Joselyn Chambers

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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Mini-Interlude 81 – Joselyn and Denuvus (Heretical Edge)

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Please note, the following takes places immediately following Mini-Interlude 55, when Denuvus revealed herself to be the ‘prisoner’ Ammon brought back from one of his outings and left her to help his mother. 

Also note, this is NOT the regular chapter whose early release is tomorrow. That is still coming as scheduled. This is an entirely extra (commissioned) chapter. I hope you enjoy it. 

“Hold that thought.”

Moments after she had simultaneously introduced herself and used her power to ensure that her command for Joselyn to answer all of her questions was actually followed, Denuvus held a hand up to stop her from doing just that. A small smile played at the pretty, yet unassuming-looking woman’s face. “You seem a bit surprised, Mrs. Chambers. Was it something I said? Oh, and while we’re on the subject of things I’ve said, you should stand there without making any move to alert anyone, attack me, or do anything else beyond breathe and talk to me until I say otherwise. And you can scratch your nose or any other itch you have. I’m not a monster.” 

Joselyn, staring at her for a moment, managed to breathe out. “You look different than I imagined, ‘Denuvus’. Unless you shapeshifted yourself to look like… this.” She did her best to keep her words calm, while her mind raced. Even for someone who had seen a lot in her life, finding out that this woman, who had appeared to be an innocent victim of one of Ammon’s temper tantrums, was actually the mysterious, whispered-about puppet-master whose potent ability was the basis on which Joselyn’s own son’s powers were based was… a lot.

“Yes and no,” came the clearly amused reply. “Yes, I’m using a power to change what I look like. I do that a lot, though I happen to be partial to this one. She’s… no one important, just a woman I saw once. But her face has stuck with me for some reason.” Denuvus mused on that for a moment before continuing with a shake of her head. “And no, I’m not really a man. Though people believing that is very useful for me. Oh, and ahh, my name is Denuvus, never tell anyone anything you find out about me, anything I tell you about my plans, goals, or even what I like to have for dinner. I’m a fish person, for the record. Deep fried catfish and hushpuppies, that’s basically my kryptonite.” 

The time that Denuvus had taken to say all that had given Joselyn a chance to regroup a bit. “Are you here to kill Fossor?” she asked carefully, unsure how she would be forced to react if the answer was yes. She was sworn, magically, to protect him from direct and legitimate threats. On the other hand, Denuvus had used her power to make her stand still. Which would win out in a direct competition? She genuinely wasn’t sure. 

“Kill him?” Denuvus echoed. “Eventually, I’m sure. But for now, what I need when it comes to that man is information. I’ve tried to extract it from him before but, well, our conversations never go very well. Even when he doesn’t know it’s me he’s talking to.”

She smiled a bit, clearly remembering a particularly amusing moment before shaking that off as she leaned back on her heels to look at Joselyn. “Anyway, getting information out of him, especially what I need, it’s a bit like getting blood from a stone. Although, I have actually done that, and it involves a lot more cayenne pepper than you’d think. But this man? I can’t get what I need out of him. Or I couldn’t, until you and your son came along. People close to him.”

Eyes flashing a bit with anger, Joselyn snapped, “I’m not close to him. And neither is Ammon. We’re both tools to him. If you think you can threaten either of us and make him do anything…”

“Physically close,” the other woman amended with a vague wave. “You spend a lot of time with him, and if he enjoys anything, it’s the sound of his own voice. We do have that in common, at least. I need you to tell me everything you know about him.” 

Joselyn just stared at her for a moment before speaking. “I’ve heard plenty about you, from a lot of people. A lot of it contradicts itself, and I’m pretty sure there’s as much bullshit as truth in it. And I sure as hell don’t know about you being a woman. If you even truly are, you could be lying about that. You could be lying about anything. But what all of those things agree with is that you are dangerous. You kill anyone who gets in your way, without batting an eye. You kill people just because they might be able to expose something about you. He’s a monster, but so are you.”

If she was offended, Denuvus didn’t show it at all. “And you have just… no experience in being close to monsters, right? Joselyn, I’m not here as a threat to you. In fact, I may eventually end up getting you out of here. Who knows? It would be nice to stick something to him that hard. He would be so pissed off…”

She shrugged, adding, “Besides, we shouldn’t fight. After all, we’re kind of co-mommies. My blood was used to make your son what he is. Which, given the whole Heretic thing, practically makes him my family. I mean, if they have a take your son to work day, we might have to thumb wrestle over who gets him. Although, isn’t it pretty wrong that he’d be both safer and less fucked up mentally if he came with me?”

She chuckled softly before letting out a breath. “So, let’s get down to business. Like I said, you’re going to tell me everything you know about Fossor and Ammon. Let’s start with the kid. I just have one very important question. When you were pregnant, did Fossor ever take you away from Earth?”

Joselyn clearly hadn’t been expecting any kind of questions like that, blinking in confusion. “Take me away from Earth? I mean, yes, we went to a few places. Why?”

Ignoring the question, the other woman asked, “Did he take you to his world?”

Slowly, Joselyn nodded. “We spent a little time there. He said something about it being important for the baby to have a connection to his father’s world. He said it was a tradition, but I’m pretty sure it was about magic.”

“Bright girl,” Denuvus agreed. “Let me guess, at some point, your memory has a big blank spot, where are you have no idea what happened.”

For a few seconds, Joselyn just stared at her, thoughts whirling in her mind before she confirmed, “I remember him giving me a tour of the house he grew up in. He was looking at a picture. Then it’s blank. The next thing I remember, we were on our way back to Earth, and it was two days later. . I have no idea what happened in that time, and quite frankly, I’ve been trying very hard not to think about it all this time.”

“I have some ideas,” Denuvus murmured. “But first, tell me what you know about Fossor as a boy. I want to know everything, even the smallest detail, about his life on that world. I want you to walk me through every little bit you know. Be completely honest.”

Sighing, Joselyn did just that. She told the woman about Fossor being a child gifted in his species’ rare gift to speak with the dead, and how his abusive father had reacted. She told her about the young Fossor trying to render his sister immortal and killing her.

“And then he went to prison,” Denuvus noted. “But not just any prison. He was sent to one of the single most secure prison facilities in the known universe, which just happened to be held on his own home planet. At least, at that time it was. He kills his sister, and ends up in a place that’s meant to hold the worst monsters who have ever existed? How exactly does that work? Did he ever tell you how he ended up there?”

“He was kind of vague on that,” Joselyn admitted. “I take it you know how he ended up there?”

“Yes,” Denuvus murmured, “it’s because he wanted him there. And even as their prisoner, he still had that kind of influence. Enough to get the young, untrained and incredibly powerful necromancer brought close to him.”

“Another prisoner?” Joselyn was frowning. 

“Not just any prisoner,” Denuvus informed her. “The prisoner.  The one the prison was built for. Literally, the one. You know the name Fossor is just Fah-Seur, thirty-four in their language? The thirty-fourth prisoner. The one we’re talking about now is their word for One. You know about Arthur? The King, not your father-in-law.”

Joselyn nodded. “Of course, I— wait. You’re not…”

With a soft chuckle, Denuvus shook her head. “It’s not Arthur. This was long before his time. Several thousand years ago. It’s another natural Dragon-Heretic, one that’s… let’s say less Camelot and more Genghis Khan. The prison was originally built to contain him and his personal minions. That is its primary purpose. When our friend here escaped, they moved the prison. There were too many defenses for him to get all the way to One and the other important prisoners before the people in charge could get out with them, and now the prison is somewhere else. One is still safely locked away.”

Joselyn squinted that way.  “And do you think you can control this guy? Is that why you’re so interested?”

Denuvus gave her a long look. “I am not suicidal. Nor am I quite that arrogant. No, I don’t believe I can control this man. He was a full fledged powerful Dragon Heretic who was dangerous enough to build the universe’s strongest prison for, over three thousand years ago. Now? Even locked up, who knows how strong he could be? No, controlling him is not my plan. But I do believe that he could be useful to my overall goal.”

“And what is that?” Joselyn probed. “Because as far as I knew, your only real goal was to be as comfortable as possible and live like a quiet emperor. Excuse me, empress. Sticking your neck out as far as looking for whoever this guy seems like a really good way of getting your head chopped off, at the very least. So what makes it worth that risk?”

“Perhaps some day I will tell you more,” Denuvus allowed thoughtfully. “But at this exact moment, let’s just say there is a creature whom I very much wish dead. Everything I have become, everything I have… sacrificed… turning myself into what I am and amassing as much power as I have, even keeping so many secrets about myself, has been toward the goal of killing this creature. He believes himself to be a god, and he’s not far wrong. But, even gods can be killed, given the right power in the right circumstances.”

Joselyn’s head shook slowly. “You want this… whoever it is dead so much that you’ve become a monster yourself. How many people have you killed to get here? How many of the people who actually cared about you or could have if you let them have you thrown away? How many lives have you destroyed with this obsession? You mentioned sacrifice, and that meant something to you. What was it? Who? Who did you sacrifice for your power? Because you clearly love them, and their death isn’t something this other creature did. You did that. Whoever this person was that their death still affects you after all this time, that was you. For everything this enemy of yours has taken away from you, it seems to me that you’ve thrown away just as much in this mad rush for revenge.”

An invisible force suddenly gripped her, lifting the woman off the floor and squeezing tight enough that Joselyn let out a gasp of pain. 

“I threw nothing away,” Denuvus announced in a low, dangerous tone. “She is still a part of me, as she always will be. Making a choice and standing by it doesn’t mean it will never hurt or that you will never regret it. But I would not change what I did. I accept the pain as part of the price for eventually killing the monster who took my—” She stopped, emotions warring on her face for a very brief moment before she contained them.

“You are far from the only one who knows what it is like to have a child taken away from you. Some in a more permanent sense then others. Whatever it takes, whoever’s life is lost, I will see this creature bloodied, broken, and dead. And in the end, as he falls, he will know it was me. He will know that his death and every loss he has suffered has been my doing. Before he dies, the last words that leave his filthy mouth will be the names of my son and daughter that he took from me. Then he will die, and every atom of his flesh will be incinerated.”

Swallowing slightly at the end of that, Joselyn spoke carefully. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what that creature did to you, and what it made you become. But you never had to do all of this. You didn’t have to make this whole crusade yours and no one else’s. If he’s as much of a monster as you say, you could have gone to…”

Denuvus raised an eyebrow. “Gone to who? The Seosten-puppeted Heretics? One of these other groups would not do what needs to be done to destroy him? People who would completely fail to understand the threat until it was too late? His tendrils are everywhere. He could control any of them. No, I will kill him myself, whatever the cost.”

She let Joselyn drop to the ground finally. “And thanks to our son, or at least his existence, I am several steps closer to that.” The woman offered a faint smile. “I suppose influencing Fossor  with the idea of using my blood on an offspring of his own was worth the effort.” 

Joselyn’s eyes widened slightly. “You… what? No, Fossor had to have your blood stolen, and then killed the intermediary.”

The other woman chuckled. “Well, of course. He’d hardly do what I wanted him to if I just handed the blood to him. It had to be his idea. Or, he had to believe it was. Planting those seeds took quite a while. But now they have paid off. He took you back to the world he came from. And if I’m right, he did exactly what I wanted him to.”

Smiling at the other woman’s expression, she waved a hand idly. “But, that is something that won’t come to fruition for sometime, as the lord of the house here furthers his plans. Which is just fine, as I am nothing if not patient. In any case, it will be fun to see him made useful to me again.”

“Again?” Joselyn carefully echoed. 

Denuvus nodded. “Yes well, the ritual which granted me my Djinn required an unbelievably powerful spell be cast so that I could draw the excess into mine.”

“Powerful spe—” Joselyn’s eyes widened. “ The banishment curse. The one the old Heretics used to try to get rid of Fossor. You took energy from it. If you hadn’t done that—”

“The spell would have proceeded exactly as it did,” Denuvus interrupted. “I know it would have because they came to my sister and I to ask for help. They were looking for the aid of anyone capable of contributing to their spell. So they let us see it. I knew what would happen. The loophole was right there. But I didn’t say anything, because I needed them to cast it. I needed that energy.  The energy from so many incredibly powerful people throwing their all into this spell was something I’d been waiting for.”

Shaking her head, Joselyn demanded, “How do you know that things would have gone the same if you hadn’t interfered?”

With a sigh, Denuvus answered. “Because my ritual did not take from their spell before it was cast, it used the cast-off energy afterward. Djinn are created in one of two ways, accidentally or purposefully. An accidental Djinn comes about when a world shaking spell is employed and the… let’s call it exhaust from that spell happens to miraculously find its way into a recently deceased body. Even then most of the time it will simply destroy the body. To form an accidental Djinn, the body must be far enough away that the energy has to strain a bit to reach it, thereby entering the body slowly enough that it doesn’t promptly explode. Yet if it’s too far away, the energy will drain away before enough pools to create the Djinn. It’s all very complicated, sort of like not only predicting where lightning will strike, but from how far away. And then, for good measure, do the same thing for every bolt in the entire storm.”

“Lightning rods,” Joselyn murmured. 

The other woman smiled once more. “Yes, the ritual I used was like a very specific series of lightning rods. They pulled the energy in just the right way, at the exact speed to create my Djinn. Think of it as a complicated recipe, where food must be cooked at precisely the right temperature for precisely the right amount of time, or it’s all ruined.”

Joselyn swallowed. “You mentioned a sister. What happened to her?”

Denuvus was quiet for a moment before answering. “Creating a Djinn requires a sacrifice, a blood cost. You can’t just put it in any old body. It must be the body of one you truly love. I truly loved my sister. But it was the only way to put a stop to this monster.”

“Or you could have told the Heretics who came to see you for help with the spell about him,” Joselyn pointed out. “With enough help—”

“We tried,” Denuvus snapped. “Right after we escaped from our confinement, we tried to tell others about the threat. Some didn’t believe us at all. Others just believed we were grossly exaggerating the threat. And others… others were agents for him, willingly or otherwise. We were nearly enslaved once more because we went to others for help.”

She exhaled slowly. “No, I learned a long time ago that I can only depend on myself and my sister. Now only myself.”

Her hand waved that thought away, after a brief troubled frown that was also dismissed. “But let’s get back to it, shall we? There’s still a lot I need to know about Fossor and our little boy. 

“So, I suppose it’s a good thing that we have all night to talk.”

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Mini-Interlude 80 – Joselyn and the Codell Tornadoes

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May 20th, 1919

“Boy, this place isn’t looking so good.”

“Let’s have your home get hit by three tornadoes in three years and see how good it looks.”

The first remark came from Roger Dornan, whose small stature and light blond hair were truly at odds with his fiery temper and impulsive attacks. The reply, meanwhile, came from his cousin, Seamus, who looked similar enough to Roger that many thought they were brothers or even fraternal twins. His hair was somewhat darker and he was a couple inches taller. But other than that, the two were quite similar in appearance if not temperament.

They were two of the members of seventeen-year-old Joselyn Atherby’s Crossroads team. Around them were Joselyn herself, her roommate and best friend Lillian Patters, Deveron Adams (whose appearance had been so radically altered several months earlier after he had killed an incubus), and his own roommate and best friend, Tribald Kine. All six wore civilian clothes rather than the school uniforms (with white trim in Tribald’s case, green trim in Roger’s, blue in Lillian’s, red in Joselyn and Deveron’s, and purple in Seamus’s). This was an attempt (hopeless as it was) to not stand out as much around here.

Here, the place being discussed, was the small town that the six of them were slowly walking through. Roger, for all his lack of tact, was actually correct. It really did not look very good. Despite the last tornado striking a year earlier, there was still visible destruction. They had already passed several houses as well as a hotel that had been completely torn apart, and according to their briefing, a church and school had also been ruined, along with more houses. Some of it had been rebuilt, though not all.  

“Seamus is right,” Joselyn noted quietly, watching as a stray dog jogged down the street across from them. “Three tornadoes in three years, always on May 20th. Something’s not right here, and I doubt it’s these peoples’ fault. So keep looking.”

“I’m looking,” Deveron replied, his voice flat. “I’m looking at all the people glaring at us because they think we’re lookie-loos just here to gawk at their town if it gets hit by a tornado again.”

From the other side of the boy, Lillian reached out a hand to pat his back. “Let us know if the bad people giving you dirty looks hurts your feelings, Dev. We’ll make them knock it off.”

Rolling his eyes at the girl’s teasing, Deveron retorted, “My point is that we’re attracting attention. Which is going to make it hard to look around. We kind of stand out.”

“We would anyway,” Tribald pointed out, “no matter what day this was. It’s a small town.”

“So how exactly are we supposed to find out what caused those tornadoes, let alone stop it this time?” Roger demanded through his teeth while flashing an elderly woman staring at them from across the street a bright, toothy smile. He waved at her, and she said something most likely nasty under her breath before going back into her house.

The woman wasn’t representative of the whole town, though there had been more than a few who expressed their clear annoyance at what they thought were, as Deveron had said, curious lookie-loos just there to see if another tornado happened. There were also plenty of those who had been quite friendly about it. And, of course, the ones who were sad.

Those were the worst. While the town had been hit by three tornadoes in as many years, always on the same day, the first two had been much less devastating. Not only had they been smaller, but they had missed hitting the town head-on by going to the east and west of it, respectively. But the one the year earlier had been both much stronger than the first pair, and had gone straight through the town. The first two had only done property damage. The last had not been nearly so lucky, killing ten people.

That was why Joselyn and her teammates were here. Crossroads was incredibly busy, still dealing with the aftermath of the recent Great War among the Bystanders even six months after it had ended. It was an ongoing effort to handle everything, which meant students had to step up, such as now. Looking into the causes of the past three years of tornadoes and (hopefully) stopping it from happening again was considered their ‘hunt’ for this month. And, Lillian had noted before they arrived, was probably also part of their yearly final.

It was also the second hunt after Joselyn had had her… life-changing experience during the werebear situation, and over a month since Gaia Sinclaire had taught her to keep her revelations more quiet rather than shouting them from every rooftop. She had, however, been through all of it with her team. They were her friends, and she would not stand idly by as they unknowingly committed atrocities just because that would be easier.

The conversations had not been easy. Some harder than others. Seamus had actually been the hardest to convince, while Lillian had been the easiest. The others fell somewhere in between. But they all listened eventually, particularly with a little help from Gaia. The woman had also helped to keep Headmaster Ruthers from paying too much attention to Joselyn and her team.

Joselyn still didn’t know what they were going to do, but she knew it was something. No matter what Gaia said about taking things slowly, they still had to actually stop what was happening. Innocent people were being slaughtered by Heretics who didn’t know any better. Someone had to put a stop to that, and Joselyn was damn sure not about to wait for some other person to do it.

That was, however, a problem for later. Right now, they had to figure out this tornado situation.

To that end, Joselyn shook her head at Roger. The six of them had stopped at the end of the largest street in town after giving the whole place a slow walkthrough. “I’m… not sure. I don’t think Professor Konstant knew either. She’s probably just hoping that we’ll stumble into something by blundering around and drawing attention to ourselves.”

“If whatever’s going on is Stranger-based, that’s not a horrible plan,” Tribald admitted. “I mean, considering they have no actual leads or anything. Strangers are probably going to notice a bunch of Heretic students snooping around.”

“This feels entirely too much like being bait,” Roger muttered under his breath. “I don’t like being bait.”

“Nobody does,” Seamus assured his cousin before shaking his head in Joselyn’s direction. “So what do you want to do now, boss? Should we tell Carver we couldn’t find anything?” Alvis Carver was their team’s second-year mentor. Apparently his father, Bentley, had turned down a teaching position at the school three separate times when Headmaster Ruthers had tried to bring him on. None of the students were sure why, and Alvis didn’t talk about it much aside from noting that his father and Ruthers didn’t get along very well.

Now, Joselyn shook her head, murmuring, “Not yet. Maybe they put us out here as bait and maybe they didn’t, but either way, we’re taking it seriously. We’re going to figure this out.”

How, she didn’t know. But it sounded good, and gave her a few seconds to think.

While she was thinking, Roger grumbled, “I bet this was all Ruthers’ idea. He wants us to fail.”

“He wants Joselyn to fail,” Lillian corrected. “The rest of us are just in the crossfire.”

She started to tell her friend that they didn’t blame her for that, when Joselyn interrupted. “We’re not going to fail. We’re going to figure this out and stop it from happening again. First…” She hesitated for just a second before pushing on, shoving her indecision away, “First, we check out one of the places the tornado hit the hardest. We’ll use that magic-tracer spell Seamus was talking about the other day and see if there’s any residual magic from anything that might have drawn the spell that way. Then we’ll go from there. Hopefully that’ll at least tell us something.”

“Yeah,” Deveron agreed, “like if there’s something else drawing a new tornado today.”

Together, the six made their way back through the town, attracting a little more attention. Not as much as they could have though. Most of the people were already holed up inside, trying to wait out the day while hoping their town wouldn’t be the sight of a fourth tornado in as many years. There weren’t that many people still out on the streets. Those that were mostly either gave the group annoyed or sympathetic looks. A few called out that they should get somewhere safe, with varying levels of annoyance or genuine helpfulness.

Eventually, they reached the ruined remains of the hotel that had been destroyed by the previous year’s incident. It was pretty much an empty lot at the moment, with most of the debris taken away to build new things, such as fixing up the also-demolished school. There wasn’t much on the hotel lot aside from the foundation and just enough of the walls to know that there had once been a building there.

Carefully, the group made their way over the ruins. Their gazes moved solemnly across the very few broken bits of debris that still lay scattered through the foundation, taking in the only signs that there had ever been an actual building in this spot. None said anything for a few moments, each simply thinking about just how much power it had taken to rip through this structure and reduce it to what they now saw. And each also thinking about the fact that so many people at Crossroads itself could manage the exact same thing with a flick of their wrist.

Finally, Joselyn cleared her throat. “Um, okay. Let’s spread out and try that magic-tracer spell. Everyone pick a different spot. If it finds anything, we’ll track back along the line.”

They did so, each of them moving to a different spot before using a field-engraver to carefully use create the symbol for the magic-tracer spell. Seamus, as the member of their team both most experienced with that rune and the best with magic overall, took the time to check and make minor corrections to each to make sure the spells were perfect before they were used.

Half of the spells were too far from any residual magical tracings to detect anything, and another barely found a hint, too little to work with. But Deveron’s and Lillian’s each managed to find a single, faint trail. Both of them could see a barely visible line leading out of the remains.

“This way,” Lillian started, waving for the others as she and Deveron slowly made their way back out to the street. The lines they saw were faint enough that it would have been very easy to lose track of them entirely, so they had to move very carefully. The rest of the team followed, staying out of the way and quiet to avoid disturbing the pair while they followed those lines.

They walked for well over an hour like that, all the way out of town. The lines of magic gradually grew more visible to Lillian and Deveron, making it easier to trace them back as they left the road entirely and began walking across an empty field in the middle of nowhere. The flat Kansas terrain meant that it would have been incredibly easy to get lost without any kind of landmark. Yet they kept going, following the gradually strengthening traces of magic.

Eventually, the traces led to a stream. Following the stream, they found a very small hill. The lines of magic seemed to lead directly into that hill. As the group searched around a bit, Roger pushed aside a bush and called to the others. He’d found a small hole, just large enough for one person at a time to squeeze through. Tossing a light stone through revealed a tunnel beyond that sloped downward.

“What now?” Seamus asked, looking to Joselyn. “Do we call it in, or–”

“Let’s check it out,” she decided. “One at a time. I’ll go first. You guys come in after me. Quietly.” She looked to the others until they nodded, then laid down on her stomach before pushing her way in through the hole as quietly and carefully as she could, trying not to make any noise. They had no idea what was in here, but if it was responsible for the tornadoes, there was no sense in warning the thing too openly that they were coming.

Scooting forward enough to get out of the hole and into the tunnel, Joselyn found the space just large enough to somewhat rise in, though she had to remain crouched. She waited there, moving out of the way so the others could come through. One by one, the rest of the team joined her. Once all were ready, they slowly crept down the narrow, sloped tunnel using the light from the enchanted stone to guide their way.

For ten minutes, they moved steadily downward, until the tunnel eventually opened up into a small cavern deep underground. The cave was about thirty feet across, went back about the same distance, with a ceiling of about fifteen feet. In the center there was a small metal circle about six feet across, slightly raised off the ground. It was clearly man-made. Or at least… not natural.

After exchanging brief glances, the group cautiously approached the circle. They took the time to check for more magic, eyes scanning to see if there were runes or anything to indicate traps. Finding none, they stopped at the edge of the metal circle and looked down.

There were words etched into it. Nothing they could read, as the symbols were of foreign or alien nature. But they were definitely actual, deliberate words. They stretched across the metal.

“It’s a memorial.” The announcement came from behind the group, and all of them spun to see a figure standing there in the shadows. As their light stones illuminated him, he stepped more clearly into view, revealing a body made entirely of stone. Their Stranger-senses instantly began to blare its unneeded warning, as the rock-man held up both hands, palms out.

“Heretics, right?” he muttered, seemingly unconcerned about that fact as he stared past them toward the metal circle. “I suppose it’s just as well. Better you do it than me. And at least I’ll be too dead to care.”

Though they had all drawn their weapons, Joselyn quickly put hers out to either side to stop the others from moving. Her gaze was intense as she stared at the stone figure. “Who are you? What do you mean, it’s a memorial? And it’s better we do what than you?”

There was a slight rumble as the stone figure raised part of his brow. “Heretics who ask questions? This is a strange day indeed.”

“We’re strange people,” Lillian informed him, while holding two of her metal bracelets in each hand. “Why don’t you answer them. Are you the one who keeps sending the tornadoes?”

“Am I the one who…” Echoing her words, the stone figure gave a low chuckle that echoed through the cave. “Ahh, if only it were that simple. How much better would this be, were it as simple as killing me to end such attacks.” He paused, seeming to realize that he had said nothing that would count as any sort of answer, before slowly approaching. The group parted, three to each side, while they warily watched him step near the so-called memorial.

He stood there, staring down at it for several seconds in silence. Finally, his words filled the cavern once more. “I am Dorarg. I know not why Heretics wish to know my name, or my story, before killing me, but I will… tell you. I am what my people call Denmiek.” He pronounced the word den-my-eek. “In our language, it means ‘soul of earth.’ Your people call me rock-elemental. There are also others of my world, called Denstarel, Denpien, and Denaksen. Soul of water, soul of fire, and soul of air.”

“Water, fire, and air elementals,” Deveron murmured, glancing to the others before asking, “Is that what those tornadoes were? Air elementals?”

Dorarg was silent for a moment before heaving what seemed like a long, heavy sigh. “Esenadey. She was… Denaksen. Soul of Air. She was… she was my friend. My best friend. We came to this world together. We explored it. We… we had adventures. And she fell in love. She loved a human from this world, a man of the place called Eden’s Garden. A Heretic, though he cared more for healing than for killing.

“They loved one another. They lived for one another. And we had… lives. But those of the Garden learned the truth. They hunted Esenadey and the man, Caladrius. I… I was not there. I could not get to them in time, and both were… were slain by the Caladrius’s brother Heretics. I came too late, discovered their… remains.

“You made this memorial,” Roger realized with the rest of them. “You… buried them here?”

“I’m so sorry,” Joselyn breathed, feeling a sharp pain in the pit of her stomach. “I know it doesn’t mean anything, but… I am. We are.”

Swallowing, Seamus carefully asked, “But… the tornadoes…”

Crouching, Dorarg brushed his fingers over the memorial, tracing the words on it that only he could understand. “I… Esenadey was… with children. Our people, when they… procreate, the eggs are set into our world. They hatch once a year, beginning a year after they are first laid. As each hatches, the child is drawn directly to their mother.”

“They’re drawn here,” Lillian realized. “And they find… they find out their mother is dead.”

“They’re children,” Dorarg murmured, hands running over the metal circle. “They are born with more… understanding than human children, about your equivalent of a nine-year old. But still, children. They come here. They learn that both of their parents are dead and that there is no place for them. In their grief, they… they rage. They flee. They… do what they do not mean to do.”

“They create the tornadoes,” Joselyn started, before amending, “They are the tornadoes.”

“But wouldn’t they be half-human?” Roger pointed out. “If her… if her lover was a Heretic.”

Dorarg’s head shook. “Our people do not procreate like that. It’s more… each parent invests energy, like creating a spell. That energy is used to split off small pieces of the chosen parent, creating eggs which eventually hatch into smaller versions of that adult. Caladrius contributed his magic, a part of himself, but they were physically Denaksen, not human.”

“They’re coming here once a year to find their parents,” Joselyn muttered, “air elementals with the intellect and emotions of a nine year old. They find their parents dead and… and they don’t know what to do.”

“They flee,” Dorarg explained. “They run, they fly, they… lash out. But they are children. Grieving children, but children nonetheless.”

“So you came here to… to try to talk to the next one?” Seamus asked.

The rock man slowly shook his head. “I tried to talk to the last one. It only made things worse. Our people are… long-time enemies. Esenadey and I moved past that, yet her children are too small and too new to these things to understand. They see an enemy. When her child of last year arrived, I attempted to explain things. But… seeing me so soon after finding his parents dead only made him lash out more. When her children come here, they feel her pain. They absorb her last emotions, so they can feel how afraid she was. Between that and seeing me…”

“That’s why last year was worse,” Tribald put in. “Because he saw you and… and fled.”

“He was afraid, and… and grieving,” Dorarg confirmed. “As I said, my appearance only made things worse. So I came here today to end this problem by destroying the bodies. Destroying the remains will prevent Esenadey’s children from finding their parents. It should prevent more destruction. I spent the past year trying to find another way, but… but there is none. Should you wish to kill me after that, I will not stop you. But either allow me to destroy the remains, or… or do so yourselves, to protect the town and prevent any more deaths. Esenadey and Caladrius would want it that way.”

The group exchanged looks, silent conversation passing between them before Joselyn shook her head. “We’re not going to kill you, Dorarg. Listen, it’s a long story, but–”

Before she could say anything else, everyone felt a very faint breeze brush through their hair.

“It’s coming,” Dorarg abruptly blurted. “Her next child. We’re too late. The child is going to come through and–”

“Out,” Joselyn snapped. “Go. If the kid sees you, they’ll just freak out more.” To the others, she added, “You guys too. A bunch of us standing around is just going to make things worse. Go, hurry! Get out, I’ll meet you!”

The others hesitated, aside from Dorarg, who stepped back against the wall and melded into it, disappearing from sight immediately. Deveron and Lillian looked most resistant to leaving Joselyn alone, but were pulled away by the others, eventually going with them.

Left alone in that cavern, Joselyn waited as the wind continued to rise, throwing her short blonde hair around more wildly with each passing second.

Finally, a ghostly figure appeared almost directly in front of her, near the memorial. It looked like a small child of indistinct form, more of an impression on the air with little bits of wind gusting around in every direction around it than a physical body. A moment later they became slightly more definitive, a clearly female figure with a small glowing stone directly in the middle of the form, a stone that pulsed with magical power. This, quite clearly, was the same sort of magic that the group had followed back to this cave. It was one of these stones, the heart of the wind-elemental, that had left the trail.

The wind-girl stopped short, staring down at the memorial. She seemed to take in what was below the ground almost instantly, a sound of confusion and grief escaping her.

“Hey.” It was the only thing Joselyn could think to say, drawing the suddenly terrified girl’s attention, as the wind abruptly picked up with enough force to almost throw her against the wall.

“It’s okay!” Joselyn blurted. “I–Esenadey! Your mother, your mother was Esenadey!”

The wind didn’t stop, though it also didn’t grow any worse. The wind-girl had backed up to stand over the memorial, eyes wide as she stared at Joselyn.

Feeling that pain return, Joselyn quietly murmured, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about your mother, and what happened to her and your dad. I–”

Before she could say anything else, the wind abruptly redoubled. Suddenly, she was thrown against the wall. A wail of rage and grief filled the small cavern, as the air elemental fled for the exit.

Seeing her go, Joselyn lunged. Her hand lashed out through the powerful winds, catching hold of the stone in the center of the Denaksen child. She held on tight then, allowing herself to be hurled through the tunnel and out of the hole into open air.

Seeing her teammates spread out, each with weapons drawn, Joselyn had time to blurt, “Don’t!” Then she was flying through the air. The Denasken took her fifty feet up, then a hundred, winds already rising. Dirt, rocks, and other random debris were thrown in every direction, while the strength of the gusts nearly threw Joselyn to the ground. Still, she clung tight to the rock, the literal heart of the tornado.

“Please!” Joselyn cried out, “don’t! I know you’re scared and I know you’re sad, but your parents wouldn’t want this! What happened to them was terrible, and wrong! It was wrong! But you can’t make things better by hurting people! I know what you’re feeling. I know it hurts! You don’t want to make other people feel that way! You don’t want to take their mothers and fathers away!”

Through all of that, the winds were getting stronger. The tornado was forming, and already it was very apparent that this would be worse than all of the others.

Using both hands to cling to the glowing, warm stone as her body was violently thrown around by the wind, Joselyn closed her eyes tightly before opening them once more. There were tears in them. “I know you feel like you’re alone. I know you feel like you have nowhere to go, and no one who cares about you. I know you feel betrayed and lost. I know you feel like there’s no one to help you, no one to teach you who you are, or who you could be.”

She paused then, glancing down. They were several hundred feet up by that point, the ground looming far below. Still, the girl pushed on, even as the winds threatened to tear her from the stone she was clinging to. “So I’m going to teach you! I’m going to teach you who you are! You want to know who you can be?! You can be the one who destroys a town full of people who didn’t do anything to you! You can be the one who lets your grief and your anger control you!

“Or you can be the one who saves my life.”

With those words, Joselyn released her grip on the stone. The winds instantly flung her away, sending the girl flying end over end through the air before she tumbled out of the tornado. She was falling, plummeting toward the ground while the sound of her friends screaming reached her ears.

Then… the falling stopped. The wind had returned, as Joselyn found herself floating in the air, the air elemental’s form directly in front of her. There was still profound loss and grief in those eyes, as the girl stared at her. They floated in silence like that, slowly sinking to the ground before the wind finally faded.

“This is who you are,” Joselyn quietly managed. “This is who your parents would have wanted you to be.”

Finally, the small, insubstantial girl spoke through the wind. It had the effect of making her voice sound as though it was coming from everywhere at once. “Mother… Father…”

“I know.” Joselyn’s own voice was quiet, strained from emotion. “I know. It’s not fair. It’s not. But you’re not alone. There’s someone here for you, someone who can help take care of you. Do… do you trust me?”

There was a brief hesitation before the Denaksen slowly nodded. The glowing stone that was her heart moved up and out toward Joselyn, as though indicating her level of trust by exposing herself.

Very slowly, Joselyn reached out, putting her hand against the stone. She felt the wind gently rush over her, almost like an embrace.

“You’re not alone,” she repeated. “You never have to be alone. I’ll be there whenever you need me. I’ll come, I promise. But I can’t raise you. I can’t teach you. Not the way you need. For that… for that you need him.”

She turned then, raising a hand to point a bit into the distance, to where Dorarg stood. Seeing the earth-elemental, the wind-child jerked back reflexively. But Joselyn quickly spoke up. “It’s okay. It’s alright. He’s a friend. He’s a friend of your parents.”

The girl was clearly still skittish, yet she stood still while Dorarg slowly approached. Together, wind and earth elemental stood facing one another. They seemed to communicate without words for a moment, before Dorarg looked to Joselyn. “She needs a name.”

It was a request that made Joselyn rock backward a bit. “A… a name? You want me to…? I… umm…” She paused, then looked at the distortion in the air that was the wind child. “… Fiona. That was the name of my–of the woman who adopted me. My mother. Fiona.”

From the way the air elemental brushed over her face and hair, Joselyn assumed she approved of the name.

She was just going to have to be very careful from now on not to laugh too much every time Papa Dustin said his wife was full of hot air.

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Summer Epilogue 8 – Fossor and Joselyn

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“So yes, I must say, that was certainly an… unexpected turn of events.”

As he murmured those words, the man known as Fossor strode through the busy suburban mall, looking for all the world like an average, middle class dad out for a little shopping trip with his younger, far more attractive wife. Well, average save for the fact that a small cloud of ash kept appearing in front of his feet for the man to step on. But save for that small anomaly (which no one else seemed to notice), they could have been a hit sitcom.  “Unexpected indeed.”

Joselyn, who walked in his shadow, spoke softly without looking at the necromancer. “And just when you thought you had Gaia dealt with and out of the way. Too bad, really.” She could not inject even the slightest amount of sincerity into her words. “You must be so upset.”

Joselyn had experienced the same ‘awakening’ that every other Heretic must have when Felicity and Gaia had triggered that spell. The sudden download of information about her own rebellion, her own situation, that had abruptly flooded into her mind had dropped the woman to her knees.

Gaia. Gaia had destroyed the spell that erased the rebellion. She had brought it back, had restored everyone’s memories. More than that, she had shoved knowledge of it into everyone’s head, even those who weren’t there at the time. Every Heretic, everyone connected to the Heretical Edge, had been given the same rush of information.

They knew her. They knew Joselyn. All of them knew who she was, what she had tried to do. They knew what happened to her, what… what Ruthers had done to her children. They knew the truth. It was a thought that struck Joselyn even harder than the actual information upload had. Everyone knew who she was. Everyone knew the truth. They could accept it or not, but they knew. Ruthers had taken her children hostage, had treated babies as bargaining chips to win a war. And now everyone knew.

She truly, genuinely wished she could have seen the look on his face as it happened.

Pausing to give a brief fatherly smile to a woman who passed by with her two young children, Fossor replied simply, “Upset? Hardly.” Winking at the little boy who looked over his shoulder at them, he gave a jaunty wave before turning to walk once more, his gait one of a man with little care in the world. “As a matter of fact, I feel quite invigorated. It’s not good for a man to have no challenges. That just makes you slow. No, I dare say the good headmistress did me quite the favor here. Bringing you back to the attention of the Heretics, reinvigorating that delicious civil war? That should make for some fun, don’t you think?” Pausing, he pointed to the food court. “Oh, let’s treat ourselves. I do enjoy a good soft pretzel, don’t you?”

As she wasn’t really in any position to argue, Joselyn followed after the man. On the way, she made the mistake of glancing back once more to see that small boy with his sister and mother. Soft blonde hair, pink cheeks, an innocent smile… Her gaze quickly snapped away from him while a hard lump formed in her throat. As her eyes jerked from the little boy, she brought her thoughts firmly with it, forcing herself to not think about… that. About him.

Fossor was already standing in front of the pretzel shop, hemming and hawing about which one he wanted to get. When he noticed Joselyn standing quietly nearby, he ordered two, passing the teenage clerk behind the counter cash for them. Taking the napkin-wrapped pretzels, he held both up. “I just can’t decide. Which one would you like, my dear?”

Barely looking at them, Joselyn took one of the pretzels, holding it loosely in one hand just so that he would shut up about them. Her eyes were on Fossor himself, as she spoke in a low, pointed voice. “Are you done with this game? Why are we even here? You know there’s a chance that there could be Heretics in this place. What if they recognize one of us?”

Fossor’s reply to that was as casual as if he was discussing the weather. “Well, if that were to happen, I’d simply have you kill them, of course.” He took a bite of the pretzel, smiling pleasantly. “Mmmm. That is quite the treat.”

“So you’re saying we’re just here so you can see if anyone comes after you,” Joselyn murmured, not bothering to keep the disgust from her voice. “Don’t you have anything more important to do?” Besides manipulate this whole situation to try to force me to kill one of my old friends, she added silently. Despite not saying it aloud, he would know she was thinking it.

Taking another bite of his pretzel, Fossor simply shrugged one shoulder. “Let’s just call this whole thing a test, shall we?” With those simple, yet also troubling words, he turned to walk once more. “Oh, I do hope there’s a decent sale at Old Navy. I need a new pair of slacks.”

As they walked through the mall, Joselyn remarked, “You did all that to get Gaia out of the way so she couldn’t protect Felicity, and she still managed to paint a giant target on you. If anything, Felicity has even more protection now. She’s with Prosser and his people. You won’t get anywhere near her.” She didn’t truly believe that her daughter was completely safe, of course. But Joselyn hoped that taunting the man about it might get him to reveal something she could use, eventually. And, of course, make him believe that she was actually that arrogant or blind.

For a moment, however, Fossor gave no reaction at all. Well, no reaction aside from stopping in front of the window of a pet store to smile at the little puppies on display. “They really are adorable at that size, aren’t they?” Giving the tiniest dog there a two fingered wave, he added, “Perhaps we should pick up a few. I enjoy having some of man’s best friends around.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Joselyn asked, injecting false sweetness into her voice. “We both know how much you hate anything else getting more attention than you.”

Chuckling seemingly genuinely at that, Fossor tipped an imaginary hat to her. “Nicely riposted, my dear.” He smiled, strolling onward through the busy mall after giving the dogs another brief look. His tone was as casual as ever. “Do you know why I enjoy these little jabs of yours?”

Joselyn sighed under her breath, head shaking as she followed after him. “I don’t know, maybe you’re just tired of being surrounded by nothing but mindless sycophants. Which is odd for a necromancer who kills almost everyone who spends any time with him, but maybe you just don’t think these things through.”

He chuckled again, head shaking. “No, no, no. A good thought, but no. You see, I enjoy hearing every single one of these little acts of verbal spite. Because each is a tiny flower in a garden of rebellion that shows you haven’t completely surrendered, that you still have your spirit. Which makes the fact that you will always do exactly as I tell you even more perfectly delicious.”

With that simple pronouncement, the man began to step onto the escalator, before stopping to allow an older couple who were holding hands to go first. “Oh no, go ahead, I insist.” He gestured for them to proceed, while giving them a disarmingly pleasant smile.

Joselyn stepped beside him, watching the two retirees ride the escalator to the top. Her voice was flat. “I don’t suppose you could at least tell me why you wanted the Hangman rope now?” She offered him a humorless smile. “It’s not like I could do anything to stop you anyway.”

“Curiosity is a powerful thing, isn’t it?” Fossor replied while stepping up onto the escalator. He didn’t bother gesturing for her to follow, knowing she would anyway. “It motivates one to such great lengths.” He turned a slight smile her way. “It can even inspire you to make unneeded conversation with someone you truly despise with every fiber of your being.”

Standing two steps behind the necromancer as they rode the escalator to the next floor, Joselyn retorted, “Let’s just say I’ve got a lot of practice talking to people who make me sick. And,” she added while stepping off at the top, “you didn’t answer the question.”

“I have a habit of that,” Fossor agreed, wrapping his empty napkin up in one hand before nodding to her. “Don’t forget to eat your pretzel before it gets cold.” With that, the man turned to walk once more, passing a group of teenagers arguing in front of an arcade. He didn’t speak again for a minute, contenting himself with simply window shopping through the next couple of stores. Finally, he spoke thoughtfully. “The trouble with telling you what the rope is for is that it would spoil the surprise. And I do so love to see your look of surprise.” Glancing from the selection of shoes and boots he had been idly looking over to meet her gaze, the man added slyly, “In fact, I’m quite looking forward to it when we get to the end of today’s test.”

Positively certain that she didn’t want to know what he meant by that, Joselyn took brief look at the group of teens, watching them finally settle on going to see a movie instead of heading into the arcade. As they strode off, she sighed and followed after Fossor while absently taking a bite from the pretzel. She was almost annoyed by how good it tasted.

Since he clearly wouldn’t answer any of her earlier questions, she chose to ask a different one. “You’re doing all of this, all these schemes and risky plans to piss off the Committee and the Seosten, just to get a little stronger. Just to protect yourself a little more. Why bother? You’d be completely safe on your own world. No one could challenge you there. The place is an impenetrable fortress. Why not stay there? You have billions of servants, lives to play with. You have everything you could ever possibly need. Why stay here on Earth, with all the Seosten, the Heretics, and even the random Fomorian? Why risk it?” She paused briefly before adding in a quieter, almost resigned voice, “You could even take me back with you.”

Fossor chuckled at that. “First, my dear, don’t be arrogant. Not everything is about you. I have far more interests than you or your family, even if you are a rather pleasant distraction in… let’s say several ways.” His look made her shudder, as bile rose in her throat.

“Second,” he continued, “I stay because they have tried to drive me away. They have tried so very hard to tell me that I cannot be here.” His eyes hardened then, a dark look crossing them as he continued in a harsh, vindictive tone. “And no one tells me where I cannot be.”

Just as suddenly, the man’s eyes brightened. “Oh, look, twenty-five dollars for men’s slacks. Exactly what I was looking for.” He stepped past her, heading for the Old Navy store.

Muttering about psychotic necromancers under her breath, Joselyn trailed after the man, giving a short nod to the young man who stood just outside the store with a sign advertising the sale. Together, she and Fossor moved through the store. Just like any ordinary mundane couple, they actually shopped for pants. The man hemmed a bit over various brands, holding them up to himself before looking in the mirror. Finding several he liked the look of, he stepped into the changing room to try them on, leaving her with a casual, “Find a belt for me, would you, dear? The old one is rather frayed.”

Left on her own for a minute, Joselyn never thought about walking away and abandoning him. As nice as it would have been, the spell she had taken part in all those years earlier would never allow it. She gave a soft sigh instead before moving away from the dressing rooms, looking for men’s belts. On the way, she passed several people who nodded to her pleasantly. One actually made conversation, stopping to ask if she knew where the summer children’s clothes were, but most simply went on their way with barely a glance in her direction.

Would there be a Heretic in here? Would someone she knew, or who knew her actually approach? Was this the test that Fossor was talking about? Did he want to know what she would do if she encountered someone like that? What would she do if… if ordered to kill them?

She had no choice. The spell would allow her to disobey an order only if following it would put Felicity in direct danger. There was no way around that. She knew all too well just how far Fossor could push his control of her. The things he had already forced her to do…

She snapped out of it, head physically jerking as she found herself standing in front of the belts. Her hand was actually on one of them, gripping it so tightly she’d nearly snapped the thing in half. And yet, she found herself unable to immediately let go of it. As angry as she was, as frustrated and helpless as she felt, all she wanted to do was squeeze harder.

“Oh, good,” Fossor announced as he stepped up behind her, brushing a hand over her shoulder while reaching for the same belt she was holding. “You found one. And just my style too. See now, you know me so well.” With a wink, he took the belt and tried it against the new pants. “Perfect. Why don’t you head to the front and pay. I’ll mosey along after you in just a moment.”

Simultaneously unsure of what the man would be doing in the meantime, and absolutely sure she didn’t want to know, Joselyn took the pants that he offered her along with the belt before moving to the checkout. There, she waited in line, spoke casually with a few customers as well as the employee herself, and then stepped out with bag in hand.

Fossor joined her immediately, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “So,” he began simply, “what do you think? Was today’s test successful?”

Squinting at the man, Joselyn shoved the bag of clothes against his chest while muttering, “What test?” Even as she asked, the events of the entire shopping trip were playing through her mind. Was he expecting her to challenge him more? Had she missed something important?”

Still clearly enjoying himself more than she liked, Fossor replied, “Come now. Play everything back, our entire trip here. Has anything stood out to you? Anything jump to mind?” He could clearly barely contain his giddiness over the whole affair, her obvious bafflement over what he was referring to only making it better for him. “Look around,” he added ‘helpfully.’ “See if anything stands out at all. Take your time.”

Instead of moving immediately, Joselyn met his gaze, trying to read him. Finally, she turned and stepped to the nearby railing. Looking out over the crowd below, she watched for a couple silent minutes. Nothing. Nothing stood out. No one seemed to be paying too much attention to them. No one was following them. She saw no Alters, nothing out of the ordinary. They were just shoppers, employees, random people.

Finally, Fossor spoke up from behind. “Let me give you a hint.”

With a sharp sound, the man snapped his fingers. And everything stopped. Everyone stopped. Hundreds of shoppers on both levels suddenly halted. Conversations ceased instantly. People who were arguing, people who were hugging, chatting, shopping, everything. They stopped. And as one, in the exact same motion, they turned to face Joselyn. Hundreds of eyes were suddenly staring at her blankly. They had no emotion. They had no hopes, no dreams, no fears, nothing of their own. They had nothing, were nothing, not anymore. Because they were…

“Zombies,” she breathed out, eyes widening. “They’re… zombies. All of them. All… the whole..”

“Yes,” Fossor confirmed, the delight evident in his voice. “The whole mall. Every last shopper, employee, man, woman, child, all of them. They are all mine.” He watched her with a bright smile as she slowly turned to stare at him in horror. “They did well, didn’t they? Did you enjoy the show? My puppets did try oh so hard to impress you. Or, not impress you, I suppose. After all, the point was not to stand out.”

“But… why?” Joselyn demanded, feeling sick in the pit of her stomach. The children she had seen, the… the… all of them. They were all dead. All killed and then puppeted by this monster. “All this, just to put on a show for me? Why?”

“A show just for you?” he echoed. “Don’t be absurd. You’re the bait here, not the target.”

Swallowing hard, Joselyn murmured, “You’re setting up a trap.”

The man winked. “One of several, yes. You see, you’re right, now that Heretics know who you are, they will be on the lookout for you. They will try to find you. And this, what you see around us? Let’s just say it’s one of several preparations I’m making. We’ll see if any of your old friends follow you in here. And if they do, we’ll spring the trap.”

Staring at the man, Joselyn pointed out, “Pretty elaborate just to have them killed.”

“Oh no, no no, not killed,” Fossor corrected, shaking his head. “You see, our friends here are very special creatures. Very… special indeed. I designed them myself after watching one of those old Romero movies. You know the whole ‘zombies want to eat your brains’ nonsense. Well, these don’t eat your brain. They infect you. With each bite, each wound, they tear at your willpower, your ability to resist commands.”

Letting that sink in for a moment, Fossor continued. “Of course, the downside of creating these wonderful creatures is that they are limited to a relatively small area. If they move beyond the area of their creation, in their case, this mall, they will disintegrate. Which means anyone I wish to subject to them must come here. But that shouldn’t be hard to achieve. As you said, there will be people coming after you. People who will follow you into this simple, ordinary mall. So yes, a little bit of extra work, but worth it, I believe.

“After all, as much fun as having one Heretic enslaved at my beck and call has been, imagine what I could do with an army of them.”

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Bonus Interlude – Joselyn Edge Visions

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1918

Her name was Joselyn Atherby. She had just turned seventeen a few weeks earlier, and now she was going to save the world.

Not from the Krauts. The Great War would be over soon, as the Allies had already pushed the Germans back to the Hindenburg line right around the same time as that birthday. No, this was an entirely different threat than the one which had been ripping the world apart for so long. This was a threat that very few knew of, let alone could do anything about.

Monsters. Evil creatures hiding within humanity’s own backyards, hunting and killing them from the shadows. And only very few select people could see and combat them.

Today, Joselyn would become one of those people.

She had always known that her parents weren’t her real parents. Dustin and Fiona Ossiler had always made it clear that, as much as they loved her, she was adopted. She called them Mom and Dad, they treated her as a daughter, but they were also honest with her as soon as she was old enough to understand.

They had also made it clear that her ‘Grandpa Zed’ was the man who had arranged her adoption. Zedekiah Pericles had visited at least once a month the whole time that Joselyn had been growing up, coming for dinner or just to talk for a little bit. Sometimes he took her fishing, or roller skating. She loved her Grandpa Zed.

And it was he who finally told her the truth, that her parents were Heretics. He told her what Heretics were, and that she could be one if she wanted to. Of course she had agreed, and the man had brought her to Crossroads. That was the year before. They’d come and gone several times, as he showed her around and told her what it would be like when she finally started attending in September.

Now she was here. Finally, after all this time, after all the anticipation, she was in the lighthouse with the Heretical Edge. Professor Gaia Sinclaire had just finished explaining everything that Joselyn already knew, and was telling them to prepare for the visions that would come as they were turned from ordinary humans into people who could actually fight the monsters.

The light came, blinding in its intensity. And when it began to fade, she heard a voice cry out, “Tiras, down!”

Whipping her head that way, she was just in time to see a young blonde woman around her age rear back and hurl a spear directly at her. A flash of terror shot her heart up into her throat,and she let out a reflexive scream before the spear passed harmlessly through her. It was just like Professor Sinclaire had said, they weren’t really there. It was like a dream.

All of that passed through her mind while she spun back to look at where the spear had gone. The thing had impaled itself through the body of a tall, white-furred creature with an incredibly ugly and misshapen face, which was tilted toward the sky as it howled in pain.

Monster. Real monster. It was Joselyn’s first real look at one, and her mouth fell open at the sight, even as she took a reflexive step back. A quiet whimper of terror escaped the young woman while she tried to tell herself that it couldn’t hurt her, that it couldn’t even see her. She wasn’t really there.

But the monster. The monster was bellowing. It reached back, yanking the spear from its back as it twisted to face the girl who had thrown it. The girl who was right then sprinting through Joselyn, which was a disturbing experience all by itself. Recovering quickly, her gaze snapped that way to see the big, white-furred thing give a terrible roar as it swiped a massive clawed paw at the girl who was racing toward it. But the girl’s hand snapped up to catch the incoming paw. Joselyn heard a dangerous wolf-like growl coming from her, before she lashed out with her other hand. Claws had appeared on the end of her fingers, which were driven past the heavy fur and deep into the monster’s chest.

It reared back, stumbling even as the girl released the monster’s wrist to catch her spear as it fell from the his grip. Her other hand was still extended, claws buried in the beast’s chest, and she used that to hoist herself up high enough to drive the spear through its neck with enough force that the blade went all the way through from one side to the other. Finally releasing her grip on its chest, the girl instead caught her spear from both sides of where it had impaled the monster’s throat. She brought her feet up to its chest and then kicked backwards off of it to hurl herself away. In the process, she literally tore the thing’s throat out with the shaft of the spear.

Some distant part of Joselyn almost reflexively thought she should catch the girl before she fell. But the vast majority of her was entirely too occupied with staring at the gory sight in front of her while a horrified scream tried to erupt from her. She had already stumbled backward, hand covering her mouth as she stared in shock. The girl… her… her ancestor? Her ancestor had just killed that monster like that. It was a vicious kill, one that reminded Joselyn of the pictures she had seen of… of bodies in the war.

The beast collapsed, even as her ancestor landed nimbly on both feet. Her hands had returned to normal, and she slowly straightened up. For a moment, the two stood facing one another. And despite everything she had been told, Joselyn couldn’t shake the undeniable feeling that her ancestor was staring directly at her. Their gazes locked, and something… finally clicked in a way that it had yet to up to this point.

This was her relative, her ancestor. Whoever she was, this was a blood relative, someone she was related to. This… this incredible girl who had single-handedly destroyed that monster was related to her.

Joselyn felt intimidated and awed in equal measure. Her throat closed up, and she tears rushed to her eyes in that moment. For so long, she had wanted to know about her real family, her only idea of them being that they had sacrificed themselves to defeat an invasion of monsters. But now… now she could look into this girl’s gaze. She could see herself in it. And somehow… somehow she knew this wasn’t just an ancestor several times removed from her. This was someone far closer to her. This was…

“Mother…”

The word left Joselyn’s lips in a whisper, and in turn she saw the other girl open her mouth. Once more the thought that she was actually there and that her ancestor–her mother was going to respond to her rose in her mind.

But her name didn’t come. Instead, the girl’s mouth finished opening and she blurted that same word that she had before. “Tiras!”

It was only after her mother raced past her once more (Joselyn twisted out of the way to avoid the sensation of being run through) that she realized who the other girl was calling to. Just beyond the dead beast’s collapsed body, a man slouched against the nearby tree. One of many. They were in a forest of some kind, Joselyn belatedly realized now that she had a chance to look around at things other than the big white monster or her mother. The man himself was almost disturbingly handsome, and the teenage girl’s heart beat faster for a reason entirely different from the fight she had just witnessed. He had strong Indian features, and even grimacing in pain as he was, the man looked incredible.

Oh, right, her ancestor. Joselyn’s eyes snapped back to the girl just as she reached the spot where the man was. He had slumped all the way to the ground, and the young woman went down to one knee. Her hand moved to an obvious wound in his chest. “Are you–are you…” The fear in her voice was obvious, and Joselyn almost forgot herself by stepping over to help.

“I’ll be fine, kid.” The man’s response was immediate, though he definitely didn’t sound fine. His voice was weak, and he gave a grimace of pain. “Just… gotta let it run its course.”

“Run its course?” the other girl demanded. “That thing was meant for you, Tiras. That poison on its claws, that was meant for an Akharu. They’re sending things specifically to kill you now.”

An Akharu? Joselyn was confused. What was an Akharu? Was that his… tribe? Why would poison work better on someone from a specific tribe?

The man managed a weak smile at that. “Not an Akharu. A vampire. I’m a little more than that, Virginia. Just because I make vampires doesn’t mean what kills them will kill me.”

… Wait. Wait. Make vampires? What… what was he talking about? An Akharu made vampires? Why would her mother be working with someone who made vampires? Joselyn couldn’t understand. Her mind was reeling, as she staggered backward.

The blinding light was back. It enveloped everything, and then Joselyn was back in the lighthouse. Back with everyone else.

“Hey, Jos!” The boy she had just met, Deveron, was grinning at her. His too-large nose and ears, skinny frame, and gawky expression was immediately endearing. “Did you see something good?”

“Good?” Joselyn echoed, the confusion fresh on her mind as she started to blurt a demand. “Why the hell would my…”

She trailed off, and Deveron, who had taken a reflexive step back, blinked at her. “Err… why the hell would what?”

Joselyn blinked. Then she blinked again. What… had she been so upset and confused by? “I…” Her head shook. “Nothing, yeah, I saw my… ancestor kill this monster with white fur.”

Ancestor… what did she look like again? The face was a blur, but the hair was… blonde, right? She was pretty sure it was blonde. Had there been someone else there? She thought there was someone else there.

Oh well, the Edge had apparently done its job, so who cared? Joselyn was ready to train and kill monsters herself now.

Whoever her ancestor was, it probably wasn’t very important anyway.

*******

2007

She remembered. Gods, she remembered everything. Joselyn remembered the friendships, the… the love. She remembered Deveron. She remembered her other children. Where were they now? Were they alive? Were they happy?

She remembered the war. She remembered what Ruthers had done. She remembered surrendering to save her children. All of it. She remembered all of it.

And that was all thanks to the monster in front of her. Fossor. He had brought her back into things, had forced her to remember who she really was just before he planned to take her Felicity away to do Gods only knew what to her.

So Joselyn had once more surrendered herself, had volunteered herself to take Felicity’s place. She could never allow her daughter to be alone with that monster, could never have lived with herself knowing that Felicity was out there being brought up by the amoral necromancer. So she had come instead, had voluntarily subjected herself to a ritual that bound her to obey the man, so long as he left with her instead of Felicity, and didn’t willingly allow any harm to come to her until she was eighteen.

Eighteen. That would give her time to get a message to Gabriel Prosser somehow. Or he would just take Felicity and Lincoln in once it was clear that she had disappeared.

Now, Fossor wanted her to be a Heretic again. Why, precisely, she didn’t know. To be his guard dog/soldier, no doubt. But what exactly was his plan? Joselyn didn’t know. All she knew was that to protect her daughter, she had to keep her end of the magical bargain. And that meant eating the Eden’s Garden apple that would restore her ability to gain powers through killing things. It wouldn’t restore all the powers that she’d had before, but she had a feeling Fossor had a plan for dealing with that as well.

At least… the normal powers. She was absolutely certain that he had no way of forcing the Edge itself to restore her connection to the Committee. That was beyond even him.

Still, she had to eat the apple, had to become a true Heretic again. And as she did so, Joselyn felt the light start to rise up across her vision once more. Once more, she was thrust back into a vision of her ancestor.

The light faded away, and Joselyn was standing in a burned out field of some kind. Smoldering ruins of buildings were nearby, while all that lay beneath her feet was charred ground and scattered, scorched rock. At a sound, Joselyn raised her gaze and found herself looking at… herself.

It was herself as a tiny child, a toddler, yet she knew without a doubt that the little girl being held up in strong arms was her. She just knew.

The man holding her looked like Michael Landon from his Little House On The Prairie days. Handsome, strong, with a head full of dark curly hair. Dad. He was her dad, her father.

“I wish we had more time,” the man murmured, while cradling the young Joselyn to himself. His strong hand tenderly brushed through her hair.

“There would never be enough time.” The response came not from the tiny Joselyn, of course. It came from a woman standing behind the adult Joselyn. She turned, just in time to see a familiar blonde woman step past her.

Virginia Dare. That was Virginia Dare. Gaia’s protege, whom she had brought to the school as a teacher after taking over as Headmistress. Which was after Joselyn’s time there, but she still knew the woman. They’d met a couple times, had seen each other mostly from a distance. What was… what was… she…

She remembered. Her first vision. Joselyn remembered that first vision, of her mother… of Virginia Dare with Tiras. Her mother. Virginia Dare was her mother.

The shock of that realization struck with the force of thunder through her entire body, even as Dare continued softly. “We could have a thousand years together, and it wouldn’t be enough.” As she spoke, the woman raised both hands. One touched the young Joselyn’s hair while the other brushed across the man’s face.

“I know.” The man’s two-word response cracked from emotion as he put one arm around the woman to pull her closer. The two stood there together with their daughter held between them. For a few long seconds, neither said anything, until the tiny Joselyn’s plaintive voice blurted out, “Squishing, Mommy!”

With a laugh that was almost crying, Dare stepped back a bit. “Sorry, baby,” she murmured in a weak voice before turning her attention to Joselyn’s father.

Joshua. Joselyn knew that much. Her father’s name was Joshua Atherby.

“The longer we…” Dare’s eyes closed briefly before opening once more as she clearly forced the words out past a dam of emotion. “The longer we wait, the more people will die.”

Oh no. Oh no, that’s what this was. That’s what today was. This was the day that Joselyn’s parents sacrificed themselves, her father losing his life and her mother losing her identity as his wife. They sacrificed their family to stop the Fomorian invasion. This was their last moment together. And Joselyn was seeing it, mere… mere hours after leaving her own family behind.

This was too much. It was too much, too fast.

But it kept going. From the side, a portal opened and two figures emerged. Joselyn immediately recognized them. One was Gaia Sinclaire herself. The other was Zedekiah Pericles, her Grandpa Zed.

“It’s time,” Gaia spoke softly, regret and remorse audible in her voice. “The spell is prepared, and if we wait any longer, the Fomorian line will overwhelm the token defenses we left in place. If we wait, they will escape Desoto.”

Desoto, the state that Gaia had been baroness of before… before sacrificing it to help halt the Fomorian invasion. That’s where they were, likely as close to the actual original Fomorian entrance portal as they could get.

Joshua held the young Joselyn up, meeting her gaze as his voice broke. “You be good, okay, Jossy? Papa loves you. You know that?” His words sounded almost… desperate. He needed his baby to know that he loved her.

“I love you, Papa! Jossy good girl!” Her younger self insisted, before wrapping both arms around his neck tightly. “Jossy stay, Papa!”

It was horrible. Through the tears that half-blinded her, the older Joselyn watched as Dare took her from Joshua, then hugged her tightly. “Baby. My baby…”

“Mama, want Papa.” Joselyn squirmed in her mother’s grip. “Wanna go with Papa!”

It broke something deep inside of Joselyn to hear herself say that, and she could see the same thing break in both of her parents, each for different reasons. Joshua’s daughter wanted him, but he was about to sacrifice his life. Dare was about to sacrifice her identity, about to sacrifice her own daughter’s memories of her… and that daughter was trying to squirm away from her. Even if Joselyn hadn’t understood what was going on at the time, seeing that… seeing that made her feel a deep pit of shame in her stomach.

Dare held her daughter tightly for a moment despite her protests, kissing her forehead and whispering something tender to her before passing the girl to Zedekiah carefully. “Make sure she’s safe,” Dare insisted, her voice equally broken. “Make her safe.”

“We will,” Gaia and Zedekiah promised, the former stepping forward to touch Dare’s arm.

“My girl… my… I am so sorry. I am sorry that you must do this. This is… not… fair.”

Dare’s lips trembled, before she shook her head. “The Fomorians don’t care about fair. Go. Take her. We’ll finish here.”

“When the spell completes, you will be teleported back behind the line,” Gaia reminded her, sounding as if she just wanted to say something, even if everyone clearly already knew that. “You will be brought to safety.”

She left unsaid, of course, the fact that Joshua would not.

Gaia and Zedekiah left with the young Joselyn, leaving Dare and Joshua alone (save for the adult Joselyn secretly watching through the vision). The two faced one another, taking each other into their arms before holding tight.

“I love you, Josh,” Virginia quietly murmured as she clung to her husband.

“My Ginny… “ Joshua murmured back, pressing his forehead to hers. “I love you. I will always love you. We don’t have forever, but if we remember, we can turn now into eternity.”

Raising her eyes to meet her husband’s, Virginia whispered softly, “I will remember. I will always remember.”

They said nothing else. With the time that was left, the two held one another. Their lips met one last time. Joselyn stood there, watching as her mother and father spent their last few seconds together joined together in one final kiss.

Then Dare was gone. Her body vanished from Joshua’s grip, leaving the man standing alone. Alone, that was, save for the Joselyn. But she wasn’t truly there. She couldn’t offer her father anything.

“If you’re there…” Joshua’s sudden voice startled Joselyn, and her gaze snapped up to find her father looking off into the distance away from her as he continued. “I want you to know that I love you.”

Who… who was he… talking to?

“Maybe I’m talking to myself. Maybe the Edge won’t show you this. But if it does. If it shows you this moment, I want you to know that I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you.”

Her. He was talking to her. He was talking to the older Joselyn just in case she saw a vision of him, of this moment. That realization struck the woman with such force that she physically staggered, hand reaching her mouth.

“I adore you, my Joselyn. My brave little girl. And no matter who you grew up to be, I am proud of you. Be strong. Be brave. Be everything that I know you already are. Because you are my daughter. Always… always know without any doubt, that I am your father.

“And I love you.”

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Mini-Interlude 55 – Joselyn

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“Moooooooommmmmy! Momma! Mom-mom-mom-momma Mia Mama!”

The chanting voice drew Joselyn from a deep slumber. Eyes opening as her mind oriented itself away from the dream to the real world, she found herself, as most mornings, waking up in an incredibly comfortable, silk sheet-covered bed. The bed itself was located within what had to be one of the most beautiful bedrooms on the face of the planet. Floor to ceiling glass doors led out to a balcony to her right, while a walk-in closet the size of most apartments was to the left. Paintings, mirrors, entire statues, and more signs of absurd opulence filled the rest of the nearly six hundred square foot bedroom, with a ceiling that was fifteen feet up. It was an absurd size.

As her head lifted from the pillow to look straight across from the bottom of the bed to the double doors that stood open, Joselyn found the source of the call. Ammon. The boy stood there, framed in the doorway with a smile on his face as he announced, “I brought you breakfast!”

With that, he snapped his fingers. Four figures moved past the boy, two to either side as they came into the room. Three of them were carrying trays laden with food, while the fourth carried three different pitchers of fresh juices. They moved quickly and efficiently to stand on either side of the bed. None moved a muscle once in position. And without fail, each looked utterly petrified.

Slowly, Joselyn sat up in the bed, pulling the sheet with her so that it continued to cover her form. She was not allowed clothes when sleeping. Not that Fossor spent many evenings in the same room, or even that many in the same house. He was most often elsewhere, carrying out his plans or enacting his various vengeances. But his rules remained in place regardless, and one of them was that Joselyn was not to wear clothes to bed. She was, in fact, not allowed to dress herself until Fossor himself gave permission, even if he had to do so over the phone.

At a certain point, she had been able to make that particular rule almost meaningless, as she only required perhaps a half hour of sleep per day. But Fossor had begun siphoning energy from her for some project, meaning that she now required at least four. She still wasn’t sure how much of that was because he had an actual project that required her energy and how much was simply because he was amused by thwarting any attempt she made at working around his rules.  

Either way, she had to sleep for at least four hours each night depending on how much his secret project took out of her that day, and during that time she was not allowed any clothes. It was, by that point, just another small indignity that continued to amuse the man who had enslaved her. One more thing that he controlled. One more thing that he made her ask for.

“Ammon,” she spoke carefully, choosing her words the best way that she could while shifting the sheet a little so that it covered more. “I don’t recognize these particular servants. Are they new?” It never ended well to be confrontational with the boy. Not anymore. Particularly as she wasn’t allowed to discipline him anyway. She had to be careful in how she spoke to him. Not for her own sake. His ability wouldn’t work on her, and she could quite easily overpower him if need be. But because he would take his frustration out on others, and she was not allowed to stop him.

“I haven’t decided yet,” the boy replied simply, chewing his lip for a moment in thought as he stepped in and walked slowly up to the end of the bed. Gesturing, he explained. “They were mean when I got to the restaurant, so I had to make them see that they were bad. But now I kinda like them. And it’s not like they have any customers to go back to. Or a restaurant.”

Despite herself, Joselyn flinched inwardly a little bit. Right. No wonder these four looked so traumatized. She didn’t know exactly what Ammon had done. But she had the general idea already, and had absolutely no desire to have any specific details spelled out. A quick glance over the gathered quartet revealed little. They were all dressed as servers in nice black slacks and crisp white shirts. Two were female, the other two male, one of each standing on each side. The females were noticeably attractive, which Joselyn prayed was a coincidence. Once Ammon began hitting puberty, with his… abilities and lack of any kind of remorse or even a basic understanding of empathy… bile rose in her throat, and she had to look away for a moment. But only for a moment. If Ammon thought that something had upset her, he would lash out. Not at her, but at these four. He would think that they had done something, somehow. He was never cruel to Joselyn purposefully. He… in his own way, cared for her. At least as much as he was capable of, after what Fossor had done to warp and mangle his psyche. Some part of Ammon still remembered loving his mother, so he repeatedly tried in vain to recapture that feeling. He tried so hard to remember the good emotions that his father had stripped away from him.

Forcing herself to smile, because to do otherwise would bring tears, and Ammon’s anger at the people around them, Joselyn extended a hand. “Do you want to come up and help me eat this feast?” she asked, trying hard not to let her hand tremble from the rage that she felt at Fossor.

Ammon’s own childish smile was bright, and not put-on at all. He clambered up into the bed, crawling up quickly and settled in next to her before imperiously ordering, “Dessert first!”

Swallowing hard, Joselyn put a hand on the boy’s head. She leaned down, smelling his hair for a moment. God. Oh God. She remembered how he had been. She remembered the boy before… before all this. She remembered his sweetness, his curiosity about everything. Her son. Her beautiful, amazing, wonderful baby boy. And now she had to wonder every time she saw him, how many people he had murdered, how many lives he had destroyed.

He’d asked her enough pointed questions that she knew he knew about Koren. The new Koren, her granddaughter. How much else he knew, she wasn’t certain. But she did know that he hadn’t told his father. Why, she wasn’t exactly sure. But he hadn’t. Not yet, anyway. For whatever reason, the boy was keeping that particular information to himself.

She wished so much that she could believe it was for a good reason. But she knew better. Whatever was driving her son to keep Koren Fellows a secret from his father wasn’t anything good. And the thought of what he might be up to, what his twisted, broken mind might conjure up…

Out of sight of Ammon, with her face against the top of his head, Joselyn allowed a single, solitary tear to fall as the captive restaurant staff prepared to serve their meal.

******

The roar of flames filled the air as the male fire elemental flew straight toward Joselyn a couple hours later. As he approached, his heat scouring the floor it was flying over top of, she dove to the side, rolling before popping up to her feet. The second she was upright, the elemental was already pointing that way, a geyser of flame erupting from his outstretched hand. It came so quickly that all Joselyn could do was jerk her entire body backward as far as she could, allowing the fire to roast the air right above her nose. The heat so so intense that it would have melted her eyes in their sockets if she hadn’t already possessed enough resistance powers.

The room that they were in lay deep in the subbasement of the mansion.It was, essentially, a fighting arena, complete with stands for an audience of at least a hundred people. The arena itself was circular and about a hundred feet in diameter, with a forcefield that contained both the violence and any stray powers. Set right next to what would be considered the ‘owners box’ in the middle of the stands was a screen showing a time that was currently ticking down from ten seconds in yellow numbers.

That had to do with another of Fossor’s rules. He arranged these tournaments, forced her to fight these Alters that he had… acquired. He would throw them into this pit and have them attack her. Sometimes only one, sometimes many. The clock showed how long Joselyn had to survive before she was allowed to use any active powers. Technically, there were two countdowns. When the numbers were red, it meant that she wasn’t allowed to fight back at all, only evade and stay away from her attacker(s). When the numbers were yellow as they were right then, she could fight, but was not allowed to use any active powers. And when the countdown hit the single green zero, she could go all out.

Fossor, for all his arrogance, didn’t want her to become a mindless murder-addict. He wanted her to work for him, wanted her to serve him. But she would be less effective at that if she was addicted to killing, which would happen to any Reaper-based Heretic who killed too easily too often. Kills had to be earned. If he just had her walk from cage to cage killing one Alter after another, it wouldn’t be long before she completely lost her mind and became little more than a beast. He could get one of those from anywhere. But he only had one of her. Hence these tournaments, these actual fights and all his rules about making her earn each victory, each kill.

The stands themselves were about a quarter full. The twenty-odd people who were watching were a mixture of Ammon’s… pets (four of which were the restaurant servers he had just abducted that morning) and a few of the living beings that Fossor himself kept around to serve him. The vast majority of the beings on the grounds were dead, zombies given specific instructions and tasks to perform by their necromancer master. But there were about a dozen of the living variety, those whose tasks were too much to entrust to mindless zombies. The ghosts weren’t mindless, but interacting with the physical world was taxing. So there were the living servants, though they were just as enslaved to Fossor as their deceased companions.

Three quick fireballs were shot through the air at her. She pivoted around one before leaping to twist her body so that the other two would fly past either side of her. In mid-air, the clock hit that green zero, and she inverted. Her fist lashed out, turning blue as a curtain of ice enveloped the wave of flames that the fire elemental had been pushing toward her. The elemental quickly rose high into the air, above the ice wall so that he could fire (literally) down at her.

But Joselyn wasn’t there. Appearing on top of the wall of ice that she had created, almost directly behind the elemental, she extended her hand. As he spun, a wave of cold from her fingers enveloped the figure. His flames were instantly doused, and his red-orange body turned pale white as he was frozen solid.

A quick kick from her shattered his body into a thousand pieces, which rained down over the arena while Joselyn’s golden aura flared up.

There. It was done. Not all of her training for the day, but at least the last one that she had to kill. Joselyn dropped to the floor, looking to the stands as the gathered witnesses began to move away. All save for one of the restaurant employees, a young woman who sat in the stand by herself, staring at Joselyn while looking terribly alone and lost.

With a soft sigh, she approached the girl. The forcefield had lowered as everyone else made their way out to go about the rest of their duties (or find some other entertainment). “My son didn’t give you any instructions?”

The girl had a slight deer-in-headlights look, swallowing audibly while staring up at Joselyn. She was pretty, with short raven-black hair that was cut just past her ears and an innocent, naive face. Joselyn thought that she looked a fair bit like Phoebe Cates in those Gremlin films.

“J-just to stay in the building,” she answered quietly, her voice shaking a little.

“What’s your name?” Joselyn asked, her voice as gentle as she could make it.

The girl answered, whimpering just a little as she did so. “J-Jenna. It’s Jenna.”

“Jenna,” Joselyn repeated, nodding. “Why don’t you come with me? I have a little solo training to get through, then I was planning on visiting the library. Neither of us can leave the building, so we might as well stay together.”

Blinking rapidly in an obvious attempt to avoid tears, Jenna nodded while stammering, “Okay. But… but y-y-your son, he’s… he’s a…”

“I know,” Joselyn spoke simply, her voice softer than ever.

“Believe me, I know.”

******

“Well, my dear, how was your day?” Fossor’s voice was sweet, no different from any other husband and father as he took his seat at the obscenely long dinner table. Beside him, one of his reanimated automatons poured a glass of wine for its master.

“Three,” Joselyn answered flatly, not yet moving to touch her own plate even as Fossor immediately began to dig into his steak. “I killed three of them today.”

Beside her, Jenna moved to copy the actions of her dead counterpart beside Fossor. Joselyn had managed to convince the man and Ammon both to let her keep the girl with her for the time being. She had no idea how long it would last, but she would do everything she could.

The bottle shook a little in the terrified girl’s grip. It would have spilled, which itself would have drawn the ire of the monster at the end of the table, and Jenna would have been killed. But Joselyn carefully and subtly extended just a little of her power, taking control of the liquid as it fell and guiding it to land smoothly in the glass regardless of where the actual bottle was, or how much it was shaking.

“Well, it sounds as though you kept yourself occupied, at least.” Fossor nodded once before launching into his actual point. “I had quite the busy day myself, of course. So many small fires to put out and larger fires to create. Exhausting, really. But…” He paused with his fork in midair, a chunk of meat held in the tines. “The more interesting part is that it seems our girl is making quite the name for herself out in Seosten space.”

Felicity in Seosten space. When she’d first heard that, Joselyn hadn’t been able to contain her panic and terror. The things that those creatures could do, the things they would do in order to get the information they wanted.

Information, apparently, that had to do with why Felicity was immune to them. When that little tidbit had initially made its way back to Fossor, he had taken her straight to his Writing Room and made her answer questions for over an hour trying to find out how that had happened. But the simple truth was that Joselyn had no idea. She hadn’t had to try to hide anything from him about it, because she didn’t know. She had some vague idea that it might have been Gabriel’s doing, of course, but no hard facts. Not that that had stopped Fossor from putting her through the wringer until he was satisfied. And even then, he hadn’t been very happy about it. About not knowing, that was. He found the fact that she was immune hilarious and useful, but not knowing why ticked him off something fierce.

Pausing then, she looked up to meet the man’s gaze as he stared at her knowingly. “You heard something else from Crossroads?” She chose her words carefully, because whether he was getting information from his spy in the school or from somewhere actually within the Seosten Empire was important.

Chuckling, making it clear that he understood exactly what she was asking, Fossor ate three more bites of his steak. He moved slowly and deliberately, obviously enjoying dragging out the conversation now that she was interested. She was always interested in hearing about her daughter, even if it had to come from him. And he knew that.

Finally, the necromancer spoke. “It seems that our little girl has managed to create quite the ruckus. She’s freed a group of slaves from their prison camp. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite good enough to stop that Isaac fellow from subsequently murdering a good number of them. Also, that bothersome… Catsarein man?”

“Katarin,” Joselyn murmured, remembering the man well.

“Of course.” Fossor spoke the words in a way that made it clear that he didn’t consider the name important and had already dismissed it. “He was murdered by that delightful Isaac child. If he survives his trip out there, it might be fun to invite him over for a playdate with our boy.”

Our boy. Our girl. His. Fossor always made a point of claiming ownership over things that he had decided were his.

And now Ulysses Katarin was dead. Murdered by the psychopath that the Seosten had been nurturing and cultivating. The thought of that… thing traveling with any of the others, let alone her daughter, made Joselyn furious. But it also terrified her. Hearing that he had killed Ulysses, that just… It was another loss. Another in a very long line of them that showed no signs of stopping.

She sent a silent apology to the man’s spirit, wherever it may have been, that she had been able to do nothing to help him. The pain… she set it aside, put it into that special lock box deep in her soul where it would wait for her to have time to actually grieve. Not in front of Fossor. She refused to show that kind of emotion in front of him.

So she still had no idea where he was getting his information from. The necromancer played most of that close to his vest, despite his enjoyment of showing off how much he knew about Felicity’s life. Joselyn was reliant on him for almost every scrap of information about her own daughter, and he delighted in that fact.

He was not, however, privy to the information about Koren, either the new one or the woman who was now Abigail. Nor did he know about Wyatt. So whatever his source was, it wasn’t as informed as it could be. And he had not yet managed to ask the right question in their Writing Room sessions for Joselyn to give that information up. Either that or he did know but was deliberately not bringing it up in order to give her false hope. Joselyn had long since stopped trying to guess when he was playing those sorts of games.

But as far as she knew, he didn’t know about those three. For the time being, they were safe from him, though she was sure that wouldn’t last. And the thought of what he would do when he found out about Abigail and Koren in particular… it brought bile to her throat and rage into her heart. If he touched them, if he even threatened to touch them…

“My dear,” Fossor interrupted, nodding toward where she had inadvertently melted half of the fork in her hand, “if the meal is that unpleasant for you, I will have the chef returned to his grave immediately and a new one… selected.”

In other words, he would kill someone else to serve as their chef. Quickly, Joselyn shook her head. “No, the meal is fine. But Felicity, if those Seosten take her…”

“Never fear, my dear,” the man spoke calmly and with a soft smile that one might have taken as fatherly if they didn’t know better, “The Seosten will not be keeping our girl. You can be quite certain of that. There are… plans in motion as far as that is concerned. So rest your little mind about it. Enjoy the dinner. Unless, of course, you do want a new chef?”

Swallowing her initial reaction, Joselyn set the mangled and melted remains of the fork down before touching a finger against it. Summoning the power of an ùruisg, she focused on repairing the damaged utensil. Within a few seconds, the fork was as good as new, and she took a bite of her meal to appease the man.

“You see, it’s good, isn’t it?” Fossor prompted, clearly enjoying just how much he could control her.

“Delightful,” was her single word reply.

******

“Now, you stand right here all night.” Ammon was instructing Jenna late in the evening.

They were back in Joselyn’s room. She had managed to make it clear to her son that she preferred having the girl around, without making it seem like she was giving orders. So now he had agreed to let the girl stay.

“You stand here,” the boy continued, “and get my mom anything she needs. Anything she tells you to, right? You understand?”

From where she was standing, Joselyn offered a careful, “Perhaps if she sits, she can be quicker about moving around if she needs to get something for me.”

Ammon did a quick double take, looking between her and the girl before nodding. “Oh, uh, okay. There.” He pointed to a plush recliner. “My name is Ammon. Sit there and don’t move unless my mom asks you to get her something. Then follow her orders and go back to the chair when you’re done.”

Obediently, the young woman pivoted to walk that way. She seated herself, clearly still confused about why she couldn’t stop obeying the boy’s instructions.

Once she was seated, Ammon looked to Joselyn. “Do you need anything else, Mom!” His smile was bright, his pride at ‘helping’ obvious.

She swallowed a little, shaking her head. “No. Thank you, my little soldier.” Her little soldier. Gods. She had called him that almost from the moment he was born, because of the way he kept putting his hand up near his face in what she thought looked like a salute. Her soldier. Her trooper. Her fighter. Her boy. Her baby boy.

What had Fossor done to him?

Smiling widening, Ammon chirped, “Okay! I’m gonna go play in the garden.”

Play in the garden. She had the feeling that was far less innocent than it sounded. But before Joselyn could say anything, the boy was gone, racing through the door before clomping down the stairs loudly. For a moment, she watched him go, then gestured to make the doors close.

“What… what is he?” The shaky, horrified voice came from the chair, and Joselyn glanced that way to find Jenna sitting with her hands tight against the armrests. “Wh-why can’t I… why can’t I get up? How is he–he… he killed them. He killed all of them. All those people.” Her voice was starting to grow hysterical, which meant that Joselyn needed to get her to calm down.

“It’s– It’s okay.” It wasn’t, but if the girl didn’t get herself under control, it would be a whole lot worse. “I know you’re scared. I know you’re confused. But listen to me. I’ll try to keep you safe, as much as I can,” she promised the young woman. “I know this is all terrifying. And I’m sorry about what happened, what… Ammon did. But I’m afraid that there isn’t a lot that I can explain. You wouldn’t remember it anyway.”

The girl gave her a shy smile. “I’m pretty sure that all of this would be pretty hard to forget. And I really want to know. He–the things he did, the things he makes us do. How can he–how?”

Swallowing, Joselyn shook her head. “As I said, you wouldn’t remember even if I told you. And for the time that you did remember, you would just be even more frightened than you are now.”

The little smile remained, but it was… different somehow. The girl shifted, lifting her chin while slowly replied, “I’m afraid that I’m going to have to insist that you tell me everything you know about Fossor, about the boy, about all of it. Everything.”

Joselyn blinked, eyes widening a little as she looked up quickly. Fossor had never introduced himself. She knew that for a fact. He didn’t consider it worth his time to introduce himself to Ammon’s playthings or any of the other servants if he could help it. “How do you know his na–”

The girl slowly stood up from the chair. Stood, despite Ammon’s order. Because she had never truly been under the control of Ammon’s power at all. Because she was the source of that power. 

“My name is Denuvus,” the manipulator announced, her voice filling the room.

“Tell me everything I want to know.”

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