Khrùkhtii wended scrambling for tools for her in the driftent dreadnaughts of the Qhíng and the Kháfha and the screwwrenches and pipes and hammers were blent together so that the Kháfha crystal balls and the Qhíng utilities he found in the chests of the Qlùfhem and Thùlwu. All manner of wheel and clockweyth did he bring unto her, the ballerina princess, whilst she for her part was kicking the wheels of the chariot and examining the cogs within and dreaming of new ways to set shaft and lever together.
– The plain is quite simple, my friend Khrùkhtii, as all good plans are– so quoth Éfhelìnye as she struggled to remove the carapace about the axles. The jiîlin mermecolion ruron was stmping its claws and swaying its mandiles from side to side. Khrùkhtii at once dropped the boxes he was lugging for the Princess and ran up to her for to aid her lest she somehow entangle slippered foot in the wheels.
– Oh holy Éfhelìnye, scion of the Lord Eilasaîyan the son of the Sun, only child of Dread Kàrijo who is Master of Earth and Sea and Sky! – so gasped Khrùkhtii as he spun the wheels away from the Princess and kept a respectful distance from the jiîlin formicoleon. – Is it at all proper for thee to be addressing one as lowly as I am in such a manner? –
– Oh? – asked Éfhelìnye as she slipped beneath the chariot. – Do you have a qlupetòkhqi wrench key about as big as my palm? –
Khrùkhtii reached into a jar and drew out several Aûm tools whose construction and purpose he could not begin to guess, and some of these same opened metallic jaws at him and snapsnapsnapped, and he almost tumbled towards the gnawing mandibles of the lion ant. – Beloved future Empress, Moon of all the Land – the acolyte gasped. – Thou shouldst not address me as friend Khrùkhtii! – he called. A ŝraŭbŝlosilo bit him, and he yelped.
– But you are my friend – chanted Éfhelìnye as she slid out from under the chariot. – Did you hurt yourself? May I take a look? – She took his hand, squamous in blues and greens, but he snatched it back and bowed unto her.
– Thou art the only offspring of the Empress that no man may name. –
– Not for then but I have always called you my friend. –
– Only Puey and his kin knew who thou wast and thy parents and when first met I thee. But now, oh empyrean Princess! As Empress thou shalt be the Holy Mother of all the Sylvan Caste. The time may come when we cannot be friends. –
Éfhelìnye snatched his hand back and examined his double jointed fingers and where the Schraubenschlüßel had snapped at him. Khrùkhtii however could not bare himself to drawing his hand away, and indeed all pain evanesced away from him.
– Were my Mother alive, were she breathing air and standing upon these life-giving dreamlands, how I would hope that I could be her friend – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I don’t understand why one cannot be my friend even when I become the Mother of one’s caste. How sad I would be otherwise. – She released his hand, and Khrùkhtii drew his fingers back one by one, and felt that he had sone some terrible thing in touching her moonwhite hand.
– I’m not sure that I’ll get used to the Priests and Acolytes’ calling me Mother – Éfhelìnye sighed to herself. – I’m far too young to be anyone’s Mother. The only Mother I know is Auntie Qtìmine, but I could not bare to have her calling me Holy Mother either. –
Éfhelìnye ran her hand o'er a collection of unruly Kháfhan tools and drew out several different swiveling branches that seemed appropriate to the subcutaneous clockweyth of the garosello, and the tools began to behave themselves, if but a little. She crawled up beneath the chariot and began adjusting the filaments.
– I’m quite sure that Puey and I can arrange it with the Holy and Apostalick Sylvanhood that you at least can continue being my friend. DO you think you can bring some swivellent springs for me-phi? –
Khrùkhtii searched, and the tools danced before his hands, and although he tried to smack them into submission, he was less than successful. He looked down to the princess, her long albescent dress billowing beneath the cogs of the ratha, and he felt sad and embarrassed at the same time, even though the casars were rolling about her, and a flesh of violet light he felt, his facial scales empurpled, heat he could taste upon himself. He almost felt as if his very scales were about to crackle and melt right off. But as soon as it had come it was fading away, a slight sigh of feeling, sensation sussurous, a realization that he too did not wish for things to change. He remembered in the depths of his spleen how even in this very day that Puey and the Princess had played tigtag and hide and seek in the Abby of Caddos Kàtriqan and nore more than once he had caught Éfhelìnye in her flinging of her arms about Puîyus and forcing osome very embarrassing kisses out from it. It was almost too heart-breaking to conconsider that such scenes should remain only in memory past, or at least the happiness should remain statick, untouched, frore, and he himself should never experiencer such gentle kindness again. He reached for an alien tool, grinding metallic teeth snapping at him. Éfhelìnye slid out from under the hárma and seeing him smiled a single, perfect smile, rubescent, innocent, graceful, and Khrùkhtii’s spirits were lifted up again.
The jiîlin lion ant was clicking its long behooked mandibles as its eyen violet and gold skitted from side to side, and the sound of its grinding reminded Princess Éfhelìnye of the musical towers turmsque and fhlukhlíkhe sandducts that stitched throughout the Armadas of the honored Qlùfhem Aûm. It was a rhythmic sound albeit completely alien to her sensibilities, it was not so much hearing a certain drumbeat for the firs ttime, but rather hearing the drum itself anew as it must have beaten in Xhámiwiil the Place of Reads. She thought she could almost detect a mathematical quality unto it, very irregular and changing but stil lbased upon arithmetics. Khrùkhtii Khráfhi, though, the Acolyte born in the sand and iceflats of Tsànyun was not as contemplative and heard but the growling and hungry sighs of the myrmekoleon snarling before him and the future Mother of his Caste.
– Khmeûn khmeûn ur qoe khyása khmaûka púxhnisa! – laughed the Princess as she danced about the lion ant and adjusted the wheels of the chariot. – How I love in fact to create words! –
For once upon a time it was, then upon the Day of Days, upon the first day of Autumn when all of the trees left in Jaràqtu after the occupation of the Kèlor Masters and the unleashing of the Emperor’s Singularity of Time and the War of Heaven, these trees were swaying from side to side and crackling a little as their branches were falling apart and what leaves were left unto them were shining golden and red, it was upon this Day when the Starflower Princess escaped from the dragon shrouds and flamescent seas of her Father’s islanded harīm and met Íngìkhmar’s Son, the boy of her dream, and set out upon her adventure, it was upon this day as the clouds were riotous in silvers and blacks and the whispering mountains that were the spine of Jaràqtu were quiverous before the coming living ships of Xìngqo’ Oantheyùlkha the Triple Alliance and the vast gorges down which the labyrinthe mists were flowing. It was once upon a time indeed, and the dust mixed with froth and snowflake and ground up leaves were spinning upwards about the wheels of the chariot as the Princess came riding outwards. All of the land was quaverous with the beat of the coming living ships and the strange labyrinthine forms slowly drifting upwards before them, long and twining tentacled towers with strange majesty petrescent, august lifting upwards and branching up into the heavens. Westering were the dark kinyèngtol within the dying of the heavens, the crescent kinyèngtol Suns that were chanted to glisten at the chiliastick end of all dreams. Black smoke drifted down from the encurved Suns. Princess Éfhelìnye looked up a few times at the curve of the Suns and tried not to think of the growing horror of it, of the very changing and dying of the heavens, at the thought of the end of all the Land, bust rather kept her eyen fixed upon the gorge and the horizon where she knew that her Puîyus would be fighting for them all.
The war narkabtum thundered onwards, and in the growing black light of the battle Princess Éfhelìnye tried to think of anything but the vast crescented Suns shimmering above her waŕu, gutáya. The acolyte Khrùkhtii of the negotiator genetic sub-caste was barely in control of the reins and of the great Lion Ant bedragging the chariot onwards. His sylvan robes were long curves of silk and leaves woven into them, and he wore a slight helmet whereupon were hammered the glyphs of an initiate into the caste of the priests. He was just now entering into his growth as a khlijhàloxha, and although his genetic sub-caste was smaller and lighter than the many of the rest of the company of the Khlitsaîyart Khlaêr, he was already a couple of palms taller than the princess, and his limbs grown longer, and his saurian tail wrapped in rings and disques grown sharp and urticatious. He yanked upon the reins a few more times, and the Lion Ant bound upwards and turned its head and snarled at the acolyte a few times, its mandibles skriking together and spitting at the young Khlitsaîyart for daring to strike it, even if they were on a message from the one who would become the Moon Empress of all the Land. Khrùkhtii forflicked the reins a few more times and the jiîlin myrmeleon snarled at the acolyte in warning once or twice even as it bound upwards and skidded upon rock and about the edge of what had once been defensive wall strutting throughout these gorges. Éfhelìnye shielded her eyen from the vast and dark Suns twining, and did not feel the hot tears streaming down her face.
The acolyte Khrùkhtii, the jhonífhye, the war orphan ecland familess, iļiappak woorumullumbuk nepalan, who had been rescued upon the ice sands of Tsànyun by the kind hand of Grandfather Pátifhar himself, who had spent all of his life in Jaràqtu and in the Abby of Saint Kàtriqan, who had grown up with the other acolytes and with Puîyus and his Sisters as if they were kin, was stilly, unwilling to speak for what could be possibly say in the presence of her who would become his ritual Mother, the Empress of all of Glossopoeia? He but shivered. Part of him wished to take her hand and hold it and console her as she wept, but he knew better than to touch the finger of one high caste and divine. He tried to think of something else than her tears. In the mist uptumbling about them, in curves and bits of shattered pillar he could see that they were riding through what had once been part of a courtyard of a temple so very ancient that earth and root and vine had grown up about it and reshaped it with dead plantimal and the death of the trees. The vast outlines of several different pyramids arose, several moon towers whereupon were glistening the remains of the sacrificial altars many generations unused, but glistening with a shine of silver and red upon them.
At long last the Princess herself broke the silent and began wiping aside her tears. Khrùkhtii turned back and saw that where the tears were falling little fountains were forming upon the broken land, and bits of twining leaf and petal growing upwards, even if for but a few moments. Éfhelìnye sniffled a few times and chanted – I just hope that were are in time enough to help Puey. –
– Is that why we’re doing this, escaping the warm and comfortable safety of the fleet? – asked Khrùkhtii. – Not to mention defying all of our authority figures, our parents and masters who have bidden you to remain safe with the other maids? –
– I just sense that Puey will be in trouble – chanted the Princess. – Surely I can figure out a way to help him, even if at the last moment. –
– Now that I remember it – Khrùkhtii began. – Is not your cousin the Princess from Beyond been charged with keeping you safe? Let’s go back to the warm comfortable safety of the fleet and have her protect you. If you don’t mind, I’ll just turn the chariot around right now. –
– Oh, we’ll find Puey in a moment – Éfhelìnye chanted. – He’ll be in the very midst of the action, with the screaming and rending of flesh and the horrible singing of blades. I just know it will be the most terrifying thing that one can imagine, but I just cannot leave him in danger, oh the dear one, when I just know that something unspeakable may hap unto him. –
Khrùkhtii bristled a few times and yanked at the reins, but the great lion ant just spat at him a few times and thundered onwards towards the danger. He cleared his throat and chanted – Beloved Empress of Tomorrow, one cannot help but notice how many times you mention horrible and terrifying and dangerous in your description of what is to come. Would it not be prudent for us to return right now before entering said local of danger, terror, horrification? Why, should we turn aside at this very moment, we may not even get in trouble with Auntie Qtìmine or the stern hand of Grandfather Pátifhar. –
Princess Éfhelìnye sniffled a few more times and felt a few more tears falling, but before she could answer the lion ant screamed out as the ground quook beneath its many claws, and it came dashing upwards about the side of some crumbling walls that were revealing the long shattering garth eaves that reached up unto the sunshaped altars of what had been the temples of an earlier age. The lion ant had to struggle to pull the chariot upwards and was screaming all the while. Éfhelìnye at once pulled upon some of the levers of the apparatus that she had devised and installed into the chariot, and at once the main wheels began to expand and lift themselves downwards upon long and tremulous stalks so that the chariot was able to bound up o'er some of the ruins. She pulled upon several more levers and out came unfolding umbrella wings, so that as the chariot bounced upwards it was able to glide downwards in slow and majestic descent rather than just tumbling downwards and risking the shattering of the axle. The war garosello shifted from side to side and spud up upon the sides of the walls of the ruins and dashed upwards unto the majesty of the cloud banks before them, where the sounds of war were at their loudest. Several more times the chariot came spinning upon the uneven level of the ruins, and a couple of times Khrùkhtii the acolyte in the swaying of the chariot found the Princess bumping into him and calling into his arms a little, and he shuddered to think that he was touching the arms of one who was divine. And it soothed not his conscience to think that he touched her by accident nor that she was a guest-friend of the Sweqhàngqu Clan and foster-child of Granfather Pátifhar himself, for it was become clear unto him that as the Princess grew older she would become even more divine in appearance, truly one of the dragonblood of the Pwéru. The lion ant cried out as some of the stone representation of warriors fell down before them, and the chariot flew upwards upon clockwork flippers, and Éfhelìnye fell into Khrùkhtii’s arms again, and he could smell that she was all of the exhalation of sugars and cinnamons and rare flowers such as only exist upon the limits of dreams.
– We need not fret – chanted Éfhelìnye as she pulled upon some other levers of her own device, and springing up about the hubs of the chariot came some mechanical arms that she had thought were an interesting invention at the time but whose purpose now she was not entirely sure she thought to fulfill. – We’ll be within the midst of the battle presently. –
Khrùkhtii coughed. – So I take it that we won’t be returning to safety any moment now, please? –
Éfhelìnye could see that the path was leading right beneath the vast and dying Suns and sought not to look upon the sadness of it. She glanced upon the dead temple ruins and found them of even less comfort. – Khrùkhtii, my friend, I don’t suppose you know what wrack this is, the bits and pieces of this temple lying partially within the gorge? I was not even aware that there should be the shadow of a temple in this place? –
Khrùkhtii looked behind and could see that vast and slow and majestic the warfleet of the Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm were converging unto the edge of the gorge. He cleared his throat and chanted – I am afraid the name of this ruin has been lost through the ages. It is chanted that this was once a great temple complex of the Xhmòsqri, the Painted People of the Whispering mountains of this land. It was long, long ago though when the downfall of this ophalin betided. –
– What happened? – asked the Princess.
– No one truly knows. There is a legend, though, not even a legend, an idea – Khrùkhtii sighed. – The priests were gathering up some of the sacrificial hostages, so it is chanted. It was a dark time. The heavens were twisted, wroth. One of the blessed sacrifices escaped into the darkness. And the priests chased not after him. But the Xhmòsqri thought that surely the Immortals would be satiated with the sacrifice of the hundred and twenty hostages and not miss the hundred and twenty first, and so the obsidian knives arose and blood flowed down the sacred rock, and the holy words were intoned, and the souls of the blood sacrifices arose unto the Suns. However, the Immortals were not fooled, for they had been cheated of their proper dues. And the Immortals shook the land. But the Xhmòsqri of this mountain did not search for the lost sacrifice. The Immortals shook the sky. And still the Xhmòsqri searched not for the food of the Immortals. And the Immortals shook the sea. And the Xhmòsqri were hard of heart. –
Éfhelìnye gulped and felt her own heart racing. Since she had been reared in the silence and isolation of the Forbidden Gardens deep within the dragon fiers of her own Father’s heart, she alone among mortal children had grown up without the whispered tales of blood sacrifice and the rituals that surround it and the rites that continue to bring life unto all of the land. She gasped a couple of times and at last squeaked – I suppose the Immortals were quite fond of this last sacrificial victim, then. –
– I am not sure whether there was anything special about her in particular – Khrùkhtii chanted, his double joined shoulders shrugging as only a reptilian Khlitsaîyart can. His sidewise eyelids clicked and he scratched a gill and chanted – The escaped prisoner was a virgin maid. The hecatomb consisted of brides for the Immortals. The Immortals can be quite sensitive about being cheated out of bride. She escaped somewhere, perhaps in the ice quags of the Land. But it wasn’t her escape that angered the Dreamers, my Princess, it was that the people did not attempt full honor unto the Immortals. And for that impiety, the Immortals came down and they unmade all of this temple. The scurrying rocks were taken apart, the pillars flung down, the altars smashed, and the blood of the priests gushed down the ramps of the pillars. Even the names of this place upon the glyphs were effaced so that to this day none know who exactly where this people. Perhaps they were not even Xhmòsqri themselves but some other tribe of the mountain. Who can say? All that we know for certain is that one dare not show impiety unto the great and beneficient Ása who dream all things into being. –
Éfhelìnye wished that she could stop the racing of her own heart, for as the chariot dashed onwards she could feel nervousness swelling up within her. She knew that Puîyus could slow or even stop his heartbeat at will, and she wondered whether he could make himself un-nervous also. She wished whether she could be as unafraid as he was, a Jàrqta warrior of the people who would rather die than surrender unto fear. She cleared her throat and chanted – Perhaps the foolish virgin was just afraid to be sacrificed. The bonefires, the drums, the knives, they are all terrifying enough just to witness whether or not one is the bride of the Immortals. –
– Perhaps – sighed Khrùkhtii. – But then again, her death ensured honored to her family and parents. If she had truly loved her parents, willingly she would have become a bride of the Immortals. Perhaps Our Heart Raven himself would have taken pity on her and taken her into his protection. But that is not the story that we have received. The Immortals unsundered all this temple and burnt it to the ground. The priests were slaughtered upon their own altars. All of the men were slain and the male children save those young enough to be made unto eunuchs and sold unto the Great Houses and the aristocrats of the Warrior Caste, and you can imagine the shame of a family whose name is undone without any male heirs left at all. The young and comely maidens were given as concubines to the warrior clans, and some were given unto the Sylvanhood to be vestal virgins and tend the flames, the rest of the women were doubtless sold unto the nations. But this was all long, long ago, my divine Princess. You need not worry about a people exist and that do not even have a name. –
Éfhelìnye sniffled a few more times. – We just need to find Puey. I was merely curious about the ruins, that’s all. –
Khrùkhtii’s squamous face lit up as he realized a way to return to the fleet and out of trouble and to a safehaven for the Princess – If you are afraid we can return back to the Elders – he cried. – Perhaps they’ll have cake for you. I don’t even remember the last time I’ve eaten, but I just know they’ll have food for you. –
Éfhelìnye hung her head down. – We can’t return. We’ll be entering the fog soon. And if I’m right, Puey may need me. – She was trying to avoid seeing the dying Suns above them and the jagged ruins unto all sides of them, but it was impossible not to notice them at all. In the imagination of her heart she could hear the rhythm of the drums of sacrifice and the vast and sacred dances about the pyramid ramps beneath the shining moons and the flickering of the flames, and she knew to her shame that she would not possibly be brave enough to die upon the altar for her parents and loved ones.
The partially clockweyth chariot came bursting right into the center of the darkness. Of a sudden Princess Éfhelìnye, the virgin born daughter of the Empress whom none may name, found herself in the midst of the speardin. Unto all sides of her were phalanxes of Qhíng marching upwards in their quicksilver armor, flame crackling upon their tendrils and the jewels of the helms, and dashing among them were the Qlùfhem and the Thùlwu in their flowing metallic rainment, impaling spears and spikes in their tentacles, and the Khàfha were present also, each one resplendent, his three wings clasping a sword each, and they were spinning against the enemy, and behind them were looming the warships of the armadas, the amberlit cannons spinning around and firing into the mist. Éfhelìnye was not entirely sure, but it almost seemed that the battle was against the mist itself, the vast almost tunneling black clouds that were descending down from the edge of the mountain. She heard a gentle but consistent crunching sound beside her and turned and examined some of the levers in the thought that something was amiss in the clockwork, but saw instead that it was Khrùkhtii himself, the acolyte was gnashing his teeth and chattering and shaking in fear. Flicks of ice were arising all before them, the ice splashing upon Khrùkhtii’s face, but slowly turning aside and avoiding the Princess completely. The two of them were riding straight into the darkness. Clouds atramental and deep were touching the very side of the whispering mountains and were breaking apart, oozing down the sides. And yet the clouds did not leave unstained what they touched, but the very whispering mountains themselves were changing, curving in respond to the darkness, long tendrils of black fingers reaching outwards, and what they touched they changed the mountainside into spirals and deep eyen within eyen. Some of the mountain was already arising and its side was all become honeycomb and intricate patterns labyrinthine and trice-dimensional, and the ground beneath the warriors and the sides of the gorge themselves were all spreading outwards and crackling and become the very edge of a strange and living labyrinth. The war chariot wherein the Princess and Acolyte came riding was bounding upwards and skimming at the sides of walls that were become corridors and tall branching jhpèfheyer trilithon doorways spinning upwards and become a living hame of stone. The chariot shuddered a few times and was already bouncing up o'er a ground that was the edge of maze and broken spear and helmet. Éfhelìnye spun around. She thought she could see being descending within the mist, creatures all of smoke, but she could not be entirely sure. She felt as if these were wihts twalking upon limbs that were long twistent tounges, and as the tounges touched the ground they unraveled, unfolding just a little. She could see no face nor any firm outline to the being, save for the impression of smoke and tounge, but she was certain that whatever they or the mist was touching was becoming part of a great and growing maze.
And then all at once the battle became hot and terrible and far too real for Princess Éfhelìnye, the Bride of the ten thousand viceroy kingdoms of Glossopoeia, the Land of Story. The warriors were dashing unto all sides of her and the war chariot, and flames were not just dancing upon their bejeweled armory, but she felt fountains of flame breaking out through the labyrinthine earth, and where the ground and gorges were turning and becoming the side of new pathways out came sprikling out columns and archways of heat without any light at all. The chariot was shuddering as the jiîlin lion ant struggled to remain upright. Several walls were tumbling downwards and inundating the sides of a dreadnaught of the Qhóng themselves, the ship was veering down into the side of the gorge even as the sky mariners struggled to bring up wings and equipmentry to keep it all upright. Several smaller Aûm raiders were springing downwards and deploying weirs for to help keep the ship upright, and in the cries of battle and the shouting of generals and the urging of the conch trump, Éfhelìnye had not a moment to consider that even earlier in this very day the Qhíng and the Aûm had been locked together in va.nshasa.nhaaraH xenocidal conflict one with the other, and had only joined forces under the slight hope that she and Puîyus themselves would be able to found a new Dynasty of Pwéru to rule for another ten thousand generations. Khrùkhtii cried out a word of warning, but it was lost in the confusion. Several streaks of earth rushed above them, and what had once been gorge was now building itself anew into a bridge lattice work of labyrinth sprawling upwards and coiling into some strange almost orrerry-some towers. Éfhelìnye had not a moment to consider. The chariot veered downwards. Khrùkhtii was lifting up a shield covered in the shell of a trice-legged qyìkheluir tortoise, its metallic fanblades spread out upon the rim just as they had been in life, and the Princess was only vaguely aware that he was catching spears thrown at them and preventing them both from being impaled. She pulled upon a few more levers and at lost saw what she had expected and feared all the while, for here within the very center of the battle, where the flames were brightest and hottest, and many cadlong had crashed, Puîyus was fighting alone, and scattered about him were the bodies of an hundred Qhíng and Kháfha and Aûm who had fought by his side and died before the growing mist bursting all about them.
Éfhelìnye gulped. She could see that Puîyus was bleeding from some wounds about his ears and was staggering as all about him bits of labyrinth itself were twisting around and beating him down. He was fighting upon a large heap of corses, and the labyrinth was growing about the shattered helmits and bits of open tendril and wing, and the mist arising and licking him. Éfhelìnye had not a moment to think, but gathered up some of the clockwork apparatus she had been cobbling together within the dreadnaught. She snatched the reins from Khrùkhtii’s squamous palms and tried to draw the chariot Puîyus-weards, but the ground was quaking too hard, and the lion ant was stumbling. Shadows were arising unto all sides of them, shadows that looked like spirals spinning within spirals, and living maze towers. In the heat of the open flames, Éfhelìnye was finding it difficult to think. Suddenly, for just a second, time itself was slowing, at least for her, she thought. The growing labyrinth arose and smacked Puîyus downwards so that he tumbled down the hillock of litches and fell down and far. The labyrinth became a series of daring rings. Éfhelìnye cried out. The rings became a spear. Puîyus rolled upon his side. The spear spun around and aimed right towards his heart, and in this frozen moment, the spear was become a glint of obsidian such as one sees as the xhakeîrowu, the obsidian razor used for the rites of blood sacrifice. And the obsidian rushed down unto his heart, Puîyus, Íngìkhmar’s Son.
From may cubits away Princess Éfhelìnye tied a couple of apparatus about her shoulder and chanted – We have to get to Puey now. Launch me towards him, please. –
Khrùkhtii swung the tortoise shield about and caught another spear hungry to impale him and the Princess. – Pardon? – he asked. – I’m afraid that I did not quite catch that, Divine and Holy one, born of the virgin Empress who … –
Éfhelìnye scrambled up unto the dias of the chariot and was balancing herself upon the toes of one foot in a balletic feet that few maidens would be able to achieve, even as she struggled to carry several clockwork contraptions in her arms. – When I give the signal please pull the long red lever. It will fling me across the battlefield and right towards the creature that’s about to impale Puey. We should be at the correct degree within a moment. –
– Did you say something about … flinging yourself? – Khrùkhtii coughed.
– Yes, the operation shall be quite simple. The entire chariot will act like a chariot and hurl me right towards him. Are you read? –
– So … you’re going to fire yourself … in the midst of a battle against unknown alien creatures who you think used to serve your Father but whose true intentions are unknown … into the very heart of danger … and I’m going to fire you now? –
– Yes – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I just knew he would need help. I have a sense for such things. I think about him all the time, and I just knew that the Xakhpàlqe would … there it comes! On my mark! –
– So you want me to … shoot you … as if this were a slingshot? –
Éfhelìnye drew out a slight telescopic astrolabe and did a swift calculation upon her fingers. – This chariot is no unsophisticated slingshot but an orbital clockweyth wonder. There, here is our moment. –
Khrùkhtii set his claws upon the red lever and chanted – If I fire you, surely you will break your neck when you fly through the air and crash into … something! Did you think about that, divine one? –
Éfhelìnye considered for a moment. – No, I did not think of that. I shall have to contemplate such a contingency for my next invention. Hang on! –
– I can’t leave you alone! – Khrùkhtii shouted.
– Oh you won’t be alone. The chariot will shoot you also. –
– WHAT! –
– FIRE! –
– PRINCESS! –
– NOW! –
Khrùkhtii squeezed his eyen shut, both sets of eyelids flapping shut, and he yanked upon the lever and at once wished that he had not, but obedience after all is more important than questioning and understanding, whether one is of the holy sylvanhood or of any of the other castes of the Land. At once Éfhelìnye disappeared in a mass of springs and wheels and she flew up high within the air, the dais of the chariot opening up and revealing the swivels and propulsion that had accomplished this. Khrùkhtii breathed a sigh of relief for one moment before he realized that he too was arising, the platform whereon he was standing bounding upwards and aiming him also in the same direction, albeit at a slightly lower height. He was already spinning through the air in little coils before he realized what was happening, and the warriors about him were marching and shouting and falling in a blur. Above him the Princess flew. Her hair appeared as a comet streak of gold and red, her arms were stretched out as if she could use them as wings, and the shimmer of her snowwhite bridal dress made her appear heofonliċ indeed. For a moment Khrùkhtii could just gasp at her beauty and wonder what type of Empress she would become, perhaps one even more loved than the holy Moon of the last generation. And then for the next moment he realized the horror of flying through the air in the midst of a battle. He reached out and grabbed Éfhelìnye by one of her ankles in sheer terror before her realized that his hand was clasping the bare flesh of the ankle of one high born. He was about to let go, but flames were trickling about him. He wondered whether the Princess had calculated this little ærial excusion only for herself or with the added weight of a saurian acolyte dangling onto her food, and he decided that he no longer cared as to their destination or to the rituals of purification for daring to touch one sinípwo, sky born indeed.
And suddenly they were in the midst of the labyrinth cloud. Éfhelìnye crashed down right next to Puîyus. Khrùkhtii came sprawling out a couple of cubits beside them. The obsidian blade was spinning around right untowards his heart. Éfhelìnye only had a moment to act. She shoved Puîyus aside. Labyrinthe tentacles whipped about her arms. Puîyus rolled o'er unto one side. The obsidian knife fell and met something. Puîyus awoke and skriked out in pain, a roar was deep and terrible that it made even the jiîlin ant lion in the chariot behind them turn and quake in wonder, for Puîyus’ cry was like unto the magmatic burbling of the mountain itself. The obsidian knife impaled Puîyus through one ankle. He spun his sword around and lopped it through the rest of the obsidian blade, and the clouds burst upwards in oily fountains all about him.
– Mew? – Puîyus asked Éfhelìnye.
– I knew you’d need my help – the princess chanted as she unflung a bit of clockwork from her shoulders. – I have an idea. These are clouds or thralls or some sort of emination from the Xakhpàlqe, the Labyrinth Builders, I think. – She opened up a box and drew out some crystalline leaves. – Perhaps I can make the clouds think that my Father is nigh, for I’m sure he is the only one that the Xakhpàlqe could possibly fear. – From the leaves she unstrung some wires and began twining them about her ears. – I’m going to think cold thoughts for a moment. –
Puîyus struggled to arise and fell o'er, for a long knife was still stuck through one of his ankles. He decided that this day was just not his day after all. He looked around and wished that he could find a way to send Éfhelìnye back out of the battle, for although she had just saved him, the chances were better that she would get caught by the clouds or labyrinth of something next. He growled and touched the knife through his ankle and grit his teeth and wondered where Ixhúja was. Was it not the charge of his feral sibling to be taking care of Éfhelìnye? The commandment should be simple, never let Éfhelìnye out of her sight for any reason. His ears twitched a little and he thought he could ear the distal sound of Ixhúja’s ululation as she leapt into battle and began lopping off the limbs and heads of enemy with joyous and wreckful abandon.
– I think I can make this work – chanted Éfhelìnye as she tapped the glassen machine of leaves. She squeezed her eyen shut and thought of her Father’s blizzards, and at once the leaves of the machine became as of ice, and the wires shook, and the twining living labyrinth about them shook for a moment and stopped its attacking upon the children and began ice. – Puey, look! I’ve frozen it, or at least fooled it into freezing. This is quite a fascinating turn of events, I must say. –
Puîyus crossed his arms and eyed the clockwork and just knew in his heart of hearts that clockwork cannto always be trusted. He looked around and could smell that somewhere in an heap of helmets and spears and bleeding bodies that Khrùkhtii was crawling froward, and he expected to see his dear cater-cousin any moment now. Éfhelìnye for her part took out a small tool from her girdle and scraped off some ice and cells from the edge of the frozen arm of the labyrinth and was wondering what she could discover about the Xakhpàlqe poploe. Already around her though the rest of the growing labyrinth remained unfrozen and was slowly sloughing upwards and searching for prey. She turned back to Puey and smiled and chanted – Perhaps I can discover exactly where the entrance to my Father’s Labyrinth of Worlds may be. Then we shall be able to bring the War of Heaven unto him. –
Puîyus growled. He swung his arms up and tried to stand, but only succeeded for a moment before tumbling down again. Blood began to flow from his impaled ankle. Éfhelìnye dropped a couple more samples of frost and maze when she saw that Puîyus was still sorely wounded. Behind her Khrùkhtii arose, his helmet dinted a couple of times, a slight whiff of phosphorous arising about his torn robes. – Greetings – he coughed. – Did I miss anything? –
Puîyus tried to stand again and fell o'er.
– Puey! We’ve got to get you to a doctor at once! You have a knife through your ankle! – Éfhelìnye gasped.
Puîyus struggled and tried to stand again. – … – he muttered.
– That’s not just a surface wound, that’s fairly serious. Khrùkhtii, come on, let’s help him up. –
– I could carry him, oh Empress of Tomorrow – Khrùkhtii offered, but he made no effort to do so, but was secretly hoping that everything would just work out right without his having to do anything.
– Mew mew – Puîyus muttered.
– I’m getting you help – chanted Éfhelìnye.
Puîyus clasped his hands together and his dancing fingers made signs that meant, I shall just talk a brief walk, and the wound shall bother me no more.
– You can’t walk! There’s a weapon through your ankle! – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Let’s all leave the battle and go for help – chanted Khrùkhtii. – Or we could all hide beneath the chariot and wait until someone finds us. –
– … – Puîyus sighed.
– I’m sure it hurts – Éfhelìnye chanted.
Puîyus made a dismissive gesture.
– I’m sure it’s more than a trifle. –
Puîyus decided that he would just have to do whatever was necessary to keep the Princess from worrying about him too much, so he grit his teeth, reached down, and in a bone-crunching yanked drew out a foot of obsidian knife right out of his flesh. Some of his skin tore at the violence of it, and a small jet of blood bounded up into the air, rilling about his wooden shoe and sprinkling into the air. He tossed the knife away and smiled to the Princesss for to give her a look that meant, There, I’m all healed now. Shall I return to battle.
Éfhelìnye’s knees grew wobbly, her head was weak and dizzy, and she tumbled down right into Khrùkhtii’s arms. Before she realized what she was doing, she found that she was getting very ill, quite violently sick all upon Khrùkhtii’s already tattered zintolsome robes. She was spitting up blood, and it took her several moments to control herself and be able to breathe again, and after that she was not entirely sure what she should do or say to someone on whom she had just become so sick.
Khrùkhtii had grown up with many children in the abby and was actually less embarrassed than the Princess herself, but just helped steady her to her feet. – Cælestial Crown Prince, I think that I should be escorting your future Lady and Wife out of the battle now. –
Puîyus staggered to his feet, and through his years of training was barely able to ignore the hot sheering pain in his ankle where the labyrinth had touched him, and he nodded in agreement.
Éfhelìnye sniffled and chanted – Khrùkhtii, I’m quite sorry, I did not mean to do that. I am not one born of the Warrior Caste. I find the sight of blood quite … disturbing. –
Khrùkhtii looked down upon his robes and could see that the blood that she had coughed all upon him was even now becoming petals rubescent bright and floating up about him in cinnamon swirls. He just knew he would have to be punished for being so close to a future Empress now. He sighed shuddering and chanted – I would not think too much of it. Karuláta has vomited upon me several times, and none of us are the worse for it. Why once on my starday she became sick upon me twice at the same party. I think she had an overdose of muffins. –
Behind them was come once again the roar of battle. The lion ant was dashing towards the fallen bodies and where the children were standing, here at the very edge of the frozen labyrinthine coils. Éfhelìnye rested in Khrùkhtii’s and tried to shove aside thoughts of blood and battle. At least she began saying – Puey, I think I have an idea for something that may … – But her thoughts were arrested as several chariots came crashing down right beside them, and in the midst of it all came a joyous ululation that could almost be described as purring. Éfhelìnye’s eyen narrowed. – Ixhúja – she whispered. – What am I going to do with her? –
Khrùkhtii felt almost dizzy at the smell of a future Empress’ blood swirling up about him, and his voice squeaked as he chanted – I thought the priests were deciding that your Cousin of the holy Blood should become one of your husband’s concubines? That would preserve the … –
Éfhelìnye crossed her arms. – That-sa would not be a good idea, not in the slightest. –
Puîyus looked around and saw that several chariots were crashing together. At least the battle was fading away from the edge of the gorge, and he was pleased, sighing in relief, to see that the Qhíng and the Kháfha and the Aûm were fighting together for the first time this day, and all of them holding up the banner of the new House of the Pwéru. Somewhere in the shadows several more chariots were arising and were tossed against each other. He was hoping beyond all hope that Ixhúja had not just abandoned the rest of their family in the gorge and gone off to fight in glory. But already the first clew was come to tell him that she was coming.
A thousand Traîkhiim slaves came running out within the gorge and about the tumbling machinery and bodies, their wings and limbs slightly caked with maze dust and flickers of blood and they were crying out – The shadow is coming the shadow is coming the crazy shadow is coming save us from her from her from her! –
Puîyus scratched his ear and just hoped that the from her that the Traîkhiim were saying could possibly be anyone else in the cosmoi than his feral twin Princess Ixhúja. And yet he could think of no other possibilities.
– It would certainly protect your cousin in the new Dynasty – Khrùkhtii was telling Princess Éfhelìnye. – The priests are concerned that she comes from the … other … side of the family. From beyond. They are a little concerned with the entire … ah … heretic side of the Pwéru. –
– They don’t need to worry – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I’m not worried. I love my cousin. –
– Ah … yes … but you see, if your husband were her husband also, it would ensure proper parentage and caste standing for her children – Khrùkhtii was saying. – It’s just sensible. –
– I don’t think that’s a good idea at all. –
– Ah … well … –
– I don’t suppose you could help me find a suitable husband for her. –
– Suitable husband. Husband! What! For her! Your cousin? –
– That does seem to be the reasonable course of behavior. –
– I? Me? Matchingmaking for her? All the young men I know are acolytes! I don’t know any eligible young swains. –
– We don’t need to hurry of course – chanted Éfhelìnye. – You can take your time and find out what sort of young man would be appropriate. Perhaps a son of a great warrior, or a prince of the land. –
Khrùkhtii grit his blunt negotiator teeth together and wondered whether this would all end in his having to commit ritual suicide, because he was not about to try to find a young man for the Moon Princess. – Perhaps someone else would be better suited for … –
– Help Help Help Help! – came a cry. Éfhelìnye looked up. Puîyus drew up a torn sock and tried to hide the wound on his ankle from the Princess, but blood was flooding his shoe now, and he was having to tear up a bit of the cloak of a dead Kháfha and use it as a teîripe bindealán to stanch the bleeding. The cries for succour grew all the louder as several Tájo Dodos came running out into the fields were were flapping their wings and crying out saying – A dæmoness is upon the battle field! Help us! Help us! Help us! –
– I’m sure they mean qthùrtlhen in an affectionate way – Éfhelìnye sighed to herself in a not very convincing matter. – I’m quite sure there must be some way that qthùrtlhern could be thus construed … –
The Tájo Dodos ran into the mist and were hiding themselves in crannies and nooks and broken living ships. – No we don’t! – they cried. – The heretic princess is completely insane! Save us from her! –
Éfhelìnye smiled a rather weak smile and chanted – By completely insane I’m sure they mean kind and adorable and that you’ll have no trouble at all finding her an husband, Khrùkhtii. –
– Perhaps it would be safer if we just returned to the heart of the battle – chanted Khrùkhtii.
Several waves of Traîkhiim came dashing out of the shadows, their wings partially fluttering and they were clicking one to another and shouting – Have we mentioned just how completely unfettered and mad the future Empress’ Cousin is? No one with a third of a brain would want to be near her for any extended perior of time, that’s all we can say. –
– I think we should leave – chanted Khrùkhtii. – Puey, if you can walk now … –
– She’s just completely discombobulated! – shouted several Traîkhiim as they fluttered about the Princess. Éfhelìnye tried to shoo them away, but the Traîkhiim continued to duck and snap at her.
– Please stop saying that! – Éfhelìnye hissed.
– Good luck trying to find a spouse for that one! – the Traîkhiim giggled. – She was biting through the armor of the enemy and ripping off their faces with her teeth! And that’s before she went on her spree, and by spree khràqa we mean completely mad battle frenzy! –
– Please go away – Éfhelìnye told the Traîkhiim.
– Don’t you want to hear how bonkers your Cousin is? –
– No. Go. –
Khrùkhtii grabbed Éfhelìnye’s hands and began leading her down the ruins of armor and spears. – Yes, leaving is a good idea. If we’re quite lucky Grandfather Pátifhar won’t punish us too much at all. And if we’re exceeding lucky, I won’t have to play husbandfinder at all. Husband finder? Princess we have jhàmiqhan who find wives for someone, but we have not a single word for someone who has to find an husband for someone. –
– That’s because the word we would use for that function wound be mother or grandmother – Éfhelìnye chanted. – Our mothers are supposed to find husbands for their daughters, but fathers and grandfathers do not search for wives for their sons. –
Puîyus nodded in agreement because he found the Prinecss so very smart. He began hopping down the pile of bodies as behind them all several more chariots came tumbling downwards. Several things were happening at the same time, and none of them were particularly pleasant. Several more garosellos came crashing down about him, and he just kicked aside the spear rims and the spinning fangs of the wheels. Suddenly in the midst of the heap out came bursting Princess Ixhúja, the wind dashing through her long violet hair, blood and grease and pomegranite juice besmeared on her face, and she was grinning with glee as if being caught doing something that she knew she probably should not be doing. She kicked aside a couple more chariots. In one hand she was holding a crescent moon sword dripping with the micromazes that bled out from the shadows, and flicks of skin and flesh were tumbling about her. And running out from her in great waves came the Traîkhiim slaves squeaking and giggling unto each other, and the Tájo dodos were fluttering their waves and spinning outwards. Ixhúja saw her cousin and waved to her, and tumbling down from the clockwork insects in her purple tresses came falling what Éfhelìnye thought just had to be the ears of men slain in battle. Éfhelìnye slapped her forehead and wished to be somewhere else.
– Is it acceptable for us to leave now? – asked Khrùkhtii?
– Purr? – asked Ixhúja as she came sliding down the side of some bodies and kicked aside helmet and bits of jhàrxal vambrace. Before her came roaring the clockweyth chariot whereon Princess Éfhelìnye had been tinkering, and the lion ant that was towing it, and Ixhúja jumped up and shouted at them both, and the chariot collapsed into thousands of bits of wheel and spring and cog, and the jiîlin tottered upon his claws and swooned before her. Ixhúja just chuckled.
– That’s it! – cried Khrùkhtii. – I’m leaving. –
– Wait, Khrùkhtii! – Éfhelìnye chanted. – If you’re going to find an husband for my cousin you’re going to have to know her a bit better and … –
– Divine One, surely Mother Qtìmine would be better suited to … – Khrùkhtii tried stomping away but kept tumbling about the broken shields and swords. In the distance came the sound of the speardin and the thunder of various transport carriers arising at the edge of the gorge.
Éfhelìnye ran after Khrùkhtii down the side of the hill and behind them Puîyus was hobbling and pretending that he had not been grievous hurt. Éfhelìnye caught up to the acolyte and grabbed his claws to squeeze them and chanted – No, please, you have to help me! Mother Qtìmine I think just wants my cousin to be another imperial Concubine, she doesn’t understand that I have no intention at all of sharing Puey with any other maiden. Now, if you could just wait and … –
Puîyus hobbled several yards behind the Princess and practiced smiling just in case anyone should notice the trail of blood from his wooden shoe. Ixhúja came marching right beside him, looked to him, and saw his foot. She grinned.
– Beloved Ixhúja, I would like you to get to know Khrùkhtii a little better … – Éfhelìnye began.
Ixhúja looked to Puîyus and gave him a swift sharp kick right in his injured ankle. Puîyus did his best not to flinch, but his eyen lit up with a slight black light. Éfhelìnye saw what had just transpired, and Khrùkhtii noticed that she was making little fists with her hands. Éfhelìnye ran up the hill and right up to her cousin and their faces close together hissed – Why did you just do that? –
Ixhúja gave a smile that meant, I do anything that I want to do.
Éfhelìnye took a deep breathe and whispered – That is unwise. –
Puîyus lifted up an hand and in graceful motions spelt out the words, Are you not supposed to be guarding my Sisters during the battle?
Ixhúja gave another smile that meant, I do anything that I want to do. Please compare to mine earlier smile.
Éfhelìnye wrapped an arm about Puîyus and was helping him down the hill. Puîyus’ free hand was spelling out signs meaning, Are you telling me, dear one, that you have left my Sisters defenseless before the maze and the smoke?
Oh, no, not defenseless, Ixhúja purred in a gutteral clockwork language of her own devising.
Ah. Praytell, how are they being defended then, Puîyus answered in the same pidgin.
Why, they can learn to defend themselves. It’s how I was taught! Ixhúja spun around and executed a few perfect cartwheels down the side of the hill and landed before Khrùkhtii. Behind her collapsed some more of the clockwork of the chariot and the lion ant itself. Khrùkhtii shook with fear. Ixhúja paused, tapped her brow, and clicked a few times as if to say, I do believe I left one of your sisters a sharp stick, or at least a stick she could sharpen with her teeth if she is ingenious enough. At least I think it was a stick. It could have been a shell or some yarn or nothing at all.
– I’m going to go flee for my life now, if you two don’t mind – Khrùkhtii chanted as he began sneaking away from Ixhúja.
– I don’t know what I’m going to do with her – Éfhelìnye sighed to herself.
Puîyus reached o'er and whispered into Éfhelìnye’s ear.
– On the contrary, I think that we should be searching for an husband for her. We can take our time of course. And we don’t have to tell the young swain what we intend, we can build some sort of trap for him, I suppose … – Éfhelìnye began.
Ixhúja looked around and noticed Khrùkhtii for the first time. Khrùkhtii’s complex double knees were knocking together. Ixhúja plucked one of the clockwork insects that lived in her air and examined it with more care than she did the acolyte, and then she released the insect and picked up Khrùkhtii by his throat. He was at least an head taller than she was, but she had no trouble at all swinging him around and tossing him in a random direction. By some grace Khrùkhtii managed to faint before collapsing in an heap of Traîkhiim and Tájo dodos and shattered wheels.
Ixhúja kicked Khrùkhtii’s fainted body a couple of times, and then ran up to Éfhelìnye and asked her in a private language as if to say, Were you going to tell me something, Cousin?
– I was planning on getting Khrùkhtii to help you find a sweetheart … – Éfhelìnye muttered.
Ixhúja ran her greasy blood-stained hands through Éfhelìnye’s hair and giggled unto herself and gave her a look that meant surely, You’re so funny, little cousin! Do you know how funny you are? You definitely come from the risible sound of the family, don’t you? Ixhúja skipped aside and stretched her arms and murmured unto herself in purrs and clicks as if to say, Now, if you don’t mind, one is going to jump into the frey and slaughter and fun.
Puîyus was able to mention that someone should be defending his Sisters and Auntie, but Ixhúja was already spinning around and laughing to herself. She skipped aside, and then turning back, winked at Puîyus and blew kisses at him to tell him that she would see him later, and she made sure that Éfhelìnye saw what she was doing. Within a few moments, though, Ixhúja was already dashing away, and Puîyus and Éfhelìnye were rewarded with the sounds of Traîkhiim slaves shouting and Tájo dodos running away and someone picking up chariots and hurling them in several different directions. Puîyus could feel that Éfhelìnye’s face was bright and hot and pink, and he did not wish to bring up the subject of Ixhúja at all, and so he busied himself with turning upright the chariot that the Princess had ridden out here and in calming down the jiîlin mermecolion and in hobbling up and picking up Khrùkhtii and depositing him within.
Éfhelìnye put the reins back into their place and rubbed the mandibles of the lion ant and whispered – I don’t know why Ixhúja does that. Sometimes I think she is trying to anger me on purpose. It’s almost as if she knows exactly how to vex me the most. –
Puîyus helped Éfhelìnye into the chariot, but stood upon one leg, his ankle throbbing a little, and he mentioned Ixhúja not at all. In fact he was rather hoping that if there were any trouble in his family, who had once been Sweqhàngqu but were now become the Pwéru, that Auntie Qtìmine would just sort it out for them, for after all, that is what one’s Matrons were supposed to do. Puîyus flicked the reins, and the jiîlin danced upwards and came spinning up through the ruins of battle. And Puîyus was glad for silence.
The silence could not last for ever. Even though the battle was dying down, Puîyus had to come riding through some twining gorges where new branches of the labyrinth were bleeding downwards. He could sense that around them several new shadowy morphs were taking form, perhaps something akin to the qhàsqi negative space creatures that dwelt upon the every edge of sight. Of a sudden several large forms began to loom above him. He dropped the reins, for the lion ant could run free of its own accord, and he swung around the dragon sword that the Emperor had placed into his own hand.
– Puey? – asked Éfhelìnye.
– Mew? – he asked.
– Do you think there is something wrong with my cousin? –
Puîyus shook his head in negation.
– She seldom does what she is supposed to do. She is almost predictable in her unpredictability. –
Puîyus could think of no counter argument at all. All of a sudden bursts of labyrinthine tendrils flowed up about the chariot and Puîyus had to strive to fight in several directions at once, even as the lion ant bestruggled to keep their course straight.
– Puey, I’ve come up with something that could help you in battle – Éfhelìnye was saying as she drew down a box of clockwork from her shoulder and began fiddling with it. – I have observed how the Jongèrya used to have little khlòqhuxu plasma rockets upon their pineapple backs so that they can race about in the seas of clouds for to deliver pizza pies. I was thinking that there has to be a method to adopt a similar khlòqhuxu plasma rocket to fit the shoulders of a Færie, and if I add some propellers unto it, if should afford you a greater degree of control. –
Puîyus swung a sword around and down came tumbling several beams and tendrils of living maze. Éfhelìnye was lighting up some of the candles and tubery within the plasma rocket, but she kept whispering to herself and saying – I just wish that Ixhúja could behave herself sometimes. I don’t mind that she should be enthusiastic in battle, but she was supposed to be looking after the rest of the family, she just can’t dash off at the first whiff of glory and do whatever it is that she wants to do. – Puîyus glanced down and saw that Éfhelìnye was yanking at the chords and beads with perhaps more strength than she intended, but he decided not to interfere but remained adamant upon the battle. – And furthermore, why must she do such ridiculous things like always trying to kiss my Puey and wink at him when I’m standing right there she has to notice that I’m there surely I have not become plasmatic and invisible she must know that but there I am and she just does this again and again and again. – She was punching the machine she was attempting to create, and sparkles and flames arose from it. Suddenly a shaft of light shot out from him, and tumbling columns began rippling out upon the battlefield of the gorge.
Puîyus lifted up a silvery blue eyebrow and slashed through the body of something, and smoke arose about him. Before he could protest, Éfhelìnye was already reaching out unto him and saying – Here, let me help you with this on. I guestimate that this will aid your efficiency in battle by surely píxhi tnút, 9.09% … – She set the rocket on and chanted – If Ixhúja would behave herself I’d invent nice things for her to but she just has to be recalcitrant. – She punched the machine a couple of more times and then turned the sundials around.
Suddenly Puîyus sensed flame all about him. This did not bother him too much, since several living ships were tumbling downwards unto all sides in this speardin, but he could not help but notice that he was not actually rising even though the Princess had set a rocket on his back. Puîyus lopped off the heads of several wihts about him, and splashes of shadow and black blood tumbled about them. He sniffed the air.
– Doesn’t she understand that she and I are actually quite similar? – Éfhelìnye was saying. – I’d repair some of the broken dragonflies of hers if she’d just stay still for a few moments. –
Puîyus sniffed the air. He smelt what he guessed would be the smell of his own hair burning, if one could imagine such a smell. He ripped off the heads of several more shadow mazes, and bursts of darkness twined about him.
– Personally I don’t understand why Ixhúja should be so antagonistic all the time – Éfhelìnye whispered. – She knows I’m the only relative left unto her, she knows how it hurts me when she winks at Puey and blows kisses at him. –
Puîyus sniffed the air again and definitely could smell the scent of melancholy blue and twinkling azure flames, and knew that it was the hypothetical smell of his own hair burning. The rocket he could feel splurting and screaming on his back. Éfhelìnye was punching it again. Puîyus ripped off the head of something else.
– Maybe I should take Ixhúja to see a Doctor – Éfhelìnye chanted as she aimed a strong balletic kick right unto the rocket. – The Khlitsaîyart who examined you was quite friendly, honored Khràkhoi I believe his name was. –
The chariot was almost returned unto the edge of the popíxha kor. Tall and sparkling arches of flame and darkness were swirling up upon the edge of where the dying river lay. Puîyus lopped off several more umbraged heads. Éfhelìnye looked around and saw that in the billowing clouds and crumbling hills that she could see being who appeared unto her to be nothing but masque and cape, tall and graceful and yet also a little without a shape. The movement of their limbs seemed a little like the growing of labyrinth spreading outwards and become palm and claw, if only in the abstract. She wondered whether indeed these shadow forms were the Xakhpàlqe themselves, those who had been the Labyrinth Crafters for her dread Father so very long ago.
– Puey, I think that we should go ahead and start thinking about Ixhúja’s … your hair! – Éfhelìnye gasped.
– MEW! – Puîyus cried.
Éfhelìnye dashed up and flung her hands into Puîyus tresses and braids. The clockwork rocketry apparatus broke apart from his shoulders and came thundering down from him and rolled right off of the chariot and exploded. Éfhelìnye did not even notice that she was touching Puîyus’ burning braid with her bare hand, and the flame died at her touch. Puîyus gasped. Little clouds of star dust was arising about his head, and for a moment he forgot about the pain in his ankle.
– I’d still say the battle was mostly a success – chanted Éfhelìnye.
The jiîlin myrmekoleons screamed. At once the chariot began to veer upon its side, its axles shattered, and its main wheels spinning right out of it. Puîyus had just enough time to pluck up Éfhelìnye and hold her tight unto him, and with his other hand he grabbed Khrùkhtii by his ankle and came flying through the air. The chariot spun around and exploded in a cloud of quakes and bleeding clockwork, and the myrmekoleon began crawling outwards huffpuffing all the while.
– All that lovely clockwork, destroyed! – Éfhelìnye sighed as she and Puîyus and Khrùkhtii came crashing, rolling out before the dome where the rest of their family had been sequestered.. – How I love clockwork! –
Khrùkhtii rolled o'er a few more times and opened his eyen and could see that in the distance Ixhúja was fighting several enemies at once, and he decided it would be best to go back unto fainting-de, and so he did. Puîyus for his part helped Éfhelìnye upwards. The dome behind them swiveled a little, and one of the cork hatches spun upwards and Siêthiyal poked her head out, her hair long and pink and slightly wild.
– I don’t suppose either of you know where the Princess’ insane cousin has gone? – asked Siêthiyal. – I don’t personally care, but as a matter of honor we can’t lose her. –
Éfhelìnye put her hands on her hips and shouted up to the cork saying – My cousin is not insane. –
– She gave us a pie tin by which we were to defend ourselves – chanted Siêthiyal. – That sounds crazy to me! –
– She means well – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Yes … for a crazy person! It’s fortunate that Khlís and I aren’t valuable enough or noticeable enough for the labyrinth fog to attack. Heaven forfend that we were of the holy blood of the Pwéru, like a certain insane heretic princess that I could mention! –
Éfhelìnye stomped her foot and shouted – My cousin is not crazy! Will you stop saying that! Puey, make your Sister stop saying that! –
Puîyus stook a step froward and collapsed when his body remembered that one of his ankles was broken. He managed to pull himself upwards and pretended that he was not a part of this particular conversation, and if he had been inclined to talk anyway, it would have been cut off my the sound of screaming and ululations and battle, as Ixhúja dove into the midst of a labyrinth cloud. Éfhelìnye slowly turned around and saw that Ixhúja was holding up several severed heads, heads which she had ripped off with her own bare hands, and that she was girt now in a long streak which she just knew used to be the skin of someone.
Siêthiyal from the cork hatch above looked around and shuddered. – Ugh. Crazy heretic. How crazy is that? Say, Khlís, take a look at this! –
Akhlísa drew her head up out of the cork, and she was carrying the pie tin in her hands. – Remind me again what the crazy Princess wanted us to do with the frisbee? –
– Little Sister, look at how crazy she is now? –
Akhlísa looked up. – She is crazy, isn’t she! –
– I can’t believe we have to be related to that! –
– Siêthi, no matter what you and I do the rest of our lives, we can’t be blamed for anything, because we can always say, At least we’re better than the crazy side of the family! –
– I’ll say! –
– Are those ears she’s collecting? –
– Probably with the stack of noses. – Siêthiyal sighed. – Oh, and call me Siêthi again, and I’ll turn you o'er to the crazy crazy crazy one. –
Éfhelìnye’s cheeks were apple red, and she felt like hitting someone, almost anyone at this point. She grabbed Puîyus by his golden torq and hissed – Wouldn’t you say that the battle is dying down? –
Puîyus made a vague gesture to mean that the speardin was clashing somewhere else.
– Then please go and fetch my cousin and stop Ixhúja from ripping people apart with her bare hands! And if it’s not too much to ask, make your Sisters stop calling Ixhúja crazy! –
Puîyus suspect that he could not control what his Sisters was saying, but he did glance up and give them a look that at least warned them to silence, and Siêthiyal and Akhlísa grinned innocent smiles as if they intended to behave themselves while he was gone. He hobbled downwards in Ixhúja’s general direction.
– I have no intention of calling Ixhúja crazy at all – Siêthiyal grinned.
– Me not neither! – chanted Akhlísa. – Why she’s the least crazy of us all. –
– Practically un-crazy and other-than-crazy, I would say. –
– Oh yes, just one palm away from completely sane, but certainly not crazy. –
– Who keeps mentioning the crazy heretic princess? –
– Surely not I, crazy heretics are quite not upon my thoughts. –
– Good – Siêthiyal smiled. – And while we’re not talking about how crazy Ixhúja is not, and think I’ll not mention that obviously she’s in love with Puey and keeps trying to kiss him whenever Éfhelìnye is not looking. Are supposed to mention that or not? –
– I’m so confused, I can’t remember what we’re not supposed to not say not – chanted Akhlísa. – We are talking about crazy Ixhúja who liketh for to steal kisses from Puey all the time, right? –
Éfhelìnye could feel the burning of her ears by now. She marched right up unto where Khrùkhtii lay, and by now he was flat upon his face and cowering and wishing to be anywhere but where he was, and Éfhelìnye nudged him with the tip of her slippered foot and chanted – Would you please help me find a Tájo scholar? I would like to find an expert on ujóqufha, on dream magics, so that he may look into Ixhúja’s dreams. –
Khrùkhtii Khráfhi shivered from side to side. – I can’t help! – he muttered. – I’m dead! –
– When did that happen? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– Sometime a while back in the grand battle. Now, please, if I may just rest in peace for a few moments, perhaps I’ll be alive tomorrow. –
– Let’s go find find a Dyatryma, shall we? –
Slowly Khrùkhtii hung his head down and shook his head from side to side and whimpered saying – There can be no way this will end tearless, alas alas alas! –
The Tájo Doudos were hovering aslight at the edge of their perches, their robes black and violet and blue rustling about them. When an envoy ran up to them to inform them that an acolyte was coming to them with the words of the future Moon Empress, the Tájo came fluttering downwards and were adjusting their spectacles and lick slicking down their feathers and rustling their scrolls and books and adjusting their glasses one more time and trying not to look too nervous, for even though it seemed that the battle was mostly finished, they could still hear explosions in the distance, and the tremendous roars of the armadas of the Triple Alliance.
Khrùkhtii coughed into his palm and chanted – The future Mother of the Sylvan Caste, ah, asks for a Dodo who is expert upon ujóqufha, of Khrumaînan psychology. – He looked around and then thinking better of it chanted – Actually she commands that an expert be brought unto her. –
The Tájo Dotterels were all rising and falling before the Zintol, and one of the Academians chanted – We obey all of the commandments of the Bride of the future Master of Earth and Sea and Sky. But please, young Acolyte, tell us, are we winning the battle? –
– Ah … – Khrùkhtii clasped his claws behind his back. – Yes, yes I believe. –
– May we ask, who exactly the enemy was? –
– Um … mist, I think. Mist and mazes. I am not entirely sure, even though I was with the future Emperor as he was fighting, at least for a time. –
The dodos looked one to another and adjusted their various layers of crystalline glasses. – Wast thou indeed with the rídhamhna, the Saiqíren himself in the battle? –
– Why, yes, I was with Puey – chanted Khrùkhtii. – I mean Puîyos. I mean thrice-honored Puîyos, Kàrijoi’s Son. We rather grew up together, Puey and I, I mean Puîyus and I, I did not grow up with dread Kàrijoi of course, that’s why I was calling him by that diminutive, Puey that is, but I don’t call him that anymore, no, hardly at all. May I start this conversation again? –
The masters of the Dyatryma nodded one to anther and motioned for a master of ujóqufha, and he fluttered downwards and bowed to the Acolyte and chanted – I would be honored to aid the Empress in whatever way possible. –
– Yes, I thee thank – chanted Khrùkhtii. – I suppose we should go to the Empress now. She’s in the virgins’ quarters of course. The handmaidens were fanning her, last I saw. This way? I’ll stop talking now. –
An elegant khmànthil geitheille was leading the way as well as a few khàjuyii ablegates of the envoy caste of the Tájo, and Khrùkhtii and the scholar were coming forwards through the long and winding corridor of this support ship somewhere within the Kháfha fleet. At last they came up upwards unto some larage globular rooms that had been set aside for some of the handmaidens who had been given unto Puîyus by the mountain clans, and upon a very large cushion was sitting Princess Éfhelìnye. She was doing her best to read a small dictionary, but around her about eleven handmaidens were fanning her with very large feathers, and several more were holding trays heavy laden with sugared fruit and gourds of sweet water and a few slices of precious cheese.
– Are you sure you’re not too hot? – asked an handmaiden.
– Or perhaps you’re too cold – another chanted as she drew up a blanket.
– Would you like something to drink? –
– Or eat? –
– For munching? –
– Crunching? –
– Shall we fluff your pillows? –
– Would you like us to comb your hair? –
– Maybe she’s too hot? –
– I think she’s too cold. –
Éfhelìnye set down her book and chanted – I’m quite fine, thank you very much. –
– Are you sure? –
– Yes, I think. –
– Are you sure we can’t get you anything? –
– My acolyte friend is running an errand for me; that’s all that I need. –
The handmaidens fluttered a little. Éfhelìnye lifted up the book and tried to read the same page she had attempted to read several times before. She looked up again, but no matter where she looked a golden haired handmaiden was waiting to serve her. Some of the handmaidens were parting and revealing Asiréma in their midst, the maiden who had once been part of the Poriêrii Clan before becoming part of Puîyus’ harem. Since she was one whom Puîyus had known before hand, and whose name he recognized, she had become leader of the hundred and twenty one virgins given unto him.
– Oh divine Oldest Sister – Asiréma chanted as she bowed down before Éfhelìnye. – We have heard the battle in the distance, but we have heard no tidings of the welfare of our future Lord and Husband. –
– Puey is quite fine, thank you – chanted Éfhelìnye. She decided to turn the page and manage not to read the next page in the midst of the interruptions. – My cousin Ixhúja is fine too, for I’m sure you were wondering about her too. –
Asiréma’s face lit up as she chanted – If the Crown Prince is doing well, perhaps he will be pleased if we dance for him again. Many of us have been practicing the bull dance for him. –
– Oh … ah … he’s quite … I’m sure … no – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– We could dance in joyous celebration of his victory – Asiréma smiled.
– Um … I … he does’t … I won’t … no – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Perhaps after he’s rested … –
Éfhelìnye turned a few more pages just so she could look at some other glyphs painted upon the page. She wondered whether it would be proper for her to invent some tasks just to keep the soubrettes busy and not bothering her. She heard a rustling of silk and ribbons and an high pitched voice was squeaking, a eunuch saying – Please inform the Moon Empress of Tomorrow that the Acolyte is returned with a Tájo specialist. –
Éfhelìnye slammed the book shut and tried to hop up from the cushions, but the cushions were so deep and think that she had to struggle to arise out of it. Asiréma helped her out of it, and Éfhelìnye chanted – I have to return to the Prince now, oh beloved handmaidens. –
– And perhaps we can dance for him later? – Asiréma asked.
– Ah … – Éfhelìnye had to search around for her ballet slippers, since she had kicked them off before crawling into the cushion. A couple of handmaidens helped her and slipped the rubescent danüdajux upon her feet. – It occurs to me that you could help me in some small way – she chanted. – My blessed cousin Ixhúja could perhaps benefit from having an older Sister or so. Haply a few of you could act as older Sisters unto her? –
Asiréma and a few of the golden haired maidens blinked. – Or perhaps we could dance for the Crown Prince – they smiled.
Éfhelìnye gathered up her book and spun around. The Eunuch was drawing away the veils and curtains and leading the way unto the exist. The Princess kicked at the layers of carpet about her, and could feel that her ears were warm, and behind her the handmaidens were giggling and talking about how beautiful they thought the new Emperor was going to be, the one they wished to be their future lord and husband. Éfhelìnye kicked at a coif of carpet and almost fell downwards, but the Eunuch escorted her out and unto the common halls.
Within a few moments Princess Éfhelìnye and Khrùkhtii and the Tájo scholar were riding upon the back of a giraffe and untowards the dome where Auntie Qtìmine and Puîyus’ Sisters were. Éfhelìnye sate with her back against the neck of the giraffe and was too melancholy to try to read from the book. The scholar was quite, contemplative, and clutched a bag filled with the needments of the craft of ujóqufha. Khrùkhtii could see that Éfhelìnye’s eyen kept lighting up with concern and was certainly anxious about something, but he durst not ask what it was.
The zarāfa slowed and came to a stop of its own accord, for it could sense that Puîyus was nigh, and it knelt down so that is riders could slip down. Éfhelìnye looked around and expected Puîyus to help her down from the beast as was his wont, but saw instead that Puîyus was rather occupied in holding Ixhúja in the air, as she was snarling and clawing and scratching sometimes at him and sometimes at whatever she could find. Puîyus’ face had a couple of new starches upon it, and splashes of blood lay upon both him and his feral twin as mute evidence that another tide of battle had come to pass whilst Princess Éfhelìnye had been gone.
The spherical ship opened its top cork door and Siêthiyal and Akhlísa poked out their heads together.
– We never chanted she was crazy! –
– Never once! –
– Not crazy at all, that one. –
– Hardly crazy at all! –
– Bye! –
– Bye! –
Siêthiyal and Akhlísa slammed the door as they flung themselves back into the ship and the sound of their giggling could be heard through layers of metal and leather and brick.
Khrùkhtii helped down both the Princess and the Tájo Dodo from the back of the cameleopard, and Éfhelìnye told the Dodo – Would you please use your ujóqufha dream magics and look into the mind of my Cousin and help her a little? –
The Dodo scratched his beak and chanted – I see. Is there a quiet place inside where the Martian Princess may rest? Perhaps she would be more comfortable upon some cushions. –
– I should have taken some cushions from the harem – Éfhelìnye chanted. – I just knew that I forgot something. –
Ixhúja was still struggling a little in Puîyus’ grasp, but not as much as she had before. He looked around and indicated one of the smaller Kháfha living ships that had landed just a few moments before, and as the gangplank came slithering downwards in long tendrillar toungelike patterns, some of the Kháfha guards came pouring outwards to report upon the state of the battle. Puîyus nodded unto them, and ran up the plank, and behind him came dashing the Tájo master and Princess Éfhelìnye. Khrùkhtii looked around and, not entirely sure of what he should be doing, shrugged and followed after them at a run. The Kháfha ship consisted of thousands of layers of glacial triangle and pyramid partially merged into the other, but it did not take Puîyus long to find a rather cosy room with an hearth. Éfhelìnye lit the fire, Khrùkhtii found some blankets and cushions, and the Tájo master took out some sacred gourds from his sack and began to dance around them and beat some fruit together.
Puîyus set Ixhúja down upon a cushion, and she bound up and swung right at him. Puîyus ducked at the last possible moment. Éfhelìnye took Ixhúja by the wrist and chanted – Would you please just sit down and rest? Our friend here is just going to look at your dreams for a moment. –
Ixhúja blinked. I don’t want to stay, her blink bespoke.
– Please, my Sister? – asked Ixhúja. – I think it would help you. –
Will you both stay?
– If that would make your more comfortable … –
Actually, I just want Puîyos to stay.
– That’s fine – chanted Éfhelìnye. – I’ll go and make sure that Siêthiyal and Karuláta and Auntie Qtìmine are fine. –
Ixhúja grinned. I want Puîyos to kiss me on my lips.
– That’s it, we’re leaving – chanted Éfhelìnye as she took Puîyus’ hand and began dragging him away. – Come on, Khrùkhtii, let’s leave my cousin alone. –
The Tájo master spun around in his dance and chanted – Perhaps after I look into the dreams of the Khnìnthan callinymph I could look into the dreams of the Empress of tomorrow. –
– No, I’m fine – chanted Éfhelìnye. – And so’s Puey. Let’s go. –
Puîyus nodded to the Tájo and decided to duck out while he could, and already was sliding out into the halls of the Kháfhan vessel. Khrùkhtii was grinning and back up towards the door. Éfhelìnye chanted – Ixhúja, do you promise to behave yourself? –
Ixhúja yawned and stretched out upon the cushion, and then flopped her self upon the pillows she began to purr to herself.
– Ixhúja? –
Princess Ixhúja turned her back to her cousin. Éfhelìnye turned to the Tájo master and chanted – Please help her, if you can. –
The dodo bowed and chanted – It is one’s greatest honor to serve the Pwéru, the House of the Sun. –
Éfhelìnye smiled and left the room. The door shimmered behind her. She walked out upon the deck and saw that Puîyus and Khrùkhtii were standing at the prow and gazing out unto the clouds of mist and silver twining about the gorge. Puîyus was pointing unto the edges and curves of the labyrinth drifting above the middleheart of the veridian land of warriors.
They had about eleven seconds of peace and rest. Then the screaming began. Puîyus at once spun around, and he was thankful that Khrùkhtii and especially Éfhelìnye had not ears sharp enough to hear the growing of grass, for otherwise they would know just exactly what was transpiring with Ixhúja and the Tájo master. He dashed up unto the door and found that little clockweyth insects were crawling about the lock and were snarling at him and spinning around and keeping the door shut. Khrùkhtii and Éfhelìnye came up to the door. Puîyus breathed the door down in a mighty breath. Inside the room was dark, the fires hushed of their own accord. Éfhelìnye was about to grab the lantern, but since Puîyus could already see in the darkness, he decided that it would be best if she not see what he already could.
– Ixhúja? Are you in there? – Éfhelìnye asked. – Are you happy and sociable now? –
Puîyus picked up Éfhelìnye and set her into the hall, but before he could stop it, Khrùkhtii was opening up the lantern and peering within. He dropped the lantern and ran out into the halls.
– Khrùkhtii, is my cousin inside … – Éfhelìnye began.
– Don’t go inside! – Khrùkhtii cried.
– Please, I want to see my cousin! –
– Princess, please, forget the ancient customs and caste system for a moment and do as I say! – Khrùkhtii clasped her shoulders. – You don’t want to go in there! –
Éfhelìnye stood on her tippytoes and tried to look o'er the ridges of Khrùkhtii’s shoulders. – Puey? What’s happening in there? –
Puîyus made a slight whimpering sound as he came into the darkness. His eyen began to glow with a slight aqua feline glow.
– I want to go inside – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– NO! – Khrùkhtii is shouted. – Everything inside … is red. –
– Puey? Tell your friend … –
– Princess! Don’t you understand? The entire room is red. Carpet, floor, curtains, cushions … red. –
– Puey! –
– Red! –
Éfhelìnye heard the sound of scuffling within. Suddenly part of the wall collapsed outwards. Ixhúja leapt up and was perched right upon Puîyus, and her face was dripping rubescent and sticky. Flickers of bleeding feathers were pasted upon her violet tresses, and all of her clothing was dripping with what had once been the skin and feathers and some of the organs of a Tájo master.
Ixhúja grinned. Hi, Puîyos. Do you want to wrestle now? It would be fun.
Puîyus threw Ixhúja off of him, and she rolled upon the deck and laughed. She was clutching a couple of items close to herself, and Puîyus was certain that he did not want Éfhelìnye to see whatever they were.
– Khrùkhtii, I think I should leave now – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– Agreed – whimpered the zintol.
– Grrr! – Puîyus growled, as he tried to help Ixhúja upwards. He pointed to her hands.
What, in mine hand? Ixhúja purred. One would suppose that it’s a foot, or at least it used to be a foot. She held up about three fifths of what had once been the master’s foot, shredded skin falling from the sinews, and bits of buskin still strapped unto part of it. Do you want it? I rather just found it.
Please get rid of that, Puîyus whispered in a reptilian language.
I don’t like it anyway. It doesn’t suit me. Ixhúja kicked the foot aside and laughed as it bounced about the deck and interrupted the passageway of several different Kháfha monks in their procession, and the hieromonachs screamed and dashed away.
What’s behind your back? Puîyus asked Ixhúja in a language in a slightly avian dialect.
What, this? I want it. You can’t have it.
I don’t want it.
Then don’t pester me.
Please get rid of it.
It’s mine! I won it fairly in battle.
The Tájo master was not an enemy.
He fought me. He was disrespectful.
Throw that away please!
Ixhúja drew out the severed head of the Dodo, a look of shook frozen upon its beak. Ixhúja whistled to herself and adjusted the spectacles. This is pretty, she told Puîyus. Do you want to go hunting now?
Please let go of that now.
Ixhúja took the spectacles, smeared with blood and set them upon her nose and giggling was purring as if to say, Look at me! Look at me! Now I’m a scholar also! I’m so smart I’m so smart everyone has to listen to me now!
It was at this point that Khrùkhtii was planning on fainting, but Éfhelìnye beat him to it and collapsed in his arms. Khrùkhtii sighed and realized he would probably have to stay awake for the present. Ixhúja was juggling the Dodo’s head and skipping about Puîyus and laughing all the while and fiddling with the spectacles.
Éfhlìnye murmured something as Khrùkhtii held her, although he was shaking whenever it occurred unto him that he touched one forbidden to touch. Puîyus for his part was finding himself running out of patience with Ixhúja as she danced around and her clockwork minions began shredding out the feathers from the Dodo’s head, for such was no way to treat the body of one of the honored Dead. Ixhúja jumped up again and began kicking the head. Puîyus spun up into action, and in a blur began drawing out a length of rope and began tying Ixhúja’s hands behind her. She did not mind at first, since she was quite adept at kicking the head with her knees, but it was only when Puîyus kicked the head away from her grasp and held her back that she began to murmur in frustration.
– BARK! – Puîyus cried to Khrùkhtii.
Khrùkhtii tried to lean Éfhelìnye against the wall. – Oh? Do you wish another? –
– BARK! –
– You want me to fetch another Dodo master. I see. Ah, Puey, what am I going to say when they ask … –
– Purr purr? – Ixhúja was spinning around and tried to lung for the severed head. Puîyus dragged her back.
– I’ll be going now – chanted Khrùkhtii. – Ah … what shall we do with the Empress of Tomorrow? –
Puîyus shrugged and added – Bark bark bark? –
– Just leave her there? But … is that proper? I’ll summon one of the Kháfha monks, there must be about a thousand of them in this vessel. –
Puîyus had to chase after Ixhúja for a few moments and decided that it would be best not just to restrain her with rope but to hold her up. Ixhúja just laughed and barely even tried to escape at this moment, so fun was the game. Puîyus carried her away and went looking for a room not ruined, not bestained with blood, and he lit the fire and tied Ixhúja down with several lengths of rope and set a pillow down beneath her head. He waited. In the corner a small khmatraîleqhe honorable and pious rainbow mercury clock was burbling a little. He reset it and listened for a time. Ixhúja rustled within the ropes but was not struggling yet.
After a time Ixhúja yawned and closed her eyen. Puîyos? she asked in a language partially of clicks and partially of the twirls of clockwork.
Do you want to wrestle later?
I don’t know. There may be more battle in the gorge.
That will be fun. Say, Puîyos?
What’s going to happen to Khnìntha?
If we win?
When we win.
It will become part of our new Empire, I suppose. If the Elders will permit it.
You’ll be Emperor; you can command anything. So I guess I’m going to be your Khnìnthan concubine, right?
The matriarchy will accept you better as the xhnár consort of a Princess of Khnìntha. We would have very strong children together, brave daughters and beautiful sons with violet hair.
Puîyus refilled the khmaitraîleqhe domqólikh and heard the pitter patter of little balletic feet. Éfhelìnye came dashing into the room and looked to Ixhúja and chanted – Are you well, beloved? –
Ixhúja grinned a feline smile as if to say, One could not be better.
– Oh, I’m glad. I do wish for you to be well … and happy. –
If you really wish for me to be happy, you could begin untying me.
Éfhelìnye sucked on her lower lip. – I suppose I could not bare for you to be unhappy … –
– Bark! – Puîyus cried in warning.
– We could just untie one of her hands … –
– Bark! –
– I could just loosen the ropes a little. –
– Bark! –
– Just one hand. Or a foot. Ixhúja, which foot do you like better? –
– Bark! –
– But Puey, I can’t leave her unhappy! –
– Mew mew mew! –
– Puey, it’s not a trick. – Éfhelìnye crawled up unto the cushion and started loosening the ropes about Ixhúja’s legs. – I sincerely doubt that my beloved treasure Ixhúja would e'er think of tricking me! I love her, therefore, she can do no harm. –
Puîyus hung his head down and wished that Éfhelìnye had grown up with Siblings, Cousins, and agemates, for she had quite a lot of learn about young people her own age, especially those related to her. But Éfhelìnye had already untied both of Ixhúja’s ankles at this point. Ixhúja purred in compliant happiness.
– Good, I suppose you’re content now – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– … – Ixhúja uttered.
– Oh? Is there anything I could do for you? –
– !! – Ixhúja smiled.
– Your hands? I’ll start untying your wrists now. –
– BARK! – Puîyus cried, and he dashed up, picked up Éfhelìnye, and carried her away. Ixhúja laughed a little, and then the door began to shimmer and unfold as Khrùkhtii entered with another Tájo master, a sack and some gourds stacked beneath his wings.
– To my shame this humble one is here to glance into the Khnìnthan Princess’ dreams in the magic of ujóqufha – intoned the master.
Puîyus nodded and desposited Éfhelìnye and Khrùkhtii and shoved them both out of the door. He turned back saw that the Tájo was setting up the accouterments of his office. Ixhúja was giggled, as Puîyus came back to her and began tying her legs back together. Ixhúja puckered her lips and blew kisses at him, and he restained her with some lengths of chain. Puîyus turned to the Dodo and asked him whether he wanted it for him to stay and guard the Khnìnthan Princess, but the Dodo just heard growls and gurrs and was not even sure whether he was hearing the sounds of language.
Puîyus turned unto Ixhúja to give her a look in warning.
– Perchance after dipping into the well of the honored Princess’ dreams, you may wish for me to look into thine own and those of the Empress to Come – the second Tájo master chanted.
Puîyus nodded, polite, and bowed unto the master and then to the callinymph his feral twin and closed the door behind him. Khrùkhtii was leading the Princess unto the prow. Darkness was falling upon the face of the gorge, and in the distance the black crescented Suns were setting and revealing a forest all aflame with frozen autumnal leaves, gold and red flickering and sad. Puîyus breathed a sigh of relief. He took a couple of steps away, leaving Ixhúja and the Master together. He paused. He thought he could hear the sound of clockwork crawling somewhere. His eyen lit up. He dashed to the door and swung it open and saw the Tájo dancing about a pool of water and a gourd, and saying – I would like for you to dream about your parents. – The Master’s voice was deep and rich, a cultured accent of Khrumaîna that reminded Puîyus a little of Great-Uncle Táto, the tutor slave who had reared Princess Éfhelìnye and given his life for hers when the War came unto all men. Puîyus looked from side to side. Ixhúja continued to grin. Puîyus slowly began to close the door, but he shivered a little and hoped that Éfhelìnye were not thinking too much about Great-Uncle Táto when Ixhúja dismembered the the first of the masters. He shut the door behind him. He began to take a few steps away, but once again he heard the sound of clockwork crawling all about the leaves and coils of the rope, and for a moment his mind was aflame with images of little insects glistening and gnawing against the bonds. He could even envision the floral chains of glistening metal spinning aorund and subject unto the snarling knives and cracklent wings of the the creatures that had been born within the cauldrons and imagination of of Khnìntha.
Puîyus swung the door open again. The Master was drawing out some dust from the cauldron and tossing it into the air and saying – I wish for you to dream about your Mother. –
Ixhúja smiled her sweetest smile and gave Puîyus a look that meant, Sweetheart, the stranger here is asking about my Mother.
Do you wish for me to stay? Puîyus was asking her in glances. A few silvery blue strands of hair were beginning to stand up at the back of his neck.
Only if you wish, my treasure? Ixhúja smiled. We could hold hands.
Puîyus’ eyen darted from side to side. He could see noething at all within the shadows, at least nothing that was crafted of wheel and gear, and yet his heart told him that it would be unwise for him to close the door again. It was almost as if the air itself was completely gnawing upon itself and upon the shadows. Puîyus tred into the room and drew out a little bit more rope and made sure that Ixhúja was suitable tied to the cushions, and he tested the length, and looked around for any telltale signs of clockweyth slithering anywhere at all.
How lovely it would be for me to dream about the Mother that I do not have, Ixhúja smiled to Puîyus. I’m quite sure this will increase the amount of mine happiness, so she was telling Puîyus in a language of blinks and glances and winks and blown kisses.
– Crown Prince, Rídhamhna – came the voice of Khrùkhtii the Acolyte. Puîyus swept out of the room, his cape was shimmering and changing from blue and violets unto a color darker than black. He turned back for just a moment, and was greeted with naught but Ixhúja’s smiling and the master lifting up dream dust out of the cauldron and into the twinkling room.
Puîyus came up unto the prow and saw that Éfhelìnye was gazing unto the distal whispering mountains of the horizon and jotting down something in the leaves of a book. It took Puîyus a moment to realize that she was singing her telescopic astrolabe to watch the flames upon the mountain. With a pang of memory he remained that this was the same khlainára iriġruaq that had belonged to Fhermáta, and which she had given unto Éfhelìnye in the hour before her death. Éfhelìnye adjusted some of the wheels of the spy glass and chanted – There is some pattern to the movement and alteration of the light. These may be signals from the Xakhpàlqe, the labyrinth makers themselves. –
– ?? –
– They may be leaving Jaràqtu, now that the fleets of the Triple Alliance are converging upon these gorges. – Éfhelìnye scribbled down a few numbers and shifted the crystals about. – I do not know exactly how we shall be able to use that to our advantage, but perchance I can calculate where they’re going. – She set the telescopic astrolabe down. – Maybe I’ll even be able to discover where the entranceway of my Father’s labyrinth may be. –
Éfhelìnye changed the configuration of the glasses and chanted – If I can understand the pattern, I may be able to see where your Father was taken. Grandfather Pátifhar may be with him. –
Khrùkhtii leaned froward upon the prow. – How will we be able to win the war without honored Thiêfhilos Pátifhar? He has been a mentor to three generations of children and survived the Wars of Khyìlyikh and the Great Peace and the Great War and this very day. –
– Puey, do you see that signal fire? – Éfhelìnye asked. – I know you can see it among the elevens, but do you see the blue one, the third one on the left beside the obsidian creags? –
Puîyus nodded in affirmation.
Éfhelìnye drew the telescope down. – That is the Mountain of the Sweqhàngqu, the Mountain of thine Ancestors. –
Puîyus looked up to the fog and felt a little ashamed that he had not recognized it before, but he had not even been thinking of it or of that very direction at all, whilst Éfhelìnye had been gazing with intent. He thought about the slabs of marble, the massive kachina statues of the Sweqhàngqu, the large masqued tomb where Grandmother Tàltiin had been set seven and thrice eleven days before, the floral tomb for his Mother Khwofheîlya, and the cold qroîthe sitootery where Fhermáta had been placed just an hour ago.
– I think that the Xakhpàlqe are arising above the very middleheart of Jaràqtu – Éfhelìnye chanted.
– Purr? – asked Ixhúja as she linked her arms about Puîyus’.
– !! – Puîyus gasped.
Ixhúja bound up and kissed Puîyus upon his cheek. He pulled her away at once, and she smelt of blood and the shredded remains of feathers and robes. Behind her the door that had been to the room where she lay was completely in splinters and crowds of clockwork dragonflies were crawling outwards away from it. A single twitching, disembodied wing was flapping from side to side and in vein trying to reach out for a body that no longer lived. Ixhúja ripped aside the last of the ropes that still held her, and behind her back was dragging something whose beak was still flapping and shuttering and whose bespeckled eyen were still trying to blink.
Would you like to guess what I have behind my back? Ixhúja grinned.
Puîyus felt a little feverish for a moment and hoped that he were dreaming. Crawling back up Ixhúja legs were several elevens of little clockwork insects, and many of them were carrying in their claws bits of feather and skin from an umquhile master among the Tájo. A large pool of blood was forming behind her from the severed head she carried behind her back.
I’ll give you an hint, Ixhúja smiled. This one was quite a squirtsome one, fountains of deep black red all o'er me.
– Puey, I have an idea – chanted Éfhelìnye.
– I’ll fetch another Tájo master – sighed Khrùkhtii. – I’ll be right back. –
You still have to guess, Ixhúja smiled.
– By now the Tájo will be recognizing me by face. I think I’ve discovered a short cut there. –
If you guess right I’ll give you a big kiss, Ixhúja smiled.
– In case anyone’s wondering, I’m leaving now – chanted Khrùkhtii as he ran down the gangpank. – It will be just a moment. –
– This time, Puey, both you and I will stay with Ixhúja the entire time – chanted Éfhelìnye as she folded up the telescopic astrolabe and set it upon her girdle.
So, are you going to guess? Ixhúja giggled.
Puîyus blinked. He yanked the ùsqa severed head from her and held it above her and growled as if to say, This will be given proper funereal rites.
Gimme! Mine! Give it back! Ixhúja jumped up and tried to grab the head.
Puîyus did not bother looking up, and indeed the head was still gushing with splashes of blood right upon him.
Mine mine mine mine mine! Growled Ixhúja as she kicked Puîyus’ knees and swung a few punches at his face. Éfhelìnye came around and tried to restrain her cousin, but Ixhúja shoved her aside and began struggling with Puîyus, so that in a few moments they were both wrestling and striving to grab the severed head. Puîyus managed to kick it out of her reach for a moment, but that was just encouraging Ixhúja, who was taking as much delight in wrestling Puîyus down as she was in aquiring her toy for the moment. Ixhúja bound upwards and kicked at Puîyus and both of them slid down the deck towards the rolling head. Éfhelìnye sate up, a little dizzy and sucked on a finger, for someone had bitten her and she had a reasonably good idea of who it may be. Ixhúja dove again for the head. For a couple of moments she and Puîyus were playing a game of kick ball with the head, but Ixhúja swung down, snatched up the head and was galloping off, sometimes kicking and sometimes dragging it. She started scrambling up the mast and set herself upon an high rope, stuck out her tounge at Puîyus and gave him a look that meant, It’s mine and you can’t have it unless you’re nice to me.
Éfhelìnye marched up to the mast and began swinging up the ropes, a lithe climber indeed she was since the earliest days of her girlhood. – Princess Ixhúja Tsàlkhat Pípa Fhífha Fhúfha Khmàkha Epóna of the Noble House of Pfhaqhaîtsir! – she cried. – Do you have any idea what you’re doing? –
Ixhúja fiddled with her mechanical earrings and shrugged.
– You’re allowed to kill the enemy, but not our own doctors and masters! –
Ixhúja shrugged again.
– Don’t you have anything to say? Suppose I wished to talk with this master, what would I do then? –
Ixhúja sighed and pointing to the severed head made a vague hand sign and murmured as if to say, One can just sew the head back on if you want the entire thingment together.
– It won’t be alive then, Epóna! –
Of course it will. One can just insert a little bit of clockwork into it and make it all work again.
Éfhelìnye set herself upon the ropes just a little below Ixhúja so as not to scare her away, for she could see that already Ixhúja was inching away and grabbing the severed head and hugging it to herself as if afraid that someone would snatch up her new toy.
– That’s now how it works, my Sister. One can’t just put a body together and make it alive. –
Yes one can, Ixhúja snarled. It’s been done to me many times. Ixhúja drew a line across her neck and murmured, Mine own head has been cut off before. It was unpleasant.
– Sister, I’m sorry to hear that, but …–
Ixhúja picked up the severed head of the Tájo Dodo and purred as if to say, This one reminds me of the Tutor Slave you had. I’m sure you remember him.
– Yes, Great-Uncle Táto. –
He was the first one to kill me. He cut out my still beating heart. It was quite unpleasant. I saw mine heart beating as I drew my last breath.
– Sister, I’m sorry that … –
Do you know what he told me? He soothed my hair and told me not to be afraid and called me dearheart even as he cut me alive. She spun the severed head on the tip of her finger. I’m sure my Father’s arts of qròtha necromancy could revive this thing person slave.
– The Tájo master was just trying to help. –
He asked about the Mother that I do not have. I had no choice but to shred him alive. Oh look at that! Ixhúja kicked the head aside and pointed towards some twining branches about the lower masts, for some small shapes that reminded her of qtheîlqu solomon’s seal flowers, and this would be a marvel to behold if any flowers were left alive. Ixhúja came slipping down unto the deck but found that they were just some sponges growing upwards, but they were quite interesting sponges to see indeed.
Ixhúja was still dashing around and looking at the pretty lašūl sponges jEnyEos when a phalynx of Kháfha monks came sweeping up upon the deck and were parting to revealing Khrùkhtii the acolyte leading a group of Tájo Masters upwards, and at the very forefront of the Dodos was the wisest of them all. Éfhelìnye grabbed Ixhúja by the hand and dragged her unto the Master of the Dodos and chanted – Forgive me, Mentor of the Dyatrymas, but we seem to be having a bit of a problem with the ujóqufha dream psychology with my dearest cousin Ixhúja. –
Ixhúja smiled, wiped some blood from her face, and lifted up the still bleeding severed head of the last master for all to see. The monks were dispassionate enough to remain still, but a few of the Dodo scholars gasped and fainted in their voluminous robes. The Master of all the Dodos stroked his melancholy and golden beak and chanted – I think I understand, oh Empress of Tomorrow. With your permission and that of your august Lord and Husband of the next day, I myself would peer into the Khnìnthan Princess’ dreams. –
Éfhelìnye gulped and chanted – But you are the master of them all, oh honored one, surely such a task should be given unto someone else. – The Starflower Princess was not entirely sure where her line of argument was leading, for she did not to imply that one in her ten thousand viceroy kingdoms was expendible in the least, neither pædogogue nor priest nor warrior nor merchant nor child nor tree nor bird at all.
The old Master was hobbling out upon his long and hooked cane, his robes all of blacks and browns swirling about him, and he chanted – You need not worry about my welfare, oh Moon of the worlds, but your concern is quite endearing and proper. –
– With all respect, Puey and I would stay with the Khnìnthan Princess for the dreaming, if we may – Éfhelìnye chanted. – It would only be appropriate. –
Ixhúja leaned against Éfhelìnye and murmured in a slightly mechanical language that she was crafting as she went along as if to say, Do we really need to do this a third time? How about this time I take him apart from the inside out?
Please behave yourself, Éfhelìnye clicked and spat in the same language.
I’ll do as I feel.
Then you feel like behaving yourself.
Where’s beautiful Puey? Is he going to be with me?
Then it can’t be too bad. Fine. Let’s send in the next victim.
– You have nothing to concern yourself with the ujóqufha – chanted the old Master as he came unto a new room, and already clockweyth insects were crowding down the walls and slithering in all directions. – I shall just be able to taste the merest whiff of a dream. One just wishes to feel the texture of it. –
Puîyus was already in the room and arranging the cushions and the cauldron, and he kept looking up to the biomechanical insects and hissing at them in warning, but the wihts just giggled at him and shook their wæterbucca wings at him and hissed in comcomitant response. As the Master of the Dodos came within, the light of the candles began to dim of its own accord, to flicker, to glisten red and black, and he cast dust into the tripod and shadows crescented and curved began to arise.
Éfhelìnye drew Ixhúja within, and Ixhúja ran right up to Puîyus and drew her arms about his neck as if to ask him, Are you going to try to tie me up again? You know that won’t work?
Puîyus pointed to the fireplace as if to tell her, actually one intends to sit before the flames and unbraid this singed queue and braid it up again.
Ixhúja looked to Éfhelìnye as if to say, You’re not going to try to bind me, are you?
– No – chanted Éfhelìnye. – You can rest upon these pillows, and I’ll just gently hold your hand. –
– That’s it. I’ll just sit here with you. –
Ixhúja drew a knife but then realized that she did not really have a plan or reason for it. Slowly she sheathed it and looked around. The room was darkening a bit more. Puîyus was seated beside the fires and was tossing a few acorns into it and listening to the glisten and snap and pop as he adjusted his hair. Ixhúja flung herself onto the pillows and all about her the machine crawled and converged and clicked unto itself and wondered about what sort of mischief they could engender. Éfhelìnye sate down close to her cousin and stroked her hand and kissed it a few times.
– Are you comfortable? – Éfhelìnye asked.
– The dust is lit. The ritual has already begun. Great-Uncle Táto once walked through my dreams. –
Ixhúja rolled o'er on the pillows raised a curved violet eyebrow as if to say, Hurray for Great-Uncle Táto.
– I found the experience not unpleasant. –
How happy I am for you.
– You can close your eyen if you want. –
How deadly boring dull. Fine. Closed.
– You can curl up next to me if you want. –
Ixhúja lay her head down in Éfhelìnye’s lap and shivered a little. Éfhelìnye wrapped them both up in the same blanket. Ixhúja’s breathing became a bit more regular and still and silent. The Master of the Dodos was casting more dust upon the tripod.
– I want you to dream of your earliest memories – spake the Master. – Dream of your earliest childhood and of your parents. Dream wherever your dreams may take you. –
Éfhelìnye stroked her cousin’s back and kissed her a few times. Steam arose from the cauldron and flickering entopic lights began to fill the darkness. For a few moments Éfhelìnye and the Dodo Master could see a white laboratory and several clockwork automata walking from side to side, long and strong arms reaching into bubbles of light and bringing saucers of milch with them. Éfhelìnye turned to Puîyus and saw that he had curled up and lay beside the fire and was purring a little. Khrùkhtii the acolyte was shutting the door, and Éfhelìnye knew that he was going to ensure that Auntie Qtìmine and the Pwéru Sisters were safe. Ixhúja yawned a couple of times and made herself a bit more comfortable. And so it was that in the darkness that the Master of the Dodos and Princess Éfhelìnye peered into the dreams and began to experience wheels and insects and the vast and fluent forest and the thunder of old trees and lava pouring all about the wheels and spreading outwards in great rubescent mists.