A/N – Despite Fossor not physically appearing in this chapter, summaries for this imprisonment arc have been requested, so one follows at the end for anyone who would like to read just that. Or would like to read it to see if they want to read the chapter in full.
The first thing I did, before anything else, was quickly move over to the tub. Leaning in, I twisted the handles and let the bath start filling with water before any of the possible minders anywhere nearby could get suspicious. Once that was running, I hissed a quiet, “This is a trick, a trap.” Even as I said that, my eyes were darting around, looking for someone or something else.
Rahanvael’s ghost gave a slight headshake, watching the water stream into the tub for a few seconds. “Why?” she finally asked, her voice somehow simultaneously pointed and gentle. “What sort of trap could my brother possibly need to use on you when you are already here and under his power?” She gave me a long look before quietly adding, “I’m… sorry to be so blunt, but he doesn’t need to trap you, Felicity Chambers. He already has you in the trap.”
Okay, she had a point there. Still, I replied, “To fuck with me. You think Fossor wouldn’t dangle some kind of hope right in front of my face and then snatch it away just to fuck with me and maybe break me a little more easily? Or just for the hell of it. Because I’m pretty sure he’d do exactly that. And he’d definitely think to plan ahead and have you appear to me before.”
“You’re right,” the ghost allowed. “That does sound like my brother. But… he wouldn’t use me for that. He’d do a lot of horrific things, but not that. And I know it’s easy for me to say, because you don’t know him like I do. On the other hand, you had all those tests done. Virginia Dare, your brother Wyatt, Sariel Moon, and Apollo. All four of them tested me. All four of them said that I wasn’t lying or controlled by my brother. It’s your energy pulling and keeping me here, not his.”
For a moment, I just stared at her. My mind was rushing in a dozen different directions. I almost wanted to scream. There was so much pressure. If I did the wrong thing now, what would happen? I was so… so afraid. The constant threat of being taken by Fossor at some future point that had hung over my head so long had been replaced by the cold hard fact that I was his prisoner. And the things… the things that he had implied he wanted to do… the things I knew he was capable of… I wanted this to be real. I wanted so desperately for this one single advantage I potentially still had to be a real thing. I wanted to trust her, but it was so dangerous. If I was wrong, if she was playing me–if Fossor was playing me just for the hell of it, would I ever recover from that? If he had somehow tricked all four of the others into being wrong…
And yet, at this point, what did I really have to lose? I was here. I was trapped in this house with my mom, who had already been trapped here for a decade under that monster’s control. Yes, if this went wrong and turned out to be a cheap trick, it would devastate me. But I was already devastated. I didn’t have any other choice. If I didn’t do something, then… then I was lost.
That was what the real crux of this whole thing was. Mom and I needed some kind of edge, something special that Fossor hadn’t planned for. This had to be it. Assuming this was real… if it was real, then there was absolutely no way that asshole could have prepared for something like the sister he had killed millennia ago suddenly showing up again and helping to take him down.
By the time I looked up again after going through all that in my head, the tub was full. I reached out, without taking my eyes off the ghost, and turned off the water. Listening to the last few drops, I quietly whispered, “What if he knows you’re here now?” The unspoken question, of course, was my fear that Fossor was spying on me when I was about to clean up in the tub.
“If he knew I was here,” Rahanvael gently pointed out, “he would already be in this room. If he knew there was a strange ghost, he would be here to cast me out. If he knew it was me, he would…” She paused, seeming to think about that for a moment before continuing. “I’m not sure what he would do, exactly. But he would not leave you in here alone with me, either way.”
While I nodded slowly to that, she went on. “And I would know if either he or his.. minions were watching this room. I was my brother’s first real ghost. I have a connection to the others, and to every other creature touched by his power. I can sense them, feel them. I can tell you how many are in this house right now and where they are. As for Merakeul, I can sense him as well. Right now, he is out in one of the gardens, that way.” She turned, pointing off into the distance.
“Merakeul, that’s… that’s Fossor?” I slowly asked, sitting on the edge of the tub. At this point, I was all-in. There was no other choice. If this turned out to be a trick or a game of some kind, I’d deal with that. But for the moment, taking a chance that this was actually real was my only shot.
She gave a slight nod, clearly watching my reaction. It was strange, first seeing the ghost of a girl who looked a little younger than I was, and also because her eyes seemed so much older than the rest of her. Which was kind of an effect I’d seen before, considering how many people around my life were a lot older than they looked. But still, in this girl, it was even stronger than most. Her eyes were ancient, and spoke of a deep weariness and weight. When I’d first seen her back at the camp, I thought she looked mischievous. And she did, on the surface. Beyond that, however, especially when I stared at her now, I saw what had to be the pressure she felt from the fact that her own brother had turned into… what he had turned into.
“You should bathe,” she reminded me. “They’ll expect you to delay and be a bit slow, so we don’t have to hurry too much. But they’ll still get suspicious and check if you take too long. He’ll be waiting and watching to see the first move you make to escape. He might expect you to try to run tonight.”
“He’s having my mother and I sleep in the same room together,” I murmured, frowning a bit. “It’s to tempt me. He wants to see if we’ll try to run away together, if one of us has some kind of plan to get out of the house. I mean, he has to know that we know it’s a trap, but…but he also wants to see if we can resist taking a shot.” Saying it out loud like that, I knew it was true. The whole reason Fossor wasn’t pushing too hard right now, letting Mom and me stay in the same room, even letting her wear clothes when he… urggghh… when he usually didn’t. It was all to see if we would try to escape right now, when he was most ready for it.
And the worst part was, a part of me was still tempted to take a shot at it. I was so… terrified of being here, so scared of what would happen in the future, that… yeah, I was tempted to try to take off with my mom. Logically, I knew it was stupid. I knew Fossor was ready for that. He had to be. But there was just this voice in the back of my head that was constantly whispering reminders of what kind of things would happen to me here, what I could be forced to do. And between making me think about everything I really didn’t want to think about, the voice occasionally added a very pointed, what if? What if I could escape with my mother right now and I didn’t try? What if I could get her out of here, run away, and not have to deal with any of that? Yes, there was a ninety-nine percent chance I would fail. But that one percent…
I might’ve tried it. Gods help me, even knowing how unlikely it was, knowing Fossor was anticipating it, I still might’ve tried to escape with my mother that night, just off that one percent chance. I was so scared of the future, my future in this place, that I might have taken that one percent chance to maybe escape. Might have, except for one thing: this ghost. Rahanvael. She was my real one chance. Not rising to Fossor’s bait tonight. No, my one chance was her. If Fossor truly didn’t know about her, if she was really a total blind spot for him, then she was my only real chance at getting out of this. My only real chance at beating that son of a bitch, and getting the hell out of here with my mother. I couldn’t waste that.
Lost in those thoughts, I hesitated before looking over at my ghost companion. “You’re really sure that no one’s spying on us right now?” I wished that I had Shiori’s power to know if anyone was secretly looking at me. It might not have been strong enough to beat Fossor, but it still would have made me feel a little better. And while I was wishing for things, I might as well have wished that I was wherever Shiori was right then. I never would have wished that she, or anyone else I cared about, was actually here with me. It was bad enough that my mother and I were trapped in this place.
Rahanvael didn’t answer immediately. She looked around the room, clearly focusing for a few seconds. Finally, she returned her attention to me and nodded. “Yes, I am certain that no one touched by my brother’s power is near enough to hear or see what is happening in this room, and that no spying spells have been set up. He is not attempting to eavesdrop right now.”
“Mom,” I realized. “She said she could tell if he was spying with her own magic. I bet Fossor knows that. As long as we’re here in the building, he probably figures there’s no reason to use a bunch of spying spells constantly. You know, since Mom would know about it anyway.”
Then I hesitated before looking to the ghost. “Um. I know this is probably weird given the situation. But would you mind, umm, you know…”
“I will turn around and look the other way,” Rahanvael agreed with what I swore was a small smile. She looked maybe a year or two younger than me, though I knew she was actually thousands of years old. Actually, come to think of it… “Do ghosts mature after death?” I asked while getting myself ready and stepping into the tub. I really would have preferred a quick shower, but this was what I had to work with. Besides, the hot water actually did feel good.
“Physically, no,” she informed me, her voice sounding contemplative as she floated there facing the far wall. “Mentally, emotionally? Experience leads to maturity in those things. I have spent a very… long time hiding from my brother. First, I looked for someone who could help stop him. But that was…” She trailed off, her voice turning a bit pained at some long-ago memory. “That was unhelpful.”
“He was in prison, wasn’t he?” I put in. “He was supposed to be in that Gehenna place.”
“He shouldn’t have been,” she said quickly before stopping. “I mean, yes, he is… he is absolutely evil. He should be stopped and… and killed now. He should be put down. But at the time, he only… he was only trying to make me immortal by… by killing me and putting my soul back in my body.”
I turned a bit in the tub, staring at her from behind. “He wanted to make you immortal by killing you?”
“He wasn’t of sound mind,” she replied simply. “I know that. He thought that his power would allow him to make me immortal by turning me into a ghost, then putting me back into my body and sealing it within once more. He was wrong. He was wrong. He was sick. But he wasn’t evil then. He should have been put in a hospital. He should have been helped. Instead, they put him in the worst place imaginable. They put him in Gehenna for seventeen of your years, stuffed in a hole with nothing but the most evil, dangerous, monstrous people in the universe for company. He was younger than you were when you began all this and they put him in that place.”
“I hope you’re not trying to make me feel sorry for him after everything he’s done,” I said quietly.
“No,” she assured me, her voice soft. “My real twin, my Merakeul, died in that prison. The brother I loved never came out of there. The monster he is now, the evil creature that being in that place turned him into, needs to die. It needs to be destroyed forever so my real brother’s spirit can rest. I want Fossor to die so that Mera can be done. I don’t expect you to know him the way I used to. I don’t expect you to understand just how much he has changed, just how… just what kind of person he was when we were children. I would never expect you to think of him that way. That was my Merakeul. And he will stay in that prison for all time.”
A few seconds, I tried to think of how I would feel if I was her. I knew this ghost wasn’t the real Rahanvael, like her actual spirit or anything like that. The ghost was the remains of the real girl’s magical energy when she had died. Magic given a personality and memories. Still, as far as she was concerned, she was Rahanvael and Fossor was her brother. So, if I was in that position, would I be able to think like that? I thought about how I would feel if my mother turned evil and did all the things that Fossor had done for so long. Would I be able to focus on wanting her dead so she couldn’t hurt anyone else? How long had it taken this girl to come to the conclusion that he could never be helped? Actually, come to think of it…
“What were you doing in those seventeen years he was in prison? Did you… see him?” That didn’t sound right, considering if Fossor had known the sister whose death started his entire slide into what he was today was actually around as a ghost, he would have done a hell of a lot more to keep her around him all the time. I was pretty sure he had no idea she existed.
Sure enough, the ghost shook her head, voice soft. “I remember drifting, aimless and… empty, sort of. It was like floating on the water, staring at the stars forever. I… I heard my brother’s voice now and then, but it was faint. Then I felt him tugging me. I felt more… together. I felt like myself again. He pulled me back, but it was after he destroyed that prison. After he killed so many people. He was killing people, taking their power and adding it to his own. And he tried to pull my spirit back. He was trying to bring me back again, years after I died.”
“But you didn’t go to him,” I realized. “He pulled at you but you… resisted?” That was a bit surprising, considering how powerful Fossor was. “Is it because you’re his sister?”
“I think so,” she agreed. “I understand his power, I can avoid it. I can sense it, feel it, let it slip past me. He never sensed that he’d actually brought me back already. I was invisible to him–am invisible to him. I wanted to fade away again, I wanted to go back to laying on the ocean and seeing the stars. But I couldn’t. I saw everything he did. I watched everyone he killed on our world. I’ve seen what he turned it into.”
“But you’re not actually tied to his magic,” I pointed out carefully. “Sariel and others already worked that out. You aren’t directly connected to him anymore.”
“Yes,” she confirmed. “I separated myself from my brother’s power. I can still feel it, can still avoid it. But over the years, I extricated myself from him. It was like untangling a very complicated knot. And I had to do it without letting him know. It was so… complicated. I had to only pull at the strands connecting me to him whenever a different spirit was fighting him, so that he wouldn’t notice my own tugs at his power. But I did. I pulled myself free and then… then I hid from him. I saw all the things he did on our world, the way he’s made our people into his… his batteries, his hostages. Everytime something bad targets him out here, he transfers it to our people. Our people live and die as nothing more than his slaves, for… for thousands of years. It’s–” She stopped, clearly taking a second to collect herself. “I want Fossor dead so my world can be free again. You have every right to hate him. But for me, I just want him gone, my brother put to rest, and my world to be free. They… they deserve to be free.”
Shifting a bit in the water, I watched her, thinking about everything she said before speaking. “I want him gone too. And I want your world to be free. I want my mother and me to be free. But the only way either of us are going to get any of that is by working together and being smart about it.
“And by getting pretty damn lucky.”
Flick has a discussion with Rahanvael, establishing that she is invisible to Fossor’s senses due to being his first ghost and spending many years secretly extricating herself from his power while he remained unaware that he had successfully brought her back. She is also capable, due to her connections to her brother, of sensing his power and any of those brought back by it. This allows her to tell Flick if they are being spied on or where any of Fossor’s ghosts and other necromantic creations are in the area. Rahanvael tells Flick that she wants Fossor dead so that her brother’s spirit can rest and their world can be freed.