The Emperor's Dream - Chapter Five

Later that night, Wanyi sat in his study alone. He called it his study, but in truth it was only a writing desk, his chair, and a single bookshelf sparsely filled with books set in the corner of the common room in his home.

**Chapter One**

**Welcome to chapter five of The Emperor’s Dream, an epic fantasy novella from the wider world of The Mhong Chronicles. I’ll be publishing chapters each week, but remember, these are some of the very first drafts, which means you’re in on this at the very beginning. Thank you for being here, friend. I hope you enjoy it.**

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Later that night, Wanyi sat in his study alone. He called it his study, but in truth it was only a writing desk, his chair, and a single bookshelf sparsely filled with books set in the corner of the common room in his home. A far cry from the library his father had kept in the castle that was now the Council Hall. That had been near bursting with tomes and scrolls, and had required a librarian and her assistant to keep it organized. Now, he had only the books he had been able to purchase since the Het had ransacked Shanshia and since he and his family had been ousted from the castle.

Not that any of the ones he had were very helpful right now.

When he had returned from meeting with Meisun and the other Montililun, Wanyi had flipped through his collection, searching for some scrap of wisdom that might help him put an end to this nonsense about merging nations, but his meager archive had failed to provide any insight. Frustrated, he had turned to the stack of reports on his desk. He could at least do something about those.

Now, long after the sun had set, and after having worked his way through the stack—most were either accounting reports for the Clan’s finances or intelligence updates from Yishan—he leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. Papers lay strewn across the desk, and the fresh candle that he had lit was already half its original size. A pool of cooling wax clumped around its base.

His eyes landed on his l’anti wand, which collected dust on the topmost shelf of his bookcase. He didn’t remember the last time he had used it.

I suppose it’s time I started carrying you again, isn’t it?

Wanyi took the wand from its perch and dusted it off with the sleeve of his diani. The smooth ash wood was about the length of his forearm and his hand together, without any carving or ornamentation. He tried to remember what his teachers had taught him. Lan Banti was quite different from Lan Kuanghi, a difference felt even more acutely by Hukan. Lan Kuanghi was a matter of instinct. Lan Banti was a science.

His teachers had told him it was just a matter of focusing his will and converting the Banti in the wood into one of the basic forces—the forces of the stars, flames, thunder, and wind—or channeling the Banti directly and using it to heal oneself or others. Banti was the primal force of life, so using it for healing was understandable, but the names of the basic forces didn’t make sense to Wanyi. Why call it the force of thunder when it could be used to make any sound? And it wasn’t as if stars were the only source of light. It had to be some old Banqilun tradition that he didn’t understand.

He almost put the wand back on the shelf, but thought better of it. Lan Banti was one of the arts that Ramreunya wanted to take from him and his people. And if the rest of Hukan would eschew it as a gift, then it was up to him to practice on their behalf. Someone had to keep the art alive for his people.

Wanyi took a deep breath and held the wand out in front of himself, pointing its tip toward the ceiling. He imagined a tiny star, about the size of his hand, and willed it to come into being.

Nothing happened.

He sighed. This is the price of letting my skills go untested for so long.

Wanyi rolled his sleeves up his forearms and attempted to focus again, holding the wand in both hands. It would come back to him eventually. It had to.

This time, he felt a sort of connection between himself and the wand. Distant and unfamiliar, the sensation wasn’t unlike speaking to a new beast for the first time. Nevertheless, Wanyi felt a thrill course through him. Lan Kuanghi was communion. Lan Banti was power. He again pictured the star and tried to merge it with the channel of Banti resting dormant in the wand.

Like an ember touching dry leaves, the power burst into existence. A ball of green flame shot from the tip of the wand and collided with the ceiling, faster than Wanyi’s eyes could follow. The flames vanished on impact, leaving behind a shining spot on the ceiling where they had hit. The ceiling shone brightly for a few seconds, then faded to a dull glow before eventually winking out entirely.

Wanyi smiled. It was a start. He looked back to his wand. The tip was covered in a layer of sawdust, as if someone had come along and sanded it down while he had been focusing elsewhere. That was the price of Lan Banti. Each instrument, be it a wand or a staff or a twig stripped of bark could only contain a certain amount of Banti. The art of Lan Banti extracted that Banti, leaving the wood slightly diminished. The more Wanyi practiced, the sooner he would need another wand. He tapped his wand on the table, leaving behind a small pile of dust. He could clean later.

He spent the next hour trying every exercise he could remember. The force of stars was the easiest to manipulate, since it required the least amount of Banti to use. Only channeling Banti directly was theoretically easier, but it required a bit more specificity in order to actually heal wounds effectively. That was one piece of Lan Banti he intended to stay away from.

Besides practicing creating light, he managed to elicit a few loud bangs by channeling thunder and to push a crumpled up piece of paper across the room with the force of wind. He knew himself enough to not try and channel the force of flames while he was indoors. He would either fail to light a candle or set the whole room on fire.

As he worked, the pile of sawdust on his desk grew. The wand had crumbled away until it was half its original length. Wanyi looked around for something heavier to try and push with the force of wind when his eyes fell on the candle he had lit when he had started working earlier that evening. It was nearly spent. How long had he spent in his study without coming up with any viable solutions for how to move forward?

“This is impossible,” he said aloud, sitting down heavily in his chair. He rested his chin in his hand and stared at the dying candle flame.

“I’ll tell you what’s impossible,” a woman’s voice said from behind him.

Wanyi jumped and whipped around. He hadn’t heard the door open. “Mother! What are you doing up at this hour?”

An imposing figure in the doorway, Nensin was stout for a Hukan woman, and clever as a raven. Her crest had long since gone gray, but her spirit didn’t seem to have caught up with her body yet. Her patterned diani had mud stains on the knees. In her gloved hand, she held some kind of plant with white flowers by the stalk, a tangled ball of roots and soil at its base.

“I’ve got nightshade in my garden again,” she said with a huff, “If I don’t take it out soon, it’ll infest the whole place and choke my potatoes.” She held the flower close to her eyes, as if trying to discern its hidden schemes. “And besides, if one of the servants or their children pick one of these, they could wind up sick or dead if they don’t handle them properly.”

Wanyi sighed. “Mother, you shouldn’t be out this late. Especially not if it’s likely to rain again.”

“Oh, the rain has already started,” Nensin said. She held up a gloved finger to stop Wanyi’s protest. “Hush you, I’m not one of those frail old ladies afraid of what’s only natural. A little rain won’t kill me.”

Wanyi shook his head. Some battles simply weren’t worth fighting. Especially not with Nensin. His mother could teach stones about stubbornness. Instead, he changed the subject. “The Tohk Emperor arrived unannounced this morning. Tukharen, Samyi, and Kaoghi worked to bring him here. They want Hukan to join the Tohk Empire.”

“Well I could’ve told you that.”

It wasn’t the response Wanyi had expected at all.

“Son, if you think you’re the first one to break the news to me, you’re sorely mistaken. Those fools have been handing out their pamphlets since shortly after the man arrived at the gates.” She regarded him with a look that he had come to know as sympathy. “Is this what has you moping around like a plucked tuk bird?”

Wanyi’s anger flared. “Does it not concern you that there are chiefs of our Clans who would sell our people to a foreign ruler?” He immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, mother. I shouldn’t have spoken to you that way. It’s just…it has been a trying day.”

Nensin’s face softened further. “Oh, Wanyi, of course I am concerned. But if the Silent Lord wishes for our two nations to become one, we’d be fools to stop it—now, now, let me finish. If that is the case, we would be fools indeed to try and stop it. But I am of the mind that our Lord will not allow such blasphemy as this Recreator is promoting to proliferate much further than it already has.” She finished with a huff, and gave the nightshade plant a firm shake as if it were a fish that had flopped about unexpectedly.

Wanyi deflated. He felt his crest lie down flat against the top of his head. “I just wish there were something I could do,” he said, rubbing his temples and attempting to alleviate the headache that had begun at some point during the evening. “But it seems no matter where I turn, they’re already ahead of me. Ramreunya and Tukharen must have already been planning this for months.”

“You mustn’t subdue that desire,” Nensin said, her voice suddenly more intense. “Our Lord may no longer speak to us the way He used to, but He does speak to our spirits. If He is the one leading you to action, you must obey.”

Her insistence triggered another flash of irritation. “Mother, please, I—” he moderated his tone again.”I know.” He let out a long sigh. “I do not know what I can do about this, but I will try. Tomorrow, I will speak with Jinhua. Perhaps we can work something out together.”

Nensin brandished the nightshade at Wanyi, pointing it at him like a scolding finger. “And well you should. But now, since it appears you are free for the rest of the evening, why don’t you go out into the garden and take care of the rest of the nightshade? Help a frail, old woman out of the rain so she can get her beauty rest, hmm?” She gave him a mischievous grin, then turned and plodded off to find her bed.

“And don’t forget your gloves!” She called over her shoulder.

Wanyi watched her go, dumbfounded. Had she really just ordered him out to do nighttime chores like he was a child again?

In the end, there was nothing for it but to do what she had asked. Wanyi sighed heavily, stood, then began his search for a pair of gloves.

**That’s it for this week! If you’d like to support the work I’m doing here, you can buy me a coffee here. Or, if you’d like to become a monthly supporter, you can do so by becoming a paid subscriber below. Whatever floats your boat. I’m grateful either way. See you next week!**