyal fell into an even deeper sleep than before, and when she awoke again she was upon the shores of ruined Jaràqtu.