I’d thought I was prepared for the twisting, spinning, stomach-churning sensation of being sent literally years through time and who-the-hell-knew how far across the universe. I had psyched myself up for it, prepping sort of like you would when you were about to go on a rollercoaster. But it didn’t help. My internal organs still felt like they wanted it to leap through my throat to get free, and I was so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. Not that there was much to see. Coming through the transport, I was encased in the same meteor-like stone that Tristan had arrived in a year earlier. There was nothing to see except for stone all around me.
I couldn’t see anything, but I could tell we were falling fast. Also spinning. There was a lot of spinning. My vision (such as it was) kept fading in and out as my consciousness flickered.
Then, before I could even hope to collect myself, we hit the ground. The spell on the meteor absorbed all the impact, sparing me from being killed by making the rock surrounding me shatter into a thousand tiny pieces while leaving me standing there.
Well, standing there for about two seconds before the whole spinning/falling sensation caught up with me. Then, rather than looking like some kind of heroic badass arriving in the nick of time, I mostly just face-planted onto the ground while struggling not to lose the entire contents of my stomach. Urgh, that was really bad. Worse than I remembered. Was going backward in time that much harder? Was it the way Petan and those guys did it, with the whole meteor thing?
Either way, it sucked. But hey, at least the fact that I had the Seosten bodysuit meant I didn’t have to show up totally naked or anything.
Plus, all my recent training had done one thing, at least. It gave me the push I needed to focus through all of that and activate the beacon spells I’d brought with me. There were a dozen of them, all locked into various coins and stones I’d enchanted with spells to send an emergency alert to every god damn person who could help. I didn’t even take the time to look at where I was or anything that was around me first. I just forced power into those beacons. Whatever happened to me, if Fossor smacked me down in two seconds, at least the others would know where to come. Sariel, Prosser, Athena, Gwen, all of them. They could finish the job if I couldn’t.
With that reassuring thought (well, as reassuring as the thought of being skewered in two seconds could be), I managed to shove myself back to my feet, weapon in hand, as I took in my surroundings quickly. Even with the flares activated, there wasn’t time for me to lay around and indulge my stomach’s rolling.
I wasn’t, as expected, in a building. Instead, I had appeared in what looked like some kind of open rock quarry. The place was huge. So huge, in fact, that the dark limousine sitting nearby would’ve had to drive full-speed for several minutes to get from one side to the other. That and the bulldozer next to it probably looked like children’s toys from the top of the quarry, so far above me I could barely see it.
But none of that mattered. Only one thing did. Stopping Fossor. This was my last chance. And I was going to make damn sure that son of a bitch didn’t pull off his psychotic fucking plan. Whether it was me or one of the people I had just summoned for help, he wasn’t going to get away this time. One way or another, whatever it took, he was going down today. No more games, no more delays. I was going to save my mother and put that bastard in the ground where he belonged.
Or die trying. But, well, I knew which option I preferred, at least.
And speak of the devil, literally. Even as I straightened and focused, the back door of that limo opened, and the man in question emerged. He stared back at me with an expression that was clearly incredulous, though he was trying to force it back behind a mask of indifference. “Felicity,” he announced flatly, managing to control his voice despite everything as he regarded me with one hand holding the canteen he used to spread ashes. “You are truly a wonder.”
Still working to calm my stomach and avoid throwing up in my mouth, I shot back, “Yeah, give me a few minutes and you’ll wonder what happened to your spleen and lungs.”
Fossor, for his part, had clearly gotten himself under control by that point. My sudden arrival may have taken him by surprise, but he was good at rolling with surprises after all these centuries. Now, he was staring at me dangerously, obviously re-evaluating various thoughts he’d had. “Tell me, where did you disappear to in the future? I know someone took you off course, but the level of power and foreknowledge that would take….” He trailed off, chuckling quietly. “Clearly, my attempts to reacquire and contain you were… or will be, rather unsuccessful.”
“Nah,” I shot back sharply, “You found me just fine in the future. Then we bonded, you had a total change of heart, and switched sides. You even sacrificed yourself to send me back to the past to stop the you back now. It was a whole emotional thing. Whoever plays you in the movie version is totally going to nab an Oscar for it.”
Yeah, from the look he was giving me, the man wasn’t buying it. Probably because even he knew he didn’t have a fucking conscience that could be reached anymore. Slowly, his head shook. “I do hope you aren’t trying to buy time for those beacons of yours to work,” he abruptly informed me. “After all, I would have had to be remarkably stupid not to adapt from your last attempt.”
As my heart sank at those words, he raised a hand to gesture around us. “These stones you see all around us, think of them as a sort of jammer, my dear. They cannot stop your signal forever, that much is true. But they will absorb the energy of the spells long enough that, by the time your allies get the message, it will be too late.” He winked at me. “You see, I learn from past experience too. Now then,” he added in a low, dangerous voice as his eyes narrowed at me, making it clear that he wasn’t playing around anymore either. “Where is my sister?”
Yeah, this was bad. I had known, somewhere in the back of my mind, that Fossor could have adapted to all this and been ready to stop any beacon spells I had. But I’d hoped he wouldn’t have had time to worry about that in between getting his spell ready once more. It hadn’t been more than a few days since I’d been sent forward, so both Petan and I had thought he wouldn’t have had time to create and set up a whole new defense against those beacon spells.
Now, as it turned out, he hadn’t needed to. He just set up his new spell in this quarry full of beacon-absorbing rocks. Because that was totally fair, gods damn it.
“In that case,” I forced myself to retort while pointing the bladed end of my staff at the man who had hurt my family so much, “I guess I’ll just have to delay you until that spell gets out, won’t I? And I’ll tell you where your sister is as soon as you tell me where my mother is, you fucking rapist piece of shit.”
Fossor, in turn, straightened a bit while squinting at me. “Your mother, hmm? After everything you’ve been through, all that you’ve seen and experienced, you’re still a child crying out for her mother. In spite of everything, you still haven’t grown at all from that helpless little girl I met over a year ago now. You’ve learned nothing.”
“Don’t think so?” I retorted, staring him down. With that, I shoved down every doubt, every fear, every bit of uncertainty. I pushed all of it into a little box and locked it away. None of that mattered. I was here. I had to stop this son of a bitch. I had to delay him until those beacon spells got through and help could get here. Then I spoke three more words. Quite possibly the last three non-spell words that I would ever speak.
“Let’s find out.”
I ran. Not away. I ran toward the man, toward the monster who had hurt my family, who had destroyed so many others. I ran toward the creature who had nearly wiped out humanity all those centuries ago with his Black Death, and who was trying to do so again with his new spell. As Fossor stood, waiting to receive me with what looked like a mixture of annoyance and amusement warring for dominance on his face, I crossed the distance between us. One more chance. I had one more chance to stop him.
Not that he was going to make that easy, of course. Before I’d crossed even half the distance between us, with another hundred feet or so still to go, the man raised both hands. And with that simple gesture, an army of figures appeared in my way. They were a mixture of ghosts, appearing out of nowhere, and zombies who clawed their way out of the ground right under my feet. One hand in particular popped up right near my foot, trying to grab my ankle in its crushing grip. But I was faster, snapping my staff down, without breaking stride, to cut the half-rotted hand off before it could catch hold.
A ghost reared up in front of me, and I dove into a roll to go under it, while speaking a single command word to power the ghost-fire spell that I’d already attached to my weapon. The staff lit up with a pale blue glow, as I shoved it up through the ghost while passing under it. With a scream, the ghost literally exploded into a spray of ectoplasm and light.
Two more zombies had pushed their way out of the ground, and were trying to grab me while I was rolling. But they never had the chance. Even as the pair straightened to put themselves in my path, a cloud of super-heated sand flew over my head and tore into them. The cloud was so hot, it literally burned a hole through the two undead monsters. One of their heads came off at the neck, while the other’s head basically disintegrated entirely under the blazing hot sand.
I was back on my feet then. With a sharp gesture, I sent my heated sand out to one side, lashing with it like a whip. A whip that took the heads off three more zombies, cleaving through their necks. In the same moment, I hurled my staff to the other side, sending the bladed end through a ghost that had gotten near me before recalling it to appear right back in my hand as I threw myself into a sideways flip, barely clearing the raised arms of the zombie who was halfway out of the ground ahead of me. Landing, I swept my staff behind me, taking the head off that creature with that single swipe, while spitting a glob of resin at the next one, sticking his hands to the ground as he was trying to push himself up. One more step, and my foot lashed out, colliding with the head of the trapped zombie with enough force (considering I could lift a good three thousand pounds by that point) to pop it like a watermelon, sending blood everywhere. A lot of it sprayed up on me, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. None of that mattered, except stopping that son of a bitch.
The son of a bitch in question was already turning away from me, walking in the other direction (ashes appearing from his canteen to fill the ground along his path) even as a whole new swarm of his minions appeared to fill in the space between us. He was trying to act like he didn’t care, like he wasn’t worried about me. But he also wasn’t sticking around. He wasn’t gloating, wasn’t waiting. He was keeping me busy with his summoned cannon fodder and heading off to finish his spell, before everyone I had called could show up. He knew he was on the clock, and he was going to beat it.
Fuck, fuck! No! I couldn’t let that happen! I had to be faster, had to be better, had to get to him. What I would do if I managed to get that far… I’d focus on that then. Right now, I just had to get there.
Of course, I wasn’t going anywhere if the swarm of ghosts and zombies had anything to do with it. They weren’t exactly the world’s greatest tacticians. All they were doing was attempting to mob me, drag me to the ground into a dogpile. But that would be enough. If they caught me, if they managed to hold me down, Fossor would win.
My staff hit the ground twice behind me and once to either side, leaving a concussive mine with each tap. Behind me, as I continued running, the mines blew apart the zombies who were trying to catch up with me. A quick burst from the staff sent me flying up and over a small, otherwise impassible horde, and as I flipped over in the air, my weapon shifted to its bow form just before I shot an energy arrow down into the group that sent them flying in every direction, opening up a small hole for me to land in and keep running.
Straight ahead of me, an enormous, seven-and-a-half foot tall ghost rose out of nothing and lunged toward me. There was nowhere to go. So, I didn’t go anywhere. I straightened my staff vertically, throwing it ahead of myself before focusing on it. With the power I’d gotten from Fossor’s own arena, I stopped the staff entirely. It froze like that, vertical in the air. Granted, it would only be frozen like that for a few seconds, but for that time, it was totally stopped. The huge spectral form slammed into the ghost-fire-enchanted staff and blew apart with a scream. In the next instant, I was running again, staff summoned right back to my hand.
Unfortunately, that was the moment when another ghost slammed into me from behind, knocking me forward a step, just as a zombie raked at me with rotted fingernails. It would have torn through my throat, but my skin was tougher than it should’ve been, and the nails just left a series of long scrapes across it. Still, it was enough for another ghost to appear, grabbing hold of my left arm, while still another zombie shoved itself out of the ground to catch my right leg. They were trying to shove me down, trying to pile themselves on top of me. More were coming, more piling in, forcing themselves over me to keep me from reaching their master. Clawing at me, ghost hands tearing at my eyes, rotted corpse fingers digging into my stomach, against my throat, shoving into my mouth.
With a thought, I shoved every bit of my willpower into the ghost who had hold of my left arm, forcing it to let go against all of Fossor’s orders. My arm was freed, and I adjusted the grip on my staff while pointing with my right hand to summon a pair of quick portals. The first appeared just behind the head of the zombie who had me by the leg, while the other appeared just above the ghost that was trying to shove his semi-solid hands through my eyes. Grunting out a curse around the fingers of the zombie who had his fingers in my mouth trying to rip my tongue out, I triggered the grapple on my staff, sending it shooting out and down, where it ripped straight through the head of the zombie on my leg. The grapple continued on after splattering that skull, passing through the portal to hit the ghost in front of me. With the ghost-fire spell active, the spectral figure screamed and blew apart. That, in turn, freed me enough to snap my other hand out. In that motion, I summoned a brand new silver knife from a storage spell on the sleeve of the bodysuit. The knife cut through the throat of the fucking rotting corpse whose hand was practically halfway down my throat, and I followed it up with a kick that sent him flying.
It didn’t matter. More were coming. No matter how many I killed, they just kept swarming over me. Dozens and dozens of them. I would never get all the way through them in time to stop Fossor, or even catch up with him. He was already most of the way to what I now saw was some kind of altar set up on the far side of the quarry. And there were so goddamn many figures between the two of us.
A ghost appeared in front of me, but I focused all the Necromantic strength I had on forcing it to remain completely still, frozen there in my path.
“Fossor!” I screamed out the name with every ounce of volume I could manage.
It was enough to make the man turn back to me. Whether he meant to gloat, or simply see just how desperate I looked, I had no idea. But it didn’t matter. He slowed and turned, looking at me through the assortment of creatures blocking the way between us. And that was exactly what we wanted.
From my pocket, I summoned a small stone, shoving my hand outward straight into the chest of the ghost I’d forced to remain completely still, while practically spitting, “Mar’ah.”
It was Hebrew for vision or mirror. In this case, that acted as the command word to activate the spell on the stone I was shoving into the chest of the ghost. A spell that took him from being mostly transparent, to being reflective. The ghost now acted as a mirror, showing me a vision of myself.
In Vegas, I’d picked up the ability to travel through reflective surfaces. Which meant I needed two, of course. But Rahanvael was already on that, appearing directly behind Fossor as he turned toward me. Even now, she was entirely invisible to his power. He had no idea she was there. And she used that, turning herself reflective as well.
Fossor knew something was wrong. He was already turning back. But it was too late. I threw myself straight into the ghost in front of me, passing through him and coming out of Rahanvael before driving the blade of my staff right through Fossor’s shoulder with a scream.
It did nothing to him, of course. He simply passed the damage off to… well, any of the literally billions of hostages he had back on his own world. But I was at least rewarded with the look of surprise on his face.
That surprise, unfortunately, quickly morphed to anger, as he lashed out with a backhanded fist that knocked me to the ground. My staff fell from my grasp. I heard Rahanvael shout my name, only to stop as Fossor’s hand snapped up, forming itself into a hard grip that seemed to stop her in mid-motion. It looked like he was choking her telekinetically or something. She grabbed her throat, frozen there.
“You…. have been… a most disappointing sister,” the man snarled, even as his foot lashed out to kick me in the face. It knocked me backward, dazing me just as I was trying to push myself up. “And you, a most disappointing daughter.”
Abruptly, something slammed into him from behind. It hit the Necromancer so hard, he went flying past us before hitting the ground. The impact obviously didn’t hurt him, of course. He even managed to summon a new ghost to disintegrate into ashes for himself to land on. But it did knock him away, forcing his invisible grip on Rahanvael to vanish.
“I told you,” my mother sharply informed the man while stepping up, offering her hand down to me. “She is not your daughter. And she is far from disappointing.”
Fossor was back on his feet, turning to face the three of us. “What?” His voice actually cracked just a little. “No. What? You can’t be here. This is a trick. You shouldn’t come out of the time spell for another five minutes. I calculated it perfectly.”
“Yes, well,” my mother retorted while hauling me to my feet, “when I realized what you were about to do, I used a little magic of my own. It absorbed just enough of the power you put into your spell to make me pop out a little bit early, and a little bit out of the way. Over there.” She gestured off into the distance.
“Now then,” Mom continued while staring down the man who had done so much damage to our lives. “Where were we?” Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and I felt the power she was summoning to fill herself with, felt the strength that was suddenly making the air all-but vibrate around us. “Oh, yes,” she announced. “I remember.
“We were about to kill you.”