– That would be a better deal for them – Akhlísa chanted.
– I like my idea better – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Lwa! Lwa! Lwa! Lwa! – came the cry from just outside the window, and the whale scraped against the stained glass.
– When this is o'er, I’m going to need a tall, tall glass of pink lemonade! – thundered a deep and jovial voice. – In fact, I’ll have two drinks! –
– Is anyone going to figure out what’s going on out there? – Siêthiyal asked, as a Dragon pinned her down and set his talons right unto her.
– Any moment now would be fine – muttered Akhlísa. – Always with an entrance. –
– Go ahead and eat me first – chanted Siêthiyal. – After all the priest, a little strawberry snack. –
– No no no eat me first – chanted Akhlísa.
– You couldn’t bare to see my dying? –
– I just think I’ll taste sweeter, all honey glazed and cute! –
– Just eat us both at the same time. –
– Anything to keep you quiet – the Dragons chanted.
– LWA! – cried the stained glass windows. The Dragons, despite themselves looked up to the glass, and Siêthiyal and Akhlísa turned and strained their heads, and the dying priests pulled up their eyestalks and the Duchesses crumbled upon the ground looked upwards, and the other Dragons worming into the halls and ripping them apart looked up one by one by one. The pod of whales were all smacking against the stained glass, and one whale in particular, the largest and oldest of them all fluttered just behind the roseate image of Khlàmfhors, and blurred and distorbed the whale appeared as it scraped and coughed and sneezed something right towards the stained glass with a loud and deafening fnese.
– Not the stained glass … – the Duchesses both muttered.
The stained glass shimmered for a moment before it began to crumble and be smashed in brilliant tiles of red and blue and gold, memories of history and Khlàmfhors and migrations and war flowing downwards as a couple of figures came rolling right through the glass, sherd waves raining down right upon the Dragons and the priests, a couple of figures smashing downwards and rolling out right before the sphere-legs of the Duchesses, two pirates spinning around in perfect acrobatics and landing upon bended knee and tentacle and swooping off their hats, orbits of iridescent glass spinning right off of them in a manner most altogether jaunty.
– You! – hissed Pereluyàsqa.
– You! – intoned Khosyaràsqa.
– You! – cried the dying Priests.
– You! – cried the injured Scribes.
– You! – cried the bleeding Acolytes.
– You! – belloed the hungry Dragons.
– About time! – shouted Siêthiyal. – Where have you been? –
– Who is it? – asked Akhlísa. – I can’t see, I can’t help it that I’m too small to see o'er the edge of the talon who is it is it the Emperor is the Emperor visiting us, no maybe it’s the Prophet he’s come back just like he chanted he would but he already came back maybe he came back twice I know I think it’s Khiêro our very first Ancestor is it? –
– Who do you think they could be? – Siêthiyal cried.
– I don’t know. Puey? –
– No. Guess again. Two of them? –
– Um … Puey and the Princess? –
– Two Pirates? –
– Puey and a Pirate? –
– It’s not Puey! –
– Then who? –
Akhlísa wriggled in the talons that held her and peaking up a little, for the Dragon holding her down was twining his head in curiosity, Akhlísa began to giggle and cried out – Oh! It’s you! –
– You? – asked Siêthiyal.
– You? – asked the Dragons.
– You you you? – asked the acolytes and scribes and priests.
– You! You! – screamd the twin Duchesses.
– Ur … lwa? – asked Fhèrkifher as he shook some rainbow glass from his mustache and from his hat.
– You? – asked Xhnófho. One antenna flipped off some glass. – Were we expecting someone else? –
Fhèrkifher looked around and whistled at the burning meditation hall and chanted – This looks terribly familiar. Have I been in here before … oh wait. I remember. Love what you’ve done with the … did we just? Is that the same window? Really? Oh my. –
– They’re not happy to see us – chanted Xhnófho. – You chanted making an entrance was always important. –
– I didn’t know we’d … has anyone seen the new Emperor and Empress by the way? –
– We’re in trouble you always get me in trouble … –
– Could we fight some other time? –
– I’m just glad Grandfather Thiêfhilos isn’t here to see this … –
The whale that had sneezed out the pirates poked its huge head through the shattered stained glass window, and several more whales began to drift into the gapes of the halls. The burning doors were falling away and leaping within came several more phalanxes of Aûm, these were all warriors, and they were spinning torches and staves and swords around, and spinning their eyestalks around they beheld the Pirates who were the enemies of the Duchesses. The Duchesses pulled themselves up from piles of splintering glass, both of them were bleeding blood and oil but they cared not for their wounds. – Slay the Pirates! – cried the Duchesses. – We want their hearts in a jar. Torture would be a preferable way to kill them. And someone do something about these dragons! –
– You! – cried the warriors as they came flooding downwards and began throwing themselves against Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho.
– What did we do this time? – the Pirates called.
– You! – screamed the priests and scribes and acolytes as they drew themselves upwards and prepared for to fight.
The Dragons were distracted for a moment from holding down their captives, and Siêthiyal rolled up and grabbed Akhlísa by the collar and began to run, and as the Dragons arose to give chase, Siêthiyal called back – We’ll negotiate later! Right now, there’s mayhem aplenty! –
– You! – the Dragons cried after Siêthiyal.
– You? – asked Akhlísa.
– Why does everyone keep saying that? – the Dragons asked.
– You! –Pereluyàsqa pointed to Fhèrkifher.
– It must be a mortal response – one Dragon muttered.
– You! – Khosyaràsqa pointed to Xhnófho.
– Let’s run! – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Bye! Love! Kiss! Gone! – cried Akhlísa. Siêthiyal snatched her by the hand and they began to run through the burning halls. – We you really going to trade me for triplets? –
– It depends on how pretty they were. –
– Ah. You! –
Wall after wall was exploding, as long claws smashed through the stained glass windows, the rafters were crumbling downwards as if they were trees caught up in summer storms, and a few whales drove themselves through the sherd gapes of the walls, and the falling chandilleers were alighting the carpet sward and spreading long tongery of flames. Siêthiyal took her Sister by the hand and came running and did not look back as several more Dragons ripped apart the columns that forested the golden meditation halls, and the priests and scribes and acolytes were running in the opposite direction towards the Dragons in an effort to protect the Duchesses and save the maidens.
– Weren’t you the one who tried to sell Fhermáta into concubinage? – Siêthiyal asked. – You’re a fine one to talk, I just try to chat with some Dragons, play a bit of verbal chess with them, and you have to make such a fuss. –
– I wasn’t really going to sell Fhermáta – Akhlísa chanted. – How could I? Puey could have I suppose … well, he wasn’t old enough. But this is completely different! –
– How so? And keep up! –
– We would have sold Fhermáta to the priests and they would have found her a nice Noble house wherein to serve, she would have been very comfortable as the lesser wife of some King or Duke. But you were talking to Dragons! –
– And? –
– They would have eaten me! –
– I was only thinking of Puey. How selfish you are to think of yourself more than of him. I wonder … perhaps I can get some land out of you. If I could trade you for a few maidens and a nice fortress with a garden, a long walk around path. I’m sure the Dragons can point me to some real estate which has been so recently unpeopled … –
– You think you’re clever and funny but you’re not! –
– Do we still have the scroll of the writ of the khmàrke quantum insurance which the Ptètqiikh are providing for your dear lord husband, the selfsame insurance of which you are so proud, the very same insurance which claims that your precious golden hair is worth more than the ùngan collumac and the tòtwi, the tithe, the religious tax, more than all of the stèki and khnòkhijhi and tlhìtlhepo taxes of favors than entire dimensions? If your hair alone is worth so much … I can make a fortune from selling you … think of all the toys I can get from your miserable little self, and how better benefited Puey will be with having Concubines actually useful to him. –
– Do you hear laughter? Is anyone still laughing? Oh listen to this. Hah. Hah. Hah. You are not funny. You’ve never known how to tell a joy nor when to stop. I hope you have a Daughter as mean and manipulative as you, she’ll have bright red hair and she’ll look all cute and innocent, but behind your back she’ll probably be running some vast crime syndicate and bossing pirates around … –
– And I hope you have a Daughter as completely vacuus as you, with a single thought in her dead, stupider than a shelve crammed with boxes of the stupidest scurrying rocks that have e'er rolled down the stupid fields before the stupid trees in the land of you! I mean, does anything at all happen within those dull simpering eyen of yours, even a glimmer of reason, of insite, of originality? –
– You’re hopeless! –
– You’re hopeless! –
– Lwaaaa! –
– I need a drink! –
Several columns came crashing downwards as the singing whales found themselves trapped within the burning towers of the meditative halls, and slipping down from the debris of jasper and crystal and jade and shattered stained glass came rolling down Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho the pirates extra ordinaire, they were almost bounding right off of each other as they slipped off of the backs of some of the whales, and rushing out towards them came the reverand redrelsan and sylvan priests, and right behind them were blossoming huge orbs of orange and red flame breathed out from the nostrils of very hungry dragons who could smell the scent of the Women of the Sun and knew that they had to be somewhere close. Fhèrkifher half spun half crashed half rolled off the side of the whale, and managed to perform a sommersault and doff his hat and land right into the upper tentacles of Xhnófho as he spun around in a controlled crash away from the billowing whales, and both of the pirates spun around and presented themselves before the maidens in perfect although slightly singed poise.
– How do we look? – Fhèrkifher grinned.
Xhnófho beat out a few flames twining about his sleeves. – What’s the point of being a pirate if we can’t have a little fun? Am I still on fire? –
– Just a tiny bit – chanted Akhlísa.
– Third left sleeve – chanted Siêthiyal. – Your left. –
– Sorry. –
Fhèrkifher drew himself up and bowed unto the maidens and chanted – How honored we are once again to be in the service of the Sisters of the Sweqhàngqu! We’re terribly sorrow that we can’t bow and genuflect all the while, but with the battle going on and having just been spat out by a whale and smashed through stained glass right before the stern Duchesses’ sphere-legs … – Fhèrkifher drew himself closer to the maidens and wriggling his eyebrows chanted – Say, Xhnófho and I have been out of your story for quite some time, so could you answer just one teensy little question for me? –
– Here it goes – Xhnófho muttered, and he winked to Akhlísa.
– So this is still an all-Aûm fleet, isn’t it? All Qlùfhem, all Thùlwu, perhaps a few Traîkhiim slaves … –
– Ugly Qlùfhem? Uuugly Thùlwu? Uuuuuuugly Duchesses? – asked Xhnófho. – Redundant as this may sound? –
– Yes, we’re all happy Aûm here – chanted Siêthiyal – with just a couple of alien children tagging along. –
– So … ah … no … not a single … not a single woman? – asked Fhèrkifher. – No fair Xhámi woman at all? –
– Ah … – Siêthiyal looked to Akhlísa and shrugged and chanted – We haven’t seen a woman of our species for quite some time. –
– I like it this way – Akhlísa chanted. – No one to boss me around and act all matronly and bossy. Except for the Duchesses. –
– No … comely lass, no Merchant’s Daughter wanting to hear stories of gallent adventures upon the cloud seas? No Artisan’s Sister waiting to be thrilled by victorious daring do and swashbuckling and leaping through stained glass windows into burning meditative halls? – Fhèrkifher sighed.
– No women – chanted Siêthiyal.
– But … when we get to Jaràqtu Siêthiyal and shall sing your praises to the unmarried ladies if you want us to – Akhlísa chanted.
– Wrong caste – Xhnófho chuckled. – Oh how like you Færie to partition your castes into these different nations and dreamlands! We Qhíng all keep our seven castes crammed altogether all the time. True we’re always fighting, but we don’t run out of one caste … but poor Fhèrke, poor, poor Fhèrke here … –
– Unfortunately most of the women in Jaràqtu are of the warrior caste – Fhèrkifher muttered through clenched teeth. – And I cannot boast unto them and tell them my stories of daring do. Surely there are some of the Mercantile Classes who sully their hands and the Artisans Classes who swink with their hands … and their pretty daughters? –
– We have a few – Siêthiyal chanted. – I’m not sure what’s happened to them in the War. –
– Who’s idea was it for there to be this glorious revolution, and there are no pretty women to see our gallantry! – Fhèrkifher sighed. – Who’s in charge of this? –
– Grandfather Pátifhar and Abbá Íngìkhmar – chanted Siêthiyal. – An old priest and an old knight. –
– What about my cousin Eirènwa? – asked Akhlísa. – Oh wait, I forgot. She told me she doesn’t like you anymore. She chanted you were a wastrel and hardly as good a pirate as Puey is. Sorry. –
– You don’t have to say everything that comes into your head – Siêthiyal told her Sister.
– Sorry. Sorry. –
– Um … were you two just swallowed by a whale and coughed out just a moment before? –
– Funny story that – Fhèrkifher chanted.
– Long story … ur … we don’t have the time to tell it! – Xhnófho shouted. – We’re not running fast enough for this! Okay Íngìkhmar’s children, everyone to me now! – And at that Xhnófho came bounding upwards and a couple of his tentacles came whipping outwards and caught up Siêthiyal about her waist and Akhlísa by her ankles and drew the maidens close unto himself, and spilling out from his bauldric came a couple of swords which danced upon the very tips of his tentacles and were jabbing and deflecting large reptilian claws reaching out untowards them. Fhèrkifher came dashing out before Xhnófho and slid down the already burning carpets and prayer rugs as the columns began to tumble one by one by one, and behind them came singing the vast and sonorous whales, and they were knocking down some of the pillars with their jaws and the swaying of their long and mighty tails, and rushing beneath the whales came running the screaming priests and the waves of flame as the Dragons were gnashing against the Whales and smashing down the sides of the walls and following the center of the children and priests flooding out towards them.
– Escape vessel? Escape route? Is there any escape anything? – Fhèrkifher shouted. He came running up some of the newel ramps and looking around found a place where the halls reached out unto a private balconey and some dangling webs revealed where once a few gyroscopes had rested.
– I have no idea! – Xhnófho shouted. – This is not simple and organized and seamless Qhíng architecture, where everything has place and function! Qlùfhem are people who use wrenches to comb their eyestalks and forks for major surgery, don’t ask me how this ship is supposed to work! –
– Who designs Temple Balloon with emergency transport, I ask you! – Fhèrkifher shouted.
– The Duchesses might have sent away all their living ships to fight the Dragons, I don’t know! – Xhnófho shouted back.
– I was looking for a way to escape but couldn’t find any! – Siêthiyal shouted.
– Why is everyone shouting? – asked Akhlísa. – Oh. The noise. WHY IS EVERYONE SHOUTING! –
– I don’t know, maybe the whales will swallow us again – Fhèrkifher chanted. – We could ask them nicely in some sing-song … oh no! Bad idea! –
– Why? Oh my! – Xhnófho came leaping upwards and held the children close to himself as he came leaping o'er steps three and five at a time to keep them away from the flying whales. Siêthiyal and Akhlísa wriggled in his grasp and looking around saw that the whales were struggling to escape from the growing tsunamis of flame which the Dragons were breathing out, a few of the smaller and slower whales were already screaming as their tails were being eaten away by the Dragons even as they were fluttering, and the whales felt the agony of the fires dipping into their skins and devouring their sinews and thews from the inside out. Flapping fins and shuffling rips continued to float, the slower whales were breathing out their last and still trying to sing out their last songs, their lyófhe threnodies yarahui glumapoëdiξ, and their lungs evaporated and their bodies became dust and the waves of fire consumed even the ripple and movement of the whales. Others of the whales were able to avoid the growing tendrils of fire which the Dragons were outbreathing, but they were crashing one against each other and against the pillars that were holding up the ceiling of the golden prayer halls, a few whales crashed against the pillars, and their skulls were flattened and they died at the instant, other whales collided and one whale was hurled into the waves of flame and vaporized at once, or the two whales grappled together jaw against fin against tail until one shoved the other aside with a tremendous strike of the tail, and other whales were fleeing but burning debris was falling upon them, shooting steam of stained glass and flickering meteorites falling from the flames or bits of falling wall, and so the whales were just gradually being slowed and being drawn back into the growing fires, but more often than not those whales which were succeeding in arising from the flames and escaping the downfall of roof and wall were finding themselves to be the sport of the Dragons, for sometimes a Dragon lashed out with a claw and severed the Whale’s fins right off from it and let it sputter and try to flay with its tail, and the valüt came colliding downwards and crushing the rolling priests, or sometimes a Dragon would turn and snap with its mighty jaws and bit of the tail of a whale and spit out it out towards another whale, or a Dragon would grab a whale as if it were a guppieling and rip off its head, gushing fountains of blood and brime and blubber spewing outwards, and the Dragon hurled it into the flames, or the Dragon would arise and impale the Whale and let it gasp and sing its last, and the Dragons, feeling the blood in the air, and the fear of the virgins trying to escape from them, sometimes rent the Dragons apart and breathed in deeply, and as they reduced the Dragons unto cinders they began to breath in their sensations and memories and thoughts, and although Dragons, being beasts, had only spirit and not soul, it was still a delicious snack unto the cloud-gathering children of Qhalúxha. And the Dragons roared, their appetites for blood kindled, and they dashed outwards and began attacking the Dragons and smashing right through the priests.
– We can’t go behind – peiratical Xhnófho chanted.
– Forwards then, always forwards – Fhèrkifher chanted. The Qamélon pirate of the mercantile Qamòtwo Caste came leaping up some of the winding spirals in the back of the golden halls and was kicking down the doors and peering within, he found one balcony covered in potted vines and plantimals, but the verandā was breaking apart at his approach and in its place remained just webs and bits of metallic structures and burning fibers and no efficacious ship to use at all. He came running back and shoved aside some dilating doors and before him several columns were falling downwards, and behind him Xhnófho came waddling upwards, Siêthiyal and Akhlísa in his tentacles, and they could see the extent of the Aûm flotilla spreading outwards all around them from this high vantage point, thousands of glass and hot air balloons all drifting and burning as the Dragons were swooping among them, and entwined within the armada were the warships and skiffs of the Qhíng, and both forces of the alliance were struggling to remain within the storms of the Northwind and against the Dragons that were turning against them. Fhèrkifher blinked a few times and nowhere upon the ship or the burning decks or any of the crumbling towers could he see a spare ship at all.
– I suppose we could all fire ourselves out of cannons – Fhèrkifher chanted. – It may be a rather uncomfortable way to fly, but it gets there to our goal in the end. Although I must say, I think the sailors are rather busy with the cannons that we have. –
– Visitors – Xhnófho chanted as he spun around, his antennæ betwitching from side to side. Leaping up the sides of the spirals came the priests and scribes and acolytes, those who had not been crushed and devoured by the Dragons, and many of these sylvan sagairtín were wore robes which were flickering and burning a little, a few of them were limping jhkhìme hobbling pfhèsi halting, and they were drawing up their swords and staves against the Pirates and preparing to slay them, and not a single word had they to say, as terse, as laconic as e'er. Xhnófho set the maidens down and bounding upwards spun his swords around.
Fhèrkifher came leaping upwards and bowing unto the jàtlhen soothsayers wijßegghers chanted – Forgive us for our ignorance, but it is not permitted for us to lift up arms against a priest … priests are holy men dedicated to … you can stop advancing on us and set your swords and spears down … the order of Khniikhèrkhmair of old and … I was almost part of the arborescent caste, at least I was supposed to be … it’s quite a funny story … you can go away now … –
– They’re not going away – Xhnófho chanted.
– Does this have anything to do with those only slightly-used chariots that Xhnófho and I were selling in holy Eilasaîyanor because if you were in any way unsatisfied with your purchase … we merchants have a strict code of … –
– This had better not have anything to do with the Syìplet gold. –
– Ixney nixney on the Syìplet oldgey! –
– What’s the Syìplet Gold? – Akhlísa asked. She ran around Siêthiyal and bound about in a manner reminiscent of the leaping and rolling and vaulting and racing of the insouciant Syìplet volk whom most dread and wonderous Kàrijoi had already driven into winter’s extinction, and no laughter-loving racers were left in the Land tikhíkhixhaôrlte philommeidês. –
– I don’t know what the Syìplet Gold is, but I have the feeling that I’d like to find out – Siêthiyal chanted as she rubbed her hands together. – And better yet, it would be fun to lay my hands on some and make them into little racing toys, assuming they are not a metaphor or some kind. –
– Everything is metaphor, illusion, story, language – chanted Akhlísa. – Nothing is real. –
– Not even rainbows? –
– They’re real. –
– They’re not backing away – Fhèrkifher told Xhnófho.
– Um … are we allowed to fight them? – Xhnófho asked.
– Crazy Aûm priests? –
– Redundant, all Aûm are crazy. But we’re allowed to fight heretic priests … or at least we used to be back when Khnìntha still had the masculine gender … –
– What do we do what do we do? –
– Protect Íngìkhmar’s children. –
– Yes, and wink at pretty girls if we can find them – Fhèrkifher nodded.
– And take anything not nailed down – Xhnófho quod as his swords were dancing from tentacle to tentacle, but the rolling serpentile tips of his tentacles, from years of practice and habit, were outreaching and grabbing bits of pottery and fiber and broken glass and sifting through it and searching for anything of value to be taken.
The spirals and ramps were breaking apart as several whales, their heads and tails and fins ripped off by screaming dragons, came crashing downwards, and slipping right through the clouds of blood and froth arose the ingeminate Duchesses Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa, waves of blood were dripping down from their celia and down the lengths of their most elegant gowns, and yet despite the bruise of colors and the flicks of skin from whale and priest and a few fallen dragon scales, as the Duchesses glided upwards the blood came washing right off from them, and their gowns remained immaculate sheans of orange and blue. Pereluyàsqa’s eye was twitching a little, and Khosyaràsqa’s celia were twisting about in a spasmatic fashion. Siêthiyal and Akhlísa leaned froward and clasped each other’s hands tight and thought that the Ducheseses must have been wounded in the first moments of the Dracomachy, their complicated confluence of wheel and liquid and flesh upset by the flames. The Duchesses came gliding downwards and the waves of sylvan kolscanz parted and bowed before them. Pereluyàsqa turned and flicked a few bits of stained glass off of her Sister’s shoulders, and Khosyaràsqa took her Sister’s tentacles and shook off a few roseate smears which had once belonged to the historical window, and the Duchesses turned and glared at the Pirates, and amber light crackled out of their eyelids.
Fhèrkifher turned to the children and hissed – Who left creepy queen one and two in charge? Why haven’t they been overthrown yet? –
– I liked the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu better before they had leaders – chanted Xhnófho. – They were always insane, but at least one could count on disorganized insanity. –
– Dear Uncles, you two have missed quite a bit – Siêthiyal chanted. – The Duchesses helped ratify the marriage contract … my Sister and I were given to them … –
– It’s a long story – Akhlísa chanted.
– I hope they’re not still angry about breaking the stained glass window – chanted Fhèrkifher. – Twice. –
– Oh, they’re wroth beyond words – Xhnófho chanted.
– Deliver the hearts of the barbarian Pirates unto us twain now – Pereluyàsqa chanted, and little fires were arising from her celia. – Fighting the Dragons is no longer your task. –
– Do it! – hissed Khosyaràsqa. – Let me squeeze the blood and xhmaûng from their bleeding ventricles. –
– Oh, they’re still angry – chanted Xhnófho.
– Ur … can’t we all have a nice fight after saving the children from the Dragons! – cried Fhèrkifher.
– That’s a good idea – chanted Siêthiyal.
– I want to go home! – cried Akhlísa.
– Another good idea. –
– ATTACK! – screamed the twin Duchesses. And at once the thousand priests came rolling outwards, their staves and impaling spears and fanswords all a blur of motion. Pereluyàsqa reached up and had to help Khosyaràsqa upwards, and together they came descending down the length of the gasping and dying whale liches, even as behind them the Dragons were approaching and tearing down the columns and all of the meditation halls, and in the growing flames Aûm were flinging themselves at the dragons, Qlùfhem warriors and Thùlwu soldiery. And Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho gasped and the wordless priests and scribes and acolytes came leaping upwards and threw themselves against the pirates.
– May I mention that we are not entirely to blaim for smashing the stained glass windows? Either time? – Fhèrkifher cried, but already he was having to defend himself against three Thùlwu jumping up against him each one thirsting for the honor of obeying the Duchesses first.
– We are vassels for Grandfather Thiêfhilos! – cried Xhnófho and he was fighting back and forth down the lengths of the bridge of the spiral, even as acolytes were leaping up the side of the ramp and throwing their impaling spears against him. – None of this is really our idea, do we act clever enough to run errands in a war ourselves? We’re little more than messengers, sacred to the Immortals, ferrying scrolls for the good Regent … –
– Death to the Pirates! – screamed the Duchesses.
– Death to the Pirates! – called all the acolytes and scribes and priests.
Fhèrkifher spun his sword around and before he knew it sliced through one of the tendrils of a Thùlwus. He hesitated for a moment, but suddenly the bridge was shaking as several loud explosions came rocking towards them and were echoing through the hall. He glanced upwards and saw that one of the walls were breaking apart as three large elder Dragons were thrusting themselves within and were pouring out liquid lava in all directions. He looked up and saw that Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were holding onto each other at the top of the ramps and were being completely ignored by the Duchesses and their priests. Several phalanxes of priests were slipping down the sides of the walls with rope and grapple and came leaping out before him and wordless engaged him in battle.
A few Qlùfhem warriors landed right before Xhnófho, they were flexing the muscles of their torsos and tentacles, and slow and derisive revealed that their armor was made up of plates of Qhíng skulls and Qhíng antennæ woven all together in a way which the Qlùfhem found respectful, but which brought anger unto Xhnófho to think of bodies being used in such a fashion. – Have I e'er mentioned how much I really love the Qlùfhem! – Xhnófho growled. – Of all of the nations of the Real People I have to say that the Qlùfhem are my very favorite, and I’m sure the affection is mutally held between our two peoples. – Xhnófho deflected three swords falling against him, and half of his tentacles were parrying while the other half thrust forwards. – Oh, you don’t want to talk to me? – Xhnófho growled. – Ah, I remember the custom of your people, you refuse to talk to creatures you consider dumb beast, just silent plantimal, you are barely even acknowledge your own children let alone the existence of the most prefect Qhóng! – Xhnófho was spinning and while jabbing with his swords saw that the Qlùfhem coming up against him were all spinning staves around and were trying to surround him, for being a Qhíng, with a head and a face, he had a back and could be surrounded at unawares. – Isn’t this how the first Qlùfhem Defeat was waged, when the Qhíng and Qlùfhem met each other for the first time in the rondures of the monopole asteroids, and the Qlùfhem, thinking the Qhíng were plantimals refused to speak unto them and began slaughtering mine Ancestors? The Qlùfhem endured the entire war without saying a single word unto their enemy, and it was only when the Qlùfhem lost the war that they actually spoke a word and noticed that the Qhíng were sapient loquent mortal people! Oh, why do I even waste breathe on you! – Xhnófho came spinning around and the fanstaves were striking him at several different places, he was fighting in three different directions and throwing down any of the Qlùfhem were too slow for him. His only advantage lay in the backed waves of Qlùfhem crowding each other in an attempt to slay him, so he was able to cut and jab and slide and yet the Qlùfhem were tumbling about each other overzealous to find him. But sometimes the numbers were too much and he had to wade through the hacking and grasping priests and jump up unto the railing and slither up unto the next layer of the spiral, and new wave of priest arose and crashed against him as if he were the creagment upon the marge.
Fhèrkifher was doing little better against the priests, he figured as long as he could stay afloat before their coming he had at least a chance of survival. The priests were joined with soldiers and at least the settled his conscious a little, he knew it was death to lift up one’s hand or wing or tendril against a priest, and yet he was not entirely sure whether these wihts were still obeying commandments from Grandfather Pátifhar and the High Priests left alive in the wake of the Emperor’s Winter. The priests and soldiers were all racing around him in great circles and each one was trying to stab and cut and jab him with their spinning swords, and although Fhèrkifher was not able to fight in many directions at once like the Qhíng Qelrèqakhing Warrior Xhnófho could, he was quite swift and nimble and fleet, and was sometimes spinning around upon one foot and parrying with his sword and kicking against the eyestalk of a Qlùfhim, and he would spin around and landing upon his hands kick against some soldiers coming before him, and all the while he remained jumping from side to side never too long upon a single platform, always spinning always arising, until coming to a wall he jumped up and began crawling up the side of the shredding tapestry and swinging around landed upon the platform where Siêthiyal and Akhlísa stood, as all of the halls burnt and the Dragons made their way forwards and all the while smelt nutricious priest and most delicious maiden.
Akhlísa sighed. – I’m reminded of little Jeûr and her adventures.. Xháya keixhnoas xhiêl khrin xhakhneiyòjhwo xhàkhnei. How charmed is the life which thou and I live. –
– Yes, enchanted indeed – Siêthiyal chanted, but she was not remaining still but kept running around the crashing rooms of the spirals and gazed at the crumbling balconeys and tried to find a way to escape, if not by some vessel perhaps a bit of flotsam or usable curtain to use as a solar sail or even a long rope which she and her Sister could claim down and somehow reach unto the next reality, their homerealm Jaràqtu.
Xhnófho came crashing right down before the maidens, and he was wrestling several Qlùfhem at the same time and throwing them aside, but not a moment he had to spare, for every Qlùfhim he tossed off the ramps and back unto his brethren at least one more arose leaping at the edge of his staff and drew knife and sword and tried to cut him. Fhèrkifher was swinging right up some tapestries which were beginning to fray as the Aûm crawled up beneath him, and the tapestries were beginning to sway and burn as the first two licks of dragonflame drew out and scalded the material. Fhèrkifher also came rolling outwards, and just barely escaped the outpour of fire and ash presaging the coming of the dragons, and he crashed down before the maidens also, even as a couple of soldiers landed upon his back and tried to slit his throat. Fhèrkifher spun around and gurgled and kicked against the thorax of one Qlùfhim and thrust his sword through the eyestalk of another and almost crashed upon the ground panting, but not too longer, several more Qlùfhem were arising, almost floating up the stairs, and they were drawing out sacrificial obsidian knives, and each one was glaring right at his chest where thundered his beating heart.
– Question! Question! – cried Akhlísa.
– This is not a good time – Siêthiyal chanted, and she bound upon a window ledge and threw the shutters open and looking out saw that the Dragons were impaling the glass and hot air balloons.
– Just one question? – asked Akhlísa.
– If you must. –
– So, how did our Uncle Pirates end up swallowed by whales and spat through the stained glass window? Maybe they were drinking too much of that pink lemonade and fell of the side of the Duchesses’ balloon and got swallow did and sailed away for a year and a day and were spat out because they were so sour. –
– I have no idea – Siêthiyal chanted. – Perhaps they were cleaning the cannons and both managed to get inside and shoot themselves off by accident and they sailed away for a year and day and landed in the jaws of the orc. –
– Let’s go ask them. –
– Don’t let’s, they’re a might busy. –
– I’m asking. –
– Fine. –
Xhnófho was throwing several Qlùfhem away from him, but those that remained upon him were reaching out and twisting with their mouth-trunks and snapping with their inner mouths and biting against his suckers, and he howled in pain. He beat them away and thrust sword through their guts and was kicking them aside, just as a few Thùlwu came rolling up before him and revealed unto him armor formed all of the severed beaks of the Qhíng they had slain. Akhlísa came slipping down the side of the railing and crawling towards the Qhíng chanted – Would you mind explaining just how you returned to Siêthiyal and me? –
– He’s busy! – Siêthiyal shouted, and she flung open another window and saw naught but waste and fire and no escape.
– Ah … it will have to be the short version – chanted Xhnófho. – Even if we weren’t fighting it would be a short version, with all those years of plundering and sugar and cookies and raw cookie dough, my memory’s not what it once was. –
Fhèrkifher came leaping down from a shredding tapestry, bits of thread and string flowing about him like the vanes of so many windmills, and jumping up the ramps came the Aûm thòtqu the piquenaires and their weapons were all spinning soîrxhla propellers jabbing through the air and approaching him closer and closer. – Great-Uncle Kàrnaka used to say that you never did have a great memory, even as a maggot. –
– Did he? I forget. You’d better tell the tale – Xhnófho chanted.
– Yes, how did you end up whale-swallowed – Siêthiyal chanted, as she ducked, a gentle rainfall of embers falling from the shattering rooftop.
– Ah funny you should mention that – Fhèrkifher turned and grinned to the maidens as he fought against several windmilllike blades swirling at once. He thrust his sword through the tentacle of the nearest pikeman and chanted – Would you be so kind as to remind me when Xhnófhe and I were parted from your fair company? –
– Did you bring me any cheese? – Akhlísa asked.
– My Sister and I saw you at the war rede – Siêthiyal chanted, and she ran forwards and cut through the rain of ash and ember as they came and threatened her Sister. – I was sitting with Father and the Warriors while Kàrula was sitting with the Eunuchs and slaves, it was quite a dull meeting, and you and Uncle Xhnófho had snuck within. The Elders talked talked talked and didn’t decide on much save for the necessity of undergoing the Dragon Dreams khmèntokh as a form of divination. –
– Oh yes, that – chanted Fhèrkifher, and he lopped through several tentacles.
– Are we allowed to talk about it? – Xhnófho asked. – I drank so much pink lemonade. The Swòngturakh Priests of my people told me to stop drinking but I drank and drank and drank and what I dreamt … I don’t think I remember. Do you remember Fhèrke? –
– Just a little – chanted Fhèrkifher, and he darted away and just barely missed being skewed by some overenthusiastic Thùlwu, but Xhnófho yanked them by their sphere-legs and spun them up above his head and threw them down the ramps. Xhnófho came bounding around and was ululating as he was plucking off the Qlùfhem as they were clawing their way down the walls and lifting up staves tipped in claws and engaging him in multidirectional battle, but Fhèrkifher in his fighting felt the shadow of somber reflection as he remembered bits of Grandfather Pátifhar’s childhood and his service to the Crystalline Throne and the memory of the day when Princess Éfhelìnye had been born and brought unto the priests for her birth auguries to be drawn up. – It’s all a blur, really – Fhèrkifher chanted. – Lwa. Lwa. Lwa. –
– The priests poured blood on our faces and made us wear strange masques – Akhlísa chanted. – But after the dreaming, when Siêthiyal and I got up, far too early in the dawntide if you ask me, I wouldn’t have minded sleeping for a few more hours but nobody e'er asks me, you and Uncle Xhnófho were already gone. What happened? –
– Did you find treasure? – Siêthiyal asked. – Sharable treasure, anything you want us to hold for safekeeping for you? –
– Did you find new sweethearts? – asked Akhlísa. – Especially after Eirènwa told you she never wanted to hear from you again, she sent me a letter and told me … that only a real Pirate like Puey would interest her … oh I shouldn’t say anything I do tend to ramble on a bit. –
– I don’t mind – Fhèrkifher chanted, and as the Aûm arose and roared about him he slashed through their torsos and danced from side to side. – It chanced that after the sacred and draconiform dreaming that Grandfather Thiêfhilos, whom you children clepe Grandfather Pátifhar, came unto me and Xhnófho and bade us to find Puîyos and Éfhelìnye and deliver them unto him, for your Grandfather Pátifhar recognizes that Xhnófho and I are his most useful and leal and trustworthy and mighty of servants. –
Xhnófho came spinning around the curved walls and waves of Qlùfhem were rolling out towards him upon their sphere-legs and spinning their staves right against him. Xhnófho fought against a couple of the Qlùfhem but sometimes he just yanked a few up above his head and threw them against his brethren and then arose and wrestled them down and tossed them unto the crumbling spirals and the rest of the soldiery and priesthood and the crashing pods of whales and the gathering heat of Dragons. – And as you twain can clearly see, Fhèrkifher and I have succeeding in finding Emperor Puîyos and Empress Tyekelíli, I mean Éfhelìnye and have delivered them safe unto Grandfather Thiêfhilos, I mean Pátifhar. With one slight hitch … we don’t have Puîyos and Éfhelìnye … nor can we find Grandfather Thiêfhilos … –
– Yes and burning fleet and Dragons those are all just trifles! – Fhèrkifher chanted. – We’re clearly working on it. –
– Sure, I’d hire you two also – Siêthiyal chanted. – At least you can get in and out of a situation without dying … and smuggling intelligence to me can be quite valuable. –
– This will have to be the short version – Xhnófho chanted as he was wrestling several Qlùfhem at the same time. – So Fhèrke and I, did we say we were ordered to find the children, oh no, we volunteered, and Grandfather was quite proud of us and nodded his head in pride and called us worthy to be his children, and I think he’s going to have a parade in our honor for rescueing Puîyos and Éfhelìnye … –
– As soon as we find the children … – chanted Fhèrkifher.
– But we’re working on it! – chimed Xhnófho, and spinning around he yanked several staves away and whirling about himself knocked several soldiers to the ground. – Fhèrke and I had the choise of any vessel of the fleet, and being the elegant, enlightened warrior that I am, I chose a rather experimental Qlùfhem vessel … or maybe it chose us? –
– I think Grandfather Thiêfhilos intended for us to use that particular ship – Fhèrkifher chanted. – That’s just like him, to set clews and traps along the way. He used to monitor my movements in the seminary in the same way. For some reason he never had to spy on the other young lads. Qìtien was a model student, he never was reprimanded. – Fhèrkifher shook his head and grabbed the edge of a staff leaping towards him, and he and a Qlùfhim grappled together. The Qlùfhim reached for a sword, Fhèrkifher struck it in its stomache, and together they came spinning around, and Fhèrkifher added – All I used to do was sneak away and hide firecrackers in temple and visit the pretty young damsels of the Holy City, and my petty theft was hardly even noticeable. The time I traded the incense belltower for a ship was grossly exaggerated by the reverand scribes. –
Xhnófho was struck by a couple of staves, but that did not stop him from turning to the maidens and fighting all the while saying – So Fhèrkifher and I sailed at top speed for quite some time, we dipped in and out of cloud and reality and all of the seas of fractal light, and with cunning and sailor skill and not a little luck we were able to dip in and out of the realities and found that some terrible cælestial battles were being waged just off the edge of Northron Syapàkhya. Later we found that the Archaic Xakhpàlqe were prowling around, although there might have been Dæmonhosts creeping through the heavens and attacking the cadlongs and fleeing war exiles. The Qlùfhem vessel came bouncing around like a pebble upon the waters, and we came flickering unto the realities of Syapàkhya and found a familiar pirate ship in the midst of battle. –
Fhèrkifher’s sword was knocked away, and leaping upwards he kicked and fought his assailant hand to hand. Siêthiyal dove forwards and grabbed the hilt of the sword and tossed it back to the pirate. All her life she had been taught that as a daughter in the aristocratic classes she was forbidden to touch weapons save for in emergencies, and now in the burning halls, with insane Aûm unto all sides of them and the thunderous approach of Dragons, Siêthiyal thought that it was probably an emergency tide. Anyway, when Puîyus her beloved Brother had ritually become one of the Ancestors, he told the Elders that he was granting Siêthiyal all of his rights as Heir of the Sweqhàngqu, including the Khaxhapúrxhriqe sword, for he did not expect to return alive from battle, and so the feel of sword was become a little less alien unto her.
– Thank you – Fhèrkifher chanted and nodded and he cut through several eyestalks at once, and as the Qlùfhem came spinning around blind about him he cut through their thoraces and kicked them away. – Oh it was a ship we found, it was our ship, the Rainbrella Vessel which Xhnófho and I had stolen with all honor and dignity, and that scoundrel Euqliîna and his rooster raptors had nabbed it from us after he got me and Xhnófho hyper on pink lemonade. What a rotten trick. But that’s the past, and Euqliîna will pay indeed! –
– This isn’t the first time Captain Euqliîna has stolen our ship – Xhnófho chanted.
– It isn’t the seventh time either – chanted Fhèrkifher, brutal Qlùfhem throwing themselves against him. – Somehow that Fhlùltekh flickers from world to world, half crazed on blue lotos, and just manages not to get killed at the last moment. How very vexing. Anyway, our ship was under attack by some Archaic force, and at the last moment our experimental vessel comes swooping within, and I leap down upon the rope and snatch up in mine arms … can you guess who you rescued? –
– Me? – asked Akhlísa. – Ow! You hit me! –
– Of course – chanted Siêthiyal. – You caught up Puey and whatsherface, right? –
– Xhnófho and I plucked them right out of the sky! – Fhèrkifher laughed.
– It was mostly Fhèrke’s doing – chanted Xhnófho.
– Oh don’t be modest, you were getting the ship to bounce through time and slip right into the fissures of realities! – Fhèrkifher chanted. – He deserves the credit, all I did was swing on the pendulum. –
– It was glorious. –
– Quite. –
– I drew the ship upwards, Fhèrkifher took out a message for Euqliîna and the Acolyte … –
– His name was Qìtien, that little goody goody. I find people like that so annoying, rules are meant to be warped and squished and bent and tested , what’s the joie de vivre if one cannot be a pirate from time to time? –
– Grandfather Thiêfhilos appeared in shadow and had some mission for the Acolyte and Euqliîna who stole our ship, and quite a nice ship it was, it was even draped in petals when he found it, and Uncle Fhèrkifher and I snatched up the children and came sailing away. The umbrella ship was destroyed and we had to flee from the Dragons. –
– But Puey was safe, ne? – asked Siêthiyal.
– He wasn’t injured or broken or anything? – asked Akhlísa.
– Emperor Puîyos was fine – Fhèrkifher chanted. – And the Princess too. –
– Who cares about her? But Puey, he is well, yes? –
– I care about her – Akhlísa chanted.
– She had a cousin with her, but we didn’t catch the name, at least I didn’t – Fhèrkifher was hoisted in the air as several soldiers tried to toss him aside. He kicked himself upwards and while fighting asked – Did you catch her name? –
– I’m afraid not – chanted Xhnófho. – There was a Traîkhiim slave also, quite docile though, just what one needs from a slave race. Anyway, we only had a brief time with the children. We fled, we made the children rest, we had some doughnuts … I didn’t have any doughnuts though. Did Emperor Puîyos get to eat a doughnut? –
– Don’t forget the puppet show – chanted Fhèrkifher.
– Puppet show? – asked Siêthiyal. – I love puppets. –
– Her fixation on toys knows no end – chanted Akhlísa. – Perhaps we should bring her to one of the Tájo doctors. Isn’t that right, Tét? – Akhlísa reached down and patted Tét the Acceptible a few times.
– Oh yes, the puppet show – chanted Xhnófho. – It was our moment of calm before the coming Dragon storm, for the Dragons came. –
– Emperor Puîyos took charge of the ship. He figured it out, after a fashion, he sent us crashing downwards towards the skerries, and at light speed too while the Dragons were chasing us – Fhèrkifher chanted. – Oh, worthy of song, worthy of epic, it was glorious beyond words. –
– Empress Éfhelìnye was able to divine some of the nonsensical Aûm technobabble, and she transformed the skerries into an huge fractal labyrinth – Xhnófho chanted. – Walls of time and hours were arising, loops and twirls of seasons, it was like being inside a great clock I suppose, a clock of hours and meditation and tides and prayer, and it spread outwards and grew and fashioned of itself salt and ripple and water and wave. It is difficult to describe, I am an humble warrior and not as eloquent as my blood-brother Fhèrkifher here, but it was like entering a world and experiencing new colors and new numbers and new delights. –
– Until the Monsters came. And the Dragons – Fhèrkifher chanted. – Puîyos and Éfhelìnye made their way through the maze and had to fight at the cliffside, and all the while Xhnófho and I were hurled away at out own trajectory, and we came crashing down right upon the snout of the Dragon Chieftain. Then Xhnófho and I had to fight, and it was not quite glorious. –
– I did spit in the Dragon’s eye – Xhnófho chanted.
– That he did. The Dragon didn’t like that for some reason. –
– Given the chance, perhaps that was unwise. –
– Just a little? – Fhèrkifher punched the nearest Qlùfhim in the eye and spun around to deflect a falling sword. – But what’s the fun of being a pirate if one cannot be slightly reckless and unwise and wily from time to time, albeit just a bit, in sophrosyne moderation. One still has to smuggle the sugar, without the sugar there is no caste system, no civilization, no sweetness to life, no Empire at all. Where were we in the story? –
Xhnófho was slowly being drawn backwards as several hordes of Thùlwu were bounding up and around each other and spinning their swords and staves right towards him. Xhnófho had been trained in the Qèlreqakh kladät by none other than Great-Uncle Kàrnaka himself and was greatly acquaint with the various Kèloran techniques of tentacle to tentacle combat and the use of knife and the saltaînthe the dæmonic whip-sword of metal and quicksilver which only the greatest of the Qhíng warriors could e'er utilize and master, but he had not been trained up in the use of offense against the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu at all, for his generation had been reared up in Kàrijoi Great Peace and peace was enforced among all of the nations, and all who threatened that peace were attacked by Kàrijoi’s Holy Rose Knights and met their end by the sword of Assassin-Executioners such as Sieur Íngìkhmar, so Xhnófho the Vrĳbuiter had never had to learn how to fight the Aûm save in a theoretic fashion, yet in his service in the Great War above the blasted crimson sands of Tsànyun and in a life of nefarious and hemilegal activities in his peiratical career, he had found himself from time to time tentacle to tentacle against the Aûm and learnt that they did not think in the way that the Qhíng do, the Aûm had no front or side and so were always spinning around and aware of many directions at once, so that Xhnófho kept having to jump upwards and look behind him lest several more Thùlwu come bounding upwards to stab him through the feathercrest, and then some Qlùfhem came leaping down from the ceiling and tried to attack him at his sphere-ears, and yet the greatest difficulty with fighting the Aûm was that they were altogether single minded in their attack and refused to stop in the battle unless they absolutely had too. Xhnófho well knew the commandments of the Qháma elite, the highest echelons of the Qèlreqakh of his poploe, and he knew that it was forbidden to retreat in the face of adversity, the shame of it being too great, but the Aûm were themselves even more zealous in the way that they hurled their bodies against an enemy and had no care at all for individual lives, they were all spinning snowflakes bursting in the same storm and all working for a single goal. Xhnófho was only able to battle a few of the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu until the bodies began piling up around him and he had to shove them aside and come scrambling up the flanks of the spirals and draw closer nigh unto where the children were standing and searching for egress, but the Aûm were still arising and swirling about him in wave upon wave of fluent tentacle.
– Where were we in the story? – Fhèrkifher asked, and he stumbled, the ramps and stairs breaking apart beneath his feet, as several more giant whales came crashing down through the burning walls and smashed through what had once been the diases and layers of the floor of the golden halls. Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were bounding up upon the windowsills together and could see to their horror that all of the whales had been slain by the Dragons in ways most grievous, many of them had their eyen and faces bit off by the sword fangs of the Rainbow Serpents, some of the whales were twitching about, their skin and blubber flayed right off from them, and one or two of the larger whales came crashing down through the newel steps and continued to flop about even as long reptilian wings burst right out of their bellies, and a long serpentile head drew itself out of the moaning whale’s body and began to devour its sensations from the inside out.
– I hope we’re coming to the happy ending – Akhlísa chanted. – Ah, you were in the fractal maze, amazing yes? –
– Oh yes, that – chanted Fhèrkifher. – Before the experimental ship disintergrated in Master Puîyos’ most daring and inventive manouver, Xhnófho and I managed to draw a small egg from it, and so when Uncle Xhnófho and I managed to find the children in the labyrinth, we were able to distract the Dragons with our daring-do. –
– Swash swish whiff whiff-buckling – chanted Xhnófho. – I’m sure such gallantry would have impressed any young women if any had been present, but alas … alas … alas … no one there but Dragons and Monsters and the Divine Children. –
– Didn’t Wthí Qhòrem slap you in the beak and call you a worthless begger the last time she saw you? – Fhèrkifher asked.
– She meant it in an affectionate way – Xhnófho chanted as he shoved a few Aûm soldiery aside.
– And after you fainted from an overdose of sugar and crashed upon the street and you awoke and found yourself in a field several towns o'er the next morning and off in the distance Jèrikes was riding away in your chariot and telling you never to return, was she being affectionate also? –
– Yes – chanted Xhnófho. – How was I suppose to know that the jewelry I stole from her came from her own family! I can’t keep track of all my plundering and thievery! It’s a wide, wide world out there for nimble tendrils. –
– Yes, I’m sure there’s quite a lot that one can find – Siêthiyal chanted as she gently drew her Sister closer unto herself and slipped her fingers into Akhlísa’s pockets. She began to pull out string and candy and bits of gewgaws that her Sister had collected and wished all the while that Akhlísa would find items of far more value, at least in Siêthiyal’s eyen.
– What’s that? – Akhlísa chanted looking around, and noticed that her Sister was doing something. Siêthiyal wrapped an arm around her Sister’s neck and chanted – Nothing. I just want to hold you and tell you that I love you – Siêthiyal chanted, and she found a couple of loose bead coins in her Sister’s pocket and drew them out in strings.
Fhèrkifher could see what Siêthiyal was doing, and he nodded, and after lopping through the eyestalks of his nearest assailents, he turned and rubbed his hands together in a motion of lifting open a pocket and letting one’s fingers dance within, even as the other hand provided a distraction. – It’s always good to pass on one’s knowledge to the next generation – Fhèrkifher chanted. –Later on I’ll show you have to do it properly. –
Siêthiyal clasped a couple of strings of jewels and examined them with one hand while her other hand continued to stroke her Sister’s nape and shoulders. Siêthiyal could see that this was jewelry which the geminate Duchesses had given unto her Sister and were probably worth something, at least for the luster of them, and she shoved them into her pocket and decided to examine them later.
– So, my little ones, Xhnófho and I distracted the Dragons with one hand, while with the other we took the children and set them in the escape egg – chanted Fhèrkifher, and several Aûm came leaping through the flames of the crashing spirals, and even though their armory and filaments were beginning to burn, the Aûm were still lifting up weapons and hurling themselves right at the pirates. – Xhnófho and I had already set the steering globe to send the children away through Syapàkhya, so all we had to do was get the children within it, and the egg claspt itself shut, its shell growing downwards, and it came whirling upwards into the air and left us. –
– Fhèrke and I distracted the Dragons with puppets – chanted Xhnófho.
– Puppets? – asked Siêthiyal.
– Yes, quite ingenius little toys which Emperor Kàrijoi had crafted so long ago. In mine own meager way I had painted and maintained them as best I could, and as the Dragons were turning around and searching for the children, Xhnófho and I tossed the puppets one to another, and the Dragons thought we were throwing the children. It was quite dark by then, and the fractal labyrinth had some strange qualities unto it, and I think the Dragons were already yblinded with rage and not able to see, or at least a Dragon already sees in a radically different way which we Mortals cannot quite fathom and so they did not perceive the puppets as what they were but perhaps as the memories of what they represented. –
– My puppets were the cutest – chanted Xhnófho. – I had a Qhíng puppet, an Kháfha puppet, and twin puppets for the Duchesses. Fhèrkifher had a Grandfather Thiêfhilos puppet, a most dædal doll in the old priest’s image, and I must say it was rather comical to see the old Dragon Prince darting left and right and trying to snatch the marionette of Grandfather Thiêfhilos as it flew in the air. –
– Do you still have the puppets? – Siêthiyal asked.
– Alas, some of the puppets were torn apart and burnt by the dragons – chanted Fhèrkifher – But I managed to save most of the parts of some of the puppets. Xhnófho has the Grandfather Thiêfhilos marionette, if we get out of this predicament alive, you can have it. It will need some work of course. –
– So we sent the new Emperor and Empress away to safety as best we could – Xhnófho chanted. – I don’t think that the Peróqhi Regent could fault us in the least. And Fhèrkifher and I did out best to distract the Dragons, with some cunning and dashing and jùmpo legerdemain, but alas even we could not occupy the minds of crafty Sky Drakes for so long. –
– They found us, they struck us, they burnt the puppets in the heavens, and the Dragons hurled us down into the sea – chanted Fhèrkifher. – They tried to eat us, but they were just so enraged, and it was the deep midnight, it was the confusion of froth and wave, and Xhnófho and I just fell. –
– We fell for three days and three nights – chanted Xhnófho. – We took turns remaining awake and on guard. We told each other stories and boasted of our peiratical prowess. We slept. –
– Then we fell into the sea, and all was dark and cold, and the seaweed arose for to strangle us. We saw shadows, we felt the outline of orcs and monsters, and the sea swallowed us up. Off in distance we could but barely perceive movement, tails and fins and the denizens of the deep. Great fishes arose and opened their jaws unto us, and the last thing which Xhnófho and I realized was that we were being swallowed by a tremendous whale. When we awoke we were in the belly of the fish, and lit little firelings of the flotsam and warmed our hands and tendrils thereunto and dwelt in the darkness. –
– Now I know how my peaches feel when I gobble them up – Xhnófho shook his head, his quetzal feathers glistening from side to side, even as he was punching one Qlùfhim and wrestling several different Thùlwu down. – Oh the things I saw! Oh the things I saw in the belly of the whale! –
– Mostly just bits of ship and tree and schools of fishes going about on their business none the wiser of where they were – Fhèrkifher chanted. – Lunar luminous was the belly, and vines and seaweeds were growing, it was an entirely different world. In the half light Xhnófho and I even questions our own sanity, perhaps all the outer worlds were really just the inside of the belly of a great fish, after all the Holy Writ speaks of the vault of the Heavens, perhaps the Immortals are nothing but huge whales swallowing up world after world after world … –
– Actually, only Uncle Fhèrkifher questioned his sanity – chanted Xhnófho. – I was quite comfortable smoking my pipes and lighting fires and relaxing deep in the netherworld of the whale. Except for the growing eldritch horror that gnawed at the back of my mind, I was perfectly fine. Have I mentioned the horror? –
– We remained in the darkness, floods of shadowry washing about us, billows and waves swamping us, there was nothing dry within, just the wet horror darkness, floods of belly winds arising about us, and the whale was sunk down deep into the heart of the seas – chanted Fhèrkifher. – We could feel the waight and music of the waters above us, we waded through the kelp, and for three days and three nights heard we nothing but the song of the whales. We tried singing ourselves. I had nothing to eat but the rotten kelp inside the whale, and in our hungry it was yum yum good. –
– I don’t think the whales liked our singing – Xhnófho chanted. – It was quite discordant to the whalesong. It didn’t induce the whale to spit us out though. –
– I played upon my nose fife – Fhèrkifher chanted as she kicked against the torso of a spinning Qlùfhim. – The sound inside the great ribs echoed about us, it was like dwelling inside a vast drum, and all was sigh and rumble. –
– And then we fell asleep – Xhnófho chanted.
– We dreamt – chanted Fhèrkifher.
– We dreamt the same dream – Xhnófho chanted.
– We saw a lady clad all in white, beams of moonlight were flowing from her face, whales of haloes were burgeoning out from her head, and sixfold wings of perfect grace were arising from her shoulders. She was bright and perfect and her eyen were the very sparkle of silver elegance. And in the dream she was dancing her ballet upon the very surface of the storm waters, she was playing the nosefife, and all about her the whales were arising one by one and were altogether charmed by her. The smaller whales were bursting upwards and were sighing and singing music to join with hers, the bulls and does of the herd were leaping up out of the waves and crashing downwards, and the mighty elders were whispering mountains of whale surging up out of the waters, explosions of froth flowing down their bodies, and as they fell again all of the oceans were breaking apart and become part of the whale song. –
– And the White Lady lead us, and the whales obeyed, and we came flying through the heavens … – chanted Xhnófho, and he shoved aside the Qlùfhem that were attacking him, and for the first time since their arrival in the burning spirals, no assailants were coming against the pirates, for all of the goldhalls were exploding, tower after tower falling into the growing conflagration, and the black outline of Dragons was visible in the growing walls of flame.
– And when we awoke we were no longer in the whale but riding upon its head – Fhèrkifher chanted – Yes, we were riding it as a man would ride his saurian stead, and the whales were soaring upwards in the heavens and were singing their glorious songs. Sometimes the whales would nod unto us and wink their eyen larger than my head, and I had the impression that they knew something which we poor mortals could not know. The whales love Puîyos, this I can sense, I think their song was all about him, it was an epithalamion I think, at least as marine plantimals conceive of it. We rode upwards into the burning airs. And the cities collapsed into the waves. And arising before us came the swooping of the Dragons and the fleet of the Duchesses. –
– Does anyone have any food? – Xhnófho asked. – We’ve survived on kelp and brack for days, we didn’t even get to eat any of the doughnuts. –
– It’s a good thing I made you eat when you had the chance – Siêthiyal told Akhlísa.
– I still want cheese – Akhlísa chanted.
– And as we arose before the glistening flotilla of the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu – Xhnófho continued, the Tóxheka bull physeter tursio amphiptera pacifica reared upwards and caught us both back into its jaws, and the whale and its pod came crashing right through the roseate stained glass window and vomited us both right before the Duchesses. –
– And it still wasn’t our fault – Fhèrkifher chanted. – So we’re here now. –
– I could go for a peach and a nice tall drink – Xhnófho chanted.
– We sent the new Emperor and Empress right towards the Northwind but we haven’t seen them, being partially digested and altogether swallow’d for most of this time … I don’t suppose you’ve seen them? –
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa just shook their heads in negation. The glass windows behind them were shattering one by one, and suddenly the wall all about the window sills where they had been walking was ekshredding itself, the masonry falling downwards, the bits of crystal and fiber being lost in the growing stormwinds of the Boreal Qterfhóreso Khrùmfhurs, the glass and painted lanthorns were popping one by one and a steady rain of glass falling upon them all, so that the damsels kept ducking back into the crumbling window sills and tried to avoid the debris. Several more columns were tumbling downwards, as well as several more whales screaming and moaning their laws, long dragon rake marks across their heads and skin and upon whatever head and skin the Dragons had left unto them. The flames were sweeping downwards through the length of the plush carpet and the endless layers of the prayer rugs, they were become seas, and now several of the Dragons were quite visible unto the maidens, Dragons knocking down the walls and the statues of the Ancestors of the Aûm, Dragons swooping down and doing battle with the priests and scribes and acolytes who were trying to slow the advance of the Rainbow Drakes, and Dragons still occupied in fighting against the pods and whales and drinking up their memories of wave and darkness and beauteous whale song. For just a few moments Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho had respite from battle, and they came dashing up the last of the layers of the ramp and slid down before the demoisellen and looked to see whether they were hurt or not.
– I don’t think we’re going to be able to ride whales out of this situation – Fhèrkifher chanted.
– I don’t suppose any of you maidens have grown wings since last time we met? – Xhnófho asked. – Wings would be quite useful at about now. –
– I’m afraid not – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Wait, I have an idea – Akhlísa chanted. – It’s not a good idea, hardly even a great one, in fact I think it may mostly be caused by my hunger and a desire for cheese and possibly pancakes, did any of you make pancakes out of the seaweed in the whale’s belly I wonder how that would taste very salty and ichthyian I would think piscine pancakes fishy crepes one would think. –
– Are you going anywhere with this? – Siêthiyal asked. Part of the vault above them began to ache as long claws were reaching downwards and tearing off the outer sheath of fibers, and a snout was reaching within and sniffing right towards the children.
– Didn’t the Mad Scientist say something about Puey and the Princess being on the Qhíng ship? – asked Akhlísa. – Can’t we signal them, Puey can than swoop down and save us all! –
– The ship the Duchesses just destroyed! – Siêthiyal chanted. – Anyway, we don’t know whether the Mad Scientist was telling the truth. –
– Yeah, you were probably swooning and thinking about mutants rather than planning our escape … –
– Mad Scientist? – asked Fhèrkifher.
– Mutants? – asked Xhnófho.
– Okay, enough with the mutated comments – Siêthiyal chanted. – If you can figure out a way to alert Puey of our position and need for rescue … –
– Um … the whales could tell him … no, they’re all getting eaten. Puey likes baking – Akhlísa chanted. – We could bake him a pie, or a muffin that’s even better, Puey is quite mouffet-fain, and the sweet aroma of it would attract him. Or cheese! Does anyone have any cheese? Ouch! Why do you keep hitting me? Why why why? –
Xhnófho was usually quite finicking with his beautiful quetzal feathers being sullied and scorched by the falling of the embers, but in emergency and the glory of battle, he forced himself not to notice that the outer fringers of his feathers were lighting up and had to be beaten down and left smouldering, he brushed the ashes from his face with his coiling antennæ and, seeing that several Dragons were just about to burst upon them at any moment, he rushed towards the nearest and largest of the burning windows and began widening it with his antennæ and body and cried out – We may be able to throw the children down the ledges unto a slightly less burning ledge. If we can lash some jetsam together, at least we can keep the children floating if the ship disintergrates and losses its heart of gravity. –
Fhèrkifher wiped some sweat from his brow and danced from side to side with his sword. Several columns fell down before his face, and the fires were parting. – We have company. –
– Good company, bad company? –
– Terrible company. –
– Terrible as in we owe them lots of debts of honor and have probably swindled them before company, or terrible as in they want to slay us on the spot without even hearing our almost plausible excuses for why we pillaged from them in the first place. –
– Both. –
– Oh. –
– Duchesses. Both. –
– The Emperor’s insane, all the worlds are at war, and some crazy Qlùfhem are after us, can this day get any worse? –
– At least I may get a slightly damaged marionette out of this – Siêthiyal chanted as she grabbed Akhlísa and drew her backwards towards the burning window. She looked around and saw that in the crumbling oriels some of the nerves and bones and inner machinery of the Temple Balloon were present. All of the diases of the ship were exploding, the hundred thousand Qlùfhem and Thùlwu dashing outwards and doing battle with Dragons unto all sides of them.
– I get to be wed to Puey, that’s a better deal – chanted Akhlísa. – I’m quite important. I’m probably importanter than you are. –
– You get Puey. So who’s going to be in charge the treasures of new Imperium? – Siêthiyal asked. – I wonder whether Puey will need a fhòlkhet, a royal treasurer to keep track of his … his candy and booty and gewgaws, someone skilled with numbers and honest to a fault I would think. –
– You mean Éfhelìnye, she’s both. –
– We’ll keep her occupied with her book and art. –
– Ah. So we’ll give the treasures to Xataríyona? Ouch! –
– Guess again. –
– Eirènwa? You’re hiting me on purpose, aren’t you? –
– Nevermind. –
Out of the parting waves of flame the twin forms were arising, in almost perfect mirrors symmetries one to the other, one of them was all aurantiaceous flames, her tendrils arising out of the living fires, her gown a blinding orange shimmer, her eyestalk was swaying from side to side in almost serpentile fashion, her eye regarded first Fhèrkifher and then Xhnófho, and the slight whisps and feathers of her eyestalk were all hisses of light. Her eye was spasming a little, and the children could hear the slight grind of gear not quite meshing perfectly with other gears, but Pereluyàsqa was not slowing in the least. She lifted up his three mouth-trunks and pouring down from her came waves of gore and bits of skin left from priests and soldiers and fallen whale and dragon scale, and several staves and swords were appearing in her grasp. Beside her some jacinth flames were arising and her twin was come, and she was almost dancing from side to side, cyanotic Khosyaràsqa, but her celia were jamming just a little, and sparkles of oil were popping and fizzing about her shoulders, and a few of the inner workings of her eyestalk were not quite functioning as they should, and she gazed upon the pirates and heat convections were burning with her cyclopean eye, and staves and swords began a whirl about her.
– Do we really have to do this? – Fhèrkifher whispered.
– Even I’m for walking away from the Turkhàkaxeng jukàkhta, the insane Contessas – Xhnófho whispered. – Grandfather Thiêfhilos may forgive us for defending the children from the crazed priests … but these … they are Nobles, they are crafted by Khlàmfhors himself. –
– Wasn’t Khlàmfhors kind unto the Qhíng people, at least in the legends? – Fhèrkifher asked.
– Back then there was harmony in the nations – Xhnófho chanted. – It was quite long ago. –
– Are you tired too? –
– Extremely. –
– This is not going to be good. –
Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa came gliding down unto the edge of the shuddering platforms, and the flames were twisting about their biomechanical bodies and were become a part of them, such that sparkles and levinflickers were dancing about their celia and rolling up and down their eyestals. The Duchesses were saying not a word at all, they did not have to nod or gesture at all, they were of a single mind and that mind was for slaying the impious Xhámi riffraff and the scruffy Qhíng exile and ending their utterly, for after all such wastrels as these would surely tempt to corrupt their perfect little charges Siêthiyal and Akhlísa who were the future of the House of the Sun. Behind the Duchesses arose several Dragons spinning around and wrestling and gnawing against the volant whales, and every few moments Dragon and Whale came crashing through the walls and the pillars and and all of the meditation halls were breaking apart and revealing the sky battle within the Northwind. The Duchesses came to the edge of the spiral, their eyen never blinking, their swords and staves always in motion. Suddenly the twin Duchesses disappeared. Xhnófho came leaping about upon his tentacles, while Fhèrkifher spun around in a fanning motion. The Duchesses flipped through the air. Xhnófho found himself face to eye with Khosyaràsqa, and Fhèrkifher found himself before the grinding celia of Khosyaràsqa. The sword fight began.
Fhèrkifher was not a master swordsfighter at all, although he had received some training from Grandfather Pátifhar and the Kháfha swashbucklers, he had been intended for duties in other circles of the priesthood, perhaps to be a plòwet deacon or a pàrtel sylvan missionary, and he had not finished his studies in either the use of sword or scroll or exêgēsis, but he had served the Emperor and the people of Qamélo in the Great War and had survived eleven years of piracy on the high and fierce seas and knew a few tricks with fan and knife and sword, but he was hard pressed to survive against Khosyaràsqa who was beating against him with all of her tentacles, her swords and staves striking against him and not tiring in the least, and Fhèrkifher could feel that his energy was being drained away from him, that the Duchesses was succeeding in cutting him with many minor bleeding wounds none of which had a hope of healing before her onslaught. Xhnófho’s military training had been far more extensive and he had even become a Taîrelu a tlacatecatecuhtli general among his people, and served among the Qháma and Great-Uncle Xhnófho Kàrnaka himself, and although his tentacles were reaching out in many directions at once, and he was able to drawn upon martian experience and the discipline of the Qèlreqakh, he quickly understood that Pereluyàsqa was one of the finest of the khèprut xhyoinèsuqhi xhroe of the swordsmasters of the waroñion swords that he had e'er been honored to experience. Pereluyàsqa was relentless in her approach, and although Xhnófho could hear that some of her gears were breaking apart, and some of her oil was gumming up the works inside her thorax, she did not stop, and even as she struck and cut him many times, the flames of his tentacles and eyestalk were reaching out untowards him and singeing him.
Khosyaràsqa struck Fhèrkifher across his face, and one of her mouth-trunks tripped him and rolled him aside. He knew better than to remain down, even if for just an heartbeat, and even as he bound upwards again and all of the muscles of his body ached from exhaustion and lack of proper food, Khosyaràsqa was striking the ground around him with her burning fanstaves and sweeping her swords from side to side and almost seemed to become stronger the angrier she grew at the pirate. – I don’t suppose now would be a good time to apologise for breaking your beloved and precious stained glass twice? – Fhèrkifher grinned as she ducked the spinning brands.
– Oh don’t talk to them, that just encourages them –Xhnófho chanted. – Everone knows that one cannot reason with the Qlùfhem or Thùlwu, even if they had brains they’d all be squished their shoulders and choked their tentacles and celia and other organs. No offense, Duchess, of course. I think your twin peoples are just swell. – Xhnófho was finding that even as he was fighting against Pereluyàsqa and deflecting her swords and being thumped by the staves, that her mouthtrunks kept reaching out and were strangling the edge of his tentacles, and he kept having to dart away, lest she start pulverizing all of the bones in his limbs. Pereluyàsqa punched Xhnófho across his beak so hard that his ear-spheres grew dark and his antennæ began to ring in his mind, and as she kicked him aside with sphere-legs far stronger than they had appeared to his gaze, Xhnófho rolled out and chanted – I don’t suppose now would be a good time to apologuise for the last ten thousand generations of animosity between our two great nations? We’re all Siblings in the Emperor’s house, right? What’s a little war every generation or so? –
– Oh don’t talk to them, just don’t – Fhèrkifher chanted, and Khosyaràsqa yanked him into the air and spinning him arisen hurled him across the room and against a shattering wall. A dragon’s leg arose and knocked the wall about, and dizzied Fhèrkifher staged upwards just in time to see that all of Khosyaràsqa’s tentacles were grinding fangs and knives. She jabbed at him. He rolled aside. She caught him up and threw him down the spiral. He tried to arise, but a sharp tentacle lashed against his ankle, and he could feel a knife piercing through one of his limbs. He punched against the glaring eye looming down upon him, and bleeding yanked himself upwards and found that one of his arms had been cut for a moment. Khosyaràsqa bound upwards and was spinning faster and faster all the while, wroth and intense. Fhèrkifher was panicking, and the walls shattered about him, and in the clearing dust he could see that Xhnófho was rolling out beside him and shaking burning tiles from his feather beard and hair, for Pereluyàsqa had thrown him aside, and the Duchesses came gliding down towards the Pirates with new ferociousness burning with them.
– At least she slaps a little less hard than Wthí Qhòrem does – Xhnófho chanted. – And she hasn’t yanked my quetzal beard yet, I really hate that. –
– Don’t give them any ideas … oh can’t they just forget about us! We just landed here by accident, storm-tossed and whale-spewn and jhwìri oedipais! – Fhèrkifher muttered.
The pirates looked up at the same time. The Duchesses were spinning around, their gowns hissing flames, their weapons aimed right towards the Pirates, and they were flying upwards and preparing to deal mortal blows. And the pirates looked up to the burning windows and saw that where once roof and tower had been, everything was the burning battle in the Northwind.
– Where are the larvæ? – Xhnófho asked.
– The bairnlings are gone – chanted Fhèrkifher.
– Where could they have gone? –
– I have no idea, Creep One and Creep Two were busy crushing us and …–
– Should we ask them? –
– Will they listen? –
– We have to find the children! Look after the next generation is our only responsibility! –
– We did out best to send Puîyos and Éfhelìnye away …
– Excuse me! Qlùfhemeng! Before you pulverize us, stridulate khnàqexeng karo puinön, do you know where the Children are! – cried Xhnófho.
– We rather lost them in the battle – chanted Fhèrkifher. – And it’s not the fault of me and Xhnófhe, somebodies were interfering in the duty granted us by Grandfather Thiêfhilos himself, you know, the leader of this alliance, the Grand Regent Sylvan, the old Emperor’s father by marriage, the foster parent of the divine Virgin Empress, the ancient one whom children call Pátifhar … –
– Before you squish us, just let us know that the children are safe. –
– We don’t want to join the Ancestors in shame – Fhèrkifher chanted. – I wonder how the Sonátus Ancestors are doing. Oh my, I’m not sure they’ll like having a pirate as a descendent, they were all good merchants and artisans and cobblers. –
– Qhíng Ancestors celebrate quite a bit – chanted Xhnófho. – Our afterlife is all gardens and partying and all the pink incense we can jugchug, not to mention fair sylphs flickering about and white nymphs and beautiful alpha and beta Qhíng all hopping about from cloud to cloud, their skin lustrious pearls, their eyen shining flames, their antennæ like lissome candles. –
– How droll – chanted Fhèrkifher as the Duchesses came against the pirates and leveled their swords against them. – We can discuss the Ancestors later. Duchesses! Where are the children! –
– Can you twain not have even a little dignitas in death! – the Duchesses shouted. – Kneel and prepare to die, wretches! –
– Where are the maggotlings? – asked Xhnófho, and he slithered downwards and began kneeling upon his tentacles.
– We need to find the children – chanted Fhèrkifher. – Don’t kill me yet! Look, I’m kneeling, see? Kneel kneel kneel kneel … –
– Er that you kill us, let us just see that the children are safe. –
– I think they slipped out the burning window. –
– Silence! – cried the Duchesses. – Now die! –
– Where are the children! – cried the Pirates.
– You’ve no doubt been corrupting them, you’ve been spreading your wiles your tails of adventure and wreckless irresponsibility all the while when you were infecting our grand alliance – the Duchesses were saying. – You would seek to make the children into parasites like you, little wastrels and sneaks, little tricksters and storytellers. Your pestilence dies now. We shall cleanse the children of any of your shadow. –
– We haven’t even been here in days, we’ve been in the belly of a great fish! – Fhèrkifher cried. – It’s a good thing he didn’t taste very good, otherwise the whale might have started swallowing us whole. –
– See, it pays not to bathe too often, just in case one gets swallowed by a monster – Xhnófho chanted. – Um, we digress. Where are the children? –
– Our precious and obedient charges are right behind us – the Duchesses chanted, and their swords poked right at the throats of the pirates. –
– Are you sure? – asked Xhnófho.
– We don’t see them? Do you see them? – asked Fhèrkifher.
– My antennæ don’t smell them, my ear-spheres don’t hear them. –
– The children aren’t here! –
– They’re right behind us! – cried the Duchesses.
– Do you … do you want to swing your eyestalks around and take a look? – asked Fhèrkifher.
– The children are not behind you – chanted Xhnófho.
– We shall not take our gaze away from you – chanted the Duchesses. – You shall die. –
– The children are gone! – cried Fhèrkifher.
– Don’t you just want to take a peak? – asked Xhnófho.
– Never – cried the Duchesses.
– Really? – asked the Pirates.
– Positive. –
– You don’t want to … to take a little glanceling? –
– No. –
– You don’t think they’re … gone, spirited away, clomb down the window to escape? That’s what we would do. –
– Absolutely not. This is a tricky tricky trick. –
– How about this – Fhèrkifher chanted. – One of you look behind, the other look at us, then you’ll see the truth of the matter … –
– Just swing an eyestalk around, you stupid Qlùfhem … – muttered Xhnófho.
– I’ll look – the Duchesses chanted. – No, you look and I’ll guard them. No, I’ll look and you guard them. One of us look, the other guard. I’ll look! No, I’ll look! – the Duchesses began to shout at each other.
– Definitely the children ran away from home – Xhnófho chanted.
– It’s what I’d do – chanted Fhèrkifher. – I ran away from home several times, my Uncles were not a little nutsy. –
– Just think what it must have been like to live with these two. –
– YOU LOOK! YOU GUARD! WE LOOK! WE GUARD! – screamed the Duchesses one to another unblinking and unmoving, their celia rolling together and crunching enraged. – Enough! Slay the pirates, and then look! We slay the Qhíng first. No, slay the stained glass defiler! They both polluted the halls. Kill the Qhíng first. No, slay them at the same time. No, let us removed their skin, let us pop out their bones and make them suffer! Yes, we shall cut them open, we shall begin drawing out their internal organs bleeding and pumping and one by one turn them completely inside out and make them watch what we do unto them! –
– We’re quite popular – chanted Fhèrkifher. – Seldom do our predators argue so much about how to kill us. –
– Are you hungry? – asked Xhnófho. – I’m famished, I’m forehungerified! –
– I’m this close to eating one of my wooden sandles. –
– I hope Karuláta finds some cheese. Cheese would be good just about now. –
– Agreed – the Duchesses chanted. – We torture them both to death at the same time and as we begin the removable of their still pulsating organs than we look backwards and wave unto our most obedient and docile grand-neices who we are quite certain are standing quietescent and dutiful right behind us – Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa both nodded, their eyestalks blazing and staring right at the pirates. And at that the Duchesses spun through the air, their swords spinning around in wings of blur and smoke, and they prepared for to fall upon and rend the Pirates asunder.
Black and silver and majestic it arose right behind the pirates, no longer were any walls or columns or towers left unto the meditation halls, just bursting clouds of stained glass, and a thousand screaming whales and priests and soldiers running in all directions and Dragons gnawing upon all that came close unto them and ripping them into pieces. In the midst of the whales the gleam of silver and black was arising and slowly opening up his tremendous wings, but not before all of the lesser dragons were fleeing before his gaze, and before the lesser dragons came dashing thousands of Qlùfhem and Thùlwu spinning out in all directions, and Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho, the pirates extraordinaire could saw that as the Aûm were attempting to flee, and they were only able to run a few yards before they found their their tentacles were blasted right off of them in growing ripples of light, several of the Aûm were tumbling downwards, the dragonflames eating them from the inside out, some of them were tumbling and choking upon the dust formed from their own burning skin, and their eyestalks and eyen were exploding pop pop popping one by one as the huge silver and black shadow fell upon them. The Duchesses were aiming their swords right for the gobs of the pirates kneeling ragged and tired before them, their will to fight expired, their ability to fight the Nobles of legend lost unto them, and just as their swords were about to impale the pirates, huge black wings crashed downwards and hurled the Duchesses aside as if they were dolls or marinettes. Bursting out from the eggshells of what once been the tall meditation towers of the Temple Balloon, his wings and coils twisting about the billows that held the glass and hot air balloon upwards, storms of shattered stain’d glass rippling out from him, Prince Kherènxhuqhe was arising and he brushed the Duchesses aside and flung his mighty head from side to side and growled saying – Where are the Children! Deliver them unto me now! –