Once more (and for the last time in this arc), Fossor does not physically appear in this chapter. But there is a summary at the bottom for anyone who still would prefer to skip over Fossor-related things.
So, I was supposed to practice in that tower room, learning how to summon ghosts from a ghost. Which was… an odd idea, to say the least. Although the oddness of learning from a ghost was nothing next to the feeling of overwhelming depression and horror I felt at the thought of what the people I was trying to summon had been through to get to this point. The story of these people, depicted in the stained glass windows, was of a village that was subjected to a plague that killed a large portion of their population. That dead population was then reanimated into zombies and killed the rest of the town, including all their family members and friends. The town was wiped out. Every man, woman, and child had been massacred and used to kill others.
And because that clearly wasn’t enough, Fossor had then had their ghosts magically sealed into this tower. For what? To practice with? Just in case he ever needed them for something like this? In case he took an apprentice the way he had conscripted me and made them learn this shit? Whatever the reason, he’d destroyed that town’s entire population and imprisoned their spirits in this single room with these four windows depicting their story. I was going to be sick.
“Control yourself,” came the flat order from Ahmose, as he gazed at me impassively. It was like he’d read my mind. Or maybe he just had eyes that allowed him to see the expression on my face as I stared at the nearest stained window. It was probably that second one. “We have much to do, and Lord Fossor will be unhappy if we do not reach a certain point in our lessons.”
The immediate thought that came to mind was that I didn’t particularly care if the guy who used his torture touch on me got in trouble. But that was stupid, of course. First, because I’d be in trouble too. If Fossor was annoyed, he’d make sure I regretted it. And second, because as I’d already realized, Ahmose was as much of a prisoner here as I was. If not more. I knew from the way that Mom interacted with him that there was more to his story. He wasn’t just some evil asshole who liked hurting people. I didn’t know what his story was, exactly. But I knew there was more to him. Hell, from an outside perspective, someone could think my own mother was some evil bitch just because she did what Fossor ordered her to. She didn’t have a choice, and neither did Ahmose. I couldn’t take my anger at the evil piece of shit Necromancer out on him. It was just like the thoughts I’d had before. These ghosts, zombies, all of Fossor’s dead minions, none of them were responsible for what happened in this place. The… credit for that was all his.
So, I shoved all those feelings down and exhaled long and slow to collect myself. “Fine, I get it,” I murmured, almost more to myself than to him. Raising my gaze, I looked to the ghost man. “How do we start this?” My own voice sounded hollow even to my own ears. I hated this. I hated being here, having to do all this. Hated being beholden to Fossor, living with his… ugliness all over everything. His evil permeated this entire building and everyone in it. It was a gilded hell.
Ahmose, in turn, floated over to the first window. It was the one at the twelve o’clock position, showing the street full of bodies and the cart pulling more of them. His partially-translucent hand waved vaguely toward it. “You have been taught how to control ghosts that have already been summoned and are directly in front of you.” From the tone of his voice, I was pretty sure he did at least see the humor in the fact that he, a ghost himself, was the one telling me all of this.
“Yeah,” I murmured quietly, unable to take my eyes off the horrible image in the window. Fossor had definitely put work into teaching me to force ghosts that were right in front of me to do my bidding. I couldn’t override his control, of course. There was way too much of a skill level difference between us. But I had been getting pretty good at overriding a ghost’s free will and taking control over the past fourteen days. So… good for me? Maybe I should get a fucking trophy.
Ahmose gave a short nod before continuing. “The process of summoning and controlling spirits requires several things. You must have at least some of each of these things for it to work, though you may make up for deficiencies in one by having more of another. Do you recall what you were told these required elements are?” At that moment, he actually sounded like a regular teacher, and if I’d closed my eyes, I almost could’ve imagined that I was back at school.
But, of course, he wasn’t a normal teacher and I definitely wasn’t back at school. So, forcing that thought away, I answered with, “First you need necromantic energy. Most people produce this through extensive rituals, animal or even sapient being sacrifices, things like that. It takes a lot of time and effort to build up that kind of necromantic energy the old fashioned way, so many Necromancers who don’t have a natural gift for it will spend a lot of their free time building up that energy with various rituals and storing it in things like dolls, taxidermied animals, even entire buildings. That’s what causes some hauntings, because the energy from so many dead things is stored in those places and it boils over or gets out of control.”
“And how are you and the lord different in that regard?” came the pointed question.
“We can make necromantic energy the natural way,” I forced myself to answer, much as I hated even that bit of comparison between myself and that evil fuck. “We can convert our own magical energy, our own… strength, into the necromantic kind on the fly, without using rituals or sacrifices. Though both of those can also help us add a boost beyond what we’re capable of providing on our own.”
Waiting until the ghost nodded once more, I went on. “Second, you need the skill to manipulate that energy. Practice, basically. You have to learn to touch and manipulate the energy, to weave it through the dead things you’re trying to control and use that to make them do what you want. It’s sort of a mixture between puppeting them and mind control. Or somewhere in the middle, though specifics depend both on how sapient and how powerful the thing you’re trying to control is.”
“What else?” came the firm prompting, once I’d trailed off at the end of that second part.
Quietly, I replied, “A connection. The better you understand the thing you’re trying to control, the easier it is to do so. Understanding can come in three forms. First is knowing them personally. If you’ve talked to them, interacted with them, that kind of thing, it helps. Second is researching them. That can be talking to their families and friends, reading about them, watching videos about them, just learning about them. And the third way is just to understand the species themselves, a general understanding of the species of the creature you’re trying to control. That helps a lot more with non-sapient creatures like rats and dogs and stuff than it does with, say, humans. But it can still help regardless.”
“Correct on all counts,” my ghostly instructor informed me. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve said that he almost sounded proud. “One note on your second point about skill. Emotion, sheer will and desire, may also help in that regard. But essentially, you are entirely right. You summon and control your necromantic minions through a combination of power, be it provided by your own natural ability or through rituals, practice or skill in weaving that energy, and an understanding of the thing you’re trying to control, either the individual or the species.”
With all that said, he added, “What then, do you believe the first step of controlling the spirits in this room would be?”
I didn’t want to say it, but I knew what the answer was, what he had been leading me to. “Learning about them,” I muttered under my breath, my gaze still riveted to the image in front of me. “I have to learn everything about this village, about the people in it.”
“Precisely,” came the measured response. “And so I shall tell you about this village, and the people who lived in it.”
Afraid of the answer that would come, I forced the words out. “You knew them?”
“Yes,” Ahmose informed me. “It was my home. They were my people. It was my duty to protect them. A duty I failed in. And it is now my duty to teach you how to use them to further your skill in carrying out Lord Fossor’s will.”
So, I listened for an hour while my ghost tutor told me everything he could about his old village. He told me about what it was like to live there, in a medieval village in the northern part of Italy with a mixture of humans and hidden Alters, like Ahmose himself and his family. I wondered what kind of Alter he actually was, but the ghost just looked at me silently for a moment when I asked, before moving on. Apparently he didn’t want to talk about that. Or couldn’t, for some reason.
Ahmose did, however, talk about the history of Italy in that time. Apparently, the short version was for awhile in central and northern parts of the country back in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a bunch of city-states were at war with one another over whether they were loyal to the Roman Emperor or to the Catholic Pope. If people were loyal to the Pope, they were known as Guelphs. If they were loyal to the Emperor, they were known as Ghibellines.
That, at least, was the basic Bystander understanding of things. Ahmose didn’t get too into it, but he mentioned that on the non-Bystander side of things, there was some kind of race to locate some ancient buried treasure around that time. It was something similar to the weapons that the King of Canada had found. So, yeah, with something that powerful apparently hidden in the area I could see why people were going nuts for it. Heretics and Alters alike.
I asked if anyone ever found that buried weapon or weapons, and Ahmose simply said that he didn’t believe so. Whatever powerful objects were hidden remained that way even now.
All of that was just background anyway. Mostly, he focused on the village in question. Ahmose described several of the important people in the place, like the woman who ran the inn, and what amounted to their village elder. They were ostensibly aligned with the Ghibellines (Emperor loyalists), though according to Ahmose that didn’t really come up very much. They were mostly focused on doing their own thing, on living their lives and avoiding any official entanglement in the ongoing conflicts (both of the Bystander and Artifact Hunters variety). And they were successful at that. Until Fossor showed up to play his little game. Between his ‘little’ plague and the zombies, he wiped out the village entirely. Why, Ahmose either didn’t know or couldn’t say. Part of me wondered if it had to do with those hidden artifact weapons, because the idea that Fossor just happened to go through all that in an area where people were looking for those things seemed just a bit too coincidental. But whether that meant Fossor had actually found what everyone else was looking for and kept it hidden all these years or not was anyone’s guess.
In any case, I learned about the people in the village, how day-to-day life worked, how the village was laid out, what the buildings were made of, what they smelled like, how their food tasted, and more. Ahmose told me everything he could, painting a picture of living in that village with its people, with his people. And with each word, I learned more than just simple facts. I also learned just how much he still clearly cared about them. There was real pain, real… emotion in his voice as he reminisced about living there. With every word, the ghost-figure bared a bit more of himself with me. Not because he wanted to. Not because we were friends. But because Fossor had ordered him to do so. I knew that. Ahmose was opening up to me, sharing his emotions and story, because doing so would help me summon the ghosts in this place.
And that… that somehow felt like even more of a violation than Fossor was already so good at. Ahmose’s emotions, his story, his feelings and history, were none of my business. But now they were being bared to me just to help me learn to practice my fucking Necromancy.
Damn Fossor. Damn that evil, psychotic piece of shit to the darkest pit of any hell that would take him. I wanted him gone. I wanted him dead. I wanted him erased from all existence.
At the very least, I didn’t waste the effort that Ahmose was putting into this. As much as part of me wanted to resist actually summoning and controlling the people he still clearly cared so much about, I knew it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t like refusing to do this, or pretending I couldn’t, would help him. On the contrary, Fossor would obviously punish him for failing. I wouldn’t be helping him at all.
So, I focused on one of the people in the first painting. Reaching out, I pointed to a body lying on the ground whose face was fairly visible. “Can you tell me about this person?” I asked hesitantly, my voice dry. I had to force the words past the thick lump in my throat.
After a brief pause, Ahmose did so. The man I had pointed out was apparently a baker named Galasso Fuscone. He would yell at the children for hanging around his place while he was trying to bake, but was a sweet man behind the bluster, one who left bread scraps out for them (a few too many ‘scraps’ to be accidental) and who had a lovely singing voice. Galasso was a thin man with stringy gray-yellow hair and had a constant reddish blush to his face, as if he was always in the middle of a long run or workout.
Listening to everything my ghost tutor said, I focused on the man in the picture. My eyes narrowed until the only thing I was looking at was that single part of the painting, while I tried stretching out my power. In my head, I was chanting his name. Galasso Fuscone. Galasso Fuscone. Then I started saying it outloud, which was probably slightly more helpful.
“Galasso Fuscone. Galasso Fuscone. Come. Come to me.” There was an odd quality to my voice, as I felt my power wrap itself around the very sound, causing it to echo even more, reverberating heavily through the tower room. I felt faint resistance, as the figure I was seeking didn’t want to emerge. Part of me reflexively wanted to relent and let it go. But I knew Fossor wouldn’t accept that. As much as I hated this, I had to pull that spirit out.
He materialized in front of my face, right between me and the painting. As soon as the ghost appeared, I felt his panic, his terror. He was sobbing, pleading with me–no. Fossor. He was pleading with Fossor not to do… something again. Whatever it was, I couldn’t follow all of it. He was stammering in Latin, which I was fairly decent at understanding by that point as long as people spoke slower. But this guy definitely wasn’t speaking slow. He was blurting words so quickly they all blended into one another.
Finally, Ahmose spoke sharply, also in Latin, while I was still standing there in stunned silence. It was something about telling him to be silent. Galasso stopped, looking at me as if he had only just then realized I wasn’t Fossor.
“Look, I… I’m sorry,” I managed. “I’ll send you back as soon as I can. I just have to practice for… for a bit.” The words seemed empty and useless both in my head, and even more so aloud. But what else was I supposed to do?
For the next little while, I worked with Galasso, manipulating him, summoning and releasing him back to the painting, sending him around the room. I told him to try resisting, promising that I wouldn’t hurt him. I was pretty sure he didn’t believe me. After all, I was Fossor’s apprentice.
Yeah, he was terrified the entire time. It was awful. As soon as I dared call it enough, I released the ghost to the painting and turned back to my escort. “I’m done,” I informed him. “I’m tired and hungry.” And I’d had enough of terrorizing a dead man. I wasn’t going to do it anymore. Not now, anyway.
“Very well,” came the response. “We will return soon, and you will learn to summon more at once.” With that, Ahmose turned to float to the exit, leading me out of the tower.
As I left that awful place, with Kendall trailing behind as always, my attention focused inward toward Rahanvael. Pretty sure he didn’t notice, what about you?
The response was an affirmative, positive feeling, and I gave a short nod. Yeah. As much energy as I was throwing around in there to ‘practice’, there’s no way he figured out what else we were doing. That’s one more room in this place almost primed. I couldn’t get everything done, but I think I can reach this far from the bedroom to finish up. Just gotta keep being careful. Slow and steady is what’s gonna win this race, like the tortoise.
That earned me a feeling of uncertainty. She had no idea what I meant.
The tortoise and the hare, the rabbit. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you the story later. I paused before turning to face Ahmose. “Thanks, I guess. For the lesson.”
And for helping me with the next step of my plan to break the fuck out of this place. Give me a little more time, and Fossor will wish he’d never even looked at my family.
Flick learns that the doomed village depicted in the stained glass windows from the previous chapter was Ahmose’s village, and that he was responsible for protecting the people who lived there. He goes over how Necromancy works with her, with Flick reciting that to control something dead, you need a combination of power (either natural Necromantic gift the way Fossor and now Flick have, or through rituals to convert regular magic into Necromantic magic), practice/skill using that power, and an understanding of either the individual you’re trying to control, or the species they belong to. The former helps more than the latter. Flick then practices with one of the other ghosts from the village for awhile before declaring herself done, and leaves with Ahmose. On the way out, she has a silent conversation with Rahanvael, revealing that she also did something involving the next stage of her plan to escape while she was in there, and that she is almost ready to make Fossor start regretting everything he started.