The Emperor's Dream - Chapter Three

“You’ve done what?” Chengroh roared. The old man’s sudden rage made Wanyi jump. He had never seen the eldest chief so upset.

**Chapter One**

**Welcome to chapter three 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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“You’ve done what?” Chengroh roared. The old man’s sudden rage made Wanyi jump. He had never seen the eldest chief so upset. The long white feathers of his crest bristled as his fists gripped the arms of his chair, tendons protruding, his knuckles white. “A Hetanzou king, trespassing within our borders, and you three have welcomed him into the heart of our capital city? Explain yourselves!”

Shaken, Samyi and Kaoghi looked quickly to Tukharen. At least he has the decency to seem ashamed, Wanyi thought, his grip tightening on his spear. Ever the showman, Tukharen’s slight flush was likely only another piece of his act, though perhaps he was improvising now. And it confirms that Tukharen is the leader of this plot.

“Brothers,” the Ram chief began, “I can assure you that our actions have neither intended nor brought any threat against our city or our people. If you will but wait a few moments more, we can discuss the proposal we would make alongside Emperor Ramreunya.”

Around the room, the other chiefs displayed varying levels of shock. Dandan still stood, his mouth hanging open dumbly. Jinhua sat in stunned silence.

“Proposal?” Wanyi felt the feathers of his own crest rise as he attempted to keep a tight rein on his anger. “What kind of proposal requires the aid of a foreign ruler?”

Tukharen’s eyes flashed, but his retort was cut off by the thudding of more boots coming down the corridor, along with the richer sound of wood knocking on stone. It seemed the three had stalled long enough.

Through the still-open doors strode a group of Hetanzou men and women, their heads covered in hair rather than the Hukan crest of feathers. Each wore the tight-fitting military robes of the Tohk army and a serious expression. Their marching steps were crisp on the stones of the Council Hall floor. After stepping a short distance into the room, they stopped and stood at attention, rapping their wooden staffs on the floor twice in unison.

L’anti staffs. That meant those soldiers were Blasters, highly specialized in the art of Lan Banti. Powered by Banti rather than Kuanghi, practitioners of Lan Banti harnessed the raw power of the earth. With those staffs—tall as a man and stripped of bark—the soldiers could kill a Sentient in a number of ways. Given enough time and wood, they could blast a hole in the walls of Shanshia itself. That’s what the Het had done.

Internally, Wanyi reprimanded himself for not keeping up with his study of Lan Banti. Hetanzou might be more attuned with Banti than Hukan, and Banqilun even more so, but it was no secret that Hukan could learn the art and grow skilled at it. At the very least, he should start carrying a small wand with him. In case his spear ever failed.

At the sound of the staffs, Tukharen and his companions stood abruptly, their eyes focused on the doorway. Apparently the foreign soldiers bearing lethal weapons in the Council Hall didn’t disturb them.

A short moment later, Wanyi’s view of the doorway shifted. Standing there, in what had just been an empty doorway, was Ramreunya. Wanyi hadn’t seen him approach.

An illusion placed in the doorway to mimic the empty hallway, Wanyi thought, Clever. These must be masters of Lan Banti indeed.

The Tohk Emperor was, on the surface, an unimpressive Hetanzou man. Of average height and build and wearing the expected elaborate robes of an emperor, Ramreunya didn’t seem like the type to rule what was likely, Wanyi had to admit, the most powerful nation in all of Lun.

But there was something about the man. Something that radiated authority and import. As Ramreunya took a few slow steps forward, his guards parting around him, he fixed each of the Hukan chiefs with a stare and a slight bob of his head. Wanyi felt a weight behind those eyes. No, despite his average appearance, this was a man with power. This was a man who had overhauled a nation, and had already begun redefining its culture. Some already worshiped him, calling him the Recreator. Nonsense, of course. Only the Silent Lord was truly divine. But those eyes. In spite of all his training and discipline, Wanyi felt a cold bead of sweat drip down his back.

The Council Hall fell silent. Despite being the seat of the Hukan government, it seemed as if Ramreunya should have been the first to speak. Chengroh, bless the man, was the first to recover both his voice and his spine.

“Who is it who disturbs the Council of the chiefs of the Hukan Clans?” The old man sat up straighter in his chair, his white crest rising until it nearly obscured the Bear burned into the top of his chair.

One of the Hetanzou guards flinched, and Tukharen gave an audible wince.

A little heavy-handed, perhaps, Wanyi thought, But I’m grateful for his fire. This is an unannounced foreign king barging into our city.

Ramreunya gave no visible reaction to Chengroh’s words or tone. “I am Ramreunya,” he said simply, folding his arms into the sleeves of his robe and giving a slight bow. “I am the leader of the Tohk Empire, and I have come to make a request of this Council, if I may.”

Chengroh opened his mouth to respond, but Tukharen spoke first. “I will vouch for our guest!” he said breathlessly. “He has dealt honestly with me in the past, and he has come at my behest.”

“And mine,” Kaoghi echoed, his crest rising. Samyi nodded from the chair next to him.

So eager, Wanyi thought, but why bring him here unannounced? Surely that would create more problems for whatever they were plotting.

“Answer a question for us first, Your Majesty, if you would,” Wanyi said, “Why have you come all the way to Shanshia without notice? Surely you are aware of the penalties for bringing armed soldiers into our lands without the approval of our Council. Your very presence could be considered an invasion.”

Ramreunya’s eyebrows rose, but he gave no further indication of surprise. “Forgive me, chief…”


“Ah. Forgive me, chief Wanyi,” the emperor said, giving another slight bob of his head, “But I do believe notice was given to my associates, and I have received word promising safe passage from the border of my Empire to this Council Hall.” He gestured with one hand towards Tukharen, Kaoghi, and Samyi, whose expressions had soured somewhat. “However, I will not presume to stick my nose in matters of internal Hukan disputes.”

So that had been the plan. Ramreunya would enter Shanshia unannounced, letting the other three take the fall. Whatever they had been promised must have been great indeed for them to risk the wrath of the other members of the Council.

“What is this request then?” Dandan blurted. “This proposal?”

Wanyi felt a surprising chill run down his spine as Ramreunya smiled. It was certainly a pleased smile, but something felt…wrong about it.

“I request only that I might share a dream of mine with this Council. From there, I will make my proposal, through the favor granted me by chiefs Tukharen, Kaoghi, and Samyi.”

“Well, go on then,” Dandan said. He sighed and thumped back into his chair.

Ramreunya eyed each of the chiefs in turn again. This time, Wanyi met that gaze with a slow nod. The emperor folded his hands into his sleeves again and spoke in a firm voice.

“My dream is this. For all of Sentient history, our peoples have separated and gathered into homogeneous nations. Hukan. Hetanzou. Montililun. Banqilun. Before Sith… that is, before the former king passed away, he tasked me with visiting each of these nations. My mission was to create a map of all of the known world.”

Wanyi’s stomach clenched. Ramreunya had been about to say Sithmonset, the name of the last king of the Het Kingdom. The king before Ramreunya had reformed the nation into the Tohk Empire. The king who had nearly destroyed Hukan and its people. Mentioning Sithmonset would have assuredly raised more than one crest. Ramreunya didn’t seem to be the type to allow for slips of the tongue, though.

So where was he going with this? What he had said of his map-making mission was certainly true enough. The travels of Ramreunya the King’s Cartographer were becoming legendary. The man had documented his travels extensively and published them for the world to read. Copies of the volume were being heralded by those who worshiped him as some sort of holy book.

“In each of these nations,” Ramreunya continued, “I have seen much of the same. Pain. Suffering. Injustice. It is my belief that it is the responsibility of a nation’s government to maximize the lives of its citizens. Yet in each of the world’s nations, and this was certainly true of the Het Kingdom, kings and governors tolerate systems which perpetuate the oppression of common folk. Systems which reduce the ability of each person to make his or her best contribution to the whole. Can we as rulers not do better?

The question hung in the air. Wanyi did his best to ignore the back-handed criticism of the Council and attempted to evaluate the emperor’s words with humility. Of course the United Hukan Clans were not perfect, but should all of that blame fall upon its leaders? Were there not those who would do evil regardless of a Council’s decrees?

There will always be those who do wrong, he thought, at least until the Silent Lord speaks to us once again.

“I dream of a land where suffering is no more. Where justice is done, and each of my citizens is able to find peace within the bounds of freedom and purpose. Where each member of the whole is both encouraged and able to give his or her best contribution. But until recently, I have been blind. Until recently, I have sought to build the Tohk Empire the same way that nations have always been built—among one’s own people. And yet this creates rivals if not enemies of the other nations where we could instead be family.”

Ramreunya paused for a moment, taking a deep breath. The only sound in the Council Hall was the light pattering of rain on the high windows. “I dream of a nation of all peoples, without a hierarchy amongst the races. Hetanzou, Hukan, Banqilun, and Montililun all pulling together to progress Sentientkind further than we have ever gone before. I believe the people of Lun are capable of far more than anyone has imagined, and only in unification will we reach the peak of our collective might. This is my dream.” He held his hands forward, palms upward toward the gathered chiefs. “And this is my proposal: let Hukan be the first of the nations to see the truth of my words. I propose a merger. Let Hukan join the Tohk Empire. Let us become one nation.”

“No!” Wanyi cried. This time he was the one who had leaped from his chair, his crest as high as it would go. He barely noticed the pain in his right hand from gripping his spear so tightly. “We will never surrender our land or the lives of our people to you!”

“Quiet, you fool!” Tukharen had also stood, his amber eyes flashing with heat, “You and your Clan have done enough to push our people down this road already.” He returned to his seat. “I second this proposal,” he said, addressing the rest of the Council.

“Peace, Wanyi,” Chengroh said, “The proposal is seconded. We must at least consider. Please, sit back down and master yourself.”

Reining in his temper, Wanyi did so. It couldn’t be! The Council couldn’t truly be considering such a request! Whatever part Tukharen and the other two had played in it was treason. Hukan had to remain free. It was all they had left.

“I am happy to entertain any questions you might wish to ask of me directly,” Ramreunya said smoothly, as if he hadn’t just announced his intention to end Hukan as it was and unseat every other man in the room.

“What of your Testing Day, as you call it?” Jinhua asked. “If Hukan joins the Tohk Empire, will they be subjected to such barbarism?”

Wanyi had heard of the Tohk’s Testing Day. Each year, every adult was required to present themselves for the Testing, where they would complete a series of simple tasks designed to assess their physical and mental aptitude. For most, the tests were only a formality. But for those who failed, it was the end. For those unable to pass the tests—the elderly, the lame, and the slow—Testing Day was a death sentence. Those who failed were given a week to set their things in order, then were marched off to be given a swift death. Wanyi had heard that the deaths were meant to be as quick and painless as possible, and that the families of those who were killed were compensated. But it still made him sick to consider.

Ramreunya nodded, as if he had expected the question. “Indeed, all citizens of the Tohk Empire must be subject to its laws. But, should you accept my proposal, I think you will find—as my own people have—freedom in the Testing. Those who are no longer able to contribute need not prolong their sufferings. Those who are able need no longer strain themselves on behalf of those who cannot help them in return. I understand it is a significant change, but ask the old man who can no longer see or walk if he has truly enjoyed the years his life has been artificially prolonged by the sacrifice of his offspring. Sometimes you must prune the vine in order to make it more fruitful.”

“Impossible,” Wanyi said, calmer this time, “We cannot sign our people over to be poked and prodded, then slaughtered when they are no longer useful.”

“Enough,” Chengroh said, “We will discuss this proposal in private. Does anyone else have additional questions for Emperor Ramreunya before he is dismissed?”

“I do,” Ninroh said. The Stag Clan chief was both tall and broad, and looked like he could hurl a boulder across the room without the aid of a bonded beast. He didn’t typically say much during the Council meetings. “What of your specialization system? I have heard that, once they are of age, your people have the option to choose which of the Three Arts they will practice, forsaking the other two. Will Hukan be required to adhere to this as well?”

“There will have to be a slight change to that policy,” Ramreunya said, his voice precise and careful. “As you are well aware, Hetanzou are made up of equal amounts Banti, Kuanghi, and Mhong, which means they have an equal aptitude for each of the Three Arts. However, Hukan have been granted a far greater amount of Kuanghi with lesser amounts of Banti and Mhong. Lan Khuanghi then, or beastlore as your folk call it, is the clear choice for those of Hukan descent. Just imagine the contributions the Hukan people could make to our world if they focused solely on Lan Khuanghi. If our nations were united, we would be guaranteed to have gifted Hetanzou practitioners of Lan Banti, and in time, Banqilun as well, whose skill is unmatched among the races. There would be no need for Hukan to practice Lan Banti or Lan Mhong. To do so would be only a distraction—a waste of potential.”

Ninroh’s mouth formed a thin line across his face. The big man crossed his arms. “And if a Hukan person decides they want to practice the other two despite their…lesser aptitude?”

“Measures will be taken to ensure that such a decision is…less desirable,” Ramreunya said, folding his hands into his sleeves once more. He hadn’t moved from the spot he had occupied since entering the Council Hall. “As I said before, each citizen ought to be encouraged and able to make his or her best contribution. At times, this might require a firm hand from a leader to enable them to realize their full potential. But for the good of the whole, it is what ought to be done.”

Wanyi felt numb. A foreign king had entered his city at the behest of three of the nine Clan chiefs. Ramreunya could use words like unification or merger all he liked, but Wanyi wasn’t fooled. The Tohk Empire would absorb the Hukan Clans like a rat disappearing down the gullet of a viper. His people would have their wings clipped, forbidden from practicing two of the Three Arts. A lack of skilled practitioners of Lan Banti had been one of their greatest weaknesses in the war against the Het Kingdom. And now this man came proposing that they give it up altogether.

And worst of all, his people would be subject to the Testing. They would be herded like cattle and forced to pull the Tohk Empire’s carriage wherever Ramreunya decided that it ought to go. Then they would be slaughtered the day they grew too old and weary to grip the haft of an axe or a hammer.

The room had once again fallen silent. Surely the other chiefs were as appalled as Wanyi was. They couldn’t actually be considering Ramreunya’s words, could they?

Chengroh coughed. “Erm, yes, very well then.” He sounded as shaken as Wanyi had ever heard him. “If there are no other questions, then Emperor Ramreunya, you are dismissed from this Council. Go in peace.”

The Tohk Emperor once again gave the small bows of his head to each of the chiefs in turn. It was beginning to feel like a mockery. “Of course. I thank the Council for listening to my prattle. And do take as much time as is required. This is a momentous occasion.” He snapped to his guards, who quickly stepped into formation around him. “If you have further need of me, I and my retinue will be camped outside the city walls for the next few days before we return to Tohkdao. Good day to you all.” Ramreunya turned on his heel and walked unhurriedly from the Council Hall, his guards maintaining their box shape with him at the center.

Chengroh gestured for a servant to close the door, which was done slowly and softly.

Then the shouting began.

**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!**