“Garghent.” Spoke Deo from atop the throne, lounging against the backrest with one arm propping his chin up
“What?” Garriot asked, confused and unsure of this place or the man with the purple eyes talking.
“You were saying ‘this isn’t…’ You were going to finish with Garghent, am I wrong?”
“So what if I was?” Garriot challenged but muttered something to Goblin after.
“Garghent is a tyrant city-state and my enemy.”
“And you are?” Garriot said as he fidgeted with the Orgblade, the massive weapon leaned on him as he leaned on the handle.
“I am Deo, the lord of this land, once the city of Ophir.”
Garriot saw to the left of Deo was a young man with wings and a drawn, black blade. All around the platform were people, devastatingly sick and wounded but somehow still standing, staring blankly in whichever direction they happened to be facing. Further in the distance, among the rubble of what was left of Ophir, Garriot noticed thousands, no, hundreds of thousands more of these still-standing people.
They all in harmony turned face to Garriot.
“Deadz!” cried out Goblin, clearly unsettled, as Garriot was.
“You brought us here!” hissed Garriot. He ignored the dead people vacantly staring at him and addressed Deo.
“I appreciate the warm welcome, but we were just on our way.” Garriot lifted his sword with a grunt and started to leave.
“You will not be leaving.” Deo’s voice was stern, threatening.
Garriot sighed. “Why not?” knowing it was hopeless.
“I will not kill you, you have my word on that.” Deo continued, leaning forward in his throne. “But I do have questions for you.”
“Ask away.” Garriot relented, resting his sword.
“What is your name?”
“Hello then, Garriot. Welcome to my domain. Would you like wine?”
“Aye, make it strong though.” Moments later a dead person brought a bottle of wine to Garriot and another brought a chair for Garriot and a stool for the creature. Another corpse brought Deo a glass of wine.
Garriot took a long swig of the wine and settled into the chair.
“That creature at your side, it is part of your Aspect?” questioned Deo, curiously. He sipped his own wine, enjoying the bitterness.
“Goblin is his name, as is the name of my Aspect.” Goblin snorted after hearing his name.
“A volatile creature?” Deo picked up on the obvious contempt Garriot seemed to have for Goblin.
“Unpredictable.” Garriot corrected and took another large swig. Garriot rubbed his sore nose before thinking a question of his own. “You mentioned Garghent as a tyrant city-state, what makes you say that?”
“I say it as it is.”
“Eh? All the city-states are tyrannical, but they exist in relative peace, that is the way of things.”
“Have you forgotten the Siege of Garghent or the conquering of Daedal?”
“Huh?” Garriot cursed under his breath.
Deo tapped his fingers on the arm of the throne. “How did you get here?”
Garriot shrugged. “The green bastard sent us here, on accident.” Goblin said something in retort but it was unintelligible to Deo.
“From where did you come?”
“It is a place in my Aspect.”
Deo thought about that response and sipped more wine. “If you only just returned, then how long were you gone for.”
“Two long, damned years.” Garriot knew there was no point in hiding anything, not with a whole army surrounding him.
“Ah! That explains it all. Let me fill you in on what you missed. An alliance of several cities formed and launched a massive siege on Garghent, they were the Coalition of the Sister. Their army was millions strong and their purpose was to destroy Garghent as they anticipated aggression from your city. The Coalition was defeated resoundingly in the proceeding siege, crippling the militaries of many of the cities. Garghent, with the military prowess of half the continent, made their play and occupied Daedal. They prepare for the next city.”
“Garghent was attacked by an alliance, the unspoken agreement is that no alliances can form on the Sister continent. Taking Daedal is part of the price for such an action.” Garriot replied in an instant and took in Deo’s words after.
“The existence of the Coalition of the Sister is the first indication, because as you said, no alliance can form on the Sister continent. Garghent orchestrated the war, turtled its defenses in order to weaken the other cities as those cities threw soldiers into the trenches and onto the walls uselessly, providing Garghent with adequate justification in the conquest of Daedal and thus the beginning of a long campaign to rule the Sister continent.”
“You have proof of this?” Garriot scratched the scruff on his chin.
“It is not something I can prove but something I know to be true.” answered Deo.
“Clearly a man of science.” mocked Garriot.
Deo smiled. “I am a student of strategy. Garghent’s plans are precise and brutal. Why else train dozens of Specters a year if not for war?”
“True, but if you had a problem with war I doubt you would have claimed Ophir as your own. Perhaps you are the tyrant, my friend.” Garriot decided he needed to stop drinking and so only took a partial swig.
“Of that there is no doubt.” Deo’s eyes flashed. He brought the glass to his lips and back down again. “I am a tyrant like no other before. I will see the fall of the human race, death in the hundred millions. Ophir was the first. My legion is sixty million strong. We march on Vallis soon.”
“You are telling me this, why?” Garriot belched.
“I have need of a war general. Someone trained professionally, preferably without morals.”
Garriot chuckled at the offer and the reality of the latter part of Deo’s words.
“So you will go back to Garghent, to be a hound for your masters. They will not trust you, as I am sure they believe you dead. Here, Garriot and Goblin, here you can live freely whatever hedonistic life you choose. As you can see there is real estate aplenty, your choice of property, rank, wealth-”
Garriot cut in.“Women.”
“As I said, no morals. We are a damned race, Garriot, for I have damned us all. Live how you please is my offer, in return all I need from you is your ridiculous sword when battle arrives.”
Garriot shrugged, undecided. “There doesn’t seem to be any living people in your wonderful paradise.”
“Five million humans live here, across three different sectors within my city. They are loyal to me and live comfortably.”
“Garghent’s military outclasses yours, I guarantee it. You’ll be crushed like the bastard you are as soon as they decide you’re worth stepping on.” Garriot looked at the bottle of wine and saw that it was halfway empty, the top bit having found its way into his bloodstream.
Deo stiffened slightly. Jan, who remained silent the entire time saw the change in Deo and prepared himself.
“I think I’ll be on my way if you haven’t more questions. Lord.” Garriot stood and half-bowed, insultingly.
“I’ve changed my mind. You will not be allowed to leave Ophir alive.”
“A man of science and his word.” Garriot grinned, knowing he’d struck a chord.
“You plan to cut your way through sixty million of my corpses?”
“You wouldn’t have sixty million after you killed me.”
Deo stood from his throne. Garriot held a hand up. “Tell you what, I’ll fight that angel for my safe passage.”
“Was that going to stop you from sending your corpses after me?”
“Fair point.” Deo turned. “Jan, do you wish to duel him?”
Goblin snickered. Garriot dropped his pack. Jan unfurled his wings.
“Doesn’t talk much does he?” He set the wine down after a good luck sip. “Ready when you are, welp.” Garriot said with narrowed eyes.
Jan took to the sky in a flash and zipped down to Garriot. The Orgblade came up and not only deflected Jan’s attack but repelled him physically, causing Jan to skid across the platform as the shock from the clash all transferred to the lightweight angel.
Deo sipped more of his own wine.
Jan got up and approached from the ground this time, moving in swiftly and lunging. Garriot swung the Orgblade. Jan was counting on Garriot to parry that lunge but knew the momentum would leave him exposed for the follow-up strike. What Jan didn’t count on was his sword shattering on the impact.
His eyes grew wide and Garriot spun with the impetus, sending his blade smashing into Jan’s side. He oriented the flat of the blade, only using blunt force. Jan found himself collapsed on the ground with the giant sword resting on the floor next to him, point first, centimeters from his neck. It required only a forward tilt to decapitate him. Jan remained still.
“I almost feel bad for the poor bastard!” Garriot said to Goblin with a laugh. “He thinks he can conquer the world with kids and dead people!”
“Big think.” Goblin croaked.
“Yes. Big think. He is that.” agreed Garriot.
“No think.” Goblin tapped a bony finger to his conical helmet, but was referring to Garriot.
“A little harsh, Goblin. But you’re right. Big think and no think would go well together, wouldn’t they?”
“Goblin like!” The green creature was prancing excitedly. Garriot eased off his sword. Jan immediately fled, flew back up to the platform beside Deo.
“I failed lord.” Jan was looking at his sword hand where the handle and broken blade still remained.
“You did not. Failure would have been killing him.
“Lord?” Jan kept his eyes lowered.
“Had you killed him then that would mean he was weak and therefore useless to me. I also knew you were in no real danger if, as he proved to be, was strong. I can tell he will join.”
“What’s to stop me from killing you and taking that pretty throne myself?” Garriot called to Deo.
Deo gestured to his army of undead.
“I am under the impression that those dead people are commanded by you.” Garriot waited for Deo to nod. “Then it follows that if I kill you before the dead can kill me they will no longer be able to attack.”
“The distance is too great for you to reach me, and I see that there is no weapon on you capable of that.” Deo replied.
“As I just proved to your bodyguard, I am more than able to carve my way to you.”
“My undead have guns.” Deo said simply.
“You and the angel boy have seen what I can do, but you do not know what Goblin can do.”
Deo’s eyes were unblinking. “So what is your move?”
“Perhaps I’ll order Goblin to throw a fireball at you and be done with the whole thing.” Garriot pondered.
“Jan can easily step in front.” Deo countered.
“Possibly,” Garriot said. “But Goblin can be very generous with his fire, isn’t that right?” Goblin snickered. “Is that a risk you are willing to take?”
“I like you Garriot, so whenever you are done pampering your ego and ready to pledge allegiance to me…” Deo left it at that.
“He’s not taking us seriously Goblin. Throw a fireball at him.” Garriot ordered.
“Goblin tired.” complained Goblin.
“You piece of shit.” Garriot sighed. Garriot grabbed the bottle of wine again and downed a quarter of the remaining drink.
“So what, I just say you have my sword and you’ll make me general of this damned wasteland and your fake empire?”
“I have never met someone who is as much a reflection of their Aspect as this crude man here is with his volatile creature.” Deo said to himself as much to Jan.
“I heard that! And what is your Aspect, Deo lord of the wooden chair?”
“There’s the first word you’ve said all day that makes me want to be here. Death. A man could do worse than be death’s general. The bastards at Garghent just want to see me yap at their feet like a hound, you weren’t wrong on that.”
Deo ordered an Aliver, an undead capable of speech and relatively ‘normal’ cognitive function, to bring a meal from one of the chefs.
“Some food to go with the wine?”
“Human food?” Garriot asked.
“I have rat food if you would prefer.”
“It’s been two years since I had real food!” Garriot couldn’t stop smiling at the thought of something other than goblin gruel.
“Tell me, Garriot, where have you been for the last two years?”
Garriot needed to think before answering, though this particular place didn’t seem any less rundown than Goblin’s World, he was in fact back on his own planet. The sun was red, the sky without giant hawks and the ground free of stampeding borguspines.
To Garriot, coming back and being treated like a king was no less than he deserved. Garghent would hardly bat an eye for the returning Specter, especially not having graduated high school they would make him take his final year. More training and drilling with old veterans trying to relive their youth vicariously through him.
Truthfully, Garrriot had no love for Garghent. He was not the same person he was two years ago and he knew his friends wouldn’t be either. Being free of Garghent’s controlling schemes felt good, it gave him perspective and to have such a thing as loyalty to a place unchosen by himself from birth was senseless. He wanted to make his own path, choose his own battles and find his own glory.
Perhaps too much of the goblin warlord mentality had wormed its way into his mind over the last two years, but here was a new empire with a young ruler dedicated to conquering the world. Any army of sixty million, if that number is to be believed. Garriot guessed there were more Specters beside the angel, who was rough around the edges but held immense power. In short, Deo likely had an army to match all others.
No rules, no old bastards shouting orders, no assignments and workout routines, no responsibilities. Garriot was twenty now and ready to live a life of pleasure and battle. The life of a goblin. There was another factor as well. The zhoulba. Garriot did not know how Garghent would react to that creature. He could easily see them taking it to do tests and experiments. Here, Garriot had free reign to raise it as he pleased and access to all the fatty foods humans are notorious for.
That very kind of food was brought at last and Garriot still hadn’t answered the last question but realized he needed the sustenance more than ever. The smell reached him first as a wooden table had been set up where multiple trays of food were laid out. Another bottle of wine was opened and this time there was a glass for Garriot to use, which he did not.
There were assortments of fruits, breads, cheeses, professionally cooked meats, chocolates, steamed vegetables and dessert pies. Garriot ate furiously.
After a few minutes he remembered the question and washed down a mouthful of food with another mouthful of wine.
“I was in another world.”
Deo poured himself another glass of his own now that the conversation was resuming.
“I am not sure I believe in alternate dimensions.” He stated.
Garriot wiped his chin. “Well, lord Deo, it’s not really up to you believing in it or not. But it’s not an alternate dimension. It’s a subnatural world.”
“I am not familiar with that term.”
Garriot ate a few more bites before elaborating. “Think of it like the world in a book.”
“A fantasy book?” asked Deo.
“Could be.” Garriot said with his mouth full. He swallowed. “Every story, movie, book, whatever, exists within its own subnatural world.”
“I don’t quite follow.”
Garriot wracked his brain looking for an explanation. “Think of it like an imaginary world but one that lives separately from your thoughts. Once a subnatural world is created, all the characters and world become alive. It is below natural but different from supernatural.”
“Ah, this is a philosophy.” Deo was more interested in the concept now.
“I don’t know about that. But my Aspect can take me to this subnatural world that exists only within my Aspect. I call it Goblin’s World and it is very much real. I got my sword from it and lived two years on its food and could have died there.”
“This is fascinating. When you are gone, does it continue?” Deo pressed.
“Aye. There are wars, simple politics and wildlife and changing seasons. I could return next month and find out that a village I had seen before got sacked or a warlord no longer leads.”
“Goblin is the only way you can reach this place?”
“Yes and the few times I have been to Goblin’s World he took me there without warning. Only the most recent time had I been gone for longer than a day or few.
“Which was two years.”
Deo let his mind wander for a moment as Garriot caught up with his food. “You were trained by Garghent’s military. Do you happen to know of the Class of the Savant.”
“Greatest damned group of Specters. Or at least that’s what they told us over and over again.” Garriot tore a chunk of bread and cheese. “To be honest we probably are. Individually we are all strong, or supposed to be, not like I’ve seen anyone in two years. The point is, twenty some Specters trained by the deadliest Master class Aspect and given elitist education and access to the best equipment and facilities with health and fitness professionals attending every session is going to produce a one-of-a-kind group.” Garriot cleared his throat. “You are from Garghent?”
“I am.” admitted Deo. “I realize that I recognize you. You participated in the Tournament.”
“That’s where I disappeared this time around.”
“I remember now, against someone with a beast.”
“I’m going to finish that fight one day… I don’t recognize you, though.”
“I was not at the Tournament, I watched it online.” Deo said.
“Ah what another life that time was.”
Deo raised his glass in agreement.
“Who won that thing?” Garriot asked.
“Let me think. The final was between another in your class, the Solar Aspect and someone else, sand or something. I don’t fully remember his name but he ended up winning.”
“Hales? Forgot about her. Not bad. Clever gal.”
Deo took a couple consecutive sips.
“I was thinking, lord.” Garriot pounded his chest as he choked on bread. “Not used to eating that stuff. Anyways I was thinking, maybe you shouldn’t have your… palace.”
“Ziggurat.” corrected Deo.
“Ziggurat out in the open. You’re an easy target for a sniper, especially if there are hills within a kilometer or two. Garghent has some snipers who can make that shot.”
“I will not hide myself in walls. The land and air is mine.”
“Just my first advice as a general, suit yourself.” Garriot was slowing down and just started picking for the choice bites of everything. “You’ve not appreciated good food until you eat goblin food for two years.”
“Goblin I start like food.” quoted Goblin in an imitation voice.
“Shut up! When all you’ve been given is broth and small game your taste buds adjust.”
“I can imagine Garghent is hurting after losing such a ferocious Aspect.” teased Deo.
Garriot shrugged. “The green bastard does as he pleases.”
“When you are finished, Garriot, I will take you to the administrator of my city. He will prepare whatever you need.”
“One thing actually. Did you happen to leave alive a biologist or a chemist?” inquired Garriot.
“The best in every field was spared, barring the occasional unfortunate fatality.”
“Excellent! I am ready then.” declared Garriot.
Deo stood. “Do not get too comfortable in your new home for we march on Vallis soon.”
Garriot stood as well and retrieved his sword. “I have learned to make a boulder as soft as a pillow, do not think I will grow fat and lazy.” Garriot decided to bring the wine bottle with him. “Oh and for the record, I like goblins more than people.”
Deo smiled, understanding the implication. Garriot found no issue in waging war against humanity on an ideological basis.
Deo felt more and more pieces come together, like fate itself bending to the will of his throne, the sovereignty he so demanded giving returns in the form of the most ample Aspects, conveniently given like offerings from universe to throne, throne to man.
Vallis should be feeling the precognitive chills, the abstract paranoia that a great evil is approaching to waylay ruination, thought Deo as he bordered on hysteria, ecstasy. Someone, at least one person, if not all the inhabitants, should feel this interia of doom building, for Vallis was the most populated metropolis on the Sister continent with 87 million humans. To think of razing such a place was a high on its own for Deo, lord of the wooden chair.