Heretical Edge

Deliverance 7-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter

For those who don’t want to read about Fossor there is a summary at the end.

I had never truly seen Fossor angry before. Annoyed, perhaps. Arrogant for sure. But not angry. I’d never seen him actually upset and ready to unleash on anyone, let alone me. He’d always been in control, had always been at most amused by the thought of anyone standing against him. I’d never been in a situation where he’d actually been hurt by something, even tangentially. 

But now I saw it. Now, in that single moment, I saw the look on Fossor’s face and knew that if he had the chance, he would hurt me. More than hurt me. In his mind, I was going to pay for even thinking about disobeying him, let alone everything I’d actually done. I had put his home in danger, had actually beaten his security and brought his enemies down on his head. And he was going to make me pay for it. 

Fire, the flames violet and silver, sprang to his hands at a word. There was anger in his gaze, actual, genuine anger rather than the casual contempt I was used to. Before I could so much as think about moving, the flames rushed at me, ready to envelop my body in fire and pain. 

But my mother was there. She interceded between us, hand raised to catch the violet-silver flames on a shimmering white forcefield. It flickered slightly under the force of his attack, yet held. And my mother’s voice rose over the sound of that fire, filling the room around us like the crack of thunder. “No!” That was all she said. She didn’t give some diatribe about protecting me, about how he would never hurt her children again. She didn’t threaten him, or say anything about all he had done to her. She didn’t need to do that. Everything that needed to be said was in that single word. That single word that rebounded throughout the chamber, echoing repeatedly. The force of her voice propelled me to my feet, just as the forcefield Mom had been using exploded. Fossor was blown across the room, even as my mother and I were hurled in the opposite direction. Mom caught me in the air, flipping over to land on her feet while setting me down. The two of us slid backward along the bone floor another few feet before coming to a stop. The center of the room was filled with smoke, which gradually faded to reveal Fossor on his feet as well. He had a dozen or so ghosts with him, including Jorsher and Ahmose (whom he had apparently felt was useful enough to expend the effort of summoning back after that banishing spell). His frontline, immediate troops, summoned to his side in an instant. They formed a semicircle ahead of him, while Fossor himself cracked his neck. 

“You…” His words were dark, filled with clear rage that he was barely containing. “You have been such a disappointment. But you will still fulfill some purpose, at least. You will still be the catalyst for the spell that will finally put this world into my hands.” 

Mom gave a short shake of her head. “The Heretics are coming, Fossor. You know that what few defenses you have left on this place won’t hold them back. Your spell in this room has been broken. You don’t have time to reconstruct it before they get here.” 

“Time?” Fossor gave a low chuckle, seeming to consider something for a moment. “Yes, well, we’ll see about that. I hate to tell you, but while a setback, your actions here are hardly the end of the line for my endeavors. You may have shattered the prepared spell, but the body of it still exists. Given another few days to repair it, and everything will be set right.” 

“Few days?” I shook my head. “You don’t have a few days. You don’t have a few hours. You’re on borrowed time, Fossor. Any minute now, this place is going to be swarming with a whole lot of people who want you dead and buried.” 

His stare seemed to burn through me, the anger in his voice almost enough to make me take a reflexive step back. But I barely held my ground, even as the man himself snarled, “You would be surprised to find what I can accomplish with limited time. You will be corrected, your actions punished. Then the three of us will retire to one of the… summer homes, where you will find the accommodations far less pleasant than these have been. At least until the spell is complete.” 

Even as he said those words, more and more ghosts kept filling the room. He was summoning them a dozen at a time, flooding the room with an army of his ethereal troops. It was clear that he knew he’d have to go all out to overwhelm my mother (and me, to a lesser extent) in the time that he had left. And he was ready to do just that. More and more ghosts arrived. Some had powers of their own, while others held things like swords and spears. All of them surrounded their master in a horde, ready to swarm over my mother, Kendall the golem, and me. 

And it was more than just summoning frontline ghosts. The house ghosts were mixed in there too. All the ones I had banished with that first spell. Fossor was spending power and effort that he didn’t have to waste on standard ghosts, just to prove that he could undo anything I did by pulling those ghosts back. 

Just as Mom had said he would. 

In any case, there were so many of the ghosts that there was no chance we wouldn’t be overwhelmed, simply through sheer numbers. The man obviously wasn’t taking any chances now. Not after what I had just done. He intended to tear us down and drag us out of here to his secondary home to continue this psychotic fucking plan. 

“We are not going anywhere with you.” That was Mom, her voice hard as she stood protectively in front of me. She ignored all the ghosts, her gaze centered on Fossor. 

As soon as she said that, two more blasts of deadly fire shot toward my mother and me. Again, she summoned a shield that flickered a little under the assault, yet held steady. The twin fire blasts were followed by what looked like a giant spear (it was a good fifteen feet long and at least a foot thick around the shaft) made of bone and covered in glowing blood that flew at us. That one, Mom didn’t stop with her shield. Instead, she created a localized whirlwind that sent the spear up into the ceiling. Upon impact, it exploded, sending a wave of nasty-looking gas everywhere. But with the whirlwind still active, the gas was pushed away from us. 

“I know your tricks!” That was my mother, her voice thundering through the room. “You spent a decade showing them to me! And you don’t have time to play these games now. You have a chance to escape this place before the others make it through your defenses. But you don’t have a chance to take us with you.” 

“I don’t?” There was a soft chuckle from the man, after he had tested my mother once more with a quick lance of flame that she caught on her shield. But it didn’t sound like his normal, collected and unflappable self. He was angry, barely keeping himself in control. Good. That meant he was right on schedule. “I think you’ll find I am more than capable of putting the two of you in line quite quickly.” 

As he said it, the man raised his hand, clearly about to send his ghosts at us. But before he could, Kendall moved ahead of my mother. The reanimated dead girl’s body looked almost laughably inadequate, standing against, by that point, over a hundred armed ghosts that were clearly one word away from falling onto us like a tidal wave of malevolence. 

Hand raised, Fossor paused, staring at the golem in front of him. “I realize I’ve taught you quite a bit, Felicity. More than I should have, perhaps. But sending your little friend here to stop these ghosts is not going to end well for you, regardless of the tricks you’ve picked up.” Again, the words sounded just like they probably would have at any time, but his voice was wrong. It shook a bit, cracking just as the facade of control around the man himself had cracked. He was emotional, annoyed. He wanted to smack me down and have me know that he did it, that he beat me. He clearly wasn’t thinking as straight as he should have. There were Heretics coming for his home and he was delaying because he was pissed at me. 

Finally. After all this time. After everything this psychotic, evil piece of shit had done, I had made him feel something. I hurt him. I wounded him, even if it was simply by delaying his plan and injuring his pride. I still affected that fucker. 

And I was about to affect him again. Because the next words that left my mouth were, “Who said I moved her?” 

Fossor didn’t understand. He couldn’t. But that didn’t matter. He still focused on Kendall, instantly lashing out with his hand, the order to destroy her on his lips. But it had only half-left his mouth before the spell from the runes that had been secretly carved into her body ignited. The erupting greenish-blue necromantic energy was entirely directed forward, washing over Fossor’s army of ghosts before flaring almost blindingly bright for a moment.

Then it vanished. And with it went those ghosts. All of them. 

“They’re free, Fossor!” I called, my voice filling the room even as the sound of the eruption faded. My whole body was shaking from the rush of adrenaline and emotion. “That spell tore your tether away from them. Jorsher, Ahmose, all those other ghosts you summoned to deal with us, they’re gone. They’re free of you. That spell right there, it banished them and tore your tether away. You can’t find them again. They’re invisible to you. You’ll never hurt them again.” 

It wasn’t even close to all the forces he could send at us, of course. He had an entire planet full of people he could use, to say nothing of all his other victims. But Ahmose, Jorsher, and the other immediate house ghosts were freed. It was the least I could do, after getting to know them these past few weeks. Setting these few ghosts free wasn’t much. But it was something. And after all the time I’d spent here in this hell, being able to do something… well, that was everything.

“No.” Fossor’s voice actually faltered a little bit. “No, you–that’s not… you don’t have the power to do something like that. You don’t have that kind of power, or the skill! And I would have detected it! I would have sensed that kind of spell, I… someone has been aiding you. But who could…” He snarled, snapping his fingers to summon a rush of flame that moved faster than I could possibly have intervened. The fire tore through Kendall’s body, turning it to ash while the man bellowed, “Show yourself!” 

The dust settled, leaving behind a single glowing figure. That of a teenage girl, whose appearance made Fossor abruptly freeze. He went completely still, staring as the flames he had summoned vanished in an instant. 

“Hello, brother,” Rahanvael greeted simply. “It’s been a long time.” 

Yeah, of course it was Rahanvael. She had helped with everything. Drawing energy from her allowed me to set up spells that Fossor couldn’t detect, thanks to his blindness to any energy involving his sister. That included both the still-active beacons that were already drawing the others here, and the ghost anchor-severing/banishing spell that had sent his summoned army away. That and Shyel’s tutelage were the only real advantages I’d had in all this, and I’d used them both as well as I could, by preparing the spells taught by Shyel, and keeping them hidden  with Rahanvael’s energy. We’d used the basic concept of the way that Rahanvael had been freed of her brother’s control and turned it into a spell to permanently free those other ghosts, including Ahmose and Jorsher. 

There were other ideas I’d had to level the playing field a little more. Mom and I had both intended to be in a much better position to actually escape the second all this went down. Or even trap him for the others. But Fossor sort of forced our hands. We just had to hope that what we had now was enough. 

“Rahn.” Fossor’s voice was… pained. He pronounced what was obviously his sister’s nickname like ‘rain.’ “No–no, it’s–that’s a trick. You can’t be here. You aren’t–I didn’t–No, no, that’s wrong. No…” If it was almost anyone but him, I might’ve felt sorry for the effect seeing his millennia-dead sister suddenly appear in front of him was having. First I broke his spell, then I banished his front-line ghost army. Now his dead sister was in front of him. He was staggering, the cracks in his armor breaking even wider.

“You summoned me before,” Rahanvael was saying. “You brought me back. But I hid from you, because…” There was pain in her voice too. “Because you are not my brother anymore. You are a monster. You are not Mera!” 

“I am better than Mera!”  Fossor’s rage broke through his shock, the explosion of his voice literally rocking the room around us. 

Wait. No, the room was actually rocking. Explosions. There was something going on upstairs in the main palace. Our–the others! They were here! They were tearing through what remained of Fossor’s defenses. 

But Fossor wasn’t paying attention. He was focused entirely on the ghost of his sister. The man was literally trembling with emotion. “You–you are… I am better than I was. I made them pay. I am making them pay. All of it–everything for you, Rahan. For you and our mother.” He said something else, but it was obviously in their own language, because I couldn’t understand. But it sounded like a plea of some kind. Pleading for her to understand? To come with him? To abandon me? I didn’t know. 

Either way, Rahanvael shook her head. “You are not my brother,” she repeated. “And I will see you destroyed so that he can finally rest, as he should have so very long ago.”  

“See me destroyed?” Fossor’s voice cracked. He was clearly losing it. Or had already lost it. “You will come to me!” There was indescribable power behind his voice, as the man stretched out his necromancy to force his own sister to bend to his will. He was breaking. Everything happening so suddenly, everything hitting him rapidfire like that, it was getting at him. Now he was going as far as attempting to enslave his own already-dead sister to his will. 

But it didn’t work. Rahanvael stood strong against the onslaught. Her voice cut through his bellowed demand. “I am anchored! I am anchored to the one you taught! I have had your entire existence to know you! I have known this ‘Fossor’ since you existed, and I knew Mera before that! I know everything of you. You cannot bend me to your demands!”

Fossor’s response was a snarled, “You… you will…” He trailed off, his eyes flicking over to me. “Anchored. You won’t be anchored for long. Then you and I will have our own reunion.” There was a crazed look in his eyes. I was pretty sure he’d almost entirely forgotten about his home being under attack. And I was also fairly confident that he wasn’t thinking about keeping me alive either. He wanted the anchor broken so he could yank his sister away. 

He wanted me dead. 

That much became perfectly clear in the next moment, as Fossor launched his next attack. This wasn’t like the others. This wasn’t meant to teach me a lesson, it was meant to kill me. He’d summoned a single giant bone spear before, and a couple flames. Now there were twenty flying spears, all coming at me from every direction and each covered with fire so hot it instantly turned the massive chamber into an oven. The flames erupted from the weapons as they all converged on me. I would have been dead in an instant, before I could even move. 

Would have been. Except for my mother. She was faster, moving in a blur to intercept each and every one of the projectiles. She doused the flames, redirected the explosions of gas, caught every piece of shrapnel from the bones that blew apart, summoned a glowing sword that cut through a blood-tentacle that tore its way up out of the ground right in front of me. 

Everywhere there was a threat, she was there. Everything that could possibly have harmed me, Mom cut it down. She was a force of nature. Because as angry as Fossor was in that moment, my mother had had a decade of anger. More than that. My mother had had a lifetime of people threatening or outright hurting her children, and she was not going to let it happen this time. 

Then I felt it. Fossor’s hands reached out to either side, and he summoned every last bit of power in the chamber. No, not just the chamber. Everywhere on the grounds. Hundreds of years worth of residual magical energy, everything he’d put into this place that wasn’t already going toward those beacons. Everything he had, all of it. He summoned it all for one spell. 

“Mom!” I blurted out loud, “Look–” 

She was gone. My mother vanished in an instant, there and gone in the span of a blink. 

With a scream of rage, I hurled myself that way. Fossor had actually doubled over, and my fist collided with his face. I’d forgotten my staff, clutched tight in my other hand, as I collided with the man and knocked him to the floor. My fist hit his face as I screamed, “Where is she?!” 

“When,” Fossor snarled, his elbow hitting me in the face hard enough that I saw stars. “When is a much better question!” As I recoiled, his hand caught my throat, squeezing tightly. He squeezed until I couldn’t breathe, until I could barely see through my dimming eyes. “Thankfully, there are still remnants of the spell I used to bring you forward to me, carved within this very room. Remnants I can shape and fill with power once more. Your mother has been sent forward a couple of days, and to a safe location. I’ll collect her when she returns, and we will finish the spell.” 

“Others… coming…” I managed to force out while being choked. “… Stop… you.”  

“Oh, I’m afraid they won’t know anything about it,” Fossor insisted. He was choking me even more, so hard I could feel myself slipping away. “I’m certainly not going to tell them. And you–” 

“Fossor!”  

Abruptly, his grip loosened just a little. He was still easily holding me. But his attention was on Rahanvael. 

“I am life-anchored to Felicity. If the girl dies,” she informed him, “you know what that means. You will never find me again.” 

Even as she said those words, a portal appeared. Then another, and a third. I saw Gabriel Prosser, Athena, Nevada, Avalon, Shiori, Wyatt, Sands and Sarah, the others. I saw them. They found me–us. They found us, they were right there. They were here! I heard my name shouted from several of them, everyone converging on the point where I was being held by the throat. 

Fossor’s gaze snapped back to me. I could feel the rush of power he still had. He’d summoned everything in the house, and it was still swelling in him. With that much, would he be able to fight that many people out for his blood? 

No. That wasn’t his style. He wasn’t going to fight them head-on. He was going to retreat. But first, he smiled at me. It was a pained, clearly deranged and damaged smile. I’d hurt him really badly, and we both knew it. 

With his free hand, the one that wasn’t tightly clutching my throat, he produced a small white orb. “I admit, you are forcing me to reach deep to my reserves for this power, my girl.” He snarled the words, his eyes and voice both half-crazed, even as Prosser hit the glowing dome-shaped forcefield that Fossor had clearly summoned around us. It almost shattered from that single hit, so it obviously wouldn’t hold for long. 

It didn’t need to. Fossor hurled me away from him, while hurling that orb to the floor. It shattered, and the area around us was suddenly flooded with so much stored magical power that the air literally grew burning hot. He sent it all at me, using the same time-travel spell he’d just used on my mother. The same one he’d used to send me three weeks into the future almost a month earlier. 

Time travel. He was sending me through time, again. But this time felt different. This time, there was a hell of a lot more power involved. That orb, the magic battery or whatever, had held more power in it than had been in this entire house. I could feel that, even as the spell took hold. Even as the others shouted my name, as Avalon and Shiori were right there, just breaking through the forcefield separating us. I felt a rush of power that made what I’d felt during the three-week jump seem like a light sprinkle of rain. 

How far was he sending me? 

The last words I heard were Fossor’s, his voice echoing through my head with a simple, “I will be around to collect my sister soon enough.” 

As before, a floor came up and smacked me hard. I was lying there, sprawled out haphazardly while some kind of blaring alarm filled the air. It took me a moment to realize it wasn’t just in my head. 

“Felicity!” It was Rahanvael, floating in front of me. “Get up!” 

Groaning, I rolled over. Everything hit me at once. “How… how many weeks ahead did he send us? Gotta… gotta find one of my friends to send us back. Someone… someone…” Only then did I glance around. The room we were in was gleaming silver, with holographic control panels, and obvious viewports overlooking millions of twinkling stars. 

“It is not a question of weeks, Felicity,” Rahanvael quietly informed me. “It is a question of years.

“And I am afraid that we are nowhere near your world, or any of your friends.”  

 

SUMMARY

Fossor goes ballistic trying to make Flick pay for her trick. Her mother, however, intercepts any attacks he sends at her daughter. The Necromancer summons a bunch of ghosts back, including the ones Flick sent away, just to prove he can undo what she did (spending effort and time in the process). Just as he’s about to send an army of those ghosts to wash over Flick and Joselyn, Rahanvael reveals herself by exploding a spell built into Kendall (whom she was actually inside of), which not only rebanishes all those ghosts (including Jorsher and Ahmose), but also completely frees them from Fossor’s control and makes them invisible to his power the way Rahanvael is. As all of Flick’s allies and friends show up, breaking through what remains of the defenses, Fossor uses all the rest of the power in the house to send Joselyn several days into the future and to another location. As he is about to kill Flick in a rage, Rahanvael informs him that she has life-anchored herself to the girl. Which means that if Flick dies, Rahanvael herself will vanish forever. This forces Fossor to use a ball filled with magic, wasting it in order to banish Flick and Rahanvael years into the future and to some other point of the universe far from Earth.

Previous Chapter

Deliverance 7-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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As with all these Fossor-related chapters, there is a summary that follows the end of this one. 

“No.” 

That single word escaped me, even as I straightened. My hand grabbed the staff at my side, yanking it free. Jaq and Gus were already in position, the bladed end of the weapon pointed at the monster in front of me. “No,” I repeated. Flashes of all the people I cared about popped into my head. I saw them, I heard them, I felt everything that the people who would be affected by this meant to me. And not just them. Even the people I didn’t particularly like, the ones who were mistaken, misled, who thought they were doing the right thing and that the Rebellion were the ones who were wrong. If this plan went on, if it worked, they would all be killed and turned into mindless slaves of this… this… abomination. Drones, just like Kendall behind me. 

Beside me, my mother took a step away. Not to be apart from me or leave me on my own, I knew. She was giving both of us room to work with, her own hand coming up to point at the necromancer. When she spoke, her voice was harder than I’d ever heard it. “Too far, Fossor. You’ve become entirely too arrogant if you think we’ll just go along with your genocidal delusions.” I could hear the pain in her voice, the thoughts and memories of everything else she had put up with over the years clearly right there in her mind. Things she had put up with for me.

If he was at all bothered by what Mom and I said, or indeed had even noticed it, Fossor gave no indication. Instead, he literally turned his back to us and walked a few feet away while casually continuing as though we never even spoke up. “Of course, the Seosten won’t like that very much. But on the other hand, they will have far more important things to worry about than payback, given a sudden potential lack of Heretic firepower on their frontlines. All of their little Heretic weapons will be under my control. And I will allow them to be used against the Fomorians, provided the Seosten accept my conditions. Leave this planet, and everything that lives on it, to me. In exchange, I will continue to provide them Heretic weapons. Otherwise, they lose one of the primary resources they’ve come to depend on so much in these few centuries.” 

Staff clutched tightly in one hand, I realized something else. “You… the hangman noose, the spell, it’s not just a one-time thing, is it?” My voice was tight, the words barely escaping. 

The man turned back to me, smiling proudly, as if I was a struggling student who had just answered a tough question. “Very good, my dear! Yes, the spell will affect any who are ever connected to the imprisoned Reaper, be it through the light or the fruit. Either way, anyone who is turned into a Heretic using those methods, from this point on, will immediately become one of mine.” 

Permanent. This was even worse than we’d thought, even worse than I’d assumed possible. Fossor wasn’t just going to turn every living Crossroads or Eden’s Garden Heretic into his dead slaves, he was going to turn every future Heretic into one as well. Everyone. All of them. And then he was going to use that to force the Seosten to abandon Earth in exchange for being given more Heretics to continue fighting the Fomorians. And they would have to go with it. What choice would they have? They didn’t have the power to fight Fossor here on Earth with an army of the very same soldiers/weapons they were depending on just to hold the Fomorians back. 

I had known this was going to be bad. I knew that for a long time. It had been obvious that Fossor was distracted by something. The work he’d been putting into this had been very clear. But even then, even with all that, I hadn’t had the slightest clue that it would be this horrific. 

We couldn’t let this happen. That was all there was to it. End of story. End of world if we didn’t stop this. There was no one else here, and nothing to stop Fossor from pulling this off if we didn’t stand up to him. He was going to use this spell to kill and enslave not only Heretics, but soon after the entire world. Yes. That was one thing I was completely certain of. With an army of dead, puppeted Heretics at his side and the Seosten forced to leave, Fossor would absolutely turn Earth into something just like his own world. He would enslave everyone here. Everyone. 

Unless we stopped him right here. 

“Fossor.” My voice was sharp, stronger than it had been before. This had been coming for a long time. It was time. I’d spent the past year being terrified of what would happen when my birthday came, and the past few weeks actually living that terror. I’d been forced to stay quiet, forced to put up with this monster’s evil bullshit for all this time. My own mother had been forced to do his bidding far longer than me. And now, now he wanted to turn the entire world into his slaves, his puppets? He wanted to turn Earth into another version of his own planet. No. Enough. I was done putting up with it. Mom and I both. We were done accepting this. 

Following that single word, the man stopped talking. He stood there, regarding me curiously for a few silent seconds. Finally, he quietly ‘suggested’, “Dearest Joselyn, I do believe that it would be for the best if you informed our girl of what the punishment for raising a weapon in my direction will be. Before this goes any further than it has to.” Despite the implicit threat in his words, the man’s voice was totally casual. He wasn’t worried about this whatsoever. And why would he be? I wasn’t really a challenge to him. Me? Some barely-capable student with a few Necromancer tricks he himself had taught? Of course he wasn’t even slightly worried. To him, I was basically a marshmallow attempting to stand up against an actual bonfire. He’d already proven that the day he captured me and casually swatted down every attempt I made to fight him.  

When my mother spoke, however, it wasn’t to warn me back. Instead, she addressed Fossor in a voice that was filled with more hate, more loathing than I could even conceive of. It was anger that had had far longer than my own to build up. “She is not yours,” Mom snarled. “And you will never touch her again. I told you, this was too far.” There was clearly more she wanted to say. A lot more. The things she longed to say to this psychopath had built up for a decade. But she didn’t bother wasting the breath to do so. Instead, my mother simply added a brittle, “We’re done.” 

“Done?” Fossor echoed that single word, arching an eyebrow as he glanced between us. Mom and I were both in ready positions, for all the good it would do us. I’d even brought Kendall up to stand a short distance from my side, between Mom and me. By contrast, the Necromancer himself still appeared totally casual. He didn’t quite have his hands in his pockets, but he might as well have. There wasn’t the slightest bit of worry on display. He could have been a middle-aged man standing in line at the grocery store, for all the concern he showed. 

“No,” the man informed us after letting that word hang in the air for a moment. “No, we’re so very far from done. In fact, we’ve barely started. There is so much more the three of us are going to accomplish together, so much more than either of you can even conceive now. This is simply one more rung along the ladder. And I promise, by the time we reach what is truly the end, this moment right here will feel like a far distant dream, an echo of a memory you will barely recall. And when you do recall those mostly-vanished thoughts of this day, the only thing that will come to mind will be the sheer certainty that you could never possibly have been so naive as to think that you could ever truly make a fool of me in my own home.” 

Belatedly, his words penetrated my own anger, as I managed a confused, “What?” 

His response was a low chuckle, head shaking as if I was just an adorable child. “Dearest girl, did you truly think I would show any of this to the two of you if there was the slightest chance of you putting a stop to it?” His casual tone hardened. “And did you truly think you could spend weeks plotting against me in my own home without me finding out about it? Are you still so childish to think that I haven’t noticed everything you’ve done, that I would not know of your plans and efforts? Every bit of work you’ve done for these weeks, your oh-so-careful actions and preparations, were not careful enough. You say you are done accepting my orders? 

“I am done entertaining your childish fantasies of escape.” 

Face twisting a bit with quickly mounting worry and a sick expression of dread, I forced myself to stammer, “Wha-what are you talking about?” Even while saying it, I instinctively reached out with my Necromancy, pushing that dark power that I’d learned to use over these past weeks up toward a spot elsewhere in the palace. Our room. The room Mom and I had stayed in for so long now. The swell of energy from the prepared spell in that room, I felt it there, ready to go. Maybe not perfect yet, not as good as it could be. But good enough. Close enough, for this.

And then it was gone. I felt Fossor’s own vastly superior power wash right over mine, like a tidal wave overwhelming a garden hose. His strength and skill were unbelievable. I had no chance of standing against it, none. The spell that had been intricately set up in the room that my mother and I shared was snuffed out as easily as if he had simply put out a small candle flame. It was gone, entirely erased forever, in the span of about two seconds and with little effort on his part.

Standing there frozen for a brief moment, my hand outstretched, I stared upward as though I could see all the way to the room where the carefully crafted and painstakingly energized spell had been almost instantly dissolved. My mouth was open, face wet with tears while a sound of flat, horrible despair escaped me. I barely recognized my own voice, hollow as it was with horror, disbelief, and wretched grief. “No… no, you can’t… we didn’t… how did… how…” 

Fossor took a step my way, before Mom quickly inserted herself between us. But a wave of his hand summoned Ahmose, who grabbed my mother by the arms. He was clearly using his pain power, given the way Mom jerked and spasmed, though she didn’t cry out. He was still able to yank her away from me, leaving Fossor room to come right up to where I stood frozen by obvious grief and revulsion, the horror of my spell being erased written across my face. 

“Dearest… child,” Fossor spoke smoothly, his words dripping with false compassion, with insincere understanding, “you tried so very hard, didn’t you? You worked so carefully, only using your power at night, watching for any spies, hiding your spell from me with everything you had.” 

He chuckled then, the sound making me shudder. In the background, I could see Mom struggling not only against Ahmose, but a dozen more ghosts who were all working to hold her back. Meanwhile, Fossor continued in that same ‘sympathetic’ tone. “It was a good effort, my girl. A transportation spell that would have taken you and your mother from here to your home in Laramie Falls, yes? And one you crafted oh-so-carefully too. I admired it just this morning. Given another two days, perhaps, it would have been perfect. You managed to tie it into my own wards, which…” His head shook with wonder, what sounded like genuine pride filling his voice. “Such a brilliant girl. I had no idea you were capable of so much. Truly, it is an honor to be your mentor.” 

With that, however, his voice darkened. “But I cannot entertain such efforts forever. You and your mother will be punished for this. You will learn to be obedient, my girl. You will learn that there are consequences for your actions. Very harsh ones.” 

Even as he said that, Fossor’s fingers snapped, and the room around us began to pulse with power. The very floor shook under my feet, vibrating violently. I could feel the spell that Fossor had crafted feeding into the noose. I could feel that horrible magic, the power that would kill every Bosch-Heretic and turn them into this psychopath’s eternal slaves. It was there. It was right there. It was about to erupt, while helpless tears fell down my face and my mother struggled helplessly against mounting hordes of ghosts that kept coming no matter how many she destroyed. 

Eyes closing, I dropped my head, murmuring under my breath in a shaky, broken voice. 

“You have something to say?” Fossor urged, his hand finding its way to my shoulder and squeezing even as his spell rose toward its conclusion. In a few brief seconds, it would be over.  “Some plea to make?” 

My eyes opened. I raised my head, staring at the man. In a voice that cracked from hatred but free of the despair I had been allowing him to see for these past few minutes, I retorted with seven words, followed by one more. 

“Go fuck yourself, you piece of shit. Ostendeo!” 

With that final word, the entire house above us violently shook, as a sudden crack, too loud to be thunder, pierced every corner of the palace and its grounds. Abruptly, the ghosts assaulting my mother (the ones who were left, anyway) vanished. At the same time, the vibrating levels of power from Fossor’s spell ceased. The bone floor throughout the room cracked in several places from the sheer force of that spell’s power being redirected elsewhere. And throughout the building and its grounds, literal hundreds of spots of power could be felt. 

Fossor, for his part, backhanded me so hard I hit the floor in a daze. He spun, snapping his fingers along with a single command word. As he did so, a holographic image of the whole area around his precious home from above came into view. 

Hundreds of small, yet powerful beams of light shone into the air from every corner of the palace and grounds. They shone out of windows, up through the very walls themselves, out of the gardens, the trees, the pool, they shone from every direction and in every direction. They were red, blue, purple, white, green, every color of the rainbow. The power they gave off seemed to hum through the very air itself, creating a sound almost like chimes. Hundreds of colorful, humming lights. 

Hundreds of beacons. 

From the floor, I snarled, “You found the spell in the room? Good for you. That’s the one you were supposed to find. You’d never believe I wasn’t trying something, so I worked on that in my off-time so you could feel special for figuring out my plan, you evil fuck.” 

He felt it. He knew. He understood without me saying anything else. These past weeks, the thing I had really been working on was to find every bug or insect I could, killing them and then using my necromancy to bring them back. Just bugs. Simple insects. Hundreds of the tiny, seemingly insignificant things. I directed those dead and raised bugs into every small corner and hole of this place, inside and out. Then, once they were hidden, I made them stronger. Just strong enough to carve pieces of spells into the rock, wood, brick, anywhere they were that would be out of sight. I empowered those tiny spells using energy drawn from the one thing that Fossor wouldn’t detect: his own sister. Carefully, over these past weeks, I drained a bit of her each day and used that to gradually build up these tiny spots of magic. Too small for Fossor to pay much attention to even if they hadn’t been empowered using his one blindspot. With it, he had no chance of noticing. Not until now. Not until it was too late. 

The spells I had crafted, thanks to extensive help from Shyel, did two things. First, they drained all the magical power around them that they could find. That included the wards that Fossor had set up, his alert spells, and a large portion of his prepared ghosts. They had been summoned and maintained by magic as well, so the beacon spells drained them as well. That was why the ghosts attacking my mother had vanished. 

Second, the beacons used that power they had suddenly absorbed to send out a beacon directed toward everyone I had been able to think of who could help. It was a beacon similar to the one that had been used to mark the secret Crossroads prison where Sean had been held. Similar, because Chayyiel had learned to create it when she visited and included it with the Shyel upload in my head.  With the mental construct’s help, I’d adjusted the spell somewhat, and now hundreds of those beacons were being sent out to Deveron, Avalon, Shiori, Dare, Kohaku, Wyatt, Brom Bones, Nevada, Lillian Patters, Roger and Seamus Dornan, Hisao, the rest of my team, Koren, Tristan, Athena, Mercury, everyone, everyone who might be able to help and who had a bone to pick with Fossor. Those beacons were directing them to this spot right here. And more than that. They also filled the targets with knowledge, knowledge of the layout of this place, of every piece of Fossor’s defenses that I or my mother had been able to put together in all the time that we had been here. They all suddenly knew exactly where we were, how the defenses worked, the exact layout of the building and grounds, all of it. 

But the most important thing of all, at this very moment, was the draining part of those beacons. The fact that they absorbed magic near them. Because the spell that Fossor had been working on, the thing he had been about to trigger, was full of magical energy. Magical energy that he had built up for weeks as well. And now every bit of it, all of it, had abruptly and violently been diverted into my beacons. All of it was gone. He would have to start gathering that energy from scratch in order to cast the spell he wanted to cast. And there wasn’t time for that. Not with every fucking one of our friends on their way right now. On their way to a home that had just had every last one of its prepared defenses vanish into the ether. 

I could see the realization of that, the sudden understanding, in Fossor’s open-mouthed, stunned gaze. For once in his goddamn life, the man had been taken completely by surprise. 

“So, like I said,” I snapped. 

“Go fuck yourself.”

 

SUMMARY

Flick and Joselyn start to make their stand against Fossor, telling him he’s gone too far. Fossor reveals the sudden twist that he knows all about the spell that Flick has been preparing in their room to send herself and her mother to Laramie Falls and mocks her while disabling the spell. Flick, in turn, reveals the sudden twist that he was supposed to find out about that decoy spell. She does so by telling Fossor to go fuck himself while triggering hundreds of beacon spells that she has used dead insects to place all over the grounds, which send their exact location and everything about where they are straight to everyone they know to call in the cavalry. Those same beacon spells also drain all magic around them in order to charge themselves, immediately disabling all of Fossor’s defenses and erasing the energy he’s been charging up for his kill all Heretics spell. 

 

Flick then reiterates that he should go fuck himself. 

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Deliverance 7-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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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 freewill 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. 

 

SUMMARY

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.

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Deliverance 7-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Fossor does not directly appear in this chapter, but there is a bit about a previous evil thing he did far in the past, unrelated to Flick or any of her people. A summary is at the bottom of the chapter for those who would prefer to skim Fossor-related content. 

I didn’t want to say that things settled into a routine, because… well, fuck those implications. But honestly, they did. The next two weeks were simultaneously the longest in my life while also blurring together. There was so much horrible dread, so much hatred and anger every time I saw or thought about the man who was holding my mother and I prisoner, so much… ugliness that the specifics all got muddled up together in my head. It got to the point that I had to stop and really think about what exactly happened on what day, even just a short time afterward. 

It helped that I kept myself busy. Or, rather, everything kept me busy. My nights were spent mostly talking to and learning from Shyel while I was asleep in my mother’s bed, and plotting with Rahanvael while I was awake. I would lie there in bed with Mom, letting her sleep while I silently communicated with the ghost girl. Whenever possible, she remained totally invisible, only answering me with positive and negative/yes and no feelings. But occasionally she did have to manifest to have a real conversation, when I needed more specifics than a simple yes or no could provide. Thankfully, she could detect any of Fossor’s little necromancy-touched minions, and he was too paranoid to let people he didn’t control come snooping around. She knew whenever any of them were coming and could hide.

Meanwhile, my days were mostly split between spending time with my mother (something I would never be able to get enough of, and the only good part about any of this), learning from Fossor with the occasional bout in the arena to show off what I’d learned, and taking care of/maintaining my golems. Not only Kendall and Gavant, but the other Meregan he’d brought with him. There were four beyond Gavant himself, none of whom I recognized specifically. Not that that mattered. They had been living beings. Worse, they had been living members of a nearly extinct species. Every time I saw them, every time I thought about how that callous, evil, vindictive piece of shit had hurt and… and destroyed the Meregan people, I wanted to scream until my own throat wouldn’t let me scream anymore. The Meregan had suffered enough. Why couldn’t they just be left alone to recover? They… they were nice to me. They didn’t deserve this. No species deserved to go through what theirs had. It wasn’t fair. 

Right, as if Fossor gave a shit about fair. All he cared about was what was good for Fossor. And, apparently, what was good for Fossor at the moment was giving me a bunch of Necromancy training. It wasn’t just with golems either. He also taught me other Necromancy tricks. Not enough to challenge him, of course. I’d need a hell of a lot more time than I actually had to be able to get close to doing that. He’d been doing this for literally thousands of years. It was like Shyel had said, my only chance was going to be in taking advantage of one mistake, in hitting him from some direction that he didn’t actually anticipate. And that was going to be tricky. 

Thankfully, I had something resembling a plan. A plan that was taking a long time to pull off, and would be really easy to fuck up, but a plan nonetheless. That was the other thing that had eaten up every spare moment I had over the past fourteen days and made everything blend together so much. Not to mention the fact that I had to spend time doing a bunch of other things that could conceivably lead to escaping just so I could drag my answer out with all of those if Fossor happened to ask (and he did) if I had physically done anything that might lead to escape.

Not that he used the Writing Room that much. Surprisingly little, actually, given the circumstances. And it wasn’t just because he was ‘saving power’ in the room or whatever, though I had a feeling that was part of it. He was also still clearly preoccupied with something else whenever he wasn’t actively teaching me or ruling over his little arena battles. He was really busy working on something else. 

The question of what was distracting him so much was, of course, pretty important. But it wasn’t like I could just start asking Fossor questions in the Writing Room myself. All I could do was quietly worry about it while focusing on my own plan. A plan I had shared with my mother a few days after conceiving it, using that same ‘secret information sharing’ spell that Prosser had taught me. That was the one single way that we had to keep things absolutely private. 

So yeah, the point was, the past couple weeks had been really busy. To say the least. I kept myself occupied to avoid dwelling on how much I missed my dad, my friends, Shiori and Avalon, and… and everyone. Between the horrors of being here under Fossor and the pain of being away from everyone I cared about other than my mother, I had a lot to distract myself from. 

At that particular moment, I was performing maintenance on Kendall after another bout in the arena. It had been my third one since that first day, a battle between both Kendall and Gavant (I was learning to switch which one was active based on what I needed) and a mixed group of a couple orcs, one lizard man, a troll, and a snake monster whose body had wrapped almost all the way around the arena. That had been… well, not fun. I was using Necromancy magic that Fossor had taught me to patch up the holes in Kendall’s body, murmuring useless apologies. 

Caleb, Miles’s father, was here as well, working on cleaning the blood off of Gavant with a rag and ladder. That was his job. The man whose species was all about protecting people had been given the duty of cleaning and patching the zombies and other dead things in Fossor’s stable. He bathed them, cleaned them, put new clothes on them, and basically just made sure they were presentable in general. He and I had talked a bit about trying to find out where his wife was being held, but neither of us had a real plan as far as that went. I wasn’t going to risk asking Fossor, because if he knew the connection between his little ‘keeper of the dead’, as he called Caleb, and someone from my real life, he would’ve found some horrific way to exploit it. 

The two of us couldn’t talk right now, because Ahmose was here. Fossor’s favorite torture ghost was watching me work. I wasn’t sure why, but it was obviously part of his orders from his master. He didn’t interrupt or anything, he just floated there in the doorway watching what I was doing. My nerves were on edge from the fear that Fossor had some idea of what I was really working on, which may have been the point. Not that the Necromancer actually knew anything, but that he wanted me to be paranoid and possibly make a mistake if I was trying something. 

That or he was simply fucking with me to see what would happen. That was basically just as likely. Fossor had all the control here, and he knew it. It was a fact he’d exploited for the past fourteen days by making me fight in his stupid arena, making me learn from him, threatening to have innocent children killed not only if I didn’t cooperate, but if I didn’t win. These fights had been hard enough without the pressure of knowing how many totally innocent people would die if I failed. It was too much, and I was terrified that I would end up being responsible for a massacre.

No. I wouldn’t be responsible. Fossor would be. I knew that. Intellectually, I knew that. I’d even said so repeatedly. But emotionally, the fear of how that would feel kept creeping up on me. 

“Are you finished?” The voice of Ahmose, coming from directly behind me as he had apparently floated up while I was distracted thinking about all that, made me jump. “You appear to be finished,” he added flatly when I jerked around to stare at him. 

“I–um, yeah. Yeah, she’s good for now,” I mumbled a bit uncomfortably. The last thing I wanted was to be near the ghost who could make me feel blinding agony just by touching me. The memory of how that punishment had felt the first day (and I’d gotten a couple reminders on Fossor’s orders since then) still made me shudder. “Why, we’re not going back to the arena already, are we?” Once before, Fossor had called me there right after I finished cleaning up from a fight, only to sit and watch some other battle. But for whatever reason, he never had me watch Mom fight. He always ordered me out of the arena before she would have her battle. I wasn’t sure why, or if there actually was a reason at all. I’d asked Mom about it, but she just told me the fights were a straight up brawl and that she couldn’t think of any reason Fossor would want me out of the room. For all we knew, it was a test to see if I’d push to see her fights or try to find a way to sneak around. 

The point was, I had yet to see my mother in combat. And I knew she was doing that right now, so the thought that Fossor might be calling me back… I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. 

“No,” Ahmose informed me in a low voice. But he didn’t elaborate beyond that. Instead, after that single word, the large, purple ghost with red eyes turned to glide silently away from me. He went through the open doorway and continued through the hallway beyond, clearly expecting me to follow after him without actually explaining anything. Which was fair enough, considering it wasn’t like I had any choice in the matter whether I’d known where we were going or not. 

I wanted to glance back toward Caleb on the way out, but there was no way that I would take that kind of risk. Not with Ahmose this close. Instead, I just exhaled and patted the dead Kendall on the shoulder before starting out of the room, summoning her to follow. One thing I knew for sure. If it was at all possible, I was going to get not only Caleb (and hopefully his wife if we could find her), but also as many of the dead bodies as possible out of here. They deserved to be put to rest. Yes, they were dead. But Fossor was defiling them by forcing their bodies to do his bidding in these sick games. If I could, if it was possible, I would get them out of this horrible place. 

Yeah, I’d get them out. Right around the time I got myself and my mother out. I wasn’t so much putting the cart ahead of the horse there as I was building an entire western theme park before I had a single foal. But hey, it was good to have goals? 

Either way, Ahmose led me through the palace. As promised, we weren’t heading back to the arena. I’d (regrettably) been in this place enough for me to have at least a basic idea of where things were, and we were heading up and away from the direction of the arena. We were heading for an area I hadn’t been in very much. It wasn’t Fossor’s private quarters or anything, just a part of the palace I’d only very briefly passed through. 

Well, sort of, anyway. I had been through this area in another way over the past week and a half, just as I’d been almost everywhere that Fossor wasn’t actively keeping me out of. But that was… different. And I certainly hadn’t been in a position to see everything the way I was seeing it now. I’d been rather occupied with my plan at the time. 

Any idea where we’re going? I directed inward toward Rahanvael, keeping an eye on Ahmose’s back as he glided along ahead of me. By that point, I was over ninety percent sure he’d never notice her presence even if she communicated (silently) with me, but I watched him a bit anyway. Sure enough, he showed no reaction at all as the negative response came back. Rahanvael didn’t know what was going on either. And from the feeling she’d expressed, I was confident that she wasn’t sensing an ambush of zombies and ghosts or whatever. 

As it turned out, the place I was being taken to was the top of one of the mansion’s towers. The west tower, actually. It was a round room, about three hundred feet in diameter, with stairs (the ones we had just come up) directly in the middle and four huge stained glass windows at the twelve, six, three, and nine o’clock positions. The images in the colorful windows depicted various horrific scenes. Straight ahead at the twelve position was an image of a medieval city street full of bodies, with a cart that had more bodies stacked up on it, being pulled through by a skeletally-thin mule. There were people leaning out of the buildings, and looks on their faces… the fact that the artist had managed to create such haunting, terrifying visages in stained glass was a testament to their skill. It also made me sick. One bit in particular showed a little girl leaning out a window with what looked like a wooden doll hanging from one hand. 

Meanwhile, the other three windows were equally horrible (in content). The three o’clock one showed bodies being burned in a pit while some actively tried to climb out of it. The six o’clock window depicted mangled, rotting corpses walking back into the same street scene from the first window and attacking the living. That girl with the doll was gone from the window and was instead down on the ground, her back to the viewer as she fled. 

And yet, it was the last image, the one for the nine o’clock position, that was somehow the worst of all. This despite the fact that it didn’t show any zombies or monsters. Or any people at all. It was a view of the same neighborhood, except it was empty, devoid of any living things. In the very center of the painting was that wooden doll from the girl. It lay on its side, with a small yet telling puddle of blood leading away from it and off ‘screen.’ 

Okay, that really fucked me up. Just standing there seeing all those windows, feeling the ‘story’ they told, made me have to close my eyes to collect myself for a moment. Thankfully, Ahmose didn’t push me to get on with it or say anything. He just waited in total silence.

Finally, I forced myself to ignore the windows. Instead, I focused on the ghost (which honestly wasn’t that much of an improvement, all things considered) and spoke in a somewhat hollow voice. “What are we doing up here? What does Fossor want from me now?” Because I sure as hell knew this wasn’t something Ahmose had done on his own. Whatever this whole thing was about, it was my piece of shit ‘host’ who was behind it. 

“We are here,” Ahmose answered in a voice that seemed to echo around me and through the room, “to continue on to the next stage of your training. Lord Fossor requires that you begin summoning and putting to work the spirits of the dead. Many such spirits are tied to this very room, through the images depicting their last days. They will be your training tools.”

The words penetrated, but made no sense for a moment. Or maybe I just didn’t want to understand. But then I did. And I immediately regretted it. My gaze first glanced toward the motionless Kendall, then snapped over to look at the first window. I stared that way for a moment, then at the rest of the windows before blurting, “Wait, you mean… you mean this is all real? Those images, they’re depicting literally real events, not just… not… the people in those windows, that little girl, they’re all… they’re all real. All of that really happened, and now they’re bound to this single room with nothing but stained glass windows showing the horror of their last days?”

There was a brief pause before the ghost gave a single nod, his blazing eyes not leaving mine. “That,” he confirmed, “is correct.”  

Now I really was going to be sick. I was supposed to call up those ghosts, I was supposed to learn how to manipulate and order them around. How was I… what was I… How…

My hands had found their way to my face. I shuddered a little despite myself. I couldn’t refuse. As much as I desperately wanted to, I couldn’t tell Ahmose to tell Fossor to go fuck himself. There was too much at stake. If he was pissed off, there were too many ways that bastard could hurt me (mostly by hurting Mom, or by killing innocent people). He was, for the moment, in total control, and he knew it. It was why he hadn’t even bothered being here for this part. He could just send his ghost minion with me, check in through him once in awhile, and make sure I did everything I was supposed to. 

I had no more choice than any of Fossor’s ghosts, really. Not in whether I followed a direct order or not. And this was clearly a direct order. I was going to learn to control ghosts, and I was going to do it with these… these poor victims. 

“Fine,” I managed in a voice that cracked just a little despite myself. It was all I could do to force those words out. “Let’s get to it then.” 

Meanwhile, inwardly all I could think was that Fossor had better enjoy the advantage he had at that moment, because eventually, my plan was going to be ready. 

And I couldn’t wait to see the look on that son of a bitch’s face when he finally found out how I was going to fuck him over. 

 

SUMMARY

Flick has spent a couple weeks learning, training, fighting, etc. And working on her escape plan, which she has secretly shared with her mother. After a session of cleaning up the damaged Kendall golem, she is taken by the ghost Ahmose to a tower room where she finds four stained glass windows depicting an old village being infected by a plague and then the dead villagers rising to kill the rest. Flick learns from Ahmose that the windows depict actual events and that the ghosts of those villagers are held within the tower room. Ghosts which she is supposed to learn to summon and control. 

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Commissioned Interlude 9 – Persephone (Heretical Edge 2)

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Against the backdrop of stars far different from any that could be seen from the surface of Earth, a spaceship drifted along on low engines. The ship was a moderately large freighter, shaped essentially like what someone from Earth would know as a sperm whale. The vast majority of its nearly two mile long size was devoted to carrying supplies from the Seosten strongholds out to various frontlines of their war against the Fomorians. 

At least, that was what the ship had originally been meant for. In recent years, it had been commandeered by pirates. Now most of its interior held the various camps they had set up. What had once been a single enormous, open cargo bay had been sectioned off with various bits of makeshift walls, fences, even bits of hung curtains, to create places for each pirate and their closest companions and trusted allies to sleep and live together. Over a mile and three quarters worth of storage space transformed into a ragtag city. A city that moved through space, ransacking whatever worthwhile target they came across. Though, at the moment, there were no targets. The ship, previously known as the Seneia but redubbed Quietus by its new owners, currently had its coffers full from several recent jobs. Its occupants were enjoying the fruits of their labors. Which, in that case, meant partying from dawn to dusk. And considering there was no dawn or dusk in deep space, that amounted to near-constant celebration. There were areas cordoned off for sleeping, with active privacy spells for those who wanted to escape the almost deafening cheers, music, and rambunctious fighting to get some sleep. Others simply fell where they were, too drunk or too tired to be bothered by the ongoing parties around them. 

Of course, even a ship far away from any threats, on no particular current mission, with a load of treasure and blind drunk revelers had to have an actual (mostly) sober crew on duty. Everyone had a chance to celebrate, but the captain was firm that if it was your shift, you used whatever magic or potion needed to be coherent and alert, and you did your job properly. If not, you’d get tossed out the airlock. There were no second chances. Not aboard the Quietus

At the moment, two of those totally sober and alert crew members were in the collections chamber. It was a room located around the bottom front of the ship, around where the whale’s mouth would be. The chamber was semicircular in shape, with three duty stations, each overlooking a different magically reinforced window. Through those windows were three different enormous bare rooms, each large enough to park several Earth garbage trucks inside of. 

The central duty station was empty, with the two on-duty pirates faced away from one another, entertaining themselves (and keeping each other awake to avoid the wrath of Captain Motzer) with various stories and tall tales. Each was obviously making up the vast majority of their claims. Which was the point, of course. They knew the stories weren’t real. The goal was to be entertaining, not realistic. 

At the right-hand station sat a male Guhlben, a ten-foot-tall, monstrously overweight humanoid figure. His name, or the one the others called him, in any case, was Pocker. As with all chairs aboard modern multi-species vessels, Pocker’s seat grew automatically to match his size. Even then, rotund as he was (even more than usual for his species), the man dwarfed his chair to an almost comical degree. 

His companion was Qif, a female Bebarlang. They were a humanoid species that fed off of psychic energy from those they had touched recently. Most nourished themselves by giving harsh nightmares to those they had marked with their touch, as the terror made that energy so much tastier. 

The two pirates would have gone on for hours further, constantly one-upping each other with their tall tales, had it not been for a single, unmistakable beep from Pocker the Guhlben’s computer. The instant that sound came, accompanied by a light that popped into existence in the top right corner of the holographic screen, both of them went completely silent. 

“What?” Qif demanded, pushing away from her own duty station to move next to her massive crewmate. “What the void did the scanner pick up all the way out here?” 

Hitting a few buttons on his oversized console, Pocker shook his head. “Looks like a body.” He grunted thoughtfully, hit another button, and grimaced. “Seosten body.” 

“A Seosten body, out here in the middle of nowhere?” Qif made a face. “What do you think, teleportation mishap? You see any debris from an explosion or anything? What do the scanners say about magic signatures?” 

Pocker was already reaching out to hit the button for the intercom to the bridge. “Nothing, just the body.” He called it up to the captain, assuring the man that the body floating out there in space was definitely dead. There were no signs of life. Which only made sense, considering it had no real protective gear. Nothing aside from a standard Seosten bodysuit, red colored. The suits could protect their wearers in space for a short time, but not this long. Certainly not for long enough to be floating around in the middle of nowhere like this with no sign of how they’d gotten there. The scanners couldn’t detect any sign of debris or transportation energy that could explain the body’s presence. By all indications, it had simply drifted out here from someplace much further away. 

After a brief pause for consideration, Captain Motzer told them to haul the body in. There was always a chance that a Seosten corpse could have something valuable on it. Even the organs of dead ones were worth something to some people. And if nothing else, the Seosten themselves sometimes paid a handsome bounty to be sent back the bodies of their fallen. Particularly if they were someone important. 

Using the controls at his station, Pocker extended one of the smaller mechanical arms from the side of the ship. There were larger ones, used for grasping industrial cargo crates, smaller ships, and the like. These ones were meant for more precise jobs. The hand closed carefully around the body, sensors allowing its controller to avoid ripping through the body in the process. As soon as the corpse was enclosed, a hole in the arm opened up, and the body was sucked through a portal. Simultaneously, an identical portal appeared in the holding room through the window in front of the duty station, and the Seosten corpse tumbled through before lying there. 

The corpse was female. To a human, she would appear to be in her very early twenties. She had deeply tanned skin, a slim figure, and long, snow-white hair. Her eyes were closed, and the entire body was covered in a layer of frost that made it look as though the corpse would shatter under the slightest pressure. It was like a delicate ice sculpture. 

“Right,” Qif started while staring at the body’s frozen face, “Scan the body for parasites, bacteria, anything we don’t want to pull out of th–” 

In mid-sentence, she stopped talking. Because the Bebarlang realized that she was staring into pale green eyes. Pale green eyes that had been closed a moment earlier. The… corpse had opened its eyes and was staring at her. “Wha–” 

The corpse stood up. No, more than that. It bounced to its feet like it had been loaded with springs. A wide smile was stretched across the Seosten woman’s face, as she gave a violent, full-body shake, like an animal getting water off itself. The ice crystals on the not-corpse went flying, while two pirates simply stood in open-mouthed shock at what they were seeing, more frozen than the body that had just been retrieved from open space. 

Snapping out of it relatively quickly, Pocker’s hand lashed out to hit the alarm. But before he could reach it, the formerly dead body in the holding room took a running start. Both Pocker and Qif reflexively jerked backward. But that was pointless, because the window was layered with thin, yet powerful forcefields on either side and the glass itself was reinforced with magic. It was as strong as steel even before those protective forcefields were added. There was no way that a Seosten, even a powerful one boosting as much as possible, could even put a dent in the thing simply by lunging against it. 

And yet, against all logic, the window shattered under the impact of the body slamming into it. Both layers of forcefields flickered and dropped, as shards of glass went flying. The ‘corpse’ landed in the control room, directly in front of the two staggering pirates. 

Straightening, the white-haired figure offered the pair a bright, dazzling smile and an enthusiastic wave. “Hello! I’m glad you finally picked me up, I was getting bored out there! I mean, I have a really good imagination, but you can only talk to yourself for so long before you kinda go a little nuts, you know?! O’course you know! You’re space pirates!” The words came out in a rush, leaving the pair even more stunned than they already were, each reeling backward figuratively and literally.

“You… you can’t be alive,” Qif managed, staring at the figure in front of them. 

“Well, of course not, sillybuns!” came the immediate, brightly cheerful response. “I haven’t exactly been what you’d consider alive for a long time, but that’s never slowed me down before!  Now!” She clapped both hands together. “I’m looking for a crystal. It’s about yea big.” She held her index finger and thumb up in a rough circle shape. “It’s purple near the base, black in the middle, and red along the top. It’s a present for my wonderful, brilliant husband! Oh, he’s just going to be so happy that I finally found it! He asked for it over a hundred years ago, you know. I don’t think he knew just how much of a right bother it was going to be to find that darn thing. Anyway, listen to me, just gabbing your ears off. Gab gab gab! Hah! Well, let’s see, did I describe the crystal? Yes, I did. So, whoooo do we talk to about that? Do you have an official crystal holder? Oooh, does he have a special hat? I hope he has a special hat!” 

Almost to himself, Pocker muttered, “Sounds like the thing on the captain’s scept–” He was interrupted as Qif kicked him. 

“Captain! Of course the captain would have it.” The strange, supposedly dead figure’s smile widened, a bright, exuberant grin. “Let’s talk to him then, I’m sure once I explain just how much my honey bunny needs it, your captain will sell it.” 

“Sell it?” Qif piped up, suddenly intrigued. 

“Well, of course, goofy-goose,” the woman playfully replied. “You see?” Reaching into the pocket of the red bodysuit, she produced a marble-sized orb. “There’s enough energy stored here to fuel this ship of yours for a full year without any other help. That should be a good trade for the crystal.” 

The two pirates exchanged brief glances, before Pocker spoke up. “In that case, let’s go right up and talk to the captain.” 

So, eyes shining with the thought of not having to worry about fuel for a whole year, Pocker and Qif led the strange figure to the bridge. On the way, they attracted several followers, and once they were finally to their destination, there were no less than thirty people surrounding the supposedly-dead woman, counting everyone on the control center itself. As for that bridge, there were two levels to it, and the room was shaped a bit like a rounded triangle, with the higher rear section being where the executive officers stayed. 

Captain Motzer was an enormous figure by human standards. Standing slightly smaller than Pocker at a solid nine feet, he was covered in very fine metallic blue fur, had four arms, and six fur-covered yet insect-like legs in an even circle around his waist. Once Qif explained the situation in a hurried whisper, he and the rest of his assembled crew (those who weren’t still partying in the main living area) all focused on the strange woman. Motzer demanded, “Now who are you, and how aren’t you dead, exactly?” 

“Ohhh, it’s just like I told your little friends there, I am dead. I’ve been so very dead, by your standards, for a long time!” The response was just as bright and happy as everything else the woman had said up to that point. “As for who I am, well, I prefer the name Persephone right now. But maybe if we become friends, you’ll be able to call me Percy! I really hope we can be friends. All I need is that crystal right there.” She pointed to the scepter in one of the captain’s four hands. “Then I’ll give you this, and we can all be happy!” In two fingers, she held the power-filled marble. 

“Yeah… about that…” Motzer smiled, though his version of that expression was far less cheerful. “I kinda like my crystal just where it is. And I want your stone there. So here’s what’s gonna happen. We’re gonna take it from you, then toss you right back out the airlock. If you’re lucky, maybe whatever magic you used to survive out there’ll last until some other ship comes by.” 

“Aww.” Pouting, Persephone lamented, “But I really have to take that crystal. My love nugget wants it sooooo much! And I promised him I’d scour the whole universe until I found it. Like I told your friends, it took a long time! Now I found it! So I’ve just gotta take it to him. I can’t play airlock right now.” 

“Yeah, well…” Motzer drawled, before one of his hands abruptly snapped upward, pointing a pistol. A single shot sent a blindingly powerful blast of energy directly through the woman’s forehead. 

Or rather… against her forehead. The blast, which should have been enough to punch a hole through several feet of solid steel, barely left a singe mark against the woman’s tanned skin. Her head snapped backward, then simply righted once more. Her smile never wavered. 

“Oh, now that’s just all kinds of rude, that is,” she informed them, sounding no more put out than if the captain had made a demeaning gesture toward her.

“The fuck?” Motzer fired several more times, hitting the figure in the head twice more, in the neck, the stomach, and the chest. “What the fuck are–” Then he understood. “Revenant! It’s a void-damned Revenant!”  

None of the new shots accomplished anything more than the first had. Nor did the dozen extra that various confused crew members put into her. And the burst of fire, shot of electricity, and two different acidic gases that were added into the assault were equally useless. 

The attacks finally stopped, revealing that none had accomplished anything. The woman still stood right where she had been, utterly unphased. “I’m sorry,” she informed them brightly, as if they were only having the slightest disagreement. “But I feel like you’re being a bit unfair about all this. I mean, yes, I am a Revenant. But you don’t have to be all dramatic about it.” 

“That–that–how… you… “ Motzer opened and shut his mouth, reeling physically and mentally. “A Revenant possessing a Seosten? You’d run that body out in… in… days!” 

“Well, normally, yes!” came the cheerful response. “Revenants like me burn out the dead bodies we possess really quick, especially ones that use a lot of power. And once we burn out the corpses, they fall apart. And that’s really sad, cuz who wants to walk around with a body that’s falling apart? But I’m lucky! The dead Seosten I found was what they call an Olympian! Actually, I found my husband first. He controls dead things! His name is Manakel, and he is sooooo dreamy. He’s really great. I hope you find someone as smart as him someday. Anyway, he controls dead things so I just had to get to know him. There was a Seosten in their sick bay who was hurt. They couldn’t save her. So, I slipped inside as soon as she went kaput and I’ve been here ever since! It’s been a few thousand years now and we’re still going strong!” 

“Olympian–those… fucking, super-soldier Seosten,” Motzer managed, while a collection of confused voices arose around them. “Those upgrades of theirs. They’re… they’re keeping that body going. It should’ve worn out in a few days of being possessed by a Revenant like you, but the upgrades, they keep the body going.” 

“You got it!” Persephone held her right hand up sideways, back of the hand outward, with her index and middle finger extended and touching while her pinkie, ring finger, and thumb were all curled in against her palm. Then she gave her wrist a quick snap up and down, the whole gesture essentially amounting to what humans would know as a thumbs up. “I’m so glad we’re on the same page now. So, I’ll just take the crystal, and you can think about how you should treat guests in the future. See? It’s all good now.” 

“I told you before, I’m keeping the crystal,” came the growled response. “So I think we’ll see just how much that body can really hold up. Light her up!” 

With that, everyone on the bridge opened up, unleashing everything they had on the woman. None slowed her, as she took several steps forward. Motzer scrambled backward, but one of Persephone’s hands grabbed his nearest leg, yanking him closer with inhuman strength. Her free hand casually caught his extended arm, the one with the scepter, tearing it off with no more effort than one would use to crush an ant under their feet. As the man howled and a panicked frenzy of shots and deadly powers flooded into the woman, she tore the crystal from the scepter, dropped it, and gave a nod of satisfaction when the attacks finally ceased at a frantic wave from the injured captain. “There we are. Now you think about what you did. You don’t deserve being paid for this. It’s what you get for being very bad hosts.” With a firm nod, she pivoted to walk away, paying no attention to the people who had been shooting her. However, before she could reach the doorway, a pleasant chime emerged from her pocket. 

“Whoopsy daisy,” Persephone giggled, staring at the device she had tugged free. “Looks like I had a few missed messages while I was out there. It just connected to your system and…” Trailing off, her head tilted. “My Manakel, he’s dead. He’s gone. A human girl killed him and took his power. Chambers. Felicity Chambers. A girl named Felicity Chambers killed my Manakel and took his power.” 

There was an extended moment of silence so complete that a sweatdrop hitting the floor would almost have been audible. Finally, the snow-haired woman put the device away. “Well! I guess it turns out I can’t leave your ship just yet. I need you to turn this thing around and head to the border so I can go to Rysthael.” She used the Seosten name for Earth.  

“Go to Rysthael, just like that?” Holding an enchanted cloth against the stump of his missing arm that stopped the bleeding, Motzer stammered, “You gonna kill this girl for murdering the guy you loved?” 

“What?” Persephone looked genuinely perplexed for a moment, before her head shook. “Oh, no, no. You don’t understand. He controlled dead things. That was his power. That’s why I loved him, my little smoochie-bear. This… Felicity Chambers, she has that power now. She took it. It’s her power. And I guess that makes me hers too.

“Oooh, I can’t wait to meet her! I bet she’s a better kisser than Manakel.” 

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Interlude 6B – Avalon and Miranda (Heretical Edge 2)

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“You know the problem with trying to plant something in Desoto?” Miranda Wallbern noted while she, Avalon, and Hisao stood on the beach looking out at the gulf of Mexico. “There is no Desoto!” With that blurted exclamation, the girl waved both hands wildly out toward the water. “There hasn’t been for over a hundred years, so what the hell are we supposed to do?” 

Taking a knee next to the gently lapping waves, Hisao was silent for a moment. The young-looking yet ancient Asian man (his birth apparently predated even the Seosten’s arrival on Earth, despite his casual nature and tendency to avoid standing out or drawing power to himself) put his hand against the water and seemed to be focusing. Finally, he spoke quietly. “The Victors are convinced that the vines will be able to grow on Desoto soil. They’ve done the rituals, the fortune-seeing spells, everything they can do. It all says that the vines will grow properly and bear more fruit once they’re planted in Desoto.” A wry smirk touched his face as he half-turned to glance at the girls. “They’re also convinced that you two can help make that work. I guess the spells told them that part too. Something about you being able to produce what is needed to bring the plants to life and make them bear fruit in the soil of Desoto.” 

Avalon, who had been quiet the whole time, moved a few steps closer. Her voice was flat. “There is no soil of Desoto,” she pointed out while sitting down with her feet in the water. She wore no shoes or socks at the moment, letting her bare toes get soaked as the waves lapped over them. “It was all destroyed to eliminate the Fomorian threat. Or at least delay it. Wasn’t the point of the spell that all of Desoto had to be erased? If there was still part of it here, that would make the Fomorians still a threat, wouldn’t it?” As she said it, Avalon frowned at the water. 

Despite her frown, Avalon actually didn’t mind being out here. Solving this problem was important, even if she was utterly baffled about why she was needed. Sure, she was the descendant of the man who had supposedly created the Edge. But Bosch had been possessed. It wasn’t really him. Maybe there was some kind of bloodline thing or… something. Who knew. 

But in either case, being out here also distracted her from obsessing over Felicity. Flick. They would find her. That much Avalon was positive about. Fossor wouldn’t have spent ten years planning out how to abduct her just to kill the girl. He wanted her around. The thought of what she was almost certainly going through, the thought of her being at Fossor’s mercy… that was enough to bring Avalon to multiple moments of screaming, frothing rage over the past few weeks. But she kept those moments mostly under control, and focused on keeping busy. 

They were planning out how to find Fossor. They had multiple leads, multiple chances. And she had made it damn clear to everyone involved just how annoyed she would be if they tried to leave her out of things or didn’t include her in the rescue. They knew how she would react, and she’d been promised by multiple people including Dare, Abigail, and Kohaku that she would be included and kept up to date on what was going on, that they would tell her the second they knew anything useful at all. It wasn’t enough to stop her from obsessing, of course. Not nearly. Yet it did, at least, soothe the young woman enough that she could try distracting herself here. 

Fossor would get what was coming to him. She would get Flick back. That much Avalon was absolutely certain of. It was just… the waiting. The being terrified of what the girl she loved was going through. Being helpless to do anything or even talk to her. She missed talking to Flick. 

“It could still mean to plant the vines at the bottom of the gulf, right?” Miranda offered weakly, her face grimacing a little. “I know it’s like a mile deep, but that shouldn’t be anything to Heretics. Hell, they could probably just create a big, permanent shield dome or something to have air and plant them safely without having to worry about water or anything.” 

“They’ve tried that,” Hisao informed them. “Unfortunately, the vines don’t like the soil down there. Plus they need sunlight. They’ve tried artificial light, portals to bring sunlight down into that area, everything. The vines won’t grow down there. It’s close. Their botanists say that the vines are really close to taking root. But it’s like they’re missing something. They were hoping that one of you would be able to provide that missing thing. Or at least figure out what it is. Seller’s been down there for weeks off and on, trying to use his own powers to make the plants take root.” 

“His own powers?” Miranda echoed. “Oh, you mean his original powers. The biology manipulation or whatever.” Seller and Gaia had both received powers from the same creature when they had first become Natural Heretics. The creature had been a Djehuti, and unlike most inherited powers, the Djehuti split its own gifts in two. Gaia had received its incredible, vast control over technology, while Seller had received vast knowledge of how to create and manipulate the genetics of non-sapient living things. It made him almost as good at making or fiddling with living bodies (not only plants, but animals too) as the Fomorians were. Unfortunately, it was a gift he used quite sparingly in the wake of the invasion from those monsters, given how such things were viewed now. But at the time, it had also made him an invaluable resource for combating them. 

In any case, Seller had deep expertise with manipulating plants, so he had eventually been put at the head of the project for getting these Eden’s Garden vines to take root. 

Hisao was nodding. “Yeah, the original powers. He’s having trouble getting the vines to stop being giant pains in the ass, his words. Keeps getting close, but it’s not enough. He says he needs something else. There’s something about the vines that resists him fiddling with them. Seems like when they made the damn things, they put in a lot of protections against exactly what he’s doing. Probably so the Fomorians didn’t grab a sample for themselves and make their own version. Just in case. Which, you know, not a bad idea given who we’re talking about. But it still screws us over.” 

Miranda sighed heavily, kicking out to send a spray of sand out into the water. Like Avalon, she was dealing with Flick’s abduction about as well as she possibly could. In her case, it meant having multiple duplicates who were all out helping in various places. They were at school, on various training missions, on actual missions, helping out at the Atherby camp, and one was even in the Bystander world working at a homeless shelter. Miranda coped with feeling helpless by putting a dozen versions of herself to work all day long, then absorbing them at the end of the day and feeling everything they had accomplished. It didn’t solve the problem or anything. It didn’t make her forget that she could do nothing for Flick. But it… helped, somewhat. It was something. And at that point, every little thing that helped her get through each day until they could actually find Flick and get her away from that monster was worth it. 

“Okay,” the dark-skinned girl began, “so the plants won’t grow at the bottom of the gulf, but they’re close to growing. You said it’s just like there’s something stopping Seller’s power from working on them? And according to those fortune spells, the answer is something that Avalon and I can give. So… what is it? What are you guys missing that Avalon and I could give you?” Pausing, she shook her head and corrected, “Wait. What are you missing that either of us could provide? That’s important, right? It’s an important distinction. It has to be something that either of us could provide, not just one of us. Because if it was something that only Avalon could provide, I wouldn’t have been included.” 

“Or,” Avalon pointed out mildly, “it’s two things, one that you can provide and one that I can provide. My blood or something, maybe. If Radueriel tied Bosch’s blood to the Edge, it could still be tied to the vines… somehow. Maybe they need my blood in the soil to take root properly.” 

“Yeah, but what the hell could I provide?” Miranda asked with a confused wave of both hands. “Seriously, you might be special and all, but I’m just a normal Heretic student. Which, yeah, I know that’s not really normal at all, but still. I don’t have anything to do with this ancient stuff. Why would the vines need anything I could give them that other Garden people couldn’t? What do I have that others don’t? I’m not some super botanist. Hell, Seller can’t make the vines grow and he has the power to fuck around with the their genetics and all that shit. I don’t even have that. I definitely don’t have magic plant growing powers.” 

Hisao straightened up and took a step away to watch from nearby, silently observing the two girls while they debated back and forth about what the fortune-seeing spells could possibly have meant when they claimed that the two of them could provide the last bit that the vines needed to take root and begin growing properly. A curious look, followed by a brief flash of realization had crossed the man’s face, but he smoothed it out and waited for the girls to get to that point themselves. Old as he was, Hisao had long-ago mastered the art of patience. The girls would get there eventually. Best if they managed it themselves, and grew from the experience. 

It took a few more minutes of the two girls throwing out thoughts, shooting them down, considering everything they were capable of, and asking Hisao what had been tried. Then Avalon went quiet. Her head tilted curiously, a frown crossing the girl’s face as she stared at the sand. Hisao could almost see the wheels turning in her head, before she slowly looked over at the girl next to her. “What was that you said a minute ago, about magic plant growing powers?” 

Miranda, in turn, blinked at her in confusion. “Uhhh, what? Oh, I just said I don’t have magic plant growing powers. I mean, as far as I know. Maybe I have a super green thumb and never–” 

“Wait.” Avalon interrupted sharply. Her brow was knitted into an intensely thoughtful frown. “It’s something that both of us could provide. Or either of us. We were both part of Eden’s Garden, so their fortune spells considered us inside their… group or whatever. We were the part of Eden’s Garden who were most likely to be able to provide what the vines need. It has nothing to do with my blood or any power either of us have.” 

“It doesn’t?” Miranda started blankly, staring at the other girl. 

“No,” Avalon confirmed. She glanced toward Hisao pointedly. “You said Seller’s been trying to make the vines grow with his own power, but they keep resisting it. He needs help.” 

“Yes,” the man replied simply, watching her reaction. “They do have other plant-experts, even those with related gifts. But nothing has worked. It’s like the vines are actively resisting being grown anywhere beyond Eden’s Garden. That’s what Seller says, anyway. He thinks there might have been some kind of genetic-level modifications to ensure no one did… well, exactly what we’re trying to do. He’s trying to bypass it, but not having much luck so far.” 

“He needs help getting past that block,” Avalon pointed out. “Right now he’s just trying to overpower it, and I’m pretty sure Radueriel and his cronies would’ve been ready for that. That’s the whole problem. The Seosten who created the Eden’s Garden tree, or… or helped it be created, or whatever, they put in protections against genetic tampering just like what Seller’s trying to do. Because they didn’t want the Fomorians to take samples and create their own tree. And any defenses they included against the Fomorians are also going to stop Seller. I mean, maybe he can eventually get around it and force the vines to grow with enough effort, but we don’t have time for that. We need a way to bypass those protections so Seller’s power can work and he can make them grow right. Someone who can force the vines to do what they’re told that isn’t about messing with their genetics the way the Fomorians or Seller do.” 

“And you know someone like that?” Miranda asked, raising an eyebrow while racking her brain. 

“We both do,” the other girl informed her. “At least, we know someone with the potential to do that. That’s the entire reason those fortune spells kept pointing at us. Because we’re former Eden’s Garden students who have the exact connection needed. We’ve been loyal to Garden and we know the exact right person to help. The only person who could end up with the right powers.” 

For a moment, Miranda blinked at her. “Wait, someone with the potential to do that? Someone who could end up with–” Then she did a sharp double-take, eyes widening with realization. “Whoa, whoa! You don’t mean–but she hasn’t–” 

“Not yet,” Avalon agreed. “At least, not that we know of. But can you think of anyone else with the potential to do what we need? Who else fits that bill? It’s someone we both have a connection to and someone no one else has thought of asking for help from yet. So it can’t be anyone whose gift is well-known.” 

For a long moment, Miranda just stared. Then she looked toward Hisao and squinted. “How long ago did you figure it out?” the girl demanded. 

His response was a simple smile. “Not long, I promise. Just in the past few minutes. But yeah, I think you’re both right. She’s the only one who might fit. The best guess we’ve got right now, anyway.” 

“Right,” Avalon pushed herself up, turning away from the water. 

“Let’s go talk to the kid.” 

*******

“What?!” Eyes wide with confusion, thirteen-year-old Dakota Coalbright jerked to her feet from the kitchen table in the house where Sands, Sarah, Vanessa, Tristan, Koren, Aylen, Gordon, Jazz, Eiji, and the slinky-like Alter known as Ruckus lived. Dakota had been staying there as well, despite her younger age, because being near Vanessa was where she was most comfortable. And above all else, Principal Fellows and the other staff wanted her to be comfortable. 

Unfortunately, she was definitely not that right now. She was in the kitchen with Avalon and Miranda, who had both asked to talk to her. Hisao leaned against the nearby doorway, giving the girls room to talk. And in this moment, comfort was about as far as possible from Dakota’s mind. 

“I don’t have–I’m not–I don’t have plant powers!” she blurted, head shaking so fast it almost might’ve popped off her shoulders. She denied it a little too firmly. “I don’t do anything like what–what he does! I’m not like that!” Her voice grew louder by the word, making the girl sound almost hysterical. 

Miranda took the lead, quickly raising both hands. “We know, we know. You’re not like him. You’re not like Kwur, not–not at all. Trust me, Dakota, we know you’re nothing like him. No one thinks you are. Nobody. You’re different. But…” She hesitated, then stepped over, tugged a chair out, and sat down. Her voice was quieter. “But there’s gotta be a reason Kwur wanted you taken care of. Whatever deal he and Fossor made, it included you being visited and checked up on, or whatever. Sariel and Apollo, they broke through the memory blocks on Vanessa and Julius Harn. They know Fossor was at the hospital. And with everything else they’ve worked out, and what… what Kwur said, it’s obvious that he wanted you kept alive for a reason.” 

Arms folded protectively against her stomach, Dakota shook her head just as frantically as before. “No. No, no. I’m not like that. I’m not–” 

“It doesn’t mean you’re evil.” That was Avalon, stepping forward. Her voice was as calm as she could make it, under the circumstances. She knew too well the sort of thoughts that were running through this girl’s head. “Having a connection to an evil thing doesn’t make you evil. If… Kwur putting his seed in your head before did make you a Natural Heretic of him, that doesn’t mean you’re anything like him. Yes, Dakota, we think that’s what the fortune spells that pointed at us meant, that we were supposed to involve you. We think you have Kwur’s powers, or at least some version of them. And if you do, you can convince the vines to grow in a way no one else could.” 

“You can talk to the vines,” Miranda agreed. “You can get around the blocks that the Seosten installed. No one else could do that. If… if you do have these powers, you’re the only person in the world who can make the vines take root before it’s too late.” 

Avalon nodded. “That’s not evil, Dakota. If you can do that, you’ll be giving a lot more people the chance to fight against evil. Power isn’t evil just for existing. What you do with it is good or evil.” 

Squirming, Dakota opened and shut her mouth a couple times. She still looked pale (though she always did) and afraid. But there was something else there, a sort of very faint, yet growing determination. At the moment, it was just a seed, but it was there. 

“But I… I…” She cringed, the admission coming in a hollow voice. “… I think I made a flower grow once. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t. I just–I–I never did it again!” Admitting that she really had used those plant-powers despite claiming she didn’t have them made the girl wilt inwards with shame and fear of their reaction. 

“It’s okay,” Miranda quickly assured her. “It’s okay, Dakota. We know why you… why you’ve been avoiding it. Why you’ve been pushing the powers away. But if you can help, if you can make these vines grow so that we can make more Heretics… you could help the Rebellion. You could save a lot of people.” 

For a moment, there was no response other than a few quiet sniffles. The very thought of actively using a power that belonged to the abomination who had forced her and the rest of her family to kill each other was… was…

“Okay,” came the very soft, almost inaudible voice.

“I’ll try.”

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Interlude 6A – Erin and Dylan (Heretical Edge)

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The bell above the door of the tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop jingled as the pale, incredibly thin, and dark-haired Dylan Averty stepped inside. The place she had entered was quite dark, lit only by a few flickering, almost dead bulbs in the corners of the very densely packed room. It was a shop meant to hold only half the shelves that had been crammed into it, leaving only a narrow walkway to the small counter in the back corner. A counter where a heavyset black man with long vividly purple hair sat in a comfortable recliner that had been boosted up on top of several wooden pallets to put him higher than the counter itself and able to see through the entire shop, like a judge presiding over a courtroom. Though rather than a gavel, he held the remote to the television hung in the opposite corner, on which a rather intense soccer game was playing. 

The man watched her in silence throughout the next few seconds as Dylan approached, picking her way through the narrow aisle. The shelves around her were filled with random artifacts in no particularly apparent order. There were bone necklaces, knives, small golden bells, a remote control car, a board game, several decks of cards, a box full of various strange-looking coins, a clock, and more. The sole common factor from all of the items was the sense of magic that seemed to waft off of them almost like a physical scent. It hung heavily in the air of the shop.  

Only once she was directly in front of him did the man speak. “Ain’t a pawn shop, baby.” 

“That’s okay,” Dylan informed him promptly with a quick head shake, “I’m not looking for a pawn shop baby. I’m not even sure how you could have a baby pawn shop. Wait, is that a very small and immature pawn shop that isn’t fully grown yet, or is it a pawn shop that sells babies? Because that second one sounds really bad and I’m really glad this store isn’t doing that.” 

For a moment, the man on the raised recliner just stared at her in complete bafflement. His finger gradually found the mute button for the television, cutting off the excited announcer’s voice in mid-sentence. As silence descended on the room, the guy managed a flat, “What?” 

“Oh, it’s okay, I don’t think you sell babies,” Dylan promptly assured him. “We watched this place too long to think that could be possible. I was just worried about how many people come in and ask for infants that you’d immediately tell me you didn’t sell those. Is this a bad neighborhood?” 

“Are you fucking with me right–” The man stopped in mid-sentence, doing a double-take. “Wait, what’re you… did you say you’ve been watching this place?” Even as he said it, his hand moved toward the hidden compartment under the counter, eyes narrowing at the decidedly strange girl. 

“Please don’t point your weapon at me, sir,” Dylan politely asked. “I think I might’ve said the wrong thing again, but I’m not here for anything bad. And I really don’t want to have to spend another week verifying that a place is safe before we buy the spell components we need.” 

Pausing for a moment, the man seemed to be debating back and forth between whether the girl in front of him was an actual threat, or simply strange and awkward. In the end, he settled on asking, “First of all, have you really been watching this place for a week without me noticing?” 

Dylan gave a short nod. “Yes, sir. We had to be really careful about who we came to for this.”

“Okay, that’s the second one,” the man continued. “Who’s this we? I mean, is there someone else with you?” As he said it, his gaze flicked to the door, then back to the girl again. He wasn’t reaching for his weapon anymore, but he also wasn’t exactly settling down. He was cautious. 

“Um, yes.” Dylan shifted on her feet a little, clearly choosing her words more carefully after her distraction about the ‘baby pawn shop.’ “There’s someone else, and she wants to come in, but first I’m supposed to tell you that she promises she’s not going to hurt you, cross her heart, needles in her eyes, everything. So please don’t freak out or anything when she comes in, okay? She’s definitely positively not here to cause any problems, but she’s sort of ummm…” 

The man belatedly picked up on the implications, realizing what the girl was trying to say. “She’s a Boscher, isn’t she?” 

“I don’t know what that means, si–wait, yes I do.” Dylan changed from shaking her head to bobbing it up and down. “That Bosch guy she was telling me about. Yes, she’s from his school. Or whatever. But she said to tell you she’s really not–wait.” From her pocket, the girl produced a small white handkerchief attached to a stick. A white flag. She held it up, swinging the thing back and forth a little. “She was supposed to wave this in the doorway before she came in, but she said she wouldn’t–this is gonna have to be good enough. Is this good enough?” 

“You tell your friend as long as she behaves herself, she can come in,” the man replied. He seemed a little more calm now that he’d figured out that the girl in front of him was simply eccentric rather than an actual threat. Though he still made a point of moving his foot toward a certain rune on the floor even as he agreed to let the Bosch Heretic into his store. 

“Oh, good idea,” Dylan piped up, pointing to where his foot was. “You have an escape spell too! Yeah, we have those, except mine are these trip bags that make smoke come out and–” 

“Dylan!” The voice came from just outside the door. “I’m coming inside now!” 

Erin showed her hands first, then pushed the door open and stepped inside. She hadn’t been able to hear all of the conversation within, but she had picked up enough to know that it was roughly as safe as she could possibly hope for it to be. Her gaze centered on the man in the recliner, and she swallowed as her Heretic-sense immediately started blurting out about him being a threat. From the way he winced upon seeing her, the man was getting his own warning.

“Hello, sir,” Erin carefully spoke while letting the door close behind her. “Like my friend said, we’re not here for any trouble or anything. I’m not…” She hesitated, swallowing hard. “I’m not with those guys anymore.” 

“Yeah, I heard something about some old rebellion picking up again,” the man murmured. “Was a bit before my time, but my dad suddenly showed up telling me all about some memories that’ve been popping into his head.” He considered briefly before stepping down from his recliner to offer his hand. “Name’s Wuen. And I understand why you sent your friend in here first. Lot of us have a… well, a pretty instinctive reaction to someone like you popping in.” 

The blue-haired girl swallowed before accepting the offered hand, having a vague idea of just what it meant for him to offer it. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I understand why. Um, I’m Erin. Erin Redcliffe. This is Dylan. We’re umm… looking for some unique spell components.” This was all new for Erin, whose exposure to magic was mostly limited to early and relatively simple enchantments, not the kind of magic that Dylan had told her about when they’d first come up with this plan. 

Wuen didn’t respond immediately. He seemed to watch them for a moment as though trying to decide something. Finally, the man settled on, “I’m not sure what kind of trouble you girls are in, but if you need something from my shop for this rebellion, you’re welcome to find it.” 

“Oh, we’re not actually…” Trailing off, Erin hesitated before explaining, “I’m not with the rebellion right now, but I do agree with them and all that. I’m actually trying to contact my dad. Crossroads was basically holding me hostage and I’ve gotta let him know that I’m safe so he can leave them now. But they’re all over the place and I can’t get close to him or call or anything.” 

“You know,” Wuen muttered, “somehow hearing all that doesn’t surprise me. Not with everything I’ve seen about those Boschers. No offense. But ahh, what exactly do you think you can find in this place that’s gonna help you get past something like the kind of powers and magic Crossroads is gonna have keeping an eye on that dad of yours?” He glanced around, his expression vaguely doubtful and somewhat apologetic. “I mean, I love the place and all. Been in the family a real long time. But truth be told, we don’t exactly carry the big fancy stuff. Business has been kinda slow, as you might’ve seen while you were spying all week.” He said the last bit with a raised eyebrow. 

Erin caught herself staring at the man when he looked at her, flushing reflexively before quickly gesturing with both hands. “Oh, oh, yes, I mean we were spying but just to make sure you weren’t being watched by Crossroads or Eden’s Garden or anything. Or that you weren’t a bad guy.” 

Before she could say anything else, Dylan quickly piped up. “I’m still not totally convinced you aren’t secretly evil, but we couldn’t find any evidence. So if you are evil, you’re good at hiding it and pretending to be good, and that’s gotta be enough cuz we’re in a hurry.” A brief moment of silence passed before she abruptly blurted in one long run-on word, “Unlessstartlingyoumakesyouconfessyou’reevil!” 

“Dylan,” Erin wearily began, “that didn’t work on the taxi driver, the motel clerk, or that nice couple walking their dog. Why would it suddenly work now?” 

“Oh, you just wait, Erin,” Dylan replied knowingly, her eyes narrowed as she squinted at Wuen. “One of these days, someone’s gonna be taken completely by surprise at the-areyoureallyevil?!” She accompanied the sudden demand with waved hands and wiggling fingers in the man’s face. 

“Nope,” he answered in a flat voice. “Not the last time I checked, anyway. You keep on trying that though, someone’ll break someday.” Looking to Erin, Wuen added, “Let me guess, you ran away from Crossroads, and because they don’t let their students have any actual interaction in the real world with real people, this girl’s your only connection to things.” When Erin nodded, he looked to Dylan and smiled faintly. “You could’ve done worse. Yeah, you guys go ahead and look around. See if you can find what you’re looking for. But like I said, don’t go expecting miracles. We don’t exactly stock the rarest stuff in here.”

Dylan promptly gave the man two thumbs up. “It’s okay, the things I’m looking for aren’t rare. It’s not like we’re trying to make a spell to turn an entire car into candy or anything.” Head tilting, she added slyly while waggling her eyebrows, “Although if you diiiiiid have those ingredients, there might be a chocolate fender in it for you. Huh, huh? I’ll look for those too, just in case.”

With that, the skeletally-thin girl began to mosey through the shelves, humming to herself as she picked up things here or there, examined them thoroughly, and put them back. She made a few comments here and there as though talking to someone just over her shoulder. 

Lowering his voice once Dylan had moved into the back area, Wuen asked, “She’s okay, right?” 

“I think so,” Erin confirmed. “She’s just… had a hard time. It’s a really long story and…” She looked to him. “Sorry, can I ask… um, I know this is probably rude and everything. I just don’t know what the–I mean I’m still trying to learn what–I don’t–” 

“You want to know what I am,” the man finished for her. “And you don’t know how to ask because the only thing Crossroads taught you to do when you see someone that isn’t human is stab it repeatedly. That about sum it up?” 

Blushing despite herself, Erin gave a short nod. This was even harder than she’d thought it would be. Every time she looked at the man, both her senses and her training screamed that he was a threat and she should do something about it. She felt so much tension, despite trying to force it down. This was hard. How did the others do it? Was it really as simple as just being around people like him more? Being around… “Um, what do–do you call yourselves Strangers? That doesn’t sound–” 

“Alters,” he informed her. “As in ‘alternative from human.’ As for me, I’m what we call a Peuchen.” 

Erin’s eyes widened a bit, and she made an involuntary noise of surprise. “A Peuchen? Like the animal shapeshifters? But I thought they looked like… um, big snakes with wings and–wait.” Her face flushed even more than before. “Shapeshifters.” 

The man winked. “See, you got there in the end. Yeah, we have what we call our hunting form. That looks basically like you said. Giant snake with wings. Think of a python with these big-ass…” He trailed off, squinting at the girl who was subtly leaning away from him. “I’m not helping right now, am I? Ahh, sorry. Yeah, we shapeshift into anything really. Like Pooka except without the kickass respawning powers. Trust me, those would be nice.” 

“And you can really whistle to paralyze people?” Erin asked carefully. 

“You must’ve gotten a C on that assignment,” Wuen dryly informed her. “The whistling just makes people uncomfortable. Kind of messes with their equilibrium, makes them nauseous. It’s the stare that paralyzes people. You know, looking right into their eyes, meeting their gaze.” 

He chuckled, and Erin belatedly realized that she had dropped her eyes to stare intently at the floor. “Now you’re making fun of me,” she mumbled. 

“Sure,” the man agreed, “but only because I’m pretty sure you’re not about to stab me in the throat or snap your fingers and barbecue me.” 

He… he had a point. Erin peeked up. “I’m sorry about everything Crossroads and Eden’s Garden have been doing to your people for so long. And to… to everyone’s people.” 

A brief moment of silence passed before Wuen exhaled, shaking his head. “Kid, don’t apologize for things you didn’t do. Just worry about what you can do. You start taking on the blame for everyone that came before you… shit, you might as well try to put the whole planet on your shoulders. Nobody’s got that kind of strength. You worry about you and the things you can affect, you got it?” 

Somehow, Erin managed a faint smile, nodding to him. “Yes, sir. Thank you. You’ve been… it’s been interesting meeting you.” 

“Right back at you, Crossroads girl,” Wuen replied. “And hey, nice hair.” 

“Got it!” Dylan abruptly piped up, heading back their way with an armful of various jars, paper bags, bottles, and even a couple notebooks. “This is everything we need to make the Dreamjaunt.” 

“Dreamjaunt, huh?” the man blinked between them. “You trying to give someone nightmares?” 

Shaking her head, Erin corrected him, “Crossroads won’t let me near my dad in the real world, so we’re gonna use magic. I’ll talk to him in his dreams and tell him where to meet us.

“You know, if it works.” 

********

“Damn it, this isn’t going to work!” Erin blurted explosively two weeks later, after the girls had worked extensively on the spell throughout the intervening days. She and Dylan were back at the mansion that Dylan had inherited from her Kitsune-savior, sitting in one of the many, many rooms throughout the place. The written part of the spell was drawn on the floor, with the empowered potion bubbling in the crockpot they’d stuck it in. On the far side of the room, Fiesta and most her pups were soundly resting, though Queso, as usual, was restlessly watching the girls with the obvious hope that they would play with her.

The idea behind the potion was that one would take it, fall asleep, and be able to direct their dreams toward the target of the potion to communicate various ideas. It didn’t require that the other person be asleep at the time, as it would simply wait until they did fall asleep and then implant the dream message. It should’ve been easy as long as the potion was made correctly, and all their tests showed that it was. But Erin still hadn’t been able to get anywhere near her father’s mind. 

“It’s like he’s too far away or something. The spell can’t get through,” she complained with a long sigh while picking up one of Dylan’s extensively drawn-in notebooks full of pretty decent sketches and random thoughts. “But the only way that would happen is if he wasn’t on Earth. Or somewhere like Crossroads, anyplace connected to Earth. He’d have to be a lot further away, like one of the colony worlds.” 

“I have a lot of questions about that,” Dylan informed her. “But right now, maybe there’s someone else you can contact besides your dad?  It has to be someone you’ve spent a lot of time with, and it’ll take another week to switch the target to a new person, but maybe–” 

“Vanessa,” Erin immediately announced. “We lived in the same room for almost a whole year. Months, anyway. Yeah, she didn’t tell me about a lot of stuff, but we still lived together. Or maybe Sands or Scout. We spent a lot of time together when we were kids. Me and the twins, I mean. My dad was friends with their mom.”  

“Why not all three?” Dylan pointed out. “We made plenty of Dreamjaunt, and if there’s three of them, they won’t just dismiss it as a normal dream or their imagination. They’ll take it seriously, right?” 

“Yes!” Erin grinned, poking the other girl. “See, you’re brilliant. Still totally paranoid, but brilliant. Come on, let’s get this set up again so we can start shifting the targets. Let’s see those guys try to leave me behind when I’m in their… dreams… yelling… at… Dylan, who’s this?” Turning around the notebook of sketches she had been randomly flipping through, Erin held it up to indicate a single sketch of a man with somewhat dark shoulder-length hair. 

Somehow managing to look even more pale than usual, Dylan quietly replied, “The servant of Galazien the Iron-Souled who cut off my father’s head with an axe just before his friend put a sword through my mother. Why?” 

It was Erin’s turn to pale. “I… because… because I know this guy. His name’s Jeremiah Dallant. He’s the Baron of Wyoming for Crossroads. Which means there are Heretic leaders trying to bring this evil Galazien guy back, or free him, or whatever.

“But why the hell would they do that?”

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Eighteen 6-12 (Heretical Edge 2)

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As usual, there is a summary of this chapter at the bottom for those who would like to avoid direct Fossor… stuff. 

I ended up spending twenty minutes talking to Miles’s father, Caleb. And it was definitely him. According to the Kejjerfiet man, he had no idea if his wife was still alive or not, given how long they had been separated. Apparently Fossor had her stationed at some other home or base of his or something. Which, I supposed, made it easier to threaten one with death if the other acted up. Is that what would eventually happen to my mother and me if we didn’t find another way to escape? Would he put us in separate homes to make it impossible for us to coordinate? Thinking about it like that, I was almost surprised he hadn’t done so already, to be honest. 

I just managed to tell the man a bit about his son, that he was still alive and with the rebellion after spending a couple years at Crossroads. It was obvious that Caleb would’ve stayed right there for hours just hearing me describe every single second I’d spent with his son. And I definitely would’ve kept talking to him, but we didn’t want to make anything look too suspicious. Mom stood just outside the room, keeping an eye on things and making sure we weren’t interrupted or spied on, but all three of us knew that pushing things right now wasn’t a good idea. So, I promised to talk to him some more, considering I’d obviously be spending time in this place if I was going to be practicing with the… the dead people. Then we excused ourselves, after I made sure that Gavant was out of the way, stored with the other Meregan… bodies. More guilt for me to shove down and try to distance myself from until a better time. I started to leave then, only belatedly remembering to have Kendall follow. She was, after all, supposed to always be with me. 

As Mom and I (and Kendall) were walking out to have lunch, I found my voice once we were a good distance from the ‘stable.’ “Fossor’s not sure about how good I am yet, is he?” Glancing to her, I explained, “He didn’t put me in against any actual… intelligent enemies. I bet all those people in there would’ve loved to fight me. Or my… golems. But he just had me fight some Chamrosh. So he wanted to show off that he had me, without actually putting me in too much… I don’t wanna say danger, because he wasn’t protecting me. He was protecting his investment. He’s not positive I’m good enough to actually beat any of the people who might actually try to win. Because if he goes through all this and I end up losing the first match, he looks like an idiot.” 

Mom’s smile was humorless. “I’m afraid to be proud of you for understanding that,” she replied in a quiet voice that said all it needed to about how horrible this entire situation was for her. 

I, in turn, gave a very short nod. “It’s pretty obvious. I mean, he also had to make sure I was motivated to win by threatening all those kids. He had to make sure I cared about the fight so I wouldn’t embarrass him by losing. He was showing off, either… for the whole group or one in particular.” That thought made me pause briefly. “Do you know which one it might be? Who was there that he might’ve wanted to show off for?” I wasn’t exactly sure if that was important, but it seemed like it might be. Someone Fossor wanted to impress, or even had some kind of semi-friendly rivalry with, was someone I wanted to know more about.

“Good question,” Mom agreed, hand moving to squeeze my shoulder affectionately. Her voice was quiet. “That’s my little reporter. Always asking the important questions. Noticing things. Pushing for answers.” There was a mixture of pride and sadness in those words. It was obvious she was mourning all the years she had lost, the years we could have spent together. Basically my entire childhood and teenage years. She had been missing since I was seven years old. That was a lot to be gone for, a lot to end up losing out on, for both of us. It was years we would never actually be able to get back, no matter what happened at the end of this whole situation. 

After briefly lamenting that, mostly silently, Mom pushed on with answering my question. “I’ve seen a lot of the people in that audience come and go. I’ve put names to a lot of faces, figured out which groups are connected even when they don’t come to the same matches. Some of them are… closer to Fossor than others. I don’t think he has any actual friends, no one who would be upset if he lost. But he does have varying levels of acquaintances. Some would step in to fight for him just assuming they’d be rewarded. Others wouldn’t spit on his corpse if it was on fire.” Her head shook. “There’s plenty of people in that crowd who hate him almost as much as we do. But someone he might be showing off for? Someone specific he wants to impress?” There was doubt in her voice. “Maybe, but I can’t think of who it might be.” 

I tried to think back, picturing that whole scene. Had Fossor been paying particular attention to any group or area of the stands? It probably wouldn’t have been obvious, because that just wasn’t how he did things. But maybe… or maybe I was just inventing things in my head because I wanted to have an answer. I was going to have to play that whole situation back. Maybe I could ask Shyel if there was anything there that I was just overlooking. 

I missed my little sister. That’s who I needed. Tabbris riding copilot with me, keeping track of things, noticing things, reminding me with that perfect Seosten memory. I needed her. 

But I didn’t have her. I was going to have to make do. Heh, right, ‘make do’ with my mother, a mental copy of one of the most powerful and dangerous little girls in existence, and the ghost of Fossor’s sister. Yeah, I could’ve been a lot more alone than I actually was. 

Still, I needed to figure out if there was someone Fossor was working to impress with all this, or if it was just some normal ‘play to the crowd’ thing. Even in the latter case, that could still mean that he was building up to something. The thought that wandered into my head was that Fossor had to be doing all of this for a reason. He had the Hangman Rope, an artifact he’d gone through a lot of work to get. He’d killed a member of the Committee and blamed Gaia for it. He wasn’t doing all of that just for shits and giggles. And given how much work he’d put into grabbing me, into having both my mother and me together like this, teaching me necromancy, having the Hangman Rope, an artifact itself associated with death…

These were all important pieces of a puzzle, but I still wasn’t sure what the picture on the box was. I had no idea what exactly the puzzle was supposed to look like when it was all put together. Only Fossor knew that, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t answer if I straight up asked him what it was supposed to be. Or maybe he would, just for the hell of it. 

I wasn’t going to ask him, of course. I was going to figure this out, put the pieces together and figure out how to scramble his fucking puzzle for good (and hopefully his brains in the process). 

Shoving down the thought of just how good stabbing Fossor repeatedly in the head (and actually having it do something to him) would feel, I instead focused on my mother once more. “I’m surprised he didn’t have you fight at all today.” Was it wrong to think about how I’d almost looked forward to seeing it? Obviously, only if she’d been fighting any of those people in the arena who had been absolutely fine with seeing a bunch of middle schoolers threatened like that. Any of those people in the stands who wanted to challenge Mom? Hell yeah, I wanted to see her in a fight with those people. 

“He doesn’t have me fight on days like this,” Mom informed me. “These are build-up days. He… saves me for what he calls ‘the main event.’” There was derision, and also a little bit of shame in her voice. She hated what she had become under Fossor’s directive. She had obviously been forced to kill people she didn’t want to. And that was what I was afraid of, what I was really terrified of. Everything that happened in that arena today was bad enough. But what would happen when Fossor pointed me at a living, breathing, thinking target, someone who was sapient, scared, and only fighting because they were ordered to. What would I do if it was me or someone else who was innocent? What would I do if Fossor ordered me to kill someone who didn’t deserve to die? 

That was a question I was afraid of facing. And I knew it would come up. It hadn’t today. Not so far. But it would, eventually. I would have to deal with it when the time came. 

I just hoped it wouldn’t be soon. 

******

It turned out that I still had one more horrible thing to go through that day. Well, at least one. It was still only barely afternoon, after all. But I was going to try to be optimistic about this. Which might have been harder than it sounded, given the fact that the one more horrible thing I had to do was go through Fossor’s Writing Room. Yeah. That place that could make me answer truthfully about anything he asked, assuming he asked the right question in the right way. 

As soon as the ghost (it was the same ghost who had been amused after startling me yesterday, a male humanoid figure with a neatly trimmed goatee and eyes that seemed just slightly too large for his face) showed up and let us know that Mom was supposed to go and visit the gardens while he escorted me to the Writing Room, I felt the slight tension in my mother. She hid it as well as possible, glancing to me before outright saying, “Just remember what I said, Lissy.” She then thanked the ghost (calling him Jorsher) and set off after squeezing my hand tightly one more time. Clearly, she knew anything else she said would be reported. 

Right, I did remember what she’d told me. Fossor had to ask very specific questions, or I could just bullshit him with plenty of random answers. And I could put the answers I gave in any order I wanted. Apparently it took substantial power to run this whole Writing Room thing, so I could run out his patience for using it before he actually got anything too useful out of me. Hopefully.

With a deep breath, I nodded for Jorsher to lead me through the place, with Kendall trailing behind silently. On the way, I hesitated before asking, “Is it crossing any lines for me to ask where you come from, how long you’ve been part of Fossor’s… umm… force, anything like that? For you or for me,” I added belatedly, unsure which of us would actually get in trouble if I wasn’t supposed to get that kind of info. 

There was a brief moment of silence before Jorsher answered, “I’ve served Lord Fossor for two hundred and three years, since the moment he sliced my neck so that I would lead him through the building I was stationed in and aid him in disabling the security spells protecting my people from his incursion. He found my reactions to being forced to end the lives of my family and friends amusing, and kept me on as one of his permanent household retainers.” He spoke all matter-of-factly, as if it wasn’t one of the most horrifying things he could possibly have said. 

“I–” Opening and shutting my mouth, I paused there in the enormous corridor while staring at the ghost. A rush of different emotions ran through me, before I finally managed a weak, “I’m sorry.” It was a harsh reminder that my family wasn’t the only one that had been hurt by the necromancer piece of shit. Some had been destroyed in ways that would never be fixed. And what else was I supposed to say? What else could I say? It had been hundreds of years ago. But still, his family and friends. Fossor forced this poor guy to not only let him in, but also made him kill his whole family and the other people he cared about. Then kept him around on a permanent servant basis just because he found the guy’s reaction to all that amusing. 

For his part, Jorsher just watched me seemingly impassively for a few seconds before speaking up. “If we make Lord Fossor wait too long for you to pull yourself together, he will make his annoyance known.” The way he said it, I wasn’t sure if he meant that Fossor’s annoyance would be targeted at him or at me. Either way, I suddenly didn’t want to be responsible for that. 

“Right, sorry.” Shrugging helplessly, I started to move again as Jorsher continued down the hall. God, this was just one ghost. What about all the others? What kind of stories did they have? Because there was no way that this was some kind of isolated event. Something told me that the ghosts Fossor kept around on a permanent basis were all people he had some kind of horrific backstory with, one that amused him. And anything that amused Fossor was pretty bad.

And then I understood why Mom had genuinely thanked Ahmose earlier, why she had seemed warmer to him than I would’ve been. Because she had been here for so long, she probably knew all of their stories. She knew whatever it was that Ahmose had been through to become Fossor’s favorite ‘torture ghost.’ She knew all the ghosts well enough to feel compassion for them. It was a sobering thought, given how easy it was for me to see the ghosts serving Fossor as my enemies. Especially the one who had inflicted so much pain on me with a simple touch. Obviously, there was more to him. More to all of the ghosts. I was afraid to think about how many atrocities Fossor had visited simply on the people who served him in this home. 

Eventually, we made it to a simple wooden door in the dungeon area, a section of the manor deep underground that looked like the interior of a medieval castle. The door was curved at the top, with two vertical metal pieces in the middle that had runes inscribed on them. The runes were glowing faintly red as we approached. Before either of us said or did anything, the door opened, and I heard Fossor’s voice speak from within. “Enter, my girl. Leave the golem outside.” He said nothing to Jorsher. Nothing aloud, anyway. But the ghost simply turned away from me and faded out. Yeah, because Fossor wasn’t going to waste his time speaking aloud when he could just instill his orders into his ‘minions’ automatically, of course. 

With a sigh, I parked Kendall where she was, then stepped through the door and into the infamous Writing Room. It was, at a glance, an ordinary study or small library. The ceiling was sloped up on one side, there was a blue carpeted floor, a single ‘window’ showing a sunny day and grassy field outside (obviously an illusion of some kind considering we were underground), several comfortable-looking armchairs, and a few tall shelves packed full of books. But despite its outwardly ordinary-looking appearance, there was obviously more to this place. The hum of powerful magic was spread through the room, to the point that it almost made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. 

Sitting there in one of the armchairs, Fossor smiled as I entered. The door closed behind me. “Ahh, there you are, dear.” His voice was warm and inviting, as he picked up a notebook from the arm of the chair beside him, holding it out. “Come, let’s have a little chat. I’m sure your mother’s told you all about this place. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.” His eyes met mine. “I’m quite positive you have both discussed various ways of escape. It’s understandable, really. I want you to know that while I will, of course, prevent this, you won’t be punished for discussing it. I know what kind of people my women are, after all. I’d be shocked if you didn’t try to find a way out of here.” 

Despite myself, I retorted while moving that way, “And yet, I suppose you’re still not just going to let us go.” 

He didn’t dignify that with any response other than a slight smirk. Gesturing to the chair next to him, he waited until I reluctantly sat before putting the notebook in my hands. Then he handed me a pen. “Come now, let’s just be as pleasant as possible about all this. Write your answers down. First, were you genuinely surprised by how soon I… made my move to take you?”  

I felt the urge to write, as the room worked its magic on me. I had to answer, and the longer I took to put the answer on the page, the more uncomfortable and even painful it would be. Hurriedly, I scrawled, ‘yes’ on the page. The pressure eased. 

The questions continued, and grew gradually more complicated. He wanted to know if Mom and I had done anything that would lead directly to our escape. I answered truthfully to that, because neither of us had done anything like that. Then he asked for any plans Mom had shared with me about escaping, any plans either of us had for hurting him, that kind of thing. Those I mostly derailed by (somewhat gleefully) writing down very elaborate ideas I’d had about how I would like to kill him. And as for ‘plans about escaping’, I had dozens ready to go. None would work, of course, but the Writing Room didn’t care about how valid the plan was. 

He tried to head off cheating like that by strictly asking about plans I had ‘thought about that day before entering the room.’ But I was ready for that little trick with one of my own. Specifically, I’d actually spent time genuinely considering all these insane and absurd plans. I’d thought up as many ridiculous scenarios as possible and focused on them long enough for the Writing Room’s magic to allow me to write them down. Just as Mom had said. 

Finally, Fossor stopped me. He seemed torn between being impressed at my preparation and annoyed that I had thought ahead for this. But he also didn’t want me to know that he was in any way annoyed. Because that would mean he wasn’t one hundred percent in control. 

It wasn’t all perfect, of course. He made me share some personal details with him about my reunion with my mother. He made me write down feelings I had, things that Mom and I had said to each other, things I didn’t want to share. Things that made me tremble with anger when he forced me to record it all clinically like that. He made me write down feelings I’d had about my mother during the years I’d grown up without her, hateful and… and awful things I’d thought and said. Things that I couldn’t explain now, because that wasn’t the question. 

He made me write down such awful, personal things. Finally, the man took the notebook from me and smiled. “Good enough for now. Thank you, my dear. We’ll come back to this soon enough.” He looked at the notebook, starting to flip through it before giving a dismissive wave of his hand. “You’ll be escorted to your mother now.” 

So, after a momentary hesitation, I picked myself up, wiped my eyes, and forced myself to walk out of the room. As promised, there was another ghost, one I didn’t recognize, waiting there to glide ahead silently. I moved after him, still working to collect myself. Belatedly, I remembered to summon Kendall to follow.  

On the way through the building this time, I happened to glance out one of the windows and saw an actual line of living people moving toward a glowing portal out on the grounds. It surprised me enough to hesitate, staring that way. “Who are–” I started, before realizing. “Are those the people from the arena? They’re just now leaving?” 

The ghost turned to me, pausing before answering simply, “Lord Fossor is quite particular about how people must come and go from his residence. It takes a certain amount of time to ensure no one brings or takes any objects that could be used to locate this place, and his guests must only use his established transportation magic.” 

Right, of course. It was just like I’d been told earlier, Fossor didn’t like anyone to know where this place was. It had all those protective spells, magic he’d spent centuries perfecting in order to keep people out. There was no possible way I could beat that. No way… I… could…

Wait a minute. 

You there, Rahanvael?

I got a positive response from the ghost girl. She was still right there, had been there the whole time and Fossor, as promised, had no idea. 

Good. Because I figured it out. I know how we’re getting out of here. I know how to beat Fossor. 

But we’re gonna need a lot of bugs. 

 

SUMMARY

 

After speaking with Miles’ father Caleb for awhile and discovering that his wife/Miles’ mother is in some other location, Flick has lunch with her mother and talks about the fact that Fossor was clearly not putting her in actual danger because he isn’t exactly sure what she’s capable of handling just yet. She then has her first visit to the Writing Room. On the way, she asks Jorsher, one of Fossor’s ghosts, about his past. Jorsher explains that he has served Fossor for over two hundred years, ever since the necromancer slit his throat when he was on guard duty and used his raised body to kill the people he was supposed to be protecting, including his family. In the Writing Room, Flick manages to keep the actual critically important secrets through the tricks her mother taught her about giving the room too much information, but still has to write down embarrassing and emotional moments anyway. Upon being escorted out of the room, she notices people from the arena still leaving and is told that very specific and often time-consuming actions have to be taken to ensure that the visitors don’t have any chance of leading anyone to Fossor’s home. Upon hearing that, Flick mentally reaches out to Rahanvael and tells her that she has an escape plan. A plan which apparently requires many bugs. 

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Eighteen 6-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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There is a summary at the bottom of the chapter for those who would prefer to avoid Fossor. 

Powers. I could kill with these golem things and then… and then what, collect the powers/boosts they’d gained with those kills just by touching them afterward? What–how did that even–what? 

Clearly amused by the look on my face, Fossor stepped back and gestured for the audience. “You see?” he started in a sly voice, prompting a few assorted chuckles throughout the stands, “even now, after everything she went through over the past year, my girl can still be surprised. Isn’t that adorable?” 

Yeah, there were definitely a few things I wanted to say to that. But all of them would have gotten me in trouble, and the van with those Chamrosh wasn’t so far away from the school that an annoyed Fossor couldn’t have them turn around and go back. So, with a little bit of effort, I managed to clamp down on the vicious retort that jumped immediately to my lips. Later. There would be a time and place when I could tell Fossor everything I thought about him. Not now. 

Instead, I simply looked back to where my mother was watching intently. She seemed just as uncertain as I was, but gave me a short nod of encouragement. She mouthed something I didn’t quite catch, but I was pretty sure she was telling me to go ahead and ask about what happened. 

Right, I might as well. Fossor clearly already knew I was confused. So I looked to him and flatly spoke up. “What just happened? How did the… how?” That was all I could manage to get out. 

“A fine question, dearest,” Fossor patiently agreed, “but now is hardly the time for such things. My friends here have been quite patient already, waiting through all the training we’ve done simply for one little warm-up match. I believe it’s time for the main event to get started.” He waited through the roars of approval those words were met with, clearly loving the reaction. After a few seconds, he raised one hand and the cheering instantly stopped, the arena going silent as he pointedly raised an eyebrow at me. “So, unless you’d like to continue fighting, I suggest you join your mother over there and simply enjoy the rest of the show for the moment.”

Right, of course all these people wouldn’t be gathered for a bit of training and a single practice fight for me, no matter what the stakes had been. Actually, given who these people were and the fact that they were willingly associating with someone like Fossor, I was pretty sure the ‘stakes’ being the lives of all those innocent young students basically meant nothing to them. And, from glancing around the arena, I could see that they were quite eager to get the real fights underway. My entire thing had essentially been a warm-up act, which made me feel… strange. 

Still, no way did I want to be involved in the fighting anymore. So, I started to turn and walk away before stopping myself. A thought took control of Kendall and I made her walk to the gate. Then I directed my focus over to Gavant and made the enormous man stand up before moving to join Kendall. Once the gate was opened for them, I sent both out. They might’ve been dead already, sure. But I still wasn’t just going to leave their bodies standing in the arena to be torn apart. I was… responsible for them, in a way. I felt bad enough about the fact that Fossor had killed them just to give me what amounted to puppets to work with. Letting their bodies get torn apart in some arena fight that they had nothing to do with felt pretty damn disrespectful. 

After directing the two of them outside of the arena, I followed suit and walked out. Mom was already there, standing in front of Gavant with a solemn look on her face as she reached up to touch the side of his arm. I could see the pain there. She knew the man, and clearly knew how much his people had already suffered. When I got there, her voice was quiet. “I’m sorry, one-of-honor,” she whispered to the dead figure. “You deserved far better than this.” 

Behind us, more people were entering the arena, to the assorted cheers and boos of the crowd depending on who liked which person. No one was paying attention to my mother and me anymore, which was just fine as far as I was concerned. I could definitely deal with being ignored right then.

With her hand still pressed tightly against Gavant’s arm, Mom turned to me. Her voice cracked just a little bit as she quietly announced, “He was a good man. He didn’t deserve this, any of it.” 

“I know,” I agreed, forcing myself to look up into the man’s dead eyes. “I’m sorry, Gavant. I’m sorry you got dragged into all this again. I’m sorry your people were just…” Exhaling, I shook my head while looking away, my voice dropping into a mutter. “I’m sorry about everything.” 

Mom and I both let that sit for a minute, each of us looking toward the arena without actually paying much attention to what was going on in it. People were being divided up into teams or something to fight each other. Whatever. They could all just go ahead and die as far as I was concerned. They willingly worked with Fossor. They willingly participated in his little games, including the one where a bunch of innocent school children would have been killed if I didn’t win my match. At that moment, I didn’t really care if they all just spontaneously combusted. 

Finally, I felt my mother’s hand on my shoulder. When I looked that way, she asked, “Who is this?” There was still very obvious pain and grief in her voice, her eyes directed toward the other golem Fossor had forced on me. “I don’t… she’s familiar. I used to know her. Who is she?” Even as she asked that, I could tell that my mother was dreading the answer. “You said Kendall.” 

Reluctantly, I nodded. “Kendall Harver. The… the Harvers, from back home. We were sort of… we didn’t get along.” No way was I going to say that Kendall was my enemy. I’d basically forgotten about her even before going to Crossroads, and now I knew what real enemies were. “I guess Fossor thought that meant more than I did. I…” Fuck, even saying that sounded wrong. Flinching, I managed a weak little, “I didn’t want anything like this to happen to her.” God, was that even inadequate. Of course I didn’t want this to happen, what the hell was I even saying? 

“The Harvers…” Saying that name made Mom cringe, her eyes closing briefly. I felt her grip on my shoulder tighten a bit. “Sasha and Kevin. Those poor…” Cutting herself off, Mom opened her eyes to look straight at me. I could see the grief there still, but also anger, righteous rage. She was furious to a level that I wasn’t sure Fossor fully understood. That anger was going to boil out at some point. My mother was holding it in, keeping track of each and every one of the necromancer’s transgressions. And someday, he would have to pay for them. 

For the moment, however, she pushed it back down, giving a slight headshake at me. Now wasn’t the time. Angry as we both might have been, we had to control it and wait for the right moment. Instead, she simply asked, “The aura flare. Did you actually…?” 

“I think so,” I confirmed. “I mean, it felt just like when I kill something myself, just delayed until I touched her. You don’t know anything about it?” 

“No.” Mom’s head shook once more, eyes narrowed thoughtfully at the arena where the fighting had started between two groups of three (much to the excitement of the crowd). “But he was obviously expecting it.” 

She was right. Me gaining powers from Kendall like that had clearly not exactly been a surprise to Fossor. And that made me wonder if that wasn’t the whole point of the exercise to begin with. Had he actually been testing to see if it would happen that way and hiding the test behind all that extra bullshit just so he wouldn’t look bad if he was wrong? Frowning thoughtfully at that consideration, I turned my head to look up toward the man himself. 

Fossor was looking at me from that throne of his. Ignoring the fight that was going on, he was instead staring directly into my eyes when I looked up. A slight smile curved at his lips, and he gave me one single nod. 

Shuddering despite myself, I turned away from him, folding my arms over my stomach uncomfortably. Swallowing the hard lump in my throat, I forced myself to pay attention to the ongoing fight. 

I might not have been interested in how it went, but I was pretty sure I would have to fight at least some of these people at one point or another. Either in the arena or otherwise. So I might as well watch to be ready for when that inevitably happened. 

******

Hours later, the fighting was finally over. A team consisting of a weresnake, a troll, and a little pixie-creature that used electricity magic or powers had won in the end. Fossor presented them with some kind of heavy wooden chest with a complicated set of runes on it which, to my limited understanding, were spells that would do very terrible things to anyone who opened it without the counterspell. Whatever was in that chest, the trio acted really happy about getting it while the teams who had lost (those who were still alive) looked pretty disappointed and annoyed. 

After handing over a parchment that was apparently the spell to unlock the chest, and informing them that they should do so somewhere safely away from where others might grab their treasure, Fossor dismissed the rest of the crowd. He played it up like a true showman in front of them, informing the crowd that they could come back for another round of fights soon enough, and that by that time his ‘new girl’ would be practiced enough to give them a real show. 

While the group filed out, Mom and I just stood there with the Kendall and Gavant bodies nearby. A few of the people passing offered congratulations to me, others offered jeers and insults. I ignored all of them, focused on watching Fossor in the middle of the arena. He wasn’t looking at us. Instead, he seemed to be deep in conversation with that ghost who had seemed so amused when he’d startled me yesterday by popping up to inform us that it was time to bathe. I was really curious about what those two were talking about, considering Fossor appeared to be pretty distracted by it (and maybe even a little annoyed). Anything that annoyed that psycho fuck was something I wanted to know more about. And possibly write a ballad about.

Beside me, my mother murmured, “He’s using magic to prevent eavesdropping. Whatever is happening, he doesn’t want either of us to know anything about it.” After saying that, she looked to me, her hand finding its way to my shoulder to squeeze reassuringly. “I’d take that as a good thing.” Despite her words, however, I could see the pain in Mom’s face. The Meregan. She was barely holding it together after seeing what had happened to all those Meregan people. The Meregan, who were already so close to being entirely wiped out. Now their world had apparently been taken over by Fomorians and this group was just… dead. After living through so much, after surviving so much, they came for help and… and Fossor had just…

Yeah, no wonder Mom wasn’t doing very well at holding back her emotions. She was barely keeping it together enough not to throw herself (utterly uselessly) in a screaming, frothing rage at the arrogant piece of shit standing right there. She knew as well as I did that it wouldn’t accomplish anything, and yet… and yet I really couldn’t blame her for being one inch from doing it anyway. I was pretty sure that only the fact that I was standing there held her in check. Just like I didn’t want Fossor to take anything I did out on her, she didn’t want me to end up hurt because of something she did. Fossor had each of us very well in hand just by threatening the other. 

Finally, Fossor’s clearly intense conversation with the ghost ended, and he waved a hand to send the transparent figure away. Then the man pivoted, looking straight to us. I had the briefest glimpse of a troubled, not-very-happy expression before it vanished and was replaced with a smile. Casually, he raised one hand and beckoned for both of us to come with two fingers. 

Resisting the urge to reply with one finger, I sighed and started out that way with my mother right behind me. Belatedly, I reached out with my necromancy power to urge the bodies of Kendall and Gavant to follow behind us.

Reaching the man himself (or rather, as close as I was going to get), I stopped and folded my arms. My voice was brittle as I made myself meet his gaze. “Are you going to tell me what happened back there with Kendall and the… the Heretic thing?” I didn’t want to learn about that from him any more than I’d wanted to learn about using my necromancy power in the first place from him. But Mom clearly had no idea what was going on there, and he did. He was my only choice. 

And, of course, he was amused by the fact that I had to ask him despite clearly not wanting to. Adopting the look of a kind professor (which just made me feel even worse about the whole thing), Fossor gave a short nod. “Yes, of course. I would love to explain it to you, my brilliant girl.” 

I didn’t know how Mom reacted to that because she was behind me, but it must have been something, because I saw the way his eyes flashed briefly to her. His smile was infuriating, and I was kind of surprised that she stopped herself from hurling something (like a fireball) at him. In the end, she did manage to restrain herself and Fossor continued. “You remember the term I used for the magic power you have… weaved around the bodies of the golems?” 

Squinting that way, I gave a short nod. “Yeah, of course I do. Web. You called it a web of power.” It wasn’t a bad term, obviously. I pulled at strands of the web to make them do things. According to Fossor, eventually I would get good enough to simply give the slightest poke at one bit of web to cause more complicated actions to happen. He’d said that it was like learning an instrument. Right now I was a novice, but if I kept at it, a real ‘artist’ (as he put it) could produce an entire symphony by plucking at various strings. He’d sounded super-excited by that possibility, which just made the whole thing even worse for me to consider. 

“That web,” Fossor was already explaining in his professor-voice, “seems to hold the death energy from the things they kill. When you touch the golem, it transfers that energy into you. I had heard of certain Reapers using golems to feed themselves, and yet this… I was afraid to hope this would work as well as it seems to have.” 

Mom blurted, “So you’re saying she can just continue gaining powers from things her golems kill?” 

“Well,” the Necromancer infuriatingly patiently corrected, “if it’s anything like how the Reapers work, the death energy will fade relatively soon when not in active combat. And it will fade incredibly quickly as soon as our brilliant girl takes her attention off of it. In layman’s terms, within a very brief time of Felicity turning her attention to something else, either her own fight or controlling a different golem, the death energy will fade. But yes, so long as she focuses on controlling a singular golem and touches that golem very soon after its fight, she will gain powers from it.” His smile was broad. “Isn’t that delightful?” 

A few words immediately leapt to mind that I really wanted to spit at him, but none of them were any synonym for delightful. So I kept them to myself, with a little effort. Instead, I simply demanded, “What happens to Kendall and the rest of the Meregan now?” 

“Well, you will be responsible for them, of course,” Fossor informed me in the same tone of voice a father would tell a child that they would need to take care of the family pet. “There’s a stable one floor down from the rooms you and your beautiful mother are staying in. That’s where the rest of the Meregan are. I believe Joselyn can show you the way. Take this Meregan there to join his people. As for the human girl, I expect you to keep her with you. Consider her an extra set of hands. Get accustomed to having her around. Keep her clean, clothed, and anything else she needs. I don’t want to ever find you somewhere without your little golem near enough to help out. Understand?” 

Waiting until I murmured an acknowledgment, the man then gestured. “Good. Joselyn dear, show our girl where to take the Meregan, then the two of you can have some lunch. I’m sure she’s worked up a big appetite.”

With that, Mom and I left, with my two…. golems following. My voice trembled a little once we were out of the arena area. “I hate him,” I whispered. “I hate him so much.” 

“I know, baby,” Mom murmured, taking my hand to interlock our fingers. “I know.” 

Together, we made our way through the palatial mansion, where the halls were so large Gavant didn’t even need to duck. Eventually, we reached an enormous set of double-doors that Mom said led into the ‘stables’, which were apparently just open-air rooms where Fossor kept various groups of his dead troops. 

As promised, the rest of that group of Meregan were here. I recognized some, a fact that made me feel even worse about the whole thing. But there were also others who weren’t Meregan, other dead bodies standing around waiting to be controlled. One in particular drew my attention, a tall, fur-covered man who kind of looked like a Wookie. Or like Bigfoot with very long arms. His back was to me, and with dread in my stomach, I stepped that way. My voice was a whisper, “Oh God, Caleb…” 

He turned around, looking at me with a startled expression. I was just as taken aback, blurting, “You’re alive! I–what–” 

“Yes,” the fur-covered man confirmed. “I… take care of the dead here. That’s my job, it’s why I get to live.” His voice was flat, but still tinged with a mixture of sadness and bitterness.  

“You–is… is your wife alive?” I reflexively asked, my eyes widening. 

The man looked confused, his brow knitting together. “How do you know my wife?” 

“I don’t.” My head shook. “I’ve never met you or your wife, sir.

“I know your son, Miles. And I know that he’s been looking for you for a long time.” 

 

SUMMARY

Flick asks Fossor what just happened with the Heretic kill-absorption activating after she touched Kendall. However, he declines to answer the question immediately, instead telling Flick to leave the arena so that the full tournament can start. Flick takes Kendall and Gavant out of the arena, where Joselyn reacts to Gavant’s death and then asks about who Kendall is. Joselyn recognizes Kendall’s last name of Harver from living in Laramie Falls, and is sad for the girl’s parents. They then watch the day’s tournament battles for a few hours, before the guests are dismissed to leave. Fossor has a brief interaction with one of his ghosts, using privacy spells to ensure that Flick and Joselyn can’t hear what’s going on. He then informs Flick that the ‘web of energy’ she uses to control the golems is what absorbs the death energy and allows her to later gain the powers/boosts by touching them as long as she does so relatively soon and without being too distracted from her control. Finally, Joselyn and Flick take Gavant to the ‘stable’ room for dead things to stay in, where Flick finds the (living) caretaker of the dead… Miles’s father.

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