– Hah hah hah hah hah! – gasped Prince Jhwèsta, his hand of flesh and his hand of metal clasping the side of his bone crest. His teeth were grinding together, his eyen were rolling backwards, and the humps and wheels beneath his cloak were swaying from side to side to side not quite in the fashion that muscles do. – How risible, how droll, how quaint! –
– We do not waste our time telling jokes to Imperial Mad Scientists – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
Akhlísa leaned o'er to Siêthiyal and whispered – The Duchesses don’t tell jokes at all. –
– Do not speak – Khosyaràsqa chanted, swinging her eyestalk towards both of the children.
– But you have no idea how funny you are – Prince Jhwèsta gasped. – If only you could see me through my eyen, or my one eye and the various glass eyen I have created for myself … I can see with my bone crest and arms and hands now … –
– Are you mocking the most august Aûm? – hissed Pereluyàsqa.
– Ah … the answer to that would be yes – Prince Jhwèsta laughed. – Let me explain, let me explain. Heh heh heh, how quaint it is for you to say, The Immortals crafted us all of their own dædal tentacles. As a young Khlitsaîyart I was always taught that the Immortals made us with their talons and claws. I’m sure the Syìplet thought that the Immortals have fins, and this little dead Traîkhiim here probably thinks the Immortals have three heads and funny little feet like they do. I’m sure these maidens here think the Immortals have hands, but they clearly have not hands. –
– The Traîkhiim is not dead – Siêthiyal whispered.
– I told you to be silent, my pet – Khosyaràsqa told both of the children.
– If you had anything pertinent to say, say it now – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – You try our patience. –
– So both the two of you have a single collection fo patience? Dual patience. Special twin patience. Ahem. Ahem. I’m quite serious now – Prince Jhwèsta chanted with a smile. – It’s just slightly … interesting that the Aûm should somehow think of the Immortals as big ugly tentacled things … like you. No offense of course, for big uglies, you two are rather cute, heh heh heh tee hee hee hee. –
– I say kill him now, not later – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – The mad creature here no longer serves his purpose. –
– Not yet, Sister – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – Futile it is anyway to try to slay the shadow, the Imperial Mad Scientist has broken himself apart into many pieces, we would just be scattering him again. –
Siêthiyal took Akhlísa by the hand and traced upon it patterns of circles and lines, the silent signals of the gesture language of Taûsqo which some of the sylvans used, and which the Sweqhàngqu children had learned from Auntie Qtìmine as an additional way of communicating with their Brother who until this day had not spoken a single word in all of his life, and now could only speak a few words with Princess Éfhelìnye help, and her name was the only name he had e'er chanted. Siêthiyal traced out the cheremes of, Sister, I love you
I love you to, Akhlísa signed back. I’m scared.
So am I. I know that Mad Scientist. He used to dwell in Jaràqtu, but he was different there, almost old and almost kind, but here he is a fright of gears.
I wish Puey were here. I didn’t mean to tear a fabric in the realities and throw him in the Dragon’s face.
Pardon? What do you mean?
Just stay close to me. This is Prince Jhwèsta of Tsànyun, the Emperor’s Mad Scientist. In no matter which reality we find him, he is very dangerous. I trust him less than I trust the Duchesses.
I’ll stay close to you.
Have you seen Fhólus? She usually stays close to our bedroom.
I haven’t seen her today. Sometimes she wonders of for a few hours and we find her dancing somewhere …
We need to find her and keep her close to us. Siêthiyal looked upwards and saw that the Imperial Mad Scientist and the twin Duchesses were all leaning close one to another and gesturing with tentacle and claw and machine, and around them were gathering the various artist classes of the Aûm flowing upwards upon their complicated sphere-legs, some of them dressed in bright colors, the repairment servicing artists of the Aûm, some of them in bright whites and blues and greens and golds, and yet the very brightness of the colors upon the sweltering artists upon the floor of steam and the shaking walls whence the mist was falling only highlighted some of the horror that the maidens were feeling, for those larginchzint dressed in white revealed all to well the splatters of blood and flickering flays of skin upon them, those in blues and greens had flakes of scale and feather from their experimentation, and those in gold did not notice the crackles of bone lying upon them. And the artists were drawing closer and closer towards the maidens, some of the artists were taking out little books and sketching their likeness and doodling notes unto themselves, a few of the artists were prancing about enthused by some spirit of their own, and not a few of the artists were taking bits of clay and wheel and bone from their pockets and fidgeting to create something. And as the artists were not flowing outwards and occupied in their craft, behind them the mutants were crawling and turning their eyen and shattered faces and tushes and inner eyen towards the maidens and wondering all the while.
– You seem to midunderstand me – Prince Jhwèsta laughed. – How risible it is indeed that any species should envision the Immortals in their own image. –
– Our priests inform us that we address the Immortals in the correct fashion – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– I’m sure they do, the Prophet did actually meet the Immortals, heh heh heh, now he was mad, quite mad. –
– Our beloved husband traveled up unto the coronæ of the Suns and beheld the machine ghosts. –
– Funny you should say that, tee hee hee, you do know that the Tánin pray to the Immortals also, they think of them as wellspring of energy, they envision all of the heavens as clockwork. –
– It’s a wonder that the Great and Horrible Khan gave you shelter at all, traitor that you are to the Emperor – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
– Actually from my perspective I haven’t met the Khan yet, I’m been shredded through time you see. Kàrijoi is pulling all of my pieces towards me, and the Tánin are tugging the pieces back. Back and forth, forth and back, and I’m breaking apart hah! –
– Do not overestimate how useful we find you. You amuse us for the moment. –
– Oh again with the threats, everywhere I go, threat threat threat. Build me an army that can never die, or I do this horrible thing to you. Build me mutants that will slaughter the Qhíng, or I do this horrible thing to you. At least when I builded the Emperor’s Labyrinth, he asked me very nicely. Unfortunately, all of those memories … gone gone gone … along with the rest of my mind – Prince Jhwèsta tapped his bone crest a few times, and his skull began to crack open. Steam came bursting out from his eyen, and a slight smoke was arising from his ears. Akhlísa began to scream, but Siêthiyal reached o'er and held her close to her, and they watched as Prince Jhwèsta’s entire face began to open upwards. Certain musical boxes there are, very fine boxes crafted by the artisans of the Holy City of Eilasaîyanor, and when one places the skeleton key into the latch, all of the box springs open, the top opens and the walls come reaching outwards in great circular and hexagon patterns, several smaller boxes arising upon springs, and central boxes rolling outwards, and springing up in the middle comes a platform spinning around whereupon the ballerina doll twirls about, and all of the subboxes are floating about, and the entire complex appears far larger than what could have fit into the original box. Just like that was Prince Jhwèsta’s skull become, the last Prince of Tsànyun, the bone ridges were flowing upwards upon strings of muscle held together with wire and wheel, his eyen were expanding upon twisting clockwork stalks, his jaws were distending and revealing layers upon layers of flowing fangs and machinery grinding together, and flowing upwards in blossoms of muscles and tounges and flesh were wet pulsations of tissue cells banded together with gurgling pipes and various phials rising and falling and pouring liquid from one sphere unto the last, and in the great expansion of the head it somehow seemed far too hollow, even though so many machine pistons were flowing outwards and pulling flesh away from flesh. Akhlísa buried her head against her Sister’s neck and hugged her tight. Siêthiyal remained far more still and calm than she was actually feeling, but she knew that she had to protect her Sister at all costs, and witnessing Imperial Mad Scientists were just a part of being a protective older Sister. – As you can see … – the wheels of Prince Jhwèsta’s throat were saying as they rattled one against the other. – My brain is missing, or at least much of it. In this particular reality, only a few pieces of my appeared, the rest is … memory and … craft. All craft. I am Jhwèsta, the Maker. What can I make for you now? –
– I say kill him – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
Jhwèsta’s huge and empty head turned unto her, bulbs of flesh flowing upwards, tubes and wheels struggling to keep everything together. – The khòkhpi, the guestkindliness of the beloved bride Duchesses Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa is known throughout all space and memory, heh heh heh – the Imperial Mad Scientist laughed. – Nothing you do to me can shock me. Oh what an headache I have, my skull is literally splitting open, it’s mostly metal and precious iron in there. Look! I have no brain at all! Pulsating wheels, just goo and goo and wheel. A little bit of khòkhli, some balæna in here, the bones of tóxheke whales … so many bits of me and so many bits of others. All in one, one of many … – The Imperial Mad Scientist turned around and grinned, or at least the various unhinged yards of his jaws were opening upwards in an hideous mockery of a smile, the fangs swaying from side to side upon knife wheels, and hobbling a little upon his cane he approached the maidens and hissed – Have you e'er wanted to see what the inside of a skull looks like? Here, touch my bones, my muscles, my skull. You can’t hurt me. I am the maker. Grab some flesh, yank it out … learn of me … learn and be well … – The Prince began staggering closer and closer towards Siêthiyal and Akhlísa, but Siêthiyal remained still and with one hand was reaching out to her Father’s sword strapped unto her back.
Khosyaràsqa spun around, the fanstaff spinning around in her tentacles, and in a blur she thrust the staff right into the Mad Scientist’s open skull and smashed it through the other side. Prince Jhwèsta did not even pause, but the gears of his bones reached out and bit off the edge of these staff and spat it out, and slowly the various smuscles and wheels and sinews and gears of the skull began to assemble themselves back together, in the general outline of the head of a fhèlya wheelmaker among the Khlaêr Khlitsaîyart, and Jhwèsta just laughed and laughed and pointed to the Duchesses with his mechanical hand and chanted – Ah, that didn’t hurt at all! There was no pain, no pain at all … –
– Come along, Sister – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – Let’s leave the madman alone. He can fix the slave and work upon the mutants, at least until he phases out of this reality. –
– And how soon will you be disintergrating again? – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
– Soon, oh so soon … never too long in one place … I feel the Emperor pulling upon me even as we speak. – Prince Jhwèsta rubbed his claws together and chanted – Imagine if someone set fishhooks inside your tounge and belly and eyelids and every night in your dreams was pulling you out from this reality, until your skin began to crackle, and everyday when you awoke and gazed into the mirror you saw that less of your skin remained and you were being slowly replaced by something else … that is what it is like to be the last Imperial Mad Scientist … Kàrijoi’s thrall, the one who designed the Emperor’s Toys, the archetect of Qreûralirkh the Labyrinth of Worlds. –
– Come along, Sister – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – Our precious grand-neices don’t need to see the madman any longer, at least until we grow bored with him and execute him. Perhaps we can throw him on the pyre. –
– Take the worthless slave – Khosyaràsqa set Aîya’s chrysalis cocoon into Jhwèsta’s claws. – Repair it. We go. –
– Any … special modifications, heh heh heh. Traîkhiim bodies, I don’t know whether you know this, they are quite versatile, quite esemplastic, they can be molded into wing and feather and scale, all very transformative … they provide many opportunities for fun fun fun fun … – Prince Jhwèsta grinned.
– What did you have in mind? –
– I was wondering whether one could improve on what the Immortals fashioned. Something simple of course, perhaps rather than three heads with a single eye in each, how about three eyen in each head, wouldn’t that be far more expressive? And long pogo stilt legs … or maybe springs in place of legs? Ah, but this would be quite a fun little idea … the entire androgynousness of the Traîkhiim can be quite vexating, especially the way they keep fluxing between male and female depending upon their pheromonal balance. Why not just reverse engineer the entire species … we can make them into the image of the Aûm and give them three sexes, aleph and beth and gimel like your own people. I’ll even throw in some tentacles, just because … you really like tentacles. –
– Interesting ideas – Khosyaràsqa.
– Fine, do it – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – I’m taking the maidens away. –
– No, wait! – Siêthiyal gasped. – I want the creature to be exactly as she was before! –
– Nothing is e'er the same as it was before, little lass – Prince Jhwèsta chanted as he spun his living eye right towards her. – All things change, even the Immortals, who were once a single Clan are now assundered into Earth and Sea and Sky. Worlds change, atomies and music ripple, energy rises, realms dance, causalities orbit, mortals age and die, generations of grass and sand come and go, even eternity begins and ends. Nothing is the same it was before. –
– Make her a normal Traîkhiim, just as she was before – Siêthiyal chanted.
– I like the idea of making the Traîkhiim more like the Aûm – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – The wretched Qhíng did not well take care of their slaves, they did not mold them as one is meant to mold one’s children, they have left the Traîkhiim feral and unfettered. But if we improve upon the Triîm and make them like unto the Aûm … –
– It can be done … – Prince Jhwèsta chanted. – Of course, many of the slaves in your reservations will perish in the transformation … –
– NO! – cried Siêthiyal. – Do not try to best the Immortals. I just want her to be an happy and normal Traîkhiim just like the rest of her people. –
– Just humor the Emperor’s Sister – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – It’s her little pet. –
– I am honored to obey – Prince Jhwèsta chanted. – Service to house of Sun equals honor. – His mechanical hand was darting outwards and all of its fingers were become long and slashing knives grating against each other in scissor slashes as he caressed the cocoon and poked it, his knife tips brushing side to side. – I shall restore the pet to the little Emperor’s little Sister. –
– See that you do. –
– Ah! Here’s part of the problem right here! – Prince Jhwèsta was holding Aîya as he bound upon the table with far more speed and agility than either of the children thought he had, but they could see within the rustling of the robes that although he was still leaning upon a staff in his living arm, his legs were opening upwards as his skull had been, they were splitting apart at the bones and creating for himself a nest of spider legs dancing at odd angles and crawling about the side of the table, and setting the cocoon down he chanted – Its flesh is cracked and scared. Alive, just barely alive. Something is caked within. Perhaps I can have a volunteer to help me with the magic? –
Akhlísa looked up from Siêthiyal’s shoulder and piped – I’ll help! I love helping! –
– Here, come to the table, little child, and place your hands upon this creature – Prince Jhwèsta chanted as his mechanical hand was opening upwards and becoming probing tubes and jutting knives and instruments that were digging into Aîya’s skin. – Just tap the cocoon a few times and say the magic words, the qíperakh gobbledygook that all children know, d́alŋuy bjYj pem kofud. –
Akhlísa tapped the chrysalis and cried out – Pát pát pát pátifhar. –
– It’s magic – Prince Jhwèsta giggled, and the cocoon exploded, and bursting out from it came all of the clockwork insects which had accompanied Aîya. Akhlísa yelped as the dragonflies and moths and locusts came spinning all about her, they were shuffling away bits of feather and citrus xhepánga off of them and shaking their heads all the while, for they had been baked into the Traîkhiim and scared with her, and now were spinning about fluttering all the while, but when they saw the maiden before them with bright and aurelian hair, they darted towards her and landed upon her shoulders and began crawling into her tresses, for they were reminded a little of Princess Ixhúja whom they missed. Prince Jhwèsta signaled unto the various Artists who were swaying about him, and they were drawing out a great vat of burbling steam and liquid and gathering up the bits of skin and bone that had once been Aîya, and scooping it all up and placing them into the waters. – Now that we have pure Traîkhiim we can begin growing her anew – the Imperial Mad Scientist chanted. – I hope you like what I return unto you. –
– Éfhelìnye always used to make her little creations with such love – Akhlísa chanted. – They were gifts for Puey and the rest of us. But then again, some of her inventions tended to explode and try to stomp us about … –
– I know you – the Imperial Mad Scientist chanted, and his mechanical arm was unfolding and wrapping itself around Akhlísa and drawing her upwards. His knife fingers brushed against her ear and face and began to trace through her golden tressry. – Traces of you exist in a thousand worlds, you are legend also, the Concubine who loves the new Emperor. Oh the Ancestors did quite a good job in chosing you for him, loyal to him unto the end, fierce to defend the Sweqhàngqu. And so you, so very young. Would you mind if I looked inside your genetic structure? Complexities, oddities, wonders … you are growing up, and yet still appear younger than the others I have seen … –
– We’re going! – Siêthiyal chanted as she ran up and pulled Akhlísa away from the grasp of pistons and wheels and Prince Jhwèsta laughing at them all the while. The Imperial rikohs·ek’talsu even continued to sway and laugh, as Khosyaràsqa spun her staff around and thrust it into the scientist’s throat and in the joints of his mechanical limbs, but Jhwèsta just continued to shake.
Pereluyàsqa was gathering the maidens unto herself, sweet was beading up and down the length of her eyestalk and all about the glow of her celia, and picking up the maidens chanted – Tsànyunman, you have an hour. You have been warned. Work well or die. –
– I expect nothing less from the brides of Khlàmfhors, the Water Jug Lad, my first pupil – Prince Jhwèsta laughed. – I see that he incorporated my designs in your eyestalk and thorax, such a lovely thorax you have. Is it comfortable, I wonder? Does the steam affect it? Are you sweating? Khlàmfhors and I had long discussions regarding both of your abilities to conduct water, it seems … – Khosyaràsqa jabbed her staff several more times into what remained of the Khlitsaîyart’s mouth, until the mad scientist came rolling aside and convulsed with laughter, and she swivelled away from him and glissaded up unto her Sister and took her by the tentacles.
– We return to the meditation halls – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– If that creature had not been our husband’s patron, we should have just killed it on sight – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – If it is only a small part of the creature. –
– We’ll kill him tonight. His body can warm our pyre. –
– No, we’ll kill him this hour, after he fixes the pet. I don’t want that sponge in our laboratories, I don’t like the way that the mutants adore him. In fact, I don’t like this batch of mutants at all. I don’t think that they will actually slaughter the Qhíng as we had hoped. –
Pereluyàsqa sighed, her celia flowing from side to side and hissing in the steam, and she was holding the maidens and carrying them beyond the vats and the artists who were busy sketching the children and creating their likeness in clay and metal and stone. Her tentacles were warm and actually very soothing unto the maidens, and Akhlísa was hugging Pereluyàsqa and kissing her several times and was just thankful to be away from the Mad Scientist whom she had seen many times in dreams, and even Siêthiyal was finding herself appreciating the Duchesses a little, for Khosyaràsqa was picking up several staves and approaching the gaggle of the metamorphic mutants as they flowed down from table and vat and shadow. A few of the mutants the children could recognize, for forefront among them was the Thùlwus all of glistening green energy, his tentacles writhe from side to side, and beside him the Thùlwus whose belly was now a face, and the inner face was glaring at the children and licking its lips and drooling a little as it watched them. The other mutants came fluttering downwards and were crawling upon batlike wings, and their strange distended bodies revealed grafts taken of Khlitsaîyart and Qája and Ptètqiikh, and various genetic severings of various peoples. Khosyaràsqa spun her staff around a few more times and jumped down into the very midst of the mutants.
– No, this batch of mutants simply will not do – Khosyaràsqa chanted. Being lipless and humorless she did not smile, but the children thought that they could hear a certain amount of satisfaction in her voice, as she thrust the staff into the Thùlwus of pure plasma, and he vaporized at once and became billions of particles,and she slashed the staff right through the inner face of the other Thùlwus and holding him up impaled him thoroughly and ripped right through his body. Khosyaràsqa spun around, and three staves were dancing upon her tentacles as she hurled herself at the rest of the mutants and broke open their shoulders and bones and exoskeletons and slaughtered them one by one, until all of them lay broken and dead before them. The last couple of mutants were crawling upon their flippers and trying to escape, but Khosyaràsqa glided right above them and catching them by the eyestalks strangled them and ripped out their hearts and threw the creatures down. Then she tossed the staves apart, and revealed that upon her dress immaculate not a single drop of blood had fallen.
– Now this, I like – Siêthiyal whispered.
– We can burn these – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – Now, let’s leave the steam, it discomforts us all, especially the little children. – Particles of vaporized mutants were tumbling about her in a gentle ashfall, and behind them in the movement of vats and strange machinery and the breathing of forests of water and tubes, came the gentle sound of something quite mad walking with his cane and tap tap tap tapping all the while.
And all of the steam and all the walls were parting before the twin Duchesses, the pathways were spinning apart one by one, and huge constructions of spans were arising out of the gathering mist and drawing upwards and forming before the sphere-legs of the twain, and the walls were become dashing apart, and all of the great and green caid tnuthuid carbuncles were arising and spinning apart, and cool air finally fell upon the children again, and Akhlísa wiped the sweat from her brow and felt better, and Siêthiyal breathed out sighs of relief, and the Duchesses were taking the children upwards and out into the upper free airs where the open skies were glistening high above them and all of the towers were open and the thousands of technicians were whistling one unto the other and working upon putting back together the historical stained glass window which Fhèrkifher the famous pirate had smashed earlier within the hour.
And the Duchesses took the maidens within and took them into outer chambers and they bade Akhlísa dress and adorn herself in the manner befitting an Emperor’s Concubine, and by now Akhlísa was able to negotiate through some of the complex layers of her bridal clothing, although she still needed help with the flowing mechanisms and whorls of her corset, and so Siêthiyal was grown deft at aiding her Sister. And Akhlísa had to practice at making tea and serving it, and in learning to cook the foods which the Aûm considered quite proper for an Emperor to eat, for the Duchesses were quite eager that Akhlísa should learn some of the intricacies and rarities of Qlùfhem and Thùlwu cooking, so that she could impress the new Emperor with the culture and dedication of the honored Aûm, and later both Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were practicing some of the traditional weavings which the Aûm were wont to employ, Siêthiyal was actually the one to begin mastering some of the loops and whorls of the yarn while Akhlísa was struggling with the simpler stitches, the weaving was actually quite unlike how the women of the Færie folk weave, for it was weaving of yarn into metal and bits of stone and bone, it was a composite gallimaufry of skills like so much of the Aûm expertise. And finally, even as the technicians were working upon the layers of glass and light and color swirling throughout the gape of the stained glass window the Duchesses came up unto their high diases and brought out a golden box and began opening it. Akhlísa turned to Siêthiyal and whispered – This is the lesson that I loathe the most. Why do I have to do this? Can’t you do this for me? –
– I’m not Puey’s wife – Siêthiyal chanted. – And don’t ask me to explain how the melodies work. –
– Can’t I just fiddle with the strings while someone else plays the züt behind a curtain … –
– At least the Duchesses will let me hold the mosaic sheets of the music, although for the life of me I don’t understand the lattice patterns upon it. I’m sure Éfhelìnye could figure it out, it all looks like fractal waves and divine Sine and holy Cosine and mathematical equations, she’s good with numbers, we should ask her. –
– I don’t know whether she’s going to be liking me anymore. Anyway, Éfhelìnye knows nothing about music. Her Father forbade her to hear any of it, the first music she’s e'er heard came from Puey’s playing the harp. Perhaps that’s why she loves him so much. –
– Great, Puey will have two wives who can’t play music for him, but at least one wife will have a smattering of knowledge on how to play Aûm music. What a quaint, what an odd system of life we have. At least Puey can play music for all three of you. Perhaps you’ll want him to do the cooking also? –
– Stop making fun of me! –
– Hush, here they come. Maybe you’ll have Puey draw the bath for you … –
– Stop it! –
– And then Puey can weave the clothing for you. –
– I don’t like you. –
– In fact, because of your incompetence, Puey may just have to learn all of your uxorial tasks for you. But then, why does he need you? –
– Shush, the Duchesses are coming! –
– Say, why does anyone need you? –
– Duchess alert. –
– I sure don’t, I was happy, I was going to be the spoilt lastborn, until you came along and took all of the attention. –
– Duchesses! –
– Do you contribute anything to the family at all? –
– I have pretty golden hair which Puey loves. Oh, remember when the Ptètqiikh quantum insured my hair? I’m very valuable, because I have lovely hair which Puey loves, and they told me how valuable my hair is, and Puey likes my golden hair. –
– Yes, I’m ignored because of hair, her hair. Such is the story of my life. –
The Duchesses came rolling down the daises and were carrying a lrákiet zither and several books filled with complicated and most mathematical sheets of music. They gave the sheets unto Siêthiyal who flipped through them and thought that surely these were all just fractals and bits of the fibonacci sequence and endless strings of prime numbers set to notes, but she knew better than to question the æsthetic of the most honored Aûm. She set the pages into the proper order, even as Akhlísa was setting the lrákiet koto-samisen into her lab and crossing her legs and letting the machine rest upon her shoulders, and she closed her eyen and began to tune the strings just as she had been taught. This particular züt had been intended for a beth Qlufhaîmel, and she had to play it slightly differently since she lacked tentacles altogether and her fingers just worked in a different fashion, but the Duchesses were nodding their eyestalks and had told her that her very alienness and awkwardness lent the music a quaint and domestic feel unto it.
– Shall we set the khmatraîleqhe mercury clepsydra to dripping? – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– I think that I can keep time in my head – chanted Akhlísa.
– Tap your appendages if you need to, to keep the rhythm – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
Akhlísa began plucking the strings of the lrákiet and was only too painfully aware of how amateur, how childish, how alien her music was sounding. She let a few chords flow out from her fingers, but then paused in frustration before beginning again. Siêthiyal sate beside her Sister and pointed out the equations upon the pages that denoted what notes she was supposed to play, and she kept one arm about her Sister just to comfort her, for she knew that Akhlísa liked to feel that she was loved.
– You will improve – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – You will have years to practice. One does not learn a new skill in just an hour. –
– I’ll try – Akhlísa chanted as she struggled with chord after chord, the strings ringent all about her fingers.
– Remember that you will be peace and comfort and love unto your lord and husband – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – He may be busy with battle, but when he returns to his home, wherever that may be, perhaps in a castle, perhaps in a warship, or even in a tent upon the battlefield, you must be there to greet him and serve him. Playing music for him will sooth his heart. He must be refreshed, you shall be wellspring and labyrinth unto him, you shall be music and mystery. In your music his spirit shall fall, but it will not falter or drown, rather he shall swim through it, and you shall be refuge at the end of his day. –
– Your progress is satisfactory, not every qlufhaîmel could play as well as you do in so short a time. Now continue to play the scales and lessons, and we twain shall listen in silence. –
And so the Duchesses flowed up unto the cushions of their high daises, and Akhlísa played for three solid hours, stopping and sweating and fidgeting all the while, and after that time the Duchesses finally descended and took the lrákiet away and told the maidens that it was time to meditate for a time.
And in the silence punctuated just by the hammersong of the technicians recreating the gallery and the stained glass window, and the occasion sound of the living ships and glass and hot air balloons of the fleet lurching through time in its mad dash away from the Dragons, while the priests and acolytes were coming and lighting their incense and making all things smell of holiness and peace, Siêthiyal and Akhlísa knelt upon their cushions, and although to the eyen of the passing priests and unto the silent Duchesses high above them, the maids appeared to be in meditation, their hands were clasped, and with squeezes and tugs they were able to communicate one with another in the handlanguage which Puîyus also know, the Holy Rose Knight’s only Son.
We cannot trust the Imperial Mad Scientist, Siêthiyal was telling her Sister. When I knew him, or part of him in Jaràqtu, I would run errands for him, and in exchange he would mend some of my toys. I even managed to get his help in smuggling Puey and the dopey Princess out of Jaràqtu, but then Prince Jhwèsta was a vaguely benevolent clockmaker, not a skull ripping machine thing. His presence here only confirms what I have in my heart.
Are we going to get fed today?
Who knows. It doesn’t matter. We’re escaping tonight.
Could we escape aftering eating? You did just sign escape, right?
Yes, Sister! Pay attention! You’re as scatterbrained with hands as you are with words.
Listen you stupid mean head! I’ve been good, I’ve jus thad to sit and play for three hours even though I wand to run and shout and fidget all the while! I’m a good concubine to Puey! Be quiet!
We are quiet, that’s why we’re undetected. Listen.
I’m all hands.
We escape tonight. We find Fhólus and Aîya. They’re the only things keeping us here.
That and the whole alliance …
We’ll just flee to a different faction. We’ll figure it out, we have to leave. The Duchesses are truly mad, and they fill my mind with terrors. Either the Qhíng or the Kháfha will takes us in.
So it will be strict Caste Elders and water everywhere, or strict monks and silence and no play everywhere. Do we have any fun allies?
They all died, the Syìplet and the Fhlóla. The Traîkhiim can be fun, sometimes. But they’re slaves of course. We barely even have any possessions, we’re basically refugees. We can gather our clothing easily tonight at bedtime. The problem will be finding the Triîm, but if the Mad Scientist is true to his insane word …
Sister, how are we going to leave our rooms? And the fleet? And whither can we go? Dragons are all about us, and I don’t really like dragons at all. In fact, Dragons terrify me far more than the Duchesses and the Mad Scientist. Dragons want to eat my brain, and just thinking about them fills me with despair and of all of mine inadequacies as a spouse to our Puey.
Please stop fretting about him, he will never grow angry or criticize you. You will have the type of marriage that will be the envy of all the other matrons, an husband already devoted unto you and who can see no wrong in whatever you do. Puey doesn’t see you for the mewling puking little waif that you are, all the rest of us see the reality, but he sees you as his little Akhlísa. Just as you venerate him, so too venerates he you.
Why do you flatter and mock and console and deride me at the same time?
Because we’re Sisters.
Fhólus has been teaching me Traîkhiim dance. I shall impress Puey with said knowledge, that and all of the fun skills which the Duchesses have been imparting unto me.
Then escape it is, Siêthiyal signed unto her Sister, and together the both of them looked up unto the gape of metal and stone and wire where the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu were reassembling the billion, billion dreams of stained glass and setting them together in history and mythopoeia, and the maidens watched as Dragons were appearing and blinking out of existence, and the continent of Syapàkhya rolled out in waves of light all before them, in white and blue and orange halflight drifting out through the vast windows before them all.