– I wish Puey were with us! – cried Fhermáta, as she struggled to keep her feet and self from flying right off of the spirit, and one arm was reaching outwards and grasping Akhlísa by her waist. – He’d know how to communicate and tame this spirit. Puey’s been able to sooth the heart of the most savage of tree and beast and dinosaur, he would know what to do. –
– Ouch ouch ouch ouch! – cried Akhlísa. – Oh yes, he’d be able to talk to it, he’s say Click click click, and the whateveryoucall this … –
– Xhyiênxhi. –
– It would say, Clack clack clack clack, and then he’s say, cluck cluck cluck, and they’d all be clicking one to another and wriggling their arms and wings about, and the … what did you call it? Xhyí, giggles? No, xhyiê, those who throw something, especially snowballs neĝbuli! No, wait a moment, it’s xhyiî, delight, joy, rapture, ecstacy, lætitia, it’s just at the tip of my tounge! –
– Ekheu’ ei! – gasped Fhermáta.
– I know, xhyiîrptu, the isocrhoma of a clock. –
– Xhyiênxhi. –
– Xhyiêrxhni? Communal rooms, parlors, säluns? –
– No, xhyiênxhi! –
– I like pendula of a clock better, all tick tock tick at the same time xhyiîrptu! –
– This is rather malcomfortable! Oh! –
– So Puey would talk to it and they’d be scratching each others’ heads and wriggling their wings and ears and it would be e'er so much fun and perhaps he could teach it to run in the same direction all the while! Sideways, backwards, at least it’s not running upside down! –
Fhermáta rolled aside, the neck was snapping up around her, the head was lifting up and crying out in a new series of echoes jàngqa reflexions ixhúja shadows, and she just barely managed to grab ahold of some of the flexing nobs of the wings before falling down. Akhlísa grapped her older Sister’s legs for to steady her, and Fhermáta cried out – Please don’t let’s give the spirit any whimsical ideas! –
– Like running upside down! –
– Don’t even say it! –
– Say what? –
– Whatever you just chanted. –
– That the xhyiênxhi should run upside down! I think it would be fun! –
– If you … If it … oh why can’t Puey be here? –
– Shall I fetch him? –
– You left him in the Dragon battle! We disobeyed our Mother, and we are going to be punished like we’ve neverbeen punished before. Do you have any idea what Mother will do to her two disobedient daughters? –
– Make them ride a wild mud dragon like we are? –
The xhyiênxhi bound upwards upon the tips of its wings and was now dashing downwards through the long and dark wilddeerness that was stretching up before the Forest at the edge of the Land of Death. Throughout the plains and the bounding hills came the sound of the reflexions and echoes growing far more distinct, the sound of shuffling wings, the crackling of muscles and mud flowing upon uneven frames. The maidens rolled around a bit and as the spirit dashed sideways they could see behind them the pyramids and towers of the Necropolis beyond the gates of fire.
– You have no conception of what Mother can do to us – Fhermáta chanted. – She’s taken o'er all of the Ancestors of our Clan, she can do almost anything that she wants to. –
– She’s not going to beat us. Is she? Is she? – Akhlísa squealed.
– How would you treat a Daughter-in-law who snuck into your house and smuggled away your Son whom you were trying to find? –
– Ah … I … I would give her lots of candy and hugs? –
– Honored Mother can banish us from the Ancestors for all eternity! Can you even imagine what that would be like, to wander at the edge of the domains of the ghosts, to hide from the other scary and haunting exiles, to dwell for ever in a place of cold grey, never to feel the love and piety of one’s living kin! Can you contemplate what it would be like to have our Descendents forget about us, no longer for them to tell stories about us, I would rather die a thousand deaths than for Puey never to say my name again, I want him to tell all of his Sons and Daughters about me! Oh, the horror of it all! –
The xhyiênxhi came skidding upon the flint and shattered stone of the flame, and its already irregular gate became even more irratic as it arose and bounced and dashed outwards. Akhlísa flung her arms around her Sister and cried out – I don’t want to be exiled! Mamà can’t exile me, she needs me to continue the family, I’m far too valuable and important, there’s a marriage contract with my name on it, she just get discard me! –
– How sure you are. Maybe we should have thought this out before trying to smuggle Puey away. –
– We did a very good job of smuggling Puey away. –
– You threw him in the Dragon’s face! –
– Mamà can’t toss me away! Now you on the other hand, I don’t see what further use she has for you, maybe she’ll drag you out into the wilderness and leave you there. –
– I love how tender and sororal you are. –
– Although I suppose Mamà is benefited by the endless pity that your lamentation generates. –
– Pardon? –
– Um … nothing. –
– What are you saying? –
– It’s … well everyone knows you, your Emperor Puîyos’ first wife, his virgin bride who died upon her betrothal day, the one who weeps for all eternity. We all feel sorry for you because, basically, um, your life was ruined and … um … you’re a ghost now. Please don’t be angry with me, but it’s true, everyone feels sorry for you and for Mamà and Puey too, and um … so you’re a tiny little bit important, but not too much. –
– Maybe Mother will toss you out … – The xhyiênxhi mud dragon was shaking with far more vehemence than it had been before, for all of the ground was quickening aneath its complex prehensile wings. The ground was shattering in growing chasms, heat and moistureless mist arising out from them, and far off in the distance where the wilderness and the forest met, much of the soil was buckling upwards and bits of horn and ridge were slowly emerging.
– No she won’t – Akhlísa cried back. – I … I’m going to be Puey’s Concubine! She just can’t get rid of me! –
– I’ve told you before, don’t anger Mamà, she’s just as liable to pick someone else to be Puey’s bride. She’ snot even on speaking terms with him, her only Son, so don’t think you’ll be treated any better! –
– But I’m young and cute and her youngest and I never disobey! –
– You are now! –
– This doesn’t count! – Akhlísa shreaked, for the xhyiênxhi was skidding now upon the surface of the breaking land. An hill was growing upwards at the marge of the forest, and in the breaking and sloughing away of the soil the children could see thousands of shadows arising, all of them squeaking and jibbering and clicking one to another, and as the shadows grew closer they could see that they were spined and winged and their hame blured a little scintillant mud sighs.
– Puey will take my side! – Akhlísa gasped.
– This was not a very good plan at all – Fhermáta chanted.
– Click click click click! – cried the xhyiênxhi as the shadows were arising about them, and they were a vast and rising storm of thousands upon thousands of xhyiênxhi flying upwards, their wings all a sinuous blur, their irregular legs jutting back and forth and stabbent at the air, and all the while from their jawless heads and bone ridges came the echoes and clicks that were the call of their music.
– Is there any way Siêthiyal can take the blame for us? – asked Akhlísa.
– She’s the only one who will remain unpunished and prestine in Mamà’s eyen, and she was always the sneaky one! For all these years and in all of her schemes to wheedle favors and toys out of the rest of us, she’s the one who’s going to emerge as the dominant Sister! I cannot abide by that – Fhermáta was saying.
– They sure are making a terrible ruckus – Akhlísa chanted, as the outlying tendrils of the xhyiênxhi swarm was coming against them. The xhyiênxhi were fluttering about the children and were screaming all the while in their echoes and clicks, so eager were they to escape that they did not even notice that their wings were jabbing and cutting into each other, they were shreaking in their own peculiar language of peals and clicks, and they kept turning their heads and necks backwards in thought and warning. The xhyiênxhi were blasting unto either side of the children, but their own most feral mount continued to run towards the buckling of the ground, and the arising screams of the creatures as they came in all directions.
– We’ll be the ones making a din soon – Fhermáta chanted.
– Maybe we can talk our way out of beating – Akhlísa chanted. – I’ll bat mine eyen and cry in such a piteous fashion … –
– Grandma Xhàtrajhil did see us, though – Fhermáta rolled from side to side upon the back of the spirit, now the swarms of the xhyiênxhi were grown from different, for the first naturgeists that had come fluttering outwards had been tiny and fleet, and now most of the feeling xhyiênxhi were larger, not quite as big as their own mount, but they were skriking in terror all the louder. Even they were passing away, for the ground continued to break apart around them, and now stampeding right towards the children came xhyiênxhi that were about the same size as their mount and even larger still, but they were not trying to fly, they were galloping upon the claws at the end of their wings, and deep and rumbling and horrified were the bellows of their clicking. Behind them whirlwinds of dust and dirt were arising, and long serpentile shadows appearing in the perpetual halflight of the dreamlands of the Dead.
– Okay, here’s the plan – Akhlísa chanted. – I’m going to pretend to be sick, and you … –
– I almost think that the xhyiênxhi mud drakes are fleeing from something – Fhermáta whispered in a sing-song voice. – But from what? All I see is the shattering of the earth, the movement of shadow, the … Grandmother always warned us not to venture off unto the wilds. –
– I’m going to paint little polka dots on my face, and I’m going to start sweeting and get all woozy! – Akhlísa cried. – I can make myself sick if I need to, and I’ll eat lots of chocolate so that my tummy feels all bubbly and unbalanced. –
– The Undergloom is just as dangerous as the Mortal Realms, Grandmother Xhàtrajhil was telling me, only up there one has to fear death, down here one must protect one’s very souls – Fhermáta was whispering. – And the Ancestors have never been able to tame all of the Underworld, we keep to our own circles and necropoleis, we do not walk into jhòjan jhpaorlùlkha khmixhefhlúxarùlkha, the vales of tears, the valleys of the shadows of death … –
– Of course I don’t want to be too sick, then Mamà will think that I’m a weaklingling and not worthy to be given in marriage to Puey – Akhlísa chanted. – Say, isn’t there a kissing disease I can get? –
– Something is frightening the xhyiênxhi, and yet our xhyiênxhi tantivies right towards the source of the fear … –
– So we’ll going to spread the rumor that I’ve caught some tàqruil nano-disease from kissing Puey, that way all of the other maidens know that I kissed him first and he infected me, we’ll have to draw lines and triangles and dots on me. Rice! Yes, we’ll smear rice on my face … –
– We’re going in the wrong direction. Our xhyiênxhi is running right into the face of danger! –
– It was your idea to ride the creature! –
– You weren’t coming up with any better ideas! How was I supposed to know we’d land on a wild and crazed one … –
– This is your world, you’re the ghost! –
– I’ve only been an honored Ancestor for an hour! And I must tell you, I’m a far better Ancestor than you’ll e'er be a Concubine. I have more honor in my pinky than you’ll receive in your entire life. –
The galloping xhyiênxhi were roaring as they ran against the maidens, the wings and horns of the spirit beasts smashing into the sides of their mount, but still he did not stop or waver, even as the ground before them arose upwards in several hills and bursting out from them came many gigantic wings, and huge flowing necks breathing out storms of echoes and clicks.
– At least I’ll actually get to marry Puey and bare his children! – Akhlísa cried and stuck out her tounge at her Sister.
– But he will always remember me with love and fondness, especially when he’s having to scold you for being so disobedient and crazy! – Fhermáta chanted. – Now hold onto these ridges tight, we don’t have the luxury of arguing any further. –
– You just know you can’t win the argument, you stupid knucklehead! –
– Oh, this was not a very good plan at all! – Fhermáta gasped, as all before them the land was exploding and becoming chasms sinking downwards deeper and deeper still, and arising from them in the steam and shadow of the dust were the elders of the xhyiênxhi in gargantuan proportions, their wings great crackling blankets of burning mud forming and breaking apart all the while, the necks swinging from side to side and gasping out in long peals of echoes shreaking so loud that the maidens had to hold their hands o'er each others’ ears, both ghost ear and mortal ear, and the large blinking eyen of the wihts were swinging from side to side and blinking all the while. The gigantic mud drakes were slowly pulling themselves up from the ground, and screaming their warnings at their younger kin, clouds of nymph xhyiênxhi fluttering away, streams of galloping adult xhyiênxhi running upon the breaking land, and the gigantic elders were swinging their wings from side to side and smashing right through the bone crests and ridges and backs of the fleeing spirits and shattering them one by one by one.
– What a terrible plan – Akhlísa chanted.
– I miss Puey – Fhermáta sighed.
By now the breaking and crashing earth was all a forest of rising echoes and clicks, and the two Sisters were finding themselves in the very midst of it all. The xhyiênxhi were a raging storm, and they were coming in such great numbers and fluttering and galloping in endless streams about the maidens with such bursting ferocity, that the demoisellen rocking back and forth all the while could too readily view just how vast and kean and utterly alien these beings were. Spirits were of themselves a different order of existence, they were, as the Prophet of Compassion Khniikhèrkhmair explained it, the offspring of the song of the Immortals, they were beings of pure æther and energy and did not have to consist upon food and the photonic light of the Emperor, the spirits did not sleep and did not die, they were part of the eldritch ecosystem of thought and movement and mneme that yfilled the billion, billion spheres of the Dreamtime. The xhyiênxhi whom the children were riding was crashing outwards and screaming in a wild series of clicks as the land was exploding all about it, and in the erupting chaos up spun huge barbs and flexing wings beneath them, the maidens were holding onto each other and the neck of their otlhexhnáxei stead, necks were sprouting out of the earth, necks that were like trees of rapidly growing forests burgeoning unto all sides of them, and along with them all came the endless music of the clicks. The xhyiênxhi mount was swaying from side to side as it ran, and as the elbenmädchen were colliding against each other, the flexing bones and mudlike skin of the spirit kept flexing and rubbing against them, and they were reminded again and again that the form and musculature of this creature was utterly unlike what they had experienced with living plantimals, for the organs of spirits are not organs needed to sustain life but rather to be part of the thoughts of the Immortals, so sometimes collar bones jutted outwards and rubbed against Fhermáta’s hands, and sometimes the wings were bending almost backwards and scraping against Akhlísa, sometimes they heard sighs and grinding from within the hame and were not entirely sure why, and again and again the xhyiênxhi was turning its jawless against them and pealing out a song of echoes, but it had no mouth and no voice at all, just large eyen gazing and blinking all the while.
– Oldest Sister! – gasped Akhlísa.
– Yes, little one – chanted Fhermáta, as she tried to wrap her legs around Akhlísa lest she roll off of the wings.
– I’m wondering something. –
Fhermáta pulled her Sister’s head down, several more flocks of nymphoid xhyiênxhi were swerving right above them, and they were jabbing and shredding with their wings in violent thrusts.
– Do you e'er just start eating and eating and eating and can’t eat and eat until you get sick? Say someone has just backed a nice delicious pie and I’m thinking I really should not have the last piece and Siêthiyal says, But there’s only a single piece left, you’d better have it, and I say, If I’m going to eat the last piece I might as well put fruit and chocolates and marbits on it just to make it all the tastier and then I eat it and have to eat all the cookies in the jars that the elders try to hide from me and dunk my head in a barrel of sugar and I just feel so sick afterwards? Do you e'er do that? –
– No, precious Kàrula, I never did. You have, from time to time. –
– I’m just khàtqais, high spirited, gaja, tikälik, yofik! I say, let’s all be happy as much happy as we can be! What’s the word that Éfhelìnye loves so much … chàngkuài, kug, senzorga, facilanima … èrla, that’s it, èrla, èrlim, those who are carefree, Suns-loving, insouciant! That’s what I am, tré insouciant! –
Fhermáta looked upwards and several spinning wings were crashing about them all, and their xhyiênxhi mount was opening up its wings, its muscles branching outwards unto ankles which no mortal being could have without tearing its sinews asunder, and its legs were bounding back, and the spirit was leaping into the air and fluttering among the clouds of the nymphoids while the galloping spirits continued to retreat throughout the breaking earth, and the vast elders were arising and snapping up all of the smaller spirits and crushing them within their claws and wings. – We can be insouciant later, right now we need to get out of here – Fhermáta chanted.
– I say, live life for happiness. If eating lots of pie makes me happy, I’ll eat lots of pie – Akhlísa grinned.
– Then you’ll grow sick and you won’t be happy any longer. –
– I say, freeing Puey makes me happy, so I’ll do that. –
– And now we’re stuck while these colossal creatures arising to snap us up, plus we’re going to be in so much trouble with Mamà! –
– I say, if poking Siêthiyal in the nose giggles me, I’ll poke her in the nose! –
– Then she’ll punch you in the ribs, and we’ll see how happy that makes you! –
– I say, when I finally meet Puey again in person I’m going to run up to him and kiss him right on his lips! –
– Perhaps you should warn Puey that you’re married to him, and perhaps you may want to warn Éfhelìnye while you’re at it. –
– For a Ghost slain on her betrothal day, you’re a bit sad sometimes. –
– Am I? –
Click click click click click click click roared the gigantic xhyiênxhi as they freed themselves from the crackling ground, and by now the ichpochtli were arising in the midst of the storm of the wings. The gigantic elders of the xhyiênxhi were arising in majesty and might, if they had been bursting out of the loam of a mortal world, they would have been silhouetted vast and terrible and achromatic before the setting Suns or at least the moonlight that struggled to glance among the clouds and balletic cold Stars, but here at the edge of the dreamlands of the honored dead, no Suns were shining, not even Suns in their eclipse, eternal gloom and mist rustled grey in the midlight heavens against no canopy of Stars, and the Spirits gigantic and strange were even more horrid because of it all. Many of the elders were now dribbling with slime flowing down from their necks and eyen, long and splashing lakes of slime reaching outwards and oozing upon the smaller spirits trying to flee from them, the masters were impaling the smaller spirits and crushing their heads into bits or catching them by the wings were snapping them upwards and pulling out their irregular tails and throwing them all about. The slime falling upon the rest of the spirits oozed and burnt a little like some aconitick züd, the spirits that were caught were screaming in agony as their ridge horns and limbs began to dissolve, the acid was splashing outwards and leaving long rippling splashes of dust, the acid eating up into the very earth itself, but in the very turning and coling of the acid was not at all moving the way that liquid should move, and the maidens were reminded again, as the elders picked up the young too small to escape from them and burnt them into pieces, that even acid here was made of dust and not of fluids, and so the giants arose the greatest of the xhyiênxhi, thunderous clicks arising from their bone ridges, and they caught up the smaller ones and ripped them apart and hurled wings and bone ridge aside.
– Why this awful din! – Akhlísa shouted, as she tried to cover her ears, but in doing so almost fell of the mount. Fhermáta caught her, but Akhlísa just shouted out all the louder – This is completely intolerable! Can’t you go to these Spirits and say, Listen you, My Sister here is the new Emperor’s Concubine, she’s very important, so stop skriking with your click click click! It’s making my head hurt. –
– Somehow I don’t think the Spirits will be terribly impressed by your betrothed status to our uncrowned Brother who has not even managed to defeat the Holy Tyrant Kàrijoi, herceg aλin, bludesidel dadag, Yrkwu manaith, khwonítu khyíngen! They don’t even care about my estate, so why should … –
– Just go tell them! – chanted Akhlísa. – I’m very important, I’m being groomed to … I’m just important! –
– Hold on! –
– I’m going to be given in marriage to someone of the Pwejhoqèrti, the Royal Pwéru Xhámi Caste! I … I … go and tell them! –
Fhermáta’s forhead was throbbing now as the Elders of the Xhyiênxhi were sucking in all of the storm about them, their wings were dribbling with the youth they were capturing and smashing together, several of the elders had bone ridges completely stained with the bones and skulls of the muddrakes too slow to escape from them. – Sister, I’m very happy for you, but you have not completely changed into a maiden of the Pwéru yet. The last time I was flickering among the Mortal Realms, you and Siêthiyal were tossing candies at the Duchesses, and when the Aûm contessas were out of hearing range, you and your Sister were engaged in a burping contest. –
– I won! –
– Yes, I know. You’re not as rarified and fine as you think you are … hold on! –
– Hold onto what? –
– Just, hold onto me! –
CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK! screamed the Elders, and one of them snatched up the maiden’s mount in their claws and threw it upwards. The stead spun around and around and screamed with rolling rippling peals of echoes, and the maidens had no choice but to hold onto each other and the wings that kept snapping and crackling about them. Another Elder of the Xhyiênxhi caught up the mount and threw it several spans away, and a third elder batted it away, the Elders were now wading through the remnants of the galloping hordes and crushing the lesser spirits beneath their irregular legs and wings and screaming the music clycksōn.
– I don’t understand why they have to be so loud! – shouted Akhlísa.
– It just must be the way they communicate! – shouted Fhermáta. – Éfhelìnye could probably figure it out, their thoughts or words must be clicks and echoes. She told me that some plantimals do not growl or purr but just click and echo, I don’t understand it myself, but I’m sure Puey can echo just like they do. –
– Éfhelìnye’s so smartified! –
– I think it has something to do with the shape of their bone heads, all those ridges, I’m not sure. Maybe the way the muddy skin dances o'er a skin of phosphorous. I suppose I could ask the Elders of the Ancestors, they would know how the naturgeists function … oh oh oh! –
CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK!
And all at once one of the Elders ripped its wellbarbed wing right through the ridge horns of the maiden’s stead and drew it several hundred cubits right into the air, and the mount was squealing in terror, its eyen rolling from side to side, its wings flapping in a most pitiable manner. Fhermáta and Akhlísa were hugging each other now, Akhlísa warm and wet breath upon her Sister who no longer breathed air nor felt sunlight nor taste bread but who could still fear warmth for her family. The Elder hooked up the young and feral xhyiênxhi upwards, it was almost like a fisherman drawing up its line and eyeing its prey in a cold, dispassionate, calculation, but the Elder was not blinking with its large winding eyen, but just continued to blink and echo towards the smaller spirit. The echoes were focused unto it. The maidens were utterly silent, save that Akhlísa was beginning to weep in her Sister’s dead arms, and none of them could see to the end of this situation. The Elder’s clicks grew silent. Several other vast and towering Elders were flowing upwards upon the vellum of their wings monstrous and long, and they too were regarding the small feral spirit who had blundered unto their gathering. Akhlísa held her breath. Fhermáta wondered what she could do, for in life she had always besought the aid of the Ancestors, but now that she was one and had wandered alone unto where she was not supposed to wend, what help could the Ancestors of the Sweqhàngqu afford her.
The Elder Spirits of the xhyiênxhi nodded their vast necks from side to side, sparkling clicks rolling down the sides of their bone crests. The spirits do not reproduce, they have neither parent nor offspring, just different generations of thought, and yet an elder among them examining a middle sized spirit was not unlike how a mother mammoth may wrap her trunk around the head and neck of her young. And the Spirits had another difference, one which was being made manifest to the wondering eyen of the Children mooreeffoc khyeunujóxai lweû fhérm, as the crushed bones and the waves of wings and the dust of the vale began to swirl upwards, and the dust became bone, and the wings mended themselves, and the bones became sinew and mud and xhyiênxhi again, was that the spirits do not die, they are part of the thoughts of the Immortals, and so the cascading flocks of nymph xhyiênxhi were forming once again and fluttering outwards, and the destroyed stampedes of the middle sized xhyiênxhi were coming back into existence. The Elders turned their clicks unto the maidens, and all that Fhermáta and Akhlísa could do was shudder and hold onto each other, but then, as inexplicable as it had begun, the elders just set the mount down and hastened it on its way, and the feral stead screamed in a new series of clicking and galloped off right towards the marge of the forest. And the Sisters just clasped onto each other for a time and had no idea what had just happened.
– I don’t suppose we’ll e'er find out – Fhermáta chanted.
– Who can understand the way of naturgeists? – Akhlísa asked. – Not I, says I, I say! –
– Perhaps those who are like parents unto the lesser spirits decided to show mercy. –
– Perhaps I’m just lucky lucky lucky. –
– Perhaps Mamà will show us mercy. –
– There’s a better chance for my luck. –
– Click click! Click click! Click click! – laughed the xhyiênxhi, and before them loomed the massive growths of the khwèxhyot the fungal forest wherein the maidens had been warned not to enter. The xhyiênxhi however, not being warned, did not hesitate in the least to come dashing right through the threshold of it all, and soon was running up o'er shattered soqése fungoids and long sprawling forests of fhlùkhpa and tlheûkhti and khmiîngqe mushrooms. Many worlds in the Mortal Realms have their own khwèxhya forests, many worlds which are months unto others in especial, for instance Khnìntha in the days when it was an honored satrapy of the Winter Imperium was famed for its fungal forests and the long and winding growth of fungoids unique unto its scarlet Moons, and the torquated worlds of Tlhìnger Fhàlqol were also in similar fashion yfamed, and yet here in the Undergloom where the dead but cold air so ofttides smelt of fungus, here the forests were of quite a different quality to those which the Children had seen before in their waking lives. Here the forest arose, dark and winding, no pathway lead within it, the metallic trees were vast and arising webs, the funguses were blotting out the everpresent storm of the clouds, and the mushrooms were crunching aneath the xhyiênxhi’s wings, and the maidens were looking around in gathering fear. Fhermáta had come into the Forest once when she had snuck away to visit Puîyus, and Grandmother Xhàtrajhil had caught her, but she also knew that her Grandmother had a small cottage somewhere within, paths of pins and needles winding untowards it, and once when the Undergloom had not been so dark and terrible she had been permitted to venture within the forest in the company of some of the guards whom Khwofheîlya had provided for her. But now in the loneliness and darkness, the forest was craging upwards and streaking out, stern and unhewed, shaggy and wild, rough and savage, and bubbling streams of fear were flowing outwards, the shadows were cold and bitter, and the fungus mounts were swaying from side to side and shuddering just a little. The xhyiênxhi was still running upon the tips of its wings but not as fleet now, all about it long and winding valleys were appearing and ending with sharp abruptness, sound of leaves and fungus breaking beneath the spirit’s barbs caused the maids to leap up a little, and eternal night was bleeding in drear waves upon them all.
The slopes were wilderness flowing through the forest, and before the ken of Fhermáta and Akhlísa the funguses were ascending, they were migrating in long and labyrinthine patterns that only made sense to minds slow and subtle and fungal in thought. Akhlísa looked upwards and somehow thought that some sunlight surely would ascend and thirl through the great trees and fungus, but nothing came, just the wild xhyiênxhi running in the darkness, its variegated hame flowing in mud tartans. Some of fungus were leaping upwards, they were like lions and dinosaurs jumping with hunger, some of the trees were turning, their roots spreading outwards in long asphyxiating patterns, the leaves were almost like frozen lamentation, their soil was the purity of dust which can only exist in desert dreamlands of the dead. Fhermáta looked around, some of the trees were parting before her, and in the flickering shadow thought she that she saw figures walking who were like tress themselves, and some of them were reminding her alittle of the Prophet walking in his long sable cloak, crookstaff in his hand. But the shadows were just the illusiary thoughts of the fungus, the forest fountain and river and hill of dark dust.
The xhyiênxhi turned its wings around and was clapping his barbs from side to side, its irregular legs were scraping against the stone and wood and pileus of the ground, all rumbling in strange cymbol sounds streaking outwards, it was turning and leaning its head from side to side and listening with hits bone horns, for although it had no ears and did not quite hear as mortal creatures did, it was able to sense movement and sound about it in the flowing echo of the forest. Akhlísa was yawning a little, and Fhermáta was forgetting a little what the sensation of sleep had been like, now that Akhlísa’s head was nodding and her eyen kept closing in weariness, for neither the Spirits nor the honored Dead sleep, at least not in the fashion that the living can. Akhlísa’s head rested against her Sister’s neck, she only dozed for a few moments, and Fhermáta held her in her cold arms, and now in the quiet and growing eeriness of the woods her thoughts were able to slow down a little as she tried to imagine just what she was going to do now that she had defied her Mother and Grandmother Xhàtrajhil. No child was e'er permitted to disobey its elder, such was the very harmony and alchemy of the Dreamtime, and Fhermáta knew that no amount of pleading or tears could change the simple fact that she had been discovered trying to subvert her Mother’s will, and yet children were also not permitted to know whatever the will of the Elders may be, theirs was to obey and the others to be obeyed, it was the balance that kept the family flowing, the harmony of time as children became parents and parents became elders. Fhermáta wrapped her arms around Akhlísa and wondered just where she could possibly go if her Mother did cast her out of the Ancestors, would she be destined to wander these very selfsame forests until the chiliastic end of time gu bràch or would she wander among the Siblings for tide immemorable, perhaps she would even be thrust beyond the confines of the Undergloom, she could wander somewhere in the very margelands between the rivers of sleep and death and sometimes appear as an haunting shadow somewhere in the twilight of the mortal worlds. Fhermáta shook her head, her tresses golden white flowing about her, and being unable to contain her grief began weeping again upon her sleeping Sister, and her tears were crystalline dust, the proper dlens of a mourning ghost.
And then the forest dark and gloomy and swirling began to open up just a little. The great fungoids were parting from side to side, dust streams were flowing uphill and spreading outwards unto petrified stone in the shape of fern and grass, and the smaller trees were all pins and needles swaying from side to side in the winds of the dead, the hills were slowly rustling upwards, triangular and mounting, sinuous ridges that were reminding her of the bone crests of the xhyiênxhi spirits and of serpents in general. The hills continued to march a little about her. The ground was crunching all the louder, and Fhermáta adjusted her sitting upon the wings of the spirit and looking down saw that the stones breaking apart beneath the wings of the spirit looked a little like bones and in their breaking and texture sounded like their shattering, and she gulped in her breathless throat and hoped that these stones in fact had not once been eşemtum qòkhexhet, but she did not quite understand the ways of the dreamlands of the Dead. And the bones and pins were of their own accord become a pathway, and phosphorous shadow was dancing upon the path in a way which reminded her of the way sunlight dances upon water, especially in those days when she used to swim within the loch in the ancestrial fields of the Sweqhàngqu, and just as she was about to surface she could feel all about her the movement of light, and the bursting of bubbles and wave, and arising could feel the confluence of all of those sensations, just so a little the pathway was reminding her, and oh how she missed the sunlight, and ah how she missed living water now denied unto her. She could understand why it was that Khwofheîlya liked to spend her time just a little beyond the Houses of the Dust, in the places where the deadlands of grey and mourning become otherplace, and water still flows, and one can still swim, just not in the rivers and luich and oceans of the living worlds.
Fhermáta looked upwards. The funguses and trees were parting a little before the path of needles and pins and revealing flowing up before them a series of webs stretching from side to side and yawning all the while. She blinked a little, the cobwebs were flowing gossamer, string and cordage weaving themselves together and growing upwards even before her gaze, shrouds were appearing and within them ramps and ladders were flowing downwards. The webs were shaking back and forth and leading up unto a great and flowing chrysalis in the midst of the web, and the chrysalis was blinking with window and chimney and door. Puffs of violet smoke were arising from the chimney, and the roof was the evanescence of cloth and woof, it was almost like smoke caught for a moment and shimmering before her gaze. Fhermáta turned back and looked upon the dust streams and the vast lonely forbidden forest all about them, and her Sister asleep, and knew that before them Grandmother Xhàtrajhil’s cottage was forming before them and beckoning in web and sighs.