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One Night Every Year ch 3
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Winterimage
Winterimage's Gallery (82)

The Eternal Emperor

Nightly Horrors
the_eternal_emperor.rtf
Keywords male 682670, lion 24131, science fiction 734, emperor 123, contest entry 79, empire 69
The Eternal Emperor
by Winter



"His Highness is getting along in years," said the dark-furred lupine Minister of the Second World, bowing deeply. "Space travel must be tiring for him. Does he not require rest before we move on?"

"Nonsense," the Emperor growl-laughed as he stepped into the hovercraft that would take them to his Imperial Palace, in the Third World's capital. "I am still in my prime. Watch."

And as the vehicle flew by rivers and lakes, tiny farmlands and seaside villages, the Emperor would often wave his pawhands and perform his miracles. Where they passed, trees grew taller and crops grew richer. The sick got well and the elderly stood tall with all their aches and pains gone from their bodies, as the Emperor generously shared his abundant power.

In the light of the setting sun, his auburn mane shone with youthful vigour, and white fangs gleamed as he smiled. His leonine tail flicked lazily as he beamed with love and joy when his subjects cheered and chanted his title.

That night, after many ceremonies of greeting and celebration throughout the capital, the Emperor slept well in a sarcophagus covered from head to toe with a single, flawless oval sapphire, blue as the ocean. His dreams were of rocky shores and sandy beaches, of fishermen's boats out at sea, of children playing in shallow waters under the watchful eyes of parents or siblings. All the while, the sapphire served to focus the energies of the seas and send them into the Emperor's body, to preserve and prolong his life.


* * * * * *

Perhaps, during his nightrest, a fraction of his mind slipped through the veils of time, to an age that was myth and legend to his present-day subjects but which the Emperor could recall, although with some difficulty. To a time when an aging lion man, in desperate fear of his approaching end, sent out a message to all four worlds; find a solution. Do the impossible. Make me immortal!

If indeed the Emperor did dream of those ancient days, now more than twenty thousand years ago, he might have shed a tear of joy as he watched his loyal subjects go to work. Scientists, magicians, alchemists, theocrats, physicians and witchcrafters all set their hearts to the task, and for the first time in the history of the four worlds they all worked as one. They combined their skills and arts and knowledge in order to find the solution, to do the impossible. To make the Emperor immortal.

The Emperor's mane had been all white, his eyes misted and dull, and his days mostly behind him, when news finally reached his ears. It had been done!

On the First World, closest to the life-giving sun, the conjoinment of practitioners had come up with a means to pull his Highness from the clutches of death. This the green-scaled lizard Minister had assured him, bowing deeply as he spoke. They had found a way to harness the radiant energies of the sun, to focus them through a single, flawless round ruby into the Emperor's body. That night the Emperor slept, for the first time, inside a sarcophagus made not for the dead, but to stave off death.

The next morning he awoke feeling young again, stronger and more vibrant than even in his youth. While his body still looked like that of an old lion, the Emperor knew that he had become much more than he had ever been. He had transcended his own mortality. Yet the good news were not come to an end yet. Later that day the Emperor received word that the wolfen practitioners of the Second World, a moon that lay in the perpetual shadow of its much larger mother planet, had also found a solution.

That night the Emperor slept in a sarcophagus covered from head to toe with a single, flawless square made from black onyx, which focused the energies of the night and the starlight into his body. Again the Emperor awoke feeling wonderfully invigorated, and that day he performed his first miracle.

A mother had brought her young pup who was dying from a fever, pleading for the practitioners' help. They had done all they could, but no spell or potion or prayer stayed the child's decline. The Emperor had felt sorry for the little one, and had gone to his bed and gently caressed his burning forehead. At once, the boy had opened his eyes and smiled at the Emperor, and less than an hour later he had run around the courtyard of the Imperial Palace, chasing his friends as if the fever had never been.

Then news had come from the Third World, a planet of oceans whose tiny bodies of land were riddled with rivers and dotted with lakes. There, the energies of the waters, sweet and salty alike, were focused into The Emperor as he slept inside his sapphire sarcophagus. The next day he had walked along the shore by a small fishermen's village, and in the evening the boats had brought home more fish than ever before. But the Emperor was no longer there, to celebrate with them. News had reached him once more, and he had hurriedly left.

The Fourth World was covered with lush, green forests, interspersed with rich savannahs or wind-swept steppes. Its capital was the only hand-made structure on this last of the inhabited worlds, and it fought a constant battle against the surrounding jungle that sought to reclaim its lost land. Here, inside the Imperial Palace, the Emperor spent the night inside a sarcophagus covered from head to toe with a single, flawless triangular emerald, which focused into his body the energies of the living green, the lush and rich forests of the Emperor's homeworld.


* * * * * *

The Emperor awoke after his first night in thirty years underneath the sapphire, the dream-mists of the past evaporating like the morning dew under the rising sun. As always when he moved from one world to the next, he felt stronger and more alive than before. New energies meant a new kind of life, a new kind of peace. After ten years of night and starlight, the water felt thoroughly refreshing.

He had decided long ago, during his first years as immortal, that he would spend ten years on each world, before moving on to the next. Thus he would get to meet all his subjects in due time, and nobody would feel left out. Also, his invigorating sleep took its toll on the world where he slept. As the practitioners had soon discovered, the Emperor took his longer life not only from the sun, the darkness, the water and the forests, but from the worlds themselves. Thirty years between visits would be needed for each world to recover from ten years of giving.

The Emperor thought nothing of where his life came from that morning, for his mind was filled with nothing but happiness. During the day he would visit the outmost island of the capital's archipelago, a place he held in fondest memory. For it was there, seven thousand years ago, that he had met his last wife.

She had been a breath-taking beauty, a slender dark-skinned human girl with night hair and sky eyes, and he had loved her to the end of her days and beyond. Even after his grief had passed, the Emperor had lost all yearnings for a companion. He never married again.

The sun shone bright and warm, and a gentle breeze rocked the boat as a group of humans who looked very much like his long-lost love rowed the Emperor and his Ministers out to the island. They were all humming a wordless melody while they bent and pulled, bent and pulled, and the Emperor for the tune and the motions enthralling. Had he not been so filled with new energy, he might have been lulled to sleep, but instead he stared out over the ocean.

Just then, something unusual happened. The Emperor was not used to new things, having long since heard all and seen all there was in his empire, and he found that he enjoyed being surprised. Alongside the boat swam a pod of dolphins, and every now and then one would leap out of the water, much to the enjoyment of the off-world Ministers. But the Emperor's keen eyes had spotted something else, even though he doubted it at first. But no, it was true.

Among the sleek water mammals swam several human children, their darker skin making them easy to discern from the light grey of the dolphins. The Emperor and his entourage all gasped as a young girl leapt several metres and landed with a splash, her webbed hands and feet letting her keep pace with the pod. Her pod?

"The Sea has begun to claim our children," the eldest rower said in his melodic accent, sounding almost as if he were still humming. "They swim more than they walk, and they no longer use canoes to fish from."

"But... how?"

"Time brings change, honoured Emperor. We have lived with the Sea for so long, it's only natural for her to lure us in. And change always begins in the children."

"Can I... Should I do something? Heal her? Heal them?"

"Can you heal them from time, honoured Emperor?" The rower smiled. "We do not fear the change. Whales and dolphins and reefcats all lived on land once, but the Sea pulled them back to her. It may be our turn now."

"It sounds terrible. And sad."

"Not sad. Nature. When more time has passed, Emperor, maybe your new capital will be on the seabed."

That day, during his visit to the island of his wife's kin, the Emperor was quiet and distraught, as if something were bothering him. He was polite and didn't fail to greet and honour his subjects, but anyone could tell that his mind was drifting. The Ministers made sure no local took offence, reassuring them that the Emperor was just tired after his space journey the previous day.

Back in the Imperial Palace, the Emperor asked to have his supper delivered to his chambers, then sent his Ministers off. From his tower balcony he gazed out over the ocean, coloured a deep red by the sunset. Above, the stars were coming out to light up the sky, and he traced the imaginary lines of the constellations. Were they still there? Now that he thought about them, hadn't they changed? Surely some of the stars had moved since that night when he had first slept in the sapphire sarcophagus?

Time brings change, the old rower had said. Time brings change. Something about that thought made the Emperor feel uneasy. But why? Surely he was no stranger to change? So far during his eternal life, there had been much change. Generations upon generations upon generations of his subjects had lived and died. Cities had been built, others had been abandoned and crumbled.

Time... Change...

Had the Emperor changed? He still looked the same as when he stepped out of the emerald sarcophagus on the Fourth World, so long ago, fully restored to his youthful and powerful self. He was still as loved and admired by his subjects as he had been back then. And he loved them in return, just as he had. But had he really gone through all that time without changing?

What would become of the Third World once the humans had returned to the sea? Would some other species step up to claim the throne as dominant intelligence? A sudden memory made the Emperor's mind snap back to reality, and he left the balcony. The sun had long since set, and it was getting cold. He glanced at the moon, wondering if it hadn't been larger once, before closing the door behind him.

This had already happened!

He should have thought of it before, even while he spoke with the old rower. It had happened before. The Emperor remembered dreaming about the practitioners of the First World, and of the night that he became immortal. The men and women who had built the ruby sarcophagus had all been of a lizard folk, serene and reflective as they lived their gentle lives in the hot sunlight. A people the Emperor had valued highly.

But the current Minister from the First World, whose name he could not recall at the moment, was no lizard. Instead of green scales he had greyish skin, instead of yellow eyes he had pools of deepest black. What species was he? Would it be impolite to ask? Would it worry the Ministers if their Emperor did not even know what they were?

When had he first noticed this change? Had he even noticed it at all until now? What about the felines of his own home, the Fourth World? Wasn't the Minster smaller than they used to be, his fur lighter in tone? And was the Second World's Minister still a wolf as dark as the forever night in the shadow of...?

The Emperor did not know the name of the planet that shaded the Second World.

A mild panic settled over him, like a headache that wouldn't go away, and he paced around his bedchamber trying to sort out his thoughts. What else had he forgotten? What else would be gone before morning? What had his wife, the lovely island girl with the dark skin and the blue eyes, been called? He did not know.

The eternal Emperor ruled over four worlds. He was the peace that had succeeded the many killing-wars of the past, the structure that had replaced chaos. For two hundred centuries, his subjects had lived in happiness and prosperity, but he could no longer remember how he had come to power. Did it even matter? Could he allow it to matter?

Over the next few weeks, the Emperor kept pondering these thoughts, trying not to let his worries show as he went about his duties. He visited other islands, villages that blurred into one another and greeted subjects who looked alike and sounded alike and all spoke the same reverent words and praised him. And in the evenings he went through paperwork, reviewing the local governors and how they ran their world in his name, and he commended their work even though he had no idea if their numbers were better or worse than when he had last checked them.

At night, he tried to set his memories into a straight timeline, to recall what had happened when and what consequences had what causes. Part of him feared the loss of the past, but bits of his mind also told him not to worry. He had lived so long, seen so many things and done so much, surely one brain could not hold on to all that? And if he really wanted to know everything he had done and all that he had been, it must be written down somewhere. Chronicles over his deeds and actions, he could read them and remember.

If he wanted to...


* * * * * *

Yes, they were still wolves.

The Emperor stood on his tower balcony in his Imperial Palace, and gazed out over the lamplit streets of the Second World's capital. Tonight he would sleep in the onyx sarcophagus for the first time in thirty years, and he would sleep well knowing that they were still wolves.

That question had kept on worrying him over the years, especially since that day ten years ago, when he had seen with his own eyes that the lizard folk of the First World were no more. But he had remembered the wolves of this nighttime moon. Only... was wolf really the right word for their species?

The Emperor could not remember.


* * * * * *

It was the largest, finest hut in the village, but it was still a hut that housed the sapphire sarcophagus.

The Minister of the Third World apologised over and over again, and he berated his kinsmen until the Emperor finally told him enough. He listened to the village chief who explained about the groundquake and the tsunami, and how they had just barely managed to save the sarcophagus before the Imperial Palace crumbled and fell. When they tried to rebuild, it turned out that the seals' flippers were ill suited for masonry.

Huts were all they could manage, but at least the Imperial Hut had two storeys and a balcony outside the bedchamber.

There the Emperor stood, gazing out over the capital. There were three rows of huts and beyond, the ocean. Not as grand as the Emperor remembered it. From out at sea he could hear the unmistakable, high-pitched chatter from a call of humans swimming past, accompanied with splashes as they leapt.

He had seen them up close earlier that day; one had even come so close to the boat that he could almost touch its dark skin. It leapt in their wake, time after time. A young male, he noticed as it spun around and around. For a couple of fleeting seconds, they had stared into each other's eyes, and the Emperor could almost feel that feral intelligence behind those large blue orbs. Then it was gone. He saw it leap with the others a couple of times, but it didn't return to the boat. But the thought of this young human stayed with him all day, even now at night as he returned inside and closed the door behind him. He shivered. The night was chilly, and he felt strange, as if his body resented him moving it about.

The Emperor was getting ready to climb into the sapphire sarcophagus, unusually tired, when he noticed something odd. There was someone in the room; a small figure standing in the far corner where the candlelight failed to reach. At first he wanted to call for the Ministers, but he changed his mind when the figure began to move. It was a child. A very unlikely, not to say impossible child. A human boy.

Not one of the agile swimmers the Emperor had seen earlier, but one who had legs, and arms like a person. Its skin was wrong, too. Pale, almost translucent, and its hair was yellow rather than black. The only thing that gave it away as human was the shape of the face, oddly flat and round and with the characteristic tiny nose. That, and the large blue eyes. They caught the Emperor's gaze, and then the unthinkable happened. The human spoke.

"Please..." It was little more than a whisper, but the voice did form words rather than the swimming humans' meaningless chatter. "Please help me."

"Help you, child?" the Emperor asked. "What can I help such a strange one with? A human with feet. A human who talks."

"My grandpa... I want him to come back."

"Where is he?"

"He's gone. He's been gone for years, but I wanna see him again before its... before it's too late."

The boy began to cry, and the Emperor hurried to his side to comfort him. They hugged, and stayed pressed tightly together while the boy's sobs ebbed out. Once he had stopped crying he backed away a bit, and the Emperor sank to his knees to bring their eyes level.

"I cannot give you your grandfather back, child. Not even I can bring back the ones that are lost."

"Please, Emperor, can't you try?"

"It's no use."

"Then a-at least..." The boy had began sobbing again. "At least t-tell him that I love him. And mom d-does, too."

"I'm sure he knows that, my boy. Wherever he is, I'm sure he knows."

"I love you!" The boy closed the gap between them and held the Emperor tightly, burying his sobbing face in the lion's mane. "I love you..."

"I love you too, kid. I've missed you so much."

Then the boy was gone, and the Emperor stood alone on his knees in his bedchamber. What an odd thing to happen. Now he felt very tired, and he longed for the refreshing sleep of the sapphire sarcophagus. Maybe he would dream of oceans again. He loved dreaming of oceans. Loved the sound of the sea and the smell of the salt.

Why had he told the boy that he loved him? A child he had never even seen before? Yet it had seemed right, had seemed to be just what the boy needed. Hopefully he would meet his grandfather some day, if it were true that mortals went somewhere else when the ended. In older days the theocrats had said something about another place. He couldn't remember what it was called. Witchcrafters had other places, other names, other ways to go.

Maybe it was true, but he was too tired to think. It took all his remaining strength to climb into the sarcophagus and close the sapphire lid. Now he could sleep, maybe he would even sleep in tomorrow. His last conscious thought was of the boy, who now seemed almost familiar, then he drifted away to dream about oceans.

But he did not dream, and he did not wake. And all over the Four Worlds the cries of loss and grief echoed for days without end. The eternal Emperor was no more.


* * * * * *

"Mrs Palmer? Mrs Palmer!"

The woman tried to ignore the voice, but when it grew louder she decided to stop. She sighed deeply. And they had almost reached the car, too! Her face was still streaked with mascara, smeared out by the tears she had sworn not to cry. She sent Tommy ahead and told him to wait in the car, then rummaged through her purse to find a tissue. But it was too late. The man had already caught up with her.

"Who are you?" she asked, perhaps a bit more harsh than she had intended. "I need to take my son home."

"Don't worry, Mrs Palmer, I won't hold you long." He reached out with his hand, and she shook it hesitantly. "My name is Dr Richard Fielding, I was your father's psychiatric analyst during his last few years."

"Oh?" It was all she could think of to say. "And?"

"And, well, I was wondering..." He suddenly seemed unsure of himself, moving in a kind of twisting way that annoyed her. "It was a fine service. Very calm and dignified."

"Are you wondering that? Or are you just stating a fact?"

"What? Oh! Oh yes, I was wondering, you know, as I've been interviewing your father ever since his... delusions... began, and it has been quite interesting..."

"Come to the point, Dr Fielding, or else call my office on Monday to book an appointment!"

"Ah, yes, sorry. I was wondering if I may write a book about his case. It would make an interesting study of..."

"You certainly may not!"

"But..."

"I will not have my father's last years turned into some study. Or worse, something everybody will read that will sully his memory. So no, Dr Fielding, you may not write about him!"

"But..."

"Thank you for attending the service. Good day!"

She left the bewildered psychiatrist, turning on her heels and walking briskly to the car. Once behind the wheel, she took a moment to wipe her face clean, then started the engine. She knew that it would be a losing battle. If she didn't allow him to publish, he would simply write it as an unauthorised biography, or even fiction! But she would fight it, tooth and nail. A voice from the backseat shook her back to the world just as she drove out of the church's parking lot.

"What did you say, Tommy dear?"

"What will happen to the Four Worlds now, mommy?"

"What worlds? Oh, you mean that... that tale of his."

"He cared so long for them, what's gonna happen?"

"Oh, honey, none of that was real! It was just grandpa Jacob's fantasies."

"But it wasn't! He really was there, an' he was a lion an' all! And he kept them safe for thousands and thousands of years and..."

"Tommy, not now! We can talk about grandpa Jacob's worlds some other day."

"But..."

"Please, Tommy, mommy's already got a headache, and that nasty psychiatrist just made it worse. Maria will fix you a snack when we get home, then you've got your piano lessons."

"But I thought..."

It was no use arguing. It never was, when mommy had made up her mind. So Tommy ate his snack and didn't learn how to play the piano that afternoon, either. Later he lay in bed and worried about the Four Worlds. He had heard grandpa talk about them for so long they almost seemed real to him. Real enough to worry about, at least. He yawned. Tomorrow he would have to go back to church again, 'cause it was Sunday, and the priest would talk more about grandpa and he would cry again and...

Tommy felt himself drifting away, and he wished he would have his favourite dream again, the one where he was all alone in the toy store and could play and play with everything.

But he didn't dream, and he didn't go to Sunday Mass. Instead mommy took him to see Dr Fielding, but Tommy never knew. Tommy never knew anything of Tommy again.


* * * * * *

The celebrations lasted for days without end, all over the Four Worlds, as the young lion cub was carried through the streets of each capital, waving to the admiring masses and already performing tiny miracles. All was well and splendid!

A new Emperor had come, and his reign would be eternal.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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The Runners' Tales: Turning Night Whispers
Nightly Horrors
The Emperor has ruled over the Four Worlds for thousands of years, but something seems to be wrong. Why are there so many things he can no longer remember?

This is my entry to SoFurry's Sci-Fi Summer story competition.

EDIT: The story actually finished third! I'm all happygrins.

Keywords
male 682,670, lion 24,131, science fiction 734, emperor 123, contest entry 79, empire 69
Details
Type: Writing - Document
Published: 5 years, 9 months ago
Rating: General

MD5 Hash for Page 1... Show Find Identical Posts [?]
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84 views
4 favorites
12 comments

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shadow1482
5 years, 9 months ago
Wow that was a great story.
Winterimage
5 years, 9 months ago
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.
dmfalk
5 years, 9 months ago
Such a sad story... :(
Well-written, and certainly recalls a Poe quote:
"All that we see, or seem,
Is but a dream within a dream."

A keeper, as usual. :)

d.m.f.
Winterimage
5 years, 9 months ago
Thank you, my friend. Love the quote, I didn't know it was Poe who said that. I kind of like it when you can't really tell what is reality and what is a dream, a fantasy or madness.
dmfalk
5 years, 9 months ago
Sometimes, dreams seem more real than reality. :)

I first heard that quote from a German electronica band on the mid-'80s called Propaganda, who were heavily influenced by Gothic-period American and British literature, such as, in this case, Edgar Allen Poe. I believe the quote comes from The House of Usher, but I'm not sure.

As always, you're an excellent storyteller. :)

d.m.f.
Winterimage
5 years, 9 months ago
And you, sir, are an ecxellent giver of compliments. *bows*
Winterimage
5 years, 9 months ago
...and I can't spell excellent...
dmfalk
5 years, 9 months ago
Heh! We all make mistakes, no matter how good with words we may be. :)

d.m.f.
dmfalk
5 years, 9 months ago
*bows in kind* :)

A true asset to IB, as sadly, we have few (perhaps enough to be counted on both hands, maybe a foot or two, as well) writers who can truly be said to be gifted as storytellers, although someday, someone will realise IB is more than what it seems, and actually use it as a second main furry site, growing fast enough to take on the largest. :)

I only hope I'm as good a storyteller- I try. :)

d.m.f.
KuroSaisan
5 years, 6 months ago
I do despise myself a little for not reading this story earlier because well. It´s perfect for what it is. As much as i like your writing style and your storytelling this time i´ve really been amazed and well, deeply moved by your story. It reminds me of several books, films, poems, and other stuff i´ve seen and read over the years and again it´s just what i call a perfect story.
my regards
Winterimage
5 years, 6 months ago
Thank you so much for the kind words, I'm really happy that you enjoyed the story. It would be interesting to hear what it reminds you of, because when I set out to write it I had no clear vision of it, and didn't consciously draw from any sources. Though I shamelessly admit to letting the writing style be inspired by the short stories of Arthur C Clarke, one of my all-time favourite writers.
KuroSaisan
5 years, 6 months ago
There are some books written by Philipp Jose Farmer named "the world of tiers" series. They are one of the first series of modern sci-fi i think and well they do somehow describe a form of a world that is designed from four different settings. Also there is the in my eyes great movie "Big fish" which is a story about an old man telling his life and well his son trying to separate imagination from reality. And then there are sevral ideas i hab in mind for a long time and nether came to write down plus my fascination of eternal life and what it would do to people... thats about what i recall right now.
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