Chapter 79 The Siege of Vallis: part four

The three Skullheads shambled to the reinforced walls of the metropolis Vallis. They did not waver to the crude touch of rockets and rifles. Blasts of fire and steel failed to stow the bone abominations. The staunch defenders valiantly struggled against terrors only dreamt of at night. The durability of the Skullheads warranted an equally destructive Aspect to counter them, but Vallis lacked any such Specter capable of bringing Kiasmus’ Marrow Aspect down. Due in part to the bountiful dead Deo provided for the construction of the Skullheads, but the raw power Kiasmus possessed could not be lessened.

Absent from anyone’s mind in the siege, save Kiasmus himself, was the knowledge of his lineage. An ancestry dating back to the initial group of humans to discover and awaken the Aspect, the first Specters. The line was by no means direct of course, twenty thousand years diluted any bloodline beyond surface recognition. Search deeper, in the collective unconscious and told through generations of myth and legend, the Palaot understood their origins. There were connections outside the human race where such transition of gnosis can take place.

Isolated from the city-state metropolises of the Brother and Sister continent, living remotely, apart from the rest of the human species, the Palaot practice this connection through the guidance of a shaman. These shamans have passed their craft personally from one to another for as long as Pal of Ot, a Fable Specter from prehistory, initiated her first follower. Her existence survives only through the intangible memory of stories and the name of the Palaot. 

Pal of Ot taught her shaman apprentice the spirit of the brew, the rites and mixtures that must go into that drink of drinks, the nectar of gods. Consume it and the world once known dissolves, morphs into the visage of the teachers. The indole teachers wear the drinker of the brew even as the Aspect wears the human who awakens it. Thus the Specters of antiquity knew that secret method of Aspect union, the relationship of the savant and teacher. Listen to the teacher and savant enlightenment is achieved. 

Kiasmus had been to the void, looked into its eyeless center and returned to the land of flesh intact, just as Deo had. Kiasmus however, had been just a boy when he partook in the shaman’s brew, Pal of Ot’s recipe for power ascension, the awakening of the Aspect. Where Deo had been given a poisonous flower inducing nightmarish hallucinations, Kiasmus received purely flying intoxicants, the brew more true to Pal of Ot’s original quintessence. 

Vallis was ignorant of this when the Skullhead painted red with white spots lifted a claw to block an artillery shell. The smoke settled and the Skullhead continued its approach, unfaltering.

Kiasmus, arms crossed, stood on the prow of the Skullhead’s bowl. Clad in lacquered bone, armor condensed to be stronger than titanium alloy. Kiasmus unsheathed a longsword, sharp on a single side and yellow-white. This too was a product of his Marrow Aspect, the ability to create objects with bone and conjure animism in them. His sword had tiny holes that whistled when he swung the blade, singing a soprano of sliced arteries and blood on the pavement.

The Skullheads marched through concentrated turret fire, rockets, rifles and artillery relatively unscathed. Vallis did their best to prepare for such a large-scale invasion. Despite having seen the resting Skullheads on the horizon since the beginning of the siege, no amount of preparation could have fended off the approach of the inexorable machinations.

The first Skullhead to arrive at the wall smashed a group of soldiers, brushing them with an oversized crab claw. It scraped along the flooring of the wall so any soldier that managed to duck was crushed and mutilated. Those that did not duck or leap off the wall in time found themselves tumbling through the air to meet a fatal landing.

The Skullhead next placed each claw as far apart as its arms could reach, gripping the wall in a vice, cutting off Vallis from entering a section of the wall. The bone monstrosity lowered itself to a sit but was still too tall for its bowl. It tilted forward and let loose its contents. 

Hordes of undead and squadrons of mercenaries now found purchase on the walls, claiming the part sectioned off by the Skullhead. Kiasmus was the first to step off the Skullhead and a number of defenders managed to climb over the claw and rushed the Palaot Elder. Their shots deflected off his bone armor and before they knew their plight a whistling flash came upon them and dealt them a swift death. Like a dancer, Kiasmus moved from body to body without a wasted action. Spinning, tumbling and flowing from and into every precise strike, enhanced by his living armor to push his physical ability beyond what an average human should be capable of. His armor acted in unison with his own intentions almost to the point that Kiasmus hardly needed to expend any effort on his part. The armor practically carried him from one enemy to the next while his blade eagerly sought out fresh bone marrow. The blade consumes the marrow from whoever it’s hacked into, feeding itself and his armor. Kiasmus in this way was constantly repairing and strengthening his blade and armor. The choice of using a sword as a weapon was simply because a ranged weapon would not allow for him to harvest the marrow from his enemies.

Kiasmus was a terror in a melee and his Aspect, developed on the foundation of a tradition dating to the earliest of Specters, grinded to perfection through a lifetime of training to prepare for the day he could fight humans. Pal of Ot’s one message psychologically imbued into her ritual; war pleases.

Kiasmus’ purpose in life is to conquer the human race. The shaman Sumedi had drilled that into a young Kiasmus. The brew awakened his Aspect and the shaman told him to prepare for as long as it takes, decades even, until the one comes along that will synergize with Marrow beautifully. Deo was that person. To draw out the dead. Over the months, the supply of bones, well into the millions, gave Kiasmus the opportunity to go all out with his ability, to finally expand his use and condense the bone into a near unbreakable level. Kiasmus begrudgingly accepted Deo as leader, despite that it was his own destiny to lead the campaign against humans. Still, it was worth the power he received. His wildest dreams, the years, thirty-four to be exact, spent in dreaming and training for that dream were fulfilled. Since the age of ten Kiasmus had his power.

The scale of his usage over the last several months was so great that it was inevitable for this to happen. A lifetime honing his Aspect led to this.

Kiasmus, amidst the battle on the walls of Vallis, hordes streaming into the city and gunpowder stinging the nose and eyes, the shouts of the living and the groaning of the dead and dying and the eerie silence of the undead as the siege of Vallis came suddenly to the most critical part of the siege, the breaking point for an entire people. Live or die were the stakes.

Only ten minutes after the first Skullhead reached the wall of Vallis, Kiasmus’ armor and sword made a decision. The decision was unanimous between the sword and armor and they took a course of action separate from Kiasmus’ will. 

Kiasmus suddenly fell to his knees and screamed in agony. A number of mercenaries and some Palaot soldiers surrounded Kiasmus to offer protection. 

The armor dug into Kiasmus’ skin, through the epidermis and muscle into the bone. Through that into his own bone marrow. His armor and sword fused with their owner. 

What happened is referred to as Aspect control. The fusion of Kiasmus’ Aspect into his own body resulted in his sudden mastery over his Marrow Aspect.

“Elder!” One Palaot rushed to check on Kiasmus. The Marrow Aspect simply stood up. He checked his hand and noticed the curious color and shape. His hand was porous, like a fleshy honeycomb all red and boney. But it wasn’t just his hand. His arms, legs and torso were like this too. His whole body merged with armor and appeared like a lacquered bone marrow thing straight from a macabre and surreal underworld.

Kiasmus ignored the soldiers around him and calmly walked out of their defensive ring. The first Vallis soldier bravely charged with a bayonet, firing his rifle a meter from Kiasmus and grunting with effort at the charge. Kiasmus let himself get stabbed by the bayonet. He looked down and curiously enough the bayonet was deep in his stomach. The soldier was just as bewildered and tried to scramble away, leaving his rifle embedded in Kiasmus. 

Kiasmus stretched his sword arm out and saw the marrow blade grow in length and pierce the soldier in the spine. The sword drank from the bone marrow and blood of the soldier and Kiasmus felt his arm fill like he was eating a great deal of food through his extended right arm. 

Kiasmus wrenched the rifle from his stomach and discarded it. The wound healed and Kiasmus realized there were not any organs in his stomach anymore. His Aspect had replaced the need for his human biology. He was a single system of bone marrow. Mastery over his Aspect allowed this. 

The fighting around Kiasmus paused for a moment as they looked in horror at the Master Specter. 

The blood drained from the soldier Kiasmus killed was diffused from the pores in Kiasmus’ body into a bloody mist. The Marrow Aspect was upon the stunned defenders faster and more brutal than before. Kiasmus drained the blood and kept diffusing it into the air and it became so thick that vision was obscured. Anyone in the killing mist died and the mist grew ever greater. 

Vallis handedly lost that part of the south wall, their foothold loosening on the place called home.

*****

The two other Skullheads had split up to hit different parts of the south wall, one to the left and one to right of Kiasmus’ Skullhead. Carn led one and Veinbreaker led the other. They touched down with the same strategy and fought to secure their section of the wall.

The Skullheads worked on tearing chunks of wall and lobbing those steel and stone chunks randomly into the city. While only less than a single percent of the total wall surrounding Vallis was occupied by Deo’s forces, it was a start and only the beginning of the sortie.

The next part consisted of hooking the walls and pulling them down. Thousands of ropes, cables and cords were tossed over the ramparts and thousands of more hooks were shot into drilled holes at different levels around Vallis, set up by human engineers. The coordinated attempt left Vallis struggling to remove the ropes and hooks. 

From a distance way up it must have appeared like the metropolis had grown roots.

Those roots were being pulled by millions of commanded undead in tandem. There was no budging in the first few minutes and Vallis managed to sever over half of the ropes and hooks in that time. There was too much surface area to cover and bit by bit sections of the wall started to creak and bulge. Cracks appeared and the concrete, stone and steel walls groaned under the pressure. A minute longer and the structural integrity of a section of the north wall gave way, creating an opening in which the undead poured through.

Several dozen small and large openings appeared throughout the entire wall, enough to allow serious breaches in the defense from every angle. The gaps would widen as the undead gained real estate in Vallis, allowing for demolition specialists to further destroy the walls. Throngs of corpses raced into Vallis only to be stopped by a series of barricades within the city. There were several layers of barriers between the walls and the city proper. It was the same tactic Bisult used against the hordes in the Diluvian Canal. The barricades bought time and little else.

Vallis struggled to keep up and more and more pockets of Deo’s undead found themselves behind the walls, on the ramparts and slipping into the streets.

Bisult, at some point, had ordered the citizens to arm themselves in the event that Deo breached Vallis. Not as strong as a real militia, but fighting with their home and families on the line, the citizenry proved able and willing to combat the undead hordes.

For a time, that is. They were sick, scared and depressed. Millions of undead were entering Vallis now and the stench of rotten human mixed with blood, tears and waste.

In total, the population of Vallis outnumbered the thirty million in Deo’s army by double, though the vast majority of Vallis’ number came from average citizens, including children and elderly. The worst in Deo’s army were simply more brittle corpses than some of the fresher ones.

Deo sat on the bone chair and turned to Jan, the Seravim Aspect.

“Go search for her. You will be able to slip in now that the walls are broken. Find Klea, she has Lorrely. She’ll be playing her instrument somewhere in the city.”

Jan said nothing but nodded. He unfurled his wings and took to the skies with a leap. With a sonic wave he darted into Vallis. Ignoring the fighting and even a few shots aimed at him. Jan flew around the city at breakneck speeds, senses committed to listening for the out of place music. 

Jan saw swarms of Bubonica’s rats coming from sewers and chewing the flesh off of their victims. He saw gigantic spiders crawling over buildings causing terror and distractions as they were merely apparitions of Arvin’s Arachnomania Aspect. Grenade launchers and machine guns were used on them, hitting only their own buildings in an attempt to hit the phantasms.

Groups of humans clashed with the undead on the streets in brutal hand to hand combat. The humans of Vallis used farming tools, clubs, bats, crowbars and anything that could crush an undead. Corpses were battering down barricaded doors and windows, destroying their own bodies in the process. Jan remembered well the pandemonium of Ophir.

Vallis was subjected to the same brutal process.

At last Jan found Klea. She dressed in a fine silk dress, clean of all the grit and blood of the day, a veil around her face as she stood on a stadium playing her viola. He landed beside her. 

Jan thought she looked haggard, even insane in the eyes but other than that as pristine as ever. He knew her music would cause those around to experience intense feelings of whatever emotion she was playing for. He wanted to make it quick before being trapped under her spell.

“Where is Lorrely!” Jan said with urgency, though his voice remained as a hushed whisper.

Klea turned and pointed with her bow to a nearby building across the street. Jan wasted no time bursting through the door. He gasped at the sight of Lorrely, dead and wrapped in cloth, in a tub of ice.

Tears streamed down his face as he shook with pain and fury. His reason for living was gone. His brother died and now Lorrely too. The promise on the note to protect her had spurred Jan on to stay at her side, despite Lorrely’s brutal Weeper Aspect that had been awakened upon the death of Jan’s brother. Fighting against that power, Jan awakened his own Aspect, the Seravim. 

To be her guardian forever.

He took the still form of Lorrely in his arms. 

“I will bury you with him.” His tears splashed on her. He walked out of the building, broken and numb. Jan took to the air again, a miasma of darkness spreading from him. A considerable amount of wings grew from Jan, though he was hardly aware of it himself. There were twenty pairs in total, some small around his ankles and elbow and some larger around his shoulders and even one pair that grew from his original set of wings. He left, going south at a lazy and careless pace. 

Vallis made no effort to stop him. It was better to allow someone of that power to leave. Any soldier in rang could feel the sheer malice coming from Jan and knew not to disturb the angel.

*****

Klea watched Jan leave with Lorrely from the corner of her eye. Eye contact at this point was risky. The song she played was one that dulls the senses. To feel nothing, complacent in the misery of existence. It was important to not draw attention from Jan while he came to recover Weeper’s body. The slightest suspicion could explode into a fury. 

Never doubt the instincts of a Specter, Klea told herself. Her song was meant to keep Jan from feeling angry. Though if it worked in their brief exchange she could not discern. Jan was eager to leave and Klea let out a sigh of relief when he flew off.

Klea switched to her song of Grief. She channeled the emotions from the day that Weeper died. Klea had been the one to kill her, although not directly. She had followed Lorrely in secret, knowing the girl’s itinerary and plan to disrupt the uprising around the council gathering. The place had been staked out with security and a few enemy Specters. Lorrely mingled with the crowd but Klea entered a nearby apartment complex. Out of sight from much of the crowd as the balcony faced a different direction, Klea played her viola in hearing distance to the crowd. 

She had played the song of Grief with the intention that it would bolster Lorrely’s sorrow. The wounds that caused Lorrely to awaken her power came back to her on that day more vivid than when they first happened. Lorrely went hysterical… and so did the crowd.

It was one of those rare instances of two Aspects harmonizing so potently that the power output obtained far surpassed either Klea or Lorelly’s Aspects alone. 

The goal had always been to get Lorrely killed but not even Klea was prepared for the mass melancholy that pulsed from Lorrely’s crying.

Klea ripped out hair, scratched deeply into her arms and legs, mangled her lips and in general committed so much self harm that weeks after the fact she had to cover herself in makeup and lipstick and concealer to hide the bruising and scabbing. She put on fake nails and eye drops and did everything to appear normal so that Jan would not notice and ask questions. Despite the veil she wore, appearances, even hidden, are intimately tied to expression.

Klea kept the depressive atmosphere going in Vallis the entire time since Lorrely’s death. Her sacrifice served two purposes for Klea. The first was to damage the morale of Vallis as much as possible. This she achieved with astonishing results, though at a great and unexpected cost to her health and sanity. The second, more important reason was to get rid of Lorrely as she was a liability to Deo. Jan’s loyalty rested solely on Lorrely’s cooperation. With Lorrely gone, Jan could be focused only on Deo and without the chance of betrayal. The greatest risk had been when Deo first told Jan. Had Deo withheld the information of Lorrely’s passing for after the siege Jan would have instantly killed Deo. He chose correctly by telling Jan as soon as the information reached him.

Klea, an expert manipulator, predicted the exchange between Deo and Jan based on the circumstances and the way their personalities acted. Klea knew she could kill Lorrely, probably the only opportunity she would get as Jan was isolated from her. Klea controlled the flow of information, correctly deduced that Deo would tell Jan immediately and now Jan was on his way back to Ophir. Everything lined up perfectly and Klea was the only person in the whole world who knew the truth.

On top of all this, having survived the ordeal of Lorrely’s most powerful Weeping, Klea added so much more depth to her Grief song.

She grinned sinfully, a cracked smile that trickled blood down her chin and neck and kept playing her viola as Vallis burned.

*****

Paradice kicked off his shoes and rummaged through a pile of footwear taken from dead comrades. He’d gone through another pair of shoes, wearing down the grip and all but disintegrating the soles. His feet were missing a layer of skin and blisters made up the rest.

“What, is that your tenth pair of shoes?” Bisult noted.

“Thirteenth. A lucky number so I hear.” Paradice tried on one pair that was too big and tossed them aside.

“Lucky for who, your feet?” 

Paradice chuckled. “If I don’t find anything comfortable I might have to call off this whole siege.”

“Aye, I’ll let them know you need time for your feet to heal. I think they’ll understand.”

“Nope! Got some.” They were new boots, brown and of good quality. Paradice tried not to think about the man who bought these, probably got them specifically for this siege. Maybe they were a gift from a friend or parent. Not a healthy thing to ponder. Paradice put the shoes on and strapped them tight. He hated the idea of wearing another man’s boots but these were desperate times.

“Is there anything else you need?” Bisult asked. “We can buy you a couple hours if you need it.” The big man added.

Paradice shook his head. “I better not wait around, I’ll get in my head, ya know?” 

“Aye.” 

The two men stood on a tower connecting the south and east walls. It gave them a good vantage point and so far had been mostly left alone by the enemy. It was here they prepared themselves.

“How many would you say between here and there?” Paradice asked, looking into the distance.

“At least a million in your direct way.” Bisult answered honestly.

Both men knew they were to die today. Born warriors, they accepted the prospect of death, not with open arms like the weak but with gritted teeth and clenched fists in the way of the strong.

Everything rested on Paradice. Bisult’s ability was known to the enemy. They could counter it easily enough for what they were going to attempt.

Paradice was the only choice because his power was unused thus far in the siege and because none of the other Specters can do it without drawing too much attention or dying within the first seconds of starting.

“I’ll try to take out that nearby Skullhead so you don’t have to worry about it.”

“Thank you, it was at the top of my worries.” Paradice said with a grin.

“Me and the rest of the Specters are going to focus on stopping theirs at the south wall. We’ll keep them preoccupied long enough for you to do the job. I’m not sure we can even beat their bone Specter, since he’s a Master.”

“Don’t overextend then. Hit and run.” Paradice warned. “Once I get into the thick of it I doubt anyone will be able to stop me in time. After I finish up I’ll come right back.”

“In the meantime don’t die. That’s what you’ll say next eh?” Bisult predicted.

“Someone’s got to remind you!”

“We have confirmation that the angel left the city, looks like he was going to Ophir.”

“Did he defect?” Paradice wondered.

“Who can say, but this really is our only shot.” Bisult said.

“These will do nicely.” Paradice hopped a couple times, testing the shoes.

“Best to get started. Wouldn’t want to keep Death waiting, now would we?” Bisult’s only eye had a mad gleam in it.

The two warriors, longtime friends and comrades to the end, gripped each other’s forearms in the soldier’s handshake. Their eyes met and the look they exchanged did all the sentimental parts for them.

Bisult stepped away and called his Aspect. 

“Yarak!” Bisult’s falcon let out a ferocious high pitched caw and soared down to the old brigand king, the general of Vallis.

The falcon dropped his spear precisely into Bisult’s hand in waiting and rested on his shoulder. Bisult petted the bird and whispered reassurances to it. The falcon sensed the danger and seriousness coming from Bisult. He gave a fierce call and began flying around the area, scouting out the enemy.

Bisult warmed up his shoulder, testing the sore rotator cuff and squatting to get his legs ready.

“As soon as it goes down you need to jump.”

Paradice stayed quiet as he focused on his own Aspect, meditating in preparation.

Bisult found a clearing on the battlement. The undead were being held off  some distance from the tower by Bisult’s most elite soldiers. 

Bisult held his spear over head with one hand and thought only of increasing the size of it. He put energy into the weapon and felt its weight and mass increase dramatically. Bisult needed his second hand to hold the spear up. 

Heaving under the weight, leaning as far back as his sinews allowed, to the point where the back tip of the spear barely brushed against the floor. Bisult shouted his exertion and snapped his body forward, throwing forward both arms with such force that the rest of his torso and legs lifted off the ground. 

The javelin launched with all the fury of a bazooka, if the bazooka itself was being launched along with the missile. The Skullhead had no time to react as two of its legs were obliterated, causing the whole bone monster to collapse on its side, crushing many undead in its fall

“Now!” Bisult shouted to Paradice.

Paradice stood on top of a battlement and released what was in his fist. A pair of dice, his namesake.

“Snake eyes.” He gambled on the outcome. The dice hit the ground far below and bounced and tumbled about until eventually the dice came to a rolling stop.

He squinted. A six and a three.

Paradice tsked. “Damn.”

With bardiche in one hand and sawed off shotgun in the other, Paradice leapt from the battlements to the ground below. On the way down he activated his power. 

“Sore Loser!”

Paradice landed but the fall that would normally shatter his legs dealt no damage to his body. Corpses noticed a target and attacked without hesitation. Paradice engaged them without protecting himself. He had a clear direction in mind and carved a path towards his goal.

Paradice went into a battle trance, killing undead by the dozens, unaffected by their scratches, bites and weapons. A peace settled over the bandit. Bisult and any surviving Specter would battle the enemy Specters, holding them off for as long as possible. It meant there were no outside interruptions. Just him and a million of the dead. This was Vallis’ only chance, the one opportunity for victory in a lost cause against an opponent far stronger.

That such an opportunity arose was a strike of good luck amidst a streak of bad. He could never ask for more. A little luck went a long way, Paradice knew, as he fought in his thirteenth pair of shoes.

There certainly was a level of providence involved considering how all of the enemy Specters joined in the invasion, leaving their leader defended by a simple army of mindless soldiers. Deo’s bodyguard fled the city and the Onager Aspect had moved to the east wall a week ago.

Deo remained alone and ignorant of Paradice and his Aspect.

The plan was to take a long route to Deo, who sat on a chair on a hill under a willow tree more to the south-west, by striking due south and then cutting west Paradice bought himself time from being noticed even if the path wasn’t as direct. Alert the enemy too soon and one of the Specters would be recalled to defend their leader.

Paradice already knew from experimentation that Deo did not see what his undead saw, nor did he have direct awareness of small numbers of undead being destroyed if there were many more in the area. The tests at least gave that impression, and with nothing else to go on, Paradice made that his wager.

Swarmed by things belonging in the dirt, Paradice needed only to advance without a wasted motion. The flailing arms he dismembered. The clawing fingers he removed. Gnarling heads toppled and rolled like his dice had. Shotgun shells shattered the brittle and decayed calcium and all the while Paradice gained ground on the unsuspecting Aspect of Death.

*****

“Leave him Kiasmus! He’s mine.” Garriot pushed passed some soldiers standing idle as each took their turn trying to dismantle the mighty one eyed Bisult. Even Kiasmus, newly ascended as a Master Specter, struggled to finish the bandit king.

Kiasmus growled but backed off, remembering Deo’s orders to take Bisult alive. Kiasmus knew in his heart such a feat would be impossible as the power coursing in his marrow skin begged to be unleashed in terrible fury.

The Carn Aspect roared, wishing for a turn to hunt. Garriot saw a number of Vallis warriors in a pile near the reptilian hulk. 

“You’ve had your fill,” Garriot told Carn. 

Carn snorted but took a seat and ripped off an arm to begin gnawing on.

“If Garriot loses I’ll go next.” Veinbreaker announced with a devilish grin.

Garriot chuckled and took off his wide brimmed hat. “Hold this.” He handed it to Goblin who stayed back as Garriot walked forward. The hat was on the top of Goblin’s staff.

Garriot spat out the piece of straw in his mouth.

Bisult was still catching his breath from the fight against Kiasmus. Garriot couldn’t tell where the wounds ended and the scars started.

Bisult in the firelight looked akin to a crude granite carving, the shadows contouring his disfigurement.

“Came for another whooping?” Bisult managed to tout.

“Let’s do this, just the two of us.” Garriot suggested, as their first fight experienced some interventions.

Bisult sent his falcon away. It perched atop Garriot’s hat on Goblin’s staff. The falcon made a series of kacks to which Goblin replied in a language apparently understandable to the bird. They conversed back and forth. 

“Your timing is perfect,” Bisult said with a smirk made haunting by a scar across his mouth. “It took you guys a couple months but I’m finally warmed up!”

“I think the dementia is kicking in, old one,” Garriot retorted. “You can barely stand upright.”

It was true that Bisult leaned on his spear for support. But the current situation was ideal for him. They would battle him one on one and waste valuable time. Their stupidity was a welcome breeze to the haggard Yarak Aspect. 

Garriot hefted his Orgblade. “No interruptions. Let us see who is strongest.”

“You wish to fight to the death? Then come and die!” Bellowed Bisult.

Garriot grinned and advanced. The Orgblade deflected the first spear thrust and wheeled back around like a pendulum to block the next attack. Bisult slashed with his spear in the riposte, forcing Garriot to jump back. On the backswing of Bisult’s attack, Garriot moved inside, taking a hard hit to the shoulder from the blunt stem of the spear and grunting through the blow. In reach now, Garriot let the Orgblade descend on the open Bisult. 

Garriot over the months had developed a solid monkey grip training with his giant sword. Garriot himself was a big man, tall and well defined. It was what happened when the optimum athletic genetics met a life with access to the ideal resources and elite exercise education catered to his physique. Schooled from an adolescent to be deadly, Garriot Halsey, the Goblin Aspect, wielder of the Orgblade, veins bulging from the muscle in his hands, struck downward with gravity and weight and force. Deo had told him not to kill Bisult, he never said anything about lopping off an arm.

But Bisult was two of Garriot’s lifetimes older, so much more time to build muscle, to break down his own bones and replace them with calcium many times over so that an iron board would not be able to tell the difference between itself and Bisult’s knuckles.

The Orgblade descended. Bisult could not have dove back as his swipe happened the same time Garriot charged, also meaning his spear was in an awkward position and couldn’t be drawn back. 

So Bisult dropped his spear in the time that Garriot began attacking and rotated his trunk, crashing his fist into the side of the Orgblade only a centimeter from his shoulder. 

Bisult’s punch outclassed Garriot’s grip and the Orgblade found itself changing directions completely and flying through the air to land unceremoniously on the ground.

The hit stunned Bisult momentarily, but remarkably his fist wasn’t shattered on the impact. A testament to Bisult’s raw strength and durability.

Without even processing what happened, Garriot lunged at Bisult and threw a series of wild hooks and jabs. They all connected but appeared to not affect the one eyed brute. 

“Is that all you got, boy!” Bisult returned the favor with an uppercut that landed Garriot on his back.

Garriot scrambled to get up, pushing through the daze. He made to grab Bisult’s spear that lay on the ground but Bisult put a foot on it to keep it in place.

The grab for the spear was a bluff as Garriot just needed a second to spring up and run into Bisult. He grabbed Bisult’s waist and threw him down with a tackle. 

On top now, Garriot wailed on the one-eyed brute but couldn’t get any solid hits in as Bisult kept his forearms protecting his head. Bisult waited for Garriot to hesitate before grabbing his shoulders and throwing him off.

Bisult rolled up and Garriot did too but a split second after. 

Enough time for Garriot to see the fist that broke his nose coming…

*****

Hege reclined in his lounge room. With the day’s tasks all concluded he could relax with a mug of coffee and a cigar, as was his usual habit. Administering Ophir posed a number of interesting challenges. The city was ravaged with only a few districts untouched from the takeover. Populations recovering from exorbitant losses live in heightened states of extremes. The high of surviving such an ordeal mixed with the unreality of actually going through that ordeal left them on edge and eager to move on and rebuild. Hege was already the boss or friends with neighboring district bosses that Deo made sure to spare. Hege had the loyalty and trust of the people, even if they didn’t trust Deo completely. Reconstruction went smoothly, there were few disputes that weren’t amicably decided by Hege, with both parties leaving satisfied. Every adult citizen was encouraged to start or join a business and the surplus of land and resources meant that poverty didn’t exist in Ophir, for now at least. People were already dividing into class and community but the once corrupt city was no more.  

Hege lit his cigar, any unresolved problem to be solved tomorrow. He found a record and started the stereo. Not before the first song finished did a knock appear at his door. Hege couldn’t think of anyone who would disturb him after sunset.

Hege got up and opened the door. Standing petrified and soul-weary was the angel Jan holding the dead body of Weeper.

Hege’s mind calculated instantly the possible cause and effect of the scene and the events that led to it. Deo had not made contact so the siege was ongoing, communication lines being scrambled. Weeper dying would have caused an outburst from Jan, one that easily could spell Deo’s end. Again, no contact from anyone meant that somehow Deo had finessed out of the blame or come to some sort of agreement. The implication that Weeper was killed before they could breach the walls. 

Hege knew what a body preserved in ice for weeks looks like. The state of Weeper’s body confirmed at least that much. 

“Come, my lad. I’ll help you bury the dead.” Hege said solemnly, thinking through everything as he reacted naturally. A wrong move could spell his death, though not likely. Hege had the sense he was missing something important but he needed more time to think.

Jan nodded dumbly, barely cognizant.

They walked out together, Hege leading the way. It would be foolish to ask any questions about the siege or Weeper’s death. Hege saw some glass on the floor. It appeared Jan just obliterated one of the bullet proof glasses to get in. The aura of pure anger was visible around Jan in the form of a dark haze, a result of his Aspect.

Hege’s caution was correct.

They took the elevator to go down ten stories. The tension in the elevator was extreme but Jan made no complaints despite being able to fly.

He’s just a boy, thought Hege. He needs company.

Hege and Jan left the building and went to the place where Weeper spent the most time with her undead partner. Hege made two assumptions. The first being that an interaction between Deo and Jan had taken place after knowledge of Weeper’s death had been received. And two, that after such an interaction occurred Deo sent Weeper’s lover to the usual spot and released control of him. 

Seeing the body there would confirm that theory. 

Jan’s silence was disconcerting as it gave Hege very little to go off and made the Seravim Aspect more unpredictable.

This observation led Hege to believe that Jan displayed similar behavior in front of Deo. Reconstructing a hypothetical interaction, Hege predicted Jan had been in a sort of calm rage. Deo gambled that the right thing to tell Jan was to recover Weeper’s body as soon as the walls were breached and to go back to Ophir and bury them together. It’s what Hege would have done.

Hege and Jan came upon a lifeless, unmoving and unanimated body laying serenely on a plot of grass in the park Lorrely spent her time.

That confirms the second theory.

Hege stopped walking as Jan continued. The angel laid Lorrely beside his brother and made their hands touch.

“You are together again.” Jan told the corpses softly. 

This was the first time Hege was behind Jan and he saw how the path that Jan took had decayed. Grass, flowers and insects dried up and turned brown, crumbling in an instant. 

The fact that Jan could kill Hege in less than a heartbeat did not escape the former crime boss. He puffed on his cigar.

“I’ll grab shovels.” Hege announced. Jan did not turn around. He was bent over the bodies of the two people in the world dearest to him.

With so much construction and renovations around, Hege swiftly found a tool shed with a few shovels. He grabbed two.

Something in this equation was still missing. Hege felt this instinctively. His life of surviving in the underworld and a passion for strategy and management gave him expert situational sense and street smarts. 

“It’s best to bury them by hand. It’s more personal that way. No powers.” Had Hege meant those last two words any other way than as honest advice, Jan would have killed him, sensing Hege’s fear or attempt to catch Jan off-guard.

Both knew this without the need to speak about it. Hege retained his cool.

“I’ll help. Burials are terribly lonely affairs. Physical labor helps get the emotions out.”

“Okay.” Jan said. Hege set his cigar down on the armrest of a bench and handed Jan one of the shovels.

They worked efficiently removing the dirt. Jan dug mechanically, his dark wings dragging in the mud. Hege kept attacking the problem. He couldn’t shirk the itching feeling in the back of his mind. A glance at Lorrely’s body revealed multiple gunshot wounds. A few minutes later Hege risked another glance. Her face was etched in sorrow. She’d been killed while using her power, concluded Hege. 

Then it came to him. The thought struck him so suddenly that he almost gasped. Jan noticed the slight change in Hege’s pulse. 

“Hit a large rock.” Hege said nonchalantly. “Help me lift it out.” The rock was actually there, but its location was slightly out of the way.

Jan didn’t seem to notice or care. The rock was heavy and took several minutes to muscle out.

“This will go on top.” Jan decided after they rolled it out of the hole.

“Aye.”

To some extent, this situation was a setup. That was the thought Hege had. It scratched the itch in his mind. Lorrely’s death was premeditated. 

But by whom? Jan would’ve killed Deo if it had been him. The Seravim Aspect’s senses were enough to sniff that out. The motivation didn’t add up with what he knew of Deo on top of that. Considering the original plan to send a few Specters to infiltrate Vallis, it had to be one of them.

Arvin was newer and likely wouldn’t have the depth of information to understand the delicate emotional state Jan would enter upon Lorrely’s death. Hege wanted to rule out Arvin but the kid was obviously psychopathic and violent, there was no telling what he would do or why.

Bubonica and Klea have been around since the beginning and therefore would know not to mess with Jan or Lorrely. Bubonica certainly had an almost zealous loyalty to Deo and would kill someone that didn’t benefit Deo. Lorrely had no reason to betray Deo as far as Hege knew, but with little else to go on couldn’t rule Bubonica out quite yet.

They were almost done digging. Less than a minute Hege guessed.

Klea was cunning and secretive. Hege had not figured out her motivations or agenda yet. 

Think, man! Hege yelled internally. Look at the evidence and make a deduction based on what’s knowable.

Hege stepped out of the pit, throwing his shovel over first and climbing out. Jan took a nearby tarp covering some metal equipment and threw it down. He brought his brother into that final resting place, stayed a moment and committed Lorrely next. The pit became a grave, the two locked in an eternal embrace. Jan wrapped the tarp over the pair.

Of course! The presence of bullet wounds made the killer an ambiguous figure. The direct killer wasn’t important, a misdirection. It revealed who wasn’t responsible. Not Arvin because there were no spider bites and not Bubonica because there were no teeth or claw marks from rats. If the true killer left evidence behind Jan could take revenge. The evidence was in the lack of concrete evidence.

Klea, the Veil Aspect, it had to be. Everything clicked.

Jan and Hege finished shoveling the dirt back in the grave. Jan rolled the boulder to mark the mound. He stood there in shock and disbelief.

“You should say some words. There should always be a witness to a eulogy. It’s how the dead can live through us, in our memories.” Hege told the angel.

“I… don’t know what to say.” admitted Jan. There simply weren’t any tears left in the boy to cry.

Hege stayed silent, not pushing him.

Jan spoke again after a moment. “Each other was all they had in the world, and they were all I had in the world.” Jan struggled to say more as the words choked in his throat. An angel with no one to protect, his sole purpose in life abandoned him and two meters below ground.

Hege cast aside his own emotions, the ones that made him an empathetic creature in a cruel planet. 

Sorry, Jan, for this next part, Hege whispered mentally, like a prayer.

“It is tradition among the human race to lament those we’ve lost with strong drink the night you bury them. It will make you forget bad things.”

“I need to be numb.” Jan’s voice was cold, deadly.

Hege reached into the inside pocket of his suit and procured a small flask. Hege took the first sip, a courtesy when offering strange drinks.

Jan accepted and tried a tentative sip. “I like this, it tastes like licorice.”

“Absinthe. The best in the world, imported from a brewmaster who lives on the Brother continent. It’s three thousand dollars an ounce and ten times that much just to ship it.”

“Oh,” Jan reacted.

“Used to drink this in my younger days more, now I just keep it out of habit.”

“It is divine.” Jan expressed.

“We are drinking it wrong, though this is so expertly distilled that you would never notice. It is supposed to be poured slowly over a sugar cube in a glass of water.”

“I think straight up is best.”

“Aye, can’t beat the simple ways.”

They passed it around once more and Hege started to notice the edges on Jan’s face soften. He became more talkative as well.

“What is this dent here?” Jan asked after investigating the flask post sip.

“Stopped a bullet two decades ago. The only gift from my father, that gun proof flask.” This was the moment when every single action became exponentially calculated. Where before Hege was cautious, now he relentlessly went on the offense in the psychological warfare that Sages thrive in.

Hege started with opening up, providing anecdotes and stories to keep the conversation alive but he didn’t delve too deeply into anything so there was no cause for alarm in Jan having to deal with someone being overly comfortable. It was the exact conversation that fit the mood and setting, a routine Hege had performed a thousand times to a thousand different people. Gestures, camaraderie, the lowering of guards as inebriation kicked in. Naturally shifting the topics, feeling out the limits that conversation can be pushed too. In his element of psychoanalysis perhaps Hege had no equal. There was the subtle drawing of poker cards, slipped out from a pocket as something to fiddle with unconsciously. It pulls the eye to the patterns in the cards, mesmerizing the looker reinforced with thujone. “Let us play a game.” they always say, enthralled by the shuffling card tricks.

“Ah, that’s an excellent idea!” a casual thing, allow them to feel as if they came up with the suggestion.

“What should we play?” they ask. 

Nothing too direct or competitive. Nothing overly familiar, select something intriguing and captivating.

“How about Screw?”

“an odd sounding name, how does one play?”

Shuffle the deck and split it in even piles. One for each player. “Take turns flipping a card onto a center pile here. The play goes back and forth until an A-B-A pattern called a sandwich or a double is on the topmost card. The first person to slap their hand on the pile of cards adds those to their own deck of cards. Play continues until someone has accumulated all fifty-two cards.”

“Let’s do it!” another round of drinking.

“Oh there’s more to the rules. A slap without one of the valid patterns will cost you the top card from your pile to be placed at the bottom of the center pool.”

“So if you are quick enough you can land a card to disrupt your opponent from taking the pool!” Jan exclaimed.

“Exactly. That is where the name of the game comes from. You are meant to screw over your opponents by adding cards to disrupt a valid slap, even at the cost of claiming the pile for yourself.” Hege started dealing out the cards. “The last rule requires any face card drawn, jacks, queens and kings, to force your opponent to play two cards on their turn before slapping. This means it gives you a chance to slap the pile while they complete their sequence if a double or sandwich arrives. If not, the game just continues as normal.”

“I got it.” The thrill of a reactionary and more active game appealed to Jan, as Hege assumed. Nothing to think about and something based less on luck and more on skill. 

Hege maintained conversation and they played casually as Jan got a feel for the rules of the game and the pacing increased slowly over time. Jan grew more drunk and started to play more aggressively. The pool size was worth a greater amount as the speed of the game picked up. Slaps were buried under an intense card flipping sequence where the pace of one player had to outmatch their opponent. A player had to flip a card over without thinking, to overwhelm the opponent or opponents.. The physical speed side of the game was just one dimension to be considered. The observational and rhythmic dimensions were just as important. Memorizing how many copies of a single card already in play gave an edge. Keeping track of every previous two cards helped to catch sandwiches. For doubles, the strategy was to screw the other player until there is a moment in which their rhythm is interrupted and a slap can be secured. 

So the piles grew larger with each sequence. Jan had superhuman speed and reaction skills that seemed to perform just fine drunk. The bigger the pile the more rapidly the game changed favor. An exchange of half the deck could spell disaster for the loser of that series. Ground would have to be made up by slapping on early patterns so that the player with the smaller pool wouldn’t run out of cards in the middle of a sequence, costing the game in a blowout.

Hege subtly started to amass a majority. The win would have to be casual, sudden and without an expression or que beforehand. Jan may decide to kill Hege on a whim or because he didn’t want to lose.

Hege felt a bead of sweat go down from his forehead to chin. Not good. Someone like Jan can smell fear, the natural hormone produced by the body during times of stress. Hege’s cigar burned stagnantly on the bench and the strength of the absinthe should overpower the scent of sweat. 

Without warning, though unnoticeable, Hege put in effort to win. Experienced with cards and cardistry, Hege outmatched Jan in the simple game in every way but speed.

Hege pushed Jan in the direction of a speed game, so that Jan did not feel as if he couldn’t win. Jan sensed the change enough to be up for the challenge. Speed versus technique. 

Their rate saw multiple cards per second with valid slaps slipping under the torrent of new cards. Hege purposefully ignored the opportunities to take the pile and instead drove the game faster and faster, drawing Jan into the trance of speed. Hege’s deck had the majority by seven, enough to outlast Jan.

Before Jan figured out what Hege was doing he ran out of cards to play. Hege slapped the pile with lightning reflexes.

He activated his Aspect. “Hegemony.” 

The right bestowed upon a victor to rule the conquered. The law of the dominant. Hege’s Aspect, activated once a mutually agreed on game is completed. A power only usable once on an individual and only after the very first game between the two participants. Win the game and Hegemony can never take effect. Lose and be beholden to Hegemony in a sworn fealty.

Jan’s sword was a hair’s breadth from Hege’s neck. Jan reversed the blade and offered his hilt.

“My sword is yours to command.”

Incredible, thought Hege, between the ‘he-’ and the -ny’ Jan realized what was happening and attempted to kill him.

“Rush back to Deo and protect him.” Hege ordered.

“At once.” Jan bowed and unfurled his wings, taking into the air in a blur of speed.

Hege found his cigar and relit the end. He sighed in relief and felt all the tension leave his body. 

Hege deduced it was Klea the Veil Aspect who killed Lorrely, through an indirect influence. Klea’s thought process was that Lorrely restrained Jan’s potential and reduced his willingness to be Deo’s bodyguard. On top of that Lorrely’s death would trigger Jan into a violent rage. Klea made the judgement to kill Lorrely far from Jan, the siege being the only plausible chance.

“How long have you been planning that?” Hege asked himself out loud.

Still, Klea’s loyalty to Deo was no longer in question, at least for the time being. She wanted to secure Deo a bodyguard and the best way to do that was killing Lorrely, betting that Deo could handle Jan’s bloodlust long enough for the obvious course of action which was for Jan to return to Ophir with Lorrely’s body.

Straight into Hege’s hands. Klea’s second big gamble was that Hege remained loyal to Deo. In fact, it was safe for Klea to assume so. Hege was Deo’s right hand man and the only person with Deo before Ophir was conquered. 

This was as much a mutual proposal of expressing loyalty to Deo as it was a way to ensure Deo kept the most powerful bodyguard. That bodyguard went under Hege’s command but to Klea that was still better than losing Jan completely.

The spider webs of strategy and psychology connected Klea to Hege through Deo and Jan. Hege rested his eyes before delving too deep into where this will lead and how to move forward.

That, as the greatest of philosophers will often say, is a problem for another day.

*****

Deo gazed in consternation at a lone warrior fighting through mobs of his undead. Deo sent them in by the hundreds and he personally saw countless death blows delivered to this warrior.

“Impossible.” hissed Deo.

He tried having his undead smother the warrior, hold him down, stretch him apart, bludgeon, beat and bite him to no avail.

Deo refused to move from his spot.

“I will not run!” Deo said defiantly at the flight mode his body struggled to initiate.

The warrior was invincible. Not through the strength of a Master or the skill of a martial artist but a cheat in the form of his Aspect.

The warrior would force his way through anything Deo threw at him. At less than twenty meters, Deo commanded the undead to be as difficult and stubborn as their preservation lasted. The warrior, knowing how close he was to Deo, grew frustrated when he could no longer gain a step of ground. Deo manipulated his undead so that they piled together in a wall. Corpses interlocked hands, feet, elbows, thighs and torsos to form a barricade. Meanwhile the undead kept pressing the warrior’s button by attacking him in petty ways. Deo had some grab his ankles and ragdoll, doing nothing but clinging as undead weight. Others simply stood in front, unmoving and non aggressive. Still others head charged, slapped, jumped on and shoved the warrior until he grew so frustrated that a vicious sweep of his bardiche cut Deo’s corpse wall to pieces. The warrior looked at Deo with eyes of steel and raised his shotgun. He fired while visibility of Deo remained amid the corpses tumbling and flying about.

By the time the trigger was pulled a new wall was already forming and the bullets hit undead flesh instead. 

Deo would stall for hours, days, he didn’t care. Being able to micromanage how the undead fought against this warrior proved an effective method at stopping his advance altogether. 

The intensity that the bardiche dispatched corpses never seemed to hit a limit. If Deo sent in fifty undead then fifty undead would be crushed. A hundred saw the same results. Two hundred saw a bit of a delay and so Deo constantly replaced those to fill the ranks of his endless army. 

The warrior appeared to never need to reload his shotgun, which Deo knew to only have two shells in it at a time. Ammunition supply was apparently not an issue either. The warrior fired off shots of his brutal double barreled sawed off while the other hand destroyed undead by the tens with each swipe and strike.

Deo’s revolving door of undead streaming in and the heap of bones they contributed to obstructed the path from the warrior to Deo. It was becoming evident to the warrior that he would never reach Deo. 

Deo sensed his desperation in the way that his wild swings no longer efficiently killed and his shots fired too many times in the same place, wasting a quarter of a second here and there. 

Overwhelmed, the warrior fired on himself multiple times to blast undead that clinged to his back or other limbs. He sustained no damage, despite there being a clear wound.

Deo was reminded of old computer games in which there was always a code that disabled death and removed reloading and munitions. The warrior’s Aspect was essentially the equivalent of a real life godmode cheat. That was Deo’s observation and conclusion. To defeat such an Aspect, Deo would merely hold off the warrior close to him. The mental duress of not being able to finish off Deo must be extremely taxing, knowing the metropolis and all the lives inside were on the line, depended on that final charge to kill the enemy leader.

Deo acknowledged the efforts of the warrior, making a note-to-self how close Vallis got and the ill advice of Garriot and Kiasmus that such an effort by Vallis had less chances of success than drawing the siege out.

But no one knew Vallis had such a strong Specter unrevealed. Deo was impressed.

The warrior shouted in fury and changed tactics. Instead of killing his way through, he’d out maneuver the undead to break through. 

The warrior dodged a lunging undead by leaping up, he used the head to push off and made to climb the wall of the dead. His boots made for a better grip than the decayed feet. The warrior moved faster than Deo’s corpses could climb it.

Over the mound of bones, the warrior jumped as far as he could, using the bardiche’s blade as a landing pole. It had the double effect of clearing enough room for the warrior to plunge the blade in the ground, staying upside down in a handstand on the handle end of the bardiche. Using his momentum he swung forward, pulling the blade out of the ground and somersaulting through the air. His shotgun cleared a landing to the undead unable to 

The measly twenty meters separating them was now only three, just like that.

Deo stayed seated, leaning back in the bone chair under the willow tree atop the hill.

The warrior ignored all the undead trying to move and block him.

His eyes fixed on Deo’s. A step forward and the bardiche went up and then down.

Before the warrior could make the killing strike to the unmoving Deo a screeching noise disrupted the delivery. The warrior’s weapon still landed, but in the dirt a finger’s length from Deo. The Seravim Aspect had clenched the warrior and carried him into the air, throwing him across the sky. Jan reached the warrior in mid-air and slashed him multiple times before sending him crashing down with a powerful thrust.

Jan flashed to the warrior and hacked at him before he could find his bearings. Jan held nothing back in his flurry of strikes. But the warrior just wouldn’t die and Jan screamed so loudly and high-pitched that a brief pause stilled the battles over Vallis.

That same moment Deo ordered his undead to cease fighting across the entire city. 

Deo caught up to Jan. “It is over,” he said in a commanding voice.

Jan looked to Deo with pleading eyes. The eyes thirsted for blood. “It is over, Jan. You have my gratitude for saving me.”

This gave pause to Jan. His fury disappeared and the extra wings retracted into his body. The aura faded out and Jan let out a sigh. He realized his new purpose in that moment, to be Deo’s fallen angel guardian.

“Restrain him and follow me.” Deo said, noticing the change in Jan but not questioning it.

The warrior slumped in Jan’s grip, unable to break free and exhausted from the massive use of his Aspect. It deactivated naturally as the impetus of battle froze and ended.

Deo reached the spot in the city where most of his Specters battled Bisult in one on one duels. 

“Enough.” Deo told his soldiers. Garriot was about to make his second attempt against the enemy general. Deo noticed Garriot’s nose had been broken and fixed recently. Kiasmus even looked worn out, and Veinbreaker had a huge wound being tended to.

“You have made a mess of my Specters.” Deo addressed Bisult. The one eyed brute, a mountain insurmountable. 

Bisult and the warrior possessed the same indomitable spirit.

“They are young and inexperienced.” explained Bisult, mockingly. It was not lost on Deo that Bisult failed to finish off any of his Specters. The man was nearing his limit, if such a thing existed for the Yarak Aspect.

“Unfortunately I am a busy man and your fun must be ended.” Deo told him. “Surrender please, and the siege is over.”

“I’ve not yet finished, you see there are still enemies in the city.” Bisult replied conversationally.

“I estimate there are just under ten million human alive in Vallis right now. Should you not surrender, that number will be reduced to under three million. Less than I allowed in Ophir.”

This gave pause to Bisult.

Deo continued. “You will be taken alive as will this warrior. Refuse and that warrior dies first.” Bisult saw Paradice, unconscious near the angel that had supposedly left the city half a day ago. 

Deo spoke more. “You and this warrior will be taken to Ophir as prisoners to await judgement. I do not wish to kill either of you, to me you both are valuable Aspects.”

Bisult cursed to himself. Anger and fury at the loss of a siege he knew from early on couldn’t be won. 

Defeated, Bisult accepted surrender. He couldn’t let Paradice die like that, unconscious and defenseless. Bisult already planned in his head that they would recover their strength and assassinate Deo and his Specters.

“Kiasmus, escort them to the prison.” Kiasmus had created a bone prison that could walk as well. Bisult and Paradice were put inside.

“Take them to Ophir,” he told Garriot, Veinbreaker and Carn.

There was an unnatural silence in Vallis, between Deo’s soldiers and the inhabitants of Vallis and the unmoving undead. 

“We have work to do still,” Deo told Kiasmus. The Bone Marrow nodded. Multiple broadcasting crews were gathered to record an event, Deo’s ritual of the damned, the circus of sin. 

Surviving citizens were herded like sheep led to the slaughter in gory sacrifices and torturous mutilations. The half moon above and the ritual pyres below revealed the scene of frantic humans wailing like animals and the grating sound of gnashing teeth was somehow the most prevalent audio heard in the video recording.

Deo fulfilled what he had imagined, a terrible sign for the rest of the city-states as the broadcasting reached world news. Vallis in ruins, mocked and humiliated on footage.

Deo did not keep up with the news once the rituals were finished, having lasted for hours. Vallis was haunted now, violated. No one would see the city as human anymore. It was Deo’s way of performing rites of conversion. Officially claiming ownership of the metropolis. Unvallis.

Deo decided to take a nap under the willow tree before the sunrise. 

He would need plenty of light to raise all the dead people. 

The end of Arc 7: Dance, Skullheads

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