– Sorry – chanted Akhlísa. – I have sleepy feet. –
Siêthiyal sate up and wiped her face clear of tears. – It’s time for us to awaken anyway. It will be sunrise soon. –
– Why do we have to get up? I’m still tired, I’ve had a hard night of working and toiling and obeying orders and doing other folks’ chores, I’m not trof, lap’a, q”iλa, as wthèjhu as other folk in the family, as ergaphobic as others. –
– You have go arise before sunlight because you shall be the new Emperor’s Concubine, and you have to practice doing your chores – Siêthiyal chanted with a few sniffles. – Now come along, it’s very cold. I wish we could have ended up with an hot-blooded folk like the Khlitsaîyart, we’d probably be sweltering in their living ships, great pyramids and hexagons filled with bonefires, raging walls crackling from side to side, warmth all about us, and not only that but they’d probably give us some of those very thick leather and feather cloaks that the Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr like to wear, that would keep us comfy and warm. –
Akhlísa struggled to arise through the tangle of sheets and pillows and ended up falling down upon herself again, but in her scrambling she rolled about and seeing that Siêthiyal was arising and turning keeping back to her Sister and pulling up the pillows and sheets after her. Akhlísa bounced back upon the bed and chanted – Have you been crying? –
– Don’t be ridiculous – Siêthiyal whispered.
– I thought you were crying – Akhlísa chanted.
– You thought wrong. I haven’t cried since Fhermáta was taken away from us. I did not even cry when my Puey was ritually made one of the Ancestors. I don’t have time for nonsense. Why are you just standing there? –
– Ur … may I go back to sleep? –
– Hurry up, get dressed, or the Duchesses are going to be angry with both of us! Here, let me help you. It’s better at least that they see you up early than me, they forget about me. – Siêthiyal dashed into the the schrank and began tossing out blouses and skirts of soft and liquid sendaline. – It’s very difficult to judge the attitude of honored Pereluyàsqa and revered Khosyaràsqa. They are extremely agent, they were created in the storybook times of the Qlùfhem, they are alien creatures unto us, plus they are builded out of wheel and clockwork, or at least I usually think they are. Any of those reasons would be difficult enough to understand them, but all three of those reasons makes them … I don’t know, they’re like the Spirits that flicker throughout nature and within the spirit realms. –
– Yes, very difficult – Akhlísa chanted, and Siêthiyal came froward and started dressing her Sister in a gown which was approach for a Concubine’s chores for the first hour of the day, the matins darkness before the dawn. Siêthiyal with swift and deft hands began drawing some ribbons and jewels through her Sister’s hair and adorned her in both the regalia of the Sweqhàngqu and in the patterns of Khlàmfhors Àsqa the first of the Zodiographers of the Qlùfhem Aûm, and she began tightening up her Sister’s golden girdle.
– It doesn’t make ken any easier when the Duchesses keep thinking of us as the children of their own species – chanted Siêthiyal. – They forget what foods we can and cannot eat and how our minds work. –
– Oomph! – Akhlísa gasped.
– At least you don’t have to wear your corset yet. Come along, we’re late! I already see fire upon the horizon. – Siêthiyal snatched her Sister by the hand and dragged her to the door.
– I don’t think Puey would mind how late we are! – Akhlísa chanted. – He’s the only one I care to impress. –
– But he’s not the one holding the Triple Alliance together, you are! Now come on! – hissed Siêthiyal and she drew the door of the cubicula open, and before them arose gusts of curtains drifting from side to side, and walls all of woven fern and fibre rustling from side to side, and the sight of an hundred Aûm warriors all armed in floral speras pointing right at them, all of the warriors utterly still and even blinking in unison as Siêthiyal drew the door aside and stood before them.
Siêthiyal bowed unto them and drew her Sister behind her and chanted – We apologuise for bothering you, but it is past time for us to return to the surface upper quarters where beloved Pereluyàsqa and respected Khosyaràsqa are waiting for us. Please let us pass through. –
The guards blinked thrice, and all at once, as if arising from sleep, the thundred marched at the same beat, their sphere-legs all swiveling at the very same time, their tentacles drifting from side to side all at once, their complicated armor shivering and breaking apart at their shoulders and in the movement of their torsos. The guards all turned their eyetalks at the same time forwards and began moving in that direction, but they still kept their weapons leveled at the maidens and following them, as Siêthiyal walked forwards and clasped Akhlísa’s hand beside her.
– I loathe how they follow us like that, their weapons always untowards us – Siêthiyal hissed to her Sister. – This is intolerable, the Aûm must be punished for this outrage. –
– It’s their custom – Akhlísa chanted. – Guests and children are subject to constant and armed watching. The zodiographers were telling us that the Aûm are both very protective of their children, but also quite ready to punish them for the least infraction. How can we expect them to treat us any differently? –
– I think they may want to grant the new Pwéru family far more respect than they’re giving us. – Siêthiyal shuddered as the corridors rolled about them, and long lines of fibre and wicker bridges were expanding and leading into the city towers within this vast glass and hot air balloon. – I can’t believe that you and are Pwéru now and no longer Sweqhàngqu. It just sounds wrong, horribly, horribly wrong. –
– I’m just thankful they permit us to live, the Aûm and Kháfha and Qhíng – Akhlísa chanted. – The outerworlds are no longer safe for children they tell us, now that the Emperor is consuming all life. –
The rooms were rolling out before them and revealing the hot kitchen complexes that were wrapped around the heart of this temple vessel, and the guards were spinning around and arranging themselves about the door. Siêthiyal walked within, but Akhlísa pulled herself away from her Sister and started dancing and skipping within the heat and clangor of the kitchens, all about them the stoves were crawling about and shafts of scented light were appearing and leading upwards unto strange and breathing pipes. Akhlísa looked around and rubbed her arms and wondered what new lessons in cooking foreign food the turkhàkaxeng contessas may have for them, but she looked around and saw that the kitchen slaves were scatteing in all directions, and even the flames and dancing pots were growing a little quite, as flowing out of the mist came running a Thùlwus messenger and in his rustling tendrils held he a xhyemaîlo string of quipu beads, and bowing unto the maidens chanted he – The beloved twin brides of Khlàmfhors demand your presence upon the green deck. –
– Is something the matter? – Siêthiyal asked.
– To my shame, the Duchesses demand obedience, they entrust not answers to a messenger nor the exalted children of the Pwéru clan – the mjumbe chanted with a bow. – Please come this way. –
– Stay behind me – Siêthiyal told her Sister. Akhlísa skipped from side to side but did as she was told. Siêthiyal had not bothered to dress herself in a fancy gown like her Sister wore, she was wearing cotton and linen, but she was sure to keep her Father’s sword strapped unto her back and a few knives tucked into her wooden shoe, for even though she had not yet achieved proficiency in using such weapons, she knew at least enough to sell her life dearly to defend her Sister’s life and honor.
The tlhòstu ablegate was leading the way, and all of the cucina was arising and drifting away from the maidens, as if all of the tables and shelves and pots and walls were the sides of snowflakes that were being blasted apart in the winds, and the ceiling and pathway and thrawn fibre columns were all part of the concourse of autumnal leaves caught up in the storm. The children of the Sweqhàngqu were not quite getting used to the architecture of the Aûm, especially not the extremely complex shifting modality such as one found in the temple balloon, where machinery and function and nature were all blent together. The twain never quite felt as if they were walking upon the same pathway twice, new bridges were always flowing down before them, ports and windows evershuffling aside and become new corridors hinged upon wheel and cushion and axle bright. And this time it was no different, the corridors and pathways, the arising walls unhinging about the children, the rooftaptop drawn upwards as a great canopy, and then all at once the rooms broke apart into several large sections which were all wheeling about upon their own separate machinery and being drawn away, and long and winding ramps were reaching upwards and leading unto trilothon ports, and the dancing light that glistened a little of midnight gloam and a little of the first hour of the day each struggling to exist was all forming before the children as they made their way up unto pathways all of jade and emerald, a deck long and winding before them beneath the clear air of the skies.
As the ablegate was bowing unto the Children and spinning away upon the tips of his sphere-legs and disappearing the deck before Siêthiyal and Akhlísa was really just the memory of what green should be or used to be. Many of the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu alike were sweeping the outer regions of the deck and cracking up the layers of frost and ice that lay caked upon it, and those places were a very soft pwòthno kelly green, with hints of lime and yellow veining through it all in growing thrice-dimensional patterns. The children stayed clear of the cleaning and the sweeping, and indeed that was not the main activity upon the deck at all, but rather the large bone fire in the very center. Akhlísa was stamping her feet and rubbing her hands together for warmth and seeing the fire from a distance broke away from her Sister’s protective grip and dashed right towards it, and Siêthiyal had no choice but to come running right after her and scanning the ship from side to side and hoping that nothing odd and inscrutable was about to befall them all. Most of the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu were perfectly content to ignore the children as much as they would their own qhokòkhti seedlings, and only acknowledge the new family Pwéru at times of ritual and reverance, at least until they grew up and were old enough to be cloistered away within the new Emperor’s harem. But as Akhlísa came dashing forwards right towards the fires, Siêthiyal ran up and caught her by the shoulder to slow her down, for something very strange indeed was coming to pass upon the deck, for they could see that the inner layers of the deck were still covered in a cubit or so snow and stuck within the snow were several elevens of the Aûm who had stood guard outside the window where Siêthiyal and Akhlísa slept. The attendants were coming forward and taking knife and pickaxe were freeing their brethren from the ice and pouring hot water upon them to revive them, and the guards that broke apart from the ice shook themselves and brushed frost right off their eyestalks and torsos and shoulders, they plucked out some glass ice right out of their eyen and blinking a little took up their swords and staves and nodding to their brethren continued upon their duties as if they had not just been frozen in the deepest and coldest of ice. Some of the guards however were not reviving, and their brethren continued to pour hot water upon them and rub furry towels about their bodies and shaking them a little, but no light shone within their eyestalk, and their tentacles were breaking apart, stiff and lifeless. And the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu just looked one to another and then to the flagur burning in the center of the deck.
– Toss them into the fires. Burn the guards that do not withstand the night – the twin Duchesses were saying, as they were seated upon an high dais before the growing flames. Their tentacles were wrapped about each other, and between the two they were holding am khlainára spy glass and holding it up unto the eye of one and then the other and gazing off unto the flame of the horizon.
Akhlísa ran up to the flames but kept her distance from the attendants as they were digging through the snow and ripping out one frozen guard after another after another, and frostladen swords and impaling spears and fanstaves came crashing downwards. Siêthiyal walked right up to the khmàntheut elegant attendants and watched as piping hot vats of water were being poured upon guard after guard, and some of them were breaking out of the ice and shaking their tentacles from side to side, their torsos heaving with a slightly vegetative lurch to them, but many of the guards had just frozen to death, and the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu just picked them up and hurled them into the flames, and the bodies broke apart in sparkles of green and blue, fountains of ash arising for a moment, the frozen tentacles burning like branches in supplication before breaking apart at the bones.
– It’s been a very cold winter this year – aqua Khosyaràsqa chanted as she rubbed her tentacles together towards the gathering flame, and the wheels of her shoulder and eyestalk were squeaking just a little.
– Yes, quite frore – thrumb Pereluyàsqa was saying as she turned around and wriggled one of her tentacles before the flames. – We shall have to remove the bones and use them for our new gowns. One’s exoskeleton should always look one’s best, and a good bone gown always aids one’s figure. –
– Quite true – cærulean Khosyaràsqa was saying.
Aurantiaceous Pereluyàsqa drew up the spy glass and gazed unto the horizon, she was watching clouds all of growing fire, and the muscles of the sky shifting from side to side as thousands of points were drawing closer unto the fleet. She turned and signaled unto some of the zodiographers and priest captains how within the towers, and they were waving their flags one to another and causing the towers to turn from side to side upon the angles of their growing engines, and reaching out from the towers were opening up the growling cannon forests, and the pipes were heating up, the cannons dilating and aiming unto the distance. – Ah yes, our darling children – Pereluyàsqa chanted and beckoned unto them with an elegant turn of his tentacle. – Come here and sit with your janyakhuswefhàntuji, your great aunties aya twain. – Akhlísa ran up and sate down before the Duchesses, quiet and dutiful, but Siêthiyal hesitated a little and just sauntered up unto them, but did not sit at all but watched the fires upon the horizon. The Duchesses kept their eyestalks towards Akhlísa and were reaching out to pinch her cheek and touch her golden hair and were saying one to another in the same melodious voice – She does look like a doll, doesn’t she? Just like those perfect rewelbone dolls which blessed and creative Kàrijoi used to fashion for the good children of the worlds, don’t you remember when the Emperor used to do that? Oh yes, he would make dolls in the likeness of all species of mortal child, little Seedlings for the good Aûm, the tentacles always waving from side to side sua sponte, and little xèjhwo maggots for the Qhíng adorable and small and the pfhés hatchlings for the Khlitsaîyart and Kháfha and Syìplet, ah, do we even remember the last time we saw a wheeled Syìplet it seems so very long ago but then again revered Kàrijoi weorÞfull is hardly to time to keep an happy, blithe people around when beginning his great extinction, oh no surely he has smote all that people down by now, and Kàrijoi used to fashion little doll patàptet podlings of the Ptètqiikh, their esemplastic wings all wound up and swift, and wee fhlóltapet bulblings of the fhlóla, oh what mansuete gardeners they used to be, such a pity the Emperor smote them so early on, we twain could surely use a species of garden thralls in the new worlds that shall brighten, proper it is that we have saved the genetic materials of the failing peoples, do we both remember when the Emperor used to make little Triîmeling dolls little toys just like the brainless feathered slaves, those were quite adorable little creatures, what lovely slaves they are, especially in the nest. –
Siêthiyal was crossing her arms and watching unfolding of the horizon, but even more than that watching as the cannon towers were arising and the priest captain lrathùlwoxaum and the biomages arpijhàrlta were preparing to fire, the cannons all lighting up one by one, bioscientists drawing up the ropes and setting all of the gyres awhirl.
Orange Pereluyàsqa set the twirling glasses of the iriġruaq into Akhlísa’s small pale hands and chanted – Tell us, dearest Concubine, what do you see upon the horizon brightening before us? Unspeakable it is that we no longer have proper sunrise to greet us, nefas it is that the hours have been bent now backwards unto their source, but the Regent Sylvan shall win this war for us and set all things right. –
Akhlísa drew the telescopic astrolabe upwards and adjusted the mirrors a little and saw that all of the horizon consisted of tower after tower falling down into the sea, she could see the outline of great wharf cities breaking apart and slipping into the froth. Several large black living ships in the shape of seashells and tentacles were appearing and disappearing but she could not even guess whose vessels they may be, so vast and uabhasach they appeared unto her, achromatic clouds and acrid lightning were part of their solar sails. Rushing out away from the flames though she could see clouds heading right towards the glass and hot air balloons of the Aûm temple fleet, clouds which she could see were all feathers and beating wings in variated colors.
– Is that a flock of birds heading right untowards us? – asked Akhlísa. She took the astrolabe down and adjusted the mirror disques a few more times and then set the entire apparatus upside down and backwards upon her face, and the reflection was inverted and fractured, so that now it seemed that the avians were fleeing away from them all. – Ah, good, that’s better, they’re all flying away back to their nests, the oefling birdiechens! –
– We thought that they were birds at first – Khosyaràsqa chanted, her voice the sound of freshlettes flowing in the forest beneath clear springlight. – The pattern of the migration was enough to alert our bioscientists to watch them, and one must always be careful to heed tsóriêna bird auguries, the priests are always reminding us of that. But then the priests and scientists noticed some anomalies in the way that the birds move, so we’ve been tracking them and realize that they are not actually archæopteryces flying untowards us. –
Pereluyàsqa signaled for Akhlísa to sit in her lab, and as Akhlísa made herself at home and squished about the tentacles and flowing mouth-trunks slithering about her, the siqiññaaqpalaaq Duchesses took the spy glass and adjusted the circles and disques for the damsel zave and setting it before her face made the image all the more discernable for her.
– Now, isn’t this better? – the oranĝa Duchess asked.
– Oh, I can see the birds flying right towards us, but they’re not birds but thousands and thousands and hundreds of Traîkhiim beating upon their ifeathered wings. There sure are a lot of them – Akhlísa chanted.
– Yes, panicked slaves heading right untowards us – spake both of the Duchesses at the same time with the same voice. – If we discover that one of our colonies of artists have been lax with their tnoaqteûpa thralls and let them escape, we shall have to punish them, but if the tnoaqteûpa uhlans had beloved unto the Kèlor Qhíng, than we should pity the slave all the more for enduring such maltreatment at Qhíng tentacle, and prepare to punish the Qhíng for being servile in their duty to keep the slaves in bondage. –
– Perhaps the Traîkhiim escaped from the Qhíng without their knowing it, they could be runaway slaves … or maybe they poked their masters in the antennæ and are fluttering away – Akhlísa offered. She fell silent and the Duchesses did not say anything for a few moments, and she realized that she should probably just remain silent for the time being, it was never permitted to speak without permission, and even when acknowledged and permitted to sit in luxury upon the lap of a great Noble, one should speak with proper thought. Akhlísa lifted up the khlanaîra and tried to be as quiet as Siêthiyal was, stern and still and unspeaking as stone. Without a few moments the outer regions of the Traîkhiim flock was growing close enough that Akhlísa no longer needed the telescopic astrolabe to see that they were indeed Traîkhiim, their serpentile necks three were bobbling from side to side, their wings were clapping up and down, and they were singing a song of resurrection, for their souls had been plucked from the eternal sleep wherein the Xeriîqe had kept them for many a year, and even as they were flying, the Traîkhiim who are always fain to dance, whose entire society and governance is based upon rhythm and percussion and eagerness to engage the clans in ritual ballet, were dancing in their flight. Dancing in the heavens for the Traîkhiim was just as elegant and wonderous as their dance upon the fungus swards and within their ice forests and upon the glaciers where they migrate with their igluit upon long skiffs and wooden skis, but in the skies they were able to leap and spin and duck around each other in growing vortex patterns, sometimes the thousands of Traîkhiim were breaking apart into strophe and antistrophe and phalanx arose about phalanx, battle lines of dancers spinning around upon the very tips of their hand-feet, their wings all beating in the same time, their heads ducking from side to side in patterns strouthian avian and also serpentile dracontine, their feathers were brushing from side to side, they were great crests opening and closing, the feathers about their torsos were wavering about as if the Traîkhiim were being ducked into pools of water, and some of their feathers were shimmering like the bulbs of thwìntin jellyfishes. And as the Traîkhiim were drawing closer and closer to the fleet, as they came bursting out of the burning night cloudbanks, their voices were arising in ululation and they were singing wordless songs of praise unto the new Moon Empress who had freed them all from bondage and lifted the heavy veil of death from before their eyen.
– What a terrible din the slaves make – the geminate Duchesses were saying with the same voice, like wind glancing through silk cloth and water leaves. – Always remember, dear Concubine, how exceptional you are, important and exalted, for thou art the bride of the Emperor, and your children shall be Pwéru. Slaves cannot help themselves, they barely have consciousness, they must be guided with a strong tentacle or a strong hand. They can neither think for themselves nor take adequate care of their own affairs. – Both of the Duchesses were lifting up their tentacles and signaling unto the priest captains and zodiographers to have their cannons ready.
Siêthiyal was started as several more Qlùfhem arose and in their tentacles they were carrying more guards who had frozen to death during the long midnight, the dead eirēnophúlagēs were being carried like stiff planks of crystalline timber, and like wood were tossed into the great flame in the center of the deck where the Duchesses were warming the tips of their tentacles here in the matins breazes. Siêthiyal had seen death before, even er that the Emperor’s War of Heaven had begun Tlhexetsopwekùthuwo she had seen the death of tree and plantimal before upon the plantation and in the battles Puîyus had fought in Jaràqtu, the severed heads he had brought back with him and left tied by their braids unto the pillars of his chariot, and she had seen the Elders and Warriors riding away from fields where ravens and crows made sport of the fallen dead, and Siêthiyal liked to think that of the Sweqhàngqu Sisters she was the one who was the most jhìxhyeim, the most dispassionate, for Fhermáta just liked to ignore death and just wanted to keep peace within the household, and Akhlísa was still too young and emotional to understand how harsh a warrior had to be, but Siêthiyal was the one who did not flinch when Puîyus came back with bandages on his arms and face, who did not turn aside when he tossed bodies or bits of bodies out from his chariot, and kicked the heads of his slain enemies as other children kicked solar balls for sport. And yet now that Siêthiyal was experiencing the vast and growing extinction which revered Kàrijoi was growing unto all things, she was finding it harder and harder to accept what was coming to pass, and seeing the Qlùfhem picking up kadar who had frozen to death in the night and using them as kindling was just a little too disturbing for her. Her thoughts were not dissuaded by seeing that many of the priest captains were walking around the fires and using long metallic tools were drawing out the burning exoskeletons and sparkling bones and collecting them in sacred urns, for the Aûm ay revere their honored dead and wear their bones, and yet the sight of such reverance also was not filling Siêthiyal with joy. She turned aside as several more piles of guards were tossed in the fire, and the Duchesses just warmed their tentacles before the flame, the smell of burning fiber and filament arising in deep heavy whisps.
– Thou also, Siêthiyal, must be mindful of how holy thou art – the ingeminate Duchesses were saying, and for a moment Siêthiyal did not even realize that they were speaking unto her. She turned around and saw that the flower brides of Khlàmfhors were beckoning her to sit before them in the heat of the fire. Siêthiyal slid down and was utterly silent, she knew that she had to obey, for disobedience would only storm punishment unto her younger Sister.
– Thou art the new Emperor’s Sister, thou shalt be the dowager of the Pwéru and exemplum unto the generations of the new Cælestial Family to come – the Duchesses were saying with a single voice. – You may very well end up being put in charge of the holy Sylvanhood, the priests and vestal virgins and acolytes, you may be the one to educate the future generations of princes and princesses. You clearly have talents which dearest Karuláta does not, in terms of cunning and intelligence. –
– Huh? – asked Akhlísa.
– Thou may even be more important than the little Empress herself – orange Pereluyàsqa and jacinth Khosyaràsqa were saying.
– Uh? – asked Akhlísa.
– A quizzical look, we believe, lies upon your face, oh our child? – the Duchesses were asking Siêthiyal, or at least she thought that both were speaking through the blur of their celia, but she was not entirely sure, it could have been just one, and the other was listening. Just to ensure courteous politeness Siêthiyal addressed both of them and chanted – Forgive my being obtuse, but I do not understand how I could possibly be even as important as Éfhelìnye shall be. –
The Duchesses looked one to another and blinked a few times, and the flowing strands of feathers about their eyen and eyestalks almost gave them the look of glancing one to another with some amusement. The Duchesses turned unto Siêthiyal and chanted – Surely, dearest one, you realize that Éfhelìnye shall only be an Empress. –
– Yes, honored Great Aunts – Siêthiyal chanted with a nod, for she knew that the Duchesses liked being hight thusly.
– Éfhelìnye’s importance derives from her bloodline and her ability to bare children for Emperor Puîyos, and most especially a Son – the Duchesses were saying. – However, the tnún, the dragon ichor of the old dynasty of the Pwéru might have grown cold in the successive generations from the time that Pfhentókha bore Qhàthyum the Second Emperor. It may be that Éfhelìnye may be incapable of bearing a child, or perhaps only one, she may become sick after having her child like the Virgin Empress did, may the Immortals grant her eternal peace. Or perhaps Éfhelìnye may only be able to bare Daughters or a single Daughter. – The Duchess were reaching out their tentacles towards Akhlísa and wrapping them about her neck and arms and embracing her in an embrace just a little too tight for comfort. – However all of our tests indicate that this child is very healthy and will become fertile in the centuries to come. If the new Empress should grow ill, if she should be infertile, if she should bare just a single child and pass into the protection of her Solar Ancestors, you shall be the highest ranking female in the new dynasty, you shall be the one to oversee the education and rearing and upkeep of the next Emperor and Empress. –
– I’ve never thought of it that way – Siêthiyal admitted. – I do not suppose it matters, Éfhelìnye will not grow ill or fail to produce a few happy and healthy offspring. –
– Even if that is so, the new Clan of Pwéru is in dominance, not the old Clan of Pwéru – spake the Duchesses at the same time. – Éfhelìnye is leagally your Older Sister, but her blood is still that of accursed Kàrijoi. There is every chance that you shall be the one who guide the hearts of Puîyos’ Sons and Daughters. –
– Do I get to do any guiding and rearing and all? – asked Akhlísa.
– You are the third highest ranking female, after Siêthiyal, after Éfhelìnye – chanted the twin Duchesses. – You must do as they say. –
– Alas, fhus ei! –
– But you shall be in charge of the harem and the rest of Puîyos’ concubines and slave girls, and your status shall arise with the children you bare him. –
– But Siêthiyal still outranks me … –
– The tyranny of time and primogeniture – Siêthiyal grinned. – I must say, I learned a lot in those three months before you came along, and it’s a good thing you came early otherwise you wouldn’t be here today. –
– Lucky me, youngest in everything – Akhlísa muttered.
– Will those slaves stop this terrifying discordant noise? – Khosyaràsqa asked, at least the children thought it must be she, for her tentacles of blue and violet were arising, her celia sparkling with outrage. – What a frightful noise it is, the slaves have neither breeding nor musical ability whatsoever. It is such a tragic waste of flesh. –
– Can we imagine possibly having to feed and house so many slaves? – Pereluyàsqa asked, her saffron celia easing from side to side in blossoming blurs.
– Travesty. –
– Tragedy. –
The Duchesses spun their eyestalks completely around, for the Aûm have neither front nor back but just trilateral symmetry, and taking silken kerchiefs from their complex triplefold gowns, they waved them and let the handkerchiefs fall as a single.
– I think the Traîkhiim are singing about Éfhelìnye – Akhlísa whispered to her Sister. – I cannot quite hear the words of it, but it has quite an interesting tune unto it. –
Siêthiyal reached o'er and placed her hands upon her Sister’s ears, for a new noise was arising from the towers and the plasma cannons just at the edge of the temple bälun. For a few moments all of the vessel was silent save for the discharge and coil and the grinding of the machinery that kept the weaponry functional. The Traîkhiim did not even scream when a third of them were vaporized in the first volley opening up right before them. The sacars came streaking outwards, and each one was blossoming as a large flower, petals all of orange and blue drifting outwards, and some of the Traîkhiim were so eager in their dance that they were almost leaping about each other and falling right into the growing flames of the explosions, some of the Traîkhiim were lifting up their triple voices in song and were just about to ring out with a new chorus for Éfhelìnye who had return did them from the shadows of death, but all of the air was burnt right out of their lungs, their flesh became dust, their wings and bones continued to flutter for a few moments and then break apart. By now the flock of the Traîkhiim was realizing what was happening. Some of the flock was veering away and flying in the opposite direction, but without changing direction too much they were easily shot down by the awesome war cannons perched upon the towers of the glass and hot air balloon. Some of the Traîkhiim ducked downwards and tried to get out of the range of the explosions, leaping downwards was certainly a risk because feathers and xhepánga citrus and the bodies of their siblings were raining down about them, and the explosions of each new generation of cannon just brought all the more panick unto them all. Some of the Traîkhiim were screaming now, they were colliding one with another, they were trying to communicate with their the flocks, they were rising and falling and screaming all the while. The towers were swiveling from side to side, and Siêthiyal and Akhlísa could hear the sound of several more engines awakening, and attendants aiding in the loading of the cannons and the clearing of the heavens.
Khosyaràsqa turned away from the explosions of the slaves and looking back unto the bone fire rubbed her tentacles o'er a few tendrils of flame, and noticing that a few of the eyestalks and tentacles of a guard were pointing towards her, bristled a little. She snapped her tentacle into the flame and ripped out the offending dead tendril and held it up before her. – How unsightly – she muttered unto herself. – A corpse is supposed to offer itself up in beauty, not as some horrid shriveled thing. –
– Let it burn, my Sister – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – Toss it back into the fire, let all the pyre burn. –
– As you say … – Khosyaràsqa sighed with her celia and tossed the tendril o'er her shoulder, and the attendants dumped a few more bodies upon it and scattered holy salt upon them. – Are the priest captains and zodiographers finished burning the slaves away yet? The thralls, wretched and pathetic, were obscuring our view of the flame horizon. –
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were holding each other and shivering all the while, the slaves in Jaràqtu were treated with a great deal of respect, their service and loyalty made them a part of the family, and many of the aristocrats of the warrior clans even freed their most leal slaves and made them helots to serve upon the land sometimes in Jaràqtu or perhaps in the greater environs of Syapàkhya. To slaughter slaves in such numbers was beyond their experience, unless of course the slaves were being burnt to become part of the flames of the Sun, that was understandable and holy. Akhlísa covered her face and tried not to think of the song that the Traîkhiim were singing, their praise of Éfhelìnye who had saved them from death, and Siêthiyal wondered why the wibbials acted in such a fashion, were Traîkhiim slaves to inexpensive to obtain, did the Aûm already have enough Traîkhiim slaves, or perhaps were the Duchesses quite literally saying that they had no enough food to feed all those slaves, and were thus performing a kindness unto them and sending the slaves back unto their own grey Ancestors. Siêthiyal did not wish to know the answer. She thought about the stories she had heard, of Emperor Kàrijoi crafting toys for all of the good boys and girls of the worlds, his Imperial Mad Scientist Jhwèsta the Prince experimenting with new clockwork trains and dolls and soldiers, and endless hordes of Fhráli Fhétha slaves to aid the Emperor in his awesome undertaking, the little green men who swink’d in his workshop.
– The zodiographers and priest captains have missed some of the slaves – Khosyaràsqa chanted, as she swivelled upwards, her tentacles flowing about her waist. – Some of the slaves are escaping. –
– Let them go – chanted Pereluyàsqa. – At least they are out of our way yet. –
– It is sloppy, wasteful, inelegant. The thralls will just descend as locusts upon some hapless vessel that has come bursting through a fungal laden cloud and they’ll start tearing the ship apart. My servants! Keep firing! –
The zodiographers and priest captains bowed and wordless obeyed, the great towers turning around and lighting up the heavens again and again. Long loops of plasma flame were weaving through the growing of the skies, but by now the Traîkhiim were fewer in number and grown dispersed, so the flaming bombs were just burning them up in handfuls and just wounded the rest in the growing echoes of fire.
– Oh pedati! – Khosyaràsqa chanted, her tendrils coiling in minishing loops towards the nearest soldier. – Honor me by letting me hold that xhrèngu crossbow, please. –
The soldier sped up unto her and handed her the crossbow and the prètlhe bolts unto it, and he swivelled down and bowed in upper supplication unto her. Indanthrene Khosyaràsqa paid the leal soldier no more attention but just fiddled with the prètlhe bolts for a few moments, but her deft biomechanical tendrils were able to figure out the mechanism soon, and dipping the edge into the flame, she spun the xhrèngu around and aimed at the fleeing Traîkhiim. Several more torpedoes were exploding in the heavens and vaporizing feather and bone and flesh, but this just added to the challenge.
– Try and kill the pink one – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
Khosyaràsqa fired with a great thwákh, and the flamescent prètlheqhe came spinning upwards through the heavens and whiffed right above one of the heads of the fleeing slave. Khosyaràsqa yanked upon the lever and drew out the next shaft and this time the mechanics of her eyen dilated into smaller circles. She aimed right towards the spherical torso of the fleeing slave, it was the largest part of the its body, and firing was rewarded with a gasp of pain above them. She missed the torso but the prètlheqhe impaled the Traîkhiim right through two of its necks, and its wings flaired wild for a moment before the creature’s gizzard heart stopped and it began falling through the heavens.
– Alas, it’s falling so far away – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
– Did you want it? – asked Pereluyàsqa.
– It would have been useful to throw it upon the bone fire. –
– At least some good would have come from the waste of the servile element. Next time we should affix rope to the bolts. –
– I grow weary of this game. –
– Go ahead and short if you wish. We can draw the ship a little closer if you so desire. –
Khosyaràsqa drew down the xhrèngu bow and set several more bolts within it and motioned to the soldier to arise before her. Siêthiyal and Akhlísa looked on and were shaking all the while, they were expecting the cyanotick Duchess modheros to spin the bow around and impale the soldier before her, for such was the angle whichby held she the xhrèngu, but she just clasped it into the tentacles of the soldier and directed him to return on his way, and then turning back unto the maidens chanted – Sometimes a brief distraction can be enjoyable. But we tarry long. We should be returning to our lessons soon. –
Pereluyàsqa arose, her oranĝaj tentacles were drifting down the side of her body and almost looked like the movement of wings. – Did we e'er discover the source of the flames upon the face of the telbië? Alas that we fulllack time to investigate such a catastrophe. Syapàkhya is breaking apart, it is the tragedy of the north. –
– Travesty of the north. – Khosyaràsqa was gesturing unto the maidens to arise. Siêthiyal was helping her younger Sister upwards, and Akhlísa was playing with the spy glass, she let it dance about her palm and wrist and almost succeeded in dropping it a few times, mostly because Siêthiyal was standing right beside her and kept stopping her from handling delicate and xenien equipment in such an hardy fashion. Siêthiyal, in fact, growing tired of her Sister’s continous attempts at clumsiness, just snatched the khlanaîra away and handed it to the nearest Duchesses, Pereluyàsqa, while Khosyaràsqa continued to poke into the flames and shift the bodies and bones around, and a few more attendants were coming to dumb more frozen guards upon the flames and build the fires skyweards reaching.
– We shall be entering Jaràqtun space soon – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – I know you shall enjoy returning to your homeworld, or at least the remnants of it. But vengeance against the Kèlor Qhíng is a goal which we both share, it is good to kindle such rage in one’s heart, one’s spirit. –
– Someone’s fluttering towards us – chanted Siêthiyal. – A visitor. –
– Indeed? – asked Pereluyàsqa. – We shall be assembling in the aft meditation halls, there we shall dress and adorn the holy Concubine in a gown fitting of her personage, and then the two of you shall practice upon the xhlaêt lute, and then numeration upon the syòpoqhain abacata, the franbeads flowing from side to side nepohualtzintzin. –
– Numbers? Yuck – chanted Akhlísa. – I can’t believe concubines have to know numbers. –
– Oh honored Great-Aunties, may we stay for just a moment? – Siêthiyal asked. – Something is coming? – Siêthiyal did not bother waiting to be granted permission, she came running towards the nearest gunwail at the edge of the tower, and saw that fluttering towards them was a small form of tumbling avian and pepe wings. Within a moment she could see feathers glistening about it, and triple heads swaying forwards, and limbs swimming through the air as if it were water.
– We missed another one – chanted Khosyaràsqa when she saw that the small Traîkhiim were darting right towards the maidens upon the deck.
– Maybe we should let the children have this one as a pet – chanted Pereluyàsqa, placing her tendrils upon her Sister’s shoulder.
– Only if they remind good. –
– They have become far more obedient, far more docile in recent days than when they were first delivered unto us, and were lifting their voices in anger, and leveling blade against torso. –
– The older one is the wilder one. –
– That can make her more valuable, especially if the younger one’s only importance is lies in her reproductive potential. –
– With a new Emperor, a new marriage, with Fertility restored to the land, we should be able to increase her reproductive potential. –
– We can do that while we poison the new Emperor and Empress, to purify them – so the Duchesses were saying, their voices merging back together so that not even the two could tell who was saying what, where one thought began and another ended.
Siêthiyal was standing at the deck and Akhlísa was dashing right beside her, they were reaching out with hands supplicating, and before them came a small Traîkhiim all glistening with white and pink feathers, her wings were straining, her leg-arms were kicking back and forth with all of her might, and flowing all about her heads and around her body were little clockwork insects buzzing all the while and beating with their wings and adding their strength unto hers. Siêthiyal jumped up and caught up Aîya as the wee triimexhiliîlii came tumbling down before them almost gasping and fainting in her arms.
– Ciao, Triîm – chanted Akhlísa. – Do we know you? –
Siêthiyal was stroking Aîya and brushing her feathers back, and the clockwork insects were drifting upwards and zum zum buzzing about the maidens all the while, almost licking and tasting them with their glassen wings.
– You look terribly familiar – Akhlísa chanted.
– DRAGONS! – Aîya screamed.
– You’re not a Dragon – chanted Akhlísa. – Are you? Is she? Is she! –
– Dragons dragons dragons dragons close! – Aîya screamed. – Burning the city the falling quays! All crash boom bang! Walls shattering, the living ships, oh the living ships, they all cage and box, they all energy and eye, they all the Qriî looking from side to side their visage all like wax. They were all feather and fur and muscle. The slaves, oh the falling of the slaves! And the Dragons were coming, the Dragons are nigh. –
The twin Duchesses drew up unto the Children and looking one to another were blinking all the while and trying to understand whatever it is the slave was saying, if the words of the thrall should prove to be mete and proper and important. Siêthiyal continued to brush Aîya wings, but the Traîkhiim burst out saying – So the maze it was all beneath the sea and all the rest of us, oh oh oh oh oh we were smoke and ash, we were grey and smoke, we were shooting upwards within the columns, we were pipes bursting upwards high high high beneath the sea. –
– Beneath the sea? – asked Khosyaràsqa.
– But then … monsters all boom boom boom. The maze was becoming fractal, it was coiling outwards, it was bending and burning, it was all … all fractalescent. And the monsters, they the ones all boom boom boom they thunder in the labyrinth all boom boom boom, they the ones chasing us, the walls and towers were reaching out unto us, and the monsters and the Dragons swooping down. Fractal fire! Fractal maze. Time, all the walls, the towers, all the time! –
– All the time? – asked Pereluyàsqa.
– Dragons after us, big and terrifying, Dragons burgeoning, the blossom of scales, Dragons growing, darting left and right. Sword all flashing from side to side, dæmon sword, fire sword, swish swish cut cut cut! And the Moon she all beautiful, she was swooping down, the cages were jaws and tentacles holding us they them in bondage. She was light, she was white and plenilune, hope and salvation. Coming down, the quays opening upwards, the fires erupting like blossoms one by one by one. By one. And another. By one. By …. One. By … by … by … one. –
– Has the slave stopped talking yet? – the Duchesses asked.
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa shrugged. Akhlísa picked up one of the clockweyth insects and saw that it was a luminescent dragonfly, its wheels all flowing about, its compound eyen blinking, its wings become triangular knives cutting from side to side. The dragonflies whirled up about her, some of them darted right into her golden tresses and began burying themselves right into her, while others were forming growing halos about her face.
– Dragons! Dragons attacking, and he was fighting the Dragon but everything just going wrong, the Dragons in the burning quays just a few leagues away from us! But lost, lost, lost unto us. So I we one whistle a jaunty tune and went in search – Aîya’s triple lips grinned.
– Are you saying that the Dragons are in the burning city, just four or five leagues away? – the Duchesses were asking.
– Ah … yes! – chanted Aîya. – Dragons really close. –
The Duchesses drew themselves upwards. – This is useful information. The Sister and Concubine of the new Emperor must be protected at all costs. The future of the honored Aûm depend upon them. – At once the Duchesses spun around in a whirl and signaled unto their zodiographers and priest captains, and all of the deck was alight with activity. The attendants were dashing outwards and leaping up to grab the ropes that twined around the billows and the tall towers, and the cannon turms and the weaponry of the vessel all began to spin around, not just the few towers which the Aûm had used to cleanse the air of some slaves for practice, but the larger vulcanic cannons, coming to life, wheels and sundials spinning all about them. At once the Duchesses were turning unto some of their senior aids, and leaning their torsos together all were whispering with celia, and then the Duchesses turned around and approached the maidens and chanted – We’re taking the royal virgins away from the Dragon attack. A few leagues is no distance to a Rainbow Serpent. You will follow the attendants, they will take you into the inner fortress where you can remain safe. –
– So … are these actual actual Dragons? – asked Akhlísa. – Not story dragons, not metaphor dragons … dragon dragons? –
– Real Dragon dragon dragons! – cried Aîya.
– Not xhyiênxhi spirits, the one the people were calling mud dragons? –
– Mud dragons? –
– Just real dragons … – Akhlísa staggered backwards. – Prince Kherènxhuqhe. I hate dragons. Dragons. We have to leave. Dragons … so craiceáilte … –
– We’ll protect you – chanted Siêthiyal, as she put one arm around Akhlísa. – We coming inside. –
Khosyaràsqa drew up to Siêthiyal and snapped Aîya right right out of the maiden’s grasp and holding up the tnoaqteûpa thrall chanted – This one has proven to be quite useful after all. It must be congratulated. –
– Really, just doing my part, quite simple, very modest my contributation, humble humble, just a poor Traîkhiim. –
Khosyaràsqa spun Aîya around and chanted – We appreciate your service. – She swivelled right up and walked into the bone fire and tossed Aîya into the flames and turning back unto the children chanted – We shall return the slaves bones for you and make them into a pretty necklace for you. Perhaps we can set the bone necklace with jewels and gold, some of the bones we can make into a nice little broach to set in your roseate tresses. Just think of how lovely you shall look in these bones, and perhaps we can obtain a sweetheart for you in the years to come. –
Siêthiyal took a few steps froward and and began faintig before the gathering flames, but Akhlísa reached up and tried to hold her Sister upwards. The geminate jidüks arĥidukoj continued swiveling on their way upon their beautiful and rolling jhojhafhayoîltis sphere-legs, their gowns rustling in long and glowing trifold patterns down the sides of their elegant torsos, Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa were reaching outwards and holding each others’ tendril tips, their mouth-trunks were flowing about each other stàqha shuNDaa in rolling ripples that made them almost look as if they were dancing and swimming in pellucid pools, and the ripples of their feathers were flowing all about the very sphere of their eyen and down the length of their eyestalks and twining about their shoulders. Bright and kug and bitrāmum were the tear drop jewels drifting about their shoulders, and layers of caracanets were flowing all about their thoraces and unto the upper regions of their tendrils, shining rét glé reultan smaragd sparkling, all of the artistry and thew and imagination of Khlàmfhors of Old had been put into the creation of his clockwork flower brides, the movement of their bodies had been designed by dædal tendril to be the selfsame movement of the flowers especially all of the blossoms which first arose in the dreamworlds of the Qlùfhem in the Elder Days even before war came against the Qhíng. The eyen of the Duchesses were like unto flowers also, and the flowing of the tendrils revealed a little, as light came suffusing through them and revealed veins of wires and gentle cascades of wheels, was a flowing also formed out of petalblossoms and petalescent movement. The Duchesses were several xètsaxi dodrans away from the maidens by now, and a slight hum was arising from the contessas turkhàkaxeng, the everpresent movement of pìpa pistons undulous stīmire within the eyestalk and neck and celia, the wondrous alchemy of machinery and life which had been the genius of the First of the Zodiographers of the honored Qlùfhem Aûm.
– Once we ourselves have Puîyos and Éfhelìnye stablished upon the Xhmerpayòltoin, the lately aquired Crystalline Throne, and the new House of the Pwéru is firmly known to be safe and holy, and the Concubine is trained and made to be a proper companion and servant to the Warrior Emperor – so Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa were saying one to another – Perhaps we should set our floral minds unto finding a suitable husband for holy Siêthiyal. Honored Kàrijoi’s death means the end to our brave Íngìkhmar, his influence is not longer even a necessary part of the equation of the new Land, it is the Regents to the Emperor and Empress who shall be Elder and Parent to arrange this new marriage. Now, we must always consider what is in the best interest of the Pwéru, for that shall guarantee the survival and prosperity of all of the Kindred of the hieratic Aûm, we shall be the parents standing behind the throne, our words, wise and concerned and loving, shall be the ones they shall heed, for we shall be as Great-Aunts unto them, and the children and grandchildren of this new Úkakhoi Moiety shall be as unto the children and grandchildren we ourselves cannot produce of our own bodies. Now, as to the matter of Siêthiyal we shall have to find husband for her someone who is brave and loyal to the family, no doubt we shall look unto whatever remains of the Warrior Caste, someone of her own people, like unto Puîyos himself, but he must also be someone whom she control, for it is her family that is in ascendence, hers is the will which is important unto the Aûm. Perhaps we can among the Sèqhoxha Saqaîngta, the Sons of Jaràqtu find some warriors of the Clans who are already fighting with the phalanxes of the Aûm, and among such brave young souls we can find Sons appropriate to our use. We shall have to test them of course, but it should not be too difficult to find one of proper genetic background for our beloved Siêthiyal. – So the Duchesses were saying one to another, as they were leaving the bone fire and the horrified maidens behind them.
Siêthiyal forced herself awake again and almost shoved Akhlísa aside. The flames were roaring before her, but she could hear the screaming of the Traîkhiim as little Aîya was thrashing from side to side in the fires, her wings struggling for to arise. Siêthiyal gulped and drawing the ancestrial sword of the Sweqhàngqu, the ancient Khaxhapúrxhriqe Sepúrke which was all of music and soundwaves iformed, she staggered towards the flame and contemplated doing something incredibly foolhearty. For of all things Siêthiyal most feared the fire, and was most scared of dying in the heat and choking smoke and terror of the flame, she was always cautious with candles and painted lanthorns and was always certain to douse the fire of the oven, and she always was teaching her younger Sister Akhlísa to respect the flame and not to do anything foolhearty about it. Siêthiyal could never quite think of any specific reasion why mounting fires gave her pause. When Akhlísa was very young and almost set the crannog on fire by setting her soaking wet tàwit bedroom slippers upon the flames of a light bubble, Siêthiyal had been no more injured than anyone else in her family, and although, when Princess Éfhelìnye, Kàrijoi’s only child, had come to stay with her clan as a guest-friend, and the Princess had set Siêthiyal’s roseate tresses on fire a few times, Siêthiyal had not been unduly alarumed. It was just that fire and bursting heat, and the tendrils arising from side to side, and the sensation of burning flesh and feathers, the smell that she could taste, and it was sour and terrible, all of it was just something which caused her heart to race and her hands to shake, and she was never entirely sure whether indeed she was going to be able to stay awake and not swoon in the fires ay-branching outwards. But Akhlísa was shivering with fright and too afraid even to cry, and Siêthiyal knew that she was the only one who could possibly be of any help to the little xhmón thrice-span, the jhás of westwegas. And so she held the sword before and ran right up unto the edge of the burning wood and bodies and swung the brand from side to side. The fires did not part before the blade, in fact they were growing all the taller and all the more wild, but the holy khaxhapúrxhriqe was ringing, and its echoes were become a song which interacted and glowed with the resounding flames, the sound became a melody which reminded her of when the Qhíng had come into the skies of Jaràqtu and began scorching it field by field by field, and the plantations were burning, and the fire whispering mountains crumblent, and in wroth came the Qháma elite and toppled o'er the crannog of the Sweqhàngqu and burnt it and threw it into the loch and set all of the ancestrial fields aflame. And in the samewise, higher and higher, brighter and deeper, the some arising choking about her nostrils, were the bone fires tlhaô in the midst of the deck and the layers of the dead Qlùfhem guards burning one by one, and in the midst a screaming Traîkhiim trying to flap her wings and escape.
Siêthiyal ran into the flames. Yes, I know this is fatuous, this is the most ridiculous feat that I have e'er attempted, perhaps the stupidest thing that I’ve e'er done but I must go after the poor creature I have to yank her out, for it is what my Puey would do. That’s the problem, the problem with the War Clans and all of Jaràqtu, the problem with the aristocratic caste of the Jarjhíxhoxe, it’s the problem that our Elders have and all those planning and waging and losing their war against the Emperor, the problem is that all of as they scheme and order and try to create a new world around Puîyos either think of him as the pious lad of Íngìkhmar who will always do what is told, or they think of him as the living Dæmon who rips men apart alive and slaughters battlelines with left hand and right, either Lad or Dæmon, either someone who has to be ordered to be controlled or someone who has to be feared and sent into battle to be controlled. But what they do not understand is that my Brother is good, his eyen glow luminous and innocent, his very movement, his bearing breeds halos flickering about his brow, and anyone who spends any time with him, who watches the way that he interacts wit his family, who sees his gentleness towards grass and flower and tree and bird, who has seen him cuddle against a raging lion or tyrannosaur, who has seen him punch a dæmon across the face in order to save a princess, anyone can see that he is awful in his goodness. And he would throw himself in the fire to save this poor soul. Yes, the Elders ignore his goodness, dearest Puîyus has many faults of course, not the least his passivity and willingness to submerge his own thoughts in order to bring peace to the clan, but as my Puey grows older, his goodness only blossoms all the brighter. Sometimes I wonder how Éfhelìnye can stand it, I’ve had mine entire life to grow accustomed to his mourning for the death of a single flower, for his willingness to throw himself into battle, for his patience in the face of a most eccentric family. I have met those who are holy, an Emperor, a Princess, I have met a Saint, even the Prophet of old, but Puey’s goodness just burns in his skin. Those who fought with him hand to hand and tendril to tendril, like those Pirates who were always supplying me with toys, they say that Puey actually loves the strangers that he saves from burning ship and crumbling tower. How can that be so, how can one actually love someone not of one’s clan, the Prophet might have commanded allencompassing allburning allcatholic love for all men, but the pirates were telling me that Puey can actually do it, that he can swoop up upon rope and swashbuckle through the flame and pull the stranger from the horror and love the stranger. How rare, how fearful, no wonder the maidens want to kiss him, they do not realize it but from afar they can taste the love upon his lips. I don’t think anything in the worlds, not the flames, not the screams, not the bone fire and the dead Qlùfhem, not the war burning around us, terrify the Elders of the Land as much as the glimmering prospect that the new Cælestial Emperor of the Dreamtime does not love a single person or a single people or a single idea, he loves everyone and will not stop saving us, even though we warrant it not.
Siêthiyal spun the khaxhapúrxhriqe around for a few moments, the fires were twisting into crimson queue towers about her. Behind her she could hear Akhlísa’s screaming – Sister! Come back! Sister! I love you! – The sword was ringing in Siêthiyal’s ears, its music was part of the gathering rage. Siêthiyal did not realize it but she had been crying as she came into the fires, the tears that she could not admit to shedding while awake or in the presence of her Sister, now they were come bright and fierce upon her, hot tears that were falling upon the fires, and where the tears fell the fires hissed sated for a moment, although the spinning tendrils about her were still numerous and were arching up about her. The dead Qlùfhem were rolling about her, their eyen and tendrils frozen in horrid contortions just as they had been in the last few moments of their life, the ptùli mlinzi almost looked shocked, their shattering tendrils breaking apart as the flames arose for to consume them. Siêthiyal found herself walking right through the ash torso of one kadar and now through the stomache of another eirēnophúlaξ, she was wading through the crashing timber of eyestalks and exploding livers and kidneys, no more skin the guards had at all, just ashen sinews breaking apart, and piles of bones arising in the glowing ossuary tyoânyetha banhus. Siêthiyal wiped some tears away, her sword hacked through the trees of fire arising all about her, and in the midst of the fires the small white egg lay aflame.
It was not actually an egg, Siêthiyal could see, although it resembled one in shape, it was a Traîkhiim who was burning to death and was hiding her limbs and necks beneath her wings. Her feathers were all gone, her wings almost completely chared bones flowing all about the citrus xhepánga liquid which is the blood of this folk. Aîya was shivering as the fires were creeping up into her muscles and leg-arms, and as Siêthiyal waded upwards, weeping all the while, she was reminded with some uncomfortibility of the smell of vellum, for the nicest and most priced of jhùkhla vellum, such as she found in the ancient tomes in the Abby of Kàtriqan and in the Jhotòpwan Galactic Libraries where the Wise gather to debate the meaning of words and in the Castles of the Szlachta Caste Posqéje, the vellum was made from the skin of the Traîkhiim poploe. Many a time she had brushed her hands upon what she found to be the finest paper, she had touched the leather of books, leather taken from the skin of some slave ritually slain, and it was not until she had grown older that she had learned how the paper had come to be. And yet as sad as the hame of Traîkhiim being made into the vellum of some nice books, Siêthiyal knew in her weeping that Puîyus was just as sad at the thought that the leaf and bark and spine of a tree should become paper, and that the Traîkhiim themselves in their own few civilizations at the edge of the icey west kept slaves of their own and treated their own wild beasts with stern hand-foot. The sadness of a single tsenayangekhnàtwa microbe was source euphausiaceasome of grief unto her Brother.
Siêthiyal’s tears rained upon Aîya, she cut through the flames upon the Traîkhiim and pulled the scared and burning body away from the rest of the burning Traîkhiim. She was not entirely sure whether the wretch were still alive, ash and xhepánga were dripping from its wounds, and the fires were arising now in a frenzy now that they realized that some potential bones were being pulled away from them before they could be purified of the rest of the body. Siêthiyal ran through the burning litches, the Qlùfhem guards were flowing upon their sides, their dead and burning tentacles arising up towards her, she was not sure whether they were reaching out in sadness and supplication, a desire that their bones at least be shown some respect, or perhaps the bones wanted to be taken with her, or perhaps were just waving fairwell unto her. Siêthiyal was not entirely sure, and running all the while she could not slow, the burning tendrils almost tripping her up, she was choking upon the smoke about her, her vision was swimming, everything was growing light and almost giddy about her. The fires were becoming the outline of wing and coil and Dragon flowing before her, patterns of gill and scale and rill all blinking befor eher. She might have been laughing at once point, she thought she was cradling Aîya and singing unto the creature the lullabies of Jaràqtu, or maybe she was just repeating Puîyus’ names again and again and again, the long and manifold names which Abbá Íngìkhmar had given him, too many names for lad who was destined to be the very last of his ancient warrior lineage.
Puey will save you. He always does. He will never stop, he can never stop striving, others are the honor of his heart and the songs of his souls, all who are tired and hurt, those who can no longer defend themselves against the winter and darkness, those left alive in dreamlands crawling with monster and time dæmon and dragon, Puey will come, and we all shall laugh once again. Please do not die, little creature, I don’t even know your name, you can be Kàrula’s pet and play with her and keep her happy, I’ll try and watch o'er both of you and protect you as Puey would. For my Brother is no more, he is become a ritual Ancestor to our Family sent away unto his death, and I have to look after what’s left of my kin.
– … find one of proper genetic background for our beloved Siêthiyal – the Duchesses were telling one another, their voices dancing together in a sing-song whisper.
– Siêthiyal! – screamed Akhlísa at the top of her voice as she ran around the fires. By now about an hundred of the Aûm, Qlùfhem and Thùlwu alike were hurling themselves into the fire, they did not care that their own skin was charring and breaking apart, that their tentacles were reaching outwards and falling into the flames, they knew that they had to find the Emperor’s Sister and protect her at all cost. Akhlísa screamed several more times. About a thousand Qlùfhem came pouring down from the towers and were drawing up mechanical waterfalls with them, and opening up the tubes of their aquaducts were breathing out a tremendous river upon the sacred bone fire.
The Duchesses descended at the edge of the flames, and so terrible was their presence become, that several of the guards spun away from them and threw themselves into the flame rather than risk the displeasure of the flower brides of Khlàmfhors, and not a few of the Aûm just spun and wavered before them, their hearts stopping, they were falling dead before Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa of old.
– What is the meaning of this? – the Duchesses demanded.
The flames parted before Siêthiyal’s sword, even as three Thùlwu were carrying the maiden upwards, and she was cradling Aîya in her arms, and the Traîkhiim had become an khyitsèkhwin chrysalis cocoon and was warm and still. The Thùlwu were all on fire, but they managed to stumble outwards and drop the maiden down before the Duchesses, and all of the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu were falling down before their leaders and quivering in rage.
– Explain – the Duchesses chanted in an hushed whisper, so quiet and calm that it brought few anew unto all who heard it. Akhlísa was running up to Siêthiyal, ash lay upon her face, her clothing was torn and scorched, but the fires had not reached her, they had only touched the sword and the chrysalis that lay cold in maidenly hands.
– Sister ran and saved the Traîkhiim from death! – screached Akhlísa. – She’s so brave! The little thing was screaming and waving her three heads, she was burning alive, but Sister tried to, no she suceeeded she came into the fire, she’s very brave you know, she did not hesitate, I was just standing here I would have just let the wiht burn to death I cannot send my Sister out and … –
Pereluyàsqa turned to Akhlísa and hissed – Do not talk in the presence of your Elders. –
Akhlísa buried her head upon Siêthiyal’s shoulder. Khosyaràsqa was tending to Siêthiyal aig ensuring that she was unhurt unburnt unscorched, the Duchess wiping soot from the child’s face and checking her limbs, but Siêhtiyal refused to release Aîya from her grasp, and when the tentacles arose about her, slithering and grabbing, Siêthiyal just barred her teeth and gave jacinth Khosyaràsqa a defiant look.
– We shall not repeat our commandment – Pereluyàsqa chanted, and she neared the three lyiikhaThùlwu who had saved Siêthiyal from the fires and were themselves now burning to death, and the thousand Aûm who were bowing before the Duchesses before the extinguished flames of the bonfire.
– To our shame, saw we the divine maiden, the Emperor’s Sisters, in the fires, and so we ran in to save her – chanted the three Thùlwu.
– You three die with honor. We twain shall wear your bones ourselves – chanted Pereluyàsqa, and she reached into the pockets of the sleeves about her mouth-trunks and drew out a bottle of chrism and sprinkled the holy oils upon the three brave Thùlwu, and they screamed all the louder as they burnt to death right before the maidens and came tumbling downwards, ash and vegetable husk and bone of battle collapsing in a terrible heap.
– The Emperor’s Sister is unhurt – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – Just dirty and scared. –
– My Traîkhiim friend is definitely hurt – chanted Siêthiyal.
– The slave is probably dead. If you truly desire one, I shall provide you with living ones. Traîkhiim are like water and salt in the ocean, plentiful, ubiquitous, and useful in certain capacities. –
– I want her to live – Siêthiyal whispered. A few more tears fell upon the khyitsèkhwin chrysalis cocoon, but Aîya was no longer moving.
Pereluyàsqa swivelled up unto the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu groveling before her, she picked up a few at random, and knives appeared at the tip of her tentacles. She cut through the shoulders and eyestalks of several Qlùfhem and Thùlwu and dropped them about her, the gurgling bodies collapsing, blood rolling from their fatal wounds. She did not entirely care whom she found, she snatched up guard and technician and messenger and priest captain and passer by alike, her tentacles were just grabbing whatever came unto it. Her clockwork heart was racing within her at the merest possibility that one of the maidens of the Pwéru should have been hurt in such a foolish action, and her rage at the peoples, guards and sailor alike for not preventing the maiden from entering the fire was an unholy anger. She slashed through the torsos and shoulders and necks of the people until her bloody swathe brought her unto the edge of the bonefires, now smouldering and doused from the infusion of the river that the lrathùlwoxaum priest captains had brought unto it, an hundred dead guards lying in the growing mist, their bodies in different states of burning, some of them only bone, others the ash outline of skin and thorax.
– Oh men of tofhenókeqor, of the first estate, the priest of the Dreamtime – so Pereluyàsqa was saying. – Build up the scurinz, the ŋ̃aŕa once again. The blaze must reach upwards into the heavens, even as you set the living ships and glass hot air balloons fleeing from the Dragons. We have not a moment to spare. –
The priest captains were nodding, obedience was always a quality of the Qlùfhem Aûm and Thùlwu Aûm, or at least it was of the twin peoples now that the Duchesses of Legend had been returned unto them and were ready to make the people great once again. The living ships were all awakening in their various panoply throughout the fleet, and the great bäluns were lighting up one by one and preparing to flee, and the priests and scribes were rolling outwards and bringing out urns of chrism and dousing all of the dead guards with it. Several of the priests were opening up books of glistening parchment, and Siêthiyal was still sniffling a little, even as Khosyaràsqa continued to examine her, for the priests smelt all of khwòlapurkh the smell of old and dusty books, and Siêthiyal at first was imagining the death of the Traîkhiim that had made these tomes trùngo, but seeing the shape of the covers and how the color of the pages looked so much like the hame and thorax of Qlùfhem and Thùlwu alike, Siêthiyal gulped a little and shook and thought that the holy books of the Aûm were probably made out of the skin flayed of their own people. Siêthiyal held the Traîkhiim, still nameless unto her, closer and was just hoping that the Ancestors would deliver her out of the clutches of this terrible and alien people.
– Build the fire bright and high – indanthrene Khosyaràsqa was saying.
Acolytes were drawing out several more urns and throwing them whole upon the litches of the guards, and out came rolling waves of chrism rilling and sparkling long and sticky. Priests and scribes were picking up the bodies of the men whom Pereluyàsqa had grabbed and torn apart, they were stacking up the bodies upon the silent and creeping pyre now, but when they came unto the three Thùlwuxang who had saved Siêthiyal from the growing walls of fire, they took those bodies aside and were building a smaller mount for them and pouring other oils upon them to annealing them all the while. The deck was silent save for the frightful call of the motors springing as they were heating themselves and preparing the fleet for escape. Several more priests came pouring out from the towers and high in their tendrils they were carrying unlit jhkhiî flambeaus, and bowing all the while they came up unto Pereluyàsqa, and she took the ploniz in her tendrillar tips and approaching the pyre, the spinzia burst into flame of their own accord. She threw the torches onto the dead guards, and the oil caused the fire to begin piling upwards in growing walls of ash and heat and rubescence fell. She then approached the three honored Dead and set them aflame, their bodies were glistening holy and apart, orange and gold isolation flickering about them. The living ships and glass hot air balloons in the skies were reflecting a little the ritual burning upon the deck, they were like so many lights and gig lamps flickering about the central painted lanthorn.
– All of you who were on duty upon this deck, all you guards and sailors and technicians, walk into the pyre and do not return – so the Duchesses were saying, as aurantiaceous Pereluyàsqa came rolling out towards cyanotic Khosyaràsqa, and their tendrils were reaching out together. With a single voice they added – Such is the will of the flower brides of Khlàmfhors, the first zodiographer of the people. – The Duchesses turned now unto Siêthiyal and the quiet white chrysalis in her hands, the Duchesses were not turning their backs unto the technicians and sailors and guards who had chanced to be upon the deck at the moment of disobedience, for being Qlùfhem they lacked back or front, but their attention was certainly turned aside as the men were arising and were all forming queues and were marching right up unto the crackling firewalls of the pyre before them.
– We shall make quite a pretty siġle from the bones of those three good and faithful servants – so Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa were saying identical together and holding each others’ tendrils. Beside them the flames were arising all the higher, and the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu without even a glance of hesitation were throwing themselves one by one into the flames, and in the last moments of life were rolling their bodies about to make room for the thousand others.
– We shall not use all of the bones for ourselves though – the Duchesses were saying. – Perhaps we can make a nice headdress for Siêthiyal, a pretty crown for her, she would surely like that, our beloved grand-neiceling. –
Siêthiyal sniffled, the Aûm were not even screaming as they jumped into the fire. She looked to Ahklísa, she was shaking all alone and breathing deeply and kept her face away from the mounting flames even though she could not help but see the lines of the Aûm forming all around her, the Aûm lifting up their eyestalk, laconic and brave to the end, and determined that if she should die to expiate their honor, they should die with dignitas.
– Oh, just throw that silly little thing away – Khosyaràsqa chanted, her tentacles reaching out unto Aîya.
– NO! – shouted Siêthiyal. – It’s mine. I’m taking her to one of your priests or doctors or … do you even have doctors? I don’t understand this society at all. It’s like all the functions and estates are all mixed up, even you two are an hodgepodge of ideas and forms. –
– It’s probably dead – chanted Khosyaràsqa.
– The Traîkhiim is not completely dead – Akhlísa whispered, her hands o'er her eyen.
– Mostly dead – chanted Khosyaràsqa. – I’ll get you a new one, I’ll get you a boatload of them, they breed like so many unpleasant sqòyi bugs. Best it is not to be attached to a particular one. –
– If she’s only a little alive, I want her brought to an healer – chanted Siêthiyal.
Pereluyàsqa drew her eye down unto Siêthiyal, the eye was almost as big as all of the maiden’s face, and the pupil was narrowing at her and revealing levinstreaks of xylem and phloem in the orb, the slight glassen outline of disques adjusting within, the eye itself a complicated device not unlike the khlainára spy glass which Akhlísa had been holding before. Behind the Duchess the Aûm continued to throw themselves one by one into the flames without once trying to save themselves. – That was very unwise of you to do that, and disobedient also. One should not test the patience of one’s Great-Aunts. –
– Where’s the healer man? – asked Siêthiyal. – I’ll go by myself if I have to. –
– My Sister was just trying to save the Triîm – Akhlísa chanted.
Pereluyàsqa turned her cyclopean eye towards Akhlísa, the Duchesses towering o'er both of the damsels, and then reaching outwards, her tentacles urticating all the while, she snatched up Akhlísa by her arms, and one tentacle slapped her across her face. Akhlísa recoiled, her golden tresses shaking from side to side, and she began to whimper.
– Don’t hit my Sister! – Siêthiyal cried, but when she tried to arise, Khosyaràsqa’s tentacles slipped up all around her arms and legs and pulled her a cubit up off of the ground. – Let go of me! I won’t let you hurt her! –
– I’m fine – Akhlísa chanted, touching her face. – I’ve been hit harder by you. –
– That’s … not relevant – Siêthiyal chanted.
– We do not hurt the Concubine – the Duchesses were saying. – We hurt you, Siêthiyal, Kàrijoi’s Daughter. Thus we told you when we took you into the tutelage of the honored Aûm, that we would hurt you by punishing the other. You must learn to be an obedient family. Karuláta is punished for your transgression, and you for hers. –
– She didn’t do anything! – Siêthiyal cried, and she struggled to reach for her sword, but Khosyàsqa’s tentacles were too many and too quick and too strong for her, and Siêthiyal had to keep at least one arm around the Traîkhiim lest she be snatched away.
– I’m not hurt – Akhlísa chanted. – I always survive. –
The last of the Aûm were approaching the pyre, the flames now spanning upwards as high as the cannon turms, and as they were throwing themselves into the fires one by one, they turned and gave Siêthiyal what she thought had to be a mournful look, but the Aûm did not hesitate, they jumped within, and so all of malefactors were taken and were rolling about in the flames and were burnt alive. And within the fires sparkles of the pure sheets of green bubbles were arising, and violet smoke, and all of the temple balloon was lurching as the zodiographers and priest captains were harnessing the power of the xhònukho the spectral translation based upon blood sacrifice, for the vast and fleet vessels were often based upon the fhrùse technology of blood shed. Siêthiyal continued to sniffle while the living ships and glass hot air balloons were blinking out of existence all about them, and the distal flaming horizon was fading, and she was vermiculating and fidgeting as Khosyaràsqa tried to take the Traîkhiim away.
– Never touch my Sister again – Siêthiyal chanted with wellclenched teeth. – She’s the new Emperor’s Concubine and none may touch her, her flesh is holy! –
– As the Emperor’s Sister your flesh is holy too – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – And yet you just tried to throw such holiness into the fires. You may have to answer to the Emperor for that, and also not protecting the Concubine at all times. –
– I just wanted to save … ! – Siêthiyal began.
– Peace! – Khosyaràsqa set Siêthiyal down and rolled aside from her. – The child is very upset, Sister, can’t you see that? Children can be quite protective and enamored of their pets, it is a delightful peculiarity of the young ones, an khlornèfhaxing, an endearing wabi-sabi. We shall let the child keep and nurture her pet. –
– It’s mostly dead – chanted Pereluyàsqa. – What a waste of energy, not to be thrown into the fires. We shall have to mend and feed the thing. –
Khosyaràsqa lifted up her thrice three tentacles and was forming patterns like waves and teardrops everspilling, and leaning towards both Siêthiyal and Akhlísa chanted – Then before lessons begin for this day, we shall take you to visit the Wise in the tyoânyetha osteodomi. Perhaps they can repair this pet of yours, they can set it into their flesh vats and grow feathers and skin anew. –
– Or even better, they can improve upon your cosset – Pereluyàsqa chanted, and she began to lead the way away from the spinning flame tower of the pyre, and through the great crowds of the Aûm hieing upon their business and bowing all the while unto the flower brides of Khlàmfhors and the virgins of the new Emperor’s family, and her tentacles rondurent all the while she chanted – If you like, the bioartists can create new heads for your pet, or perhaps blend her with some other lifeform, a fungus perhaps, or some sort of dinosaurling, of they can make it that one half of her body is flesh and the other half plasma that turns and goos and grows into different shapes, and perfect clockwork hearts spinning in her center pumping energy and blood, half of the heart visible in the goo light. –
– I just want her to be a normal and happy Traîkhiim – Siêthiyal whispered. – This one is female, right? Sometimes it can be difficult to tell with them. –
– All Traîkhiim are insane – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – Who can guess whether they are happy? The Qhíng use their slaves to toil, swink, to work, but we choose not to have to rely upon an insane workforce, we like to take our slaves apart and see how their bodies work. One can learn so much from the workings of the body. –
– We’ll rebuild her for you, we’ll make her better than new – Pereluyàsqa chanted, and so it was that she came swiveling backwards and upwards up the length of the ramps that were leading up unto the higher towers of the fane, and Siêthiyal came huggling and cradling Aîya in her chrysalis cocoon all the while, and Akhlísa was walking, silent and somber, and Khosyaràsqa came the last, and turning her celia about sniffed the fires of the crematorium and found them crackling and prickly and good. And the living ships were disappearing, and the glass and hot air balloons were fading, and the heavens were shaking as the dragonflames of the horizon were being swept away in sheet after sheet after sheet.
And the ramps were reaching upwards unto large and triangular levels of the fane, and all before the children huge circular eyen were appearing in the walls, and within the circles skeletons of metal and stone were being placed, and the bioartists were dashing outwards upon lattice and scaffolding, they were holding up pains of stained glass and compairing light and texture from one to the other, the were taking their instrumentation unto the open window causing the walls to part just a little. The maidens turned and saw that the workers were drawing out many different pieces stained glass and were setting them together in vast skeletal patterns which were reminding them a little of the jigsaw puzzles which they were wont to put together, or at least they used to back when they had an home and before the war had come against all folk, but the stained glass window which the workers were constructing was far larger and of greater complexity than the school games of children, it was history and mythology set together within the glisten of living glass, and watching the purity of light dance upon the glass, and the colors springing about the children and coloring them, Siêthiyal stopped sniffling a little and just held Aîya close unto herself, and Akhlísa felt a little lighter in her heart.