A/N – Despite Fossor not appearing in this chapter, there is a summary at the bottom for those who are sensitive about this general storyline.
My mother and I walked together in silence. Neither of us said anything else for a few minutes as we moved further away from the dining room. My gaze was on the floor, my heart somewhere down in my stomach. Why? Why did this son of a bitch have to ruin what should have been the single most joyful moment of my life? I was with my mother. I should have been happy! I should… I should have been happy.
Instead, I was silent, not trusting my voice. I didn’t even know if I should say anything. Fossor would probably eavesdrop on everything, and I didn’t really feel like letting my emotions at finally finding my mom be some kind of obscene entertainment for that fucking piece of shit.
I didn’t really pay attention to anything about where we were going until I felt open air and looked around to see that my mother had led me outside. We were moving through one of the flower gardens and I found myself looking toward the blossoms while wondering just how long the necromancer had been working with Kwur to pull this whole thing off. It was a bitter thought, the knowledge that Dakota’s family had been killed and she herself had been so thoroughly traumatized just as part of a plan to eventually kidnap me. As if I didn’t owe that fucker enough pain already. The fact that I’d gotten through an entire meal without uselessly hurling everything in sight at him, including myself, while he was so close had to be some kind of miracle.
To be honest, if there was one thing I really needed right about now, it was an actual miracle. But something told me that my mother and I were on our own in that regard. Tabbris couldn’t get to us. None of the people on the outside had any chance of helping. Not in any reasonable timeframe, anyway. Dare, Deveron, Avalon, Gwen, Tabbris, Sariel, Gabriel, Athena, none of them could help this time. Whatever came next, unless I wanted to sit here as Fossor’s prisoner for years and suffer through whatever his idea of a good time was, would be up to us, not them.
Finally, Mom stopped. Her hand found my shoulder, making me come up short before she simply stood there beside me. Glancing over, I saw her look toward the mansion. Her eyes were on one window in particular, and stayed there for a few seconds before she slowly stepped around to face me. Our eyes met, and I saw… something I didn’t expect. There wasn’t sadness, or pain at the fact that I had been brought here and was now a prisoner as well. In her eyes, I saw… power. I saw determination, the kind I had tried to show Fossor when I told him he would regret starting this whole thing, but so much stronger. I saw certainty, power, and utter fearlessness. I saw the Joselyn Atherby who had once inspired a rebellion that nearly tore apart the entire Seosten-created Heretic civilization when she was still barely more than a child.
“Felicity,” she began in a soft, tender voice. But that tenderness wasn’t weakness. There was a strength in it that I couldn’t yet begin to truly understand. My mother had, for so long, stood as a titan in my thoughts. Only now, seeing her like this, did I really see how she could be that same titan to others. The strength in her, the gift she had for raising others so high, was there now. After ten years as Fossor’s prisoner, after he’d had so long to break her, so long to destroy that spirit in an effort that had culminated now with the abduction of her daughter, she was still here. After having her first children stolen from her just to make her surrender, she had survived. After choosing to have her life, her family, her memories, her very self taken away in order to save her people from generations of blood-curse induced slavery, she had survived.
After choosing once again to sacrifice her own freedom to this monster in order to protect another of her children, and spending over ten years as his slave, forced to bear him a child who had been corrupted, destroyed, and eventually killed, she still survived.
Joselyn Atherby, Joselyn Chambers, her name didn’t matter. She was and would always be the woman who had taken Bosch Heretic society apart at the seams. She was and would always be a leader, a titan, a hero.
She was and would always be my mother.
Swallowing hard, forcing down the lump that had taken over my throat, I straightened a little and met her eyes. “Mom.” I said that single word, before stepping forward. I’d hugged her before, but this was different. This was us, together and in as much privacy as we could possibly have in this situation. My arms wrapped around her tightly, and I felt hers do the same. I felt that same strength I’d seen in her eyes, the way it held me up. She gave that strength to me, from that seemingly endless well within her.
“Whatever happens, whatever comes next,” Mom quietly, “You are not going to be alone. Do you hear me? Wherever I am, wherever any of us are, you’re never alone.”
Unlike her, I realized. Mom had been alone here for so long. Almost no one had remembered her. Dad and I thought she abandoned us, and I had spent most of those missing years hating her. She had been here, alone save for her son, whom Fossor had eventually turned into the monster that I had known.
“I’m sorry.” The words felt empty and worthless as they left my mouth. But I had to say them anyway. “Mom, I wanted to save you. I wanted to fix everything. I thought I was ready for him, he told me he was coming on my birthday and–and I thought we could stop him and plan for… I didn’t think he’d…” My eyes closed, and I felt the tears rush to them before I forced them back.
Mom’s grip tightened around me. She held me up as my own legs felt weak. “My sweet, brilliant little reporter,” she murmured before kissing my forehead. “Maybe not so little now. But brave. My brave girl. Are you dead?”
I paused, frowning a little before shaking my head as I leaned back to look at her. “Dead? No.”
Meeting my uncertain look with a soft smile, Mom quietly confirmed, “Of course not. You’re alive. That, Lissy, is what matters. Whatever happens, survive. Live. Come what may, every day that you open your eyes is a day when things might change. Every moment you survive is another moment when he can make a mistake. Especially now. Fossor believes that having you here gives him the edge. But it also means that our deal is ended. And while he has his magic and his threats against you to keep me in check, the power of that binding arrangement is over. He may find that to be more trouble than he realizes.”
Tilting my head, I found a hesitant smile to match hers. “You know he’s probably listening to everything we say? Or at least recording it for later somehow.”
“He knows how I feel about him, and I would say it to his face,” Mom replied simply. Her hand touched my cheek. “But in this case, he’s not listening. We have privacy, for now.”
“But how… how do you know for sure?” I pressed uncertainly.
Stepping back, Mom took my hand and started walking. “Because while I may not be strong enough to physically challenge that man at this point, returning my memories returned many important spells I learned in the old days. Believe me, if that magic is enough to stop members of the Committee from eavesdropping, I would know if any of Fossor’s ghosts were spying on us.” Pausing then, she shrugged before adding. “And he will simply force one or both of us to tell him of any actual plots we might make against him anyway.”
Turning a sharp look to me with that, Mom pointedly continued, “Which is why any plan either of us come up with cannot last longer than it takes for him to force the truth. He has a place called the Writing Room, which forces you to write the truthful answers to any questions he asks. And he will use it often, particularly now, until he feels that he has a handle on you. You will be forced to write only the truth to his questions, but you can be as specific about that truth as you wish. Do you understand? He can’t just ask general, all-encompassing questions and get anything helpful. They have to be somewhat specific. If he does not ask the right questions, his ability to force the truth to them is less useful. Also, the Writing Room does not force you to put things in any particular order, especially with more open questions. If he asks if you have any plans of how to break out of this place, you can start by writing down any random plan you like no matter how unlikely it is to ever happen. If he asks you to write down every plan you have, just put more and more absurd plans until he stops you, because the Writing Room has limited power. You see how it works? If he’s too general, you can waste time and the room’s power by listing far more useless examples and including intricate but meaningless details before it gets to the parts you don’t want him to know about.”
Right. Ammon had mentioned the Writing Room and told me about it back when he showed up at Crossroads, I remembered, slowly nodding. “I get it. I don’t know how much good it’ll do, but at least it’s something. I’ll… try.” There were a few things I really did need to keep secret, that was for sure. Though ‘I was contacted by your dead sister but she disappeared and I haven’t seen her in a long time so I guess that didn’t amount to much now that I’m here’ might just be worth seeing the look on his face. To say nothing of the fact that I had a miniature virtual Chayyiel slumbering in the back of my head. Even if she hadn’t left anything too dangerous in her virtual self considering she was just supposed to tutor me, the idea of Fossor having any access whatsoever to her was still a horrific thought.
Still, it was unlikely that he would think to ask something specific enough to draw that out. At least I hoped not. But honestly, I was afraid of any question he might ask. I didn’t want to tell that monster anything at all. Nothing. But I was pretty sure he had an extensive list of questions for me that would dip into the extremely personal. Either because he thought it might actually give him important information, or just for the hell of it. Because he was an evil son of a bitch and would get so much satisfaction from making me share personal details about my life.
“I never wanted you to come here,” Mom informed me gently, her hand cupping the side of my face. “But we don’t obsess over regrets and wishes. We live in the world that exists. We change the future, not the past. You understand? We will get through this. We will survive. Whatever it takes, whatever we have to do, we buckle down and we survive. We move on. We wait for our moment, because it will come. Take the hits, let him think he’s won. Because we only need one moment. He has to be careful every moment of every day. All we have to do is watch for the one time when he’s not careful enough.”
I knew that a big part of this was just Mom trying to make me feel better. But I also knew that she really believed it. She had to. It was both who she was and the only way she had stayed sane through all of this. She couldn’t let herself surrender to doubt and despair. And frankly, if she could keep herself going through all this time, including seeing me dragged in here to join her, and not give up, I could do it too.
“Watch for the moment,” I echoed with a slight nod to my mother. “I can do that. I… I will do that, Mom.” Staring at her, I felt tears rush to my eyes once more. Blinking them away so I could keep seeing her, I swallowed hard and quietly added, “I love you.”
Her fingers gently brushed over my face, and my mother leaned in to kiss my forehead once more, with a softly whispered, “My sweet girl. I love you more than I could ever tell you.”
“You have told me,” I assured her, my voice cracking a little bit. “Mom, are you crazy? Look at what you did for me. Look at what you’ve done for me this whole time! if I didn’t know you loved me after all of this, I’d be the world’s biggest… idiot.” It was hard to force those last few words out past the lump that had returned to my throat. “You’re right. No more apologies. No more… regrets. I’m here, you’re here. And we’re gonna get through it. You and me, we’re together, right?” After a brief pause, I admitted in a barely audible voice, “But I’m still scared.”
“Oh, my girl.” Embracing me once more, Mom quietly assured me, “It’s okay to be scared. But we’re stronger than the fear. We’ll push past it. We’ll deal with it. We’ll face it.”
With that, she released me and took my hand instead, squeezing it as she started to walk with me through the flower garden. “Well now, you had an interesting first year, didn’t you?”
“Oh… yeah, you got that upload about the war and all that too, didn’t you?” Looking to her, I quickly added, “Gaia did most of that. It was her big idea and… and she set it up.”
“Gaia is very smart,” Mom agreed. The account of her voice, I was pretty sure she was thinking of examples from her own childhood. Then she looked at me. “But your little magic tell-all didn’t actually tell all. I want to know everything that happened last year. Can you do that for me?”
I knew what she was doing. Mom needed to clear her head and think. And at the same time, she wanted me to calm down. So, she was trying to get me to tell her stories that would make me focus on other things besides our current situation. Not only would that give her time to think and collect herself, it also allowed her to listen to me, hear my voice, and watch me.
And I was okay with all of that. So, I took a breath and started with, “I guess the best place to start is my last night at my job at the theater…”
Obviously, I didn’t get through the entire story that day. If I was actually going to write down everything that happened to me last year it would probably take at least a million words. Maybe two. There was no way Fossor would leave us alone for that long. So I just got as far as I could before we were interrupted by a ghost that popped right up out of nowhere. Mom was fine, but I jumped, and I saw the way the ghost smirked a bit. He’d definitely done that intentionally. But did that mean Fossor had done it on purpose, or was this just this particular ghost’s personality?
Either way, the ghost actually spoke. It was in a voice that was low, yet somehow still boomed and echoed around us. Which was… weird. It also gave off a chill through the air. “Lord Fossor has requested that the two of you be escorted to your room for the evening, Missus. He has graciously decided that you may sleep together for now.” The ghost looked to Mom then before adding, “Your normal nighttime dressing rules have been suspended for the time being. Now come.”
We walked and I looked at my mom with a frown. “What does he mean, normal nighttime dressing rules?” I had some ideas but I was really hoping that they were completely wrong.
I saw the slightly pained look that crossed my mother’s face and she was silent for a few moments as we walked. Finally, she answered in a quiet voice, “As part of his effort to remind me of his total ongoing control, I am to wear only what he decrees at any given time. In the bedroom, that is nothing.”
Well, now I just wanted to throw up again. Mom admitted that humiliation in such a simple, dismissive voice. But I could see beyond that. I could see and hear just how frustrated, angry, and… and helpless that made her feel, even if she had brought it under control. Having to admit the situation to me had probably just brought those long-buried feelings roaring back to the surface. Which, of course, was obviously the entire point of the ghost being told to say that in front of me so I’d ask about it. Fossor was enjoying himself with all this, even in his pretense at being gracious.
Yeah, I didn’t believe for one second that Fossor was allowing my mother to wear clothes at night out of the goodness of his heart. He was playing an angle. He made sure I knew about the rule, ‘graciously’ suspended it rather than extending it to me (oh God, I was gonna be sick), and expected gratefulness. I was fairly certain that either tomorrow or very soon, he would bring up reinstating the rule unless one or both of us did some kind of favor for him. We would have to earn that kind of leniency.
And that was just one small manipulation. I had no doubt there would be more, and worse. This was what my entire life in this place was going to be like. Fossor was just getting warmed up. Unless my mother and I got out of here soon, things were going to get very bad, very quickly.
We stopped in front of a door and the ghost who was escorting us pushed it open to reveal a very nice bathroom complete with a large whirlpool tub. “The child will bathe here and dress in the nightclothes provided on the counter,” he ordered. “The mother will bathe in the room across the hall.” He pointed that way, to a matching door. “When either is done, they will wait in the hall for the other, then the mother will take the daughter to her room for sleep.”
Mom gave me an encouraging nod, squeezing my hand and leaning in to whisper that we’d be okay. Then she, clearly reluctantly, released me. I sighed, giving her a wave before stepping into the bathroom and turning to close the door.
“Funny…” A voice from behind me spoke up, prompting me to nearly jump out of my skin and spin that way. I saw a young girl, her figure greenish-blue and partially transparent. Another ghost. A special ghost.
“My brother always said he wanted to live in a place with a lot of bathrooms, because he was tired of waiting for his turn,” Fossor’s dead sister, Rahanvael, informed me.
Flick and Joselyn have a discussion. Joselyn assures Flick that she would know if they were being spied on due to the fact that getting her memories back restored her knowledge of all the privacy spells she previously used in the rebellion. She also informs Flick of more details on Fossor’s Writing Room, a place where he can force anyone to write the truth to any question he asks, and how to beat it by including as many irrelevant details as possible. The two have some emotional moments before being escorted to separate bathrooms to clean up. Flick walks into her bathroom, closes the door, and is met by the ghost of Rahanvael, Fossor’s long-dead sister.