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.
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.