Chapter 61 Petalwrecker

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Title: Archaeologist Discovers NEW Talis Cave

Body: Received another update in the translation. Here it is:

Talis’ new part. Is he predicting something, warning? It is ominous. See for yourself.

“The punishment of folly is the gallows holly, weaved into a basket inside lies your head, ah! So now it is a casket. Leave nothing unsaid, perhaps you’d rather be dead?”

Comments (3)

Anonymoose [commented]: I wouldn’t believe this if anyone else posted beside twotongues. Twotongues is reliable.

Dolerolo88 [replied]: This is huge right!? WIll there be another Aspect revolution? We’re already in the middle of one but still…

CvarichSeven [commented]: Covering up world changing information is definitely some Garghent type shit.

Logging off…

Hales collapsed on her bed back in her home, relaxing for the first time since the siege, since the desert and the first mission. Her siblings were gone, attending school so she spent the day alone watching tv and unwinding. It felt good to do nothing but eat ice cream all day and forget about the military for a short time. She’d have to go back in tomorrow for mostly administrative work and strategy meetings. 

Hales pulled a blanket over her shoulder as a cool breeze waded in from the window. She heard dried leaves rustling in her room. She looked over but the window screen was on so leaves couldn’t have entered the house there.

Then she saw the leaves were actually flower petals. Decayed and falling from the vase where she kept the flowers Deo had given her. The preserved flowers that never fully died.

Odd, she thought.

She inspected all of them. The marigolds, tulips, petunias, daisies, hydrangeas, irises… they were falling apart even as she sifted through them. Not a single one remained preserved.

She grabbed the bunch and stuffed them in a backpack, causing more petals to crumple apart.

Hales left the house and went to the one place she knew more of the flowers were. 

Her mother’s grave. She remembered the day she bought three of the dead lilies from the flower shop Deo sold to. If those flowers were no longer affected by Deo’s Aspect then…

She didn’t want to think about that possible explanation. 

Walking through the city, with petals trailing from her pack, a sense of dread growing as a pit in her stomach.

She turned a corner, passed through traffic, walked another two blocks, turned again and used a shortcut through an alleyway. She emerged at the cemetery and half-ran to the row and column her mother’s grave was located at.

Hales found it and kneeled down, checking on the flowers set as offering. She hadn’t been here in a while and the other flowers were indistinguishable from Deo’s. All were dead.

She gathered the dead plants and gently placed them in her bag alongside the remaining ones from her house.

Wandering around the city, she found herself back at the little glade with the river and bridge and the field of flowers. The winter months were rolling in soon so most of the flowers here were beginning to hibernate, awaiting the next spring.

Hales made her way to the bridge and let the nostalgia wash over her. She didn’t dwell on the past long and neither was she sad about it.

It felt good to remember. Most of life is forgetting and ignoring. Deo was a part of her life and now was not.

He wasn’t dead. This she knew. Hales could feel Deo’s spirit, for pieces of it had entered into her when their love ended. 

But he no longer used his Aspect for flowers… 

Hales dumped her pack over the edge of the bridge, allowing the wind to carry the scattered fragments of long-dead flowers into the river and watched as they drifted out of sight.

“Oh Deo,” Hales whispered. “What have you done?”

*****

Deo stretched his legs and arms, free at last of the tight bus that had taken him from a town in the southern part of the continent north-east to the metropolis Ophir.

Its walls are where he stood in front of now. What he knew of Ophir was that it was among the smallest cities on the continent and the most isolated out of them all. It had a population of about twenty-five million and was known best for its games, from professional sports to lavish gambling houses. Ophir, the place to escape from the normal world into one of leisure and luck. 

The city was rife with organized crime and wealthy aristocrats escaping the law. Huge banking firms accepted any form of currency from around the world and served as an excellent place for business owners to stash wealth away from the prying eyes of governments.

Ophir didn’t lack government, it’s just that it was a free market, and rule was divided into multiple districts that constantly fought for power and expansion. The most interesting thing about Ophir, to Deo at least, was the lack of military struggle. Any conflict was handled vicariously through games and events, aside from mafia and gang related violence of course, those were not officially sanctioned. If a turf dispute, patent, business venture, building or anything at all was contested or challenged by one district to another, the outcome was decided upon by a game or series of games, organized by a nonpartisan firm that acted as de facto law, police and referee. This was a place where wars were fought in terms of basketball and poker, paintball and chess. It was as if the whole world had assigned a particular location where humans could gather and play games carrying the same weight as subterfuge and battles.

Being a free market, any random citizen could start from the bottom, learn a skill, play that game, earn money, gather a team of like-minded people, purchase property from the winnings, and thus form an empire and solidify their stake in the city, eventually becoming a major district worth billions. Of course the average startup that was actually successful never made it past an acre or two of land, but the possibility was real.

Most of the talented players were content working for the big leagues owned by the major districts, they left the political side to the managers, the people who played their games in terms of bureaucracy and civics. 

Others talented in different crafts found wealth as chefs to feed good food to tourists and the players, trainers to train, physicians to fix injuries, private tutors to teach the next generation, hotel owners to accommodate traveling teams, agents to set up opportunities, journalists to report every single article of relevant news, staticians were a major job at Ophir as well and bodyguards to protect the assets. Basically any job that players and their constituents would conceivably need or want.

During his time in the Palaot Islands, Deo had seen two beetles wrestle for the choice spot on a log. When one finally bested the other, thrown from the log, that was it. The other beetle, dejected, would leave to find someplace else. The wrestling was exercise for the beetles as well a bid for property. They never intended to kill or maim each other, it was just their way.

Ophir was like those beetles. Playing games for the best spot to sit.

Entirely neutral in the world’s affairs, like a microcosmic culture of human pointlessness, Deo thought. It was the perfect city for him to go to.

Entering the city was easy. They didn’t care for background checks, just so long as one had money to contribute to the economy. A good thing in this case since Deo would likely be listed as a deserter of Garghent. No other city would be as indifferent, especially now since any Garghent soldier was considered public enemy number one, and any deserter would be ransomed back to Garghent for them to carry out punishment. All except Ophir, which lacked the care for such trivial things.

The ratios for betting were taught before the moral questions of right and wrong.

That was the city in a nutshell. On the surface it was still just humans going about their days, eating, working, sleeping. 

Deo found an expensive hotel with rooms high up and purchased one for the night. With the money from his parents that he had been accruing for years meant he could afford any luxury he wanted, at least until the funds ran out. There was a greater purpose in staying at one of the wealthier districts but he had a few errands to run before concluding his night on a real bed and a chance to bathe. His main priority was to buy some new clothes. Nice dress clothes to blend in with the wealthier citizens here. He explored around the city and found the layout to be much less organized than Garghent’s had been. Here in Ophir, it was all about personal endeavor, no grand plan or central government. Just people scheming to construct the best counties and communities at whatever cost.

In every single store or restaurant were televisions projecting the various games and activities that the day offered. Rolling headlines on the bottom confined the secondary news like world events and technology updates and local stories.

The people were intense. Deo realized not a single person here wasn’t trying to achieve higher pay, reach the upper leagues and obtain fame. Ophir, perhaps, displayed a more honest human nature than any city on the planet. Living here meant a determination to sell the soul of not only one’s self but one’s friends. This Deo gathered in the first hours of exploring and watching.

It was the kind of data he wanted.

In a high fashion consignment store, Deo selected one casual suit he liked, new shoes, a razor and other supplies of hygiene he had been without for the last couple months. 

He brought them back to his hotel room and began the process of grooming. Shaving off the stubble on his face and washing his hair. It had grown longer, down past his eyes which he’d grown comfortable with. He did trim it a bit but kept the unruly style of his natural dark hair. Trying on the collared shirt and complementary coat, he decided the midnight blue color scheme worked in his favor. The saturation was low enough so that it did not shine excessively. The faint green lace designs added to the contrast that deepened the purple of his eyes into a nightshade chroma. The pants, though slightly too big, fit with the coat and shirt decently. The shoes and belt matched in obsidian black. Deo wasn’t entirely satisfied with the overall outfit, but it would do for now until he could tailor the clothes and remove and add features to his taste.

Unused to the more fancy clothes, Deo realized he needed to grow accustomed to wearing the suit. He ordered from the bar a glass of the most expensive mixed drink from the menu. 

A quarter of an hour went by before a waiter knocked on the door, formally dressed and professionally mannered. The waiter offered the drink, asked if anything else was needed and bowed when he left after Deo’s dismissal.

The seventy dollar drink fit the server’s attitude and the theme of the hotel. High society, ruling class type people. At some point Deo would have to mingle with the other humans here, but for tonight, he’d enjoy the glass of whatever it was he was drinking alone in his room, letting his mind process the city and its characteristics and habits.

Deo made a mental note to learn the names of the fancy drinks and artists, designers, architects, craftsmen, chefs, the most famous players and richest districts. The names, as per the pretension of the upper class, intentionally hard to pronounce and convoluted in structure. It’s a basic psychological barrier to separate rich and poor. 

Deo’s aim right now was to learn these psychologies, study Ophir and its inhabitants. 

Sipping on the drink, Deo recalled the meeting with Kiasmus on his return trip from the shaman. 

This one, like his first meeting before the shaman, was brief and to the point.

“Deo, you live!” Kiasmus greeted, failing to hold back a satisfaction filled with malignant undertones. Malignance not directed to Deo but to the swarthy Palaot Elder’s interests.

Interests which Deo understood.

“You will call me lord.” Deo said, without warmth or passion, simply matter-of-factly.

“Ah, it will be as you say, lord.” Kiasmus’s voice was tinged with loathing, this time directed at Deo.

“You will call me lord when I have domain.” Deo continued, finishing his previous statement.

“So it is true. Sumedi has given you purpose and prophecy.”

“What I have is of my own. And what you want I will give. When I summon you, when I have domain, you will swear fealty to me and call me lord. Then you may have it.”

Kiasmus cared little for such pathetic ego-boosting titles. No one truly ruled anyone except through war when the throats of the weak were pressed down by the boot of the victor. Land and lordship were ideals for the simple-minded.

Kiasmus’s eyes glinted avariciously.

“Bones.” 

“All the bones in the world. I will bring them to you.” Deo kept his voice even and low.

“I hope so, Deo.” Kiasmus fell silent after that, lost in the reverie of whatever wicked power his Marrow Aspect could do with the sheer amount of human corpse Deo offered.

Deo left the Palaot Islands after that. He decided the temptation of killing the old innkeeper he met when he first deserted Garghent was too great and skirted around that town. 

But here he was, a few short months after leaving everything behind, with nothing to lose.

Deo had landed in Ophir, the city of games. He hadn’t fully fleshed out how, but somehow, in some way, the city would become his. His mind worked on multiple solutions at once, branching in various directions of possible cause and consequence, action and reaction.

What a perfect starting point to play my game, Deo told himself.

Deo watched the city he would make his domain from the balcony, and talked to the nearly empty glass of liquor he nursed in his hands.

“Did you know that even some flowers cannibalize their kin?”