– The two slaves are dead – Prince Jhwèsta chanted, his large skull head drawing itself upwards, mechanical maggots drifting about his face, and extra glassen eyen appearing and blinking at the maidens a few times. – It’s what I had to do. Now I can begin to transform them. We’ll make them fly again. –
Siêthiyal swallowed some of her own fear. Akhlísa just shivered and buried her face upon her Sister’s shoulders and tried to blubber out a few whispered prayers unto the Ancestors and the Spirits of the land, but she was too distraught even to think of such matters, the sounds of the breaking bones was far too much for her to withstand.
– Ah! – cried the Imperial Mad Scientist. His head was thrown backwards. Bones broke right out of his skin, and long poles of metal and jasper and crystal shattered through that remained of his organs. For a moment Siêthiyal looked on and hoped that something horrible was happening to the Mad Scientist, perhaps the hold was shaking and exploding, bits of rafter and piller piercing through him and ripping through whatever body was left unto this creature. She wanted him to suffer for all that he had done, although she was not quite sure of all the crimes he was responsible, for sometimes he was the mad old seeker kind and generous, the one who had taught Khlàmfhors the first Zodiographer, the one who builded clocks, the one who helped fashion toys for children, and othertimes he created master armies for the mage Tlhantòrtlho and seeded Tánin throughout the worlds and helped the Khan Jhkhaîxhor in fashioning his great War Machine which he used to begin the Shibboleth War of Heaven. Prince Jhwèsta was screaming now, all of his body shaking, metallic and bone ribs on his side were breaking apart, his bones were ripping out of him and along came pouring out sheets of metal and precious iron and constructions of motor and gyre flowing about, and the hooks that held the pieces of his skull together were lostening one by one. Despite her anger and fear at this creature, Siêthiyal though was beginning to find it difficult to hate it as much as she wanted to, now that she saw that his metallic limbs were breaking off of it, now that his skin was slipping aside and become waves of steam to add to the growing mgła ambiance, several explosions were dripping out from the ears and reul bones of the Prince, and as she saw the creature shuddering downwards and shattering before her gaze it made her wonder how much blaim it truly deserved, did not the Emperor take the clockmaker and fashion him into his Mad Scientist, did not the fault of a vassel always fall unto his feudal lord, and to find fault with a vassel was to criticize said Lord, Jhwèsta might have fluttered about the various nations and timelines and left his clockweyth misdeeds but that might have all been part of the insane machinations of the Crystalline Throne which once was. At last Prince Jhwèsta was screaming at such an high pitch that it was a whirl of machinery and wheel and fire all blent together. The living eyen left unto him were popping one by one, all of his skin was gone, he was just a writhe of bone and wheels spinning from side to side, and the plates of his skull were drifting outwards and expanding upon the hooks and webs inside the bones, and revealing the vast gape where once the creature’s brain had resided. The screaming was gone, there no longer was air for flowing nor physical materials for the stridulation of matter. Siêthiyal stroked her Sister’s hair and back and tried to comfort her, and glancing down noticed that Aîya was gone, and Fhólus who had been floating before them was missing also, and rather a single golden seed was floating in the air and pulsating with white and blue and green light. Jhwèsta’s remnants were collapsing, and even the bits of steal and wheel left unto him were disintergrating and become billions upon billions of floating flecks of sand and particle and bubble and were hissing upwards in an ooze and become part of the growing steam. And as the hissing faded away, all was silence, and no laughter at all, and it took the maidens a few moments to ralize that they could hear outside the dim and dull thud of battle, the sputtering roars of living ships and glass and hot air balloons, and the steady fire of plasma cannon again and again. Siêthiyal held her Sister all the tighter, for the Mad Scientist had transformed himself as well as the Traîkhiim, but nothing made any sense.
– That was quite unexpected – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Are the little people healed yet? – Akhlísa asked.
– I don’t know. I don’t even know where they are. I think the Mad Scientist is dead. –
– He’s not dead, at least not in the way that you and I shall die. He’s been metamorphósed, I think. Gone gone gone gone gone. And he didn’t even leave us any cheese. – Akhlísa looked up from her Sister’s arms, and watched the growing shadows of bubbles and colors and bits of visions swirling upwards, and the collapse of shadows which had once been metallic frames and bones. Siêthiyal reached outwards unto the golden seed flowing before them, and drifting out from it came the memories and thoughts of the dying race of the Traîkhiim.
Suddenly wings were opening upwards above where the Mad Scientist had been. All at once a vortex of blue bright dust was appearing, and bursting out from it came a series of butterfly wings opening and closing, and in the mist appeared a long and beautiful creature all of transparent energies and crackling amber light, and it was just vaguely in the shape of a Fhèlya of the Wheelmaker genetic sub-caste of the Khlitsaîyart, and it turned to reveal a bright and beatific face, wide eyen opening upwards, six horns arisen upon a crest, a spinning rewel horn upon its snout, and fissures and polka dots of light were flowing up and all around the body of the creature, all of pure photonic energies, and it smelt of salt and wave and sand and ancient hidden days of long, long ago. Siêthiyal blinked and was reminded of swimming in the various luich in the ancestrial dreamlands of the Sweqhàngqu, of being very comfortable and safe, the feeling of water and the movement of fishes in the shadows, and she remembered the joy of discovering an old toy in the attic which no child had enjoyed in many a generation and repainting it and making it anew. Akhlísa was reminded of warm summer days, she thought about taking naps beneath the great pfhóla trees and adding masques and curtains to the treehouse in her favorite tree, she remembered all the times she had fallen asleep and awoken to find herself in Puîyus’ arms as he was carrying her and running or bounding through the forest and leaping in the air, and she missed the feel and warmth of his arms. The creature of photonic energies grew a little before the gaze of the children, its wings were evaporating and becoming the growing susurration of the steam, and Prince Jhwèsta turned his transformed body until the children and nodded and smiled a grim half smile with no uncontrollable schadenfroh giggles within it.
– Honored Prince – Siêthiyal chanted nodding.
– It is done – Prince Jhwèsta chanted. – I deliver Fhólus and Aîya into your safe care. – And at that the Prince reached outwards, his fingers were glistens of light, and the seed turned before the children and grew larger, it expanded in waves of gold and white until it became a perfect ovoid chrysalis cocoon, and whispering out from it appeared shadows and glances of memory, fungal forests and igluit set upon skiis and rolling hills of ice and ancient stone ruins and of Triîmeling rushing outwards and exploring within their ancient ice worlds.
– I do not understand – Siêthiyal chanted.
– I have set Fhólus and Aîya within the same cocoon – Jhwèsta told them. – They shall sustain each other, their heart-gizzard shall pulse as once, just as once Khriîno and Pfhentókha were reborn in the tree nto the same heartbeat. –
– Get them out of there! – cried Akhlísa. – I may not be smart smart, but even I know we have to outhatch them! They’re all squished and bent inside and there’s no food or cheese for them, get them out so they can live. –
– I have transformed them to save them – Jhwèsta chanted. – Their thoughts, their memories lies dormant, their souls remain within, but I am afraid that they are quiet dead. –
– DEAD! – cried Siêthiyal. – But I warned you … –
Prince Jhwèsta held up his hands in a mudra of peace. – Not even a šílený vědec can create new life. There is an old story about how I once taught a Khan how continuously to resurrect his Daughter, and we accomplished it by keeping her souls tethered unto string and butterfly wings even before her birth, she was made to be born again. But these poor and sorrowing creatures are quite natural, and far far too mortal. They are dead. I have done all that I can. –
– My Brother will learn of what you have done – Siêthiyal chanted, her eyen narrowing.
– Bring the seed to your Brother, for there may be one who can awaken the dead. An hero, pure of heart, can awaken a maiden with a kiss upon her lips. But it is chanted that one of Divine Tnún Dragon Blood can touch a soul. –
The seeds grew just a little more and drifting out from it came golden images of Princess Éfhelìnye as she was dancing in the fields and sliding beneath midnight moons and drawing her pictures upon the kitchen table in the Sweqhàngqu cottage, and whispering out from the seed came twin voices arising and saying, Bring us unto the new Empress bring us unto Éfhelìnye bring us unto our life and light and beloved one. And the seed was spinning around and almost blushing before the maidens. Akhlísa reached out and was about to take it, but Siêthiyal snatched it from her Sister’s grasp and chanted – You’ll just lose it or leave it behind. Ixney Nixney on the loosing the key to your corset, neh? –
– Oh. That – Akhlísa muttered. – I’ll just have Puey unbind me. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Éfhelìnye will just have to accept me. I hope she has cheese. –
Transformed Jhwèsta was flickering, ripples of light and beaming off of his amœbic flesh, sinews of shadow and mist dribbling right off from him. He lifted up his arms and all of the wicker walls and tables and domes began to collapse in circles about him. – And now we must flee. Battle is come unto the Aûm Armāta. The metamorphic mutants have been quell’d, at least most of them, but the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu find themselves caught up among the fleeing Dragons and the wrath and flames thereof. Siêthiyal, Sister to an Emperor, hold the seed close unto you. One can only live again through love. Akhlísa, Concubine to an Emperor, hold onto your Sister. Your family shall only survive because of love. – Jhwèsta was growing in size, or at least he seemed to as he approached the children, waves of blue and green light swaying out from him, fountains of steam rippling up from his shoulders and tail, and limbs branched out from him and caught up the children and held them close unto himself, and yet the maidens could not feel Jhwèsta at all, he was just mist and air and the very insubstantialitas of dreams, and he was arising even as the laboratories began to explode in mazes of wood and bambus wattle all about them, and all of the hold of the Temple Bälun was breaking apart and sinking down down down.
And the steam souls of Prince Jhwèsta were shooting upwards, and flowing out from him came great mantles of energy and light, and he was holding the maidens close unto himself as all of the laboratories were exploding and become nothing but the rushing of wind and the crashing of wood and wall, and all of the hold collapsing and fading away. Gapes appeared where once wall and eyot had been, and within the holes the children could see the flames of battle and the movement of skiff and long boat and the flash of draconiform tail whipping from side to side as the weyrs of the Rainbow Drakes were arising higher and higher into the evanescence of the flame clouds, and still Prince Jhwèsta was arising, the laboratories were collapsing maze, huge domes became speckles beneath him, drifts of light and stone and bambus were falling downwards and sinking into the gathering gloom, and all at once the lowest of the daises of the temple bälun drifted aside and faded away.
– There’s something different about this guy – Akhlísa was whispering. – Something a little different about this imperial mad scientist goomer if just different, but I can’t quite locate it with the finger of my thoughts. –
– Is it that he’s made all out of energy now? – Siêthiyal asked. – And he’s not creepy and laughing. –
– Really? I hadn’t have noticed. Say! Eiya, you there! – Akhlísa shouted.
– Don’t talk to the Mad Scientist. Just don’t. –
– I’m talking to you! –
Prince Jhwèsta’s pellucid face turned and gazed upon Akhlísa and chanted – Hail, oh Emperor’s Concubine. How may thee serve? –
– Have you been unjointed out of time? –
– I am still within the Tide of the Dreamtime, even I cannot traverse out into the Void. –
– Can you see what shall come? –
– Shadows. Glimpses. Some of revered Kàrijoi’s dreams flicker into me. –
– Will Puey and Éfhelìnye be really really really really really really angry with me for all the goofs I’ve done? –
– Their capacity for forgiveness is truly wonderous. –
– When I grow up will I have many children? –
– If you survive the war, wWhen you grow up you shall bare your husband many children. –
– Will Siêthi marry a mutant? –
– Don’t call me … –
– If she survives the war, Siêthiyal will not be given in marriage to a metamorphic mutant. –
– See, there’s hope for you yet. Okay, one more question. How many children will Puey have? –
– I do not know. –
– Many? –
– You must survive Kàrijoi and his Dragons first. But if you all do, Puîyos may very well grow up and sire many children, and the Dreamtime will continue. –
– That’s good. Now, since you’re all transformed and benevolent, do you have a way to free me from the clockweyth corset? –
– No. –
– Do you have any cheese? –
– No. –
– What good are you then? –
– He is saving our lives from the exploding laboratories – Siêthiyal chanted.
– But what’s he doing for me now? – Akhlísa asked. – Good servants are hard to find. –
The laboratories were become heat and glass and were now more. And all at once transformed Jhwèsta was landing upon the jhetlhóqoa deck of the glass and hot air balloon just below the growing and twisting towers which became part of the billow turms, and the great ocular domes where once were set the rose stained glass windows which the artists of the Aûm were just finishing for to repair, the stained glass gazing outwards and blinking for the first time, and beholding a world of Dragons looping upwards and breaking apart the levels and domes and vaults of the heavenry. Prince Jhwèsta who in life had once been an Imperial Mad Scientist came fluttering downwards and opened up his arms and set the children down upon the center of the deck, and for a few moments all was calm, the soldiers and warriors caught up in a moment’s eyeblink, the flames of the vessel, the hissing of the bone pyres, all frozen before their gaze. And then all at once movement began, and several Dragons were bursting upwards, and soldiers were dashing in all directions, and all of the cannon towers were spinning around and lancing all things. Siêthiyal looked around and kept an hand close to her Sister, and although she could see that still mutants were spilling up o'er the walls and embrasures and leaping all about, they were few in number, and the soldiers were grown far more concerned with the Dragons blasting unto all sides of them.
– The Mind Slavers are nigh claw – Prince Jhwèsta chanted. – I can feel them, the lantikälaslafans Qhoîyekh, just within yonder vessels – And he turned and pointed unto one region of the sky where several thousand Qhíng vessels and continent living ships were gathered and were trying to flee from the coming of the Dragons. – The Slavers cannot sense me, but I can feel them. Imagine worms and fishes and eels crawling beneath your skin, that is what the Qhoîyekh are unto me, reaching outwards blind and dead and insane. I created them in mine earlier days, but when the Qhíng were eager for glory, to conquer, to enslave, to make a name for themselves to reach up unto the heavens. Puîyos and Éfhelìnye are with a Qhoîyekhim right now. –
– Beloved Brother – chanted Siêthiyal. – And Princess of whom I have conflicted feelings. –
– It’s all my fault – chanted Akhlísa. – I keep leading the Dragons unto them. –
– The Duchesses – chanted Prince Jhwèsta, and he spun around, waves of heat and steam eminated from his transfigured flesh, crackles of white and blue lifting upwards and rippling up and down the length of his limbs, and pouring out from one region of the turms came several waves of Qlùfhem soldiers dressed all in thorns and holding spears and fanstaves in their tendrils and many phalanxes of Thùlwu guardians dressed in horn and antler and impaling spears held they, and all of them were dripping with the blood of mutant shed and slain. Behind them tall and graceful came the geminate Duchesses, and their eyestalks were lifted upwards, imperious and queenly, and beheld they the Qhíng vessels in their attempt at fleeing.
– Cannon masters – the Duchesses were saying in a single voice like unto the rustle of sendaline and the hiss of water. – Fire upon the Qhíng. They will think that the Dragons are attacking them. We must destroy as many of the Kèlor Qhíng as we can. –
The sky marines in the turms all turned and nodded their shoulders and eyestalks, they barely had to acknowledge Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa, for obedience unto the jidüks was always mandatory and were considered words from Khlàmfhors of old the Water Jug Lad, and all of the towers were spinning around and no longer firing upon the Dragons but towards their Qhíng allies in the higher quarters of the heavens, and brilliant ripples of orange and blue light were arising, all about the living ships where Puîyus and Éfhelìnye had been taken just a few moments before.
– Puey! – Siêthiyal chanted. – Is he really on that ship? The Duchesses are firing right at him. –
– Let me find the Holy Twins – Prince Jhwèsta chanted, and he bowed his photonic head and bursting out from his shoulders arose long and squamous wings a little like unto the ripple of so many Fhliî ice pterodactyls quetzalcoaltloi and he began to hover upwards. – Perhaps I can deliver them unto this vessel. –
– With the insane Duchesses, I don’t we’re any safer – chanted Siêthiyal. – Take us with you, and I can bring the seed to Éfhelìnye and … –
– AHHH! – cried Prince Jhwèsta, and suddenly his wings became oil and web and long back talons thirled through his neck and belly. His body was breaking apart, globs of melting energy slagging right off from him, his eyen were rolling back, his rewel horns becoming evaporating dust, and his mouth drifting open. He shuddered for a few moments, and then a soft down of hoarrime began to frost upon his body, and longer icicles drift upon the veins of his muscles, the ice drawing itself into his eyen and mouth and constricting him.
– Um … you have problems – Akhlísa chanted. – Big scary problems. Maybe older Sister and I can go and find Pew and the rest by ourselves … –
– Divine Kàrijoi has found me … – Prince Jhwèsta whispered, and he was become whirls of frost and snow. – I shall be leaving you now, alas, for one may not delay approach unto the Crystalline Throne. – She shuddered a few times and his eyen glazed o'er in frost, and shaking all the while he chanted – Kàrijoi knows where Puîyos and Éfhelìnye are. The Dragons are seeing for him. Alas, I go. Perhaps we can meet again … in Qreûralirkh the Labyrinth of Worlds … –
And of a sudden in explosions of light and shadow, Prince Jhwèsta was reduced into waves upon waves of snow and blasted apart, and for a few moments steam wended hissing up from where he had been, and the slight sound of gears and popping wheels remained, and as the wind arose the children thought that they could hear a slight chuckle in the air, and the sound of it was something which inspired fear in their backbones, and the whisper of Jhwèsta’s words, Warrior, Princess, Raven.
Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa looked up and could not see the maidens at all, their tendrils pointed right unto the ship where Puîyus and Éfhelìnye had been taken. – Destroy the Qhíng. Destroy them all – they chanted, and all of the fireworks of the Aûm flotilla was turned and aimed and fired right in that direction.
Puîyus sniffed the air. Dragons were arising and spinning away from the Qhíng armada, the Dragons retreating into their violet and gold flame clouds that were arising wreathing unto the higher rondures of the welkin, the Dragons were all spinning away from his gaze, their wings flapping bright and strong and shattering through the webs of the skies. Puîyus sniffed the æther again. Something was most definitely not right, he knew, he could taste something horribly wrong although he was not entirely sure what it could be. He turned back and was helping the Princesses Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja down the long and winding steps of the gyroscopes and behind them was looming the great Qhoîyekhim Mind Slaver, his twitchering dead antennæ swaying from side to side, bits of wheel reaching outwards and pulsating right into his altogether dead mind. The Qhíng sailors remained kowtowing upon the deck, they remained still and respectful before the children whom the Caste Gerons had bade them would be the new Emperor and Empress of all the Land, and the only Qhíng who were moving at all were the æronauts who were responsible for conducting the crystal balls and the sampo motors and the long and unraveling solar sails of the ship, and those who who had to remain in the mast towers and were keeping their ancient light weaponry aimed untowards the fleeing Dragons. Puîyus took a few steps downwards and helped Éfhelìnye down. Ixhúja walked outwards, she neither needed nor wanted help in walking down the winding links of the gyrodyne, she came sashaying before some of the kòutóuwing sailors, and she nudged a few with the tip of her wooden shoe and kicked a couple of the Qhíng and walking right up to one yanked him by the antennæ and began to twist a few of his tentacles backwards and chuckled to herself as the Qhíng whimpered and squirmed in her grasp, but Puîyus glent her a look, and Ixhúja released the wretch and trotting outwards tried to find another way to amuse herself. She looked upwards and watched the retreating of the Dragons, huge and beautiful and noble unto her gaze, and wished that the Dragons could stay just a little longer so that she could watch their dancing within the clouds. Puîyus came skipping down beside her, the Dragons were wave weaving from side to side, and flowing out from them came long violet streaks which reminded him of his Feral Twin’s tresses. And yet again and again he could taste it somewhere deep within his stomach that something was not quite right. Puîyus did not get ill very often, at a young age when Grandfather Pátifhar began training him in the Rhetrai of the Sword and Abbá Íngìkhmar taught him how to grasp weapons and be strong and to purge himself of fear, Puîyus began to learn the art of forgoing food and heat and water and light, he learned to still his heart and forget the sensation of regret and hunger, he learned not to long and fear pain, he learned to ignore the feeling of illness, and so from time to time, when Winter was come and pressed itself harsh against Jaràqtu, and his Siblings were coughing and sniffling and moaning a bit abed, and Fhermáta was making sure that Siêthiyal and Akhlísa remained in bed and didn’t infect anyone else, for both of them were wont to run around the elders and kiss and lick them and spread whatever they had caught, Puîyus modeled himself upon Fhermáta who never complained when she was tired and ill, and the feeling of being unwell became foreign and alien unto him. And so even now, as the Dragons were fleeing from his face, as the Aûm flotilla was appearing on some of the outer regions of the heavens, Puîyus felt within himself a sensation he did not quite like or could even understand, the sinking sickening feeling of being sick, unwell and clammy and wet in his stomache, thrawn and sad and aching. Puîyus ignored the sensation. He felt like hiccoughing, and watched the beating of the wings, and yet, seeing the retreat of the Dragons and finding themselves back within the Boreal Wind, Puîyus was reminded of his homeland and his sorrows therein, and so he decided better it would be to think about the alien queasy feeling in his belly, strange though that may seem, rather than let his sadness at the end of Jaràqtu whelve him altogether.
Princess Éfhelìnye ran up unto the kowtowing Qhíng and leaning down towards them chanted – I wish you would not do that, I appreciate the respect you’re showing me and Puey, but we are not in fact Emperor and Empress, at least not yet. – The Starflower Princess turned around and saw that Puîyus was standing, his eyen large and bright, mesmerized he was by the swirling writhe movement of the Rainbow Serpents arising higher and higher, but she could see how pale his face was become, and that the rufescent shine of his cheeks came fading away, and sad was all his baring. She ran up to him and wrapping an arm around him whispered – Are you feeling alright? You look tired, unwell. We shall enter Jaràqtu together, I don’t want you to worry about what you shall find. –
Puîyus bowed his head, he could think of nothing to say, his stomache was cramping deep within him, he almost thought that his intestines were arising within his body and were strangling his lungs and tying him up in sailors’ knots, the very same type of jhèqhena and khnànta and xhìthno and xhnòpa gnots which Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho had taught him to tie earlier this day when the Pirates had taken him under arm and tendril and first began to teach him the peiratical arts. Puîyus shook a little to wonder that perhaps even the illustrious freebooters too were dead and would no more be there to take him and the Princess on adventure upon distal island and upon the edge of the wind where wonder and treasure always lay, a colder and duller and calmer would it would be without their mirth, and the Dreamtime would thin and be lessened. He had no tears to shed for the peiratēs, if he had any tears left within him it would be for the destruction of the gardens of Jaràqtu and for the death of Fhermáta who had been beloved unto him.
– I did not intend for any of this to happen, my Son – came a deep and sonorous voice, something which was partially fashioned of ice and shadow, something which was growing outwards in waves of darkness and winter, a voice not unkind, but ancient beyond anything the children could understand. Several dead tentacles came drifting about Puîyus’ shoulders, and the whirl of the clockwork and gears of the Qhoîyekh came next unto the lad’s ears, dead antennæ crepitating one against each other, the Mind Slaver speaking in the voice of Emperor Kàrijoi. – You must believe this is not the world which I intended for you to inherit. –
Princess Éfhelìnye closed her eyen and took a breath, and when she opened her eyen again she grabbed the edge of the dead tendrils from Puîyus and chanted – We have no desire to hear my divine Father at this time. Slaver, please speak in the voice of Sieur Íngìkhmar, if you must speak at all. –
– My servant Íngìkhmar is far from us now – came the voice of Empyreal Kàrijoi. – Our thoughts waver around some interference, perhaps the movement of the Dragons disrupt us. We cannot say. But I am here now and true, and no other Father is left unto you. –
– Please leave Puey alone – Éfhelìnye. – I’m sure there is nothing of import that you have to say unto him. –
– We who are the Shadows of Kàrijoi cannot judge what you will find important or not – came Kàrijoi’s voice from the dead beak of the Mind Slaver. – All we can say is that I am very proud of Puîyus, my Son. He proves himself worthy of me. –
– Thank you. Now, Puey and I shall be on our way – Éfhelìnye took Puîyus by the hand and began leading him away from the kowtowing sailors and æronauts and the Mind Slaver standing behind them. – I don’t suppose you have anything efficacious to add, such as exactly how Puey and I can unravel the mystery my Father has set before me? –
– The answer lieth in your heart – whisper’d cælestial Kàrijoi.
– Fairwell, xá Qhoîyekhim, mentadulofortiato – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– There is no limit to the compassion and goodness and wonder of my children – came the voice of Emperor Kàrijoi. – The older generation is fading, we are grown lost in our own blizzards, we sink in the snow of our memories, the end is coming, and even the Suns are dying. You can see this, my children. And yet with you and Puîyos and even Ixhúja here I find the most extraordinary tribe of talent and ingenuity which I have e'er witnessed in mine hundred million years of rein. –
Princess Ixhúja looked up and kicked a few of the quiverous Qhíng sailors ystrewn out all about her, the Qhíng were shaking, their feathers and antennæ swaying from side to side, but every few moments she kept looking upwards as another Dragon came soaring upwards and rejoined his brethren higher and higher into the flames of the clouds.
– You will have to find your own way to guide the peoples in the generation to come – whispered Kàrijoi’s voice. – Keep all things in balance, man and spirit, beast and mortal, city and field, earth and sea and sky. Do not let the peoples be overtumbled in their cities, do not let the jungles grow wild and restless, do conquer all the horizon and yet leave it not feral. Do not permit debts of honor to accumulate, keep the castes in balance, no one should dominate the rest, feudal lord and vassel must be balanced in the same delicate web of favor and honoria. Be cautious of power and the use of governance, just as the strongest sword is the one undrawn and left within its sheathe, so too the best government is the least, the one left hidden, the one which does not waste the toil and honor of the people when it claims to care for them. –
Princess Ixhúja gave her tormented sailors a few more kicks just for good measure, she was not entirely paying attention unto the voice of Kàrijoi, and yet part of her thought that at any moment her Uncle’s shadow would begin to say something rather important. The Mind Slaver was turning, his dead beak grinding and chewing upon the air, flickers of sferic and ætherry arising about his tentacles and spinning from side to side in e'er growing webs. – The entire Naturalwirtschaft is collapsed, and it will be encumbent upon your generation to recreate it. Keep the new Mercantile Caste upon the path of righteousness, and keep them away from the Khmafhànxha Fhàngqo, the Imperial Banks, let the Ptètqiikh flutter around in their and dust the jewels and preserve the sugars and candies within. We must protect the banks, they cannot be part of the Merchant Caste, let the Nobles keep them and balance the honors and properties. I remember when Puîyus and Éfhelìnye tried to break into my banks back in the Holy City, the Pirates were helping them to grab the raw cookie dough within. It may be that you shall have to create some newer and better instituations, something better able to withstand the collapse of realities. –
Ixhúja shrugged. She kicked the sailors a few more times. The Mind Slaver was turning away from her and regarding Puîyus a little longer. The skies were parting, several more Dragons were dashing upwards, their wings wavering from side to side as all of them began to ascend higher into the heavens, and streaking with them came long waves of violet and blood and black oil, the same ruins that came from the jaws of Prince Kherènxhuqhe when Puîyus had struck through its jaws twice even when he was not quite awake and tumbling before the Dragon’s jaws. Puîyus felt the sickness in his stomache growing into his spleen and up through his xylem and phloem, he knew that Prince Kherènxhuqhe had to be near unto him although he could not quite guess wherewithin.
– If you wish to keep your people free – whispered the voice of Emperor Kàrijoi – Remember that you will need a Martian Caste to bear arms and fight for the people. Not all of the peoples can be of the Warrior Classes, a society is a complex and multifunctional organism requiring trade and expansion and circles of priesthoo in order to forfunction, but ther must still be some who can grasp sword and māccuahuitl and impaling spear, and at the end, even as you are, to stand up against a tyrant for to fight. Otherwise your new Imperial too shall fail, those who swink and are honorable and talented shall no longer work, the castes shall collapse. The tree of the Empire shall wither, and nothing shall be left but blood, blood, blood … –
Several large dragons were roaring upwards, their wings were flexing storms, and they were come so close unto the fleeing Qhíng flotilla that they were knocking down some of the outer spirals and the flappigng wings and flexing tendrils at the sides of the ship, the Dragons were swirling upwards and causing the great glass and hot air balloons to bobble from side to side like so many bouys left within the harbor, and the Qhíng sailors were shaking all the while, a few of them were arising in their faint and looking around in fear, the captains were jumping outwards and signalling unto all of the sailors in the ropes and mast towers, the living ships were firing up their great jhètse jets, brilliant and unravellling queues were branching outwards and spilling up in glistle globs of light, and all of the skiffs and wherries and living ships and long boats vitrious hot air balloons were already dashing outwards and were trying to arise all the higher, but the Dragons were just come too swift and too many and were whirling the living ships aside.
– We shall all meet again, all of us together, in the Gardens of Khyànyii – spake Emperor Kàrijoi. – The Flower binds us all, as it always has. –
Puîyus looked around and wiped some sweat from his brow, he felt hot and cold at the same time, his stomache far more at unease than he could e'er remember in all of his life, and yet in the thunder of his heart he suspected that it was not due to any true gripoj any istàrka nano-scurvy affecting him and crawling about in the inside of his belly, no, it was some deep and horrible dread gwisit khobdésetot was dooming them all, the inexorable foottreads of fate drawing nigher and nigher unto them all. He looked around and saw that at the outer regions of the ship lay several different jhuîxhyong emergency boats and twàtlhe qayaq such as he was used to ply qhèwa pìmlo within the rivers and freshlettes and streams of once beauteous Jaràqtu, at once he made himself aware of all of the ropes and solar sails and sailors’ knots, his mind was firing up and thinking of various methods of escape, of how he would be able to smuggle both of the Pwéru Princesses into the gardens of Jaràqtu and away from the vast mirror gaze of the Dragons as they were turning and gazing upwards into clouds of gathering plasma fire.
– My Mad Scientist is nearby … – whispered the voice of Emperor Kàrijoi. – I shall recoil him now. I wish to see what he has been building for the various timelines and races within the Land. In many ways Jhwèsta is my greatest toy, all I have to do is wind him up and let him wander from world to world and land to land, all I must do is watch and he creates, creates, creates. What is most remarkable about my labyrinth captive is that he is creativity without any remorse, whether it is a method of knit bones together or a monstrous war machine, whether a means to transport my children or to create tremendous and growing mutants who slaughter all in sight, whether to repairing eye and skin and mind, or breeding madness beyond description, Jhwèsta makes and makes and makes with almost no concern at all. – The Mind Slaver drifted upwards and set a cold and dead tentacle upon Puîyus’ face, and the gossoon recoiled at the dead feel of it and the hissing whisper of the Tyrant Lord as he chanted – Thou too must learn how to use your mad scientists, your monsters, all your toys, if you are to let the billion, billion worlds blossom once again. –
– We thank you graciously – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – But I’m afraid that Puey and I need to greet our Kèlor Qhíng hosts. Perhaps you have duties among the other dead Qhoîyekh. –
The Dragons were parting, and the thousand vessels and vimāna and vitrious hot air balloons of the Aûm were drifting upwards, all of the towers were spinning around, brilliant ripples of light billowing upwards through one turm after the next. The Qhoîyekhim closed his dead achromatic eyen, his antennæ twitched in a slight crackling smile as he felt Prince Jhwèsta’s dematerializing and fading away. – It is done. He is gone – whispered Emperor Kàrijoi’s voice. The dead face looked from side to side. The heavens were completely gefilled with the Dragons, and all of the Aûm vessels were turning at once and preparing for to fire.
Puîyus sniffed the air and knew that something quite dreadful was about to happen. He tugged upon Éfhelìnye’s sleeve and pointed unto the arising and movement of the Dragons. He turned and made ready to gather up Ixhúja, he felt as if no matter where he traveled there was no path open unto him that lead him away from the constricting trap which the Dragons continued to set for him, and no matter how many times he forced the Dragons to engage in fhwènge zugzwang, still the Dragons were spinning all around, and their eyen were bright and mirrored and prophetic, and they were gazing deep into him and watching the Princess all the while.
The first few firecrackers exploded about the deck of the ship where Puîyus and Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja were come. The deck was shaking, and some of the outer spirals and tendrils of the ship were buckling at the pressures being applied against them-phi. At once all of the ten thousand Qhíng arose at once and spun around in wrath, some of them were leaping upwards and we preparing to defend the Divine Twins and to sell their lives dearly in order to preserve the new Sun and Moon, while the other half of the Qhíng came pouring outwards and were crawling throughout the towers and webs of the vessel, they came leaping into the cannon spirals and were awakening all of the machinery, the Qháma elite came pouring outwards and were grabbing impaling hastarus and whip-brands and miec māccuahuitl, they were flinging themselves against the solar sails and around the twisting gargoyles at the edge of the ship, everything was become motion and confusion, and more bombs were exploding right before the children.
– The Dragons are attacking us – several sailors were saying as they jumped into the long boats and unfurled the solar sails. – We shall make them pay for breathing fire against the new Emperor and Empress, we shall crash our living ships and bodies against the Dragons, our deaths shall scorch them and teach them that none can withstand the new Crystalline Throne! –
– The Dragons are a curse unto the land! – several marines were saying as they marched right before Puîyus and Éfhelìnye, and they were crawling up the ropes and into the turms and were overcrowding all of the plasma cannons and beginning to fire right towards the retreating Dragons. – Let the Dragons remember, while they still can, that Puîyos and Éfhelìnye are the new Emperor and Empress, and all who withstand them shall fail! –
The sailors were spinning all around Ixhúja, and even though she was running after the sailors and tried to kick against them and trip them up, but the sailors were no longer bowing in deference, they were rushing upwards in their duty and grumbling – Fie! Fie! Fie unto the children of Qhalúxha! –
Puîyus sniffed the air, the storm winds of the North wrapping all about him, his melancholy blue tresses urticating from side to side and unraveling, his hair long since unwoven from the complex xhàxuja, the topknot dragon gnotwork hair adornment wherein Khnoqwísi had set it, his hair was just a wave of blue and silver, his eyen were bright, but he could see that it was not the Dragons who were firing upon the Qhíng, no streaks of fire, no memories of flame were arising from the children of Qhalúxha, but rather glistening torpedoes weaving their way outwards from the direction of the Aûm flotilla. His stomache was no longer feeling anything at all, Puîyus was thinking that he was grown quite comfortable with dread, horror was become an ally unto him, darkness was his friend, and perhaps here in the Emperor’s long midnight wherewithin time itself was breaking apart and strangled upon the intestines of the hours, Puîyus himself was being remade into the growing darkness nyxegenes flashing, all of his thoughts part of the growing night sigaldry.
– I don’t understand Dragons – Princess Éfhelìnye chanted. – I thought they were leaving us just a moment ago. Oh, who can understand the ways of Dragons? Puey, you shall have to make that kind go extinct, I think the world would be safer for our children if Dragons just remain in the stories that I tell, they cannot be controlled or tamed, they even turn against us when we have done nothing flameworthy against them. – And even as she was saying such, all of the Qhíng were marching about her and nodding towards her in deference, their antennæ were bowing, and they were saying one after another – Do not fret, Empress of tomorrow, we shall make the Dragons pay! The Rainbow Serpents shall rue coming against Empress Éfhelìnye and her divine consort Puîyos! –
All was a flash of sword, a movement of living ships, thousands of glimmers of smoke and fire arising. Most of the long boats and skiffs were already arising and all of them were turning and firing against the Dragons, and most of the Dragons, massive and ancient and puissant were just ignoring the Qhíng and were beating their tremendous wings and ignoring the peskisome mortals if they could, and yet the Dragons were not turning their heads and were not breathing fires against the Qhíng swirming all about them and doing their best to defend the children who had been delivered unto them, but the at last the Qhíng were come in such great numbers, and were throwing their spears of flame and crashing their living ships in blossoms of flame against the retreating Dragons, and one by one, slow and terrible and majestic, the Dragons could no longer ignore the Qhíng come against them, and breathed out fire against them one by one by one, and so the Dragons and the Qhíng began to twine about each, brilliant froth and waves of energy sloughing among them all.
Puîyus was not happy at all, he crossed his arms, several different plans came unto him, and his thoughts were turned towards what he could do to aid the Qhíng. He set aside the wrath he held against them and any thoughts about vengeful justice for what they had done against his people, for whatever their faults, whoever these Qhíng may be, whether or not these particular sailors and gaganayaatrikaH and Qháma elite had been responsible for the invasion and occupation of his homerealm, they did not deserve to be struck and buffeted by the Dragons arising higher and swifter and greater still, and his spleen burnt within him with zeal to defend the innocent. The Qhíng were pouring out in greater numbers, he arose and began barking out unto them and pointed unto where they had to go, where to send their living ships in a manner most efficacious to avoiding the weaving fires of the Qhíng, and the Kèlor Masters were all bowing their heads in deference and although they could not quite understand the strange saurian and bestial sounds which came out from his throat, they obeyed and came leaping outwards. Puîyus saw several more flashes of light, he looked around and saw that half of the deck had already been incinerated, not by the fires of the Dragons but by the bombs exploding all about them and reaching outwards from where the Aûm fleet was approaching. Qhíng were arising and falling into the smok and ash. Thousands of skiffs were drifting upwards. Puîyus looked around and signaled unto Ixhúja to come running after him, and in the burgeoning disques of light he could see that the Dragons as they were arising into the clouds were also turning their heads and breathing fire against anything that was come against them, and they were casting out fire against the Aûm now, one hot air balloon after the other lighting up as painted lanterns drifting in the winds. All of the deck was breaking apart. Puîyus came staggering upwards and taking Éfhelìnye by the hand lead her unto where the twàtlhe wúbbunj were kept, his eyen already measuring the bone oars, his lips tasting the storms of the Northwind, his mind thinking through the labyrinths and weaving and movement of the winds and the ways to sneak into Jaràqtu which only he knew. He came stumbling upwards and Ixhúja came slipping down right beside him, and for a moment everything was blinding light, one of the hot air balloons of the Aûm was exploding as a Dragon poked its head right through the sacks and balloons, barbed wings ripping through the mechanics and wheels of the vessel, suddenly a massive Qhíng warship was veering downwards and impaling through some fleeing Aûm vessels, and more bombs were reaching out right towards the children, and all of the deck was being blasted away in the growing hot winds.
– Protect ye the Emperor and Empress! – the Qhíng were crying as they fell upon each other and tried to catch the bombs and keep them from exploding towards the children. Puîyus was dashing outwards, he drew the princesses after him and came unto where the smanafs lunafs canoas were kept, and strewn all about the canoes dead and smoldering and hissing with steam-cum were several hundred dead Mind Slavers lay, their tendrils hissing and breaking apart, their beaks opening and closing and gasping, their blind eyen blinking and staring right at the children before them.
– Within, my children – came Kàrijoi’s voice. – Hurry! –
Puîyus hesitated for a moment, he knew that another Mind Slaver would just arise somewhere, that dead tendrils would branch out unto him and in the Emperor’s own voice, with cold clammy tendrils, remind the lad of his guilt in defying the Crystalline Throne and bringing ruin unto all of the Spear-Jaràqtuns. But Éfhelìnye took both of his hands and chanted – It’s our best option. Into a qayaq we shall go, you can smuggle us into Jaràqtu in quite peiratical style. –
– Hasten, now! – boomed dread Kàrijoi’s vox.
Puîyus nodded. He came slipping right up unto the twàtlhe canoes, and all at once several more blossoms of light arose and half of the canoes vaporized at once, and Qhíng were burning screaming and falling down about him. One twanátlhe began to drift upwards and within it a shadow arose, a figure formed entirely of triangles within triangles, a staff in his hand, beams of hoarfrost and crystals from staff and crown. – Come to me, my children. Free will gave I you, indeed, but now is not the moment to hesitate. This ship is doomed. The Duchesses want it pulverized and burnt. –
Puîyus came leaping upwards, the twanátlhe opening up before his gaze, explosions of heat and steam drifting out untowards his face. He picked up Éfhelìnye and set her into the qayaq, and when he turned to help Ixhúja she just stuck out her tounge and came bounding in the air above his head and landed within, and Puîyus slipped into the canoa, and the cold and dead tentacles came wrapping about him and the Princesses, even as the kayak came dashing outwards and fled away from the Qhíng-then.
And the heavens were all an interlace of living ships crashing and dragons verging and fires reaching outwards and the bombs exploding. Puîyus took up the bone oar and began to dig it throught the ætherment, the qayaq arose and beside him were sitting the Princesses and a large Qhoîyekhim Mind Slaver sate, his dead antennæ twitching from side to side, his rotting tendrils drifting outwards in the winds, his dead and atramental eyen gazing out blind unto what only he could see. Several more spinning ribbons of bombs were arising and aiming themselves right unto the vessel and the autogyroscope wherein the Children had just come, long strands of fire blue and red and gold puncturing right through the air and striking the ship again and again. The Mind Slaver leaned forwards, his quetzal feathercrest long since broken and rotted and ruined, but what bones were left unto his crest, what whispfeathers remained he lifted upwards and tried to shield the coming rays of light from the children’s gaze. The ship began them shivered from side to side and suddenly broke apart, as a tremendous egg, wave upon wave of light rippling out from the skin, and suddenly arose disintergrating ripples striking against the fleeing skiffs and breaking them apart also one by one by one. Puîyus turned back for a moment even as he continued to row, but the Mind Slaver kept his tendril unto the gossoon’s cheek and turned him around, black clouds smoking outwards, the Qhíng vessel evaporating and whirling in a growing vortex. And that ship was no more, just a series of tides rippling out from it and swamping all of the vessels too slow for to escape from it.
– No place in the heavens of the Northwind will be safe for long – the Qhoîyekhim whispered, but it was no longer in Kàrijoi’s voice, or even Íngìkhmar’s or Jhkhaîxhor’s. The voice was old and raspy, it was partially of throat and wheel harmonics, it was grinding together in some strange blending of sounds, and the children wondered whether this had once been the Qhíng’s original voice, at least without all of the mechanical apparatus set within it. – The Dragons attack both Qhíng and Aûm alike. –
– Father, who are you? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
– The Father speaketh – whispered the thyiînta, the enslaver Yrkwu.
Puîyus was spinning the bone oars about, the winds were arising swift and fierce and steam was become part of the Northwind arising in cochleate spins. He looked around and watched the movement of several of the large glass and hot air balloons within the Aûm flotilla, he was cautious in approaching them lest the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu try to shoot down his small ship on the thought that it might be a Qhíng vessel, and yet the Aûm forces would certainly provide shadow and cover, even as the Dragons were raging and lancing out against all in the heavens. Best it would be, he thought, to draw closer unto the Aûm and yet not close, to try and navigate through the gathering shadow storms within the Northwind, to slip into Jaràqtu and find the Elders and hope for word from his Abbá Íngìkhmar and his Sisters whom he missed and loved so much. So at length Puîyus began to row all the swifted, he drew the qayaq upwards and came sailing off higher and higher into the burning and upper free airs.
– Throw me to the Dragon – the Mind Slaver whispered. – Let me be distraction. I am already dead. –
– Pardon? – asked Princess Éfhelìnye.
– The Dragon comes. If you do not throw me from the ship, I shall jump myself – the Qhoîyekhim quoda. – I did not remain in the qayaq just to teach you how to row it. I knew the Dragon would come. Let its jaws fall upon me. –
Ixhúja looked back unto the Mind Slaver and wondered what nonsense it was sprouting now, she cordially disliked talk of doom and death in such fashion, it violated her warrior ethic of forming one’s own fate in the glory of battle. Éfhelìnye looked to her and crossed her arms and chanted – Nobody is throwing anyone out of the qayaq, nor shall we let you jump. None of us quite understands the way of you Mind Slavers, whether you even have personalities and names, or whether you are long distance engàkhta catoptromancy, but every life is precious unto unto me. –
– You talk like a Star – whispered the Mind Slaver. – But Stars are cold and distal in their action, no matter what they may think and feel. –
The Dragon came veering right upwards before the children, it was surfacing right through blank cloudbanks, ripples of white and silver shooting right off of its wings, its entire body flexing from side to side, its long neck reaching outwards and breathing out waves of flame, and so swift and mighty was the Dragon come in his ascent, its wings were winds brushing aside all of the smaller skiffs attempting for to escape, and Puîyus was struggling to keep the canoa upright and drifting outwards through the silver tresses of the Northwind. He felt a cold and dead tentacle reaching outwards and patting his shoulder, it was alien and unlovely, and Puîyus knew in fact that it was not his Father nor the Empyrean Emperor, and yet somehow he felt comforted though just a little, and the queasiness within him began to fade away, as they arose higher and higher into the skies and were turning and about to crash into the lunar Dragon .
– Fairwell, my children – chanted the Mind Slaver, his tendrils slipping back unto him in waves of webs, and he drew himself upwards, his clockwork all a whirl, a spin. Puîyus was only dimly aware of no longer have the cold tendril upon his shoulder, he was doing his best just to keep the qayaq from tipping o'er, but when Éfhelìnye and Ixhúja began shouting, he turned around and saw that the Qhoîyekhim was waddling unto the tip of the boat, and nodding a couple of times slipping right off of the ledge. For a moment the clouds and dragon flame arose, and he could see tentacles wrapping themselves about the jaw of a Dragon. Gigantic wings were beating, the Dragon was turning aside from the children, and at once Puîyus spun the kayak around and sent it hieing far away. He turned back, he saw clouds and smoke growing greater about the Dragon’s head and the shadow of antennæ twitching and the movement of tentacles swaying from side to side, but he knew in his heart that the Mind Slaver was already dead, or at least, the dead Mind Slaver had been destroyed and was no more. Puîyus sighed, at least he no longer felt sick in his stomche, just a dull aching pain which reminded him of his duty to protect the maidens and even the Qhíng who had once been his enemy. He sent the qayaq zipping through the fall of dragonflames and closer unto the fluttering Aûm flotilla, and all the Northwind stormed about his melancholy blue eyelashes.