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The darkness of the bivouacs, the nullaġvIk was deep and allencompassing and punctuated by the torchfires that were burning within the towers of the broken vimāna vessels, and the fires that were lit upon the glass and ice of the plan and wherearound were gathering various exiled factions of the Qhíng and Aûm and Ptètqiikh alike. Khmaîpfher of the Khnoînger phatry kept swinging his large spherical head from side to side, his eyen a gleam of black appearing in the darkness, and his antennæ were twitching from side to side in quite a nervous way, and he kept gathering the children closer unto himself and pulling the sheets closer about them, for his imagination was swarming with fears that leaping out from behind the dead trees petrified and could should come some of the Emperor’s creatures crawling outwards upon the tips of their claws and wings and ready to pounce upon the unsuspecting innocents. Puîyus was not looking from side to side, vigilant and weary, but rather kept looking down unto his wooden shoon, and only occasionally looked up unto the dark horizon and the winding crags about the mountain and the shuffling of the refugees about him, he did not sense the coming of Dragons about him and was finding himself unconcerned with matter and time and people altogether. All of his thoughts kept turning back to home or at least home as he remembered it even though there was no hope at all of his being able to return. He was thinking of the way that the xhyiêrxhnin the tanrydoon of the crannog that was used to appear, and in the imagination of his heart he could feel the soft and winding sofa about him, shelves lined one of the walls and upon the shelves stood statues of his Ancestors and some of the books and treasures of the Otòrfhexes who had been his Mother’s Clan until they had become absorbed into the Sweqhàngqu, and all of their properties and dreamlands were held in trust for Puîyus until he came of age and should either take them as his own or give them Siêthiyal and her husband whoever he may end up being, the corners of the parlor had pillars twisting upwards, some of the pillars opened with sconces were candles and statues were kept, one open wall was completely covered in the paintings that his Grandfather Jàkopar made years before her was born, he had always fancied these paintings, they were images of young women in various balletic poses, in one picture the maiden was slipping on her ballet slippers, in another a maiden was seated in a chair and around her her ballerina sisters were adorning her hair, and in another image she was dancing. Puîyus remembered the pictures quite well, he thought the movement of these maidens, their grace and color were quite interesting, and he was sore wounded to think that they had all been burnt. He remembered the pictures quite well, but knowing how meagre his skills were with brush and paint despaired of being able to repaint them himself of his memory. He wondered if he asked Éfhelìnye to paint them for him whether she would do it, he rather thought that she would and her eye for detail was superior to his own. The parlor had an old clock hanging up in one corner, it was one of those famed and magical devices which long ago Prince Jhwèsta had fashioned before he had become the Emperor’s Imperial Mad Scientist, it was a clock which was part of the spoils of war from Tsànyun when Puîyus was very small, and what was most remarkable about the clock was just how alive it was, the face of it revealed not just the movement of the hours and days and moonphases and months, it revealed the tracking of the Stars constellate and the rustling of storms, and the coming and passing of the four seasons. And in the passage of time the clock itself used to light up, before the Qhíng had taken it and smashed it across their tentacles as they hurled the entire crannog down, little figurines used to come out and dance for him, nymphs to represent the hours, and sylphs for days and moonphases, and little ballerina maidens who were the passage of the four seasons. Puîyus was quite used to telling time by the passage of the Suns and preferred to be outdoors in the wind and rain and fresh air, but when he was within and his heart told him that it was time for one hour to merge and phase into the next, he used to run up unto the yūr just to see the hands dancing about in drifting gyroscopes and see the clockweyth damsels in their dance. One of the walls of the parlor was completely covered in the khmòjoyen deathmasques of his Ancestors, and when the twilit hour was come, he would light candles and set them within the masks and watch the flicker of gold within the skin and eyen of the personæ, and the destruction of these masks was a matter irreplaceable and unforgiveable, and just the merest memory of it was making him grind his teeth. The parlor opened upwards unto the fireplace and the hearth and all of the scents of wood and flame and incense and piety, and then outwards unto xholíyo cabinets where dishes and plates were kept, and upon the dishes were drawn the dreams of far off cities, the great civilization of Khniîkha far off unto the east whence the winter blasts came, the cities that were formed in the image of the Emperor, plates that depicted the walls and towers of holy Eilasaîyanor, plates covered in the images of bull dancers and vestal virgins and dancing maidens and princesses practicing their ballet. But all of the parlor was gone now, in the dust not enough had remained for him to gather into his hands, just slabs of wall and bits of rafter, and the waters freezing and drawing upwards.
– I should be able to signal at the edge of these cliffs – Khmaîpfher turned to th children to say, his antennæ twitching in spasmatic displays. – We have a few smaller vessels on patrol to warn us of dragon attack. We’ve been having some trouble communicating with the rest of the Triple Alliance, but surely someone will hear us. –
Princess Éfhelìnye wrapped an arm about Puîyus and whispered to him – Are you feeling alright? – Puîyus nodded but did not look into her eyen, and the Princess added – You still look very sad, and I do not like it when you are sad, it breaks mine heart in a way that I cannot quite explain. Whenever I think that something sad is happening to me, I feel quite pibloktoed about it, but the feeling passes in time, but whenever I can sense that you are sad I feel three or four times as sad as I would have felt by myself, because then I know that someone I know is suffering. –
– Stay close to me, larvæ – Khmaîpfher was saying.
– I lost mine home also – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – I dwelt almost mine entire life in the Forbidden Gardens, and when you came to see my Father and ask him for mine hand in betrothal and marriage, honored Kàrijoi smashed and burnt the Forbidden Gardens, the only home that I have e'er known. And Grandfather Pátifhar is far away from me, and mine Great-Uncle Táto is dead, so there are none left aside from myself even to remember the home. But at least you have a family loving unto you and have the chance to make a new home in wherever you and I shall settle. –
– This way – Khmaîpfher chanted, and he drew the children aside into the shadows of a great petrified tree and looking from side to side watched as the black clouds were parting, and looming vast and shimmering within them, swaing almost as great whales of the deep were come shadows and falling down from the jads were burning vessels drifting down one by one, like little fiery khòtaru drifting downwards wugiyam and breaking apart in the grinding of the air. The children did not think that the shadows were the coming of Dragons, but they could see that the lesser vessels falling down were a great mixture of types and sizes, Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm alike turning and burning all the while.
Puîyus kept blinking in the darkness, for no matte rhow he tried not to dwell upon such thoughts, great wanhope kept returning unto him and was sinking him down. Again and again he saw the burning of the dreamlands of his Fathers, he thought of the tumbling of the towers, and Fhermáta’s face returned unto him, he remembered when they both had tried on their betrothal garments for the first time, back when Grandmother Tàltiin was still alive, and Grandma had found the children very beautiful and thought that they were a young Íngìkhmar and Khwofheîlya again. He remembered Fhermáta’s dancing in the gardens and gathering flowers for the nuptial bouquette. He wondered whether in a way he was the great toqhaîlo qlaêkh, the blood traitor unto his people, for not only was Fhermáta not dead a single hour but he was proposing marriage to another maiden before Fhermáta could even be mourned. Puîyus’ heart was burning within him-si, he was still not entirely sure that he should have abandoned Jaràqtu when he did, when his Father declaired him Dead and an Ancestor unto the Sweqhàngqu and released him of bonds of piety so that Puîyus could travel outwards and defeat the Emperor in his own way and not bring shame to his family, Puîyus was wondering whether perhaps it would have been better indeed to have remained in Jaràqtu to fight and perish there, asking the Emperor for the Starflower enraged Kàrijoi in a way that none could have imagined, better it would have been to remain within the holy whispering mountains of the Ancestors and to fight the bandits and raiders and Qhíng left within, and the Emperor might have forgotten about them all in time. Puîyus closed his eyen for a moment, Khmaîpfher was turning and signaling the children to follow him. Puîyus could feel that Éfhelìnye was holding his hand and guiding him, he was not entirely sure how long she had been doing so. Her hands felt warm in his. Watchfires were blazing in the darkness about him, it reminded him that at this very moment Jaràqtu lay in flames. He looked down to his belt and saw the jhyìngetsa suicide knives, he was wondering what he should find when he returned to his homerealm, perhaps nothing at all was left, smoldering walls and an hundred thousand of the Seqanèqwa the lochdwellers, the children of Jaràqtu already lay dead, unburied, unsepulchred, unmourned. Best it would it be, he thought, if he should find such a sight to thrust a knife into his belly and into his heart, it would be the only way to atone for his sins against his people. Ah, but a glorious death by ritual suicide would have to wait, he was constrained from doing that, he was honorbound to protect the Empress’ only child. But how could he live with himself if Siêthiyal or Akhlísa should die? And Éfhelìnye’s death would mean the end of his heart. Perhaps if he failed them all but at least did so with honor the priests could accept his body and permit Puîyus to be taken up unto the heights of the pyramid and have his heart removed and offered unto the Immortals. No, that could not happen, so great would be his shame, and few enough priests were left to offer atonement for the people, and without priests the Immortals could no longer listen to their people. Best then just to end it all, should the unspeakable come, he would rip open his own body and lie down at Éfhelìnye’s feet, humble and cold, and await whatever judgement the Tlhùsqe the Chthonic Lords intended for him.
– Puey! – Éfhelìnye hissed. She squeezed his hand a few times to get his attention. Slowly as if awakening from a deep and heavy sleep he looked unto her and blinked. The Starflower Princess whispered – I do not like it when your thoughts turn so very dark like that. You shall not be taking your own life like that, you have never done anything shameful or dishonorable before. –
Puîyus shook his head in disagreement, for he could think of any sins he had commited, such as the time he failed to obey his Father in cutting down the willow, and when he had asked the Emperor to marry her, and when he had tickled Princess Ixhúja. Éfhelìnye shook her head and whispered – I don’t think you should be sad for any of those incidents at all. You loved the tree, you told the Emperor you love me, and who doesn’t love tickling Ixhúja from time to time? –
– ?¿ – Ixhúja asked.
– She’s quite a tickleworthy Princess. But you did not abandon Jaràqtu and your Family, no, you left to save them. And I shall save you from despair, I shall give you something whichfor to fight and live. You shall not end your own life unless you absolutely must, and I shall be with you then, for you will have to cut my throat first so that I can die in your arms, so that we can die together in thepliepèrakhu in lovers’ suicide and be married one to another in the Undergloom. –
– !! – Ixhúja shouted, and she poked her head between Éfhelìnye and Puîyus and gave them both stern locks of warning, she shoved their hands apart and interposing herself between then growled unto them and whispered in the language of beasts as if to say, Ye twain shall be doing nothing of the sort, I forbid you to speak of double suicide, I demand that you live happily e'er after and make a nice cottage somewhere beside a cannal or fungal forest. Eiya! Listen to me, I need you two to become the new Sun and Moon, someone has to clean up the mess that my Father the Khan and your Father the Emperor made out of the worlds, and you’re the only ones left to do so. And if any of you mention suicide again, I shall punch you across the face with … stop it!
Princess Éfhelìnye tickled her cousin’s arm. – Sorry, I’m just a little curious. You are quite ticklish. –
– This is a little fun. –
– You do squirm a bit. –
I warned you.
Khmaîpfher was leading the lost children and looking from side to side and coming to the edge of the cliffs and saw that before him a gentle meteor shower was falling, or at least from a distance the burning slabs of ship and planetoid and sky appeared mansuete, but as they crashed against hill and mountain and land they erupted with growing ripples of volcanic fury. He turned back to warn the children to stay close to him and was greated with the sight of the Huntress swinging her fists right before the young Empress, but the new Emperor jumped up in time and caught the punch in his face, and the Huntress jumped up and knocked both the Emperor and Empress down and was scratching and punching them both until the Emperor was able to scramble back to his feet, and the Empress helped him hold the Huntress down so that she could begin to calm down.
– Is everything alright back there? –
Puîyus just smiled. Éfhelìnye chanted – Splendiferous! –
– Um … okay. Stay close to me. –
Ixhúja punched Puîyus right in the nose but he did not even feel it. He and Éfhelìnye managed to restrain Ixhúja long enough to notice that the Servitor Qhíng was staring at them all, his eyen were black flames of confusion. Éfhelìnye straighted some of her flowing recalcitrant locks. Ixhúja punched Puîyus in the face again, but at last the children drew themselves upwards and tried to act in a slightly more civilized fashion.
– This way – chanted Khmaîpfher. Ixhúja took a few more swings at both Puîyus and Éfhelìnye, and so Puîyus took her by one hand and Éfhelìnye by the other, and continued to follow the xhurnífhe unto the edge of the creags, and there the children approached one byone and could see stretched out before them great Dream Cities which once had sparkled as thousands of jewels spread out throughout the folds of Syapàkhya and now were all crumbling into the death of the soil, and living ships and meteors were crashing into the quays and lighting up oin braided streaks that expanse of the midnight. Khmaîpfher reached into one of his voluminous sleeves and drew out some sticks of khmèjhan kindling crystals and lighting them up waved them from side to side to signal in the darkness and the clouds and tempt to smuggle the children out from the refugee camps.
– One cannot even guess who shall come for you –Khmaîpfher chanted. – We have been out of communication with the rest of the fleets for several days now, and even when we had contact we were only getting sporadic messages from Grandfather Thiêfhilos and the Knight who was waging the war against the Emperor. –
– Is he a Jàrqta, is he a Knight of Jaràqtu – Princess Éfhelìnye asked.
– That is what I have heard. He is the one who has received all of Xhnófho Kàrnaka’s papers. We Servitors have contact with all of the other six castes of the Qhíng, in a way we ensure that they continue to function in harmony and serve each other, and I remember that Xhnófho Kàrnaka, the mastermind of the Emperor’s War, had many plans and devices which he was using in the invasion and occupation of Jaràqtu., er that the great pyoqlòlram the Royal Admiral died in the war. All of those resources, such as now exist, lie in the hands of the Knight, but whether he shall be able to topple Kàrijoi from the heavens, none can say. –
– Interesting … Sieur Íngìkhmar may have my Father’s war plans … or at least an early version of them. Puey, we should try to see these plans, if they exist, and if we can. –
– I don’t think anyone is responding – Khmaîpfher chanted, as he swung the burning tinder from side to side and glanced out at the exploding Dream Cities one by one by one. – I thought that the Duchesses were nigh tendril, but they might have fled from the Dragons. Who can possibly guess an understanding of the minds of the conglomeration of flesh and wheel and ghost which be the twin Duchesses? –
Princess Éfhelìnye blinked aig remembering something, and reaching into her pocket drew out the small spherical device which Uncle Fhèrkifher had placed in her hand, the same object which Grandfather Pátifhar had given him as a sign, a portent of hope. She held it up, and saw that it consisted of spheres flowing within spheres, and layers of moving wax within rising and falling, a sea all of esemplastic form, and above it were appearing the various moons spinning around in their phases. – Perhaps this will be of use in signaling someone. This pàjhe, this sibärav looks terribly familiar to me, like one of Ixhúja’s contraptions which I took apart and whose insides I examined and attempted to rebuild from the inside out. Does this look familiar to you, my Sister? –
Ixhúja tried to punch Puîyus in the nose again, but Puîyus yanked her upwards and tried holding her arms back, and Ixhúja was a bit too occupied to respond at the moment. Éfhelìnye was not entirely concerned, she had a great deal of patience and did not mind stretching out conversations and inquiries out o'er days and sennights if she had to. She shook the device and let it spring open, and within it were wheels drifting within wheels and swirling gyres of light. She pressed upon the wheels and set them all spinning one by one, and all at once the contraption began to beam out with fountains of white light drifting upwards, haloes rippling out among haloes, and shafts of light bursting upwards anew and thirling up through the midnight clouds and reaching unto the tremendous and lurching shadows high above.
And within just a few moments a tiny bit of the sky broke itself out from the meteorstorm, and within the crashing of fire and lancing of light, a small whirl of spinning darkness began to wrap itself around its horizontal axis, and as it spun around faster and faster the center of the darkness was spinning around in great rolling disques in the plane horizontal, and it wobbled from side to side in procession, gravitional torques flowing out from it and causing all of it to dance dance dance. As the darkness came dripping downwards Éfhelìnye could see that it was a pamlènthe autogyrodyne such as she had seen fluttering at the other side of the Sword Mountain, and that flowing out from it were come metallic tendrils and bits of hissing clockwork, for it was a gyroscope which had seen much battle and struggled far. The wheels within the pamlènthe were spinning around and taking different orientation depending on the momentum of the skies and the its own spin, and as it drifted downwards and closer unto the children they could see flowing up from the gyroscope banners of the Bridges of Qthantònthe and the glories of Keloranóqha the triple viceroy kingdoms of Àtqa and Tralànthal and Sàmakh of the Qhíng.
– They will take you to safety – chanted Khmaîpfher, his antennæ were still twitching a little, for he was partially glad that it was the Qhíng who had come to save the children, but his heart-stomache forbode him, for he did not wish for one of his people to give unintended offense to the new Crown Prince and shame the already frightened Qhíng. – Please forgive mine humbled people – the Servitor chanted as he swung his tinder flames from side to side to guide the gyroscope unto its landing, and Éfhelìnye was folding up the mechanical device of Grandfather Pátifhar’s and setting it back into her pocket. – Please do not judge all of the Qhíng for the shame of just a few, although the horror of the Qhíng is grievous, their outcry is come to the new Emperor’s ear, their sins against his Ancestors unspeakable. But please to not cleanse the worlds of all of the Qhíng, old and young, alpha and beta and gamma. –
– The new Emperor will not judge the Qhíng wicked – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – The righteous shall be spared, and their homes restored, and their Ancestors honored. Even for the sake of just a few Qhíng, a few phatries of the castes, will the new Emperor save the people. –
The pamlènthe landed before the children and its wheels and disques began slowing and revealing within them the movement of the webs and axles and the slowing of the gears, steam erupting from the heat of the movement, and shuffling shadows appearing where the sailors resided within. Khmaîpfher was bowing unto Éfhelìnye and saying – The Qhíng shall revere and worship Empress Éfhelìnye until the end of time and afford all honor unto her and her offspring. She shall be the very soul of the perfect Qhóng, and the maidens of our Alphas and the virgins of our Betas shall sing your praises, for you turn the new Emperor’s face unto us. And thou shalt be Tyekelíli unto all of the Qhíng. –
Khmaîpfher fell down upon his face and began kowtowing towards Éfhelìnye, and she looked from side to side a little embarrassed and chanted – I’m terribly sorry, but this is quite unnecessary. – She saw that Ixhúja was slipping out of Puîyus’ grasp and jumping up was just about to start kicking the Servitor a few times just for fun, but Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were able to restrain their Khnìnthan kinswoman and spare the servitor a few rather disconcerting bunts. By now the steam was hissing all the brighter and deeper, and flowing up from the slowing gyroscopic vessel came the movement of tentacles, and the shuffling of skin. Ixhúja looked around and poked unto the gyrodyne and watched the shadows moving within, and was a little surprised to see that drawing outwards and looming out from the darkness was come something which was Qhíng and yet not quite perfect Qhóng, it was something which had become as Qhíng and been altered. It blinked its large blind eyen, wheels and clockwork embedded within its face, and part of its skull open to reveal the twining of clockwork within, its ragged broken antennæ, piston powered swaying from side to side exactly in the way that the Qhíng do not gaze and blink and sniff with their antennæ. The creatures jaws were only partially of flesh at this point, grafts of skin and feathers were set in bolts and sutures into it, and drawing itself outwards, its robes were tattered and shaking, for this creature was a Qhoîyekhim a Mind Slaver of the Qhíng, a Qhíng who had been taken as a larva and altered, or perhaps one who had been left dying and clanless on the battlefield before being delivered unto the tables and tendrils of Qìtwakh the Builder Caste, and its body broken, its mind opened, and made into one who could peer into the thoughts of the enemies of the Qhíng and warn them in battle, and sometimes even control the minds of lesser creatures. The Qhoîyekhim, the lantikälaslafan came shuffling upwards, its tentacles struggling against biomechanical shoulders, its large blind eyen no longer seeing at all, and reaching out a tentacle towards Puîyus whispered in the voice of Íngìkhmar his Father and chanted – Long have we missed you, our Son. Lonely it is for us in the fleet of the Qhíng, separated from you and all our children. –
Puîyus looked up and clasped his jaw shut a couple of times. Éfhelìnye took Puîyus’ hand and held it tight, she had not expected to see a Qhoîyekhim again either, the wihts who were the mind-walkers of the Qhíng, and she did not wish for Puîyus to grow nervous in their presence. They had met the Qhoîyekh before and found them quite gentle and kind, but it could be difficult to speak unto one who could become one’s Father or Ancestor and others that dwelt within one’s memories.
The Qhoîkyekhim turned its blind face to Ixhúja and its beak distended a little and chanted – I find that you have been obeying my commandment, oh Daughter. The Imperium of Kàrijoi is destined to fall, the Stars proclaim the end of the old House of the Pwéru. Stay close to the lad, and together you can rebuild Khnìntha in mine own image. – The Mind Slaver was speaking in the voice of the Khan, Ixhúja’s Father, and the squeaking of its tentacles and pistons were becoming the scraping of locust and locust wing against each other. At once she drew a knife and began to approach the Slaver. – You must be careful here within the Outer Worlds, my child, for the laboratories of Khnìntha are fading as all of the Moons are ground up into dreamdust, and I may not be able to resurrect you again. You must … –
– Ixhúja, no wait – Éfhelìnye chanted. – It’s just an hlàkmechanrágatokoi, it can see into thoughts and … it’s not your Father … –
Ixhúja jumped up to attack the Mind Slaver, and as Puîyus was prying her away, Khmaîpfher was looking upwards and shocked to see that the Huntress was punching the Mind Slaver, and that Tyekelíli was touching the Mind Slaver’s tentacles and making sure that it was well, and the Slaver was turning unto the Empress and saying – Your death is coming soon, oh my Daughter. My blizzard is coming for you. You shall see Puîyus’ death even in mine arms. Fate comes for us all. – And the voice was that, deep and frore and ancient, unmistakable of Emperor Kàrijoi, the Master of Life and Prosperity and Health.
– AîQhoîyekhim, can you hear me in there? – Éfhelìnye asked. – I do not wish to hear my Father or memories of my Father or visions of my Father, I wish to hear your voice. –
– The Qhoîyekh have no voices of our own – the spiritosklavigisto was whispering in Sieur Íngìkhmar’s voice. – Stay close to me, little Éfha. You were always to kind to my Son and my Daughters, I always thought of you as one of mine own. –
– Do you have a name of your own? – Princess Éfhelìnye asked.
– The Qhoîyekh have no names of own own – el sarumáya was saying. – Little Éfha, I need you to stay close to my Son, he is prone to dark moods just as I am, but he still needs a chance to live, he needs a maiden to remain with him, to be pure and virtuous and lead him unto the path of paradise. –
– Yes, Abbá, I shall, I promise – Éfhelìnye was telling the Qhíng of broken skin and swirling clockwork drifting within its brain. Several of the pipes and pistons of the beak were gurgling as they were filling up with some of the liquid that drained from the Slaver and was pumped back into the biological portions of its brain. – Always shall I remain with Puîyus. –
– If I could adopt you and foster you as mine own – the Mind Slaver was saying – I would do that and take your into mine Clan. But we are not of the same estate, and no longer even am I Father unto Puîyus at all, I am servant now unto the Alliance. –
– Shush. Just rest now. Here, Puey will help you back into the gyroscope – Éfhelìnye was saying, and she motioned unto Puîyus and had no idea of what the Mind Slaver was saying as he spake with Abbá Íngìkhmar’s vox and yet claimed no longer to be the Father of the Sweqhàngqu. But then again, Éfhelìnye was thinking, it was probably impossible for one who was alive and alien and young to understand the fractal thoughts were drift through the continuum of the Qhoîyekh, and probably the Qhíng themselves do not quite understand the Slavers who are both Kèlor Masters and yet also Servants unto the Kèlor.
– The Prince of the Dragons is returning – the Mind Slaver was saying, as Puîyus helped to draw up the tentacles one by one and set them back into the pamlènthe, and the disques were opening upwards and dripping down with intestines of clockwork drawing all about the creature. Éfhelìnye was bowing unto Khmaîpfher and saying – We thank you for taking care of us and leading us out from this zone. –
– We serve Tyekelíli, she who leads the Qhíng into battle – Khmaîpfher was swaying as he rose and fell in his ritual humicubacioun, his antennæ swaying from side to side in his dance. Puîyus set the Slaver down and motioned unto Ixhúja, but she growled a little and remained outside and kept glancing at the Qhoîyekhim askance, and thought that at any moment the wounds of its face would open and crawling out of the rouage a few locusts would start spilling and speaking unto her in the voice of her Father Khwìnton Jhkhaîxhor whom she had only met in person once in her life.
– Sister? – Éfhelìnye asked. – Will you sit with me. –
The Qhoîyekhim turned its spherical head and regarded Ixhúja for a few moments but chanted nothing at all, just wheezing and coughing a little, its large blind eyen twitching and seeing only within and the voices of memories deep and dark and for ever. Puîyus slipped down into the gyroscope and patted the seat next to Éfhelìnye, and with some reluctance Ixhúja came swaying outwards and sate next to her cousin and tried not to notice the movement of the wheels and tendrils and the slight locust rustling in the being all about them all.
And then the autogyrodyne came bursting upwards, all of its wheels and disques spinning around in a growing blur, its shafts and pistons arising and connected together in generations of rondures, and as it blurred and arose into the growing darkness of the heavens, slowly Khmaîpfher of the Servitors arose and bowed unto Tyekelíli their Patroness in the House of the Pwéru, and he whispered prayers unto the old Emperor for forgiveness for the unbelief of the most perfect Qhíng.
For a time the gyroscope just arose in the darkness, clouds all of twilight and deep and black smoke were arising all about them, and behind them appear the long and strangled mountain which was the Sword of Syapàkhya. Éfhelìnye turned around and gazed upon the mountain and could see the sloughing of the ruins off of it and was marveling a little at the beauty of the mountain and wondered how it would appear in the glories of daylight, the Suns arising behind it. She remembered that long ago the Khlitsaîyart had come to this mountain when the worlds were young, in the first few generations, and that here in the crags of crimson steel and precious iron that the Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr had first learnt the arts of forging and smithery, they had beaten metal together and created the first sword and set one in the hand of Khiêro of Old, the Father of the Warrior Caste, for Khiêro, reared by the Khlitsaîyart themselves, was of the first generation to grasp a brand and know the might and horror of battle. From a distance as the great mountain was turning around and revealing patches were the forests were dead and the stone was breaking apart and the crackles of ruin, and she felt very sad to see the fangs of the mountain breaking apart one by one. Syapàkhya itself was breaking apart around them and revealing just some wharves and estuaries reaching outwards and reaching out into the northron seas of Sasqáli. She turned and saw that Puîyus’ eyen were turned downwards, his sad gaze was looking down and seeing living ships struggling within the wharves, living ships of the Qhíng and the Khlitsaîyart in these regions, small ones falling into the waters, the wrath of the seas drifting upwards and drawing out foamfreys and spews of fountain growing higher and brighter all the while. Éfhelìnye sniffled and tried to think of something to say, the air was grown colder and sad. The Qhoîyekhim was staring right ahead of them with his blind eyen, as stone and land and wave were merging together.
– Where are you taking us, Father? – Éfhelìnye asked, for she could think of nothing else to call the Mind Slaver than Father.
– Much of my fleet is entering the Northwind – the Slaver spake in Abbá Íngìkhmar’s voice. – We should be able to enter some of the strands of it and you shall see me face to face. –
– I have missed you, Abbá Íngìkhmar – Éfhelìnye chanted before she remembered that she was not actually speaking with him. She looked to Ixhúja and saw that she was fidgeting with her earrings and then playing with the ring on her finger, the concubine ring which Qìtien the Acolyte had made for her and whereon he had set her name and Puîyus’ together. Éfhelìnye tried to think of something to say, and so added – Now Ixhúja when we land I don’t want you wander away from us. I know that if you do not wish to be found we shall find you not, but I have no idea what we shall find in the Qhíng fleet, so I would fainer you stay close unto me. –
Ixhúja took off her concubinal ring and kissed it a few times and then set it back unto her finger with some deliberation, and then, when she saw that her cousin was watching her, Ixhúja slid upwards and planted a large sloppy kiss upon Puîyus’ cheek and licked his ears a few times.
– Oh look, Puey, do you see those harbors and quays? – Éfhelìnye chanted, just to say something. Puîyus looked down but was not entirely paying attention. The Mind Slaver’s pipes were sighing a little, his mechanical lungs were struggling to breath and he chanted in Íngìkhmar’s voice – Those are quite lovely quays, my child. Did not you and Puîyus become involved in some pretty crime upon the quays of Eilasaîyanor earlier upon this day of days? –
– Ah, honored Father, I am not sure I would call what we did crimes … just some legal bucchaneering with our Pirate mentors. –
– I heard that you robbed when the Emperor’s banks. –
– It was an attempt. I heard that my Father had all manner of books and candies within, but no one warned me that it would so difficult to slip among the guards and … it was some time ago. –
The Mind Slaver blinked with his large blind eyen and now was speaking in a different voice. – Long ago I left the Otòrfhexes clan and my Brother Khangisqrírles and traveled out to see the great cities upon the plains and the wonders of Khniîkha. I’d like to think that I had quite a good enterprise in the City when I stablished the Oîkhan, the Candy Mafiosa. Strange it is that no one had thought of using the guild of pirates to smuggle sugar from Khnìntha even into the Holy City of Eilasaîyanor. – The Slaver was speaking in the voice of Taôn Tìngo Qwiîto of Otòrfhexes, Grandfather Khangisqrírle’s brother whom the children had briefly met before his death and the destruction of the Candy Syndicate.
Éfhelìnye reached out and petted the tendrils of the Slaver and chanted – I still think that la cosa nostra was a good idea, and it certainly kept the pirates out of more serious trouble. In fact the Oîkhan Candy Mafiosa provided a great deal of important war intelligence to the Noble Caste, at least before the Caste began to fall before the machines of Khnìntha. –
– It is quite a pity that the work of the Otòrfhexes should be lost though – came the voice of great-Uncle Taôn Tìngo Qwiîto. – It was the only way to provide a steady stream of confectionary to the children. Oh my grandnephew and his wives, if you should survive the war will you stablish again the Candy Syndicate? It did bring so much joy to children. –
– Ixhúja will not be Puey’s wife – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Puîyus was no looking up to the Mind Slaver, and remembering that he had met a family member whom he had never known and then losing him in the same day filled him with new waves of sadness. He began to shake a little. Éfhelìnye chanted – I will see to it that the Oîkhan is stablished again, perhaps Uncles Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho can continue to smuggle for it and maybe even pay back all of the sugar that they stole from you in the last eleven years. –
– My grandniece Siêthiyal seemed to have quite a good mind at smuggling – whisped the voice of Taôn Tìngo Qwiîto. – Perhaps you can put her in change of the Oîkhan yakuza gokudō, and she can sweeten all of the worlds. The mafiosa can thus be an unofficial channel of the new government, and be regulated in a more efficacious manner. –
Puîyus looked down and in the crashthrashbash of the freezing waves saw several paradx ships slipping into the waves, and a few twàtlhe qayaq struggling for to arise. He wished that he could slip down just into a wúbbunj and take bone oar in his arms and just sail away into the wilds of the winedark seas, to let the winds and waves take him wherever they would, and he could just rest and forget and all of his thoughts become salt and water for ever.
Éfhelìnye reached out and drew Puîyus head next to her and chanted – If you want to rest you can set your head in my lap. I’m sure it will take the gyroscope some time to take us unto the Qhíng armāta, pfhonárku. –
Puîyus was wiping his eyen and struggling not to cry. He could blink and see that off in the distance the seas were parting and becoming wind and that within the wind were arising outlines of silver and sadness, and the shores of the dimension of his homeworld Jaràqtu.
– I don’t want you to worry, my Son – came the voice of Íngìkhmar, and some cold and clammy tentacles reached outwards to touch Puîyus’ face and stroke it, his cheeks softer than the petals of a flower. – I do my best to provide a future for you and your Sisters, wherever you may end up, whatever your clan name may end up being, lwiîtlhe. All you have to do is survive the war, I shall leave mentors and patrons to take care of you as you come of age. I cannot guess the shape of the worlds to come, all that I know is that you must prevail in the battle, in the war for which you have been training all the days of your life. –
– I shall help him, oh Father – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Good. I may not be with you much longer – whispered Íngìkhmar’s voice.
– Please don’t say that. –
– But I can hear the music of the Ancestors. It is a sweet and twining song, it is a music which flows into my blood, it is the music of my spleen and backbone, the music calls me to war. Sometimes with mine waking eye I can see Jàkopar and Tàltiin my parents. They know that my time here among the living is short. –
– Please, my Father … – Éfhelìnye began. The brilliant seas beneath them were stretching outwards and within the gathering of the Northwind were revealing the shadows of the ruins of Jaràqtu. Puîyus kept his head downwards he did not wish to hear any more, nor could he dare to look upwards, for with is eyen so bright and sharp he knew that he would be able to thirl the veil of the winds and see what was become of the skies of his homerealm, the spanning heavens themselves being devoured by the Aûmfhaikh the Emperor’s black hole of art and time. The gyroscope was rushing upwards and untowards the winds of hyboreal Qterfhóreso Khrùmfhurs, and in the clashing of the black clouds was tempting to escape the war. Puîyus closed his eyen and kept his head resting upon Éfhelìnye’s shoulder, although many, many leagues away he could har huge statues tumbling into the seas, the ancient statues of the Ancestors, heads and hands braking forth through the waves, and strewn upon the beaches broken bits of chariot, and he thought about all the times when Siêthiyal used to ride in the garosello, and proclaim herself a warrior barbarian maiden, riding her chariot upon the sands and fighting the shadows and imagination that came up unto her.
– I’ve been dreaming about your Mother – whispered Íngìkhmar’s voice. – I see her crowned in glory, she is robed all in black, her hair a brilliant main of blood, and all before her the wraiths of our Ancestors are bowing down low before her. It is not oft that I dream of her, the fairest and most virtuous of all wives of her generation. She was worth more to me than all of the spoils of battle, all of the honor of war, she was the heart that I was not permitted to keep beating within mine own chest. She was skilled at spindle and distaff, she worked with her hands to provide clothing for all of her children, she mended our tapestries of purple and gold and silk, she helped me to repair mine armor. Even when a few of the children were crying and shouting at once, she did not lose her temper at all, the household functioned and proceeded, I had just to work in the field and go off unto battle, and no worry had I for the House of the Sweqhàngqu. I remember those days of peace before the War, it was in those days when I grew to know her the best, her words to me were of wisdom and gentleness, she was a good child unto Jàkopar and Khwofheîlya, but the greatest of all of the fruits of her virtue were in the children that she brought me, whom she arrayed as the warrior aristocrats of the land. I remember when I first laid eyen upon Khwofheîlya as she was dancing in the temple, she was an utter vision of loveliness, lithe and graceful, and I loved her at once. She only grew lovelier in mine eyen in the years we had together. I just hope in the Nethergloom that she remembers me, than when I fall in battle she will be present to take me by the hand. – So the Qhoîyekhim sklavigistio was speaking in the voice of Sieur Íngìkhmar, and the gyroscope came bursting upwards and was leaving the shores of Syapàkhya and the great Sword Mountain and before them came the howling of the Northwind.
By now Puîyus could feel that he was losing his battle not to weep anew. Éfhelìnye let him rest his head in her lap and the tears came in a flood. Ixhúja was not entirely sure what she was supposed to be doing, she knew then males were inclined to be sentimental and emotional for no good reason at all, so she had been told by her Tánin thralls when they were teaching her about the culture of the Khnìnthan nobles, and she struggled to think of something to do. She reached o'er and punched the Qhoîyekhim a few times in his broken face, and drawing her hands back found them covered in flicks of broken skin and some xhmaûng oily and dark dribbling about her fingers. Puîyus was weeping now for the downfall of his realm and the death of his people, the ending of the bellicose Sweqhàngqu, for his beloved Father and the Mother whom he could only barely remember, for Fhermáta who had always been a perfect foster Sister unto him, and he wept for much which he could not even hope to articulate words or in any of the languages of wild beasts.
Princess Éfhelìnye for her part was looking upwards, the winds were all grey and white, Syapàkhya fading away somewhere behind them all, and before her gaze she could see the wavering umbrage of hills and a margeland, the shores of the Wounded Land, one by one she saw estuaries forming burning and bright, and her heart shook in her to think that battle was being waged in Jaràqtu even at this moment. She could barely even recognize the dim outline of the dimension forming, and she looked to Ixhúja and gave her a quizzical note, and Ixhúja nodded in agreement, Jaràqtu was changed and was losing the war. A few drifting and ululating fishes were rising and falling within the winds and spinning before her, the fishes were opening up their green and blue gills and shaking their red bodies before the Princess and hoping to cheer up Puîyus their feral prince, but all that Puîyus could do was weep and weep all the more.
– Long ago my generation made a terrible mistake – Abbá Íngìkhmar’s voice was saying. – We failed the Moon Empress in the War, so my generation is fallen. But I shall not permit the sins of the Father to be passed down to my Son. The Alliance must obey you, I have set it up to protect your Sisters. The Real Peoples are failing, and those who are left are patriarchs and soldiers and wanderers, but I believe that you and the divine Starflower can heal even a woundd Patriarch, I think that the love of the children can heal a Raven and even an Emperor in ways that my fallen generation cannot. It is written that only a wounded miracle can cause healing. You must be my miracle, you must be wonder unto man and Emperor alike. –
Puîyus closed his eyen and tried to stop weeping, even as Éfhelìnye continued stroking his ear and hair and brushed and comforted him all the while. Puîyus still shook to think that he had spent much of this hour, the compline and dark ancestrial hour of Midnight in voluntary exile from Jaràqtu, he thought about how he had abandoned his family the ancient blade the Sepùrke after Fhermáta’s death, he felt the melancholy of his souls crushing him. Yes, it was best that Siêthiyal should just keep the Khaxhapúrxhriqe Sepùrke, she was far more faithful than he was, she was far more of a Sweqhàngqu than he would e'er be. The tears were coming again, he wondered whether he would even have the strength and heart to go untowards where his Father’s plantation had been, where soot and smoke were still arising and polluting what remained of the heavens. Sometimes Puîyus just wished that he lived in a world without other people, or at least he would be happier to be alone with maybe just his clan and a few close family friends. Sometimes it was just unbearable to seen by so many people at once, to try to understand the worrying whorl flurry of words that came from them, sometimes his head just ached to try and understand the manners and customs of others. Pure and innocent were the wild beasts, the birds and dinosaurs and fishes and flowers were always happy to see him, they laughed and danced and gamboled before his gaze, the deep waters were joyous and leaping through the air was pleasure illuminable, the sunshine and moonlight were the faces of the Immortals unto him. But all of the griefs in life had come from others, from the ninja spies who had assaulted his Clan when they had first come to holy Eilasaîyanor for to visit the Emperor, to the machinations of the other warrior clans who sought the downfall of Íngìkhmar and his children, to the betrayal of the Qhíng who had come to invade and colonise and occupy, even the Qlùfhem allies had been a source of grief, they did not blink their eyestalks once when they helped the Gerousia to smite the heavens and ruin Jaràqtu in order to strike the Qhíng. But then again, Puîyus loved Grandfather Pátifhar and the priests and monks and abbots and vestal virgins of the Abby, his friends Khrùkhti and Paloîta when he had lived were acolytes, and Puîyus could not possibly imagine a life without Princess Éfhelìnye. Sometimes, though, it was just too great and terrible to be a Real Person, khwòlqa ker ól, happier he would be to dwell in a nest with Princess Éfhelìnye and listen to the birdsong, and she could do all the speaking for him and understand people, he would listen to her stories and her made up language, he would watch her dancing, and he would be content. And so Puîyus continued to weep, the tears washing out from him, his tears their own song of sadness, like a sand painting of mandala and swirls, and he wept until Éfhelìnye soothed him down and his eyen grew heavy, and she continued to stroke him as he fell asleep and the first of the unspeakable ruins of Jaràqtu began to appear within the howling Northwind.
– Father? – Éfhelìnye asked the Qhoîyekh Mind Slaver mentosklavigar.
– Yes, my child? – asked Abbá Íngìkhmar’s voice.
– Forgive my saying it, but how much of you is Abbá Íngìkhmar? Am I speaking unto him, a memory of him, are you something created out of my Puey’s mind? –
– All of us are Íngìkhmar. –
– When I meet you face to face though, as a Xhámi, as a warrior, and not in the rainment of wheel and tentacle and antenna, will you remember what is chanted now? –
– Perhaps, but only in dreams. –
– Now that Puey is asleep, I have something to discuss with you. –
– Purr purr? – Princess Ixhúja asked.
– You can listen also – Princses Éfhelìnye chanted. – The three of us can speak openly of this topic. It is about what Emperor Kàrijoi told me, and Puey came up the rainbow steps unto the Crystalline Throne and spake unto the Emperor face to face, and all about us were arising Ancestors and Dragons and a chess game, and behind the throne was arising a terrible tree all of scales and swords brushing against each other. It was there in the very heart of the polity of the mortal realms hat I could feel the true sadness of the Land, I could taste the very unhealthiness of my family, I could taste the blood ailment in the Royal Family even in the blood in my mouth, I could feel memories of my Great-Grandfather’s madness, shadows of Emperor Khyìlyikh when he arose and smashed against the earth and boiled the sea and ripped open the skies, I heard the sighs of virgin sacrifice and the cutting of blood ablutions and the solar conspiracy, and there in the swirling of the throne I could feel my Puey mourning for Fhermáta who had gone upon her journey alone without him down that river back whence none can return. You were there, oh Íngìkhmar of the Sweqhàngqu, my Father’s most loyal knight. Do you remember what my Father bade me and Puey to find. –
– It was … a flower – came the voice of Sieur Íngìkhmar.
– ?? – asked Ixhúja.
– Curious, isn’t it? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye. – And the Emperor told me to seek the Ancestors. Now that we are come unto Jaràqtu, Puey and I shall have to contact your Ancestors, they are the next clew. Do you know how to do that? –
– Hmmm …– the Mind Slaver was thinking, as he leaned back and thought about pinda rice balls and of incense and offerings. – There may be a way to offer qhomóqe rice balls and some qthèrlqu shewbread … Puîyus should be able to do that, since ritually he is now an Ancestor … – The Slaver fell into deep and uffish thought and considering for a time added – This may be difficult. The Ancestors arise all about me, in dreams, in visions. Something is making them arise and reach out unto me, and I do not quite understand what is happening among them. –
– If there is anyway you can help us – Éfhelìnye chanted – I would be greatly honored. –
The Mind Slaver bowed, his broken antennæ shivering from side to side, wheels and gears struggling against each other, a slight necroplasmic ooze dribbling out from the cracks of his skull where brain and clockweyth were wellknit together. – Anything I would do for my Children, with what time I have left unto me. I shall have to meditate upon this, to see what I can do. The dead have their own secrets, their own ways hidden unto those who still dwell upon the other side of the marge. –
– Can you guess what Puey and I shall find in Jaràqtu? –
The Mind Slaver turned his head, steam was arising from the bolts and pistons of its neck, a few bits of its bone were puncturing through its hame and it chanted – The forests are sad, tremendous pfhóla trees where Puîyus and Karuláta used to play and build up their treehouses, the trees are crackling and dying. I know that my Son shall be heartbroken at the death of the trees, the barren ground, all of the plantations shivering in ice and shadow. I remember once, oh Princess, when you came to stay with my clan you used to sneak out and sleep in the trees, especially when you were quarreling with Siêthiyal and Karuláta, sometimes you would bring blanket and pillow up unto the branches and rest for a time. Once when the summer rains were ending, as all of the leaves were blushing golden and red, Siêthiyal was shouting at you, and you hid yourself in a tree and wept, for you had learned that the Holy Law forbids Puîyus from marrying you. You kicked the branches and leaves and cried out, How I hate the law! It is the very unfairness of blood! And you remained up there and tried to hide yourself in the bower of the branches, and behind the fishes and birds, and perhaps you would have stayed up there even unto this day had Puîyus not heard you from afar and came unto you and coaxed you into jumping into his arms, and he carried you away back into the crannog, into safety and sleep. –
– Did you see that, my Father? –
– Yes. Many times you children thought that you were alone in the crannog, you had your own adventures and alliances and battles, but I was always with you, I was feeding the plantimals, I was tending the fields, I watched o'er you every moment, no matter how many times you burnt my kitchen and flooded my rooms and glued yourself unto someone. –
– I just changed the harmonies of his hand unto mine, but the details are not important – Éfhelìnye chanted, looking down unto Puîyus dormant and beautiful upon her lap. – khmaîtlhoqhoîyekhim, respected, may I ask you something? –
– Yes, my child – spake the slaver in the voice of the only Father she had e'er known, for Pátifhar had been Grandfather unto her, and Táto had been Great-Uncle, and Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho had been Uncles, but Íngìkhmar was her honor Father.
– When Puey and I stumbled into the crematoria at the edge of holy Solúma Eilasaîyanor and saw how the Qhíng came riding outwards to burn the Traîkhiim in their millions to become the smoke of the Suns, as is the commandment of my Father, as is the custom granted unto us by the Immortals, and for the first time we saw the Qhoîyekh Mind Slavers for the first time, we saw some of them upon great beetles and others in the walking living ships, we met a particular Qhoîyekhim, ragged and dissicated and blind and he spoke unto us in the voice of Abbá Íngìkhmar and helped us to escape. Tell me, please, are you the same Qhoîyekhim whom met I before? –
– We are all the Qhoîyekh – whispered the Mind Slaver, and he nodded his head a few times towards the Princess, his broken tentacle drawing outwards, and flowing within it were wires flowing about his thews, and the blind pupils of his eyen were opening up a little more and become telescopic astrolabes gazing back unto them.
– !! – Princess Ixhúja chanted, and she was pointing unto the whirling of the wind, and the growing vortices of silver and white and grey flowing upwards in growing fountains greater and greater still, and peering up out of the winds came a few of the smaller cadlong of the Qhíng as they were riding upon the face of the Northwind. Behind them all of the estuaries and whispering mountains of Syapàkhya were gone, and beneath them was the froth of wave and dust and causality, and the wind was strong and fierce, and the banners of the Kèlor Masters were arising and flapping in the direction of Jaràqtu, the place of their kòlun oaxhmòneroi, the invasion and occupation. And the pamlènthe came spinning upwards, all of the wheels and wheels and disques of it wobbling from side to side, the gyroscope was bouncing upwards upon the tips of the winds and yet not tobbling o'er at any time, and soon it came arising and spinning upwards and began to touch the tips of the deck of the xàfhar warship, and the wheels began to unfurl and open now. The Mind Slaver came slithering upwards the first, his clattering tendrils reaching outwards and before him the wheels were become the gangplank unfolding before him, and as he came outwards Qhíng were gathering upon the deck, tall Qháma warriors who had been those chosen of Xhnófho Kàrnaka himself, and they gazed into the eyen of the Slaver and were bowing their heads and antennæ down one by one. Ixhúja was about to start punching Puîyus back awake, but Éfhelìnye shooed her away and with gentle hand and a few kisses tender she kissed his face and drew him awake. Ixhúja came stomping outwards and grinned to see that the Qhíng were all khìjhyi, all groveling and shaking, and she found that to be quite good. Then came Éfhelìnye and she was leading Puîyus outwards, and Puîyus was blinking away his tears and saw before him the Qháma who had been the ones to lead the war against his people, the same circle of warriors who had come against his ancestrial land. He looked up and could see in the clashing of the wind clouds that some of the fleets of the Aûm were materializing, and that sprinkling upwards from their high towers were the banners of the Duchesses, and that appearing behind them also were explosions of light, the burning of the fjords of Jaràqtu, and the swooping of Dragon wings. And Puîyus just felt completely empty, and he reached up and embraced Éfhelìnye and let his tears fall upon her shoulders, and she kissed the nape of his neck to tell him that even this trial shall pass, and spring shall come again.