Puîyus continued to row with the bone oars and as the missles were firing from both the Qhíng and the Aûm factions, as weyr hordes of Dragons continued to arise and were attacking mortals as no respecters of persons, Puîyus was contemplating various strategies whereby he could save the twin fleets from the Dragons, the problems were numerous not the least the strength and rage of the coiling furacana of the Northwind, plus the Qhíng and Aûm fleets were essentially facing each other throughout this expanse of sky and grey and could accidently shoot the other down, although Puîyus in his smoldering heart was thinking that the Aûm had already unprovoked fired upon the Qhíng and enticed the Dragons to stay, for after all the Dragons were retreating for to meditate within their cloud homes and think of Éfhelìnye, and if it were not for the rage and the bombs and the flickering of the firecrackers the Dragons might already have disappeared. Puîyus was not sure whether there were a rogue faction operating within the Aûm fleet, he was not even sure what sort of governance they had anymore, the last he knew were of the two beneficient Duchesses who had spirited him and Éfhelìnye away by setting the ensorcelled carcanets upon their necks and sending them off to the Empress’ crystal cenataph, and before the Duchesses had aided him and driving away most of the Qhíng fleet from the skies of Jaràqtu and slaying the Suzerain Xhnófho Khmaiqràfhta himself, so he thought that perhaps they must still be in charge, if anyone can be rulers of the acephalous societas of the twin peoples of the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu, but he did not understand politics, all he could say for certain was that his Abbá and Grandfather Pátifhar were trying to form a grand alliance to create a world better for the days to come. Puîyus continued to row back and forth and set the emergency jhuináxhyong boat darting from side to side from the exploding missles and wondered what Jaràqtu would be like when finally he returned thereunto. Ixhúja was marching at the prow and sometimes flashing her sword and sometimes jabbing against the shadows and other times just pacing and watching the movement of the fire bombs.
– I’m sure the Qhoîyekhim Mind Slaver is with his Ancestors now – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – Perhaps the process whichby Prince Jhwèsta transformed a dead or dying Qhíng into a mind slaver already severed his souls away, so that he already enjoys the embrace of his forefathers, and only his body remains and is kept functioning by the clockwork and alchemies. Either way, I know our friend is happy now, no matter how he truly died. –
Puîyus did not know what to say, he whispered a prayer to his Ancestors and hoped that the Ancestors of the Qhíng were as kindly as were the Ancestors of the Sweqhàngqu. He remembered that once Xhnófho had told him that he expected to smoke incense and celebrate and dance with nymphs in the next life, quite a joyous view of the Nethergloom in comparison to what he had been taught to expect from stern and distant Elders who taught him that whether in life or death duty and honor were paramount. Puîyus’ spleen burnt a little in shame to think that he was not feeling greater sorrow for the death of the nameless Mind Slaver. Already too many had died this day in the Emperor’s Flower War, endless families and tribes and clans were wiped off the face of the quarters of the worlds, Jaràqtu had been occupied and burnt, the West was fallen in moon and bridge and sea, the Synod of Lords was no more and the Noble Caste existed almost in name alone, the priesthood was scattered and mostly Dead, even gentle Great-Uncle Táto had fallen by the hands of the soldiers of Khnìntha whose homemoons were wasted and unpeopled, Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho his Peiratical uncles had disappeared to save the children from the horrors of the Fractal Labyrinth and he had no idea whether they lived or died, and Fhermáta was dead, Fhermáta was dead, Fhermáta was dead.
In the growing explosions and rippling fireworks, the waves of blinding light, and the Dragons crashing from one fleet to the next, Puîyus was barely even noticing the growing waves of light. He felt nothing, he felt cold and ill. He turned and saw that Princess Éfhelìnye was crawling up beside him and taking a small alban kerchief dabbed unshed tears from his eyen.
– Just rest for a moment, Puey – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I’ll row. –
– ?¿– Puîyus asked.
Ixhúja lifted up a perfect arched violet eyebrow and began to guffaw.
– I think Puey should just rest – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Let me row, it doesn’t look difficult at all. I suppose all I need to do is grab onto the bone oar. Here, let me make an attempt. –
Ixhúja began chuckling unto herself. Puîyus straightened and started rowing all the faster, and in blinks and glances and eyelash flickers told Éfhelìnye, Churlish and rude it would be for me not to row in service of thee. Thine hands were made for finer tasks than those of an humble sailor.
– Humble pirate you mean – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I wouldn’t mind rowing for just a couple of minutes. Anyway, I was thinking, while you rested, you could pray for the Mind Slaver and all those who’ve died this day. I’m sure I can figure out the mechanism of forward propulsion quite easily, it’s just a matter of repetitive froward and back movement based upon the pivot of the bone oar. –
Puîyus considered for a moment but could think of no fault with this plan, and so he got up and bowed unto Éfhelìnye and set the tipry of the kùxhyu remiles into her small albescant hands and walked down unto the other end of the boat to kneel down and bow his head and pray.
– Now I can aid Puey in all of his peiratical enterprises – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I always thought that I’d make an excellent Pirate Princess, it’s a position I’ve just created of course. – She grasped the bone oars and tried to lift them and found them far heavier than she had expected. – Puey will be the first Pirate Emperor of course … – she gasped and dropped one oar and deciced to concentrate all of her energies just on the other one, and grasping it in both hands struggled to move it a few inches up or down. – I’ll be the Pirate Empress, I think that means that it will come to pass that from time to time Puey and I … are these suppose to be this heavy … will leaving our cottage and sail outwards and row the bone oars … probably lighter bone oars than these, such must have been intended for the Qhíng, and we’ll sail upwards and outwards and higher into the cloud firmament and … Ixhúja are you sure these are the right oars, and into the shadows and reams of space disappear into zones of nebulous adventure and … oh! Look! I moved the kùxhyuin paddle! –
Princess Ixhúja did her best not to start laughing at her cousin, but Éfhelìnye was just inordinately proud of moving the ancient Qhíngan bone oar just a couple of feet down, and dusting her hands and looked around for approach. Ixhúja bit the inside of her cheeks, but could no longer contain herself, and bending down double began to laugh at her cousin in uncontrollable schadenfroh guffaws.
– What’s so funny? – Éfhelìnye asked. – I managed to row. Look I moved it back. I’ll rest and try to gain strength to row it forth. –
Ixhúja trod froward and picked up the throughly rowed bone oar in her left hand, and sitting down next to Éfhelìnye grabbed the other oar in her right hand and setting them in their place began to row back and forth in a gentle rhythm. Éfhelìnye nodded and chanted – Yes, that’s the general idea, it’s what I was intending to do, at lest in the imagination of mine heart, theory and practice being just slightly devided though in actuality. –
Ixhúja nodded to her cousin and let her cousin place her hands upon hers, and so Ixhúja rowed from side to side in a perfect steady rhythm, and Éfhelìnye clasping her hands felt like a real sailor, or rather a real pirate indeed, and Éfhelìnye smiled with joy so pure and bright, that Ixhúja could feel it flowing into her, and for the first time Ixhúja realized how ebullient it must be to sail up through the windsweeping skies and feel the rushing air and bob up and down in boats as if one were a bird or porcine or flying fish, and to ply bone oars like wings themselves. And Ixhúja was quite happy. Puîyus looked up from his prayer and saw that Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja were smiling at each other, and his heart was warm with goodness and euphoria. After a time Ixhúja let her cousin try and grasp an oar by herself, but Éfhelìnye slipped, the bone oar was just too heavy for her, and it came spilling around the deck of the boat, and both Princesses laughed at that, a merry and tintinabulous sound, and Puîyus just shook his head and thought that perhaps at the very last Midnight and Winter would be lifted from the Land, that he would be able to return to Jaràqtu and be reunited with his Sisters and Father, his Auntie and Cousins and Elders, that he and Éfhelìnye and her Cousin could find some happiness, perhaps upon the coastlands and gardens left unto the wolds of Jaràqtu, and hearing the beauteous song of their laughter filled him with hope and faith.
Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick.
Puîyus turned his head, the jewely of his hair dangling and ringing just a little. He thought he heard a sound, perhaps pleasant or maybe not, perhaps familiar or maybe unknown, he was not sure. Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja were rowing the bone oars together and were laughing once again, and the Qhíng and Aûm fleets were beginning to verge away from each other, the firing of their plasma missles was grown the less, and many of the Dragons were turning and spinning about each other and looked as if they were going to continue their trek back into the clouds, and Puîyus breathed a sigh of relief, for a battle with Dragons in the midst of raging clouds could not possibly be a good idea.
Tick tock tick tock tick.
Éfhelìnye just giggled all the louder. – You make it seem so easy, the way you can pick up the bone oar like that as if if weighed nothing. Here, you hold it, and I’ll just guide you with my hands, and we pretend to fly like ice pterodactyls. –
Tick tock tick.
Puîyus looked around and saw that long columns of heat and grey vapor were arising from the largest of the Temple Balloons in the Aûm fleet. For some reason he kept turning his eyen in that direction and was not entirely sure why. Waves of firecrackers were arising as halos from some of those glass and hot air balloons as they bobbed against each other, and Puîyus wondered whether it were from one of those very balloons that the firing upon the Qhíng was begun.
– Look, Puey, I’m a pirate also – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I can sail and plunder just as well as you can. You’d better beware of me though, I can be quite fierce when there’s something that I want, I may just end up harrying kisses from you when you least expect it. –
Puîyus sniffed. He smelt oil drifting about him and some smaller whisps of grey steam, and looking around he saw a small arasqiêkhu chaloupe sloep fluttering up before him, and the gleam of metal arising. His eyen narrowed. Several more bombs were arising from the Aûm fleet, he saw that new streams of volleys were racing upwards right untowards the Qhíng, and he was glad that he had sent the long boat veering upwards away from the main layers of the Qhíng fleet. He turned and eyed the arasqiêkhu shallop again and wondered.
Éfhelìnye was laughing. – I just know that Puey is the greatest of all of the pirates who e'er sailed the clouds of the Eleven Seas. Why we even have books for you and some toys that we can give to Siêthiyal and Karuláta, I know they’ll have fun putting them back together again and figuring out how they work. I think that the mechanism of something, beit language or mathmatics or dance or mythopoeia is always quite fascinating, don’t you? Of course to me they are all different forms of the same art, art being language of the highest sort and all the rest of them different manifestations thereof. –
Ixhúja blinked and purred asking, Then would you consider cooking to be an art? For one has heard some quite interesting rumors conserning your talents in that particular direction.
– I’m still learning the art of khyàjhwu, of magiriξ – Éfhelìnye chanted with a smile. – I’m still young though, I have plenty of time to learn to bake the muffins and pies that Puey loves. I’m sure Kàrula will have many things to show me when we return to her, and maybe even Auntie Qtìmine. –
Puîyus wrinkled his nose and could not help but feel that something terribly wrong was happening, the movement of the bombs, the twin fleets struggling in the winds, and the Dragons swirling around and being struck by fire again. He felt an inch at the back of his neck, and behind him several long and snapping pincers began to reach outwards and claw up the side of him and shimmer in spindly arachnid patterns tick tick tick. Puîyus blinked a few times tock tock tock. He reached outwards. Puîyus was not at all given unto tnauqonàjhwen, unto jimp jamp jump paranoia närvodjitjitik, in fact his perception of danger as well as many other of his senses were quite markedly different unto the rest of the Children of Pfhentókha, unto the way that Spirits such as Elementals perceive, quite different to demimortals’ feelings such as floreal Tèntra and jacinth Unicorns and cloud-shattering Dragons themselves, as well as in comparison to the all encompassing perceptions of the divine Ása whose thought and dance and dream became the reality of the Land of Story. Puîyus had a remarkable sense for feeling danger and anticipating it, and yet one should not quite think of that perception as alara bells clangering in his mind all of the hours of his life, for when wrestled he xhyàthan naksofnar ycovered in cactus spars, as he can spinning around the cipactli and its spear tail was dashing about him and large kuria jaw was snapping at him nag nag nag nakra just before his face, as he spun about and wrestled the crocodile xhyàthan his heart was not racing, his mind was not alert unto danger, for he understood the way of wild beasts and thought as they did, and jaw and fang and the vagueries of their gestaltic minds were not what he would consider danger. When he came running through the fields and came sliding upon mud and spinning down the face of the slade and a great avalenche was forming tonitruant about him, the mendi mountains all shaking, the scurrying rocks and creagfaces breaking apart, the dust billowing outwards in greater storms, yet his mind was not yet turned unto danger yet, for even without looking, by size and vibration and shimmering anticipation he knew where the sharp pieces were falling, where the might of the mountain was crashing, he knew wherewhither to turn and slide to leap and bounce and slip out of the way, a falling mountain was not too great a danger for him at all. And it was the same with the storm, lightning raging unto all sides, the trees bursting into flames, and rushing flame horrors racing him upon the fields, and Puîyus just threw his head back and laughed as he felt the scalding winds rushing through his braids, the jewels woven into his melancholy tresses jingle jangling, and he would race fire storm and lightning, and yet his spirit was not awake to the possibility of danger, of true danger. He knew it in battle, when hundreds of impaling spears were throwing, and in the blinkd of an eye he had to dodge some, deflect others, parry some, let others strike his shield, and to the rest he just shouted at the top of his lungs and the spear head just broke apart and clattered down. He knew it in the middle of the night, when he would be sleeping beside the flames and the war refugees were huddling unto all sides of him, and with a start he would awaken and feel perspiration beaded upon his brow, and he would just know that living ships were struggling high in the heavens, and he rolled o'er and made sure that Princess Éfhelìnye was safe and comfortable in his dreamcloak, and that Qìtien and the rest of the acolytes were resting beside the flames, and without disturbing them at all he arose and took up the sword which Emperor Kàrijoi had set in his hand, and running into the deep night came he, and bounding high into the heavens, and unto the living ships he came and the roaring battle and crash and fire. And he knew danger now as Dragons were swirling outwards throughout the endless reams of the silvern streams of the Northwind, and yet it was a diffused danger among the ten thousand skiffs and cadlongry of the Qhíng and the various flotilla and glass and hot air balloonment of the most honored Aûm. And yet at this very moment, as little claws were reaching outwards and crawling up his back, Puîyus heart was racing, he knew that danger was nigh, spindly reptent cold danger. Puîyus for a split moment wished that indeed there were spiders crawling all about him, he loved spiders so much, they were beautiful to his sight, he loved the way they moved, the twinkled in their multiple and compounded eyen, the twitching grace of their legs as they danced in the air, and above all he was delighted in the ballet of the sèpulol the spinnerettes of the arachnid folk, and many hours he had spent sitting upon the sward and playing his harp and breathing in the perfume of flowers and watching as the spiders arose before him bowing and dancing and wove for him the most beautiful of all tapestries flickering silvern gossamer before his gaze, and sometimes when finished he would lean down and kiss the spiders and let them play in his own gossamer tresses, a great honor indeed considering how sensitive he was unto anyone’s touching his hair, indeed before thie day he had attempted to limit contact with his hair to Fhermáta’s deft hands, she was always expert, dædal in setting his tresses just right. Sometimes he would sit and watch her spinning for hours, the movement of her fingers were like spinners all the while, the flowing of the stitches mirabile visu, he remembered when she had set her hand unto weaving him his very own dreamcloak, how she had labored so long upon this art, to create a mantle wherein his thoughts and hopes and dreams could remain, a fitting and princely gift to be given upon his own Starday, a dreamcloak he had treasured, but it had been burnt in the War when the Qhíng came, even the cloak which beloved Fhermáta had gewoven for him, burnt in the War of Heaven, and not even the ashes of it could he find. Puîyus felt the crawling up his back, and at once thoughts of beautiful spiders and memories of beautiful Fhermáta hissed and burnt within him, the blue hairs at the back of his nape were arising a little, and he was alerted to the danger strange and fey wellconnected unto him.
Puîyus spun around and grabbed at the air. Here at the rudder of the vessel the winds were arisen in a blur, for they were all arising above the line of the Dragons and the Qhíng fleet spreading out before them and heading in a septentrional, a boreal fashion. The winds were hissing, sharp and cold aquilon amihan boréas, the winds of winter, the devouring ones who always were surrounding Jaràqtu and keeping that entire dimension as an island set apart from the rest of the Winter Patriarchy, kean and sharp and violet winds bursting down and spreading out west and south and east, shaggy wings, bearded winds, billowing ycloaked wings, winds roaring with the sounds of trump and conch shells, winds hissing with the cry of the Dragons rising and falling throughout them all and heading unto the flames of the clouds. Puîyus yanked at the creatures crawling upon his back. Stars were arising upon the horizon, Stars making their slow and majestic rise before the gape where the shoreline of Jaràqtu would be forming within the hour, seven Stars dancing about in patterns constellate and known by all gazing in the meridional worlds and searching for where harsh north would be, the North where dwelt the now ruined worlds of Syapàkhya and the reaver fjords of Ìthikus and the worlds of the Qája insects and all of Qájien the Waste of Khyíkha and Pàqhoqa and Khàjhwa, the North where alone could be bred warriors as indomitable as the Spear-Jaràqtuns where the children of Khiêro had finally come to rest after so many generations, at least the children of Khiêro who ventured not out unto the Moons of the South for to listen to the alluring song of clockwork. For a moment, even as Puîyus plucked horror and danger away from him, true danger lurking on the inside of his eyelashes and causing his eyen to blink in time to an almost imagined clockpunkpulse, he still had a moment to dwell and gaze upon the Stars dancing far before his ken, and the hope that beloved Jaràqtu would not be too far.
One could contemplate danger later. Puîyus’ strong hands grasped at insubstantial cold shadows crawling behind him. A knife struck him in a back, a rather clumsy knife, he thought, it did not reach too far and missed some vital organs, for Puîyus had been stabbed in the back many times and knew the sensation well, but in the split second it took him to grab the assailants, danger flowing inside his ears and trickling up and down the length of his xylem and phloem, he did have a moment to wonder at feeling, at sensation itself. For he was beginning to understand, silent, contemplative, melancholy, wordless though he was, that indeed his perceptions were a little different unto those of others, although perhaps only to a degree. Ixhúja could probably understand how he felt, they could construct a common language of metaphor to description anticipations of danger, of being able to endure hardships and cold and fast, of being able to withstand being stabbed in the back and quite easily survive with swift reflexions and an hand grasping a couple of squirmescent shadows behind him. He thought that in truth the one person he knew who probably had the most radically different sense of perception unto himself had to be the Starflower Princess Éfhelìnye herself, for a constant stream of creative language and metaphor and comparison were appearing with her mind, as well as rivers of numbers, and oceans of colors escaping about her and sprawling upwards into walls and worlds and wonderful quests, creatures and places that only existed in he mind constantly engendering themselves and filling up her notebooks, and yet her drawings of burning wharf and flying ship and dragons awhirlent high within the welkin were yet coming to pass, in a way. His fingers, moving faster than thought, caught a couple of struggling wraiths. Something was biting or clawing at him, and although Puîyus did not think that these individual and clumsy attacks were going to hurt him, still he thought that the shadow of extreme danger lay upon him.
Puîyus hurled down two spheres before him with such force that the wood and bones of the long jhuináxhyong shuttle buckled and cracked. The spheres spun around and kicked up their wheels, their claws and limbs were wrigglent from side to side as if they were jìlre scarabs and tyótlhit ciarogs throw upon their shells and left to scramble and struggle and fume. Wheels were grinding together in these twin creatures, and there came the gentle sound of clockwork. One of the creatures was of silver and his four limbs were dancing about, his eyestalks arising and blinking, and he dropped a knife in his claws. The other creature, more bulbous and rondured, was aurelian in shade, his limbs snapping together, and his head was rising and falling into the dome of his body. They were little xhràxam, little wind up toys, and they shook in fear as Puîyus arose against them. At the thunderous fall of the creatures Ixhúja stopped rowing, and Éfhelìnye dropped both oars. Ixhúja slipped upwards and drew a knife.
Silvern Tetratríxe and golden Qwatríxe rolled upon the floor next to each other. Qwatríxe turned his head around and gave his twin an accusing look, and Tetratríxe just blinked his large globe eyen and muttered – It wasn’t my fault that I miss! I thought that’s where the creature kept it’s mainspring! It’s not my fault, I tell you! –
– Now we’re finished! – Qwatríxe growled. The little wind up devices were still struggling to arise, both of them were dented from their travels and not a little scorched, for they had crawled through the burning flames and billows of a glass and hot air balloon, some of their metallic flesh had been broken away to reveal the dragon scales that made up part of their body.
– Could you at least … reach for my skeleton key? – Tetratríxe asked. – I want to be wound up if I am to be … ended … –
– Do you think we shall meet up again with Jhwèsta Xhiîqlim the Maker Datuval Kara Majstro? Shall he gather us up into his arms and grant us souls and let us flutter up into the heavens? –
– I don’t know … he’s got us again! Kill him kill him kill him kill him! – screamed Tetratríxe.
Puîyus picked up Tetratríxe in one hand and Qwatríxe with the other hand, and he growled as he heard the whirl of their clockwork, and realized that this is what had alerted his mind to swift and near danger. He flexed his back and could feel the clumsy stabbing in his back, and Tetratríxe’s four claws drapped a few metallic stilettos. Puîyus was not about to let some meddlesome little abominations like these distract him from saving the Princesses from this dragonladen sky battle, at once he began to squeeze them both so that their metal contracted and bolts and wheels and nuts began flying right out of their joints.
– Help! Help! Help! – screamed Qwatríxe.
– He’s insane I tell you, completely mad! He’s the most horrible creature one can possibly contemplate, a killing machine this gossoon is, remorseless, merciless, almost completely mindless, dedicated naught but to the craft of slaying others, and especially of our kind! – Tetratríxe shouted.
Éfhelìnye tried to pick up a bone oar and dropped it. – What’s happening, Pew? – asked she.
Ixhúja bound upwards and seeing that the little squirming shadows were only clockweyth toys, she wondered at all the fuss, and the kerfluffle which was racketing out from them. She yanked golden Qwatríxe from Puîyus’ grasp and threw it down and began stomping right towards it, she thought that if she really set her mind to it she could rip off the edges of the burnt skin and find out why these machines were wound too tight in some places and not enough in others, but she did not really care, they were just malfunctioning apparatus in her opinion and it would probably be all the more fun to chase around and stomp them. Qwatríxe was squealing and rolling outwards upon the tips of his sphere-legs, his four arms were waving in several directions at once, and so comical he was running around in little circles, that Ixhúja just grinned to herself and starting chasing after the wiht, but not too quickly, just fast enough to make it panick and trip o'er its own sphere-legs and scream all the while in higher and higher panick. Puîyus for his part was in the mood to play. He was crushing Tetratríxe’s entire body in one of his fists and listening to the screaming of gears and wheels pressed against each other, and all the while running in his mind the Prophet’s stern injunction to wit, Pajètárl suju’ úxing Táninèkhral ker íxei, One shall not permit the sibärik Abomination to live. Puîyus was just about to destroy Tetratríxe’s entire body and in a single squeeze reduce it unto silver dust, but Ixhúja and Qwatríxe were running about each other, Qwatríxe screaming like some pitiful creature, and Ixhúja was laughing as she stomped around it and smacked it about and kicked it with slight but painful jabs, and she bumped right into Puîyus, and he dropped Tetratríxe down and staggered from side to side. At once Tetratríxe jumped upwards and began laughing unto himself and began spinning around.
Of a sudden Tetratríxe drew four knives out of his carapace and was juggling in his claws and bechuckling unto himself laughed – Your skin, your flesh, your hame is mine, Mortal child! Prepare to surrender your Raven blue eyen, I shall stab them out! –
– Help help help! – cried Qwatríxe and he ran around in circles, he dashed right between Ixhúja’s legs and came leaping out behind her, Puîyus bound upwards and growled and was thinking that the best Tánin were those who were smashed, their bodies reduced to rubble and then burnt, and then the ashes themselves mixed with salt and burnt again, so troublesome, so parlous, so clockweyth were such creatures as the Tánin. He tread forwards and chased after Tetratríxe.
– What’s happening? – Princess Éfhelìnye asked. – It looks like you’ve found some little friends, ne? – She tried grabbing another heavy bone oar, but it was just too heavy and difficult for her, and moreover the long boat was drifting upwards unto some of the higher winds above the agnihotravimāna of the Qhíng, and the air was once again sparkling with heat and wrath, and the Qhíng turrets were beginning to turn one by one and breath out haze and mist and flame. Éfhelìnye arose from her seat, but all of the long boat was shivering from side to side and knocked her down. She tried to arise again, for she wished to have a better view of the toys, but so violent was the lurch that she was thrown down. Puîyus’ fingers were just about to grasp one of Tetratríxe’s eyestalks and rip it out, but when he saw Éfhelìnye’s falling he was distracted for a moment, and Tetratríxe came rolling outwards and bound right upon the railing of the ship and pointed all four claws at Puîyus and screamed in derision.
– Weakling! Runt! Micromorph! Puny little mortal! Cowardlette! Freakling! – Tetratríxe screamed and bounced from side to side and jabbed in Puîyus’ general direction. – You should have caught and ended me when you had the chance, but not it is I who shall rend and gouge and end you! Afraid of a little wheel, a little clockwork, a little toy! Oh you bristle with fear, you stupid little puppet of a lad! –
Puîyus’ ears were blushing read to hear such contumely language directed at him and by extention his Father and all of his Clan, and if this had been a man speaking in such a fashion, Puîyus would have ripped out its throat and pealed its face right off of it as a matter of honor. As it was, though, Puîyus was more concerned with running down the ship and making sure that Éfhelìnye was unhurt, and he caught up her hands in his and saw that her face had been scratched in her fall. The ship was shuddering, huge waves of heat were arising from the chimney stacks khùkhyo breathing griml’ōr beneath them, as the Qhíngan fleets were struggling to fire plasma cannons against the Dragons rushing all around them. Puîyus held Éfhelìnye’s hands, they were cold and soft, he thought.
– I’m fine, Puey, I just fell … ooh! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I thought we had seen the worst of the battle when our ship was destroyed by the Dragons. –
Puîyus ran a finger through one of Éfhelìnye’s sunset tresses just to make sure that she had not hit the side of her head, but also because he was grown fond of the way that her hair shifted and billowed about her. He lacked the heart to tell her that it had not been by Dragon flame that the Qhíng transport had been wounded and destroyed, that it had been because of the volleys of the Aûm, and he was not entirely sure whether he was going to tell her, whether it even mattered any longer.
– You’re weak! You’re soft! You’re pathetic! – Tetratríxe was dancing at the side of the railing, he performed a few cartwheels with his four arms and wriggling his eyestalks and sphere-legs at Puîyus in a mechanical and disturbing manner. Tetratríxe jumped back upwards, his eyen glowing with a rubicund light and he screamed out – Aren’t you supposed to be the great warrior! Aren’t the elders supposed to be fearing you! Are you the one who came into our City Takhtekhtíngteng the great Clockwork City of Xhlaîra all strong and warriorlike and imposing and conquering and Qwatríxe and I scried you from afar in our meditation and we thought, Oh dear that one is so conquering and imposing and warriorliche and strong we’d better not interfere better help him and look at him now he’s supposed to be all concerned with glory and the glory of battle and he’s looking for scratches on the divine Princess’ face! EIYA YOU! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME! YOU SHOULD BE THINKING ABOUT BATTLE, NOT ABOUT YOUR SWEETHEART HERE! WHY DON’T YOU GO KILL SOMETHING! –
Ixhúja snatched up golden Qwatríxe and began kicking him around and none too gently, but after a few bunts the little Tánin came rolling out about her and began crawling up the side of her skirt and leaping about her elbows and shoulders and in general running up and down her dress and the movement of his claws and sphere-legs was slightly ticklish and not a little irritating.
– Yes, yes, yes, stab her in the back! Take your knives, jab them between some bones! Let her writhe in your arms like the dæmoness she is! – cried Tetratríxe. – She is just as artificial as we are, in fact I’m not entirely convinced she has a soul, let her scream in our grasp! EIYA! PUÎYOS! I’M NOT FINISHED TAUNTING YOU! –
Puîyus turned and growled at the wind up toys, but that only made both Qwatríxe and Tetratríxe laugh all the more. Those were some very loud toys, he thought. He brushed a finger through Éfhelìnye’s hair just to ensure that she had not been hurt, and was about to turn again, and several Qhíng vessels were arising about them and were opening up their huge mirror sails and were reflecting beams of light at the Dragons, and so swift and fierce and strong the light was coming, that it caused the small emergency ship to spin around in volutes as if it were an autumnal wind caught up in the zephyrs free, and Éfhelìnye fell into Puîyus arm, and Ixhúja came tumbling about, and Qwatríxe spun out of her grasp and almost fell right out of the long boat, and the only one who was left completely standing was Tetratríxe whose claws were dug into the railing, and he was chuckling with grinding gears all the while.
– Oh so you’re more concerned with love than you are for battle! Do you not want your name to be remembered for all time! Do you not wish to be terror, unending horror unto your enemies, a curse unto whatever descent they may have! What type of Emperor could you hope to be, and you shall never be Emperor of course, just a fey hypothetical whichby I continue to taunt you, can you hope to be if you care more for the wellbeing of a single maiden than you do the blazes of battle hah hah hah hah hah hah! – Tetratríxe spun around and cried and his fourfold claws were snapping together in a strange dance. – Oh you used to frighten us, What’shisface’s Son, whoever you think you are, it’s not important, your Father is no one, forgotten by all, hardly even worthy of a name, if indeed you have a Father, I think you’re nothing but a slave, even if you had a Clan they’d all be stinking fhtóngi, kangaroo bilge kúdjbarra, slime luhimuhs, mud yuŋga, all of your Clan is upside down and inside out and stink, yes you stink like so many jùswe stink blossoms, you stink like rotten trees and ugly nostrils yes that’s what you are a clan all of nostrils you are all gross and dripping anatomies of nostril muscles thus clepe I you, you head is filled with sand and noses, I think your eyen are made out of broken shells, your skin is all warped qhoraîfhe hide, I think your hair was plucked from dying mneme lepers accursed of the Immortals, I think your bones are made out of stink water, your ears are saprogenick qamátlhi tomatoes, you don’t have a Father, your nothing a but Fatherless slave, and if you had a mother I’m sure she’s nothing but a stinky cloud! –
Several Qhíng bombs were rushing about the long boat in their eagerness to strike the Dragons, so that the deck was no longer stable, sometimes it was rolling onto its side and now buckling upwards, brilliant flames were rolling up from its prow, and Puîyus was busy just keeping Éfhelìnye from falling out of the boat, although his face was beginning to flush with anger. Ixhúja just laughed, she crawled up the deck and punched Qwatríxe a few times and managed to bound up to Tetratríxe and kick him a few times before he scurried away. I think these little ones want to fight, Ixhúja laughed. They remind me of training exercises, when the Tánin would roll up unto me and try to infuriate me.
Puîyus snorted as if to say, What did the Abomination call my sainted Mother?
I have no idea, Ixhúja squeaked and murmured and chirmed and rolled aside and chased after Qwatríxe. Does it matter? These little toys can’t even think. I think they’ve been severely damaged anyway.
Puîyus was panting. Little sferic and lightning tweaks were arising about the side of his head. What did the Abomination call my beloved and perfect Mother?
I don’t remember, Ixhúja chirped, and she grabbed Tetratríxe, and he slapped at her a few times and tried to jab her with his knife claws. Ixhúja managed to pry open part of his casement and steam was arising from his insides. Oh, this is interesting. I should show this to Éfha. She did not have a chance, for several Dragons were swooping downwards and smashing their tails through the Qhíng vessels, and explosions were rippling outwards.
Puîyus blinked a few times. He breathed in deeply. Haloes were burning about his brow. He had to hold onto Éfhelìnye lest she tumble, but his thoughts were to the holy extermination of the wind up toy. His hand reached to his sword and he rumbled dinosaurian and deep as if to ask, What did the Abomination call my most honorable lady Mother?
– Can anyone understand what the goober is saying? – Qwatríxe chanted as he rolled up and down the side of the vessel, and sometimes bounced right on Ixhúja’s head and came leaping outwards.
– I have no idea – chanted Tetratríxe. He slipped right out of Ixhúja’s grasp and as the boat began spinning upon its side he began leaping upwards bounding up with his kean claws and dancing up unto the rudder. – Perhaps the lunatic is not saying a thing, just grr grrr grrrrowlent all the while, gnashing against his own lip and cheek with his fangs. Ah! I understand it now, it all pellucidifies unto my gaze. The lad, fatherless and casteless as he is, was sired by the Northwind himself upon a slave girl, yes, it makes perfect sense, that’s the reason the gossoon cannot talk at all, he’s some unholy composite creature like the rest of us! Slave girl! You’re Mother was a love slave, a jhpàrfhot, an odalisque tee hee hee hee hee! –
Puîyus in a single swift and extremely angry movement, his entire head burning bright red, lashed Éfhelìnye to the swaying side of the ship with some sailor’s rope which he kept with him, and drawing both of his swords was about to leap upwards and grab Tetratríxe and rip off its silvern hame and disembowel it wheel by wheel by wheel, but Éfhelìnye, even as Puîyus was trying to tie her down, reached out and touched his face and chanted – No, wait, I find those wind up devices quite familiar, do you think they’re the same ones we saw in the wind up city? They’re damaged quite a bit, perhaps I can take them apart and rebuild them. –
– Slave girl! Love slave! Cumal wielen! Your mother! – screamed Tetratríxe as he danced from side to side and wriggled his eyestalks at Puîyus.
Puîyus shook his head in negation, his spleen burnt hot, he would rather just destroy the creatures for the insults, but already Éfhelìnye was already slipping out of her bonds and reached out to Puîyus’ shoulder and chanted – Please, I just want to take them apart. I think they’ve fallen into fire or lava, something has upset the wheels of their brains. Please, Puey? Please don’t destroy them. –
Puîyus’ lip trembled. His wrath was burning hot. The boat swayed from side to side, Ixhúja batted away Qwatríxe who came rolling outwards right before her and bouncing up to Puîyus and clasped his hands together and blinked his large glassen eyen and chanted – Please, Puey? Please don’t destroy us! –
Tetratríxe came bouncing upwards and falling upon his spheres came rolling outwards and looked a little like a theuríka suppliant, his claws reaching out unto Puîyus’ knees and chins supplakā́iō and his humming voice cried out – Please! Please! Please don’t harm us innocent little toys. We’re really just baby toylings in a way, and you wouldn’t hurt a baby, would you? –
Ixhúja picked up Qwatríxe and with calm assuredness bit off one of his clockwork arms and spat it right towards Tetratríxe’s eyestalks, and both of the Khniqhátui twins began wailing in a loud and most pitiful fashion. Ixhúja looked to Éfhelìnye, meridional Ixhúja for her part did not particularly care whether the clockwork survived, but she did not wish to harm her cousin. Puîyus was squeezing his knuckles in anticipation of smashing these machines partially because of the divine commandment, but also for the dishonor of their speech.
– Please don’t harm us … – Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe cooed with the same voice.
– I think I can rebuild them – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Yeah, listen to her, even though you’re only the child of a castless love slave – Tetratríxe chanted. – It’s not our fault that you have neither favor nor honor in the eyen of your Ancestors, that you have no Father to name you … please don’t harm us! –
– Please? – asked Qwatríxe. He flapped his three remaining arms about and screamed – She’s eating me! The crazy heretic is eating metal! – Ixhúja shrugged, she picked up Tetratríxe and drawing a knife with expert precision drew the knife into the grinding of the claw clamps just where she knew the Automaton could feel the pain the most, and Tetratríxe cried out in horrible pain, splashes of blood erupting from him. Qwatríxe’s severed and wellbit arm was crawling about of its own accord and trying to wriggle back to the rest of its body.
Éfhelìnye looked down. – Puey, if you want to destroy the toys, I shall agree with you. I just thought it would be … enlightening … to rebuild them. I think their insides are of a most remarkable design. It can be quite pleasurable to see how the metaphor of their gears work. But I shall not gainsay your decision. –
– Fatherless – Qwatríxe whispered.
– Son of a love slave – Tetratríxe giggled.
Puîyus with almost perfect certainty that he would regret this, but he sheathed his sword. Ixhúja shrugged. She yanked out the knife from Tetratríxe’s claw and smacked the toy around. Puîyus breathed a sign of resignation. He looked to Éfhelìnye and saw that she was clasping her hands and smiling, already she was anticipating the joy of playing with wheels and parts and making the toys dance as they once did, and seeing the smile upon her rubescent lips made Puîyus forget the insults of these mad wind up pledadins. Puîyus reached out and took her hand. Several Dragons were swooping down high above them, the Qhíng vessels were struggling to arise out from the growing bubbles of heat, but for the moment Puîyus did not care. Éfhelìnye threw herself into his arms and chanted – Thank you! I shall enjoy disentangling them so much! – Puîyus embraced her back. He looked down, and Tetratríxe and Qwatríxe were crawling upwards towards him. Tetratríxe’s broken claw was already mending itself, and Qwatríxe’s extra limb crawled back unto its socket and the gears clamped back together. The lipless toys were somehow smiling with their limbs, their eyen glaring right at Puîyus with the look of a dæmon’s, and Puîyus just knew that nothing good could come of this.
– Weak – whispered the Khniqhátui twins.
– Coward – whispered Qwatríxe.
– Fatherless – whispered Tetratríxe.
Puîyus blinked, he did not like at all how effeminate and childish the voices of the toys were, they were just too sharp and sneaking and unpredictable, he didn’t even mind being stabbed in the back, but he did mind what they were saying about his Mother. Qwatríxe and Tetratríxe looked to each other and nodded. Qwatríxe began to whistle and wheel about, or at he was turning as best he could as the ship was bounding from side to side away from the growing heatwaves of battle. Tetratríxe chuckled, and jumping upwards pointed to Puîyus with upturned claw and cried out – Love! Love! I hate love! What a useless stupid silly emotion that is to have! Love love love love love! If you had any sense at all you’d be smashing us to bits at the moment, but you can’t bring yourself to do it! Look at how love cripples you! I hope you suffer from love all the days of your life! You won’t survive the war, if love is the only thought in your mind, you’ll never be a great Emperor at all. Love! Tqakh ei! Love is gross! Love is unkind! Love is stinky! You will be crushed by love! Next you’ll be trying to love all the faults of the Princess, you’ll love the way she gets engrossed in her art without any consideration for the rest of the world! You’ll love the way she gets you into trouble! Love is horrible, a disease, a disease, malediction and curse! –
Ixhúja was struggling up unto the rudders, the long boat was having difficulty navigating through the growing clouds of heat, and for some reason the battle was growing again with greater intensity than before, the Qhíng and Aûm and Dragons fighting each other rather than any two forces ganging up on the third.
Tetratríxe placed his claw on his side, and was managing to stick to the face of the deck even as the ship began spinning around, and stray jets of light touched the solar sails and began burning them. – Something occurs to me, now that I think about it. I’m sure you find Éfhelìnye quite beautiful, I’m sure that you love her, but have you noticed how thin she is? Why look at her waist, it’s like the body of a kanatsistétsi hornet. Some may say she looks like the Empress whose name everyone has forgotten – Tetratríxe shook a claw and flicked open the knives at the end. – I for my part think that she just looks like she were born of a slave girl myself. Yes. Éfhelìnye. Slave. Girl. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. –
The long boat came spinning around upside down, and Puîyus and Éfhelìnye came rolling about the clatter of the bone oars, but as soon as the ship bound itself right, Puîyus set Éfhelìnye down and roaring launched himself upon the Khniqhátui, and the Automata were just laughing and rolling as they came skipping through the boat, one would come rolling up between his legs and the other bounding about his shoulders, and Puîyus tried to snatch up one and then the other, and all the while the ship was spinning around and struggling for to remain upright. Several explosions were rocking the vessel now, and for a moment a Dragon, unconcerned with small skiffs left in its path came soaring upwards and smacked the long boat aside, and the Khniqhátui came bounding in the air screaming and rolling and wailing all the while, and then falling upon Puîyus began slashing him with claws and growing knives, and were attempting for to wrestle him down all the while.