– Forgive our doubt – the Xhyaîqtekh were saying. – We did not mean to lose faith in your? –
– I’m sorry – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I do not understand. –
– We thought your kind was all dead – the Xhyaîqtekh chanted as they came sliding about her sisu λust’a slifön skrītha. – We thought you would never come for us. –
– Please forgive me, but I thought the Xhyaîqtekh were also extinct – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Just a few remain, just a few upon the life-giving dreamlands. But we thought that the Emperor had already devoured all the Children, and yet now we see that one is left to us, the holy one to lead us all. –
– Oh! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Who? –
– Forgive us, Empress, for doubting. It has been so long since we have seen an Empress that we have forgotten what she must be like. Once long ago your Mother dwelt in Holy Eilasaîyanor, silver were her eyen and the rainbow was her necklace. But she passed from us. And now one is returned, despite our unbelief. –
– I’m afraid I don’t quite understand. –
– You must understand, oh Empress, that a person becomes the myth told about him, and an Empress becomes the story which others have woven about her. It is as if she is the clay and ice and the rest of us shape her with tails and skates. The Empress is the one who takes her hand and places it in the Emperor’s hand, her finger is bound by the wedding band, her grace is the moon. The seeds of your story have been sown throughout many worlds, but the reaping is beginning already. – Éfhelìnye bowed before the Xhyaîqtekh in polite courtesy even though she was not at all sure what she was supposed to say, but they continued to speak and chanted – The Empress inspires peace among the people, she points the way to the Sun who brings us unto the path of life. Once, long long ago peace reigned between the Immortals and the Mortals, once long ago the Immortals were a single clan and the Dragons and Spirits and the Emperor all served the Clan of Áme. But the Immortals are fractured, are sundered into Earth and Sea and Sky, and the Crystalline Throne has failed us and left us without a voice in the court of the eternal Ása. But now we see that the Emperor has not been able to slay every child, not every child … –
– More children … – another Xhyaîqtekh chanted, as Puîyus and Ixhúja came running upwards.
Éfhelìnye at once and without any thought at all to it placed her hand in Puîyus, for she found it warm and comforting, and the Elders among the glißando Xhyaîqtekh looked one to another and nodded their heads and all began to fall upon their knees before Puîyus.
– The Emperor is burning all of the children and priests and plantimals – one of the Xhyaîqtekh chanted.
– The Empress is a child, and the lad here is a priest, and the maiden is a wild plantimal – another Xhyaîqtekh was saying. – It seems that a few are escaping the old Emperor and his Dragons. –
– Thank you for returning unto us – other Xhyaîqtekh were saying. – Now we know that the story can continue. We shall have faith in it, we shall spread the seeds of your tail unto all of the worlds as long as time endures. –
Ixhúja was looking from side to side, growing a little anxious at these aliens and not at all sure what to make of them. No longer had she little clockwork machines spinning throughout her tresses, but waves of golden continued to eminate from her and reveal her hair in long and rippling porporate patterns drifting down the sides of her head, and the gold all about her was become like the great and endless disques in a sand painting mandala.
– A new Emperor is the one who founds a bridge between men and non-men, between mortal and beyond – one of the Xhyaîqtekh were saying. – Do you know how you shall do that? –
Puîyus just shook his head, unsure of what the wibbial meant, unsure of how to procede. A few of the Xhyaîqtekh were lifting up their unblinking eyecrests unto him and opening their long and narrow jaws, and at this proximity Puîyus thought that the Xhyaîqtekh had double jaws, that their lower mouths were actually consisting not of a single jawbone curving like a metallic jùplala shoe which is applied to the elbows and knees of some dinosaurs, but rather that the Xhyaîqtekh have twin jaws which curve outwards at an angle, so that the opening and closing of their mouths is a far wider and complex fashion than for other peoples. He did not know how to read their expressions at all, their faces were too angled for him, and their eyecrests were flushing in various colors, but without blinking or turning or glaring at all, just always open untowards him and blushing in rainbow sheens. One of the Xhyaîqtekh turned unto Puîyus and began saying something, the creature’s words were being drowned out by the passage of a pamlènthe above them all, a gyroscopic autogyrodyne fluttering within its wheels within wheels, but with his hearing so keen he could hear the wiht saying – If the Emperor cannot bring peace, who can? If the Emperor cannot love the Immortals, who shall? –
One Xhyaîqtekh turned his long neck unto Puîyus and chanted – You must understand that the Quest is falling apart. The Emperor set a specific pathway before you and you began in the right way, but the you have muddied the ice and fallen several times when you should have skated clear and swift. When you came to the Emperor upon the Crystalline Throne that was, did he not point the way to Heaven? Ah, but I see it now, the Crown Prince in his passivity, the Huntress Princess trying to spur him on, the Maiden Empress so very afraid. –
One Xhyaîqtekh turned and his long tail reached out in slashent patterns and brushed against Puîyus’ cheek and chanted – Oh, so soft, so very soft. Softer than the petals of a flower, yes, that’s the story told about you. Your cheeks are flower faces, on Crown Prince. Perhaps the other maidens love you so. –
– No, they don’t – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– One would never know that the cheeks had been cut – a Xhyaîqtekh was saying. – Did not the Huntress set some lwùle, some stitches in them, stitches like unto crescent moons and tears. By the arts of Khnìntha they should have been removed with ease, but still … what marvelous healing, his face a living flower. –
And at this several of the Xhyaîqtekh were circling about the children and were holding reaching out with their tails so that they clasped together above the heads of Puîyus and Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja, and grasping each other the Xhyaîqtekh were saying one to another:
Once the children were sent upon a Quest
To save the worlds of winter unending.
Puîyus came flying in the air.
Éfhelìnye visited the stern Ancestors.
Raven was opening his wings about them.
Àrqotha tried to save them all.
Before the desolate Sword Mountain
All the peoples were gathering in sorrow
All of the moons were decreasing
All of the children and priests lost unto us
And no joy left unto the Xhyaîqtekh skaters.
Where is Grandfather Thiêfhilos?
He fights with the swashbucklent Kháfha masters.
Where is faithful Fhermáta?
She bows before the Queen of the Dead.
Where is Princess Ixhúja?
She stands bereft of clockwork riddles.
Even the Angel of Death is missing
As the worlds stumble back into the Sea.
In the Quest all things rush together
In the midst of the war, towards the flower.
May the Immortals forgive our lack of faith
For with our eyecrests have we seen the new Empress
With our eyen have we beheld the face of one
Who can stablish peace between mortal and immortal
And conquer the endless worlds in glory
And become the myth of the Xhyaîqtekh skaters.
Princess Éfhelìnye was tugging upon Puîyus sleeve and looking around asked – Where is my cousin? She does have a tendancy to wander away from time to time, does she? I’m sure it’s not a trait that I share, I tend to stay exactly where I am set, neither varying unto the left or right, never wandering away and getting lost or running away from home at all. –
Puîyus clasped her hand and bowed unto the Xhyaîqtekh one by one, a simple and quick enough task since so few of them were left, and as he walked away, Éfhelìnye tagged behind and lingered, for all of the Xhyaîqtekh were lifting up their heads and gazing back unto her, and her heart was burning within her, as if this were the very last time she would see living Xhyaîqtekh at all and she refused to believe that creatures so mansuete and kind unto her could truly be passing away into darkness. A few of them were waving their long tails unto her and crying out – Remember us, oh Empress. Make us part of your myth! – She waked back unto them, but soon several large Jhèngqekh were arising to obscure her view, and several gaggles of Xhlaûxher were running all about and obnubilating the legs and skates of the creatures, and then several more groups of Qhíng were walking outwards and were murmuring unto themselves the dirge songs of their phatries, and the Xhyaîqtekh were lost unto her ken.
Puîyus was running now through the crowds of the aliens and sniffing with every few steps that he took, Ixhúja’s scent carrying upon the winds, a smell of crescents and dragonfly and pomegranate, a scent which he found very interesting and sweet. Éfhelìnye was only lagging back for a few moments, but now as the crowds were growing greater about her, and tall Xhrùmpum and Xaxhestàriqhe were looming about her all wide-umbraged, she was remembering just how much she disliked crowds and would rather just stay at the crannog of Puîyus’ Ancestors which was and have a quiet time without strangers tall and thunderous, in the company of the people whom she loved. She wished she could be as calm was Puîyus was, as he came running in the midst of some Kháfha and looked from side to side and knew where Ixhúja had gone, and as he came skitting about some Squîsar drifting above them, and long tendrils were branching outwards and licking Éfhelìnye’s face and partially drawing her upwards until she shook herself free of them. The movement of the phalanxes of Qája before him did not trouble him, even though Éfhelìnye could see how tall and gangly they were, all dressed in harsh ribs and scales, weaponry assymetrical and kean gleaning at their sides. Puîyus squeazed her hand a bit more just to reassure her.
– We have to find her, Puey, who knows what she may be doing now – Éfhelìnye was saying, partially to Puîyus but perhaps even more so unto herself. – I know that beloved Ixhúja can be rather stubborn and impulsive at times, I like to think of her as strong peppermint, yes, she’s the peppermint side of my family, I’m sure she got that from my side of the family, she and I share the same great-grand parents after all, but like all other wights she just wants love. I can hardly even imagine what her earliest of days must have bene like, I hardly dare say she had a childhood for she truly lacked a child’s days at all. For the first of her life, indeed more than half of it, she dwelt in the pure white isolation of the laboratory and then was thrust out into the garthland to see sunshine and feel wind and walk among living things for the first time. And when I was drawing with crayon and pencil the images of flowers and playing tea with my dollies in the trees, she was learning how to grasp a sword and fight monsters and sew sutures into her own body to keep herself from dying. I just hope that when the war settles down that we can find a place for her. – Puîyus was nodding in agreement, and he pulled Éfhelìnye up next to him as a long line of Kháfha monks came walking by, for they were carrying many censors with them, the thick smoke arising, and he did not wish for the monks to trample upon the Princess or even to touch the hem of her garment while they stumbled through the smoke. He swooped up her into his arms and came bounding away and came running with the other exiles towards the edges of the camps unto the region where the Sword Mountain was revealing petrified trees, and clasping the Princess’ hand was telling her in squeezes and rubs, Perhaps it would be best in whatever household you and I stablish together, if Ixhúja live with us. My Father will be the aparánga, the pater familias, and perhaps there will be other elders to live with us. Ixhúja will be our Sister.
– Ixhúja was telling me that her clockweyth tutors knew a little about the legend of the Starflower, the blossom which had once belonged unto my Mother – Éfhelìnye was saying. – I just hope that my Cousin doesn’t go sneaking outwards alone to try and find it. –
Puîyus took Éfhelìnye through a winding line of Sufhàltii and at last was able to come dashing outwards, the war refugees parting before him, and he could see now the petrified trees and the hint of pathway and the slot of the huntress dashing about them, and knew that it would not be long until he caught up with her.
The forest was not at all like the ngemry which either Puîyus or Éfhelìnye were used to seeing and exploring before. For Puîyus a forest was a vast and swirling ocean of life sensations, for he could feel the dance of the leaves and the swimming of the roots, he knew the chatter of bird and squirrel and fish, and all of the layers of the forest were a delight, the upper tides of branches and falling leaves, the shafts of light and shadow and the turning of the boles, the deer and dinosaurs walking upon the loam, the growth of branch and sapling, the migration of mushroom, forests of ferns and fields of grass swaying inside the ocean itself, for the forest was never static, it was marching before his gaze, the edges of the forest sometimes giving away and become field and pond, and other times the trees were converting new field unto forest new amœbic strands glancing outwards and devouring the blue and green swards and changing and changing and always changing, and he could never have his fill of sitting in the roots and listening to the song of the trees, he could never lie upon the back of a walking diplodocus and dream enough upon its warm scales, he could never leap and fly too much in the branches and join in the company of insects and pterodon alike. For Éfhelìnye until this day, this very day of days when she left the Forbidden Gardens Khwònojhe for the first time, when she had run away from home for the sake of the Boy of her Dreams, before now all of the forests had been those in the Pwátlhu in the Hidden Gardens, and the trees were small and tame, the bowers were all of soft and warm and comforting safe leaves, and the rivers that looped all about these trees were quite narrow and shallow and were rivers of pellucid water and honey and milk all sweet and none treacherous to cross or for wading at all, and forests were places were beautiful quetzal pterodons and fishes and birds, all female used to flutter about her. And yet forests were also places only for the daylit hours, for Great-Uncle Táto always did his best to gather up his young charge into his violet wings and take her back into the cabin where many candles were always lit and the painted lanthorns were flickering, and where Éfhelìnye always felt safe in the light since she had a fear of the dark, and her fear of the dark was only growing lessened when she knew now that Puîyus was somewhere close nigh unto her. And so Éfhelìnye had known forests as rather pretty but artificial things and was surprised when she was sprung from her capitivity and saw real forests to find how vibrant and wild they were with ancient patriarchs reaching outwards and creatures talking within and nests of singing hatchlings and a deep and strange and dark music drawing out. But the forest that the children found here within the ruins of the Sword of Syapàkhya were cold and silent, huge petrified trees branching upwards, great trunks and boles of quartz and glass tree lying strewn all about, and somewhere within lay Ixhúja. Puîyus did not have to sniff the air at all, he knew where she had wandered within. He picked up Éfhelìnye and soon came bounding upwards into the trees all khuprayìxhna allfossilized, the trunks of the trees were glass stone and quartz bark but he was about to leap about them and found places to set his wooden shoon and higher and higher he came bounding within, the cold and silent dead forest stretching outwards, so many of the trees tumbling downwards and merging into the stone of the ground, so many of the trees revealing that at once theirs had been glorious crowns of leaves and branches which now were halos of ash left upon the elveneland, and before them were come many shadows and outline of Ixhúja crawling upside down the side of a tree. Now unto Ixhúja this forest was just as cold and dead and strange to her as it was unto the other two children beloved unto her. She was not used to forests being tame and gardened things like her cousin Éfhelìnye, nor forests as being a glorious symphony of texture and movement and migration and life, but rather she was used to the ticktock buzzing of clockweyth insects dwelling in the trees, she was used to trees which were partially formed of pistons and who had wires growing outwards and revealing bioluminescent leaves, and unlike Puîyus she was quite used to hiding in the gnarls and blinking and watching the crescent moons about her and listening to the Monsters rolling outwards and ay-sniffing for her, for ofttides it was at night beneath the seleneshine that her Father used to send out his ninjitsu Tánin and the Monsters soulless and mad from his thaumaturgic vats, and they would crawl out and hunt her down. Forest was both beautiful clockwork and treachery, and long ago she had learned that in fighting and receiving scars that one learnt not to be trapped. She could appreciate beauty, though, and was especially fond of the wild forests untouched by mortal men such as used to sprawl throughout the inner worlds of Khnìntha, especially before her Father had commanded his war machines to begin devouring all wood and stone and precious metal in the breeding of new machines to use against the Emperor, and all of the forests had been destroyed and were but memory unto her, and although those forests had been dangerous and filled with all manner of beast, she knew that they were not monsters and had no malice burning in their spirit at all. But when she had come unto this place where the petrified trees were yscattered unto all sides of her, she almost found it eerier than if she had returned to her Father’s estates where she knew at least some life and clockwork still existed, she found it stranger than the untouched jungles of the inner worlds where wild migrations of typhoonosaur reges still marched outwards. Here there was naught but glass and silence and the cold. She came bounding outwards. She knew that without a few moments Puîyus would be finding her, and then Éfhelìnye, but Ixhúja did not particularly mind, she had seen the slight hint of the passage of some Tomäts and wished but to see them a little, for she could see that they were not the same ones as those that had traveled out among the armies at the quays sliding back into the seas. The Automata were walking among the petrified trunks and were looking from side to side at the shadows, these were taller and thinner creatures, not the bulky almost lobsterine warriors she had seen before. Ixhúja was crawling upside down the side of the tree and watching them and wondering what their errand may be, and behind her she could hear that Puîyus would be upon them any moment now.
– And yet somehow it just feels so unjust – one of the Tánin was saying to the other. – None of us were e'er consulted about it, we barely were given the chance for free will, one may say. We were made as we were made, and yet the mortals fear us. –
– A great many of us, especially the smaller ones were made to be toys for the children, at least that’s how the Emperor designed us and ordered his Mad Scientist to make his ideas into physical realities of wheel and gear – another Tánin chanted. – Those of us who were fitted with scythes and swords were done at the orders of someone else, of the Mad Scientist or the Khan, some of us were created by the Hegemony of Xhlaîra, at least the intertubular Xhlaîra wanted us to form our own civilization independent of both the Clockwork Heresy and the Winter Patriarchy. And yet it is in many ways such a shadow, its attempts to be unique failing, and now the Theîkon and Xakhpàlqe wage war against us and pick o'er the bones of our litches. –
– The Prophet wrote that we had no souls – spake another Tánin. – That is quite true, we have no souls at all burning within us, and yet Dragons and Unicorns and other Spirits have no souls, they are pure spirit. We are just another order of existence, but rather than a rainment of a spirit body, our bodies are formed out of wheel and metal and salt and dragon scales. –
– With lots of dints and passages, to be sure. –
– Yes, yes, of course. –
– We were not made for the complex social relationships of the caste system and classes of the mortal planets, we do not understand the codes and manners of the people, it is a music we cannot hear, it is a language whose words we do not speak. –
– And yet, although we are alien unto all of the Real People, are we not part of their story? We who are pwànkhafha, who are federwerkicshe thralls, we too look to a child to deliver us all from bondage. She is to come to us from far away, the one born of the Virgin, the one in whom the dragon’s blood flows. –
Ixhúja came slipping down upside down from the trees and landed right before the Tánin. They all looked unto her, they were at swiveling their heads upon pistons and stalks, and recognizing her to be the last Princess of Khnìntha they all began to bow down unto one by one, but as they arose they were lifting up their claws and hands and pointing unto her were saying unto themselves – And yet even the Khan’s Daughter perhaps can feel as we feel, we were engineered for a time and told to fight in a war which was not our own. She too was made for a purpose, although we cannot guess as to what it was, so grand and ancient and uabhasach are the thoughts of the great Cohen unto us. And yet we can read it upon her face, in her gait, at the sword and quiver she carries upon her back, oh yes, she was designed and crafted and not begotten. Like us she was gifted with only those traits necessary for her task, her cognitive development appears very normal, but she has immense problems in social interaction, her behaviors are repetitious and planned out long in advance, her interests quite narrow, and one could say that her use of language is extremely unusual, for no language at all does she use, her mind as innocent as the birds and fishes and porcines of the trees. It is almost as if her Father created a shadow for her and breathed into it the characteristics of the fighter he would need, and then cast her adrift upon the waves of fate. –
Puîyus was still carrying Éfhelìnye and came crawling sideways and now upside down and now all about the fossilized trees, he was reaching outward sunto the Automata Armies, he knew it would be quite easy to catch up a few of them and bash their bodies before he was even noticed, in fact he could probably fall among them and destroy them all without even having to break a sweat, so lithe and flexible these particular Tánin appeared unto him, but for some reason his spleen was not burning hot with the thrill of battle, perhaps these were not fitting and proper fighters worthy of his prowess. He saw that Ixhúja was just standing before the machines, at first she was on the verge of drawing a sword and smashing a few of the Tánin into bits, but she also was fallen into the shade of the petrified trees and the anxiety of battle was fading from her, and her thoughts were turning back unto the legend of the Starflower which had once been the blossom of the Tree of Light, the Sànum Dragon Tree of whilom yore. So Puîyus clasped Éfhelìnye and came slipping down the sides of the glass and petrified tree and landed before the Automata but did not feel like fighting them yet. Anyway, there would always be time to smash the horrid clockweyth machines.
– Perhaps you two know the legend also – the writhe Tánin were telling Puîyus and Éfhelìnye as they were coming down the tree. – Legends are quite important to the Automata also, the stories make us up, the stories make us real. We are an evernew everyoung people even though we have been around since the earliest of times. How often does one hear ancient legends of when the Qlùfhem used to crafted Tánin of their own, such as the Duchesses they now worship? How often does one hear about the Tánin armies which the mage Tlhantòrtlho once crafted and sent against Emperor Eilasaîyan? In a thousand dreamlands, in an hundred timelines we are appeared, and yet everfresh are we, the products of the Emperor and his everfecund imagination. A new people need our stories, we need to hear about how it is chanted that the children will lead us out of the wilderness into a new land arising above the reeds, a land where all of our photonic arks can land, and we can craft a new world together in peace. It begins with a flower and ends with a flower, these types of stories are highly cyclical, one can say. An Empress with a flower, a flower in a tree, a tree that bound together all things before the sounding symphonic sea. And as it was then so shall it be, an new Empress with the flower, she set the flower in the tree, and the new trees binds the new land together, a new music arising about us all. Such is the story, or at least the tsìna, the parable, the stage of the play. But who the actors shall be in it, who can say, and what shall be their costumery and what shall be their masques? The words have not yet been written, and the pages which have already been prepared are dripping with new ink upon them. But we Automata are part of it, just as our pieces have been set upon the board of tnúpa jórqha since the earliest of days, so shall we be there at the final scene to bow before the victor. –
Ixhúja looked to Éfhelìnye and gave her a look that portended, That makes even less sence than the duckprating of the long-hook-tailed skating folk before. May punch a few of them? Éfhelìnye shook her head and tried to encourage her cousin to politeness, but Ixhúja just smacked a few of the Tánin about and picking one up hurled him against a petrified trunk hard enough to berattle it, but not hard enough to break it apart. Puîyus also feeling that the enchantment was lifted and unwilling to suffer these soulless marvels too long picked up a few of them and began hurling them aside, and the sound of the dead trees and the silence of the quartz branches was enough to stir and break his heart. The Automata were already beginning to shuffle away from him, he pointed to Ixhúja and she began to run, and Puîyus clasped Éfhelìnye’s hand and together they came running out through the long and petrified forest, and only was looking back and saw that a few of the automata were waving their long claws unto her and crying out – Remember us, oh Empress. Make us part of your song! – She waked back unto them, but soon several large and crumbling petrified trees were arising to obnubilate her ken, and Puîyus was dashing outwards to follow Ixhúja outwards upon the death of the Sword Mountain of Syapàkhya.