Akhlísa leaned forwards and saw that King Èmfha was riding a large and winged spirit whose form she could not at first see, it looked a little like a dragon formed all of mud always flowing and swaying and rippling, and the wings of this creature were digging into the ground and being used as legs. The tail of the spirit was flowing from side to side, and flowing off from it were dark clouds and nebulous light, and the wiht kept turning its head upwards and blinking, but it had no mouth at all, being but pure spirit, it just blinked and existed and wore the trappings of the Clan of the Sweqhàngqu. The King was leaning unto his troops and discussing something, his banners of smoke flapping from side to side.
– Those are xhyiênxhi – Fhermáta chanted – The mud drake spirits. They’re incredibly docile, although I have a feeling that in battle they can become quite terrible. Mamà chanted that she was going to teach me how to ride one. –
– Mud. Charming – chanted Akhlísa. – This reminds me of some pies I like to make. – She looked at the movement of the troops and saw that they were slowing now that the King and his advisors had stopped. In the long concourse of the troops several other races of spirits were walking, they looked a little like great spheres formed entirely of bramble and thorn, some of the spheres were walking upon thorned legs, and long and rolling spiky tails were flowing out from them. A few of the spirits were turning and revealing now and flowing snouts that were grinding up the very æther of the dead. Akhlísa wondered at them for these spirits appeared in many different sizes, some of them were as large as mastadons and just trot among the troops and looked from side to side guarding them from horrors that even the Dead feared, but many of these echinas were only the size of men, and waves of them were just as small as the head of a maiden and were bouncing around like so many solar balls at play. – I suppose those pangolins are the dangerous ones. –
– Those are cleped Atlhànter, but they frighten me a little. They do not eat being spirits, and yet they clearly have snouts for some purpose that I do not wish to discover. And as they pass I clearly hear the sound of grinding teeth. I remember when the King was bringing cratelouds of these Atlhànter up unto the necropolis and mentioned that they were being important from some realm, but where I have no idea, and it is not something which the Clan will tell the Bride of the Emperor. –
– Do you have a plan? This is getting to be a little bit more complicated than I thought. –
– I have an idea. Can you get Puey out of here? –
– There are a couple of things I can do. If I can smuggle Puey away from the troops and bring up unto the shore of this realm, than I can draw him back to the Mortal Realms in some place and time somewhere where he disappeared. However, if I can’t bring Puey out, I’ll just have to snip a line through the realm and shove him out, and then he’ll just end up back in the dragon battle. That’s not my favorite idea. –
– I sense some hesitation in your voice? –
– Puey really needs to remain asleep. The Land of the Dead is not a proper place for the Living. I’m an exception, we don’t need to talk about me right now. –
The troops continued to flow through the cavern although at a much slower rate. King Èmfha and his advisors were now trotting away upon the back of their xhyiênxhi steeds, the spirits leaping upwards and crawling about upon their complicated and unfolding wings that were moving as limbs for them all. The xhyiênxhi were making a slightly clicking sound as they swung their jawless heads one to another, and although Akhlísa could not see for sure, she thought that the spirits all had different numbers of legs, some had three and others five and some two and eight, their tails were long and stabbing lines. The troops were drawing upwards, and then it was that Akhlísa saw that in the center they were holding up a box yformed all of chrysolyte and chrysoprasus and chalcedony. She leaned forward and sniffed the air, and was aware of just how loud her sniffling sounded here in the land of the dead.
– Yes, aîjanaFhèsya, my bunnikins, I smell candy canes flowing from the box – Fhermáta chanted. – Let me think for a moment. If we can just smuggle you within … I am not sure we’ll be able to sail Puey out of the realm of the Dead, we may have to settle with throwing him back into the Dragon battle. Hmmm … I wonder … –
– What is it? – Akhlísa asked.
– We’ll have to act quickly, we don’t want to troops to start entering the fire gates of the Khlèthnan. –
– We don’t? –
– Dearest Sister? –
– Why are you looking at me that way? –
– Do you mind if we twist your ankle? –
– Yes, I mind quite a lot! I need this ankle! –
– Please be quieter, the troops are passing below us. –
– I need this ankle, it is white and beautiful and Puey loves it because maidens with white ankles are beautiful and feminine! Don’t you dare harm mine ankle! –
– Fine. We’ll twist mine ankle. I don’t mind harming a ghost body. –
– Let’s twist both of your ankles. We’ll see how you like it, then. –
– I’ll stop the King, he’ll take pity on me. Trust me, everyone feels sorry for me. All you need to do is sneak into the box, rip a whole into the reality, and kick Puey out. If we try to bring him out of the box, the troops will be alerted, and all three of us will be dragged before our Mother, and she will not be happy at all, and trust me, King Èmfha Empúqher Khlùsyus Khmùsqus Khnàsyo will knock us all unconscious and chain us in serpents and drag us to the Matriarch if he thinks we’re trying to hide something from honored Khwofheîlya. –
– What do I have to do? –
– I’m turning into a shade for just a couple of moments. I’ll distract the King. –
– You’re turning me into a shadow? –
– Just for a moment. You’ll be smoke, you’ll be to us Wraiths as Wraiths appear to the living. You’ll be able to sneak into the box, and as you materialize you have just enough time to shove Puey away. –
– Remind me how you’ll be able to do this? –
– You’re the only one here with blood and breathe, aren’t you? –
– I think … –
– And your foster Mother is the Queen of the Underworld … –
– I’m really not following this, but I have the feeling this is going to hurt. –
– Just follow me – Fhermáta jumped up and began pulling her Sister by her hand. – And it won’t hurt too much, no permenent harm. At least I think so. I don’t have a great deal of practice with this, I’ve only been dead for an hour. You’ve seen what your birth Father Kàlewa can do with his ghost body, haven’t you? –
– Are you going to explode me? –
– Not quite. –
Fhermáta was running down the length of the sideways halls and the strange and glistening menhirs that existed within the prairies before the fire gates of the necropolis and all the while she was pulling her Sister after her. Before the gates arose some tall and gnarled trees, or at least what Akhlísa thought were trees, but at closer inspection found to be long and growing strangulations of metal and ankle and strength bursting out from the loam of dust. The branches looked a little like the mast and branches of a tree mixed with the patibulary tòkhma gallows where criminals were left hanged and impaled, and as Fhermáta snuck down the length of the walls and about the shattered stone and menhirs and yanked her Sister beside her, the metallic lengths were rustling from side to side and flexing themselves a little and bowing before Fhermáta for it could feel that she was the Bride of the new Emperor, the one who had been promised him from his birth.
– Do you understand? – asked Fhermáta.
– I have no idea – chanted Akhlísa.
– Just help me into the tree, the crimson betrothal tree was not desired for climbing into a metal nest. –
– I’m dressed as an Imperial Concubine, I’m the only one wearing a corset here! – Akhlísa cried.
– Just help me up – chanted Fhermáta, and she made Akhlísa hold her foot and give an hoist up unto the wavering of the metallic branches above her. Fhermáta drew herself upwards and reached down to help her Sister up. – And let me add, you do look very cute and grown up in the corset. Give me your hand. Hurry, before the King and his troops come. –
– When you mentioned that I have blood and breath, am I supposed to feel a little apprehensive at that statement? – asked Akhlísa. – It’s vaguely creepifying. – Fhermáta pulled her up into the tree, and together the maidens looked outwards and saw that the Xhyiênxhi mud dragons were rustling upwards and waddling in a way that no living creature possibly could, for within their bodies bones and metal and struts were jutting against each other in ways that did not allow for internal organs necessary to sustain life. The xhyiênxhi continued to click one against each other, King Èmfha was riding in the forefront, the runes of the Sweqhàngqu flapping embanner’d behind him, and soon after him came rollent outwards the Atlhànter upon their many limbs and spikes, and the soldiers of the Clan and the box all of glistening stone and jewel whence came the gentle smell of candy canes.
– Khlís? – asked Fhermáta.
– Yes? –
– Just because you’ll be a ghost unto the ghosts, that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to sense you. You must flicker as fast as you can. The King will stop for me, but you’ll just have a few moments. Now, I’m going to borrow your brooch for a moment. I want you to close your eyen, this may hurt for a moment. –
– I’m having some second thoughts about this plan – Akhlísa chanted. – When a ghost asks me whether I still have blood and breath, it just makes frightens me a little too much. –
– Close your eyen – chanted Fhermáta, and she clasped her hand upon Akhlísa’s mouth just to keep her quiet. Fhermáta drew out the brooch from her Sister’s flow of golden locks, and opening it up a little revealed that here in the dreamlands of the dead the tips were opening upwards and becoming needles scraping against each other, and little knives swirling around in an almost crustaceon pattern. Akhlísa kept her eyen open, she definitely changing her mind now and struggling against her Sister’s grasp, but Fhermáta was pulling her down and keeping her still. Akhlísa squeezed her eyen shut and decided she did not wish to see it. Fhermáta pricked both of Akhlísa’s cheeks, it was the least amount of cutting possible, but from the way Akhlísa was thrashing one might have thought that she were dying in agony. Fhermáta drew the brooch aside, and it folded itself back together, it was twirling and locking itself into a smaller shape, and she set it back into her Sister’s hair, and then leaned froward and smelt the sweet savor of the breath and blood of one who was still alive and lived upon the eormengrund.
– Am I allowed to look now? Do I even want to? – Akhlísa whimpered.
– You probably don’t want to, not yet – chanted Fhermáta, and she licked up the blood upon her Sister’s face. For moment Fhermáta remembered again what heat felt like, for the blood was fresh, she could taste for the first time the memory of copper and salt and precious iron, and she could feel liquid upon her mouth. Akhlísa was breathing out in a panic, she could feel that something was changing about her although she was not entirely sure what it may be, so she set her eyen open again but saw that everyone was as it should have been, she was just lying in her Sister’s arm, and Fhermáta was stroking her hair and breathing back upon her Sister for the first time since her death. Akhlísa was panting. Fhermáta’s body face was no longer pale, but a slight apple flush was appearing upon her cheek, her eyen were growing brighter, and the hands that were holding Akhlísa were warm and flowing with blood. Akhlísa nodded and looked around and chanted – Okay, that wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. –
– I need to hold you, I think you’re weaker than you think you are – Fhermáta whispered. Akhlísa could smell her Sister’s breath, it reminded her of autumn and the musky smell of baking and home. – We shall wait for a moment for the King. –
– Question? – asked Akhlísa.
– Yes? –
– So, since Mamà is the Matriarch now and she’s united all of the Clan Sweqhàngqu such as we have never been united since the Dawn of Time, that means she’s in charge of all of the Stàran in the family, the Shield Maidens from some of the earlier civilizations that preceded Jaràqtu. –
– Yes, my little one. –
– But I always thought that the Stàran were crazy fighters, in fact King Èmfha came from that nation. But all I see are the male warriors and soldiers riding out before us. –
– Mamà has our female warriors engaged in other tasks at the moment. She has forbidden the use of our female warriors in capturing and reconnosance of the Heir Puîyus. She believes that young women, whether alive or dead, may be susceptible to the charms our dearest Brother. After Puîyus is safely married off and made into the Emperor, I’m sure Mamà will find many uses for the Stàran Oiorpata. –
– I’m feeling a little dizzy. I’m cold. Fhérma! I’m cold now! Did you pull the sheets away from me? – Akhlísa shivered, but could no longer even feel the beating of her heart. Fhermáta had to draw her upwards. Akhlísa felt like coughing, but no air came out from her. She looked at her hands and wriggled them from side to side and gasped – I’m transparent! What’s happening to me! My skin is fading away and I see all of the rivers of my blood. –
Fhermáta leaned froward and chanted – Good, it’s working. You’ll be a ghost of ghosts. Aren’t you glad you found me? –
– If this plan doesn’t work … –
– We’ll all have to answer to Mother. –
– My blood is fading away! Where’s my blood going! Fhérma! Fhérma! Fhérma! Give me my blood back! Help! –
– Shush! –
Akhlísa buried her hands and began weeping, but no tears were forming, and when she looked down to her eyen she saw that little dlendrops of crystal sand was left there, for now she was weeping just as Fhermáta had done before. – Malfair! Disfair! Unfair! –
– The King is almost here. Flicker and find Puey. Free him. You’ll be becoming normal soon, so you’ll have to run and hide as soon as you can. Perhaps you should follow him out into the Mortal Realms. –
– How am I supposed to marry him if I don’t have a body? –
– Please pay attention, it will just be for a few moments! – Fhermáta drew herself up unto an higher branch and looking to her Sister saw that now Akhlísa was almost completely fading way, she was just a blur of shadows, her eyen were blinking and become translucent splashes, one blue and one green, and her golden tresses were a wavering blur flooding from side to side. Fhermáta for her part was become far more solidic, although not as solid as she had been when she had tasted of Puîyus’ blood, but enough to lend some of her wraith essence unto her Sister. Fhermáta touched her face and smiled and enjoyed the touch of it. She could feel a little the heat of her blush upon her cheek, and realized just how much she had missed the feel of it.
– And you say you don’t know where Princess Ixhúja is? – asked Fhermáta.
– I don’t care what happens to her – Akhlísa muttered as she looked about all of her body and found herself nothing but smoke now.
– I just hope she’s taking care of my hair, I had such beautiful hair in life. –
– Have I mentioned that I don’t care about her? –
Fhermáta lifted up her hands in silence. – Hither draws nigh the King. Kàrula you have your chance for vengeful justice. If you like, go ahead and throw me out of the tree. –
– In truth! What fun! – Akhlísa rubbed her smoke hands together and giggling unto herself ran down the length of the branch and tried to grab her Sister by her waist and throw her down, but she just broke apart, in ripples of darkness and shadow and flowing incense. – Eiya’ ei! I’m not even here! I’m like wind and air and æther! Fhérma! Fhérma! –
– It works. Wonderful. Don’t worry, little Sister, I’ll throw myself out of the tree. –
– That’s all I’ve e'er asked, for you to volunteer to hurt and humiliate yourself! I’m so happy! – Akhlísa squealed. She wiped her face and drew aside crystal dust and ash tears.
And now the xhyiênxhi were walking outwards, their long and angular wings were rolling from side to side and cutting into the loam of the ash and soot of this world, the beasts were turning their jawless heads from side to side, and echoes and clicks were rolling out from them. A few of the xhyiênxhi had wings covered in ritual scarification and paint mixed with blood, for some of the Wraith Warriors were setting marks and masques upon the Spirits to make them even more feircesome than they were afore. King Èmfha was riding at the front, his xhyiênxhi was swaying from side to side upon uneven legs that were all jointed in irregular patterns. Just as the King came riding towards the twisting gallows of metal and thorn, Fhermáta made her way to the higher branches and told herself that soon she would remember again how physical pain felt. She pretended that she was about to dive into the loch, and taking a deep breath just to savor the sensation, she closed her eyen and let herself slip out of the tree, and she tumbled upon the ground of ash before the ambulatory wings of the xhyiênxhi spirit.
– Xhwókh ei! Xhwókh ei! – cried King Èmfha. As the maiden tried to arise, the King could hear the distinctive sound of a bone breaking. – By the Matriarch, the Spirit must have knocked the maid from her tree. –
Fhermáta tried to arise, but collapsed upon her back, the pain was greater than she could have imagined it, in life she had always been careful not to fall out of trees, but now she could feel that something possibly important was broken. She rolled her eyen back and saw that Akhlísa was flickering about the branches of the tree, and she waved her hand unto her and signaled her Sister to hurry and flicker among the troops and release their dear Brother.
King Èmfha slid down from the mud dragon and running up unto Fhermáta whispered – By our majestic family, you have a mortal body again, or at least most of it. I suppose those who are related to the Emperor must be able to do that … – The King turned around and shouted – Stop the caravan! –
– Attention! Halt! – cried the Masters of the cohorts, and the long and snaking line of the troops began to rustle and slow as they made their way before the metallic trees of strangulation beyond the flamescent gates of the khlèthne necropolis. And Fhermáta just bit her teeth and began weeping in pain and felt agony such as she had never even felt in life. She looked down and saw that King Èmfha was examing her legs without touching her, and his wraith face was grown pale and sad.
– Forgive me, honored King, but I fear I’ve sprained mine ankle – Fhermáta whimpered.
– You’ve fractured both of your legs – chanted King Èmfha.
– Pardon? –
– We need to transport you to the Matriarch. I’m sure as soon as the mortal glamour fades from you you’ll be fine, but I do not know how to do that. Your most honored Mother must attend to you. –
– Is that … oh my … is that such a good idea? –
– No harm may come to the Emperor’s Virgin Bride. – King Èmfha turned around and signaled unto his men, and Fhermáta could hear the sound of shuffling, of metal and cloth moving all around her. Some of the Atlhànter were dashing outwards unto either sides of her, smaller of the spiky pangolins, they were rolling like spears, and a slight murmuration was arising from their snouts, and she could see that many of them were rolling up unto the gates that lead up unto the necropolis. Fhermáta struggled to look upwards and saw that Akhlísa was struggling down the tree and kept hesitating. Fhermáta wanted to yell to her Sister, to tell her to leap and run, she could not hurt her smoke body and she only had a few moments, but when Fhermáta tried to arise and wave, the King came to her and pressed his hands upon her shoulder and chanted – Forgive me holy Bride, but you must not exhurt yourself. I know that your flesh is holy and that only Emperor Puîyos may touch it, but under the circumstances we need to move you at once. –
– Please, I’m not terribly … hurt! – Fhermáta gasped through clenched teeth. – Let me just … stay a moment … OUCH! What was that! – She heard the sound of breaking from within her body, but King Èmfha would not let her arise.
– Some of your bone broke through the skin of your leg – the King chanted in a quiet but calm voice, for he had dealt with many injuries upon the battlefield. – Honor me by remaining still and not looking at it. –
Fhermáta slumped back. – Perhaps you’re right. – Around her she could hear some of the warriors drawing out some blankets and pulling out sheets of metal. She was not entirely sure what provisions a Ghost Army would need for itself and had been rather afraid to ask. She looked from side to side and saw that Akhlísa was finally falling right upon her shadow face and slowly wobbling upon the ground, and she wishing that she could have intrusted this mission to anyone else in the world aside from your baby Sister who was prone to districtions and fits and … oh there she goes, she’s running around the metal trees. Stop that, Kàrula! Hurry up, don’t stay and … how sweet, she’s hugging the trees one by one, that’s very thoughtful of her. Go! Go! Fhermáta could feel tears brimming in her eyen from frustration at her Sister and the pain of feeling a body again and now broken.
– Please be still – King Èmfha chanted. – We shall be contacting your Honored Mother the Queen soon. –
– Mamà? – asked Fhermáta. – No! No! Please, don’t tell her anything. –
– We must, oh Bride. –
– No no no no … – Fhermáta searched for a reason to keep her close to Puîyus and her Sister. – Mamà will be e'er so cross to learn that I was climbing a tree up here while the army was passing by … –
– Such cannot be helped now, oh Bride. I would not be afraid of punishment were I you – chanted the King. – She will punish me for being so clumsy as to bring the army towards you. –
– Punish you … but you did nothing wrong. –
– One can only hope that the prize that I’m bringing her will cool her anger against me. It would be foolish of me to present myself to her with a broken daughter and her missing prize, but for the latter she may forgive the me the former. –
Fhermàta looked out and saw that Akhlísa was hopping about the great Atlhànter spirits and looking at their echina snouts and faces one by one rather than running after Puîyus, and all she could do was sigh and whisper – What have I done, oh honored Èmfha, oh whatever have I done? –
Akhlísa bumped right into the box of glistening of chalcedony and chrysoprasus and chrysolyte, patterns of blues and whites and greens flowing about it, and she scratched her smoke head and tried to remember something which had seemed so very important just a few moments before. At once Akhlísa’s face brightened with rememberance, and she turned her back on the box that prisoned Puîyus and she ran up unto a few of the Xhyiênxhi mud dragons and petted them a few times and giggled all the while in happiness.
– One wouldn’t want … to forget anything! – Fhermáta cried out.
– We shall inform the Matriarch at once – King Èmfha chanted.
– No, no, I’m sure the answer … lies within. If you just … turn around! Oh! There’s something wrong with my leg! –
– We shall move you into the litter as gently as possible – chanted the King.
– Look behind you! –
– Behind me? –
– Not you … oh by the Ancestors! –
– You’ve been fractured, but you’ll be fine. I’m sending mine officers at once, your Mother will … –
Fhermáta reached out and grabbed honored Èmfha by his collar and cried out – Please don’t tell my Mother! She’ll figure out everything! –
– That’s why we have parents – chanted King Èmfha, and very carefully he picked up Fhermáta, a couple of his attendants were taking her legs and wrapping them in a blanket, and they set her upon a metallic wicker litter they were forming. – Your Mother must know everything, she is the Queen of all of the Dead and brings honor unto the Sweqhàngqu. –
– Revered King! – an officer was shouting. – We have an extremely important visitor. –
Fhermáta was shaking. – Oh Puey, where are you? Who can it be? Oh no. – Akhlísa could hear the slight shuffling of armor and cloak about her, as the officers were falling upon their knees, and King Èmfha was coming forwards and bowing before someone whom Fhermáta could not see from her position. Fhermáta tried to turn, but a couple of officers were holding her. She looked to her side and saw that Akhlísa was turning and gaping as she recognized someone, and then, tripping o'er her own wraith feet for a few moments, Akhlísa crawled upwards and crashed against the box that the soldiers were transporting. She banged her head a few times against the colors and tartan of the box before remembering that she was naught but smoke and incense for the moment.
– Is there anyway for this to get worse? – Fhermáta whispered. She felt a shadow falling upon her. A few ticklish and spindly forms were crawling about her hands and wrists, and Fhermáta could feel that spiders were descending from somewhere and crawling about her fingers and palms. She struggled to arose, but was in such agony that she had to lie on her back. The shadow before her was becoming a large masque tipped in crowns of antlers, and from the masque boomed a voice saying – What has happened to my beloved Granddaughter Fhermáta? – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil removed her masque, it was about half as tall as she was and dolven in intricate lines and circles flowing about her other. Her hair was a brilliant sea of light red, and spiders and webs were falling about her ears. She pressed an hand against Fhermáta’s face, and then turned to King Èmfha and chanted – I had always hoped that in death we would all be beyond concern. –
King Èmfha bowed down before Grandmother Xhàtrajhil and chanted – I beg forgiveness, holy Grandmother, but this was all by fault. Foolish and clumsy I lead mine army too close unto the metallic trees where the Bride was playing, and the thunder of my xhyiênxhi caused her to tumble and break her flower body. –
Xhàtrajhil lifted up her hand in silence. – Do you play chess, honored Ancestor Èmfha? –
– Yes, holy Grandmother. –
– Then we shall play together someday, but not today. You are not at fault. You did as you were ordered and lead your armies on the straight path back unto the Ancestors of the Sweqhàngqu, neither left nor right wandering, up unto our Houses of Dust. Fhermáta should not have been playing in the trees up there like a foolish young child. – Xhàtrajhil sighed and turning back to the King chanted – You shall not be punished for obedience. I shall see to it rather that you are rewarded. –
– My troops and I thank the Mother of our Queen – the King chanted, although his voice quavered a little, for he was not entirely sure of how Khwofheîlya would take the news of the hurt done unto her child Fhermáta.
– Do not worry about Khwofheîlya. I promise you, she will not punish you – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil smiled. – Even she will not gainsay me in this. Anyway, I have her occupied at the moment with our little war against Emperor Kàrijoi. You might as well start getting your troops ready to march back into the necropolis. I shall see to Fhermáta. –
– Yes, honored Grandmother. –
– You were an excellent king among the people, and you are a military genius on the field, second only unto my Son-in-law Íngìkhmar. Ah, and perhaps Puîyos also, although his thoughts are very, very alien sometimes. – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil looked around, she felt a flickering of shadows behind her. Fhermáta was struggling to look, and saw that Akhlísa was finally figuring out how to twist herself into streams of smoke and seep right into the fabric of the box that held Puîyus, and she breathed a sigh of relief now that Akhlísa was within. Xhàtrajhil took her staff and walked up unto Fhermáta and tapped her no her cheek a few times and chanted – I do wonder what you were doing playing in that tree up there. Perhaps you ‘ve learnt just how dangerous it is to wander alone in the forest beyond the Ancestors. –
– I was just playing, Grandma. Oh please don’t tell Mamà! –
– And why should I not tell your Mother? She’ll want to fuss o'er you. –
Fhermáta glanced in the direction of the box and gasped – I don’t want Mamà to be angry with me! I can’t have her know. –
– And why would she be angry with you? –
– I … it’s that … it’s just because … –
– Here, let me carry you, the litter will not be too heavy even for me. We shall see your Mother together, and I promise you she won’t be angry. –
Fhermáta glanced towards the box again and gasped – I shouldn’t have been playing in the tree! –
– You are in such pain, my child, such pain in this mortal body. King, I think it would be best if we knock her unconscious and return her together unto the Matriarch, don’t you think? –
– No! No! – cried Fhermáta.
– When you awaken, your Mother will hold you and make you feel hale once again. – Several spiders were descending across Xhàtrajhil’s face, and she brushed them aside. – Nice and warm and comfy in this mortal body of yours. –
– No! Please! I can’t have Mamà … –
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil caught her by the wrist with far more strength than Fhermáta thought she could have, and she held her down and whispered – Now I wonder why you managed to become so solidic and mortal all of a sudden. – Xhàtrajhil’s other hand reached out towards Fhermáta’s leg and touched her, and Fhermáta writhed in pain. – The rest of us ghosts don’t have blood and breathe. How very interesting that you do! –
– I’m … just lucky! – gasped Fhermáta. – Please! Grandma! – She looked to the box and the atlhànter and xhyiênxhi spirits milling around it and the soldiers once again taking up banner and burdhen and preparing to ride off again.
– How extremely improbable, and yet how temporary – Xhàtrajhil waved her hand about Fhermáta, and the maiden could feel that beneath the hand her body was becoming smoke and incense once again. Xhàtrajhil removed her hand, and Fhermáta became flesh. – Yes, quite fleeting. Why the last time you wanted a mortal body you were willing to smuggle a chalice of … of course! I understand. You found a little blood, you wanted to be mortal for a moment, but it’s not his blood, it will only make you mortal for a few moments. –
– Grandma? –
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil leaned froward and whispered – You keep glancing towards the box of chrysolyte and chrysoprasus and chalcedony, and we both know what lies in there. I see now. Fhérma, the next time you wish to see your husband and kiss him, just tell me, I’m sure I can concoct a better scheme than finding the blood of some mortal and almost getting trampled by a coming army. Why, I’m sure you were so giddy to breath again that you forgot that bone could be broken. Ah, no permanent damage, you shall be a ghost soon. Ah, it is settled. –
– Grandma? –
– Don’t worry child, this will take just a moment. Puîyos needs to remain asleep, this world is not for him. King Èmfha? –
– Yes, honored Grandmother – Fhermáta could hear the King’s approach and the rustling of the crackling xhyiênxhi as they slid forwards.
– Fhermáta would like to see for a moment what you’re transporting in the box for her Mother. –
– Honored Grandmother? – asked the King.
– No, please! – gasped Fhermáta. Her living heart was quickening now with the thought that Akhlísa could be still in the box trying to figure out how to punch Puîyus out of this dimension, for if Akhlísa were discovered than surely Grandmother and Mother would figure out this entire plot. – I don’t want … –
– Nonsense, child, you have a right to see him, he is your Lord and Husband. – Xhàtrajhil turned to the King and chanted – The three of us already know who’s in the box. Khwofheîlya will not mind if we who are closely related to him just take a peak. Oh please, as a favor to the maiden here. –
– No, I don’t want to cause any trouble! – gasped Fhermáta.
– We should not move her – King Èmfha chanted.
– Her body is temporary, look it’s already fading away – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil chanted. – Soon she won’t feel any pain at all. –
– Yes, I’m feeling perfectly fine! – gasped Fhermáta. – I want to go dancing! –
– No more climbing trees for you. Quickly, while you still have a mortal body. Child, there will be pain for a moment, but it is an ephemeral thing! – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil reached upwards with warm and strong arms and drew Fhermáta upwards, and the Bride of the Sweqhàngqu could see that the soldiers and warriors were parting before them, the atlhànter pangolins rolling about upon the tips of their spines, and the xhyiênxhi mud dragons were nodding a little and crawling upon their rolling and bursting wings. Fhermáta could see now that the long and dead walls that lead down from the Khlèthnan necropolis were bursting into pyroclastic flows, and that spewing downwards from the towers of the distance were bits of rock and ash and flowing gasses, brilliant eruptions which in the mortal realms would have been scalding hot, but here in the dreamlands of the dead were become a prickly texture uncomfortable even for the wraiths. Grandmother Xhàtrajhil made her way unto the box of white and green and all the while Fhermáta was whispering – No please, I don’t need to see my Puey, he’s going to be asleep, I don’t want to cause any trouble at all I was just curious let’s just go home we can forget that any of this happened at all could you just please set me down I’m sure if anyone’s in there she’s finishing up right now do you hear me now would be a good time to be finished you don’t have to open that door, Grandma, we’re coming inside okay we’re coming inside! –
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil tapped upon the door with her staff, and all at once the chalcedony and chrysoprasus and chrysolyte began to part from her in circles and wheels rolling unto their side. The box’s flesh was beginning to blush with images of Suns and Moons, and she waved her hand before the surface of it, and the box began to ripple as sinews and slowly began to gape open. For a moment out came the thick and heady smell of the living realms, microorganisms and living particulate matter bursting into the dead air, for King Èmfha had sealed the lad in a bubble of his own reality in order to transport him intact to his Mother. Xhàtrajhil tapped upon the bubble a few times with her staff and it burst open before her, and ducking her head within she drew herself and Fhermáta into the box, and when she saw what was inside she gasped and almost dropped her Granddaughter in shock.
– Karuláta! – shouted Fhermáta.
For when little Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa was of smoke and slipped right through the hame and layers of the box and materialized within, she looked around in confusion and felt the heavy weight of the living air about her, and bristled a little, and then looking down saw that Puîyus lay fast asleep, struck unconscious by King Èmfha, and he lay upon pillows and silks. At once Akhlísa’s heart tried to beat, but she had no heart, so she tried to sigh, but she had no breath, and so she just flickered up unto Puîyus and gazed upon her future husband and thought of how beautiful he was and how unjust it was for the Dragons to set a snare for him and for that one youngish Dragon to try and keep him out of the mortal worlds and in the grasp of the frightful Ancestors. At once Akhlísa clapped her smoke hands together, wavering incense flowingup about her, and she remembered why she was here. She knew that Fhermáta had been right, it would be very difficult for them to get him out of the box and somehow escape the thousand warriors outside, easier it would be simply to tear the realities inside here and shove him right back into the dragon battle. She was not entirely sure where Princess Éfhelìnye was at the moment, but Akhlísa had the feeling that the Princess was probably somewhere in the vicinity of the Dragons, especially since they had a complicated vasselage unto the Moon Empress herself. Akhlísa knew what she had to do, she walked unto Puîyus and choosing one of the walls imagined it to be tapestry flowing before her gaze, and so it became. She imagined that the tapestry was of many layers, skin and wave, bridges and vines, floating cities and floating castles, it was sky and world, and she kept drawing her hand across it, and the tapestry began to waver and tear, and concentrating as best she could, she began to bend against the skin of this reality and let it break around her.
And yet, when Akhlísa clapped her hands once again, not only was the incense flowing from her growing thinner and less and less, but she was beginning to feel heat and flesh with her. She stomped her feet, some smoke arose, but she was definitely becoming more solid. She swallowed and listened to the slight but slow shimmer of an heart forming within her. – It seems that Fhermáta’s plan is working, although she should have given me an hint of warning that I’d only be a ghost of a ghost for just a few moments. One would wish that she could concentrate all the more. Oh goodness me, I have a body now! Or at least most of one. Oh look at Puey, I haven’t seen him in ages, it feels like a year, I’ve missed him so much! –
Akhlísa bound up upon the pillows and upadhaanam.h and silks and rolled around for a few eyeblinks and then drew herself right up next to sleeping Puîyus and wrapped her arms around him and chanted – I know you’re asleep and can’t hear me, but let me tell you just how much I missed you! Oh you’re even more beautiful than before, I think you’ve grown a little, I’ve grown a little too, see I’m practically all grown up and I’ve been waiting for you e'er so long! Oh Puey, you have such long eyelashes, such a pretty nose, I like how full your lips are, now just look at the how rhododactylous your cheeks are rozafingraj bright! – She rolled up to him and wrapped her arms around him and kissed him on his face a few times, his cheeks tasted of sweet dew and petals unto her, perhaps one of the nicest scents she had e'er experienced. Behind them the fabric of the Underworld was beginning to tear, a slight vortex of silver and white was forming and spinning around and around, and within it appeared shrouds of worlds appearing and flickering out of existence a few moments later, memories of stone and sky and menhir, but wafting through them all was come the flowing curtains of smoke and ash and incense that permeated throughout all of the waves of the Undergloom. Akhlísa continued to kiss Puîyus upon his delectable cheeks a few times when she felt his stirring a little and realized that she had no idea what to do now. She looked around and finding now that her body was returned unto her, she drew her golden veil across her face and adjusted the karuláta flowers in her hair and made sure that her white dress was all prestine and perfect, for she had no other plan of action.
Puîyus blinked a few times as the vortex behind him continued to grow. – ?? – he whispered.
Akhlísa fiddled with some jewels on upon her gown, the symbols of the Aûm and the labyrinth. – Fhermáta? Here? – she squeaked.
– … – Puîyus nodded, his eyen unfocused, and he tried to smile.
– Wha? Oh? Oh! You think I’m Fhermáta … because I am Fhermáta, your dearest wife who’s been waiting for you so long. – Akhlísa slipped up next to him and wrapped her arms around him. – And since I am your wife and you know it and there’s no big surprise waiting for you when you find me with the Duchesses, it’s not at all uncomfortable for us to have a few practice kisses. Don’t you want to pucker up a little? –
– … – Puîyus whispered.
– I don’t know where Éfhelìnye is, it’s hard enough keeping track of Siêthiyal let alone a Princess or two! Now, about that kiss? –
– … –
– Okay, she’s with a Dragon. Puey, I’ve been waiting for a long time for you, do you know what strange rituals I had to undergo for your sake in order to become your beloved Concubine? We can talk about that after a kiss or three. –
– … –
– Ixhúja! I don’t care about her! –
Puîyus blinked a few times and tried to sit up and whispered some deep and rumbling music notes.
– Puey, I know you love each and everyone one of your lost giant silk worms, but trust me, Ixhúja is nothing but trouble. I wouldn’t mind it if the Dragons took her and look at her with squiggly eyen big and bright and weird and … –
– … –
– No, I don’t care that Grandma has her. We can let her keep for her all I care. I … –
– !! –
– Puey! –
– Mew! –
– Husband! She’s just a stupid Princess! Why can’t you let Fhermáta go after her! Why do I have to do everything! – Akhlísa grumbled a little and threw some silken pillows around, and behind her the vortex was growing larger and brighter and was almost Puîyus-sized. Akhlísa cradled her veiled brow in her hand and chanted – I don’t understand why you want to save everyone, especially not creatures like her. You do know she was spawned in a laboratory and that your Mother absolutely hateth her, don’t you? But if it means so much to you, perhaps I can make a few descreet inquiries concerning her. Nothing too fancy, I’m not attracting attention because of her. –
– Mew … –
– Éfhelìnye likes her? Somehow I suspected that your Princess was behind this all, sounds like her, more heart than brains I think, not as kean and decisive as I am, like a knife I am, no not a knife, like a spoon a kean and sharp spoon, like a spoon that makes pie batter, you can make your own simile later. – Akhlísa jumped down next to Puîyus and chanted – Fine, super. Do I get a kiss now? –
Puîyus closed his eyen. Akhlísa leaned froward and rubbed her veil against his face. The vortex behind them was now finally reaching the outlying of its tear, and appearing within it were the fractured sights of Dragons arising and falling in their flight, bits and pieces of the ken of Syapàkhya, the shattered cities and the sinking slave living ships, and Prince Kherènxhuqhe rising and falling in splashes of cloud.
– I want my kiss now! – Akhlísa cooed as she leaned closer unto Puîyus. – Oh! Wait! It’s parlous for you to awaken fully in the Undergloom. Forgive me please, but I need to beat you back into unconsciousness. –
– ?¿ – Puîyus asked.
Akhlísa grabbed a few pillows, and taking him by the hand kissed his palm a few times and chanted – Please forgive me for leading Prince Kherènxhuqhe unto you. I really tried not to let it happen, I’m a loyal concubine and do love you. – She released his hand and tossing the pillow into the air turned and began smacking them right into Puîyus’ face. – I’m so sorry if this hurts, but Fhermáta and I have really been making this plan up as we went along, we don’t really know what we’re doing. Take this! Take that! Sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep! –
– !! – Puîyus cried.
Akhlísa smacked Puîyus’ face a few more times, and then sitting herself right upon her chest she crushed a pillow against his face and squeazed the pillow against him in a long and smothering motion. By now was coming the sound of the box shaking a little, the skin of it shifting and transforming itself into dilating wheels. Akhlísa gave her husband a few more goodluck smothers, and then, smacked his face a few more times and found that he was unconscious, and she tossed the pillows away and congratulated herself both for her cleverness in an hurry, and also for how thoroughly King Èmfha had smacked the lad asleep, so that all it took was a bit of strangulation to draw him back to sleep. Akhlísa was panting because of the exurtion, and outside she could hear Fhermáta’s muffled voice crying out – I’m sure if anyone’s in there she’s finishing up right now do you hear me now would be a good time to be finished you don’t have to open that door, Grandma, we’re coming inside okay we’re coming inside! –
Akhlísa saw Puîyus lying down before her, and drawing aside her golden veil told herself – It really is unfair, Éfhelìnye gets to kiss him on the lips all the time and I’m the only maiden who actually has a claim unto him and I never get to kiss him on his lips. This will be my chance then! – Akhlísa crawled right back unto Puîyus and began attacking his lips with bites and ferocious licks, just as the door sprang open around her.
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil came into the heady atmosphere of the box just as Akhlísa was pressing her lips against Puîyus’ unconscious ones, and just as Grandmother was gasping, Fhermáta cried out – Karuláta! –
Akhlísa licked Puîyus’ lips a few times and chanted – Anyone need anything? –
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil dropped Fhermáta, and as she struck the grown her body became smoke and incense again, and she no longer had to worry about shattered bones and skin, although the pain of the wound remained in her.
– Uh-oh – Akhlísa chanted as she looked up from her osculation.
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil blinked. Fhermáta looked around and could hear that outside several soldiers were approaching and that King Èmfha’s voice was coming and saying – Is everything alright in there? Forgive me, but shall I investigate? –
– Don’t come inside! – Fhermáta gasped, and to her horror she saw that Akhlísa was once again kissing Puîyus’ still lips.
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil fainted.
– Oh dear, we need to get Grandma to the … I didn’t know the Dead can faint, why does death have to be as complicated as life, why does … Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa I sware but all of us Ancestors I’m going to break all of the mortal bones in your mortal body if you don’t get your lips off of his this very moment! –
King Émfha stuck his head within and chanted – Forgive me, but why can’t I come inside? Has someone else been hurt? Heir, Grandmother, are you inside? Why aren’t you answering me, I thought that that the honored Grandmother … great Ancestors in the Undergloom! I hope the blessed Matriarch among the Ancestors isn’t watching you now! – cried the King.
Akhlísa looked up from kissing Puîyus’ lips and chanted – What? –
– SISTER! – cried Fhermáta. – Can’t you concentrate for five seconds! –
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil sprang back awake. – I’m taking the three children to see their Mother now. –
– Ungood! – gasped Akhlísa. She rolled off of Puîyus and felt the lightning flowing within the opening vortex and at once remembered why she had snuck within and it was not to steel kisses from Puîyus at all. She grabbed him by the shoulders and began shoving him towards the vortex, by now she did not entirely care where. He was halfway within the vortex as a brilliant panoply of Dragons were forming about them, and Akhlísa turned back and found that Grandmother Xhàtrajhil was laying her dead hands upon her wooden shoon and trying to keep her Grandchildren within the dreamlands of the dead. Akhlísa cried out, she wanted to escape with Puîyus, but at least she could shove him out, and with a last gasp she shoved Puîyus outwards, and the vortex whirled about him and resolved itself into the skies of Syapàkhya where the clouds were exploding and dragons were spinning from side to side. Akhlísa tried to dive in after him, but Grandmother Xhàtrajhil grabbed her by her shoulders and began drawing her back, and the last that Akhlísa saw as the mortal realms were spinning before her, was Prince Kherènxhuqhe as he plied up and down in the heavens, and in crackles of storm and shadow, Puîyus was materializing fast asleep and right upon the Dragon’s snout.
– Yummy … tasty treat … – Prince Kherènxhuqhe murmured when he smelt the sleeping warrior on his beak, and Akhlísa tried to reach out to Puîyus and shouted out – No, wait, slight miscalculation in the spinning of the dimensions, where’s a Qriî slave when one needs one! May I please have my husband back? –
The Dragon turned and saw the concubine’s shadow appearing and fading away, and he just laughed at her in mirth, and the mortal realms shattered as Grandmother Xhàtrajhil yanked Akhlísa out and threw her down upon the floor of the box. Akhlísa struggled for a moment, and saw that as her Grandmother held her down, she picked up her staff and smashed it against the vortex, and it broke apart into grey pieces of glass and slipped down upon the silken cushions and sheets where Puîyus had been lying and was being kissed just a few moments before. Akhlísa cried in despair at leading Puîyus right to the Dragon again, but when she tried to get up, Xhàtrajhil smacked her a few times with her staff and hissed – Not clever enough, Karuláta, not clever enough by far. –
– Honored Khwofheîlya is not going to like this – King Èmfha muttered.
– I would not fret, revered King, these two maidens will tell Khwofheîlya everything and accept punishment by her hand – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil nodded.
Akhlísa screamed and shouted – This is all your fault, Fhérma, this was your stupid plan, it was ridiculous from the start, I mean falling out of a tree to stop an army, that made no sense whatsoever. –
– My fault, I had nothing to do with this! – Fhermáta shouted. – I was weeping all by myself minding mine own business and sorrow and you just had to come along and get me involved in this weird scheme of yours! –
– You could have warned me you were coming! –
– I did, you dumbcluck! –
– You could have warned me I was only going to me smoke for a moment! –
– I did, you owlhoot! –
– You … you … this is all your fault, you’re the older Sister, you’re supposed to be taking care of me! –
– You’re the one who keeps leading the Dragon unto my Puey! Can you not go a single day without getting him involved in … –
Akhlísa started sobbing. Her weeping arose to a crescendo, and King Èmfha sighed and bowed to Grandmother Xhàtrajhil and chanted – Forgive me, but perhaps I should see to my troops. –
– Yes, that would be an excellent task for you, please honor us thusly. – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil chanted without looking at him.
– Reminds me of when I had children of mine own – he chanted as he ducked through the door.
– When did they grow out of their schemings? –
– They never do. That’s I prefer the war on the battlefield. –
The King ducked outwards, and Grandmother Xhàtrajhil leaned out and chanted – Go ahead and summon my Daughter. I want her to punish these miscreants. –
– It’s not my fault! – cried Akhlísa.
– Oh just hush! – cried Fhermáta. – I was having a perfectly good death until you had to find me. Why couldn’t you just stay with Siêthiyal? Now we both get punished. –
– Grandma! Question? –
– Oh? – asked Grandmother Xhàtrajhil.
– Does Siêthiyal get punished also? –
– No, she’s the only obedient granddaughter I have. –
– Ah … but it was her idea also! –
– You are such a fibber! – Fhermáta gasped.
– Siêthiyal will dream the dreams of the unpunished innocent – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil smiled. – You two are quite another matter. Oh what will your Mother say when she learns how you’re trying to hide her Son from her? –
Fhermáta drew herself close to Akhlísa and wrapped her arms around her. – We were just trying to keep him from punishment – Fhermáta chanted. – We did not intend any harm. –
– One never does – Grandmother Xhàtrajhil sighed. She brushed an hand through her tresses, and several spiders came crawling about her and began their labor of constructing new veils of webs about her. – I don’t suspose there’s anyway you can convince me not to deliver you to your Mother, but neither of you have anything of value to me, no incense, no treasure, just your future relationship to the new Heir whose feuding with his Mother. No, it’s best for Khwofheîlya to mete out punishment for you twain. –
Akhlísa reached into her pocket and drew out some smashed candies and bubblegum and chanted – I could trade some gum and candies if you let us go. But you don’t eat any more. I could eat the gum and chew the candies and tell you how they taste, would that be a good trade? – Akhlísa started cramming the candy and gum into her mouth and chanted – Now, right now I’ve being whelved by the taste of crushed sugar, it’s all very sparkly and bright, and some of the candies are popping on my tounge, a series of fizz fizz fizzing … –
King Èmfha ducked his head into the box and chanted – Honored Grandmother, the Matriarch is here. –
– So soon? – asked Grandmother Xhàtrajhil.
– She was already journeying down unto the gates, the troops did not have to summon her from afar. –
– The errand whereon I sent her did not take her too long at all. Come along, Granddaughters, we need to have a little chat with your beloved Mother. –
– Are we going to bring up Puey? – asked Akhlísa.
– Most assuredly, yes. –
– Alas! –
Fhermáta looked around and held her arms around her Sister and as she lead her out of the box and into the chasm where the soldiers and atlhànter pangolins and xhyiênxhi mud drakes were gathered, Akhlísa began to weep piteous and anew. Fhermáta began to sniffle again, tears of dust once again falling upon her cheeks, and she could feel her Sister trembling beside her. In truth it was a good plan and Akhlísa had carried out her half of it almost perfectly well, she had just delayed a bit too much, and Fhermáta thought that she had been rather brave in throwing herself off a tree and breaking some mortal and painful bones. In fact all they had been doing was trying to protect Puîyus, and Akhlísa had been quite resourceful in coming down into the Undergloom and trying to help her future husband. Fhermáta lookeda round and saw that several of the war masters were riding upon their xhyiênxhi mounts, the spirits walking upon the tips of their keen wings and almost digging into the loam all of dust and shadow. Fhermáta sniffled a little and saw that from a distance gates of fire were opening and several figures were arising and riding their spirit mounts, and she wondered at the scheming of the Elders of the Ancestors, and the constant traffic of War, and the fear that filled even the honored Dead in their crusade against Emperor Kàrijoi. Fhermáta could not quite see her foster Mother somewhere in the company of the Elders, but already she was thinking about what doom she would have in store for her disobedient daughters.
– Kàrula? – Fhermáta whispered and leaned close to her Sister.
– Fhérma? – Akhlísa blubbered and continued to weep the only liquid within the Netherworld. – Big Sister? –
– We’re escaping. –
– Mh? –
– I’ll give the signal. We run towards the riderless xhyiênxhixing. –
– Huh? –
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil was turning around as King Èmfha cleared the troops away from her, and she picked up her masque and slide it upon her back upon the ridges and grooves of her garment, and taking up her staff chanted – My Daughter has been in negotiation with some of the other Ancestor Clans. It looks like we shall have a grand war against Kàrijoi. One almost feels sorry for all the Pwéru and their related families, if any such families still remain upon the face of the earth. –
Several atlhànter spirits came rolling out before the flaming gates, and in the midst of the Elders arose some more xhyiênxhi mud drakes, and upon one of them was riding Queen Khwofheîlya of the Undergloom, and as all of the soldiers and troops were turning to glance upon her refulgent beauty, Fhermáta squeazed Akhlísa’s hand and whispered – Now! –
– Now what? – whispered Akhlísa.
Fhermáta ran and dragged Akhlísa after her. – We go! –
– Oh! –
None of the troops or soldiers noticed it when Fhermáta slipped up the wings of the unborn Xhyiênxhi and dragged her Sister up about her, and they crawled up unto the howdah and looked around and found themselves many cubits above the ashstrewn ground. The xhyiênxhi shifted its uneven wings from side to side, its jawless head turned from side to side, and it clicked and echoed a few times. Fhermáta grabbed the reins and snapped at it, and the spirit just echoed and clicked in response.
– So … when does it move? – asked Akhlísa.
– Mamà hasn’t taught me how to ride this beastie yet! – Fhermáta gasped.
– How difficult can it be, surely it’s just like a plantimal in the aboveworld! –
– I don’t know! It’s not moving. Go! Go! I’m tugging on the reins! Where’s our Puey when we need him, he could tame even a naturgeistische wiht! –
– Go on! Go go go! – cried Akhlísa.
Fhermáta whistled and chanted – Come along! Íreu! Íreu! Íreu! –
– Come on come on come on! – gasped Akhlísa. – Let’s go let’s go let’s go! Eamus Eamus Eamus ni iru ni iru! Xhthíreu! Xhthíreu! Xhthíreu! –
– Everyone, let’s escape from our Mother! We’ve got to leave the gates of the Necropolis! Qìr pé pé pé! – And Fhermáta clicked a few times, and all at once the spirit clicked in response. Fhermáta started clicking and Akhlísa answered with clicks, and the spirit swung its jawless head from side to side and echoed the clicking sounds clycksōn, and all at once began galloping upon the ash and running upon the tips of its lithe and sharp wings.
Akhlísa leaned o'er unto her Sister’s shoulder and chanted – I don’t suppose you have any clew on how to direct our spirit friend? –
– Any guesses may be helpful, thank you – Fhermáta grinned.
And the tsenaXhyiênxhi roared out in a series of echoes and clicks and came running right in the midst of its brethren, the rest of the mud drakes and atlhànter scattering from side to side in its coming, and it ran around the box where Puîyus had lain prisoned and it came leaping up around the soldiers and skipped before the King and soon was dashing outwards and slipping right before the Elders and Queen Khwofheîlya, a sparkling black crown clasped unto her auburn hair, and Khwofheîlya waved to her children as they rode off away from her.
– I can’t control it! – cried Fhermáta.
– This was another stupid plan! – Akhlísa shouted. – Both you and Siêthiyal always get me involved in your stupid little schemes! –
– You snuck down here, remember! Now silence, I need to think! – Fhermáta cried as the xhyiênxhi spun around in little circles, wheeling upon the tips of his wings and it began running right back up to the troops and about the whisps of flags and the scaled metallic trees before the gates.
– Um … Fhérma … –
– What is it, my treasure? –
– Do you know where Grandmother Xhàtrajhil’s cottage lies? –
– Yes, it’s in the forest. Many times I stay there, I do not always like the dust castles where Mamà is staying. –
– Uh-huh. Now, if I were to tell you that we had to go there. –
– What is it, Kàrula? –
– Princess Ixhúja is trapped in Grandma’s cottage. –
– Oh. Can’t she get herself out? –
– She’s also been knocked unconscious. It’s not my idea to go after her, believe me, but Puey told me that he wanted me to promise to save her if I can, and I’ll need help to get there … –
– Is this before or after you tried to kiss our sleeping husband? –
– Ah, before. –
– And then you shoved our Puey right into the Dragon’s face? – Fhermáta and Akhlísa kept knocking next to each other as the xhyiênxhi kept spinning around on the edge of its wings.
– Are you going to keep reminding me of that? –
– It’s my sacred sororal duty – Fhermáta sighed. – If we can just control the spirit … –
– Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch! – cried Akhlísa, for the mud dragon was now skipping o'er layers of pebbles and wellstrewn rock, and the movement of it all was shaking her quite a bit, and in her mortal coil it was quite an uncomfortable sensation.
– Sorry … –
– That’s fine … is there any reason why the xhyiênxhi is crawling upon the side of the chasm? – Akhlísa cried as she and her Sister found themselves clutching unto the side of the spirit as it slithered about in an insectoid fashion before leaping back again upon the ground and running around the troops and warriors of King Èmfha.
Grandmother Xhàtrajhil removed her ancient and horned ornate masque and sighing unto herself watched as her granddaughters attempted to ride a wild xhyiênxhi in a straight line, and as they circled the matron of the Otòrfhexes Akhlísa cried out – Hi, Grandma! Bye, Grandma! – And Xhàtrajhil and Èmfha looked to each other and gave the other a look that meant that perhaps it would be best not mention the entire capture and subsequent loss of prisoner unto the honored Matriarch at all.
Khwofheîlya came riding out of the flamescent gates of the khlèthnan necropolis, and spinning around her came the feral xhyiênxhi spirit echoing and skriking its clicks all the while, and the matriarch saw that two of her Daughters were hanging onto the beastie, one of them for dearest life, and both of them just barely managing to grasp the edge of its wings. They rode around their foster Mother a few times and both smiled and waved to her, and Akhlísa cried out – Hi, Mamà! Bye, Mamà! –
Khwofheîlya smiled unto them and waved, and the spirit came galloping far away from her and in the generation direction of the forbidden forest sprawling at the edge of the domains of the dead, and the Queen of the Dead rode upon her quite domesticated xhyiênxhi and came up unto King Èmfha and his troops and soldiers, and they all bowed down before her.
– What a pretty box that is – Khwofheîlya cried. – Hi, Mamà! –
– Hello, darling – chanted Grandmother Xhàtrajhil.
– Did you discover anything in your journey? –
– Nothing – Xhàtrajhil shook her head. – Nothing, nothing, nothing at all. –
King Èmfha shook his head. – It was rather disappointing. –
– We shall be ready to war against Kàrijoi – Queen Khwofheîlya chanted. – Íngìkhmar has been dreaming about me again. I feel the rage in his heart. –
The wild xhyiênxhi spun around a few more times about Queen Khwofheîlya, and Fhermáta and Akhlísa shouted out all the more, but within a few moments were riding far away from the khlèthnan and unto the forest where they had been warned not to venture, and the great webs of it were reaching outwards and drawing them all deep withinly.