Aquilar was an empire only insofar as it had an emperor at its head, and that was little more than a technicality in all but the most specialised and exceptional cases. It was also a theocracy only insofar as its emperor was head of the Zhraak Church which counted the overwhelming majority of the system’s inhabitants as part of its flock.
His Divine Urmajesty Peter Hálfnið, Master of the Dome, Voice of Zhraak on the Mortal Plane, had no real executive power, unless the power to dissolve the primary and tertiary governmental apparatus of Aquilar counted. He’d only done so once, and there’d already been a war going on at the time. For the most part he was a figurehead at best, a human face on a vast bureaucracy, a comforting image of permanence and continuity. And to be honest, the secondary governmental apparatus of Aquilar was more than capable of running things without the other levels.
Still, among the common people of the Aquilar system, which included not only Eternal Aquilar but neighbouring planets Laúr and Azymandus, as well as the eight inhabited moons of the system, The Halfmoon was a symbol of unity. As far as they were concerned, he was the alpha and the omega of all wisdom, culture, morality and good sense, and his word had a way of becoming law simply because when he said something should be dealt with a certain way, almost a trillion people started to deal with that thing in pretty much that way.
And Aquilar was arguably the most powerful centre of civilisation in the human-dominant regions of Six Species space. It was pretty important to Molran, Blaran, Bonshooni, aki’Drednanth and Fergunak interests as well, for that matter. If the Six Species had a capital world, it was Aquilar. So when Aquilar started to deal with something a certain way, gradually it filtered its way out to the rest of the populated worlds.
It was probably a good thing that Peter Hálfnið was a generally sensible sort of guy.
The Halfmoon was actually something of a folk hero. His rise to power over a hundred years earlier was already enshrined in myth and legend, more lore than law, but as strange as the story was, it happened to also be the truth. He’d been raised on a heavy production farm on Azymandus, having been left on the owner’s doorstep one stormy night. He’d worked hard throughout his early life, before witnessing a conjunction of the Aquilar system’s planets and moons on his fiftieth birthday. The sight had guided him to an epiphany, a sense of his purpose and the resolute certainty that all was not well with the souls of the Six Species. Whether or not he truly believed that Zhraak spoke to him, The Halfmoon never went on the active record – but the concept was a powerful one, and while his ideas for reform were eminently sensible he was well aware that he was a nobody, and there were only so many ways a nobody’s voice could ever expect to be heard.
Still little more than a boy by the standards of the time, he had nevertheless travelled to Aquilar in the company of a small group of companions who all went on to become powerful people and figures of folklore in their own rights. He had faced rivals, challengers, sceptics and formidable defenders of the status quo. The adventures he and his friends had experienced along the way tended to vary from sanity-blasting dryness in school history lessons to complete flights of fancy in popular culture. But finally Peter Hálfnið, The Halfmoon, stood upon the steps of the Zhraak Dome and denounced the priests and officials and hoarders of fear and greed, bade them heal the sick and feed the hungry, and generally stop being bastards if they could at all help it.
Peter Hálfnið was the embodiment of the orphan farmboy who had risen to emperor.
Of course, there were cynics who suggested that the whole story was not just a lie, but a huge and intricate assemblage of moving parts put in place by the Aquilaran government itself. The true biological origins of The Halfmoon were never made public and no parents ever came forward, leading some to believe that he was specifically bred – perhaps even fabricated – to his life on Azymandus, his activation at the planetary conjunction, and his ridiculous journey of affirmation with his perfectly-crafted companions who just happened to turn out to be ideally suited to key governmental and cultural-iconic roles … the whole thing could only have been set in motion, many insisted, by an ancient, most likely Molran-backed organisation aimed at the control of a wild and whimsical human population. The legend of The Halfmoon was nothing more than the story of a puppet, placed in obscurity and then trotted out into the limelight when the Fleet deemed the monkeys in need of a socio-political bath.
But, you know, conspiracy nuts said the same about a lot of things.