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 side. 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.”
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.