Month: June 2020

Eighteen 6-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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There is a summary at the bottom of the chapter for those who would prefer to avoid Fossor. 

Powers. I could kill with these golem things and then… and then what, collect the powers/boosts they’d gained with those kills just by touching them afterward? What–how did that even–what? 

Clearly amused by the look on my face, Fossor stepped back and gestured for the audience. “You see?” he started in a sly voice, prompting a few assorted chuckles throughout the stands, “even now, after everything she went through over the past year, my girl can still be surprised. Isn’t that adorable?” 

Yeah, there were definitely a few things I wanted to say to that. But all of them would have gotten me in trouble, and the van with those Chamrosh wasn’t so far away from the school that an annoyed Fossor couldn’t have them turn around and go back. So, with a little bit of effort, I managed to clamp down on the vicious retort that jumped immediately to my lips. Later. There would be a time and place when I could tell Fossor everything I thought about him. Not now. 

Instead, I simply looked back to where my mother was watching intently. She seemed just as uncertain as I was, but gave me a short nod of encouragement. She mouthed something I didn’t quite catch, but I was pretty sure she was telling me to go ahead and ask about what happened. 

Right, I might as well. Fossor clearly already knew I was confused. So I looked to him and flatly spoke up. “What just happened? How did the… how?” That was all I could manage to get out. 

“A fine question, dearest,” Fossor patiently agreed, “but now is hardly the time for such things. My friends here have been quite patient already, waiting through all the training we’ve done simply for one little warm-up match. I believe it’s time for the main event to get started.” He waited through the roars of approval those words were met with, clearly loving the reaction. After a few seconds, he raised one hand and the cheering instantly stopped, the arena going silent as he pointedly raised an eyebrow at me. “So, unless you’d like to continue fighting, I suggest you join your mother over there and simply enjoy the rest of the show for the moment.”

Right, of course all these people wouldn’t be gathered for a bit of training and a single practice fight for me, no matter what the stakes had been. Actually, given who these people were and the fact that they were willingly associating with someone like Fossor, I was pretty sure the ‘stakes’ being the lives of all those innocent young students basically meant nothing to them. And, from glancing around the arena, I could see that they were quite eager to get the real fights underway. My entire thing had essentially been a warm-up act, which made me feel… strange. 

Still, no way did I want to be involved in the fighting anymore. So, I started to turn and walk away before stopping myself. A thought took control of Kendall and I made her walk to the gate. Then I directed my focus over to Gavant and made the enormous man stand up before moving to join Kendall. Once the gate was opened for them, I sent both out. They might’ve been dead already, sure. But I still wasn’t just going to leave their bodies standing in the arena to be torn apart. I was… responsible for them, in a way. I felt bad enough about the fact that Fossor had killed them just to give me what amounted to puppets to work with. Letting their bodies get torn apart in some arena fight that they had nothing to do with felt pretty damn disrespectful. 

After directing the two of them outside of the arena, I followed suit and walked out. Mom was already there, standing in front of Gavant with a solemn look on her face as she reached up to touch the side of his arm. I could see the pain there. She knew the man, and clearly knew how much his people had already suffered. When I got there, her voice was quiet. “I’m sorry, one-of-honor,” she whispered to the dead figure. “You deserved far better than this.” 

Behind us, more people were entering the arena, to the assorted cheers and boos of the crowd depending on who liked which person. No one was paying attention to my mother and me anymore, which was just fine as far as I was concerned. I could definitely deal with being ignored right then.

With her hand still pressed tightly against Gavant’s arm, Mom turned to me. Her voice cracked just a little bit as she quietly announced, “He was a good man. He didn’t deserve this, any of it.” 

“I know,” I agreed, forcing myself to look up into the man’s dead eyes. “I’m sorry, Gavant. I’m sorry you got dragged into all this again. I’m sorry your people were just…” Exhaling, I shook my head while looking away, my voice dropping into a mutter. “I’m sorry about everything.” 

Mom and I both let that sit for a minute, each of us looking toward the arena without actually paying much attention to what was going on in it. People were being divided up into teams or something to fight each other. Whatever. They could all just go ahead and die as far as I was concerned. They willingly worked with Fossor. They willingly participated in his little games, including the one where a bunch of innocent school children would have been killed if I didn’t win my match. At that moment, I didn’t really care if they all just spontaneously combusted. 

Finally, I felt my mother’s hand on my shoulder. When I looked that way, she asked, “Who is this?” There was still very obvious pain and grief in her voice, her eyes directed toward the other golem Fossor had forced on me. “I don’t… she’s familiar. I used to know her. Who is she?” Even as she asked that, I could tell that my mother was dreading the answer. “You said Kendall.” 

Reluctantly, I nodded. “Kendall Harver. The… the Harvers, from back home. We were sort of… we didn’t get along.” No way was I going to say that Kendall was my enemy. I’d basically forgotten about her even before going to Crossroads, and now I knew what real enemies were. “I guess Fossor thought that meant more than I did. I…” Fuck, even saying that sounded wrong. Flinching, I managed a weak little, “I didn’t want anything like this to happen to her.” God, was that even inadequate. Of course I didn’t want this to happen, what the hell was I even saying? 

“The Harvers…” Saying that name made Mom cringe, her eyes closing briefly. I felt her grip on my shoulder tighten a bit. “Sasha and Kevin. Those poor…” Cutting herself off, Mom opened her eyes to look straight at me. I could see the grief there still, but also anger, righteous rage. She was furious to a level that I wasn’t sure Fossor fully understood. That anger was going to boil out at some point. My mother was holding it in, keeping track of each and every one of the necromancer’s transgressions. And someday, he would have to pay for them. 

For the moment, however, she pushed it back down, giving a slight headshake at me. Now wasn’t the time. Angry as we both might have been, we had to control it and wait for the right moment. Instead, she simply asked, “The aura flare. Did you actually…?” 

“I think so,” I confirmed. “I mean, it felt just like when I kill something myself, just delayed until I touched her. You don’t know anything about it?” 

“No.” Mom’s head shook once more, eyes narrowed thoughtfully at the arena where the fighting had started between two groups of three (much to the excitement of the crowd). “But he was obviously expecting it.” 

She was right. Me gaining powers from Kendall like that had clearly not exactly been a surprise to Fossor. And that made me wonder if that wasn’t the whole point of the exercise to begin with. Had he actually been testing to see if it would happen that way and hiding the test behind all that extra bullshit just so he wouldn’t look bad if he was wrong? Frowning thoughtfully at that consideration, I turned my head to look up toward the man himself. 

Fossor was looking at me from that throne of his. Ignoring the fight that was going on, he was instead staring directly into my eyes when I looked up. A slight smile curved at his lips, and he gave me one single nod. 

Shuddering despite myself, I turned away from him, folding my arms over my stomach uncomfortably. Swallowing the hard lump in my throat, I forced myself to pay attention to the ongoing fight. 

I might not have been interested in how it went, but I was pretty sure I would have to fight at least some of these people at one point or another. Either in the arena or otherwise. So I might as well watch to be ready for when that inevitably happened. 

******

Hours later, the fighting was finally over. A team consisting of a weresnake, a troll, and a little pixie-creature that used electricity magic or powers had won in the end. Fossor presented them with some kind of heavy wooden chest with a complicated set of runes on it which, to my limited understanding, were spells that would do very terrible things to anyone who opened it without the counterspell. Whatever was in that chest, the trio acted really happy about getting it while the teams who had lost (those who were still alive) looked pretty disappointed and annoyed. 

After handing over a parchment that was apparently the spell to unlock the chest, and informing them that they should do so somewhere safely away from where others might grab their treasure, Fossor dismissed the rest of the crowd. He played it up like a true showman in front of them, informing the crowd that they could come back for another round of fights soon enough, and that by that time his ‘new girl’ would be practiced enough to give them a real show. 

While the group filed out, Mom and I just stood there with the Kendall and Gavant bodies nearby. A few of the people passing offered congratulations to me, others offered jeers and insults. I ignored all of them, focused on watching Fossor in the middle of the arena. He wasn’t looking at us. Instead, he seemed to be deep in conversation with that ghost who had seemed so amused when he’d startled me yesterday by popping up to inform us that it was time to bathe. I was really curious about what those two were talking about, considering Fossor appeared to be pretty distracted by it (and maybe even a little annoyed). Anything that annoyed that psycho fuck was something I wanted to know more about. And possibly write a ballad about.

Beside me, my mother murmured, “He’s using magic to prevent eavesdropping. Whatever is happening, he doesn’t want either of us to know anything about it.” After saying that, she looked to me, her hand finding its way to my shoulder to squeeze reassuringly. “I’d take that as a good thing.” Despite her words, however, I could see the pain in Mom’s face. The Meregan. She was barely holding it together after seeing what had happened to all those Meregan people. The Meregan, who were already so close to being entirely wiped out. Now their world had apparently been taken over by Fomorians and this group was just… dead. After living through so much, after surviving so much, they came for help and… and Fossor had just…

Yeah, no wonder Mom wasn’t doing very well at holding back her emotions. She was barely keeping it together enough not to throw herself (utterly uselessly) in a screaming, frothing rage at the arrogant piece of shit standing right there. She knew as well as I did that it wouldn’t accomplish anything, and yet… and yet I really couldn’t blame her for being one inch from doing it anyway. I was pretty sure that only the fact that I was standing there held her in check. Just like I didn’t want Fossor to take anything I did out on her, she didn’t want me to end up hurt because of something she did. Fossor had each of us very well in hand just by threatening the other. 

Finally, Fossor’s clearly intense conversation with the ghost ended, and he waved a hand to send the transparent figure away. Then the man pivoted, looking straight to us. I had the briefest glimpse of a troubled, not-very-happy expression before it vanished and was replaced with a smile. Casually, he raised one hand and beckoned for both of us to come with two fingers. 

Resisting the urge to reply with one finger, I sighed and started out that way with my mother right behind me. Belatedly, I reached out with my necromancy power to urge the bodies of Kendall and Gavant to follow behind us.

Reaching the man himself (or rather, as close as I was going to get), I stopped and folded my arms. My voice was brittle as I made myself meet his gaze. “Are you going to tell me what happened back there with Kendall and the… the Heretic thing?” I didn’t want to learn about that from him any more than I’d wanted to learn about using my necromancy power in the first place from him. But Mom clearly had no idea what was going on there, and he did. He was my only choice. 

And, of course, he was amused by the fact that I had to ask him despite clearly not wanting to. Adopting the look of a kind professor (which just made me feel even worse about the whole thing), Fossor gave a short nod. “Yes, of course. I would love to explain it to you, my brilliant girl.” 

I didn’t know how Mom reacted to that because she was behind me, but it must have been something, because I saw the way his eyes flashed briefly to her. His smile was infuriating, and I was kind of surprised that she stopped herself from hurling something (like a fireball) at him. In the end, she did manage to restrain herself and Fossor continued. “You remember the term I used for the magic power you have… weaved around the bodies of the golems?” 

Squinting that way, I gave a short nod. “Yeah, of course I do. Web. You called it a web of power.” It wasn’t a bad term, obviously. I pulled at strands of the web to make them do things. According to Fossor, eventually I would get good enough to simply give the slightest poke at one bit of web to cause more complicated actions to happen. He’d said that it was like learning an instrument. Right now I was a novice, but if I kept at it, a real ‘artist’ (as he put it) could produce an entire symphony by plucking at various strings. He’d sounded super-excited by that possibility, which just made the whole thing even worse for me to consider. 

“That web,” Fossor was already explaining in his professor-voice, “seems to hold the death energy from the things they kill. When you touch the golem, it transfers that energy into you. I had heard of certain Reapers using golems to feed themselves, and yet this… I was afraid to hope this would work as well as it seems to have.” 

Mom blurted, “So you’re saying she can just continue gaining powers from things her golems kill?” 

“Well,” the Necromancer infuriatingly patiently corrected, “if it’s anything like how the Reapers work, the death energy will fade relatively soon when not in active combat. And it will fade incredibly quickly as soon as our brilliant girl takes her attention off of it. In layman’s terms, within a very brief time of Felicity turning her attention to something else, either her own fight or controlling a different golem, the death energy will fade. But yes, so long as she focuses on controlling a singular golem and touches that golem very soon after its fight, she will gain powers from it.” His smile was broad. “Isn’t that delightful?” 

A few words immediately leapt to mind that I really wanted to spit at him, but none of them were any synonym for delightful. So I kept them to myself, with a little effort. Instead, I simply demanded, “What happens to Kendall and the rest of the Meregan now?” 

“Well, you will be responsible for them, of course,” Fossor informed me in the same tone of voice a father would tell a child that they would need to take care of the family pet. “There’s a stable one floor down from the rooms you and your beautiful mother are staying in. That’s where the rest of the Meregan are. I believe Joselyn can show you the way. Take this Meregan there to join his people. As for the human girl, I expect you to keep her with you. Consider her an extra set of hands. Get accustomed to having her around. Keep her clean, clothed, and anything else she needs. I don’t want to ever find you somewhere without your little golem near enough to help out. Understand?” 

Waiting until I murmured an acknowledgment, the man then gestured. “Good. Joselyn dear, show our girl where to take the Meregan, then the two of you can have some lunch. I’m sure she’s worked up a big appetite.”

With that, Mom and I left, with my two…. golems following. My voice trembled a little once we were out of the arena area. “I hate him,” I whispered. “I hate him so much.” 

“I know, baby,” Mom murmured, taking my hand to interlock our fingers. “I know.” 

Together, we made our way through the palatial mansion, where the halls were so large Gavant didn’t even need to duck. Eventually, we reached an enormous set of double-doors that Mom said led into the ‘stables’, which were apparently just open-air rooms where Fossor kept various groups of his dead troops. 

As promised, the rest of that group of Meregan were here. I recognized some, a fact that made me feel even worse about the whole thing. But there were also others who weren’t Meregan, other dead bodies standing around waiting to be controlled. One in particular drew my attention, a tall, fur-covered man who kind of looked like a Wookie. Or like Bigfoot with very long arms. His back was to me, and with dread in my stomach, I stepped that way. My voice was a whisper, “Oh God, Caleb…” 

He turned around, looking at me with a startled expression. I was just as taken aback, blurting, “You’re alive! I–what–” 

“Yes,” the fur-covered man confirmed. “I… take care of the dead here. That’s my job, it’s why I get to live.” His voice was flat, but still tinged with a mixture of sadness and bitterness.  

“You–is… is your wife alive?” I reflexively asked, my eyes widening. 

The man looked confused, his brow knitting together. “How do you know my wife?” 

“I don’t.” My head shook. “I’ve never met you or your wife, sir.

“I know your son, Miles. And I know that he’s been looking for you for a long time.” 

 

SUMMARY

Flick asks Fossor what just happened with the Heretic kill-absorption activating after she touched Kendall. However, he declines to answer the question immediately, instead telling Flick to leave the arena so that the full tournament can start. Flick takes Kendall and Gavant out of the arena, where Joselyn reacts to Gavant’s death and then asks about who Kendall is. Joselyn recognizes Kendall’s last name of Harver from living in Laramie Falls, and is sad for the girl’s parents. They then watch the day’s tournament battles for a few hours, before the guests are dismissed to leave. Fossor has a brief interaction with one of his ghosts, using privacy spells to ensure that Flick and Joselyn can’t hear what’s going on. He then informs Flick that the ‘web of energy’ she uses to control the golems is what absorbs the death energy and allows her to later gain the powers/boosts by touching them as long as she does so relatively soon and without being too distracted from her control. Finally, Joselyn and Flick take Gavant to the ‘stable’ room for dead things to stay in, where Flick finds the (living) caretaker of the dead… Miles’s father.

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Patreon Snippets 15 (Heretical Edge 2)

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$10+ Donators on my Patreon get 500 words per month to put toward any ideas they would like to see, to add to any ideas someone else has, or to save up for later. Here is the next edition of the Heretical Edge requests for those snippets. 

Asmodaeus

 

Thousands of years ago, before the Olympus came to Earth

The main cafeteria-lounge aboard the Seosten ship known as the Olympus was busy through this early evening hour. The room was three-quarters full, with conversation among the crew and officers steadily humming along with the clink of utensils against plates and glasses. One of the things that made the Olympus fairly unique among the Seosten fleet was the fact that nearly every figure aboard it, with the exception of relatively few maintenance workers, cooks, and such, were all Seosten themselves. On most modern ships, there would be a smaller complement of Seosten who were supported by many more lower-class (slave) species. But on this explorer ship, set to search and discover new methods of combating the Fomorian plague, over ninety percent of the occupants were Seosten. 

That, of course, was in large part because of the fact that the crew of the Olympus was almost entirely composed of those who had been through the Summus Proelium project, and that power never would have been given to any non-Seosten to begin with. Still, regardless of reasons, it meant that there was a much larger percentage of their own people to speak to at times like these. 

It was through that crowd that Sariel, dedicated magical researcher and budding explorer, found herself hurriedly moving. Her gaze swept rapidly back and forth, searching intently. Where… where… There. Between two other figures, she saw her target. On the far end of the room, Kushiel stood near one of the ‘windows’ (actually a screen projecting a holographic image), speaking to a couple other officers. In one hand, she held a glass of cerulean liquid. Her head was bobbing up and down, as she responded to something one of the others had said, before lifting the glass. 

There. The glass. Sariel saw it. She saw it and knew. A rush of thoughts went through the young Seosten’s mind. She saw the glass. She saw Kushiel. She saw Lucifer, her best friend, her brother, in the medical bed she had just left him in after yet another of the impossible, suicidal missions that woman right there had sent the two of them on had ended up getting him hurt and almost killed. She saw the glass rising to Kushiel’s lips, knew that no one knew what she knew, that no one had any idea what was about to happen. 

Sariel’s hand snapped down, catching hold of a random metal plate from the nearby table. With a snap of her wrist, she sent the plate spinning through the air. It sliced neatly between two figures in mid-conversation, barely skimmed past the raised arm of a man gesturing wildly, and passed directly between three staggered wine glasses being carried past on a tray without disturbing any of them. Finally, the plate struck its target, shattering the glass in Kushiel’s hand an instant before she would have drunk from it. 

All conversation stopped. The crowd parted like twin waves in either direction, leaving Sariel facing Kushiel from across the room. The older Seosten, staring at the broken remnants of glass on the floor, raised her gaze to Sariel. Her mouth twisted angrily, before she began to snarl, “Now you’ve gone too far. If you think I’ll let you weasel your way out of this after a challenge like–” 

“Kushiel, look.” One of the other Seosten officers touched the woman’s arm, pointing to the liquid on the floor. The liquid from the shattered glass she had been about to drink. It was currently sizzling and burning its way through the floor. The glass had been enchanted to contain the liquid safely. But now, the image at Kushiel’s feet showed what would have happened if she’d actually consumed it. Everyone saw what would have happened, and what Sariel had saved her from. 

“Someone tried to kill you,” the other officer murmured, squeezing Kushiel’s arm. “Someone just tried to assassinate you.” He said it again, as though it was just so impossible to believe. “Heh. They would’ve managed it too, if it wasn’t for the kid over there. Guess you owe her your life.” 

One of the other nearby Seosten called out congratulations, prompting a line of applause from the still-baffled onlookers. They cheered for Sariel stopping the assassination attempt. 

“And here you thought she was such a waste,” another officer reminded Kushiel, patting her back with a chuckle. “Looks like you’d be dead without her now. All that shit from before and it turns out you needed her around after all. Isn’t that funny?” 

No, Sariel thought, as she saw the way Kushiel stared at her. There was no amusement. No gratitude. There was nothing but pure, unadulterated hatred. Kushiel was not grateful for being saved. She was livid. She had been made to look vulnerable, and she saw Sariel as the reason for that vulnerability. 

Sariel had saved her life, and Kushiel would never forgive her for that. 

——-

Some time later, Sariel stepped into the hospital room where Lucifer was resting. Another figure was already there, a man who stood facing the window beside the bed, his back to the door. 

“Asmodaeus,” Sariel started, eyes glancing toward the bed, then back again. Lucifer was fine, still sleeping. “What–” 

“Why?” The single word came before the man turned to face her. Far into the future and far away on the world that would eventually be known as Earth (or Rysthael to the Seosten), he would have been referred to as looking Asian, with somewhat darker skin, long reddish-black hair that fell to his shoulders, and piercing brown-black eyes. He stood two inches over six feet, with arms that were tightly corded muscle. Now, his gaze was focused on her intently. “Why did you save her?” 

Sariel was quiet for a moment, before lifting her chin. “I know why you tried to kill her. Kushiel sent Taynier on that mission. The one he never came back from.” 

Asmodaeus pointed at her, his finger shaking somewhat. “She killed him. I loved him. I loved Taynier. We were… we were happy, and she killed him. She sent him on a mission he didn’t need to be on. She got him killed. She might as well have murdered him herself. Just like Lucifer.” His hand moved to gesture toward the bed. “Next time, it might be him who doesn’t come back from that psychotic cunt’s missions. You think she cares? She doesn’t. She’ll keep sending both of you out on those missions until you die. 

“So why the void did you save her life?” 

“Yeah, Sar,” Lucifer, apparently awake, spoke up. “Why would you do something crazy like that?” 

Looking back and forth between the two, Sariel hesitated before shaking her head. “I don’t–because it was the right thing to do. I just–look, I was just trying to keep myself busy while you were out of it. So I started looking into those missing supplies. I realized they were being used to make that magic poison, checked the logs, figured out who took them and what happened to your lover. I realized who you were targeting,” she informed Asmodaeus. “And I just… reacted. It’s wrong to kill our own people. We don’t do that. Seosten don’t kill Seosten. We have to be better than her, not stoop to her level.”

Seeing the looks both of them were giving her, she sighed. “I just… I couldn’t let it happen when I knew about it.” 

“So what now?” Asmodaeus asked, staring intently at her. “I don’t… I don’t want to hurt anyone else. Not you. None of our people. But I will find a way to kill her.” 

“No,” Sariel replied, her head shaking. “You saw how everyone reacted. As soon as the danger was over, they laughed. They laughed because they thought it was one of the non-Seosten, and they thought a non-Seosten would never risk openly attacking one of us. As soon as the assassination attempt failed, they decided it was safe to mock it. Now they’re working their way through the non-Seosten crew, searching for the person responsible. But it won’t take them long to figure out the truth. And as soon as they realize it was one of us, they’ll track it to you.” 

“Then you better turn me in,” Asmodaeus retorted darkly, his arms folding across his chest. “Because if they track me far enough, they’ll figure out we were in here talking.” 

“We’re not turning you in.” That was Lucifer, sitting up a little in the bed with a groan. 

“He’s right,” Sariel agreed quietly. “We’re not turning you in. We’re not going to let them take you at all. 

“We’re going to fake your death, and get you the hell off this ship.” 

 

Present Day

“And that’s exactly what they did,” a much older (though still visually identical thanks to his Olympian-frozen aging) Asmodaeus concluded. He was sitting at a table in the main cafeteria of the so-called Fusion School. Across from him sat Vanessa and Tristan, both staring at him with wide eyes. 

“But why would Mom help you escape after stopping you from killing Kushiel?” Vanessa demanded, clearly confused. “Whose side was she on?” 

“Sometimes it’s more complicated than just being on one person’s side,” Asmodaeus replied, offering them a small shrug. “It wasn’t just about saving Kushiel. Sariel knew other things. She knew that Puriel loved her, that losing her like that would hurt him as much as losing my beloved hurt me. And she knew that the non-Seosten would be blamed for it before they knew the truth. If Kushiel was dead, a lot of the non-Seosten on the ship would have suffered and died just to root out the killer. When it was an attempted assassination, they were angry, but… also mocked it. Because it failed. But if I’d actually managed to kill the wife of the ship’s captain? They wouldn’t wait for proof about who did it. They’d kill those non-Seosten just for being around when ‘one of their own’ murdered one of their masters. Can’t have that getting out.” 

Tristan made a face. “I’m starting to think Mom’s people are screwed up. And where did you go after they got you off the ship? Where’ve you been?”

“Took up some other identities for a long time,” came the response. “Some Seosten, some others. Learned to make deals with the people I possessed, so we could work together. Figured out it was a hell of a lot easier to get around in the universe when you and the person you’re possessing actually work together. Eventually, Chayyiel found me. This was… over a thousand of your years later. She found me after she told Puriel where to shove it and left Earth when he pulled that shit with Arthur. She said she needed my help, that Sariel needed my help. She was still here on Earth and Chayyiel needed a way to pass messages back and forth. I already had a lot of experience pretending to be different Seosten, possessing others, using magic to change what I look like, all of that. I already knew how to work through the system, cuz I spent a thousand years doing it. So… I helped. I became their go-between. Did that until Sariel took off with your dad. Then I ahhh… kept a bit of an eye on her anyway, for Chayyiel. Just in case. But I stopped before all that went down with you guys. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I thought you were all okay by then. I didn’t… I didn’t know what happened until it was too late to do anything about it.”

That much said, the man pressed, “Now it’s your turn. I told you my story. Who do I have to talk to so I can buy a good memory off them of seeing Kushiel finally fucking die?” 

The twins exchanged glances, before turning back to him. Tristan spoke up. “Dude, you need to meet one of our friends. 

“Her name’s Theia, and boy do you guys have a lot you could talk about.” 

******

Marina Dupont

Flick was missing. No, worse. She had been abducted by the necromancer who had been targeting her for so long. The same necromancer who had taken the girl’s mother and was responsible for the Black Death. After a year of preparation, Felicity Chambers had still been taken and was now that psychopath’s prisoner. All that time, and she was still gone. 

Those words repeatedly rebounded through Marina Dupont’s head as she sat on a bench on the outside of the long-closed museum that was the current home of Wonderland. On her lap sat the tiny Lavinsi (bird-like humanoid) girl named Baiden, who was intently reading aloud the story she’d written for class about the time she’d met Captain Alfred Bulltop Stormalong, the giant along the same lines as Paul Bunyan, who was a sailor rather than a lumberjack. Stormalong was known even by Bystanders, particularly early American Bystander sailors. 

Baiden’s story was written the same way the girl tended to talk. In other words, with rapid changes of topic, run-on sentences, and a lot of gushing about how awesome everything was. Especially Stormalong himself, whom Baiden had been incredibly impressed by, and demonstrated that by going on and on about the man, including details of some of the tall tales that had been spread about his exploits.

Technically speaking, there was a lot wrong with the writing. But it was Baiden’s words, and she was a kid. She was so excited about having met one of her heroes that she took the time to write it down. Which, for a girl of her attention span, meant a lot. She put effort into this. In no way was Marina ever going to discourage that. So she sat with the bird-like girl on her lap, laughing and smiling through the story as she knew the others in Baiden’s class would.  

And yet, even while she listened to the story, Marina continued to think about Flick. It was she who (with help from Gaia) had restarted the whole war, her actions that had led Marina to make the choice that she did, the choice to take those children out of Crossroads and give them back to their parents. 

That was what had led Marina to where she was now. Here, Wonderland. Where she had never in her life felt more like she belonged. This place was her home. This was the place she wanted to stay, with the people she wanted to help. Wonderland was everything she wanted, and Marina would defend it with everything she had. 

For that, for waking her up to the way the world was and helping her, even coincidentally, to find her way home, Marina would do anything to help Felicity Chambers. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be anything she could do. No one knew where Fossor’s home was, or if it was even on Earth. From everything she had heard from people like Roxa and Shiori, they were stuck. So pledging to help Flick didn’t really mean much. But if there was anything… if anything came up… Marina would be there. She would help. Because she owed Flick that much. 

They all did. 

**********

Joselyn and Flick 

“I’m sorry,” Joselyn demanded while she and her youngest daughter sat out on the patio overlooking the grounds of Fossor’s estate, “Deveron treated you like what?” 

From her seat, Flick snickered a little, shaking her head. “It’s okay, Mom. He was acting like a dick intentionally. You know, to umm, to throw off anyone who might have started to suspect he was trying to help us, or something. He was trying to stay undercover and act like he didn’t care.” 

For a moment, Joselyn just stared at her. Slowly, she raised a hand to rub her temple as if to ward off a mounting headache, while exhaling long and low. “That man,” she murmured under her breath, “if I had a dollar for all of his impulsive plans like that, I could’ve fought that revolution with Bruce Wayne-level resources.” 

Flick’s hand covered her mouth with a snort as she barely managed to contain herself. “You–hey, he umm, he was trying at least. And he dropped the act. He’s…” She squirmed a little in her seat, hesitantly offering, “He’s a good guy, even if he’s not…” 

“Even if he’s not your dad.” Joselyn finished, smiling a little as she reached out to take her daughter’s hand, squeezing it. “It’s okay, Felicity. I love both of them for everything they are.” 

“I know something about loving multiple people,” Flick admitted, meeting her mother’s gaze. “Really, I’m… I’m okay with him. I like him. He’s not Dad, but he obviously cares about you, about me, about all of us. He… he’s missed you a lot, and for longer than we have. He loves you, Mom. That’s what matters.” 

Swallowing hard, Joselyn moved her free hand to touch her daughter’s face, brushing a hand through her hair. “I love you, baby. I love all of you.” 

There was a moment of hesitation before Flick glanced up, whispering, “Are we safe?” 

Joselyn took a bit of prepared cloth from her pocket, channeling the spell to check for any spies. Then she nodded. “Yes.” 

“What about Koren and Abigail?” her daughter hurriedly asked. “I mean, I know you named Abigail Koren first, but she named her daughter Koren and it’s weird that she remembered the name and all but what about them? Does Fossor–is he going to–does he have plans about that?” 

There was a brief pause as Joselyn sat back, folding her arms in her lap while quietly answering, “I don’t know. He’s… kept things to himself. I want to believe that he’ll leave them alone, that he couldn’t have planned to the point of taking them after taking you, but… I don’t know.” 

Seeing her mother that uncertain, that vulnerable, made Flick reach out to her. She took the woman’s hands in either of hers, squeezing them. “We’ll deal with that if it happens, Mom. Come on, let’s talk about something more fun. We don’t have to dwell on… on all that.” 

A small smile reached the girl’s face, as she slyly pushed on. “How about I tell you about the time Wyatt made up for all those birthdays and holidays he missed by giving Koren and me eighteen years worth of presents?” 

The words made Joselyn blink up, staring at her daughter. “He…” A small smile appeared, as she coughed. “He did what now?” 

Giggling a bit at the memory, Flick nodded. “Not just eighteen years of presents suitable for an eighteen year old either. They were like… presents suitable for each age. Even as a toddler. I still have them, errr… I mean, some of them. Others got left behind when we had to escape Crossroads.

“My point is, just imagine how many presents you’re gonna end up with when we get home.” 

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Pink 12-02 (Summus Proelium)

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A/N: There was an extra commissioned interlude for Heretical Edge posted yesterday. If you haven’t seen it and read that story, you might want to click here after reading this chapter

We didn’t go straight to the track or either of the museums. Instead, Dad led the three of us across the lot to a restaurant near the track. Technically, it was all owned by the same company, a company my father had a large stake in. The track, the museums, the restaurant, all of it was partially owned by my family. And that was just on the surface. Part of me wondered how much of the city my parents owned through the whole Ministry thing. Actually, come to think of it, I probably didn’t want to know right then. It would just be depressing to think about how much power they had when I was supposed to be trying to relax and show Izzy a good time. 

The restaurant was basically a hamburger place, but not exactly a McDonalds. The burgers were really thick and came named after various cars or drivers. They even did a thing where the top of the buns would have an image of a race car lightly burned into them. And the fries were the really long shoestring versions with Parmesan and truffle oil. They were amazing. I really didn’t have to fake that much enthusiasm for coming here, given how hungry I was. 

Apparently, Izzy had never been there before. Or to the track itself. As we walked in the front door of the restaurant, she gasped at the centerpiece of the foyer. It was a full-sized, actually working race car. Specifically, it was a 1967 Ford GT40 Mark IV, beautifully red with a white number 11 on the side. The Mark IV was the only model of the GT40 line that had been built here in the US, since the first three versions were built in England. It was also the only car that had been designed and built entirely here in the US to win at Le Mans in France. 

I told the other girl all of that while the two of us walked a circle around the car. Izzy nodded appreciatively at the right places, but I had the funniest feeling that she really didn’t care all that much. She was one of those people who just thought a car was a car, and that as long as it got you where you wanted to go, there really wasn’t much of a difference between them. Heathen. 

The restaurant manager was talking to Dad and Simon while I was explaining the car’s history to the younger girl. By the time I got that far, it was time to go. My father beckoned, and we followed as the manager (a really friendly man named Kevin whom I had met a few different times since he was always here ready to direct us to a table when we came in) led us to the back of the restaurant. We passed through a couple doors to reach a private dining area with huge floor to ceiling windows that provided a good look at the track off in the distance across the lot, where we could see some of the cars taking practice laps. 

Izzy and I sat on that side of the long table, so we could turn our chairs a bit to look out at the track. Menus were passed out and the manager promised he would be taking care of everything personally. He took our drink requests, assured my father that our food would be out in plenty of time for us to eat before catching the first actual race, and hurried off. Our drinks were brought in and put on the table almost before he’d actually made it out of the room. Yeah, I’d never really paid that much attention before, but I supposed my father was something of a big deal. 

Simon was tuned out again, lost in his phone. But Dad stood up, moving over to stand next to Izzy and me as he gazed out at the cars doing their practice laps. There was a fondness in his voice as he told us about the first time he’d snuck into the track to watch cars pass by. It made him sound… human and simple, just a kid who couldn’t afford a ticket to see something he loved. I glanced over to see his face, and my father looked nostalgic, lost in his memories. It made me want to ask him how so much had changed. Not only in how much money and power he now had, but where his innocence had gone. I wanted to ask him if he was happier this way, if he had any idea how much misery he brought to other people through this Ministry bullshit. 

Instead, I simply listened quietly while he told us about that first race he’d watched, and about how he’d had to run from security before it was over. His run from the security officers had been a race in and of itself, one that more than a few spectators had actually put money on, apparently. 

“Did you get away?” Izzy asked, apparently enraptured by the story. She was sitting there, arms on the back of the chair that she had turned around in and chin in her hands as she stared at my father with a wide gaze. “They didn’t catch you, did they? Otherwise you would’ve been banned from that track.” 

In response, Dad chuckled. “Well, first, you’ll find that many ‘lifetime bans’ disappear when your name shows up on a lot of the checks that pay the salaries of the people who banned you.” With a wink, he added, “But no, I wasn’t caught. Actually, I owe that to my wife. That was the day…”

Then he trailed off. A slight frown touched his face before he shook his head. “Never mind, probably not the best time. Suffice to say, Elena and I had an interesting first meeting.” Turning from the window then, as he had been staring out at the track through all that, Dad smiled broadly. “And now we’re here. See how things work out in the end when you keep at it?”  

Huh. There was something there. Actually, now that he had talked about it being his first meeting with my mother, I really wanted to hear more of that story. But I knew pushing wouldn’t work, not right now. I was going to keep that in mind and maybe ask Mom about it later. Or I’d find a way to ask Dad when we were alone. 

Either way, that was for later. Right now, I was going to focus on our little outing, and on making sure Izzy had a good time. There would be time to handle all of that other stuff. Instead, I looked at the girl beside me and nudged her before pointing. “See that car over there? The driver’s name is Pranav. He’s really cool, and he’s from Hyderabad. He’s got a lot of stories about India. When the race is over, maybe we can talk to him for a few minutes. I bet he’ll let you sit in his car.” 

“Really? Cool.” From the look on her face, I was guessing that while Izzy did think that was cool, it wasn’t nearly the kind of ecstatic feeling I’d had when I got to sit in Pranav’s car years earlier. It had been like Christmas morning for me, to the point that I’d barely been able to sit still. She thought the idea of sitting in a race car was just… cool. But at least she wasn’t against it. 

We ate our food as soon as it came, while Dad and I told Izzy stories about car races and various drivers. Simon piped up now and then, but he was mostly interested in his phone throughout all of that. Every once in awhile, he’d look at Dad when he thought I wasn’t looking and mouth something, but I could never really catch much of what it was. My best guess from what I did catch was that he was reporting numbers. Numbers of what, I had no idea. I didn’t know if it was weight, times, amounts, all of the above, something else, or anything. All I was sure of was that it had to do with Ministry stuff. And it was important enough that our father didn’t make him put his phone away during the meal. 

The food was, of course, amazing. Kevin made sure we had dessert, and then we left to head over to the track. On the way, I told Izzy about the time I’d been so excited to get to the race that I’d grabbed the hand of a stranger thinking it was my dad and dragged him toward the door. 

“It was funny,” I started, “because when I–” Then I stopped. The memory that had flashed into my head was that I’d told someone about that the day after and they–he… told me about something he did that was like that.. He told me… He… he was… he was…

A rush of pain flooded my head. I stumbled just a little before catching myself. Dad’s gaze snapped to me, hand rising. “Cassidy? Are–” 

“Sorry, sorry,” I blurted, shaking my head while doing my best to ignore the nausea-inducing pain that was still pulsing there. “I got distracted and tripped over my own feet. It’s fine, I’m fine. I just–I need to use the restroom.” 

“Take Izzy,” my father murmured. “Are you sure–” 

“Dad,” I insisted, meeting his gaze, “I’m good. Trust me, we’ll be right back.” It took everything I had not to double over and clutch my head right then. I really wished one of my paints erased pain like this. 

With that, I took Izzy’s hand and walked with her. Restroom. I knew where the restroom was. I just had to go that way, get in a stall, and sit down for a minute. Then I could get through this. The memory that kept trying to shove its way into my head was painful enough that it had nearly made me fall over back there. I had to get a handle on it, quick. Before my dad started getting more… worried about my reaction. I’d gotten lucky with the whole doctor thing yesterday, the last thing I needed now was for my parents to insist on a hospital visit. 

Izzy was watching me as we walked, her own expression pensive. I could tell she wanted to ask something about all that, which she finally did with a hesitant, “Are you okay? I mean, I know you don’t want your parents to be all worried and stuff, but if you really have a head injury…” 

“It’s totally fine,” I quickly insisted. “I mean, probably not totally fine. I’ve got bruises and all. But I don’t need any kind of doctor or anything. I’m just, you know, I need to get some water.” 

“Maybe you can use these too?” Izzy offered while holding up a bottle of Ibuprofen. When I glanced that way, she added, “I asked Mr. Jefferson if we could stop to pick up pain relief and he gave this to me when I told him it was for you. Did you know he has a whole medical kit in the car? Not just a normal emergency first aid kit, it’s like a whole ambulance supply shelf.” 

Taking the bottle, I swallowed a couple of the pills before nodding. “Thanks, and yeah, Jefferson’s really big on being prepared for anything. I…” Biting my lip, I glanced to her. “You asked him for headache medicine for me before I had a headache?” 

She managed a little smile, shrugging. “You got hurt just like… a day ago and now we’re out in bright daylight around a bunch of loud cars. Of course you’re gonna need something for pain. I just… wanted to help.”

I could hear the guilt in her voice. She still felt bad about everything that had happened. And I wasn’t sure why, exactly. Unless… if I was right about one or both of her parents being supervillains, of course she would feel guilty. Of course she would. Duh. How did I feel? How easy was it for me to feel that guilt overwhelm me? Yeah. Yeah, that was it. Again, everything fit. 

Grabbing a couple water bottles after feeding ten dollars into the nearest vending machine, I passed one to Izzy before gulping down about half of mine. For her part, Izzy stared at the bottle, her face twisting. “Five dollars for a bottle of water? It’s water! How do you make people pay five dollars for twenty ounces of something that’s seventy percent of the world?! There’s over three hundred million trillion gallons of it! Are we on Mars? Did we go to Mars after all and nobody told me?!” 

Snickering a little despite everything, I shook my head. “It’s just marked up for being in a venue like this. You should see how much a hot dog costs.” Pausing, I added, “I mean, I assume it’s supposed to be a lot. Everyone else says it’s a lot.” 

Izzy was staring at me. Her mouth opened and shut a couple times before she managed a weak, almost pleading as though hoping I could make some logical sense of it for her, “It’s water.”  

“Very expensive water, apparently,” I replied while patting her shoulder. “So you should drink it. But first, let’s do our business.” By that point we were at the restroom, which I gestured toward before heading in. 

I took my time, sitting in the stall with my head in my hands. My mind was racing, now that I’d given it the chance. The day after that whole thing at the race track years ago. I’d told… someone about it. I knew I did. I told someone the story and they told me a story about… about…

Uuuuuggggghhnnnnnn. The pain was almost too much. I had to quickly bite down hard on my knuckle to avoid giving an audible reaction. My vision swam for a second, and it was a good thing that I was already sitting down. Damn it, damn it! 

Anthony. It had to be Anthony, right? He was my age, he’d been erased from my memory. I’d told someone about taking the hand of a person I thought was my father and walking off with a stranger at the racetrack. Yes. Yes, that was right. It was clear in my head. I told that person about it, kind of laughing but also kind of scared by the memory. I told them, and she–

Wait.

She? No. No, that was wrong. That was wrong. No, the person that had been erased from my memory was Anthony. And Anthony was definitely a he. So… why did I think ‘she’? What memory had I lost that had to do with a she? That didn’t even make sense. Why would there be some other friend who was… no, no I was wrong. It had to be Anthony. This was just my erased memories playing a trick on my brain. That was the only explanation for it. The person I’d told that story to the day after was that Anthony kid, not some weird girl I couldn’t remember. 

Shaking off those feelings, I cleaned up at the sink, splashed water on my face, then met up with Izzy to leave the restroom. The two of us walked out together before I turned in a circle to orient myself about where we were going. Right, we needed–

“Cassidy?” A voice from nearby called, and I blinked that way to see a familiar guy wearing a race uniform with Ten Towers logos over it. 

“Adrian?” I blurted. It was him, the guy who had been abducted and roughed up by Uncle Friendly and Mister Harmful just because he happened to drive Ashton’s brother Josh out of the city. The guy who had driven me home that first night, the night that I… the night I found out about my family.

“You know him?” Izzy piped up, blinking back and forth between us with a curious frown. 

“Sort of,” I replied. “Oh, uhh, Adrian, this is my friend Izzy. Izzy, this is Adrian. He was an Uber driver, and also a janitor at school. But then–I mean, something… happened? I don’t–” 

“It’s a long story,” he assured us. “And probably not one we should get into. But yeah, I guess I’m not really either of those things anymore.” 

I gestured to his uniform. “Yeah, I guess not. Looks like you upgraded.” 

Chuckling self-consciously, Adrian rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah well, I’m not exactly a race driver. Not yet, anyway. Gotta earn that. But they let me drive the pace car, and I get to put the Ten Towers rides through their paces. Mostly I’m a mechanic though. But hey, it’s a living. A pretty good one. Plus, it means my brothers get to live on campus.” 

I smiled a little at that. “Cool. That’s really cool. I’m glad everything–I mean, I’m glad you’re okay. You disappeared from school, and no one really knew what happened exactly.” 

“Thanks, kid–I mean Cassidy,” the guy quickly corrected. “You have a good day and all. And hey, try not to be out so late all the time. Things get pretty dangerous out there. Good to meet you too, Izzy. You guys enjoy the race.” 

Giving him a thumbs up, I headed off with the other girl, lost in thought. So, Adrian was doing okay. He was safe with Ten Towers, especially now that the whole search for the vials was over. At least there was that. I could think of a lot of worse ways closer over that whole thing could have gone. 

“Hey, Cassidy!” Once again, I was dragged out of my thoughts as Izzy and I approached Dad and Simon. Those two were there, but there were a couple others as well. 

“Amber? Jae?” I spoke up, blinking back and forth between the two girls. 

“Your dad told us you were coming here,” Amber explained, after Jae murmured a quiet greeting. “He said we could join up with you to watch the race.” Belatedly, she added, “Hey, Izzy. What’s up?” 

While they greeted each other, I looked toward my father. He raised an eyebrow, mouthing, ‘Sorry, is that okay?’ while nodding toward my two classmates. In turn, I offered him a quick smile and nod. It was fine. Today was about relaxing and not having any problems. I needed a break from… all of that. Having a couple totally normal friends around like Amber and Jae was just what the doctor ordered. 

“Well, guys?” I pushed as soon as the greetings were over. 

“Come on, let’s go see this race.”

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Commissioned Interlude 8 – Maria and Arthur Chambers (Heretical Edge 2)

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The following is a commissioned chapter. Many thanks should go to the commissioner.

One Day After Maria and Arthur Chambers and Alcaeus Arrived In Seosten Space. 

On a small corner of the island that held Puriel’s private residence, a simple rectangular metal table had been magicked into existence, complete with chairs that looked as stiff and hard as the table itself, but were actually quite comfortable and soft to sit in. In those chairs were three men, who sat facing the water of the strange, alien (to two of the men at least) ocean. 

The sole ordinary human among the trio, Arthur Chambers, spoke up in a gruff, yet also somewhat dazed voice. “Let me go ahead and see if I’ve got this all straight in my head between everything you people’ve said since we got here. Feel like I’ve been getting the recap of that…” He paused before turning a bit to glance down the beach a bit, where his wife of over fifty years was staring intently at the ocean water. “Maria! What’s that show you like with the man who has that thing with his eye and the limping sailor? You know, the silly soap opera you watch right after lunch that puts me to sleep.”

“You only pretend to sleep, dear,” his wife primly retorted without turning away from her intense examination of the water. It was as though she was trying to spot some difference, only by eye, between the water of this world and that of Earth. “And it’s called Crescent Falls. Which you know darn well if you weren’t trying to save face about enjoying a soap opera in front of Hercules and the alien wizard. Which is quite frankly silly.” 

Clearing his throat, Arthur waved that latter part off. “Ahem, as I was saying, feels like I’ve been getting a recap of about thirty years worth of plots in that Crescent Falls spaced into about ten minutes. Only while my wonderful, beautiful wife is giving me that summary in one ear, my granddaughter’s in my other ear telling me the plot of every single comic book movie in existence in chronological, not release, order. And while all that’s going on, I’m trying to watch a history documentary.” He paused to consider how he had phrased that. “Yup, soap opera in one ear, superheroes in the other, trying to watch history.” 

“That… is not a bad comparison,” came Al’s (Alcaeus, apparently) thoughtful response. In the time since they had arrived here, the nearly seven-foot-tall man had wiped away the mixture of magic and make-up that made it look as though he had actually aged at least somewhat in the decades that they had known him. His hair was now deep black without any gray or white to it, and his face lacked even the hint of wrinkles. He had used trickery to appear to age so that he could spend more time with his friends before he would inevitably have to disappear from their lives. Or… would have had to, before all this happened. Before he had chosen to tell his friends the truth about the situation they were in, only to be interrupted by a quick burst of events that had led to them being here, on the Seosten homeworld, about as far from Earth as possible.

Arthur continued after giving Al a brief glance. “So, if I’ve got all this right, you lot…” He gestured vaguely with one hand toward the seated and silent Puriel, “have been at this space war for about three hundred thousand years now, give or take. A space war with a bunch of genocidal monsters created by some medical experiment gone wrong. Wait, pardon me, the medical experiment ran away after accidentally giving all your people the power to bodysnatchers anyone you want to. He made his own damn species of monsters, then you all went to war. You’ve been fighting it for all this time and ‘for the Greater Good’, you’ve been enslaving every God damn species you come across to use as foot soldiers cuz you are fucking outnumbered as shit. And somehow every time someone thought to bring up the thought that playing nicely with people to stop the big bad monsters might be a good idea, they… I dunno, mumbled?” 

“We tried to make allies at first.” As he said that, Puriel’s gaze flickered over to watch the water himself. “At least, that’s what the histories tell us. In those days, we didn’t live nearly as long as our people do now. Longer than humans, but not the ten thousand Earth-year lifespan of a… ahhh, modern Seosten. And we still had the same problem with birthing live children that we’ve had since the moment we gained the ability to possess people. Shorter lifespan, less children, of course we tried to partner up with other worlds, other species against this threat. The Fomorians want to wipe out everything in every universe that isn’t them or their creations. Obviously, we would do everything possible, including ally with others. But… it didn’t work out.” 

His voice turned quieter then. “Our people were betrayed. Three different species we allied with, three species we tried to stand with as friends against the Fomorians. All three betrayed us, led our people into an ambush by the Fomorians. It turned out they had made a deal to be spared if we were destroyed. The Fomorians convinced them that all they wanted was us. So they threw us away. Three hundred and thirty-seven thousand Seosten were killed in three hours.” 

After letting that sit for a few silent moments, Puriel finally went on. “Our military was devastated. In more ways than one. With those forces gone, we would have been wiped out. It was the opportunity the Fomorians needed. They would have washed over us. So… our ancestors did the only thing they could do at the time. They infiltrated the fleets and political leadership of those three species who betrayed us and forced them to come to our aid. It was a desperate move of a people who were on the very brink of being wiped from all existence.” 

By that point, Maria had abandoned her ocean vigil and moved to stand next to her husband. Laying a hand on his shoulder, she watched Puriel for a moment. “That sounds quite horrible for your people, sir. Quite horrible indeed. I know humans have never been through anything… exactly like that. But we’ve had our moments in history, our betrayals and wars. That kind of thing can set the tone between two peoples for… well, forever.” 

“Indeed,” the former captain of the Olympus agreed, watching the woman with renewed interest. “And so it set the course of my own people up to this day. Our ancestors realized… or believed that they could never rely on anyone other than ourselves. Between the initial ambush and the subsequent attacks, our military was heavily damaged. It took over a generation to fully recover to the levels it was at before. In the meantime, we relied on taking over our neighbor species and forcing them to work together. More than once, our infiltrators discovered plans for truces with the Fomorians. These other species did not understand that they were being fooled, that the monsters would never truly leave them alone. Once we were destroyed, they would turn their attention to our betrayers and wipe them out as well, no matter what ‘deals’ they had.” 

It was Arthur who found his voice next. “Sounds like a real tough time for your people.” Where some would have had no small amount of sarcasm in that sentence, he was genuine. He thought of how a place like America would have reacted to something even vaguely like that in the Cold War. If the Soviets were trying to wipe them out entirely, literally trying to kill all of them, and kept making deals with all of America’s allies to betray them? Or worse, World War 2. What if, during D-Day, the American soldiers storming Normandy had been led into a trap by their supposed allies that nearly crippled the military entirely? How would America then react to outsiders? How easy was it to see the United States, given the same ability to possess their neighbors and finding even more potential betrayal, to entirely give up on any idea of cooperation-by-choice? Look at what the country did after terrorist attacks decades in the past. Arthur Chambers had been alive for a long time, enough to see a lot of changes throughout the world and his home. He could see, all too easily, what would happen if anything remotely similar to what had gone on with the Seosten  were to happen there. 

“It was quite some time ago,” Puriel noted quietly. “But yes. As I said, it set the course for my people. It convinced us that no one could be trusted, that we were alone in this war. And yet, we could not be alone, because we would be destroyed. Our only choice, they believed, was to force all non-Fomorians in the universe to follow our commands. There were, I believe, some noble intentions to release them once the war was over. But… no one expected it to go on this long. How could they? This system has been in place for hundreds of thousands of years, and the war has no particular end in sight. We have been at what amounts to a brittle stalemate for longer than human civilization has existed. I truly do not know what a galactic society without my people in control would even look like. I can’t imagine it, much as I have recently tried.” 

“And you,” Arthur pushed on, “or your people in general, you came to Earth and you… you took human’s ability to, what was it you said…. bond? You took humanity’s ability to bond with other creatures and created a whole school out of turning kids into soldiers for your war.” 

There was a brief pause before Puriel gave a slight nod. “It took some time to get to that point, but yes. There is… perhaps some context you should hear to understand everything that has happened.” 

Maria took a seat by her husband. “By all means, let’s hear the context for everything that has happened to humanity since the Seosten arrived. 

“But something tells me you better have alcohol somewhere on this island.” 

*******

Two Weeks Later

 

“Avia?” The small, hesitant voice spoke up in the fancy Seosten kitchen. It was accompanied by the sight of a very small, very young face trying to peer up over the far side of the metal counter that filled the middle of the room. All that was visible, however, was a mop of brownish-red hair and a pair of inquisitive green eyes. The boy who was speaking was not quite three years old, small enough that he’d had to climb onto a chair just to see partway over the countertop. 

Maria Chambers looked up from the mixing bowl she had been busily stirring the contents of. A smile touched the elderly woman’s face as she saw the child peering at her. “Why, hello there, Stavin,” she greeted him while dipping the wooden spoon into the cookie batter. “Would you like to help me over here?” When the boy gave a quick nod, she set the bowl down before walking around the counter to put herself beside the chair he was perched on. “Touch okay?” 

Eagerly, Stavin bobbed his head while staring at the nearby mixing bowl. “Touch okay.” 

Only then did Maria reach down to pick the boy up and set him up on the counter. Because it was important that these Seosten children understand that they had the right to choose when and how they were touched just as much as others had the right to choose when and how the Seosten children themselves touched them. Yes, it was proper that children (or people in general) with their conditions ensure that they had permission to touch people before doing so. But it was just as proper that they themselves be given the same courtesy. 

The idea that so many within the Seosten society were treated as outcasts, as… as less than slaves, appalled Maria to an extent that she hadn’t known she was capable of being appalled. ‘Lies?’ She refused to think of them that way, let alone call them that. Nor Mendacia, considering that was only the Seosten (or Latin) way of saying the same thing. It was positive poppycock. 

After some thought on the subject, Maria had settled on referring to them as Gummies (for gum, because they were hard to get out of things if you weren’t careful). The children seemed to like the term, especially when Maria explained both what gum and gummy candy was. They were fascinated by the concept of each.

“Thank you, Avia!” the tiny boy crowed while sitting cross-legged on the table. Avia, which apparently meant grandmother, was a term the children had taken to calling Maria over these past two weeks. Arthur, meanwhile, was Avus. 

With his gaze laser-focused on the large bowl, Stavin asked, “I can help?” Belatedly, he added, “What’s poppycock?” 

Right, she’d been thinking that word when she picked him up, Maria realized after a moment of brief confusion. Because like his fellow… test subjects from the prison lab, Stavin wasn’t exactly normal even by Gummy standards. Instead of being stuck in bodies he possessed, the boy was incapable of possessing people. Rather, he would immediately hear the thoughts and feelings of anyone he touched. If he touched them long enough, he could project his own thoughts and feelings into them, making the person believe those thoughts were their own. The belief was that he would eventually be able to essentially hypnotize people this way. 

With a slight chuckle, Maria explained, “Oh, it just means nonsense, dear. And yes, you certainly can. Here.” She held the spoon out to him, waiting for the boy to take it. “Now you stir everything in that bowl up real good, okay? Then we’ll scoop them out onto the pan.” 

Tongue sticking out one side of his mouth, the tiny boy set to work stirring with both hands. The bowl moved against his efforts, until Maria reached out to hold one side so it would stay in place. With a chimed, “Thank you!” Stavis began stirring once more. 

While he was doing that, the doorway into the kitchen opened, as four more figures entered, one notably taller than the other three. The larger figure was still fairly small for being an adult, a dark-skinned woman only an inch or two over five feet, who wore a dark red Seosten bodysuit with black piping. The other three figures were more of the Seosten children. First, the tiny six-year-old (also black) Zahd, a Gummy girl who was permanently stuck in her ‘boosted’ state without Puriel’s help in draining her excess energy. Then there was the brown-haired young boy called Omni together with his sister, Spark, a girl with hair that was half blonde on one side and half black on the other. 

Maria wasn’t… fully aware of exactly what the situation with Spark was, though she had the basic idea. She was a full Gummy, not a medical experiment like the other children, and she had possessed Puriel himself so that he could hide her from the rest of the Seosten who would have hurt her. Now she was… magic. That was about as much of it as Maria understood. The girl was magic, a hologram like in those space movies. She was still physically possessing Puriel, but his own powers were enough to allow the girl to create this hologram around the house and island. A hologram that was also somehow solid. 

“Hello, Avia,” Spark politely greeted her, standing up straight with both hands interlocked behind her back. She gave a single nod. “Zahd, my brother, and I wished to offer our assistance.” 

Zahd bobbed her head up and down quickly. “Uh huh, uh huh! And not just to eat gams, even though they’re really good and stuff. But also buhcuz helping is good too and it’s good to be good.” It was very clear that she was reciting a speech she’d been told. Or at least, reciting the general gist of it. And from the way the girl looked toward Spark for approval, it was also fairly clear who the source of the speech was. 

It didn’t take long for Maria to hand out two more mixing bowls, one for Zahd and the other for Spark and Omni to use together. Which would be a lot of dough, but at least that meant plenty of cookies could be made, enough to feed almost ten hungry children. While they stirred, Omni himself piped up. The boy, as always, had dozens of questions. He was curious about every little thing, positively famished for information. The things he asked often followed no particular order or category, simply being whatever popped into his head at any given time. Maria loved that, she loved his enthusiasm for learning. 

She loved all these children, and could not fathom how their own people could abuse and mistreat them so much. 

While the kids were working on stirring up the dough, she focused on the woman who had accompanied them. “I’m sorry, it’s Aletheia, right?” Maria extended a hand to the woman after brushing it off on the apron she’d asked Puriel’s housekeeper, Olan, for. 

Accepting the offered hand, the other woman nodded. “Yes. I’m sorry I’ve been away. It’s been… difficult to prepare a way for Puriel to bring these children to Earth. Things have been very tense at the border between those who wish to leave the humans alone for good, those who wish to ally with you, and those who wish to openly invade the very moment the truce is over.”

Maria winced at that. “Yes, Puriel was explaining that. Apparently my granddaughter had something to do with the situation.” She didn’t bother keeping the proud smile from her face. Everything she’d heard from that man about what Felicity had been up to, even if, by his own admission, he only had a very small part of the story, made her love her granddaughter even more. 

The smile faded as she thought of the other things he had told her. The things about Joselyn, the truth about why that dear woman had truly disappeared. Thoughts of what she had to have been through, of what… of just what she had repeatedly sacrificed, still felt like a hand clutching Maria’s own heart. 

She owed that poor woman an apology for everything she’d thought about her. And the things she had said to her husband, even if said in error and in private, they were still wrong. And awful. 

“She was indeed,” Aletheia confirmed. “Your family has a habit of being involved in dangerous situations.”

“Why do you think I like them?” That was Alcaeus, the enormous man chuckling as he came into the room. “And that was before I even knew who the rest of the family was.” 

“Doesn’t that detract from your point?” Maria pointed out, giving him a raised eyebrow. “You never knew we were related to that Joselyn or that our granddaughter was going to this… Crossroads until recently.” 

“Semantics,” he insisted with a wink before focusing on the Seosten woman. “Puriel said you had news.” 

“Yes,” Aletheia replied. “Although it is less news and more of an… ally. An ally Chayyiel has spent quite some time procuring.” 

“You say that so dramatically,” a new voice teased as another figure entered the room. “Makes me feel like I should be a lot more help than I’m gonna be. After all, I’m not part of the Committee anymore.” 

With those words, the elderly, yet still-spry Native American man straightened to look at Maria. “Morning, Mrs. Chambers. Believe me, it is such a pleasure to meet another native Earther out here. I hear you’d like to know more about Joselyn Atherby.” 

“The name’s Kutattca, and despite my sister Litonya’s best efforts, I can tell you plenty.” 

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Eighteen 6-10 (Heretical Edge 2)

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There is a summary at the bottom of the chapter for those who would rather avoid any direct contact with Fossor. Flick envies you. 

 

Sixteen chamrosh versus a school full of preteens. Ordinary human preteens. It would be a slaughter in every sense of the word. It would be a massacre the likes of which I couldn’t comprehend. Each and every one of those kids would be dead. All of them. And the teachers. And… and…

No. I couldn’t let that happen. The fact that Fossor had chosen one of the first monsters I’d ever fought to threaten a bunch of innocent children with, in my hometown, did not escape my notice. And it definitely wasn’t a coincidence. He was doing that intentionally, and probably amusing himself to no end. 

But it worked. He’d wanted a way to ensure that I would take this fight seriously and genuinely try to win, and he’d found it. I couldn’t just half-ass this, not with the lives of those innocent kids at stake. Which I knew meant that he’d just keep doing this same thing any time he needed to. He didn’t have to threaten my mother or my own life to make me cooperate, he could threaten anyone he wanted to and keep me playing nice with him that way. And we both knew it. 

Worse, I couldn’t even fight my normal way. I was supposed to win this thing by controlling Kendall, by puppeting some other body. And not even in the possessing way that I was (somewhat) accustomed to. No, I was supposed to remote control pilot the body from over here, which… yeah. This was going to be complicated. And if I lost, all those kids would die. Because I knew it wasn’t an idle bluff. Fossor meant what he said. This wasn’t some ‘oh you tried as hard as you could, so that’s good enough’ sort of deal. If I lost this fight, all those kids would be murdered. 

But sure, it wasn’t like there was any pressure or anything.

In a practiced, casual voice, Fossor warned the crowd that any interference to help or hinder me would be a foul. And the way he said it made it clear that he had very specific ideas about what would happen to someone who committed such a foul that did not include simply putting them in time-out or ejecting them from the arena. Not to mention the fact that the ‘help’ part was clearly directed to my mother. She was going to have to sit this out as well. This one was all up to me. 

I was pointed to a raised platform area just outside the arena where I could look down and see the whole thing from an elevated position. The four Chamrosh who were actually here were still spread out, crouched low as they glared at Kendall, feathers and fur bristling. It was obvious that they were right on the edge of lunging to tear her apart, waiting only for the word to go. Four Chamrosh versus one zombie girl whom I had learned to pilot five minutes ago. Just fantastic.

Fossor, to his infinitesimal credit, did seem to at least be trying to make this ‘fair,’ to an extent. He waited until I was on the platform and settled, then gestured to a tall (almost ten feet) figure covered in gray-green fur nearby. The big guy picked up a large bucket full of swords, axes, daggers, hammers, and assorted other weaponry, tossing it over the wall of the arena. It shattered, sending all those weapons sliding along the ground behind the Chamrosh. Which meant they were all on the opposite side of the arena from where Kendall was, of course. 

Once the weapons were in place, Fossor looked my way. “Are you quite ready, dear?” 

Ready? Was I ready? A lot of words sprang to mind just then. Words that I wanted to scream at him, preferably while driving a dagger repeatedly through his ear and into his brain. Instead, I exhaled long and low, clearing my mind as much as I could. I looked down at Kendall. I felt the ‘net’ of power over her body, testing it from here to make her raise both arms, kick out once with each leg, and turn in a circle. No, I really wasn’t ready. But from Fossor’s point of view, I knew the answer to the question. So, I made her give a thumbs up while I simply said, “Whatever.” 

“Very well,” Fossor announced, his gaze moving over the arena as though silently warning everyone once more against interfering with this event. Then he added, casually as ever, “Go.” 

As calm as the actual word and voice speaking it were, the response from the Chamrosh was anything but. All four of them instantly leapt into action, lunging toward Kendall with a cacophony of shrieks and screams clearly intended to shock their victim into freezing up. 

I didn’t freeze up. But still, thinking about reacting and then directing that thought toward the dead and puppeted body down in the arena had an inherent delay. Especially given how unused to this whole sort of thing I was. So I barely managed to make Kendall twist aside before the Mastiff with the hawk head would have impaled her on his beak. As it was, the thing still managed to cut along her side. But, I supposed, at least she couldn’t feel pain anymore. 

Yeah…somehow that didn’t actually make me feel any better. But I had to shove that down. 

The Mastiff-hawk was already spinning back toward her, while the wolf-owl came right up from behind her with a loud, terrifying screech. The border collie-vulture and terrier-woodpecker leapt up and over the girl, landing on the far side before spinning back. Surrounded. Not even ten seconds into this whole thing and she was already surrounded, with no actual weapon to fight back because they were still all on the far side of the arena. This was just fucking fantastic. 

Focus. I had to focus on this. Kendall was already dead, I couldn’t do anything for her. But those other kids back in Laramie Falls weren’t. It was four Chamrosh, I could do this. I had to do this. 

I had the training for this. I had the instincts for this. I just had to stop overthinking it and put my actions into Kendall. I had to make her body an extension of my own. Stop thinking and act

I acted. Kendall’s fist lashed out to slam into the side of the Mastiff-hawk’s beak just before it would have torn into her arm. Given the power I had pumped into her, she was a fair bit stronger than she would have been as a living person, and the fact that she obviously didn’t really care about any pain meant I could make her hit even harder against the thick beak. The impact was enough to knock it off-course, even making the animal stagger sideways a little bit. 

At the same time, Kendall’s foot snapped backward to kick the wolf-owl in mid-lunge, sending it sliding to the side while only getting a bit of a nip into her ankle. Okay, that nip was enough to draw worrying amounts of blood, but still. Zombie. Or Golem. Whatever, she could take it. 

Unfortunately, there were four of these things. The collie-vulture leapt, slamming into her chest to knock her to the ground through the sheer force of its lunge. Meanwhile, the terrier-woodpecker was already waiting where her head had fallen, lunging to gouge that long, wicked-looking beak straight at her throat with a trilling shriek of its own that almost sounded like a laugh. An evil, nasty, horrible laugh. 

But I wasn’t done yet. Or Kendall wasn’t done yet. Whatever. Her hand snapped down, catching hold of the collie-vulture by the scruff of its neck. Or feathers, or–the back of its neck. The instant she had a good grip there, I made her yank the thing up over her own face, using the body of the monster as a shield from the incoming terrier-woodpecker. From my own point of view while Kendall’s face was covered, I saw the woodpecker beak tear into the side of the collie-vulture, making the latter screech. 

The fact that I was here and not there also meant that I could see the wolf-owl trying to sneak up from the side, going for one of Kendall’s knees. I let it come within range, then abruptly had the dead girl yank the collie-vulture off her face (it had left a ton of claw marks along the skin there and bloodied her nose), to slam as hard as possible into the incoming monster. There was a scream (mostly of anger, I was pretty sure) from both of them. 

But it also meant that I had something of an opening. Throwing Kendall into a sideways roll to avoid the woodpecker beak just in time, I made her wait there in that brief crouch while the Mastiff-hawk came charging up from behind. I knew it was there. That was one definite advantage of being in this position. Difficult as it was to be removed from the fight, it still meant that I could see things that even my item-sense power couldn’t have told me. So I knew exactly how long to wait until the Mastiff-hawk had committed to a lunge before launching Kendall into a backflip up and over the thing so it would plow into the others and buy me a few more seconds. 

Immediately, I used those seconds by making Kendall sprint backward toward the nearest weapon from the pile that had been scattered across that end of the arena. I didn’t bother taking the moment it would require to turn her around, because there was no point. She didn’t need to see where she was going because I could see where she was going. I was controlling her body, directing her into a backward sprint while the Chamrosh disentangled themselves. The smallest, the terrier-woodpecker, was the first to manage it. With a sudden shriek, the thing launched itself across half the length of the arena like a furry, feathery missile aimed at Kendall’s throat. It was so fast in that moment that a normal person would’ve been taken completely by surprise at how fast and far it managed to hurl itself off of a single jump. 

But I saw it coming. I saw the thing gathering to lunge, and though it was really fast, I had pretty good reaction times (thanks, werewolf in Wonderland), and managed to throw Kendall into another sideways roll an instant before the thing would have put its beak straight through her jugular. In the roll, I made the girl’s hand snap out to grab the nearby weapon. It was a mace, a weapon I wasn’t really familiar with (it did make me miss Sands even more, for sure), but that would have to do. I had time to make Kendall grab the mace while the terrier was pivoting and orienting for another lunge. With a grunt (from both of us, as I reflexively pushed that action into Kendall as well), I made the mace come swinging up and around as hard as I could. I shoved power into the power webbing that enveloped her form to push her strength as high as possible in the instant before the head of the mace slammed into the bird’s side. 

The result was instantaneous. There was a visible explosion of feathers, fur, and blood, accompanied by a horrifying, bloodcurdling squawk that was cut off right at its height, as if someone had just pressed mute. The limp remains of the thing’s body went flying a good ten feet before bouncing along the ground. At least, the parts that weren’t either smeared across the mace or drifting through the air. Or splattered over Kendall’s face, I realized, as I turned her back to face me. 

There was a mixture of cheering and boos. Obviously, some of the audience thought the fight itself was awesome, while others wanted to see me lose. Whether that was because they hated my family, hated Heretics, or just wanted to see a bunch of innocent kids get murdered was up for debate. Actually, probably a mixture of all of the above depending on the person. 

Okay, one down (yeah, it was the smallest, easiest one, but still). Three left, and I had a mace. Not the best weapon, but it was something. And I could maybe use that to work my way to something I was more familiar with, like that spear I could see in the distance. I just had to get close enough to grab it, then I’d have a weapon with a little reach to it, which would go a long way to helping me get more control over this fight. 

Unfortunately, those three Chamrosh that were left weren’t exactly leaping to help me do that. Actually, they were leaping to stop me from doing that. The wolf-owl threw itself to that side, eyes glaring my way as though daring me to try to get past it to any of the weapons there. The mastiff-hawk was on the other side (Kendall’s left and nearer to where I was physically standing), while the collie-vulture came stalking straight forward. Gradually, the three moved closer, one slow step at a time, shrinking the area I had to work with. They were operating as a pack, keeping Kendall penned in. I could tell from the way they were half-crouched that each was ready to leap if I tried to make her jump over them. This was going to be tricky. 

Okay, okay, I could do this. I just had to focus and not let myself (or Kendall) get overwhelmed. To that end, I made her abruptly pivot on one foot to face the opposite way and sent her running toward the wall at that end of the arena. Unlike the first time, I actually did make her turn her back on the monsters, because I wanted them to think she was vulnerable, triggering their instincts to chase after fleeing prey. 

They took the bait. All three immediately lunged to pursue, hurling themselves after Kendall in a wild rush, an assortment of shrieks, trills, and snarls filling the air from their excitement. They were going to run down the prey who had been so rude as to kill one of their packmates. If they caught Kendall, they were going to tear her apart and feast on everything inside. 

Except she wasn’t actually running scared. I sent her straight to the wall, watching intently as the Chamrosh gave chase. I was checking to see who the closest one would be… there! It was the wolf-owl. The thing was almost right on top of her. In another instant, with Kendall two steps from the wall, it would lunge. From the way it had positioned itself, I knew what the thing’s tactics were. It was going to throw its body at Kendall to knock her sideways into the mastiff-hawk coming from the other wide. The two would bodycheck her between them, trap the girl, and rip into her. That would be the end of this fight. 

Fortunately, I was ready for all of that. At the very last instant, just as the wolf-owl committed itself to the lunge, I made Kendall throw herself toward it. At the same time, her hand lashed out backward to hurl the mace into the face of the also-lunging mastiff. It wasn’t nearly enough to put the thing down, but it did make it stumble briefly. Meanwhile, Kendall’s other hand caught the leaping wolf by the throat. Its head snapped down to slam that wickedly sharp beak into her wrist. But she didn’t react at all, of course. The Chamrosh’s instinct to cause pain to make her grip loosen accomplished nothing. Nor did its scrambling feet raking across her chest and stomach do anything more than cut deep rips through the shirt and into the skin.

Pivoting while still running sideways along the length of the wall, I made Kendall hurl the scrambling, flailing wolf-body into the face of the collie-vulture. They were both caught up with each other while Kendall’s foot kicked a sword up into her hand. Before they could recover, she hurled it as hard as I could manage, with another boost-like burst of strength sent into the control webbing. 

The sword struck home. It went straight through the wolf-owl’s side and through the collie-vulture, impaling them both like some kind of kebab. They squealed and writhed, doing even more damage to themselves in trying to separate. They weren’t quite dead yet, but they weren’t in fighting shape either, and it wouldn’t take long. 

One left on its feet, and obviously it was the most dangerous one. The mastiff-hawk had managed to shake off being momentarily stunned by the mace it had taken into the side of its head, and was reorienting to come after Kendall once more. 

But there was distance between them, and Kendall was close to the spear I’d seen. Shoving everything I could into her speed, I made the now-dead girl throw herself that way, fingers outstretched to snatch the spear off the ground just before turning it into a roll. The remaining Chamrosh was right on her heels, so close that when the head snapped down, it actually tore into her ankle a bit. The same one that had been injured before, actually. It was enough that I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to stand on it normally. 

Damaged or not, she had the spear. And I used that immediately by making Kendall twist around, offering her arm that way while skidding to a stop on her knees.  

Once more, the bait worked. The Chamrosh snatched hold of it, tearing into the arm with a vicious bite that went all the way down to the bone. It snarled, jerking its head back and forth to do as much damage as possible. 

And then it stopped, because Kendall had driven the spear up through its flailing body. I saw the thing’s eyes widen, while the spear was twisted and shoved from side to side. Then the blade came out the thing’s back, and it went limp, falling to the ground with a whimper. 

Pushing Kendall to her feet (I could barely make her stand somewhat properly on that damaged ankle), I ignored the traumatic damage that had been done to her arm. Instead, I made her stab the spear down through the skull of the dying Chamrosh to finish it off. 

After that, with the crowd mostly quiet save for a few scattered mutters, Kendall limped over to the still-impaled pair of ‘surviving’ Chamrosh and killed each of them with two more quick thrusts. 

They were dead. The four Chamrosh were dead. As soon as that was clear, I jumped off the platform, landing in the arena while the crowd gave a fairly evenly mixed assortment of cheers and boos. My eyes were on Fossor as I raised my voice. “Deal’s a deal, send the van away!” 

There was a brief pause before the necromancer nodded once. “You’re right, a deal is a deal.” His hand waved, and I watched the monitor as the van started up before driving out of the lot. Only once it was out of there did I breathe again. 

“An excellent showing, dearest,” Fossor all-but purred, making my entire body simultaneously tense up and also dry heave. “But you should touch your soldier there.” His eyes shone with amusement. “Take her hand and hold it high for the crowd.” 

I had no idea what game he was playing, but did so anyway. With a sigh, I reached out to take the less-damaged hand of the… the… dead girl gingerly, intending to raise it above her head. 

I didn’t get that far. The moment we made skin-to-skin contact, there was a flash of golden light, and I felt a sudden rush of pleasure that made me stumble a bit.  

It was the Heretic killgasm. I was experiencing it at that moment for all four Chamrosh that Kendall had killed. I felt the rush of pleasure and power from the four deaths, even though they’d happened much earlier. Somehow, the… result of their death, the energy or whatever, had stayed in Kendall until I touched her. Then it reached me. 

The crowd was roaring with a mixture of cheers and laughter at my reaction. And through it, I heard Fossor’s voice. “Well, that’s one hypothesis proven. 

“This could become quite interesting indeed.” 

 

SUMMARY

Flick fights the four Chamrosh using Kendall and, through a difficult battle, manages to kill them all thanks to her own skill, the benefit of standing above it so she can see everything that’s going on, and the fact that injuries and pain don’t slow Golem-Kendall down. After the fight, Flick takes Kendall’s hand at Fossor’s suggestion, and immediately gains the boosts from killing the four Chamrosh, revealing that she will gain powers from what her golems kill once she physically touches them.

 

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Pink 12-01 (Summus Proelium)

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It was a good thing that the next day was Saturday, because there was no way I was going to be able to go to school. I was completely out of it, dead to the world (metaphorically rather than literally thanks to Pack and the others) until almost noon. Even then, it felt as though only a few minutes had passed from the time I closed my eyes to the time I woke up staring blearily at the outline of bright, middle-of-the-day sunlight coming in through my closed blinds. 

For another couple minutes, I just lay there, staring at the hints of light while trying to get my mind around everything that had happened the day before. After being abducted and nearly killed by the Scions, rescued by Pack, That-A-Way, Broadway, and Skip working together, having to lie to my parents by making up a story about where I’d been all night (and subsequently being examined by a doctor), being punished by having the time it would take me to get an actual car extended, and what else…? Oh right, telling Pack and That-A-Way about the secret organization running both the good and bad guys in the city without actually mentioning that the people at the head of that organization were my own freaking parents

Yeah. It was a lot. I’d had a busy day. No wonder I’d slept so long. It was a wonder I wasn’t some gibbering wreck in the corner, to be honest. And I still hadn’t been able to find Bobby, even though that had been the entire point of that endeavor. Though I did have that code off the toys that I’d found in the cabin. A code for something I didn’t know anything about. Oh, and of course, Eits was still hurt. Eits had been hurt because I asked him to look into that for me. 

That thought, of Eits lying there in that bed, made my eyes close. I shuddered a little, terrified just at the memory of seeing him like that. Knowing that he was there because of me was just… too much. I couldn’t stand it. And I couldn’t lay there anymore. I had to distract myself from that. 

A sudden weight shift on the bed made me jump. Izzy was there, picking herself up from the bottom of my bed, where she had apparently laid down. “Sorry,” she managed, blushing a little. “I was waiting for you to wake up but I guess I… fell asleep.”

Even as she said it, the girl was yawning. Which made me realize, “Wait, you were… you were up for a long time waiting for me, weren’t you?” Saying that, I felt a renewed rush of guilt go through me. The thought of Izzy sitting up, worried for so long without any way of knowing where I was or what had happened, somehow it made me feel even worse than I had about making my parents worry. Izzy hadn’t asked to be involved with any of this, she was innocent. 

A slight flinch crossed the younger girl’s face before she admitted hesitantly, “I tried to cover for you, but it umm… it didn’t work.” Looking guilty, she stared at me with wide eyes. “I’m sorry.” 

“You’re…” I had to do a double-take at that, staring right back at her. “You’re sorry? What–Izzy, no.” Quickly, I scooted down to that end of the bed to sit next to the other girl. “You don’t have to be sorry about anything. It was my fault.” Technically it was the Scions’ fault, but I’d never say that to her. “I’m the one who made a mistake. I’m the one who–never mind. It’s okay. You don’t have to feel guilty just because you couldn’t stop my parents from realizing I never came home. I promise, it’s okay.” With that, I put a hand on her shoulder. “So knock it off, alright?”

Izzy hesitated, looking at me with a surprisingly intense stare for someone who wasn’t even quite yet a teenager. Finally, she gave a short nod. “But you’re not in too much trouble?” 

I made myself shrug. “Yeah, I sorta have to wait longer before I finally get to drive once I pass my test and all that. I’ve been looking forward to it basically since I was old enough to know what a car was, and now it’s further away.” It wasn’t all that hard to make it sound like the punishment was as bad as it was supposed to be, because driving really had been incredibly important to me up until recently. I still wanted to, of course. I just… had bigger things to worry about. Much bigger things. But I could still make that sound pretty convincing. 

“I’m sorry,” Izzy quietly said once more, this time adding, “I hope your parents weren’t super mad.” 

“We worked it out,” I assured her. “But I don’t think I’ll be in a rush to go anywhere today. So, you wanna play some more of that game from before?” 

There was a moment of hesitation before she nodded. “Uhh, okay.”

“Great. But breakfast first,” I insisted. 

“I don’t like to get my butt kicked on an empty stomach.” 

******

So, I basically played games and watched movies with her all day. It was pretty much all I could stand to do with the pain in my side and how exhausted I felt. Not to mention how much my parents kept either checking up on us or having one of the staff do so. They also had me take several special pills that were supposed to help my body heal faster. It wasn’t like an instant cure or anything, but still. It also made me a little woozy and sleepy, another thing stopping me from going out or doing much. 

But that was okay, I needed the break. I would get back to everything else soon enough. For that one day, I just spent time with Izzy. That was good enough. 

Then it was Sunday, and I felt a little more like myself. After getting up, showering, and dressing, I emerged from the bathroom to find my dad there. He enthusiastically told me that he was taking Simon, Izzy, and me out to visit the racetrack just outside the city, and that we would make a day of it. We were going to get lunch, see some cars and races, tour the track, then get dinner. It was going to be a whole thing. And, of course, it would allow him to keep an eye on me to make sure I didn’t have any kind of lingering effects from that whole head injury thing. He didn’t actually say that part, but I picked up on it pretty easily. 

I also couldn’t really argue. Of course the old me would be ecstatic about going to see the cars at the track with my dad. If I tried to demur or wasn’t into it, he’d know something was wrong. He’d be even more suspicious. Hell, he might try to find out if I was some kind of shapeshifter  Touched who had stolen his real daughter, given the circumstances. So I had to do this, and make it seem like everything was just hunky-dory. No matter how much I really didn’t want to. 

Besides, Izzy was going, and there was no way I’d abandon her like that. I wasn’t going to leave her to go out with my father. Especially not when I still didn’t know what that whole situation was. If something happened to that girl while she was out with Dad and I wasn’t there, I… I’d feel even worse than I did about Eits getting hurt. 

So, I was going. I made a point of thanking my father, hugging him, promising that I would never do anything as stupid as skating alone in a construction zone again, then hurried into my bedroom. As soon as I was out of sight with the door closed, I turned off the excited act, the bright smile melting from my face as I turned to look in the mirror. Yeah, I was going to have to keep that up all day, wasn’t I? That was just great. 

“Cassidy?” The sound of Izzy’s voice from over by my window, where the other girl had been standing, made me jolt with surprise. That was the second time in less than twenty-four hours that she’d startled me. When my gaze jerked that way, her face was scrunched up uncertainly. “Are you really okay? You…” Again, there was a brief hesitation, as if she wasn’t sure she should actually say anything. “You looked sad.”

Quickly, I bobbed my head. “Yeah, sorry, I was just thinking about… stupid things. No big deal. Seriously, how could I be sad when we’re going on this awesome little daytrip, right? You–wait, do you even like cars?” It only occured to me at that moment that this whole thing might not actually be much of a fun event for her if she wasn’t actually into this stuff the way I was. 

Sure enough, the other girl offered me a helpless shrug, looking self-conscious. “They’re okay,” she offered weakly. “I mean, your parents have a lot of really pretty cars, but I don’t know what the big deal is about engines and models and all that. It goes vroom and takes people places.” 

“Goes vroom and–” Adopting a scandalized look, I poked her. “Yeah, trust me, there’s a lot more to it than that. Good thing we’ve got today to get you into it.” Winking then, I added, “It’s okay if you’re really not though. Maybe it’ll still be nice to get out of the house and walk around? Plus, they have some pretty good snacks at those places. Suuuuper buttery popcorn. And the places my dad’s gonna take us to for lunch and dinner… oh believe me, you don’t wanna miss that.”

“Okay, okay,” Izzy retorted with a little snicker, clearly realizing how much I was trying to play it up for her. “You’re right, I do want to get out of this place. I want–” She stopped abruptly, though it had been clear that she’d been about to say something important. But then something flashed across her face. It was a weird expression, like… sad and lost, but also furious. Then it went away just as quickly as it had appeared. 

“Izzy?” I pressed just a little bit, not even thinking about my own things in that moment. Not after the brief flash of whatever that was that I’d seen in her eyes at that moment. Izzy was really upset about something. Not an immediate thing, but… but something. Even though I’d only known her for a very short time, seeing her look like that made me want to find whoever made her feel that way and… and do bad things. “Are you okay?” Now I felt like our positions had flipped. It was me asking her if she was alright after I’d seen an expression on her face. 

Wait, did that mean that whatever she was going through was similar to what I was going through? Did… was one of Izzy’s parents or another family member a supervillain? Maybe Izzy had found out and that was why she was here, being kept safe from Touched on either side and the authorities. Could that explain the vulnerable, yet angry look I’d seen, and everything else? 

It could. It really could. I couldn’t really think of any part that it didn’t cover. Izzy finding out that someone really close to her, my guess was one or both parents, was a supervillain and then being ‘protected’/hidden away… it would make sense. It gelled with everything I’d seen and answered a lot of questions. Especially about why she seemed so open sometimes, but also guarded. And why she would be especially sensitive to any relationship I had with my own parents. That made a disturbing amount of sense. 

Yeah, I was pretty sure that was it. But who? Who was Izzy’s supervillain parent or parents? That was all I could think about as the two of us left my bedroom and headed downstairs to where Dad and Simon were already waiting in the main foyer by the front door. I was distracted from those thoughts as both of them loudly and (clearly intentionally) obnoxiously complained about how long it had taken for us to finally join them, making a whole production out of it. 

“See?” I started conversationally while looking at the younger girl beside me. “This is why going to someplace with a lot of noise like a racetrack is a good idea. Because it’s so loud you can’t hear the boys whining all the time.” Saying that, I winked, pointedly ignoring the wounded sounds and looks while Izzy snickered.

“Okay, okay,” Dad began with a shake of his head. “Let’s get this show on the road. Jefferson’s bringing Big Sal around, and you know how much of a bad idea it is to make that man wait.” 

Yeah, apparently even my own father didn’t like to take our time-obsessed driver off his schedule. Obviously most of that was just playing with us around, but still. Jefferson was not a man who enjoyed surprises or things that made him late once his day was planned. 

We moved out of the house to the front drive, where Big Sal (our imposing black SUV with heavily tinted windows) pulled up just in time for Jefferson to step out, walk around to briefly open and walk away from the back door for the rest of us who didn’t literally sign his paycheck, then open the front passenger door and hold it for my father to get in. 

Izzy and I climbed in the back, while Simon took the middle seat and immediately shoved his earbuds in before losing himself in music. Once Dad was in his seat, Jefferson closed that door, closed our door, then walked around to the driver’s side. A moment later, we pulled out. 

We were driving away from the house in Big Sal. I’d asked my dad about the SUV before, and he’d told me that this thing had enough armored plating and reinforced glass to take multiple tank rounds while barely showing a scratch. It was rated to keep presidents and royalty safe. 

I wondered if he had any reason for us to travel in this today other than just wanting to have enough seats for Izzy. We had plenty of cars. Was there another reason for having this particular one? Was it just that we were taking her away from home and Dad wanted to be safe, or something else? Was there more to this whole trip today? Or was I just being paranoid? 

Either way, I would keep my eyes open. And just hope that nothing crazy happened while we were out on this little trip. I could really use a break, after everything that happened the day before yesterday. And I also needed to sneak away at some point and buy a new phone so I could contact Pack to find out how Eits was doing. Not to mention checking in with Wren, actually meeting with Pack and That-A-Way to figure out how the three of us were going to sneak into that secret base under the mall, piece together what the code on those toys was for, find Bobby, piece together my missing memories, find out what Paige’s whole deal was and how she was connected to that Anthony kid who had apparently been my friend, and, and…

I had a lot to do. Too much. But I needed a break right now. Besides, if I bailed on this trip, Dad really would be suspicious. So I was stuck here, cooling my heels, metaphorically speaking. I had to act like I didn’t have anything important to do, no matter how much stuff was piling up waiting for me to get on with it. I had to reassure my father that everything was just fine first. 

On the way, I thought about my whole theory about Izzy’s family member being Fell-Touched. It still all fit as far as I could tell. She was Latina. Did that mean that one of her parents was a member of Oscuro? It basically had to, right? The odds were really high that way, in any case. If Izzy had a family member who was part of Oscuro, that would explain why my parents were keeping her secreted away. Despite my (totally understandable, damn it) paranoia, I was increasingly certain that they really did care about Izzy and were protecting her. They might have been horrible people in many ways, who did a lot of horrible things, but in this case, I was fairly certain they weren’t the bad guys. So they had to be protecting her from someone else who was dangerous, and Cuélebre was pretty high up that list. 

Except did they really have to protect her? Everything else I knew about their organization, this ‘Ministry’, said that all they’d have to do was tell Cuélebre to leave her alone. So what else was I missing? There was some really obvious thing that would immediately fill in all the blanks here, but I was just missing it. 

I was distracted then, as Dad passed something back to Simon, and he passed it to me. It was a new phone, just like the old one. At least, on the surface. I was going to go over it with a fine tooth comb to make sure it wasn’t reporting anything back to my parents after the scare I’d given them. Not that I’d done Touched stuff on my normal phone in the first place, but I didn’t want it telling them where I was all the time. Any more than normal phones did, anyway. The point was, I was going to make sure this phone hadn’t been tampered with before I took it with me anywhere sensitive. Actually, it was probably safest to just leave that phone wherever I left my clothes from now on. I could easily set up a thing to forward calls from that to my Touched-business phone. Yeah. If Pencil hadn’t destroyed my phone’s ability to connect to the towers and my parents had checked where I was? That would have been really bad. 

Well, it also might’ve been good, if it had helped Dad dump a whole bunch of troops on top of the Scions. But bad in other ways. 

Eventually, we reached the racetrack. It was an enormous facility, the arena itself enclosed behind heavy walls with a retractable ceiling for bad weather, a giant garage along the side opposite the entrance where extra work could be done, and two whole car museums attached to either end. The western museum was dedicated to ‘normal’ vehicles throughout history, while the eastern museum was dedicated to showcasing vehicles created, inspired, and/or used by Touched. There was a lot of Tech-Touched stuff in the eastern museum, special stuff developed throughout the past twenty years. I’d spent a lot of time in both museums ever since I was a little kid. Not to mention all the time I’d spent in the stands, watching the eclectic assortment of souped up vehicles speeding past. Tech-Touched liked to bring their vehicles here from all over the world during open-powers races to show off what they could do. It was a lot of fun to watch, and I was excited to see another one now despite my own reservations about everything else. 

Jefferson parked, and we got out. Dad made a broad gesture. “Alright, come on then. Let’s show Izzy how we like to have a good time.” 

And at that moment, I was so into this whole thing that I managed to resist the urge to ask how many teenagers we’d have to kill before Dad and Simon would start enjoying themselves.

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Eighteen 6-09 (Heretical Edge 2)

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As Fossor is quite active in this chapter, there is a summary at the bottom. 

There was a high-pitched roaring somewhere in the back of my head. A rush of anger, of disbelief, helplessness, and grief all welled up within me while I stared at the puppeted dead body in front of me. The dead body of a man I’d barely known, but had really liked and admired.

And that was, in some ways, what made this whole thing worse. I hadn’t even considered the Meregan as potential targets to worry about. I hadn’t been thinking about them, because they were off on an entirely different world in a different universe. They were safe from this. 

Except they weren’t, of course. Because Gavant was a Meregan, and the Meregan had already been almost wiped out by Fossor to begin with. They had offered to help when the time came to deal with him. Of course they were still a potential target, regardless of anything else. They were people Fossor already wanted to deal with, who had made him angry and then still offered to help me. The few who remained, who survived Fossor’s purge, still wanted to help stop him.

And now look. Fossor had already said there were other Meregan here beyond this one. How many, I didn’t know. But more than one. And Gavant… poor Gavant. He was dead, and turned into a puppet for Fossor to manipulate. 

No. Worse. He was a puppet for me to manipulate. That was what this motherfuckeeehhh boy that was a title I didn’t want to finish. That was what this asshole wanted. He wanted me to puppet the Meregan man, wanted me to use him as a toy soldier. Just like he wanted me to use Kendall, an innocent (overall) ordinary human girl who had definitely not deserved to die like that. Kendall and Gavant, ‘enemy’ (as far as Fossor understood) and friend. Both killed just so this Necromancer piece of shit could use them to train me into his fucking protege or whatever. 

“You see?” Fossor himself spoke up, his cruel, horrible voice cutting through that roaring in my head. “Your old friend did offer to aid you when the time came. And now, here he is, fulfilling that promise. Never say that I don’t find a way to help old friends when they need that extra push.” 

Swallowing hard, I stepped over slowly. My gaze passed over Kendall and I whispered an apology under my breath. Why, I didn’t know. She was long gone. She was dead and no apology was going to bring her back. Same went for Gavant. Poor Gavant, and poor whatever other Meregan had come with him. 

What about Tristan? Gavant being dead would have happened years earlier for him, but he still hadn’t mentioned it. Was that to preserve some kind of time thing, or because he didn’t know, or because he thought it was something other than Fossor? My bet was one of the latter two. Actually, the second one. It was possible that Gavant just wasn’t there while Tristan was flying around with Nicholas, that he had stayed behind on his world to help rebuild. That was really the only way I could understand Tristan never mentioning Gavant’s death, because he didn’t know about it. That was the only… yeah, that had to be it. 

All those thoughts ran through my mind as I reached up to put a small, trembling hand against the chest of the nine-foot-tall, gray-haired figure. There was a thick lump in my throat, tears stinging my eyes. I didn’t care about all the people around me and how they were reacting to this. I didn’t care about Fossor perched above on his throne. All I cared about was the two dead figures in front of me. Two people who had died for such stupid, meaningless reasons. 

My eyes closed, and I murmured softly under my breath. “I’m sorry.” With my right hand still on Gavant’s unmoving chest, I moved the left to Kendall’s equally-motionless shoulder. “I am so sorry. I’m sorry I… “ My voice trailed off, words stuck in my throat. What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to do right now that wasn’t utterly meaningless? They were dead. I couldn’t bring them back. Not in any real way. They weren’t even hearing any of this. Talking to them was pointless, it served no purpose other than to let me express my feelings. And that was stupid to do right here in front of everyone. None of these evil fucks deserved to know how much Fossor’s bullshit right now had affected me. Least of all the necromancer himself. No, I had to get myself under control and deal with the things that I could actually affect at the moment. Not just stand there apologizing to a couple dead people who couldn’t hear me. 

Apologies would come later. I would deal with that, with both of them, when the time came. When I wasn’t standing here in front of an audience full of psychotic evil fucks who were no doubt amused by this whole thing, then I would work my way through it, psychologically. 

But for now, I wasn’t going to give them any more of the satisfaction. Instead, I turned on my heels, arms falling to my sides as I lifted my gaze toward Fossor. “And if I tell you that I’m not going to use them?” I asked flatly, watching his expression. Not that I expected that to fly. 

Sure enough, Fossor met the question with a slight, humorless chuckle. As he did, others around the room chuckled as well, as though his reaction had given them permission to do so. They stopped instantly when he began to speak. “Well, dearest girl,” the man casually informed me, “if you are not happy with the tools I have provided, I suppose I would be forced to work my way through others in your past life until we find a pair of subjects whom you are satisfied by.” 

Others. He would keep killing people I knew until I accepted and worked with the people he gave me. Who else? Who would he see as a valid target to kill and hand over to me? Given he’d used Kendall of all people, I was pretty sure there was a very long list for him to draw from. A long list of people who would die just so Fossor could make a point about his control over me.

I couldn’t do that. As much as I loathed the idea of using my power to control Gavant and Kendall, if I didn’t, Fossor would just kill more people I knew. Many of whom wouldn’t be targeted by him otherwise. No, I had to do this. As much as it killed me on the inside, as much as it made me want to throw up and shove these stupid Necromancy powers into a deep dark hole and never use them again, I had to. Not only because of the threat to others, but also because it wasn’t the fault of the power itself. It wasn’t its fault that Fossor and Manakel had both tainted it like this. It was a power, like a gun or a sword. It could be used for good or evil. Either way, I had to do this. I had to use the power to control Kendall and Gavant. 

Logically, I knew all that. But it still took me a moment to force the words out. “No,” I finally managed. “They’ll do just fine.” I had to bite my lip to avoid adding anything nasty onto the end of that. Given the situation, I didn’t want to provoke my… host any more than I already had. Not with my mother right there and all of his guests watching this entire exchange between us. If Fossor thought he was taking too many insults and being seen as too weak in front of these people, I really didn’t want to think about how he might retaliate. Now was the wrong time for bravado, as much as it might have made me feel better for a few seconds.

From the look on his face, Fossor knew everything that I’d been thinking. He gave me a slight nod, one eyebrow raised thoughtfully. “Good,” he announced. “Then we’ll begin your training. First, you’ll learn to manipulate the smaller one. Then the larger one. Once you have the basics of moving them around and working your will through them, we’ll move on to the first match.” He gave me a slow smile, his eyes briefly moving away to look at someone off in the audience. Mom. He was looking at my mother. I knew that without even glancing that way. The expression on his face made that much clear. He was looking over to see her reaction to this whole thing. 

Then he looked right back to me, that slight smirk remaining. “I do hope you’re not a slow learner, Felicity. All of the fine people here came to see a good show. It will be very disappointing to them if we spend the entire time watching you learn to make a corpse wave.” 

I had a few thoughts about what the people around me could do with themselves if they ended up being disappointed in my performance. But I kept those words buried. Instead, I simply cleared my throat and flatly retorted, “Then I guess you should show me what to do.” 

The smile that appeared on his face when I said that made me really uncomfortable. Wearing that smile, the man stood from that throne of his. As he did so, a ghost appeared, floating in the air in front of the throne on his hands and knees as though placating himself before the necromancer. Then another appeared slightly ahead of and below the first, and another lower than that. They were forming a staircase out of ghost bodies. A staircase that Fossor casually strolled down until he was in the arena with me. While I watched, the ghosts disappeared and he moved until he was directly between Kendall and Gavant. “My dear girl,” he all-but purred. 

“All you had to do was ask.” 

Before I could shrink back, he stepped forward. His hand found its way to my shoulder, and I had to seriously work to suppress the urge to lash out. But what was I going to do? There was no way Fossor would let me get away with slapping his hand away, insulting him, or doing anything that might make him look less than perfectly in control in front of this whole audience. He would take any insult seriously personally, and while I absolutely did not care about his feelings of all things, I did care about the fact that he would likely hurt my mother in front of all these people just to punish me for acting out. So, I stayed as rigidly still as I could with that disgusting, horrible hand gently squeezing my shoulder. It felt like a venomous snake was coiled up next to my ear. Except that a snake would have been infinitely preferable to this.  

From the look on his face, Fossor was fully aware of the thoughts and impulses that had been running through my mind. He waited calmly, before smiling faintly when I managed to suppress my instinct. Our eyes met, and he actually winked at me. Yeah, that made it even harder to resist the urge to punch him in his smug fucking face. Or, better, stab him right in the throat. 

But that wouldn’t accomplish anything. Well, nothing other than killing some innocent person on his world. Which was sure would amuse Fossor to no end, but other than that. After hearing Rahanvael’s side of the story, I was even more loathe to do things to Fossor that would hurt the people on their world. Those people had been through so much for literally thousands of years. 

Honestly, I had to think about that to truly comprehend it. They had been enslaved for three thousand years. That was like if Earth had been under the sole control and power of one psychotic despot since 1000 BC. Three thousand years of being enslaved and forced to do his bidding. Three thousand years of anyone at any time just… randomly dying, or simply being injured or crippled, as Fossor passed any damage given to him off to them. Three thousand years. How many generations was that? Too many. Too fucking many. I wasn’t even sure how long their people generally lived or how similar to humans they were in that regard. But either way, it was too God damned many. They had all suffered more than any world should have. No wonder Rahanvael wanted her people to be freed from her brother. 

Stepping behind me, Fossor kept one hand on my shoulder while his other hand took my arm, lifting it to press a hand against Kendall’s forehead. Kendall. The dead… dead Kendall. Now I really needed to throw up. Or cry. Or scream. Or hit something. But I couldn’t do any of that. I couldn’t do anything except let this evil fuck touch me, his voice quiet as he murmured about closing my eyes and reaching out to sense what he called a web of power that had been woven around Kendall. He described it as similar to a net, one that had been woven around every part of the girl in front of me. Slowly, reluctantly, I closed my eyes and reached out that way, sensing through the hand that was pressed against Kendall’s head. 

I felt it. Fuck. I felt the web, felt the way the power was wound around and… and through her form. A slight tug at the web binding her arm made that arm lift, rising above her head. Then I tugged the other one up and made her hands clap together. 

Cheers filled the arena, clearly urged on by Fossor. God. No. No, God, I was going to be sick. I couldn’t do this. I had to–had to stop. I had to–

“Felicity.” It was my mother’s voice, somehow right next to my ear, a whisper that, as far as I could tell, even Fossor didn’t pick up. My head snapped that way to see her. She was standing flanked by others in the outer ring of the arena. Her lips moved, and I heard her voice once more. “I love you. It’s okay. You can do this. You can’t help either of them now. You can’t help them. You have to play along.” Her hand lifted very subtly, and I felt her touch brush down the side of my face very gently. “Please, Lissy.” 

I exhaled, giving a short nod to both her and Fossor. My voice cracked a little, but was at least audible. “I… think I get it.” Closing my eyes, I focused on tugging at the invisible webbing to make Kendall turn in a circle. It was easy. It was so easy, and that, somehow, made the whole thing worse. 

With a smile in his voice, Fossor squeezed my shoulder and arm. “You see? Very good. You are such a remarkable student, my dear. Now then… let’s see a bit more.” 

We continued that way, and… to my incredible disgust and hatred, Fossor was actually a good teacher. Yeah. Being near him was one of the most truly awful moments of my life. Listening to his voice, feeling his hands touch my shoulders and arms, having him so… fucking close and not being able to do anything about it made me want to shove my fingers through my own skull and tear my brain out. But, even with all of that in mind, he was still effective. He was patient, careful to explain things properly, made sure I understood one thing and could duplicate it before moving on to the next concept, even linking what I knew to what he was teaching me so he wouldn’t lose me after all that. 

He was a good teacher. I hated him. I loathed him. I wanted him dead and buried in the ground. But he was still a good teacher, at least of necromancy. Even (or maybe especially) in front of this audience, Fossor was so disturbingly good at just… teaching me how to control Manakel’s power. Everything he said made sense, and he weaved together the various parts of the lesson in how to move the bodies properly, how to push my own strength into them, how to essentially boost the so-called golems to be faster and stronger than they should have been. 

I hated it. I hated every single second. But I was going to use it anyway. I was going to use every little thing he taught me and be the best possible student he could ever have. Because somewhere in those lessons might possibly be something that would someday help me kill him. 

Through it all, the audience watched. They called out advice now and then, and I had the feeling that they couldn’t hear what Fossor was explaining to me. He was using some kind of magic to ensure that only I could hear his actual words. Which I supposed made sense, given he wouldn’t want to be explaining the nuances of even one part of necromancy to a whole audience. Either way, I was surprised they weren’t getting bored or complaining about the lack of fighting and blood. Maybe they just knew better than to do that in front of their host. 

Whatever it was, eventually Fossor stepped back. He gave a satisfied nod. “Now then, the best way to test what you’ve learned so far is a nice little match. Let’s have you control the little one for now. Just to start.” With a gesture, he sent Gavant to sit in the corner of the arena, leaving me standing next to Kendall. Across from us, four figures entered. Four familiar figures, at least as far as their species went. Chamrosh, they were all Chamrosh, the things that the rest of my team and I had fought for our first hunt just before the Amarok showed up. They were the younger, smaller cousins of a Griffin, each with the body of a canine and (oversized to fit the dog body) head of a bird. Of these four, one was a huge Mastiff with the head of some kind of hawk, the second had the body of a border collie and the head of a vulture, the third had the body of some kind of wolf and the head of an owl, and the last one had the body of a smaller dog like a terrier matched to the head of a woodpecker. 

The four Chamrosh spread out, staring and growling at Kendall and me. Meanwhile, Fossor took the ghost-stairs back up to his throne while informing me, “You don’t fight, my dear. Step out of the arena. You control your minion to do the fighting.” 

Turning to settle himself into his seat while his ghosts vanished into nothingness, the man added slyly, “Oh, and let’s make this a bit interesting, shall we?” With that, he snapped his fingers, and one wall above and to the left of the arena lit up. It was like a jumbotron monitor. On it, I saw… a school? Wait, my school. It was a view of the front doors and parking lot of my old middle school back in Laramie Falls. A middle school full of students walking around, heading for classes, stopping to chat, or just goofing off. It was a bunch of middle schoolers. 

There was also a moving van parked in the lot. Even as the moving van came into focus, the wall turned somewhat insubstantial, revealing the interior. An interior full of over a dozen of these same Chamroshes. 

“If you win this fight using only the girl,” Fossor’s voice informed me (and the audience), “the van drives away and nothing happens.

“But if you lose, those doors open, and we’ll see just much damage sixteen Chamrosh can do to a school full of preteen children.” 

 

SUMMARY

Flick apologizes to the (already dead) Gavant and Kendall for Fossor dragging them into this, and reluctantly agrees to use them as her golems to stop him from simply killing more people from her life. Fossor then instructs and guides her in how to control the golem bodies, and turns out (much to Flick’s annoyance) to be a very good Necromancy teacher. To test her new skill, Fossor tells Flick that she will use Kendall to fight several Chamrosh (the same animals from the first hunt way back in the first book, canine bodies with bird heads). He then adds that if she doesn’t win, a larger group of Chamrosh will be unleashed on her old middle school to kill all those innocent students.

 

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Interlude 11B – Robert and Pencil (Summus Proelium)

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Four Years Ago

With the steady sound of tires gliding across uneven pavement, a wheelchair rolled across the dark, empty parking lot toward the front of the member’s only warehouse store. Its occupant, Robert Parson, was incredibly tall when standing. At his full height, the dark-skinned man was a solidly built six feet, eight inches. Which meant that even seated as he was now, he cut quite an impressive figure, and his eye level remained higher than many even when they were standing.

The wheelchair wasn’t electric. Nor was it one of those Tech-Touched brain-operated models. No, it was an old-school, manual chair, propelled by Robert’s own heavily-muscled arms as he pushed the wheels to guide himself right up the ramp and to the front doors of the store. 

Despite being automatic doors, they were locked and didn’t open. As he sat in that wheelchair, Robert considered those stubbornly motionless doors for a moment before slowly leaning up. His hand stretched out, and he gave three firm, loud knocks against the metal part of the door. The sound rang out around him and he could hear it within the store itself through the glass.  

Instantly, the beam of a powerful flashlight appeared from inside, pointed right at his eyes. It came quickly enough that Robert had no doubt the person on the other side of it, hidden in the dark recesses just beyond the store’s entrance area, had been watching him the whole time, waiting for the man to announce himself like that. He also had no doubt that there was some kind of gun on the other side of that light as well, if he had tried to break in quietly.

For a moment, nothing else happened. There was silence, while that blinding light was shown directly into his eyes. Finally, the light dimmed slightly, and a figure appeared in front of it. The figure moved to stand in front of the door, staring at Robert. Then the seated man heard a quiet chuckle, before a hand reached out to touch a control on one side of the door. It finally slid open with a hiss, as the man within stepped aside with a grand gesture for the new arrival to enter. 

With a single push against the wheels, Robert sent the chair into the store, then made the chair turn to face the figure who had let him in. Finally, he was able to look the other man in the face.

Well, sort of. The man wore a mask, a sackcloth bag of sorts that left his eyes and mouth exposed. Beyond that, he wore a brown tweed suit that didn’t fit properly, with black gloves. In one of those gloves, the man held a heavy-duty pistol. It was already pointed at Robert. “So you’re the guy they sent in, huh? Took you fucking long enough to get here,” he complained. “What’d they do, have the cash flown in from Chicago? 

“You call yourself Pencil, right?” Robert prompted, ignoring both the complaint and the gun leveled right at his face. “That’s what people keep saying anyway. Pencil, the invincible. Or is it Pencil, the immune?”

The response from the other man was a snicker. “Tell you the truth, I prefer Pencil the humble and charming,” he drawled with obvious amusement before giving a vague wave of his free hand, the gun never wavering from its target, “but for now, we’ll go with the most important title: Pencil, the man in charge. And I’ve gotta say, when I told the Krights to send just one guy who wouldn’t make me nervous, I wasn’t expecting them to embrace the goal so much. I mean, a wheelchair? They send in a guy in a wheelchair? Now that is commitment to the cause.” 

He trailed off, lifting his chin thoughtfully. “Course, if you weren’t in that chair, big guy like you might be a bit more of a concern. But I suppose I don’t have anything to worry about, long as you’re stuck there.” Pausing, he added in a curious tone, “So which is it? You trying to trick me, or do you really need that thing? Come on, you can tell me. We can be friends and sort this out.” 

Robert spoke flatly, his words gruff as he watched the man’s reaction. “Spine injury. Paraplegic.” From everything he’d already heard, he was positive that this ‘Pencil’ wasn’t nearly as old as others thought he was. No, he wasn’t a man at all. Not in the sense of being an adult. He was a teenager. Robert was pegging him at somewhere between sixteen and seventeen, though he’d be more confident if that mask wasn’t there. Of course, a lot of things would be different without the mask, and the power that it symbolized. 

“Shit, really?” Pencil shook his head. “That sucks, man. Unless–” His free hand snapped down, a small blade somehow appearing in his grip as he stabbed it into Robert’s thigh while pushing the pistol right up against his chin expectantly. “–you’re fucking lying!” 

A brief pause followed, while he stared into Robert’s eyes, waiting for a reaction to the pain of the blade in his leg. When none came, he slowly chuckled, before straightening. The knife came free. “Well! Okay then, I guess we’re all good, huh? Glad to see we’re on the same page.” 

With that, he pivoted and started to walk. His hand moved to grab a nearby roll of gauze, which he tossed over his shoulder to the seated man. “Might wanna wrap that up, big guy.” 

The fact that this Pencil, a freak who had started playing his psychotic games through the city a few months earlier, had had gauze ready and waiting, showed that he’d always been prepared to stab whoever came through that door. Probably as a way of making a point about who was in control of the situation. Robert considered that, adding it to what he knew about this kid while pressing the gauze pad against the wound in his leg. It auto-bonded, the sides sticking to his jeans while the middle part sealed itself to the actual wound. At least that meant he wouldn’t get blood all over the chair. 

Once that was done, he gave a shove to the wheels to send himself after the waiting Pencil. “The kid,” he said flatly, “where is he?”

“See, here’s the thing,” Pencil retorted, “I’m pretty sure I demanded money in exchange for the kid. And call me crazy, but I’m just not seeing how you can keep a million dollars stashed in your pockets. What’re you doing, sitting on it? Please tell me you’re not sitting on it. Cuz this whole business venture here is just gonna seem like it’s not worth it if my money’s got your butt on it.”

In response, Robert held up one hand, then used two fingers to carefully reach into his pocket while the other man watched him intently. Slowly, he withdrew a leather bag and gave it a light toss that way. “There’s half.” 

Catching the bag, Pencil curiously opened it, pouring out a handful of diamonds with a low whistle. 

“That’s five hundred thousand worth right there,” Robert informed him. “There’s an identical bag in my other pocket. You get that after I get the boy. Then we all get out of here.” 

“Well, well, how wonderfully shiny.” Shoving the bag of diamonds in his own pocket, Pencil gave a grand gesture. “In that case, let’s not dilly dally. I’m sure the Krights want their boy back.” Clicking his heels together, he started walking deeper into the store. “And what do I call you, for being such a fine, upstanding mediator in all this?” 

“Just a man doing a favor,” Robert informed him simply, rolling after the psychotic superpowered killer. “You said no Stars, no Shields. I’m neither.” 

Giving what was obviously an amused grin over his shoulder as they moved together through the store, Pencil cracked, “Yeah, I suppose I would’ve heard about the amazing paraplegic man if you were Touched, eh?” Snickering to himself, he finally put a hand out to stop Robert. “Right here’s good.” Raising his voice, Pencil called, “Hey kid! Step out into sight, would ya?!” 

While Robert watched intently, a fourteen-year-old boy with brown hair hesitantly stepped out of one of the aisles ahead of them, maybe sixty feet away. He was gagged, and both of his wrists were handcuffed to a chain, which itself was wrapped around the thick metal pole holding up the shelves of that aisle. 

“There’s the kid, just like I promised,” Pencil announced. “Owen Kright, ready and waiting to go right back to his precious mommy and daddy. And this,” he held up a key, “goes to those cuffs. I’ll trade you for that other bag of yours, then I’ll run on out of here while you go unlock the kid. Everyone ends up happy. And, more importantly, not dead.” An obvious grin stretched across his face, visible through the hole in the mask. “What do you say, pal?” 

“What do I say…?” For a moment, Robert looked at the handcuffed, gagged boy. There was obvious terror in his eyes, even from this distance. The kid was scared shitless. It reminded Robert of another, younger child who had been frightened like that, just a year earlier. A kid who still meant an awful lot to him, even if he wasn’t her bodyguard anymore.

Finally, he looked back to the masked man and met those eyes, peering at him through the jagged holes. His voice was even as he replied, “I think you’ve been breaking the rules of this city for too long, and it’s about time that someone show you there are consequences to that.”  

Pencil’s immediate reaction was a slightly lifted chin, his gaze regarding the other man with renewed interest. “Oooh, what city rules am I breaking? Is it the kidnapping? The ransom demand? Wait, no, shit, I’ve got it. It must be the eight store employees laying in pieces in the back room over there, isn’t it?” Adopting a chagrined tone, he lamented, “I always forget about the ‘don’t chop people up and strew their bodies over the back room’ rule.” A toothy smile appeared through the hole in the mask. “One of these days, that’s gonna get me in trouble.” 

“One of these days,” Robert agreed in a dry voice, before adding, “And you broke the rules of the Ministry. That’s a bad idea.” 

“The Ministry, the Ministry, all I keep hearing about every time I try to have a little fun is the Ministry.” Pencil’s head shook with annoyance. “What’s the point of being a bad guy if you follow all these little rules, hmm? Which one was this, no kidnapping teenagers after Labor Day? Wait, is Labor Day the one in the spring or the fall? Fuck, I always mix that one up with Memorial Day. Wait, Memorial Day is Maymorial Day. May. May, I was right the first time. No kidnapping after Labor Day?” 

“Some of these rich people,” Robert informed him, “they pay what you’d call a special tax. Makes their kids safe from the Fells in the city. Because the Fells, like you, know that the second they break the rules and go after one of those protected kids, that’s when the Ministry steps in. You broke that rule. That kid over there, the Krights pay their taxes. He’s protected. You should’ve left him alone. Now, I’ve been asked to step in.” 

Clapping his hands together once with a sound of put-on fear, Pencil replied in a terribly shaking voice. “Ohh no, Paraplegic Man is gonna punish me for not playing by some asinine rules. Whatever will I do?” Snickering to himself, he leaned over a bit while taunting, “Would it help you be more intimidating if I got a little closer to that chair you’re stuck in?” 

It was Robert’s turn to offer a very faint, humorless smile. His voice was a quiet, barely audible murmur, “Now, who said I was stuck in it?” 

The moment those words reached Pencil and he started to react, Robert’s hand lashed out as he rose from the seat. He grabbed the Fell-Touched by the collar of his suit and bodily yanked him over. Before he knew what was happening, Pencil was shoved into the wheelchair while a pair of heavy shackles were yanked from Robert’s pockets and latched over the psychopath’s wrists to trap him there. It happened so quickly and smoothly that Pencil was already seated and cuffed to the chair by the time he was actually able to react to the sudden motion. Belatedly, his foot lashed out to kick at the larger man, but Robert had already stepped backward. His movement was no more hindered from the old spinal injury (which had already been addressed by the finest medical experts and equipment that money could buy) than it was by the knife stab that he had intentionally shown no reaction to in order to carry on the ruse.

Jerking against the shackles, Pencil gave a loud laugh that sounded more annoyed than amused. “Oh, you think something like this is gonna hold me, big man?” Despite his words, the psychopath couldn’t move from that spot. The chair was suddenly much more rooted to the floor than it had been, and refused to budge. 

“Nope,” Robert replied with a slight headshake. “Probably not for long. Not with all those Tech toys you’ve been stealing. I figure one of the first things you did was grab something that could get you out of a tight spot. Something to teleport away, something to phase out of those cuffs, probably both. And other bullshit tricks, more than I could shake a really big stick at. “But before you do anything drastic, tell me, you hear a click when you sat in that thing?” 

The masked boy’s head slowly tilted, while he considered the question. “If you’re saying there’s a mine in this chair, we need to have a chat about how my power works.” 

“Not a mine in the chair, no,” Robert agreed. “That wouldn’t accomplish shit. but you know how you bitched about how long it took me to get here? I could’ve made it sooner, but you see, something occurred to me before I ever came to this place. You’re not just in it for the ransom.” 

Clearly still annoyed, yet curious about where the man was going with that (and confident beyond the point of arrogance that he couldn’t be hurt thanks to his power), Pencil managed to shift a bit until he was almost lounging in the wheelchair despite being cuffed to it. “I’m not?” Another toothy smile appeared. “This sounds like a fun theory you’ve cooked up. Do tell.” He obviously wasn’t worried about actually being trapped, given his prepared defenses against similar scenarios. 

“See,” Robert informed him, “all that stuff I said a minute ago about the whole rules about not targeting rich people’s kids? You knew that already. You chose that kid over there for a reason. It wasn’t random. It wasn’t an accident. You chose that kid because you knew it would get the Ministry’s attention. Because you wanted that kid’s parents to run to the Ministry and get them involved. You like to play magician, Pencil. You like to play ‘look over here’ while your little assistant does the real trick behind the curtain.” 

“And what assistant d–” Pencil started. 

Robert interrupted with, “Seven-Three-Eight-Five Abalone Drive West. Suite Thirty-Six.” 

For the first time, Pencil did a double-take of genuine surprise, blurting, “How do you–” 

“You’ve been looking for those records for a long time, haven’t you?” Robert asked, shaking his head. “Two different kidnappings, a hostage crisis at a grocery store, and a bar brawl that escalated into mass murder, all in under two months. And during each and every one of those events, where you stayed longer than you had to, a different office that holds adoption records was broken into by a young woman who was just… so distracting. Four different offices. But they were all the wrong ones. They didn’t have the records the two of you were looking for, did they? They didn’t have the records of what happened to the baby that Collette and Shane Elbrecht gave away. Collette and Shane Elbrecht,” he added thoughtfully, “two of your first victims, from almost a year ago.” 

After a brief pause to judge the silent masked boy’s reaction, Robert continued. “But they weren’t random either, were they? You stole something out of their house. A box, one you want to get into pretty badly. But you didn’t realize it was DNA-locked until after you killed them. Can’t break into it without destroying whatever’s inside. And you can’t use a dead person to open it. You need a living relative to open that box. And you’re so desperate to get whatever’s inside, when you found out those two gave away a baby years back, you just had to get the files to find out where they ended up.” 

Obviously taken aback by how much the strange man knew, Pencil managed, “You put a lot together on your way over here, old man.” 

“Didn’t just put it together on my way over,” Robert informed him, reaching into his jacket pocket before withdrawing a manila folder with some papers, which he opened to show the masked figure a brief glimpse of. “I stopped at the office and grabbed the file before your girl could get there. Deleted the computer file too, just in case. Which makes this the only copy left.” He waved the folder idly. “I’d wager she’s still looking through all those boxes as we speak.” 

Eyes zeroing in on the file, Pencil slowly announced, “You know what, heh. Good show. But you give me that file and I’ll let you walk out of here with the kid and the gems. All I want is that file. Hell, you hand it over and we could all be friends.” 

“Friends, huh?” Robert appeared to consider that for a moment. Then he shook his head. “Nah.” With that, the man produced a lighter, holding it up to the folder. In seconds, the papers within were engulfed in flames. 

“You fucking cocksucker!” The scream of rage tore its way out of Pencil’s throat, before he blurted an obvious command word for stolen Touched-Tech, “Sideslip!” For an instant, it worked. The masked figure was abruptly standing a few feet away from the wheelchair, no longer handcuffed. But in the next instant, he was engulfed in white flames, before abruptly disappearing entirely with a scream of surprise. 

Turning on his heel while dropping the remnants of the file to the floor as they turned to ash, Robert walked to where Owen Kright was, reaching out to take the gag off the boy. 

“Wha–what just–what’d you do?!” Owen blurted, eyes wide with shock. 

“Didn’t give him diamonds, I’ll tell you that much,” Robert replied. “Serclin Stones, named after the guy who makes them. They… react volatilely to any kind of Travel powers. Even Tech-Touched-based ones. Makes them explode and screw with the Travel power that set them off. That guy could be anywhere in the state right now.” 

“But,” the boy stammered, “what was the click when he sat in the chair? You said it wasn’t a mine, but… but what was it?”

“What, that?” Robert showed the boy a small smile. “Nothing. There was no click. But he wasn’t about to admit he didn’t hear it when I implied there was one, and it made him shut up trying to figure it out long enough for me to get through what I needed to do.

“Now come on, let’s get you out of here. I’ve got a guy named Kent who’d like to have a quick word with you before you go back to your parents.” 

*******

Two hours later, fifteen-year-old Amanda Sanvers, known to the public as Cup, sat in the back of a diner, watching a couple late night news talking heads blather on about the latest Collision Point. Apparently some idiots actually worshipped those Abyssal monsters. 

She glanced over as her beloved brother made his way to the booth and slumped down in it. His voice was dark. “It was right there. We almost had it.” 

“He read the file,” Amanda assured him gently, hand moving over to squeeze Nick’s arm. “We just need to get info out of him. We’ll find out where that kid was adopted off to, and open the box. We just gotta be a little patient.” 

“What we need,” Nick informed her, “is some more help. This two person act thing isn’t cutting it. We need some more lackeys. We need partners. The Ministry, all these other gangs, even the heroes, they’ve all got gangs. We need a team. But not a boring one. We need a bunch of really fucked up people we can use for cannon fodder and entertainment, babe. But where are we gonna find people like that?” 

Lifting her chin, Amanda nodded to the television. “How about right there?” 

He looked that way, coughing once. “Typhon? Sweetness, I’m good, but I’m not ‘talk an Abyssal  into doing our bidding’ good.” 

It was Amanda’s turn to grin. “Not the Abyssal. All those dumbass fucks they’ve got lined up to worship him. Those stupid fucking Abyssal cults. They seem good for a laugh.”

For a moment, Nick didn’t respond. He watched the news going on about the people who were obsessed with the Abyssals in general, and the one called Typhon in particular. Finally, he chuckled low. “My sweet, sweet sister. 

“Sometimes, you have the most amazing ideas.”

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Eighteen 6-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Fossor does appear in this chapter. For those who would prefer not to read chapters with him, there is a summary at the bottom.

Mom took my hand, squeezing it while leading me that way. “You can do this,” she assured me. 

Then we passed through the doors, emerging into a circular fighting pit surrounded by raised stands for people to watch. Fossor’s seat, of course, was above everyone else’s. But there was also a surprising number of onlookers. He had brought on an audience. Showing off his new Heretic? Or was this just a normal event for him? I wasn’t sure. Either way, I was honestly surprised that he had so many living people willing to come to his home like this. Though I probably shouldn’t have been. Necromancer or not, he obviously had living allies. Or at least living people who were willing to risk being around him. After all, there were people willing to go into his arena, and they couldn’t all be dead. There wouldn’t be any way for Mom to get stronger if they had been. So, obviously Fossor had living people either allied with him or willing to be paid to stick around. I wondered briefly if they all had some connection to the people in the arena. Was there a gambling system going on? Were they bringing in their own fighters to face Fossor’s? I wasn’t sure how the whole thing worked, but I was sure I would find out soon. 

I also wondered if any of the fighters in here were either or both of Miles’ parents. I’d talked with the older boy a little bit over the past few months, enough to know that his birth father was a Kejjerfiet (or bogeyman) while his mother was a Natural Kejjerfiet Heretic and had been since she was a little girl. If they were here, I had to make sure they knew their son was okay. And try to get them out, while I was going about the already impossible task of getting myself and Mom out. Adding two more onto that list wasn’t so bad, right? Like tossing a few more rocks onto the mountain I was trying to lift.   

We weren’t actually in the main arena part just yet. There was a fairly narrow space (just large enough for something like a troll to squeeze through sideways) all the way around the fighting area, with various tunnels leading out to it. I could see several figures hanging out both in the main arena and at the ends of the tunnels. All of them turned to look as Mom and I emerged, and I immediately sensed the hostility. Yeah, no one was happy to see us, that much was for sure. 

Before I could say anything to Mom, a trio of ghosts appeared hovering above the arena. They had trumpets. Literal trumpets (which looked physical rather than ghostly, raising more questions in my mind) raised to their lips. They blew the trumpets, sending a loud cacophony of sound throughout the room which drew everyone’s attention to Fossor, who had stood up. I had no doubt that everyone would have immediately looked at him anyway without the help of the trumpets, but he had to make a whole big production out of it just to show off. 

Only once he was absolutely sure that every eye in the room was on him did Fossor speak. “Welcome, friends,” he finally began in a broad, commanding voice that easily filled the room. “It’s so good to have all of you here on this momentous occasion, when my Joselyn is joined by her daughter.” As he said that, the vile fucker gave a broad gesture toward the spot where Mom and I were standing, directing everyone to stare at us. I resisted the urge to flip all of them off. Good as it might’ve made me feel for just a moment, it either would have annoyed or amused Fossor, and I didn’t want to do either. Instead, I simply stood silently next to Mom and watched while the audience and other fighters alike stared at us like we were animals in the zoo. Animals they really wanted to kill. 

Fossor was still talking. “Of course, we know how eager some of you are to pit your champions against either of mine.” He said that pointedly while looking at me with a little smile that made my stomach turn over. “And that will come in due time! But for today, I promised my girl a very special birthday present to start things off, and I do prefer to keep my promises. So, Felicity, come to the center of the arena. Joselyn, stay where you are. That’s a good girl.” 

Feeling my mother’s hand squeeze my shoulder, I glanced that way briefly. She met my gaze and nodded while speaking in a quiet, yet firm voice. “You’ll be okay. Whatever he does, just let it wash over you. Focus on surviving and getting out of here. We can deal with things later.”

Deal with things later, right. I knew what she meant. Any trauma, horrible feelings, regret, guilt, any of that I would have to bottle up and talk through with her later, once the fighting was over and we were safely out of the arena. She would help me cope with whatever I ended up having to do. But for now, I had to actually do it. 

So, with a deep breath, I started walking that way while my heart tried to pound its way out of my chest. I was terrified about what was going to happen in that arena, what I was going to see. A heavily scarred rat-like man with three long prehensile tails used one of those tails to open the gate leading into the arena before he stepped aside. His arm was raised in a grand gesture for me to go ahead. As I passed him, the man whispered, “Gonna cut you later. See what your blood tastes like, pretty girl.”

“While you’re at it,” I retorted without thinking, “could you maybe try to come up with a less cliche threat to taunt the next girl with? Because that was pretty weak, dude. Two out of ten, would not recommend future fight banter with. It’s like you’re not even trying to be intimidating.”

The rat-guy looked like he wanted to say something else to that, but I was already moving on. I stepped over to the middle of the arena, ignoring all the people staring at me. I was being assessed from all sides, both by the fighters in and around the arena itself, and by the spectators in the stands. I was pretty sure most, if not all, of them wanted to see me die, though how much of that was personal against me or my mother (or Heretics in general) and how much was just them wanting to beat Fossor in his own house was up for debate. Briefly, I pondered what would happen if one of their people actually killed Mom or me. It was an incredibly morbid thought, but still. I was curious about what kind of things they were gambling with. Also, I wondered if Fossor would actually let them live long enough to collect any prize they were owed. 

Once I was in the middle of the arena, I stopped. Taking a moment to push down as much of my uneasiness and fear as possible, I slowly raised my gaze to look up at the spot where Fossor was sitting on his throne-like seat. A few pithy comments had jumped to my mind on the way out there, but they all vanished as soon as I actually looked at him. My voice stuck in my throat. From the outside, it might have looked like stoic silence. But inwardly, I was just terrified. I had no idea what he had in mind, what he was going to do right then. I didn’t know what this present was going to be, what he was going to make me do, what… any of it. My imagination was running wild. It was all I could do to keep myself upright, stop my legs from collapsing out from under me, and keep staring at the man. Saying something witty or insulting was completely beyond me. Actually, not saying anything at all was probably for the best, considering any attempt to talk probably would have resulted in my voice shaking and cracking. Being silent was the only chance I had at not being seen as the terrified little girl I was.

I was pretty sure Fossor knew exactly why I wasn’t speaking, because he gave me a small smile before gesturing. His voice was… ugh, fond as he announced to the gathered audience. “My brilliant girl. She was a reporter in her hometown, you know. Not for any of the more… official publications, of course. Though she did have a few short articles published in the local paper under the junior reporter byline. Her true work was in the school newspaper. Those I had to have brought here specially, as its online presence was sadly quite lacking. Not even a proper Facebook page?” 

Somehow, I found my voice. “I already totally believed you were an evil, remorseless, soul-crushing irredeemable psychopath without literally trying to push Facebook. Don’t oversell it.” 

There was a short bark of laughter from Fossor. That was the only reaction, at least at first. The rest of the audience seemed to wait to see how he would respond, before chuckling softly. Meanwhile, I was busy telling my mouth to shut the fuck up or get off my face so the rest of me didn’t get hit with the blowback from what it insisted on blurting out. 

“Yes, well,” Fossor casually drawled, “I suppose it’s time for your presents, isn’t it?” 

“Presents?” I echoed warily, frowning. I’d been worried enough about one present. But multiple? Yeah, the idea of that didn’t exactly give me warm fuzzies. “I think I’m good. What’s that religion that doesn’t do presents on your birthday? Jehovah’s Witnesses? I converted like… three minutes before you grabbed me, and I really don’t think I should push things this early. It’s not good for my growth.” 

A very slight smile touched the man’s face, as he watched me. “But if you don’t take your presents, dearest child, you’ll have no golems to fight for you in the arena.”

Confused, I ignored the snickers around me to slowly ask, “Why do I need someone to fight for me? And what do you mean by golems?” 

“Because that is your training today, of course,” Fossor patiently informed me. “You are my budding apprentice. What good does watching you get your own hands dirty do? You will learn to manipulate your necromantic powers properly. Part of that involves learning to control and empower golems. Zombies, of a sort. Dead who are raised and enhanced by your power, directed by your own tactics. Puppeted, if you like, to act as an extension of your will. You are not here now to roll in the muck with the filth. I could have pulled any fool off the street for that. My apprentice is far more special. You are here to learn to weave our power through those who have already fallen, to raise them up and put them to work serving their betters.” 

“You… you want me to fight with zombies?” I couldn’t keep the faint disgust out of my voice. 

“No,” Fossor informed me in a patient, patronizing voice. “I want you to fight using golems. As I said, they are similar to zombies. But think of them as… super-zombies. Their power, strength, all of it depends on your own power. The stronger of a necromancer you are, the better you can make your golems.” 

“My… present isn’t just teaching me about these things, is it?” I carefully asked, watching the amused reactions all around me. That fear I’d been feeling the whole time? It wasn’t getting any better. 

Fossor, meanwhile, gave a low chuckle. He was clearly enjoying himself immensely right now. “Hardly,” he replied. “I have acquired and prepared two golems for you to work with. One from your previous life, and one from your present life. One an enemy, one a friend. The enemy first, perhaps?” 

Enemy? What did he– Then I saw a figure march robotically through the crowd, step into the arena, and stop in front of me. It was… a cheerleader. There was a blonde cheerleader in front of me, which was giving me all new revulsions about what Fossor had meant when he’d said that this present was ‘perfect for me.’ 

Wait. Hold on. I knew this cheerleader. 

Kendall?!” I blurted out loud, my eyes widening. Kendall. It was that girl from Laramie Falls, two years older than me. Miranda and I had caught her stealing from a school carnival that everyone had been using to raise money for a field trip back when we were in sixth grade and she was in eighth. 

“That’s right,” Fossor agreed, while Kendall simply stared blankly at the floor. She was dead. I could sense it. I could feel it, could practically taste it. She was a zombie. Or at least something similar to one. A ‘golem’, as he had put it. There was no life or personality inside her. 

“What the hell is she doing here?” I demanded, my eyes widening. “What–you killed her?!” 

With a courteous bow of his head, the necromancer intoned, “You’re very welcome. You see? Things can be very different between us. Your enemies can be my enemies. And we can settle old feuds.”

Old… feuds… I’d barely thought about Kendall at all since leaving Laramie Falls. Actually, the only time I could even think of her coming up was when I was telling Deveron about her that one time. Sure, I’d disliked her in school. But honestly, I’d moved on basically even before ending up at Crossroads. She was just some stupid older girl who always got what she wanted because she was some smalltown princess soccer star. She left for college the summer before all this happened. She was gone, and I barely thought about her, months before I’d ever known anything about Heretics. What old feud was he…

And then I understood. I understood something important about Fossor. Something that had occurred to me somewhat before, but had never truly and fully clicked in my head until this moment. He never let anything go. Never. He didn’t understand how to move on from things. Why would he? He was a necromancer, his entire being was based around keeping things long past death. But more than that, he kept grudges going back millennia. His reaction to being cursed to stay off of Earth or risk losing all his power was to find a workaround and continue risking it just because he could not stand being told no. 

Fossor never let anything go. He never accepted being denied anything he wanted, not for long. He might temporarily retreat to attack something from a more advantageous position, sure. But he would never really abandon it, would never just move on. More than that, he couldn’t conceive of the fact that I could have some random girl I didn’t like in school and then just… move on with my life without thinking about her, without obsessing over her. Because that was just the type of person he was. 

“I see you’re overwhelmed by the generosity,” Fossor easily and casually announced, drawing chuckles and snickers from the audience. “But yes, your old rival from school, the girl who dared cause you unhappiness, will be your tool from now on. You will learn to empower and control her, to manipulate her body to fight for you.” 

Swallowing, I stared at Kendall, guilt welling up in me. If I hadn’t made… No. Push it down. I shoved it away and left those feelings for later. “You… said two,” I reminded him, my voice cracking a little. “You said there were two. One from my past life and one from… from my present life. An enemy and…” I couldn’t say it. 

“And a friend, yes,” Fossor confirmed. “You will have two bodies to practice with. This girl is the first, and the second… well, he and several more of his people came, I believe, with the intention of taking both of my girls away. I’ve put the others he came with to work on my own projects. But I decided you should have at least one. After all, they did come here because of you.”

Because of me. A group came… to save Mom and me. A rush of horrible possibilities ran through my head. Except Fossor had said more of ‘his people.’ Did that mean… what did that mean?  

While my panicked brain was trying to sort its way through everything Fossor had implied, a new figure entered through the same opening that Kendall had come through, moving the same way, as a dead puppet before stopping in front of me. I wasn’t watching them come in. I was staring at the ground, afraid of what I would see. Terrified of what… who would be in front of me. 

Finally, I exhaled and slowly lifted my gaze, steeling myself as much as I could. I looked up… and up… and up a bit more. Then I saw the person, the friend, whom Fossor had… recruited for me. And I immediately realized that this wasn’t just for me. It was also for my mother. 

Because the figure in front of me, the figure who was only one of apparently several of the same people who had tried to help us and paid the ultimate price, was one of the first friendly Alters I had met. He was someone who had remembered my mother from so many years earlier and whose beacon had originally summoned Shiori and me to their world when they sought help from Joselyn Atherby. 

The man in front of me was the nine-foot tall Meregan named Gavant. 

 

SUMMARY

Flick and Joselyn enter the arena and find it full of onlookers and other fighters. Fossor plays up to the crowd a bit, then informs Flick that she will not be physically fighting today. Instead, she will use what he calls ‘golems’  or ‘special zombies’ that she can personally direct and empower with her own strength. He has brought two so-called ‘golems’ for her to use. The first is referred to as an ‘enemy from her old life’, and turns out to be Kendall, the human girl from Laramie Falls whom Flick had several altercations with, including the time she and Miranda busted her for stealing from a school carnival. From this, Flick realizes that Fossor is incapable of understanding that someone could move on from an old grudge without being obsessed with it.

Fossor then introduces the second golem, referred to as ‘a friend from her new life.’ This turns out to be the Meregan known as Gavant, while Fossor notes that more Meregan came with him and are all his dead servants now.

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