The Dark Empire, Page 121-131 by Wolfenshire ()
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The Dark Empire, Page 121-131
“I am an A.I. programed with the personality and memories of every life-cycle that Tarius Aestar has lived. I will serve as his teacher to prepare him for the next life-cycle.”
Rotathian sat down and raked his hand through his thick salt and pepper hair and sighed. “Alright, tell me of this prison, and what it is you want from me.”
Aestar waved a hand over the long flat table and a single world appeared. “That is the planet Aiden, home of our people. There were five Aiden Dynasties. The First Aiden Dynasty was the age of discovery. We achieved space flight and sent probes out into the universe, only to discover we were alone. The Second Aiden Dynasty was the age of colonization. We spread out among the stars and splintered into thousands of individual governments and factions.” Aestar reached a hand out and waved it over the table and thousands of galaxies appeared in the air above them.
Rotathian looked up at the vast expanse of the Aiden Empire and shook his head. “I have no frame of reference to understand what this means,” said Rotathian, gesturing with a hand at the map of the Universe.
Aestar nodded. “Each of those points of light is a star, and around each of them are planets, all colonies of the Aiden.”
“No one government could possibly govern something like that,” said Rotathian.
“You are correct, it took far too long to travel to those stars by conventional spacecraft,” said Aestar. “The Third Aiden Dynasty saw the creation of the Sherata, and World Bridges that allowed for instant travel to any of those stars – Civil War raged for three hundred million years.”
Rotathian let out a low whistle. “I can’t even imagine the resources wasted on such a ridiculous quest to bring all that under one government.”
“Whole galaxies were ravaged of their resources to create the weapons used to fight those wars. There is a human boy here that possesses one of the weapons made during that age,” said Aestar.
“Ah, yes, Robert,” said Rotathian. “I saw him use it to open a can of beans.”
Aestar smiled. “I do love the simple naïve creativity of humans. The boy possesses the power of a moon and he uses it to make chili con carne.”
“Probably the most useful thing it was ever used for,” said Rotathian. “I’ve scolded young squires before for using their swords stuck in the ground to hold up tarps to get out of the rain.”
Aestar continued. “By the Fourth Aiden Dynasty only two factions remained, the Creators and the Destroyers. The Fourth Dynasty lasted the longest of the five, and if the wars of the Third Dynasty were brutal, the Fourth Dynasty was hell itself brought into creation. The wars of the Fourth Dynasty were fought in all the eleven dimensions of the universe. Creation itself teetered on the verge of destruction.”
“How did we survive?” asked Rotathian.
“A leader rose among the Destroyers and called for a cessation of all hostilities among both sides. Neither side could gain an advantage over the other, so the Destroyer leader agreed to take his faction to the far side of the Universe and never again have contact with the Creators. The Universe was effectively divided in half, and the Fifth Aiden Dynasty began.”
“I smell a trap,” said Rotathian.
“And so did many Creators, and what they did would eventually be the cause of our entire species extinction – I’ll explain what we did in a moment.” Aestar waved his hand again and the entire universe came into view. One side of the map of the Universe was red, and the other blue.
Rotathian stood and walked around the room. “Seriously? You have a map of the entirety of creation?”
“Are you starting to understand how advanced our species is?” asked Aestar.
Rotathian reached a hand up to the stars. “What I’m starting to understand is just how insignificant my petty problems are. This is humbling.”
“The Fifth Aiden Dynasty was the golden age of the Creators,” continued Aestar. “We built the Dragon Seed Ships and discovered new technologies. We became gods.”
“I’m getting a bad feeling about why you created this prison,” said Aestar.
“The Destroyers were also busy building their own technologies, weapons. They also hadn’t forgotten us. They prepared a simple genetic virus that we wouldn’t have time to find a cure for once it was deployed.”
Rotathian shook his head in anger. “I’ve seen something like that before. The Geoggs catapulted diseased bodies into a Medo castle.”
Aestar nodded. “Yes, something very much like that. They released the virus and it traveled through our World Bridges to every colony. Within three weeks every Creator was dead. However, what the Destroyers didn’t know was that at the end of the Fourth Dynasty when they left, we followed. We created a micro-World Bridge to their new home world to keep an eye on them. That micro-bridge was still active and the virus travelled through the bridge to their world, and then through their own World Bridges to their colonies. The Destroyers died alongside the Creators.”
“A poetic justice,” said Rotathian. “Though, I should have liked to have seen my ancestors home.”
“My father sent me here, but I found nobody. They had all been recalled to the home world to defend. I was the last Aiden, or so I thought.”
Rotathian returned to the stool and sat down. “Not hard to guess that not everyone obeyed the order to go home. Had you not still been a boy you would have understood that there will always be cowards among any people. When did you find out?”
“I activated the Crystal Generator and the planets were formed. I then returned to the Mathors that had adopted me. It wasn’t until fourteen of my life-cycles later that I discovered the cowards that had hidden were just across the border at a place called Shade Mountain.”
Rotathian held up a hand and counted silently on his fingers. “I’m educated in numbers, by my guess – forty-five hundred years?”
“Yes, the original scientists were long since dead, and over those fourteen generations their descendants lost much of the technology they once had. The problem was that when I found them, they had used their superior intellect to set themselves up as gods and enslave many races of people.”
“And you put an end to it?” asked Rotathian.
“Yes, with the help of the Mathors,” said Aestar. “We struck hard and fast, and I brought all of them here to this world.”
“I see, and that became the origin of the legends of the Jinn wars?” said Rotathian.
“It wasn’t much of a war,” said Aestar. “I was angry and didn’t show much in the way of mercy, which is how I gained the reputation of the evil Aiden Emperor. I locked this world so none of the Aiden could leave, I also locked the oceans so they couldn’t sail here to the Crystal Palace. I removed all the Crystal Bridges, Crystal Map Pedestals, and forbad the Traders and Post Riders to service this world.”
“Everyone alive today is innocent of those crimes, why do you keep us imprisoned?” asked Rotathian.
“None of the technology your people once had was given by me,” said Aestar. “You built an incredible civilization - enlightened, advanced, and I thought you were ready to join the rest of the universe. I unlocked this world and allowed your people to venture out. Within ten years you again began using your vast intellect to enslave worlds.”
“The second Jinn war?” asked Rotathian.
“Yes, and I destroyed all that you had built,” said Aestar. “I am the one that sent you back to the medieval age.”
Rotathian lowered his head and closed his eyes. “I can understand the punishment, though I don’t agree with what you did. You’re never going to free us from this prison again, are you?”
“I do have a plan,” said Aestar.
“You’re going to have the Ravens rule over us?”
“No, I do not want them on this world, it was an accident that they came here. I was trying to give them their freedom to make choices,” said Aestar. “The Aiden intellect is too vast even for their abilities. Someone would quickly overwhelm them and make them little more than slaves.”
“What then do you want of me?” asked Rotathian.
“I offer you this,” said Aestar. “You are the Lord Protector of the Aomo, yet you also protect nine other Kingdoms, all of which you ask nothing of – not taxes, or payment, or fealty. You and your knights are the first faction of Aidens to offer protection to the innocent without becoming tyrants. You will be given command of the Crystal Palace and become the Lord Protectorate of all the worlds of the Crystal Universe. The Ravens will govern, you will protect.”
“Aren’t you worried we would over-throw the Raven Jinn?” asked Rotathian.
“If that came to pass, there would be a third Jinn war, only this time I would lock this world forever and toss it in the void to never be heard from again,” said Aestar.
“One Aiden against an army of Aiden?” asked Rotathian.
“It will be at least another three and a half billion years before you reach my level of technology,” replied Aestar. “I will know long before that time whether the Aiden are ready to continue to live among the lesser species of the universe.” Aestar stood and walked back around the table. “I need your answer.”
Rotathian stood and followed Aestar to the long flat table. He waved a hand across the table and the map of the Universe vanished. Aestar raised a single brow. Rotathian smiled. “I’ve watched you operate this device several times now, it’s not that difficult,” said Rotathian. “Now, before I give you my answer, I want the rest of the truth you are hiding. Perhaps you can confuse your Jinn children with half-truths, but you cannot with me.”
Aestar sighed. “I want the Ravens to take over governing the Crystal Universe so that I can come back here and be with my kind. I was not intended to be alone, to have no equal. I want to perhaps marry and raise a family. I want to know the happiness denied me for so long.”
Rotathian nodded. “Being the Jinn King is a lonely thing, but Jinn King you are and always will be, I will not allow you to escape that destiny. I will be the Knight General you need, but I have a demand that must be met.”
Aestar turned his head and narrowed his eyes. “And that is?”
“I want the same immortality as you,” said Rotathian. “Call it my own selfish desire if you wish. But an immortal Jinn King must have an immortal Knight General at his side if we are to insure the future of the Aiden, and the lesser species. You have been alone since you were a boy, so you do not understand that the likes of you and I are very rare in this world. There are few that would not become corrupted by such power.”
“I accept your demand,” said Aestar.
“I accept your offer,” said Rotathian. “How long do you want to allow the Raven Jinn to remain here?”
“Let them cut their teeth on the Geoggs,” said Aestar. “They need to understand how difficult warring with the Aiden are, even Aiden at such a low technological level. They will come to understand and value why you and your knights will be so valuable to them.”
“I have to ask this,” said Rotathian. “You are only a copy of the real Aestar, will these agreements be honored by him when he wakes from death?”
Aestar closed his eyes for a moment, then straightened himself and reopened his eyes. There was now a spark in the eyes that had not been there before.
“The agreement will be honored, as will all decisions made by my A.I.,” said Aestar. “Please do not wake me again, for each waking increases the time I must sleep for the procedure to work. I look forward to meeting you one day, Sir Knight, until then, care well for my Ravens, and especially Sern and Jasai, for they are as a son and daughter to me.”
Rotathian nodded his agreement and the spark fled from Aestar’s eyes. He turned away and walked to the door. He lifted a hand to the locked door and it swung open. He left the room, and the Aestar A.I. to whatever it was A.I.’s did when not needed. Sunlight was flooding in from the exterior windows; his meeting with the Aestar A.I. had gone the entire night.
The dining hall was empty when he got there, and the food serving table was bare. There should have been people moving about and getting breakfast by now, but where was everyone? He had just left the empty dining hall when Toluth ran out from one of the stairwells nearly out of breath and shouting.
“My Lord, there you are, I’ve been looking for you. They’re serving breakfast from the Chariot and everyone’s in the hanger bay waiting for the Ravens to arrive.”
“Ah, of course, the attack was last night,” replied Rotathian. “Have you eaten yet?” Toluth’s expression collapsed. The squire had made friends with some of the cubs and wanted to wait for the Ravens with them. “Never mind, we can train later, you may wait with your new Jinn friends, go ahead.”
“Thank you, Sir,” said Toluth and shot off back down the stairs, taking them four at a time.
Rotathian descended the stairs in a more dignified manner. The stairs went down four levels, each level had a hall similar to the one above. The last level was also nearly the same, but all the rooms here contained machines for building and repairing other machines. He hadn’t guessed the purpose of more than a dozen of the machines, but he also hadn’t spent much time with them.
The end of the hall opened to a room at least five times larger than the banquet room in his castle. The Chariot occupied the center of the room, though at least a half dozen more Chariots could have fit in here. The blue shimmering light was present at the far end of the hanger bay. All the cubs and their Jinn partners were gathered to each side of the shimmering light.
He could smell food from the Chariot, but it didn’t look like anyone was eating. They would need to be cured of that bad habit, it was important to eat when the opportunity presented itself – you never knew when that opportunity might come again.
He climbed the steps to the Chariot and entered the dining car. The farmer’s wife was fussing with make-work to occupy herself, being that she had no diners to feed. He took a plate and the woman piled his plate with eggs, pork, and potatoes. She filled a cup with the precious coffee and he sat at one of the tables, watching the gathered children outside.
The farmer’s wife came to his table. “The poor dears, this is heartbreaking.”
“Waiting for friends to return from battle is always difficult,” replied Rotathian.
“Hmm?” The woman made a clucking sound. “Oh, you don’t know? No, no, it isn’t the Raven Jinn their worried for, it’s who the Jinn went to free that they fear for.”
“The two people that were taken captive?” asked Rotathian.
“I’m surprised you weren’t told, my Lord,” said the woman. “The two people are tigers. One is the cub’s father, Batheba, and the other their grandfather, Kabath.”
Rotathian pushed his plate away. “I see, and that’s why they aren’t eating.”
“I’m told Batheba is really the father of all of them, even the Raven Jinn,” said the woman. “They say he’s the one in charge of all the Jinn. I don’t understand how it works.”
Rotathian did understand. Now it made far more sense. Aestar was the Emperor King of all the mystical lands of the Jinn, but this Batheba was the Jinn King of the Raven Jinn Kingdom. The intricate relationships fell into place for him now. There was probably many Kingdoms throughout the lands called the Crystal Universe, but the Raven Kingdom had risen to the top and been challenged by the Sherata Kingdom. This was an interesting development, there was Sherata here among the Raven Jinn, but was there Raven Jinn among the Sherata Jinn?
Rotathian shook his head slightly, no, it was possible, but unlikely. The Raven Jinn struck him as something different. He didn’t know any Kingdoms that had such a varied assortment of peoples. Such a thing wasn’t done, but the Raven Jinn Kingdom had the Raven Jinn, the Sherata Jinn, the two reptilian types of Jinn, two human Jinn, and a Jinn that claimed to be a Moon Spirit. The Raven Jinn Kingdom was unique in that it drew the strengths of many. That was likely why they had risen to the Emperor King Jinn’s favor.
He had understood what the Aestar ghost had told him about his ancestors and the Ravens, but that had only been an academic distinction, everything still needed to fit into his understanding of the world. It was foolish of the Aestar ghost to think it could explain away countless eons of his people’s culture and beliefs with a wave of his hand.
“I suppose out of respect I will forgo breakfast,” said Rotathian, rising from the table. He went outside and stood on the platform where he could see everyone.
Zil, the small reptilian Jinn, ran out from the engine car and shouted. “They’re coming.”
Rotathian walked down the steps and around the car to the front of the train, then out to the middle of the two rows of cubs and children. “Young ones, listen to me,” he said, casting his voice as all military commanders could so that all would hear him clearly. “Your father has been held for five months by a cruel rival Sherata Kingdom that cowardly attacked you in the middle of the night, is this true?”
The alpha, Maseth, stepped forward. “It is true, our Raven friends went to get him and our grandfather.”
“Then listen carefully,” said Rotathian. “I was captured once and held for nine months in a brutal Geogg prison. When your father arrives, he will not look as you remember. You must remain calm, for him. He will be disoriented, confused, and possibly not remember immediately who you are.”
“Father is strong,” shouted one of the cubs.
“You don’t know him, Father is the General of all the Sherata armies,” shouted another cub.
Rotathian raised his hands out. “Of this I have no doubt. I only need to look at any of you to know that he must be the strongest of Sherata, but even the strongest is still only mortal. He will need your love and support over the next several weeks as he recovers. His strength will have been sorely tested, he will need your strength now, and that strength will also be tested. You must now, right now, steel yourselves for the worst moment you will ever know.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” shouted a cub.
Maseth roared. “SILENCE. He speaks the truth. We must be ready, Father is coming and everything Lord Rotathian said is wisdom of experience. I have never spoken of the day we were captured. Tarabeth was killed first, then I was forced to watch as each of you were killed.”
Rotathian kept his expression neutral. He wasn’t sure what the tiger was speaking of, perhaps another of the Jinn magic he didn’t understand. Aestar was dead, but he would return, perhaps all the Jinn could be killed and come back to life later. It would mean that all these tigers had experienced death before. He still had much to learn about these strange Jinn.
Maseth paced back and forth. “When the last of you fell to their fangs, I fell to the ground, broken and defeated. They kept me alive for three more days to make me suffer in the knowledge that I had failed. Anyone can break, even Father. Now stand ready, Father will need us.”
Maseth went back to stand next to his sister, Tarabeth, and Rotathian went to stand next to Tarlock Malic.
“You did well,” said Malic. “They needed to hear that, maybe they’ll be ready now.”
A few moments later the large silver chariot emerged from the blue shimmering light. It glided along the floor and came to a rest halfway between the gate and the train. A door on the side opened and a ramp slid down. Prince Raen was the first to exit the chariot. The cloak Rotathian had been told was nearly indestructible was in tatters, and Raen’s arm was held in a sling. Queen Jasai came next, her cloak was also shredded and a bandage was wrapped around her head. Lord Raven and Boae came next carrying a stretcher with Koael on it, his leg was wrapped in blood soaked bandages. Tarlock Malic ran to the stretcher to provide medical assistance.
The Queen Mother came out next and Rotathian gasped. Her cloak was also shredded and bandages were wrapped around both her legs. Her right arm and abdomen was also bandaged, and her clothing was torn and hung in tattered shreds. A deep gash ran from her forehead to her eye and she limped as she walk down the ramp.
She stopped at the bottom of the ramp. “The enemy is no more, justice has been done, and know this, we were wrong about Kabath. Your Grandfather kept Batheba alive all these months through cunning and great sacrifice. When we attacked, Kabath fought beside us as no warrior has ever fought.”
Had Rotathian thought the alpha, Maseth, was big, he was wrong and saw now that Maseth was just an older cub. The tiger that emerged from the silver chariot was easily as large as a war horse. It must have been very cramped inside that chariot during the journey home. There were grey whiskers around the tiger’s mouth and his fur was peppered with grey. His body was covered in scars and open wounds, some still bleeding, but he walked with a stately grace and his head was held high. Rotathian could see a weariness around his eyes. The tiger turned his head and Rotathian saw that one of his fangs was broken in half.
Maseth and Tarabeth ran to the old tiger. He lowered his head to the two adolescent tigers. “Go to your father, he needs you,” said Kabath. The two younger tigers ran up the ramp and into the silver chariot as the cubs rushed to Kabath and gathered around him. He lowered his head and nuzzled against them. “I am so pleased all of you are safe.”
“Grandfather, your tooth, does it hurt?” asked one of the cubs.
“I accidently swallowed it when it happened,” said Kabath. “It hurt far worse when it emerged two days later.”
The cubs giggled.
Rotathian grinned. Kabath might be a tiger, but he was also a grandfather and made bad jokes just as Rotathian’s own grandfather used to do. Rotathian decided he already liked this Kabath, and it was obvious the cubs adored him.
Maseth and Tarabeth returned a few moments later, each to one side of another tiger equally as large as the first, though this tiger held an aura around him that even in his terrible physical state could not diminish. This was a King. The tiger had been horribly abused, he was emaciated, his skin taught over his bones showing under the skin. His mane had been torn away, both his fangs broken off, and one eye missing.
Rotathian’s incarceration had been bad, but nothing compared to the state this creature was in. He nearly wept at the sight of such a majestic creature brought down so cruelly. A horrifying keening rose from all the cubs, and he could see tears flowing down the faces of Maseth and Tarabeth as they kept their father on his feet.
Gaevin rushed forward. “Uncle Batheba,” he cried. Batheba flinched back in confusion. “It’s me, Gaevin, don’t you remember me?”
Batheba turned his head away. “I’m very tired, may I sleep now?”
Rotathian, his face red with anger, strode forward. “Everyone be still,” he commanded. “Take him to that storage cage,” Rotathian pointed, “but leave the door open.”
“What?” said Maseth. “You want to put him in a cage?”
“This is far worse than I imagined it would be, he cannot cope with freedom yet. We will make him comfortable and he will come out when he’s ready.”
“No,” shouted Tarabeth. “We can take him upstairs to a comfortable room.”
Tarlock Malic came to stand next to Rotathian. “Lord Rotathian is right, the only thing familiar here will be the train, but he won’t be able to handle open freedom yet. Let him sleep where he feels safe and can see the train.” Malic turned and called for the farmer’s wife. “Prepare chicken broth, he can have a small bowl of chicken broth every three hours for the first twenty-four hours. Tomorrow you can start giving him small strips of Grunga meat in the broth.”
Lord Rotathian turned to the weeping cubs. “Do not get too close to him, but stay near enough that he can see you. His recovery will take months, you must always ensure someone he knows and trusts is in his sight.”
Batheba lowered his head and whispered. “May I have water now, I’ll be good?”
Kabath went back and put his head against Batheba. “Come son, we’ll get you some water and then sleep.”
Rotathian turned to keep anyone from seeing the tears in his eyes. The Great King would never be whole again.