Siêthiyal looked around and hugged the seed chrysalis of the Traîkhiim close unto herself, and made sure that her fingers and Akhlísa’s were entwined. The Dragons were rising and falling just at the edge of the deck, the ship was shaking a little from the violence of the battle between Qhíng and Dragon, and already they could see that the Dragons were spinning their sharp tails from side to side, their barb wings digging against anything that came against them, and they without any volition were chancing to wound Aûm vessels just as much as the Qhíng who had been trying to flee from them.
– This is all not a good sign – Siêthiyal chanted. – We’re getting out of here. It was my original idea, we’ll find some sort of emergency transport and sneak away, not a particularly elaborate plan but it’s the best that we have. –
– What are we going to do about the Duchesses fire upon Puey! – Akhlísa’s voice arose to an higher octave. – Puey Puey Puey Puey! –
– Just come along. We can’t reason with the Duchesses, we’ll just grab a ship and sail towards the Qhíng. Maybe we can warn Puey and whatsherface before … –
– No no no no no! Look! –
– Come along! –
– Look look look look! – Akhlísa was jumping up and down and pointing with her free hand, at first Siêthiyal could not see what was happening, the ship was shaking so much from the rise and fall of the Dragons and the beating of their tremendous wings, and the Aûm fleet was breaking apart in the storms of the Boreal Wind that surrounded Jaràqtu, but as the daises of this ship began to turn long columns of smoke were arising. Before the dragons several high-finned tóxheke whales were arising, aġviQ glistening, their fins and tails flippering up and down, the dragons were doing their best to fly and flee away from the turning and wroth Dragons, the edge of the school was trying to dip back into the froth but many of the whales were finding themselves caught up in the waves of fire erupting from one Dragon to the next, and the bombs that were whirling from the Qhíng living ships and the Aûm flotilla alike and the confusion of the growing northron storm. Siêthiyal was not entirely sure why she was supposed to be watching the whales, they were beautiful graceful musical indeed, but they were not particularly glorious fighters in a battle, and she was unaware of a way for the whales somehow to smuggle the children out. A few of the whales were leaping upwards in the flashes of fire, they were almost dancing as they were fleeing from the Dragons, not a few of the jEonos were turning in the direction of the spinning turms and spirals and billows of the Temple Bälun and the crawling filament towers. Siêthiyal looked upwards and saw that behind the whales in exploding waves of light and shadow were come some of the large cadlong of the Qhíng, the great warvimāna twitchering from side to side, the towers alighting with rockets and wrath and fire rage, and looming behind them all the flagship whence a thousand gyroscopes were orbiting and rising and falling in myriads of curves. Several ripples of light were drifting out from the ship, and Siêthial could see that a bulk of the Aûm firepower was directed thereunto.
– That’s where Puey is! – cried Akhlísa.
– That’s what mad Jhwèsta chanted, but why should we believe him? – Siêthiyal chanted.
– It’s true, I know it’s true, I can just sense things that way it’s just the way that I am, Grandma Tàltiin told me before she entered the protection of the Ancestors that before my birth mother Khmaryáta died she chanted that I had the gift of tlhìfhro of imbas forasnai, that I can just know certain things even from afar. One eye blue, one eye green, that’s how I hear things. See things. Know things. –
Siêthiyal yanked her Sister along even as the thousands of soldier artists continued to march about them and swing from side to side and ignore the children hastening away. – Even if that’s the case, and I don’t make any claim as to whether or not you have a single talent at all – Siêthiyal chanted – there’s nothing we can do about it now except flee. Here, these towers all look relatively unscorched. We can enter therein and find some emergency ship and … –
– What are we going to do about Puey? – Akhlísa shouted.
– He may just have to do all the rescuing himself! – Siêthiyal shouted back. – We’re doing the very best that we can! Neither of us were trained for warfare, you’re completely useless, and I have a seed with some Traîkhiim in it! Has anyone else noticed that we’re trapped in the Northwind with Dragons and Qhíng and Aûm shredding each other apart! Now stay calm, we’re going … –
– I need Puey! – Akhlísa shouted.
– Be quiet! – Siêthiyal grabbed her Sister by her shoulders and shook her. Myriads of soldiers came pouring outwards unto either side of the children, some of the soldiers were wearing the broken skin and bones of mutants they had slain and whose remnants they now wore as honored trophies of battle. – I’m trying to concentrate! All we have to do is … –
– Oh no! – Akhlísa began to cry and pointed behind her Sister, and Siêthiyal turned and saw a large billowing white cloud arising where once the flagship had been. Several large and green remnants of mast tower were slowly breaking apart, and rings of red flame were billowing outwards from what had once been deck and motor of the vessel. The flag ship was slowly breaking apart into smaller burning pieces, air and cloud were rushing in for to fill the void, and rushing out from it and skerry waves were thousands of emergency wherries and qayaqs drifting outwards in growing panick. Dragons were already swooping up through the growing flame ripple and were destroying Qhíng sailor and wanderer and gaganayaatrikaH falling through the heavens.
– Puey’s ship has been destroyed! – Akhlísa shreaked. – Puey’s dead! Puey’s dead! Puey’s dead dead dead dead dead! –
– You … you listen to me! – Siêthiyal was shouting and she grabbed her Sister by the shoulders and held her tight enough to hurt her. – Calm down! Be quiet! Puey is not dead! –
– Puey’s dead! –
– He is not! –
– Puey’s dead and I’m his widow and I have no reason to live any longer! I want to die also! –
– Be quiet! –
– I want to be burnt on his pyre, I want to be remembered as his virgin bride, I want to be set in the same sepulcher, I … –
– I told you to be quiet! –
– I’ll be buried with Fhermáta, we’ll be alike in the Undergloom. –
– Shut up! –
– Puey’s dead! –
– He is not! – Siêthiyal shouted in her Sister’s face, and before she realized what she was doing she smacked Akhlísa across her jaw so hard that Akhlísa tumbled down upon the deck. For a moment Siêthiyal was too shocked to realize what she had done. Akhlísa lay crumbled and shaking on the floor. Siêthiyal hoped the rubescence saw she upon the deck was not sororal blood shed. It would be best to worry about that later. Akhlísa was sobbling. Siêthiyal nudged her with her toe a few times and drew Akhlísa upwards, she was weak and unresisting, and Siêthiyal just muttered – Never say that Puey is dead. Do you understand? –
– I don’t know! –
– Puey is not dead! –
– I’m sorry! – Akhlísa whimpered.
– Puey is not dead – Siêthiyal hissed. – Never forget that. Puey will never die. –
– Are you angry with me? – Akhlísa pressed her hand against her face.
– Let me see your face. –
– I hurt myself. –
– I hurt you. I should be punished. We can think about that later. We have much to consider. –
– I want to die with Puey. –
– Splendiferous, but it shall not be this day. – Siêthiyal came dashing through the halls, the soldiers running all about in what she thought must be the eternal ritual confusion wherein the Aûm always found themselves, she kept one hand squeezed unto her Sister’s and ignored her weeping and gurgling and the blood she was wiping from her face. The glass and hot air balloon was shaking with deep roars, it was already trying to avoid Dragons and some of the outer fireworks of the Qhíng were harming this balloon already. One of the walls suddenly disappeared around the maidens and revealed that it was become nothing but burning sky, all of the deck and tower once connected unto it were breaking off and falling down unto the flock of whales and the froth winds far below. Siêthiyal yanked her Sister in a different direction and made their way up the ramps of the tower towards the great meditation halls where some of the fastest of the emergency vessels were kept.
– Now you’re going to live a long and happy life – Siêthiyal chanted as she came running unto one of the outer daises and saw that Aû,m soldiers were pouring already into all of the skiffs and arising in jets of cometlight and hurling themselves against the Dragons. – You’ll live with Puey, or perhaps he’ll set you up in an household all for yourself and your children, you’ll be very honored in life, and one of your children may even become the new Emperor or Empress. You shall want for nothing. If you want some mochi, slaves were dash outwards and bring you a silvern trencher covered in mochi. You can set up an entire room for Tét the Acceptible if you like, and tell your children stories about your most fantabulous doll. Do you want some cheese? You’ll just ring a wee clarion, and out will come pouring slave after slave, each one ready to bring you a box of fresh cheese. Please cheer up. Everything may be grim now, but one day this will all be a marvelous story to tell. – Siêthiyal took her Sister unto the next dais and found the wharves empty, all of the emergency boats arising, the soldiers lifting up staff and impaling spear and holding them up untowards the Dragons. Siêthiyal sighed and seeing the distressed look on Akhlísa’s face, lifted her Sister’s chin up and wiped her tears away and reached o'er to hug her for a few moments, as walls and spirals began breaking apart and crumblent into the dragon flame.
Running running running came they up the lengths of the next ramp unto the spirals that were reaching out unto the long and winding meditation halls that spread out before the stained glass windows wherewithin were set all of the histories of the Aûm, Siêthiyal and Akhlísa were running hand in hand as the walls were shattering unto all sides of them, bits of stone and wood and fiber tumbling left and right, the rafters breaking apart, and the still more soldiers were pouring outwards, they were so many insects pouring out from their termiteries in untold numbers, and so swift came the pedati and so terrible was the battle and thick came the smoke and haze that they were not even noticing the children who were fleeing among them and trying to make their way up the lengths of the wharves.
– How dare the Dragons do this! The Dragons are attacking us, us, us! – came the enjoined voices of the Duchesses as they they were arising within the daises, the floor itself was breaking apart and walking outwards upon long and growing legs like unto qyaînga pogo stilt shoon, and Siêthiyal, hearing this double dulcet sound pulled her Sister behind a column and peered outwards in the gathering steam. She looked around and saw several more sailors jumping into the long boats and unfurling their solar sails. Before them at the edge of the harbor the Duchesses were saying – We shall make them pay for breathing fire against the new Emperor’s Concubine and his Sister, you shall crash our living ships and bodies against the Dragons, your deaths shall scorch them and teach them that none can withstand the new Crystalline Throne! – And behind the Duchesses the soldiers were all bowing their shoulders and eyestalks and spinning upwards and flooding into the air.
Siêthiyal hid herself behind a column as the Duchesses came swinging outwards all about her, Pereluyàsqa paused and was just a couple of cubits away from her now. Khosyaràsqa was signaling unto a priest captain, and she standing just at the other side of the column where Akhlísa was shaking and hiding and doing her best not to sneeze or cry out or begin weeping anew. Siêthiyal clutched the chrysalis unto herself and made sure that her Father’s sword was at the ready, and looking to her Sister gave her a signal to be still and quiet and not to do anything foolish. Pereluyàsqa was turning around, she was drawing backwards closer and closer untowards Siêthiyal, her celia were a gentle wind blur that Siêthiyal could almost feel. She reached out unto the hilt of her sword. She looked to Akhlísa and saw that she was on the verge of screaming. Siêthiyal grasped the sword hilt. Sometimes, she thought, it was terribly difficult to remain completely optimistic in the face of adversity. Sometimes one just had to accept doom. Pereluyàsqa drew a little closer, and signaling unto her Sister chanted – The war skiffs around the stained glass prepare to arise. We must punish the Dragons. – Pereluyàsqa turned around, she was now standing right before Siêthiyal, and if she just turned her eyestalk in any direction surely she would see the maiden beside the pillar. Siêthiyal looked and saw that if she turned left or right she would bump right into Khosyaràsqa. Slowly she drew her sword and wondered what it would feel like to cut through ancientness and legend, through the clockwork tendrils of the Duchesses who were the lore of their people.
– The Northwind’s storms are gathering – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – Come. If we are to save the children, we must go. –
Several phalanxes of soldiers came pouring outwards and the Duchesses disappeared in them, and for a moment all she saw was the passing of spear and glaive and voices stridulating – The Dragons are a curse unto the land! – Siêthiyal turned around and pointed to Akhlísa, and seeing that all she could do was hug the pillar and not move, she dashed outwards and came running in the midst of the marching soldiers, and in the clatter of shield and sword 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 Akhlísa is the Emperor Concubine and Siêthiyal is his Sister, and all who withstand them shall fail! – the soldiers were singing in space operatic fashion.
– This way! – Siêthiyal chanted. – To the medition halls! –
Akhlísa barely was able to tag along as the soldiers were spilling about them all and shouting – Fie! Fie! Fie unto the children of Qhalúxha! –. Akhlísa cleared her throat and chanted – But I don’t need to meditate at this moment! –
– Emergency boats, we go! – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Um, huh? –
– Just don’t let go of my hand. –
– Notice how the Duchesses and Soldiers kept saying Concubine and Sister and Concubine and Sister. Note that Concubine comes first, then Sister. –
– Is there a point to this? –
– I’m just saying … –
– Saying what? –
– Um … I’m more important than you. –
– Do you want to go back to the pillars and cry? –
– No thank you. I’m just saying everyone thinks I’m more important. A concubine can turn the Emperor’s heart, that’s what the poploe think, but you’re only Puey’s Sister, you’re not going to convince him of anything at all. Ow! Why are you pulling me so hard? –
– Because you’re slow and because I can. –
– That really hurts! You’re going to dislocate my arms or … ouch! Quit it! I’m telling Puey! –
– He’ll be happy enough if I deliver you to him not dead. We can mend bones later. Perhaps I’ll deliver you to whatever version of Prince Jhwèsta we encounter next time. I hope he’s all crazed and drooling and building gynoid automata of you out of your own hair, perhaps he’ll create a better, more perfect simulacrum of you out of clay and dust. –
Siêthiyal came sliding out through some crumbling archways and saw that before them were arising the verandā that lead up unto the higher towers where the meditation halls twisted about the glass history of the descent of the Aûm Triplets Khesáfha and Qlùfhim and Thùlwus, and pouring out from all of the spiracles were walls of priests and artists almost flinging themselves up into the heavens and pouring up dragonweards. At the edge of one of the towers Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa were appearing and were holding up their astrolabic telescopes and gesticulating untowards the thousand Dragons, and plasma rockets were blasting unto all sides of them.
– You’re such a big mean mean head! – Akhlísa chanted. – Tugging me around and dragging me about … –
Siêthiyal released her Sister’s hand. – Fine. Find your own way out. –
– Ur … –
– If you don’t like being ordered about. –
– I don’t like being ordered about! – Akhlísa spun around and put her hands on her hips and chanted – I’ll have you remember that I won’t be ordered about in the future either! As soon as we get out of this, as soon we find Puey … –
– Oh fun, he’ll claim you, returning you to him will be like returning a book to the library in the Abby … – Siêthiyal began marching away. – Good riddance. In fact, let me tell you … –
–No, I’m telling first … –
– Go ahead. –
– I will be married to Puey the Emperor and I don’t have to take orders from you anymore! This is the end, no more bossy shouty screaming at younger Sister just because … –
– If it weren’t for me you’d be dead! Now you listen to me, I’m giving you to Puey, you’ll be my present to him, happy Starday Puey, that’s it, we’re done here! I’m not going to be guarding you anymore! You go and stay with him! I just want to be left alone, I’m tired of looking after you, you ungrateful little twitnit! –
– Oh you’re just jealous because I already have a husband! –
– You’re not married yet! –
– And you never will be! –
– At least I’m not a raving lunatic like you are! –
– You slapped me! –
– No I didn’t. –
– Yes you did! I’m bleeding! Don’t you even care that you broke my lips! I taste blood on both my lips … did you even notice! –
– So what! –
– You slapped me! –
– I! Don’t! Care! –
– You … you hurt me! You always hurt me! –
– You always need protection! Won’t you e'er grow up? –
– I can’t! I’m not good at anything! That’s what you tell me all the time! –
– You’re good at lots of things. –
– Name three! You can’t, you always make fun of me! –
– Um … give me a second! –
– See, you have to protect me because you’re right, I’m stupid and lazy. –
– You are not. Okay, you’re nice and kind … –
– Skills! Talents! I’m not good at anything at all! –
– You’re learning music! Puey likes your baking. Oh, embroidery. Did I forget to mention that? Are those three things? And you get along with Princess whatsherface … –
The archways were breaking apart, the sides of the guard towards were falling down one by one as a couple of Dragons began swirling around the Temple Balloon and began ripping their claws through the material of the ship. The gathering flames were leaping up the billows of the balloons one by one, the ropes were snapping, and Siêthiyal saw that they would have to run if they were going to make it to the meditation halls alive. She yanked Akhlísa by the hand and had to drag her as the walls were exploding and before them the doors were smashing down one by one as monstrious reptilian wings burst right through the rafters.
– You hate me! – Akhlísa shouted.
– I do not! – Siêthiyal shouted in return.
– Yes you do! You’ve always hated me! –
– I do not and you know it! Why would you say such a thing! –
The floor cracked apart right between the Sister, and Siêthiyal had to jump up and pull her Sister back. Akhlísa tottered from side to side, and Siêthiyal ended up having to drag and push Akhlísa who was punching and jabbing and screaming at her all the while.
– You hate me hate me hate me hate me! – Akhlísa shouted. – You hated me even when we were babies! –
– I never did! – Siêthiyal screamed. – What nonsense is this! –
– You used to bite me! –
– Just a couple of times … –
– Everyday! –
– You wouldn’t leave me alone! I was trying to play in the sand or was dressing my dolls and you just refused to leave me alone! –
– You didn’t have to bite me! –
– Maybe I was hungry! I don’t remember, it was a long time ago! –
– You bit me last week! –
– Oh yeah … well, you wouldn’t leave me alone then either! –
– I just wanted to be with you. Fhermáta could be so serious, she didn’t play with her toy oven she learned how the real one works, she was knitting with Eirènwa and our older cousins while I was still being having to be dressed by Auntie Qtìmine. –
– Someone still has to dress you. –
– Buttons are complicated. And I couldn’t play with Puey, who knows what he was doing, running with dinosaurs and ice pterodactyls and talking to flowers, it would be like learning to play with the Sun, bright and beautiful but in a different world. So you were the only one I had. –
– You didn’t have to bother me all the time. At least Abbá let move out of the nursery when I was older. Sleeping in the same room with you all the time, that was torment. –
– You don’t have to insult me all the time. There was no one else my age … and when Puey turned seven winters of age … well he started staying with Grandfather Pátifhar … the priests were taking him away and teaching him to be strong and quiet and fierce … I didn’t get to see him too often at all. So, it was just you and Fhermáta. –
– Lucky us – Siêthiyal muttered. They came sliding into the meditation halls, and the glass windows were shattering one by one by one in long lines. Flickers of brimstone were falling from the gaping walls, sulphur pouring out from the screaming Dragons, soldiers dashing out in growing confusion. – We keep running. If you stop, I pound you. –
– Please stop threatening me, it makes me cry. –
– Touch. Grow a backbone. –
– I wish you had an heart. You were the only one my age and you were mean to me, you don’t care a thing about me! –
– Shut up! –
– I’m only saying the truth! – Akhlísa pulled herself away from Siêthiyal. – Go on and run without me. I’ll stay here. Maybe Puey will find me. –
– We’re going after him. Don’t you think he has enough problems with fighting Sisters! I’ll knock you unconscious and carry you if I have to. –
– You’re not strong enough … –
– Then I’ll just knock you unconscious! I’ll find another golditressed concubine for Puey. I’ll find eleven of them. You’re quite expendible. –
– If you could just be nice to me … –
– I am nice! I’m risking my life for … –
– You hate me! Admit it! That’s all I want to hear from you! –
The meditation halls exploded and three Dragon heads burst up right through where the floor boards used to be, and slowly they were wriggling their wings out from the wholes and reaching out with well-thewed limbs began smashing all of the remaining walls, their tails smacking against column after column. Siêthiya yanked her Sister through the door and found themselves at the edge of a crumbling spiral that lead up unto the great stained glass window at the summit of the towers. Looking around they saw that upon one of the cannon towers the Duchesses were standing and watching as the Dragons were attacking the fleet. – We command you to attack the Dragons with all the recources we have – the geminate Duchesses were saying. – Although we cannot hope to slay a Dragon, we can wound it in warning of harming our most precious charges! –
Akhlísa was kicking and screaming while Siêthiyal dragged her up the length of the crumbling spiral, and arising unto all sides of them were come Dragons opening up their wings and breathing out fountains of yellow and violet and blue, and the beating of their wings was smashing through the struts and rivets and flying newel buttresses that kept the walls upwards, masonry and tilement and fibers tumbling about the maidens. Siêthiyal was having to drag and push her Sister up the spiral and sometimes slap her around just to keep her moving, and the ramps that they were leaving were beginning to break apart and fall down into the flaming void which the Dragons were forming all about them.
– Do you want to know what I truly hate? – Siêthiyal shouted, as she tried to run up two or three steps at a time and drag her Sister up after her.
– What? Aside from me! – Akhlísa cried.
– I really hate how you get all of the attention all of the time! It was the same way when we were little, and it’s the same right now. Back then no matter what you did everyone had to gather around you and hold and cuddle you and say, Oh look little Kàrula is taking her first steps! Oh look, baby Kàrula is wearing a nice boy! Oh look baby Kàrula is learning how to swim! Everyone, let’s take a bite out of the cake baked in honor of baby Kàrula. Why didn’t anyone bake me any cakes! –
– We did. On your Starday. –
– Did you even get me a present on my Starday! –
– Ah … let me think. –
– Go ahead, take a good long think. –
– Um … I’m sure I got you something. –
– At the last moment and with no extra effort from you, like you do every year! –
– It’s not my fault that … I have a busy schedual! –
– Palming your chores off on Puey, that left you very busy indeed. No, everyone paid attention to Fhermáta, the older responsible Sister, and to Karuláta, the little baby who was cute. The Elders don’t even notice me, they look to Fhérma they look to you, they don’t even looking down in my direction! –
– That’s not true, the Elders think about you all the time. –
– Uh-huh. And what do they say? –
– Um … well I usually just ask about myself … I don’t remember! I can’t remember everything … –
– At least Puey remembers me, but what good is that? He’s off to battle, he’s off to temple, he has to learn to be a warrior and have no feelings at all. So who was left for me? You were the only one mine age, but you got all the attention. –
– I paid attention to you. –
– So you could mess up my bed and put your sticky fingers on my toys! –
– I just wanted to be with you. You were my best friend. Puey doesn’t understand playing dress up and making mud pies and helping with the weaving. I just wanted to be like you, that’s all. –
The ramps shuddered into pieces and bursting upwards from the runes came some undulous scales and several wings slowly batting from side to side, a long and mounting head arising, the jaws snapping and turning unto the maidens and opening and water as it sensed them. Large mirror eyen turned at them and blinking a few times alit with green and red light, and the Dragon began crawling right unto the maidens, his talons ripping apart the walls of the tower and he murmured – Virgins! Delicious virgins! Yum yum yum yum yum! –
– Leave us alone! – Siêthiyal shouted and she spun Íngìkhmar’s fansword towards the Dragon. – Give us a moment! My Sister and I are having a little talk. –
The Dragon blinked. – Oh – he gasped.
– Now be quiet! – Siêthiyal cried. She turned to Akhlísa and chanted – The Elders never cared about me. They had Puey’s life planned out, they had everything set up for you and Fhérma, it never even occurred to them to think about me at all. –
– I don’t think they meant it that way – Akhlísa chanted. – If these were normal days, you know, if the Empress were still alive … perhaps they would have been more active in arranging things. I think the Elders just gave up after the Great War. Life was too difficult for them with her, their Moon. –
– So the moment you were born, the Elders just abandoned the rest of us to our fates – Siêthiyal chanted. – I was just an afterthought to them, or not even a thought at all. At least you got their attention. –
– There attention isn’t always the best – Akhlísa chanted. – Stern, cold, disciplinarian, the Elders see me as a way to seal the alliance with the Tásel, to ensure offspring for the Sweqhàngqu. Even today the Elders are thinking of me as a new Emperor’s Concubine, I don’t even think most of the people know my name. –
– At least you get some attention. Fireworks. Eunuchs dancing. Ptètqiikh flapping. And at least people who know your name say it. What type of name is Siêthiyal? Abbá hight me off of a goofy pink flower. He probably just took one look at me as a baby and chanted, Flower. What’s the name of a pink flower. We’ll call her thought. You have, what, fifty names? –
– Since I’m the last one born, I ended up with all the unused girl names. Íngìkhmar just piled them on. –
– Is this going to take much longer? – the Dragon asked. – I’m very hungry and both of you are extremely delicious to the sight. –
– Yes, this will take a long, long time – chanted Siêthiyal. – I apologuise for making you wait, but this is very important. –
The Dragon sighed and fell down upon his elbows and waited for the maidens to finish their discussion. Siêthiyal leaned towards Akhlísa and chanted – At least there is someone to protect you, at least people care whether you live or die because it seals an alliance, at least you have a future. What exactly is supposed to happen to me? Even the Imperial Mad Scientist mocks me and tells me I can have his job since I’m not suited for anything else. –
– I’m sure that Puey will let you do anything you want – Akhlísa chanted.
– I want to take care of you, and at least get some credit for it – Siêthiyal chanted. – But even this is a thankless task. Perhaps I should become librarian for the Duchesses, I can alphabetize their scrolls and codices and write little notes for all their gory fairytales. I think all that red ink in their books actually did come from blood, and the wood of the binding may actually have bones in it. –
– Maybe they seal the author up in his own text. How fitting. Binding. Tqakh! –
– I don’t hate you – Siêthiyal chanted. – And I’m not protecting you from Clan obligations. You’re the only Sister that I have left … –
– I’m sorry – chanted the Dragon. – This is taking for ever. I want to eat you now. –
– Oh go chase your tail, you mutant kissing Dragon! – Siêthiyal shouted. – We’re terribly busy and we don’t have time for goldhoarding virginchasing towercrashing brimstonestinking horrible wingscratching tail angled ugly uuugly uuuuuuugly freaks like you! –
The Dragon whimpered. – I … I don’t kiss mutants! –
– Go away! Now! – Siêthiyal picked up a few of the broken tiles fallen from the rooftop and hurled them right at the Dragon’s face. – Leave us alone! Why don’t you go find my Brother and have a real dracomachy! –
– You … you hurt my feelings! – the Dragon wailed.
– Go away! –
– I’m not ugly! I’m not not not not not! – the Dragon’s wings were flapping and kicking up steam and dust, and soon it was arising, swaying in its soaring and moaning all the while saying – I’m not ugly, I don’t care what the puny little mortal maiden says. Not ugly! No! –
Siêthiyal threw a few more tiles dragonweards and then looking to her Sister noticed that they were all about to collapse in the shatter of these spirals, and so hand in hand they had to come rushing upwards, and they came sliding right into the meditative halls before the glistening glass and the chandileers tumbling down one by one. Some of the windows were already breaking apart and revealing the shadows of Qhíng vessels firing at the Dragons, and of pods of whales drifting in the heavens and trying to escape. Siêthiyal was looking around for some escape vessel, but all she could see was the crashing of pillar after pillar, and the walls blasted apart one by one, and huge claws reaching within, and wings beating, and the occasional dragon snout bursting within and sniffling.
– Did you want to be the youngest born? – asked Akhlísa.
– Pardon? Oh. I don’t know. I’ve thought about it – chanted Siêthiyal.
– You would have received all of the attention. –
– And none of the responsibility. –
– I’m glad you are my older Sister. I think if Eirènwa had been my Sister she might have just abandoned me after a while, and Xataríyona is a bit fussy, I like her better as a cousin. –
– Xeîtei doesn’t have the patience I have. –
– You were the only one who could have put up with me. I’m sorry I was such a bother. –
– No, I’m sorry I was always so crabby to you. –
– I don’t mean to be so stupid, I’m just not as smart as you are. –
– You’re smart enough to marry an Emperor. –
– Only because you take care of me. I’d be smashed and eaten and burnt and squished a thousand times o'er if it weren’t for you. –
– Well, I’m sorry that I hit you. –
– I don’t mind. I heal fleet, look! – Akhlísa wiped her lips a few times. – No blood at all. Family fueds don’t harm me none! –
– I’m still sorry. I have a mean streak, what can I say? –
– I’m sorry I called you a mutant kisser. –
– That’s was hurtful. –
– I’m sorry. –
– That’s alright. –
– You did look so embarrassed and blushy. –
– I’m not going to marry a mutant. –
– I’ll find you a sweetheart, of the normal kind, with the right number of eyen and legs et cet. –
– How thoughtful. But don’t. We have a war to win, and how are we going to get out of here? – Siêthiyal was running around in the halls, column after column breaking apart, the roof blasting away, but no skiff or bumboat could she find at all. – We are in trouble. –
– Do you e'er think about marriage? – Akhlísa asked.
– I don’t know. Maybe. It’s something the Elders will decide. –
– You’d be a good mother, you’re stern like Auntie Qtìmine but it’s for a reason, you actually protect me when I don’t know it. You’re like Puey. You’re a girl Puey! –
– I don’t know – chanted Siêthiyal. – Puey is afraid of nothing. Dæmon, Monster, Dragon, all the same, just another foe to be vanquished. But I’m not like that. Sometimes I’m afraid. –
– You? –
– I’m afraid lest the Duchesses will throw you into the fire. I fear lest the Triple Alliance will shatter. I’m afraid lest we shall not survive the War. I fear lest I lose you. –
– Why were we fighting? –
– I have no idea. –
– It seemed like a good kairotic idea at the time. –
– Everything does. –
Akhlísa blinked a few more times and ran up to Siêthiyal and wrapped her arms around her. Several walls were being blasted apart in the growing steam and heat, the careless flickering tails of the Dragons were beating down the sides of the towers even as their heads were turning to blast the soldiers apart. Akhlísa whispered – I love you, Siêthi. –
– I love you too, Khlís – Siêthiyal chanted. – And if you call me ‘Siêthi’ again, I’ll break your face. –
– You mutant kisser. –
– What! –
– Nothing! –
– Better. –
– Kiss kiss! –
– Stop it! –
– Sorry. –
The Sisters held each other, and about half of the meditative halls evaporated about them, paricles of stone and jasper and crystal and bones flickering upwards and remaining in about the same general space of where they had once rested vast and solidic, but not for too long, they were being blasted away by the winds. One side of the halls consisted all of shelves with strange urns and equipment crawling around, the walls and shelves became dust drifting upwards, the urns were plasma and the equipment water, and flowing up where they had been arose cascades of water and a Dragon bursting upwards and ripping wings through the membranes of the vessel and looking from side to side. The remaining columns were tumbling downwards. Siêthiyal drew herself up from her Sister and chanted – Now we need to find a way out of here. We can’t hug for ever. –
– I wish we could – chanted Akhlísa.
– Too bad the Imperial Mad Scientist couldn’t have flown us up to where Puey is. –
Akhlísa reached to her girdle and drew out Tét the Acceptible and chanted – Too bad Tét can’t fly in waking life like he can in my dreams. Go and get them, Tét! Fly away! Carry me away! Hurray hurray hurray! –
– Let’s get to the higher goldhalls – Siêthiyal chanted. – In the Duchesses’ own personal quarters, I’m sure there’s something we can use … some emergency transport, some strange clockweyth whirlydirl! I’ve found it interesting that Grandfather Pátifhar told us that the Qlùfhem have spent a great deal of their history as a nomadic people dwelling in fleets and continent living ships and thousands of floating houses sometimes set at the edge of the wind, for some reason they lost their original homerealm and had to wander about in the west. So these great glass and hot air balloons, they’re not just transports like the few living ships of Jaràqtu, they’re house and hearth and home, filled with bones and gardens and crematoria and … I suppose they must have all manner of junk like we used to have in our attic. –
Siêthiyal threw a door open and found some newel stairs winding upwards into the highest of the golden halls, the fires of battle already beginning to trickle high up here, and now there were almost no walls at all, just glass and crystal and shimmerent stained glass spreading upwards into spiraling pyramid patterns, and through the glass the children could see outline of Dragons and the crashing of Qlùfhem and Qhíng ship together, and waves of fire flowing outwards, and the dim flicker of birds and fishes and whales trying to escape the growing conflagration.
– You’ve always liked attics – chanted Akhlísa. – Remember when you used to hide up there and gather up all the old clothing and dolls you could find. You found some ancient items up there, puppets and kachina dolls, and old effigies that not even the Elders could identify. You always were the omnium-gatherum, the ixhmoâxhnerei the pack rat tek! –
Siêthiyal was storming up the winding steps, all of the glass was beaming down untowards her, and she looked down and signaled unto her Sister, and finally they came running upwards unto the highest of the ledges and found themselves in halls where they had visited before. The wall of stained glass spread upwards above them for hundreds of cubits, the walls were covered in plush carpets and thick prayer mats, up diases were still smoking with incense in the thurible, and prayer books lay strewn upon the shelves. The huge roseate stained glass window, the center piece of all of the Temple Balloon lay before the children, finally completed after the labor of so many of the larginchzints of the Aûm aswinkent, and the children gazed up in awe as they beheld the glories of the histories of the Aûm, the glistening dreamworld whence the original Triplets had escaped, and Raven’s khlòqo octopus hounds running after them akkorokamui, and flowing upwards in the glass were the ancient pyramids and cities where once the Qlùfhem and the Thùlwu dwelt together, and there was the parting of the ways and the Thùlwu arising for to found Thùlwujoir and the Blood Clot had an image as well as all of the figures of Raven as he appeared in the mythopoeia of the people, as bird and deer and blood, and King Syarápatlharthosewethenxhejhangétsaqhanulrepatàrotlha was arising and all around him were become the pillars and bones and crystal fractals which became the outline of Aûm Aûm the new homeworld of all the Aûm volk, and for generations all of the people dwelt together in peace and delighted in the joy of making, and in the center of the stained glass window lay the glories of Khlàmfhors, flower and chisel and hammer in his tendrils, his various clockwork creations glistening before him, behind him flickered an image of Prince Jhwèsta who had been his master when he was young, and below him were the twining pyùjern macine ghosts which he discovered and with whom he could converse word by word, and in the stained glass Khlàmfhors were flowing outwards and before him were the flower brides that he crafted unto himself to be the perfect Qlùfhem spouses, orange Pereluyàsqa and blue Khosyaràsqa, and three of them were a perfect trinitas of color and splendor and joy. The maidens took a few steps back and just contemplated the glories that had once been Khlàmfhors, the first of the Zodiographers of the Qlùfhem poploe.
The stained glass was darkening. Several Dragons were grasping ahold of the roof of the tower, their talons were scraping against the windows, their wings were casting wide-umbraged shadows. The maidens could hear the deep rustle of fluent and multiharmonic twaijóle whale song arising valütakanit, and the music was come so swift and near unto them that the plush carpets and thick prayer rugs were beginning to quake. Large fins scraped the windows right behind the images of Khlàmfhors and darkened everything within. Suddenly both maidens jumped and spun around, for the doors at the opposite side of the prayer hall swung open and out came pouring a thousand priests and scribes and acolytes of the Aûm, all of them holding up knives and staves and swords, and swaying among them, tall and stern came Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa sweeping within and pointing unto the maidens who had trespassed within.
– Why are you here? – both of the Duchesses boomed.
– Um … – chanted Siêthiyal.
– We ordered you to stay in your bedroom – the Duchesses thundered, sparkles of light arising from their celia.
– We were scared – chanted Siêthiyal. – We came looking for you. –
– She made me do it! – Akhlísa screamed and pointed to her Sister. – I didn’t want to go but she chanted that we had to go she’s always bossing me around I don’t know what to do I can’t make any decisions on mine own she was just grabbing and tugging and shoving it’s all her fault! –
– I thank thee defending me – Siêthiyal muttered.
– I thank thee for getting us in trouble – Akhlísa hissed.
– Why can’t you just play along! – Siêthiyal shoved her Sister.
– Don’t hit me! – Akhlísa cried.
– I’ll hit if I want to … –
– Don’t you dare, I’ll have Puey beat you … –
– Don’t you dare threaten me! You’ll never get too powerful that I can’t … –
– Excuse me, I’m the Emperor’s Concubine, I’m far more important than … –
– You threw up on the Duchesses earlier today! They were lacing up your corset and you just had to have a belly full of chocolate …–
– At least I just bite chocolate, you bit me! –
– There was chocolate all o'er the place! Blech! That’s all you are! Blech blech blech blech! –
– Hey, you were probably biting mutants too! You love mutants! You kiss mutants! –
– Éfhelìnye will flay you alive and feed you to her kittens! And by kittens I mean monsters! –
– At least I have a sister wife and husband! Puey is probably trying to get rid of you, but every young swain he commands to marry you will commit ritual suicide to avoid you! –
– You insolent little waif! Considering all I’ve done for you! –
– You’re a stink head! –
– That’s enough! – both Duchesses shouted, and the priests fell down before them and parted before them, and the Duchessses glissaded downwards and chanted – Sisters are not permitted to fight. We twain were just worried about you, you were not in your quarters and we found Dragons inside. We thank the Ancestors and Khlàmfhors that you are safe. –
– We’re fine – Siêthiyal chanted, as she punched Akhlísa in the stomache a few times.
– It’s a good thing they haven’t learnt about sneaking down and freeing the Traîkhiim! – Akhlísa screamed as she rolled on the floor and was struck by her older Sister.
– Freeing the Traîkhiim? – Khosyaràsqa asked.
– The Mad Scientist’s Traîkhiim? – asked Pereluyàsqa. She turned to her priests and chanted – If there are only living soldiers in the hold command them to slay the Mad Scientist on sight. He bores me. – Several priests nodded, their huipilli swaying slitherent from side to side, and they disappeared in a flutter of staves and swords.
– Stop hitting me! – cried Akhlísa. – I didn’t tell them a thing about the Mad Scientist! For someone who likes mutants you can be awfully sensitive! –
The meditive halls began to lurch unto the side, the incense was doused, books and shelves began to fly apart, and some of the glass windows were creeking. The multifunctional mechanism of the room was trying to right itself, several new walls were sliding downwards, shelves slithering from side to side, but from the screams and fires reflected through the glass, the children were dimly aware that Dragons were swirling all throughout the glass and hot air balloon and trying to rip it open.
– Siêthiyal of Pwéru, you are commanded not to hit your Sister! – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– Akhlísa of Pwéru, you are commanded not to tell lies about your Sister! – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
Siêthiyal punched her Sister one more time for good measure, but then drew herself upwards and helped Akhlísa up and they adjusted each other’s bows and ribbons and dresses and acted as if nothing had just happened. The Duchesses glided down untowards them and regarded them with unreadable eyen, the feathers of their eyestalks flickering just a little bit, and for a time all the children could hear was the roar of battle and the whale song coming closer and closer all the while.
– Sisters are not permitted to fight – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – A family is harmony. The Qlùfhem and Thùlwu must work together for the honors of all of the Aûm, and the same it is with the phatries of the poploe, and each and every family. Khosyaràsqa and I never fought when we were your age, ah, well we were created as fully grown and nubile Qlùfhem, but when we were fashioned we never got at all, we were perfect twin Sisters. –
– We fought, Sister – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
– Did we? – asked Pereluyàsqa.
– All the time, when we were younger. –
– I don’t remember. –
– You were always bossing me around, and you thought that I was keeping all of Khlàmfhors’ affection for myself. –
– It was long ago, a trifle it was. –
– We did fight, though. –
– May we talk about this later? – Pereluyàsqa spun her eyestalk back towards the maidens-ze and chanted – You twain, however, must get along better. It is the tide of war, and none of us, from the oldest and legendary to the wise and priestly to the young and frightened can guess how it shall end. –
The stained glass walls were all shivering now and lighting up as fountains of dragonflame erupted throughout the many living ships and skiffs and hot air balloons of the flotilla, and so the xòqyu were alighting and casting out shadows of blues and reds and golds unto the maidens in the halls and before the priests clad in sable and shadow and the flickering of their weapons and the Duchesses as they descended, their movement was eliciting the sigh of harpry and minstrelsy and song. Long and flickering banners of flame were erupting high above them all, and for a few moments all things were becoming a brilliant solar flair, golds dripping outwards, flavous shadows bleeding out from the windows, creeping patterns of web and lutescent triangles and xanthous whirls rondurent one about the other, the flames of battle reflected through legend and glass and history were almost become beautiful sparkles, part of a glistening pool of thought, and were not nearly as threatening in appearance as they should have been, and the dragonflame almost like sunlight coupled with the sonorous flight and song of the whales just outside along with the still lingering taste of incense and meditation within the goldhalls and beneath the qhàwel luffren, quite qiŋaq, began to calm everyone, the hearts of the priests and scribes and acolytes, the wheels and biomechanical gears of the geminate Duchesses, the spirits of the last two Sisters of the Sweqhàngqu. In fact the only aspect of this moment which seemed just a little out of place was that as the whalesong grew all the louder there came with it a faint call which the children thought sounded a little like: Lwaaaaaa!
– Now, I want you to hug each other and make up – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– We already did! – chanted Akhlísa, and she flung herself into Siêthiyal’s arms.
– Do it again, just to be sure – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
While Akhlísa and Siêthiyal embraced and kissed Khosyaràsqa chanted – Khlàmfhors always made us stop our arguing in such a manner, one cannot have argument in the soxhófho, the marriage trinity. –
– You were always the ones starting arguments, Sister, if I remember right – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– Perhaps if you bossed me around a little less there would have been less need for an argument – Khosyaràsqa replied.
– Perhaps if you had spent less time trying to impress Khlàmfhors and more time actually helping him in his labor of creation, I would not have had to direct you. –
– You mean command me? At least I was affectionate. Khlàmfhors must have made me out of sweet smelling yperfumed flowers, while you were from thorns and bristles. –
– Lwaaaaaa …. ! – came the distant cry.
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa kissed each other and both gave each other a look. Siêthiyal whispered – Do you hear that? –
– I hear it too – chanted Akhlísa. – Should we say something? –
– I don’t know, the Duchesses are bickering. –
– I liked it better when they were speaking with a single voice, a single mind. –
– I don’t, now they’re individuals squabbling like the rest of us, there has got to be a way to divide them and use this to our advantage. –
– You always take advantage of bickering. –
– It’s what I do, it’s what I’m best at doing. –
– Lwaaaaaa …. ! – came the distant cry.
– Perhaps we can discuss this at another time – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– Of course, one must not bicker in front of the children – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa clasped hands, and Siêthiyal chanted – Forgive us for arguing. I can’t help it, I always have to order my Sister around, she can’t do anything right. –
– I understand completely – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – Sometimes Khosyaràsqa can’t do the simpliest of tasks. –
Khosyaràsqa’s celia blinked in shock.
– Forgive us for arguing – Akhlísa chanted. – I was always the one trying to please Puey and making myself pretty for him and baking him his favorite foods. –
– I understand completely – Khosyàsqa chanted. – Sometimes Pereluyàsqa was so grumpy and aloof, someone has to take care of our beloved Khlàmfhors. –
– Kàrula is always getting into trouble – Siêthiyal chanted.
– And yet who had to get Khosyaràsqa out of trouble, to look after her, sometimes even to take the blaim? – Pereluyàsqa asked.
– Siêthiyal is always plotting behind my back – Akhlísa chanted.
– And yet do any of Pereluyàsqa’s plans e'er come to fruition, who has to pick up the pieces after she’s tried yet another brilliant scheme? – Khosyaràsqa asked.
– Lwaaaaaa …. ! – came the distant cry.
– Sometimes I don’t think that my Sister has a single thought in her head – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Khosyaràsqa can be as torpid as a gaggle of Qhíng – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– Sometimes I don’t think my Sister cares about anyone aside from herself – Akhlísa chanted.
– Pereluyàsqa is as selfish as a gaggle of Qhíng – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
– Plus all the times she’s thrown up on me – chanted Siêthiyal.
– All the times she’s beaten me up – chanted Akhlísa.
– Plus all the times she’s interrupted my meditation – chanted Pereluyàsqa.
– All the times she’s interrupted my painting – Khosyaràsqa chanted.
– I’m glad at least that we’ll grow out of this phase – Siêthiyal chanted.
– Yes, eventually we’ll be the very best of siblings – Akhlísa chanted.
– You! – Pereluyàsqa chanted as she pointed her tendrils to her Sister.
– You! – Khosyaràsqa chanted as she pointed her tentacles to her Sister.
– Oh! –
– Ah! –
– You! –
– You! –
Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa began to encircle each other like a couple of tigers about to pounce upon each other, and sua sponte the cloud of acolytes and scribes and priests began to diverge into two camps of equal numbers and of equal divisions of Qlùfhem and Thùlwu, half behind each Duchesss, and the twins rolled around each other and glared at the other with eyen completely identical save for one was orange and the other blue.
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa squeezed hands and grinned. – I think it’s time for us to go – Siêthiyal giggled.
– Yeah, they sure are acting like little bairnlings – chanted Akhlísa.
– I hope we don’t act like them when we get that old – chanted Siêthiyal. – A thousand generations old? I’ll be an Ancestress by then. –
Akhlísa began tip toeing away and chanted – This could only have gone better if they had had cheese! –
Siêthiyal slipped aside in a group of priests and chanted – We’ll find one of the clerical living ships and sail into the tides of the Northwind. Once we’re in Jaràqtu … we may find some cheese yet. –
– You! – Pereluyàsqa chanted as she swirled about her Sister.
– You! – Khosyaràsqa replied as she skated about her Twin.
– Lwaaaaaa …. ! – came the distant cry.
Siêthiyal slipped up unto the rolling ports but turned around and saw that Akhlísa was lingerent behind. She signaled unto her Sister, but Akhlísa just shook her head and spelt out in cheremes, Khosyaràsqa has the key!
Then go get it! Siêthiyal signaled back.
I can’t! The Duchesses are too big and scary!
Just grab the key! We need to leave!
Could you do it?
You’re such a waste of time and flesh and honor! Siêthiyal came storming down back through the factions of acolytes and scribes and priests and they were flowing away from her as if she were a log drifting in the waters and parting leaves and ducklings before her. Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa were still circling each other like lionesses about to fall upon their prey, and jangling about Khosyaràsqa’s supple waist lay various bells and rings and keys at her girdle. Siêthiyal sighed and turned to Akhlísa and hissed – I have no idea which key is yours. –
– It’s clockwork – Akhlísa chanted.
– They’re all clockwork. –
– It’s super clockwork clockwork, all constricting. –
– That doesn’t help! They’re all clockwork! –
– It’s golden just like me! –
– Can’t you grab your own stupid … –
– I’m scared! –
– Stop being scared! –
– I can’t help it! –
– Which key! –
– Yellow! Blue jewel in it! –
– I think I see it. –
– See it? –
– Yes. –
– Please get it! –
– Sigh! What I do for you! I don’t suppose you could manage to find an escape pod for us? –
– Hmmm … I’d need some help. –
– I wash my hands of you – Siêthiyal ducked beneath the flowing tentacles, Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa continuing to orbit about each other and the sacerdotal waves parting all the while. – I’ll tie a bow on you, give you to Puey, and be done with you! He can start running your errands, but this is it, it’s the very last time! –
– Lwaaaaaa …. ! – came the distant cry.
– Should we be concerned about the approaching cry? – asked Akhlísa.
– I have no idea … – chanted Siêthiyal as she fell upon her hands and knees and dove right between the two Duchesses who continued their strange silent wordless ballet about each other, their eyen boring into the thoughts and memories of the other. Siêthiyal knew she had to be swift and deft, she rolled upon the floor about the sweeping skirts of Pereluyàsqa and bound about the flowing mouth-trunks of Khosyaràsqa and slid about her in an attempt to get closer to her waist, she wished that the illustrious pirates Fhèrkifher and Xhnófho had taught her the subtle arts of pickpocketing, or at least of being able to distract someone for a moment with slight of hand, she wished Akhlísa could do this herself, her hands were a little smaller, even Éfhelìnye would be able to, no not even she, she’d just prance about, where are those Pirates by the way, does anyone even know what happened to them, they were in the War Rede and then they just vanished, probably out pillaging and drinking pink lemonade and having fun all the while.
– Fight fight fight fight fight! – cried Akhlísa. – Teach each other apart! I want to see blood and lots of it, fresh and splattered and painful to see! –
– Never subtle, that one – Siêthiyal’s fingers fingers touched the edge of the golden key, but Khosyaràsqa swung aside. Several Dragons were crawling about the outside of the stained glass windows and darkening everything within, and by now came massive whale shadows and the whale music deep and thunderous and louder than she had e'er heard it before. Khosyaràsqa turned again and her tentacles whipped out, but Pereluyàsqa spun around and caught them, and before Siêthiyal could react, the twin Duchesses were squeezing each other tight, tentacles braiding against each other, the Duchesses embracing and crushing Siêthiyal right between them.
– I love you – the Duchesses spake in a single voice. – I love you too – they answered each other.
– Can’t breathe! – Siêthiyal cried.
– What’s this? – the Duchesses asked, and drawing apart a little, their tendrils scooping down, they drew up Siêthiyal and dangled her between the two as if she were a fish caught upon a line. Siêthiyal’s hands wrapped about the corset key and she was grabbing it and visibly drawing it out before the orange and blue gaze of Pereluyàsqa and Khosyaràsqa. Akhlísa cleared her throat and began walking away and pretended she had no idea of what was happening.
– What are you doing? – the Duchesses asked.
– Ah … key? – asked Siêthiyal. – Sister. Corset. –
– Oh, that – chanted Pereluyàsqa, and her tendrils withdrew at once.
– We rescued it from your bedroom, when we found the Dragons there – Khosyaràsqa snatched the key away and dropped Siêthiyal. Siêthiyal rolled about and saw Khosyaràsqa’s tossing the key around and setting it back unto her girdle. – One doesn’t want to forget this, so I’ll keep it safe. You children will doubtless just loose it. –
– Of course – chanted Siêthiyal.
Akhlísa ran up to Siêthiyal and pocked her belly with the toes of her white slippers and chanted – I can’t believe you were trying to steal from our beloved Great-Aunties. –
– I can’t believe I’ve put up with you for as long as I have … – Siêthiyal sighed.
The porst of the meditation halls were blasted away and several long serpentile necks came slippering within, and one Dragon crushed his head right into the halls and asked – Have you Sisters stopped fighting yet? Some of us haven’t eaten maiden in a thousand years, and we’re forhungered! –
– We’re still busy fighting! – Siêthiyal cried.
– Oh don’t talk to the Dragons, you’ll just encourage them – chanted Akhlísa.
– Aren’t you the one who talks to Imperial Mad Scientists? –
– Aren’t you the one who kisses Mutants? –
– Mad Scientist? – asked Pereluyàsqa.
– Mutants? – asked Khosyaràsqa.
The halls rocked from side to side, the rafters were falling apart, and the priests and scribes and acolytes were flinging themselves upwards and swirling out their impaling spears and staves and swords right in the direction of the dragons in order to protect the Duchseses and the Maidens of the Sun.
– Priests – one Dragon shrugged to another.
– Nutritious, but not delicious – the other Dragons chanted.
– We heard that – the priests were saying as they rushed upwards and did battle with the Dragons.
– When do we get to eat strawberry maid there? – one Dragon asked.
– I want honey bread yon – another Dragon chanted.
– Are they talking about us? – Akhlísa asked.
– Yes! – chanted Siêthiyal – And I will not have any filthy Dragon call my Sister … well, you do have honey tresses, but that’s beside the point! She is not a food item! And even if you were thinking of eating her, I doubt any of you dragons were planning on pay the xeufhèlta for her, a galnes, danwedh, eirick poinē weregild! She’s quite valuable, I’ll have you know! –
– Very valuable! – cried Akhlísa.
– I’d trade her for eleven golden haired concubines! –
– Yes, do you have eleven golden haired concubine? I think not! –
– That ought to keep them quiet – Siêthiyal nodded.
– And not eating us, that’s important – Akhlísa winked in reply.
A couple of Dragons turned their heads together, and while their wings were busy impaling priests and reducing them into flaming smears of bone and blood, the Dragons whispered for a few moments and then turned back towards the children at the other end of the hall and chanted – We have nine golden haired concubines between us whom we’ve been saving as a snack, and we can assure you that they are very fair. –
– Really? – asked Siêthiyal. – How comely are they? –
– Quite beautiful, we snatched a couple from high towers – one Dragon chanted.
– Others were in the temple, some were in their bedrooms – another Dragon chanted.
– They’re all from the xhùple, the gentry, Jarjhíxhoxe we all think, although one or two may even be Posqéje Noble, all good families of high estate. –
– Is that so? – Siêthiyal asked. – Are they skilled at weaving, singing, cooking … –
– Sister! – Akhlísa gasped.
– Quiet! I’m negotiating – Siêthiyal chanted. – Pipe down. –
– One comely maiden was weaving when we caught her, her tears were added to the thread, one was dancing, they all seem quite skilled in household tasks – a Dragon was saying.
– One maid was able to recite long portions of the Holy Writ from memory – a Dragon told Siêthiyal. – And one we found taking care of some wounded plantimals. –
Siêthiyal played with some of her pink tresses. – It sounds like they’re make good mothers to Puey’s children. Do any of them have any blemishes, silly voices, any … what do you want, Kàrula! –
– You’re not being funny! – Akhlísa chanted. – I hate dragons! –
– Go bother someone else! – Siêthiyal chanted. – Can’t you think of anyone aside from yourself? Just think of what a bargain this is, I get rid of you, and Puey can have nine golden dressed concubines, think of all the children he’ll have by then, it will enrich our family in the next generation, plus I won’t have to deal with you anymore. Now, Dragon, before we continue on our negotiation … will you stop tugging on my sleeve! –
– Stop talking to the Dragons! – Akhlísa shouted.
– It’s either talk to them or fight them, and guess which one I’d rather not do, you little pest! – Siêthiyal rubbed her hands together, and the Dragons continued to smash right into the meditation halls and were fighting the priests walking o'er those who were already dead and beating away with sharp sword wings those who were still alive. Siêthiyal drew Akhlísa behind herself and chanted – Now, before we can make a deal I’ll have to see the merchandise. –
– You can see our captives in our eyen – the Dragons were saying.
– Oh no, this is a fair deal – chanted Siêthiyal. – It’s not everyday one sells one’s younger Sister. I need to see these golditressed maidens in person, I need to see what type of wares you have, my Brother is going to be Emperor and I want his brides to be of the finest quality, I’ll need to inspect their teeth, eyen, skin, hair, these need to be maidens of good breeding, musical speech, kind words, elegant deportment, now that’s important, I want elegant brides for my elegant Brother, you have to understand we’re founding a new Dynasty here, one that will rule for the next ten thousand generations, we can’t have it begun with just any maidens that some nano-manged Dragons just found in a tower. –
– Okay, joke’s finished – Akhlísa.
– She has a point – the Dragons were telling one another. – One should be picky. –
– If I were going to sell Khosyaràsqa I’d be quite finicky also – Pereluyàsqa chanted.
– Pardon? – Khosyaràsqa asked.
– How about this? – a Dragon asked. – We’ll bring you five of the maidens, and you let us sniff some of your Sister’s memories when we return. –
– Six maidens – chanted Siêthiyal. – But you only get lousy memories, mostly all the times I thrashed her about, nothing good like happy summer days and learning to swim and all that. –
– Six maidens but good memories – chanted another Dragon.
– We can throw in brunette – another Dragon chanted. – She can sing. –
– How well can she sing? – asked Siêthiyal.
– She can charm the butterflies down from the trees – a Dragon chanted.
– Puey has always been quite interested in music – Siêthiyal chanted. – I shall have to remember to purchase him some musical brides. This one can hum a little, we’ve been teaching her alien music … –
– This isn’t funny anymore! – Akhlísa shouted.
– Brunettes are common – Pereluyàsqa chanted. – Throw in a couple of raven tressed beauties, howe very exotic. –
– Why is everyone trying to replace me? – cried Akhlísa. – And who has the skeleton key to my clockweyth corset? –
– I have it, kùlta, dearest golden one – chanted Khosyaràsqa. – I have to keep it safe from childish hands. –
– She may not need it longer if we can make a good deal from her – chanted Pereluyàsqa.
– My Sister always did have a strange sense of humor – Khosyaràsqa chanted. – Who can understand her? –
– Do you have twin maiden captives? – Siêthiyal asked. – Now that would be a nice present for my Brother. –
The Dragons leaned together and whispered for a few moments and chanted – We could find some within a day or so. –
– Flavicomous twins? That would be a good Starday present … –
– We don’t have any at the moment – one Dragon chanted.
– Such a pity, I was going to trade my Sister on the spot if you did – Siêthiyal frowned.
The Dragons turned and whispered and then chanted – Perhaps in a sennight we could find you some golditressed twins? Or triplets even? That would surely be an even trade. –
– I think trading her for a set of triplets would be quite generous – chanted Siêthiyal. – They’d probably be of the Noble Caste, but that’s to the good … oh I can’t wait to see the look on Puey’s face when I give him triplets. – She began to chuckle and think of all sorts of mischief she could do with triplets as her personal slaves, all the toys she could nab, all the attics wherein she could rummage. – Oh this is my best idea yet! Kàrula, you’re history, you’re the past, you’re food. –
– This is a weird conversation, weird even for me – Akhlísa chanted. – I’m leaving. –