“I am the past, come back to haunt you, Lo Pan” - Egg Shen
The little village in Hunan Provence was no more likely to have birthed a woman with green eyes than any other place in China, yet here Lo Pan was following the words of a prophecy. He was thankful for his disembodied state as he glided over the streets; the mud and filth that clung to his retainers could not stain his pristine robes. There were times, Lo Pan admitted, that The Curse of No Flesh was a benefit.
He had learned some things in the thousand years he had been searching for the woman he must marry and then sacrifice. The soul had a memory, it seemed, and no matter how hard Lo Pan tried, he could take the appearance of only two things: the shell of the man he had been, with a semblance of solid form, a shell which aged and withered through the centuries but could hold things, touch things, even if none of the sensations reached him, and the form of the man he still was in his soul, shining and proud but every cell in his body atomized, held together only by will and spirit.
It would have been such a pleasant curse if he could have become the No Flesh Dragon or perhaps the Tiger of No Flesh. But no, the First Emperor had been just that slight bit stronger than Lo Pan and that little bit more clever.
Lo Pan did not find his bride in this filthy little town, poor and ignorant and filled with fate. What he did find was a surprising young man. Lo Pan's head turned as he felt a wash of power, sorcerous power such as he had not felt in three hundred years. A young teenager stood watching Lo Pan glide past, naked curiosity in his eyes and the potential for magic emanating from him like little waves lapping against the hull of a boat. As soon as Lo Pan's eyes met his, the youth dropped his gaze to the street and bowed his head. Lo Pan sailed past, regal and disdainful as ever, but as he continued through the town, inspecting every female over the age of twelve, Lo Pan was considering how he might use this child to his advantage. Perhaps there was more than one way out of this curse.
The young man, Lo Pan learned, was Egg Shen, son of the local tanner. He was considered barely useful by the townsfolk for, although he helped his family willingly enough, he had no talent for the trade, and was always studying things he should not- at least according to these superstitious rabble. Spirits and demons and magic, these were the things Egg Shen spent his time learning.
A plan took shape in Lo Pan's mind, a plan of such darkness that the demon within his heart laughed for joy. It was easy enough to draw the power for an earthquake, the evil, wicked spirits trapped in The Hell of Dark Suffocation helped him for their own gain- a release from the depths of the earth where the God of the East had imprisoned them. Lo Pan reveled in the casting of the unbinding spell, as buildings fell around him and the earth split and turned upside down. Little did these sad, pathetic spirits know of his great plan to dominate not only the world, but them as well. They would serve him, all of them, serve his great glory in the new empire he would build.
There were many family members working to clean up the rubble as Lo Pan moved smoothly to the wreckage of Egg Shen's house. When the peasants saw his shining form, they bowed low, trembling. It put Lo Pan in such a good mood.
“I am looking for the one called Egg Shen,” he said, voice mellifluous and haughty. “I understand he lives here. Or should that be past tense?” Lo Pan mused with a small laugh, looking at the stones and sticks around him. “I doubt anyone lives here now.”
“I am Egg Shen.” The young man Lo Pan had marked earlier raised himself from his deep obeisance, without meeting Lo Pan's eyes. His voice was strong with perhaps a hint of resentment but no fear, and that too pleased Lo Pan.
“I have need of your help,” Lo Pan told him. “You are a man of learning. Of some skill with your little spells and potions.” Egg Shen's eyes darted up to meet his and then away before he nodded. “Come walk with me.”
It was easy to flatter Egg Shen. Lo Pan presented himself as a magician as well, one of far greater rank and power than Egg Shen could become, true, but one who had only the good of the world at heart. He took Egg Shen to the crack in the world, told him of the unnatural people who were now free, wreaking havoc on the world. Lo Pan told the unsuspecting Egg Shen that he had been sent from the gods to set right this great wrong, awing the youth with demonstrations of his disembodied state as proof of his divine connection.
It was all so amusingly easy. Egg Shen was a quick study, showing a natural aptitude for sorcery and a gift for understanding the theory of magic that made Lo Pan hope that he could convince this young man to take a place in his court one day.
The two of them traveled through China, hunting down the spirits that the great earthquake had released. Lo Pan would craft the binding spells and Egg Shen would carry them out, sending each spirit back to The Hell of the Howling Horrors; in reality a special, subterranean lair crafted by Lo Pan to hold them until he could return and subjugate each one to his will. Lo Pan's army slowly grew, but this was not the entirety of his plan. As Egg Shen developed into a man, became strong and wise, Lo Pan saw that he was powerful enough for the next phase.
“I'm not so sure about this,” Egg Shen said doubtfully as he looked over the ingredients Lo Pan had gathered as the storm raged outside their stone house.
“Do you doubt the gods?” Lo Pan said, pretending to be shocked. “We must see if we can bind a spirit, a creature with no flesh and blood, to this earthly plain.” If it worked there might be applications to his own situation. Oh, to be whole again, to have the world spread out beneath his feet, his every whim an unquestionable law!
“Of course I trust the gods,” Egg Shen answered, although there was still a feather of doubt in his voice. “I just don't see where we will find this spirit.”
The darkness outside was suddenly alive with fingers of lightning and rolling waves of thunder. “Leave that to me,” Lo Pan answered, with a dark smile.
Mollified, if not wholeheartedly enthusiastic, Egg Shen turned back to the spell he had developed. It was his finest work, crafted over the course of months, designed to solidify a spirit and lock it to the earth in human form, capture and cage it to one shape until released.
The spell whirled up as Egg Shen chanted, creating a funnel of orange smoke that grew and moved, twisted in the large room like a live thing. Lo Pan stood with his hand against the window, staring out into the night, gathering the rain in his mind. The sudden gust of wind he summoned wrenched the window open and the storm flew into the room. High overhead, the spell and the storm met, as if on a great battlefield until darkness descended and the window closed once more. When Egg Shen lit a candle again, there were three men standing, facing Lo Pan, eyes full of fire and hate.
Lo Pan opened his mouth. Blue light shot from his eyes and his mouth, enveloping the three spirits standing there, who went rigid immediately. There was tension in the air, the sense of a great battle still being waged until the three spirits... men... whatever they were slumped to the floor as one.
Egg Shen stumbled backward, knocking against the table, eyes locked on Lo Pan. “What was that?”
“The power of the gods let me... oh, forget it. I'm tired of this,” Lo Pan said, with sudden venom. “That will obviously not work for me.” With a wave of his hand, the three unconscious forms vanished, transported to Lo Pan's lair. “Look, you ridiculous fool. My name is Lo Pan, one I'm sure you have heard with the awe and fear I deserve. I will one day rule this world and I had hoped that you would serve me but it has become obvious that you hold to outdated morals and the pathetic concept of goodness.” Lo Pan strutted toward Egg Shen, who was still paralyzed with shock. “I used you,” he gloated. “Thanks to you I have an army, and now I have three warriors with powers beyond anything mortals can provide. I had hoped you could make me whole again, but so be it. You don't have the skill to break the First Emperor's curse.”
Lo Pan gloated all the way to the door. “I have no further use for you, Egg Shen. Goodby.” Whisking out the doorway, Lo Pan waved backward once and the house crumpled, stone raining in on the form of the man still unmoving by his worktable. “I suppose it will have to be that stupid prophecy after all,” Lo Pan muttered as he transported himself to his fortress.
Egg Shen was surprised to be alive. He wasn't entirely certain how, but the golden glow that surrounded him in a bubble of air which held back the rubble would have something to do with it, Egg Shen was sure. He just had time to blink in shock when a soothing, masculine voice spoke, low enough to rumble the bones in his body. His miraculously whole body.
“Egg Shen,” the voice said, “I have suspended your life. From this day forth you will not age, nor can you be harmed by natural means. You are destined to be instrumental in Lo Pan's downfall, though that take a thousand years and more. Grow wiser, Egg Shen, grow strong. Live and prosper and never forget. The God of the East so decrees it.”
Egg Shen did prosper, with riches and experience and time enough to learn what to do with them. He followed Lo Pan around the globe, buying property and making plans that would take decades to come to fruition. He researched spells, watched ideas and religions grow and fall, took the best parts of each of them and wove them together into powerful weapons. But no matter how wise he grew, Egg Shen was still surprised when the God of the East used a rough, egotistical American with a swagger and notions of grandeur to kill the abomination that was Lo Pan.
In his entire one-thousand, two-hundred twenty six years of life, Egg Shen never saw that one coming.