A Future Rewritten Chapter 1

Promises Broken

By Tierl

His first step up out of the darkness that had made up his existence for centuries, the cool night air caressed his face. It blew away the stink of incense and too-strong perfumes that had affixed itself to his body after lying so long next to scented offerings and gifts. His second step afforded him a view of the moon and stars, which seemed not to have changed under the emperor's critical eye. To mortals, they art as the Endless, he thought. Stars changed but slowly, and they had always been there.

There had not been a forest here, once, he noticed absently as he heard the click of Won-Qu's claws on the steps behind him and felt the guardian's presence at his back. They made an imposing sight together, softly illuminated by the bounce of moonlight off of jade tiles.

Fou-Lu was garbed in the same ensemble he had taken with him into his long dormancy. Loose silk pants clung to his hips and hinted at the muscles lining his long legs. He wore a thin, high-collared silk undershirt with a silver symbol emblazoned on the red fabric. Over it came a long-sleeved silk shirt of sorts. The fabric of the purple shirt rested on his shoulders before plunging into a deep, angled neckline that ended around his midsection and left his undershirt clearly visible. The gloves that covered his hands and laced up along his forearms were red, and their fingers had been wrapped in linen strips to improve grip. His boots, red as blood, had identical strips of linen on the heel and toe to aid traction. Cinched about his slender hips was a wide red belt with a band of gold along the center and a golden emblem of a stylized dragon in the middle. It hung sideways, and was secured by another strip of cloth that rested on his left hip. A pair of red earrings were set in his pointed ears and a wide band of red cloth about his brow attempted to secure his silver-white hair. It fell in waves to the mid of his back, but even with the headband his long bangs still managed to work their way over his face and eyes.

Won-Qu, turquoise and tan, stood almost tall enough to be on eye level with the average human. His golden, orange-rimmed eyes were set in a hound-like face beneath the animal's twin horns. Muscles and sinew stood out under his fur, and his frame was reminiscent of a wolf on steroids. A mane of bluish hair fell down the back of his neck, completing the image of a ferocious, beautiful animal. Surrounded by the jade that made up the tomb, the guardian looked at home. He blended into the stone as if born from it.

"So…" said Fou-Lu, god-emperor and Endless, his voice almost too loud in the silence. "The time hath come."

Won-Qu sat at his shoulder, examining the surroundings with interest equal that of his master's. The guardian had not left the tomb once during Fou-Lu's long sleep, and the emperor could sense the animal's eagerness to stretch his legs for the first time in centuries. "Yes, m'lord," the beast said dutifully. There was a bit of hesitation about Won-Qu's voice, but the animal continued. "Majesty…T'would appear that something is amiss. Where art the courtiers? The priests? Why is there not a single voice raised in greeting at thy return?" The last was said with an air of bewilderment. Won-Qu and his brother A-Tun worshiped the ground the first emperor walked on and always had. Fou-Lu, always composed, allowed himself a small smile before considering his companion's words.

He dismissed them after a moment's thought. Mayhap they have forgotten us… No matter. They wilt be…reminded. "'Tis not of import. They art mortals. Were we to attempt to understand their mind, we should spend an eternity." It was a somewhat exasperating reality that he could no more fully understand the minds of mortals than they could understand his. "There be more pressing matters to attend to." His eyes closed briefly and his mouth pursed slightly as he reached out to feel for the presence of his other half. It was there, a golden, glittering life-stream that outshone any other near. "Canst thou not sense it? This presence…'tis far…and still slumbering…" Fou-Lu's eyes opened slowly, and he found himself gazing at the pitted moon overhead. His long sleep had drained him more than he had thought. Even finding the other had proved harder than it should have. The other was a part of him, and thus, locating him should have been effortless. "But 'tis what we have sought lo these many ages."

There was silence behind him.

"Won-Qu!" he ordered, a bit more sharply than he had intended. The guardian, who dreaded his master's displeasure, winced. Fou-Lu moderated his voice. Won-Qu had watched over him for centuries, and did not deserve mistreatment. "Guard our place of rest."

"As you wish, sire." The hound sat his hindquarters down in front of the entrance. Fou-Lu, confident that the subordinate would fulfill his command, turned and walked down the flight of stairs that led down from the tomb. "Majesty, wither art thou going?" the guardian called out when Fou-Lu had nearly reached the center of the stairs.

The First Emperor kept walking, but directed his voice so that Won-Qu would hear him. "We shall go to our capital, as was planned. We shall meet at the appointed place when the time hath come."

With that, the master vanished from Won-Qu's sight and the guardian sighed. Alone, the color slowly leeched from his body, and in moments where Won-Qu had stood was a statue in his likeness. It was gray and cold, but unexplainably alive…


The exit from the stretch of ground that housed the tomb of the first emperor came in the form of a gate set in the wall that ringed the place. It was, of course, decorative: a series of roofed stone arches that did absolutely nothing to keep anything in or out. Down from the gate was another flight of stairs, which Fou-Lu navigated with ease.

The bottom step led out onto a narrow road that had been carved into the ground. From where he stood on the path, ground level was at about the top of his head. Along the road grew trees, but mostly bushes. The area was thick in undergrowth and produced an impenetrable wall of greenery.

Fou-Lu pondered as he walked. 'Tis of little likelihood that mine empire hath fallen. There be a greater chance that the mortals hath simply forgotten us, or believest no longer that our rest 'tis merely temporary. He had been forced to leave the paved road for a path next to it when several collapsed columns blocked the way. As it was dry, the going was not too difficult, but Fou-Lu still had to pay more attention to where he was going least he trip over a root that had worked itself over the trail or get greenery stuck in his hair. Well, should it prove the latter, mine subjects wouldst do well to mend their beliefs.

He would have continued walking, lost in thought, but the sound of movement ahead drew him up short. Thoughtful, he continued forward at a much slower pace, his eyes centered on the two mortals standing guard on the declining dirt ramp that led to the next section of road. They were quite obviously soldiers, and their clothes bore the cut of a uniform. They also wore the same type of helmet-- an awkward looking affair that tended to interfere with the owner's eyesight. Perhaps those helmets were the reason the mortals seemed disinclined to notice him.

It was the guard in green that noticed Fou-Lu first and leveled a spear at him. "Who goes there!?" the man demanded. He was a thick, mustached mortal, certainly on his way to middle aged. His companion, a younger, skinny fellow in purple, didn’t even see the emperor until Fou-Lu had walked fully into view and stood about a foot away from them.

"What…" Fou-Lu paused, regarding the humans for a moment. "What be ye doing in this place?"

The first guard, who was apparently not the brightest fellow, said, "Huh? Who're you?"

The second guard, while originally a bit slower on the draw, proved to have more mental capacity. "They say a dragon or something's supposed to appear tonight… so we were told to watch this area."
"…A dragon?" he said slowly. These mortals abided here for us…but why? They canst not have been sent in greeting, else they wouldst have known we needst not take a reptilian form…

"That's right," the younger guard said, apparently having dismissed Fou-Lu as a threat. "And not just any dragon, either! They say it's the legendary Dragon of Doom, which will bring ruin to the Empire!"

How canst I be doom to that which mine hands hath created? he wondered as the mortal's statement sank in. "And… what be thy design…" Fou-Lu asked slowly. For me… "For this dragon?"

"We will destroy it, of course!" the first human said, making one of the last blunders in his pitiful life. "Nothing can withstand the might of the Imperial Army!"

Fools, he thought, incredulous. "Thou believest thou can do such a thing? Thou art but mere mortals." The very idea of a mortal killing a dragon was so absurd it was funny, and Fou-Lu couldn’t help the slight smile that crossed his proud features. Fou-Lu was arrogant and smug, and knew it, but he felt he had more than the right to be so. "Thou dost not ken the power of that which you would destroy."

The smarter of the two was watching him with horrified comprehension as a ball of light converged in the emperor's left hand. It achieved a size twice that of a man's fist before launching skyward. Few people have ever seen the sky ripple, and fewer still that were actively sober at the time.

The two soldiers joined the ranks of that few.

A hole formed in the sky, and ripples spread out from it, blurring and distorting the stars and moon with their passage. They rippled more when the sky divulged its contents, and a dragon glided forward into the mortal world.

It was a streamlined creature, midnight blue and splotched with pale green along its arms and legs. Long arms tipped with three-clawed hands hung at its sides as it hovered at Fou-Lu's back, head lowered to watch the two humans frozen in terror before it. The twin bony protrusions at its elbows looked like threatening blades as the dragon glowered darkly at the mortals. The two knobs of bone over its eyes set off its sharp muzzle and elaborate flat tail, which hung limply in the air. It was waiting…

"This be a dragon." His face grew serious, rather than amused, and he lost his mocking air. He gestured to the dragon, keeping his inscrutable gaze centered on the humans as he held out his hand. "A dragon 'tis a force of nature unto itself. Thou mayest as well seek to fight a volcano or the very earth itself! Dragons doth give birth to thy kind, grant thee life, and verily taketh it away. They art to thee as thee art to an insect." Fou-Lu drew back his hand, letting it fall to his side.

As he withdrew his hand the dragon crouched in the air, clutching its narrow head with its forearms. Then, it screamed, arching its back as it sprouted wings. They were translucent pink, sharp edged and angular. With a tensing of muscles it pumped the newly grown appendages. It gained several feet of height, then settled into an even rhythm that kept it suspended over their heads.

"They art gods." Fou-Lu said. He paused for a long time, and then said with deceptive softness and a hard glitter in his golden eyes, "…Wouldst thou fight a god?"


The dragon hung silhouetted against the moon for a moment's time before it vanished from sight. Fou-Lu watched a while longer before looking back down at the earth. The ground was scorched and burnt, as if some great explosion had taken place but moments before.

"'Tis as I thought," Fou-Lu said, a hint of bitterness in his voice. "It is not the nature of mortals to change their ways…" He let his voice trail off, then proceeded down the slope the human guards had blocked. At the base of the ramp the road led off in two directions. A glance down the right-hand way proved it blocked with rubble, so the left way was what he took.
The road eventually turned to a path, and then that to merely a hunter's trail that wove in and out of the bushes and trees. It led up to a little hill, where another fork in the road offered itself. The right path again proved worthless, this time ending in a meadow of purple flowers that went absolutely nowhere. To the right, there was a path leading up the hill. The incline was gradual, but it was lined with stinging plants that were easy to overlook and step in.

He was mostly up the hill, and past most of the plants, when he stopped. There was a man kneeling in the center of the path. It was difficult to see much of him, as only the top of his mostly-bald head was visible. From what could be viewed, the man was small, fat, and quite definitely on the unattractive side.

"Pardon my presumption, but I believe you are the God Emperor Fou-Lu…yes?" the small man said. Fou-Lu, finding the man's voice offensive to his ears, said nothing. "I have been expecting you…ever since I saw the flames rising from the wood where I had placed my soldiers on watch."

This prompted a reaction. Fou-Lu nodded slowly, looking thoughtful as wheels started to turn in his head. "Thou sayest thou wert waiting for us? Thou knowest of us and what we are, then?"

"Yes, Your Majesty," the man said, standing up. Fou-Lu's first impression proved correct. The man was short, fat and ugly. His nose alone would have disqualified him from any beauty contest anywhere. "You are the first Emperor, Fou-Lu, who founded our great Fou Empire."

"And knowing this," Fou-Lu demanded, his anger growing visible. "Thou wouldst greet us with malice in thine heart and thine blade in hand?" If thou thinkest thou canst thus insult us and keep thy life…we fearest we must prove thy error…

"I'm afraid…times have changed, Your Majesty……" With that, the harmless looking old man called up a monster.

Its roar shook the hillside as Fou-Lu turned to face it, willing his sword into being. The blade that rested like an old friend in his left hand was an extension of his will, and as thus he could dismiss or call it up at any time.

The monster was red with twin tusks, and a multitude of horns lined its head, shoulders, and back. A pair of nonfunctional wings stuck out of its back like tiny sails, and the hunched brute kept most of its weight resting on its knuckles and the base of its tail. It had a vaguely humanoid face, although it was ugly enough that it made even its summoner look attractive. It was also, without a doubt, of the fire alignment.

Fou-Lu grunted as the creature reached out with a flaming fist and swiped him with its claws. As large as it was, it knocked him back a good ways, and did a good deal of damage. Fou-Lu dismissed notions of fighting the monster with only his sword and willed the blade out of being. With that, he changed forms.
He felt his feet leave the ground and the world went blindingly pale as a ball of light encased him. The dragon felt his clothes vanish to wherever they went when he changed, and the skin on his legs and forearms turn coarse, tiny blue scales bursting out through his skin. Claws pushed themselves out of the tips of his fingers, and his backbone stretched and elongated into a snake-like tail. A burning at his temples signaled the growth of his horns. His feet twisted and changed to gripping talons easily capable of crushing bone. The skin of his back split and twin wings unfolded themselves, stretching to an eight-foot wing span. Fou-Lu's face was the only thing that remained the same, though it was now adorned with twin streaks of blue and his teeth were somewhat sharper than before.

The battle did not take long. In his transformed shape, the monster's claws could barely touch Fou-Lu, and his scales insulated him from its fiery breath. It only took several strikes to bring the beast to its knees, and a blast of ice to finish it off.

Fou-Lu's natural form returned as his adversary perished. The emperor turned his gaze to the old fool who had summoned up the monster and he walked forward toward him, fully intent on doing the idiot harm. However, the battle had taken a greater toll than expected, and he stumbled, before regaining his balance.

"You appear tired, Majesty," the human said. "It is to be expected, I suppose. You have just awoken from a long, long sleep, and you are not exactly…complete, are you?"

So thou knowest of that, then… the emperor thought, turning at the tramp of feet to find himself surrounded. Soldiers carrying spears and crossbows blocked the way he had come, and a similar troop had advanced behind the summoner. He turned back to look at their leader. "T'would appear thou dost mean not to fulfill thine duty, as thou art called upon to do by our promise?" They darest withsay me?

The mortal bowed his head. "Alas, it is as you say, my lord. For now, we would have you sleep once more."

Mortals. Impudent creatures, I had forgotten the depths of their foolishness… He smiled, again amazed at ridiculousness of it all. "I wouldst call thee foolish…but thou art mortal." That alone ought expain all folly… "Thou cannot go against thy nature, no more than a fish could walketh upon the firmament. Still…" Fou-Lu's expression grew angered, his golden eyes narrowing under a fringe of white hair. "Thou wilt find that our promises art not easily broken…" The dragon turned and, before the mortals could react, jumped up the slope. Out of reach of the humans, and on a higher level of the hill, he continued speaking. "Return then to thine master and tell him our words!" Keeping his eyes on the mortals below, the First Emperor backed away slowly, then vanished into the shadows.

"Trying to buy time, are you, Majesty?" the mortal summoner said to himself, before turning to look at the soldiers around him. "Set fire to the trees. We must stop him before he recovers his full strength."

The archers marched out to the center of the path, fire-arrows nocked to their bows, and let loose a stinging volley to the forest above. Flames immediately spread from where the arrows feel in bushes and trees, and the archers reloaded and fired again…and again…

Up above, running along the trail he had uncovered, Fou-Lu paused as the forest around him burst into flames and several arrows narrowly missed his head. "They wouldst use fire against us? Indeed, planned well have they."

He sped up his departure. The dragon found the heat of the flames uncomfortable, and knew in his present state they could well be threatening. He started to take the path to the right, but a burning tree groaned, split, and fell across the path, effectively blocking it. Left with no choice, Fou-Lu took the left way, which lead to a rickety old bridge. He walked out onto it, testing the old slats carefully. When he reached the center of the bridge, he stopped, his plans at escape thwarted again. The mortal summoner and a pair of spearmen blocked the far side of the bridge, weapons leveled at him. On the side he had just left, a group of archers had him in their sights. He turned to look at them, then gazed into the distance, before slowly returning his gaze to the summoner.

"As I recall," the mortal said. "Your Majesty has a strong affinity to water…yes?" When Fou-Lu stayed silent the mortal continued. "And, with your powers not fully returned…it is unlikely that you will survive battle with my creations in this raging fire."

Fou-Lu's emotions wavered between fury and mirth, and he finally settled on the latter, amused by both the human's impudence and his own folly. "We…wouldst know thy name, oh cunning one…"

"Yom, General of the Fou-Lu Imperial Army, at your service," the mortal said. Suddenly, a giant hand of flame flickered into being and struck out at the emperor, catching him across the chest and side, and utterly destroying the small bridge.

Injured and denied purchase, Fou-Lu plunged into the depths below, having time to cry out but once before he was lost from view.
General Yom turned, looking at his troops. "…I don’t want to take any chances," the man said. "Find the body."

Chapter 2

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