The first miracle of Jenda Hebrican was timed at exactly three minutes and twelve seconds after his birth. His hand reached out for the implant replacing his mother’s cancerous breast, turning the gel to milk producing flesh. His mother felt the change and wept as Jenda sucked contentedly at the nipple.
His mother wept again when, at the age of one, he was taken away into the safe keeping of the healers, for the world into which Jenda had been born was not free, but under the clutches of the Habiiri Empire.
On his sixteenth birthday, Jenda looked out of his window and onto the world below the small mountain hideaway that had been his home for as long as he could remember. The snows were beginning to melt, the soft white carpet parting to reveal the yellow-green of the mountain floor. The first of the early spring flowers were starting to blossom, the blue and white petals stretching to catch the first breaths of the season. A silver breasted falcon landed on a branch just above the window and screeched its claim of territory. Jenda listened intently to the different pitches, trying to follow the nuances of the bird's song. The falcon finished and waited surveying it's new territory until a challenge to its claim sounded out from higher up the slope and then it flew off, leaving the slope bathed in an early morning stillness.
Everything was at peace here. Harmony prevailed despite the harsh rule of the Habiiri elsewhere on the planet, but it didn't extend into Jenda's soul. There was an imbalance inside him and Jenda felt a need for something not quite discernable yet. He climbed up onto the window ledge and jumped lightly onto the ground, the ferns rustling under his nimble footsteps, and walked down the mountain.
His journey brought him to a barren plain, the land dry and lifeless. Waves of sand brushed the charred, rocky surface as the winds swirled and swept the ground, stinging Jenda's eyes and choking him. This was the Wasteland Jenda had learned about from his teachers. The land of Habiiri death. The flat landscape stretched out as far as he could see; a giant desolate void. Nothing lived here, yet he felt drawn to the place and knew this was where he would find the balance he craved. Had he looked behind him, he would have seen the ground crumble and moisten, the shoots of new life breaking through the soil in his wake.
He walked on until he found a spot where the winds were stilled and made it his home, enjoying the solitude. As he watched the land reborn around him he knew his solitude could not last, but he felt a balance in his soul and so he stayed.
Then the Inquisitors came.
Haspian watched from the porthole as the barren ground disintegrated into charred dust particles. They spiraled upwards as the landing engines blew small craters into the landscape. Haspian had heard stories from the campaign that decimated this region. He tried to imagine what the land had been like. Doubtless it was very different to the view through the tiny window.
He tried to imagine where the landing zones would have been. Tried to picture what would have greeted the Habiiri as they poured out of the landing craft to wreak havoc and revenge for what Haspian understood to be a brave and bitter resistance to Habiiri rule. Utterly futile. The stories told of great aerial roadways and lush gardens. Great cities made of lofty pastel coloured towers that looked like a forest of rainbows as the sun rose in the morning. Haspian pictured a paradise. How different it was now. The Habiiri taught the people a harsh lesson for their resistance and they called it the Wastelands. Life was never meant to take root here again. Something had gone wrong.
The anomaly had soon come to the attention of Emperor Acastas and Haspian was quickly dispatched to accomplish what Acastas had called, ‘the most important mission in the history of the Empire. Fail and you die.’ Acastas was not a man to let down.
The Emperor was a brutal man and a brutal ruler who swept away his opponents swiftly and effectively. He had made the Habiiri Empire the strongest power this part of the galaxy had seen in over a thousand years. Even his appearance inspired fear. He was large and broad of stature. His right eye was covered by a black shell that glistened in the light. He had an iron will that held the Empire under his control, yet despite it all, Acastas was dying and his Empire was diseased. Many thought he was weak because he was prematurely old with failing health. Haspian had noticed that his dark hair and beard were almost all gray now. He could see the tiredness in his one good eye; even the deep blue had turned gray. He could see what others saw, but he was loyal. He was also wise enough to still fear him.
The ship landed with the slightest bump. Haspian and a companion stepped out of the ship and onto the scorched earth of the Wastelands. The two marched in silence across the dark, rocky desert. Before long the hard, charred surface gave way to open prairie. They continued through the lush fields of grass and shrubs until a dense forest rose up ahead. Haspian almost halted in shock. This was impossible, yet here it was. He resisted the temptation to remove his respirator and breath deeply the forest air. It was cool here and the sound of fallen foliage under his feet brought back many childhood memories.
Soon they arrived at a large clearing in the forest, arriving at the same time as the other inquisitorial pairs. In the center of the clearing sat a young man. He looked very much at peace and utterly unconcerned by the visitors surrounding him, rifles poised. All Haspian could think of, looking at the man, was a common thread running through all the veteran's tales of this world. So the stories were true, he thought. There are healers on this world.
Haspian’s orders were specific. The healer was to be taken directly to Acastas. Haspian stepped forward, but before he could speak, the young man calmly stood and spoke.
"Let us go."
Built into a volcano’s heart, black granite walls soaring above the clouds, the Habiiri capital was a dark and forbidding place. All around the volcano's rim, vast domes and towers watched over four great obsidian pillars, stretching upward like talons to grasp tightly the universe. These marked the Habiiri palace, sat dead in the heart of the extinct volcano's basin. Great pools of warm water rose from deep within the earth belching plumes of steam, and streams of rainwater cascaded over the ramparts of the black volcanic rim.
Inside, palace corridors weaved their way through the structure like veins. Walls were smooth and glazed, shining darkly from the dim ceiling lights. Footsteps echoed upon hard, dark floors, yet this was not a cold place. The heated water from deep below the palace flowed through channels carefully drilled into the walls and floors. But this all came with a price. Some said it was only a matter of time before the embers deep below burned bright and hot and deadly once more. It was said that one day the volcano would erupt again, and with it the Habiiri Empire would burn.
Acastas knew of that final prophecy. He had considered it nothing more than an idle tale, but in his dying days he came to believe in it. His empire already showed the first signs of collapse. The Habiiri tribes were beginning to splinter, readying themselves for the power struggle that would be inevitable upon his death. None of the factions were strong enough to hold the Empire together. Whoever won would rule an Empire weakened by civil war. Worlds would slip through their talons. Habiiri power would crumble until they were at the mercy of those they once ruled and once the ruled began to rule, revenge would follow and the Habiiri would burn until the last embers turned cold.
His enemies thought he didn’t know about their petty bids for power, because they were still alive and still plotting. Despite his failing health Acastas still had the power to crush the rebellions, but ever since death loomed near, he had allowed a doom-like melancholy to take control. Let them burn, he told himself. If my people will travel that road, then let them burn. I will be long gone.
Then word had come to him of the Wastelands and Acastas knew the stories were true. There were healers on that world and here was one he could grasp. Suddenly there was a seed of hope. Perhaps he could live. Perhaps the Empire could be saved until one could be found to rule in his stead. Perhaps the Habiiri could rule for another thousand years. Perhaps.
Haspian brought the healer to the Hall of Memora. Memora -- the first Habiiri Emperor. His empire spanned only the five worlds of the Habiiri tribes. Now the claws of the Habiiri grasped over seventy worlds, ruling with iron and blood. Jenda knew a little of their history. He knew of the conquering of his own world of course, not from the history he was taught by the healers which was tainted with prejudice, but from the land and the sky of the Wastelands. That was, after all, the greatest legacy of the invaders.
Despite the darkness of the rock, this was a bright and colourful room. Bright lights shone through thin white granite slabs stretching from floor to ceiling along each concave wall, casting long fingers across the polished floor. In between the great windows hung tapestries portraying the finest hours of the Habiiri, yet Jenda knew each one represented the lowest hour of another people.
Haspian came to a halt in front of the dais where Acastas sat, hunched over to one side of his throne – made from thousands upon thousands of diamonds fused together as one – pain visible on his face. A force field vibrated with a golden sheen between Acastas and Jenda, the sheen reflecting against Jenda’s pale skin. Acastas nodded and Haspian left his Emperor alone with the healer.
Acastas said nothing. Jenda knew he was being evaluated by the Emperor. He walked slowly up to the force field and, reaching out with his hand, skimmed the surface of the energy field. Golden waves fell away from the vibrating field and caressed his hand. Jenda closed his eyes and suddenly the force field flashed and was gone.
Acastas showed no surprise. In fact he looked disinterested in the shabby looking healer. His light brown hair was long and straight and fairly well groomed. His hands and face were clean. He wore no beard, neither did he appear to need a shave. His tall, thin frame was covered by a shabby, one piece beige robe with frayed hems that came just above his ankles. On his feet he wore a simple canvas shoe of the same colour. He smelled slightly strange, though his clothes looked clean and the aroma was not unpleasant.
His face was a blank that gave nothing away and in that Acastas was impressed, for Acastas too had mastered that skill. Acastas showed no surprise when the force field came down, or even when he looked into the healer’s eyes. (When they had closed they were brown. When Jenda opened them again, they were gold.) Of course it had surprised Acastas, but he was disciplined in revealing nothing and, so it seemed, was the healer.
Jenda looked around at the hall and at the tapestries and at the throne. He did not look impressed. Then Acastas smiled and spoke in his rough, hoarse voice.
"Do you know how much pain I am in when I smile?"
Jenda said nothing.
"It causes a great deal of pain healer." Acastas was struggling for breath, yet he continued. "I have killed people for refusing obeisance to this throne. You cannot be ignorant of who I am. Yet you stand there as if I were a slave who had no more power than to clean up after you." He laughed and in the process coughed up blood. He reached up with his good hand and wiped it from his chin with a red handkerchief. Still he smiled. "I like that you are not afraid of me. Come, sit," he requested, waving weakly with his arm at a soft seat slightly in front of the throne. It was no order. No decree, but a request and so Jenda sat.
"Still you say nothing." Acastas observed. "You know why you are here?"
"Yes," Jenda replied. His voice was smooth and soft. Acastas felt the warmth and gentleness of it. I could be won by such a voice, he thought. I could trust such a voice. Be defeated by such a voice.
"It must present you with quite a dilemma healer," Acastas said smiling. "To heal me is to heal my Empire. To heal my Empire is surely a death sentence to countless worlds." Jenda remained silent, so Acastas carried on. Speaking so much in one go caused him great pain, but he no longer cared. He felt like speaking. He would endure the pain. "To let me die, is freedom to the worlds I have conquered. Life for worlds yet to be conquered. Quite a dilemma for one who is a healer, don’t you think?"
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. I have healed violent people, who, once healed, became peaceful. That is a possibility you have not considered."
Acastas smiled until the pain turned it into a grimace. "I have considered it, but have ruled it out. My heart is too long dead for it to change."
"Perhaps. Perhaps not."
"So. To the business at hand. Will you heal me?"
Silence hung in the air as Jenda looked deeply into the Emperor’s soul. He rose smoothly from his seat and touched the black shell covering Acastas’ right eye. He touched it ever so slightly. Acastas gasped for breath as he felt the change swell throughout his cheek and brain. Quicker than thought, new nerve endings formed and intertwined. A new retina sprouted out of them and wrapped itself around the inside of the empty socket. Muscles grew where there had been none for the last twenty years. Within a breath, Jenda pulled away the shell and Acastas blinked with the sensation of seeing with two eyes instead of one.
Once Acastas caught his breath he ordered Haspian into the hall. He struggled to keep his surprise hidden when he saw the Emperor with a new eye. (The new one, he noted, was gold in colour.)
"Take him to his chambers," the Emperor commanded, his voice filled with emotion; something that had been lacking in his voice for a long time.
Haspian escorted Jenda quickly out of the hall, but Acastas did not hear the great doors close. He sat on the diamond throne – where for the last thousand years heartless warriors had sat – and wept.
Jenda was awake when Acastas entered the room. The bed had not been slept in. Jenda sat on the floor, bathed in the ceiling lights, meditating silently. Acastas felt embarrassed at disturbing the healer and made to quietly leave, but Jenda opened his eyes. They had returned to their ordinary brown colour.
"You may stay."
Acastas lurched into the room and winced as he sat down onto a hard plinth with sturdy arms for support.
"I am sorry I disturbed you healer." There was reverence in his voice.
"You did not disturb me. You are here to ask if I will heal you."
"Yes, but I am also here to thank you. You gave me sight. And something more. There are so many strange sensations it is hard for me to describe them." He was talking so quickly he was wheezing, yet he was filled with such excitement that he did not notice the pain. "Last night my sleep was filled with visions of how to save my empire. But I lack time. I would be dead before I could accomplish so great a task. If you could only do to my flesh what you have done to my eye and my mind, then perhaps I could accomplish it. Please healer. I beg you. I will give you anything you ask. I will give you the freedom of your people. I would name you as heir to the throne. Name your price healer. It would never be enough to repay you."
The healer sat impassively for a moment and then spoke carefully into the silence.
"It is forbidden for the healer to take anything from those that are healed. There is no price you can pay. The healer lives to serve, that is all. What I do, I do because I choose to do it, because I choose to sanctify life. That is my covenant."
"Then will you do it?" Acastas wheezed expectantly.
"No," Jenda replied bluntly.
He expected Acastas to rail violently. He expected rage. He expected anything except what he witnessed from this Emperor. Acastas simply sat, hunched against the support on the plinth and wept.
"Then it is all for nothing."
"You misunderstand Acastas. I will not heal you further, because that which I have done is sufficient. I healed more than your eye. Your mind is clearer. Your heart greater. You have what you need to save your Empire."
Acastas fell to his knees and almost fell over as his good arm gave way with the impact. Tears continued to spill down his rough cheeks. Blood sputtered from his mouth in coughing fits. Acastas gave way to these new emotions and then brought them under his old school of control.
"I cannot do it. There is not enough time."
Jenda reached down and grasped hold of Acastas’ hands and Acastas held his breath in anticipation, but he felt no changes. Instead he heard the soft tones of the healer’s voice.
"You have that which you need. Use your time wisely. I have done all that I can do."
Acastas pondered on what Jenda had said. Perhaps, he thought. All I need is to hope again. Perhaps I can do what needs to be done.
"Very well healer. I will use the time I have, but I have another request of you. Will you be a counselor in my last days?"
"You have wisdom healer, and you are not afraid of your enemies. I have need of that."
Jenda Hebrican nodded and became the right arm to the Habiiri throne in the last days of Acastas.
There was an uneasy air to the hall of Memora as the tribal leaders gathered together. Such a gathering was unusual of late and speculation was rife at the reasons behind the sudden assembly. Acastas is dead, some thought. Others speculated he was to announce his successor. Some were strengthening alliances, while others plotted to destroy them. Then two rows of Inquisitorial guards entered the hall, fanning out on either side of the assembled leaders. They stood to attention under the great tapestries and the great lights and then Acastas entered, Jenda on one arm and Haspian holding the other. They gently lowered him to the diamond throne and retreated a couple of steps back.
A gasp of surprise filled the hall as they noticed the golden eye where the black shell should have been, and there was consternation at the unknown figure next to Haspian, but no-one spoke. All bowed the knee before the Emperor and waited for him to speak.
Acastas waited, gazing over at the assembly. Fifty one tribal leaders. Not one of them fit to lead a tribe. Not one of them strong enough to lead the Empire. They disgusted him. He lurched toward Haspian and Haspian gave a whispered order through the tiny microphone implanted into his cheek. The guards raised their weapons and bright flashes of plasma scythed through the tribal leaders. When the weapons fell silent the floor of the great hall lay bathed in blood.
Acastas waved his arm weakly and Haspian whispered into his microphone once more. The doors were opened and a group of Habiiri were ushered into the hall. They stepped tentatively, gazing in horror and fear at the carnage. Blood steadily oozed across the floor and some were stepping gingerly to avoid getting blood on their shoes.
They looked nervous, like trapped animals waiting for the kill. Acastas held them in terror as they waited and waited.
"Look hard," Acastas said, his hoarse voice filling the hall. "They are dead because they could not lead. The Habiiri need leaders, not petty minded idiots who care more for their own power than the Habiiri as a whole."
Acastas coughed and lurched forward in the throne. Jenda came to his side, supporting him.
"The Habiiri need men of honour, courage and wisdom. We need to be a united people or our empire will crumble and be at the mercy of all and sundry. I do not want that. If what I hear is true, neither do you. That is why I have chosen you to lead your tribes. Lead with wisdom. Unite together for the good of our people. Now return to your homes. Further instructions will be sent."
The guards began ushering the new leaders out of the hall. As they were leaving Acastas gave one final warning and it sent a shiver down their spines.
"Lead well, or your fate will be theirs."
Acastas leaned back, the toll of his speech showing on his face. Jenda took a cloth from his counselor's robes and wiped the sweat from the Emperor's face. Acastas smiled.
"So healer. What do you think of my new dawn?"
"You did as you saw fit."
Acastas grimaced with a searing pain as the smile deepened.
"Still you do not show obeisance to me or the throne. Only you could do that and live."
"I feel you still have much to do."
"Indeed. Haspian." The inquisitor approached the throne and bowed his head. "Rise Haspian. Begin the second phase as discussed."
Haspian bowed once more and left the hall.
"Now healer. I must rest."
Jenda helped Acastas stand and led him back to his chambers. Acastas slumped down onto his bed. His personal servants removed his armour and dressed him for bed. As they did Acastas floated in and out of consciousness. Jenda stood impassively and watched, giving nothing away. The servants threw him cautious glances when they felt it safe, wondering at the coldness of the stranger. When Acastas was finally asleep, the servants realized that Jenda had slipped out unseen.
Hemphaal walked calmly through the corridors of the Korayahn citadel. She radiated an air of calm authority that gave her a powerful presence. It made many flinch away from her, but she didn't mind that. She had learned many lessons as a child and had grown to appreciate the focus of solitude. She was slender and attractive, her movements fluid and, if she chose, beguiling. There were many that would have pursued her, but she was beautiful like a dragon rose; those drawn to her were soon stung. The focus gained through her youth made her an excellent Inquisitorial commander and those who served under her knew it. They would follow her regardless.
She looked around at the architecture of the citadel. It impressed her and it should, for it was an impressive place. Located on top of a huge gorge, it overlooked a vast network of canyons and rivers with only one road into the stronghold. The Habiiri had taken three weeks to take it and the battle had the distinction of being the bloodiest in Habiiri history. It was also the battle in which Hemphaal's mother and father had been killed.
Had it not been for the citadel's strategic value the Habiiri would have utterly destroyed it. Instead they chose the cultural heartland of the planet and stripped it of every living thing, destroying buildings, people, animals, plants, roads and most importantly, every piece of literature, history, music, science and art. Then they ushered in the ocean and covered it.
From then on, a brutal regime of governors had kept the population in absolute servitude. They were treated like the scum of the empire, despised by Habiiri and non-Habiiri alike. The people were denied medical treatment and food other than what they could grow. After fifteen years only a small percentage remained of the Korayahn people. It was genocide and no-one in the empire gave it a second thought.
Hemphaal and her Inquisitors marched through the citadel, nodding to officials and dignitaries as they went. Nothing was unusual. Nothing was amiss. Hemphaal even stopped to speak to someone from her own tribe for a few minutes, the young woman smiling and laughing for all to see. Then she led her unit to the Governor's office. The local guards barred her way, but two of Hemphaal's unit rendered them unconscious, easing the bodies quietly to the floor.
Hemphaal kicked down the door and the Governor looked up in surprise. He gave Hemphaal an indignant look.
"How dare you interrupt me. Does a governor have no rights? Name yourself and I will have you shot by morning."
"I am Hemphaal, Inquisitorial Captain. And you are no longer governor here."
Hemphaal swiftly raised her weapon and the governor was thrown back from the blast, hitting the far wall. His head slumped to one side and the body slowly slid to the floor, leaving a thick streak of charred blood on the decorative panels of the office.
A silent alarm was sounded and two units of citadel guards entered the office by secret doorways. Bolts of plasma filled the office as Hemphaal and her unit were caught in a crossfire. The other governing officers were ushered out of the room while fresh troops filed in. Hemphaal gave a whispered command through her implanted microphone and a great explosion sounded outside. The citadel guards paused and Hemphaal's unit opened fire in a swathe of plasma energy. The citadel guards fell one by one until the resistance in the office was crushed.
The smell of expended plasma charges and smouldering wounds filled the office and the corridors outside. Hemphaal hated the stench of battle, but she forced herself to take a deep breath, fighting the weak urge to run and seek fresher air. She had not become an Inquisitorial Captain at such a young age by giving in to her weaknesses.
"Hemphaal to all units," she said, her internal microphone sending her orders to all the Inquisitors hidden in the Citadel. "Find and detain all governing officials for interrogation. Any resistance to be exterminated. Hemphaal out."
She took another deep breath and then calmly left the office. She walked alone for a short distance, her own unit securing positions further down from the office. She stopped by a large window, looking out across a deep canyon that stretched out over the horizon. In the background, throughout the citadel, she could hear the final pockets of resistance quashed. She stood there for a while, watching landing ships descend from orbit and then take off again as the sun gradually descended in the background.
The day had been won and only one of her inquisitors had been wounded. Very different to the last time the Habiiri fought here. She remembered watching the broadcasts of the battle over and over. She tried to picture the death of her parents, as she had so many times before. It was a strange sensation, going through this ritual here, in the place where it had happened.
She wiped a tear from her eyes. And then a few more. And then let them fall to the shimmering floor. The sun descended on Korayah and Hemphaal watched the moon rise until the tears stopped. She turned away from the window then, and sought out her lieutenants to carry out the next phase. Before the sun rose again, aid ships and an army of doctors and nurses would land on the planet and the genocide would be halted. Hemphaal walked with a slight spring in her step and she realized that a long carried burden had been lightened. Her steps became quicker and then she began to run. She had a people to save and she would save them.
Across the Empire a wave of renewal spread. The Skirmish at the Korayahn Citadel was one of several rooting out the main players attempting to usurp the throne. Old governers were executed and a new reign of governing was ushered in. From conquered races, the wisest were found and for the first time in Habiiri history, the conquered races were allowed to govern themselves. Those whose voices had been strangled, were allowed to speak freely, and they spoke nothing but praise for Acastas. Forgotten was the heartless tyrant, reborn in the guise of Acastas the Benevolent. Acastas the Wise. Acastas the Farsighted. The tribal leaders met often in conference, as did the governors. For the first time since Memora gathered together the wayward Habiiri tribes, the Habiiri were united, the foundation of the Empire firm and unshakeable.
After two months Acastas succumbed to his illness and he fell into a coma. Jenda left Haspian to run the affairs of Empire while he remained at the Emperor's side. Eventually Acastas awoke from his coma. Jenda dismissed the doctors and knelt to wipe the sweat from the Emperor's forehead.
"Healer," Acastas whispered.
"Be still, you are weak," Jenda replied softly.
"I must speak." Jenda met the determined look in his eyes and said nothing. "The Empire is not yet healed. It lacks an Emperor. You have been my wisest counselor..."
Jenda made to protest.
"Let me finish. The Empire needs a strong, wise leader. I trust you more than any man I know. Find an Emperor for this Empire. Heal the Empire. Finish what you began. Finish......"
Acastas fell away and then fought his way back. He opened his mouth, but his lungs could not muster the strength to voice his last words. He fell away again and fought his way back. He locked eyes with Jenda and took two long, deep breaths and then Acastas the Benevolent, Emperor of the Habiiri, died.
Jenda called in the doctors, who certified him dead. He instructed the chief surgeon to inform the other counselors, who would in turn inform the tribal leaders and the governors. The doctors lingered for a while and then left Jenda alone with the body. Jenda sat in the dim light not knowing who he was anymore. Acastas had gained much from Jenda’s coming, but Jenda had lost much from his time here. He rose and left the body alone. Someone would soon come and attend to the body.
He wandered along the corridors, not knowing where to go. A heaviness hung on his shoulders, wearing him down. No-one else had seen it. He could still hide his true self from others, but he could not hide it from himself. His reflections always went back to the healing of Acastas. It almost brought him to tears each time he thought upon it. It was the most serious of covenants. It shaped his powers. Shaped his life. It is forbidden for the healer to take anything from those that are healed. Yet he had taken.
Never before had he been tempted to take, but in that moment when he reached up to touch Acastas’ eye, the desire had come. Take from this man and heal the Empire. Set the worlds free. So as Jenda touched the protective shell, he took from Acastas a bank of knowledge and experience. If Jenda was to heal the Empire, then Jenda would need to know how to rule an Empire. It was the briefest of moments, but he gave in and broke the most serious of all his covenants. Every time he looked back, he could never understand why he had done it. He had simply done so.
When Acastas had come to him the next morning, Jenda had told the truth. He had done all that he could. In taking from Acastas, Jenda lost his power to heal. There could be no more healing and suddenly there was a void in his life. Thankfully, a way was provided to fill it. Healer became counselor; the silent counselor. He said nothing, fearing that his counsel would reveal what he had done. He said nothing because there was enough of the Emperor in him to know how Acastas should and would deal with his enemies. There was enough of the healer in Acastas that Jenda knew how the void his enemies left would be filled. What counsel was there to give then? So he remained silent. So Acastas had come to trust him enough to leave him with this last, most important task.
He came to a great doorway that opened immediately at his presence. He wandered past them and looked up at the diamond throne. His wandering had brought him to the place where this all began. He looked at each of the tapestries wondering how Acastas would be portrayed and which of his predecessors would be taken down in honour of their benevolent successor.
Successor. The word brought him back to the task laid at Jenda’s feet. The final piece of surgery to cure a dying empire. A piece of surgery he felt he could not perform. Guilt lay too heavily on him. It weighed down his spirit and his thoughts. He was known throughout the Empire as a great healer. What if the Empire knew the truth? Would they come for him? Would it destroy everything that had been accomplished here? What would become of the covenant breaker?
In his musing, he had wandered up to the diamond throne. He hesitated for a moment and then reached out to touch it. It was warm, much to his surprise. He looked around the hall. He was alone. If he was being watched, he could not know. Suddenly the knowledge of Acastas came back to him. He searched deep inside and looked for the core of himself. He found it and reshaped it. He shaped the knowledge of Acastas around his own until the two halves became a whole. New realizations dawned on him. I can do this, he thought, I can heal this Empire.
He turned. Haspian had followed him into the great hall. Silence passed between them, a mixture of sorrow and anticipation on their faces. As Jenda had become Acastas’ right arm, Haspian had become his left. The silent counselor and the silent enforcer. Jenda did not know how long the two stood like that, but during that silent moment, Jenda found the vision of Acastas. Keeping his expression blank and his eyes fixed upon Haspian, Jenda sat slowly upon the throne. Time seemed to stand still for a while. Jenda sat on the throne, Haspian stood facing him. Jenda wondered what Haspian would do. Haspian nodded, unable to keep a smile from his face, and knelt before the throne.
I will heal this Empire, Jenda told himself. I will heal it as Acastas did. I will heal it through blood and iron. I will heal it through mercy and hope. I will finish what I have started here.
Hemphaal found him on the throne, lurching slightly forward, his head rising and falling gently with his breathing. It was the Emperor's usual position these days, rarely leaving the diamond throne. Hemphaal always expected him to fall forward, but he always kept his balance as if he was tied to the throne by some invisible cord. Time had not been kind to the old man. His long white hair was thin and his skin sagged in folds from his bones. Hemphaal new that his time would soon be at hand.
She approached the throne, coughing to announce her presence. Jenda woke sluggishly.
"Ahh, Hemphaal. Come, Come," the Emperor said, his voice tired and weary.
Hemphaal sat down beside the throne like she had so many times when the two would just talk as two people without the rank and station they held.
"How are you?" Jenda asked.
"I am fine Emperor."
"You can dispense with the pleasantries Hemphaal. We have known each other for too long. How long has it been?"
"Thirty years now, ever since Haspian died."
"Ah yes. My old friend Haspian. He spoke so highly of you, he left me little choice other than to appoint you his successor. But I suppose I have told you that before."
"You have, but it is always nice to hear it again."
Jenda looked around the hall of Memora, a look of sadness on his face. "This is where it all began you know. Right here, in this hall, on this throne." He stroked the arm of the diamond throne as if it were a close friend. "So many years ago it seems like a dream. Yet I can still remember it. I cannot remember much of anything else though." He laughed, but it was a forced laugh.
Jenda fished a small quartz disc from inside his robe and handed it to Hemphaal. "That is the expeditionary report on a world called Rubiccai. The population are in the middle of a civil war. I think it is an ideal opportunity to add another world to the Empire and provide them with some order. Will you see to it?"
"Of course I will." She placed her hand on his withered arm, left limp and lifeless from his second stroke. "Is there anything else I can do for you Emperor."
"No," he replied. "Just a little solitude is all this old man needs these days."
Hemphaal stood, bowed and left Jenda to his thoughts. Before leaving, she took one last glance. He smiled back at her across the great hall and the ravages of age became starkly apparent to her. They were practically the same age, and although the Habiiri life span was far longer than most, she was still surprised by how swiftly he had aged during the last thirty years. She bowed once more and exited the hall. As she walked to plan the invasion of Rubiccai, she felt inside that she would never see Jenda again.
In the great hall of Memora, Jenda felt himself drift in and out of memories and dreams. He remembered more than he let on. Much of his life was hazy, yet he could remember every detail and nuance of that first day, when a dying Acastas lurched on the diamond throne as Jenda now did. That was why he spent so much time on the throne. It was a reminder of all he had lost in that one, single moment. It reminded him of loss and regret and pain. It made him ponder about the life he could have led and all he could have accomplished. He fed those feelings every time he sat here, and for a reason he could not fathom, he felt a need for them, deep inside him.
He drifted again, but this time a searing pain followed. His back arched with the agony and he fell from the throne and onto the hard floor. He lay there for several minutes, hardly able to breath. His eyes closed and opened, and he thought he saw Acastas leaning over him. Jenda whispered his name and the breath went from his lungs as his heart beat its last unsteady beat.
The last miracle of Jenda Hebrican was recorded in the Annals of the Healers at the twenty third year, fourth month and seventeenth day of his life. To the Habiiri, his last miracle was the conquest of Rubiccai, the hundredth world to come under the claws of the diamond throne.
His deeds as Emperor are recorded elsewhere; many good, many bad. The Habiiri hailed him as a great Emperor filling his days by continuing the work Acastas had begun; aided in all things by Haspian and then Hemphaal. At his death, the Habiiri were stronger than they could ever have hoped. The people loved and revered him.
Yet, despite the love of those he ruled, Jenda Hebrican died a broken man, remembering only the gift he lost instead of the jewel he earned. Dwelling on lost threads instead of the bright tapestry he weaved in his fifty seven years as Emperor.
On the first anniversary of Jenda’s death, Emperor Kespiah raised the tapestry of Jenda the Healer in the Hall of Memora. For the ten thousand years that followed, the tapestries of Acastas and Jenda hung next to each other behind the diamond throne. They hung there as reminders until, one day, the embers deep below the capital burned again and the Habiiri themselves faded away into history.
Bio: Colin is the father of two living in Lincolnshire, UK and studies photography part time. Previous appearances in Aphelion are Dragon's Kiss and Dream Weaver in the April 2002 & March 2003 issues of Aphelion.
Visit Aphelion's Lettercolumn and voice your opinion of this story.
Return to the Aphelion main page.