Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Look, an Illustration!

And all of the æther at the side of the high towers of the Temple Balloon of the most mighty and ancient and honorable Aûm was beshimmering itself from side to side and become the heat and glaze and flotherglory of the steam billowing upwards from the seams and turrets and tears of the layers of the great twalánaôthe kELas. The maidens came crawling down the rugged fangs of the towers, for it was grown far more sharp and steep in its long winding passage through the dying shreds of time than the elbenmädchen had remembered it before, and barbs and stalagmites of ice were arising through the fissures and forejaggering upwards, some of the steam was blasting upwards and breathing out great gusts of heat, and the ice broke apart and little and began to twist and congeal in different ruel-bone patterns, but none of the ambient frost was melting at all, the ice itself was not breaking away, still snowflakes were falling through the heavens and coating whatever bits of broken glass ice were breaking down, no matter how hot and dread was the steam arising throughout the lower halls and layers of the vessels. The maidens had to pause a few times so as better to get handholds and to warm themselves a little, they rubbed each other’s arms and danced around a little, for the chill was reaching right into the lattice of their banhus bodies, and great puffs of smoke were wildering wickering higher all about them. But they knew they could not remain still for long, for not only were the cools reaching out unto them-phin, but they could hear the sounds of battle and terrible rushing and shouting unto all sides of them. They came slipping down the sides of one portion of the tower and found themselves skipping before a long series of stained glass windows which were blinded by the fallen snow cragging and clogging it upwards, and through the tearblurs of the glass they could hear far more than they could see the thundering of the Qlùfhem thòtqu the piquenaires spinning their staves and pole vaults from side to side and almost dancing as they were fighting the metamórphique mutants who were pouring out from the shadow laboratories of Prince Jhwèsta of Tsànyun, the Emperor’s final Imperial Mad Scientist. The maidens came tiptoeing away and soon found themselves slipping down a different series of filaments which were reaching outwards away from the frost blur of the windows, inside they could hear the sound of marching sphere-legs all swirling at once, they could hear the shrill cry of fhtìrtrekoi celia flagellatious from side to side, they heard the swirl of swords and the crashing of impaling spears, and the shreaks of various creatures who were the thrawn fruit of the various artist classes of the Aûm. And the damsels decided that they were not entirely fain to remain where they were and continued slipping downwards the long lengths of ice and wall e'er branching down below them. Siêthiyal was taking the lead, she tried to skip about the sides of the ice and fanged filaments with the grace of an èrunge, a rainbow ghazāl glistening of coral, but it only took her a few hops to remember that she was not quite as lissome as the èprung gazellen, but still she reached out with one hand to her Sister and tried to guide her down the side of the breathing and ice walls, and she wished that the Aûm when they had constructed this particular glass hot air balloon had seen fit to set winding gargoyles all about the side, for she figured that it would been easier to find footholds about the horns and claws of the petrescent guardians of the towers, at least she could hold into the side of wing and fang and so help her Sister down. Not for the first time, as Siêthiyal was slipping about some of the ice and grasping ahold of her younger Sister, did Siêthiyal wish that Puîyus were here and would just come swooping down for to resue them all. She could almost imagine his descent now, he would be like twilight and shadow at once as he landed at the edge of the glass tower, violet cape rippling about him in storms of violets blacks and oinoψ blues, in the imagination of her heart he was arising, he came spinning right into the bedroom and caught up both of his Sisters into his arm, and with a nod unto the hearthflames and the memories of the beneficient Ancestors of the most bellicose Sweqhàngqu, he jumps backwards through the air in several perfect backflips, all of the window panes part before him, and endless cubits of space down the side of the tower evaporate at once, and backwards Puîyus comes flying, and he jumps up unto the very tip of the cloud and sets his Sisters thereupon, and the glass and hot air balloons of the Aûm drift away unto their own strange and alien story, and the family is brought together in peace once again.
Siêthiyal was still slipping as she made her slow way downwards, but she was more concerned with her Sister who could be quite clutsificacious at times, especially now that she was all wrapped up and adorned in the most complex and labyrinthine bridal dress which the ancient and fairytale Duchesses Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa had fashioned for her of their own tentacles, a dress which was the nicest and rarest and most expensive which Akhlísa had e'er worn, but still one which constricted her movements a bit, and always the patterns of maze and curve and prayer were flowing through the material of the dress and moving upwards and deeper within, and sometimes the dress was all a glow of white and aurulence, and othertimes it appeared to have been fashioned out of the glow of so many summer Suns. Siêthiyal most certainly did not like to see her Sister’s struggling with the bits of ice and the shimmer of the side of the wall, but she noticed that Akhlísa was not frowning at all and did not appear to be overly concerned at all, in fact she was humming and sighing a little unto herself. At first Siêthiyal was not entirely sure of the tune, for Siêthiyal did not concider herself too musically gifted at all, although she knew how to play the noseflute and the xhthàngit nose slughorn, and whenever the Clan gathered together for festival she volunteered to play drum and cymbal and anything loud and crashing and operatic at all, but sometimes she thought that it was best just to dance when Puîyus was playing his harp for the Elders. Puîyus was just naturally gifted at music, sometimes as a means of expression, sometimes as a way of drawing feeling out from others, but sometimes Siêthiyal thought that it was just the most fun to spin around and kick up her legs and move, not quite in the classical and geometric patterns of the ballet which Princess Éfhelìnye loved, although she performed wonderous and perfect and danced like unto a Star herself, now, it was fun to dance in a different way. Akhlísa was not terribly good at music at all, in fact sometimes Fhermáta would just give Akhlísa the easiest instrument, say some cymballettes, and Siêthiyal would kick her younger Sister to signal her to strike, but Akhlísa was showing some promise with the foreign music, at least as far as Siêthiyal could discern it. What is my Sister humming now, Siêthiyal wondered. It sounds very familiar, it’s a tune just at the edge of my mind, it’s just hovering upwards, a melody, a story told in melody. Could it be, can it be, yes, a tnapóqha, an epithalamion, wedding hymn? The bridegroom adorned all in white, the bridegroom comes, we must make way for him, for him, the bridegroom leading me by the hand. She does indeed sound quite happy as she hums and sings that tune, I wish I could be so happy. It must be so very fulfilling for her, to be told all of her life that her entire purpose was to be prepared to be married to Íngìkhmar’s Son, to be told all the days of her life that Kàlewa and Íngìkhmar were cater-cousins who would have died for each other upon the battlefield, but when Kàlewa and his wife were dying in the Great War, Íngìkhmar and Khwofheîlya promised to take care of her and make her Sweqhàngqu, with the Elders’ blessing of course, her entire life has been leading up unto this. Not like me. No chieftain’s Son, no Heir, no Prince waits for me, at least none that I know. My hope is that Puey can make the world safe so that I can survive in it, if Puey becomes Emperor my future will be secure, and he can decide what shall become of me. But it’s so very different with her, she just has to impress a single person and please him. No path was drawn out for me upon the sand painting.
– I hope we see Puey soon – Akhlísa chanted. – It’s been so long, I feel like a year has passed. Do you think he’ll be taller, I bet he’ll be taller, he’s taller isn’t he? I’m taller too, look at me, look at me, see I’m standing on my tippy of the toesies! –
– Yes, taller – Siêthiyal chanted as she rubbed her arms, and then her Sister’s for to warm her.
– And my hairs grown longer, see, it’s all pretty and braided and much longer. I’m thinner too I think, even without the corset. I am pretty, don’t you think? –
– Sure, pretty. –
– If I were Puey I’d fall in love with me on sight, I’d be saying, Oh who’s that pretty lass there the very vision of Khmaryáta of the golden tresses, look at how lithe she is, I’m going to kiss her hands and tell her just how pretty she is. Why do you have to look so glum? –
– It’s cold. We still have far to climb. Why is the xhòkhna, the architecture of the Dreamtime so tall and winding? Whether Qhíng or Aûm or even Færie Xhámi, we star folk are not content just to build a tower, we have to build lots of them and keep them spinning upwards higher and higher miles tall. Well, we don’t build that way in Jaràqtu, but we don’t really have an artisan caste, no tèqto architects … –
– Maybe we have to have high towers just to keep the artisan caste busy, the xhlànoka. But that still doesn’t excuse why you’re so gloomy. Did you swallow your tounge? –
– No. I’d be dead then. Like a ninja spy, severing his tounge, swallowing it. –
– Did you swallow a bug? –
– Are you going to keep pesterent me? –
– Sorry. – Akhlísa looked up and wiped some icicles from her hair. – I bet Puey will find me pretty. If I were Puey, I’d … –
– You already chanted that. –
– You don’t know what I was going to say. –
– Yes I do. –
– We sure have clomb down long. Oh. Uh-oh. –
– I don’t like ‘uh-oh.’ –
– Did you forget something, big Sister? We don’t have to have to climb up back the … –
– I didn’t forget anything! –
– Okay okay okay okay! – Akhlísa took a couple of steps back, and would have begun slipping down the side of the ledge save for the ay-vigilance of her Sister who drew her back.
– We’re going to start climbing down again. –
– Question! –
– WHAT! –
– Nothing … –
– Tell me. –
– Um … hypothetically if I forget something and … –
– What did you forget? –
– Nothing! –
– What did you forget? –
– I … oh … nothing! –
– What did you forget! –
– It’s just a question! And I resent the implied accusation! –
– And what was the implied accusation? –
– Huh? –
– What did you forget? –
– It’s just a question. –
– Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa! –
– I didn’t forget anything! Just leave me alone. I was just thinking, my brain is always spinning about and bewhirl whirl whirlent from side to side, I was thinking about just how hard it would be to ascend back up the … –
– We’d have to break back into the halls and run up the ramps, only Puey could bound back up the ice the way we came, at least Puey among mortals. –
– Ixhúja could do it. –
– Thank the Immortals she’s dead though. Abbá set her body in the holy mountain, and that’s the last of … well, she’s not … Khnìntha has to be completely dead by now, she couldn’t have been regenerated again could she … she’s back, right? –
– In a manner of speaking. –
– Did you forget anything? –
– No! Of course not. –
– Head check. I’m here, you’re here. I have the sacred Sepùrke Khaxhapúrxhriqe, the sword of our fathers, plus a few broken toys bundled in my pockets, you have Tét the Acceptible, your gown, probably some smashed and squished candies in your pockets, tàrqwo, isn’t it fun how Language has a word for squished, melted candies, we should ask the Princess about that vöd, that’s about it, right? –
– Yes. I think. –
– Let’s go. –
– You don’t have to be so serious about it … – Akhlísa shook her head from side to side and stuck out her tounge and performed a little dance derisive of her Sister’s stoic appearance. Siêthiyal blinked. She grabbed her Sister and pinning her down a little dragged her to the ledge and forced her to look upwards unto the streaks of flames left as the Dragons were passing up and through the armāta of the creative and blessed Aûm, and then she beturned her Sister’s head from side to side to listen to the sounds of mutant battle unto all sides of them.
– Yes, now would be a good time to be serious. We’ve rested enough. If you want to survive long enough to impress Puey with your waiflike beauty, than follow me. Otherwise I’ll start looking for a new Senior Concubine to give our Puey. –
– You don’t know anyone else. –
– I have connections. –
– You’re such a, such a … what’s the bulcān … you’re a stuitlhoyaôngi, a bluffer! You’re bluffering me! Bluff! –
Siêthiyal yanked her Sister down and pressed against her ears in a manner certain to deliver a great deal of pain, and hissing she chanted – How many times do I have to tell you, those of us in the Warrior Caste never bluff! Do you not think that I’ve met the daughters of a thousand different chieftains of our feircesome land, all the times I’ve come to visit an Elder and collect the toys which their children were too old to use, or I’ve made delivers to different families and left threatening messages in their fortresses, I know some of the young ladies there and let me tell you, all I have to do is wink mine eye and I can summon probably three hundred fair maidens all of golditresses, all of them eager to secure an alliance between the new Imperial House and whatever miserable clan wherein they were born. So stop annoying me, or I’ll crush you in gaggles of concubines! –
– You’re mean. Ow! Stop it! –
– Take it back! –
– Ow! –
– Take it back! –
– Okay! You’re nice! Nice Sister! –
– That’s better … –
– Nice Sister beating me up on a cold ledge all alone and … I’m not saying anything! –
– Ensure that you don’t. Now come along. –
– Yes, older Sister. –
– That’s better. –
– I obey. –
– You’d better. –
Siêhiyal was always making her way down the edge of the ice, and Akhlísa was humming again bits and pieces and snatches of the epithalamion, and Siêthiyal was wishing that she could experience such bliss, such hope of being swept away and wed to a great Prince, or at the very least of having an older Sibling to take care of her, for with Fhermáta gone Siêthiyal was left with all of the responsibilities which used to be hers. They traveled downwards for a time, and the closer they came unto the rolling deck the louder grew the sounds of battle, and deeper waves of mist were arising throughout the ridges and inundating about the smaller turms and the smoldering ruins of what had once been a great funereal pyre where the thousand guards who had frozen to death in the snows had all been burnt, their bones and ashes mixed together with oils to become clothing and building materials for the Aûm, and the pyres were stretching outwards to reveal incineratory zones where the guards who had not been able to prevent Siêthiyal’s rushing in the fire to save Aîya had all flung themselves alive into the flames, and with them were set the various wihts whom Pereluyàsqa had slain herself with knife and rage, and beyond them in a far smaller pile lay where the three honored Thùlwu were placed, those who had waded into the flames and rescued Siêthiyal but in doing so had bescorched their own flesh grievous, and were set in their own place of honor. By now Siêthiyal could see that several smaller fights were breaking out upon the deck, for from some of the towers the mutants were gallumphicating outwards upon their angular legs and upon the claws of their wings and were reaching outwards to do battle with the pikemen and pedati of the Aûm, and the great artists were swirling up into the filament towers and spinning the cannons about and firing them into the mist and vaporizing both mutant and their own kind at the same time, and the very air was crackling with the scent of burning filaments and flesh, the smell which she had experienced within the pyre, the particular harsh and sad taste of the burning of the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu. Siêthiyal could see that she and her Sister had come down another third of the way down the tower, and Akhlísa was shaking now and rubbing her hands together and stomping her feet. Siêthiyal rubbed her Sister and tried to reassure her, but thinking of nothing to say remained silent. At once Akhlísa began laughing and jumping up and down pointed unto some of the rolling mutants leaping upon the deck and clamping their multijointed mouthtrunks against the maquáhuitlmen of the honored Aûm.
– Look, Siêthi! – Akhlísa gasped.
– Don’t call me ‘Siêthi.’ Just don’t. Haven’t you learnt that by now? – Siêthiyal sighed.
– Highly unlikely and never shall. Look! What do you see? –
– An idiot Sister whose going to get another pounding. –
– There! Mutantment. –
– And? –
– That’s your sweetheart down there, isn’t it? –
– No … it’s not the same mutant, the Duchesses killed him … stop laughing! –
– Oh, pardon me for not knowing the difference to one mutant to the next. I suppose I don’t spend as much time with that company as you do. –
– You may want to end this line of conversation now. –
– I mean, I don’t spend as much time as you do batting your eyelashes at metamorphic mutants and puckering up your lips and swinging your hips at them. –
– Be. Quiet. Now. –
– You’re saying, Oh Mutant you’re so strong and brave, what with those extra faces you have and those wings inside your chest, you’re the weirdest bravest slimiest of all the creatures in the world. I just love me, why don’t you kiss me with those mutant hand lips of yours. Don’t you think that Aûm hands are weird, with crunching jaws inside of them? –
– I wouldn’t know. –
– What’s it like to kiss a Mutant? –
Siêthiyal grabbed her Sister by the throat and dragged her to the ledge again and chanted – Now you’re really vexing me. I’m this close to just throwing you o'er the ledge! –
– How filial pious of you, to harm your innocent baby Sister … oh! That hurts! Not the neck, not the neck! This hurts far more than you know … oh! –
Siêthiyal adjusted her grip about her Sister’s neck and punched up upon her back a few times just to harm her all the more, or at least scare her into being quietescent. – Are you prepared to start acting good! –
– I am good! –
– Then be quiet! –
– I’ll be good. –
– Fine. – Siêthiyal released her Sister but kicked her a few times just to show her that she meant what she was saying. – We’re just going to forget about the mutants, shall we? –
– Did your Mutant sweetheart leave you thyòrnot, foolish and heartbroken? Don’t hit me! – Akhlísa cringed and backed up against the wall of ice and filaments as her Sister advanced on her.
– Why do I e'er try? – Siêthiyal chanted. She lunged at her Sister a couple of times and Akhlísa squealed out and fell down and looked like she was about to cry. – Get up, you little thapfheqhelenafhuxhwelónge, you weakling and worrywart! –
– I’m not a … maybe I am a bit of thapfheqheleninthuyèrqha. – Siêthiyal yanked Akhlísa upwards, and Akhlísa bounced from side to side in her white bridal slippers and rubbed her hands together and blowing upon them chanted – So, when were you planning on introducing us to him? –
– To whom? – Siêthiyal growled.
– To your mutant sweetheart? –
– Sometimes just beating you up is not punishment enough. –
– What else can you do, you have all my beadcoins, all the allowance I shall e'er receive, I already owe you more favors than I can repay in seven lifetimes, the only recourse I have is to hop around you like a fhwàngu imp and annoy you for the rest of my days. –
– I’ll be blackmailing and controlling your children in the next generation. They’ll all be running errands for their Auntie Siêthiyal and cajoling favors from the Emperor their Sire on my behalf, I’m sure you’ll have at least one Daughter who may be able to appreciate the fine arts of toy repair and family manipulation. –
– May they call you Auntie Siêthi? –
– For a price? –
– May I call you … –
– No price. Now come along. –
Siêthiyal snatched up Akhlísa’s hand and began leading her down the winding of the filaments and Akhlísa cried out – So, tell me what his family is like? I suppose it must be a strange family, if everyone is grown in vats, and some of the relatives have extra heads … –
– I can’t believe you’re still talking about this. –
– So what’s the mutant’s mother like? That’s very important, a girl has to get along with her future Mother-in-law, otherwise it’s all disaster. Of course I, being the most perfect and pretty bride, don’t have to worry about that, honored Khwofheîlya is already confined to the Undergloom and I’m sure she likes me plenty. But what about the Mutant’s Mother? Does she have extra eyen? Does she think you’re worthy of her squamous and mucilagionous offspring? Does she think you have enough heads? –
– I’m not even listening to you. –
– I suppose you and the Mutant go running out, hand in tentacle and singing Fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa fhwa I’m in wuv I’m in wuv I’m in wuv with a Mutant, and you go behind the tree and kiss their mutated lip hands or whatever they have, I’m sure it’s all entirely gross but I shall not mock my Sister’s preference in young swains, or young swainish type entities whatever they may happen to be or whatever parts of whatever creatures they may happen to be … –
– Not listening! – Siêthiyal was gritting her teeth.
– I’m sure that, behind the tree, as you hold each other tight and smooch all the while, you’re thinking about the future and saying, I don’t care about your big ugly bugeyes, and your crumbled scale and feather head thing, I don’t care that you wear your stomache somewhere on your back and the glistening ribs of your brain twirl about your stomache, I love you for your very digusticating self. –
– Do I act like I’m listening? –
– I can’t wait to visit you both in your wedded bliss when we’re older. I’ll come o'er with my perfect and goldenhaired children, they’ll be princes and princesses of the royal caste, remember … –
– How can I forget? –
– … and they’ll be all prim and proper like I am … –
– With your belching contests? –
– I thought you weren’t listening! And then you’ll be in your mutant hovel or wherever it is that mutants live, maybe on a boat, yes, you’ll be dwelling in a boat, and you’ll be wearing a xhréqiyan apron, your hair will all be bound up in a couple of big ribbons because you won’t have time to be washing and cleaning yourself, what with your brood of little mutants running around you, of course I’ll have slaves to keep my hair all shiny, and slaves to help the slaves, and extra servants to help the helping slaves, but you in your hovel will be all tired, you’ll be holding one baby mutant in your arms, and its three heads will be gnawing at each other, and you’ll be trying to keep the peace, while the rest of your freak children will be bounding around upon wings or wheels or whatever they’ll have, maybe springlegs, yes, lots of springs. –
– Mind the ice. This way. –
– Okay, and while I’ll be visiting you, and I’ll be all pretty while you’re scrubbing mud off the floor because your brood are all dragging mud off the garden with them … –
– Um … that sounds more like you, and I would reckon you’re offspring would more likely … –
– Now your mutant husband will be sitting in his big chair, his tentacles and wings all sprawling about, and he has these really big stinky feet ending in talons, and eyestalks flowing up from his toes, but you don’t mind at all his stinky feet at all, oh no, you wuv your mutant husband and don’t mind rubbing his feet and telling him how much you wuv him and … are you paying attention to me? –
– No. –
– It’s no fun if you don’t pay attention. –
– Pity, that. –
– Stupid mutant-loving Sister. –
– Were you saying something? –
– No. Nothing. No fun at all. –
– That’s better. Now, if we can just get down this ledge. –
– Wait! I just thought of something, Siêthiyal. –
– What did you leave behind? –
– I didn’t leave anything behind! –
– Are you sure? –
– Ur … I think. I’m thinking of something else. –
– Do I dare even ask? Does this have anything to do with mutations? –
– Possibly, but no way! Okay, this is a serious thought. –
– Do I have to listen to this? – Siêthiyal came slipping down the next ledge and helped her Sister slide into her arms, and Akhlísa slid from side to side and chanted – Now, even if you don’t fall in love with a mutant, even though he’s the only xhnuníjha peticiouner, the only khmàtur suitor matabegel amindumisto you’ve had in your entire life, which is quite pathetic, I mean you should be able to attract the attention of some sort of Son of Jaràqtu without even trying, unless there’s something horribly wrong with you, and there probably is, considering all you have to do is be nice and smile and be inoffensive, but if you don’t end up in wedded bliss with a mutant, and that’s fine you don’t have to marry the six limbed four headed monster, that’s super, I was thinking about something else and … –
– Are you going anywhere with this? –
– Um … I forget. –
Siêthiyal looked up the tower of glass and filaments whence-then they were come and lifting up her hands in the orans position of prayer chanted – Why do ye test me, oh most wonderous Immortals? Why have ye granted me such a crazy and little Sister? –
– So, I’m thinking, even if you don’t marry a mutant, and that’s probably to the good, what happens if one day you do get a sweetheart? I mean, you can’t be crazy and unmarried all your life, one day … –
– Now why wouldn’t I want to marry a metamorphic mutant? You’ve painted such a flattering depiction of homelife with one, domestic paradise I would think, with the screaming lizard and moth babies I’ll be having. –
– Let’s say though that you do have a sweetheart. Now think about it, how do you think Puey will respond? –
– I don’t know. –
– Think about it. –
– I hate thinking like you, it hurts my brain. –
– It’s coming … –
– Puey will … ah! –
– Yes? –
– I see. –
– Not pretty. –
– I’m sure that … I mean … no. Oh? Really? –
– I don’t think that Puey would like the idea of your having a cuisle. Nobody is good enough for any of the maidens in our Clan, he will be most obstinate if Xataríyona and Eirènwa our cousins get sweethearts, but that’s different, the thought that Khwofheîlya’s Daughter would be growing up, he won’t like that at all. –
– Puey does tend to be very protective. –
– I can see it now. Puey comes back from battle, we’re living in tents, Puey is rather tired, he’s wiping blood off of his tunic, and you come bounding in hand in hand with a young man. Puey does not even bother looking up, fast as lightening his fingers reach up through the young man’s eyen and brains and skull and just crush him into little gooey pieces, all for the sin of holding your hand. –
– Puey won’t be that possessive, he’s not like honored Kàrijoi who locked the Princess away in his wardrobe or something or other and forbade her to see other lads. –
– Okay, I jest a little. But Puey won’t like it. He’ll be growling like a liger all the while, he’ll be clamping his jaw, he’ll be using any opportunitas as an excuse to wrestle him down, just to test the young man about, perhaps bring him along on a very dangerous hunting trip, perhaps where a few dragons are lurking, and there’s always battle. Puey can bring the swain’s broken body back, he’ll say, I didn’t know he couldn’t fight three hundred clockweyth automata at the same time like I can, I killed a thousand before breakfast, but this weakling just fell all to pieces. –
– You may have a point. –
– Best it may be just to have Puey arranging the marriage. –
– I don’t often think of marriage. –
– Well, Puey and Éfhelìnye will be arranging things … oh don’t grimace like that, she’s the only one in Creation who can probably find a good match for you, and she loves you enough to find a perfect young man for you. She’ll probably be the only one who can convince Puey that it’s all a good idea. –
– Perhaps mutant is the way to go. –
– Yeah, I’d say mutants have some pretty low standards. And you’re getting despirate, not too many Mothers would want to take you in as a Daughter-in-law, considering all the myriad flaws that you have. –
Siêthiyal came slipping down the last of the ridges and helped her Sister down, and Akhlísa wobbled from side to side and found herself upon a deck of mist and frost and steam, and looking up to the length of the tower all of frost and filaments and flowing fang edges, Akhlísa sighed and giggling fell into Siêthiyal’s arms and chanted – Will you promise not to be angry with me? –
– What is it? –
– Promise! –
– What did you forget? –
– Who says I forgot something? –
– Your face give syou away. Was it important, because I don’t know whether we can get back up there. –
– Kinda important … a little. –
– Do you have Tét the Acceptible? –
– He’s with me! The best plush toy in all the worlds, Kàrijoi’s præterpluperfect handiwork. Look at Tét! Hurray, flying the air, blowing bubble, saving me all the while. –
– What did you forget? –
– Promise not to be angry? –
– I promise to be angry. I have the sword, our lares and penates, hurry up and tell me what you forgot? –
– The skeleton key. –
– Pardon? –
– Do you remember the first time I vomited on the Duchesses? –
– That was actually rather funny. Khosyaràsqa was adjusting the clockwork of your corset, all the wheels were dancing about, wheel labyrinths forming … oh! –
– I know … –
– The skeleton key to the clockwork! –
– Heh heh heh … –
– You left the key behind? How stupid are you? On a drosometer you must be at inundating pool. You’re locked inside the clockwork of your corset? –
– Do you think we could go back … –
– No! We’d have to … we’re getting out of here. This is your own fault. –
– But … but I’m going to be squished and trapped. –
– Your. Fault. We’ll find another skeleton key. –
– I bet only the Duchesses can … –
Siêthiyal yanked her Sister by the hand and began dragging her through the growing darkness and mist upon the deck, and she kept her close unto her and began ducking about the tessellations. – We find the Traîkhiim and escape now. Anyway, the rumor is that Puey and the Princess are close. Trust me, there is no lock made which Éfhelìnye can’t master, and she’ll be able to figure out all of the clockwork maze twists of your corset and spring you out. –
– I suppose … –
– You’re not nervous at seeing her, are you? –
– Maybe a little. –
– This will be good for you. You and Éfhelìnye can spend some nice sororal time together, you’ll be grasping the edge of the bedpost while she figures out all the hours and gnoma of your corset, and while she’s freeing you, you can say, Oh by the way, I forgot to tell you, but I managed to marry your dearheart behind your back without telling you, I hope you’re not cross with me, and please don’t figure out that now is the opportune time for you to take vengeance on me while I’m all helpless in this contraption! I wonder whether she’ll decide just to choke and squeeze you instead, and there will be nothing you can do about it. –
– Éfha won’t do that. Would she? –
– I’m so glad that the officicious took a writ of quantum Khmàrke out on you. –
– I’m very valuable … Éfhelìnye chanted that she and I were best friends … –
– The blood of clan is more important than friendship. If Ixhúja is still alive, I bet she and Éfhelìnye are all happy sororal family now. But you, oh you the one who is trying to steal her Puey away. –
– Éfhelìnye likes me! –
– Didn’t revered Pòrjhoal mention the possibility of the new Empress’ tossing your body into the quag? –
– I have a great idea! – Akhlísa piped.
– Does this involve mud pies? –
– Even better. –
– Quickly, behind these. – Siêthiyal ducked and pushed Akhlísa’s head down after her, and before them came rolling out several ēoreds of Qlùfhem and Thùlwu, all of them glistening in the lamellar layers of their armor, and impalent spears and fanstaves in their tendrils, and their sphere-legs were thundering in perfect unison.
As the soldierry were passing Akhlísa squealed – Okay, so I’ll just come up to Puey and ask him to break me out of the clockwork constrictions, I can’t wear the corset all the time not for sleeping, and he’ll understand and he’s so strong remember the time he picked up the edge of the Khatelèstan fortress because somebody dropped her toy, and Puey was holding the rath upwards and you were poking around and I can running up and tried to tickle Puey and the fortress almost fell upon us all, oh he’s very strong, strong enough to punch a Dragon in the face and haul up the side of buildings, he can surely break a few stubborn wheels and … –
– I dearly hope that I see this scene. How can it be staged? Because at some point you’ll be coming to Puey and asking him, Say, beloved lord husband, would you mind helping me take my clothing off? I have this clockwork corset here, perhaps you can get this off of me? I thought he was blushing rosebright the time we locked him into the room with Fhermáta when they were both scantily yclad, but imagine this, he’d actually have to touch you … I’m not sure he could take it. –
– He has to help me! –
– Or what? –
– Um … –
– He’ll try to help, but it will be too much. He’ll summon Éfhelìnye, and with tools and strange spectral mathmatics she’ll have to free you. Either way you’re going to have to face the Princess and embarrass Puey, and I hope for your sake that you do both. And I’ll be watching all the while. –
– Siêthiyal! –
– This will be fun. –
– Puey will save me … he’ll understand … he … he’s dressed me before, sleeves and buttons can be so complicated … –
– No … it’s all different now. He will be blushent embarrassed. Éfhelìnye will be hurt. This is quite a mess you’ve made. And you had to forget your key. Swell. – Siêthiyal was tapping upon the filaments of the walls until she found some triangles rolling aside and breathing out deeper winds of steam. – The laboratories lie within. –
– I’m in trouble. –
– Yes you are. Come here. –
– I don’t suppose … you could manage to take the blaim? –
– How, even if I wanted to? You are trapped in alien clockwork, this has nothing to do with me. Oh how delicious this shall be. There the port, come along. –
– At least I’m not a bossy older Sister whom nobody wants to marry and who can’t find herself a single suitoramong any decent non-mutated folk and … listen to me when I insult you, you mutant kisser you! –
– Hush! Something is moving in the mist. –
– I bet it’s your bugeyed sweetheart. –
– Worse. – Siêthiyal drew her Sister closer unto her, and the mist began to envelope them all. – Mad science lies within. –
– Your mutant sweetheart … ouch! Stop hurting me, Siêthi! –
– Don’t call me Siêthi. – Siêthiyal yanked her Sister and drew her down the caverns of darkness and gathering steam and the distal laughter of the Mad Scientist who had escaped from the Emperor’s Labyrinth.

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