Eventually, Avalon dragged me to the gym for some extra training while we continued to talk about everything that had happened. Despite having a very good excuse and not even actually being in that much danger this time, I had the sneaky suspicion that part of her still sort of wanted to kick my butt at least a little bit for disappearing again. Though to be honest, if she had said anything about taking it easy on me or giving me a break, I might’ve had to double-check to make sure some Seosten hadn’t figured out a way to bypass her possession protection after all. Seriously, that would’ve been about as alarming as if Shiori abruptly declared that puns were a low form of humor she wanted nothing to do with. If either of those things happened, I would know something was terribly wrong.
We practiced for about an hour, after which I declared a time-out because I really needed to check in on my ghosts. Particularly Perrsnile and Ausesh, and then the whole Manakel situation. Not that I wanted to visit the latter alone or with only Avalon. But then again, I was pretty sure at least one of the other Seosten would still be there with him. At least, if my old friend had turned into a raging evil jackass for a long time before dying, then came back claiming to be good again, I’d probably have more than a couple hours worth of discussion with him straight off the bat.
First though, we showered and changed into some clean, fresh clothes. Then Valley accompanied me as we headed for the young adult living area, where the haunted mansion was. On the way there, however, my phone buzzed. Checking it, I found an incoming call from… “Andromeda?” I asked, tapping the button to answer with a glance toward Avalon. Honestly, Andromeda didn’t even need to make it seem like a normal phone call. She could’ve just started talking to me through the phone’s speaker. But she liked to try to be more polite than that.
“Good morning, Miss Chambers,” came the AI’s voice promptly. “I was glad to hear of your successful intervention within the hidden vault, as well as the identification and elimination of the murderer and child-enslaver within. Excellent work indeed.”
“Uh, thanks,” I managed with a very slight blush as Avalon raised an eyebrow at me, clearly hearing all that. “I do my best. But it wasn’t really my–never mind. It’s uh, what’s up?” It felt awkward. I didn’t want to imply that Andromeda couldn’t just call me up to chat or anything, but I had a feeling there was more to it than that.
Sure enough, she continued. “As far as what came directly following your mystery excursion, ahh, Percy is aware that Manakel’s ghost has appeared.”
Yeah, I’d figured that was what this would be about as soon as I saw her name on my phone. The whole Percy and Manakel situation couldn’t just be ignored. I’d seen the way he reacted when I mentioned her before. The guilt in his expression… yeah. That was certainly going to be a thing.
So, I hesitated only slightly before replying, “Is she okay?” Honestly, I really had no idea how she would react to this whole thing. Especially after she had been spending time with the other Olympians lately. There was a whole situation there, with them realizing how they had treated her before and trying to be better about not just blowing her off or outright getting rid of her. They had been trying to open up to her a bit more and treat the Revenant like one of their crew. So, yeah, I really didn’t know how she felt about her old relationship with Manakel, or how she would feel about his ghost showing up. It was complicated, to say the least.
No sooner did I have that thought, than Andromeda helpfully informed me, “It is complicated. Yet, she does wish to speak with him. She would like you to be there as well. She is not certain as to why, but I believe it is for a sort of ‘moral support.’” She paused briefly before adding, “She would appreciate your presence.”
“I’ll be there,” I promised. “Can you have her meet us at my Haunted Mansion in a few minutes? I’ve just gotta check on the other ghosts.”
Andromeda agreed to pass that message along. Before she disconnected, I added, “You know, you should come with us the next time we check in on that vault. There’s a robot named Sitter in there.”
Another pause came, before Andromeda spoke with a tone of obvious amusement. “Miss Chambers, are you attempting to set me up on a romantic excursion?”
“Hey,” I retorted, “I just think you two would be cute together. It’s not my fault. And you did say you liked to jump into robot bodies now and then.”
With what I swore was an audible chuckle, the AI confirmed that she would certainly give it some thought, before signing off. Once I put my phone away, my attention turned back to Valley. “Well,” I started casually, “should we head over there?”
“I would make a comment about you playing Cupid,” my girlfriend remarked dryly, “but as it turns out, Cupid is a bit of a fucking prick. So I won’t label you like that.”
Right, Cupid had been one of the identities taken by Paschar, the guy who started the entire thing with Dries and Liesje thanks to his relationship with them. A relationship which… had not gone well, to say the least. Grimacing despite myself, I gave a quick nod. “Thanks, I’d really rather you not associate that guy with me in any way.”
With that, I took her hand and the two of us walked together through the corridors to the open forcefield elevator. As we descended, I glanced toward the other girl and smiled faintly. “You sure you’re not just hanging out with me so you can make sure I don’t fall into another pocket universe without you anytime soon?”
Snorting, Avalon squeezed my hand and retorted, “Believe it or not, Chambers, I kind of enjoy spending time with you every now and then.”
“Promise?” I teased with a tiny, irrepressible grin.
Turning to me, the other girl brought our linked hands up so she could brush my own fingers against her cheek, then moved them to brush her own against mine. Which sent a tingle through me, as I gave a very soft gasp. Her voice was soft. “I promise, Felicity, spending time with you is one of my favorite things in the world. You might make me want to scream sometimes because of all the trouble you manage to find, but truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because any other way wouldn’t be you. I don’t love some hypothetical version of you who could be different.” Bringing my hand closer, she gently kissed my fingers, meeting my gaze as the elevator reached the ground. “I love you.”
Well, fuck, what was I supposed to say to that? My knees almost buckled, as a very soft, yet audible whine escaped me. I had to clutch Valley’s hand even tighter to keep myself upright, while swallowing hard. Our gazes never broke. “I love you,” I assured her, my voice trembling just a little. With my free hand, I reached out to gently brush her hair back, feeling an almost-electric shock as my fingers touched her cheek and then over her neck. To my gratification, she clearly reacted as well, visibly shivering.
I wasn’t sure which of us moved first, but we kissed once more. Though it wasn’t nearly as long as I would’ve liked, before we both heard someone approaching. It was just one of the other students, probably heading up for an early breakfast. Or a very late dinner. Either way, they gave us an apologetic look while we passed one another, Avalon and I stepping off the elevator pad so they could use it. Then the two of us started walking together once more, heading for the mansion. It was still artificial very early morning down here, so the ‘sun’ was down, the overhead ‘sky’ dark aside from the pinpricks of light from the fake stars and moon. Between that and the sound of insects chirping (some of those were real and some were fake for ambiance), it really was incredibly peaceful. I was enjoying this, just walking along with Avalon. Maybe it was weird that I felt like that while we were on our way to visit a bunch of ghosts in a literally haunted house. But hey, I was a Necromancer. Ghosts didn’t scare me. And they sure as hell didn’t scare Avalon. I was pretty sure ghosts were more afraid of her than they were of me.
As we reached the Haunted Mansion, Rahanvael was already hovering by the front door. She offered a faint smile, her translucent figure flickering just a little as she pulled in enough energy from the provided magical batteries within the house to make herself visible for us. “Andromeda sent a message through the radio to say you would be coming.”
Seeing her made me smile just a little at the reminder that Fossor was gone forever. Yet it also reminded me that I needed to go to their world at some point and let her go. She wanted to do it on her homeland, wanted to move on to whatever might come next, if anything, on the planet where she had been born. I couldn’t really blame her for that. Besides, the people on that world deserved to hear exactly what had happened to the man who had ruled them for so long. I had a feeling that was going to be a long and involved conversation.
But, for now, that was going to have to wait a bit longer. Pushing the thought aside, I gave her a quick nod. “I hope we’re not interrupting anything. I just wanted to come and check on things.”
Rahanvael shook her head. “You’re not interrupting anything. Trust me, everyone here appreciates your visits, as well as your indulgence.” She paused as though considering her words. “You didn’t have to go so far out of your way to make the ghosts here so comfortable.”
Meeting her gaze, I replied, “Yes, I did. And the fact that you think I went so far out of my way to do it is why. You guys all deserve a place where you can relax and just exist. Especially if I’m going to be asking you to help me with things. It’s the least I can do.”
Beside me, Avalon cleared her throat before speaking up. “On top of that, having you all together here makes it easier for Felicity to train with her power.” Her eyes squinted toward me. “When she actually does that.”
Flushing a little, I waved one hand. “I know, I know. I’m working on it. And hey, now I have a pretty important teacher for that. Which…” Blanching, I added a bit more quietly, “just happens to be the guy who tried to kill you a bunch last year.”
“Yeah,” she replied flatly while gazing pointedly at me, “and yet, he’s the one who happens to be a ghost. I think I won that contest.”
“You win a lot of contests,” I informed her. “When it comes to Manakel, all of them. Err, except maybe medical knowledge and also Necromancy. Which brings me back around to why it’s a good thing that I can learn from him.” Under my breath, I muttered, “I’m just gonna have to keep telling myself that every time I think about what he tried to do to you.”
With a firm shake of my head to push that dark thought away, I sighed while looking back toward Rahanvael. “Besides, the whole thing is really just me getting a jump on Halloween for next year. If I can keep this place stocked with ghosts, I’m a shoo-in to win the haunted house contest that I still have to convince Abigail to throw.”
The ghost girl actually giggled a little at that, and it was incredible to both hear and see. Ever since her brother had been killed, a huge weight had clearly been lifted from her shoulders as well. She clearly still felt the pain of what he had become, and everything he did. And yet, I could tell that things were better for her now. She was opening up a bit more. The sad part about that was that it had taken so long. She was basically my age or younger when she had been killed. And for every bit of the millennia that had followed, the parts she had been aware for anyway, she’d had to witness the atrocities her brother committed. She never had the chance to really become… anything. It was horrific. And to think that it had all happened, all of that, everything he did throughout his long and terrible life, because he had thought he could make his sister immortal. By, ahh… killing her. He was so terrified of losing his sister the same way that he had lost his mother, that he murdered her, with the intention of turning her into some sort of super-zombie.
When you got right down to it, Teen Fossor was kind of an idiot. If nothing else, what would’ve stopped him from waiting until she did die of whatever hypothetical future thing he was so afraid of and then trying out his ‘put the soul back in the body’ thing? I was pretty sure his ‘super zombie who retained their personality and was basically just the same as a living person but immortal’ was bullshit anyway. But even if it wasn’t, what was his freaking rush?
Oh well, it wasn’t like it was at all relevant anymore. He was dead and gone, and good riddance. I wasn’t going to waste anymore time wondering about that. Instead, I smiled a bit at Rahanvael, who was giving me a curious look after clearly reading a bit into my expression. Giving her a thumbs up, I asked, “So how are our new arrivals doing?”
The girl turned to look over her shoulder into the house before looking back at us. “Ausesh is doing well. I don’t think she’s left the room we gave her to set up in. There’s a magic battery so she can move her equipment around, and she’s been running a lot of experiments on herself. She said she wants to understand what she is now from a very clinical perspective.” With a shrug, she added, “Everyone deals with becoming a ghost in their own way. I think she wants to science it to death. Or–you know.”
Snorting slightly, I nodded. “Sure, science death to death. She seems like the type. And speaking of type, she’s also not exactly that outgoing, so don’t feel bad if she doesn’t socialize very much.”
“Understandable,” the ghost-girl agreed before adding, “As for your other new addition, he is still in the cell in the basement.” She hesitated briefly, giving me a look. “Are you certain you don’t want to just… send him on? He seems dangerous to keep around, even if he’s contained. The others don’t like the idea of having someone like him in our home.”
“Are they upset?” I asked quickly, not wanting to do anything to make things worse.
Quickly, Rahanvael shook her head. “Not exactly. It’s more that we all feel gratitude to you for everything you’ve done, and we don’t like the idea that this… person might somehow find a way to hurt you, or any of us, because he hasn’t been sent out of this world.”
“Believe me,” Avalon put in, “you’re not the only ones who want him to stop existing as soon as possible.”
“I will, soon,” I promised. “But he helped sell those children, so we have to find them. I need to reunite them with their families. I don’t want to get rid of him and then find out he had the last laugh by managing to lie to me about where they are. Besides, even if he’s telling the truth, it might be harder to find them than we think, and he might have extra information we need to track them down. He might have answers that we don’t know the questions to yet. So, for now, he stays where he is until we can deal with all that. Unless you guys want me to find another spot to keep him?”
“No,” Rahanvael immediately responded. “No, he should stay here.”
“Exactly.” That was Seth, who came into view to stand next to her, giving Avalon and me both a nod of greeting. “Leave ghosts to watch over a ghost. We’ll keep him in line. Already got a shift of guards keeping an eye on that piece of shit.”
“They’re not getting too close to the trap spell, right?” I quickly put in. I’d had help tying it into an extra battery so that it could be permanent. Essentially, the batteries in this place held magical energy that came from the station’s vast reserves. It allowed the ghosts to function as they wanted in here. And, in this case, ensured that Perrsnile would be trapped forever. Or as long as I wanted.
“We’ve got a safety line drawn on the floor,” Seth informed me. “They don’t go past it. But if he tries anything, they’ll sound the alarm and we’ll get news to you.” He paused briefly before adding, “In the meantime, I heard that the search for whoever erased Tiras’s memory is getting closer to actual payoff. I probably shouldn’t have to tell you–”
“When we get to a result, I’ll bring you with,” I assured him. “I promise, you’ll be involved. But yeah, stuff is moving along with that. Come on, I want to check in on Perrsnile and Ausesh myself, just to say hi. And maybe a couple other words. We can talk about what Asenath and her new friends are up to on the way.
“Yes,” Avalon agreed. “And then, I’ll go with you to see Manakel.”
“I have a few words I want to say to him as well.”