– Who invited them to my party? – asked Xhnófho. – Don’t we know him from the labyrinth? –
The Duchesses bounced upwards and flames were glaring from their eyestalks. – Begone foul beast! – they cried at the windlord. – Return on whatever errands Kàrijoi has for you. –
Slowly Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho were arising and helping each other up. – I hope the creepies don’t anger the Dragon – Fhèrkifher whispered.
– Yeah, like spitting in its eye – whispered Xhnófho. – Not a wise move. –
– My Brethren and I were returning unto Pàfhajoir Penyitàkhta, the Cloudscapes of Weather and Storm when we tasted the faint smell of Imperial Concubine – Prince Kherènxhuqhe roared. – We cannot ignore her delicious agony and guilt, the sad song of her sorrow. Deliver her up unto us, and we shall leave. Her lord and husband is nearby, perhaps a league away. We would make her watch as we devour him alive, and then she can throw herself into the pyre and with all dignity, all honor die. –
– Puîyos is near – chanted Fhèrkifher.
– We have to signal him – chanted Xhnófho.
– Not even ears his sharp can discern voices in sky and flame and wind. –
– Thousands of vessels, hundreds of thousands of Kèlor and Aûm. –
The twin Duchesses came rolling upwards and lifting up their swords to the Dragons chanted – Depart and fly in despair! The children are right behind us, and shall not touch them! –
– No they’re not – chanted Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
– They’re right behind us, obedient to the end – the Duchesses chanted.
– The children are not behind you, only a burning window flung open! – Prince Kherènxhuqhe sniffed the air. – I think they were climbing down the side of the burning tower. –
– Thou liest, the children remain right … right behind us … loyal to their Aunties … true and commanded … – the Duchesses began to waver and rolled backwards but were afraid to turn their eyestalks backwards.
Fhèrkifher gathered up his fallen sword, and took a moment to smooth down his brunescent mustache and hair just on the slightest of chances that he should be fighting and swashbuckling and valiant and thrasús and be seen by a beautiful young lady. Xhnófho snatched up his fallen knives and swords and whip-brand and began to sneak away, even as Prince Kherènxhuqhe ripped himself out of the floorboarding and began stomping towards the Duchesses and asked – Do you twain want to look behind you? The children are gone! –
– But they wouldn’t run away from us … – Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa whispered. – They love us. –
– They were just trying to save themselves … – Fhèrkifher chanted as he came sliding down the burning spirals and towards the window.
– Yeah, you stupid Qlùfhem galoots! – cried Xhnófho.
– Just take a glance – Prince Kherènxhuqhe chanted. – It never hurts to turn around, if just for a third of a second. Not much to happen in a second, so I’m told. –
With a quick flash of burning whisps and bits of feathers twin qáwel spun around and looked to the burning window and saw that Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were indeed long ago. The Duchesses blinked for a couple of moments. Pereluyàsqa’s eye began to phase and spasm in violet twitches. Lightning was ripping up and down the celia and eyestalk of Khosyaràsqa.
– Why would our children do that to us? – asked the Duchesses. – We loved them, but they chose to leave us. They ran away from home! –
– Yes, they ran away from home! – cried Prince Kherènxhuqhe.
Fhèrkifher was helping Xhnófho up to the windowledge and cried out – We told you the children would run away from home! –
– Yeah, you ugly Qlùfhem galoots! – cried Xhnófho.
The Duchesses spun around and aimed their swords at the pirates and chanted – This is all your fault, your rudeness, your crass impoliteness, your bold ways have infected our precious children! You shall pay with your lives. But first, we expel the Dragon from our sight. –
Prince Kherènxhuqhe chuckled. – I just came here for to torment the Concubine. What can you possibly do to me, a mighty Dragon? Throw me off an already doomed ship? –
– Precisely – the twin Contessas chanted. They reached out and each touched a jewel upon the necklace of the other, and rays of light and orbs of crackling energy began to arise from each of them. Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho looked on and could feel their spleens turn into water, their stomaches and heart-stomaches becrimping, for although neither of them could quite guess what this Aûm machinery may be, it was surely a trap. – The entire Temple Balloon is laced with high-powered fireworks and bombs. In the coming fire glories, you shall know pain, oh Dragon! –
– We’re all going to explode! – Fhèrkifher hissed.
– Find the children go! – cried Xhnófho, and the pirates, helping each other all the while came diving right out of the gaping and already burning window. For a few moments the air was crystallized, a few straggling embers and sherds of stained glass, some shreds of tapestries and wall tumbling about the pirates, it was all frozen and still at least for a moment, and as the pirates began to twist around and fall down through the blazes of the heavens, as Xhnófho was beginning to flip upside down, and a few stray whale-swallowed fishes came spilling out from his sleeves and came flopping downwards and haloes of whale dust came spilling about his brow, as Fhèrkifher tried to flap his arms and remain upright, waves of light and heat twining about him as the window arose high above him, it occurred unto both of the pirates, as they fell and the ten thousands living ships of the Qhíng and Aûm struggled high above them, Dragons rising and falling, lancing light of bombs spreading in all directions, huge orbs of blue and orange flame trickling upwards throughout the fleets, and Dragonroars echoing about them, that they realized just how truly and deeply missed they Puîyus the Child of Nature and Éfhelìnye the Ballerina Artist and Siêthiyal the Conartist and Akhlísa the Goodluck charm, and as the huge wings majestic and silvern and black arose and blotted out even the first waves of the explosions, the pirates thought a little about Puîyus himself, the one whom the Elders would seek to be made Emperor since no other mortal lad was qualified and no one else honorable enough to be worthy of such a task, they thought that Puîyus was not just a child of nature, not just the secret of nature, he was nature itself storm and wind and dragon, and they wished that he would appear somewhere in the winds and end this sky battle high within Khrùmfhurs Qterfhóreso the Northwind.
And so it was that the Pirates were witness to one of the greatest xhmexhrefhíxei bursts eximplosions e'er to affect any of the fleets and armāta and flotillary of any of the nations of the billion, billion worlds. Neither of them quite understood how the Duchesses had contrived it, but as the pirates came falling downwards and the burning towers were retreating and the hight of the billows and turms were arising before their gaze and the massive sampo engines of the breathing sacks opening up above them, they remembered that the Qlùfhem were quite famous for mutually assured qlùfho standoffs, that the Aûm were infamous for destroying their own troops just to give them an advantage later in battle, they were known for sending their children to their doom if it would ensure sucesss in another generation, and so the Pirates knew, as they came whirling downwards through the scalding battlewinds and saw all that was left of the meditation halls beginning to glow with white heat, they knew that the Duchesses would explode their own vessels and themselves and even the children Siêthiyal and Akhlísa if it meant destroying their enemy. The pirates did their best to try swimming in the winds, the heat lashing against them, but all they could do was fall and witness silvern dust arising from the towers, and all at once the sacks and bubbles of the massive Temple Bälun began to crimple and scream. The meditation towers became the glistening memory of stained glass. Suddenly shockwaves began to burst outwards through what were once the bases and walls and gaping ruins of the towers, huge cones of orange and blue light were arising and spreading outwards, and huge clouds of energy were detonating out and devouring all that was left of the meditation halls. All of the remaining thousand towers began to spin about in writhe spectral of light, and dense shadows were crawling up and down the motors and unmaking them at once. The atmosphere was burning around the towers, elements were crackling, as tower after tower vaporized and the waves convecting out from the towers were forming several different opening pixhíqhas hendecagons branching outwards and sucking in the air and converting it into flame. The snow and sleet of the winds were absorbing some of the energy of the explosion, but not enough to prevent what was coming, the towers were like trees blasted apart before the coming typhoon, explosions were crawling up the sides of all of the diases of the ship like spiders crawling up worlds of wabes, waves of heat were eating away crennelation and wheel and wing, and even from their fall and distance the pirates were aware of hundreds of thousands of Aûm screaming out and running for their lives from the storms of fire, and even the Dragons were crying in agony as gardens of explosions were catching them by tale and talon and crawling right into their flesh.
The energy of the explosion was so great the water and rock and air were all becoming dust in the growing waves, the spheres of fire above what had once been the meditation towers were vaporizing all of the nearby skiffs and flying jitneys, huge shockbolts were spiraling outwards and catching random Qhíng warships and hurling them against each other, tall tendrils of flame miles high were shooting upwards and unraveling all of the dædal artistry which had gone into crafting such a glass and hot air balloon, and blinding rays of light qrèni khlája burst upwards and reached unto all of the bone oars and steam engines and ended them at once, and clouds were arising towards the sacks and bubbles and began to squeeze, and the Temple Balloon shifted from side to side in violet shakes that spasmed out entire towns and nations and storeys that had grown up about this ancient complex. The sky bombs which the geminate Duchesses had awakened was igniting the storm and atmosphere of the Northwind, splashes of oxygen and carbon and nitrogen branching upwards and heating everything, so that the winds themselves became rings of light lancing from side to side and ignited a thousand Aûm vessels also tempting to run away from the Duchesses. Shells of light and pressure and heat were expanding from where once the towers had been, and now even most of the Dragons were flying, they were merely being scalded, they could only be hurt by a warrior pure of heart, but even they had no wish to be touched by shocking hot waves spewing out waves upon waves of æther heat. Several of the Dragons came spinning upwards and were returning back unto the Cloudscapes whence they had been summoned, and were turning back to meditating upon their discovering of Princess Éfhelìnye taking unto herself some of the powers that only the cælestial Swakaîxhrenat should have, others were darting outwards and grabbing passing Qhíng vessels and shredding them open and feasting upon the misery within, others were yanking up Aûm and gobbling their memories whole, all the while bast waves were weaving out from the center of the Temple Balloon, and growing coils of light all of which had once been oceans of stained glass were spilling outwards and slashing against the Dragon scales and annoying them just a little.
And so as the temple pwìntha the highscraping towers gigunnûm gökdelens vaporized, and the implosions devoured the motors and lungs of the Temple Balloon, the wavas of light reached up unto the huge billows and were crackling all the while, the massive fhòlti folds and xhnèsoa scaia and ojówi ondegoj, the breathing sacks and lungs and bubbles of the Glass and Hot Air Balloon were lighting upwards and shattering in brilliant arrays, the glassen structure of the billows breaking apart in long magmaic heaps that came tumbling downwards and smashed right through the deck and remaining structures of the vessel, so superheated was the glass become, and the skeletal outlines were glowing incandescent white for a few moments as the sacks became no more. The Temple Balloon shook from side to side, but where the ocean of heat used to burn within the folds now there remained but a massive skriking volcano flamescent roaring anemone wreathes of lava dangling from side to side, and for a moment the explosions were hotter and fiercer than anything that the Dragons would have breathed out. And so the TempleBalloon lurched and shuddered, its mechanism mortally wounded, its powers of lift suspended, and with huge shuddering cries the continental vessel began to twist and strain and began its inelectutable crash out of the heavens.
Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho also found themselves at the other end of a crash, as they came spinning around and around, and all about them cascaded the gentle fall of dust which had once been a thousand storeys of tower and shining machinery and burning pipes, but was now all become fire storm from the weaponry of the wroth Duchesses. The pirates were coughing and wheezing, Xhnófho clasped his tendrils o'er his beak, and Fhèrkifher clamped a finger upon his nostrils aûsa néh2ß, tlhonmey, tskhvin, the dust was falling down almost as snowdrops qiŋaq nascutil sneith, it obscured the explosions volleying high above them, tendrillar splashes of lava twining about and bleeding right into the horrifying skies, but then of a sudden heat and weight and reality pressed back down unto them, and the dust grew all the thicker, and the pirates came spinning around and landed upon one of the lower decks of the ship and only avoided being crushed in their fall because by now the dust fall was so thick that a layer cushion soft spread out beneath them. Natheless, though, they were stunned and had to draw themselves upwards, and Xhnófho spat out some oily black xhmaûng burbling in his neb, and Fhèrkifher shook his head and struck it a few times and heard ringing and explosion within.
– Not one of our greater falls – Xhnófho chanted.
– And to think mine Uncles always thought I’d sustain permament braindamage from all the accidents I’ve survived – Fhèrkifher shook his ringing head. – What does ‘lwa’ mean? I think I’ve forgotten. –
– How many tentacles am I holding up? –
– Fourteen. –
– Close enough, but half. –
– This has not been our day. –
– Not our day by far, my friend. –
The dust was pitterpatting a little, a slight coughing arising and a voice saying – There they are! They must have been thrown out by the explosion! I told you they’d come after us! –
– You told me they’d live long enough to bring you cheese. I hope they brought an extra ship with them. – Siêthiyal came running out upon the dust and Akhlísa was jogging after her.
– Did we bring an extra ship with us? – Xhnófho asked.
– I can’t remember. Who are you? Who am I? My head hurts quite a bit. Lwa. Lwa lwa lwa lwa lwa – Fhèrkifher chanted.
Siêthiyal came skidding downwards and took Xhnófho by his tentacles and looked at his suckers and his beak and saw that he was bleeding in many places, but at least he still had the good sense to keep his swords and knives and whip-brand strapped to his person. His quetzal feathers were oozing with steam and shadow, he was shaking his head a little, his large atamental eyen struggling to focus. Akhlísa came bouncing up to Fhèrkifher and plucked his half-moon spectacles off and clomped them on her nose and giggling all the while and dancing upon the tips of her toes she spun around and chanted – Look at me, I’m bespectacled, I’m a scholar now, and quite a respectable scholar I am, very smart and all. Okay, everyone look at me and ask me a difficult question? –
– Who are you and why are we here? – asked Fhèrkifher.
– Okay, the question was recite xhthoâ, 2 π, ahem ahem, nix nix, achoo, okay now, two pie is equal to lwotlhexhilriqhéthe et cet et cet ør to reverse the digits qthitheqhelrixhitlhélwo … –
– How did you remember that? – asked Siêthiyal.
– I used to hang around Éfhelìnye she was my very bestest friend and never hit me at all unlike others whom I could name but chose not too as big hearted as I am! –
– You can remember strings of digits and yet not my Starday? When we get out of this I’m punishing you. –
Fhèrkifher staggered to his feet and gently removed his half-moon spectacles from Akhlísa and chanted – I must be serious, why are there a couple of children before us and playing with my glasses? And do I know you, my kèlyora companion? –
– Let me just hit your memory a few times – Xhnófho smacked Fhèrkifher at the back of his head with far more force than was strictly needed. – With our adventurous lifestyle, our being sky tossed and thrown from towers, running from lyùjha, candy creditors, with his having to run away from unwanted arranged marriages and elders angry at his winking at the daughters in their tribe, there’s no wonder we’re all not dead by now, our brains just completely smeared on the deck. Let me hit you a few more times. –
– Why is a Qhíng striking me? –
– Just keep saying ‘lwa’ and it will all come back to you? –
– I must protest, this Qhíng bestriketh me! I shall have to inform my Master Thiêfhilos that … I had the feeling that thrice-honored Grandfather Thiêfhilos was looking for me, that I had been running an errand for him … was there a message I was suppos’d to deliver, maybe it was a package, it was rather important, if I remember it right … –
– It’s coming, sometimes it takes a while for the torpedoes to be loaded into the wheels of the cannon of one’s mind – Xhnófho turned and told the children.
– The errand had something to do with the holy Emperor Kàrijoi, Fhìtsarakh’s Son … –
– Unfurl the solar sails, aim towards the constellate stars – Xhnófho chanted. – His up compasses are waking up, the bone oars are beginning to ply through the heavens. –
– Cælestial Kàrijoi was doing something … reaching outwards … wanting something, reaching for something … –
– Houd vast! –
– Xhnófho! Siêthiyal! Karuláta! Lwa! –
– Here we go, better umquhuile than neverly. –
– Grandfather Thiêfhilos sent us to rescue Puîyos and Éfhelìnye! – Fhèrkifher spun around, the long and tall skeletons of the billows miles high and away from them were all breaking apart in meteorific shreds, and the Temple Balloon was beginning to turn and veer unto its side, the motors and billows tumbling about and fading away.
– Akhlísa and I came crawling out the window and were hopping down the flame towers – Siêthiyal chanted. – We made it about a third of the way down before everything started shaking and burning. By now dust began to fall about us, and we just came slipping downwards. I suppose we were lucky to land in this bed of dust down here when we did. –
– Quite lucky – Akhlísa chanted. Several spinning rondures of dust continued to fall about her and her Sister, and the deck of this dais was beginning to turn upon its side, the huge continental glass and hot air balloon turning unto its flank and aching as pressure was thrusting against its portions, and the balloon as its outer wings were burning away and its billows exploding was become a little like an arrow spinning around in the heavens and as it tumbled was twisting about and aiming itself somewhere within the howlent solar winds.
Boom boom boom boom.
Akhlísa turned around. – Uh-oh. –
Doom doom doom doom.
Siêthiyal looked around. – I don’t like ‘uh-oh.’ Nothing good can follow after that. –
Scrape scrape scrape scrape.
– One must always try to remain optimistic, one must – Fhèrkifher chanted as he looked from side to side.
Tap tap tap tap.
– Sometimes I just wish that the Emperor would build a great wall throughout the west, like the thousand mile wall which Khiêro builded before the land of Emfhafhaxáxa where the Suns set, or perhaps the crumbling quarantine in the South to keep the Pariah Heretics out – Xhnófho chanted as he looked from side to side. – The Qhíng can dwell on their side of the wall and the Aûm on the other, and we would all just be the happier. I hope the next life is like that, one world for the Qhíng Ancestors and another for the Aûm, and we can maybe meet every few generations or so and only remember the happy days. –
Qhíng vessels were skriked and veered and waves of incense were rippling off of them as they tried to escape throughout the storms of the Boreal Winds, and the Aûm vessels were all bobbling helpless and terrified as waves of light continued to erupt vulcanic whence-then the meditative towers of the Temple kELas had been, and Dragons were thirling throughout the cloud waves and coughing out their fires in long lasso and coils and tempting for to drag ship and mortal and light higher and higher unto the chaotic energies of Pàfhajoir Penyitàkhta nebulous throughout all the winds. The two maidens and the two pirates turned around and could feel that what the lower diases of the glass and hot air balloon, even as towers fell downwards and became fountains of lava, even as the diases were breaking off of their joints and spilling off into outer space, even as the skin and glass of the vessel was crawlent as if worms and spiders and muscles were struggling beneath the surface, and as wall after wall and bit of wheel and curve and tessellation exploded off of the balloon, the structures that remained were all skeletons of fibers and bejeweled wood and explosions of steam billowing upwards from the stilling heart of the vessel.
And of a sudden the coppewebs and gyres of the platforms broke apart, the dust came whirling around in parting twin cyclones, and drifting upwards came beams of light in perfect twos flowing outwards, blurs of winged wheel and pulsating gears flowing within them. The geminate creatures were living cobweb and breathing out from them came the heartpulse of clockwork, the wihts were graceful and tall and waving out from them were sea ripples of tendrils snakelike, and one glow of light was coquelicot and aurantiaceous in light, the other was jacinth and azure like unto Þe ripples jacinth of ermoâkhal sky-earth Þe sphere of light, like tlhàfhatlhis lake-sea Þe sphere of plenty. One of Þe lights was become Þe form of a Qlufhoîmol an Aleph Female and Þe other a Qlufhaîmel a Beth Female, shadows and pools swaying back and forth through their bodies, the cobweb skeletons of their bodies revealed within them the breathing of light and petal and metal, slight scorched skin, coughing smoke flowing up from the celia, wounds of dragon claw drifting from them, and the twins were tall and beautiful and perfect and lithe in appereance and stature and skill, and from their time together Siêthiyal and Akhlísa had come to know that these women very well and that among both the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu these twain were Þe most beautiful of their kind, for no peer did they have in form and function and understanding and accomplishment among Þe beth Qlùfhaim and aleph Qlùfhoim. Well they knew that this was the Aleph Bride yclepte Pereluyàsqa, Þæt Orange Water Jug, well the maidens knew that the Beth Bride was hight Khosyaràsqa, to wit, Blue Water Jug. Þe one had Þe grace ond beauty of Þe beth, with a slender eyestalk ond a love for life ond bone wæs hir exoskeleton, but Þe other one wæs of Þe lißomneß of an aleph, ond rolled with a glißade gait, ond intelligent were hir celia, ond rewel ivory wæs hir exoskeleton, orange Pereluyàsqa and blue Khosyaràsqa who were Þe bridges unto Þe first Biomage even Khlàmfhors who had shepherded Þe pyùjern machine ghosts, and steam and flame arose from the wounds of their torsos and from their gapes of their stomaches, Pereluyàsqa kept blinking with her twitching eyestalk, and some of the gears about her neck were beginning to cough up oil, and Khosyaràsqa was spinning around and was grasping unto one of her broken tentacles, and clouds of steam were breathing out from her mouth-trunks.
– Those are some well-builded clockwork brides – Siêthiyal whispered to her Sister. – Fire, explosions, dragons, and they just keep tick tick tick ticking. Now that’s the way that I want my toys to be builded. –
– Prince Jhwèsta taught Khlàmfhors very well, I see – Akhlísa whispered back.
Pereluyàsqa continued to glide upwards, and behind her city after city of the Temple Balloon exploded and shifted away, and all of the vessel was turning around and slowly aiming itself. Dragons were arising like so many flittermice screaming all the while, the Dragons had been touched with fire but were curious as to what would happen next, for mortals could become so noddy tonma tonto when they became nervous and angry. Khosyaràsqa was growing spines and swords and impaling spears right out of her body so that she looked like a jèngtexhe echidna, a kalamíndjarrabarrábarra, a gayangurru, and the swords were all burbling with growing steam. Crackles of steam were arising from her eyestalk now, her celia were jamming together, perhaps they were attempting for to rub together and speak, but either from her injuries or her holy rage, not a single intelligible word did she say.
Pereluyàsqa’s spiracles were opening, and waves of lava light were breathing right out from her, and looking unto Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho she chanted – We have unfinished business, oh pirates. But first we have a Dragon to punish. –
– With all due respect, no mortal can punish a Dragon – Fhèrkifher chanted. – Only the Emperor has power to … –
– SILENCE! – Pereluyàsqa roared. Khosyaràsqa drew upwards, her knife tentacles wrapped about Fhèrkifher’s neck and pricked him, a slight tremor of blood drippling downwards. Xhnófho bound upwards, but Pereluyàsqa spun around and suddenly a wave of blinding light erupted from her torso. Xhnófho spun around, dazed for a moment, and tumbling downwards discovered that some of the bones of his tentacle had been shattered in a moment.
– You pirates must learn discipline – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – This will be a good lesson for the children also. Obedience, loyalty, silence are the most important of virtues. Come to my tentacles, my children. We shall humiliate the Dragon before you help me execute and slay these pirates. –
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were shaking in fear and were clinging tight unto each other and made not a step froward. Pereluyàsqa did not bother turning her eyestalk backwards, while a brilliant black and silver shadow began to arise before her. Veering upwards in the midst of the ten thousands scattered living ships and skiffs and glass hot air balloons came Prince Kherènxhuqhe, his head turning from side to side, his nostrils flairing and sniffing for the Imperial Concubine. Pereluyàsqa’s body was shaking, her skin was all become iridescent ystained glass grinding and breaking apart and sometimes rose patterns and othertimes twirls and strangling images of Aûm history and Khlàmfhors appeared within it and fell back into the glass rage.
– I’m too afraid to move – Akhlísa whispered.
– We don’t need to be afraid any longer – Siêthiyal whispered. – We’re coming to the end, I just know it. –
Khosyaràsqa struck Fhèrkifher unconscious. Suddenly Akhlísa and Siêthiyal felt themselves hurled up into the air, both of them were wrapped up within Khosyaràsqa burning cold tentacles, steam breathing out upon them, and the edges of all of the tentacles were spinning knives reaching outwards and brushing against the wrists and necks and faces of the maidens, and Khosyaràsqa began to squeeze the maidens until they felt the air being drawn out from their lungs.
– Disobey again, and you shall watch each other die – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – Now, who wants to see how we punish a naughty, naughty dragon? –
– I just want to go home! – Akhlísa whimpered. – Puey! Puey can you hear me! Puey! PUEY! –
Siêthiyal did not bother wasting her breath on threats of punishing and hurting and slaying the Duchesses, she tried to wriggle in the sword grasp of Khosyaràsqa, she tried to retain feeling in her arms, she tried to kick against the Duchess, one hand was reaching outwards and trying to grasp her Father’s Sepùrke sword strapped unto her back, but Khosyaràsqa continued to constrict her, and Siêthiyal’s face and hands were pricked by the knives and began to bleed.
– There flows the Chieftain of the Dragons – Pereluyàsqa sighed in a sing-song voice. – Dragons may be strong in body, but we Aûm are strong in will. Are you little ones hungry? Would you like some food? –
– I want to go home! – Akhlísa screamed.
– I have some sweeties – Pereluyàsqa turned her eyestalk to regarded the golden-tressed maiden. – I believe I have some tòtwoji mochi within the folds of my gown. Here, let me get some for you. – Pereluyàsqa drew a tentacle into her pocket and growing up about her tendrils was a silvern trencher and a few hissing orbs of chapßaltteok dduk. – Very sweet, just as you like it. –
– Please let me go home! – Akhlísa whimpered. – If you love me and my Sister at all just let us go! I want my Abbá! Let me go! –
Khosyaràsqa drew up a knife tentacle and let is slide down the side of Akhlísa’s face in warning, and a trickle of blood flew down. Pereluyàsqa continued to sway from side to side and was almost humming to herself as she chanted – We have to punish the Dragons for daring to harm you, anyone who dares to touch our children must suffer horribly at our tentacles. Ah yes, we have emergency controls. Watch this, my little dolls, this will be quite fun. – Before Pereluyàsqa the crumbling coppeweb structure was drawing upwards, fibers weaving from side to side and become a little like unto an altar before her, and large dishes were popping upwards and filling up with water and incense and steam of their own accord, and the steam and incense and water were the muscles and propulsion left unto the doomed vitrious and hot air balloon. – We must punish all those who dare to harm our loved ones – Pereluyàsqa chanted, as she dipped a couple of tentacles into the steam, and at once huge streams of fire arose from the last of the inner scurrying rocks of the vessel, and her celia were chuckling, for the balloon even as it was dying and crashing was still under perfect control.
– If you love something you have to let it go – Akhlísa cried. – That’s what the Prophet used to say, see I’ve stayed awake in Temple from time to time. The Qhíng tried to control my country and occupy us, but they could not control us, Puey drove them away or at least many of them! Honored Kàrijoi tried to imprison his Daughter and forbid her to love, and look what Puey is doing to the Empire! And you can’t control me and Siêthiyal you have to release us if you love us, you just have to let go! –
– Ah, that reminds me – Pereluyàsqa chanted, and she rolled away from the altar and came to Fhèrkifher who was moaning on the cobweb deck and clutching his stomache, and she kicked him a few times in his belly and hoped she broke a few a ribs, and then she turned towards Xhnófho who was rolling from side to side, and drawing a knife from her gown thrust it right into the torso of the warrior and drawing it out fountains of black xhmaûng began pooling and rilling out from him. – One must remember to keep one’s enemies bleeding and humbled before torturing them to death. Do you have a favorite method of torturing your foes? If you think you’re old enough, we’ll let you cut off the skin and even give the killing stroke. –
– Please let me go! – Akhlísa whimpered.
Pereluyàsqa was now singing unto herself alehale and dancing back unto the altar and dipping her tentacles into smoke and incense and steam and water. – You may enjoy your first killing of a Qhíng. You will not be a grown bride until you have killed at least one Qhíng with your own tentacles, how can you show your eyestalk to your husband until you’ve strangled a Qhíng yourself and proven yourself worthy of matrimony? It may be frightening at first, but I shall help you, I’ll hold the criminal down. All you have to do is grasp the knife. Keep it still. Plunge it in. The liquid will come out. Please do not fret, the Qhíng are only plantimals, you’ve seen plantimals die in the mud farm where you were reared, among the half mad barbarians of Jaràqtu. The Qhíng live like plantimals, they act like plantimals, you must kill them with the compassion you would use to sacrifice a plantimal. Feel the xhmaûng dribbling about your tentacles. The Qhíng gasps. His beak opens and shut. His antennæ twitch and beg for mercy. He feels pain, but it is a cleansing and holy pain. Let the blood wash about you. Let his death cleanse you, ah, it is good. The evaporation of his life will nourish you, we are drawn one soul closer to our goal of eradicating all Qhíng from the mortal realms. Only then, brave and bloody and strong and proud, can you turn and see your husband eyestalk to eyestalk, and he will embrace you and love you as you should be. –
The altar was glowing with ripples of blue and orange light, and as Pereluyàsqa drew her tentacles o'er the sides of the dishes and trenchers, and the contents within began to sing out with a musical hew, the steam was bubbling up and hissing, the water was become like mist and bells, and the incense was sounding a little like so many pipe organs, and the beams of light were sussurrating outwards with the sound of so many jhpèqha spirtubarboj singing outwards. And the shuddering and struggling tzahualli and dvergsnät and gossamer of the one mighty metropolitical Temple Bälun were all turning, the burbling of the motors and pipes grinding against each other, the ship roaring out with its last fountains of rocket flare, all of the gedoomed vessel slowly turning and aiming itself right into the midst of the weyr of dragon and boreal storm and until where Prince Kherènxhuqhe was fluttering, his wings flexing outwards in silver and black, his neck turning from side to side, all of his thoughts turned towards the most delicious fear of the Imperial Concubine somewhere beneath them.
– This will be glorious – Pereluyàsqa chanted, her celia coiling about her, and although the Qlùfhem do not smile and do not speak with their mouths, if indeed the Qlùfhem grow riant, surely their celia would turn in a movement like unto this. – This will be quite worthy of laud, or song until the end of time – sighed the elegant Turkhàkaxing. She turned her tentacles around a bowl of water, the bowl was become ash and ice, and flowing up out from it were growing bubbles of steam, and drawing it all closer unto her celia she chanted – This is the voice of Khlàmfhors’ twin flower brides, and we twain have a commandment for every Qlùfhim and Thùlwus within the flotilla we both now command – so Pereluyàsqa was saying, and her voice murmured through the pools of water and was reflected through the rest of the pools upon the altar, and her voice came shimmering through the leagues upon leagues of cobweb still left unto the ydoomed vessel, and in all of the pools and water and steam her voice echoed outwards, and the children just knew that in the ten thousand skiffs and living ships and glass hot air balloons driftende unto all sides of them, Pereluyàsqa still and beautiful voice was reflecting. – This is our commandment you. Every long boat and wherry and skiff and jitney and vimāna and warship and glass and hot air balloon must turn and ram against the Prince Dragon, and every Qlùfhim and every Thùlwus must hold up knife and sword and fanstaff and impaling spear and sword and aim them unto the Dragon. If one does not have a weapon, take a piece of wood or flotsam or the bones of a friend to use, and if one has none of them just prepare oneself to throw oneself at the Dragon. All of us shall ram the Prince at the same time and impale him and punish him for wounding my children. All of us shall join each other in the growing blossoming explosions of the Ancestors of the most honored Aûm! Blessed be Khesáfha and Qlùfhim and Thùlwus and all their children, and the Pyùjern machine ghosts! Glory to Emperor Puîyos and Empress Éfhelìnye and the Concubine Akhlísa. Thus we command you. –
Pereluyàsqa set down the bowl of steam and grabbed a lever and yanked it down, and all of the motors and rockets left unto the Temple Balloon roared with the last of their energy. Gravity rippled and swayed, and within three seconds the remants of web and tower were spinning around, and the last sword spiral of the vessel was aimed right towards Prince Kherènxhuqhe’s heart.
– You can’t do this! – Akhlísa shreaked. – You’re going to kill us all! –
– I can’t believe she even forget to mention me – Siêthiyal chanted. – Oh sure, command everyone to die, mention my Brother, mention what’s her face, mention my Sister, forget me. Do they even remember my name? – Siêthiyal reached out and punched at Khosyaràsqa’s celia, and was rewarded with several slaps across her face.
– Sister! They’re going to vaporize us all! – Akhlísa screamed.
The steam motors roared and the ship began speeding upwards, and all about it, one by one, the ten thousand skiffs and living ships and glass and hot air balloons of the Aûm were all alighting like Khòtaru fireflies wugiyam glistening, and they, smaller and lither and faster, were dashing outwards and all turning in the same direction, unto the Dragon Prince fluttering in the center and sniffing for the concubine all the while. A few of the vessels were exploding already, for they had already been so grievous wounded in the cælestial battle that awakening their motors to their most power was enough to vaporize them, and waves of shocking light unfolded from them and smacked aside the lesser vessels. Some of the larger living ships were opening up their cannon jungles and firing at the Dragon just to wound him all the more, but they were like insects swirling around the Drake, vexatious but inconsequential and ultimately ignored. Some of the larger explorer vessels were turning their towers around and releasig clouds of èmluni satellites, the strange reptent and gnawing probes gnawing and bluring outwards and buzzing around any Dragon that floated in their way. And all of the flotilla of the Aûm was slowly beginning to contract, a tremendous web several thousand leagues long, but all of them turning and aiming right towards the center. And even from their distal vantage point, Siêthiyal and Akhlísa could see that already several of the smaller and fleeter living ships were crashing right against Prince Kherènxhuqhe’s neck and torso and wings and were growing explosions of red and white light.
– Where is that Concubine? – Prince Kherènxhuqhe asked. – I can’t find her anywhere. What are these mortals doing? This tickles! –
The Qhíng vessels were trying to flee away from the Dragon Prince and the rest of his brood but were finding themselves caught up in the suicide ragae of the Aûm, some of the Qhíng were trying to turn their vessels but it was already too late, waves of èmluni probes came splashing right above them and ate right through the solar sails and cut through deck and motor and left the living ships crimpled, although only for a few moments, for some of the Aûm vessels in their rushing rage were losing control and as they aimed towards the Dragon ended up skidding against each other, the smaller ship veering away and crashing against a fleeing Qhíng ship, sometimes two Aûm vimāna just collided and the resultant explosion came trickling outwards and grabbed the solar sails and wings of whatever Qhíng were trying to leave. Some of the Aûm vessels were pouring out miles of smoke signals and racing each other as they dashed towards lordly Kherènxhuqhe, but too many Dragons still remained within the steam storms of the Northwind, and sometimes the Aûm just crashed against the face and jaws and claws of a passing Dragon, or they were rent apart by slapping wings and snarling mawl, they were rising and firing their torpedoes in an effort to make the way clear before them so they could hit the Prince, but everything was unraveling, and the Northwind itself was burning golden and orange and rubicund sanguine.
– RAM THE DRAGON! – Pereluyàsqa commanded, and all the flotilla of the Aûm which she and her Sister had currently been commanding shrunk and were become living implosion. – We shall discipline the Dragon, we shall command it, we shall mold and teach it. Yes, this armada will fail, but the Aûm have many armadas, many fleets, hidden continent living ships, we have colonies spread out throughout the west, we are an hundred billion strong, we all may fall and burn this day but before the end I shall give the order, throughout all of the Aûm Qwíke Fraternity we shall command each and every Aûm to march outwards, to take up weapon, to fly, to soar, every artist and priest, every elder and adult, every Qlùfhim and Thùlwus shall arise and throw himself against Dragon after Dragon after Dragon … and we shall all become perfected as we were meant to be, as we used to be in the gardens of Raven at the Dawn of Time. –
– Puey! Can you hear me! – Akhlísa screamed. – The Duchesses are mad! They were always mad, I’m sure they were mad in Jaràqtu when they offered alliance to our fathers … but now they’re mad mad mad mad mad! Sister! Are you doing anything? –
– Give me a moment! – Siêthiyal cried, and she punched against the celia and the knife tentacles strangling her. – I can barely breath! These tentacles are tighter than your corset! –
– Can you reach the key? –
– No I can’t reach the key, can’t we worry about that later! –
– SISTER! WE EXPLODINGINGINGING! –
All of the web was glowing with a bright red light, the altar itself was hissing away from the extreme heat, the web was barely even in the vague outline of the dais and lower rockets of what had once been a twalánaôthe, the machinery was all exploding ribcages, fires streaking outwards, and Pereluyàsqa was swaying from side to side and humming unto herself, and now they all came dashing upwards into the living explosions. Unto all sides of them were thousands of living ships and balloons rushing upwards, unto all sides of them the screaming living ships and air balloons were breaking apart and burning, all the æther grew hotter and hotter, living ships were become like comets, hot air balloons were exploding spears, and in solar fury the Aûm were crashing one by one against the claws and squamous chest and wings of the Princely Dragon. And Kherènxhuqhe was spinning around and around and beginning to notice that he was being bombarded from all sides by growing mortal fires and a madness that reminded him of the growing winter that gnawed within Emperor Kàrijoi’s heart, and even a Dragon paused to contemplate such a terror.
– Khlís – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Yeah? – Akhlísa whimpered.
– Stay close to me. –
– Okay. –
The altar exploded, but Pereluyàsqa did not even move, their own ship was become a blur of lava and swirling sherds of stained glass wounding outwards and ripping the heavens. Pereluyàsqa was swaying from side to side and singing – Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa how pretty pretty pretty I am fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa! –
– Sis – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Yeah? – Akhlísa whimpered.
– If we don’t … you know … don’t survive, I want you to know that I’m sorry I’ve been so mean to you. –
– I’m sorry you were so mean also. I feel so bruised. – Akhlísa would have rubbed her arms, but Khosyaràsqa was strangling her too tight in her knife tentacles, and Akhlísa could barely even move.
– Can’t you pretend to be sorry for anything you’ve done? – Siêthiyal asked.
– Ah … no. Not really. –
– Even if this is our last moment together before we become Ancestresses? –
– I’m sorry I haven’t gotten to kiss my Puey yet. –
– In the Undergloom, your wraith is mine for all time, I’m pounding you as soon as we cross the grey shores I’ll have you know, you will be stuck with me for all the eternities to come. –
– I wouldn’t have it any other way – Akhlísa sniffled.
The webs were long rivers of steam and light, and ream and nodule and tower and brickbats were blasting apart, and afore the childrem were the golden and red lights blossoming of thousands of living ships not even having the chance to ram themselves against the Dragon Prince, but rather crashing against themselves and the Qhíng and against the growing orb of heat rushing outwards from Kherènxhuqhe and burning up the flowing phlogistons and æther. Several of the larger cadlongry and even a few of the massive glass and hot air balloons however, as they were reducing themselves unto incandescent comet rage were managing to strike the Prince before they exploded, and this was finally beginning to get Kherènxhuqhe’s attention, a warship’s mast ripped right through his arm and in the explosion the Dragon’s black blood came flowing outwards and hissed and wounded an hundred other living ships, and a few glass and hot air balloons came dashing upwards and impaled the Prince through tale and one of his legs, and Kherènxhuqhe roared out and grabbed the edge of the living ships and pulverized them in his claws, but not a single one was yet able to impale the Dragon through the heart. Pereluyàsqa, however, even though all of the mechanism of the ship was burnt off, even though it was all become nothing more than a roaring bomb spinning upwards, was the only surviver aimed right unto the Dragon’s chest, while all the other vessels were sputtering around and coughing out streaks of flame and struggling for to arise, arise, arise. And all that remained of the webs was the singing of the pipe organs, and the growing dirge of the glass and hot air balloon bursting upwards.
A shadow fell upon Khosyaràsqa. She was not about to turn her eyestalk and see what was behind her, but when she felt in her knife tentacles that both Siêthiyal and Akhlísa was squirming far harder than they had before, and that the shadow was darkening, she could not help but turn her eye just a little. One fist and one tentacle punched her right across the eyestalk. Khosyaràsqa began tumbling downwards, and at once Siêthiyal rolled out from the knife grasp and pulled her Sister away. Siêthiyal was not at all concerned that her cheek and hands were cut in many places by the scissor tentacles, but seeing that the Duchess had cut Akhlísa’s face filled her with terrible rage. Beside the fallen Duchesses Xhnófho and Fhèrkifher were heaving, Xhnófho was grasping his broken tentacle, and Fhèrkifher was squeezing his hand shut and saying – That hurt far more than it should have. Khlàmfhors must have made them out of stone and precious iron and lwamàntu zorinta. Hardy, good to last the ages, but hard on the hand and not good for an insane clockwork bride. –
Siêthiyal rubbed her hands upon Akhlísa’s face and chanted – Are you unhurt? –
– I’m okay – chanted Akhlísa.
– I’m going to kill her now. –
– No, Sister, don’t. –
– I’m doing it – chanted Siêthiyal as she drew a knife.
– They don’t know what they’re doing, their husband is dead, they can’t have children of their own, the Emperor has abandoned them … it’s enough to make anyone crazy. –
– The dishonored have no excuse. I’m sending them to the Tlhùsqe, the Chthonic Lords, or to whatever judgement awaits crazy half Tánin things! –
– No, wait – chanted Xhnófho. – It is forbidden to harm the Nobility, they represent the Emperor. –
– My Brother will be Emperor; his law I follow and none others. –
– Then let me kill her – chanted Xhnófho. – If there are any undo consequences, let the punishment fall on me. Fhèrkifher and I will already have to be punished for striking priests, albeit insane ones. –
– You were protecting us – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Perhaps when your Brother Puîyos becomes Emperor the worlds can change, but for now we must all take responsibility for our actions done unto the eyen of the Sun Lord Kàrijoi – Xhnófho aid, and he drew a tentacle about Fhèrkifher and asked – Are you alright? You look bruised. –
– Nothing some sailing and fresh air can’t solve. Plus surgery, major surgery. –
– Perhaps we can find some stútlhu, some nutmeg ale. It’s not just for squirrel-mice any more – chanted Xhnófho, and behind him and Fhèrkifher a blue shadow was arising, and thousands of scissors ewre unfolding from it and aiming right towards the pirates.
– Stop the banter the Duchesses is back! – shreaked Akhlísa..
– Not again – chanted Xhnófho. – Can’t we unwind her clockwork! –
– Lwa, that’s all I have to say! – Fhèrkifher shouted, and suddenly he and Xhnófho were finding themselves struck and beaten and strangled and poked by spinning scissors dashing all around them. Khosyaràsqa was arising, and streams of fire were arising up from her celia, and her eyestalk was turning from side to side and glaring at the Pirates with tremendous waves of heat arisen. Fhèrkifher managed to jab the Duchess a couple of times, and Xhnófho broke off a few of her celia and jabbed his tentacles into her gaping chest, where her ribs were exposed along with breathing wheels, but Khosyaràsqa was not slowing at all, and her tendrils were wrapping about the neck of both pirates and squeezed.
– They’re dying! Sister! They’re dying! – screamed Akhlísa.
– Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa … – sang Pereluyàsqa, and the webs entered the seas of flame which Prince Kherènxhuqhe was outbreathing, and they were now only about a league from the Dragon, the sword tip of their vessel still aimed at the Dragon’s heart. Kherènxhuqhe was skriking and smashing ship after ship and scattering the soldiers before him and ripping out their souls and was not yet noticing the spear about to crash into his heart.
– Where’s Puey! – Akhlísa screamed.
– Considering the hundreds of thousands of participants in this battle, the Dragons and the pod of whales, maybe he’s busy at the moment – Siêthiyal chanted. – But I’m not. See whether you can find a way to escape – she chanted and from her wooden she she drew out a few qàratha, some ipoisoned darts, and remembering the games she used to play with Puîyus behind the barn and not a few sessions of Xhwongeîthe diamond ball she took careful aim. Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho were both turning as blue as Khosyaràsqa as they were being held up high and strangled. Siêthiyal threw one dart and struck the Duchesses in her shoulder, she threw another dart and struck her eyestalk and the edge of her crest and several more darts struck the Duchesses’ thorax and up and down the length of her gown. For a moment Khosyaràsqa stiffened, and her tentacles became like branches, and the pirates were loosened from her grasp and tumbled unto the deck. Akhlísa ran up to them, Xhnófho was moaning, and Fhèrkifher was spitting some blood out and searching for his hat, for he was sitting on it and had crumbled it, and if any fair lady had seen him it would have been quite embarrassing indeed.
– I’ve been looking froward to this for a long time – Siêthiyal chanted as she drew a knife and ran right at Khosyaràsqa. – Nobody is allowed to torment my Sister except for me! –
– Siêthi, don’t! – Akhlísa cried.
– Don’t call me that! How many times do I have to tell you that! Perhaps you’re just getting dumber with age – Siêthiyal struck her knife against Khosyaràsqa’s neck and eyestalk, she tried to dig the knife into the spinning celia and the rolling wheels, but she was rewarded only with splashed of oil right in her face. The poison’d qàratha darts were certainly sticking into Khosyaràsqa and interfering with her wheels and spines, perhaps the fugu poison was not actually harming her but at least slowing her down. Siêthiyal stabbed Khosyaràsqa several times and tried to find a vital spot. – That’s for punishing my Sister! This is for sending her to bed without her supper! That is for tightening her corset for no reason! This is for having creepy soldiers follow us around and then freeze to death for no reason! That is for killing your own people for no reason! This is for throwing the innocent Traîkhiim into the fire! That is for having an unpredictable and horrible Mad Scientist in your hold doing horriblie and unpredictable things which I can’t even guess! This is for having food that smiled and talked back to me! That is for making me read horrible fairytales concerning bad parents, violence to children, and ritual cannabalism! This is for the disgusting drooling dragging drudging metamørphic mutants! That is for firing on the ship where my Brother and his idiot sweetheart were left! This is for keeping our bedroom too cold at night! That is for firing on the Qhíng and inviting retreating Dragons to attack us! Have I left anything out? I just plain don’t like you at all! In fact, I hate you! Die die die die die! – Siêthiyal continued to stab her knife into the thorax and celia of Khosyaràsqa who was frozen and just glaring back at her, but the Duchesses did not act at all as if she could feel pain or were even hurt in the least. – Does this abomination even have vital places? – Siêthiyal cried.
– I don’t know … – Fhèrkifher chanted as he staggered and helped Xhnófho upwards. – Perhaps a Fhèlya clockmaker would know. Or a Mad Scientist. You children keep mentioning a Mad Scientist, and that frightens me. –
– There is one way to end the Aûm menace – Xhnófho chanted as he drew himself upwards.
Siêthiyal set her knife back into its sheath and drew out her Father’s sword and tried to stab through Khosyaràsqa’s body, she wanted to do the honorable thing and stab the creature before it’s gaze, but she was not even sure whether the Duchesses was seeing her. She struck at it several times with her sword and had trouble sinking into the jasper and jewel plates, and Khosyaràsqa’s carcanet just continued to breath out waves of steam. In growing frustration, Siêthiyal clenched her jaw and aimed the Sepùrke sword unto the bare ribs and spinning clockwork and flesh at the Duchesses’ side, and finally was rewarded with stabbing her sword right through Khosyaràsqa’s body and impaling her, and slight coughs of oil and blood ran down the length of the sword. Khosyaràsqa’s celia began clicking and clenching again, and the eyestalk began to move and light came into the air, and Siêthiyal smirked and hoped that it would die, the Qlùfhem lack lungs and do not breathe their last, but surely it would break apart and sputter and do something. Khosyaràsqa looked down upon the sword through her body and shaking her eyestalk made a sound like tsk tsk tsk.
– Don’t forget your toy – Khosyaràsqa chanted, and she drew out the sword and set it back into Siêthiyal’s grasp. The wheels and gears at her exposed side ground and sputtered, but they were still functioning and beginning to mend themselves.
– It’s not a toy … – Siêthiyal chanted, as she flicked blood and oil off if it. She stabbed Khosyaràsqa again, but the Duchess just sighed and yanked the sword out and chanted – Please, my Daughter, I know you like pretending to be a soldier, but you must be more careful where you leave your toys, you could hurt yourself. Anyway, if you have to fight, only fight to protect your Sister. – Khosyaràsqa cleaned the sword with her scissor tentacles and thrust it back upon the sheath on Siêthiyal’s back and chanted – I think someone is in need for a bath, look at how filfthy you are. Now I don’t want any argueing or I’m sending you to bed without any supper. –
Siêthiyal blinked a few times and could think of nothing to say. Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho turned to each other and nodded. Xhnófho pointed upwards. The cobweb was just a few moments away from crashing against the Dragon. Fhèrkifher turned.
– Now be a good Daughter and get ready for bathtime – chanted Khosyaràsqa. – We’ll make you all clean and pretty, tomorrow we’ll dress you up in bows. Perhaps we your Mothers shall find a beautiful and docile sweetheart for you, one who will obey you and do your will. –
Siêthiyal shuddered. – You are not my Mothers. –
Pereluyàsqa turned away from the Dragon against which they were about to crash any moment now. – But we are the only Mothers that you have. We shall take care of you. Who else will listen to you, play games with you, nurture you? Your birth Father has ritually abandoned you, your birth Mother left you when you were a babe, your grandparents are all dead, even your Auntie Qtìmine is back in Jaràqtu and you have not heard from her in some time. –
– We are Mother unto you now – chanted Khosyaràsqa. – Without us you shall be alone, for ever. –
– For ever – chanted Pereluyàsqa.
– Abandoned. –
– Forsaken. –
– Clanless. –
– Alone. –
Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa turned to Akhlísa and chanted – Do you wish to be alone? –
– No! – cried Akhlísa.
– Will Puîyos come for you? –
– I don’t know! –
Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa opened up their tentacles and chanted – Then come to us and love us for ever. –
– I love you! – Akhlísa cried and she ran up unto the Duchesses. Akhlísa was weeping and she flung herself into their tentacles and set her head upon their thoraces and breathed in their celia and chanted – I love you love you love you love you! Never leave me please! –
– Our Daughter – chanted the Duchesses. – Please call us Mother. –
– Yes, Mother. –
– Honored Mother. –
– Yes, honored Mother. –
Siêthiyal was shaking. She drew a knife, she wondered whether she could stab out at least the eye of one of these Duchesses before being killed by their scissor tentacles. Her heart was racing. She held up the knife and tried to prepare herself to slay and die.
– Don’t you want us to love you also? – the twin Duchesses asked, and behind them Prince Kherènxhuqhe was looming and crushing several transports in his wings, and was just a few moments away.
– Yes … a little … – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Give us an hug – chanted the Duchesses.
Siêthiyal set down her knife. – I can’t. –
– Don’t you love us? –
– No … well … I don’t think so … –
– Do you love your Sister? –
– Of course! –
– Don’t you want to be a part of her family? –
– Yes. –
– Don’t you want to be part of our family? –
– Yes … –
– We love you, Siêthiyal. We love you with all our heart and mind and soul. Do you love us, Siêthiyal? –
Siêthiyal sheathed her knife. – Yes. –
– We love you, Karuláta. –
– I love me too – Akhlísa chanted.
– We love you, Siêthiyal – chanted the Duchesses.
– I love her too – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Then hold us. Love us. For ever. –
– Yes! – Siêthiyal ran upwards and wrapped her arms around Akhlísa and the Duchesses and found herself crying and saying – I love you love you love you all! –
– We love you more than any other parent, more than Grandfather Thiêfhilos, more than Puîyos e'er can – the Duchesses were saying. – We shall make you Queen, oh Siêthiyal, all the plunder, the treasures, the toys of the worlds shall be yours, the finest jewels and castles, we shall even create a spouse for you, perfect and unchanging and suitable. We love you, oh daughter. –
– I love you too, honored Mother! – Siêthiyal wept.
– It is good – Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa cooed and brushed their childrens’ hair and held them tight and embraced them, and the webs became blinding flames, and they were just a few seconds away from crashing against the Dragon and all vaporizing at once. But it no longer mattered. Nothing mattered, save that Siêthiyal and Akhlísa would remain together and nothing could separate them ever ever ever. And Siêthiyal wept tears of pure joy and wanted to remain in the loving embraced for the rest of her life.