– What are you doing, little mortal? – Àrqotha sighed.
– I’m kicking you! –
– Stop that. –
– That this! Take that! Take it all! That’s for hiding my Puey from me. –
– Go away! –
– No, you big dumb Dragon! –
Àrqotha took several steps froward and almost crushed Akhlísa beneath his feet, and she rolled out a little as he continued on his walk. He continued to chomp upon the cigar tree and breathe out wreathes of fire when he noticed that Akhlísa was running right back up to him and kicking at his wings in his passing.
– What are you doing, little maid? – asked the Dragon.
– I’m punishing you! Give me my Puey! –
– Leave me alone! –
– I can’t! I’m your rähmä, I’m your wtsùkho, I’m the speck inside your eye. –
– I shall crush you. –
– I don’t care! You’re the only one who’s actually here, you and the memories inside your eye goo! Take this and this and this and this. –
– Stop kicking me! –
– What are you going to do? Crush me? Trample me? Burn me up! Now tell me where my Puey is and I may deign to let you go! –
Àrqotha walked a little faster now. – Truly you are beginning to vex me. Go away. – His limbs were able to reach very far, it was quite easy for him to outpace the wee elbenmädchen, but she still ran up to him and kicked his feet and grabbed the edge of his wings and tried tickling them. – Don’t you have anywhere you need to be, little damsel? –
– Not really, I’m stuck inside your eyen for all of eternity. You blink, we blink together. What you see, I see. Why, I think my memories are already infecting you a little. Soon you’ll be blinking and seeing all of the marvelous pies that I like to bake for Puey. Soon you’ll be flying and swooping and burning and doing my bidding. – Akhlísa grabbed the claw of a wing even as Àrqotha tried to shake her away. – Won’t that be marvelous, a Mortal bossing a Dragon around? –
– Dragons do not obey Mortals. –
– You obey the Emperor? –
– The Clan of Qhalúxha is honorbound to serve the Clan of the Sómpanaswaqíren the Dragon Emperor. –
– So you do obey at least one Mortal, and serve others, right? –
Àrqotha tried to dislodge Akhlísa from his wings, but he was learning the lesson that Fhermáta and Siêthiyal had learned long ago, that nothing can be as persistent and pesky as a little Sister. Akhlísa slipped away from the claws, and for a moment Àrqotha thought he had lost her, but then he felt little arms hugging his neck, and within a few moments Akhlísa came slipping up around his head and sitting herself upon his beak chanted – Now I have a whole list of orders that I want you to obey at once. You will be carrying me through the worlds … –
– Dragons do not carry mortals – Àrqotha hissed.
– Haven’t we discussed this before, you say Dragons won’t obey mortal hests and then you do it. Now we’lll going to go cloudhopping from world to world. We’ll going to gather honeydew and sunshine for my pies. Then I’m going to robe you in a damsel’s dress, I’m going to curl up all of your gills and flame and paint you face so you look like a cute little Sister for me. Àrqotha is a maid’s name, isn’t it? Then we can play at tea set late into the night and talk about our other Sisters, about how Siêthiyal couldn’t find a sweetheart if her life depended on it and how I’m the prettiest and most talented of the maids in the family, and about the day when Puey sweeps me up in his arms and kisses me, and maybe we can find a sweetheart for you. You’re rather big, so we’ll have to find a big dress for you. And I wonder where we’re going to find stockings for claws that big. –
– This is intolerable. –
– Have you considered braiding your gills? Oh, you’re going to look so cute! –
– Leave me alone. –
– Question! Question! Question! Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh I have a question! Question! Question! I have a question! –
– What is it this time? –
– Have you e'er kissed a boy? –
– I am an khyèqhair bull. –
– Really? You look so small. You must be, what, only a century old? Not even the slightest whiff of a Dragon beard? You look too cute to be a boy dragon to me. –
– I’m going to start smashing you. – Àrqotha’s wings reached out and tried to grab the maiden about his snout, but Akhlísa just slid and vermiculated and hopped from side to side to avoid the claws upon the wing.
– Go ahead, I’m not really here. Now, here’s my question. – Akhlísa jumped up between the Drake’s eyen and pulled herself up upon the horn crest of his head and chanted – Okay, so when one kisses a lad, is one supposed to close one’s eyen? I’m not entirely sure about this point. Doesn’t that mean that our heads are just going to collide? Or what if one of us bites the others’ nose? Granted, I do have a small and cute adorable nose, so I don’t think Puey will bite it, but still, I just don’t know, most of the time that I’ve seen Éfhelìnye kissing Puey he’s been asleep and she’s been biting his face, and I don’t think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. So, that’s my question. Feel free to comment upon it as you will. Discussion is after all the very tree of knowledge, the very font of maieutics. I don’t suppose you think about midwifery too often, being a stupid old Dragon, now do you? –
– You just mocked me for being young! – Àrqotha tried to grab Akhlísa from his horns, but now she was dangling from his gills and bouncing from side to side and kicking him.
– I just think that it’s important that our conversation be based upon research and the scientific mis-method, especially since you and I are going to be trapped here together for the rest of eternity. – Akhlísa kicked him a few more times and chanted – Now truth lies within the minds of all mortals, probably not all Dragons their thoughts are so skewed who knows what truth they can know, but with us mortals it’s easier we can ask questions and discuss them and just as the lroníqhu midwife helps the mother to give birth, so too will our discussion create ideas. You Dragons don’t lay eggs anymore do you? The Emperor’s made you barren, right? –
– Mine! – cried Àrqotha as he caught up Akhlísa in his hands, but to his surprise she was making no attempt to escape or wriggle away from him.
– Actually it’s a little strange to compare the formation of ideas to midwifery, it’s not exactly the metaphor that I would use at all. How many children do you think Puey and I will have? –
– I don’t care. The Emperor doesn’t permit the … –
– Oh oh oh oh oh, we know, but eventually Kàrijoi’s reign will have to end. That’s what it means to be an Emperor, he has to nurture the worlds, care for all the trees and plantimals, encourage marriage, all that good stuff, and then make the worlds better for his children to inherit. No one can be Emperor for eternity because that’s not what the position means. So, granted that Kàrijoi’s time is finite, and setting aside any of the muckety-muck complications of what he’s actually doing with time, someone will have to take Kàrijoi’s place. If Puey, then we have the entire complicated domestic situation of will children be born again, and what wives he will have and all that fun. Now, the Kháfha … –
– Do you e'er stop talking? – Àrqotha sighed.
– See, it’s like you’re part of the family already – chanted Akhlísa as she slipped out of the Dragons fingers and paced from side to side down his wrist and arms. – Ìkhnos and Pàlron have always chanted that the reason that Puey never learned to speak is because I never gave him a chance to speak, I was either gnawing on his ankle or talking all the time and so loud that he never had time I was talking at just a few months old all Beep beep beep beep beep I was just playing with sounds Beep beep beep beep I was always talking never wanted to stop at all, and once I actually was able to frame the words, Oh my Puey and Stop hurting me, Siêthi, then it was like all the worlds were open to me, and sunlight was shining for the first time … –
– You’re giving me an headache. –
– So the Kháfha were running their tests on me they kept putting wires in my ears I think they were looking at the continents of my brain, and they were saying, Oh yes look at her she shall be able to bare Our Puey many children perhaps even three Sons did you hear that I could be the Mother of three Sons all by myself that’s just fantastic that will make the most honored wife in our Clan for many a generation so very children have been born recently and I will also give him lots of Daughters fo rhim to spoil and tie ribbons in their hair and make them all as pretty as me. But I still don’t quite see the entire midwife and quodlibet connect here, perhaps I’m just not suitable for the complex complexities of philometaphysicomusicologicalcosmoglottosophical discussions. Would you like some squished candy? I’ve already pre-licked them. – Akhlísa reached into her pocket and drew out some melting chocolates and offered them to the Dragon.
Àrqotha smacked the chocolates from her hand and roared – Dragons do not ingest food like a pitiful mortal does. –
– Fine, no candy do you get! – Akhlísa yelled back. – Far more for you. Your breath stinks of sulphur. Do you know you smell of sulphur? You stink like a jùswe stink blossim! Did you know that you stink like a jùswe … ouch! That hurts! –
Àrqotha was wrapping his coils about Akhlísa and beginning to strangle her, his claws were reaching out and grabbing her arms and pulling her down, and billows of clouds were burning from his throat, flashes of silver and grey twisting about you. – I shall destroy you. –
– Go ahead! I’m fast asleep in a big white bed with my Sister and there are all these frozen guards standing around us and you can’t get to me anywhere! In your eyen I’m just made up of your own gooey eye liquid! I’ll have Puey pop your eyen out and eat them in front of your face! I suppose he should let you keep a single eye so you can watch his feasting upon your other eye. He’ll dig around in your socket until he reaches your brain! –
– Do you want me to tell you where I’ve hidden your Lord and Husband? –
– Siêthiyal was right about you Drakes, Kherènxhuqhe was a stupid skink, and you’re rather stupidified yourself. Of course I want to know! Why if I were a pirate like Xhnófho I’d probably be dancing on your beak and trying for to infuriate you all the more. Why, that gives me an interesting idea. –
Àrqotha breathed out shadow unto the maiden, and all around them a world of mist was forming. In the distance, even as the coils were beginning to asphyxiate her, Akhlísa could see the outline of the towers of the Underworld, the shimmering forests all of fungus, a world without Sun and Moon somewhere beyond an unreturnable shore. – We Dragons are loyal unto our oath and honor, unlike this Concubine who betrayed her Lord unto bale and death. I cannot permit harm unto the child of Khnoqwísi. –
– Are you allowed to say her name, because … –
– SILENCE! – cried Àrqotha, and he roared flames right untowards her, and Akhlísa could feel that whatever chocolates had been left within her pockets had now been completely vaporized and were an unlickable sticky goo. – One cannot permit anyone to harm Khnoqwísi’s Starflower, none of the Dragons, not even the Emperor himself. Our debt comes unto us from Qhalúxha. I must save her. To that end Puîyos the Dragonslayer must disappear. I’ve sent him down unto the distal shore, I’ll let his Ancestors prison him. –
– What did you do? –
– I read anxiety in his eyen. He longs and fears for a Mother he has never known. –
– You. Sent. Him. To. Mamà? –
– I care not what they do unto him, all that matters is that he cannot return. I shall take the Princess, she will be safe in my wings. –
– You gave my Puey back to Mother! – Akhlísa shouted.
– Do you even care what I did to your warrior Sister? –
– Siêthiyal? No, she’s safe … –
– The troubled one. –
– Ixhúja? I don’t care. – The Dragon was slowly pulling Akhlísa down, his jaws were snapping against her, and already the fire was reaching outwards and touching her garment. – Unless she remains a threat to me and tries to take the Otherworld away … that would just ruin everything. –
– I’ve sent her down unto the Ancestors also. I can see in her eyen that she knows that torment and death await her there. – Àrqotha’s wings spun around and as his coils loosened themselves about the maiden, the wings smacked her down several times, so hard that Akhlísa could feel that her cheek was ripped open. The Dragon pounced upon her and turned his shining eyen right unto her and whispered – Now thou shalt know what sort of kinswoman thou art, a betrayer of your Sister, the doom of your Lord Husband. All whom you love you destroy and touch with wanhope. You are death unto all of the Sweqhàngqu. –
Akhlísa blinked a few times as she saw the eyen opening up unto her and reflecting her face back an hundred fold unto her. – Puey’s with the Ancestors. I shall surely punish you, Àrqotha. But not today. Yes. With the Ancestors. The troops are marching. Shredded banners. Mamà lies in the Necropolis. The Dragons knew where to find him. All my fault, my fate, my sin. Oh Puey, I’m a terrible bride unto you. I should have let Prince Kherènxhuqhe slay me rather than betray you. I am not worthy to serve you as the lowest in your household. – She began to weep, even as Àrqotha drew out long curtains of flame, and the fires arose and began twining about Akhlísa and sipping right into her garment.
– Then in despair, die! – shouted Àrqotha and he incinerated her in blasts of light, and Akhlísa became nothing but light and dust inside the dragon’s eye, and his jaws snapped down to gobble the memories of her up. And then Àrqotha looked around, his sight and memories unraveling about him, and he prepared to continue on his way, in princessnapping Khnoqwísi’s Daughter, in taking her far away from Kherènxhuqhe and his kin and Kàrijoi who would destroy her.
And this is not quite how a Dragon sees.
This is what he sees.
Sieur Íngìkhmar was sharpening the jade and obsidian of his miec māccuahuitl and all about him a few of the glass and hot air balloons were drifting. Upon the deck of the Qhíng vessel lay a small table covered in cloth and upon it lay swords and knives and various weapons, some of them he was sharpening but many of them he was cleaning and wiping the blood right off of them. For the battles had been long and terrible, and his swords had cut through the armor and limbs and necks of more enemies than he had fought in the years of the Great War upon the Crimson Sands of Tsànyun. The deck of the vessel was brimming with activity, for the Qhíng were busy preparing for the next battle, many of them had armor which needed to be repaired, the Caste Elders were drawing up new plans, the Acolytes were aiding the Priests in tending the wounded, the junior warriors were cleaning weapons and tending unto minor wounds. Some of the glass and hot air balloons were so crowded with the dying that they were now converted into wailing khòkhpi lazarets, and the sound of the wailing dead was an omnipresent noise in Íngìkhmar’s ear. He scraped off some flicks of skin from his māccuahuitl remembered when he had smashed the weapon through the neck and torso of a young warrior, he had watched the air gush out of him, the warrior looked on, more surprised than afraid, he licked his lips, he shook a little. Íngìkhmar hd no need to end him, the enemy just died in his arms. There was no time to pause, already another warrior was rushing to stop him, and Íngìkhmad had not a moment to stop in his battle. For the Qhíng were determined to save their world and sweep aside any of the nations that were still aiding Emperor Kàrijoi, and the Caste Elders were scorching the cities one by one and setting up upon them the new regalia of Emperor Puîyos and Empress Éfhelìnye.
– The new Emperor and Empress shall reward us greatly for the honor we earn them – some of the Qhíng Elders were saying as they walked upon the deck. Some of the Qriî slaves were dragging cages covered in black curtains behind them, and Íngìkhmar thought he saw the ripple of tentacle and heard the sound of celia within. The good Sieur Knight was not entirely sure, but he thought that more Aûm prisoners were being taken up unto the Elders in their rede whence no Aûm e'er returned. It was not Íngìkhmar’s place to question the Kèlor Masters who had once been his enemy, for after all, he was now only the Protector of Empress Éfhelìnye, he had forfit all rights to his family and clan when he had made the contract to protect Siêthiyal and Akhlísa.
Íngìkhmar set the māccuahuitl down. The weapon glistened green and brown and black. It was clean and sharp once again, just as it had been the day when he and Grandfather Pátifhar had traveled up unto the whispering mountains and been presented it by the hands of the sages that work high up within the nebulous hights. He looked out. In the gleam of the swords strewn upon the board he saw his own face, sharp and angular and reflected within the blade, as all around him he could see that the Qhíng were making their final pass in drifting about the ruins of Syapàkhya. Great gales were arising, as the Northwind came and began to press upon the balloons and living ships, and he knew that as they came traveling upwards higher within the swirls of the Northwind that soon they would be reaching the outer shores of Jaràqtu. The last time the Qhíng came to invade his homeland, the Suzerains had slaughtered many warrior clans, and Íngìkhmar had stood up to oppose them. Now he was within the invading fleet, and Jaràqtu lay in utter devastation as the Winter and the Emperor slowly crept up upon them all. Íngìkhmar reached unto a sword, he spun it around, it was wellshaped and wellbalanced, it was a killer of men. He set the sword in its scabbard, he gazed outwards and saw that mist of the Northwind Qterfhóreso Khrùmfhurs flowing about and becoming the outline of the Forbidden Land of Jaràqtu, where even earlier in the day, when the nations and caste system had throve, aliens who came to the land unbidden were decollated upon the shore. Such Midnight was not such a time, it was no longer within the Civilization of the Winter Empire, and Sieur Íngìkhmar was leading the oferthrow of the old Emperor and his thoughts were rambling and sharp and terrible.
Yes, you understand Dragons, Àrqotha whispered. You are one of the few Mortals who can understand the loss and terror that make up a Dragon’s heart. Àrqotha was coiling about the table and weapons, his barbed wings were reaching outwards and touching Íngìkhmar, and flickers of fire were arising up from the Dragon’s jaws.
Íngìkhmar looked up and sighed. He could see some of the umbraged outlines of fortress and tower, fires were twinkling throughout all of the gloam. The heavens were nothing but soot and cloud, and he thought it all unto the best, for he did not wish to see what had become of the heavens of Jaràqtu, since the Emperor’s nightmares had begun to consume them all. He reached into his pocket and searched for his fhlòxoxo locket, and for a moment panicked since he could not find it, for he just wished to gaze unto the faces of his children and nieces and nephews once again. But then with a pang of regret he knew that the xètsena the grandaĝoj had taken it away from him, and it was lost somewhere within the tendrillar thoughts of the Kèlor Masters.
We understand what it means to lose someone irreplaceable, so Àrqotha was whispering. Our Lady meant the same unto us, she was the one who made us not reptiles but glowing Rainbow Serpents. Without her, the phatries of the Clan of Qhalúxha has no meaning.
The locket gone, Abbá Íngìkhmar searched for some other haptic reminder of his past, some evidence that he was not just the Warrior who served the Elders of the Alliance in the name of the Emperor and Empress. But he was the very last Sweqhàngqu, and the regalia and runes of his family no longer comforted him. He wore a violet sash, a corded xhmòrna fourrageres that his bride Khwofheîlya had woven for him with her own hand when they were newly married. He undid the cords of the pattern and looking upon the back saw that Khwofheîlya had broidered the words, Jana xhmir Íngi, upon it, and he remembered that he had not been called by that name in eleven winters. He thought about how her hands must have looked when they had taken the yarn and fabric and woven it together, what work and love she had used in make this garment for him, and how she was now completely gone unto him and become one of the Immortals.
Àrqotha reached out and drew his wings around Íngìkhmar and whispered unto him, To be a Dragon is to learn to live without an heart. When Puîyus cut out the hearts of the two Dragons he slew, he was cutting out the emptiness of their lives, and the Dragons became void. We are incapable of feeling, we are only weather and rage and horror. Once Khnoqwísi gave us purpose, we would bring the joy of creation unto all beings, we would fill the seas with froth and plenty, the dreamlands glistened with plantimals in our passing, and we filled with skies with the rainbows that the Empress gave unto us. But no more. Now everything becomes ash. Now we slaughter all that come before our path.
Oh what can I do, what have I done, Íngìkhmar was wondering unto himself. The sash fell from his hands, he felt cold, his body was no longer his own but a marionette manipulated by the hands of some unseen engastrimyths. Fhermáta, oh Fhermáta, my Fhermáta is dead and with her death fades the last home for my Clan. I promised Khmalàqlil that I would take care of her Daughter, I took her into my household I gave her the honor and wealth of the Sweqhàngqu, she was prepared to be the new Mistress of the Household. Dead dead dead why did she have to die and break Puîyus’ heart so? No more marriage, the Emperor forbids marriage, we can just prepare for it, we came to close, we had all things ready. Will Karuláta be a suitable wife, she must become the new Mother of the Sweqhàngqu doomed doomed doomed we all are. No more marriage, the end of the family, I cannot have Khwofheîlya completely dead, no more children born of her blood. Karuláta must be a pious bride, I love her just as mine own lastborn daughter. Puîyus was always kind to her, Khèketos and Khèkate I hight them, giving them similar sibling names. I do not know what sort of Empire the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm intend to build after my ritual suicide, I do not know what Prince Éfhelìnye will bare, but Karuláta must continue the line of the Sweqhàngqu. When I arise from Kàrijoi’s steaming body, when I take the chryselephantelectrum brand of gold and amber and rewel bone, the same sword the Empress gave unto me, after I use that sword to end the Emperor and thrust it into mine own intestines, will Khwofheîlya be waiting for me upon the shore of silver mist? Will she congratulate me for continueing the Clan, or will she never wish to see my face again? Perhaps I shall have to provide other brides for Puîyus to ensure the survival of our family. The warrior maiden Ixhúja was always loyal friend unto him, when Éfhelìnye came to dwell with our family as a guest-friend, Ixhúja stayed in the forests of our Ancestors and played with them from time to time. I must adopt Ixhúja just as I did Fhermáta and Karuláta, make her part of the family, a bride for my Son. No, no Puîyus is no longer Sweqhàngqu and no longer my Son. Perhaps he shall have to foster her himself. The family must continue. I loved Ixhúja, she was like the Sweqhàngqu maidens of old. The family must live. Nothing must stop us.
You understand Dragons oh so well, Àrqotha was whispering unto the good Sieur Knight. Smoke was arising from the Dragon and becoming part of all of the table and the weapons, smoke became the sash which Khwofheîlya had woven for her new husband, smoke his gauntlet and jewels and the silvery blue whisps of hair, and as Àrqotha arose and twisted all about the Knight, his claws and wings were blurring outwards and bleeding right into the deck and towers and great billows of the glass and hot air balloons of the fleet. All of the fleet was being drawn into Àrqotha’s jaws, and even Íngìkhmar was dissolving a little and become melancholy blue smoke. No heart, no heart, no heart have the Dragons left, Àrqotha was saying. Your heart is gone, taken away from you, without a wife you can have no heart, and no family is left unto you, but the smoldering ruins of memories. Thou, oh Íngìkhmar Son of Jàkopar Khmàntro, the greatest of all of the Knight of the Land, thou couldst never a Dragon slay, thou art already a Dragon in spirit. And Àrqotha arose and bit through the table and bälun and all of the fleet, and all of these Dragon Dreams arose and began to break apart into bits of triangle and ripple and splendor, the Dragon devouring it all. For no longer was the Dragon seeing as he used to see, now his thoughts had become merged with the memories of Akhlísa and were turned unto the once green and blue fields of Jaràqtu and the sighs of hiraeth and the blush of childhood.
Khnoqwísi the Virgin was entering the cave where Father Qhalúxha rested. The fires were parting before her face, brilliant sparkles of crystal and wavering unto all sides of her. The very cave itself was gaping open before it, but it was not like jaws expanding and preparing to swallow her, it was more as if she were entering space and it were a vast egg hatching about her and waiting to be born. Brilliant shells of the cave were flowing away from her, and as Khnoqwísi the Virgin of the Air drew closer and closer into the air behind her the dragons could see that the Tree of Light arose, that all of its branches were reaching upwards as so many arms, and flowing out from them came the utter music of incense and glory. Khnoqwísi was not walking as she entered the domain of Father Qhalúxha, her sixfold silver wings were flapping about her shoulders, her halo was burning high above her face, and as she glided deeper within, the floor of the cavern was breaking apart and becoming deep rich black soil, threads of grass and vine were creeping through them, and lianas and flowers were beginningto arise from them all.
Khnoqwísi fluttered up unto Father Qháluxha and she fell unto the ground upon her knees, her wings were unfolding before him as she bowed her head unto him, and looking upwards she saw that the Father of all Dragons was arising and bowing his massive head unto her. Behind her the Tree of Light was exploding in riots of Starblossoms covering the dimensions of branch and leaf and the earliest of the causalities of the worlds.
– Four brides shall be fashioned from the flesh of Qhalúxha – so Khnoqwísi was saying, and in the burning flash of her halo were appearing the visage of those who became the Mothers of the phatries of Fhíng and Fhlìngta and Òqtexha and Xhyepìnte. – Four phatries shall be born of you, and ninety and nine children shalt be hatched during the age of the Theîkon, the age of bronze – so Khnoqwísi was saying. – Grandchildren shall be born of you during the age of Khiêro, Qyàthakh shall be famed for her pink eyen and green mist, Òstatar’s wings shall be be delicate rainbows, Prince Wthonùkite will have golden eyen and a black body. Your great-grandchildren shall be born in the time of Kàrijoi, Qàrqhin the Lord and Kherènxhuqhe the Prince, and your great-great grandchildren shall be born in the very last of days, when the Dreamtime shall either hatch or perish. –
Qhalúxha bowed his great head towards Khnoqwísi and intoned saying – Thou art the Heart of all of the Dragons. –
Khnoqwísi smiled. She turned aside, she arose with the Dragons and together were playing through the long and winding ways of Sànum the Holy and draconiform Tree, and moondew and sunlight were rilling off of it, and Khnoqwísi was laughing and brushing her wings through the Starflowers, her favorite flower that bloomed in all of the worlds and nations and timelines.
The Starflower has long since gone extinct. The Tree is Dead. The Empress is no more.
That is what he saw.
Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa, the only child of Kàlewa and Khmaryáta, the very lastborn of all of Creation, who was born upon the battlefield in the horrors of the last War against Tsànyun even upon midsummer’s day when Empress Khnoqwísi was taken from the worlds, golded Akhlísa arose with a start and almost fell out of bed. She shivered in the cold, for the Aûm tended to be slightly of a cooler complexion than the Xhámi Fey, and although the Duchesses strove to keep the alien sections of their ship comfortable for their dear children, still neither of the twin species of the the Qlùfhem or Thùlwu could possibly know what it felt like to be born of offspring of Pfhentókha whence all the Xhámi come, even those not of the divine Pwéru family, those who families were not quite as rarified as the Imperial Line, the lineages and clans and castes born from concubines and less blood. It took Akhlísa a few moments to realize where she was, she was panting so hard that breath was arising about her face, she was just about at the edge of the bed and tugging all of the sheets and blankets along with her. She looked around and saw huge stained glass windows gazing outwards unto living ships and decks and glass hot air balloons that were struggling through the blizzard. Lightning was crackling in the storm outside and every few moments the distal sound of thunder was come unto her ears. The blare of the flambeaus revealed the expanse of snow upon some of the towers and about the eeves of the window, and flickering golden and white she could see the frozen bodies of the Aûm who stood on guard and who held up their weapons against the maidens in case they should attempt to escape. Akhlísa panted a few times and pressed her hand against her brow and tried to make sense of it all, the jumble of images, the crashing of sight, the flowing dreams of dragons and cloud and ship and fire and blood and tree.
– Am I back here again? – Akhlísa asked herself. She patted her arms and face a few times and whispered – Am I real? Is this here? Is anything real. –
The sheets rustled beside her, and a voice muttered – Stop steeling the sheets or I’ll hurt you like I’ve never hurt you before. – Siêthiyal kept her eyen squeezed shut, her hair was a great mass of pink and red, and she shivering a little now that Akhlísa was just about to roll off the bed and take the blankets with her.
– But … but where am I? Here? Now? There? Anywhere? – Akhlísa wondered.
– Sleep now. O ryou will regret it later. –
– I was dreaming about Dragons. Puey’s out there. Our Puey. –
– Don’t make me beat you. I will. –
– Oh, why am I with you again? You’re no help at all. He’s in the grey country. How am I supposed to get there … oh! – Akhlísa rolled right off the side of the bed and succeeded in taking all of the sheets and blankets with her. For a few moments Siêthiyal just shivered and pretended that this was all just a terrible dream, that her mewling and complaining and troublesome little Sister had not awakened her in the middle of the night in a frigid Aûm vessel and not only fallen out of which, which did not bother Siêthiyal too terribly, but also taken all of the warm blankets away with her. Siêthiyal shook and pretended she was warm. On the floor Akhlísa struggled for a few moments and then rolled back onto the bed and threw the blankets and quilts o'er Siêthiyal and pretended that no interruption whatsoever had happened.
– Tuck in the blankets. Keep the heat in – chanted Siêthiyal.
– Can’t you do it? – Akhlísa moaned. – I have to do everything. –
– If I have to open mine eyen, you will be sorry. –
Akhlísa kicked herself out of the blanket and falling to the floor muttered to herself as she walked around the bed and began shovering the hem of the blankets within. – Stupid Siêthiyal so bossy always making her do all of these stupid stupid little chores as if she couldn’t get up and do them herself she’s just too lazy to get up oh no Siêthiyal you go and stay still and asleep and warm and make sure that I do all the work wouldn’t want to disturb you in the least we all know you need your sleep for to beautify yourself not like it’ll do any good everyone knows that you’re going to die all alone without a husband won’t that make you so happy oh yes is this warm enough for you? Do you want me to set the blanket on fire while I’m at it? –
– Go. To. Bed – Siêthiyal muttered with clenched teeth, and she rolled around a little and felt that the blankets were tucked back into place.
– Oh, I hope you do get an old stinky husband of large stinkified feet, I hope you have little babies who keep you up all the night long while your husband just lies there snoring, then you’ll be the one having to get up and tuck in the blankets in the cold won’t you like that I just know you’re going to love it – Akhlísa was saying as she slipped back into bed. – I just know Puey and I will have quiet and wellbehaved little babies, we won’t have to worry about their crying in the night, pretty babies also. And you’ll be the cranky old maiden aunt, and your nieces and nephews will be saying, Oh dear I hope she’s not staying with us this winter, can’t she stay with you, Oh but we put up with her last summer, can’t you just leave in her a cold mountain to die, she’s just so bossy and … – Akhlísa slipping into the sheets made the mistake of letting her bare and cold toes touch Siêthiyal, and at once the middle Sister’s eyen opened and she jumped a couple of cubits into the air, so startled by the frore touch.
– Oops – Akhlísa muttered. – I didn’t do it. Puey did it. He snuck into here and … uh-oh! –
Siêthiyal landed and shoved sheet and blanket aside and grabbed her younger Sister by the neck held her down and began pounding her by neck and shoulder and shoved her several times. – Don’t! Do! That! Don’t wake me up! Don’t you e'er think? –
– Ouch ouch ouch ouch! –
– Take that! Take this! –
– I’m sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry! –
– I hope Éfhelìnye beats you too! I hope she’s angry at you for marrying her sweetheart behind her back! I hope she never forgets what you’ve done to her! –
– I’m so sorry! –
– Can’t you just leave me alone? –
– Please forgive me! I’m sorry! Oh Sister! –
Siêthiyal gave her younger Sister a few more punches just for good luck, and then flung herself into the blankets and turning her back to her Sister muttered – Now get back to sleep. You have a busy day ahead of you, you’ll be getting up before dawn and practicing all of the duties the Duchesses are trying to teach you, the arts of weaving and foreign foods and being quite and polite, plus you have to learn to dress yourself in all that finery. So go to sleep. –
– What if I can’t sleep? –
– You never have trouble sleeping. I’ve seen your sleeping standing up like a drasill diplodocus does. I’ve seen your sleeping on your head. I’ve seen your napping, and then turning around in your nap, yawning a little, and going back to sleep. –
– Sleep is fun. –
– Just think about Puey and how we serve him and the Clan Sweqhàngqu. – Siêthiyal yawned a little and shivered in her blankets and tried not to think about the sleep. – And try not to worry about how cold and clammy the alien Aûm are all around us. –
Akhlísa completely covered her head inside the p”uλu as if it they were cave and she were trapped in the only warmth within it. She drew some more sheets about her Sister and whispered – I’m sorry I woke you up. I just had a terrible dream. –
Siêthiyal smacked her lips and whispered – I’m sorry I chanted I hope that Éfhelìnye beats you. That’s not a very kind and sororal thing to say. –
– I’m sorry I kicked all of the warm sheets and blankets away from you. –
– It’s good that you’re sorry. –
– Aren’t you going to say that you’re sorry that you were beating me up? –
Without looking back, Siêthiyal punched her Sister in her arm again. Akhlísa wailed – Ow! That really hurts, you chowderhead! Do you have any idea how that feels? Say you’re sorry. –
– But I’m not sorry. In fact, I’m a little proud of my disciplining of you. –
– When Puey and I get married he’s not going to let you keep punching me like this. –
– Fine, he’ll beat you himself, if he knows what’s good for him. –
– He never lets us fight e'er e'er e'er e'er e'er! You viscious pie head. –
– After a few years of listening to your complaining, he’ll change his tune. You’ll be his big exception. –
– I hope you have mean children just like you. –
– I hope you have complaining children just like you. –
– Good, then we’ll both be happy. –
– Quite. –
– Fine. –
– I’ll be happy. –
– Me too. –
– You wouldn’t know what to do what the little ones. They’ll be hanging by your braids and running around in your house and overtoppling everything just like you do. –
– At least my husband won’t be old and stinky. Why, really, the Emperor has husband, I’m guaranteed to have the best in all the Land. –
– Khlís? –
– Oh? –
– Shut up and sleep. –
– Oh. –
Akhlísa closed her eyen. She concentrated upon the sound of her own breathing, the rustling of the blankets, the sounds of Siêthiyal as she began to settle down for a cold winter’s sleep, the sound that the snowflakes made as they fall upon the panes of the window, the music of the ice creeping from side to side, the growth of sevensided snowflakes of six and seven sides, the deep and fluent sound of the storm. It was almost like listening unto the noise of the fractal seas, although far more soothing, so it seemed unto Akhlísa, for the Seas of Jaràqtu lie at the very edge of the realm where the realities break apart into sand and fjord and waters, and so very few times in her life had she occasion to listen to the sounding of the seas, the vast and rolling seas. Most of her experience with the ocean deep came from this very day itself, when she and her Siblings were taken up unto enhallowed Eilasaîyanor the Emperor’s City upon a matter of honor, and they saw the place where all Eleven of the Seas were gathered together, in foam and crash and suff. But the storm was far more familiar, she had heard myriads of storms before, they were a regular music unto her mind, the clouds clashing together like so many giants and dragons at play, the crackling of the ice as it grew upon the layers of the rope and towers of the ship, the ice playing upon the great bells that made up the upper echelons of the temple hot air balloon, the ice flowing upon the guards upon the deck, the ice drifting upwards in great and swelling waves of
And Akhlísa looked from side to side. The greyshores were flowing out before her. She stood partially within the dust, the waves of the dust were spinning about her legs, several spirals of the dust reaching outwards unto the golden girdle about her waist, and even unto some of the complicated carapace of her corset. She hitched up a corner of her nuptial dress and began wading through the dust, for she was once again dressed in the manner of an Imperial Concubine, such as honored Pereluyàsqa and revered Khosyaràsqa had adorned her. Mazes and caverns and corridors were drifting out from her dress and becoming part of the sway and sound of the dustwaves. She drew her golden veil aside and was a little surprised that the aureate karuláta flowers which the Qhíng had set in her tresses still lay around her head as a crown of glory. At last made she her way up from the dust and upon the shore, her wooden shoon walking upon the sand and dust of the world whence travelers do not return. Before her lay long and flat plains and then the strangling forest of fungus and vine and thorn, and behind that still illuminated by a sky that knew not Sun nor Moon nor balletic Star, the dim outlines of the Khlèthne Necropoleis such as she had seen with her waking eye in the gardenlands of Jaràqtu. For a few moments she just gazed outwards unto the expanse of the Land of the Dead Xhwàntha Xhràngiko. The distance shimmered, the plains disappeared and the forest arose to envelope her, and yet there was only so far and so fleet she could travel in a world not meant for a living child of Raven. She found herself not popping into existence upon the top of one fungus bough after the next, she could see flowing out before her endless leagues of the Houses of the Dust where the Ancestors dwelt in incense fragrance. The necropolis was turning and revealing unto her the places of judgment where the Tlhùsqe the Chthonic Lords sit meditation, the Spirits who were set the administer the Dead under the eyen of the Immortals. She knew she had little to fear from the Tlhùsqe, at the moment the spirits were more afraid of Kàrijoi than the wandering of a lone child into their land. She looked around, the Underworld was bubbling up all about her in hundreds of thousands of spheres and bulbs, and flowing within them she could see the faint shadow of worlds of dust gardens, the places where the resided the Ancestors of the Qhíng in walls and memories of water and sprawling vegitation, long and flowing crystalline swards where the Aûm came to dwell together in castles all of sand, flowing all around her she could see strange egg shapes where she knew must dwell the Parents of the Khlitsaîyart, she saw shimmers and disques where the Fhlóla and Syìplet found their places of rest, and all of the Underworld rising upwards with the untold Dead.
I wonder what Mamà is doing now. She calls herself the Queen of the Dead for she has awakened all of the Ancestors of the Sweqhàngqu, but there are other lineages beside our own, and the Fathers of the rest of the Real People still dwell in their places of sorrow and memory. I hope that thrice-honored Khwofheîlya is not sending out her troops unto all of these other domains of the Dead, I shudder to think what would happen if the honored Dead should be completely united. And yet, if anyone be capable of drawing all of the Dead into a single civilization, it would be dearest Mamà. She has become quite fierce in her protection of her children and her anger against the Emperor. I just don’t know what to do about her. I don’t want her to be angry with me at all, but I just have to save Puey, and no good is going to come of keeping him trapped in the Undergloom.
Akhlísa came hopping from frond and fungus and forest to forest, and the folds of the Underworld were become shadow twining all about her. At last she was making her way unto the very edge of it, where the shadows at at their thickest, and slipping down from the fungoids was thinking, I’m going to have to get Fhermáta’s help. She’ll know what to do. Akhlísa looked around and saw some jewels lying upon the forestfloor, and slipping down to pick them up, found that each one was a crystalline teardrop which had fallen from a weeping maiden. She licked the jewel and tasted Fhermáta, and tossing the tear aside began running through the forest and followed the pathway of tears for an hundred leagues and one. And Akhlísa ran and thought not about the strange creatures that dwelt within the forests just at the edge of the Houses of Dust, forests wherein all of the Dead are warned not to roam, and she noticed not the creeping of the spiders up and down the side of the trees, and the shivering of the trees as they migrated from side to side, and saw she not the flowing of the webs, and the movement of great shadows, nor of a figure dressed in a long robe, and a masque and horns about her head, and an unconscious Khnìnthan Princess in her arms.
And at the end of the forest and within the fields known unto the Ancestors ran several streams all of glistening glass dust. And the font of these streams was the summit of a hill where a maiden was sitting, who was dressed all in the crimson betrothal dress wherein she had died, her golden tresses still flowing and adorned as they had been for her rite, and she was weeping into her hands, the tears flowing out from her and becoming the stream, but because the Undergloom is not a life-giving zone, the tears were not of water but of sand and glass drifting outwards and become like unto baubles flowing outwards. Fhermáta was shaking, and sometimes she leaned on her side to weep, and other times she sate upwards, and sometimes she wept on her back, but it was always the same, always the tears must come, for she was the Bride slain upon her Betrothal Day, and now nepenthe could e'er come unto her.
Akhlísa fluttered down unto her older Sister and came unto her and took her by the hand and chanted – My dearest Sister, please do not beat upon your heart and gnaw yourself down with grief. None of us will be happy if a single member of our family remains sad. I beg you, please look at me. –
Fhermáta sniffled a little, and Akhlísa wiped her tears aside. – I have a new plan – Fhermáta chanted. – I plan on weeping for all the rest of eternity. My tears will become rain, my sorrow will be wind, my lamentation will be the wailing gale. Generations to come shall listen to the sad storm and know that it is Fhermáta the Bride. –
– I have a plan also. Not so much a plan as an idea. Not even an idea, I really need you to figure out the idea. More a thought, or a little piece of a thought. –
– Why are you here? Aren’t you supposed to be in the Living Realms? Are not our erstwhile Aûm allies supposed to be teaching you how to be a proper wife unto our beloved Puey? –
– The Duchessess are having quite a deal of trouble with me – Akhlísa chanted. – They say that I have trouble concentrating and that I’m not old enough to take upon the responsibilities of marriage, but they have no choice but to mold me with their tendrils into the image they want of me. But that’s not why I’m here. Say, aren’t you supposed to be with Mamà and the war that she’s starting with the Emperor? –
Fhermáta shuddered and chanted – Our Grandparents have sent me away. –
– Why? –
– Mamà is meeting with her generals and some important visitors, and Jàkopar and Khangisqrírles too me by the hand and told me that the war rede was not a suitable place for a maiden. And then once our Grandpas were free from the palace, they took up their fishingpoles and ran away. Our Grandmas chased them a little but then gave up on it. I don’t care any more. Generals, warriors, visitors, it means nothing to me. I hate the War. Who cares what Mamà is doing. –
– What type of visitors are seeing her? –
– I have no idea. They may be Spirits or the other Clans of Ancestors, really, Khlís, I don’t care. Everything down here is banner and trump, the Ancestors robe themselves in mist of armor and incense of sword, they are preparing to fight. Mamà says I am far too delicate though to be involved, she wants me to pray for you and Siêthiyal and Puey. –
– I was about to say something about Puey – Akhlísa chanted, as she wiped the rest of her Sister’s tears away. – You look far prettier without the tears. What was I going to say about him? –
– Maybe’s he’s rescueing an extra Princess right now. –
– Quite possible, he does collect them. Princesses and kittens. They are quite alike actually, kitties and Princesses … very silly and feline … oh! Oh oh oh oh oh! –
– Oh? – asked Fhermáta.
– The reason I’m here is very important and worthful! Puey’s in trouble, or he will be soon, it’s all very complicated but I need your help right now! –
– Where is he? –
– Here! –
– Where? –
– Okay so the entire thing with the Dragons was a big trick and I didn’t really mean to betray him to the Dragon the big prince just gazed into mine eyen and he was black and silver and terrible the Dragons just arising everywhere and shattering the fleet apart with their wings, but at least the Dragons disappeared those big scary Drakes fire bursting up from their jaws, but Puey and the Princess managed to escape from them at least once, but I think they had some help, and they were amost on the verge of getting away but the Dragons were swirling downwards and they were BIG just as BIG as THIS with lots of FIRE they were all WE’RE BIG SCARY DRAGONS AND WE’RE GOING TO GET YOU and then something else happen’d I’m not entirely sure and a little Dragon was there and he ripped open an whole into the Undergloom and threw Puey and Ixhúja in here, and I don’t know what to do no! Dragon! Dragon! Dragon! –
– That almost made sense – chanted Fhermáta.
– HERE! – Akhlísa shouted and she grasped her Sister by her shoulders. – And don’t ask me what to do I don’t know about the dreamlands of the Dead I’m not Dead do I look Dead to you I’m hardly Dead and I’m sure someone is trying to contact Mamà and I do not want to get caught up in that I love her with all mine heart but I really don’t want no no no no no I mean there’s this war and Mamà is all no I am not why should I have to go to her why should I barely remember her she passed into the Nethergloom when I was four months old you’re the one who knows her why is everyone giving me the responsibility I don’t know anything at all just leave me alone! –
Fhermáta yanked her Sister’s arms off of her and chanted – Kàrula, please calm down. Now listen to me. I’m the older Sister, I’m in charge, you will do as I say. --
– I’m in charge! – piped Akhlísa.
– No, you’re not. Now the problem is simple … –
– I’m in charge! –
– No, you’re not. All we have to do is … –
– I’m in charge! Puey is going to marry me and kiss me and he loves me so that means that I’m the one in charge and you’re not in charge! –
– Please pay attention. Now, if we can just smuggle Puey out er that he is taken to the Necropolis … –
– I don’t have to listen, I’m in charge. –
– Be quiet. The pathway to the Necropolis. –
– You’re stupid. –
– Will you just be quiet? –
– You’re a stupid girl. I don’t have to obey you. You’re just stupid, stupid! I’m alive and pretty and you’re dumb and dead! –
– And do you know what else I am? –
– Ugly? –
Fhermáta grabbed Akhlísa by her neck and shoved her from side to side. – In the Underworld I have a body, and I can hug you whenever I want to. –
– Help! Stop it! –
– Now, start behaving, or I’m giving you a brontosaurus kiss. –
– Help! My older Sister’s hugging me! Sibling abuse! Sibling abuse! –
– Just one giggly kiss! –
– Help! Help! Stop it, that tickles! – Akhlísa squeaked and wailed but it was already too late, Fhermáta held her down and blew large sloppy kisses on her Sister’s neck and cheek, until Akhlísa was reduced unto tears and laughter. Akhlísa crashed down upon the ferns and crystallized tears, and tried to stifle her laughter, while Fhermáta drew herself upwards and looking out unto the fields reaching up unto the Necropolis wondered at what they had to do.
– How would you like it if I tickled kisses out of you! – Akhlísa shouted.
– I’d like it very much – Fhermáta chanted. – And when you have little ones of your own, you’ll do the same to them. Now, do you know where in the Undergloom our Puey was taken. –
– No, for some reason the Dragon didn’t care or didn’t tell me. Have I mentioned a Dragon did this? What temerity he has, that big scaly skunk lizard goon! What use are Dragons anywhy? Why did the Immortals go around at the time of the Alchemy of the Worlds and stroke their long beards and sing their songs and say, Oh let’s have these really powerful and untamable and irascible and indomitable killing machines and let’s just let them loose, and oh this will be fun, they like to hunt virgins down for sport. That sounds like a good idea. –
– Get up, we’re going – Fhermáta chanted. Akhlísa took the hand that was offered unto her, and together they walked down the winding hill of smoke and shadow and unto the plains opening up before her. – Anyway you know better than that, Dragons were once beautiful and noble. You’ve seen the stained glass images of them, and don’t you remember all the stories that Grandfather Pátifhar used to tell us of Qhalúxha and how kind he was to the Empress? –
– By remember all the stories, do you mean, Slept through his telling of all the stories? Because I think I might have done that. –
– Mamà has contracted some of the Ancestors to build an highway to her necropolis. I’m sure the troops would have traveled that way. –
– You probably weren’t paying much attention either, if I remember right those last few days before your betrothal you were trying to get Puey’s attention and made googly eyen to him and was trying to get rid of Princess Éfhelìnye and nobody was there to check all the mischief that I was doing like the khmèsen acorn butter that I kept putting on your chair, and the noddles in your comb. Did I have a chance to tell Puey about the birthmark you have on your hip? I need to tell him about that. I have pretty hips, I’m a very pretty zave and Puey is going to think that I’m pretty when he sees me. Does Puey really like golditressed maidens the best I hope so he’d better he has to like me the best. What’s a pàrfhi? –
– A pàrfhi is a ratio or a fraction. Honestly, Karuláta, I don’t understand how you can sail through the clouds of life with such an inconstant mind as you have. –
– At least I’m alive and pretty and alive and not ugly. Is Siêthiyal going to get a sweetheart? –
– I don’t know. Look, do you see that pathway? –
– Because I want her to suffer. Could you get her a sweetheart? –
– I’m dead and ugly, remember, I reside in the shade of the Undergloom? –
– You’re not ugly, you’re the prettiest of the Khatelèstan maids. –
– Thank you. –
– But you’re still dead. –
– The next time Puey is in trouble, perhaps you can just send me notice by Ravenclad mail. Your personal appearance and concomitant commentary is perhaps not as necessary for the task as you think it is. –
– I think that Siêthiyal is pretty but I can’t let her know that because she beats me up. She has a really strong grip too. I bet she could kill a man with just two of her fingers, I bet she could yank one finger into a man’s throat and choke him, just like this! – Akhlísa thrust her head back and tried the manouver on herself. – No, wait, I don’t like that, I don’t feel so well. –
– Did you have to try that on yourself? –
– I think she could thrust her fingers up a man’s nose and break his skull from the inside. Here, allow me to demonstrate. –
– Don’t you dare! –
– I’m not going to shove my fingers up my nose! That has got to be the grossest thing … –
– Let’s just end this conversation. –
– I’m going to stick my fingers up your nose. That makes far more sense. –
– Don’t you dare! –
– But you’re not breathing you don’t need … can’t you stay still? –
– Keep your fingers way from my nostrils! –
– Your Dead, I can’t hurt you! –
– Maybe I can hurt you! Stop it! –
– You just tickled and kissed me! Why I can’t I … –
– Stop it! Now! Behave yourself! – Fhermáta grabbed Akhlísa by her arms and held them behind her Sister’s head. – Now be still and quiet! Try and use your brain, I don’t think that an Imperial Concubine sticks her fingers up her nose! –
– I don’t, I just want to shove them up your nose to demonstrate a martial technique. It makes perfect sense. Fhérma, for someone who no longer has a living body, you can be quite sensitive about your nose. –
– Shhhh! –
– Shush yourself, I can say anything that I want, I’m not your baby Sister anymore my Husband is the high … mmmmmththth mmmmmfhfhfhfh! – Fhermáta clasped her hands o'er Akhlísa’s mouth and ignored her Sister’s successful attempts at biting her several times, and Fhermáta held her tight and began pulling her downwards and they came out unto the great plains that were reaching outwards unto the long and winding khlèthne that arose in the very center of these folds. Akhlísa continued gnawing upon her Sister’s fingers and just did not understand why Fhermáta and Siêthiyal for her part just did not acknowledge that she herself as the favored Concubine of the new Emperor should be afforded all of the gifts and honors that she wanted; older Sisters could be so inscrutable sometimes. Akhlísa however began to struggle just a little less as they came down into the plain, and saw what lay before them.
In Jaràqtu many fields arise, ancient fields which are part of the plantations of none of the warrior clans. These fields are holy and fallow for here once long ago great battles had been fought, and when the wars were concluded the clans which survived gathered up their living and chanted that these fields would remain untouched until the end of time, the weapons and armor and helms and shattered chariots should be left just as they fell, no seeds would they cast there, no irrigation ditches to be dug, no rows of wheat and maize, no paddies of rice. And so for the many generations, speckled throughout the gardens of Jaràqtu are great prairies where huge chunks of armor lie, spears lean thrust into the ground, swords glistening whenever the summerstorms come, bits of bone appear and fade away, and the warriors pass upon their roads and cast some incense unto the fallow folds but do not enter, for these battlefields are the holy domain of the Ancestors themselves. Nations that were not entirely devouted unto warfare may find it strange that land should remain untouched, for the children of Qamélo would have builded towers there and set up new roads, and in Khniîkha the crystalline trails of the clockweyth trains would be set. But Jaràqtu takes war very seriously, and since all of the war clans have been minishing through the generations, and several clans have had to merge, fewer and fewer sons being builded and surviving old enough to marry, and so the land never had to strain to support the people. From occasion Puîyus had strayed into these forbidden dreamlands, sometimes he had to chase after a Sister running away from home, or whenever his Sisters would be playing and from the chariot some solar balls would roll outwards, and he would bid them to remain in the car, and he alone would run outwards in the forbidden dreamlands, in the midst of the rusted metal and shattered bone, and whispering prayers unto the Ancestors all the while, he gathered up the toy and looked upwards and saw the glistening Necropoleis glowing in the distance. In fact, when Puîyus was barely three winters of age, and when the Dragon driven mad had escaped from the Emperor’s nightmares and came swirling through the clouds of Jaràqtu for to slay the children within, and the Dragon swooped down to find the Heir of the Sweqhàngqu, the child who had been in Kàrijoi’s thoughts, the last time the Dragon had looked unto that shadow, Puîyus had been so young and knew not better and came unto the forbidden fields and taken a sword which no mortal hand had touched in many an age and slew the Dragon. And so at this time, as Fhermáta took her Sister downwards unto the long and winding fields, Akhlísa saw that here in the dreamlands of the Dead the fields actually looked rather similar to the ones that the living did not touch in the Mortal Realms. All around them lay broken pieces of sword and spear, shattered helm and armor, and the wind, dry and hot, that came rustling outwards was in many ways the same which they had felt upon their living skin. The texture of the air was very different though, from one direction the air was tasteless, from another it contained the smok and incense of the Dead City, and from another it had the slight tang of blood unto it. And yet these fields were also very different unto anything that could have existed in the virosphere of Tharàjhwa Ajaxíjo Khenífhol Saràntro Sarájhwa. Long walls of stone were set up upon the ground, the stone had enscribed upon it patterns that were dribbling with green and blue light which appeared liquidic from a distance, but as the maidens came froward they saw that it was a long and flowing stain of dust. Behind the walls were columns and towers and rooftops, but they did not correspond until any architecture that made sense unto them, there were no steps leading unto porches, the halls lead in no direction, the domes were not part of the towers but were of their own piece of architecture, the fields were rippling from side to side to reveal castles that almost looked like they were set upon their sides, the windows and ramps all crooked, flowing tapestries of sand and shadow a part of it. The maidens drew nearer though, the architecture xhòkhna still did not appear functional or make any sense unto them all at. Fhermáta just shrugged, she thought that perhaps when she were dead for a thousand generations she would understand the customs better, for her part she was still getting used to the customs of the Ancestors and her place of eternal honor and pity as the new Emperor’s first Bride. And off in the distance, walking through the shadows, were appearing the sweeping whisps of what were the batteflags of the Sweqhàngqu rising and falling throughout the sideways buildings.
– If I release your hand, will you be quiet please? – asked Fhermáta.
– Mmmmdhdhdh mmmmmmdddd ththth! – Akhlísa struggled and licked and bit her Sister.
– Just nod for affirmation. –
Akhlísa bit her Sister all the harder and stomped on her feet.
– Just behave yourself, you little urchin. – Fhermáta drew her hand aside. Her fingers were covered in baby Sister saliva, perhaps the most disgusting solution in the worlds, and yet here, in a realm where liquid did not exist, it appeared rather exotic unto a Wraith’s eye. Fhermáta wiped the goo on her Sister’s head and chanted – Mamà is using King Èmfha as … –
– I’m the Emperor’s Concubine and I can do anything I want to! – Akhlísa shouted. – You can’t boss me around anymore, I’m Puey’s special and favorite leman and he loves me the rest! Don’t you dare command me anymore! –
– Hush, just be quietescent, I … –
– I am Karuláta Khniêma Akhlísa! I am the very lastborn of all of the children of the worlds! I am Puey’s favorite concubine and he kisses me all the time and tells me … –
Fhermáta shook Akhlísa around a few times with far more violence than strickly necessary and chanted – Now listen to me you wretched little war orphan! The Undergloom is a very dangerous place, and don’t think that just because you think you’re so cute that you can do whatever you want here! The Ancestors are very old and very powerful and they do not like change, e'er. We do this my way, or I’ll do something you don’t want me to do. Now be quiet. Those are the troops of King Èmfha, I understand why Mamà put him in charge of her armies, actually it was a stroke of brilliance, he was a military genius in life and very loyal to his clan. Plus, I’ve learned that Mamà reminds him a little of his Daughter, so the King is eager to serve our Clan. Mamà is very skilled at this, she sees the broken pieces of a Man’s heart and how it can be put back together in the Family of Sweqhàngqu. The King has been able to unite the fighting techniques of a thousand generations of … –
– Question! Question! –
– You don’t need to raise your hand. Come along, we’ll hide about this wall. –
– I have a question? –
– Yes, precious? –
– Um … I forgot. –
– It will come to you. –
– Oh oh oh oh oh! –
– Yes? –
– So what’s the threat if I don’t do what you tell me to do? –
– I’ll find Ixhúja and deliver you to her. –
– Ur … –
– And then I’ll drag whatever I find left and give it to Mamà. –
– That’s a stupid threat. You’re stupid. You don’t know where Ixhúja is. –
– Fine, than I’m bringing you back to Mamà. –
– I don’t mind. Mamà likes me. –
– She won’t like your sneaking back in here and leaving Siêthiyal alone. And she won’t like it when I tell her what you were doing here, trying to release Puey from her grasp. There will be some interesting questions you’ll have to answer. –
Akhlísa gulped. – You’re just stuîtlho, just blufficating, aren’t you? –
– Maidens of the Warrior Caste never bluff. I’ll drag you before Mamà myself. Maybe she’ll let Grandma Xhàtrajhil question you with one of her chess games. –
– I don’t even know how to play. Grandma would probably teach me, though. Anyway, this is a stupid conversation. Mamà is not going to get rid of me, I’m the bride of her choise, she needs me! –
– That doesn’t mean that she won’t punish you in haunting ways that only the Dead can accomplish. This is all beside the point, I’m not entirely convinced that Mamà wouldn’t replace you if you angered her too much. Do you not think she could pick out seven other flavicomous maidens all beautiful of form and face and get them to bow before her and sware eternal loyal to the Clan Sweqhàngqu? I would not risk getting Mother too angry if I were you. –
– She still likes me. –
– You’d better hope she keeps on liking you. – Fhermáta looked upwards, the walls of the dead fields were spreading outwards and become cliffs that reached out unto long and winding caverns wherein the ēoreds of the Sweqhàngqu were marching. The ghosts were quieter than any army of the living could have been, but they were not entirely without sound, for here in the Nethergloom they were rustling with armor out of smoke and incense flowing about their bodies, and their braids were bound up in coils of piety and prayer. Their weapons were not scraping against each other in metallic sheens, but the maidens did hear the slight music of the movement of mist, of the bursting of the smoke, of memory and souls flowing outwards in a long and winding river. Fhermáta drew her Sister closer unto her and pointed unto the moving of the troops, she pointed out in the forefront where King Èmfha sate upon his mount, and all around him were gathered some of his trusted warriors and the long streams of troops.