A Future Rewritten Chapter 3

Painful Reunions

By Tierl

Groaning, Fou-Lu swam slowly back to consciousness. He could not think for the pounding in his head, and the agony that wracked every inch in his body. It felt as though every inch of skin on his body had been stripped off, or a great beast had chewed him up before spitting him out again. His mangled senses told him he was sprawled on his back and the smell of warm earth and loam suggested he lay on the floor of a forest. His eyes seemed to have fused shut. Attempting to open them only gave him more of a headache.

He tried to sit up, but it caused him such pain that he fell back, moaning and clawing at the dirt underneath him. He felt his body convulse before it lay panting again. It wasn’t long before he lost consciousness once more, the sound of his heartbeat and ragged breathing thundering in his ears.

This time when he woke, the pain was less, and he managed to blearily open his eyes. Above his head, tree branches mingled and interlocked, almost blocking out the blue sky above. The amount of time that had passed since he first woke couldn’t be determined, but it was certainly much more than a day. Now, most of the pain had diminished to a dull throbbing, and he actually managed to sit up without screaming or killing himself.

He took stock of himself, first. For all practical purposes, he was naked, as his clothes were in such shreds that they didn’t even cover the essentials. Thus, every external wound he had received was clearly visible, and he shuddered at the sheer amount of damage that had been done to his poor body.

Deep burns covered his upper body with blisters and blackened skin. In addition, bloody gouges had been carved into legs and sides, and bruises had blossomed on the patches of skin still intact. Everything was on its way to healing, so it had obviously been longer than he had thought. However, internal injuries remained. A quick inventory found his right arm dislocated at the shoulder, and the bone snapped further on down. Ribs on both sides of his body had snapped and shattered, and one of his feet was swollen and distorted, fragile bones smashed from the fall. That was the worst of things, though the rest of his bones felt bruised and battered.

While he had managed to inspect his own wounds, he found his eyes had trouble focusing on things farther away. The world was a large and colorful blur, and Fou-Lu wondered exactly how hard he had hit his head. Attempts to refocus his eyes sent stabbing pain through the front of his head, effectively discouraging him from trying again.

Dizzy, he closed his eyes, trying to dispel the pounding in his head. Lying back on the ground, he fell into a much-needed sleep.

Awake again, and another day seemed to have gone by. The ache in his head had receded, and the dragon-god no longer saw the world through a blur of opaque glass. Though he wasn’t willing to try standing any time soon, sitting up proved easier than it had last.

Now that his eyes had chosen to cooperate, Fou-Lu could get his first glimpse of his surroundings. There were trees all about him, massive monstrosities gnarled with age and weather. Behind him, they clung together to form an impervious tangle of branches and roots. In front of him, however, the thick forest thinned out slightly, and in between the broad trunks of two forest giants a small structure could be seen.

Fou-Lu gasped, and lurched to his feet, shuddering as his shattered extremity protested violently. He stumbled forward on weak legs, eyes tracing up and down the little building.

Vines and mosses had covered every inch of its surface, and almost none of the original stone could be seen. Graceful arches around a central building formed a circular design, and there was a sense of airy lightness.

Unable to support himself properly, the first emperor staggered towards the small temple, his wounds forcing him to stop and rest after every few steps. Limping, he eventually reached it, and fell to his knees in front of the unbroken wall of the inner building. Panting heavily, his bangs damp with sweat, he planted his left hand on the floor and rested his weight on it. Fou-Lu closed his eyes, shivering. Warm liquid ran down his chest, and the emperor realized he had ripped open several of his wounds with his movement. Coughing slightly, a drop of blood oozing from between his pale lips, he leaned forward and rested his forehead against the wall. Fou-Lu muttered a phrase and the corners of his mouth tilted upward in a faint smile as a section of the wall disintegrated. While he would have entered immediately, his energy for the moment was spent, and he rested there, leaned up against the cool stone surface.

As he rested his tired body, he thought. 'Tis fortuitous that mine body wouldst come to rest here, rather than in other parts…mayhap 'tis fate…if fate hath any affect over gods…Sitting back up, he brushed his hand over the stonework he had erected so many centuries ago. His golden eyes examined the deterioration of the wall solemnly. 'Tis sad to see it worn and faded…yet…'tis strangely suitable, he thought, fondly eyeing the vines that had worked their way into cracks in the stone. She…wouldth have found it pleasing…

Having regained a measure of his strength, Fou-Lu struggled back onto his feet, swaying raggedly. He kept one hand on the wall to balance himself as he made his way slowly to the entrance to the vault that housed the body of his beloved. He paused, leaning against the doorframe, before making his way inside.

Within, the airy ceiling echoed his footfalls and harsh breaths, disturbing the silence that had settled over the small room for centuries. The little shrine was empty of decoration, but in its plainness seemed somehow more beautiful. The vacuum led eyes back to the body that stood suspended in a shield of magical energy, protected till the day she would awaken.

Beautiful one…

Her head was bowed, her arms crossed modestly under her breasts. Soft pink lips were pursed, as if awaiting the kiss of an enchanted lover. The arch of her delicate nose cast a shadow across her beautiful face. Her eyes were closed, long lashes brushing against wan cheeks. She was naked, her silver hair falling in rivulets over her back and shoulders and pooling at the back of her knees. Bare as she was, the scars on her chest and abdomen could be clearly seen. Thick ribbons of scar tissue ran along her stomach and trailed up over her full breasts, while even deeper scars lined her hips and thighs. Smaller marks lined her legs and arms, giving her a mottled look. Scars aside, she was blemishless, not a mole or freckle marring her uniform skin.

It was a definite improvement from when he had last seen her, the emperor admitted, walking slowly and uncertainly to stand in front of her. Then, the pale skin that encased her perfect limbs had been scorched and peeling, and in some places nonexistent. He remembered well holding her ruined body in his arms as the last awareness left it. Fou-Lu, growing dizzy from standing so long, closed his eyes and shuddered, remembering. Such suffering thou hast seen…Better thou had over bided me than undergone such tormentry. Where doth thy spirit wandereth, lorn one, while thy body surrenders to its heaviness?

He opened his eyes to the sound of dripping. The wounds he had torn open and that presently leeched his life force were bleeding still, and a pool of blood was gathering beneath him. Nausea and pain overwhelmed him, and he felt himself start to collapse. He would have regained his feet, but he hit his right shoulder unintentionally, and the pain dropped him where he stood.

When his legs gave way on him, he fully expected to strike against the shield he had erected so many years ago around his sleeping love and to slide to the jade-paved floor. There, he imagined, blackness would take him, perhaps forever. If so, it would be a fitting place to rest, at the feet of the only female he had ever loved.

Instead of cold stones, his fall was broken by warm arms and a sweet voice he had thought laid to rest for all time. "Fou-Lu?" The tone was soft and full of wonder, and the most beautiful thing he had ever heard.

It took the last dregs of his strength to raise his head and open his eyes. "Yahla," he croaked, fighting his rebellious body only long enough to meet her gaze. Then the expected fog caught him in its grasp, and he was drowning in a sea of blessedly pain-free darkness.

Yahla supported the weight of his body as it bore them both to the ground. Before they both ended up on the floor, she exerted more of her strength to halt the fall. The god-emperor wasn’t that heavy, once she remembered she had muscles and knew how to use them. She ended up half standing, half kneeling, her lover in her arms and confusion in her mind.

Her last memories were of him. Fou-Lu, perfect, aloof, beautiful. Composed. Always composed, was Fou-Lu. Almost always, anyhow.

They had been putting down a rebellion, of sorts. Only a handful remained to resist, after the initial skirmish, but they retained the gun, an energy weapon large enough that it looked as though a score of horses would be needed to tow it.

It shouldn’t have been a threat. It could incinerate large masses of soldiers each time it fired, but they were mortals. Yahla and Fou-Lu were of the Endless. Were it fired at them once, it would not harm them. Fou-Lu had assured Yahla of that when she had questioned the wisdom of accompanying the army to put down the insurrection. While multiple shots were a possible danger, the gun was slow to fire or aim.

It is amazing (and somewhat depressing) how many military geniuses die because the event that is impossible is the one that happens.

As it was and as it were, the gun that the Imperial troops had made their prime target was destroyed by the rebels themselves. The energy from the explosion, enough to power hundreds of shots from the gun, had been channeled into a ball about the size of a man's head by a rebel magician. Then the crackling, flaming ball of energy had been hurled, like a giant bullet, at the God-Emperor Fou-Lu.

He had been composed even then, turning to meet death with his head held high, his shoulders back, and his face a mask. Waiting. Waiting even as the globe grew closer and it became clear it was all flame, the bane of a water-aligned dragon.

Yahla remembered well the expression that came when the mask finally broke, the composure shattering, when Yahla had thrown herself forward to take the blast meant for him. She had seen his face, then a blast of fiery agony ushered in darkness. She had felt hands catch her burnt and broken body, and heard his voice asking (not pleading nor begging, in Yahla's opinion Fou-Lu didn’t know how) her to stay with him.

Her memories ended there, a transition as sharp as the cut of a knife. One moment she was in one place, the next something had fallen against her and she had caught it on instinct. The sudden change had left her fumbling for words and answers, and she had only been able to gasp out the name of the man in her arms. Fou-Lu…mine beloved lord

The moment flashed to her head as she lowered her beloved to the ground and started to check the extent of his wounds. At the utterance of his name he had stirred, moving to look at her as if it was the hardest thing in the world to do. His beautiful golden eyes had been red-rimmed and bloodshot, and as he croaked her name is voice was a mockery of the one once she had know. And then, for the first time that Yahla had ever seen, he had fainted.

To her, it was a strange reversal of roles. Last, it had been him that cradled her against his chest, doing his best to heal her violent wounds.

"Ai, Fou-Lu," she murmured, laying his body out flat on the ground. She brushed a lock of bloody hair out of his eyes. "How hast thou thusly fallen? Wouldst that I knew…" She touched his bleeding wounds and spoke a simple healing spell, frowning when her power responded but weakly. The bleeding stopped, but the wounds stayed, and Yahla looked down at her hands as if they had betrayed her. An attempt to coax forth her reluctant magic proved futile. "'Tis as if mine powers have been drained…" the dragoness whispered, disturbed immensely by the turn of events. As Fou-Lu was of water, she was of life and, in accordance, death. She could, at her finest, grant life, as well as whither it with a touch. She could control most lifely functions, healing included. It should have been easy for her to speed the healing process of her love's wounds, as serious as they were.

Another attempt served only to irritate her. Pale lips thinning, golden eyes narrowing, she dropped her semblance of humanity.

Yahla knew Fou-Lu had to expend energy to maintain his half- or full-dragon form, and it was easier for him to hold the form of a mortal. He was but half a god, however, while she was a complete one, albeit a flawed one. For her, maintaining human form was what was draining. She preferred to slip into half-dragon form, where she had greatest access to her powers. Because of her…flaw, Yahla could not ascend to full dragon form.

A greenish tint descended upon her skin, while her forearms, hips, and legs grew scales of a deeper emerald. The scales at her hands and feet were mottled with brown. The bones of her feet reshaped themselves, as toe and fingernails were shaping into talons. Powerful wings sprouted along her shoulder blades, fading to tan about the tips. A slender tail decorated her backside, ridged with a line of heavy scales that continued up the back of her spine. Front teeth had grown significantly sharper, though they retained much of their original size.

It was easier to use her power in what she considered her natural form. Now, however, as she put her clawed hands back on Fou-Lu's body, she was forced to drag her powers out into the open and whack it a couple times before it acknowledged her control, so to speak. At last Yahla managed to produce a satisfactory level of power, a glow settling over her slender hands. A bead if sweat worked its way into her eyes and she bit her lip, struggling to keep up the stream of energy. Torn flesh knitted itself before her eyes, moving into the advanced stages of healing as she watched. Scabs formed over the open wounds, and many lost the red look of infection. Areas of burn skin remained red, but had started to regrow.

Yahla sagged to the ground next to her lover's body, exhausted by something that normally would have been effortless. "Mine powers," she thought aloud. "What hast happened to me?"

Fou-Lu certainly looked better, though. Yahla hadn't the energy to much more. Manually, she popped his dislocated arm back into place. I wouldst giveth much to have a length of bandages and a splint. Lacking anything to bind his broken ribs, the dragoness was forced to ignore them and focused on his other wounds. Dismayingly, she found there wasn’t much she could do about them without her magic, as she had no medical supplies.

Yahla stood back up, too tired to change forms again. Fou-Lu would not wake for some time, and she felt it safe to get her bearings. A glance about located the door, which shed a beam of light into the shadowy room. Moving cautiously, the tip of her tail trailing on the ground after her, she stepped warily outside. Her pupils dilated at the increase in brightness. It wasn’t actually that much brighter, the sunlight blocked by branches overhead. Yahla examined the circle of overlapping stone arches that surrounded the center building, walking through them to get a better view of the forest around her.

The goddess's gaze trailed up networks of roots to broad tree trunks that split and separated into leafy boughs above. She smiled. Even drained and tired the life around her reached out to touch her. The various life forces of the forest dwellers beckoned. Here was power.

The dragon goddess went to her knees next to a young sapling that had sprouted near the roots of an old giant. Smiling at the youthful tree, feeling the life course through its veins, she asked, "Little one, wilt thou?" Running a hand over its branches, she felt the tree's acceptance and laughed lightly. "Thank thee, gentle friend." Eyes closed, and she gripped the seedling's trunk and began to drain its life force. Little was taken, not enough to harm the tree. Patting a leaf, she repeated the process with other trees, singling out the youngest and healthiest. Soon, she had regained her usual level of power, though in her present tiredness she could not hold as much as foreseen.

Returning to the inner building where Fou-Lu lay, the dragoness found the First Emperor just as she had left him. She knelt, smoothly scaled knees uncomfortable against the hard stone. While it was not necessary, it was easier if she had contact with her subject.

Healing came easily to her revitalized hands, and she knitted Fou-Lu's broken arm and repaired the damage to his ribs. Other internal wounds melted away under her touch, the burns also fading and leaving fresh new skin behind. After she had healed him of all his wounds, she sat back, tired once more. There would be scars, of course (even she could not totally undo the damage that had been done.)

It was a lost and lonely dragoness that lay down at her lover's side. When she noticed the shivers that had started to wrack his frame she wrapped herself around him, pressing her naked skin to his in an attempt to give him her warmth. The shreds that remained of his clothes did little to keep out the cold, and Fou-Lu was presently wearing a vulnerable human form.

It was rather nice, holding his body to hers. Eyelids fluttered closed, her cheek resting against his chest. Sighing and snuggling deeper into her beloved's side, Yahla quickly fell asleep, still in half-dragon form.

He woke to the unexpected sensation of being free of pain. Burns that had eaten away at his skin no longer bothered him, and his breathing was no longer constricted by shattered ribs. However, there was a weight on top of him and, tired and weak, he started to push it off. He froze, his spent mind catching up to his body. He recognized the feel of feminine curves pressed against his skin, the weight of a head on his chest. Fou-Lu opened his eyes very slowly, fully expecting to find himself dreaming.

A halo of white hair ringed the exquisite face that lay sleeping against him. Pale green skin and the wing that had stretched to cover his side left no mistaking the sleeping female. Yahla…

Carefully, Fou-Lu lifted a hand, as if he expected her to vanish, and brushed it over her cheek. The goddess's skin was as soft as he had remembered, and he let his fingers caress the rest of her face, lingering at the curve of her lips.

Yahla's eyes opened and met his own. They gazed at each other for a moment, before Yahla rolled off of him and sat up, her hair falling around her. Fou-Lu, still feeling weak and weary, followed her lead. Another silence came before Fou-Lu broke it. "Yahla."

She met his gaze steadily. "I have many question, beloved. Mayhap thou wouldst know of the answers."

"Canst it not wait?" the emperor asked, still drinking in the sight of her. It had been far too long…

The lady smiled. "Verily."

Fou-Lu started to stand, wanting to go to her, but found himself at a disadvantage. "I wouldst move to kiss thee, but mine legs seemth not to bear mine weight," he confessed.

"Why, then I must needs come to thee," she said, soon making good her word. Returning to his side, she met his passionate kiss, her tail going to wrap about his legs. The kiss was a meeting of lips and tongues and teeth, passionate but controlled.

Eventually, they both had to breathe, and pulled back. Fou-Lu gazed into her eyes, a content smile playing about his lips. "Thou hast no knowledge of how long I have dreamt of thee naked in mine arms once more."

"Mayhap," she whispered. "I canst guess." She kissed him again, teasing him gently with her lips and tongue. He in turn started running his hand along the length of her body, making her lean into his touch. Tapering fingers lingered at her breasts and the line on her hips where scaled skin joined non-scaled. It was when they went lower that she pulled away, leaving a hurt and angry Fou-Lu behind.

"What is this? Doth thou find mine touch so displeasing?" Demanding, Fou-Lu glared at her, not quite able to conceal his hurt.

"Had I found the displeasing, husband," Yahla said tartly, "I wouldst not have kissed thee! Nor wouldst I have taken wedlock with thee therebefore!"

"Very well," Fou-Lu said, appearing somewhat mollified. Yahla sighed. She had not intended to hurt her husband's pride. "Why then doth thou turnest away, seemingly in distaste?"

"I do not scorn thee, mine lord. The time is not right for us to take our pleasure. Questions need be answered." She flashed a smile at him. "Then, we mayest frolic as we wish."

"Thou speakest truth, though I wouldst 'twas not so." He sighed, then looked back at her with a slender brow raised. "What is thy query?"

"Mayhap 'twould be best were thou to speakest of that which ensued after I took thy peril for mine own," Yahla suggested. "I recall naught."

Fou-Lu grimaced. I wish not draw to memory that troubled time. Yet, 'tis for her benefit… "When thou wert strucken down, thy life slackened before mine eyes. Thy wounds wert such that thou wert unable even to shift unto thy preferred form." He touched her scaled arm as if in emphasis. "In spite of mine efforts, thou passed into a deep sleep and attempts to wake or heal thee proved in vain. 'Twas the belief that thy wounds wouldst heal o'er the passage of years, therefor thy body was entombed 'til it wakened anew. Now, thou hast quickened. I wouldst assume thou hast healed as much as is possible."

"And how was it that thou camest here in such distress?" she asked, drumming her claws on the floor as she watched him.

We hast fallen by our own stupidity… "Mine overconfidence proved mine downfall," Fou-Lu explained, continuing as she raised a brow. "After thy fall, I carried thee off to mourn, through my laments ordering mine supporters to find the perpetrator of thine assault." After all, the rebellious group could never have gotten control of an energy weapon without outside support. "Their inquires led unto a conglomeration of peoples that titled itself the Alliance. In truth, their mortal minds hadst felt imperiled by mine powers, and had conspired to plan mine demise. Wrathful, I spent mine power to track down and destroy in utter the last of the insurgent sectors, before ordering mine soldiers to make war upon the Alliance, shouldth they refuse to yield those responsible. 'Twas these events that led into a foul affray, which endures unto this very time. Mischance then reared her loathly head, for I hadst used an excess of mine power to attempt revive thee, and the remnant was drained by the sundry efforts required to avenge thee. I gavest mine throne onto a mortal man, receiving his surety that he wouldth return it upon the proper time, as wouldst his sons. Though loath, I departed into slumber, accompanied by the twin guardians I hadst fashioned to console me after thy loss."

"Thou didst not believe I wouldst waken," Yahla stated, watching his face.

"Verily. Thou art a goddess, thy body wouldst not die, but I knewth not if 'twould e'er quicken or if thy mind wouldth remain intact." He watched as Yahla looked away, her hand going to rub her stomach. Fou-Lu followed the motion, his eyes turning sad. Painful memories that draweth to mind… "Sometimes I wouldst thou hadst allowed mine death, rather than near destroying thyself and sacrificing the life of our unborn child," the emperor whispered softly, remembering the bulge that had graced his wife's midsection before the disaster. He hoped it had died quickly, though he was unsure whether fetuses really felt pain. Yahla averted her eyes even farther, and Fou-Lu felt sorry he had mentioned it.

"Thou art speaking to me now, so 'tis clear thou hast woken from thy slumber," Yahla asserted, changing the subject. "If thou wouldst be telling me of it…?"

He sighed. "Very well. Upon awakening, I gavest command to Won-Qu, one of mine two guardians, to watch o'er mine tomb. His brother, A-Tun, hath spent the years guarding the capital in mine absence. I foundest mine other half hath been born into the world, and I set mineself to find him upon regaining mine empire. Upon mine path to Chedo, a route of mortals waylaid me, in service of the currant emperor. He refused his duty, and ordered his servants to slay me and the other that is the Yorae dragon. A vile mortal called as Yom leadth the attempt, aided by his summon beasts. Of fire they wert, and mine powers wert yet unrecovered from mine long rest. The humans lit flame to the forest, forcing mine flight. Cleverly, they cornered me o'er a bridge and attacked, destroying the pathway and dealing damage unto mine form."

Yahla fingered an edge of his ragged clothes. "Then 'tis then that thou received these?"

The dragon shook his head. "Nay. 'Twas later." He continued the line of his story. "A mortal man foundth mine body, and nursed me to health. 'Twas many a day er I grew sufficiently sound to struggle onwards. Upon departing, the servants of the false emperor entoiled me once more, setting a massive avis down upon me. 'Twas aligned to fire, though it couldth not vanquish me. Learning of mine enemies plans to destroy mine other half, I ascended mine form and took to wing for Chedo. Another owl was sent in mine pursuit, and 'twas greater in the air than I, who hadst spent mine energy in the change. Burnt with its flame and with talons rended, I plummeted from the sky, losing mine dragon form in mind descent. 'Twas near thy resting place I fell, though I laid in agony many a day er I couldst find mine setting. When mine legs couldst support me, I dragged mine form within, only to collapse before thy form. Thou knowest of the rest."

"'Tis a long tale, and I retainst but a sole question." She nibbled at her knuckle before finally asking, "How long? What tract of years hast passed?"

"O'er five centuries…" he admitted finally, "Most of which I, too, hast spent unware of mine surroundings."

Silence. Yahla still looked startled. Immortals changeth not o'er such a time, but both earth and the mortals upon it stayeth no the same… Fou-Lu mused, understanding the look that crossed her face fleetingly.

"There is little left the same, then," she whispered at last.

He nodded, looking pensive. "'Tis so…from mine prior encounters, e'en the way of speech hath shifted, though 'tis possible to comprehend."

Yahla sighed. "Humans art curious creatures. Always they must be changing. And 'tis we that needs adjust to follow…"

Humans change to better fit their changing planet. The Endless, invulnerable to the elements and powerful enough never to be lacking, reacted only to things that directly affected them, which usually was few. This planet, not theirs, did not bind them to its rules.

Fou-Lu put a hand on her arm in reassurance, then both froze at a sound outside.

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