There is a summary at the bottom of this chapter for those interested, though Fossor does not directly appear.
Finally, my mother managed to speak. “Be careful,” she said quietly, yet urgently. “If you–” Then she stopped, putting a finger to her lips while her gaze snapped over toward the door. A second later, her hand was against my face as she spoke quietly. “Keep your head down. We’ll find a way out of this, Lissy. I… I’ll get you out of here, I promise.”
Right, yeah. Someone was close enough to overhear us, or just paying attention through some kind of spying magic. Either way, we couldn’t talk about Rahanvael. But Mom knew that anyone who was eavesdropping wouldn’t believe we were just talking about innocent things, thus saying what she did. It was an understandable thing for the two of us to be whispering about.
Before I could say anything myself, the door opened and that tall, purple ghost with the long beard and red eyes appeared. Ahmose. The one with the torture-touch. Part of me still thought it was kind of surprising that Fossor kept a ghost around who had his own name and apparent personality. But then, I had Rahanvael, who had apparently maintained her own personality and thoughts throughout multiple millennia. So I supposed that it wasn’t exactly unthinkable. Even if it was odd because, well, Fossor.
Either way, Ahmose floated through the open door. Which, I was pretty sure, was only something he did to be… polite? That sounded wrong. But I wasn’t sure why else he would bother with the door. Maybe it had to do with the same thing that made him keep his name? Maybe he tried to hang onto as many huma–errr, living things as possible. That was… curious.
While I was thinking of my way through that, Ahmose glided over in front of us. His voice was stiff. “You will both proceed to the dining area for breakfast. Lord Fossor will not be joining you. After you eat, you will then both make your way to the arena where the lord is waiting.” His crimson eyes burned a little more brightly as the ghost focused on me. “Young Miss Chambers will be tested.”
Right. Yeah, I’d known something like that was coming, of course. Fossor wanted to see what I could do, while also making me… making me kill people I had no real reason to. Just to show how much control he had over me and my mother, because he was a gigantic fucking piece of shit. And, of course, if I refused… well, bad things would happen. And the people he wanted me to kill would die anyway. So I was just in a fantastic position all around. Go, Team Flick. We’re doing great.
“Thank you, Ahmose,” Mom said quietly and politely. I shot a quick glance toward her, curious. But she didn’t seem cowed or anything. Given the pain touch the ghost had, I’d been… worried. But if anything, my mother seemed genuinely grateful. She gave the tall, menacing spirit figure a nod before looking at me. “Let’s go, Felicity. I suppose it wouldn’t do to keep our… host waiting.”
Ahmose turned away, then vanished into nothingness without actually moving. With a shrug toward my mother, I passed through the area he’d been standing in and walked with her.
On the way, I hesitated before reaching out with the necromantic senses that I’d been trying to develop. I felt… traces of ghosts. Which made sense. But I didn’t feel anything immediate. Just to check, I focused inward, trying to concentrate on the thought of Fossor’s sister. Rahanvael? Are you there?
Unlike with Tabbris, I didn’t get a verbal answer. She wasn’t possessing me. Instead, I felt an acknowledgment and confirmation. It was hard to really explain the specifics of. It was just a certainty that she had answered me without her actually answering. She was there. But she wasn’t going to risk actually speaking or appearing. Which was fair enough, given the situation.
I wasn’t sure how much she knew or had been keeping track of things, so I informed her quickly and silently about my mother knowing about her. Then I asked if she sensed any of Fossor’s ghosts hanging around or secretly watching. The response that came back was negative.
Thanks, I started before hesitating. Um. Can you tell the difference between ghosts that I’m consciously aware of and ghosts I don’t know about? Again, there was a positive feeling of confirmation. Okay, if you sense any ghosts I don’t know about lurking around, could you poke me about it?
Another sense of agreement came, along with a belated and hesitant sort of… reassurance. I wasn’t sure I had the feeling exactly right, but that was the gist of it. She was trying to make me feel better about the whole situation, like an emotional… pat on the back, essentially. I did my best to send the same sort of feeling back that way, but it probably didn’t come out right. Hopefully, she’d at least get the gist.
I didn’t have time to wonder too much about that, or to talk anymore with my ghost companion. Because in the next moment, Mom and I passed through the door to reach the dining room, which had already been laid out for breakfast. There was a veritable brunch buffet scattered across the table, and it smelled incredible. Which sucked, because the thought of dead things making the food made me think that it should’ve smelled bad. But then I remembered that the food at Crossroads had been fine for all the time that Chef Escalan had been a zombie, and that just made me depressed again. Poor Chef Escalan, even if I’d never really known him while he was alive. It was still just… just another example of Fossor being a giant piece of shit. Another life he destroyed. God damn it.
Apparently I froze as those thoughts rushed through me, because I suddenly felt Mom’s hand squeeze my shoulder while she looked at me with obvious concern. “Felicity,” she whispered, “do you want to take a plate and sit out on the patio? There normally isn’t a problem with that.” In other words, Fossor normally allowed her to do that. I could read between the lines of her words. She’d spent so much time trapped here in this house, had been his prisoner for so long… the thought just pissed me off again. I had to calm down, had to make myself calm down.
“Sure,” I managed, looking to her with a hesitant smile that I knew didn’t reach my eyes. I knew because her answering smile didn’t reach her eyes either. We were play-acting, each trying to make the other feel better about this. I could tell Mom was thinking about dark times in this palatial house, even as she did her best to shield me from those memories. Even now, after more than a decade of being separated, I couldn’t actually… fully relax with my own mother because of this whole evil, dark, horrific situation we were in. And the fact that we were in it while standing in a brightly lit, beautifully decorated dining room full of incredibly delicious food just made the whole thing so much worse. It was like being at a carnival run by a serial killer. No matter how bright and fun everything looked, you’d know better. Just like we knew, no matter how good the food smelled, no matter what this place looked like, it was a prison run by one of the most evil, sociopathic pieces of shit who had ever set foot on this planet.
But I pushed that aside. Because I had to. Because there was no other choice. I would shove the horror and the revulsion away and focus on surviving one more minute, one more hour, one more day in this place. However long it took to get the hell out of here with my mother. I would make it work. I had my mom. I had a secret weapon in the form of Rahanvael. I could do this. I just had to make it through breakfast first. And then, of course, the arena.
With somewhat shaking hands, I filled a plate. Mom hovered over me. When I started to leave with only a couple things, she shook her head and stopped me. “You’ll be fighting,” she reminded me in a quiet voice that was somehow both resigned and firm. “You need energy. Don’t worry about things being too fattening or heavy, regeneration will take care of that. Just get things that will give you energy. Fill up. I know it’ll be hard. You won’t want to keep it down, but do it anyway. You understand? Do it anyway. Eat.”
She knew. She’d been through all this. She made herself eat to survive, to have the energy to fight no matter how horrible doing so made her feel and no matter how disgusting she found the whole situation. She forced it down, and now she was telling me to do the same thing. Because it was all she could do. She couldn’t protect me from going out there. She couldn’t force Fossor not to put me in his sick fucking arena. All my mother could do was make sure I was as ready as possible for it. And that meant making me eat, no matter how bad it felt to do so.
So, I nodded and filled my plate better. Taking as much as possible, I ignored every thought in the back of my mind about how the food was made, where it had come from, the man responsible for it being here, everything. I shoved it down in the deep dark hole and buried it.
Then I walked out of the dining room behind my mother, the two of us taking our plates and glasses of juice out onto the quiet patio overlooking one of the gardens. A ghost at the door appeared and stared at us as we approached, but faded when Mom paid no attention to him.
“He’ll report that we’re out here,” she informed me while setting a plate on the table. “But as long as you don’t try to go past the wall there, none of them should bother you.” The wall she was referring to had to be two or three football fields away from the patio.
“I guess you don’t know where we are, exactly?” I asked curiously while pulling out one of the chairs to sit down with my own plate. Part of it was simple conversation, of course. But I was also very curious. “I have… I have a power to sense how far away places that I know about are, but I can’t sense anything now. I’m not sure if that’s because we’re nowhere near Earth, or…”
“We’re on Earth,” Mom assured me. “Fossor uses so many protection spells to hide the location of this place, that’s probably screwing up your Blemmye power. He’s a bit paranoid about it.”
Of course he was. Because if anyone actually found this place, wherever it was, Fossor would have what amounted to an entire combined Seosten-Heretic-Gehenna-Whoever-The-Hell-Else-He’d-Pissed-Off Force coming to kick his ass all the way back to his own planet. He was powerful, but not powerful enough to fight off everyone who wanted a piece of him all at once. Maybe they couldn’t kill him because of his ability to shove damage off onto his planet of hostages, but they could sure as hell restrain him with enough people. He relied pretty heavily on choosing the battlefields and when to fight. He needed this place to remain a secret, a safe sanctuary for himself.
With a sigh, I picked up my fork, staring at the food for a moment as I worked up the nerve to start shoveling it in. Quietly, I murmured, “Here’s hoping I can actually keep this stuff down.
“Because I don’t think stepping into that arena and throwing up would really work as an intimidation tactic.”
Entirely too quickly, breakfast was over, and we were heading for the arena. I honestly wasn’t sure which I was looking forward to less in the next few minutes, my first fight in Fossor’s stupid arena, or whatever evil little psychological torture he had in mind that was going to be my ‘birthday present.’ He’d promised it would be something good, so I could only imagine just how terrible ‘good’ in his mind meant. A lot of dark, horrible possibilities had flashed their way through my head every time the thought popped up, but I kept pushing them down, praying that whatever he was going to give me wasn’t as bad as my imagination. Because my imagination was being pretty damn horrific every time I gave it a chance. Stupid imagination. It was so fired right now.
Mom was giving me advice the whole way there as the two of us walked through the vast, winding corridors. Mostly it amounted to telling me not to hold back, and to shove my guilt about the whole thing down until the fight was over. She promised we would talk it out, that she would be there for me when it was done and I could feel as bad as I wanted to. But for now, for this moment, I had to deal with surviving. She reminded me that it was Fossor’s fault that these people had to die, not mine, and that this was a tab he was running up. A tab that would be collected someday. Her voice was hard as she said those words, making me wonder just how high the cost already was on her end. How many people had he forced her to kill over the years? How full was the box that she had been shoving her own guilt into? Would it burst?
I also wasn’t sure how she was dealing with the news that I had Fossor’s millenia-dead sister attached to me, wanting to help take her brother down. We hadn’t really had much of a chance to talk about that before our day had started. Obviously, she wasn’t going to say anything about it while we were out here, and seemed to trust the whole situation enough that she hadn’t immediately started an exorcism or whatever. But time would tell just how that was going to go. All I knew was that even with both of us together, we needed an edge that Fossor wasn’t ready for. And Rahanvael was that edge. We just had to find the best possible way to use that, because we’d only get one shot. Fossor would only be surprised by his sister’s presence once. It had to count.
Promising my mother that I wouldn’t let myself freeze up during this fight (even as part of me worried if I was telling the truth), I had just asked if she had any idea what I would be fighting, when we descended a short flight of stairs to reach a cement tunnel. There were two double doors ahead of us, but before we went further, my mother took my arm and squeezed it. Her voice was quiet. “He’s been keeping me in the dark about what… or who he’s throwing at you right now,” she informed me. “But whatever happens, keep moving, keep your guard up, and try to end it as soon as you can. Don’t let them get into your head, Felicity, because some will try.”
Right, don’t let them into my head. The question was, how would they manage it if I was already so far into my head myself that there wasn’t any room left for anyone else? My tactics were genius. Or was that strategy? I always got the two mixed. Regardless, I was brilliant.
To that end, I took my mother’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “Mom,” I assured her quietly, “I… I don’t want to say I’ll be fine, cuz no one’s that optimistic. But I’ll deal with it. We’ll deal with it.”
The two of us embraced tightly, standing there like that for a few long seconds. Mom held me close, tenderly brushing my hair before whispering, “I love you, Felicity. You are as brave and brilliant as I could ever have wished for. You are a wonderful young woman. All I wanted throughout this was to give you a chance to grow up, and you have. You have grown up so beautifully. Your father is an amazing man, and you are a remarkable young woman. Everything I’ve heard, everything you’ve said, it makes me so proud of you.”
My mother was proud of me. My mother had told me she was proud of me. Was… was Fossor’s little arena fight here going to involve needing to fly? Because I was pretty sure I could right then.
Yeah, I knew that things were about to come crashing down. But I enjoyed the moment for what it was. In a minute, I was going to have to go into that arena, see what Fossor wanted me to fight to the death against, and find out just what kind of present he had for me. So yes, I knew things would turn bad again very soon. Let them. Let that horrible thing come when it did. I couldn’t stop it, and I had this moment right now with my mother and I was going to enjoy it for another few seconds, damn it.
Or, apparently we were done. Because I sensed clothes and armor approaching from the same way we had come. Looking that way, I saw two heavily armored figures (my stolen necromancy power belatedly recognizing them as zombies) move up to the top of the stairs. They stared down at us pointedly, making a low growling sound that was clearly an order to keep moving.
So, we did. Mom gave the two zombies a brief glance before turning back to the double doors.
I really hoped she was right. Otherwise, this was going to be a very short turn in the arena.
On the other hand, wouldn’t Fossor be pretty embarrassed if he went through all this trouble to grab me and I ended up getting killed five minutes into the first arena?
Flick and her mother are interrupted before Joselyn can say anything about Rahanvael. Joselyn does not seem to hate Ahmose the torture ghost when he shows himself for that. Flick has breakfast with her mother out on the balcony, where Joselyn tells her that they are on Earth but there are too many protection spells for Flick’s power to tell her exactly where. With her mother giving her advice, they go to the arena to find out what Fossor wants her to fight and what Flick’s ‘birthday present’ is.