“We were promised a hundred and fifty acres of land to begin farming!” shouted a stout and bearded farmer.
The other in the argument held a finger up. “Which I am not disputing. You will get your land but I staked the claim for my textile factory before you. I am simply informing you that half of your land will need to be pushed further east.” The second man was tall and clean shaved.
“Bullshit! You know that land to the east is too near the coast. It’s unworkable! Your factory can go anywhere, farmland is delicate.” The farmer was red in the face and clearly had the more reasonable argument for the land but under the current rules placed by Deo, the factory owner did have the legitimate rights.
Deo regretted taking this quarrel. He’d agreed to hearing disputes in the moment as Hege and his team were swamped with their own cases. The migration of Vallis’ remaining population proved a million times more hectic than previously imagined. It wasn’t a complete disaster, there were just far more snakes and rats trying to take advantage of the situation, such as the factory owner.
Deo knew his goal. The location didn’t matter to him, but he could pretend it did long enough to extort benefits from Deo as compensation for giving the land up. He was after the compensation from the start. He knew when he requested the space for his factory that it was prime farmland.
In truth, it was Deo’s own fault for not paying more attention to sectoring the land based on more specific parameters such as farming versus factory work instead of business versus housing.
Ophir’s dwindling coffers would pay for that ill prepared mistake.
The two continued to plead their cases, the farmer not even aware he was being played to increase the value of the factory owner’s scheme.
Deo forgot their names even as they shouted them out to each other.
If it wasn’t absolutely essential to get the economy of Ophir up and running Deo would have executed the factory owner, possibly the farmer too depending on his mood. But the reports proved they were both successful in their respective fields. Deo needed aptitude. He’d endure this headache and a hundred more for the broader prosperity of his empire.
Deo waved his hand, signaling an end to their arguments. They went silent. Deo was speaking to the factory man. “You will give the land to the farmer. How will your business endure without good quality raw materials? That land is prime for farming and so it should be used for that reason. I understand you have your sights set on that plot of land, in return perhaps a deal can be struck between your two businesses. I propose that product purchased from the farmer be at an exclusive price, permitted it is fair to the farmer.”
The factory owner clapped his hands in delight. “I believe that is an amicable solution.”
Of course you think that, that was your goal this whole time you snake, thought Deo.
“What do you say?” Deo asked the farmer.
“Either my land is robbed or my profits are.” Grumbled the farmer. “Why should I enter a business relationship with someone like this?”
The factory owner remained silent. Now he appeared to be the calm, reasonable one.
“You should do it because your yields there will far surpass the price cuts. Anywhere else is going to be a struggle to break even at first. You want the best land in the area, it is a small compromise.” Deo thought for a second. He didn’t want to be oblivious to the unfairness of the shrewd factory owner. “Perhaps any textile related equipment you need for your business can be specially supplied by the factory.”
The factory owner narrowed his eyes briefly but returned to character. “We would be honored by that.”
Deo could taste the honey dripping from those words.
“I agree to that.” The farmer said.
“Excellent. I am glad we could come to a compromise. I will send someone to set up a meeting to hash out all the details. You are dismissed.”
The two men bowed and departed.
One of Deo’s administrators who keeps records of what’s said cleared his throat. “The next feud comes from-” Deo cut him off.
“That is enough for today. I am enfeebled by malaise sitting here listening to small minded men who have never once had an original thought in their lives.”
“Very well, lord Deo, shall I dismiss the waiting line?” The administrator asked.
“I am going for a walk. If you wish to handle the cases yourself, I will trust your judgement. You may speak on my behalf.”
Deo didn’t bother listening to the response. He frankly couldn’t care less right now. All these people were going to be the same. They were competing with each other like fools. Deo needed a self-sustainable empire. Their competition were the other metropolises of the Sister continent.
Teaching a businessman altruism was like asking a boulder to roll itself up a hill. They are incompatible as fundamental principles of the universe.
Deo descended the stairs behind his throne. Jan appeared behind him as his bodyguard.
Strolling through his city, Deo was proud of the work they had done. The reconstruction of Ophir would take time to finish but the city had been cleaned of filth and trash, both human and waste. This city will never succumb to the crudeness that plagues the other city-states. The dead will not rot in the streets or in graves. There was a place for every citizen whether they lived or died.
Winter was fast approaching and with it a lull in any military excursion. This would only benefit Deo as he secured his border and built up his infrastructure with the newcomers from Vallis. Garghent should have acted but whatever strange thing preoccupied their military would prove to cost them dearly. It would have been their best chance to conquer Ophir and own almost half of the Sister continent.
“They should have made me a general when they drafted me.” Deo laughed. “Oh Garghent, enjoy this winter, for you will not see many more.”
Deo was fond of the cold. He found pleasure in the shivering chills and wailing of the wind, the trees bereft of leaves and the desertion of life. The emptiness in the land during winter always gave him peace.
He wandered for an hour or more when ambulance sirens disturbed his thoughts. He made his way to the source. Near the walls of Ophir a makeshift hospital was being set up. Canvases and tents blocked the view while the whirring of heaters added to hurried voices centered around an ambulance truck with a number of doctors scrambling about.
There were several young medical interns standing guard outside the tents.
One was about to speak but then saw the angel standing near Deo’s approaching figure.
“L- lord.” he stumbled over his words.
“What is this?” Deo asked.
He swallowed hard and nudged his buddy to say something. “There’s an emergency pregnancy, sir, um I mean lord.” They were nervous, probably instructed to bar anyone from entering the premises and not expecting the ruler of the city to make an appearance. They couldn’t have been any older than Deo himself.
“We’re not sure. She came from the wilderness, and looked like she had been traveling a long way. She’s in bad shape.”
The first man added, “We got an emergency call from a hunter who was outside the walls. We drove out to pick her up but it turned out she was a nurse and said that her baby needed to be delivered immediately, that something was wrong.”
“The head doctor is trying to deliver the baby right now, she’s doing everything she can. It’s too delicate of a situation for us rookies so after we got the tents up we were told to stop anyone from entering.”
There was a series of pained screams. “Where is she from?” Deo pressed. It was not a normal thing for a heavily pregnant woman to travel for days, possibly weeks to a city with a ruler with the kind of reputation he had. Deo was intrigued.
“Garghent, lord. Her identification said she was from Garghent. A nurse by the name of Annana Wes.”
What was a pregnant nurse doing fleeing from Garghent just to come to Ophir? “Thank you for explaining. I will wait for the delivery before entering.”
Deo could tell one of the interns wanted to argue against that but decided to keep quiet.
Deo found a place on the grass to sit while he waited. Jan stood expressionless but faced the tents and ambulance, clearly interested and concerned.
“I wonder what she is doing, so far from home.” Jan questioned out loud, in a rare display of verbal communication.
“Garghent is filled with hounds. They must have sniffed something out.” Deo said, not with disgust, for he had done far worse to many more people, but with a simplistic disdain for the city and humanity in general.
It happened randomly that there was a sudden silence. A tragic silence. Deo had the thought that such things took far longer, hours of painful labor birthing new life and usually the melody of a crying baby broke such a silence.
But there was nothing. It was like this for some time.
“What has happened?’ Jan asked.
“Let us look and see.” Deo stood and entered the premises of the makeshift hospital. No one stopped him from entering. The team of doctors were busy with cleanup and looked dejected and beat, shock and exhaustion written on their faces.
An older woman, Deo assumed this was the lead doctor, met him before he neared the truck.
“She’s passed out. We did everything we could but the baby boy didn’t survive. He’d been strangled by the umbilical cord by the time we arrived, poor thing. We spent hours trying to deliver him and finally hook him to life support but it was too late by the end. We needed to have tended to the mother a week ago.”
“And what of the mother?” Deo inquired.
“Malnourished and exhausted, not just from the labor but her journey must have been a month long, at eight months into her pregnancy. She will recover, heartbroken but alive. Who could make someone go through that!” The doctor sniffed back tears. “It is not common for a lord to take interest in something like this.”
“I am interested in everything that happens in my city. I am grateful to you for trying, it is a pity nothing could be done by the time you reached her.”
“Yes, and if you don’t mind lord, we must clean up and monitor the mother awhile.”
“I will not be long, but I must speak with her.”
“Lord, I insist. She needs rest.”
Deo did not snap, but he was firm. “You are a midwife, and deal with bringing life. I am the Aspect of death and deal with the end of life. The delivery failed. Make way and give me privacy.”
Reluctantly the doctor backed off. Between the curious purple eyes and the unspeaking angel there was nothing she could do or say, stunned to silence. She moved off, keeping busy and ensuring no one disturbed them.
Deo and Jan opened the flap that covered the open ambulance truck. The mother, Annana, lay asleep on a mattress in the truck.
Deo nudged her shoulder. She woke up without much effort.
Her eyes opened slowly. Deo looked into them, immediately seeing two different irises. One iris was red like brilliant ruby and the other strangely uncolored, like smokey quartz. Neither represented a normal eye.
Jan glanced at Deo, noticing the peculiarity too and what it usually signifies.
“Who are you?” She asked after wiping the fog from her mind.
“Deo, the lord of this city.”
Annana’s voice broke. “My boy…”
“I know. I am here to offer you the chance of preserving its body.”
“I want my baby alive.”
“That is all I am capable of.” admitted Deo.
Annana chuckled dryly. “She said you’d welcome me.”
“Who did?” Deo asked.
“The lady Hales.” Annana searched Deo’s expression when she said the name. She found nothing. “I thank you for your offer. I believe it is wrong. I will let my baby rest peacefully in the soil. He led a difficult and painful life.” It took everything for Annana Wes to not break down again, well that wasn’t true. It just took one thing…
“Why did you leave Garghent to come here?” Deo wondered.
“I worked as a nurse for the Specters of Gaghent’s military. They wanted my baby. They thought he would have a higher chance of awakening an Aspect. Their logic was animalistic. The way they looked at me.” She almost spat the words out. “I chose to leave because I dared not let them touch my baby, using him as a weapon for violence. I know what Garghent does, how they groom them young for powers and war.”
“You are in remarkable shape for what you just went through. According to the doctor you should be asleep for the whole day, yet you are sharp and I see no signs of ill health.”
“It is odd. Physically, I feel better than I ever have my whole life. I am devastated by anguish but I feel guilty for not being worse, you know? I know it’s just chemicals in the brain but I can’t help thinking if I was really this healthy then the delivery should have been fine.”
“Did you give the baby a name?”
Annana furrowed her brow. “I think I was delirious leading up to and throughout the labor but only one name comes to mind and it’s hardly befitting of a boy’s name and really I don’t know what it means or why I thought of it.”
“What is the name?”
“Sounds archaic.” Deo commented.
“Is it wrong to leave my baby boy nameless?”
Deo shook his head.
“I remember, before you woke me up, I had a dream I was in a field of dandelions with my baby boy, only he was four. We were playing and I think that dream has given me some peace.” Her alternate colored eyes filled with tears.
“Can I ask, Miss Wes, have your eyes always been like this?”
“Like what?” Annana asked, puzzled.
Deo looked around for something reflective and handed it to her. Annana looked at herself in the mirror, bewildered by the eyes in the reflection. “I… no. What is this?”
“I fear you may have awakened an Aspect.”
Deo shrugged. “Who can say?”
Annana looked at her eyes again. “This is… I can’t believe this is happening. What should I do?”
“Call to it. Activate your Aspect. Focus, and say the name engraved in your heart, in your mind.”
Annana closed her eyes. “Obyzuth.” She whispered. She could sense something present within her. A glow, a mass. It took up space in her mental. There was more, a second glow, like a sprite. She could touch it with her mind’s eye and feel it’s light bathe her in a showering engulf. The sprite shrunk in size after she did this.
Visions flashed before her. Knowledge of an experience incomprehensibly foreign and still beautifully familiar. The life of a child growing inside a womb. Her child.
It knew many things. It felt waves of energy, patterns of noise and color and light and thudding and nutrients and great warmth and a billion brilliant twinkles feeding into a single, smaller spark that flashed and disappeared as it had done an infinite number of times before.
Her baby knew one word, not the physical word but the notion of the word, the noesis of a word. It leapt unbidden in her mind. One simple syllable. Ram. What is Ram? Or, who is Ram? Is R Am? I Am R Am. The letters were words and the words dispersed into ideas and the ideas coalesced again into words and the sounds had shape and the shapes were language.
Annana felt her head dizzy, the sheer scope of her mind expanded beyond its physical size, though she felt like she was shrinking into nothing but a mind, a ceaseless thought that thought forever all things.
She opened her eyes, wresting herself from a deep and bottomless meditative state. Reality appeared once more before her. She felt wisdom, the sort that derives from an experience in which all previous understanding of the world crumbles to ashes and those ashes to dust.
Is this enlightenment? The access to knowledge that always was.
“Funny how my eyes changed color but it wasn’t until just now that I see through them differently.”
“You experienced your Aspect.” Deo said it as a statement, though it could have easily been heard as a question.
“I absorb the dying and the dead. Their power and energy, it feeds into me. I can experience their force, their light… And my baby. He awakened an Aspect too, right before the end, while he was still a part of me. He gave me his Aspect as I absorbed his life. I bear two Aspects and now all I can think of is vengeance.”
Deo chose his next words carefully, always precise in his tone and pace. “There is a place for you here, under the allegiance of my throne.”
“I am fated to be a sutra for nothing but war. Did I escape Garghent only to be used here?” Her eyes buried all their sorrow and in their place was an unbridled craving for sadism.
“You will not be a tool or a weapon. You are Annana Wes, and your dreams will become my dreams and your enemies will become my enemies. This promise I make to all who serve me. Garghent will fall. That I vowed to myself and to the world. You are fated to be here. I control the dead, commanding their will and preserving their corpses. But as I kill, you absorb. I have another Specter who uses bones. There will be no waste of life. Our conservation law of death, the efficiency of a shared commodity. It is a rare thing indeed to find an Aspect that synergizes with another. I have found two.”
“Deo, I do not even know who I am anymore. I need to rest.”
“I will arrange a place. You are free to leave or stay at your discretion.” Deo turned and left without another word. Jan followed.
Deo headed back to his throne, craving his seat. “She will join. There is nothing left for her in Garghent. They will list her as a criminal and defector.” In truth, Deo thought that such a power, though he knew no details to how it actually worked or what it did, was more than perfect. It was not enough to just kill and use their corpses. In some cases it seemed like a waste. Annana could remedy that loss of resource.
And what potential power lay in the absorption of a million bodies? Ten million? Was it even possible? Deo’s mind could not help thinking through it as he reclaimed his seat on the throne, reclining comfortably. The sun was already setting as the days grew shorter. The administrator was gone along with the line of waiting disputers.
“Jan, I will talk to Hege and tell him to remove his power over you. You will be free.”
“Thank you Deo. I will stay by your side. The anger in me is not directed to you or to Hege. I know Lorrely’s death was not your fault. You were kind to her, but she had gone a long time ago. It is the world’s fault. That is my enemy.”
“Aye, and the world will pay its wergild, the full weight of humanity.”
The end of arc 8 Defoliation