The Emperor's Dream - Chapter Two

A new blast of the horns broke Wanyi from his stupor. He had nearly forgotten—he needed to meet with the other Clan chiefs.

**Welcome! This is the second chapter of my current project, tentatively titled, “The Emperor’s Dream.” 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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A new blast of the horns broke Wanyi from his stupor. He had nearly forgotten—he needed to meet with the other Clan chiefs. Certainly Ramreunya’s arrival was the occasion for the abrupt summons, but how had he gotten so near to the city unannounced? Tearing his eyes from the Tohk procession, Wanyi banked and began making his way toward the Council Hall.

As he flew, his mind raced with the implications of the Emperor’s presence in Shanshia. The company attending Ramreunya didn’t appear to be large enough to attack the city, nor would they likely have drawn so near had that been their intention. Certainly not with the Emperor himself in that carriage.

What is it? Ban asked. I sense your alarm.

A foreign king has come to the city, Wanyi said. And I should have been told long before he arrived.

Is this king dangerous?

I don’t know. His Empire is the successor to the Het kingdom that nearly destroyed the Hukan Clans when I was just a boy. Since he—Ramreunya is his name—ascended to the throne and founded the Tohk Empire, he has employed my people and the beasts that we bond to work on his building projects. But I can’t believe he would come so far in person on a mere business trip.

Wanyi sensed Ban growing thoughtful as they flew. Though experienced in bonding with and aiding Wanyi, the hawk hadn’t had much exposure to Sentient history. He would likely ruminate on what Wanyi had told him for the next few hours, flexing his remarkable aptitude for deep thinking.

The Council Hall was a square, fortress-like building. Built of gray stone and set on the highest terrace in the city, it rose above the eastern half of Shanshia like an old pine in a stand of birch. Though it was also used for general governmental offices, most people in the city just called it the Council Hall, for its large central room where the nine Hukan Clan chiefs met. Wanyi, however, knew the building by a different name.

Home. He remembered running through its halls as a boy, wrestling with his brothers, learning to fly with the birds from the family’s aviaries, and attempting to escape from his nurses. That had been when his father had reigned as High King over the Hukan Clans. Back before the war, when there was a High King over the Hukan Clans. Before his nation’s decimation, his Clan’s unjust disgrace, and before Shanshia had been divided into sectors by Clan. It always pained him to return and see the castle occupied by strangers.

Wanyi soared over the outer wall, flashing his chief’s spear to the skyguards, before landing in the courtyard. It had once been the castle gardens, before the Het had burned them and the new Council of chiefs had elected to pave the whole area with cobblestones. He stemmed the flow of Kuanghi from his bond with Ban, causing his wings to disappear, though he maintained his enhanced sight.

Ban, if you would, please continue to circle about the city, Wanyi said, Alert me to any further disturbances. It is a day to remain on the alert.

Of course, friend Wanyi. With a few flaps of his wings, Ban was off, weaving through crowded air filled with other flying messengers, both beast and Sentient.

Inside, the castle was in a state of quiet chaos. Governmental clerks, always unhurried and unflappable, shuffled along the hallways. A portly man wearing the green and gold of the Stag Clan puffed loudly as he jogged past Wanyi, sweat stains joining the typical ink stains on his diani. Wanyi had never seen a clerk move faster than a brisk walk, and certainly not one of such girth. He hurried on toward the Council Hall proper, careful to project calm on his face. Servants and clerks could break decorum when surprised or during a crisis, but chiefs could not. It wouldn’t do for the Hukan people to see their leaders in a state of disarray. Especially not now. His people needed strength from their chiefs.

The high-ceilinged passage felt cold and lifeless compared to a childhood of warmth and color. The tapestries were gone, as were most of the treasures that his father had kept on display. What the Het hadn’t carried off as plunder, the Council had decided belonged to the United Hukan Clans. Wanyi had hardly been able to retain even a set of silver spoons.

Before he had gone far, a thin Hukan man wearing the blue and white garb of an Owl Clan clerk appeared from one of the side passages. Beneath the embroidered owl insignia on his diani, three embroidered knots marked him as the Clan’s head clerk. Yishan, with his spindly limbs, gaunt face, and prominent hooked nose even amongst Hukan, had the look of a stooping crane. Nonetheless, the man’s wits and eyes were sharp, which made him perfectly suited for his other position: Wanyi’s spymaster. Yishan despised the title, referring to himself only as “an informant.” And though he refused to call himself or any of his accomplices spies, Wanyi knew of no one more skilled in the ways of stealth and espionage. Seeing Wanyi, Yishan bowed and approached.

“Greetings, sire,” he said, his voice soft enough to not carry down the hall. “I have news of utmost importance, if you might spare a moment before the Council gathering.”

Nodding, Wanyi turned down the side corridor without breaking stride. If Yishan had more information that would prepare him for the coming Council meeting, it was worth hearing. “Alright, Yishan,” he said. “ I already know it’s Ramreunya knocking on our gate with his soldiers. What else is there?”

“Delegations from the Lion, Ram, and Falcon Clans have been spotted leaving the city in the direction of the Tohk Emperor’s party, sire.”

Yishan always did get right to it. Wanyi liked that about the man.

“It figures that those three would be the first to welcome him in. Any other whispers around the Council Hall?”

“Not much that can be confirmed. As you’ve seen, most of the other chiefs and their people are in quite the huff.” Yishan grew silent, but his sharp eyes remained fixed on Wanyi’s.

“And what do you make of it, Yishan? If there is something else, speak it.”

“I do not like it, sire. Reports are only just beginning to trickle in, and I have not been out to see for myself. But I think it bodes ill for the Clans. I just wish I knew why.” Yishan furrowed his brow, the way he always did when deep in thought. If there were any insights to be gleaned from the day's events, Yishan would draw them out.

Wanyi clapped him on the shoulder. “Thank you, Yishan. I will think on this. Thank the Creator our paths crossed before I entered the Hall.”

Yishan smirked, but his voice carried little mirth. “The Lord of Silence had nothing to do with it, sire. Do not allow your comings and goings to become too predictable.” He bowed and strode briskly away, leaving Wanyi alone in the corridor. Wanyi watched him go for a moment, then returned to the main hallway and continued on toward the Council Hall.

Of course those three would go lick the hand of Ramreunya before obeying their summons, Wanyi thought. Of the nine Clan chiefs, Kaoghi, Samyi, and Tukharen—the chiefs of the Lion, Falcon, and Ram Clans respectively—had the strongest relationship with the Tohk Empire. Between the three of them, they owned an overwhelming majority of the Hukan nation’s mines, quarries, and logging interests. After Ramreunya—the son-in-law of the former king— had miraculously ascended to the Het throne and refashioned the kingdom into the Tohk Empire, he had seized the opportunity to contract the three chiefs’ combined labor forces to work on his multitude of building projects. And the three chiefs, eager to see their fortunes restored, had hastily agreed to the deal. At this point, most of the new roads in the Tohk Empire, including the Emperor’s Highway, had been largely constructed by Hukan laborers, with the added strength of the beasts that worked alongside them.

And if their purchased loyalty wasn’t bad enough, Yishan had given Wanyi reports from reliable witnesses that Ramreunya and the three chiefs allowed beastmastery—using Lan Khuanghi to harness the strength of beasts against their will—on their job sites. Beastmastery was an abomination, but Wanyi had never been able to gather the proof he needed to charge the Clan chiefs before the Council.

Yishan’s instincts are right. This can’t bode well for the Clans.

Thoroughly suspicious, he stepped through the great wooden doors to the Council Hall. Once, the grand hall had been his father’s throne room, warmly lit and welcoming. Now the wood paneling had been removed, revealing the bare stone walls. Instead of the High King’s throne, which had been carved with all nine of the beasts of the Hukan Clans, nine simpler chairs had been placed on a large dais in the center of the room. Each bore the respective Clan’s beast—burned rather than carved—on its high back. The nation’s pillaged treasuries had been expended on necessities rather than ornamentation for its leader’s backsides. Despite the Council’s many failings, Wanyi had approved of that decision.

Five of the other Clan chiefs were already in attendance, and were immersed in conversation. Of course, the Lion, Falcon, and Ram chairs were yet unoccupied. Wanyi made his way along the outside of the circle of chairs until he came to his own and sat down, resting his spear across his thighs.

“I’m telling you, it’s the Emperor himself!” Dandan said. A flush of excitement had come over the Buffalo Clan chief’s features.

“My informants told me it was only the Tohk minister of trade. I trust the testimony of those men.” That was Kuozai, chief of the Wolf Clan, his long, feathered crest tucked tightly against the top of his head while his mane grew thick and unruly. The dense feathers burst from the neckline of his diani, growing nearly up to his chin.

“We must wait until all of our brothers have arrived. Then we shall determine the true nature of this disturbance.” Chengroh’s voice was soft, but firm. Eldest of the chiefs by far, he had been too old to fight when the Het had come. He was probably one of the only old men left in the city. Despite his age, the chief of the Bear Clan sat straight-backed.

Dandan and Kuozai contained themselves. Chengroh could do that with people, even Clan chiefs. In that way, the old man reminded Wanyi of his father. He had always been able to exert authority without raising his voice.

“Wanyi, do you know what is happening at the gate?” Jinhua asked quietly from the chair next to Wanyi. The closest friend Wanyi had on the Council, the chief of the Eagle Clan was the first to acknowledge Wanyi’s entrance.

“I think it best to wait to discuss further until the rest of our number have arrived,” Wanyi said diplomatically, noticing Dandan’s half-disguised eye roll. The lad would need to learn to master himself if he ever hoped of leading the Buffalo Clan to any amount of glory. Although, despite doing his best, Wanyi’s Owl Clan wasn’t likely to gain much honor any time soon. Perhaps such things simply didn’t matter anymore. At least Chengroh gave a small nod of approval. He was one who kept to the old ways.

“We’re here, we’re here!” a loud voice called from outside the Hall, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “Worry not, we are here!”

The thud of several pairs of booted feet were soon followed by the Council Hall doors being shoved open. The great iron hinges vehemently protested the haste with which they were called to move, emitting a sharp grinding screech. Wanyi thanked the Creator that he hadn’t asked for Ban’s hearing as well.

Through the doorway came the remaining three Hukan chiefs, accompanied by several of their respective Clans’ guardsmen wielding short spears. Tukharen quickly assumed the lead, striding purposefully up the dais steps before falling into his chair with a crash. “We came as quickly as we could once we heard the summons,” he said, pulling out a black, ram-embroidered kerchief and dabbing the sweat from his brow while the others found their seats. “We bring news from the Buffalo Gate, if we’re all ready to begin.” He looked purposefully over to Chengroh.

The old man nodded. “Very well, then. It seems the chiefs of Hukan have gathered for Council. Let us begin.”

Dandan’s earlier moment of composure burst. “It’s Ramreunya himself, isn’t it?” he said, leaning forward in his chair. “Not just a Tohk official?”

“We shall see,” Tukharen said with a self-satisfied smile. Like a performer awaiting the applause of his audience. Wanyi hated that smile. Today was not a day for games. It was a day for decorum. For swift action that would give the people of Shanshia—

Friend Wanyi, Ban said, interrupting Wanyi’s train of thought. He sensed the hawk somewhere high above the city, though not too far away. The Sentient from the shining box—the one you called a foreign king. He is nearing your location.

“...and if anyone has further information as to the nature of this disturbance,” Chengroh was saying, “I believe we ought to begin there. Tukharen, if you know for certain the identity of the stranger at our gates, do tell us.” The older man’s voice was steady, unhurried, though it carried a weight of concern.

It was difficult for Wanyi to focus on the Council meeting while conversing with Ban. It was hard to listen to multiple voices at once, even if the others couldn’t hear one of them.

Friend Wanyi, Ban said again, more urgently.

Yes, I hear you, Ban. Thank you. Is he accompanied by many others?

Tukharen let out a long sigh. “As I said before, I believe we shall soon see clearly the reason for our gathering.”

They are mostly Sentients who look like your kind. Some are of another kind.

“Tell us what you know!” Dandan leapt out of his chair, his chief’s spear clattering to the floor. His eyes flashed rapidly between the three latecomers. “Tell us!” An awkward silence fell among the chiefs.

Thank you, Ban, Wanyi said, Your sight is keen, and your words are welcome. A sense of pride wafted through the bond.

“It is Ramreunya at our gates,” Wanyi said aloud, his voice reverberating through the quiet hall. “I have seen for myself. And I believe these three have invited him to our Council meeting.”

Jinhua inhaled sharply. Tukharen deflated a little, likely disappointed that his theatrics had been spoiled. Just then, a servant in the red livery of the Bear Clan burst into the room, sweating and out of breath.

“Sires!” she cried. It was a testament to her distress that she spoke without being addressed first. Wanyi guessed her next words before she said them. “The Tohk Emperor is coming. Ramreunya is here!”

**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!**