Deo slept under the tree all through the afternoon and well into the night. Hunger drained him but he didn’t feel like eating. So instead he slept because he was too exhausted to do anything else. Gratefully no one came to bother him. Nighttime saw the temperature drop considerably, signifying the beginning of the winter season. It wasn’t quite cold enough to freeze so Deo knew he wouldn’t die in his sleep. Still, the hunger, the shivering, the enormous strain of his Aspect left Deo weakened. The stomach pains from foodlessness receded after initially waking up the next morning.
Without much needed nutrients, Deo spent the day in a constant state of grogginess, dizziness, and hallucinations. Time marched at its inexorable pace toward entropy. The contained city churned with chaos in the air.
It could not be seen as of yet. Deo’s army dug with bare hands and bones and raw minerals the concrete and steel support beams of Ophir.
An inexplicable existential anxiety followed in the footsteps of the millions of residents. For Deo, giddiness replaced anxiety in his lightheaded state.
He forced himself to stand, pushing off his own knees. His undead legion neared the end of their deconstruction. The threads holding up this city, holding up the population, were beginning to split, tiny strands that spring forcefully when the tension breaks.
Like scissors cutting the silver thread of fate, Deo gave the orders. He said it in a whisper.
“Go forth my legions, be vicious and multiply.”
So it was decreed by Deo the Aspect of Death that the siege of Ophir start. His corpse soldiers tore at the ground, broke the seal of the surface which separated the living and the dead. Some poured out of sewers, some emerged from the cemeteries where they had lain for decades, even more came up from under buildings, these ones in particular hadn’t actually escaped the underground for they had the task of undermining the city.
Deo walked the streets of Ophir, seeing the first of his corpses charge a family, under the broad daylight of the sun, their ensuing screams marking the damnation of an entire public. It was a corpse that had been maggot ridden, holes in its cheeks and arms and legs. Skin pale-green and decayed scalp, wisps of hair and a single eye. It beat and clawed and bit into the family. The father pulled a knife and lodged it in the neck of the corpse. No blood flowed.
Deo watched his corpse. He could order it directly and tell it how to fight, what to do and how to do it. But it was more important to see it in action. How would the broad orders of attacking certain locations translate to his legions both as a whole and on the individual level. He could gain valuable insights by observing the way in which this corpse killed its first humans. Deo could not, after all, micromanage every single corpse.
The father’s panicked expression would forever be plastered to his face. The corpse took the knife out of its neck and proceeded to stab the man in the chest repeatedly. The other family members started to flee but were chased down and killed in much the same way as the father.
The corpse kept the knife and joined a larger mob of undead running, ambling and limping into a plaza with throngs of humans coming to shocked realization.
Deo was satisfied with that corpse’s performance. Looking at his undead racing through the streets with the orders to kill touched Deo’s heart. There was something exquisitely beautiful about a corpse. The way death shaped the canvas that was the human body. Associated with a corpse was the manner of its passing, written in the rotted expression of the face, the scars on the body, the mangled limbs and broken bones and missing organs. Preserved by his Aspect, they moved and acted to his will. Deo forgot his hunger amidst his bloodlust for the sights he witnessed were satiating, nourishing.
Deo pointed to the family bleeding dead on the ground.
“Rise.” He told them and they stirred. He gave them orders to join the growing mob. The family, united once more, sprinted to join the mob. They would be clever fighters since their brains were intact fully. Deo’s plan was to use his Aspect every hour or so to gather fresh corpses, this family was just an exception, marking the first of the fallen. Mostly Deo had only seen cemetery corpses, the older antique corpses would be the last to join as they were the furthest underground and had the task of toppling architecture.
Clouds rolled in and darkened the sky, though no rain fell.
Gunshots echoed and shouts resounded. People without weapons sprinted indoors, barricading their windows and doors while those with weapons, who couldn’t understand the sheer scope of the infestation made their defense futile, stayed outside to fight. Deo had only to listen to the frequency of the gunfire to tell how long it took for someone to die. Sirens joined in the chorus of Deo’s despicable dirge. Megaphones relaying warnings and orders, helicopter blades whirling, explosives detonating, the panoply of a dying city, the cacophonous juxtaposition provoked by coffin decamping cadavers and still the ambient turbulence could not belie the one sound piercing, high-pitched and blood-curdling, through brick and bone that reigns above all other utterances producible by mankind, which is the scream.
Millions of screams across an entire metropolis.
It was with all of this in mind that Deo found it odd, in his aimless city strolling, that he should hear weeping coming from a nearby alley. Curious that someone could weep for so long without being torn apart by his horde. Deo made his way over.
Turning the corner he saw a wide variety of unmoving bodies. He noticed his corpses were cut into multiple pieces, their useless bodies destroyed beyond the ability to preserve them again. There were also a significant number of humans who seemed to have killed themselves in this immediate vicinity. One hung himself by his belt, another had sliced his wrist down to the elbow, still another had buried her head in a small fire pit. There were more but Deo’s attention was pulled in the direction of the two figures standing in the middle of all the bodies. One was a woman, sitting on the ground and knees drawn up, crying with her hands covering her face while the other stood protectively beside her, sword in hand and black wings spread in anticipation.
The dark angel hesitated. Clearly something was off, that feeling was only exacerbated the closer Deo approached. Even the weeping lady peeked her head out of her hands to see why the newcomer was so close.
Deo was the first to speak. “Why are you crying?”
The angel man tensed, preparing to strike. The woman spoke first, her words hoarse and soft from crying for so long. “How are you alive?” She was staring at blank space.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Deo asked, interested in this odd pair.
“You’re supposed to take your own life,” she explained.
“I am much too busy for that.” replied Deo.
She wiped her eyes, though they were still averted. “Who are you?”
“I am Deo, the Aspect of Death.”
“Those corpses are yours.” The angel man spoke for the first time. Deo realized the man was no more than a teenager. He was at least a few years younger than the girl.
“Yes. The corpses are mine and this city is mine.” Deo affirmed.
The woman sniffed. “My sorrow is absolute. No one can hear my weeping and survive.”
“That is your Aspect?” Deo asked.
“My power was born from my sadness… My love took his life.” The angel shot her a look but she dismissed his concern. She continued. “He took his own life because the weight of the world crushed him. I hold his melancholy in me now as well as my own anguish.”
“Humans are unworthy and undeserving of this world, their perversions are a sin to nature, their existence a blight on the sanctity of life.” Deo explained.
The girl wasn’t listening as her vision remained downcast. “I carry his image always.” She fingered a locket around her neck unconsciously, desperately. “This is his coffin. Dearest to my heart…”
“May I see his picture?” Deo asked. The angel brandished his black blade, the bright red veins in his clear skin glowing furiously. The girl ignored the angel beside her and looked to Deo for the first time. Deo approached and crouched in front of the girl, seemingly unaware of the sword poised above his head, ready to strike at a moment’s notice.
“Okay.” The girl tentatively unclasped her locket and unfolded the jewelry to reveal a single portrait of a boy. Deo examined the face, visualizing the features of this individual. Deo noticed the boy’s age must have been the same as his own at the time of the picture. Deo was curious what kind of person this boy was and how his suicide could have induced in this girl an Aspect. Who the angel was in all this was another mystery. But Deo just needed the face of the boy, everything was of no real consequence to him right now.
Deo mentally recreated the image in the locket. He wasn’t so much searching his horde as he was beckoning whatever corpse belonged to it. He singled out one rampaging in the streets some kilometers from Deo’s location. He ordered it to a specific location with a bodyguard of other corpses.
Deo did not know what condition the corpse would be in, but it was the same as her lover, that much he knew.
“Why did you want to see him?” The woman questioned.
Deo snapped his fingers and the dozen people who had committed suicide at the compulsion of the girl’s Aspect came to life.
“I’m going to fix this broken race and replace it with one modeled after my image and likeness.”
“You’re going to kill us?” The woman asked, she sounded somewhat hopeful.
Deo shook his head incredulously. “Oh no!” He extended his hand to the girl. “I want you to join me. You are a Sage and the angel is an Augur. You are both valuable to me amidst the worthlessness of this world.”
“I-” The girl stammered.
“I do not need an answer now.” Deo retracted his hand and stood. “Head to the center of Ophir, the Fortune district I believe it is called. There I will be. Your lover is among those I brought from the dead, he will be there as well. I warn you, he is but a corpse now but he can be programmed to have a semblance of who he was.”
Tears were streaming down her face freely. “Really? Oh Jan, we have to go!” The angel, Jan, tensed once more but relaxed.
“As you say Lorrely.”
Deo turned and walked away without further words. The pair would join him, the temptation of seeing her lover moving once more would prove far too great. Satisfied, Deo stepped into a crowd of milling corpses. It was about time for the collapsing to start and Deo wanted a good view.
His phone rang but the number was hidden. He answered.
“Deo, it’s Hege. I’ve made contact with a fair number of skilled professionals and moved them to a safe location. They understand joining you is the only option other than death.”
“Perfect.” Deo responded. “My legion will begin tearing down the city. I will be in the center of Ophir tonight to claim my victory. That is the Fortune district, no?”
“That’s the one. I’ve got more business on my end to take care of. Is there anything else you need?”
“Yes, if you encounter any Specters give them the same offer.”
“Aye. The invasion is going superbly.”
Deo hung up the phone. Everything indeed seemed to be going splendidly. Deo found a hill and crested it. He had twenty thousand corpses in the area around him. They cleared all human life so that Deo could enjoy the view in peace.
The sun, already darkened by a cloudy sky, started its descent down. The tallest skyscraper in the city, viewable even at Deo’s distance, strained and bowed. It leaned one way, then another. The supports underneath finally snapped from the stress and the whole building, packed with humans fleeing from the corpse army, crashed to the ground. The banging sound of steel grinding and glass shattering sent high-pitched shockwaves to penetrate as far as the outermost districts of Ophir.
An eerie quiet descended on the city a moment before buildings collapsed by the hundreds.
Deo decided it was time to use his power again, to collect the newly dead.
Deo closed his eyes and let his hands feel the dirt. The sphere of twilight expanded to the whole city as it did the day previous. The grayscale filter served as a picturesque sign of the ongoing apocalypse that faced Ophir to all the inhabitants.
Deo felt several million more corpses under his command. He ordered them to hunt survivors of the destruction. By now a majority of his total legion was above ground. The number of corpses far outweighed the number of living, breathing humans. Deo ordered a small group to meet him. He was curious what form the oldest corpses took.
Like a bleep on the internal radar of his ‘horde sense’ a noticeable amount of corpses were disappearing from control. Meaning they were being annihilated. He would have chalked it off as a military resistance if it wasn’t coming from the sewers.
“A Specter perhaps?” Deo said to a nearby corpse. It of course neither responded nor was cognizant of the question.
Deo ordered an undead in the sewer to cease their attacks, and one with working vocal chords to deliver a message.
“I am Deo, the new ruler of Ophir and lord over the dead. I am gathering all manner of wicked persons. If you hold the likes of wrath and violence as virtues to be idolized then join me at my throne in the center of the city. If you choose to pledge allegiance to me, my first order is for you to go wild. Hold nothing back. I have forty million undead wreaking havoc on the city, your other option is to die. That is all.”
Deo would find out eventually how the message was received, the corpses in the sewers did not dwindle further from that place.
Looking out into the crumbling city where cadavers ran like swarming insects and fires raged on and the stench of death and burning sulfur were all that touched the nose, Deo thought how divine he felt being the source of this calamity.
A few corpses approached him. Deo saw now that his corpses fell into a few broad categories based on what remains were preserved. In general, the more flesh a corpse had, the more complex and coordinated its functions and actions were.
A few of the corpses that arrived to meet Deo were wrapped in ancient linen cloths, their insides having been removed during an embalming procedure. These were his Mummies and they offered good speed and dexterity at the cost of low durability. The linen wraps silenced their footsteps.
Another few were packed tight with dirt and clay, their bones partially exposed. These were the corpses that were made up of a single, large surviving piece of the skeleton, though some featured much more complete skeletons. However, it was not necessary to have every bone. The insides and any missing limb or part was replaced with the compressed sediment of whatever was near the corpse when it was touched by Deo’s power. They were sturdy as rock but could perform only the most simplistic actions and movements. Deo labeled this type as his Mudmen. They were the clearest example of losing cognitive ability in inverse relation to physical strength. They were closer to mindless golems than actual humans, except in form. They appeared to accurately be molded to whatever shape the human, however long ago, had been, including height and weight. This suggested some memory allowed for this, perhaps in the DNA in the bones or some other morphic or magnetic field, but Deo would ponder that another day.
Other than his Mudmen and Mummies there were the recent dead corpses, the standard humans buried with modern means, and the fresh corpses who had the softest flesh, blood in the veins and a full brain. Deo called the latter group Alivers as they could pass day to day life among humans as if they were alive. A group his parents would, in retrospect, fall under.
The classifications were a broad way to discern between a wide variety of corpses with different functions, strengths and weaknesses. There were just as many that blurred the lines between each category and all were uniquely modeled from the environmental biological process that a given corpse had lived and been buried in.
Deo dismissed the few in front to rejoin the fighting. Ophir’s military resistance was fading fast. Major police and military buildings fell, factories, armories, fuel deposits, chemical laboratories and storage facilities crumbled. They were undermined and in many cases, triggered devastating explosions. Deo could suffer the loss of a couple hundred corpses if it meant an entire building was destroyed. He had the numbers for it and the numbers to replace them.
But it wasn’t just the corpses fighting the humans. Hege had influence among the humans. He used his own soldiers to target things like helicopters, snipers, tanks, armored vehicles or anything that Deo’s corpses would otherwise have a hard time dealing with.
Because of this, the lawless combat, Ophir was in pandemonium.
Deo watched the dust settle in the Fortune district. It was time to claim his territory. He moved with his legion surrounding him. Along the way he stopped to use his power again. After a minute of twilight Deo furthered his legion by several million more. The number of dead was mounting to a sizable rate. Almost half the city lay in ruins already. The strength of a horde made the work quick, considering they started from every location he wanted to invade.
Deo noticed more and more rats scurrying around. They seemed to have a purpose and a general direction they flooded to, which was odd because it was toward the fighting and not away as one would likely conclude an animal to do amidst fire and fighting.
On the pedestal where a statue of some famous leader was once arrogantly fixed stood a girl in the marble’s place. She wore a flowing nightdress of obsidian black and a veil over her face. She played a viola and the song was one of passion and fury. An old battle hymn no doubt. For some reason the undead around seemed not to notice her. They should have attacked her without explicit orders not to.
Deo felt power emanating from her. Another Specter. She turned her eyes to him and continued to play as the city fell to pieces around her. Deo could hardly see through the veil, but felt the danger of her eyes regardless. The sensation of this strange person was one of supernatural terror.
“I am gathering the strong.” Deo informed. She ignored him and turned away, still playing her viola. Deo thought for a second. He commanded some undead to form two lines on the street leading to the Fortune district about a kilometer out.. They would act as a channel with a clear direction. He did this with multiple streets from different sides of the central district. Corpses formed the paths and Deo walked through, leaving the girl in the veil to decide for herself.
Deo next ordered his hordes to clear the rubble in the Fortune district in time for his arrival. Crowds of citizens ran to leave the city only to find the gates were locked and guarded by armed soldiers and undead warriors. The city was fully perimetered off. The police and militia were almost finished with, which left the personal armies of district leaders or gang bosses to fend for themselves. Deo witnessed a number of bizarre powers through the afternoon. Boulders of astral blue hurling from outside the city. Plumes of black smoke billowed from behind rubble in one section of the city. Deo saw bite marks on humans that came from something far bigger than any his corpses could produce. There were multiple swarms of rats leaving nothing but bones in their wake. There were no shortages of interesting people in Ophir. An extreme situation such as a horde of the undead brought out the best in humanity. By forcing the strong to act and culling the weak it cut down on filtering those worth keeping alive and those worth adding to his ever-growing army.
Deo arrived at the Fortune district. It was cleared of all rubble. A clean slate for him and the city as a whole. Deo wanted to start from scratch. An empire from the ground up. Reusing Ophir felt cheap and distasteful. Ophir was no longer.
For now, Deo needed to sit. Fatigue catching up with him in his two-day fast. Deo gave a series of commands to a large group of corpses. What he was trying to do proved difficult for his corpses to come up with. They stood doing nothing. Deo broke down the orders in simpler steps.
Create a platform.
Create another smaller platform on top of the first one.
The next group goes on top for an even smaller platform.
Deo made a pyramid of bodies, stacked on one another up several meters. An undead servant brought him a red cloth. Deo ascended his corpse pyramid, stepping on the flat backs of the dead ordered to remain locked in place. At the top was a collection of five corpses intertwined so as to form a chair made of their hands and arms. Deo placed the read cloth over the seat part of his corpse chair and sat down upon it.
Humans accumulated in the clearing of the district below Deo’s makeshift throne. Deo observed the Specters in front of him. The weeping girl and the angel were here, Jan and Lorrely were their names if Deo recalled properly. Lorrely was holding the hand of her undead partner, reunited in the most macabre way. She would treat it like a doll and the angel lived to protect her it seemed. The girl with the veil showed up, standing furthest from everyone. A barrel-chested man sat warily in an astral wooden beam of a large ghostly siege catapult.
An emaciated girl with unkempt hair and large wide eyes with a short pointy nose stood around a seething mass of rats. She took up most of the empty space in the district, with millions of rats at the ready.
Another Specter, a lean and sharp featured man, sported a half-smile and black tendrils extending from his veins. The smile must have been from the situation, a genuine curiosity of seeing how the night would develop with so many Specters gathered in the ruins of a city ripe for the taking.
Still another Specter, the tallest and broadest out of the everyone by far, had fresh blood dripping from his fanged teeth and an elongated, bestial head. There were other non-Specters here as well. Survivalists who fought through the horde to the center. Killers, soldiers, anyone cunning or strong enough to survive the siege was welcome to join Deo.
Hege finally came, with a contingent of his topmost ranking agents, purposefully late after the other Specters had already entered the area.
He walked through the path set up by the corpses, ignoring all the Specters turning to see the newcomer. Hege stopped at the foot of Deo’s corpse pyramid, and bowed.
“The city is yours, lord Deo.” It was perfect. Hege knew the effects of such a display, that imagery and performance played into the psychology of what Deo was doing. Deo had them hooked, the destruction of a city should at least do that much. The tricky part, perhaps even trickier than the siege itself, would be to convince this group of independent Specters to join his novel empire. The worst case scenario would be a free-for-all conflict starting, not an unlikely possibility given the violence and chaos of the day.
There was a sliver of light left from the setting sun. Deo used his power once more before the end of the day. The showcase of power would help legitimize his claim in front of these Specters. Deo added a further five million to bolster his empire when the twilight sphere ended. Based on the numbers, Ophir had roughly four million living citizens left. It was a bit less than he had planned for but the presence of powerful Specters must have added to the casualty rate.
“What are your orders?” Hege pressed.
Deo must have looked haggard and weak on his throne. But appearances must be kept. Who would follow a tired leader?
Deo didn’t feel he could stand without passing out so he remained in his chair. The tension rose in the group. The next move would decide everything. He needed to say something to this small crowd. Deo changed his posture, crossing one leg over the other and leaning an elbow on the shoulder of a corpse.
Deo began his speech.
“By being here, I will assume you have joined my legion, though formal pledges can be made at a later date. Under my command is sixty million undead. The city will be rebuilt and tonight marks the beginning of my march against humanity. Looking over the ruins and seeing this sanguinolent coterie, this bloodlust society, I can’t help but feel a nostalgia for a life I will never have. Right now I am pondering what it would be like to be on the other side of humanity, the side that will face me. I suppose it is in my nature to sympathize with the losing faction, to strategize how I would fight such an opponent. Unfortunately, my work involves the grim opposite, the death of humans by the million and the end of modern civilization. If that appeals to you, then little else needs to be said. Welcome to Un-Ophir. I am Deo and my throne is sovereign.”
Deo fell asleep where he sat, his arm propping his chin up. A bold move, but one his body and brain made for him.
No one challenged his claim to the throne, certainly not the dead.