Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Forgive us, Oh Emperor

Several flowing banners of smoke were arising up at the eaves of the Mountain, and the smoke itself was shimmering in an almost weaving pattern, for in these regions the Mountain was become a series of creag and shaft and horn and cliffface wEk and welljagged, they were all rugose slabs of verticality branching upwards and higher still unto some of the higher whorls of the mendi where the Mountain was grown lost in mist and cools and the gathering gloamtide, but the smoke banners were long and thin serpents that were sometimes ducking right into the wounds of the mountain and tying themselves together in queues, and sometimes the smoke was become streams of rock uptowering and blending right into the face of the mountain, and sometimes the streaming cragry were themselves become evanescence and were drifting upwards and melting into the smoke. Princess Ixhúja came scrambling up o'er some of the mist and rock enjoined and saw that here at the very edge ledges where the mountain was forquaking, and wall after all of smoke and stone were sloughing downwards, and that upon the shattering putrescence lay several of the trèfheji of the pandimensional dreadnoughts which she recognized were the warships of the Kèlor Masters, the most perfect Qhóng. She was able to recognize these vessels not because of the banners of the seven pwòlyakh kladäts nor the various shredded medalia of the phatries of the Qhíng or the symbols of the bridges of Qthantònthe which had once joined all of the people together, before the Pirate Suzerain Xhnófho ordered the destruction of all of the City of Khmàrsitel in order to save the peoples and their larvæ from the coming of the Emperor, and his last act as the Khyixhefhífheqor Camptâ was to tug upon the chains that held up the moons o'er the oceans of the West and to send them crashing down into the holy bridges and the seas and to ruin the Qhíng, no, she did not know what the patterns of span and tower and bridge portended unto the last of the Qhíng, she knew these vessels because the Qhíng had come in wrath against Khnìntha in the middle days of the War of Heaven, back in those tides when Ixhúja’s Father was ordering the destruction of all of the forests of the Crimson Moons, when he was converting earth and cannal and fungal forest into his evergrowing war machine and darkening all of the skies of the Moons, yes, the Qhíng had come against Khnìntha and sent their trèfheji gajavimāna in great shadows, but they did attack the outer colonies of the Moons because of the death of the trees and fungoids and inner worlds, Ixhúja knew, they attacked the Khnìntha becomes some small and hidden enclaves of the Karyàngqa were still alive and had found some semblence of refuge with the Khan her Father. And the Qhíng being most perfect Qhóng the utter perfection of nature, hated nothing more than their own outcast their Karyàngqa Qthathnòrpe Qrìngqe Khyìxhu Khyixhwèwesi, their lost colony who had long ago been taken in by the Qlùfhem and altered in flesh and mind and strand and tendril, and the über-Qhíng declaired themselves to be the one true people of the Qhóng, and the rest of their kin arose in wrath to destroy the impure. Princess Ixhúja remembered watching from the towers that came spreading upwards from the volcanic city of Khàqra where she had been created, she remembered watching from window in utter dismay and watching the living ships of one nation of Qhíng fighting against the others, and the victorious Qhóng were gathering up their exiled kin and binding them in chains of feathers and drawing them unto the kolscanz of the Swòngturakh Caste to be delivered up high into the pyramids and their oily xhmaûng offered up as perfumed sacrifice unto the Immortals who can never die. So Ixhúja recognized these smouldering ruins crumbling at the edges of the cliffs of the Sword Mountain, these were the Qhíng of the West who in her mind had destroyed the Qhíng of her homeland, and now their own vessels were in tatterns, the strands of smoke arising, and none of the civilizations were left to propser in a world of shattered time.
Puîyus and Princess Éfhelìnye came running up unto the edge of the broken stones and saw that Ixhúja was watching the shattered vessels of the Qhíng, her head was weaving in time to the smoke that was being born aloft. Puîyus leaned his head to one side and could hear the distal murmuration though of many different folk about the living ships, the movement of the antennæ of the Qhíng, and the shuffling sphere-legs of the Qlùfhem as well as the flapping of Ptètqiikh wings crying out with a gentle ptét ptét ptét, and the calls of many others. These Qhíng and Aûm were a different group than the ones in the warships he had encountered in the ærial battle, these were sad and tattered exiles far removed from the majesty of their gerousia. Éfhelìnye was watching the living ships, the movement of the flags, the tumbling of the towers was all a very melancholy poem streatching out before her. A slight shimmer of red and gold she could see upon some of the towers and the ruins of the gunwales, the remnants of the Sunscapes which were still filling all of the heavens here in the Northron climes but which were disappearing as the Suns were fading away, beaming and burning bright were the reds and golds that were adancent before her gaze, even though the Suns were weakening one by one by one.
– I miss the Suns – Éfhelìnye chanted. Puîyus and Ixhúja both looked to her and both found it a little sad that neither of them had e'er thought that the day would come when even the Suns would be growing ill. Puîyus and Ixhúja gave each other looks which only conveyed sadness. – I had always thought that the Suns were eternal – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – Or at least they should last as long as the Dreamtime was to last, as long as we Mortals were to be alive and breathing air and eating bread. But now all of the Suns are dying, and all things are falling into Midnight and Winter. –
– ?? – Ixhúja wondered.
– I don’t know whether a single Sun can survive – Éfhelìnye chanted. – The Cælestial Emperor and the Suns are supposed to be in perfect communion, the Emperor is the Sun to the Land, from him flows photonic energy and life and light, just as the Suns provide physical heat and gravitational fields for the worlds. –
Ixhúja made some vague purring and snarling sounds, for if the Suns themselves were dying, what hope was there for the rest of the Children of Mortals? Éfhelìnye had no simple answer for that, but when Ixhúja looked at her cousin she could see rippling pinpilinpauxa nimbuses drifting off of Éfhelìnye’s head, and her cousin was walking almost as if she were fluttering right off the ground. It may be that my Cousin, Uncle Kàrijoi’s only child, may be able to do something for us which the rest of us cannot, the ways of the Pwéru are deep and strange unto me. And yet what can she do, aside from create words and dance and draw pretty pictures and love Puîyos with a pure and angelic love? Perhaps I should keep a close watch on her, she just fell into the Dragon’s grasp and just barely were Puîyos and I able to spring her out of it.
Puîyus was sniffling the air. He kept looking up unto the welkin, the twining of the black clouds o'er the Khòxa Khofhólontóxui Sunscapes, he could feel the very fabric of shadow and light changing now as they were come deeper into the North, and his spleen was warning him of something which he could not quite frame in thoughts. He found himself leading the way towards the vast and crumbling dreadnaughts of the Qhíng, and even scattered about them were a few of the locustshaped qùsipin ironclads which the machine workers of Khnìntha used to make and send out in swarms unto all of the jhpiê khùtqa the outerworlds. The way was pathless, petrified branch and shattered stone and rolling scurrying rocks were dashing before the children, and sometimes Puîyus would stop and just stare at the smoking vessels of the Qhíng and remember all that the Kèlor Masters had done unto his own homerealm beyond the Northwind, he thought about the burning rent in the heavens, he thought of the shattering of the ancient whispering mountains of the Ancestors, of the downfall of many warrior clans, the statues of heroes and soldiers of old trampled under tendril of the invading Qhíng horde, he thought of the Qháma elite of the Qèlreqakh rushing outwards and attacking the children of Jaràqtu even within their own ancestrial domes, and he thought about Fhermáta as she was dressed in her bridal red, and flowers of gold and red were set within her hair, he thought of when she took his hand and revealed unto him fields brimming with the Erfhrúla, the Betrothal Flower which she had created for him out of blends and splicings of the various delicate blossoms in the gardens of the Khatelèstan, and then he remembered the quaking of the earth as the Qhíng came in their endless living ships, and of Fhermáta being played sick abed, the marching of the warriors of his people, his Father and his cousins Ìkhnos and Pàlron riding out to charge against the Qhíng, and Puîyus was there standing at her bed and holding her hand and telling her that he would return for her, and by the time he returned, wounded and bloodied from the battle, Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were casting flowers upon Fhermáta’s body and lifting up their voices in the ritual kean. And Puîyus remembered yanking his sword and marching right back into the war and finding the first Qhíng that he could find, he threw himself into the thickness of the Qháma elite, their soldiers pouring all about him in their untold millions, and he became the storm and slaughtered them until the battlelines were broken and Puîyus was howling in rage and chasing after them, and little Akhlísa came into the battlefield and took him by the hand and told him to fight no more this day. It was time to send Fhermáta away. And the Qhíng could wait. Puîyus was watching the Qhíng at this moment, and his eyen were grown red, his spleen was gnawing at himself, and he could feel blood rushing into his muscles. He began to march beyond the qùsipin locust living ships and set his face towards the Qhíng in their smoking and yshattered vessel. He decided that he was not happy with the Qhíng very much at all.
Puîyus was halted in his marching by the sound of tears behind him, and at once he wheeled around and felt shame that perhaps he had forgotten for an eyeblink to protect one of the Princesses. Éfhelìnye was sitting upon a petrified trunk of a fallen tree and was hiding her face as she wept into her hands. Ixhúja was standing beside her and rubbing her cousin’s back and not at all sure what to do, for whenever when of her clockwork creations felt sad, she would just wind it back up again or perhaps smash it into pieces, and wild creatures could quite often be fed and nurtured and enhappied thusly, but appearently such were not viable options for the children of mortals, and besides Ixhúja knew that her cousin had no skeleton key to be turned and did not weep from hunger. Ixhúja looked to Puîyus and shrugged, and he gave her a quizzical look, and coming up unto Éfhelìnye he knelt down before her and rested his head upon her knees.
At length Éfhelìnye chanted – I miss her too. She was like an older Sister to me, and always cared for me and made me feel welcome. I am glad that you have shed all of your tears for Fhermáta, but it will take me longer to have my fill. –
Puîyus was not entirely sure what to say, but some of the wrath he held against the Qhíng was beginning to dissipate in his blood and become like unto steam and light within him. A few unshed tears were welling up in his eyen, but he did not permit them to be shed. He remembered the shadow of Fhermáta falling upon him and returning her betrothal ring to him and keeping her back to him, he remembered the dread sensation of knowing that one who was now his beloved Ancestress was no longer gazing back upon him when he lit incense in her name and memory. After a time Éfhelìnye reached out and brushed Puîyus’ melancholy blue tresses and told him – Please remember that you have no need to weep alone. I can no more forget her and what the Qhíng did than you can. And yet all of the Qhíng have suffered also, their castes have collapsed, their warriors have lost the war, their homerealm lies in ruins, and of the few phatries that survive, all of them are families missing many loved ones. We can no more blame all of the Àrqhing for what their masters bade them do than than the families of the Qhíng can blame the Jaràqtuns were burning their own heavens in retaliation. – Éfhelìnye sniffled a little and chanted – Uncle Xhnófho, our beloved, lost much of his family, his great-uncle in the war. And his cousin Khmaiqràfhta died at your hand. –
– ?? – Ixhúja asked.
– Yes, it was an honorable death, a warrior’s death – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Ixhúja nodded, for that was the way that she liked to die again and again and again as her body was dissevered and her pepe papolotl souls came fluttering back into her Father’s trees and born anew. And yet still that made the moment none the less sad, it just reminded her of the fragility of things.
Puîyus’ heart was slowing a little, and as he gazed back unto the broken vessels, and he saw shuffling around several Qhíng in their ragged robes, and Aûm and Ptètqiikh about them all, and although his heart was not spilling with joy, still he thought that he liked the Qhíng, although he might not wish to dwell with them too much or to gaze upon their faces and antennæ. Ixhúja was looking to her cousin and Puîyus, she could see that her feral twin had eyen glistening and almost on the verge of tears, and she was thinking that if he started crying she would probably kick him across his face a few times and give him some true pain to occupy his thoughts. Why did those two have to be so emotional all the time? Emotions never help one, especially not a warrior. Maybe I should grab Éfhelìnye by her hair and yanked her head back and give her a good slapping, or at least a kick in her ribs, that will focus her mind. Oh, Puîyos is looking right through me now, one can never be too sure with him, sometimes he picks up thoughts and sets them scuttling away.
Princess Éfhelìnye was wiping away her tears and making a motion to be helped back up to her feet, and Puîyus picked her up and set her upon the pathless path, and she reached out and took his hand and chanted – You never have to be alone, my Puey, in sadness or mourning or woe, I cannot leave you, I shall follow you unto whatever land beckons you, I shall dwell in the same house, I shall become of your nation, and your ancestors shall be my ancestors, and shall be buried in the same venerable halls. –
Ixhúja sniffled. She ran up and kicked her cousin a couple of times, but Éfhelìnye was not paying her any attention at all. By now Puîyus was turning around and forging a pathway through the dust and darkness, he skipped o'er a few of the broken bushes and all at once found themselves in the company of a large and broken ship whose hull had been shattered and taken apart to become the sides of tents and igluit. All around came the sound of bells ringing, the Qhíng and Qlùfhem rushing in many directions and helping each other and wrapping blankets one about the other. Puîyus looked around and could taste the very sadness in the air. A couple of Qlùfhem were rolling by and were carrying a wounded Qhíng in their tentacles. Various wights were walking about and cutting up blankets so that more pieces could be passed around. One Qhíng was trying to repair some solar sails, and Qlùfhem were crawling about him and helping. A Sufhàltii was seated upon a petrified tree stump and fluttering about him a Squîsar was taking needle and thread and sewing up a wound, and all arose the sound of the sad and the wounded here at the shattered edge of the mountain, and the children walked out and could feel that lamentation which united all mortal men.
The tents were parting a little, and out from the flaps came rolling out a Qhíng, his robes were once in the bright quetzal patterns of the Servitor caste of his people, a xhurnífhe of the xaukùlrakh, and his eyen were large and achromatic and tired, but once he beheld the children he gasped with all six lungs and came shuffling outwards and running right up unto the children drew his beak right towards them and stared just half a cubit away from Puîyus’ face.
– ?? – Ixhúja asked, and a single eyebrow arose.
– Puey! – Éfhelìnye whispered, and she took a step behind him and began wrapping herself into his dreamcloak. The Qhíng continued to stare at Puîyus. Ixhúja sighed and raised her other violet eyebrow, and the motion of her face attracted the Qhíng’s attention, and he turned to stare at her. Ixhúja took a step towards him and leaned her face towards his neb, but the Qhíng did not budge. Ixhúja began growling. She reached o'er, bit the Qhíng’s beak and then punched him across the face so hard that full grown gamma qéngama three times her size came sprawling out upon the dust of the ground.
– Ixhúja! – Éfhelìnye shouted. Puîyus took a step froward to help the adult Qhíng back up unto his tentacles, and the servitor just shook his head towards the three of them, rustling ribbons flowing through his feathercrest, and his antennæ kept reaching outwards and were licking his beak and ear-globes in quite a nervous pattern.
Puîyus and Ixhúja looked to each other and shrugged. Éfhelìnye took a step froward and bowed and chanted – We apologuise for frightening you, xaôqéngama honored, for we are visitors and strangers here and have by chance stumbled into your camp. – Puîyus nodded in agreement and taking a step froward bowed to the servitor. Ixhúja nodded also, took a step, and then punched the servitor across its face and sent it whirling back unto the dhǵhom.
– Please forgive my Cousin – Éfhelìnye chanted, as she and Puîyus helped the Qhíng back up. – I don’t understand why she does some of the things she does. –
The Qhíng cleared his throat and whispered – Have you come because of the Suns? –
– Oh? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– One by one, like lanterns being put out for the night, paper and glass painted lanterns, the Suns are fading. Already a few of the Moons have broken apart. Are you the ones who will kindle the Suns again? –
– Ah … – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Puîyus became very still, he felt like he had wandered into someone else’s dream. Ixhúja took a few steps forward and was just about to punch the Qhíng back down, but Puîyus caught her up by the arm, and for a moment the two feral siblings struggled against each other and fought o'er never being permitted to have any fun. The Qhíng bowed his head and whispered – Please forgive my rudeness, this humble servant is Khmaîpfher of the Khnoînger phatry among the dying Qhíng. Please, with all due respect and wonder I ask this, but are you three … – and Khmaîpfher leaned forward and whispered – Are you three children? –
– ?? – Puîyus asked.
Ixhúja slipped out of his grasp and punched Khmaîpfher again, but Puîyus was able to catch her sweeping hand er that she could do too much damage unto the Servitor. Khmaîpfher kept bowing towards the children, even his antennæ were quiverous before them, and he kept looking right and left and sometimes up to the burning skies, and his dark eyen were blinking and remembering the sweep and fall and terror of the Dragon hosts.
– It is chanted there are miracle workers, fhlùxho thuamaturgists who appear like ghosts or children here in the last days. The Suns are blinking out one by one, they are huge and swelling wounded eyen gazing back at us. It is chanted that the children can slip between the blinks of time … –
Ixhúja blinked. Puîyus jumped up and decided to keep his arms about her, for she was in quite a fey mood, he thought, and liable to start punching and snapping and bunting at whatever came across her path, especially larger folk alien unto her who were beginning to annoy her.
Khmaîpfher drew himself closer to the children and hissed – It is not safe for you out here, if indeed you are Children and not Dæmons walking upon the earth and tempting our souls unto death. Please, duck inside the tent. I have little food to offer you, just some sqàre, some mantri broth, and you may warm yourselves beside the fire, if indeed you are larvæ, actual children that still live and breathe … – The Servitor swung his head back and forth a few times, sad featherwhisps of his beard rustling a little as if they were caught underwater. – The Emperor seeks. He sends forth his Dragons. We are the wounded people, our viceroy kings are barren, our Emperor is in need of healing. –
Puîyus set Ixhúja down and looked to Éfhelìnye, and the Starflower Princess chanted – Perhaps it would be best to stay inside for a little, at least we can learn where we are. I don’t think that Ixhúja has eaten in some time, and you could rest after fighting against squamous Àrqotha, that wretched Dragon who dared to lay talon upon me. I think his small Dragonlette head would look nice as a war trophy, we could set it up in the parlour and when guest-friends ask us about the gaping and surprised looking head we can tell the valiant story about how you saved me from the Dragon and appeared at my side within three seconds. –
– Purr! – Ixhúja shouted.
– Yes … I believe you helped a little. Perhaps. But can you imagine what songs shall be sung about my Puey, and how he was fighting in the midst of the Dragons and the fleets of the Qhíng and Aûm were lined up unto other side and lacing the skies with fireworks. Puey was very brave. I hope you weren’t too afraid, Ixhúja. –
Ixhúja crossed her arms and stuck out her tounge and was just about to tell her balletic younger cousin just how unafraid she was, but Khmaîpfher was still swaying from side to side and drawing open the rent in the tent and drawing the children within, and Puîyus was looking out and debating whether he should stand guard with drawn sword and just wait for Éfhelìnye to rest and drink some qayuq, but Éfhelìnye was already coming within and taking his hand, and leading them into the bower of rags and cloth and oiled bits of ship, and the cauldron in the middle, and Khmaîpfher was wading in the midst and drawing out a bowl and ladling some of the broth for the maidens. Puîyus lifted up his hand to signal that he needed no food,for he intended to keep his fast, no food had passed his lips since the moment when Fhermáta had been taken from him, and now he had no idea when he would e'er be able to eat again or even know that Fhermáta’s Wraith still loved him. Smoke was billowing upwards from the cauldron, and Khmaîpfher was swaying from side to side, his antennæ twitching, bowed and silent and sad.
– Oh the Suns have been dying above man worlds, in many realms – Khmaîpfher was saying, a little to himself and to the children. – The darkness has been spreading, a sickness, the ripples of water upon a pond, now that the West is no more we hear stories, all sorts of stories from the Qhíng and Aûm fleeing the destruction of the Bridges of Qthantònthe. Oh the Suns are not just dying here, in this timeline, but in all of the timelines, the great helical whorl of tides that make up all the past and future, all of them are blending together, all of them, the Suns … oh sometimes the Suns are swelling, sometimes the Suns just pop out, like candles blewn. Other times it is far more spectacular, the clouds and plasma are gathering, the Sun shakes, it lights up … it explodes, it is the most brilliant light one can see … if several Suns explode they become an iridescent Starburst …. But for a time, a brief time … and the Darkness comes. Have more broth. –
– I’m not hungry – Éfhelìnye chanted, and she handed her bowl unto Ixhúja who picked it up and began drinking it up in deep slurpy greedy gulps, and then went about licking the bowl in a rather feline manner. Ixhúja stuck her face so deep in the bowl that a smear of liquid lay on her nose, and she began wriggling her nose in an effort to dislodge it and catch the drops upon her tounge.
– What is the Sword at thy back? – Khmaîpfher asked, the servitor of the Khnoînger phatry.
– It was a gift – Éfhelìnye chanted. She did not want to mention her Father or even think of him, so a story was beginning to form in her mind. – Our Master gave it to my intended husband here. Puey was learning his martial training in the sky whispering mountains and received this weapon. –
– The sword looks like the Sun. And the boy child looks like a priest. One almost forgets what a priest looks like … the Emperor has been gathering them up also. – Khmaîpfher saw that Ixhúja was balancing a couple of bowls upon her nose and setting them twirling about, she was trying to imitate some of the jùmpo legerdemain which she had seen Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho doing in their sleight of hand and sleight of tendril, and the Qhíng took a bowl and refilled it for her, and Ixhúja began gobbling and slurping all she could find.
– Oh the problem with whispers, with legends, is that we do not quite know what to make of this prophecy soming to life – Khmaîpfher continued. – Will this new Emperor be good or bad, will be become a new Holy Tyrant like Kàrijoi and make us all bend our backs before him, or shall be he something benevolent and terrible beyond our imaginations? In some ways the Caste Elders hope that the new Emperor, if he even exists, will cleanse the worlds of our enemies and then become a tyrant, for we can understand and fear the tyrant that we know, but if this new Emperor is anything else, something beyond our ken … how can we react? The new Emperor may be like our antennæ, we do not know how we move them, we just will them and they bend and flex and coil and sense, he may be like our eyen and tendrils, he just is and we must function with him. –
– Perhaps all of the rumors are wrong – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – Perhaps this new Emperor, whoever he may be, assuming that he exists, has not come to save the people at all, but to change them into something else. –
– One must die to live, as the Prophet told us, as the priests used to say back when we still had priests, before the quantum Dæmons began crawling out to find them … – Khmaîpfher was looking from side to side as if from the shadows and broken walls and railings of the ship a few sylvan priests might spring up and announce their presence unto him. – The new Emperor may have to stablish a new order of priesthood, he may have to drawn them out from himself, such as when one dips into a clear and soft pool and swims, and one’s tendrils are drifting outwards in a beautiful array, and one floats free among the bubbles and the seawrack drifting upwards, and after a time one must surface and drawing oneself up from the waters, one arises in a crest, the water fresh and pellucid and clean washing off one’s face, about one’s skin, down through the feathers of one’s body, and a few leaves and seaweed tendrils and even a few broken feathers shimmer off. It may be just like that, the new Emperor shall arise and shake his head, and from the lose leaves and feathers form new cycles of priests. – Khmaîpfher looked to Puîyus, his eyen were deep and black, but sparkles of gold and albesence were flickering up within them. Khmaîpfher drew out a tentacle and patted Puîyus’ hand and chanted – Or perhaps not. Who can say what it shall be? An Emperor shall do as an Emperor wills it, we shall become part of his dream just as all Mortals and Spirits and even Dragons are part of the dreams of the divine Ása who cannot die. –
Princess Ixhúja picked up the bowl and licked it clean and then smacked it upon the table and smacked her lips. Khmaîpfher turned his large sad head to her and chanted – If I had any more to offer you, black-tressed one, than I would, but alas that was all the sqàre that I have. I can find you some more in the camps … I shall go myself, you can stay here … –
– Purr purr purr? – Ixhúja asked as she played with her tresses and drew out a few strands and admired the violet coloring of them. She poked Éfhelìnye a few times and demanded – !! –
– No thank you, I think my cousin’s had enough for the moment – Éfhelìnye chanted, and turning to Ixhúja chanted – Yes, I see your hair, it’s quite lovely and purple. –
– !! –
– Dearest Ixhúja, your hair has always been purple, I’m sure it was purple the day you awake to life. –
– !! –
– I know what the Qhíng chanted. And no, you don’t need to thump him in the beak for … –
– Pardon? – asked Khmaîpfher.
– Rrargh! – Ixhúja shouted as she bound across the slabs of the makeshift table and toppling o'er the cauldron was leaping into the air to start pounding her host, but both Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were catching her by the arms and holding her back. Khmaîpfher came stumbling backwards and fell upon the crumpled quetzal crest, his antennæ betwitching from side to side. Puîyus was able to hawl Ixhúja upwards and did not mind too much when she kicked him in the chest and face. Éfhelìnye set the table and cauldron back up and came up and took Khmaîpfher by the tip of one of tentacles and chanted – Please don’t mind my Cousin, she is very sad because of the War. –
– I hope I have not offended her – the Servitor chanted, bowing his head.
– She is rather proud of her hair. –
– I find it quite lovely, it reminds me of the sheen of the face of the night. –
– She keeps telling me that her hair is purple now, but it’s always been purple … at least I think it’s always been purple. –
– We gamma Qhíng tend to be a little imprecise with colors. –
– Ah, yes, I forgot. – Éfhelìnye turned to Ixhúja and chanted – Please, we must be more polite and courteous to our honored host. And the third sex of the Qhíng do not quite see colors the way the rest of us do, many of htem are fhenítlha, they are xoxhetesatenèfhta, star-eyed, color blind, some do not easily see the differences among violets and blacks and blues. –
– !! –
– We all find your hair beautiful. –
– Especially we who have no hair but down all of feathers – chanted Khmaîpfher as he drew himself upwards. – Purple-tressed one, you remind me of a great Captain we used to have in our fleet. I was with a group of Xhùrfhe Servitors in a massive fleet of the Qhíng, we were traveling up in the north and breaking up into smaller groups. One of the largest flanks, where many of the Caste Elders and the Ladies and Matrons of the bridges were stationed had a captain of your species there, he was brave, he was a raging storm, his hair a little like yours. I do not know who the great captain was, but the Gerons held him in high regard, I think he was conducting the war and leading the Qhíng through the treacherous passageways throughout Syapàkhya. I remember seeing him once, his eyen were sad, but his eyen were similar to yours, little purple-tressed one. –
– But your portion of the fleet came here – Éfhelìnye chanted. She was warming her hands by the cauldron, she could feel that the air was growing colder, and that slight surrurations of frost were arising from the nostrils of Puîyus and Éfhelìnye in their breathing and giving them a slightly draconiform look unto them-phin.
– Dragons burst right through us, they did not even care who we were, they were searching for someone, for those the Emperor is seeking. – Khmaîpfher chanted. – So we crashed here. Many fleets and exiles and wanderers come here, but no children at all. Ah, I think we’ve rested long enough and warmed and had our fill, haven’t we? – The Servitor arose and coming to some boxes drew out some tattered bits of cloth and seached for some pins. – I think it’s time for you to be leaving, but I don’t want others to see from afar that you are Children. I do not know all who have come to these camps or when the Dragons shall return unto us. – He drapped sheets about Puîyus and Ixhúja, and Éfhelìnye folded them up and made them into hoods for them, and she covered herself up in a third portion. Khmaîpfher was extinguishing the cauldron and saying – The temple fleet of the Aûm are near by, perhaps I can find a way to signal them and they can take you to safety, but that may be dangerous, I have heard terrible rumors about those who now rule the Aûm, insane twins who slaughter their own people as well as strangers. The Kháfha are already making their way into the Northwind. Perhaps I can try and find a way to signal mine own people, if the Qhíng still have living ships nearby … they may respond to a cry of distress from children. –
– You are quite hospitable, pétsixhurnífhe, agèd – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Khmaîpfher was drawing aside the curtain flaps and looking from side to side chanted – I just hope that the new Dynasty may show mercy unto the Qhíng, for my people deserve it not and can only beg an Emperor to forgive them. – Khmaîpfher turned back to Puîyus and looking right at him chanted – The Elders of my people, however, may be too proud to ask for forgiveness, nor will castes and the parents of the phatries bend their tendrils in meekness, but I myself, a son of the Khnoînger, can beg an Emperor to forgive the many, many mistakes of our people. –
Puîyus stood up. He remembered coming back from battle with Khmaiqràfhta, the Pirate’s cousin, and seeing that the Qhíng were shattering the statues of his Ancestors and burnt the crannog of his Fathers and hurled it into the loch, and all of the fields of the Sweqhàngqu were razed and undone, he could still remember the look of the Qhíng, tall and smeared in the blood of their enemies, as they shattered the walls one by one and trampled through the room which had once been Fhermáta, who had been taken from him. Puîyus could feel his heart smouldering within him and did not wish to remember any longer.
– We shall remember your kindness – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Ixhúja smacked her lips and remembered the taste of the broth, smacking her lips would be her contributation to this conversation.
– Perhaps there is something we can aid you in doing, before you smuggle us away – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Khmaîpfher’s antennæ shook in distress. – It may be a small favor, but I hesitate to ask it of those who may well be the new … one dare not voice one’s hope. –
– What would you like us to do? –
– It is a favor from the lad, but how can I ask it? I see the grief in his eyen. –
Éfhelìnye wrapped her arms about Puîyus and drew him forwards and chanted – Puey shall help. Is there some monster to be quelled, perhaps a wall or tower has to be moved, or he can pick up one of your living ships and let the works swink beneath is vast solid rubble. –
– It is simpler than that … while I draw you away … we shall be passing many Qlùfhem and Ptètqiikh who are wounded, but the greatest numbers by far shall be the Qhíng, thousands of them dying, hundreds will not last through the night. We have no priests left unto us, the Emperor is burning them all, but I can see that the lad here … ah … it is a foolish thought. –
– Puey, the Knight’s Son, has spent time with the holy men of his people, and the sages of the Land – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Perhaps he would consent to whispering a few words of prayer unto them? – Khmaîpfher looked out into the midnight and gestured for the children to follow after him, and as they were gathering close by and covering themselves in the sheets, Éfhelìnye reached up and took Puîyus’ hand and held it tight.
– I think Puey can pray for them. –
– Many of the soldiers are wounded by any hope, and many are crippled in spirit and begging to be forgiven – the Xaukùlrakh Servitor chanted.
Puîyus looked down to his free hand and remembered when he had tied bows into Fhermáta’s hair, and then when he had seen the Qhíng burning her room down and tossing her dresses, fine and nesh upon the flames, and he thought about how sometimes forgiveness may be the most difficult quest of all.

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