– You make excellent progress –modheros Khosyaràsqa was saying. – I believe you shall charm your husband by your industry and devotion. –
Akhlísa set the knife down and came down unto the floor and knelt down before the Duchess and bowing her head chanted – I live only to serve divine Puîyos, the new Master of Earth and Sea and Sky. –
– And you serve him well. Only a very few outsiders e'er attempt to learn to cook the dishes of the honored Aûm, and fewer of them do so with as much patience and dedication as you do. –
Khosyaràsqa signaled unto some slaves, and they came rushing up unto the table and taking up esqrèkhta chorks upon the tips of their tentacles began sampling the foods one by one. Pereluyàsqa was gliding about the table and looking at the arrangement and looking at the fruit and the napkins and the glance of the plates. The slaves nibbled upon the dishes and sweetbeards and slurped of the soups and then turned to the Duchesses and nodded wordless.
– This is most excellent – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – My twin and I do not eat and do not know how the food of our own people is supposed to taste, but we have others who can function in that capacity. –
– Was my food tasty? – Akhlísa.
– No, we did not say that – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– But you improve so well, and we believe that to the lips of a Færie the food will taste most exotic and rare, just as you shall to the Emperor, a rare golden flower for him to keep in his harem – Khosyaràsqa was saying.
– I do not know how often my Lord and Husband Puîyos will desire to eat foreign foods, so I shall have to practice the dishes of mine own folk – Akhlísa chanted.
– If you can at least expose him to other nations and other cultures, if he can grow comfortable with the alien folk whom he must master, than we shall be content – oranĝa Pereluyàsqa was saying narangiós bádios. – Puîyos will have to be Emperor of all men, and if he can at least view the Aûm as a people of ancient tradition and worthy of respect, than we will have done our duty unto Khlàmfhors of so long, long ago. –
– So mine attempt at Aûm food probably isn’t too tasty at all – Akhlísa chanted, bowing her head, her tresses flowing all about her head and washing about her a little.
– You have a lifetide to impress the young Emperor with your grace and charm and beauty – chanted Khosyaràsqa.
Akhlísa looked around and saw that at the other side of the table Siêthiyal was seated and reading one of the history grimores which the Duchesses had provided unto her, a great illuminated manuscript whose every page was covered in images of the Qlùfhem at battle with the Sàqajakh or invading some world or making a discovery and of their obedient Thùlwu siblings following in their wake, and story after story of Khlàmfhors who was the greatest artist of them all and stablished many of the ways of their modern society, and even the various myths around the only King who e'er ruled all of the Aûm, the one who was call’d the Son of Raven even King Syarápatlharthosewethenxhejhangétsaqhanulrepatàrotlha, and of the days of the world of Aûm Aûm where the Qlùfhem and the Thùlwu for a generation dwelt together in a single governance, a single family, before the dynasty collapsed, and the King’s Son, the Inquisitor took him out into the forest and nailed him unto the tree in order to save the Aûm from the jealous Immortals, and so the Aûm were scattered in their fleets and continental living ships, in their glass and hot air balloons and their disaparite colonies. Siêthiyal found many of these stories interesting, at least the parts she could understand, especially all of the battle and gore, in fact many times she just skipped the philosophy and meandering into mathmatics and just came to the part where the Aûm were taking up weapons and jabbing them through the faces and eyen of their enemies. She tried to make sense of their love stories but having three sides of the family was just a little too complex for her, it was difficult with two sides of the family plus foster siblings and families by alliance and adoption such as her people oft did, but with the Aûm there was a third dimension, and the stories of courtship were like great webs of friendships all crashing together, and the elders trying to pick which three in the web would best serve the needs of their phatries, and even when the three arose to live happy and full lives and dutiful to bare children for their clan, still some of the attitudes were just perplexing, such as the Aûm tendancy for a certain amount of combat to be considered a form of affection. Siêthiyal had no difficulty at all in playing tricks on her siblings and loved ones, but even she wouldn’t take up a sword and start charging her husband just because it was fun. It was as if about three fourths of the text was færietale she could understand, and the last fourth was just a strange dream pieced together of many only partially sane minds. She turned the page and knew after a few sentences that it was going to be about a forbidden love, for here the three youths were from three feuding phatries. She reached o'er for a dish, and a slave was bringing her some of the traditional Thùlwu food which Akhlísa had made with her own hand, and taking a few bites of it actually found it rather good, although a bit spicer and sharper than she would have preferred, perhaps Thùlwu tastebuds are slightly different than those of the Xhámi. The story progressed as she turned the pages, and the three youths were found by their nine parents, and the youths were rubbing their celia together in the Qlùfhem equivalent of a kiss. The parents took the youths away, as would be expected in any family. Siêthiyal took another bite, the pumpkin and the chocolate were somehow blended together in a way which was far more pleasing to her senses than she thought it would be, and she smiled a little to herself to learn just how dedicated her baby Sister was becoming.
Akhlísa looked upwards, for she was still bowing before Khosyaràsqa and marvelled at her older Sister and wished that she could be as cool and dispassionate as she was. Siêthiyal already was planning on running away from their guardians tonight, she was scheming in her mind, and yet she was able to eat at the same table with the Duchesses and not bat an eyelash at all, no nervousness at all betray, she just remained outwardly and completely the same. Akhlísa adjusted the golden flowers in her hair and tried to remain still before Khosyaràsqa, and not to fidget too much, vumön ishish quetzalhuītōlihui xhlìlu, pwòfhlumet.
Pereluyàsqa glided up unto Siêthiyal and chanted – I hope you are enjoying some of the sacred stories of our people, for you shall probably be the one in charge of educating the children whom the Concubine shall bare for the Emperor. If the food is not to your taste, we can provide you with something more amenable to your senses. –
– I am quite content with the food Kàrula has been making, thank you – Siêthiyal chanted.
Pereluyàsqa signaled unto a slave who drew himself upwards and was holding a large silvern trenched gleaming with riceballs covered in seeds and peppermint and sugar. – We know that you children take great delight in tòtwoji, in mochi dduk, here, take and eat of it. We shall teach your Sister to make chapssaltteok in the traditional Aûm manner, so that you may enjoy the dessert whenever you command her to make some for you. –
– Thank you – chanted Siêthiyal and she nibbled upon a sugared piece.
– Do you enjoy our stories? Among the Aûm the traditional is that a tale must both entertain and educate. –
– Yes, I like them very much, from what I can understand. Some of them are a little opaque unto me. I am a little perplexed by the story of the three youths though. –
– Their families are different opinions on artistic genres. The offspring were not permitted to meet. –
– It looks like the parents just caught them. Let me see what happens on the next page. Maybe there will be a pie fighting scene. –
– Pie fighting? – asked Pereluyàsqa.
– Ah … children picking up pies and throwing them against each other, like when one throws snowballs. It is quite wasteful of course, which is why actual pie fighting usually involves just blobs of cream and crust which were not intended for eating. So I’ve heard, of course – chanted Siêthiyal, for she had no intention of mentioning her various exercises in fighting Fhermáta and Akhlísa with the weaponry of pies. She took another nibbling of tòtwoji mochi and turning the pages saw that both sides opening up unto her were a single illuminated drawing. And it was all red. It took her a few moments to understand what was being depicted, but then at once the tendrils and eyestalks and knives and blood were making sense to her, as well as the rolling of the mouth-trunks and the contortion of filament flesh. Siêthiyal blinked a couple of times and suddenly in her mind heard the screams of the youth and the clashing of obsidian knives and the ritual keaning of three families mourning their loss.
Siêthiyal jumped up out of her chair and knocked the book and mochi down in her fright. At once slaves came scurrying upwards to gather up the deserts and make sure that they were still edible and other thralls caught up the book before it could fall and set it open before her and smoothed down the pages. Siêthiyal was tottering upon the head of the chair, and the geminate Duchesses were turning at once to look at her. Akhlísa was gaping and wondering whether her Sister had found a spider crawling in her book.
– Whatever is the matter, dearheart? – Pereluyàsqa was asking.
– The … the picture … the three families … –
– Perhaps you are too young for such a story. –
– Which story is this? – asked Khosyaràsqa.
– The forbidden love, my Sister. –
– She is old enough for this story. She may well become a Mother herself, at least she will be as Mother to the children that this one will bare. –
– Which story is this? – Akhlísa asked.
– That picture was terrible, there was blood all o'er the … and the gnashing teeth and … was that ink real blood? – Siêthiyal gasped.
– Of course – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – Our artists always excel in their craft. –
– Once three youths of feuding families fell in love – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – It was inappropriate. Although the wild plantimals warned them, the youths still fled into the forest and were caught embracing each other. The parents nine took the children away and performed their parental duty, and took the youths into the pyramids and there cut out their eyen so as to shield the children from their own deaths, and they had their offspring dsmembered alive. Then the parents ate their children’s bodies, and then, for the shame of having born such children, and so they could rejoin them in the company of the Ancestors, the parents slit their own throats, and the priests took the bodies and burnt them and gathered up the bones and delivered them unto the three families to be effigies and garments for the next generation. –
Pereluyàsqa picked up the tray and offering it unto Siêthiyal asked – Would you like some more mochi? It is very sweet. –
– The picture was all blood … – Siêthiyal. – It was the most terrible thing I could e'er imagine. Knives … and the pyramid was stained red … and the mouth trunks were … it was red, it was all red. –
– The parents ate their bairnlings! – Akhlísa gasped. – That’s disgusticating! That’s … that’s … what’s the word? They’re pùxhna! –
– Œconomic inflation, pùxhna? – asked Pereluyàsqa.
– The child is trying to see pùxhno, cannibals – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – Dearest one, the Aûm are not cannibals. It is just a story, a way of telling youth about how important it is to obey one’s parents. The Aûm do not eat their own offspring or any of the flesh of their species or any meat or blood at all. –
– Mochi, darling? – Pereluyàsqa set the tray before Siêthiyal.
– But if this happened today, if the Emperor were still permitting new marriage and there were youths about, and three were visiting each other when they should not … would the parents still kill them? – Siêthiyal asked.
– Today the parents would probably just deliver the children unto the priests and permit an honorable fhliráqha, perfumed sacrifice parthenósphagos. But the parents would not kill themselves afterwards, if anything they would have to beget a new generation to replace the lost one – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– In Jaràqtu is it not the Commandent of the Elders that the Father of the Clan himself is to slay his own Son for disobedience? The Aûm prefer for the priests to do perform such an undertaking, rather than one in the family – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
– That’s completely different – chanted Siêthiyal. – A Father’s duty to his Son is nothing like … some youngsters who just love each other. Anyway, everyone knows that no Son would disappoint his Father in such a manner, it’s just something that our Elders say to frighten us into proper behavior. –
– A story? – asked Khosyaràsqa.
– Maybe … I suppose. –
Pereluyàsqa rolled up unto Akhlísa and chanted – Please offer these to Khosyaràsqa. –
– Thanks – chanted Akhlísa and she gobbled up a tòtwoji ball. At once Khosyaràsqa smacked Akhlísa’s wrists so hard that they glowed red. – Ow! Khei! –
– You were told to offer them to me – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
– You don’t eat – Akhlísa chanted as she rubbed her wrists.
– Did Pereluyàsqa ask you whether I eat? If I had been your Lord Husband would you have taken a piece before I did and gobbled it before my face? –
– Um … I get the feeling the answer is no. –
– Serve others first. Always remember that. –
– I’ll try … – Akhlísa was licking her wrists, but seeing the look that the Duchesses were giving her stopped in midlick. – Beep? – she asked.
– You are thinking that you will not have to worry about the feelings of your lord and husband Puîyos – both of the Duchesses were saying at the same time, as they came wheeling around about her and lifting their eyestalks in perfect synchrony as if they were undulous serpents dancing before her at once. – You are thinking that no matter how you cook and serve and act respectful unto him, Puîyos will always love you. You think wrong. You are no longer the orphan waif of his clan, you one of his wives, and as he grows older he will expect more from you than just to be helpless and cute all the while. He will feel the burdhen of the governance and the caste system and the new Synod of Lords upon his shoulders. He will have to contend with a new priesthood, a new economy, and dreamlands left barren after a war. He cannot wait for you to grow up, he will age and become a man. Do not be overconfident in the affection he has for you. –
– Yes, honored great-aunts – Akhlísa chanted, as she bowed down before them and became very sill and as dispassionate as she could be, even though she wanted to wriggle and squirm and run about fleet freeque.
– Learn to serve him and guard your place in the seraglio, xhùjhwe parthenṓn. His mind may be turned to the Empress, but let his heart belong to you. If you make yourself indispensable unto him, then he shall not be returning from wars with foreign brides eager to take your place, and do not think that he will be the one to sort out problems in the zenana, you are the Mistress of the Harem, that is your honor. –
– Yes, beloved Duchesses. –
Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa turned upon each other, their eyen large and blinking for a few moments, and then looking back to the children said – Perhaps you two have served and learned all that you can this day. Your duties are finished, save for those of undressing and preparing for bed. Eat your fill and go straight to bed. We shall return unto the meditational halls and prayer. – The room shimmered a little, and all of the stained glass of the halls was shaking. Siêthiyal set her bookmark in its place and looking outwards closed the book and saw that the glass and hot air balloons of the armada were disappearing one by one and then reappearing miles away, and that all of the fleet was materializing into the great and rolling grey winds. Siêthiyal came dashing o'er the table and leaning her face closer to the glass recognized at once that this was the Northwind that surrounded Jaràqtu and kept their barbarious land away from the rest of the Empire, cold and inhospitable and of delicate gardens. The fleet was struggling to arise into the upper regions of the storm winds, not an easy move indeed, and one which even the Jàrqte warriors find difficult when they sail their far smaller and humbler vessels on errands hither thithering back and forth from the homeworld to the outerlands. But the Aûm had some little experience with the rash windwaves of the north when they had come swirling upwards for to follow the Qhíng, and some of the glass and hot air balloons were opening up their vents and letting the fires grow all the higher, and some of the living ships were folding themselves upwards and darting unto their sides.
– Don’t stay up too late – Khosyaràsqa chanted as she began to roll away.
– Siêthiyal, keep the sword of your strapped unto your person and not left beside your chair – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – You are to protect your Sister at all times. We have squadrons of guards outside the door, but sometimes one more blade is all that is needed for victory. –
– Bye, love you love you! – Akhlísa stood up and waved. – Kisses! Kisses to everyone! Big sloppy wet dribble drippy kisses! – Akhlísa began blowing out kisses to the Duchesses, who nodded and were approaching the doors dilating about them, and then she gathered up some of the tòtwoji mochi and began stuffing some in her mouth, and with full cheeks gurgled – Want some? Really good? –
– No …no thank you. –
– More for me – Akhlísa began upending the trencher and was barely even chewing, so great was her gustatorial favor with the chapssaltteok dduk.
Siêthiyal walked about the table and was examining the various dishes of baking and cooking and soups and taking a spoon about as long as her forearm was taking some licks and all the while looking out the corner of her eyen and watching as the slaves one by one were retreating into shadows and the curtains. She savored the sip, and found that the cooking was better than she thought it would be, spicy and foreign but with such a unique flavor unto it.
– Come on, Khlís, go ahead and eat something that’s not all sugar and dessert – Siêthiyal chanted.
– So … I was wondering … – Akhlísa drew herself up beside her Sister, and the room shivered a little as all of the temple balloon faded away and then materialized a few miles away, and to the senses of the children it was as if they were inside the eyelids of a giant blinking and running at the same time, and when the eyen were opening they found themselves drawn aside further and further away.
– Eat now – Siêthiyal chanted.
– You don’t think that Puey will find the pumpkin chocolate xhùxhni, the gallimaufry ŝellō’mazzāl too spicy, do you? –
– Hurry up and eat. – Siêthiyal dipped a spoonful into a burgoo and thrust it into her Sister’s mouth.
– Now that we’re alone … – Akhlísa began.
– We’re not alone. Eat. –
– But … but … but … –
– We’re not alone. –
– I don’t see anyone? –
– Would you care for a demonstration? –
– Do I have to pay you? –
Siêthiyal took the spoon out of her Sister’s mouth and placed a bit of tòtwoji into her mouth, and clasping her hand upon Akhlísa’s lips shouted out – My Sister’s not breathing! She’s choking on the mochi! –
Suddenly several groups of slaves came bursting right out of the curtains, and seven doors swung open and in came rushing soldiers of the Aûm bouncing on the tips of their sphere-legs, swords and impaling spears spinning in their tentacles. The nearest tsànyoyo chandileer began to veer down untowards the maidens and leaping out from it came several lrathùlwoxaum priest captains, metallic instruments and knives and surgery tools dancing upon the tips of their tentacles. Siêthiyal spun around and removing her hand from her Sister’s mouth patted her on the back a couple of times, and Akhlísa spat out the tòtwoji and wiped her face and gasped for ear.
– She’s fine now – Siêthiyal chanted.
The slaves were bowing their shoulders and thoraces and shuffling back into the curtains and tapestries, and the soldiers were gathering up their swords and impaling spears and flowing backwards back unto the doors shimmering into existence about them. The lrathùlwoxaum priest captains remained for a few moments, they began to surround Akhlísa and they set some cold and silver wires into her mouth and ear and examined her for a few moments, and a few tentacles began to snake up about her shoulders and neck and listen unto her breathing for a few moments. The table began to shimmer, and some of the pots and dishes were lifting themselves up upon metallic and spindly legs and crawl away, and the center of the table blinked and up came rushing bubbles all of blue and orange, and swirling around the bubbles began to merge together and became the shadow of the Duchesses twining their tentacles about each other and turning their eyestalks from side to side. Akhlísa was beginning to find herself quite uncomfortable with all of the tentacles about her lifting her up from the ground, and instruments turning unto her and opening their eyen at her. The priest captains set Akhlísa upon the table and began unbuttoning her sleeves and letting their instruments crawl about her arms and about her skin, and as she lay there she could see that flowing down from the ceiling were come other crawling clockwork modalities. The walls were opening upwards and revealing within them great planets that were blinking like eyen, bits of wall and roof and tile shuffling about and gazing right back upon Akhlísa with various eyestalks. Akhlísa lay very still and tried not to discomfort the aliens who were touching her, rather she thought about Puîyus and wondered whether he and Éfhelìnye were entering the Northwind yet, she thought about how he was always trying to help others and did not seem that he belonged unto this course world of metal and flesh and mortals.
The priest captains drew themselves away and turned unto the flowing double helix bubbles of blues and oranges and chanted with a single voice – Oh brides of Khlàmfhors, the Concubine is in perfect health. –
– Did you check her blood and internal organs? – both of the Duchesses chanted.
– Yes, holy Brides, and this one is in better health than the future Empress herself. –
– Good, we would not want to have contact those bothersome Ptètqiikh khmùrtlhuqhol, those quantum insurance assurers. How tiresome it would be to have to give them more figures concerning her golden tresses. –
– The child is in excellent health, although a little small due to age. –
– We shall fatten her up as she grows older, that way she will be strong enough to bare children when she comes of age. –
The priest captains bowed before the swirling bubbles and chanted – The survival of the Concubine is the survival of the most honored Aûm. We know what we must do. –
– You serve the new Emperor well. –
– All praise be unto Puîyos the Master of Life. –
The priest captains began to shuffle away, and the image of the twin Duchesses turned unto Siêthiyal and chanted – Make her eat the soup, it is delicious and nutritious. Then go straight to bed. You are old enough to carry out these instructions without our having to guide you by the hand. –
– Yes, beloved great-aunties – Siêthiyal chanted she bowed unto them and the Duchesses were fading away, and the priest captains were becoming part of the curtains and tapestries of the large dining hall. The room shivered for a few heartbeats as the glass and hot air bälun translated a few miles away and came deeper and deeper into the Northwind.
– Would you like some tòtwoji, some mochi? – Siêthiyal asked and she gathered up the last few pieces.
– Finally, we’re alone now! – Akhlísa squealed, and she sate right upon the table and kicked her legs from side to side.
– Haven’t you figured it out yet, we’re never alone. –
– But we’re alone now, I don’t see anyone. –
– No, Sister … they’re just beyond the door and walls and … –
– But not now. –
– Yes now! Especially now! –
– Now? –
– By the Ancestors, you are the stupidest person I know and e'er expect to meet! Yes, we are always watched, and even though you don’t see them, they’re there! –
– Who’s there? –
– Everyone! Please stop being stupid. If wish you could trade a few inches of that famed hair of yours for just a few quanta of brains. You don’t understand how lucky you are to be Puey’s concubine, it’s one of the few estates in life where being pretty and stupid is an advantage. If you can manage not to trip o'er your own slippers you are overqualified, if you can learn to bat your eyelashes and not fall off the face of the earth, you’re set for life. –
The glass and hot air balloon swayed a little and began materializing again. Akhlísa rolled right off the table and crashed onto the floor, and Siêthiyal ran up and yanked her upwards even as the first few slaves and priest captains came dashing within and investigate the sound. Siêthiyal looked around and saw that geminate shadowry of the Duchesses appearing before her, and chanted – My Sister gets dizzy from the spectral translation, she just rolled off the table … –
– Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa! – the Duchesses shouted. – Sit! In! A! Chair! – And then they cried out in an higher voice – NOW! –
– Yes, honored ones! – Akhlísa slipped into a chair and patted down her dress and crossed her legs and tried to be pretty and inoffensive. Siêthiyal grabbed a bowl of soup and began ladling it out into Akhlísa’s mouth. The Duchesses watched for a few moments and chanted – Make sure she eats all the contents of the bowl. Then go straight to bed. –
– We obey, honored Duchesses – Siêthiyal chanted.
– You must, being good children – and the Duchesses began to fade away, and the slaves and priest captains began to slink back into the shadows and tapestries.
– You don’t have to feed me like I’m a little baby! – Akhlísa squealed. Siêthiyal ignored her and continued feeding her spoonful by spoonful. Akhlísa crossed her arms and pouted. Siêthiyal had to pry her Sister’s mouth open, and when the soup was about three quarters eaten, Akhlísa belched. – I’m not hungry anymore. This hop jump bouncing through time makes my tummy all outthrawn. –
– You heard the commandment. Eat the rest. –
– Why? They’re not watching us! –
Siêthiyal sighed. – You are the only person I know who actually gets dumber in the time it takes her to end the sentence she began. I listen to you and what little intelligence you have is melting out your ears as you speak! Of course we’re being watched! –
– Tummy alert. –
– Eat the soup! –
– Don’t wanna! –
– EAT! – Siêthiyal looked around and tapping a couple of fingers together spelt out the signs, You will need all of your strength tonight, you silly stuuuupid little Sister.
– Huh? –
Siêthiyal pointed to her chin and clasping her hands together spelt out, We’re escaping tonight.
– Wha? –
Don’t you e'er pay attention to anything! We’re escaping out of this cage of stained glass and metal! We’ll be fleeing for our lives!
– Ah? Really? – Siêthiyal threw down the bowl and was about to start smacking her Sister about, but Akhlísa cried – Okay okay okay okay! –
– Eat the rest of this – Siêthiyal chanted as she dropped the bowl into her Sister’s lap, and she slurped up the last of the tòtwoji mochi and clasping her hands together and playing with her roseate pink strands appeared to be playing with a few braids, but her fingers were dancing around and telling her Sister, We don’t have much to take with us, just our clothing, my sword, and your doll Tét. We’re going to free Aîya from the Mad Scientist, he chanted he’d be done by now, and I suspect he has Fhólus also. And then we escape.
Akhlísa was licking up the bowl even though it was not a very elegant thing to do appropriate for an Imperial concubine, and her left pinky finger, the one which wore her betrothal ring, was twining about and signing, Remind me again where we’re going?
We’ll sail out into the Northwind, and in all probability either the Kháfha or Qhíng will pick us up. The fleet should all be sailing about inside the boreal strands.
And if the Duchesses catch us?
You’re going to have large and innocent eyen and start crying and tell them that you missed your Abbá so much you just had to sneak out in the night, and I came along to protect you. But we’re going to do our best not to be caught. Siêthiyal set a few rhododactylous strands behind an ear and spelt out the glyphs that meant, Did you not tell me that you were dreaming that our Puey would be sailing up into the Northwind soon along with Princess whateverhername is?
– Uh-huh – Akhlísa chanted. She took a few bites out of her pumpkin and chocolate confection and found it quite tasty, although a little filling. She took a few more bites of it, for she was wondering when she would have a chance to eat again.
Perhaps if we are very lucky, we’ll just bump into your husband in the skies …
– But how do we … – Akhlísa forgot to speak with her hands for a moment, and squirming about sate on her hands and then remembering what she was doing clasped them together and spelt out, I mean, how do we get away from our Great-Aunties? I mean, even though they’re not watching us now-sa, they do watch us quite often.
They’re watching us now.
Are you sure?
I’m not going to do another demonstration, even the alien clockwork Duchesses will figure out that something strange is happening. Don’t worry about how we shall escape. I have some ideas. Now eat your fill.
I’m so full that I could explode, if I started running around and playing I’d get sick on everyone.
That’s the spirit. But this isn’t play, or rather, this is play of a very dangerous type. Stay close to me at all times.
Akhlísa released a slow and staggering series of belches, even one an higher note upon the diatonic scale, and wellpleased with her endeaver began to burp out the notes of Jhó xhé qhú lrá lró lwá khú jhó!
– What an artist I have in the family. –
– Jhó, burp! Xhé, burp! Qhú, burp! Lrá, burp! Lró, burp! Lwá, burp! Khú, burp! Jhó, burp! –
– Tsae’ ei, charming! – Siêthiyal rolled up her sleeves and cleared her throat and let loose a louder, deeper, and far more satisfying belch. – I’m afraid I still beat you in the ructation category. –
– No you don’t – Akhlísa chanted. – The key is swallowing a bit of air first … –
– You and your crazy belchfol theories. –
Akhlísa piped out a few burps, but Siêthiyal just shook her head and belched in reply, and for a few moments they competed in burping in louder and squishier and more harmonic domains, just as they had struggled against each other for as early as they could remember. Neither of them knew it, but even before they could talk Siêthiyal used to bite and poke Akhlísa, and Akhlísa would scream and pout and try to monopolize all of Khwofheîlya’s attention, and they competed in belching even back then.
– We’d better stop now – Siêthiyal chanted. – If we keep burping like this, I think we’ll get a little bubble shadow visit from the Duchesses, and I suspect they’ll be saying that an Imperial Concubine does not belch, just as she does not sweat. –
– Burp! You’re just saying that, burp! Because I’m a better burper. Burp! –
– Okay, stop now. –
– Burp! –
– I mean it. –
– Fine. – Akhlísa stood up. – Urp! – Her face grew a little pink and she chanted – I didn’t mean for that last one, it just popped out. –
– That’s fine. –
– Sometimes the burps just come. –
– Great. –
– I didn’t chose to be a great artist, the art chose me. –
– Burping is an art? –
– I would not define it as a craft or a skill … it is an artform, delicate and beautiful, like gossamer really … so very rare … –
– I don’t know where the idea of Concubines being skilled at conversation originated, but I hope you don’t regale my Puey will tales of your belching prowess for the rest of his life. –
Akhlísa stood up and shook her golden tresses from side to side, and letting them wash about her chanted – I think I have other charms that may interesting him. I’m been practicing my Traîkhiim dances for him, at least before Fhólus disappeared on us … plus, has anyone noticed this fantastic hair that I have? Puey will love me for ever because of my hair. –
– I am quite content to be ignored, especially hairwise – Siêthiyal chanted as she arose from the table. She tapped her palm and winking gave her the signal, Stay close to me. The plan changes moment by moment.
You don’t have a plan, do you? Akhlísa winked back.
Bits and pieces. We get the Triîm. We go.
They came unto the ports of the tsìpaxhal jankhènthe sòmesarl dining hall, and the doors were shimmering into existence before the maids, the doors were great eyen dilating open, shokudō, pal·e·don·so, zibasälun, and as they came through the enlightening of the doorway and into the hall, at once they could feel about them several groups of guards arising from the darkness and the walls and holding up their impaling spears and swords and following after the children. Siêthiyal ensured that she was grasping Akhlísa’s hand and keeper her Sister close unto her, and the floor began to shake, and the walls vibrating, and all of the material of the ceiling and doors were shivering apart as the ship continued to spin and lurch in its xhnuruyàjhwen teleportation.
And then, as the maidens came walking outwards unto some of the higher halls that were leading up unto where their bedroom was quarter’d, as they were walking down and winding layers all of glass, and rafters were spilling upwards about them, and behind them were forming long lines of guardians swaying back and forth in perfect unison, all of their weapons kean and at the ready, and running before the maidens were various priest captains looking from side to side and gesturing one to another and all the while making sure that the halls before the virgins were open, and the halls before them were safe also, and the halls even farther done, all at once, as the children were walking down, a couple of things happened. The halls began to elongate, and some of the billows that were feeding the glass and hot air balloons were caught in a moment of time. Some of the living ships and other sky bäluns were blinking right out of the sky and reappearing in a strange and new formation farther away and higher upwards. One by one in the heavens large and winged forms were appearing, long serpentile tails were weaving back and forth and swimming in the luminous æther, reptilian necks and heads were turning from side to side and breathing out columns of flames, and as the Dragons were arising and soaring upwards into the growing expanses of the cloudbanks, the coming of the Rainbow Drakes was interfering with the spectral jumps of the Aûm fleet. Suddenly some of the towers began to twist about, and part of the great temple complex was beginning to bend and curve about, it was as if all of the fleet had been drawn upon vellum hanging upon strings, and hands were now reaching outwards unto oneside of the hame and curving and distorting it with great jade talons, and the fleet was all bending and distending and mutating invarious unpredictable ways. Siêthiyal threw her arms around Akhlísa and held her tight, and the walls and branches of this glassen hall were beginning to ripple and sigh. The soldiers were all spinning arund and preparing to protect the Maidens of the Sun. Glass walls vaporized at once and some of the soldiers were blew right out into the air and spun around like dust particles caught up in the breezes before being lost to the gaze of the children. The bridges were all melting in shape, and from some of the towers steam was arising and Qlùfhem and Thùlwu alike were screaming and helping each other up and running for their lives.
– I hate Dragons so much! – Akhlísa cried. – Do they e'er do anything right? –
Some of the towers of the warships were beginning to topple down, and Siêthiyal looked up and found that some Dragons were swooping upwards but were not even attempting to touch the fleet or breath fire at it, they were just arising upon their errands and the fleet just chanced to be in their way. – They’re all in an hurry and don’t even care about us anymore. We don’t even matter unto them, it is as if we are just seeds floating on the waters as great squid bears come to bathe themselves. –
Several glass rafters came falling down about them, and behind them came the sounds of many Aûm screaming that something was opening up within the bowels of the laboratories. The children could not quite hear them, now that the floor was settling down they began running down the halls and among the various rooms and doors that lead unto their chamber. – I guess the Dragons don’t even have time to sniff for me – Akhlísa chanted as she drew up her sleeve and gave it a few good inhalations. – I’m sure I still smell like tasty imperial concubine, but the Dragons don’t care at all! –
– We’re losing the guards, quickly, let’s get our things – Siêthiyal chanted, and before them came looming the doors leading right unto their bedroom.
– They’re escaping! – several voices were crying. – Inform the Duchesses, they’re escaping! It will be death unto us all! –
– They know we’re running! – Akhlísa cried as she huffpuffed puffhuffed down the halls. – Oh, why did someone make me eat all that soup! –
– Because you’re a growing young damsel. Run! – Siêthiyal cried.
– They’re getting out! – the voices were crying behind them. – Call down the rest of the squadrons! They’re crafty indeed! –
– They’re after us! – shouted Akhlísa.
– No … no they’re not … but we should still be running with all our might – Siêthiyal chanted. – The guards are running in the opposite direction. I wonder … –
– Who cares! We’ll get Tét, our things, we’ll go … –
– What could be escaping then, if not the Duchesses prizes, their favorite dolls? –
– Do we even want to know? –
– It could help or hinder our escape. –
– You so smart! –
– Thank you. –
– Puey likes me better though. Pretty. Cute. Good golden hair. –
– As soon as we’re safe, I’m going to start popping you right in the nose. –
– And what an adorable nose I disport! –
Several of the doors were blasted away as if bombs were alight, and out came ash and steam and soot and the shadows of many Qlùfhem and Thùlwu waddling outwards. Some of the walls were breaking down, and kicking them away came more of the Aûm, they were gazing from side to side, in their tentacles were bits of flint and stone and makeshift knives, their clothing was ragged, and they were blinking with wild eyen, too many or too few. Some of the Aûm were opening up wings which they should not have had on their shoulders, and some were lifting up their mouth-trunks to reveal blinking eyen within, and not a few were crawling upon spindly arachnid legs.
– Freedom for the metamorphic mutants! – bellowed the hordes. – Slaughter them! Grind them up! Slay all the ametamorphic, all the nemutants, khornakhmolràyaxúng xhmoeraxúngùxhwi! –
– Run! – gasped Siêthiyal and she snatched up Akhlísa’s hand and yanked her forwards.
– Question! Question! – Akhlísa shouted.
– Yes? –
– Ur … are we haply mutants? –
– No, thou and I are quite normal. Ish. Mostly. Almost. Thou and I are most certainly not mutations. RUN! –
– No arguments here! –
Several more crashing walls were falling one upon the other, stone and glass and jasper tumbling down to reveal skeletal structures of crystal whereupon the ubiquitious fibers and vegetable growth of the Aûm were outstretched to form the various chambers of their dwellings, and bursting out from one wall after the other the metamorphs were slinking outwards upon their crawling legs or their winding tentacles that were tipped in the wheels of the dead Syìplet folk, and many of them were of adull white complexion for they had spent all of their days within the steam and darkness of Prince Jhwèsta’s imagination, their blinking eys were grey and red, some of them were covered in soft rustles of hair, although many of them were walking upon large and feathered wings. The mutans were larger than the children, and in their rippling torsos and swaying shoulders revealed that most of them well mighty-thewed indeed. A few of them were clammering about like so many atalesqiyìsqi waitoreke, some of them were walking upon claws that were folding upon themselves, their bodies sleek and angular and ready to hunt, others were turning shoulders whence were sprouting eyestalks whose eyen were tipped in smaller eyestalks all of them opening upwards and eying the children. Some of the mutants were carrying the weapons they had taken from slain soldiers, broken spears and a few shattered māccuahuitl, some of them held darts in their tendrils or the hands grafted unto them, and not a few of them, to the horror of the children were wearing about their necks the bones and exoskeletons of the Aûm they had already slain. Siêthiyal motioned to her Sister to keep running with her, but Akhlísa hardly needed an invitation, as they were running down the halls the walls were exploding right next to them and more and more creatures were bursting out of the outbreathing steam, the mutans were marching out one by one by one by one and filling up the high spirals of the temple balloon.
It was like running through the moor, so thick was come the steam and smoke, and all at once the children had to change direction, for appearing before them came a series of various tèlito osteoderms such as the xhréqheja stegosaurs grow upon the ridges of their back, and the children saw at once that an herd of mutated Aûm were rumbling upwards, and they were ambling in a slightly dinosauric way, they were walking upon their tentacles and the claws, some of their tentacles were covered in serrated plates, and they were bellowing one to another in the song of the herd. A few of the mutants were reaching upwards with their mouth trunks and sniffing the grasses that grew inside the halls and began tearing them off, while other mutants were bouncing around like trice-legged fhtóni kangaroo rats, and such were reaching out untowards the ferns and stripping the leaves right off of them and munching upon the, and up from their eyestalks were arising rabbit ears that were twitching towards the maidens and listening to their every move. Siêthiyal and Akhlísa had to leap about graze munchent lwikhìkhta lwìkhit herbivores, but the maids dared not slow or stop, so many were the mutants that came pouring up and out of the mist and were twisting all towards them and filling the halls.
Several figures tall and grey were appearing out of the mist, and as they came forwards they were resolving themselves into what the children thought must be Aûm if instead of having skin and exoskeleton they grew precious iron and crimson steel, and arising up from their mouthtrunks were smaller faces arising and looking from side to side, and growing up from their shoulders were Qhíng antennæ twitching from side to side and revealing within them the slight murmur of clockwork straining against the wheels, tall and thin and lanky these creatures were, and walking upon their arachnid legs rather than upon sphere-legs, they revealed that their feet were actually smaller heads with their own faces whose eyen were rolling and looking from side to side. About the grey Aûm were come several long and drifting forms that looked a little like unto centipedal xhwòso rolling about upon their ganbarri bodies, plates and scales rolling about their bodies, polygons of horns and antennæ and thorns flowing about their bodies, and yet Aûm celia and tentacles were flowing all about them and lent them the look and gait that was characteristic of their people. The children came spinning away among them all, and began dashing down right through the center of the halls as the waves of mutants began bursting up through the crevices and cracks which the passing Dragons were opening, and the children saw that before them lay their their bedroom and just a few mutants were milling about it, leaves growing up from Thùlwu antlers.
– I’m just glad we don’t have to stay with these fellows – Akhlísa chanted. – Imagining have to dine with those that have faces on their feet or extra mouths and those that have eyen inside their mouths and can only see when they open their mouths, that just have to be completely gross and inconvenient imagine having eye breath like that. Ooh, fountains of eyen, so very strange. I bet their table manners are completely inappropriate, not at all suitable for one as polite as I am. I think I have to burp again. –
– Who knew mutants could become so useful. –
– Are they even Aûm anymore? Do any of them remember what they used to be like, or were they created fresh and anew for these experiments? As anyone noticed how bad I think their table manners probably are? –
– We’re almost there. –
– Are any of them girls? –
– They’re Aûm, they probably come in threes. Or more. I have no idea. –
– Those are some ugly girls. –
– Keep up with me. –
– I mean, tentacle face here? Uuugly. –
– Okay. –
– I mean, this one, with five tounges and flippers? Uuuuuugly. –
– I know. –
– Don’t you just want to punch it in the face, it’s that ugly? –
– Khlís! –
– Ugly creatures should be punished! –
– You’re so annoying! –
– Big uglies! –
– Watch where you’re going! – Siêthiyal shouted.
Akhlísa was turning her head to run and she bumped right into the back of some Aûm all of deep scales and wings and flexing muscles. Several eyestalks spun around at Akhlísa, and tendrils all of rubbing celia were turning around and shouted – Who just bumped into me! –
Akhlísa drew herself up from the ground and pointed her Sister and chanted – She did it! I tried to stop her! –
– I don’t like being touched – the large mutant chanted as it rolled about upon flabby flippers and turned to regard Siêthiyal. – Why did you bump into me. –
– I? – asked Siêthiyal.
– I’ve got to go … – chanted Akhlísa. – I have quite a busy schedual as a concubine … as work and flower arrangement and prettying myself up for the new Emperor … –
– You’re a concubine? – the Mutant turned around and opened the huge jaws of its chest and gnashed its tushed about.
– Ah … yep! – cried Akhlísa. – And I’m Puey’s favorite concubine, he kisses me all the time and tells me that I’m his favorite wife, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I’m the absolute best and prettiest and best of all of the females in the entire known universe. –
– And humble too, you idiot – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Aren’t you a little young to be married? – burbled the mutant.
– Yeah … but I’m quite read and responsible. My Sister here thou is still unmarried though – Akhlísa bound up and wrapping her arms about Siêthiyal chanted – We’ve been trying to find her a lord husband for years, but she can be a little crabby if you know what I mean. Now just look at how old she’s getting and altogether unmarried. –
– Shut up! – Siêthiyal chanted.
– I don’t suppose you know any eligible young swains … Siêthiyal is getting a bit despirate just about now, especially as she’s getting so ancient and dottery, and I’m so young and pretty and married and all. If you know any young men, perhaps one who is blind in one eyestalk … partially deaf … they’d make a wonderful pair. –
– I will make you suffer for this. –
The mutant thought for a moment and chanted – There is my Sibling of course. Where did I put him. He’s been looking for some time. Ah, I remember. I ate him. – The mutant shook its stomache about, and the jaws upon its chest distended open to reveal layers of fang after fang, and out came pouring a flood of steam and acid, and flopping downwards came a being who probably had once been Aûm or at least some small remnant of Aûm genetic stock, but was now all become a series of tentacles arising, and jaws opening upon jaws opening upon jaws. Several eyestalks came spinning around and glared right at Siêthiyal, and the eyen revealed themselves to be situated at the tips of tounges which were now twisting about and wrapping themselves around Siêthiyal’s fingers and wrists and neck.
– Such a pretty pretty little girl – the sibling was saying. – What a delicious little treat. –
– You two make an adorable pair – Akhlísa chanted. – I can barely tell you apart. –
– I think I could eat you up – whispered the sibling. – Such lovely red hair. Red hair pretty. Red hair so nice and crunchy. –
– See, it is a mutant, the only one we’ve met who seems to prefer your flamescent tresses to my wealth of gold. –
Siêthiyal punched against some of the tounges and blinking eyen wrapping themselves about her and chanted – Puey seems to preferred red-headed Princesses also. –
– I’m going to leave you two alone for now – Akhlísa chanted as she thrust her hands in her pockets. – What a marvelous matchmaker I am. –
– I’m going to eat you up … – whispered the slobbering Sibling.
– Then I’ll eat you up! – chanted the first one.
– This has got to be the grossest thing I’ve e'er seen! – Siêthiyal chanted as her hands reached for the Sepùrke sword of her Fathers. – And I don’t think I would be particularly good for digestion. You may want to pucker up for this kiss, the children of the Sweqhàngqu tend to be rather aggressive. – She swung the Sepùrke Khaxhapùrxhriqe about, and the blade was all of rolling music and shifting sound, and at once she ripped right through some eyestalks and several of the tounges that were slobbering about her. The mutants about her were squealing out with their celia and jaws and gaping mouths, but rather than retreating they were all turning and licking their mouthtrunks and looking at Siêthiyal and whispering unto herself and saying – Yummy yummissa, pretty pretty pretty indeed! –
– Karuláta! Stop playing around and help me out of this! – Siêthiyal shouted, as several more Aûm mutants came bouncing around her and were wrapping their tentacles about her.
– You’re beautiful – the mutants were saying as they punched each other down and fought to be the first one to grab Siêthiyal and gobble her whole.
– I can’t help it that you’re so popular with the young men – chanted Akhlísa. – And to be fair, dribbling insane metamorphic and slightly cannibalistic mutants are the best prospects to being your sweetheart that you’ve received in your entire life. I’m sure at least one of them … –
Siêthiyal spun the family sword around and cut through several tentacles and got it lodge into the neck of a mutant, and struggling a little she yanked it out and smashed the brand through several different eyesockets and ripped apart pupil and blood and goo in brilliant arrays. – When we get out of this, Sister, I shall teach you pain like you’ve never … –
– I think your sweetheart is taking a liking to you – Akhlísa chanted as several more mutants or parts of mutants were crawling upwards and hoisting Siêthiyal upwards.
– I think you have a none too secret admirer trying to get your attention also – Siêthiyal chanted, as several wings snapped outwards and yanked up Akhlísa by her ankles and spun her around upside down, and for a moment Akhlísa just bubbled around a bit and her golden tresses were rustling down about her in waves upon waves, and she slowly felt that she was slipping out of her wedding shoon. She could see that Siêthiyal was swinging her sword from side to side and managed to cut off several more tentacles and some tounges tipped with blinking eyen, but she could also feel that the steam was growing all the thicker and hotter and wetter, and that the walls were shattering one by one about them and revealing long and winding streaks of fire left behind as the Dragons were mounting high into the heavens.
Suddenly Akhlísa saw the flash of swords, and the heads of all of the nearby mutants came tumbling downwards, and those that did not even have heads were finding their eyestalks ripped off one by one in the sweeping of swords. Several fanstaves were whirling about and hurling the mutants about, and from her upside down vantage point she coudd see a glistening sheen of blue and orange descending about her, and for the first time in some days she felt truly thankful for the geminate Duchesses Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa.
Khosyaràsqa was spinning about in a dervish, her triple nine tentacles were each tipped with swords, although Akhlísa could not quite see whether she were holding the blades or whether they were a part of her zoëtic clockwork substance tendrillar growing out from her, and in whirls she was hurling the mutants down and shredding them before her gaze. Pereluyàsqa was bounding upon the tips of her staves and was smacking the metamorphs so hard that their exoskeletons were shattering one by one, and they were collapsing in pools of their own blood and goo. Akhlísa found herself flying through the air, and at once found herself caught up in the arms of oranĝa Pereluyàsqa who was able to slash and cut and jab and hold onto the maiden and defend her all the while. Khosyaràsqa was a bit more viscious in her attack, for she was the slashing of the knives incarnate, and she took special delight and ripping her blades through sensitive celia and eyen and joints of the mutants and hurling them downwards until she also plucked up Siêthiyal upwards and cradled her in her arms.
– You and your sweethearts – Akhlísa told her Sister. – If you were just a bit more discriminating, like I am, we wouldn’t be in this mess. –
– Like you? –
– I’m marrying the Emperor, one can’t get more discriminatory that that. You with the slobbering mutants. –
– I’ll mutate you, you idiot! Set me down! I need to pound my Sister to a bleeding pulp! –
– We’re afraid that the fleet has encountered some Dragons tearing holes in time and space – the Duchesses were saying with the same tintinabulous sing-song voices. – In the rupture some undesirables have escaped, but be not afraid, once we get you to your chambers you shall be safe, and we shall open up all the ports and blow all of the mutants into the æther, along with the insane Scientist who created them. –
– Siêthiyal was making a friend back there – Akhlísa chanted.
– Will you be quiet? – asked Siêthiyal.
– They weren’t very good mutants, were they? – Pereluyàsqa asked.
– We could still throw them against the Qhíng, just to slow them down – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – But I don’t think that would stop them for long. –
– We could fire volleys of slaves and mutants. –
– Let’s just get rid of them, they’re causing so much trouble, and they frighten the children so. –
– Ah well, and if the Dragons should turn back, we wouldn’t want to have chaos reining upon our decks – Pereluyàsa chanted.
– Quite true, quite true – chanted Khosyaràsqa, and so the Duchesses were carrying the children all the while and defending them, as the walls continued to explode like paper, but now as the metamorphic mutants were fell pouring outwards, along with them were come the soldiers and guardians of the Aûm leaping upwards and spinning sword and impaling spear about, and in the shattering of the walls some of the smaller vessels of the Aûm were revealing fluttering upwards and cannons were twisting about and blasting off the mutants and leaving them as burning chunks of flesh. The Duchesses came right unto the bedroom of the maidens and flowing down from the walls came a thousand Aûm guardians who were shaking frost right off of their bodies, they were like trees arising out of the snow after a long rest, and they were aligning themselves in a great array before the doors and refreezing themselves even as the doors opened to admit the Duchesses within, into the room with the cooling hearth and the bright white bed and the large stained glass image behind the pillows.
– Stay here – the twin Duchesses commanded. – We shall purify the fleet of the mutants and leave them as dragon fodder. We may be able to enter Jaràqtu by the third hour of morning, or at least what morning is left unto us. –
Siêthiyal slipped down from Khosyaràsqa and bowed unto her and chanted – Thank you. My Sister and I shall not forget your duty unto my family. –
Akhlísa jumped upon the bed and began boucing around and chanted – Yeah, you’re super! Love you lots! –
– We are honored to serve the House of Pwéru – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – Do not leave. The glass and hot air balloon will be very dangerous. –
– We won’t do anything at all – chanted Akhlísa. – Especially not leave. –
The Duchesses turned and approached the door and behind them the guards were arranging themselves about the door, and the cries of the mutants were fading away as they were appearing in different regions of the temple balloon. Akhlísa came skipping down from the bed and running up wrapped her arms about the thoraces of the Duchesses and chanted – Good night! If you dream while you meditate, have pleasant dreams about me! Love you both! –
– Goodnight, our children – the Duchesses chanted, gleams of jacinth and aurantiaceousness twining about them both, and nodding unto the young ones they turned around and were lost to their view in the midst of the freezing warriors and the door shimmering closed behind them.
– Now we leave – chanted Siêthiyal. – Get your things. The confusion will cloak us. –
Akhlísa gathered up Tét the Acceptible and wrapped up her spare clothing into a packet and running up unto the bed bounced around a few times and chanted – Do you want me to go back and find your mutant sweetheart for you? I think he really liked you. –
– I’m not in the mood for your attempts at levity – Siêthiyal chanted as she clasped her Father’s clockwork locket shut and set it about her neck. She gathered up her brushes and bows and made sure that she had her Father’s sword, but that was all that she had left unto you.
– Cute couple, you can have three headed children with extra eyen and toungen and how sweet it will be – chanted Akhlísa. – I mean, it’s not my fault that the only vaguely masculine creature who takes a notice to you is a monstrous eating thing you wanted to eat you. –
Siêthiyal bowed to the hearth and whispered a prayer to the Ancestors of the Sweqhàngqu and ran up unto the stained glass window behind the bed and cracked it open and saw that all of the deck was confusion as waves of mutants were pouring outwards, and no guards were left to watch them from this angle. – Come along, brainless. –
– Just because I’m pretty and smart enough to be wed to an Emperor and only mutants like you …. Ow! Stop tugging on my hair! This really hurts! Stop it! Quit it! Stop hurting me, Siêthi! –
Siêthiyal yanked her Sister’s nose and chanted – You’ve been doing such a good job of not calling me that these last few days, and now you had to ruin it! – She pinched her Sister’s ear and dragged her to the window and muttered – And let me remind you, you were betrothed to our Puey at birth, you have done absolutely and positively nothing at all in life e'er to deserve him, you are the most useless worthless and altogether stuuuuuuupid little lass who’s e'er … oh please don’t start crying now. –
Siêthiyal slid the window open a little wider, but did not have to turn around to hear that Akhlísa was shaking and panting and beginning to whimper. Siêthiyal yanked her Sister by her tresses a few times just to keep her attention and remind her who the dominant Sister in their family was, but that only caused Akhlísa to weep all the louder. – Don’t you understand that we have to make a daring escape in the midst of an hostile and inscrutable alien fleet while mutants are escaping and granting us cover in the midnight of a Dragon passage which can turn deadly at any moment? –
– No … huh … I don’t know! – Akhlísa shouted.
– Just. Stop. Crying. –
– You think I’m stupid! –
– No, I don’t think you’re stupid. –
– Yes you do! –
– No I don’t … –
– Yes you do! –
– Fine, I think you’re stupid … –
Akhlísa buried her face in her hands and started weeping in uncontrollable spasms. Siêthiyal was grinding her teeth and trying to figure out a way to get her Sister moving, if she were as strong as Puîyus she could just pluck her Sister upwards and come swinging and flying through the air and not have to worry about sororal coöperation, but Siêthiyal, along with the rest of mortalkind, was not gifted with such præternatural distinctions and had to calm her Sister down just a bit.
– Kàrula? Karuláta? Little Khniêma? Listen to me. Listen! – Siêthiyal placed her hands upon her Sister’s shoulders and held her. – Are you listening? –
– Uh-huh. I guess. –
– You are not stupid. –
– It’s not my fault that it takes me the longest to read something! –
– Yes, I know. –
– The hieroglyphs all look upside down and backwards half the time, it takes me longer to sound out the letters, plus they’re all so squiggly. –
– That’s fine. Say, Puey can’t talk at all, you’re doing better than he is. –
– But … but he can learn things and climb things and fight and I can’t do anything at all. –
– That’s not true. –
– I have to get you to tie my slippers, and loop my buttons, and dress me up otherwise I get my arms stuck in the wrong sleeves, and I get my blouses on backwards all the time. –
– Clothing can be tricky, I know. But you’re not stupid. –
– Yes I am! –
– You had to teach Éfhelìnye how to feed the plantimals, didn’t you? –
– Yeah … –
– And the was afraid of the goats, don’t you remember? And she came running away screaming when the goats stood up because she thought she was going to be attacked. –
– That was funny. –
– And you figured out how to get her to do many of your chores. Plus when you were getting in trouble you learnt how to shift the blaim back unto her. –
– Yeah, sometimes she didn’t think her plans through very well, she just made works of art for the fun of it, and the rest of us had to clean up the mess. –
– It seems you’re doing better than the new Empress, right? –
– I guess. –
– And who’s been the one by Puey’s side for almost all his life? –
– Well … I have. –
– And you know when folk say about husbands, they like their wives but they love their concubines. You’ll end up being Puey’s favorite, you know him the best, and easily be the favorite and beloved auntie for all of his offspring. –
– If you put it that way. –
– And doesn’t Puey prefer golditressed demoisellen? –
– That’s what everyone has been saying; there has to be some truth to the rumor, or at least it’s a good story or gag or joke or something. –
– Are you feeling better now? –
– Maybe. –
– We’re going to slip out of the window together now. –
– Yep, I’m very important – Akhlísa wiped her tears away with her aurelian veil. – I’m Puey’s most valuable possession, and his most expensive one too. –
– Super. Stay close to me. –
– Puey loves me the best, because I’m just pretty and superior. –
– That’s nice. Follow me. –
– I have a far better disposition than you have, I’m far easier on the eye, loyal and kind and beautiful, yeah I’m pretty much the best of the Sweqhàngqu by far. –
– Are you going to be quiet? – Siêthiyal clammered up upon the window sill and helped Akhlísa upwards. The gaping window was letting within the breath of frost and the gathering darkness, and icicles were growing up and down about the glass and covering the outer walls.
– Should we go and summon your sweatheart? All rugose and covered in tounges and wearing entrails on his head shoulder thing? –
– Do you have to be so stupid? Come along, let’s go! – Siêthiyal took her Sister by her hand and pulled her upwards, and together they began to walk down the length of the ledge and hopped down unto the turning crennelations below.
– You are just so crabby sometimes – Akhlísa chanted.
– And you are a complete idiot – Siêthiyal chanted, and adjusting her pochette upon her back and the sword in its sheathe, she began climbing down the side of the wall and sliding down the triangular bars and filament ridges that formed the outer wall. Akhlísa lagged behind for a few moments and closed the window behind them, for just in case the Duchesses should walk into the room she didn’t want to be scolded for leaving the window open in the middle of a winter’s night. Akhlísa slipped down beside her Sister and chanted – I’m not sure whether the window actually locked behind me. Wouldn’t it be funny if I left something quite valuable behind and we had to climb back up the icey ledge of the wall and return to our bedrooms and get said valuable thing? –
– Did you leave anything behind? –
– Ur … –
– Check your pockets. Your slippers. Did you forget some of the bands of your corset? Hair ribbons? –
– No. –
– Do you have Tét the Acceptible? –
– Strapped to my girdle. –
– We’re not coming back. –
– Did you forget anything? –
– Ah … no. –
– Good. –
– Are you positive you didn’t forget anything? –
– I feel like I should be saying I forgot something … –
– Think very carefully. –
– I am. –
– Nothing forgotten? –
– Hmmm … nothing. –
– Then we go. –
– We go. –
And so Siêthiyal and Akhlísa came slipping down the filaments and bands and the rolling histories of gargoyles that sprawled around the highest of the towers of the temple balloon and made their way through the frost unto a vessel clouded in darkness and mutated strife.