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.”
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.