Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Coppeweb Cabin

Some of the whisps of the web were flowing downwards of their own accord, they were like banner and ramp unfolding themselves before the portal of the cottage. Fhermáta looked upwards and remember’d that the last time she had hither come, in the presence of the guards whom honored Mother Khwofheîlya had provided for her, that the forest had not appeared as dismal and shimmering and dark, and that the cottage within the webs had been closer unto the ground and gentle pathways arose to lead up unto it, the fungal boughs were softed and more curved, they were not glistening with smaragd scales and squamous twists of branch and cap. The xhyiênxhi mud drake slowed down and hesitated a little before the unraveling and flow of the web, and the spirit creature was digging its sharp wings into the mushroom, its eyen were swiveling from side to side, its pupils dilating and blinking several times. Akhlísa was slowly arising from sleep, several long strands of coppeweb dripping downwards and brushing against her nose and face, dvergsnät gossamer almost exhaling from side to side, and with some slight fneeses Akhlísa was awakening, her eyen blinking and seeing before her the rustlent of white and silver light glistening alone in the shadows of the forest, long and winding tzahualli thread and spuled spools and ramps of mounting kavelo drifting upwards higher and higher still up unto the door. The cottage, all fibrous and growing, all woven and thrawn, was hardly as inviting as cottage as the children might have hoped. Neither of them remembered Grandmother Xhàtrajhil from life, Fhermáta had been too young, and Xhàtrajhil had actually died of heart’s fire at the death of her husband Grandfather Khangisqrírles in the Great War months before Akhlísa was even born. The maids both had a grandfather by blood in common, Grandfather Fhànwos of the Khatelèstan, but he had been very ill for as long as they could remember and oftentimes did not remember Fhermáta, the daughter of his child Khmalàqlil, nor Akhlísa, the daughter of his child Kàlewa, the Grandparent whom the children had known for all of their life was Grandmother Tàltiin who dwelt mostly in the Abby of Saint Kàtriqan, and Grandmother Tàltiin’s quarters had always been warm and inviting, the kitchen had smelt of baking, the rooms of candles and incense, all about her the glass panes glistened with holiness and happiness, even the very items in her rooms had been inaureoled with serenity and familial pride. For many hours Fhermáta and Akhlísa used to sit beside the aquarium and watch the fish bubble up and down, and the movement of the pebbles and ferns within the glass, for Grandmother Tàltiin liked to collect guppies from the streams and fishes of the luich and even a few rays and crabs from the fjords of Jaràqtu and bring them unto her fhèpte aquaria for the enjoyment of her grandchildren. She had started the practice years ago, even before she had a child of her own, and she and Jàkopar had dwelt alone upon the Sweqhàngqu fields with their slaves and servants, but Grandmother made the crannog an home with decorations and light and various aquaria to display the marine life of this realm, and Jàkopar used to build little castles out of khlìsaxhu travertine and little treasure chests of metal and bits of shell and shining rock and other jigs to set within the enliven all the famigol, and even years later in the Abby after his death, the aquaria which Grandmother Tàltiin kept still bristled sparkled enlightened with such decorations. And so in their memories would the quarters of Grandmother Tàltiin always appear, their paternal grandmother by fosterage, a place where even the curtains and sheets were inviting, a place where the tables were always heavy-laden with food and the kitchens warm and the rooms were filled with paper and felt and cloth so that the children could experiment with craft and weaving and art and learn to make Jaràqtu a more beautiful place.
But such was not the coppewebsome cottage of Grandmother Xhàtrajhil, Khwofheîlya’s Mother, the Grandmother the Sisters twain had never known in life. The whisps of the webs were flowing from side to side, the eyen of the cottage were opening up before them and gaping, and flowing up from within came a slight almost silver smoke almost indiscernible to the children, whether ghost or alive.
– I still don’t understand why Puey wants us to find Ixhúja – Akhlísa chanted. – Can’t she get out of her own trouble, her own mess? Can’t she be as responsible as I am? –
– Puey has compassion all creatures, whether tree or hill or flower or damsel, he can’t help but want to help even someone as odd as the Khnìnthan Princess – Fhermáta chanted. – Khnìntha is quite an unhealthy place, sometimes I think it best that we just forget it, or perhaps it could be cut out of the Dreamtime and left to float away and form its own Land of Story. – She tugged upon some of the jewels that adorned her white-gold tresses, the medallions of her birth Father Tesélien the Warrior from the Plain, and the images of crescents and the Pfhaqhaîtsir that lay within.
– Is Grandfather Khangisqrírles around? He would know how to enter up there, right? – asked Akhlísa. – Plus, Grandpa may have food for us, cakes and pies and pancakes, I’m thinking. –
– I’m sorry, but we have no food here, just dust and memories of food – Fhermáta chanted as she slipped down the curving wing of the xhyiênxhi mud dragon, and ran upon the fungal loam, and she ducked behind some of the tall and winding trees and blinked at the shadows that were flowing before her. The web that reached up among the trees was like a tall and thin pain of glass, it was vast but when she ran around it, it all became so thin that it disappeared from her sight, and she felt as if she were entering a completely different land, where the trees and funguses were become stunted. Beyond her formed long fields that were slightly furrowed before her gaze, some of the ruts were growing strange luminescent moon fungus, and in the midst of the field she saw the shadow of a man walking around with plaîkhtat mattock in his hand, the gleam of the midnight shining upon the handle of the short-handled gananyi, a large and wide brimmed pétasos upon his brow. Fhermáta cried out – Grandpa! Grandpa! – and began running towards him, she was skipping about the layers of the furrows and coming deeper into the welltilled fields, but as she approached the man he became only shadow, and the plaîkhtat lay alone upon the dust, blinchzia, λiwk’ana, and glowing beside it lay the wide and broad-brimmed felt khyexhloâxei. Fhermáta picked up the hat and stuck in her hand in it, and then set it upon her head and was completely all-umbraged, and all of the farm was glistening before her in the midnight gathering.
By the time Fhermáta came back unto the xhyiênxhi before the face of the coppeweb tocapeyotl tela araneaĵo Akhlísa was already slipping down the wings of the mud dragon, still yawning all the while and wiping sleepies from her eyen, and she came tumbling down precipitous so that the spirit had to reach with its wings, and Fhermáta had to catch her Sister up a little, and all of them came tumbling down unto the fungal sward. The web shimmered before them, several more strands of gossamer drifting down before them, as Fhermáta pulled her Sister upwards and wiped some of the dust of the dead away from her.
– Grandfather Khangisqrírles can be a little enigmatic, can’t he? – Akhlísa asked.
– I do not yet understand the customs of the Dead. Anyway, I thought he was out fishing with Grandfather Jàkopar – Fhermáta chanted.
– He can do both. I think. Or three. I’m not sure either. With the living it seems very simple, we are either awake or asleep and our souls drift from one to the other. But with the dead they are always awake, but the souls flutter outwards. At least that’s how I think it works. – Akhlísa reached unto some of her golden tresses and began chewing upon the edge. – I suppose it gets even more complicated for some of the alien folk, their ghost bodies and minds must be similiarly different. And who can possibly understand the Khyòmli the Solar Ancestors of the Pwéru flickering throughout the golden coronæ of Eîl the Sun? –
– It’s not too late to turn back, we can just throw ourselves at Mother’s feet, perhaps she’ll only punish us lightly – chanted Fhermáta. She tapped her hands together and chanted – I’ve never disobeyed an elder before, at least not for anything serious. I don’t want to get into trouble. –
– So I take it that Grandpa didn’t have any cake or pancakes for us? – chanted Akhlísa as she munched on her hair.
Fhermáta came froward and made her Sister spit out her braids and pulled the hair back and chanted – If you do that to your pretty hair you’ll get split ends and upset Puey, you wouldn’t want him to dislike your beautiful hair, now would you? –
– Yes, I know, hair’s the only advantage I have – chanted Akhlísa. – That and not being dead like you. Now, all we need to do is break into Grandma’s house. Oh don’t be so shocked, I’ve gotten punished so many times, I know how to handle myself. Everytime Siêthiyal has a scheme, we both get punished. Everytime I have a scheme, I get punished. Whenever I break into someone’s house and rearrange the furniture, I get punished. The time I almost burnt down the crannog with my tiger slippers, I get punished. –
– Do you e'er learn from your mistakes? – Fhermáta waved her hand in front of Akhlísa’s face. – Eventually you’re going to grow up and learn that not being sent to your room without supper and not getting hit are better ways to live. –
– I figure now that I’m married to Puey, I’m immune to punishment. I’m planning on breaking into storehouses and licking all the candy and then wrapping it back up to let others eat, tee hee hee hee hee! Maybe I’ll get Siêthiyal to help me. –
– If you do that, she’ll figure out a way for you to take all the blame. Stop chewing your hair! I say we go back. Mamà may be in a good mood, plus I’ve never disobeyed her before, and she probably wants you and Puey to have children, so she probably won’t just … kill you … and … what are you doing? –
– Ooh! – Akhlísa was laughing to herself as she ran around the web and the xhyiênxhi spirit. She came dashing off around the other side of the web and found a pool of rustling shadow, and slipping into it began burying her hands inside it and squeazing the shadow between her fingers.
– What are you doing now? – asked Fhermáta. – Are you even thinking about a way to break in and find Ixhúja? –
– Ixhúja? Who cares about her? –
Fhermáta blinked. – The entire reason we’re disobeying Mamà is because Puey told you that he wanted you to save that demented heretic Princess! We’re risking our standing with Mamà because you just have to please Puey at all costs, and I have to look out for you! –
– This is good squishy mud! – Akhlísa was cooing unto herself. – High quality, soft loam, drippy and staining, mucilaginous and gross, this is some high-caste mud here. –
– Whatabout are you prating now? – Fhermáta asked, setting her hands on her hips. – Get back here and help me break into Grandma’s cabin! –
Akhlísa drew some of the shadow and it squished in her hands and dribbled down her arms. – I like this mud – she chanted as she waded deeper into it. – Would you like some? It’s very wet. –
– We’re in the Undergloom, it’s not wet! – Fhermáta chanted. – I know you were dropped on your head many times as a baby, and you kept rolling off the table and out of your chair, and even last week when the Duchesses weren’t looking you jumped on the table before them and started dancing and fell on your hair, and you probably fell out of bed a few times this even, so your mind has never been in prestine harmony, but still, in the dreamlands of the dead, I must remind you that nothing is … –
– Catch this! – Akhlísa shouted, and she threw some mud right towards Fhermáta’s face, streaks splattered her face and neck and drooled down the front of her crimson betrothal dress. Fhermáta was too shocked to react at first, she wiped the mud from her eyen and panted without any breath. – Would you like some more mud? –
– Sister! – gasped Fhermáta.
Akhlísa hoisted up a flowing mound of mud about a third of a cubit tall, but when she attempted to throw it only sullied herself. She waded deeper into the pool of shadow and drew out some smaller clumps and hurled them right at Fhermáta. – It’s nice fresh mud. I hope you like it! –
Fhermáta wiped the fresh splatter away from her face, but feeling the moisture of the mud on her fingers, and rubbing her fingers together, she whispered – It’s wet. –
– I told you it was wet of course it’s wet that’s what I chanted it’s wet wet wet! – Akhlísa waded deeper into the mud hole and winked to the xhyiênxhi and chanted – His skin looks like flowing mud, but it’s dry, but here we have the real, real mud mud mud! –
– It’s wet. – Fhermáta chanted.
Akhlísa scooped up some more mud and threw it right towards her Sister, splotches of slime caught up in Fhermáta’s hair and flowing upon the betrothal dress which had once been Khwofheîlya’s. – I really do enjoy this mud, it’s got a quality all of its own, I suppose there are no worms and grubs in it like the mud wherein I usually play, since there’s no living organisms here, but there may be all manner of spirit creatures within, and cold convections flowing upwards and … here, take this! And this! And that! Oh, I’ve got a drooler here, this is some sloppy mud! – Akhlísa threw several more handfuls right towards Fhermáta, and Fhermáta was too shocked at feeling the sensation of liquid to become angry yet. It was only after her youngest Sister threw some more mud upon Khwofheîlya’s betrothal dress, that Fhermáta came to her senses, and wiping away the last of the mud stormed right up unto her Sister.
– It’s like the shadow and soil mix together down here – Akhlísa chanted. – It’s all very … uh-oh. You don’t look happy. Does this have anything to do with freeing Puey and … –
– This is Mother’s betrothal gown! How dare you throw mud at it! – Fhermáta hissed.
– I wasn’t aiming for the gown, silly! I was aiming for you, you just happen to be in the gown! It’s your fault, if you had any sense you would have taken the gown off once you saw that I was playing in the mud and throwing mud at … let go! Ouch! Help! Help! Sister abuse! My Sister is … Ouch! Help! –
Fhermáta came to the edge of the pool and was careful not to dirty Mother’s dress any more, and grabbing Akhlísa by the ear pinched her and began tugging her out of the shadow. Akhlísa was screaming with an awful racket, but Fhermáta was muttering in a level voice – Mother’s dress is important, but more important still is your conduct, you are supposed to be the honored Concubine to the new Emperor, you will be the Mother of Royal Caste children, you are not permitted to wallow around in the mud like that! Get out now, or I shall pick you up and march you right back to Mother. I don’t care how she punishes me, I shall do what I must to ensure the honor of this clan! –
– Help! That smarts! Fhérma! Fhérma! Fhérma! – Akhlísa wailed, but Fhermáta dragged her out of the dark hole of shadows, and drawing her up unto the loam of fungus, pinched her ears a few times and slapped her face until Akhlísa began to weep actual tears of water.
– Don’t you care what others say about the Sweqhàngqu? You have to represent Éfhelìnye when she is gone, where men see the Emperor’s Concubine they see the Empress herself. You must be worthy of our Puey, you have to carry on the line of the Sweqhàngqu, you have to do all of the honors which I can no longer carry out. Don’t you understand? –
– I was just playing! –
– Do you understand? – Fhermáta shook her.
– No! –
– Will you obey? –
– Yes! – Akhlísa sniffled. Her tears were flowing down her face and washing away the mud splotches that were left there. She saw that Fhermáta was panting with unshed tears. Akhlísa shuddered a little and chanted – I don’t know why I do these things. I just do them. –
– You always want attention. You never take responsibility. But that changes now. As Concubine are invisible, and you will become the Matron of the Sweqhàngqu. –
– I can’t do it! This was supposed to be your job, you’re the only one good at things. I can’t even sit still without fidgeting all the while. –
– You will have to learn. Childhood is o'er, and adults do not forgive. –
Akhlísa wiped her tears away and chanted – The mud’s disappearing from you. –
– Pardon? –
– Look, the mud on Mamà’s dress and on your face and nap … it’s all disintergrating, it’s breaking apart like njarrawarrówarra all ashen. –
Fhermáta ran her fingers upon her face and necklace and dress, and indeed the mud was breaking right off of her, all of the moisture was disappearing and just leave shadow and dust to flow upwards about her in widening clouds. She sniffled a little and touched her hair, it was but ash drifting away from her after all. – This is all very strange. Lo, most of the mud is breaking off of you also, although some still remains on your collar and neck. –
– I’m just so very alive. –
– Why was there liquid mud in that shadow in the first place? The moisture had to have originated from someplace, somewhere outside of the Undergloom or perhaps imported into it. We must think about this in a logical manner. –
– Maybe tiny penguin people brought it. Ow! Stop poking me! –
– You deserve it. I’m thinking … –
– Tiny little khálwayiîlii penguins wearing their feather boas, they were sailing on their qwìnger ice clippers, and the ice came in big glacial sheets and was breaking apart … I’m just trying to help here! –
– No penguins! – Fhermáta chanted as she walked around the shadow where the mud had gathered. The xhyiênxhi came clicking and walking about her and was wavering its flexible wings from side to side.
– I don’t know what you have against penguins I love penguins I’m quite pro-penguin Puey likes penguins to do you think Puey will let me some penguins, I want a baby penguin, an otter-monkey, and a fan tortoise – Akhlísa was counting on her fingers. She looked to the xhyiênxhi and chanted – Don’t you think that will be fun! I can ride the tortoise, and the otter-monkey can gather fruit and drinks for me, and the penguin can be my personal servant and bring me cake and pancakes. –
Fhermáta knelt down upon the fungal sward and drew her hand into the shadow, and looking upwards saw that a slight sheen reached into the shadow and spread upwards unto the flowing cobweb above. She clammered about some of the lower strands and felt that some of the gossamer was wet, and investigating found a slight cascade almost weeping from the cottage high above them. – We shall definitely have to investigate this. –
– I hope Puey gets me lots of presents – Akhlísa chanted. – As Emperor, I expect him to shower me with presents all the time! In fact, I think we should name one of the days of the sennight after me, we’ll call it Concubine’s Day, and that’s the day when he has to give me a present for being such a good and faithful wife to him. I want chocolate and crayons. –
– Do you still want a khálwa garefowl awk? –
– Huh? –
– Nevermind. –
– Wha? –
– I have an idea. –
– Meh? –
– Sister! –
– Oh? –
– Although mine afterlife is not as happy and blessed as I had hoped it would be, I would be having a more enriching experience if you could communicate in more than monosyllabic querries! –
– Ah? –
– You’re not going to help, are you? –
– Eh? –
– I hope you have passel of little ones just like you … –
– ?? –
Fhermáta came unto the xhyiênxhi sloughdrake and taking the edge of its barbed wings lead it unto the rising fiber of the coppeweb and setting the wing nigh unto it told it – Is it possible that you can climb up the spuled? It is perhaps treacherous unto us who are children, but mayhap a spirit of Xhrajúta khmútlhitàkhta may be able to negotiate up its summits. –
– Click? – asked the xhyiênxhi.
– The next jokester who asks a monosyllabic question here, I shall march straight unto honored Khwofheîlya. –
– !! – caughed Akhlísa. – Ow! – Fhermáta pinched Akhlísa’s ear.
– Please try and climb the web, our xhyiênxhi friend – Fhermáta chanted.
– Stop! – cried Akhlísa. – Ow! –
– Click! – cried the xhyiênxhi, and it spread up its wings, the ones and joints spreading outwards unto long and widening patterns, the barbs and hooks slipping around the edge of the web, its irregularly lengthed legs were reaching out and touching the dry web which sparkled of evendew but which remained completely dry unto the touch. The xhyiênxhi began echoing unto itself, it turned its bone ridge from side to side and clicked in the generation direction of the cottage in the heart of the web, but it only managed to arise a few spans before all of the web began to lurch and shake. The cottage began to arise upon legs that were like the trunks of trees and qyaînga pogo stilt shoon, the windows became a little like tounges flapping from side to side. The xhyiênxhi cried out, its wings were trying its best to keep ahold on the web, but all of it was reacting against him, and soon the barbs of the wings slipped out one by one, and the spirit came tumbling down backwards, its limbs unable to grasp onto anything but the ambient ætherry, and it came spinning down and crashing right before the children.
– That’s exactly what I thought would happen – Akhlísa chanted.
– Oh? – asked Fhermáta.
– Don’t you start. –
Fhermáta came to the xhyiênxhi and patted its conical head and the brushed against the layers of its ridge bone and began leading it unto the shadow where the mud was forming and burbling, and she chanted – We noticed before that the body of this creature looks a little like dry mud always shifting and shuffling and shimmering, and furthermore we’ve seen that liquid is anathema to a realm devoid of life. Therefore, I propose … –
– Let me guess! – squealed Akhlísa.
– Go ahead – chanted Fhermáta as she knelt down beside the pool and dipped her hands into the liquid.
– We’re going to throw a party for me and surprise me with lots of presents and get me a new carouselambra gown and I’ll be all sparkly and pretty there and all the other virgins will be so incredibly jealous of me and tear out their hair and say we’re not nearly as pretty as Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa the very greatest of us all, and they’ll elect me their Queen and parade me throughout all the boardwalk and cityscape and bakery. –
– No. –
– Am I even close? –
– Not in the least. – Fhermáta signaled to the xhyiênxhi and chanted – Would you mind dipping your wings into here? Let’s see what happens when the mud dragon actually is coated a little with mud. –
– You’re smart – chanted Akhlísa. – Not nearly as smart as Éfhelìnye of course, she’d already have all of this figured out by now and she’d be getting me presents and telling me what a nice and good little Sister I am, but you’re a good substitute, maybe third or fourth best, at least somewhere in the top eleven. I mean, you’ll do for now. You’re not terrible. Just okay. But that’s good. –
– Khlís? – asked Fhermáta as the spirit dipped its wings into the shadow, and its skin began to glisten with change.
– Yes? –
– Please don’t talk anymore. –
– Sorry. –
– That’s alright. –
– I like to talk. –
Fhermáta and the xhyiênxhi looked to each other and sighed. – We know – Fhermáta chanted. The xhyiênxhi was shaking a little, as its wings began to transform and began soil and running water, and the flowing ridges of its back were become wave in a moment, not frozen cold, but just no longer flowing, and as its neck and thews were moving, within the waters dirt and mud were flowing in long and rustlent labyrinthine patterns. The xhyiênxhi coughed out a few more clicks and looked around with its large eyen in surprise and was not entirely sure whether it liked this sensation. Halos of mud were unfolding down the neck of the wiht, and its tail was flowing from side to side and was churning right through the slough.
– Now, we can break into Grandma’s cabin – chanted Fhermáta. – Do we have any tools? –
Akhlísa reached behind her back and drew out Grandfather Khangisqrírles’ plaîkhtat mattock, and it was longer than she was tall, and Fhermáta slipped upon the dripping back of the xhyiênxhi and helped her Sister upwards, and together the twain of them held onto the creature as it made its way back unto the thin sheen of the web. The xhyiênxhi hesitated for a moment, its long cape wings reached up unto the gossamer, as the wings approached the web tried to recoil a little from the water and mud, but the web had nowhere to go and the water was a little familiar unto it. The xhyiênxhi made its slow ascent up the web, its legs were struggling to find foothold and kept slipping upon the web, but unto one side of them a slight cascade of tears continued to flow out of the cabin and feed the mud beneath them, and the web kept snapping from side to side like os many khmàqne xhmàxe magnets snapping and recoiling and shunning each other. The xhyiênxhi’s wings wre finding firmer holds the higher it arose, and all of its body was becoming a long and flowing stain of mud in its ascent, and the spirit even began to cry out a little in a hexagonic song of its own creation, in melody which seemed quite soothing and calm unto one who was the thought of the Immortals. Akhlísa was swinging Grandfather Khangisqrírles’ λiwk’ana from side to side and thinking about all of the times she had broken into barns and smashed things in the Khatelèstan Fortress and the various messes she had made in the Tásel treehouses tyeréfhokháma, and her mind was forgetting a little all of the variated punishments which ahd been meted out unto her. At last the xhyiênxhi made its spindly way crawling right up unto the edge of the cabin, and when it tried to arise upon treetrunk and pogo stilt legs, the xhyiênxhi just reached upwards and gnawed at the edge with its barbed wings and slipped upwards upon smears of mud, and continued its ascent higher and higher up the legs and unto the fibrous porch of the cabin. The windows of the cabin were all slamming shut with blinks before the coming of the maidens, but Fhermáta and Akhlísa could see that one of the windows had been wounded a little and it was from this one-then that the source of liquid ts’q’ali was flowing and reaching unto the sward far below. The door to the cabin was all barred fangs before them, clamping and almost gnawing before the faces.
– That’s quite a lock – chanted Akhlísa. – Don’t you think that’s welllocked! How can one unlock that lock? It’s locked. I wish Éfhelìnye were here, she’s good at springing open locks. Do you remember the time when she broke into Puey’s room and … –
– YES! – coughed Fhermáta. – I thought we agreed never to mention such things again. –
– She used to break into Puey’s room and we’d catch her trying to kiss him, and then there was the time when she glued her hand to his and we had to stand watch about her and you chained her to the bed but she still figured out … –
– And I certainly hope you don’t plan to become like her, for I saw you kissing our Puey when you were supposed to be freeing him from the grey deadlands. –
– I was just having fun! –
Fhermáta brushed her hands against the fangs of the door, but all of the door spread and became a rictus grin gazing at her. The fangs parted a little and began crescent moons and behind them lay another layer of teeth, a wall all of large slabs clamping down against each other. Fhermáta touched the crescent fangs and did not like it when they all began to bleed red, and dancing upon the surface of them were wee mirrorling images of cannals and fungal cities and box kites drifting in pink and orange skies and towers builded in and around bursting volcanoes. Such Khnìnthan images, the towers of dark pollution, the craters, the stratosphereic trees, the inner worlds, and the clockwork, only reminded her of the birth Father whom she had never known in life, Tesélien the Warrior of the Plains who had himself been born and reared among the Heretics before traveling outwards and being fostered of the warrior clan Khatelèstan. And Fhermáta was not at all fain to celebrate or even acknowledge her birth Father’s heritage, she cared not that she were also of the blood of the Pfhaqhaîtsir and kin to both Ixhúja and Qlenólakh. Khnìntha was all blasted and barren abomination in her sight and wellworth being forgotten, but above all Tesélien’s past must be kept hidden from the Matriarch Khwofheîlya who was most concerned with the purity and power of the warrior clan Sweqhàngqu.
– I was hoping that the door would recognize me as the Emperor’s bride – chanted Fhermáta. – Mine elgance and honor sometimes affords me some help. –
– The teeth look a little like your sire, honored Tesélien – chanted Akhlísa. – Don’t you think so? –
– No, I can’t see the resemblence. –
– I do. The teeth are like swords and zavannahs long, and I see your birth Father fighting the raiders upon the plains. –
– Interesting, but I don’t see it. –
– I have pretty toes – chanted Akhlísa. – Don’t you think I have pretty toes. I like wriggling my flexible toes. I’m going to wriggle my little Traîkhiimlike toes at Puey all the time because they’re so cute and pretty. –
– May I borrow the blinchzia? – asked Fhermáta as she took Grandpa’s mattock and began smashing against the fangs of the door, but the door just continued to grin and grind riant towards them all. Fhermáta continued beating towards the gate, unto Akhlísa turned her mind to it, and touching some of the fangs the door began to change, and the teeth became like spiders and grubs and maggots oozing about each other, and the fangs were spreading upwards and were become columns of sunshine drifting upwards and spinning one about the other, the teeth were swimminghole and sunlight and summerday.
– It’s still not letting us inside – chanted Fhermáta. She smashed the mattock against the door a few more times, and all of the walls of the cabin were shaking now, a rain of gossamer fibre threadque cascading about them all. The xhyiênxhi reached out with its head of bone and crest and nudged against the door a few times, and the surface of the cabin was become mud quacking and flowing, but still nothing opened or budged, and the teeth began to part and became a new web before the eyen of the children.
– Do you think I have a pretty belly button? – asked Akhlísa.
– I suppose – chanted Fhermáta. – What is the door doing now? It’s like pieces moving upon a board, patterns and mathmatics. –
– I’m sure my belly button is prettier than yours. –
– That’s nice. –
– I know Puey will like my belly button. –
– Do you have to say everything that pops into your mind? –
– You sure are sad for a ghost. –
The door was resolving itself unto a long and winding tnúpa jórqha board, the pieces were flowing outwards upon many different xhnàkhne hexes, the hexagons flowing up and around each other in tridimensional icefloes, the pieces of the board drifting upwards and arranging themselves into various configurations, pieces upon the pyramids, games being played within games within games. Fhermáta leaned forwards and saw that the green side of the board was missing both of its pirate pieces, for she could see them nowhere within, and that long phalanxes of the sorcerers and knights were advancing from the red faction of the board. She reached out and saw where the maquáhuitlmen and ninja scouts were placed and the knights riding upon dinosaur steed, and at the edge of the board lay the concubine pieces attempting to protect the princess.
– I’ve never been terribly good at puzzles – Akhlísa chanted.
– Neither have I – chanted Fhermáta. – It does seem though that if we just shift some of the pieces at home, that we can aid the princess by moving the concubines about her. – Fhermáta fidged with the pieces, and slowly the jaws of the hut began to open, and all of the cottage began to descend upon its tall trunk and pogo stilt legs, and the fangs parted and the great teeth behind them, and slowly the door became just like a door of wood and stone such as they had seen throughout all the days of their life. Fhermáta pressed her hand upon the knob and it gave way, and looking to Akhlísa and the xhyiênxhi muddrake, she slowly drew the door open and all made their way into the cabin.
The first aspect of Grandmother Xhàtrajhil’s cabin that came to the maidens and the muddragon was just how warm it was within, it was hot and sweaty muggy, the very air was flowing with condensation. Fhermáta set the plaîkhtat gananyi upon a table and could taste the wet air with a tounge that no longer was used for eating. Akhlísa took a few steps froward and wiped her brow, and the xhyiênxhi waddled upwards, its wings were folding down upon itself and it was walking upon its crackling and shifting irregular legs and sniffling a little. Akhlísa’s golden tresses were flopping upon her head because of the heat. The second aspect was the sound of flowing water coming about the walls and drifting about the tables, the music of the water was its own strange and alien music which was always just on the verge of being forgotten by those who were no longer alive. In the center of one of the tables lay a large khmatraîleqhe hydrazine clock, mercury and water flowing down through the tubes and drifting about the pipes and hissing throughout the hours, and all of the hours were turned unto the darkness of midnight, and as the maidens walked into the very center of the cottage they found several more khmatraîle clepysdræ the waters flowing downwards from clouds gathering in the high rafters, long and rolling pipes burbling and feeding into the pools domqólyal. Some of the tables had basons of water, and steam was always flowing up from them, and Akhlísa ran towards the nearest one and drew her head very close to it just to feel the sensation of the heat and water again, and it was so heady and thick that she shook and sneezed a few times. Fhermáta walked unto a table and found a small bowl of water and dipping her finger within almost jumped in fear as some vines came slipping upwards from the water and were breathing outwards with a slight incense smell.
– Is this … is this alive? – Fhermáta whispered.
Akhlísa started opening up some jars and thrusting her hands within. – Sure looks like it. –
– What are you doing? –
– Looking for cookies. –
– You were lucky to find water, but I sincerely doubt that Grandma has any cookies or food of any sort – Fhermáta chanted as she looked about the pots and found a few small ferns growing, she came to the curtains and found that crawling upon them were some grasses that were swaying from side to side and following the movement of her fingers. It was almost like being inside an herbarium, only it was smaller and far more comfortable, and all of the clepysydræ were flowing all the while. The xhyiênxhi continued to waddle about and it clicked at the curtains and walls, its tail swinging from side to side and upsetting some of the boxes within. Fhermáta ran up to a box and tried to make it look like someone wasn’t actually storming into the house and making a frightful mess. Akhlísa ran to the boxes and hoped to find some khnaîtwa gingerbread within mielakekik, and she dug in the boxes and found naught but incense flowing, some of it burning, some of it just smoke wafting upwards to tickle her nostrils.
– Grandma’s house was not nearly this feral and gardenlike the last time I was here – Fhermáta chanted. – All of the times I’ve been here before, the tables and chairs, the cabinets and boxes were in the same place, but there was no water, no growth. It was as if I were looking at the same place through a mirror darkly, but now I enter it and see it for what it is. –
Akhlísa kicked open a box and drew out some deathmasques and dancing from side to side asked – How do I look? Do you like happy masque? Or sad masque? Or, I’m a noble honored dead masque. You choose, I can only wear one at a time! –
– Put that back! –
– No! –
– Click click click? – asked the xhyiênxhi.
– Let’s just find Ixhúja and go – chanted Fhermáta. – I want to return to Mother. I’m tired of being a disobedient rebel, it’s not in me, I have to be the good sibling. –
Akhlísa took a jar and smashed it against a cabinet and began drawing out spool and thread and yawn and tossed it into the air in great clouds so that the string began to get tied up and stuck in her hair. – What were you saying? Wheee! Wheeee! Wheeeeeee! –
Fhermáta sniffled a few more times. – I’m confessing everything to Mamà. I can’t do this anymore. I’m going home now. –
– Wait, I need you to stay – chanted Akhlísa as she picked up some boxes and brushed them against Fhermáta’s hands.
– Do you need me? –
– I just need your fingerprints on as many items as possible. Would you mind leaving one of her bridal shoon here because that would implicate you far more than … –
– I’m going … –
– Click click click? – asked the xhyiênxhi as it waddled back and forth through the mist. It was opening up its wings and batting it through the water splashing down the walls, it waded a little through the vines and blue-green grasses growing o'er the carpet, and it tapped Fhermáta a few times with wings of mud and condensation and it pointed unto the outer rooms of the cottage. Fhermáta sighed, she figured there was no way they could get into any more trouble, so she came within, and found herself in a room where a great orrery was spinning around in the middle around a chess set, and the movement of the planets and moons and worlds and comets was reflected in the battle being waged upon the complicated board all of prime numbers drifting from side to side. High in the rafters were images of wthìjha dolls and fhòlwe effigies, they were perched high above the maidens, their eyen metallic and glowing unto the intruders within. One of the walls of the room was completely covered in a chalkboard whereon calculations were set, and at the other side lay a long white table and a white sheet upon it. Fhermáta turned to the board first and was not entirely sure what all of the symbols meant, but somewhere in the midst of it she saw names and calculations dancing together almost in the pattern of a family tree.
– I do not quite understand the calculus of the planets, the dance of orbits and causalities – Fhermáta chanted. – But the graphs do seem to be working out family relationships. I see numbers swirling around Mother Khwofheîlya, there are lines reaching out towards me, here I am, I’m labled the Bride, there are all of these numbers reaching out unto Khweisalápa the first Ancestress of the Sweqhàngqu and unto the troops and King Èmfha. Here’s an entire box for Abbá Íngìkhmar, everything is getting quite complicated about him, he’s linked to the old Emperor and Empress. Ah look, here’s Princess Éfhelìnye, little suns and moons floating about her numbers. –
Akhlísa and the xhyiênxhi mud dragon slipped up beside Fhermáta and examined the board. Akhlísa yawned and turned back to the orrery and saw that all of the ceiling and wall was becoming an series of suns and moons, the crescent moons were become noontide suns, the setting suns were becoming moons and fading away, shafts of light spinning downwards and illuminating all of the room.
– Maybe Grandma is graphing out relationships of alliance, vasselage, friendship, blood, and clan … – Fhermáta chanted. – Here’s Éfhelìnye, and I think this crescent moon is supposed to be Ixhúja. They are both of the blood Pwéru, it shoes here that they share the same great-grandfather, honored Kàrijoi and Prince Khwìnton were cousins and foster siblings, so Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja are also cousins, here in the chart they are separated by two angles. Ixhúja and honored Kàrijoi are cousins removed by one angle, and Éfhelìnye and Prince Khwìnton are cousins removed by one angle. This is all a little confusing. –
– Too bad there is no khnaîtwa gingerbread in the diagram – Akhlísa sighed. She nudged the xhyiênxhi and chanted – Isn’t that right? Everything is better with miëlakek. –
– Now what are these patterns here? Perhaps they are also meant to wellrepresent Princess Ixhúja. But here it shows her and Éfhelìnye having common great-great grandparents, and here they are cousins removed by three angles. Éfhelìnye is cousin Khwìnton separated by two angles, and she is separated from Khwìnton’s father from two angles in a different direction. Is this correct? I do not understand how to read it. –
– Perhaps that’s not Ixhúja. Or maybe they’re all Ixhúja. I don’t know – Akhlísa sighed. – Isn’t everyone eventually related to everyone else, we all have some of the blood of Pfhentókha in is, no matter how impure through the successive generations. Have I mentioned that my offspring will be Royal Caste? That’s so über-pure! –
The orrery continued to churn in the midst of the room, the flashes of the planets and moons and suns turning around and illuminating the tables one by one. Slowly both of the maidens were turning around, shafts of light were enlightening the ceiling and all of the crystalline walls were churning around, towers of sunlight spreading from side to side, and within the light came the slight sound of the movement of the hours, the burgeoning of time, the changing of the ages. The orrery was slowly downwards, and within the clockwork the kept the entire apparatus moving, the ticking machinery was reaching outwards and slowly in concomitant fashion, long and wriggling arms reaching outwards and moving the pieces upon the board from side to side. The orrery’s arms were reaching upwards and revealing abacata shuffling almost in a dance, beads and jade and spheres flowing left and right, columns of numbers arising in long and turning towers. The maidens felt themselves being drawn forwards into the orrery itself and the white table in the center, and the white sheet that ycovered something beneath the calculations of the orrery.
– Click click click! – echoed the xhyiênxhi mud dragon, its wings clapping together, its barbs scraping from side fro to side to. Fhermáta and Akhlísa looked to each other and grabbed the edge of the white sheet and flung it aside, and revealed lying upon the white table Princess Ixhúja lying in perfect and still sleep. A bandage lay upon her head and upon her wrists. She was cleaned up, a small device was affixed to her neck, and the wires were pumping all the while and ticking a little in the song of clockwork. The Sweqhàngqu Sisters looked at each other, and found that floating all around them were glassen spheres and phials and wires, and within the spheres violet butterflies were flapping from side to side, all tethered one to another with variated chains, and the phials were filled with moths e'er buzzing and crashing against each other, and with every breath that Ixhúja took, the butterflies and moths moved in accord, and when she exhaled the insects just fluttered all the more. Some of the wires were burbling outwards and hissing up within them came a liquid, and when the maidens inspected the liquid they found that flowing within it were trees and forest and clockwork insect, and little shadow images of Ixhúja running and smiling upon free and ancient fields.
Tick tock tick tick tock tick sang the apparatus that were drawn into Ixhúja and the machines were dreaming with her, and powering the orrery and calculations and suns. Fhermáta and Akhlísa slipped their hands together and listened to the music of the paqtànthe whispering all the while. Fhermáta reached out and ran her hand through Ixhúja’s golden tresses chanted – It suits her well, but I do not think she was meant to be a golden maiden of Jaràqtu. –
– Yes, that’s supposed to be my task – chanted Akhlísa. – Puey really does like golditressed maidens like me, he just can’t get enough of me, he tells me this all the time, he saith, let me try to imitate his voice, he saith, Oh Karuláta I love you the best because your hair is just so superior to everyone else’s so now kiss me you silly girl kiss me with the kisses of your mouth, and I say, Oh how bold you are my lord and husband, I flutter like a butterfly just to … –
– What’s that? – asked Fhermáta.
– Click click? – asked the xhyiênxhi.
– A pinpilinpauxa? – asked Akhlísa.
The cottage was beginning to shift, it was wobbling from side to side as it arose upon wobbly stilt legs. The dolls and effigies high within the rafters were arising a little and turning their faces towards the maidens who had come within. The orrery was slowing down now, all of the planets and moons opening themselves upwards and revealing inner worlds and crescents all of them pointing unto the coronæ of the Suns. The calculations of the chalkboard were spinning around all the fast, they were revealing family patterns and tartans of numbers. All of the cottage was leaning downwards now, mist and water were splashing out of the walls, the growth within the pots was becoming all the more wild and sprawling upwards, and a scraping was arising through the web and the layers of gossamer streaming upwards higher and higher still.
– Get Ixhúja out of here now – Fhermáta hissed.
– What do I do with her? – Akhlísa gasped.
Fhermáta pulled slumbering Ixhúja from the spinning clockwork, and the machines began to die down one by one. – Send her exactly where you sent Puey. Let them help each other. –
Akhlísa tapped the walls, and the walls burst apart in an explosion of stardust. Suddenly a grey pool was forming, and all of the mist and heat of the cabin were being drawn within the vortex that was gathering within. – I’ll have to concentrate, you know it isn’t easy for me to remember all of the joukery·pawkery d́alŋuy that Our Heart Raven used to do. It’s all very changeable and swirly. –
– You must hasten – Fhermáta chanted. – Grandma is here. –
Akhlísa gathered up some of the stardust which the vortex was exhaling, and she chanted – I’m trying my best here. Oh, perhaps Grandma won’t notice that we’ve snuck within. –
– Not after the mess you left in the other room, were there any boxes you didn’t touch? – Fhermáta asked. – And who let the xhyiênxhi indoors, look, it tracked all of this mud right upon the floor! –
The xhyiênxhi muddragon just shrugged its wings and looked from side to side a little bashful and tried to wipe some of the mud up with the edge of its irregular knees. Akhlísa poked into the growing vortex, and all of the walls were sparkling now as a blur of images began to appear in the place where realities grew rarified and thin.
– Just do your best – Fhermáta chanted. – You may want to go with the Martian Princess. –
– What will you be doing? – Akhlísa gasped.
– I shall stay with Grandma and take my punishment. I would be a ghost, anyhow, within the worlds of the living. –
The cabin was leaning downwards at quite a precipitous angle, and bursting off from the walls and ceiling and roof of it were cloud layers of gossamer drifting from side to side. The cabin was reaching downwards and outside came the slight sound of someone arising and saying – Oh cabin, oh hut, oh house upon pogo-stilt shoon, with weeping windows and gossamer roof high within the coppeweb, turn thou thy back to the forest and reveal your door unto me. – And at Grandmother Xhàtrajhil’s words all of the cabin was crackling and swaying, the outside walls were breaking apart like skin made out of paper, and inside the skin new bones were growing upwards, new muscles forming, and new doors springing up and opening up their jaws. Inside the cabin Fhermáta and Akhlísa could feel the transformation a little, the dolls were tumbling about them, and huge clouds of mist and darkness were swirling about them, the carpets were parting and becoming grassland and the heady smell of rainwater drifting about them. Akhlísa picked up a few of the clockworks upon the table and threw them into the bursting whirl of dreamdust, and the machines were exploding one by one.
– How is that helping? – asked Fhermáta.
– I don’t know, I just wanted to try something! – Akhlísa piped.
– The doors are opening! Grandma is within! – Fhermáta shreaked.
Several rafters broke apart from the ceiling and came crashing right through the orrery, and any slight hope that Fhermáta had that her and her Sister’s presence might remain undetected was dashed aside. The xhyiênxhi’s pools of mud were now splattered upon the walls, the movement of its wings shaking and cracklent all the while. Akhlísa picked up several more bits of wheel and threw them into the vortex and it began to waver before her, it was a long pool of growing water, the aurora twé glistening all behind the realities, na fir·chlis guovßahasat virmalised revontulet, and within it were appearing cloud and the skies of the living worlds, and Dragons arising one by one and spreading their irridescent wings from side to side in glistening scintillations of might.
– Would you give me an hand with Ixhúja? – asked Akhlísa as she grabbed the Princess’ foot and began dragging her to the vortex.
– You didn’t need help with Puey before – Fhermáta chanted as she began pulling up Ixhúja by her arms and shoulders.
– I know, but I don’t mind touching Puey. Ixhúja is weird though, tré bizarre. –
The door of the room came flowing open, and all of the calculations on the boards became complex webs of ancestors and parents and children and cousins, and the relations among Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja and many other persons. For a moment Grandmother Xhàtrajhil just stood there, she was no wearing her ornate masque of wood and stone and jade and antlers towering upwards, rather she stood there tall and serene, her eyen glistening emeralds. The suns and moons of the orrery were all turning around to regard her. Fhermáta looked back and shreaked to see that she had been caught is disobedience. Akhlísa quite used to parental displeasure, just shrugged and shoved Ixhúja’s head into the vortex and before them appeared the openign wings of several Dragons and bursting up in their midst arose Prince Kherènxhuqhe gazing out from his side of the realities.
– Yummy … tasty treat … – Prince Kherènxhuqhe murmured when he smelt the sleeping warrior on his beak, and Akhlísa tried to reach out to Puîyus and shouted out – No, wait, slight miscalculation in the spinning of the dimensions, where’s a Qriî slave when one needs one! May I please have my husband back? –
The Dragon turned and saw the concubine’s shadow appearing and fading away, and he just laughed at her in mirth as lightening flowed all about him. Akhlísa shoved against the energy again, and Princess Ixhúja came rolling outwards and landed right upon the Dragon Prince’s snout, Ixhúja still and fast asleep. Akhlísa turned back and cried out, for Grandmother Xhàtrajhil was already upon her. Akhlísa slipped up into the gathering silver of the vortex and screamed out – I love visiting with your Grandma but I have to go home soon! Love to stay, can’t! Love you! Love you! –
– I love you too – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil chanted, and winked to the vortex it exploded into splashes of grey gossamer and web unraveling and drifting downwards. The vortex shimmered out of existence a few second later, and the shattered rafters and walls of the room were reässembling themselves, the orrery wheels and planets drifting upwards and turning back unto their dance and calculating all the while. The xhyiênxhi was turning its head from side to side and shaking its tail about and trying to clean up the tulla mud, homa nmore mud t’uru tain ul¡ mess which was flowing out from its wings all the while. Fhermáta was shaking in fear, but she pulled Akhlísa behind her and cried out – It was all my fault! I’m the disobedient older Sister, I’m the one who has been leading Karuláta astray. –
– That’s true! – cried Akhlísa. – I was just minding mine own business, and she strayed me! –
– I’m the one responsible, culpable, older! – cried Fhermáta, and she began to weep tears of crystal and dust.
– Yes, all her fault! – cried Akhlísa. – Siêthiyal helped too, punish her too! –
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil walked up unto the orrery and adjusted the movement of the moons and the growing aurelian glow of the Sunscapes that were beginning to fill all of the horizon. She looked down to the board beneath her, and saw that several different games were being played at the very same time. – I don’t think any real harm was done. Perhaps it was my fault after all – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil chanted.
Fhermáta continued to wail, if she had been alive she would have wished for the earth to swallow her up in death, but now that she was dead only despair lay before her, and she was grasping Akhlísa and holding her tight and weeping as only the Bride of the Ancestors can.
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil took a cloth and began wiping some of her calculations aside. – The two Princesses as second generation cousins, the Emperor and the Feral princess, first generation cousins separated by one angle. Feral Lad and Feral princess, cousins of the third generation. Interesting, very interesting. – She cleaned up the board and turned back and chanted – The sad truth is that I this is indeed my fault. I thought that it would be best to capture Puîyos and return him to his Mother and force reunion between them, that is why I sent King Èmfha out with his troops. But I realize now that it would be best for Puîyos and Khwofheîlya to seek approchement of their own accord xòtyo, and it is not my place to interfere no matter what mine intentions may be. Even those who are elders and dead can make mistakes. – The board was all cleaned up now, and the orrery was ticking and thinking its own thoughts such as the great Dance of the Stars was revealing unto it. Grandmother Xhàtrajhil came towards the maidens and wrapped her arms around them and chanted – Neither of you need to fear anything from me. The incident is forgotten, Puîyos is back in the mortal realms, and none of us need remember what came to pass this hour. –
Fhermáta was crying all the harder, and Akhlísa, who never liked being left out of a good lamentation, was crying now with liquid tears. Even the xhyiênxhi mud dragon was shaking, the slime flowing down from its wings, its irregular legs stamping from side to side. And around Grandmother Xhàtrajhil all of the cabin was reordering itself, the mist was becoming dust, the effigies were turning their faces away and resting for a time. All of the living vines and ferns and plantimals were sinking aside, the suns and moons hiding their faces, the clypsydræ were become box and empty jar, and all of the water fading away. Grandmother Xhàtrajhil just held her Granddaughters and let them weep for a time until they had their fill, and she brushed their hair and calmed them down, and when they looked out again the cabin looked like so many other of the domiciles of the Houses of Dust, dark and cold and part of the endless dreariness of death. And she kissed her grandchildren on their brows, and then gesturing to the xhyiênxhi, who by now was also cold and dusty, and the movement of its mud hame was completely without water at all.
– Come along, Children, let’s go back home to Mother – she chanted. – I believe the xhyiênxhi is completely tame now and quite amenable to being ridden back unto the Necropolis. – So spake Grandmother Xhàtrajhil.
Fhermáta looked up, her vision blurry with dust, and Akhlísa sneezed and wiped her tears away, and they saw that Grandfather Khangisqrírles was walking out of the shadow and was setting saddle and rein upon the xhyiênxhi, and the spirit was bristling and clicking all the while and shaking its neck from side to side. Grandfather Khangisqrírles of the Otòrfhexes, now an Ancestor of the Sweqhàngqu since his own kindred had been absorbed by the dominant clan and his Daughter had taken o'er the alligences of the warriors, picked up Grandmother Xhàtrajhil and set her behind the fluent nape of the pteriξ creature, and he set down Fhermáta and Akhlísa one by one, and soon the xhyiênxhi arose and all of the cabin was opening upwards, it was a chrysalis egg breaking apart, and the xhyiênxhi’s wings were buzzing from side to side, it arose fleet and more graceful than it had been before. Fhermáta and Akhlísa turned backwards and saw that the cabin was becoming suns and moons and was growing lost in the dark trees and bramble webs of the Ìlun the Dark Forest of the Worlds praärbara ülfotik. The xhyiênxhi was spinning upwards, caverns were opening unto all sides, and chasms wherein the elders of the spirits were gathering and migrating in their long concourse beneath the starless heavens in the perpetual twilight of the dreamlands of the dead. And far off before them arose twisting metallic trees, and long wavering flame gates, and the glowing pyramids of the necropolis beyond where Queen Khwofheîlya was setting up her court now that she was gathering all of the Ancestors unto herself and preparing a war of rage against the old Emperor of the Land of Story, Kàrijoi, Fhìtsarakh’s Son.
And the pyramid was the only light here within the dreamlands of the Dead. It was white and golden and even from a distance the maidens could see that it was lit up by ten thousand painted lanterns that were hanging from all of the rafters and about all of the crennelations of the towers. The pyramid consisted of a thousand smaller cones of glass which were all stacked upon each other, all of shimmering glass and steel and bones, and dust winds were blowing upon them all. At the head of each of the towers brilliant aofhàtro naphtha flames were flickering from side to side, deep and thick and black was the smoke acrid arising from the towers, and the walls were opening upwards and from their mouths were come puffs of incense wafting upwards and breathing upwards in clouds spilling upwards. The closer that the xhyiênxhi flew unto the towers of the pyramids, the more the maidens could smell the incense and the gathering streams of smoke and piety which came wafting from the outerworlds and settled upon the dust of the dead. Some of the towers were opening upwards and flowing upwards in helical swarms were come some of the xhlàrfhai spirits which looked a little like bouncing bubble sacks flickering from side to side and arising higher and higher into the black heavens, and pouring out from the grasp of the winds were come the joxokhtakaîpe spirits that were leaping about and lookd so much like rolling scurrying rocks and bouncing stones flowing outwards and colliding one with another. The xhyiênxhi mud dragon came spinning around the aofhàtro signal flames, the hame of mud was beginning to burn with a slight roseate light as the creature neared, and finally it came upwards unto the highest of the layers of the pyramids where platforms were set up and where the Ancestors were chanting and burning their tremendous fires that were the only light here in the greylands. Warriors and wanderers and soldiers of the Sweqhàngqu came running upwards as the xhyiênxhi landed, and someone took the creature by its reins and soothed it, while others came upwards and helped Grandmother Xhàtrajhil down along with the two maidens.
– We must inform the Matriarch at once that we Bride and the Concubine have been returned unto us – King Èmfha was turning and commanding his lieuterants. Attendents were arising and taking up their strings of xhyemálo braille beads were stringing them together xhyemálòfhwiqal and dashing outwards. Fhermáta and Akhlísa looked around and found that all of the platform was bristling with activity, and that pouring out from the doors were come many of the Stàran Shield Maidens who had lived more then three thousand generations ago, their armor and skirts were metallic, their dress resembled an archaic version of what Ixhúja was wearing, and many of them were wearing rings and patterns who significance had been lost by the time the children had been born.
– I think we’re expected – chanted Akhlísa.
– I know we’re expected – chanted Fhermáta.
– Your Mother is not nearly as scary as you think she is – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil chanted. – She changes from cool to warm, from volcano to springday in the twinkling of the air. I have no idea where she gets that trait, she’s certainly not as enigmatic and khwiîrlrim, as chatoyant as I am. –
From within the halls came a rustling, and messengers were dashing outwards and taking up trumpets that were carven of the bones of those who had defied the Sweqhàngqu, and they were pealing out their songs and lifting up the banners whereon lay emblazoned the sword regalia of the warrior clan. The maidens did not have long to wait. Khwofheîlya came running up through the door and headed right unto the platform where Grandmother Xhàtrajhil and the children stood, and while the soldiers and warriors were busying themselves with bowing down before the Queen of the Dead, Khwofheîlya was ignoring them all and running up and gathering Fhermáta and Akhlísa into her arms and pulling them up and embracing them.
– I was so worried for you twain – Khwofheîlya chanted, her dust tears flowing from her. – King Èmfha and his troops followed the wild xhyiênxhi as it took you away from me. I was sending out my Ghost Army unto the edge of the realm, but the Spirits there are very fierce. But it doesn’t matter any more, as long as you are safe with me I don’t care about anything else. –
– The children were taken to the edge of the Forest – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil chanted. – Grandfather Khangisqrírles heard the clicking the xhyiênxhi and told me where to find them, and he tamed the creature for them. I think the maidens know now in the Undergloom it is dangerous to venture too far away from the dreamlands that the Ancestors have claimed, that the plains and forest are their own wilds. –
– Yes, honored Grandmother – chanted Fhermáta.
– We’ve learned our lesson – chanted Akhlísa. – We’re very obedient. At least I am. I’m the most obedientest of all the Sweqhàngqu. –

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