“Moooooooommmmmy! Momma! Mom-mom-mom-momma Mia Mama!”
The chanting voice drew Joselyn from a deep slumber. Eyes opening as her mind oriented itself away from the dream to the real world, she found herself, as most mornings, waking up in an incredibly comfortable, silk sheet-covered bed. The bed itself was located within what had to be one of the most beautiful bedrooms on the face of the planet. Floor to ceiling glass doors led out to a balcony to her right, while a walk-in closet the size of most apartments was to the left. Paintings, mirrors, entire statues, and more signs of absurd opulence filled the rest of the nearly six hundred square foot bedroom, with a ceiling that was fifteen feet up. It was an absurd size.
As her head lifted from the pillow to look straight across from the bottom of the bed to the double doors that stood open, Joselyn found the source of the call. Ammon. The boy stood there, framed in the doorway with a smile on his face as he announced, “I brought you breakfast!”
With that, he snapped his fingers. Four figures moved past the boy, two to either side as they came into the room. Three of them were carrying trays laden with food, while the fourth carried three different pitchers of fresh juices. They moved quickly and efficiently to stand on either side of the bed. None moved a muscle once in position. And without fail, each looked utterly petrified.
Slowly, Joselyn sat up in the bed, pulling the sheet with her so that it continued to cover her form. She was not allowed clothes when sleeping. Not that Fossor spent many evenings in the same room, or even that many in the same house. He was most often elsewhere, carrying out his plans or enacting his various vengeances. But his rules remained in place regardless, and one of them was that Joselyn was not to wear clothes to bed. She was, in fact, not allowed to dress herself until Fossor himself gave permission, even if he had to do so over the phone.
At a certain point, she had been able to make that particular rule almost meaningless, as she only required perhaps a half hour of sleep per day. But Fossor had begun siphoning energy from her for some project, meaning that she now required at least four. She still wasn’t sure how much of that was because he had an actual project that required her energy and how much was simply because he was amused by thwarting any attempt she made at working around his rules.
Either way, she had to sleep for at least four hours each night depending on how much his secret project took out of her that day, and during that time she was not allowed any clothes. It was, by that point, just another small indignity that continued to amuse the man who had enslaved her. One more thing that he controlled. One more thing that he made her ask for.
“Ammon,” she spoke carefully, choosing her words the best way that she could while shifting the sheet a little so that it covered more. “I don’t recognize these particular servants. Are they new?” It never ended well to be confrontational with the boy. Not anymore. Particularly as she wasn’t allowed to discipline him anyway. She had to be careful in how she spoke to him. Not for her own sake. His ability wouldn’t work on her, and she could quite easily overpower him if need be. But because he would take his frustration out on others, and she was not allowed to stop him.
“I haven’t decided yet,” the boy replied simply, chewing his lip for a moment in thought as he stepped in and walked slowly up to the end of the bed. Gesturing, he explained. “They were mean when I got to the restaurant, so I had to make them see that they were bad. But now I kinda like them. And it’s not like they have any customers to go back to. Or a restaurant.”
Despite herself, Joselyn flinched inwardly a little bit. Right. No wonder these four looked so traumatized. She didn’t know exactly what Ammon had done. But she had the general idea already, and had absolutely no desire to have any specific details spelled out. A quick glance over the gathered quartet revealed little. They were all dressed as servers in nice black slacks and crisp white shirts. Two were female, the other two male, one of each standing on each side. The females were noticeably attractive, which Joselyn prayed was a coincidence. Once Ammon began hitting puberty, with his… abilities and lack of any kind of remorse or even a basic understanding of empathy… bile rose in her throat, and she had to look away for a moment. But only for a moment. If Ammon thought that something had upset her, he would lash out. Not at her, but at these four. He would think that they had done something, somehow. He was never cruel to Joselyn purposefully. He… in his own way, cared for her. At least as much as he was capable of, after what Fossor had done to warp and mangle his psyche. Some part of Ammon still remembered loving his mother, so he repeatedly tried in vain to recapture that feeling. He tried so hard to remember the good emotions that his father had stripped away from him.
Forcing herself to smile, because to do otherwise would bring tears, and Ammon’s anger at the people around them, Joselyn extended a hand. “Do you want to come up and help me eat this feast?” she asked, trying hard not to let her hand tremble from the rage that she felt at Fossor.
Ammon’s own childish smile was bright, and not put-on at all. He clambered up into the bed, crawling up quickly and settled in next to her before imperiously ordering, “Dessert first!”
Swallowing hard, Joselyn put a hand on the boy’s head. She leaned down, smelling his hair for a moment. God. Oh God. She remembered how he had been. She remembered the boy before… before all this. She remembered his sweetness, his curiosity about everything. Her son. Her beautiful, amazing, wonderful baby boy. And now she had to wonder every time she saw him, how many people he had murdered, how many lives he had destroyed.
He’d asked her enough pointed questions that she knew he knew about Koren. The new Koren, her granddaughter. How much else he knew, she wasn’t certain. But she did know that he hadn’t told his father. Why, she wasn’t exactly sure. But he hadn’t. Not yet, anyway. For whatever reason, the boy was keeping that particular information to himself.
She wished so much that she could believe it was for a good reason. But she knew better. Whatever was driving her son to keep Koren Fellows a secret from his father wasn’t anything good. And the thought of what he might be up to, what his twisted, broken mind might conjure up…
Out of sight of Ammon, with her face against the top of his head, Joselyn allowed a single, solitary tear to fall as the captive restaurant staff prepared to serve their meal.
The roar of flames filled the air as the male fire elemental flew straight toward Joselyn a couple hours later. As he approached, his heat scouring the floor it was flying over top of, she dove to the side, rolling before popping up to her feet. The second she was upright, the elemental was already pointing that way, a geyser of flame erupting from his outstretched hand. It came so quickly that all Joselyn could do was jerk her entire body backward as far as she could, allowing the fire to roast the air right above her nose. The heat was so intense that it would have melted her eyes in their sockets if she hadn’t already possessed enough resistance powers.
The room that they were in lay deep in the subbasement of the mansion.It was, essentially, a fighting arena, complete with stands for an audience of at least a hundred people. The arena itself was circular and about a hundred feet in diameter, with a forcefield that contained both the violence and any stray powers. Set right next to what would be considered the ‘owners box’ in the middle of the stands was a screen showing a time that was currently ticking down from ten seconds in yellow numbers.
That had to do with another of Fossor’s rules. He arranged these tournaments, forced her to fight these Alters that he had… acquired. He would throw them into this pit and have them attack her. Sometimes only one, sometimes many. The clock showed how long Joselyn had to survive before she was allowed to use any active powers. Technically, there were two countdowns. When the numbers were red, it meant that she wasn’t allowed to fight back at all, only evade and stay away from her attacker(s). When the numbers were yellow as they were right then, she could fight, but was not allowed to use any active powers. And when the countdown hit the single green zero, she could go all out.
Fossor, for all his arrogance, didn’t want her to become a mindless murder-addict. He wanted her to work for him, wanted her to serve him. But she would be less effective at that if she was addicted to killing, which would happen to any Reaper-based Heretic who killed too easily too often. Kills had to be earned. If he just had her walk from cage to cage killing one Alter after another, it wouldn’t be long before she completely lost her mind and became little more than a beast. He could get one of those from anywhere. But he only had one of her. Hence these tournaments, these actual fights and all his rules about making her earn each victory, each kill.
The stands themselves were about a quarter full. The twenty-odd people who were watching were a mixture of Ammon’s… pets (four of which were the restaurant servers he had just abducted that morning) and a few of the living beings that Fossor himself kept around to serve him. The vast majority of the beings on the grounds were dead, zombies given specific instructions and tasks to perform by their necromancer master. But there were about a dozen of the living variety, those whose tasks were too much to entrust to mindless zombies. The ghosts weren’t mindless, but interacting with the physical world was taxing. So there were the living servants, though they were just as enslaved to Fossor as their deceased companions.
Three quick fireballs were shot through the air at her. She pivoted around one before leaping to twist her body so that the other two would fly past either side of her. In mid-air, the clock hit that green zero, and she inverted. Her fist lashed out, turning blue as a curtain of ice enveloped the wave of flames that the fire elemental had been pushing toward her. The elemental quickly rose high into the air, above the ice wall so that he could fire (literally) down at her.
But Joselyn wasn’t there. Appearing on top of the wall of ice that she had created, almost directly behind the elemental, she extended her hand. As he spun, a wave of cold from her fingers enveloped the figure. His flames were instantly doused, and his red-orange body turned pale white as he was frozen solid.
A quick kick from her shattered his body into a thousand pieces, which rained down over the arena while Joselyn’s golden aura flared up.
There. It was done. Not all of her training for the day, but at least the last one that she had to kill. Joselyn dropped to the floor, looking to the stands as the gathered witnesses began to move away. All save for one of the restaurant employees, a young woman who sat in the stand by herself, staring at Joselyn while looking terribly alone and lost.
With a soft sigh, she approached the girl. The forcefield had lowered as everyone else made their way out to go about the rest of their duties (or find some other entertainment). “My son didn’t give you any instructions?”
The girl had a slight deer-in-headlights look, swallowing audibly while staring up at Joselyn. She was pretty, with short raven-black hair that was cut just past her ears and an innocent, naive face. Joselyn thought that she looked a fair bit like Phoebe Cates in those Gremlin films.
“J-just to stay in the building,” she answered quietly, her voice shaking a little.
“What’s your name?” Joselyn asked, her voice as gentle as she could make it.
The girl answered, whimpering just a little as she did so. “J-Jenna. It’s Jenna.”
“Jenna,” Joselyn repeated, nodding. “Why don’t you come with me? I have a little solo training to get through, then I was planning on visiting the library. Neither of us can leave the building, so we might as well stay together.”
Blinking rapidly in an obvious attempt to avoid tears, Jenna nodded while stammering, “Okay. But… but y-y-your son, he’s… he’s a…”
“I know,” Joselyn spoke simply, her voice softer than ever.
“Believe me, I know.”
“Well, my dear, how was your day?” Fossor’s voice was sweet, no different from any other husband and father as he took his seat at the obscenely long dinner table. Beside him, one of his reanimated automatons poured a glass of wine for its master.
“Three,” Joselyn answered flatly, not yet moving to touch her own plate even as Fossor immediately began to dig into his steak. “I killed three of them today.”
Beside her, Jenna moved to copy the actions of her dead counterpart beside Fossor. Joselyn had managed to convince the man and Ammon both to let her keep the girl with her for the time being. She had no idea how long it would last, but she would do everything she could.
The bottle shook a little in the terrified girl’s grip. It would have spilled, which itself would have drawn the ire of the monster at the end of the table, and Jenna would have been killed. But Joselyn carefully and subtly extended just a little of her power, taking control of the liquid as it fell and guiding it to land smoothly in the glass regardless of where the actual bottle was, or how much it was shaking.
“Well, it sounds as though you kept yourself occupied, at least.” Fossor nodded once before launching into his actual point. “I had quite the busy day myself, of course. So many small fires to put out and larger fires to create. Exhausting, really. But…” He paused with his fork in midair, a chunk of meat held in the tines. “The more interesting part is that it seems our girl is making quite the name for herself out in Seosten space.”
Felicity in Seosten space. When she’d first heard that, Joselyn hadn’t been able to contain her panic and terror. The things that those creatures could do, the things they would do in order to get the information they wanted.
Information, apparently, that had to do with why Felicity was immune to them. When that little tidbit had initially made its way back to Fossor, he had taken her straight to his Writing Room and made her answer questions for over an hour trying to find out how that had happened. But the simple truth was that Joselyn had no idea. She hadn’t had to try to hide anything from him about it, because she didn’t know. She had some vague idea that it might have been Gabriel’s doing, of course, but no hard facts. Not that that had stopped Fossor from putting her through the wringer until he was satisfied. And even then, he hadn’t been very happy about it. About not knowing, that was. He found the fact that she was immune hilarious and useful, but not knowing why ticked him off something fierce.
Pausing then, she looked up to meet the man’s gaze as he stared at her knowingly. “You heard something else from Crossroads?” She chose her words carefully, because whether he was getting information from his spy in the school or from somewhere actually within the Seosten Empire was important.
Chuckling, making it clear that he understood exactly what she was asking, Fossor ate three more bites of his steak. He moved slowly and deliberately, obviously enjoying dragging out the conversation now that she was interested. She was always interested in hearing about her daughter, even if it had to come from him. And he knew that.
Finally, the necromancer spoke. “It seems that our little girl has managed to create quite the ruckus. She’s freed a group of slaves from their prison camp. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite good enough to stop that Isaac fellow from subsequently murdering a good number of them. Also, that bothersome… Catsarein man?”
“Katarin,” Joselyn murmured, remembering the man well.
“Of course.” Fossor spoke the words in a way that made it clear that he didn’t consider the name important and had already dismissed it. “He was murdered by that delightful Isaac child. If he survives his trip out there, it might be fun to invite him over for a playdate with our boy.”
Our boy. Our girl. His. Fossor always made a point of claiming ownership over things that he had decided were his.
And now Ulysses Katarin was dead. Murdered by the psychopath that the Seosten had been nurturing and cultivating. The thought of that… thing traveling with any of the others, let alone her daughter, made Joselyn furious. But it also terrified her. Hearing that he had killed Ulysses, that just… It was another loss. Another in a very long line of them that showed no signs of stopping.
She sent a silent apology to the man’s spirit, wherever it may have been, that she had been able to do nothing to help him. The pain… she set it aside, put it into that special lock box deep in her soul where it would wait for her to have time to actually grieve. Not in front of Fossor. She refused to show that kind of emotion in front of him.
So she still had no idea where he was getting his information from. The necromancer played most of that close to his vest, despite his enjoyment of showing off how much he knew about Felicity’s life. Joselyn was reliant on him for almost every scrap of information about her own daughter, and he delighted in that fact.
He was not, however, privy to the information about Koren, either the new one or the woman who was now Abigail. Nor did he know about Wyatt. So whatever his source was, it wasn’t as informed as it could be. And he had not yet managed to ask the right question in their Writing Room sessions for Joselyn to give that information up. Either that or he did know but was deliberately not bringing it up in order to give her false hope. Joselyn had long since stopped trying to guess when he was playing those sorts of games.
But as far as she knew, he didn’t know about those three. For the time being, they were safe from him, though she was sure that wouldn’t last. And the thought of what he would do when he found out about Abigail and Koren in particular… it brought bile to her throat and rage into her heart. If he touched them, if he even threatened to touch them…
“My dear,” Fossor interrupted, nodding toward where she had inadvertently melted half of the fork in her hand, “if the meal is that unpleasant for you, I will have the chef returned to his grave immediately and a new one… selected.”
In other words, he would kill someone else to serve as their chef. Quickly, Joselyn shook her head. “No, the meal is fine. But Felicity, if those Seosten take her…”
“Never fear, my dear,” the man spoke calmly and with a soft smile that one might have taken as fatherly if they didn’t know better, “The Seosten will not be keeping our girl. You can be quite certain of that. There are… plans in motion as far as that is concerned. So rest your little mind about it. Enjoy the dinner. Unless, of course, you do want a new chef?”
Swallowing her initial reaction, Joselyn set the mangled and melted remains of the fork down before touching a finger against it. Summoning the power of an ùruisg, she focused on repairing the damaged utensil. Within a few seconds, the fork was as good as new, and she took a bite of her meal to appease the man.
“You see, it’s good, isn’t it?” Fossor prompted, clearly enjoying just how much he could control her.
“Delightful,” was her single word reply.
“Now, you stand right here all night.” Ammon was instructing Jenna late in the evening.
They were back in Joselyn’s room. She had managed to make it clear to her son that she preferred having the girl around, without making it seem like she was giving orders. So now he had agreed to let the girl stay.
“You stand here,” the boy continued, “and get my mom anything she needs. Anything she tells you to, right? You understand?”
From where she was standing, Joselyn offered a careful, “Perhaps if she sits, she can be quicker about moving around if she needs to get something for me.”
Ammon did a quick double take, looking between her and the girl before nodding. “Oh, uh, okay. There.” He pointed to a plush recliner. “My name is Ammon. Sit there and don’t move unless my mom asks you to get her something. Then follow her orders and go back to the chair when you’re done.”
Obediently, the young woman pivoted to walk that way. She seated herself, clearly still confused about why she couldn’t stop obeying the boy’s instructions.
Once she was seated, Ammon looked to Joselyn. “Do you need anything else, Mom?” His smile was bright, his pride at ‘helping’ obvious.
She swallowed a little, shaking her head. “No. Thank you, my little soldier.” Her little soldier. Gods. She had called him that almost from the moment he was born, because of the way he kept putting his hand up near his face in what she thought looked like a salute. Her soldier. Her trooper. Her fighter. Her boy. Her baby boy.
What had Fossor done to him?
Smile widening, Ammon chirped, “Okay! I’m gonna go play in the garden.”
Play in the garden. She had the feeling that was far less innocent than it sounded. But before Joselyn could say anything, the boy was gone, racing through the door before clomping down the stairs loudly. For a moment, she watched him go, then gestured to make the doors close.
“What… what is he?” The shaky, horrified voice came from the chair, and Joselyn glanced that way to find Jenna sitting with her hands tight against the armrests. “Wh-why can’t I… why can’t I get up? How is he–he… he killed them. He killed all of them. All those people.” Her voice was starting to grow hysterical, which meant that Joselyn needed to get her to calm down.
“It’s– It’s okay.” It wasn’t, but if the girl didn’t get herself under control, it would be a whole lot worse. “I know you’re scared. I know you’re confused. But listen to me. I’ll try to keep you safe, as much as I can,” she promised the young woman. “I know this is all terrifying. And I’m sorry about what happened, what… Ammon did. But I’m afraid that there isn’t a lot that I can explain. You wouldn’t remember it anyway.”
The girl gave her a shy smile. “I’m pretty sure that all of this would be pretty hard to forget. And I really want to know. He–the things he did, the things he makes us do. How can he–how?”
Swallowing, Joselyn shook her head. “As I said, you wouldn’t remember even if I told you. And for the time that you did remember, you would just be even more frightened than you are now.”
The little smile remained, but it was… different somehow. The girl shifted, lifting her chin while slowly replied, “I’m afraid that I’m going to have to insist that you tell me everything you know about Fossor, about the boy, about all of it. Everything.”
Joselyn blinked, eyes widening a little as she looked up quickly. Fossor had never introduced himself. She knew that for a fact. He didn’t consider it worth his time to introduce himself to Ammon’s playthings or any of the other servants if he could help it. “How do you know his na–”
The girl slowly stood up from the chair. Stood, despite Ammon’s order. Because she had never truly been under the control of Ammon’s power at all. Because she was the source of that power.
“My name is Denuvus,” the manipulator announced, her voice filling the room.
“Tell me everything I want to know.”