Joselyn Chambers

Eighteen 6-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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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. 

SUMMARY

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.

 

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Eighteen 6-03 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Note that there was a commissioned interlude posted yesterday. If you have not seen that yet, you might want to click the previous chapter button above. 

As previously, the summary is at the bottom of the chapter for anyone who does not want to read the chapter. 

We had dinner. It was… bad. Well, maybe the food was okay. I didn’t really taste it. Actually, I’m sure it was technically delicious because Fossor wouldn’t have settled for anything less than his own definition of perfect. He had laid out a feast of epic proportions, the kind of meal that kings would have been proud of, with only the most succulent meats, fresh breads and vegetables, and so much more. 

And I tasted none of it. It was all just… sand in my mouth. My body was hungry. Famished, really. Something about time travel and possibly spending the whole day (technically weeks ago) dealing with Kwur. My body needed fuel, but I just… I couldn’t taste it. I didn’t want to taste it. I could barely keep it down. Every bite made me want to double over and throw up. Every bite made me want to grab the plate and hurl it into Fossor’s smug face. Every bite made me feel like a traitor who was just lying down and rolling over for this son of a bitch’s own amusement.

But I ate. Because I’d meant what I said to him earlier. I was going to beat him. I was going to ruin his life even worse than he had ruined mine or my mother’s. I was going to make him regret ever finding her back then and definitely regret taking her away and enslaving her for over a decade. I didn’t know how I would do any of that, but it started with not letting myself die of hunger. It started with keeping my strength up, no matter how awful eating this shit made me feel. Starving myself would accomplish nothing. So, I forced the food down almost mechanically, lifting the fork to shove it in and swallowing without thinking about what I was actually eating or who was sitting across from me.

Instead, I focused on who was sitting next to me. My mother. My mom was here. Her hand had settled against my back the moment I sat down and hadn’t moved. She ate with one hand while keeping the other against me. She squeezed my shoulder, brushed my hair, and in general just kept touching me throughout the entire meal. I wasn’t sure if she was doing it more to remind me that she was there, or to convince herself that I was real. Maybe it was both. Either way, I focused on her presence. I hated Fossor with every ounce of my soul. I wanted him to die more than I had ever wanted anyone dead. But my mom was here. She was here, she was touching me. After all these years, after so… so much had happened, I was actually with my mom. 

Whatever came next, I would handle it. We would handle it. My mother and me. I was going to get out of this evil place with my mom. No matter what we had to do to make that happen.  

Yeah. That was what I told myself while mechanically shoving food into my mouth and swallowing. Because it was the only way I could make myself eat, the only way I could force down the food instead of throwing up, the only way I could… avoid the creeping feeling of despair and hopelessness that had been trying so hard to engulf me since the moment I appeared in this place and saw Fossor in front of me. The touch of my mother helped with that, but I also had to focus on my own blindly stubborn insistence that I would get through this. 

Because if I gave in to that feeling of despair, if I let the thought that I would be trapped here forever get the slightest foothold, it really would be over. Fossor would have won. And I would rather light myself on fire and jump into a fucking volcano than lay down and let that happen. 

Unsurprisingly, while my mother and I were silent through all of the meal, Fossor kept talking. He was in a very good mood, enjoying his meal while regaling us with a story about some time back in the eighteen hundreds when he had been hunted by a Heretic with some kind of personal vendetta that Fossor didn’t bother explaining. He ended up letting the man live for a couple decades while constantly killing anyone he got close to until the man finally took his life. At which point, Fossor reanimated him and set the now-risen Heretic to wiping out the town he had grown up in and erasing it entirely from the map. Now, the Heretic, or his zombified body, still worked for Fossor. Apparently he’d been made into one of the gardeners for the estate, trimming hedges and generally keeping the grounds as immaculate and perfect as possible. 

I had the funniest feeling that Fossor was telling this story to show us the lengths he would go to in order to destroy us if we gave him a reason. It was an implied threat of what would happen to the people we cared about, and of what he would make one or both of us do if we pushed him. 

That and I was also pretty sure he also simply enjoyed the opportunity to gloat about what he’d done to someone who’d had the nerve to bother him. He liked having my mother and me as a literal captive audience to hear anything he wanted to say. Which made me wonder just how often she had already heard this story and those like it. She’d been here over ten years now, forced to sit quietly and listen to his horrific stories. How did she even survive those years? How were we going to survive this when neither of us could possibly stand up to him? We were on Fossor’s turf. The entire Committee couldn’t get past his ability to transfer anything they did off to his literal billions of human shields back on his world. Anything that Fossor was hit with, he could simply ignore and make one of his own people suffer the effect. Kushiel had been bad enough as someone who could reflect damage to any person or creature she had looked at recently. But Fossor? Fossor was that times a million, times a billion. He had literally an entire planet’s worth of hostages that he could shove damage off onto. What in the living hell could my mom and I possibly hit him with that could get past something like that? Even if my mother was no longer technically bound to obey his every word by the oath she had taken, what could we do that hadn’t already been tried? She wasn’t strong enough to fight him even if it was just her, let alone with me to protect. And I certainly couldn’t stand up against him. 

We had to do something unexpected, something outside the box. I just… had no idea what that could be. Not yet, anyway. That was why I had to keep eating, why I had to keep my strength up and watch for an opening. I had to believe it would come. I had to believe that one of us would think of something. Because believing that was the only way I could go on like this.

Startling me out of my private musings, Fossor abruptly raised his voice. “But don’t you go thinking that I’ve forgotten the most important part of tonight’s meal!” There was a broad, knowing smile on the man’s face when I glanced reluctantly up at him once it became clear that he was waiting for that. “After all, what kind of man would I be if I neglected my girl’s birthday?”  

His girl. He kept calling me that. Every time he did, I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to throw up, scream, throw myself at him, claw at his eyes, rip his throat out with my teeth. I wanted to make him bleed and suffer for that, for all of the insinuations behind it, for what he’d done to my mother, for… for everything. I wanted to make him suffer and die almost more than I wanted my next breath. I hated him. I hated him even more than I’d thought was physically possible.  

My mother’s hand squeezed tight against my shoulder. I could feel the tension in her, the way she too wanted to lunge across the table and bash this psychotic piece of shit’s face against the table until there was nothing left of his head but mush. I could almost see it happening. Not that she’d ever get that far, but still. I could see it. I could dream it. 

Apparently amused by whatever he saw in our faces, Fossor gave a soft chuckle before raising his hand to snap his fingers. As he did so, the doors on one side of the absurdly large and ornate dining room we were in (the table would have been large enough to seat thirty people comfortably, as the three of us used one end of it) opened up, admitting a man in a white chef’s uniform and hat. He came in pushing a large silver cart with one of those trays with the lid. Once he neared Fossor, the chef plucked the tray off the cart and set it neatly on the table in front of us, in the only empty spot that wasn’t already taken up by food. At a nod from his master, he took the lid off the tray to reveal… a cake. It was a huge, gorgeous, delicious-looking chocolate raspberry birthday cake. Written on it were the words, ‘Happy Eighteenth Birthday, Felicity!’ 

Okay, now I didn’t just want to throw up, I also wanted to make sure to do it all over this fucking cake that Fossor was clearly so proud of. He smiled at me knowingly while holding his hand out expectantly toward the man who had brought it in. Promptly, the man set a package of red and blue candles in the waiting hand. Then, as Mom and I watched, the necromancer calmly and carefully placed eighteen of them one by one into the cake. He did it without taking his eyes off of me, obviously wanting to watch my reaction. The man was getting a real kick out of this. It made me want to grab the large knife from the table and shove it right into his throat, for all the good it would have done.

Instead, I simply stayed silent and motionless. I felt Mom’s hand on my back, her fingers brushing down my spine. When she spoke, it was in a tight, barely constrained voice. “You shouldn’t have done this.” 

Did she mean the cake? Or did she mean abducting me? Or did she mean taking her all those years ago? Something told me that she meant the latter two, and was using the cake as the best opportunity to actually say that. She was telling Fossor essentially the same thing I had, that he was going to make sure he regretted starting this whole thing. 

More than ten years. My mother had been his slave for over a decade, and she wasn’t broken. She had seen his entire plan succeed, keeping her and abducting me even after giving me a warning about his intentions. She saw all that, and yet she hadn’t given up. She saw her son be corrupted into the monster he’d become and then… and then found out that he had been killed, but she wasn’t broken. She was here. She was here with me. So, I could do this. I could stand up for as long as it took. I would get through this with her. Please. Please let me get through this with her. 

I wanted to be stronger, smarter, better. For my mom. I wanted to be the person who could help her get out of this. I wanted to help my mother. I wanted to be more than I was. I wanted to turn this around. 

But I had no idea how to do that. 

Once all the candles were in the cake, Fossor raised a single finger. As he did so, a new ghost appeared. This one was so much smaller than the others I’d seen. Really, it looked like the ghost of a pixie or something, only a few inches tall as it hovered in the air above the table. It was also red, with orange flaming wings. At a look from Fossor, the pixie-ghost extended a hand toward the cake, and all eighteen candles immediately lit up with tiny flames. 

The ghost disappeared, and Fossor gestured with a proud smile. “There we are. Now, dearest heart, let’s sing to our girl, shall we? Then she can blow out the candles and make a wish.” With those words, he winked at me, clearly knowing exactly what I would wish for if I had that kind of power. This was all a game to him. He was playing this up, relishing in his ability to force Mom and me to go through the motions of this charade. He knew how we felt, what we wanted to do to him. And he knew we were helpless to actually do any of it. 

This was the kind of thing Mom had done for the past eleven years, I realized. She had to indulge his whims, play out his stupid games. There was worse stuff too, I knew that. The fact that Ammon had existed proved that much worse things had happened to my mother in that time. But this, this whole… constant playing along with his pretenses, that… that couldn’t have been easy for her. She had sworn to obey him, and I was starting to get a very slight idea of what that had meant. Even if I was sure we hadn’t really scratched the surface yet. This was simply yet another thing added onto the list of reasons this piece of shit needed to die. As if there weren’t enough already. 

With that same knowing smile, Fossor started to sing Happy Birthday. After the first few words, Mom joined in. I felt her hand gently stroke my back, the song somehow twisted by Fossor’s voice and the fact that she was being forced into this. Even this small, oh-so-familiar tune, innocent and… and nothing, was corrupted and ruined by this moment. From now until the day I died, whenever that was, I probably wouldn’t be able to hear this song without thinking of this moment. 

Which was the entire point. It was just Fossor twisting things again, tainting an innocent song and ruining it. He was enjoying all of this, enjoying the fact that he had this much control. He was relishing the simple idea that he could take something this innocent and carefree and turn it into something awful. 

But it was more than just the song. It was my birthday. It was my reunion with my mother, and the fact that he’d managed to turn even that into something bad, by forcing it to happen in front of him and on his terms. It was the fact that he was ruining, twisting, corrupting all of those things. It was the fact that he was completely in control of all of this, and all three of us knew it.

As the song finished, Fossor watched me expectantly. I was supposed to carry on this absurd charade by blowing out the candles. A half-dozen possible other actions ran through my mind, each one of which would be satisfying in the moment, but would also make things worse. Just like my mother had to worry about how the necromancer would punish me if she acted out, I had to think about what he would do to her in retaliation to something I did. Much as I wanted to do something else, I slowly leaned forward, watching the man before giving a short blow to put out the candles. I did not, however, make a wish. The thing I wanted most of all wasn’t going to happen because of a wish. It was going to happen because my mom and I made it happen. 

Smiling broadly, as if this was actually just a totally normal family birthday celebration, Fossor plucked up the large knife that had been sitting there and began to cut out pieces of the cake to put on clean plates. “I do hope you’re still hungry, girls. I’m sure you’ve been waiting quite a long time for this one.” 

A long time for this one? Something about the way he said that made me blink at the cake. It took a second, then I realized. The cake. It was chocolate and raspberry. That was the exact kind of cake I had told my mother I wanted for my next birthday back before she was taken. It was… it was the cake we talked about way back when I was that innocent little girl. I… he had clearly gotten Mom to tell him about it. That fact, the idea that he’d been able to get something so… mundane and ordinary out of her somehow made it even more clear just how much control Fossor had over my mom. 

We ate the cake. Like the rest of the meal, it was probably delicious. But also like the rest of it, I didn’t care. I couldn’t taste it. All I could focus on was the violation I felt, and the understanding of just how far Fossor would go, of how much he clearly knew about my childhood.  

Finally, mercifully, the meal was over. As several ghosts took away the used plates, the psychotic monster who had gone so far to tear apart our family sat back with a smile of satisfaction. “There we are. Now, what do we say, girls?” 

Feeling Mom’s hand against my back, brushing gently, I glanced to her. She gave me a nod before speaking up. “Thank you for the meal.” Her voice was flat, with no real meaning behind it. But Fossor seemed satisfied that he’d made her say it. 

Then he looked toward me. Again, the rush of things I wanted to say was almost overwhelming. But I forced it down and quietly thanked him through tightly gritted teeth. 

“That’s my girls,” Fossor announced with a broad smile, gesturing. “I would say you’ve earned a little time together. It is Felicity’s birthday after all. Go on then, take a walk. Enjoy yourselves for awhile. You know the rules, Joselyn. But don’t stay up too late. We’ve got a very busy day tomorrow.” Even as he finished saying that, the man was snapping his fingers as though he’d just remembered something. “And don’t you worry, Felicity, I haven’t forgotten about presents. I have the perfect one in mind. But you’re not getting it until tomorrow morning. And don’t try to get the secret out of your mother either, it’s a surprise for her too.” 

A present… that Fossor thought was perfect for me, and that he was keeping as a surprise even from my mother. 

“I really don’t want that present,” I informed my mother in a quiet voice as we stepped into the hallway. “But… is it weird that I expected that whole thing to be worse than it was?” 

“He’s distracted by something,” Mom informed me flatly. “I don’t know what. But… something. And even then, he knows you’re worried about when the next shoe will drop. You expected it at the dinner, and it not dropping while you worried about it the whole time was amusing for him. It’s all part of his game. In this case, defying expectations.”

“Any idea what this present is?” I asked tentatively, even though Fossor had said she didn’t know. 

“None,” came the answer. 

“And that is what frightens me more than anything.”  

SUMMARY

Flick and Joselyn have dinner with Fossor while he tells them a story about being a psychotic asshole to a Heretic he eventually killed and made into a zombie who tends the gardens. Flick worries about how she and her mother are going to get out of this before Fossor presents them with a birthday cake. They sing Happy Birthday and Flick blows out the candles before Fossor dismisses Flick and Joselyn to take a walk by themselves with a reminder not to stay up too late. But not before he promises Flick a special birthday present tomorrow.  

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Eighteen 6-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – As before, there is a brief summary at the bottom of the chapter for those who do not wish to read details here. 

The room I had awoken in may have been a dungeon, but beyond that first doorway was what looked like a literal palace. We were in a corridor that ran to the left and right. Straight ahead, the wall was white and lined with enormous windows overlooking a beautiful garden full of exotic flowers, with a small footpath that led down to what looked like a crystal clear lake with very pretty and exotic-looking multicolored duck and geese-like birds peacefully floating on it. 

The floor under my feet was gleaming white marble, with intricate blue and silver swirling patterns throughout that were almost hypnotic. Those silver-blue patterns actually glowed a bit in the areas that I stepped on, extending out a few feet ahead and fading behind me a couple seconds after my foot lifted away from that particular spot. If you were walking down the corridor in the middle of the night, the floor would continually light the way without any assistance.

Slyly, Fossor remarked, “It makes reaching the bathroom without a flashlight so much easier.” As he said it, the man stepped over, raising a hand as though to touch my shoulder. 

Obviously, I wasn’t going to have that. Twisting away, I took a quick couple steps backward, facing him. “Touch me,” I snapped, “And I swear to God one of us is gonna fucking die.” 

Fossor, in turn, gave me the kind of look a vaguely amused father-figure might at a particularly obstinate child. “Hmmm, you know, I think that you and I might have to make sure you understand the definition of necromancer if you’re going to keep throwing those kinds of words around as if they’re an actual threat. Honestly, what were they teaching you in that school?” 

My mouth opened to snap a retort, before I glanced down to see the man standing on the marble floor. Belatedly, I muttered, “Ashes. You’re not standing on ashes.” 

I wasn’t looking at him, but I still heard the smile in his voice. “Yes, well, the land this building stands on was torn from my own world. The building itself was created with materials from that planet. Between that and some very extensive spellwork, I am able to walk comfortably in this place that I call home. This place that all three of us will call home for quite some time.” 

Oh God, there was so much I wanted to say. Bile rose to my throat, while sharp, vindictive words were right on the tip of my tongue. But what could I say? I was here. I’d had a year to prepare for this and Fossor had completely undercut all of my preparations just by cheating. I was in his house and I had… I had nothing. I didn’t have Tabbris, I didn’t have Dare, I didn’t have Avalon or Shiori or anyone. My mom. My mother was here, but she’d had ten years to find a way to escape and couldn’t do it. The two of us were trapped here and… and I honestly didn’t know how we would get out of it. I felt lost and afraid, and so very alone. I was moments away from being face to face with my mother again and yet I had never felt so far away from her. 

Because I’d failed. Everything I’d tried, every thought I’d had, every moment I’d been given, and I had utterly and completely failed. Fossor won. He tricked us. He cheated, for what that mattered, and he got me here. And now… now I had no idea what I was going to do.

Wait, wait, I could do one thing. Maybe Tabbris’s connection to me was broken, but I had Seosten powers too. And even if the time travel had broken the link I had to the last person I possessed (that random thug in Vegas, I thought?) I  should still be able to connect to my own default recall anchor: my father. 

Once again, it was like he’d read my mind, seeing my face. Fossor cleared his throat. “Ahh, just in case any ideas are popping into that pretty little head, you should know that one of the spells I connected to you when you showed up in that room happens to be a monitoring spell linked to your mother. See, if that spell detects that you’ve used either version of the Seosten recall ability, physical or mental, it’ll end your mother’s life. There’s similar things on her end to keep her here at the price of your life. But by all means, if either of you want to sacrifice the other…” 

My voice was low as I mumbled a quiet, “Just take me to my mother already, asshole.” Everything. He thought of everything.

The words had barely left my mouth before a ghost appeared in front of me. This one looked different than the others. It was taller, and more of a purple color instead of grayish-blue or silver. He had a long beard, with eyes that were pure red. As I looked up at him, his hand reached out to touch my face. Instantly, pain beyond anything I could possibly have prepared for coursed through my body. A scream tore its way out of my throat, and I fell to both knees, catching myself on my hands just before I would have face-planted against the marble floor. 

It only lasted for an instant, but that instant was enough. Every part of my body was torn through with blinding agony for that brief moment, until I knelt there staring at the glowing floor and panting heavily. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t even think beyond the memory of that agony.

The strange purple ghost with the red eyes spoke in a voice that rumbled up and down the hall. “In this place, you will show respect to the host. Or you will be appropriately punished.” 

I didn’t respond to that. I wouldn’t have been able to make my mouth work properly even if I could have thought straight enough to have words. Which was probably for the best, because I doubted that anything that would have come to mind would have satisfied the monstrous torturer ghost. I probably just would have ended up being… touched again. In a way, being put through so much agony (however briefly) that I couldn’t think saved me from even more pain. 

Yeah, lucky me. As it was, I just knelt there, breathing in and out in long, gasping shudders. Meanwhile, Fossor waved a hand and the strange ghost disappeared, before casually announcing, “You’ll have to forgive Ahmose. He tends to be somewhat… eager to prove his loyalty and earn favor. Although, on the other hand, perhaps you should take some lesson from that.” His voice lowered a bit, almost like he was confiding. “It may serve you well in this life.”

It took everything in me not to say something in that moment that probably would have brought Ahmose right back out again. I stared at the floor and caught my breath before pushing myself to my feet while ignoring the hand that the Necromancer had extended to me. With a grunt, I got up, biting my lip before forcing out the words, “I thought we were going to see my mom.” 

Fossor gave an amused chuckle before stepping past me. He started to walk down the glowing corridor without looking back. He wasn’t worried about literally putting his back to me and walking away. Probably because he had so many spells and ghosts and who knew what else in this place watching my every move that they’d take me to the ground before I finished taking even one step toward him with the intent of attacking the sick bastard. I wasn’t even the slightest bit of a threat to him. Not out on the street, and definitely not right here in his own home that he’d had literal centuries to prepare to withstand assault from people much stronger than me. So yeah, I couldn’t exactly blame him for not being worried about me. 

But it still pissed me off. 

With a low sigh, I forced myself to follow after him. I needed time. I needed… I needed to think. I was tired, lost, afraid, and… and just… alone. I wanted to see my mother, even considering how ashamed I was that I had been trapped here. So, I trailed after the monstrous necromancer as he led me through the corridor, past more doors that led who knew where. I was really hoping that I wouldn’t have the chance to find out. Eventually, we reached a much wider circular foyer-type room. To the right were several curved sliding glass doors leading to a patio, while a circular staircase led up to the left. Fossor went that way, ascending the stairs with a quick flick of his fingers as though beckoning me to keep following. Much as I hated all of this, I did so. 

Ascending two stories, past another corridor similar to the one we had just been in, we reached a wide open area at the top. This was some kind of entertainment area. The floor was carpeted, with plush couches and chairs surrounding a massive television and… video games? Yeah, Fossor had a bunch of video game systems laid out in front of the television, with shelves of movies and the games themselves lining the nearby wall. 

Was this Ammon’s area? I wondered that briefly, before my eyes moved past the games and furniture to yet another sliding glass door leading to another balcony. And on that balcony, I saw… my mother. She was there, wearing dark green pants and a black turtleneck while faced away from us as she gripped the railing and gazed out over the vast grounds of this place. 

Seeing her there, even from behind, I felt my heart drop into my stomach. The bitter shame and disgust that had lurked in the back of my mind roared to the forefront, and I… I almost didn’t want to see her after all. What was I going to say? What could I say? She had spent ten years being this bastard’s slave just to keep me safe, and I let him take me that easily. When I looked into her eyes, how much disappointment would I see there? 

I froze. Standing there, staring at her back, I couldn’t bring myself to move another step. A thick lump had formed in my throat, and it was all I could do not to sink to my knees in utter despair. This moment, more than any other, was when the true futility of this entire situation came to me. I was empty. I had nothing. What was I? What chance did I have to accomplish anything now? 

In the midst of my moment of anguish and self-doubt, I abruptly realized that I wasn’t staring at my mother’s back anymore. She had turned around. She was looking at me. Our eyes met, and the next thing I knew, she was in front of me, teleporting across the room to end up right there. 

The heavy pit in my stomach, the dark hole in my heart, the ugly whispers in the back of my mind, all expected her to demand to know why I hadn’t tried harder, why I didn’t use the year I’d had more effectively, why I wasn’t smart enough to guess that Fossor would try something like this. I expected her to say all the things I’d been assaulting myself with since the moment I’d ended up here. I deserved it. I–

“My Felicity.” My mother said those two words, before both of her arms enveloped me. She pulled me close, clutching me against herself. And in that moment… I thought nothing. All of my recriminations disappeared. Everything I’d been saying to myself since the moment I’d seen Fossor, every bit of doubt, fear, and self-accusation faded in an instant. All of it was gone, replaced in that moment by only one thing, a single overriding thought above and beyond everything else. 

“Mom!” The word, almost more sob than actual vocalization, tore its way out of me, before my arms were suddenly wrapped around her just as tightly as she was hugging me. The tears that came then were different from the ones that I’d been on the verge of since arriving here. Ten years. A decade apart, most of which had been spent hating my mother for supposedly abandoning my father and me. Ten years of loss, of being separated from the woman I had spent my early childhood idolizing. A decade of being adrift, of having my beacon and anchor torn away. Thousands of nights of wondering, worrying, unfairly hating, of burying feelings and wishes beneath a hard shell of bitterness. A shell that had spent these past months cracking apart with the realization of just what my mother had truly sacrificed for me. 

I didn’t care where I was. I didn’t care what else happened. In that moment, in that second, nothing else mattered. My feelings, my thoughts, my universe centered around only one thing. 

My mother was here. My mom was hugging me. 

I was seven years old, the night after my mother disappeared. 

It was two months later, the day I’d found my father crying over Mom’s sweatshirt and had viciously torn and cut apart my stuffed raccoon, Taddy. 

I was eight, seeing the newly elected sheriff sworn in, the moment the full understanding that my mother was never coming back had truly hit me. The night I had told my father I hated the name Felicity and to always call me Flick. 

I was nine, Christmas morning just shortly after midnight when I’d heard a sound and snuck out to find my father wrapping presents as he watched an old home video of him and Mom setting up the Christmas tree for the first time after they’d been married. The curtain of tears had blinded my eyes as I peeked around that corner and saw him touch Mom’s face on the television screen.

Ten years old, I was at Miranda’s house, staring at the mother’s day cards that had been set out on the table. My small hand reached out to brush over the words my best friend had scrawled in her sloppy, barely legible handwriting about hoping her mom would have a great day and could they please make more cookies together? 

I was eleven, sitting in the ER clutching my injured leg and whimpering while my father filled out forms with the nurse. My eyes drifted over to see another girl almost the same age as me, tightly holding her own mother’s hand as she too waited to be seen by a doctor. 

I was standing in the school bathroom stall at twelve years old, tears streaming down my face as I tried to figure out what I was supposed to do with my first period. What was I supposed to do with my underwear? Who could I talk to? Was the… the stuff supposed to be kind of brownish? I thought it was red. Was it really blood? Should there be more? 

Thirteen. I was alone. Miranda had just left, taken away by her family’s move. Everyone left. Nobody stayed. Everyone always left. I was in my room, staring at a picture I’d hidden in my dresser of Mom and me at the beach. In a fit of rage and grief, I broke the picture, slamming it over and over again into the dresser before pitching it away and collapsing into a ball in the corner. 

Fourteen years old, I was walking home from the first day of high school when a couple idiots caught up and started taunting me about how my mother couldn’t hack it as a sheriff and took off to be a slut for some rich guy. I didn’t defend her. I… didn’t defend her. 

I was fifteen, doing research online for a school project about the history of Laramie Falls when I saw her face. My mother. It was an article about her disappearance, and how she had never been found after taking off with an unidentified guy from out-of-town. Her eyes, staring out at me as I sat in the school computer lab, bitter and hateful words spilling from my lips before I quickly closed the article and covered my face with my hands. 

Sixteen. I was sixteen, teasing Scott about being a deputy sheriff and how he could help me catch all these bad guys. We walked past the desk… her desk, the one I’d sat on top of as a child all those times while I watched my mother do her work. 

Years, so many years. So much lost time. So many bitter memories and thoughts of what might have been. I saw it all. It washed over me in that moment, the images, sounds, smells, the taste of my own tears and hateful words. I experienced every moment.

And none of it mattered. Because my mother was here. I was holding her. She was holding me, her grip so tight I thought she might never let go. And that was fine, because I never wanted to let go of her either. 

“Mom,” I choked out, my body shuddering heavily. I was crying, unable and unwilling to control it. “I love you. I love you, Mom. Mom, I love you, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I love you.” 

I wasn’t saying it for eighteen-year-old Flick. I was saying it for sixteen year old Flick, fifteen, fourteen, all the way down to seven-year-old me. I was saying it for all of me, for every single second I’d lost, for every moment that had been torn away from us, for every time I could have said it throughout those lost years. 

“Baby, my sweet baby. My Lissy.” Mom’s voice shook just as much, her own body shaking as she clung to me. “I love you, Felicity. I never wanted to hurt you. I never wanted–” 

“I know, Mom.” I bobbed my head quickly, not wanting to waste time on those kinds of words. Pulling my head back without letting go, I stared at her, our gazes meeting. “Mom, I know. I love you. I love you.” 

We stayed like that for another few minutes, neither of us letting go. We said a few things, but what was actually said didn’t matter. The only thing that did matter was that I had my mom. I was there with my mother. 

Finally, Fossor spoke up. I’d… honestly almost forgotten he was there. “You see? I knew this reunion was the right thing. Joselyn, come with me. We have a few things to discuss. You can visit with our girl in a little bit. I’ll have her escorted to her room in the meantime.” 

Mom clearly didn’t want to. But in the end, she gave me a very tight squeeze, kissing my forehead and promising we would catch up. It was obvious that neither of us had the power to challenge Fossor, especially right then. And she didn’t want to get me in trouble by acting out. Now that I was here, Fossor could still hold my physical safety over her head to coerce her into following orders. 

So, Mom started off with him. He said something in her ear as she passed, and I saw the way she tensed up. But she said nothing, simply starting down the stairs. 

Fossor started to leave with her, but paused at the top of the stairs to look back at me. “You will be safe here, Felicity,” he promised. “So long as you follow the rules and listen to my instructions. I believe you’ll find that we can be a very happy family together.” With that, he turned to leave. 

“I’m going to beat you.” 

I muttered the words under my breath. Still, I knew Fossor had heard me. He stopped with one foot on the stairs, slowly turning around to face me. His eyebrows were raised when I looked up to him, repeating myself as I met his gaze. “I… am going… to beat you. Not right now. Not today. But, I promise, there will come a moment when you look at me and realize that you’ve lost everything. You’ll look at me and you’ll know that everything you had is gone, that you have failed, and that you are going to die. You’ll look at me then, in the moment before you are wiped off the boots of history like the stain that you are, and you’ll realize that right here, right now, is when you truly fucked up. Because I have spent the past year being distracted by every single threat and problem that wanted to throw itself in my way. I have been on the other side of the universe. Every single time I wanted to focus on you, something else got in my way, some other threat who thought they were going to beat me down. But now, you won. You brought me here. Congratulations. You have my full and undivided attention. 

“And before this is over, I’m going to make you wish you never found my mother that day.” 

 

SUMMARY

Led out into the hallway, Flick thinks of using her Seosten Recall to either get back to her father or at least contact him. Fossor informs her that there is a spell linking her to her mother that will detect if she does either of those things and kill her mother in retaliation, as well as one linked from her mother to her that will kill Flick if her mother leaves. She insults Fossor and is given intense pain from one of Fossor’s ghosts before being led to her mother. They reunite, Flick is very emotional about her memories while hugging her mother. After Joselyn is told by Fossor to go with him to do something while her daughter is left alone for the moment, Flick informs Fossor that because her full attention is now on him without any distractions, she is going to beat him.

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Interlude 5C – Tabbris, Virginia, and Joselyn (Heretical Edge 2)

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The beam of a flashlight swept across the beach of the ocean located deep within the star-station housing the Fusion School. It flickered across a few small waves lapping gently against the shore before eventually coming to a stop as the beam illuminated a small figure out in the water. The figure was blonde, laying on something that floated just under the lake’s surface. 

As the light found her, Tabbris murmured something to Princess Cuddles, the Great White shark she was laying on, and sat up to look that way. Her eyes looked bloodshot within the glare from the flashlight, stained with tears that didn’t have time to fade before more joined them. She was soaked through to the bone, her entire body drenched from drifting in the man-made ocean.  

Lincoln Chambers stepped into the water, walking out until it was up a little past his waist. Without saying anything, the man extended a hand that way. Without any particular order being given, Princess Cuddles (and the other sharks, who had been drifting around) came close enough for Tabbris to be within arms reach. But for a moment, the small Seosten girl simply sat there, trembling and shivering as she stared at the man. Her mouth opened to say something, but all that came out was a helpless whimper, words utterly failing her. 

So, Lincoln took the last two steps that way. Reaching out with one arm, he scooped the girl off the shark and brought her up to his chest before turning on his heel to walk up out of the water. He brought the arm with the flashlight in to keep her tight against him, until they were finally on the beach. There, he dropped to his knees while setting the girl down, letting the flashlight fall to the side so that it illuminated both of them as well as part of the water. 

Through those first few long seconds, Tabbris stood in front of him, her head down and shoulders hunched. Her hands were clenched together, one squeezing the other so tightly she was hurting her own knuckles. Her eyes were squeezed almost all the way shut, staring through the blurry slits that remained at the ground, too ashamed to even look at the man. Her shivering was a mix of being cold from the water that she had spent far too long in, and her clear and evident terror about the reaction of the man who knelt right in front of her. 

Lincoln, for that moment, just watched her. His face betrayed a rush of emotions before he reached up with one hand. It found the side of the young girl’s face, tilting her head up a bit to look at him. She did so reluctantly, bloodshot eyes barely able to focus on the man. The shame, already well-written across her entire face and through her body, came through clearly in her broken voice. “I… I’m… sorry, Mr… Chambers,” she barely managed, almost inaudibly. “I’m…. I’m… s….” The last word wouldn’t come out again, the girl unable to force it out past the thick knot in her throat. 

“Tabbris,” Lincoln began in a quiet, but firm voice. His hand cupped the side of her face, fingers brushing through her hair. As his thumb gently slid down the girl’s cheek to take up the tears there, the man reminded her, “Not Mr. Chambers. Not to you. You know what I am. You know who you are to me.” 

That overwhelming shame told Tabbris to flinch away from the hand on her face. She didn’t deserve it. Didn’t deserve that kind of comfort at all, let alone from… from Flick’s… Yet despite her shame, she leaned into it desperately, disgust at her own weakness twisting her expression as well as her stomach. “But… but… F-Flick… “ Her voice cracked. “I didn’t–I let her–I w-wasn’t…” 

In answer, Lincoln reached in. His arms wrapped around the girl and he lifted her from the ground while standing up. He felt her legs wrap around him as well as her arms, while he held her tightly. “Listen to me, Tabbris. We are getting her back. You hear me? And you have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing. Nothing. None of us stopped that–none of us stopped him from taking her. We were all… everyone was… it wasn’t you. It was not you.” His hand rubbed her hair, pressing her face against his shoulder as he insisted, “None of that was your fault, Tabbris. He took everyone by surprise. Athena, your mother, all those people. They’re older, stronger, bigger, they were all surprised. This wasn’t your fault. You listen to me. I don’t blame you. I will never blame you. Now, if you were missing, would Flick give up on you?” 

Without hesitation, Tabbris shook her head, sniffling a little before managing a weak, “No…” 

“Damn right, she wouldn’t,” Lincoln confirmed. “She’d never give up on you. And we’re not giving up on her. You hear me? Whatever it takes, we’re getting her back.” He betrayed none of his own terror and grief in that moment, needing to be the rock for her. “Felicity and Joselyn. We’ll get them both back. Say it for me, Tabbris. What are we going to do?”

Swallowing hard, the girl hesitated, clinging to him before taking in a breath. “… Save Flick. We… we’re going to save Flick.” She said it one more time, voice still cracking, but a bit stronger. “We’re going to save Flick. And Mrs. Chambers.” 

Turning his head a bit to kiss her hair, Lincoln quietly whispered, “We are. We’ll get her back. Come on, let’s get you some dry clothes. I told your mom I’d bring you up. She thought you were asleep, you know.” 

“I woke up,” the little girl murmured a bit plaintively. Her body shook once more. “The sharks, I didn’t w-want them to be lonely. I didn’t–” She stopped, squeezing her eyes shut helplessly as she dropped her head against his shoulder and let out a weak little sob. 

Holding her close, Lincoln promised, “We’ll take care of the sharks too. I promise. Come on, you need to get dry.” He started to walk off the beach and toward the elevator. 

On the way, Tabbris managed a barely audible, “You don’t… hate me…?” 

Immediately, Lincoln squeezed her tighter, hugging the girl firmly to him. “Never. Never, my hidden girl. I’ll never hate you. Not in a million years. You’re my girl. No matter what happens, you’ll always be my daughter. Listen to me. I didn’t call you my daughter because of Felicity. I called you my daughter because of you. I am proud of you every time I see you. You are my daughter. Nothing is going to change that, ever.” 

“I’m sorry,” came the whispered response. “I’m really sorry.” 

All Lincoln said to that, the only thing he could say, was, “I love you, Tabbris.” 

“I… I love you, Dad.” 

*******

Losing people was a way of life for the woman known as Virginia Dare. Born as the first English child on the American continent, cursed from birth by a mysterious and unnamed great evil that was convinced her blood would end the world, Virginia had experienced loss after loss throughout her life. Her family had died, her colony had been destroyed, she had abandoned her mentor and father-figure, the Akharu named Tiras, to save his life from the monsters who continued to chase after her. Again and again, people she cared about had to be left behind or simply died. 

Eventually, she fell in love with Joshua Atherby, and the two of them had a daughter, Joselyn. And the three had been happy, until the Fomorians came. Until the Fomorians presented such a monstrous, world-ending threat that the only choice to stop them had been for Virginia’s family to make the ultimate sacrifice. Joshua had given his life, while Virginia had given everyone’s memories of her. She had been forced to sacrifice her ability to be a mother to her daughter. She lost her husband’s life, and the memories of everyone who could have been there for her, who could have helped her, were wiped away. She couldn’t be with her friends. She couldn’t be with her daughter, the child she had made with the man she loved. There was no way at that time for her to be in Joselyn’s life. Being there, being around those people, was too much of a risk. For the sake of the world, for the safety of the spell that kept the Fomorians blocked from Earth, she had to stay away from them. Away from everyone who cared about her, everyone who could have helped her deal with her loss. 

She was forced to deal with her grief alone, entirely and completely alone. 

Until Gaia had come to find her. Even with her specific memories about those events erased, Gaia had still wondered about the whereabouts of her student and essentially adopted daughter enough to come looking for her. And, eventually, she had put the rest of it together. 

Joselyn ran her rebellion, had children, was captured, imprisoned, and eventually erased from all memories. Just as Virginia had been, save for the fact that her own memory was erased as well. And through all of that, Virginia could not comfort her daughter. For the sake of the entire world, she could not be there for her the way she wanted to be. She could not be there for her when that evil bastard took her. And the only person in that world whom she could talk to about any of it was Gaia. 

But now Gaia was gone. Which meant that Virginia had next to no one who knew what Felicity being taken by the same monster who had taken Joselyn meant to her. Almost no one who would have any idea what she was feeling. With Gaia imprisoned and Felicity taken by Fossor, only one other person in the world knew who Virginia really was. 

“Professor?” Even as Virginia had that thought, Koren Fellows spoke up from behind her. She’d known the girl was coming, had sensed her approach while she came to the house that Virginia was using as her own and used a wood-manipulation power to open the door for her. Then she’d followed the girl’s approach through the house as Koren sought her out before finding her here on the rear balcony overlooking the rest of the staff housing area. 

“It’s alright, Koren,” Virginia assured her, finally turning away from the railing to see the young woman. “There are a dozen privacy enchantments here. No one can hear us. Or see us,” she added after a brief consideration.  

Once she said that, Koren took a step that way to embrace her tightly. She didn’t say anything, but Virginia could sense the… anger in her. The tension held tight in her arms and shoulders, the way she held herself and set her jaw. Many of the people close to Flick were sad, devastated, morose, determined… and more. But Koren… She put a hand on the back of the girl’s head and brushed fingers through her hair. “It’s okay to be mad.” 

Drawing back after squeezing even more firmly for a moment, Koren took a step away and turned to face the railing, gripping it tightly while shaking her head. “No… no it’s not. Because I’m not just mad at Fossor. I should be! I should be, I know, I just… it’s not…” 

“You feel as though you’re angry with Felicity too,” Virginia calmly noted. 

“I don’t want to be!” Koren blurted plaintively, her voice clearly louder than she intended. Sighing then, she gripped the railing even more tightly, turning her knuckles white while dropping her head and slumping her shoulders. “I don’t… want to be. I know it’s not her fault. I know it’s not her fault!” 

Stepping over that way, Virginia put a hand on the girl’s back. “Do you really think it’s her you’re angry at?” she asked gently, watching the reaction. 

“Yes, but I don’t–I mean… I…” Stopping after her initial reaction, Koren hesitated, mouth opening and shutting a couple times. “I… no. I mean, I’m not… Flick’s just… gone. Flick’s gone and I don’t–I can’t do anything about it. I can’t help her. Fossor is… Fossor. Look at him. You guys, all you adults couldn’t stop him. They did this whole huge spell to banish him from Earth and all it did was make him walk on ashes. And piss him off. You all couldn’t really stop him, so what the hell am I gonna do? What could I even… you know… I don’t have a chance. I might as well throw rocks at a mountain trying to make it fall down. And Mom won’t let me go anywhere now. She thinks Fossor’s gonna try to grab me next, so I can’t even leave the station. I can’t really beat Fossor, I can’t help save Flick, and now I can’t even go on any missions to try to help people I’m capable of helping!” The last bit came out in a blurted shout before she sighed. “I’m not really mad at Flick. But I am mad at Flick.” 

Smiling faintly, Virginia squeezed the girl’s back, rubbing her hand in circles. “You’re mad that she was taken. You’re angry and you feel helpless to direct that anger anywhere useful. Which makes you even more angry.” 

Sighing, Koren turned her head to look that way. “Man, how mad are you? I mean, everyone’s paying attention to Mom, Uncle Wyatt, and me, but not… you. No one knows to pay attention to you. No one…” She flinched, turning fully to embrace Virginia once more. “I’m sorry, Great-Grandma.” Belatedly, the girl added, “I know we’re not supposed to risk saying that out loud very much, but… but right now, I don’t care.” 

“It’s okay,” Virginia assured her, returning the embrace. 

“Right now, I don’t particularly care either.” 

*******

For over ten years, Joselyn had dreaded this day. Throughout the decade between the moment she had left her beloved husband and daughter to come live with the… monster who had restored her memories, she had lived in fear. Fear of his abuses, yes. Fear of the things he made her do, the people he made her hurt. Fear of what he was turning her into. But above all, fear of the day that he would set his gaze firmly on her daughter. The terror and helplessness she felt when it came to that psychopath’s intentions for Felicity were worse than every single thing he had done or could have done to Joselyn herself throughout all those years. The fear, the unknowing dread, the… certainty that he would work to twist her daughter the way he had their son…

Ammon. He had destroyed that sweet, sensitive, wonderful little boy, had twisted him into the ugly, evil creature that he wanted. Not for any purpose other than to serve as an experiment. Fossor had barely cared when the boy was… when he was killed. He had been annoyed about something that belonged to him being taken away, of course. But not–he had not truly cared about Ammon. He had never cared about Ammon the way a father should. And the thought of Felicity having that kind of… of treatment turned to her, the thought of Fossor putting his filthy, evil hands to work hurting her, twisting her…

Joselyn would rather die. If given the choice, she would have died before allowing that to happen. But she had no choice. Fossor wanted her alive and he wanted Felicity. What he wanted them both for, what… evil, psychotic plan he was cooking up–had been cooking up for at least the past ten years, she didn’t know. But it was bad, that much she was certain of. 

But Joselyn had done more than live in fear of this day. She had done more than simply long for things to be different. Because wishing things were different wasn’t something she did. That wasn’t who she was. She didn’t wish they were different, she made them different. And despite the situation she was in, despite everything she’d been forced to do, she was still that person. 

She couldn’t do much, and not quickly. Everything she ever did had to be painstakingly slow and careful. An inch at a time. But an inch at a time over ten years could be quite a distance indeed. 

First, of course, she had needed privacy. It took years for Fossor to lower his guard even a little bit around her. But eventually, it came. He had other things to focus on. And Joselyn, despite being stripped of all the Committee’s powers, retained the magic she had learned throughout her time in the rebellion. Part of that included the sort of privacy spell that allowed their people to act right under the noses of Crossroads and Eden’s Garden. Or at least allowed them to know if they were being spied on. She had those spells on her constantly. She knew when she was being observed. And she knew that her rooms were mostly left alone. Which allowed her to make her own preparations, slight as they might have been.

So long as she obeyed Fossor’s given orders, he didn’t particularly care what she did in her own time. Even his order that she be naked in her own rooms was about controlling her, not about… anything else. The man barely had anything resembling those kinds of urges. He had wanted to have a child with her, so he had a child with her. Ammon had been an experiment, nothing more. 

As long as he believed he was in control, he left Joselyn alone a decent amount of the time. She was an old toy that he didn’t like to constantly play with anymore, but would occasionally take out with him. Mostly, he made sure she was still fighting, still killing, still getting powers from his arena. Fossor wanted her to be strong. What… exactly for, she didn’t know. But it was nothing good. Nothing that she wanted herself or Felicity to be involved with. 

But she didn’t feel lost or broken when Fossor announced what he had done, when he revealed his ‘surprise’ about bringing Felicity here through a time travel spell. She didn’t feel despair, because she had felt despair a decade ago. She had felt all of that, and worked through it. Despair didn’t accomplish anything useful. It wouldn’t save herself or her daughter. It wouldn’t stop Fossor. 

Yes, she was afraid of what the future would bring. Yes, she was worried about Felicity and herself. She was afraid of what Fossor wanted. And, of course, sad that he had accomplished his goal of bringing her daughter here. But she would not allow that fear or sadness to rule her. She would not fall into the trap of wishing things were different, of regretting what was to the point of fantasizing about a better life and a better world. She would work to make those things a reality. 

She would protect her daughter as best as she could. She would keep Felicity alive, and the two of them would find a way out of this. Fossor had won a battle, not the war. And as long as his goals included keeping herself and Felicity alive, the war itself would continue. 

That was what Joselyn intended to win. Let the man have his victory for now. Let him revel in winning the battle, in dragging Felicity into this. 

Because what Fossor had never understood, even as he capitalized on that fact, was that Joselyn would do anything for her children. She had surrendered herself to the Committee and been imprisoned for decades to save her twins. She’d had her memories erased, her powers removed, her very identity taken away. She’d given herself to this monster to save Felicity. She would do anything for her children. Fossor understood that enough to know that she would swear an oath to obey him to protect Felicity. But he still thought that bringing Felicity here would break Joselyn, that it would rip her soul to see her daughter brought here after all she had done to protect her from this. 

Rising from the bed where she had been sitting, contemplating all of that, Joselyn turned to the mirror. She saw herself and stared for a moment at the tears that had soaked her face. Her eyes closed, and she took a deep breath, straightening up. The cowed hunch that had come as she had sat on that bed and folded in on herself left her figure, the haunted look left her gaze. The tears dried up. Then she opened her eyes once more and saw herself as Felicity had to, if she was going to spare her daughter any feelings of guilt. 

Because the thing that Fossor had never truly understood was that Joselyn’s true strength came from those she cared about, those she was determined to protect. In bringing Felicity here, in putting Joselyn’s daughter right in front of her, he wasn’t breaking her. He was giving her strength back. He was reminding Joselyn of exactly who she was. 

“Okay,” she announced into the mirror. 

“It’s time to work.”

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Patreon Snippets 11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Thanks to all of the wonderful $10+ donators to my Patreon for these snippets! There’s one more joint 1000 word snippet coming that is set in Summus Proelium and will come at the end of the next chapter of that story. For now, I hope you enjoy these four snippets. 

Fight Club

“You hear about Lorek?” 

The casual question, at odds with the heavy grunting of effort and pain that filled the wide, circular pit of Fossor’s fighting arena, came from a tall, yellow-skinned figure with pointed ears and four arms. His name was Povin, and he held a heavy mace in one hand, which he was idly swinging back and forth in the air, testing its heft. 

The man he was talking to looked like he was made of wood. Most of the uneducated would have referred to him as a Relukun. And in many ways, he was, genetically. But Temmfiel would have stabbed anyone who made that comparison. He and his people considered themselves Herr-Pala, or the saplings of Pala, their ancient leader who had ruled most of the Relukun home planet for so long. Pala was long dead and his teachings forgotten by most, save for those like Temmfiel, who abandoned the other Relukun to form their own society. One far more devoted to ways of war than their brethren. 

They also had their own tricks that they had developed over the centuries, as evidenced when he held up one one arm and focused to make a long bit of bark-like material extend from his wrist in the shape of a blade. It even hardened, becoming tough and sharp enough to pierce most things it could have hit. 

“Lorek?” he asked, glancing around the pit. There were dozens of other sparring partners practicing. It wasn’t time for a major fight just yet, everyone was simply training. 

There were four kinds of people who went into this pit. The first were nothing but victims, marks for Fossor’s pet Heretic to feed on and gain powers from. Sure, the old necromancer promised them freedom or whatever if they managed to survive, but none ever did. The second group were volunteers, either soldiers or random thugs who wanted to make a name for themselves and thought they could impress Fossor enough to be made part of his living army. Because even he couldn’t handle everything with dead troops.  These fights were sometimes against one another, and sometimes against the Heretic. Either way, they weren’t always to the death. Just sometimes, depending on what kind of mood the Necromancer was in. 

It might’ve seemed odd to outsiders that people would risk their lives that way, but being part of Fossor’s living army actually wasn’t such a bad thing. As long as you kept your head down, did your job, and didn’t give him a reason to lash out, it paid pretty well. Not to mention all the benefits that came with looting so many juicy targets. Fossor wanted the bodies and enough wealth to be comfortable. That left plenty for his army to take for themselves. And they did. Living members of Fossor’s army were quite comfortable.

The third type of person who went into these pits were also volunteers. These ones, however, knew they were going to die. They volunteered themselves as food for the Heretic. In exchange, Fossor would provide a reward to their families or designated survivors. The level of the reward actually depending on how good of a fight they made it, so they would genuinely try to take her down. They always failed, naturally, but they gave it their best shot for their family’s reward. 

Then there was the last group who could end up in the pit. And as he walked around at the training soldiers, Temmfiel felt a sinking sensation in his stomach that the missing Lorek, a casual acquaintance, but still a somewhat friendly one, was part of that group. “Don’t tell me…” 

Povin was already nodding, tossing the mace to his other hand. “Yup, poor guy made the mistake of talking back to the boss. He’s in with the scraps.”

The scraps. That’s what they called the last type of person who would end up in the pit. They were people who had once been in favor, but had fallen out of it for whatever reason and were being thrown into the arena to fight until they died.

Before Temmfiel could respond to that, there was a clang from the upper walkway of the arena as Fossor himself walked in. His Heretic followed behind, as always. It was like night and day. Fossor looked utterly unassuming and unimpressive. He wasn’t that tall, had a somewhat pudgy figure and a balding head, as well as clothes that made him look like some random suburban human dad or something. He looked average at best in every conceivable way. 

The Heretic, meanwhile, was beautiful. Not just in appearance, though there was that. She also radiated power and grace. She was like an untamed lioness, and Temmfiel knew he wasn’t the only one here who had a bit of a crush on her. It was fucked up, given how easily she would kill him without even thinking about it. Not to mention what Fossor would do if any of them so much as looked like they might do something about it. But still… the thoughts were there. She wasn’t even his own species and the thoughts were there. Some part of him had thought up the idea of rescuing her. An impossibility, and one he would never even think about actually entertaining, but the thought of how grateful she might be persisted in his darkest, most secret dreams. It was wrong. Wrong in ways he couldn’t begin to describe or list. But it was there. 

Either way, despite their disparate appearances, Joselyn Chambers obeyed Fossor like a dog on a chain. A dog that would gladly devour its master given the slightest chance, but a dog nonetheless. She trailed behind him, ignoring the gathered troops who all stared up at her. Not at Fossor, at her. They were afraid of Fossor’s anger, his power, his vengeance. But they were in awe of Joselyn Atherby.

As soon as the old necromancer assumed his seat, the last bits of training stopped. Everyone made their way toward the exits, while the actual fighters for the next ‘show’ were brought in. Sure enough, Lorek, a werewolf, was among them. He and Temmfiel exchanged brief glances before both carried on their respective paths. 

It was too bad. Temmfiel liked Lorek. But he wasn’t going to risk throwing away his life for the guy. Not when the beautiful Heretic lioness was there. If he was going to risk that kind of wrath for anyone, it’d be her. 

Heh. Maybe someday he could impress her. 

Somehow. 

********

Rebecca

 

Rebecca Jameson stared at Shiori. “Excuse me?” she demanded, “what do you mean most of her life? I asked how long that little girl has been possessing Flick.”

Shiori, in turn, nodded. The two of them were standing out on the dock over the lake in the Atherby camp. “Yeah,” she replied, “most of her life, like I said. Well, okay, I think she was like eight or something? And Tabbris wasn’t conscious for the first few years, she was sort of in hibernation while possessing Flick? Her mom, Sariel, implemented this virtual reality version of herself in her head to keep her unconscious and teach her things for when she eventually woke up.”

Staring at her old teammate, Rebecca open and shut her mouth a couple times, head tilting to the side as the weight of the realization that the other girl wasn’t kidding really struck her. “That kid’s been possessing her all that time? Really? And she was protecting Flick from being possessed just by possessing her first?”

Shiori’s head bobbed up and down quickly. “More than that, she protected her with magic and stuff too, whenever the Seosten would try other ways of getting at Flick and… like… spying on her and stuff. It really pissed them off because they couldn’t figure out how this human girl had magic protecting her.”

Still reeling a bit, Rebecca managed a weak, “They’d probably be even more pissed to find out it was a little kid the whole time. Wait, they know about that now, don’t they? Did anyone get a picture of their faces?”

With a regretful sigh, Shiori shook her head. “Nah. I don’t think so, anyway. But hey, Seosten can share memories, so maybe we can get one of those.” 

“I sure hope so,” Rebecca murmured. “I mean, I barely know anything about these Seosten, and I’d be willing to pay money to see something like that. Can you imagine what other people would pay for it? We could make a fortune.”

“Why, Rebecca,” Shiori teased, “how capitalistic of you.”

Flushing a little bit, the smaller girl stuck her tongue out before lifting her chin thoughtfully. “Uhhh, if this Tabbris girl was possessing Flick the whole time, that means she never really had any privacy. Not even when you guys…”

It was Shiori’s turn to blush deeply, giving the other girl a shove. “Gross, Tabbris knew how to put herself to sleep so she didn’t witness anything embarrassing.”

That earned a nod, as Rebecca snickered. “Well that’s good, because I’m pretty sure you’d never be able to look the kid in the face otherwise.”

Still red in the face, Shiori waved her hand dismissively. “Never mind that. Tabbris is really cool. She’s basically Flick’s little sister. When you get to know her, you’re gonna like her.”

A smile touched Rebecca’s face. “Dude, I’m pretty sure I already do. But yeah, let’s go see if they’re busy. And if the kid’s interested in some tutoring.”

Blinking at that, Shiori slowly asked, “What do you think you can tutor her?”

Rebecca shook her head. “No, you’ve got that backwards. Come on, you just spent half an hour telling me about all the cool shit she’s done to protect Flick. 

“Frankly, it sounds like I need to take magic lessons from a ten year old.”

 

*******

Carfried and Mercury

 

“So, are you ready to ask me?” 

It was shortly after dawn, as two men sat on the balcony of a small restaurant overlooking a quaint, quiet little street somewhere in southern New York. They had been silent for the past few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts while sipping their warm tea. That silence had been broken by the voice of one. Mercury, as he called himself. Amitiel, as those who did not know the full truth about him believed he was. And Lie, as those who were not his friends would have called him if they had known that the real Amitiel had been possessed and overwritten millennia ago by the so-called Lie (or Mendacia in their language) who had since posed as him. 

Sitting at the other side of the table, Benji Carfried blinked once. “Ready to ask you?” 

Mercury took a sip of his tea before giving a slight nod. “We’ve been meeting for breakfast or lunch every other day for the past several weeks, ever since you found out the truth about me… possessing you. You’ve… asked some things, but there’s been something else on your mind too. I told you, I’m glad to answer anything you’d like.” 

There was a brief moment of silence as Benji regarded him. The two of them had indeed had many conversations in the past few weeks, enough that he was… at least somewhat comfortable with the fact that he’d been secretly possessed for a year. Or so he told himself. Really, the thought that there had been an intruder in his head for so long creeped him out beyond belief. He wanted to hate the other man. And… to be honest, a part of him actually did. There was part of him that wanted to punch Mercury in the face and never stop. He pushed that part of himself down, but it left him somewhat conflicted.

Thus these private meals. More than anything, Carfried wanted to understand the man who had possessed him. He wanted to push his own feelings of anger… rage, really, down with actual knowledge. Information, data, truth. Those were the ways to smother his feelings of betrayal and… invasion. So he’d asked questions. But there were a few that he’d held back. 

“Yes,” he finally replied. “I’ve got a couple that I haven’t asked yet.” Instead of continuing, however, he fell silent once more. Disguising his hesitance with a sip of tea, he exhaled before finally pushing on. “I need to know exactly how long you were possessing me. I mean… it was since I was a teacher, I know. But I need to know…” 

Mercury watched the other man trail off before finishing for him. “You need to know if you were possessed because you were chosen to be a teacher, or if you were chosen to be a teacher because you were possessed.” 

In a somewhat tight voice, Carfried confirmed, “Yes.” 

“You were chosen to be possessed because you were a teacher,” Mercury assured him simply. “We were looking for a good person to possess to get close to Aylen and… well, honestly, Pericles was our first choice. My first choice. But we were overruled and told he was not a possibility. We didn’t find out exactly why until later. So, I went with my next choice. A young teacher. You’d been chosen by Gaia by that point, so… so I found my way to you.” 

They both went silent then, neither wanting to dwell too much on that. But there was one even more important question that Carfried had. “You knew the Seosten who possessed Columbus Porter.” 

“Charmeine,” Mercury murmured with a nod. “Yes, I knew her. And I know she’s dead now.” 

“Thanks to Felicity Chambers,” Carfried agreed before adding, “and Columbus himself. They killed her.” 

Mercury’s voice was almost inaudible. “After she killed your ancestor.” 

“Josiah.” When he said the name, Carfried’s voice caught a bit, and he grimaced. “He was… he was important to me. Damn it, he was my Greats-Grandfather, of course he was important to me. He was a damn fine man, a fucking good person, and that… that…” He fought to bring himself back under control. 

“And as glad as you are that she’s dead,” Mercury finished for him, “it doesn’t really give you any closure. Your greats-grandfather is still gone, you never got to even see his killer, and you don’t feel like her death actually accomplished anything. At least, as far as your own life goes.” 

Not trusting his voice, Carfried gave a single, slight nod. 

“I’m sorry.” Those simple two words came from the Seosten man before he gave long, low sigh. “I know apologies mean little in this case. But I am sorry that you don’t get that kind of closure.” 

“It’s just as well,” Carfried pointed out, “because even if she was still alive, I couldn’t do anything about it. That would risk our little truce, and something tells me having a truce with you people is more important than my vengeance. But…” 

“But you’re not sure you’d be able to feel that way if she was still running around out there.” Again, Mercury finished his thought once the man waved to him rather than conclude it himself. “You’re probably right. If Charmeine was still there, it would probably make things worse.” 

For the next minute or so, the longest silence of all settled in the air, as Benji mentally fought his way to perhaps the most important question. Mercury waited for as long as he needed until the words finally came. 

“Did I–did you have anything to do with putting Josiah in that position to be killed by Charmeine?” 

Again, silence reigned for a few torturous seconds before Mercury found his voice. “It’s your choice whether to believe what I say now. I will put it before any truth spell or power you like. But right now, right here, I tell you no. Neither I, nor Chayyiel, were a part of that mission. My job was to watch over the Merlin Key. I had nothing to do with the Avalon situation, and I did nothing to either put your greats-grandfather there or to have him killed. Our people operate in cells where we are in need-to-know situations. I didn’t need to know about that plan.” 

But you wouldn’t have stopped it if you did know, would you? 

Benji didn’t ask that last question. He couldn’t bring himself to. Instead, he took a sip of his tea, pushing the thought aside before looking to the man. Some part of him liked Mercury. And another part of him hated Mercury. He couldn’t decide which was stronger right now. So, he would continue having meals with him. Continue talking to him. 

Eventually, he’d figure it out. 

********

December, April, and May

 

Abigail Fellows, Virginia Dare, and Hisao stood in the private transport room, watching the portal ahead of them as it formed. In a quiet voice, Abigail murmured, “This is a bit of a risk, isn’t it?” 

Dare and Hisao exchanged brief glances before the former spoke. “Allowing probable spies into the school so they can report back to Cahethal about everything we’re doing? Yes, it’s a risk. But you already knew that when you decided to go for it.” 

Hisao added, “It’s also worth the risk. She’s being upfront about it. Yes, she wants information about this place in case things go wrong, but them being here also gives us information about her own agents. She knows that. She’s offering to let us know some of how she operates in exchange for reports from her own agents about what’s going on here. Reports she can actually trust.” 

They’d had all these conversations before, of course. They’d had them several times, while Abigail decided whether it was a good idea to allow three of Cahethal’s agents into the school. In the end, no matter the risk, it was the right thing to do. Particularly when she’d learned that those three agents were all SPS Seosten. Or ‘Lies’, as their own people would disgustingly call them. Nothing had changed. This was the best choice. But talking about it was better than fidgeting until–

Three figures appeared in the portal. Two teenagers and…

“A child?” Abigail blurted. Marina had said that one of them was a young girl, but–but she hadn’t fully understood just what–

“Hiya!” the kid in question suddenly blurted the instant the three of them were fully in view and the portal closed behind them. “ThanksforlettinguscomeherecuzitsoundsfunandIknowyou–” 

Before she could go further, the Asian-looking girl put a hand over her mouth in a casual, practiced gesture. “Good morning,” she greeted them pleasantly. “Nice to officially meet you, Miss-ahhh, you prefer Principal now, Marina said? Principal Fellows. I am May.” 

“I’m April,” the red-haired teenager piped up, smoothing down the schoolgirl uniform she wore before adding, “And that’s December. Just tell her to slow down or repeat herself until you get it if you need to.” 

Squirming free of May’s hand, December’s head bobbed up and down quickly. “That’smeI’mDecemberhow’reyou?” 

With a brief look to her two far-more-capable companions, Abigail took a few steps that way, extending a hand. “Abigail is fine when we’re not in school hours. It’s… very interesting to–” She blinked at the looks the three of them were giving her outstretched hand. “Are you okay?” 

“Marina was supposed to tell you,” May informed her. “We…” 

“We’reLiessowecan’ttouchyourhandoranythingelsecuzitmightmakeyouthinkwe’retryingtopossessyouandruinthetruceandwedon’twannadothat,” December explained in a rush of words that came so fast Abigail only caught every other one and had to piece together what was meant from that. 

“I know what you are,” she finally responded once she was confident enough about what the incredibly fast-talking girl had actually said. “I know what you’re capable of. And it’s okay.” She kept her hand extended. “I believe what you said about not wanting to ruin this truce.” 

It was the three Seosten’s turn to look somewhat baffled. The trio exchanged looks, both May and April seeming reluctant even with Abigail’s stated permission. 

December, however, finally extended her own hand, tentatively taking the older woman’s. Her grip was hesitant and she very clearly almost yanked her hand back immediately, only stopping herself at the last second. Visibly unsure of herself, she kept her hand pressed against Abigail’s until the other woman shook it up and down firmly. 

“Are you…” Abigail started before hesitating. Finally, she pushed on. “Are you really part of this… this group? Shouldn’t you be in school? I mean, a real school. Shouldn’t you be in a Seosten school?” 

May spoke up defensively. “We teach her. We all teach ourselves. Besides, Lies like us don’t go to regular school. We…” She stopped, clearly torn between answering the question and not wanting to speak ill of her own people. Finally, she settled on, “We teach each other. We are the Calendar. We take care of our own. December is our own. We stay together. We learn together.” 

Cahethal knew what she was doing, Abigail realized. The Seosten ‘Lies’ were so thoroughly oppressed, so horrifically treated, that being given any freedom for individuality made them… made them loyal to her in a way they would never be loyal to their own people. But even that, even the bit of humanity, for lack of a better word, that she showed them was manipulation. These girls were so accustomed to not being touched by anyone outside of their own little group that the simple concept of a handshake was too much. That was just… it was…

Pushing those thoughts back, she squeezed December’s hand, meeting the girl’s gaze. “We’re glad to have you here, girls.” 

Dare spoke up then. “We certainly are. Of course, we’re going to have to go through a lot of tests before we’re comfortable letting you out into the school population. It may take a few days before all of our security people are fully satisfied that things are on the up and up.” 

“Of course,” April remarked. She looked to May, then shrugged and took Abigail’s still extended hand once December had released her. “We’re not in a rush. Whatever you want.” 

What Abigail truly wanted was to hug December. The girl had leaned into the simple handshake like it was… like it was far more than that. Abigail wanted to hug her and tell her she didn’t have to play soldier anymore. But that would make things worse. She knew that. No, the way to handle this was to show the girls, show all of them, a better way. 

So, she stepped back and gestured. “Come then, 

“Let’s get started.”  

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Denouement 9 – Matres Dimicatio (Heretical Edge)

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The first attack came instantly, as a jet of white-hot fire erupted from Joselyn’s outstretched hand, straight toward Sariel. The Seosten boost kicked in and she threw herself into a sideways roll just as the lance of flame shot through the air where she had been. 

Coming up to one knee, Sariel managed to snap her arms up to deflect the kick from the other woman, who was suddenly in front of her. Despite her Tartarus-enhanced strength, and the similarly enhanced boost, she was barely able to deflect the kick from Joselyn. Instinct very nearly kicked in for her to possess the woman in that moment, but that would be very bad for both Joselyn and the other two prisoners. 

Using the moment it took the other woman to recover from her leg being thrown aside, Sariel came to her feet. “Joselyn, I know you have to do what he says.” She took a quick step back from the blade the woman produced from her arm that swipe through the air, before pivoting away from the follow-up kick. “So I—” 

The kick had been more than a kick. With that same motion, Joselyn brought a sharp spike of metal out of the carpeted floor. Sariel noticed it at the last instant, throwing herself into a backward flip almost too late, as the jagged steel spike lanced up to collide with the ceiling, cutting along her left arm in the process to draw a line of blood. 

Spinning around the spike, Sariel produced several metal throwing daggers. Her hand snapped out to send them flying toward Joselyn, but the woman was no longer there. She vanished from that spot, leaving the daggers to narrowly miss Roger. 

“Ooh, gotta be careful there,” Fossor noted. He was eating a small bowl of ice cream from the shop in the mall, while casually leaning against the door jam. “You kill one of these guys and it kind of defeats the entire purpose. It would be pretty fun for me though. So carry on.”

Joselyn was behind her. Sariel’s head snapped forward and down just as the woman’s blade arm cut through the space there, taking a bit of her hair with it. “I won’t try—” she began again while pivoting to face her as the blade cut close once again. Only her exact motion as she turned made it narrowly miss. “—to tell you to fight it or anything. And—”

Gravity reversed itself, abruptly making Sariel fall toward the ceiling. Joselyn created a dozen balls of green glowing energy and send them flying up after her while snarling a dark and angry, “My children.”

As she hit the ceiling, metal coils popped out of it to restrain her, but Sariel quickly kicked off, launching herself into a flip. She twisted and corkscrewed through the air perfectly to avoid the coils just before the balls of energy exploded. Sariel had managed to evade the worst of them, but the force of what did hit was enough to throw her out of range of the gravity reversal and to the ground, where she rolled and tumbled end over end before coming to a stop with a cough and grunt. 

“Yeah. Your children.” The words were a quiet murmur as she frowned inwardly before pushing herself up once more, just in time to snap her head back from the decapitating strike that Joselyn sent at her neck. She danced backward, head shaking. “Joselyn, I’m sorry. I am so—”

Once more, she was interrupted, as the other woman teleported right beside her, blade stabbing for her stomach. Sariel’s bow appeared in her hand, fully extended as she used the upper part of it to deflect the blade. She blocked several more furious follow-up swipes, backing up the whole time while Joselyn gave chase. Dancing back with a bit of boost to get a couple feet of distance, she quickly nocked an arrow by pulling the string and send a shot at the incoming blade. It bounced off, spinning through the air before cutting into the wall a few inches from Seamus’s cheek on the other side of the room, to Fossor’s obvious amusement as he raised the bowl of ice cream like a toast to her nearly killing the man.  

Grimacing, Sariel quickly ducked under a lunge, pivoting while staying bent over to avoid the follow up swing, before quickly snapping her body upright once more as Joselyn adjusted for a vertical slash. That last was so close it cut along her leg, drawing more blood.  

“I love my children,” she announced quietly while launching another shot that missed Joselyn’s head by a hair’s-breadth, taking a small nick out of the top of the woman’s ear before embedding itself in the wall. “I love them more than anything in this world or any other.” 

Joselyn’s hands snapped out, sending a torrent of fire that singed the other woman as she threw herself backward. Sariel’s back hit the wall next to Roger, and she blinked a bit, dazed for a brief second while Joselyn came for her. At the last possible instant, she recovered just enough to snap her head out of the way as the other woman’s blade cut past her to hit the wall. 

Joselyn tried to snap the blade back and down to cut through Sariel’s side while simultaneously using a telekinetic shove to push her into it, but the Seosten woman was ready for it. A small blue stone appeared in her free hand, the command word leaping to her lips even as she was shoved toward the blade by an invisible force. Instantly, the prepared spell made a glimmering forcefield appear directly behind her. Joselyn’s blade struck that, while the telekinetic shove knocked Sariel into the opposite side of it. Blade and woman were millimeters apart, separated by that simple glowing shield of energy. In the next instant, Sariel used the command to disable the shield, sending the kinetic energy it had absorbed from the blade blow back out the same way it came in. The force knocked Joselyn back a step, her arm snapping out as she grunted. 

Sariel tried to use that, pivoting around while notching three arrows at once. All of them were loosed toward Joselyn… and none reached their target. The one sent near her face was caught in a simple exhale of frost breath that caught the arrow in the air, stopped it short while ice formed around it, and dropped it to the ground. The other two, aimed for her left shoulder, were knocked aside by that blade arm and sent spinning off. One struck the wall across the room, once more almost taking Seamus in the throat. The other went straight for Fossor’s right eye before it was caught in the air by a ghost, who solidified just in time to catch the arrow. The necromancer didn’t blink. He simply took another spoonful of ice cream and smiled faintly. 

With a grunt, Joselyn sent herself up and back. She hovered near the ceiling while summoning a veritable armada of metal spikes, each about four inches long and razor-sharp. They were like Sariel’s throwing daggers, yet there were hundreds of them, all floating in the air around and in front of her. Her chin gave the slightest gesture, and they all flew at Sariel, like a swarm of angry wasps. On the way, they turned white-hot, and a small shield of energy appeared around them. The kind of energy that would allow the blades to pierce any more forcefields Sariel tried to summon on short notice. 

So, she didn’t summon a shield. Instead, Sariel threw herself into a long, backward fall while notching her bow once more. This time, she drew back not one arrow. Not even three arrows. Six. Six arrows were notched onto her bowstring. Two between her pinkie and ring finger, two between her ring and middle finger, and two between her middle and index fingers. As she threw herself onto her back, an instant before landing on the floor, she loosed those arrows toward the incoming swarm of blades. The arrows shot out, spreading to strike six separate incoming blades at seemingly random points. Those six blades were each knocked off course, crashing into six others, then a few more beyond that. The second set that were hit collided with more. Soon, most of the hundreds of hurled blades were sent flying into the floor, against the walls, or even up into the ceiling. 

In the end, only a handful of blades made it through and kept going. Three struck the floor where Sariel had landed, except she had already flipped herself up and over to land on her feet as the trio of blades sank into the floor. One remained, which skimmed past her cheek, drawing a thin red line there while also cutting a lock of her hair on its way past. 

Joselyn was behind her, and Sariel felt a sudden crushing force all but knock the wind out of her as she was slammed into the ground by the woman’s telekinesis. Landing hard, she was held in place by that same crushing force, which stopped her from moving and seemed as though it would collapse her chest and shatter her ribs any second. Standing above her, Joselyn looked wide-eyed and conflicted, her fury fueling the order she had been given, while her very nature and personality made her instinctively try to draw back from following through on this attack. But she couldn’t. Her deal with Fossor had been made. Killing Sariel in no way, as far as they knew, put Felicity in direct danger. And the sheer anger and grief that Joselyn felt so deeply at what had been taken from her so long ago made it nearly impossible for her to even slightly resist the order she’d been given to kill Sariel. Any hesitation, any at all, took a truly Herculean effort. 

So, Sariel didn’t rely on anything like that. As the invisible force continued to push down on her, she focused, summoning a new prepared spell-stone to her hand. As the blue rock with the rune inscribed in it appeared, she immediately spoke the command word while she still had a bit of breath to do so. The spell activated, sending a narrow burst of kinetic force almost straight up in the direction Sariel was looking: directly at Joselyn. It struck the other woman in the chest hard enough to knock her back a few steps, breaking her concentration. Instantly, the telekinetic force vanished and Sariel was able to flip herself to her feet. 

Even as she landed, another geyser of flame was coming at her. A new stone appeared, and she spoke the command to fill the air on that side with a wave of cold that froze the flame. 

Six metal coils popped from the ground like tentacles, attempting to grab Sariel. Yet another stone-summoned spell sent a cloud of reddish-brown dust in every direction. Wherever the dust struck, the metal coils rusted completely through instantly and fell apart. 

More powers were sent at Sariel. But while she was not a Heretic, Sariel had something almost as good in this moment. She had magic. Magic she had spent quite a long time preparing. And the weaknesses most mages possessed in needing to reach for their prepared-spells, she didn’t have. Her Tartarus gift meant that she could instantly summon any small object she focused on to her hand, including her spell stones. Dozens upon dozens of enchanted rocks and bits of paper were stored on Sariel’s person, and she could summon any of them to her hand with a thought. That was the only way she had to counter the powers Joselyn was sending at her. 

Finally, the oath-bound Heretic switched back to a more direct, physical attack. Appearing beside Sariel, she shifted her hand into a blade once more while lashing out for the other woman’s arm. Quick as she was while boosted, Sariel still only barely managed to avoid taking the full cut and possibly losing her arm entirely. As it was, Joselyn’s blade cut deep across her bicep. And the woman didn’t stop there, following up with a dozen rapid-fire cuts, all of them aimed to disable Sariel. She’d worked out that she couldn’t put her opponent down with one well-placed stab, so she was working to wear Sariel down with multiple small injuries, cutting her here and there while constantly forcing her on the defensive. She attacked relentlessly, never giving the Seosten woman time to regroup. 

Then she kicked it up a notch. Suddenly, Joselyn was moving faster than she had before, faster than even Sariel in boost. Her bladed arm snapped out cobra-quick, nearly taking her opponent’s throat in the sudden burst of speed. Sariel, in turn, barely managed to use the body of her bow to deflect the blade off into the wall, her retreat backward stopped as she ran into Roger. 

“I’m sorry,” Joselyn murmured while shifting her hand to a red metal as she slammed it toward the other woman’s stomach with enough force to punch through a stone wall. 

Before the fist could strike her, however, Sariel had already summoned something else to her hand. This was not a spell rock, however. It was a small metal ball that disintegrated as soon as her hands touched it. Within the ball was a tiny chipmunk. The tiny creature had time to look surprised for just an instant before Sariel disappeared into it, possessing the animal just as Joselyn’s empowered blow demolished a good portion of the wall behind them. 

As the chipmunk, Sariel landed on the floor before quickly jumping to bounce off of the woman’s leg then to the wall, parkour style. Clinging to the wall, she ran up and around it, past Roger’s head as the blade struck out multiple times, each cut coming within millimeters of taking the tiny animal’s heart out. 

In mid-run sideways along the wall, Sariel abandoned the chipmunk, leaping out while leaving it to continue running. Her energy form appeared in midair, reforming into her physical body, already holding her bow up and ready. Before landing, she shot off three arrows at once, then rolled and came up to one knee while loosing yet three more. 

The first three were shattered in mid-flight as Joselyn simply waved a hand. The other three were subsequently smacked aside by her blade and sent flying away. Before she could rise from her knee, a pillar of ice erupted from the floor under her, slamming Sariel upward toward the ceiling. She barely managed to fling herself off before she would have been crushed, flipping over in the air as she brought several more throwing daggers to her hand and sent them at the figure below her. Joselyn stopped them all in midair with a hand, while Sariel landed on her feet. But an instant later, the Seosten spoke the command word, making the daggers explode with enough force to stagger the enslaved Heretic. 

Sariel didn’t give her time to recover, instantly using her bow to launch five more arrows at the woman before launching herself into a sprint straight at her. Joselyn, stumbling slightly and off-balance, still managed to smack the arrows out of the way. All save one, which struck her hip. It didn’t do much, aside from draw blood. But Joselyn reacted, ripping the arrow out and disintegrating it into dust just as Sariel reached her, swinging the bow at her face. A thought brought the bow up short, stopping it just before the thing would have struck her. Joselyn could see the sigils glowing on the staff, proof of the spell that would have affected her had she simply allowed it to hit. 

For a moment, the two women stood face-to-face, simply staring at one another. Sariel’s expression softened, as she met Joselyn’s gaze. “I am sorry for what happened to your children. I never intended that. Never. But I did intend for your husband to be used as a hostage to force you to surrender. I was doing my job, trying to end the war and bring things under control. I thought… I thought things could change without everyone killing each other. I thought we could fix things peacefully. I thought…” She breathed in and out. “I thought a lot of things that were wrong.” 

“You keep apologizing,” her unwanted opponent managed to hiss. “But my children were still taken away. I lost decades of my life.” 

Joselyn came after her with the blade again, attacking relentlessly and with incredible speed. As before, even with boost, Sariel could barely keep up. Joselyn was faster, but Sariel had the edge in experience and the added benefit of a perfect knowledge and understanding of her own body’s positioning at all times. She kept moving, alternately ducking and using her bow to deflect incoming swings. Her opponent was like a woman possessed, power coiling around her as she attacked again and again, from every angle, a blur of motion. Sparks flew from the weapons as they clashed, along with the sound of the blade hitting the walls now and then. Back and forth they went, blade and bow clashing and swinging through the air in a wild, yet beautiful ballet of danger and violence. 

Finally managing to throw herself backward, Sariel notched an arrow and loosed it in one motion. The enchanted shot triggered as it hit the floor, sending a burst of kinetic energy. Joselyn was ready for it, raising a shield to absorb the impact. But it did slow her down a couple steps, giving Sariel time to speak as she notched more arrows and loosed them one at a time in quick succession while backing up. Each word came with another arrow. “I thought I could fix everything, if I talked to your husband.” 

Twelve words, twelve arrows. None actually hit Joselyn. They were deflected in one way or another, mostly knocked aside or disintegrated.

They were back to fighting straight on, Joselyn right in front of her as Sariel continued, blocking and dodging. “I thought if he was captured, I could find a way to talk to him privately. Get him to understand the stakes and that you needed to work more quietly, that we could change things from the inside if you negotiated. I thought I could set that up. I thought I could control what Ruthers did. 

“I was wrong. You and your children, your family, paid the price.” 

Thought it all, they were a barely visible rush of motion back and forth through the room. Powers flew, and were countered by spells. The blade came closer and closer, nicking Sariel here and there. Light to moderate cuts were all over her body, and both women were breathing heavily by that point as they put everything they had into this. 

“And I know. I know what that’s like,” Sariel informed the other woman in a soft, somewhat broken voice as they both broke apart briefly to regroup. “I know what it’s like to lose your children, to have them taken away from you. For that, I… for my part in that, I can never, never apologize. Not enough. I can never make that right. I’m sorry. From the depths of my soul and with everything I am or could ever be, I am sorry. I will bring you back. You have my word, my life on it. I will protect your children, and I will find a way to bring you back to them, back to your family, Joselyn Chambers. I swear to you.” 

Tossing his empty bowl aside, Fossor spoke up. “Ah, maybe you should focus on exactly what you’re going to take away from her right now so you can add that to the apology list. Just a thought.” 

Joselyn had stopped for the moment as Fossor spoke, giving herself and Sariel time to breathe. The Seosten woman gave a faint shake of her head without looking away from the powerful Heretic. “Nothing. I am taking nothing away from her. Not this time.” 

A light chuckle escaped Fossor. “You know the rules. You let her kill you, and Seamus dies. You kill her, and… well, you’ve taken her away from her. And also Roger will die, though I suppose that’s more pettiness on my part than anything else. You run away, they both die. So I must say, if you plan on getting out of this without taking anything from her… that would be a very good trick.” 

“Trick?” Sariel quipped. “It’s called an illusion. And the thing you should have remembered through all of this, Necromancer…

“… is that I don’t miss.” 

As she spoke those words, Fossor and Joselyn both looked, really looked at the room around them. The marks, the ones on the walls next to Roger and Seamus. The arrows that had been deflected that way, the thrown daggers, even the marks from Joselyn’s own blade as Sariel had lured her back and forth, they weren’t random. Some were, of course. She couldn’t control every deflection and some weren’t perfect. But enough were. The ones that mattered. The marks from arrows, daggers, and blade had been carefully planned throughout that entire fight, to form a very specific design around each of the men. 

Not just a design. A spell. Sariel had used her own deflected shots and Joselyn’s blade to mark both walls with a spell, while also using her telepathic connection with the other three Seosten to warn them to leave the mall. 

Fossor’s mouth opened, a command leaping to his lips even as several of his ghost servants appeared. But in that exact instant, as planned through their telepathic link, Mercury triggered the spell he had set up. All of the man’s zombies in the mall immediately blew apart or disintegrated, while the force of their destruction was sent back along the connection they had with their creator. Fossor literally staggered against the wall and fell, a cry of disoriented pain escaping the man as blood fell from his mouth and eyes to pool on the ground. Over only a few seconds, all of the fear, pain, and death he had inflicted on the people he’d turned into his zombies here in this mall was shoved right back into the man. He survived through his link to the people on his own world, but was deeply disoriented and hurt by the backlash. 

The oath Joselyn had sworn forced her to both obey and protect Fossor. She did so the only way she could in that moment, by lunging toward the Seosten woman. But Sariel was faster. With three rapid words and a rush of power that she shoved into the runes she had so carefully drawn out, the woman activated the teleportation spell. 

And in that second, she and both of the imprisoned men vanished, escaping safely while Fossor was left coughing up blood on the floor.

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