It was like entering down into a valley and not even realizing that it was a dale until the clouds were parting and revealing the sides of the whispering mountains marching upwards, and the meanderent drifting downwards in zigzag arrays, and forests that were growing upon the very side of the whispering mountains, their branches reaching upwards and become roof and nest and shade, and so it was that the maidens came walking down the hundred steps and ramps and as the thicker clouds of steam drew away from them they could see for the first time the vast extent of the workshops drifting downwards, the subtowers and branching rooms and the flowing archways that were become part of the compleξ of wall, they could see some of the twining aquaducts that branched up from bason and pool and churning sphere, they could hear the deep thunder of machinery and the striking of hammer and metal against anvil, they beheld the gaping jaws of a thousand furnaces and from them arose the oceans of steam and the dreams of the laboratory, and the artists of the Aûm, the Jhothùlwoxaum of the Thùlwu and the Khlùpyo Lwèrma of the Qlùfhem were swinking from side to side, their eyestalks intent upon their work, their tentacles swaying from side to side, and large wicker complexes were arising and weaving themselves together and arising upon tall legs and walking out in the mist. The children snuck through the gathering steam, they did not wish to approach the larginchzints for they could not even guess how they would respond to be interrupted in their work, but then as the children came hopping about the ridges of the crennelations in the mist and kept peering downwards and brushing the clouds away from their faces, it seemed them that the artists were not noticing anything at all save for the movement of their tendrils and the fires of the forge and their own creative energies poured out in metal and steam and bamboo. It was entirely possibly, they thought, that the glottoteta were not hearing the din of the battle beyond, perhaps no one had sounded the alarum bells for to warn them that the metamorphic mutants were out and loose and wild, perhaps the children were come down now into an entirely different portion of the workshops, and here in the bambus steam the battle was so far away that it was part of another world. Siêthiyal came crawling up o'er the edge of xhmànxha crennelations and was scouting from side to side, blasts of steam washing o'er her face, so that she wiped sweat away, and the beads of perspiration were drifting about and become part of the shadow moisture crawling upon tall tendrils and bleeding outwards. Siêthiyal looked to her Sister and signaled unto her that she did not think that the Traîkhiim were kept in this section of the laboratory at all, and Akhlísa nodded and was thinking about how much trouble she was going to find herself when they finally found Éfhelìnye, and whether Puîyus would be cross with her for leading the Dragons right untowards him. Siêthiyal grabbed her Sister by the hand and came leaping through the embrasure and together they began to descend deeper and deeper into the roots of the laboratory.
In the mist, in the growing shafts of steam, in the greys that were unraveling unto all sides of them, Siêthiyal and Akhlísa kept looking from side to side and listening to the gathering darkness. With every snap and jot and whicker and tiddle Akhlísa jumped upwards and almost leapt into her Sister’s arms a few times, and at first Siêthiyal kept shoving her aside and punched her on the shoulders or jabbed her in the ribs just to remind her younger Sibling who was in charge of this operation, but the gathering steam was just so dark and hot, and Akhlísa was shivering despite the warm clamminess of it all, and as the sounds of crawlent wicker were come unto all sides of them, Akhlísa’s teeth were chattering and she kept wrapping her arms around Siêthiyal and was whimpering all the while, and Siêthiyal found herself stroking her Sister’s hair and holding her tight and cooing at her xhlaxhlaûla kolombumonto, as they walked down newer ramps and unto long causeways that were branching out of the seas of steam, and deeper into the xhwopaîmle spreading ateliren prayogashaalaa fanspηp outwards outwards outwards. Even the bridges were drawing upwards out of the steam, the bridges were also all of wicker and were sweating all the while, Siêthiyal kept having to wipe her brow, and she was wondering just how her Sister was able to manage within her clockwork xòrsajhe, her korsät all of bones and wheels and the metallic fibrous craft of the Grandduchesses Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa, for Siêthiyal could see that her Sister was staggering a little and sweating and wiping the perspiration from her eyelids, she had to be breathing deeply within the korsaĵo, and yet Akhlísa never complained at all. Siêthiyal sighed, and despite the intense heat of the furnaces and the quaking steam arising about her, frost was still arising in her breath and about her Sister’s mouth when she exhaled. Siêthiyal was wondering why it was that her beloved younger Sister was failing to complain, it seemed quite un-Akhlísa not to be whining about something just about now, Akhlísa was finicky with food and clothing and chores and toys and naps and everything aneath the life-giving Suns, and yet for some reason she was failing to complain now, in the hot steam, in the gathering darkness, somewhere within the churning ovens within the laboratories where the Kunstsprachenerfindren were engaged in something almost certainly against the Emperor’s stern law upon penalty of death, not to mention the dictates of the Holy Writ of Khniikhèrkhmair, and yet somewhere in the throbbing and heat and darkness, somewhere in the constriction of her gown and the crawling wheels of her dress, surely Akhlísa should start complaining at about now. Surely there has to be a reason for her quietness. Fhermáta was always so good at figuring out others’ emotions, she was able to bring peace among cousins and elders and parents alike, if Xataríyona and I got into a fight somewhere Fhermáta was able to bring us back together, if Kàrula tried to run away and stay with Eirènwa Fhermáta would find away to bring our little Sister back to us with the minimum of tears, the only time Fhermáta would think of giving one of us a good pounding no matter how much we deserved it is when Ìkhnos and Pàlron were being unkind to our Puey. Oh, we took vengeful justice on our cousins. Knock knock knock on the doors. Rope. Blanket. Feathers. The chariot at the ready. We tied them up. We tickled them good. It was a most satisfying exercise in familial torture. But aside from that, Fhermáta was always able to look at us, to see our feelings the way the rest of us see faces. What would Fhermáta say, she’d look at Khlís and understand at once. If I had to wear a clockwork coppeweb like that, I’d be less than happy about it. Come to think about it, Fhèsya here has been complaining about everything except the concubine dress and veil and labyrinthine clothing … ah! Yes, I know what Fhermáta would say. Akhlísa will not complain because she wants to impress Puey. She’s thinking that if she can at least fulfill the honor given unto her, if she can honor her parents Kàlewa and Khmaryáta by being worthy of being the concubine to an Emperor, if she can honor our Abbá who is sacrificing his life for her, than she will do whatever she can to be the bride which the Qhíng and Kháfha and the almost certainly insane Aûm desire her to be. She didn’t even complain about the odd food she had to make, or the strange instruments to play. Strange as it may be to say, the only role in life which Khlís may even remotely be qualified to play in the space opera of life may be Puey’s concubine.
Tap tap tap tap tap
Akhlísa was shuddering, and if Siêthiyal would have let her, surely she would have crawled into her Sister’s arms and hidden herself within, but Siêthiyal could not carry her Sister and walk in the gathering greys all the while, such was a task that their Father Íngìkhmar used to do, although he did not carry his children too often anymore, as the War progressed so too were his wounds which could never heal in life. Khiêro could carry them all around at the same time. And our Puey also. House and ship and mountain, he can carry us all up and not even break a sweat. But Puey is not really a creature of our world, now, is he? We all know that, even I sensed it when I was a baby, and babies don’t know anything at all except love, but even I could see when honored Khwofheîlya was carrying me about that when the adults weren’t looking haloes were forming about Puey’s head, and his eyen, how can I describe them, everyone says he has khmewuîngo, that he has cānghǎi winedark eyen, and that is true, that may be oinops the very best word that we have for his eyen whether in the language of beasts or of mortal men and the divine Ása, but I think that his eyen were different not because of their color and changeability and the tumult of sea and heaven within, but it’s that his eyen were like those of the honored Dead, or at least like the statues of the dead that we have throughout our home, or used to have before the Qhíng betrayed us all. Blood traitors. Puey will not forgive them and neither will I. Fhermáta’s dead. The statues had eyen thirling into another world, and so does our Puey. Not of our world. Ætherial. He could carry us all through the mist. Khlís just wants to make him happy. Even wear this labyrinth about her. Of course Puey would do anything for her. I know Puey would do anything, would sacrifice himself for me also. But different. Very different. I’m the only daughter Khwofheîlya e'er bore. Elders kept saying that. Ho-hum. Almost as if the Elders are expecting a new generation to arise and recreate those fallen in Tsanyuxòpwe la der des der.
Tap tap tap tap tap
– Sister! – Akhlísa squealed.
– Yes, beloved little one? – asked Siêthiyal.
– I’m not a little one! I’m not a baby anymore. –
– Fine. What do you want? –
– Let’s go back. –
– We need to find Fhólus and Aîya. –
– Ur … I’ve decided they’re probably okay. –
– What does probably okay mean in terms of the mad Duchesses and the Mad Scientist? –
– It means, I want to leave now. We can tell Puey about them … he can save them … Sister, I really don’t want to keep going down here. –
– Too late now, we’re stuck in the mist and the lattice bridges – Siêthiyal was looking from side to side and squeezing her Sister’s hand. – Even if we wanted to go back, we can’t. Forwards, then. –
– Sister! –
– You didn’t forget anything else did you? –
– I don’t want to do this! Prince Jhwèsta is the most creepifying creature I can possibly imagine, and I know he recognizes me even though he doesn’t say anything. Pieces of that freak have been scattered through the realms, he’s been implementing honored Kàrijoi’s monstrous wickedness all the while. Let’s just forget about the Traîkhiim and tell Puey to save them. –
– He’s not here, but we are. What would our Puey do? –
– Something dramatic and athletic and wonderous, probably involving a few whoosh whoosh whoosh with his sword and leaping all around and slap snapping, and probably some fair maidens swooning in his arms. What was the question? –
– This way. –
– Can’t Fhólus just find us on her own? –
– Look, on the wicker islands, I’m sure there are all manner of cages and cranes and machinery and I don’t know, when Prince Jhwèsta was in Jaràqtu he was repairing clocks, I’m sure there are nations of clocks ticking. –
– I don’t want to go on! I’m very scared, I’m not an heroine, and I’m not Puey. I’m not even an Éfhelìnye, she doesn’t have enough common sense not to do something this incredibly stupid, she’s the one who tried to elope with the first boy she e'er met and didn’t care that the Emperor was starting a war o'er her. Let’s go back. –
– Hush. We can’t leave Fhólus behind. Anyway, the two of you have been conspiring together. Whisper whisper all the while. –
– Not conspiring. Just plotting against you and possibly Éfhelìnye. –
– Xuxhneyòxhwoim, isn’t that the very defination of the term? –
– Fhólus has just been teaching me to dance in the Traîkhiim fashion. –
– If one can call it dance. Seems to involve a lot of wriggling the toes about, and you’re two heads missing for some of her moves. –
– I’ll bet that none of Puey’s other concubines will be able to dance like I can, or will be able do. –
– How cultured of you, on the one hand you know alien dance, music, and food, and yet on the other you want Puey to be completely traditional and Jaràqtun in everyway. –
– Yes. –
– And you don’t see a contradiction in that? –
– In what? –
– Nevermind. Chowderhead. –
– So, are we going back yet? –
– What would our Puey do? –
– He’s got to bust me out of this mechanical corset, that’s what. –
– For some reason I never get tired of finding ways to embarrass my Brother. Oh, this will be quite an operatic blush. Blushes of blushes. –
– May we go back now? –
– I think we’re already here. –
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap …
Siêthiyal came leaping down the edge of the bambus bridge and helped her Sister down, and the children found themselves coming into a large dome which was all wellwoven together of bamboo and wicker and wood branching upwards into sphere upon sphere upon sphere. From within was coming the sound of wheels churning against each other, pulleys breathing against their confines, machinery chugging from side to side, walls opening and closing, and yet these growing spheres of the laboratories had an altogether different feel unto them than what the children had experienced before, there were no cold workbenches of metal and stone, the furniture was all of wicker and fibers, at least that which they took to be the multifunctional furniture of the Aûm, a people who did not seem capable or fain at all in distinguishing tables and chairs and desks and beds and only what the children considered to be proper beds in the Alien Quarters fashioned for the twain. The walls were all branching upwards and were of soft words and a gentle cascade of water and steam were flowing down the sides, some of the walls were spinning out upon their sides and revealing wheels rising and falling and breathing all the while, dripping down from the ceiling were long pipes of wood and great khnòxufhe water wheels were spinning around, and the steam bursting out from them were powering unseen turrets branching throughout the spheres. Akhlísa yelped and jumped up right upon the winding table and thought that some strange xhrémes, quick-moving rodents, tuetanim Ykeos podzevzos were leaping outwards, and she almost thought that spiders would begin crawling down the wall and would be turning their spindly legs unto her. The clockwork insects which had fled Aîya and taken refuge in Akhlísa’s golden tresses were crawling out now and peering in the mist and were shaking their compound eyen and hissing. Akhlísa was actually not scared of spiders at all, she rather liked to play with them and jump in their webs and let them crawl about her fingers, but her in the steam and the laboratories and with a fell Mad Scientist somewhere on the loose she was less than eager to indulge in arachnid play. The dashing about her feet she could see was not come from any reptiles or spiders at all, but rather wickerbaskets themselves were crawling upon the floor and swirling up the wood and steam of the walls, the baskets were walking upon pipes and long angular legs and were swaying unto their own rhythm and unto their own errands, and not even Akhlísa the Dream Enchantress, the lastborn of Raven’s offspring could guess what lay in the mind of baskets crawling around. Siêthiyal pulled herself upon a fhukhùnthe table futon and was running outwards and peering without and saw that they were finally coming unto a place where the music of the clockwork was growing all the louder, and cages were chiming, and the walls were dancing with shadows that looked quite like the Traîkhiim folk in the various forms of their transformation, shadows of wing and horn and claw, some of the walls revealed dust and ash outlines of creatures which once might have been the gentle Pèqlor dancers, and the ash smelt far too much like vellum and Triîm to comfort the children.
– Sister! – Akhlísa squealed.
– Yes? – asked Siêthiyal.
– Question? –
– And? –
– Do you think Puey’s e'er going to grow a beard or at least a beard and a mustache because I bet it would be all silvery blue like Abbá has he has a big bushy melancholy blue beard do you think Puey will have one? –
– I don’t know. When he’s older. –
– It’s hard to imagine Puey bearded. –
– He’d probably have his hair long and braided just like Abbá’s, and maybe just a small beard .–
– Puey with a beard. –
– Maybe he’ll never have a beard or mustache, he’ll never have the first downy fluff on his cheek. Puey to me may always be the Puer Æternus, he’ll still be young even when he’s old. –
– If Puey has a beard than I’ll be kissing a bearded man. I wonder what it’s like to kiss lips with fuzz. Maybe it’s better that way. I wonder what it’s like to kiss. Not like you’d know of course, no boys e'er like you, ever ever ever ever ever. No normal non-mutants of course. –
– You’re so considerate. –
– Of course I’ve kissed Puey a few times in his sleep, I’m just practicing of course … –
– That has got to be the grossest thing I’ve e'er heard. –
– Bearded Puey. Now that’s a thought. Kissy kissy beardie beardie. Well, you don’t need to worry about that, you’re so incredibly despirate that you’ll probably throw yourself at the first mutant who turns a slimy eyestalk towards you, some crumbling wings. Extra limbs all o'er the place. Mutants really are disgusticating. What do you see in them, Siêthiyal? –
– There can be no accounting for taste, sometimes. When Éfhelìnye is choking you in your corset and deciding what to do with your body, tell her about the mutants. She will be quite concerned for me, while she’s wrapping your body up in a carpet and dragging it the swamp. –
– You don’t frighten me. Éfhelìnye doesn’t threaten me. She’s not … she can’t … she won’t … –
– Oh, do you think there is anything upon this good earth, in the span of the heavens, within the sea, or beneath the seas that will separate her from Puey? I think not, and certainly not a pesky little maiden trapped in clockwork. –
Tap tap tap tap tap tap.
Akhlísa’s teeth were chattering, clouds of frost arising from her breath despite the heat of the steam about them. Siêthiyal drew aside some doors of wicker and branch and revealed larger domes wherein were set long and winding tables whereon lay the bones and tattered flesh of many different types of creatures, the exoskeletons of Qlùfhem and the winding brainstalks of the Thùlwu and bits and pieces of Kháfha and Qhíng and Traîkhiim slave all connected unto pipe and bowl and flowing wheels and churning all the while. Akhlísa was squeezing her hands and wriggling her fingers and chanted – I’d rather have a husband and have to contend with his first wife, his khnernèpwoi, rather than have no husband at all. I’ll figure out a way to deal with Éfhelìnye. I may not be as clever as you, but I’ll figure out something. –
– Were you saying something? I was dreaming a little about having to sail in the swamp and search for your body, and Éfhelìnye will be standing in the raft beside us and shrugging all the while and saying, I have no idea what happened to my husband’s concubine. – Siêthiyal made pantomimes of rowing the raft and searching in the steam of the swamp even as the steam of the laboratory drifted about them all. – When we find your body wrapped up in a rug, Éfhelìnye will just have an innocent expression on her face and say, I wonder how she came down here? Alas, now I have my Puey all to myself. For ever. –
– Sister? –.
– Were you saying something? I only listen to mutants now. –
– Sister! –
– Oh? – Siêthiyal hopped down from a table and found a pile of coral bones lying upon the floor, and although she did not wish to contaminate herself with the pollution of death, she reached out and touched some of the bones, and the knuckles and wings branches and skulls of the Traîkhiim. She knew that the Aûm believed that they were honoring their Ancestors in preserving their boens and wearing them, but she was not sure that they had such honorable intentions with the remnants of slaves in the laboratories. She hoped that the tnoaqteûpa slaves had at least endured some dignitas in their death.
– Sister, I’m really afeared now – Akhlísa slipped down the edge of the table and landed beside her Sister with a bit more grace than she was used to displaying. Siêthiyal was not sure whether it was from Akhlísa’s trying to learn the Traîkhiim dance, or perhaps her learning to walk and sit and glide while dressed as a concubine, always with straight and rigid backposture, or perhaps it was just her growing up, but Akhlísa was surely become a bit more balletic now than she was want to be.
– Just stay close to me – Siêthiyal chanted. – Nothing will harm you. –
– May we play a game? That will comfort me. –
Large crystalline spheres lay upon the tables, and Siêthiyal ran to examine them, she was reminded of eggs, and within the spheres a slight light was flickering, fire and shadow all mixing together, and yet picking one up and feeling it, it felt artificial and cold, although the light was sloughing within it in its own tides. – What type of game did you have in mind? –
– One that you’ll let me win. –
– We can’t play hide and seek or tag, a most Qlùfheman game indeed. Nothing with kicking and running … –
– A guessing game? –
– We don’t want to be too distracted – Siêthiyal picked up another glass egg and gazed into it, but it was just a swirl of color and light, and looking upwards she saw that floating in the air lay many more of the crystal eggs within these spheres all of bambus and wood. The mist continued to billow upon the floor, and spheres of water were forming at the mouths of the cascades and were slowly billowing upwards.
– Um … maybe a story game? – asked Akhlísa.
– Tell me the rules – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Okay tell a story, but a really short one, with the fewest possible words. Very very short. A smidgen of a story, a scenelette, and operettachen. –
– Do you want to go first? – Siêthiyal picked up an egg and rolled it upon the table, but it just gurgled and waddled and she set it back. The bamboo walls were parting before them, and the machinery that was crawling outwards untowards the children was itself formed of wood and bamboo and reaching out with wicker claws.
– No, you go first so I can copy you – Akhlísa.
– I’ll try my best. – Siêthiyal turned around, she saw that the wooden walls were constricting about them but was not entirely sure of what to do. – Here’s my first attempt, now don’t laugh just because it’s not very good at all. Hmm. Khneuqrojuyìngpen. Ipaîxu púxhrejor. Khmèqa khmèqa. Toys always for me. Intended for me. More and more. That’s it. –
– That’s your story? – Akhlísa slipped around a table and ducked her head towards a spinning water wheel.
– Do you want to hear it again? –
– No, no, no, I heard it. It was terrible. More of a character description, or a flawed character trait. –
– It’s your fatuous game. Your turn, do better. –
– Fine, I will. –
– Good. Do it. –
– I’m thinking. –
– Think faster. –
– How can I, I’m so busy dreaming about my life of happy wedded bliss with Puey, it takes all my brain power to think of that warmth and joy, and what little brain I have left is so busy lamenting your miserable unmarried wretched estate that I can barely even fathom the puzzle of … –
– Just tell a story! You’re stalling for time! –
– You mutant kisser! –
– You’re the one who keeps mentioning mutations. If I were Puey, I might go and purify the worlds of mutants, just so my concubine wouldn’t keep mentioning them. –
– You … you like mutants! –
– If you don’t come up with a story, I’m declairing myself the winner. –
– Fine, you want a story! –
– It’s your game. –
– Here goes: Puîye. Stélaring. Tlhekharuqeiyoîpil Traluyètyikh! Plujhá? Puey, Princess. Now with more Dragons! Complicated? –
– Pardon? –
– Puîye. Stélaring … –
– I heard you the first time. That’s not a story, that’s a description which already implies prior knowledge of the situation. All story relies upon familiar tropes, folkloric elements, a shared history to an extent, but you just drop a couple of proper names and … –
– Okay okay okay! Your turn. –
– Do you want a story? –
– This is a complicated game I invented. –
– Khlíse Qírenat. Khmixhíya Puîye. Khmofhuqorétyai soên. Emperor mad. Puey gone. Sisters must escape. –
Akhlísa ran about the waterwheels and was sometimes dipping her fingers into the water, and Ixhúja’s clockwork insects came buzzing out of her and were spinning in little orbits about her, and the wheels and cascades were themselves branching downwards and reaching out untowards her. – That’s actually rather good, it summarizes something, it has scene and conflict in it. –
– Of course I cheated by dipping Puey’s name into it. I could change that line to Khmixhíyaxing khnoîfha, Brother gone. It would convey the same information. –
– I like it the way it was, though – Akhlísa chanted. The walls were slipping downwards, long and tendrillar barbs of wood and bambus driftent untowards the maidens, and with absent-minded hand she brushed some of the grasping wood aside. – I have one, but I hope it’s not too long. Ahem! Joiyelrókhamat! Xhràkuxha! Xhrayàkemor! Jóngajhpemekhwàpuni khweîtriki! Love you! Kiss me! Marry me! Dear grandchildren, remember us! –
– That’s good. It has a proper beginning and ending. –
– And it can be interpreted in many different ways. It can all be memory, it can be a series of events in time, it could be the story that the grandchildren remember and tell. –
– It doesn’t have any toys in it though, a proper story needeth proper toys. –
Several long and stomping mechanical legs were falling down right behind the maidens, and in their falling came the falling call of tap tap tap tap tap. Arms were branching outwards, claws and scythes flowing outwards and were catching the edge of the walls and shoving them aside, and as the maidens spun around they saw that behind them arising in glories of twisted metal and bone and grafts of flesh was arising the Emperor’s last Jhpepòrnain, the Imperial Mad Scientist, or whatever was left of him, the creature who had once been a Fhèlya Wheelmaker among the nations of Tsànyun. Prince Jhwèsta was waddling outwards upon mechanical spider legs, his bones rippling inside his hame in ways that the bones of the Khlaêr Khlitsaîyart are not wont to do, his clockwork arms spreading from side to side, and gazing down until the children, the gears of his neck gigglent all the while, he began to chuckle and asked – May I play along in your sweet and innocent game, heh heh heh. I do hope that you’ll let me play with you. When I was a little hatchling in the nurseries of Tsànyun so long ago, generations before you twain were born, my nest siblings Pròntis and Tènikh did not always let me play in their reindeer games. Ah, how tragic, how sad. I blush with sadness. My horns turn dark, my skin reddens. Neglected, forgotten. Maybe I can play with you. –
– Get behind me – Siêthiyal told her Sister, and Akhlísa dashed behind her older Sister and was bechattering her teeth all the while.
– Oh, I can play so very well with others, tee hee hee hee hee! – One of Prince Jhwèsta’s clockwork arms reached up and scratched his face, and crawling upon his scales were various mechanical insects reptent and humming upon their own business, but they were not nearly as friendly as Ixhúja’s insects, these were burrowing right into Jhwèsta’s flesh and eating his skin and converting it into maggots of wheels twining about. Akhlísa was shuddering, and even Qìfhte and the rest of the clockweyth wiriŋ̃d̀ila were shaking in fear and hiding themselves in the locks of the only one who reminded them of their stern and princessly mistress.
– We don’t wish to play with you – Siêthiyal chanted. She reached for her Father’s sword and drew it out, and the sword was all ripples of sound and music sighing in her hand.
– That’s what my other brothers used to tell me – Jhwèsta chanted, and the biomechanical joints of his torso were screeching as they bent downwards, and all of his skin was breaking apart like bits of cobweb and paper and revealing beneath them crackles of motors and muscle all merged together. – I didn’t like it when my brothers didn’t play with me. –
– Oh that happened to me all the time – Akhlísa chanted. – Xataríyona never let me play with her fancy glass dollies, she chanted I was too little and would break them and get sticky candy and acorn butter on them, and Eirènwa was always trying to look at the boys at the market … –
Siêthiyal turned to Akhlísa and chanted – Don’t talk to the Mad Scientist! –
– Oh and Fhermáta and Siêthi were the worstest … –
– Don’t call me … –
– Fhermáta would be baking and wouldn’t let me in the kitchen, and Siêthiyal would be painting her dolls and would throw me out of her room and the only one who would play with me would be Puey, he’d take me by the hand and find something for us to do together but my Sisters, oh let me tell you, they could be ruuude! Rude rude rude rude rude! –
– I know how you feel – Prince Jhwèsta hissed, the wires of his jaws aching a little in their opening and clenching. – Siblings can be so nasty sometimes. –
– Stop talking to my Sister! – Siêthiyal cried.
– And she’s always bossing me around – Akhlísa chanted.
– Maybe because you have cotton for brains! –
– Maybe because you love to kiss mutants! –
– You like to kiss mutants? – Prince Jhwèsta asked. A mechanical claw reached into his skull and drawing out one of his eyen began to adjust the wheels and sundials within, while clockwork insects began to crawl into his skull and devour the blood which was left from his mialoectomy, his skull crackling all the while. – That has got to be the grossest thing that I’ve e'er heard. –
– My Sister is fibbing! – Siêthiyal gasped. – I don’t like mutants! –
– I hope not, a pretty little thing like you. Anyway, it’s a moot point, there are no mutants of your species. At least not yet … heh heh heh heh heh – Prince Jhwèsta coughed his eyen out into his mechanical hands, and slowly began to set the pieces of his face together in a strange and writhing bioelectrical living puzzle. – No, your divine Brother will find a place for you. But enough out pesky siblings. May I play your game? I have a story. Hæ hæ hæ hæ! –
– I don’t want to hear your story – Siêthiyal chanted.
– I wanna hear it! – Akhlísa chimed.
– Úlaxhéyu. Talamaswaqírenat. Kheqhiîring. Xòthwin. Tòtra. Qlíqhe. Fhlól. Fhliráqha. Tree. Cælestial Emperor. Dragon. Labyrinth. Winters. Wars. Flowers. Perfumed Sacrifice – Prince Jhwèsta chimed.
– What’s that supposed to mean? – asked Siêthiyal.
– Not even a proper story, just words – chanted Akhlísa. – Big dumb pompous sounding words going nowhere. Not even a good poem. –
Prince Jhwèsta’s crackling skull face drew itself downwards and chanted – Isn’t it interesting that the Prophet told the entire history of the Dreamtime in just three words? –
– I might have slept through that homily – Akhlísa coughed.
– No doubt about it – chanted Siêthiyal. – But I remember. –
– Temple can be so long and boring … boring boring boring boring. –
Prince Jhwèsta grinned. – Khlaûselar. Stélaring. Jhàsqewa. Warrior, Princess, Raven. –