Chapter 53 The Aspect of Death

Use it the way it is meant to be used. Do not deny your birthright for who else was born with their Aspect?

“My birthright…”

Deo stood amidst a pile of dead bodies, ravaged by the brutality of war. Fire and blood scarred the ground. These were not Deo’s kills, so far he’d contributed nothing to the conflict. Hales and the rest of the squad pushed further into the enemy ranks, leaving behind a corpse trail. A joint counterassault had been launched by several thousand Garghent soldiers. They charged from the mountains while the smaller specialty squads like Hales’ attacked from the flank. 

They were driving a wedge between the Coalition leading to the metropolis itself. They sought to split the enemy and open a path from the mountains to the city. 

It wouldn’t work. Deo didn’t know who was in charge of the attack but a week into the conflict was too soon to pull off such a maneuver. Not while the Coalition still had so much interest in taking the mountains. Their army from the north and south would collapse on the wedge and decimate the force. The Coalition had millions of soldiers at their disposal, they could afford to crush the counterassault and continue attacking the mountains. 

Deo abhorred such sloppy strategy. It would get Hales and himself killed. The Coalition was going to spring their trap and take out a dozen Specters. In a war of attrition, this would be a huge day for the Coalition, even at the cost of ten thousand or more of their own.

Deo turned around and looked toward the Garghent mountains. He could see the giant slabs of rock and ahead of him were the mighty walls of Garghent. Kilometers separated the two locations but such was their grandiose that one could see both landmarks when in the center of the two. 

Deo climbed a nearby tree to get a better view. The area was woody but not dense enough to be a real forest. He hoisted himself over a branch and could see stars and planets crash into the enemy lines. Whole regiments scattered before Hales and her galaxy eyes. 

She would be wondering where he was about now. He had slipped from sight at some point during the charge, casually retreating back, out of sight and out of mind.

She wouldn’t be able to backtrack, but Deo didn’t have it in him to walk away. Not with the knowledge that she would die.

The land naturally dipped lower and lower from the mountain range until rising again at Garghent. The elevation change was subtle when moving on it, but with a higher vantage point Deo had a much broader perspective. He saw Coalition soldiers on the move from both sides, ready to surround Garghent’s army. He estimated they were three kilometers out, about fifteen minutes give or take.

Something must have gone wrong in the administrative side, Garghent wasn’t usually this careless. Probably a defector high in the ranks. Either way…

“Time to get to work.”

Deo leapt down from the tree. He saw a soldier bleeding on the ground, asking for help. The uniform indicated he was a Garghent soldier. He had bad injuries in the legs, collarbone and stomach.

Deo unholstered a pistol and aimed it at the man’s heart. He tried speaking but blood bubbled in his mouth.

“You are the first,” Deo told the man before squeezing the trigger, a feat which curiously took more willpower than muscle to perform.

The shot followed moments after speaking and the noise made Deo flinch.

The man jerked once and died.

Deo failed to suppress a smile.

His conscience screamed at him from inside.

He wanted to dance with joy.

He felt his stomach churn.

Deo’s nerves and adrenaline came out as a sort of giggle. He felt light and silly. He let the surreality of the situation take over. He didn’t want this life, certainly didn’t want to be in a war and definitely didn’t want to kill. He knew what his reaction would be.

It was everything he dreamt of since that day…

He could hardly consider such an execution a real kill but oh who cares? Death was death. The rituals of combat or process of fighting and the display of strength didn’t matter to Deo. What was the obsession with acting like two rams butting heads for the mate? Deo knew such things as honor and fairness were societal formulations and therefore only existed in the minds of those who believed in them. Does a spider propose a duel before injecting venom into its trapped victim? Does a wildfire politely excuse all life from the area before burning a forest down?

Such petty beliefs were illogical. Humans think themselves special for their engagement to stupidity.

Deo, ever a man with refined tastes, did appreciate class. Things should be done with personality, character. How else could boredom be staved off? A flare for the dramatic, says the poet inside of him. 

The internal clock of survival said this; the Coalition you madman! 

His trance disrupted and reality checking back in, Deo jolted into action.

He laid a hand on the dead Garghent soldier. Focusing his Aspect. The familiar feeling of animating the dead, not so different from flower to human.

A sphere of unlight expanded from the dead soldier for an instant and then shrunk back down inside the soldier where Deo laid his hand.

This would take too long. The Coalition was but a few minutes from blindsiding Garghent.

Deo stood and centered himself. He extended both hands down, palms open. He pointed a finger at a random Coalition corpse. The sphere of twilight grew from the center of the body and then collapsed in on it.

Better, but still too slow.

Deo inhaled deeply, expanding his lungs painfully. He held it. And let go. 

He closed his eyes and imagined the dead bodies around him. The unused corpses that would go to waste. So much of the world went to waste…

When Deo opened his eyes the pupils were glowing bright and vivid purple, so much so that streaks of violet light blurred his vision. 

“Rise.” He gave the command.

Eighty corpses stood up. All obviously had some sort of serious wound but as long as enough of the brain was intact he could give more broad orders. The less micromanagement the better.

He pointed north first. “Take your weapons and kill your brothers and sisters.” He sent half of his dead soldiers.

The other half he sent south, issuing the same order. He told them to kill impartially. Shoot anything in sight. They all had the muscle and brain capacity to do that much. Some could run, those with both legs, some had to limp their way and a couple others lacked hands and these would just charge without any real combat ability, perhaps breaking resolve of the enemy, seeing soldiers run at them incoherently with hands and body parts missing.

Deo searched around for another body. He had a specific one in mind. A promising candidate turned out to be missing a face upon rolling the body over.

At last Deo found a Coalition officer who didn’t have on display his manner of passing. A few shots to the chest were easy to cover up. Deo used his Aspect again and the corpse was his to control.

It stood and Deo worked swiftly on cleaning up its chest. It didn’t need to be perfect but a little subtlety never hurt. 

Deo commanded the officer special instructions. He would need this corpse later.

“Yes sir!” The officer responded just as directed. Its voice worked and all the motor functions were smooth. The officer left per Deo’s instructions.

Deo heard the gunshots as his dead soldiers engaged the enemy. The blow to morale must be heavy, seeing your own bloodsoaked soldiers firing on you would also be confusing. It would allow Hales and the rest of the force time to react. 

Deo started walking to rejoin the army. He saw plenty of corpses on the way over but decided against raising more as he didn’t want to risk being seen at this point. 

The initial eighty would have to suffice.

Deo reached the back of the army and saluted the rear guard. The battle seemed to be over as the general mood looked like relief and relaxation. Deo found out that a contingent from the city charged out to meet the assault group. They successfully carved a path from the mountains to the city. They would need to figure out a way to hold it but as for now the Coalition retreated from the area.

Deo found Hales and her squad talking with the Cull and a few other captains.

“Apparently there was some friendly fire so they backed off.” Deo overheard one captain say. A bigger man clapped the back of another.

“What do they expect bringing in so many damn cities together? Of course they are going to experience some classic pandemonium!”

“We’re lucky to be alive.” Snapped the Cull. “I’ll talk to the General, that operation shouldn’t have happened.”

“What’s the plan now?” Asked Hales.

“We have orders to secure the path. We’re digging two trenches from the city to the mountains, one for the front and one for the rear.”

Just then ten large bulldozers came rumbling along with a few hundred workers.

“Garghent is famous for being able to construct a skyscraper in twenty-seven days. Boys, we got seven days to complete these trenches!” The foreman barked out orders left and right and the crew got busy.

“Let’s clear the area and set up a perimeter!” The Cull gave his own orders and the soldiers dispersed.

Hales turned and saw Deo. “You’re okay!” She exclaimed.

“Stayed back with a wounded soldier.” Deo shrugged, suggesting the soldier didn’t make it. What he said wasn’t entirely untrue.

She must have caught the brightness of Deo’s eyes as they faded back to normal because Hales hesitated momentarily, eyeing the swarthy man with curiosity and suspicion. 

“Everything okay?” She asked.

“Just a lot of dead.” Deo explained. Hales didn’t completely buy it but she went along anyway.

“Come, we’ve got to prepare defenses for the night.” 

Hales and Deo left the construction site and met up with the rest of the squad.

“Do you know what happened, captain?” Santiage started, “One minute the Coalition is closing in on us and the next they are running with their tails between their legs.”

“One of our soldiers saw some Coalition troops shooting at their own. They must have gotten bad intel.” Hales offered.

“A group of Garghent sympathizers perhaps?” Liem suggested.

“It don’t make much sense, considerin’ most of them folks were fightin’ with mortal wounds.” Saccha added. “I ain’t ever seen a man walkin’ with half a stomach and a blown out chest.”

“Sounds like one of your kills, Yillo.” Santiage pointed out.

Yillo looked up, thinking through the situation. It was his turn to eye Deo now. During the last week only Yillo supported Hales in keeping Deo on the team. The others wanted to send him into the mountains, calling him a liability. A pacifist really had no place on a special forces team, that much Deo could agree with. Though not a true pacifist, he did refuse to fight for a cause he didn’t believe in and for a city he rejected.

Yillo wanted him around because he sensed the potential in Deo. He wanted Deo backed against a wall, to see his hand forced. Not for the greater glory of Garghent, but for the personal satisfaction that comes from one sadist witnessing the art of another sadist.

Yillo kept his thoughts to himself and Deo found some place to sit. Deo found himself surprisingly tired after using his Aspect the way he did.

Hales and the others continued to discuss the day’s events and the night’s plans. Saccha settled down beside Deo and broke into his flask.

“Hey man,” Deo began, “you’ve got first shift of watch tonight, right? I’ll take yours if you want. You can relax and drink.”

Saccha thought about it for about half a second before accepting the offer. 

“Knew there was a reason we keep you around.” Saccha said light-heartedly, following a deep swig.

Deo replied with a smile. The rest of the group settled in except for Hales and the tactician who were busy going back and forth from position to position and making constant conversation on the radio. 

Night came and Deo declared he’d take watch when the snoring Saccha lay too comatose to respond.

The general consensus was the Coalition wouldn’t attack until at least the middle of the next day. Standing watch was just a precaution and there were a few hundred soldiers on this side. Deo’s watch was hardly necessary.

When his team lay asleep he quietly stepped away, his supplies already bagged earlier. He grabbed the pack and slung it over his shoulder. 

Movement coming from behind made him halt. He turned to see Hales, her galaxy eyes glimmering in the dark.

“I thought there was an enemy.” Hales started.

“There is.” Deo replied simply and honestly.

“You are deserting.” She said evenly.

“I am merely walking away.”

“You saved us all today, didn’t you?” Her voice accusing as much as thanking.

“Saved you from what? Tomorrow will bring more of the same.”

“This whole time that’s been your power. What is your Aspect called Deo, tell me truthfully.” Hales spoke, almost harshly but tinged with an inexplicable sadness. She ignored his words.

Deo’s violet eyes glinted strangely. An owl was singing its deep song and crickets chirped musically off in the distance. A breeze came from the north and the grass swayed with it.

“Death.” The low voice of Deo barely audible.

“You have been torn by your conscience all your life… You’ve lived with hating yourself haven’t you? I know what that’s like. Don’t leave Deo, not now. I would go with you but I can’t. We only just got back together. I know things aren’t how they used to be but my siblings are here and I have to protect them and this war changed everything and…” Hales trailed off.

“We dreamed of changing the world, Hales. You are bound by chains of duty and self-righteousness. You think good can come from this? Millions will die in this war and still nothing changes.”

“You’re going to be labeled an enemy of Garghent. You’ll never be allowed in the city again.”

“I don’t have plans of returning.”

“I should stop you.”

“But you won’t.”

“Of course not.” Hales let her Aspect deactivate and her shoulders slump. “Where will you go?”

“I don’t know. I will travel until a purpose becomes clear to me.”

“Thank you, for today. Will you be able to live with yourself?”

“I really don’t care about that anymore.”

“Oh.”

“I’m leaving now. Goodbye Hales.”

“Our love is ended?”

“Our love is ended.” He echoed.

Deo walked away and Hales watched him go until the night shrouded him from sight. Nothing held him back now. Walk far far away from this place and don’t look back.

Deo casually strolled around the furthest point that the trench workers had reached and moved beyond the second trench. His route took him south. He debated going to the tip of the continent north to join Lazulie and his revolution but decided against it.

“I serve no one.” He told the dead officer that now walked beside him. He had ordered it to leave its hiding place and join him.

It stayed silent by Deo’s side. He would need it to pass security checks through the Coalition’s camps.

No one questioned the officer but there were some salutes and formalities exchanged upon passing each checkpoint. The Coalition had millions of soldiers and tens of thousands of officers, there’s no way anyone would know this officer was killed in action so soon after it happened.

The objective was cleared and Deo escaped passed the furthest Coalition camp. A hill rose in front of him and he crested it. 

From the view, as the morning sun brought the dawn, Deo gazed at the walls of Garghent, visible even from here. The tiny dots that made up the millions of soldiers trying to besiege the metropolis like specks of sand around a great but beached whale.

Deo was hit by realization. He understood in an instant Garghent’s masterplan. He shook his head and chuckled, it wasn’t his problem anymore.

Humans really are the worst.

Deo readjusted the strap of his bag, ordered the dead officer to shoot up the nearest camp and started heading south to the edge of the world.

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