Kendall Harver

Deliverance 7-02 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Once more (and for the last time in this arc), Fossor does not physically appear in this chapter. But there is a summary at the bottom for anyone who still would prefer to skip over Fossor-related things. 

So, I was supposed to practice in that tower room, learning how to summon ghosts from a ghost. Which was… an odd idea, to say the least. Although the oddness of learning from a ghost was nothing next to the feeling of overwhelming depression and horror I felt at the thought of what the people I was trying to summon had been through to get to this point. The story of these people, depicted in the stained glass windows, was of a village that was subjected to a plague that killed a large portion of their population. That dead population was then reanimated into zombies and killed the rest of the town, including all their family members and friends. The town was wiped out. Every man, woman, and child had been massacred and used to kill others.

And because that clearly wasn’t enough, Fossor had then had their ghosts magically sealed into this tower. For what? To practice with? Just in case he ever needed them for something like this? In case he took an apprentice the way he had conscripted me and made them learn this shit? Whatever the reason, he’d destroyed that town’s entire population and imprisoned their spirits in this single room with these four windows depicting their story. I was going to be sick.

“Control yourself,” came the flat order from Ahmose, as he gazed at me impassively. It was like he’d read my mind. Or maybe he just had eyes that allowed him to see the expression on my face as I stared at the nearest stained window. It was probably that second one. “We have much to do, and Lord Fossor will be unhappy if we do not reach a certain point in our lessons.” 

The immediate thought that came to mind was that I didn’t particularly care if the guy who used his torture touch on me got in trouble. But that was stupid, of course. First, because I’d be in trouble too. If Fossor was annoyed, he’d make sure I regretted it. And second, because as I’d already realized, Ahmose was as much of a prisoner here as I was. If not more. I knew from the way that Mom interacted with him that there was more to his story. He wasn’t just some evil asshole who liked hurting people. I didn’t know what his story was, exactly. But I knew there was more to him. Hell, from an outside perspective, someone could think my own mother was some evil bitch just because she did what Fossor ordered her to. She didn’t have a choice, and neither did Ahmose. I couldn’t take my anger at the evil piece of shit Necromancer out on him. It was just like the thoughts I’d had before. These ghosts, zombies, all of Fossor’s dead minions, none of them were responsible for what happened in this place. The… credit for that was all his. 

So, I shoved all those feelings down and exhaled long and slow to collect myself. “Fine, I get it,” I murmured, almost more to myself than to him. Raising my gaze, I looked to the ghost man. “How do we start this?” My own voice sounded hollow even to my own ears. I hated this. I hated being here, having to do all this. Hated being beholden to Fossor, living with his… ugliness all over everything. His evil permeated this entire building and everyone in it. It was a gilded hell. 

Ahmose, in turn, floated over to the first window. It was the one at the twelve o’clock position, showing the street full of bodies and the cart pulling more of them. His partially-translucent hand waved vaguely toward it. “You have been taught how to control ghosts that have already been summoned and are directly in front of you.” From the tone of his voice, I was pretty sure he did at least see the humor in the fact that he, a ghost himself, was the one telling me all of this.

“Yeah,” I murmured quietly, unable to take my eyes off the horrible image in the window. Fossor had definitely put work into teaching me to force ghosts that were right in front of me to do my bidding. I couldn’t override his control, of course. There was way too much of a skill level difference between us. But I had been getting pretty good at overriding a ghost’s free will and taking control over the past fourteen days. So… good for me? Maybe I should get a fucking trophy. 

Ahmose gave a short nod before continuing. “The process of summoning and controlling spirits requires several things. You must have at least some of each of these things for it to work, though you may make up for deficiencies in one by having more of another. Do you recall what you were told these required elements are?” At that moment, he actually sounded like a regular teacher, and if I’d closed my eyes, I almost could’ve imagined that I was back at school. 

But, of course, he wasn’t a normal teacher and I definitely wasn’t back at school. So, forcing that thought away, I answered with, “First you need necromantic energy. Most people produce this through extensive rituals, animal or even sapient being sacrifices, things like that. It takes a lot of time and effort to build up that kind of necromantic energy the old fashioned way, so many Necromancers who don’t have a natural gift for it will spend a lot of their free time building up that energy with various rituals and storing it in things like dolls, taxidermied animals, even entire buildings. That’s what causes some hauntings, because the energy from so many dead things is stored in those places and it boils over or gets out of control.” 

“And how are you and the lord different in that regard?” came the pointed question. 

“We can make necromantic energy the natural way,” I forced myself to answer, much as I hated even that bit of comparison between myself and that evil fuck. “We can convert our own magical energy, our own… strength, into the necromantic kind on the fly, without using rituals or sacrifices. Though both of those can also help us add a boost beyond what we’re capable of providing on our own.”  

Waiting until the ghost nodded once more, I went on. “Second, you need the skill to manipulate that energy. Practice, basically. You have to learn to touch and manipulate the energy, to weave it through the dead things you’re trying to control and use that to make them do what you want. It’s sort of a mixture between puppeting them and mind control. Or somewhere in the middle, though specifics depend both on how sapient and how powerful the thing you’re trying to control is.”  

“What else?” came the firm prompting, once I’d trailed off at the end of that second part. 

Quietly, I replied, “A connection. The better you understand the thing you’re trying to control, the easier it is to do so. Understanding can come in three forms. First is knowing them personally. If you’ve talked to them, interacted with them, that kind of thing, it helps. Second is researching them. That can be talking to their families and friends, reading about them, watching videos about them, just learning about them. And the third way is just to understand the species themselves, a general understanding of the species of the creature you’re trying to control. That helps a lot more with non-sapient creatures like rats and dogs and stuff than it does with, say, humans. But it can still help regardless.” 

“Correct on all counts,” my ghostly instructor informed me. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve said that he almost sounded proud. “One note on your second point about skill. Emotion, sheer will and desire, may also help in that regard. But essentially, you are entirely right. You summon and control your necromantic minions through a combination of power, be it provided by your own natural ability or through rituals, practice or skill in weaving that energy, and an understanding of the thing you’re trying to control, either the individual or the species.” 

With all that said, he added, “What then, do you believe the first step of controlling the spirits in this room would be?” 

I didn’t want to say it, but I knew what the answer was, what he had been leading me to. “Learning about them,” I muttered under my breath, my gaze still riveted to the image in front of me. “I have to learn everything about this village, about the people in it.” 

“Precisely,” came the measured response. “And so I shall tell you about this village, and the people who lived in it.” 

Afraid of the answer that would come, I forced the words out. “You knew them?” 

“Yes,” Ahmose informed me. “It was my home. They were my people. It was my duty to protect them. A duty I failed in. And it is now my duty to teach you how to use them to further your skill in carrying out Lord Fossor’s will.” 

******

So, I listened for an hour while my ghost tutor told me everything he could about his old village. He told me about what it was like to live there, in a medieval village in the northern part of Italy with a mixture of humans and hidden Alters, like Ahmose himself and his family. I wondered what kind of Alter he actually was, but the ghost just looked at me silently for a moment when I asked, before moving on. Apparently he didn’t want to talk about that. Or couldn’t, for some reason. 

Ahmose did, however, talk about the history of Italy in that time. Apparently, the short version was for awhile in central and northern parts of the country back in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a bunch of city-states were at war with one another over whether they were loyal to the Roman Emperor or to the Catholic Pope. If people were loyal to the Pope, they were known as Guelphs. If they were loyal to the Emperor, they were known as Ghibellines. 

That, at least, was the basic Bystander understanding of things. Ahmose didn’t get too into it, but he mentioned that on the non-Bystander side of things, there was some kind of race to locate some ancient buried treasure around that time. It was something similar to the weapons that the King of Canada had found. So, yeah, with something that powerful apparently hidden in the area I could see why people were going nuts for it. Heretics and Alters alike. 

I asked if anyone ever found that buried weapon or weapons, and Ahmose simply said that he didn’t believe so. Whatever powerful objects were hidden remained that way even now. 

All of that was just background anyway. Mostly, he focused on the village in question. Ahmose described several of the important people in the place, like the woman who ran the inn, and what amounted to their village elder. They were ostensibly aligned with the Ghibellines (Emperor loyalists), though according to Ahmose that didn’t really come up very much. They were mostly focused on doing their own thing, on living their lives and avoiding any official entanglement in the ongoing conflicts (both of the Bystander and Artifact Hunters variety). And they were successful at that. Until Fossor showed up to play his little game. Between his ‘little’ plague and the zombies, he wiped out the village entirely. Why, Ahmose either didn’t know or couldn’t say. Part of me wondered if it had to do with those hidden artifact weapons, because the idea that Fossor just happened to go through all that in an area where people were looking for those things seemed just a bit too coincidental. But whether that meant Fossor had actually found what everyone else was looking for and kept it hidden all these years or not was anyone’s guess. 

In any case, I learned about the people in the village, how day-to-day life worked, how the village was laid out, what the buildings were made of, what they smelled like, how their food tasted, and more. Ahmose told me everything he could, painting a picture of living in that village with its people, with his people. And with each word, I learned more than just simple facts. I also learned just how much he still clearly cared about them. There was real pain, real… emotion in his voice as he reminisced about living there. With every word, the ghost-figure bared a bit more of himself with me. Not because he wanted to. Not because we were friends. But because Fossor had ordered him to do so. I knew that. Ahmose was opening up to me, sharing his emotions and story, because doing so would help me summon the ghosts in this place. 

And that… that somehow felt like even more of a violation than Fossor was already so good at. Ahmose’s emotions, his story, his feelings and history, were none of my business. But now they were being bared to me just to help me learn to practice my fucking Necromancy. 

Damn Fossor. Damn that evil, psychotic piece of shit to the darkest pit of any hell that would take him. I wanted him gone. I wanted him dead. I wanted him erased from all existence. 

At the very least, I didn’t waste the effort that Ahmose was putting into this. As much as part of me wanted to resist actually summoning and controlling the people he still clearly cared so much about, I knew it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t like refusing to do this, or pretending I couldn’t, would help him. On the contrary, Fossor would obviously punish him for failing. I wouldn’t be helping him at all. 

So, I focused on one of the people in the first painting. Reaching out, I pointed to a body lying on the ground whose face was fairly visible. “Can you tell me about this person?” I asked hesitantly, my voice dry. I had to force the words past the thick lump in my throat. 

After a brief pause, Ahmose did so. The man I had pointed out was apparently a baker named Galasso Fuscone. He would yell at the children for hanging around his place while he was trying to bake, but was a sweet man behind the bluster, one who left bread scraps out for them (a few too many ‘scraps’ to be accidental) and who had a lovely singing voice. Galasso was a thin man with stringy gray-yellow hair and had a constant reddish blush to his face, as if he was always in the middle of a long run or workout.

Listening to everything my ghost tutor said, I focused on the man in the picture. My eyes narrowed until the only thing I was looking at was that single part of the painting, while I tried stretching out my power. In my head, I was chanting his name. Galasso Fuscone. Galasso Fuscone. Then I started saying it outloud, which was probably slightly more helpful. 

Galasso Fuscone. Galasso Fuscone. Come. Come to me.” There was an odd quality to my voice, as I felt my power wrap itself around the very sound, causing it to echo even more, reverberating heavily through the tower room. I felt faint resistance, as the figure I was seeking didn’t want to emerge. Part of me reflexively wanted to relent and let it go. But I knew Fossor wouldn’t accept that. As much as I hated this, I had to pull that spirit out. 

He materialized in front of my face, right between me and the painting. As soon as the ghost appeared, I felt his panic, his terror. He was sobbing, pleading with me–no. Fossor. He was pleading with Fossor not to do… something again. Whatever it was, I couldn’t follow all of it. He was stammering in Latin, which I was fairly decent at understanding by that point as long as people spoke slower. But this guy definitely wasn’t speaking slow. He was blurting words so quickly they all blended into one another. 

Finally, Ahmose spoke sharply, also in Latin, while I was still standing there in stunned silence. It was something about telling him to be silent. Galasso stopped, looking at me as if he had only just then realized I wasn’t Fossor. 

“Look, I… I’m sorry,” I managed. “I’ll send you back as soon as I can. I just have to practice for… for a bit.” The words seemed empty and useless both in my head, and even more so aloud. But what else was I supposed to do? 

For the next little while, I worked with Galasso, manipulating him, summoning and releasing him back to the painting, sending him around the room. I told him to try resisting, promising that I wouldn’t hurt him. I was pretty sure he didn’t believe me. After all, I was Fossor’s apprentice. 

Yeah, he was terrified the entire time. It was awful. As soon as I dared call it enough, I released the ghost to the painting and turned back to my escort. “I’m done,” I informed him. “I’m tired and hungry.” And I’d had enough of terrorizing a dead man. I wasn’t going to do it anymore. Not now, anyway.

“Very well,” came the response. “We will return soon, and you will learn to summon more at once.” With that, Ahmose turned to float to the exit, leading me out of the tower. 

As I left that awful place, with Kendall trailing behind as always, my attention focused inward toward Rahanvael. Pretty sure he didn’t notice, what about you? 

The response was an affirmative, positive feeling, and I gave a short nod. Yeah. As much energy as I was throwing around in there to ‘practice’, there’s no way he figured out what else we were doing. That’s one more room in this place almost primed. I couldn’t get everything done, but I think I can reach this far from the bedroom to finish up. Just gotta keep being careful. Slow and steady is what’s gonna win this race, like the tortoise. 

That earned me a feeling of uncertainty. She had no idea what I meant. 

The tortoise and the hare, the rabbit. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you the story later. I paused before turning to face Ahmose. “Thanks, I guess. For the lesson.” 

And for helping me with the next step of my plan to break the fuck out of this place. Give me a little more time, and Fossor will wish he’d never even looked at my family. 

 

SUMMARY

Flick learns that the doomed village depicted in the stained glass windows from the previous chapter was Ahmose’s village, and that he was responsible for protecting the people who lived there. He goes over how Necromancy works with her, with Flick reciting that to control something dead, you need a combination of power (either natural Necromantic gift the way Fossor and now Flick have, or through rituals to convert regular magic into Necromantic magic), practice/skill using that power, and an understanding of either the individual you’re trying to control, or the species they belong to. The former helps more than the latter. Flick then practices with one of the other ghosts from the village for awhile before declaring herself done, and leaves with Ahmose. On the way out, she has a silent conversation with Rahanvael, revealing that she also did something involving the next stage of her plan to escape while she was in there, and that she is almost ready to make Fossor start regretting everything he started.

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Deliverance 7-01 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Fossor does not directly appear in this chapter, but there is a bit about a previous evil thing he did far in the past, unrelated to Flick or any of her people. A summary is at the bottom of the chapter for those who would prefer to skim Fossor-related content. 

I didn’t want to say that things settled into a routine, because… well, fuck those implications. But honestly, they did. The next two weeks were simultaneously the longest in my life while also blurring together. There was so much horrible dread, so much hatred and anger every time I saw or thought about the man who was holding my mother and I prisoner, so much… ugliness that the specifics all got muddled up together in my head. It got to the point that I had to stop and really think about what exactly happened on what day, even just a short time afterward. 

It helped that I kept myself busy. Or, rather, everything kept me busy. My nights were spent mostly talking to and learning from Shyel while I was asleep in my mother’s bed, and plotting with Rahanvael while I was awake. I would lie there in bed with Mom, letting her sleep while I silently communicated with the ghost girl. Whenever possible, she remained totally invisible, only answering me with positive and negative/yes and no feelings. But occasionally she did have to manifest to have a real conversation, when I needed more specifics than a simple yes or no could provide. Thankfully, she could detect any of Fossor’s little necromancy-touched minions, and he was too paranoid to let people he didn’t control come snooping around. She knew whenever any of them were coming and could hide.

Meanwhile, my days were mostly split between spending time with my mother (something I would never be able to get enough of, and the only good part about any of this), learning from Fossor with the occasional bout in the arena to show off what I’d learned, and taking care of/maintaining my golems. Not only Kendall and Gavant, but the other Meregan he’d brought with him. There were four beyond Gavant himself, none of whom I recognized specifically. Not that that mattered. They had been living beings. Worse, they had been living members of a nearly extinct species. Every time I saw them, every time I thought about how that callous, evil, vindictive piece of shit had hurt and… and destroyed the Meregan people, I wanted to scream until my own throat wouldn’t let me scream anymore. The Meregan had suffered enough. Why couldn’t they just be left alone to recover? They… they were nice to me. They didn’t deserve this. No species deserved to go through what theirs had. It wasn’t fair. 

Right, as if Fossor gave a shit about fair. All he cared about was what was good for Fossor. And, apparently, what was good for Fossor at the moment was giving me a bunch of Necromancy training. It wasn’t just with golems either. He also taught me other Necromancy tricks. Not enough to challenge him, of course. I’d need a hell of a lot more time than I actually had to be able to get close to doing that. He’d been doing this for literally thousands of years. It was like Shyel had said, my only chance was going to be in taking advantage of one mistake, in hitting him from some direction that he didn’t actually anticipate. And that was going to be tricky. 

Thankfully, I had something resembling a plan. A plan that was taking a long time to pull off, and would be really easy to fuck up, but a plan nonetheless. That was the other thing that had eaten up every spare moment I had over the past fourteen days and made everything blend together so much. Not to mention the fact that I had to spend time doing a bunch of other things that could conceivably lead to escaping just so I could drag my answer out with all of those if Fossor happened to ask (and he did) if I had physically done anything that might lead to escape.

Not that he used the Writing Room that much. Surprisingly little, actually, given the circumstances. And it wasn’t just because he was ‘saving power’ in the room or whatever, though I had a feeling that was part of it. He was also still clearly preoccupied with something else whenever he wasn’t actively teaching me or ruling over his little arena battles. He was really busy working on something else. 

The question of what was distracting him so much was, of course, pretty important. But it wasn’t like I could just start asking Fossor questions in the Writing Room myself. All I could do was quietly worry about it while focusing on my own plan. A plan I had shared with my mother a few days after conceiving it, using that same ‘secret information sharing’ spell that Prosser had taught me. That was the one single way that we had to keep things absolutely private. 

So yeah, the point was, the past couple weeks had been really busy. To say the least. I kept myself occupied to avoid dwelling on how much I missed my dad, my friends, Shiori and Avalon, and… and everyone. Between the horrors of being here under Fossor and the pain of being away from everyone I cared about other than my mother, I had a lot to distract myself from. 

At that particular moment, I was performing maintenance on Kendall after another bout in the arena. It had been my third one since that first day, a battle between both Kendall and Gavant (I was learning to switch which one was active based on what I needed) and a mixed group of a couple orcs, one lizard man, a troll, and a snake monster whose body had wrapped almost all the way around the arena. That had been… well, not fun. I was using Necromancy magic that Fossor had taught me to patch up the holes in Kendall’s body, murmuring useless apologies. 

Caleb, Miles’s father, was here as well, working on cleaning the blood off of Gavant with a rag and ladder. That was his job. The man whose species was all about protecting people had been given the duty of cleaning and patching the zombies and other dead things in Fossor’s stable. He bathed them, cleaned them, put new clothes on them, and basically just made sure they were presentable in general. He and I had talked a bit about trying to find out where his wife was being held, but neither of us had a real plan as far as that went. I wasn’t going to risk asking Fossor, because if he knew the connection between his little ‘keeper of the dead’, as he called Caleb, and someone from my real life, he would’ve found some horrific way to exploit it. 

The two of us couldn’t talk right now, because Ahmose was here. Fossor’s favorite torture ghost was watching me work. I wasn’t sure why, but it was obviously part of his orders from his master. He didn’t interrupt or anything, he just floated there in the doorway watching what I was doing. My nerves were on edge from the fear that Fossor had some idea of what I was really working on, which may have been the point. Not that the Necromancer actually knew anything, but that he wanted me to be paranoid and possibly make a mistake if I was trying something. 

That or he was simply fucking with me to see what would happen. That was basically just as likely. Fossor had all the control here, and he knew it. It was a fact he’d exploited for the past fourteen days by making me fight in his stupid arena, making me learn from him, threatening to have innocent children killed not only if I didn’t cooperate, but if I didn’t win. These fights had been hard enough without the pressure of knowing how many totally innocent people would die if I failed. It was too much, and I was terrified that I would end up being responsible for a massacre.

No. I wouldn’t be responsible. Fossor would be. I knew that. Intellectually, I knew that. I’d even said so repeatedly. But emotionally, the fear of how that would feel kept creeping up on me. 

“Are you finished?” The voice of Ahmose, coming from directly behind me as he had apparently floated up while I was distracted thinking about all that, made me jump. “You appear to be finished,” he added flatly when I jerked around to stare at him. 

“I–um, yeah. Yeah, she’s good for now,” I mumbled a bit uncomfortably. The last thing I wanted was to be near the ghost who could make me feel blinding agony just by touching me. The memory of how that punishment had felt the first day (and I’d gotten a couple reminders on Fossor’s orders since then) still made me shudder. “Why, we’re not going back to the arena already, are we?” Once before, Fossor had called me there right after I finished cleaning up from a fight, only to sit and watch some other battle. But for whatever reason, he never had me watch Mom fight. He always ordered me out of the arena before she would have her battle. I wasn’t sure why, or if there actually was a reason at all. I’d asked Mom about it, but she just told me the fights were a straight up brawl and that she couldn’t think of any reason Fossor would want me out of the room. For all we knew, it was a test to see if I’d push to see her fights or try to find a way to sneak around. 

The point was, I had yet to see my mother in combat. And I knew she was doing that right now, so the thought that Fossor might be calling me back… I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. 

“No,” Ahmose informed me in a low voice. But he didn’t elaborate beyond that. Instead, after that single word, the large, purple ghost with red eyes turned to glide silently away from me. He went through the open doorway and continued through the hallway beyond, clearly expecting me to follow after him without actually explaining anything. Which was fair enough, considering it wasn’t like I had any choice in the matter whether I’d known where we were going or not. 

I wanted to glance back toward Caleb on the way out, but there was no way that I would take that kind of risk. Not with Ahmose this close. Instead, I just exhaled and patted the dead Kendall on the shoulder before starting out of the room, summoning her to follow. One thing I knew for sure. If it was at all possible, I was going to get not only Caleb (and hopefully his wife if we could find her), but also as many of the dead bodies as possible out of here. They deserved to be put to rest. Yes, they were dead. But Fossor was defiling them by forcing their bodies to do his bidding in these sick games. If I could, if it was possible, I would get them out of this horrible place. 

Yeah, I’d get them out. Right around the time I got myself and my mother out. I wasn’t so much putting the cart ahead of the horse there as I was building an entire western theme park before I had a single foal. But hey, it was good to have goals? 

Either way, Ahmose led me through the palace. As promised, we weren’t heading back to the arena. I’d (regrettably) been in this place enough for me to have at least a basic idea of where things were, and we were heading up and away from the direction of the arena. We were heading for an area I hadn’t been in very much. It wasn’t Fossor’s private quarters or anything, just a part of the palace I’d only very briefly passed through. 

Well, sort of, anyway. I had been through this area in another way over the past week and a half, just as I’d been almost everywhere that Fossor wasn’t actively keeping me out of. But that was… different. And I certainly hadn’t been in a position to see everything the way I was seeing it now. I’d been rather occupied with my plan at the time. 

Any idea where we’re going? I directed inward toward Rahanvael, keeping an eye on Ahmose’s back as he glided along ahead of me. By that point, I was over ninety percent sure he’d never notice her presence even if she communicated (silently) with me, but I watched him a bit anyway. Sure enough, he showed no reaction at all as the negative response came back. Rahanvael didn’t know what was going on either. And from the feeling she’d expressed, I was confident that she wasn’t sensing an ambush of zombies and ghosts or whatever. 

As it turned out, the place I was being taken to was the top of one of the mansion’s towers. The west tower, actually. It was a round room, about three hundred feet in diameter, with stairs (the ones we had just come up) directly in the middle and four huge stained glass windows at the twelve, six, three, and nine o’clock positions. The images in the colorful windows depicted various horrific scenes. Straight ahead at the twelve position was an image of a medieval city street full of bodies, with a cart that had more bodies stacked up on it, being pulled through by a skeletally-thin mule. There were people leaning out of the buildings, and looks on their faces… the fact that the artist had managed to create such haunting, terrifying visages in stained glass was a testament to their skill. It also made me sick. One bit in particular showed a little girl leaning out a window with what looked like a wooden doll hanging from one hand. 

Meanwhile, the other three windows were equally horrible (in content). The three o’clock one showed bodies being burned in a pit while some actively tried to climb out of it. The six o’clock window depicted mangled, rotting corpses walking back into the same street scene from the first window and attacking the living. That girl with the doll was gone from the window and was instead down on the ground, her back to the viewer as she fled. 

And yet, it was the last image, the one for the nine o’clock position, that was somehow the worst of all. This despite the fact that it didn’t show any zombies or monsters. Or any people at all. It was a view of the same neighborhood, except it was empty, devoid of any living things. In the very center of the painting was that wooden doll from the girl. It lay on its side, with a small yet telling puddle of blood leading away from it and off ‘screen.’ 

Okay, that really fucked me up. Just standing there seeing all those windows, feeling the ‘story’ they told, made me have to close my eyes to collect myself for a moment. Thankfully, Ahmose didn’t push me to get on with it or say anything. He just waited in total silence.

Finally, I forced myself to ignore the windows. Instead, I focused on the ghost (which honestly wasn’t that much of an improvement, all things considered) and spoke in a somewhat hollow voice. “What are we doing up here? What does Fossor want from me now?” Because I sure as hell knew this wasn’t something Ahmose had done on his own. Whatever this whole thing was about, it was my piece of shit ‘host’ who was behind it. 

“We are here,” Ahmose answered in a voice that seemed to echo around me and through the room, “to continue on to the next stage of your training. Lord Fossor requires that you begin summoning and putting to work the spirits of the dead. Many such spirits are tied to this very room, through the images depicting their last days. They will be your training tools.”

The words penetrated, but made no sense for a moment. Or maybe I just didn’t want to understand. But then I did. And I immediately regretted it. My gaze first glanced toward the motionless Kendall, then snapped over to look at the first window. I stared that way for a moment, then at the rest of the windows before blurting, “Wait, you mean… you mean this is all real? Those images, they’re depicting literally real events, not just… not… the people in those windows, that little girl, they’re all… they’re all real. All of that really happened, and now they’re bound to this single room with nothing but stained glass windows showing the horror of their last days?”

There was a brief pause before the ghost gave a single nod, his blazing eyes not leaving mine. “That,” he confirmed, “is correct.”  

Now I really was going to be sick. I was supposed to call up those ghosts, I was supposed to learn how to manipulate and order them around. How was I… what was I… How…

My hands had found their way to my face. I shuddered a little despite myself. I couldn’t refuse. As much as I desperately wanted to, I couldn’t tell Ahmose to tell Fossor to go fuck himself. There was too much at stake. If he was pissed off, there were too many ways that bastard could hurt me (mostly by hurting Mom, or by killing innocent people). He was, for the moment, in total control, and he knew it. It was why he hadn’t even bothered being here for this part. He could just send his ghost minion with me, check in through him once in awhile, and make sure I did everything I was supposed to. 

I had no more choice than any of Fossor’s ghosts, really. Not in whether I followed a direct order or not. And this was clearly a direct order. I was going to learn to control ghosts, and I was going to do it with these… these poor victims. 

“Fine,” I managed in a voice that cracked just a little despite myself. It was all I could do to force those words out. “Let’s get to it then.” 

Meanwhile, inwardly all I could think was that Fossor had better enjoy the advantage he had at that moment, because eventually, my plan was going to be ready. 

And I couldn’t wait to see the look on that son of a bitch’s face when he finally found out how I was going to fuck him over. 

 

SUMMARY

Flick has spent a couple weeks learning, training, fighting, etc. And working on her escape plan, which she has secretly shared with her mother. After a session of cleaning up the damaged Kendall golem, she is taken by the ghost Ahmose to a tower room where she finds four stained glass windows depicting an old village being infected by a plague and then the dead villagers rising to kill the rest. Flick learns from Ahmose that the windows depict actual events and that the ghosts of those villagers are held within the tower room. Ghosts which she is supposed to learn to summon and control. 

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Eighteen 6-12 (Heretical Edge 2)

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As usual, there is a summary of this chapter at the bottom for those who would like to avoid direct Fossor… stuff. 

I ended up spending twenty minutes talking to Miles’s father, Caleb. And it was definitely him. According to the Kejjerfiet man, he had no idea if his wife was still alive or not, given how long they had been separated. Apparently Fossor had her stationed at some other home or base of his or something. Which, I supposed, made it easier to threaten one with death if the other acted up. Is that what would eventually happen to my mother and me if we didn’t find another way to escape? Would he put us in separate homes to make it impossible for us to coordinate? Thinking about it like that, I was almost surprised he hadn’t done so already, to be honest. 

I just managed to tell the man a bit about his son, that he was still alive and with the rebellion after spending a couple years at Crossroads. It was obvious that Caleb would’ve stayed right there for hours just hearing me describe every single second I’d spent with his son. And I definitely would’ve kept talking to him, but we didn’t want to make anything look too suspicious. Mom stood just outside the room, keeping an eye on things and making sure we weren’t interrupted or spied on, but all three of us knew that pushing things right now wasn’t a good idea. So, I promised to talk to him some more, considering I’d obviously be spending time in this place if I was going to be practicing with the… the dead people. Then we excused ourselves, after I made sure that Gavant was out of the way, stored with the other Meregan… bodies. More guilt for me to shove down and try to distance myself from until a better time. I started to leave then, only belatedly remembering to have Kendall follow. She was, after all, supposed to always be with me. 

As Mom and I (and Kendall) were walking out to have lunch, I found my voice once we were a good distance from the ‘stable.’ “Fossor’s not sure about how good I am yet, is he?” Glancing to her, I explained, “He didn’t put me in against any actual… intelligent enemies. I bet all those people in there would’ve loved to fight me. Or my… golems. But he just had me fight some Chamrosh. So he wanted to show off that he had me, without actually putting me in too much… I don’t wanna say danger, because he wasn’t protecting me. He was protecting his investment. He’s not positive I’m good enough to actually beat any of the people who might actually try to win. Because if he goes through all this and I end up losing the first match, he looks like an idiot.” 

Mom’s smile was humorless. “I’m afraid to be proud of you for understanding that,” she replied in a quiet voice that said all it needed to about how horrible this entire situation was for her. 

I, in turn, gave a very short nod. “It’s pretty obvious. I mean, he also had to make sure I was motivated to win by threatening all those kids. He had to make sure I cared about the fight so I wouldn’t embarrass him by losing. He was showing off, either… for the whole group or one in particular.” That thought made me pause briefly. “Do you know which one it might be? Who was there that he might’ve wanted to show off for?” I wasn’t exactly sure if that was important, but it seemed like it might be. Someone Fossor wanted to impress, or even had some kind of semi-friendly rivalry with, was someone I wanted to know more about.

“Good question,” Mom agreed, hand moving to squeeze my shoulder affectionately. Her voice was quiet. “That’s my little reporter. Always asking the important questions. Noticing things. Pushing for answers.” There was a mixture of pride and sadness in those words. It was obvious she was mourning all the years she had lost, the years we could have spent together. Basically my entire childhood and teenage years. She had been missing since I was seven years old. That was a lot to be gone for, a lot to end up losing out on, for both of us. It was years we would never actually be able to get back, no matter what happened at the end of this whole situation. 

After briefly lamenting that, mostly silently, Mom pushed on with answering my question. “I’ve seen a lot of the people in that audience come and go. I’ve put names to a lot of faces, figured out which groups are connected even when they don’t come to the same matches. Some of them are… closer to Fossor than others. I don’t think he has any actual friends, no one who would be upset if he lost. But he does have varying levels of acquaintances. Some would step in to fight for him just assuming they’d be rewarded. Others wouldn’t spit on his corpse if it was on fire.” Her head shook. “There’s plenty of people in that crowd who hate him almost as much as we do. But someone he might be showing off for? Someone specific he wants to impress?” There was doubt in her voice. “Maybe, but I can’t think of who it might be.” 

I tried to think back, picturing that whole scene. Had Fossor been paying particular attention to any group or area of the stands? It probably wouldn’t have been obvious, because that just wasn’t how he did things. But maybe… or maybe I was just inventing things in my head because I wanted to have an answer. I was going to have to play that whole situation back. Maybe I could ask Shyel if there was anything there that I was just overlooking. 

I missed my little sister. That’s who I needed. Tabbris riding copilot with me, keeping track of things, noticing things, reminding me with that perfect Seosten memory. I needed her. 

But I didn’t have her. I was going to have to make do. Heh, right, ‘make do’ with my mother, a mental copy of one of the most powerful and dangerous little girls in existence, and the ghost of Fossor’s sister. Yeah, I could’ve been a lot more alone than I actually was. 

Still, I needed to figure out if there was someone Fossor was working to impress with all this, or if it was just some normal ‘play to the crowd’ thing. Even in the latter case, that could still mean that he was building up to something. The thought that wandered into my head was that Fossor had to be doing all of this for a reason. He had the Hangman Rope, an artifact he’d gone through a lot of work to get. He’d killed a member of the Committee and blamed Gaia for it. He wasn’t doing all of that just for shits and giggles. And given how much work he’d put into grabbing me, into having both my mother and me together like this, teaching me necromancy, having the Hangman Rope, an artifact itself associated with death…

These were all important pieces of a puzzle, but I still wasn’t sure what the picture on the box was. I had no idea what exactly the puzzle was supposed to look like when it was all put together. Only Fossor knew that, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t answer if I straight up asked him what it was supposed to be. Or maybe he would, just for the hell of it. 

I wasn’t going to ask him, of course. I was going to figure this out, put the pieces together and figure out how to scramble his fucking puzzle for good (and hopefully his brains in the process). 

Shoving down the thought of just how good stabbing Fossor repeatedly in the head (and actually having it do something to him) would feel, I instead focused on my mother once more. “I’m surprised he didn’t have you fight at all today.” Was it wrong to think about how I’d almost looked forward to seeing it? Obviously, only if she’d been fighting any of those people in the arena who had been absolutely fine with seeing a bunch of middle schoolers threatened like that. Any of those people in the stands who wanted to challenge Mom? Hell yeah, I wanted to see her in a fight with those people. 

“He doesn’t have me fight on days like this,” Mom informed me. “These are build-up days. He… saves me for what he calls ‘the main event.’” There was derision, and also a little bit of shame in her voice. She hated what she had become under Fossor’s directive. She had obviously been forced to kill people she didn’t want to. And that was what I was afraid of, what I was really terrified of. Everything that happened in that arena today was bad enough. But what would happen when Fossor pointed me at a living, breathing, thinking target, someone who was sapient, scared, and only fighting because they were ordered to. What would I do if it was me or someone else who was innocent? What would I do if Fossor ordered me to kill someone who didn’t deserve to die? 

That was a question I was afraid of facing. And I knew it would come up. It hadn’t today. Not so far. But it would, eventually. I would have to deal with it when the time came. 

I just hoped it wouldn’t be soon. 

******

It turned out that I still had one more horrible thing to go through that day. Well, at least one. It was still only barely afternoon, after all. But I was going to try to be optimistic about this. Which might have been harder than it sounded, given the fact that the one more horrible thing I had to do was go through Fossor’s Writing Room. Yeah. That place that could make me answer truthfully about anything he asked, assuming he asked the right question in the right way. 

As soon as the ghost (it was the same ghost who had been amused after startling me yesterday, a male humanoid figure with a neatly trimmed goatee and eyes that seemed just slightly too large for his face) showed up and let us know that Mom was supposed to go and visit the gardens while he escorted me to the Writing Room, I felt the slight tension in my mother. She hid it as well as possible, glancing to me before outright saying, “Just remember what I said, Lissy.” She then thanked the ghost (calling him Jorsher) and set off after squeezing my hand tightly one more time. Clearly, she knew anything else she said would be reported. 

Right, I did remember what she’d told me. Fossor had to ask very specific questions, or I could just bullshit him with plenty of random answers. And I could put the answers I gave in any order I wanted. Apparently it took substantial power to run this whole Writing Room thing, so I could run out his patience for using it before he actually got anything too useful out of me. Hopefully.

With a deep breath, I nodded for Jorsher to lead me through the place, with Kendall trailing behind silently. On the way, I hesitated before asking, “Is it crossing any lines for me to ask where you come from, how long you’ve been part of Fossor’s… umm… force, anything like that? For you or for me,” I added belatedly, unsure which of us would actually get in trouble if I wasn’t supposed to get that kind of info. 

There was a brief moment of silence before Jorsher answered, “I’ve served Lord Fossor for two hundred and three years, since the moment he sliced my neck so that I would lead him through the building I was stationed in and aid him in disabling the security spells protecting my people from his incursion. He found my reactions to being forced to end the lives of my family and friends amusing, and kept me on as one of his permanent household retainers.” He spoke all matter-of-factly, as if it wasn’t one of the most horrifying things he could possibly have said. 

“I–” Opening and shutting my mouth, I paused there in the enormous corridor while staring at the ghost. A rush of different emotions ran through me, before I finally managed a weak, “I’m sorry.” It was a harsh reminder that my family wasn’t the only one that had been hurt by the necromancer piece of shit. Some had been destroyed in ways that would never be fixed. And what else was I supposed to say? What else could I say? It had been hundreds of years ago. But still, his family and friends. Fossor forced this poor guy to not only let him in, but also made him kill his whole family and the other people he cared about. Then kept him around on a permanent servant basis just because he found the guy’s reaction to all that amusing. 

For his part, Jorsher just watched me seemingly impassively for a few seconds before speaking up. “If we make Lord Fossor wait too long for you to pull yourself together, he will make his annoyance known.” The way he said it, I wasn’t sure if he meant that Fossor’s annoyance would be targeted at him or at me. Either way, I suddenly didn’t want to be responsible for that. 

“Right, sorry.” Shrugging helplessly, I started to move again as Jorsher continued down the hall. God, this was just one ghost. What about all the others? What kind of stories did they have? Because there was no way that this was some kind of isolated event. Something told me that the ghosts Fossor kept around on a permanent basis were all people he had some kind of horrific backstory with, one that amused him. And anything that amused Fossor was pretty bad.

And then I understood why Mom had genuinely thanked Ahmose earlier, why she had seemed warmer to him than I would’ve been. Because she had been here for so long, she probably knew all of their stories. She knew whatever it was that Ahmose had been through to become Fossor’s favorite ‘torture ghost.’ She knew all the ghosts well enough to feel compassion for them. It was a sobering thought, given how easy it was for me to see the ghosts serving Fossor as my enemies. Especially the one who had inflicted so much pain on me with a simple touch. Obviously, there was more to him. More to all of the ghosts. I was afraid to think about how many atrocities Fossor had visited simply on the people who served him in this home. 

Eventually, we made it to a simple wooden door in the dungeon area, a section of the manor deep underground that looked like the interior of a medieval castle. The door was curved at the top, with two vertical metal pieces in the middle that had runes inscribed on them. The runes were glowing faintly red as we approached. Before either of us said or did anything, the door opened, and I heard Fossor’s voice speak from within. “Enter, my girl. Leave the golem outside.” He said nothing to Jorsher. Nothing aloud, anyway. But the ghost simply turned away from me and faded out. Yeah, because Fossor wasn’t going to waste his time speaking aloud when he could just instill his orders into his ‘minions’ automatically, of course. 

With a sigh, I parked Kendall where she was, then stepped through the door and into the infamous Writing Room. It was, at a glance, an ordinary study or small library. The ceiling was sloped up on one side, there was a blue carpeted floor, a single ‘window’ showing a sunny day and grassy field outside (obviously an illusion of some kind considering we were underground), several comfortable-looking armchairs, and a few tall shelves packed full of books. But despite its outwardly ordinary-looking appearance, there was obviously more to this place. The hum of powerful magic was spread through the room, to the point that it almost made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. 

Sitting there in one of the armchairs, Fossor smiled as I entered. The door closed behind me. “Ahh, there you are, dear.” His voice was warm and inviting, as he picked up a notebook from the arm of the chair beside him, holding it out. “Come, let’s have a little chat. I’m sure your mother’s told you all about this place. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.” His eyes met mine. “I’m quite positive you have both discussed various ways of escape. It’s understandable, really. I want you to know that while I will, of course, prevent this, you won’t be punished for discussing it. I know what kind of people my women are, after all. I’d be shocked if you didn’t try to find a way out of here.” 

Despite myself, I retorted while moving that way, “And yet, I suppose you’re still not just going to let us go.” 

He didn’t dignify that with any response other than a slight smirk. Gesturing to the chair next to him, he waited until I reluctantly sat before putting the notebook in my hands. Then he handed me a pen. “Come now, let’s just be as pleasant as possible about all this. Write your answers down. First, were you genuinely surprised by how soon I… made my move to take you?”  

I felt the urge to write, as the room worked its magic on me. I had to answer, and the longer I took to put the answer on the page, the more uncomfortable and even painful it would be. Hurriedly, I scrawled, ‘yes’ on the page. The pressure eased. 

The questions continued, and grew gradually more complicated. He wanted to know if Mom and I had done anything that would lead directly to our escape. I answered truthfully to that, because neither of us had done anything like that. Then he asked for any plans Mom had shared with me about escaping, any plans either of us had for hurting him, that kind of thing. Those I mostly derailed by (somewhat gleefully) writing down very elaborate ideas I’d had about how I would like to kill him. And as for ‘plans about escaping’, I had dozens ready to go. None would work, of course, but the Writing Room didn’t care about how valid the plan was. 

He tried to head off cheating like that by strictly asking about plans I had ‘thought about that day before entering the room.’ But I was ready for that little trick with one of my own. Specifically, I’d actually spent time genuinely considering all these insane and absurd plans. I’d thought up as many ridiculous scenarios as possible and focused on them long enough for the Writing Room’s magic to allow me to write them down. Just as Mom had said. 

Finally, Fossor stopped me. He seemed torn between being impressed at my preparation and annoyed that I had thought ahead for this. But he also didn’t want me to know that he was in any way annoyed. Because that would mean he wasn’t one hundred percent in control. 

It wasn’t all perfect, of course. He made me share some personal details with him about my reunion with my mother. He made me write down feelings I had, things that Mom and I had said to each other, things I didn’t want to share. Things that made me tremble with anger when he forced me to record it all clinically like that. He made me write down feelings I’d had about my mother during the years I’d grown up without her, hateful and… and awful things I’d thought and said. Things that I couldn’t explain now, because that wasn’t the question. 

He made me write down such awful, personal things. Finally, the man took the notebook from me and smiled. “Good enough for now. Thank you, my dear. We’ll come back to this soon enough.” He looked at the notebook, starting to flip through it before giving a dismissive wave of his hand. “You’ll be escorted to your mother now.” 

So, after a momentary hesitation, I picked myself up, wiped my eyes, and forced myself to walk out of the room. As promised, there was another ghost, one I didn’t recognize, waiting there to glide ahead silently. I moved after him, still working to collect myself. Belatedly, I remembered to summon Kendall to follow.  

On the way through the building this time, I happened to glance out one of the windows and saw an actual line of living people moving toward a glowing portal out on the grounds. It surprised me enough to hesitate, staring that way. “Who are–” I started, before realizing. “Are those the people from the arena? They’re just now leaving?” 

The ghost turned to me, pausing before answering simply, “Lord Fossor is quite particular about how people must come and go from his residence. It takes a certain amount of time to ensure no one brings or takes any objects that could be used to locate this place, and his guests must only use his established transportation magic.” 

Right, of course. It was just like I’d been told earlier, Fossor didn’t like anyone to know where this place was. It had all those protective spells, magic he’d spent centuries perfecting in order to keep people out. There was no possible way I could beat that. No way… I… could…

Wait a minute. 

You there, Rahanvael?

I got a positive response from the ghost girl. She was still right there, had been there the whole time and Fossor, as promised, had no idea. 

Good. Because I figured it out. I know how we’re getting out of here. I know how to beat Fossor. 

But we’re gonna need a lot of bugs. 

 

SUMMARY

 

After speaking with Miles’ father Caleb for awhile and discovering that his wife/Miles’ mother is in some other location, Flick has lunch with her mother and talks about the fact that Fossor was clearly not putting her in actual danger because he isn’t exactly sure what she’s capable of handling just yet. She then has her first visit to the Writing Room. On the way, she asks Jorsher, one of Fossor’s ghosts, about his past. Jorsher explains that he has served Fossor for over two hundred years, ever since the necromancer slit his throat when he was on guard duty and used his raised body to kill the people he was supposed to be protecting, including his family. In the Writing Room, Flick manages to keep the actual critically important secrets through the tricks her mother taught her about giving the room too much information, but still has to write down embarrassing and emotional moments anyway. Upon being escorted out of the room, she notices people from the arena still leaving and is told that very specific and often time-consuming actions have to be taken to ensure that the visitors don’t have any chance of leading anyone to Fossor’s home. Upon hearing that, Flick mentally reaches out to Rahanvael and tells her that she has an escape plan. A plan which apparently requires many bugs. 

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Eighteen 6-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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There is a summary at the bottom of the chapter for those who would prefer to avoid Fossor. 

Powers. I could kill with these golem things and then… and then what, collect the powers/boosts they’d gained with those kills just by touching them afterward? What–how did that even–what? 

Clearly amused by the look on my face, Fossor stepped back and gestured for the audience. “You see?” he started in a sly voice, prompting a few assorted chuckles throughout the stands, “even now, after everything she went through over the past year, my girl can still be surprised. Isn’t that adorable?” 

Yeah, there were definitely a few things I wanted to say to that. But all of them would have gotten me in trouble, and the van with those Chamrosh wasn’t so far away from the school that an annoyed Fossor couldn’t have them turn around and go back. So, with a little bit of effort, I managed to clamp down on the vicious retort that jumped immediately to my lips. Later. There would be a time and place when I could tell Fossor everything I thought about him. Not now. 

Instead, I simply looked back to where my mother was watching intently. She seemed just as uncertain as I was, but gave me a short nod of encouragement. She mouthed something I didn’t quite catch, but I was pretty sure she was telling me to go ahead and ask about what happened. 

Right, I might as well. Fossor clearly already knew I was confused. So I looked to him and flatly spoke up. “What just happened? How did the… how?” That was all I could manage to get out. 

“A fine question, dearest,” Fossor patiently agreed, “but now is hardly the time for such things. My friends here have been quite patient already, waiting through all the training we’ve done simply for one little warm-up match. I believe it’s time for the main event to get started.” He waited through the roars of approval those words were met with, clearly loving the reaction. After a few seconds, he raised one hand and the cheering instantly stopped, the arena going silent as he pointedly raised an eyebrow at me. “So, unless you’d like to continue fighting, I suggest you join your mother over there and simply enjoy the rest of the show for the moment.”

Right, of course all these people wouldn’t be gathered for a bit of training and a single practice fight for me, no matter what the stakes had been. Actually, given who these people were and the fact that they were willingly associating with someone like Fossor, I was pretty sure the ‘stakes’ being the lives of all those innocent young students basically meant nothing to them. And, from glancing around the arena, I could see that they were quite eager to get the real fights underway. My entire thing had essentially been a warm-up act, which made me feel… strange. 

Still, no way did I want to be involved in the fighting anymore. So, I started to turn and walk away before stopping myself. A thought took control of Kendall and I made her walk to the gate. Then I directed my focus over to Gavant and made the enormous man stand up before moving to join Kendall. Once the gate was opened for them, I sent both out. They might’ve been dead already, sure. But I still wasn’t just going to leave their bodies standing in the arena to be torn apart. I was… responsible for them, in a way. I felt bad enough about the fact that Fossor had killed them just to give me what amounted to puppets to work with. Letting their bodies get torn apart in some arena fight that they had nothing to do with felt pretty damn disrespectful. 

After directing the two of them outside of the arena, I followed suit and walked out. Mom was already there, standing in front of Gavant with a solemn look on her face as she reached up to touch the side of his arm. I could see the pain there. She knew the man, and clearly knew how much his people had already suffered. When I got there, her voice was quiet. “I’m sorry, one-of-honor,” she whispered to the dead figure. “You deserved far better than this.” 

Behind us, more people were entering the arena, to the assorted cheers and boos of the crowd depending on who liked which person. No one was paying attention to my mother and me anymore, which was just fine as far as I was concerned. I could definitely deal with being ignored right then.

With her hand still pressed tightly against Gavant’s arm, Mom turned to me. Her voice cracked just a little bit as she quietly announced, “He was a good man. He didn’t deserve this, any of it.” 

“I know,” I agreed, forcing myself to look up into the man’s dead eyes. “I’m sorry, Gavant. I’m sorry you got dragged into all this again. I’m sorry your people were just…” Exhaling, I shook my head while looking away, my voice dropping into a mutter. “I’m sorry about everything.” 

Mom and I both let that sit for a minute, each of us looking toward the arena without actually paying much attention to what was going on in it. People were being divided up into teams or something to fight each other. Whatever. They could all just go ahead and die as far as I was concerned. They willingly worked with Fossor. They willingly participated in his little games, including the one where a bunch of innocent school children would have been killed if I didn’t win my match. At that moment, I didn’t really care if they all just spontaneously combusted. 

Finally, I felt my mother’s hand on my shoulder. When I looked that way, she asked, “Who is this?” There was still very obvious pain and grief in her voice, her eyes directed toward the other golem Fossor had forced on me. “I don’t… she’s familiar. I used to know her. Who is she?” Even as she asked that, I could tell that my mother was dreading the answer. “You said Kendall.” 

Reluctantly, I nodded. “Kendall Harver. The… the Harvers, from back home. We were sort of… we didn’t get along.” No way was I going to say that Kendall was my enemy. I’d basically forgotten about her even before going to Crossroads, and now I knew what real enemies were. “I guess Fossor thought that meant more than I did. I…” Fuck, even saying that sounded wrong. Flinching, I managed a weak little, “I didn’t want anything like this to happen to her.” God, was that even inadequate. Of course I didn’t want this to happen, what the hell was I even saying? 

“The Harvers…” Saying that name made Mom cringe, her eyes closing briefly. I felt her grip on my shoulder tighten a bit. “Sasha and Kevin. Those poor…” Cutting herself off, Mom opened her eyes to look straight at me. I could see the grief there still, but also anger, righteous rage. She was furious to a level that I wasn’t sure Fossor fully understood. That anger was going to boil out at some point. My mother was holding it in, keeping track of each and every one of the necromancer’s transgressions. And someday, he would have to pay for them. 

For the moment, however, she pushed it back down, giving a slight headshake at me. Now wasn’t the time. Angry as we both might have been, we had to control it and wait for the right moment. Instead, she simply asked, “The aura flare. Did you actually…?” 

“I think so,” I confirmed. “I mean, it felt just like when I kill something myself, just delayed until I touched her. You don’t know anything about it?” 

“No.” Mom’s head shook once more, eyes narrowed thoughtfully at the arena where the fighting had started between two groups of three (much to the excitement of the crowd). “But he was obviously expecting it.” 

She was right. Me gaining powers from Kendall like that had clearly not exactly been a surprise to Fossor. And that made me wonder if that wasn’t the whole point of the exercise to begin with. Had he actually been testing to see if it would happen that way and hiding the test behind all that extra bullshit just so he wouldn’t look bad if he was wrong? Frowning thoughtfully at that consideration, I turned my head to look up toward the man himself. 

Fossor was looking at me from that throne of his. Ignoring the fight that was going on, he was instead staring directly into my eyes when I looked up. A slight smile curved at his lips, and he gave me one single nod. 

Shuddering despite myself, I turned away from him, folding my arms over my stomach uncomfortably. Swallowing the hard lump in my throat, I forced myself to pay attention to the ongoing fight. 

I might not have been interested in how it went, but I was pretty sure I would have to fight at least some of these people at one point or another. Either in the arena or otherwise. So I might as well watch to be ready for when that inevitably happened. 

******

Hours later, the fighting was finally over. A team consisting of a weresnake, a troll, and a little pixie-creature that used electricity magic or powers had won in the end. Fossor presented them with some kind of heavy wooden chest with a complicated set of runes on it which, to my limited understanding, were spells that would do very terrible things to anyone who opened it without the counterspell. Whatever was in that chest, the trio acted really happy about getting it while the teams who had lost (those who were still alive) looked pretty disappointed and annoyed. 

After handing over a parchment that was apparently the spell to unlock the chest, and informing them that they should do so somewhere safely away from where others might grab their treasure, Fossor dismissed the rest of the crowd. He played it up like a true showman in front of them, informing the crowd that they could come back for another round of fights soon enough, and that by that time his ‘new girl’ would be practiced enough to give them a real show. 

While the group filed out, Mom and I just stood there with the Kendall and Gavant bodies nearby. A few of the people passing offered congratulations to me, others offered jeers and insults. I ignored all of them, focused on watching Fossor in the middle of the arena. He wasn’t looking at us. Instead, he seemed to be deep in conversation with that ghost who had seemed so amused when he’d startled me yesterday by popping up to inform us that it was time to bathe. I was really curious about what those two were talking about, considering Fossor appeared to be pretty distracted by it (and maybe even a little annoyed). Anything that annoyed that psycho fuck was something I wanted to know more about. And possibly write a ballad about.

Beside me, my mother murmured, “He’s using magic to prevent eavesdropping. Whatever is happening, he doesn’t want either of us to know anything about it.” After saying that, she looked to me, her hand finding its way to my shoulder to squeeze reassuringly. “I’d take that as a good thing.” Despite her words, however, I could see the pain in Mom’s face. The Meregan. She was barely holding it together after seeing what had happened to all those Meregan people. The Meregan, who were already so close to being entirely wiped out. Now their world had apparently been taken over by Fomorians and this group was just… dead. After living through so much, after surviving so much, they came for help and… and Fossor had just…

Yeah, no wonder Mom wasn’t doing very well at holding back her emotions. She was barely keeping it together enough not to throw herself (utterly uselessly) in a screaming, frothing rage at the arrogant piece of shit standing right there. She knew as well as I did that it wouldn’t accomplish anything, and yet… and yet I really couldn’t blame her for being one inch from doing it anyway. I was pretty sure that only the fact that I was standing there held her in check. Just like I didn’t want Fossor to take anything I did out on her, she didn’t want me to end up hurt because of something she did. Fossor had each of us very well in hand just by threatening the other. 

Finally, Fossor’s clearly intense conversation with the ghost ended, and he waved a hand to send the transparent figure away. Then the man pivoted, looking straight to us. I had the briefest glimpse of a troubled, not-very-happy expression before it vanished and was replaced with a smile. Casually, he raised one hand and beckoned for both of us to come with two fingers. 

Resisting the urge to reply with one finger, I sighed and started out that way with my mother right behind me. Belatedly, I reached out with my necromancy power to urge the bodies of Kendall and Gavant to follow behind us.

Reaching the man himself (or rather, as close as I was going to get), I stopped and folded my arms. My voice was brittle as I made myself meet his gaze. “Are you going to tell me what happened back there with Kendall and the… the Heretic thing?” I didn’t want to learn about that from him any more than I’d wanted to learn about using my necromancy power in the first place from him. But Mom clearly had no idea what was going on there, and he did. He was my only choice. 

And, of course, he was amused by the fact that I had to ask him despite clearly not wanting to. Adopting the look of a kind professor (which just made me feel even worse about the whole thing), Fossor gave a short nod. “Yes, of course. I would love to explain it to you, my brilliant girl.” 

I didn’t know how Mom reacted to that because she was behind me, but it must have been something, because I saw the way his eyes flashed briefly to her. His smile was infuriating, and I was kind of surprised that she stopped herself from hurling something (like a fireball) at him. In the end, she did manage to restrain herself and Fossor continued. “You remember the term I used for the magic power you have… weaved around the bodies of the golems?” 

Squinting that way, I gave a short nod. “Yeah, of course I do. Web. You called it a web of power.” It wasn’t a bad term, obviously. I pulled at strands of the web to make them do things. According to Fossor, eventually I would get good enough to simply give the slightest poke at one bit of web to cause more complicated actions to happen. He’d said that it was like learning an instrument. Right now I was a novice, but if I kept at it, a real ‘artist’ (as he put it) could produce an entire symphony by plucking at various strings. He’d sounded super-excited by that possibility, which just made the whole thing even worse for me to consider. 

“That web,” Fossor was already explaining in his professor-voice, “seems to hold the death energy from the things they kill. When you touch the golem, it transfers that energy into you. I had heard of certain Reapers using golems to feed themselves, and yet this… I was afraid to hope this would work as well as it seems to have.” 

Mom blurted, “So you’re saying she can just continue gaining powers from things her golems kill?” 

“Well,” the Necromancer infuriatingly patiently corrected, “if it’s anything like how the Reapers work, the death energy will fade relatively soon when not in active combat. And it will fade incredibly quickly as soon as our brilliant girl takes her attention off of it. In layman’s terms, within a very brief time of Felicity turning her attention to something else, either her own fight or controlling a different golem, the death energy will fade. But yes, so long as she focuses on controlling a singular golem and touches that golem very soon after its fight, she will gain powers from it.” His smile was broad. “Isn’t that delightful?” 

A few words immediately leapt to mind that I really wanted to spit at him, but none of them were any synonym for delightful. So I kept them to myself, with a little effort. Instead, I simply demanded, “What happens to Kendall and the rest of the Meregan now?” 

“Well, you will be responsible for them, of course,” Fossor informed me in the same tone of voice a father would tell a child that they would need to take care of the family pet. “There’s a stable one floor down from the rooms you and your beautiful mother are staying in. That’s where the rest of the Meregan are. I believe Joselyn can show you the way. Take this Meregan there to join his people. As for the human girl, I expect you to keep her with you. Consider her an extra set of hands. Get accustomed to having her around. Keep her clean, clothed, and anything else she needs. I don’t want to ever find you somewhere without your little golem near enough to help out. Understand?” 

Waiting until I murmured an acknowledgment, the man then gestured. “Good. Joselyn dear, show our girl where to take the Meregan, then the two of you can have some lunch. I’m sure she’s worked up a big appetite.”

With that, Mom and I left, with my two…. golems following. My voice trembled a little once we were out of the arena area. “I hate him,” I whispered. “I hate him so much.” 

“I know, baby,” Mom murmured, taking my hand to interlock our fingers. “I know.” 

Together, we made our way through the palatial mansion, where the halls were so large Gavant didn’t even need to duck. Eventually, we reached an enormous set of double-doors that Mom said led into the ‘stables’, which were apparently just open-air rooms where Fossor kept various groups of his dead troops. 

As promised, the rest of that group of Meregan were here. I recognized some, a fact that made me feel even worse about the whole thing. But there were also others who weren’t Meregan, other dead bodies standing around waiting to be controlled. One in particular drew my attention, a tall, fur-covered man who kind of looked like a Wookie. Or like Bigfoot with very long arms. His back was to me, and with dread in my stomach, I stepped that way. My voice was a whisper, “Oh God, Caleb…” 

He turned around, looking at me with a startled expression. I was just as taken aback, blurting, “You’re alive! I–what–” 

“Yes,” the fur-covered man confirmed. “I… take care of the dead here. That’s my job, it’s why I get to live.” His voice was flat, but still tinged with a mixture of sadness and bitterness.  

“You–is… is your wife alive?” I reflexively asked, my eyes widening. 

The man looked confused, his brow knitting together. “How do you know my wife?” 

“I don’t.” My head shook. “I’ve never met you or your wife, sir.

“I know your son, Miles. And I know that he’s been looking for you for a long time.” 

 

SUMMARY

Flick asks Fossor what just happened with the Heretic kill-absorption activating after she touched Kendall. However, he declines to answer the question immediately, instead telling Flick to leave the arena so that the full tournament can start. Flick takes Kendall and Gavant out of the arena, where Joselyn reacts to Gavant’s death and then asks about who Kendall is. Joselyn recognizes Kendall’s last name of Harver from living in Laramie Falls, and is sad for the girl’s parents. They then watch the day’s tournament battles for a few hours, before the guests are dismissed to leave. Fossor has a brief interaction with one of his ghosts, using privacy spells to ensure that Flick and Joselyn can’t hear what’s going on. He then informs Flick that the ‘web of energy’ she uses to control the golems is what absorbs the death energy and allows her to later gain the powers/boosts by touching them as long as she does so relatively soon and without being too distracted from her control. Finally, Joselyn and Flick take Gavant to the ‘stable’ room for dead things to stay in, where Flick finds the (living) caretaker of the dead… Miles’s father.

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Eighteen 6-10 (Heretical Edge 2)

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There is a summary at the bottom of the chapter for those who would rather avoid any direct contact with Fossor. Flick envies you. 

 

Sixteen chamrosh versus a school full of preteens. Ordinary human preteens. It would be a slaughter in every sense of the word. It would be a massacre the likes of which I couldn’t comprehend. Each and every one of those kids would be dead. All of them. And the teachers. And… and…

No. I couldn’t let that happen. The fact that Fossor had chosen one of the first monsters I’d ever fought to threaten a bunch of innocent children with, in my hometown, did not escape my notice. And it definitely wasn’t a coincidence. He was doing that intentionally, and probably amusing himself to no end. 

But it worked. He’d wanted a way to ensure that I would take this fight seriously and genuinely try to win, and he’d found it. I couldn’t just half-ass this, not with the lives of those innocent kids at stake. Which I knew meant that he’d just keep doing this same thing any time he needed to. He didn’t have to threaten my mother or my own life to make me cooperate, he could threaten anyone he wanted to and keep me playing nice with him that way. And we both knew it. 

Worse, I couldn’t even fight my normal way. I was supposed to win this thing by controlling Kendall, by puppeting some other body. And not even in the possessing way that I was (somewhat) accustomed to. No, I was supposed to remote control pilot the body from over here, which… yeah. This was going to be complicated. And if I lost, all those kids would die. Because I knew it wasn’t an idle bluff. Fossor meant what he said. This wasn’t some ‘oh you tried as hard as you could, so that’s good enough’ sort of deal. If I lost this fight, all those kids would be murdered. 

But sure, it wasn’t like there was any pressure or anything.

In a practiced, casual voice, Fossor warned the crowd that any interference to help or hinder me would be a foul. And the way he said it made it clear that he had very specific ideas about what would happen to someone who committed such a foul that did not include simply putting them in time-out or ejecting them from the arena. Not to mention the fact that the ‘help’ part was clearly directed to my mother. She was going to have to sit this out as well. This one was all up to me. 

I was pointed to a raised platform area just outside the arena where I could look down and see the whole thing from an elevated position. The four Chamrosh who were actually here were still spread out, crouched low as they glared at Kendall, feathers and fur bristling. It was obvious that they were right on the edge of lunging to tear her apart, waiting only for the word to go. Four Chamrosh versus one zombie girl whom I had learned to pilot five minutes ago. Just fantastic.

Fossor, to his infinitesimal credit, did seem to at least be trying to make this ‘fair,’ to an extent. He waited until I was on the platform and settled, then gestured to a tall (almost ten feet) figure covered in gray-green fur nearby. The big guy picked up a large bucket full of swords, axes, daggers, hammers, and assorted other weaponry, tossing it over the wall of the arena. It shattered, sending all those weapons sliding along the ground behind the Chamrosh. Which meant they were all on the opposite side of the arena from where Kendall was, of course. 

Once the weapons were in place, Fossor looked my way. “Are you quite ready, dear?” 

Ready? Was I ready? A lot of words sprang to mind just then. Words that I wanted to scream at him, preferably while driving a dagger repeatedly through his ear and into his brain. Instead, I exhaled long and low, clearing my mind as much as I could. I looked down at Kendall. I felt the ‘net’ of power over her body, testing it from here to make her raise both arms, kick out once with each leg, and turn in a circle. No, I really wasn’t ready. But from Fossor’s point of view, I knew the answer to the question. So, I made her give a thumbs up while I simply said, “Whatever.” 

“Very well,” Fossor announced, his gaze moving over the arena as though silently warning everyone once more against interfering with this event. Then he added, casually as ever, “Go.” 

As calm as the actual word and voice speaking it were, the response from the Chamrosh was anything but. All four of them instantly leapt into action, lunging toward Kendall with a cacophony of shrieks and screams clearly intended to shock their victim into freezing up. 

I didn’t freeze up. But still, thinking about reacting and then directing that thought toward the dead and puppeted body down in the arena had an inherent delay. Especially given how unused to this whole sort of thing I was. So I barely managed to make Kendall twist aside before the Mastiff with the hawk head would have impaled her on his beak. As it was, the thing still managed to cut along her side. But, I supposed, at least she couldn’t feel pain anymore. 

Yeah…somehow that didn’t actually make me feel any better. But I had to shove that down. 

The Mastiff-hawk was already spinning back toward her, while the wolf-owl came right up from behind her with a loud, terrifying screech. The border collie-vulture and terrier-woodpecker leapt up and over the girl, landing on the far side before spinning back. Surrounded. Not even ten seconds into this whole thing and she was already surrounded, with no actual weapon to fight back because they were still all on the far side of the arena. This was just fucking fantastic. 

Focus. I had to focus on this. Kendall was already dead, I couldn’t do anything for her. But those other kids back in Laramie Falls weren’t. It was four Chamrosh, I could do this. I had to do this. 

I had the training for this. I had the instincts for this. I just had to stop overthinking it and put my actions into Kendall. I had to make her body an extension of my own. Stop thinking and act

I acted. Kendall’s fist lashed out to slam into the side of the Mastiff-hawk’s beak just before it would have torn into her arm. Given the power I had pumped into her, she was a fair bit stronger than she would have been as a living person, and the fact that she obviously didn’t really care about any pain meant I could make her hit even harder against the thick beak. The impact was enough to knock it off-course, even making the animal stagger sideways a little bit. 

At the same time, Kendall’s foot snapped backward to kick the wolf-owl in mid-lunge, sending it sliding to the side while only getting a bit of a nip into her ankle. Okay, that nip was enough to draw worrying amounts of blood, but still. Zombie. Or Golem. Whatever, she could take it. 

Unfortunately, there were four of these things. The collie-vulture leapt, slamming into her chest to knock her to the ground through the sheer force of its lunge. Meanwhile, the terrier-woodpecker was already waiting where her head had fallen, lunging to gouge that long, wicked-looking beak straight at her throat with a trilling shriek of its own that almost sounded like a laugh. An evil, nasty, horrible laugh. 

But I wasn’t done yet. Or Kendall wasn’t done yet. Whatever. Her hand snapped down, catching hold of the collie-vulture by the scruff of its neck. Or feathers, or–the back of its neck. The instant she had a good grip there, I made her yank the thing up over her own face, using the body of the monster as a shield from the incoming terrier-woodpecker. From my own point of view while Kendall’s face was covered, I saw the woodpecker beak tear into the side of the collie-vulture, making the latter screech. 

The fact that I was here and not there also meant that I could see the wolf-owl trying to sneak up from the side, going for one of Kendall’s knees. I let it come within range, then abruptly had the dead girl yank the collie-vulture off her face (it had left a ton of claw marks along the skin there and bloodied her nose), to slam as hard as possible into the incoming monster. There was a scream (mostly of anger, I was pretty sure) from both of them. 

But it also meant that I had something of an opening. Throwing Kendall into a sideways roll to avoid the woodpecker beak just in time, I made her wait there in that brief crouch while the Mastiff-hawk came charging up from behind. I knew it was there. That was one definite advantage of being in this position. Difficult as it was to be removed from the fight, it still meant that I could see things that even my item-sense power couldn’t have told me. So I knew exactly how long to wait until the Mastiff-hawk had committed to a lunge before launching Kendall into a backflip up and over the thing so it would plow into the others and buy me a few more seconds. 

Immediately, I used those seconds by making Kendall sprint backward toward the nearest weapon from the pile that had been scattered across that end of the arena. I didn’t bother taking the moment it would require to turn her around, because there was no point. She didn’t need to see where she was going because I could see where she was going. I was controlling her body, directing her into a backward sprint while the Chamrosh disentangled themselves. The smallest, the terrier-woodpecker, was the first to manage it. With a sudden shriek, the thing launched itself across half the length of the arena like a furry, feathery missile aimed at Kendall’s throat. It was so fast in that moment that a normal person would’ve been taken completely by surprise at how fast and far it managed to hurl itself off of a single jump. 

But I saw it coming. I saw the thing gathering to lunge, and though it was really fast, I had pretty good reaction times (thanks, werewolf in Wonderland), and managed to throw Kendall into another sideways roll an instant before the thing would have put its beak straight through her jugular. In the roll, I made the girl’s hand snap out to grab the nearby weapon. It was a mace, a weapon I wasn’t really familiar with (it did make me miss Sands even more, for sure), but that would have to do. I had time to make Kendall grab the mace while the terrier was pivoting and orienting for another lunge. With a grunt (from both of us, as I reflexively pushed that action into Kendall as well), I made the mace come swinging up and around as hard as I could. I shoved power into the power webbing that enveloped her form to push her strength as high as possible in the instant before the head of the mace slammed into the bird’s side. 

The result was instantaneous. There was a visible explosion of feathers, fur, and blood, accompanied by a horrifying, bloodcurdling squawk that was cut off right at its height, as if someone had just pressed mute. The limp remains of the thing’s body went flying a good ten feet before bouncing along the ground. At least, the parts that weren’t either smeared across the mace or drifting through the air. Or splattered over Kendall’s face, I realized, as I turned her back to face me. 

There was a mixture of cheering and boos. Obviously, some of the audience thought the fight itself was awesome, while others wanted to see me lose. Whether that was because they hated my family, hated Heretics, or just wanted to see a bunch of innocent kids get murdered was up for debate. Actually, probably a mixture of all of the above depending on the person. 

Okay, one down (yeah, it was the smallest, easiest one, but still). Three left, and I had a mace. Not the best weapon, but it was something. And I could maybe use that to work my way to something I was more familiar with, like that spear I could see in the distance. I just had to get close enough to grab it, then I’d have a weapon with a little reach to it, which would go a long way to helping me get more control over this fight. 

Unfortunately, those three Chamrosh that were left weren’t exactly leaping to help me do that. Actually, they were leaping to stop me from doing that. The wolf-owl threw itself to that side, eyes glaring my way as though daring me to try to get past it to any of the weapons there. The mastiff-hawk was on the other side (Kendall’s left and nearer to where I was physically standing), while the collie-vulture came stalking straight forward. Gradually, the three moved closer, one slow step at a time, shrinking the area I had to work with. They were operating as a pack, keeping Kendall penned in. I could tell from the way they were half-crouched that each was ready to leap if I tried to make her jump over them. This was going to be tricky. 

Okay, okay, I could do this. I just had to focus and not let myself (or Kendall) get overwhelmed. To that end, I made her abruptly pivot on one foot to face the opposite way and sent her running toward the wall at that end of the arena. Unlike the first time, I actually did make her turn her back on the monsters, because I wanted them to think she was vulnerable, triggering their instincts to chase after fleeing prey. 

They took the bait. All three immediately lunged to pursue, hurling themselves after Kendall in a wild rush, an assortment of shrieks, trills, and snarls filling the air from their excitement. They were going to run down the prey who had been so rude as to kill one of their packmates. If they caught Kendall, they were going to tear her apart and feast on everything inside. 

Except she wasn’t actually running scared. I sent her straight to the wall, watching intently as the Chamrosh gave chase. I was checking to see who the closest one would be… there! It was the wolf-owl. The thing was almost right on top of her. In another instant, with Kendall two steps from the wall, it would lunge. From the way it had positioned itself, I knew what the thing’s tactics were. It was going to throw its body at Kendall to knock her sideways into the mastiff-hawk coming from the other wide. The two would bodycheck her between them, trap the girl, and rip into her. That would be the end of this fight. 

Fortunately, I was ready for all of that. At the very last instant, just as the wolf-owl committed itself to the lunge, I made Kendall throw herself toward it. At the same time, her hand lashed out backward to hurl the mace into the face of the also-lunging mastiff. It wasn’t nearly enough to put the thing down, but it did make it stumble briefly. Meanwhile, Kendall’s other hand caught the leaping wolf by the throat. Its head snapped down to slam that wickedly sharp beak into her wrist. But she didn’t react at all, of course. The Chamrosh’s instinct to cause pain to make her grip loosen accomplished nothing. Nor did its scrambling feet raking across her chest and stomach do anything more than cut deep rips through the shirt and into the skin.

Pivoting while still running sideways along the length of the wall, I made Kendall hurl the scrambling, flailing wolf-body into the face of the collie-vulture. They were both caught up with each other while Kendall’s foot kicked a sword up into her hand. Before they could recover, she hurled it as hard as I could manage, with another boost-like burst of strength sent into the control webbing. 

The sword struck home. It went straight through the wolf-owl’s side and through the collie-vulture, impaling them both like some kind of kebab. They squealed and writhed, doing even more damage to themselves in trying to separate. They weren’t quite dead yet, but they weren’t in fighting shape either, and it wouldn’t take long. 

One left on its feet, and obviously it was the most dangerous one. The mastiff-hawk had managed to shake off being momentarily stunned by the mace it had taken into the side of its head, and was reorienting to come after Kendall once more. 

But there was distance between them, and Kendall was close to the spear I’d seen. Shoving everything I could into her speed, I made the now-dead girl throw herself that way, fingers outstretched to snatch the spear off the ground just before turning it into a roll. The remaining Chamrosh was right on her heels, so close that when the head snapped down, it actually tore into her ankle a bit. The same one that had been injured before, actually. It was enough that I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to stand on it normally. 

Damaged or not, she had the spear. And I used that immediately by making Kendall twist around, offering her arm that way while skidding to a stop on her knees.  

Once more, the bait worked. The Chamrosh snatched hold of it, tearing into the arm with a vicious bite that went all the way down to the bone. It snarled, jerking its head back and forth to do as much damage as possible. 

And then it stopped, because Kendall had driven the spear up through its flailing body. I saw the thing’s eyes widen, while the spear was twisted and shoved from side to side. Then the blade came out the thing’s back, and it went limp, falling to the ground with a whimper. 

Pushing Kendall to her feet (I could barely make her stand somewhat properly on that damaged ankle), I ignored the traumatic damage that had been done to her arm. Instead, I made her stab the spear down through the skull of the dying Chamrosh to finish it off. 

After that, with the crowd mostly quiet save for a few scattered mutters, Kendall limped over to the still-impaled pair of ‘surviving’ Chamrosh and killed each of them with two more quick thrusts. 

They were dead. The four Chamrosh were dead. As soon as that was clear, I jumped off the platform, landing in the arena while the crowd gave a fairly evenly mixed assortment of cheers and boos. My eyes were on Fossor as I raised my voice. “Deal’s a deal, send the van away!” 

There was a brief pause before the necromancer nodded once. “You’re right, a deal is a deal.” His hand waved, and I watched the monitor as the van started up before driving out of the lot. Only once it was out of there did I breathe again. 

“An excellent showing, dearest,” Fossor all-but purred, making my entire body simultaneously tense up and also dry heave. “But you should touch your soldier there.” His eyes shone with amusement. “Take her hand and hold it high for the crowd.” 

I had no idea what game he was playing, but did so anyway. With a sigh, I reached out to take the less-damaged hand of the… the… dead girl gingerly, intending to raise it above her head. 

I didn’t get that far. The moment we made skin-to-skin contact, there was a flash of golden light, and I felt a sudden rush of pleasure that made me stumble a bit.  

It was the Heretic killgasm. I was experiencing it at that moment for all four Chamrosh that Kendall had killed. I felt the rush of pleasure and power from the four deaths, even though they’d happened much earlier. Somehow, the… result of their death, the energy or whatever, had stayed in Kendall until I touched her. Then it reached me. 

The crowd was roaring with a mixture of cheers and laughter at my reaction. And through it, I heard Fossor’s voice. “Well, that’s one hypothesis proven. 

“This could become quite interesting indeed.” 

 

SUMMARY

Flick fights the four Chamrosh using Kendall and, through a difficult battle, manages to kill them all thanks to her own skill, the benefit of standing above it so she can see everything that’s going on, and the fact that injuries and pain don’t slow Golem-Kendall down. After the fight, Flick takes Kendall’s hand at Fossor’s suggestion, and immediately gains the boosts from killing the four Chamrosh, revealing that she will gain powers from what her golems kill once she physically touches them.

 

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Eighteen 6-09 (Heretical Edge 2)

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As Fossor is quite active in this chapter, there is a summary at the bottom. 

There was a high-pitched roaring somewhere in the back of my head. A rush of anger, of disbelief, helplessness, and grief all welled up within me while I stared at the puppeted dead body in front of me. The dead body of a man I’d barely known, but had really liked and admired.

And that was, in some ways, what made this whole thing worse. I hadn’t even considered the Meregan as potential targets to worry about. I hadn’t been thinking about them, because they were off on an entirely different world in a different universe. They were safe from this. 

Except they weren’t, of course. Because Gavant was a Meregan, and the Meregan had already been almost wiped out by Fossor to begin with. They had offered to help when the time came to deal with him. Of course they were still a potential target, regardless of anything else. They were people Fossor already wanted to deal with, who had made him angry and then still offered to help me. The few who remained, who survived Fossor’s purge, still wanted to help stop him.

And now look. Fossor had already said there were other Meregan here beyond this one. How many, I didn’t know. But more than one. And Gavant… poor Gavant. He was dead, and turned into a puppet for Fossor to manipulate. 

No. Worse. He was a puppet for me to manipulate. That was what this motherfuckeeehhh boy that was a title I didn’t want to finish. That was what this asshole wanted. He wanted me to puppet the Meregan man, wanted me to use him as a toy soldier. Just like he wanted me to use Kendall, an innocent (overall) ordinary human girl who had definitely not deserved to die like that. Kendall and Gavant, ‘enemy’ (as far as Fossor understood) and friend. Both killed just so this Necromancer piece of shit could use them to train me into his fucking protege or whatever. 

“You see?” Fossor himself spoke up, his cruel, horrible voice cutting through that roaring in my head. “Your old friend did offer to aid you when the time came. And now, here he is, fulfilling that promise. Never say that I don’t find a way to help old friends when they need that extra push.” 

Swallowing hard, I stepped over slowly. My gaze passed over Kendall and I whispered an apology under my breath. Why, I didn’t know. She was long gone. She was dead and no apology was going to bring her back. Same went for Gavant. Poor Gavant, and poor whatever other Meregan had come with him. 

What about Tristan? Gavant being dead would have happened years earlier for him, but he still hadn’t mentioned it. Was that to preserve some kind of time thing, or because he didn’t know, or because he thought it was something other than Fossor? My bet was one of the latter two. Actually, the second one. It was possible that Gavant just wasn’t there while Tristan was flying around with Nicholas, that he had stayed behind on his world to help rebuild. That was really the only way I could understand Tristan never mentioning Gavant’s death, because he didn’t know about it. That was the only… yeah, that had to be it. 

All those thoughts ran through my mind as I reached up to put a small, trembling hand against the chest of the nine-foot-tall, gray-haired figure. There was a thick lump in my throat, tears stinging my eyes. I didn’t care about all the people around me and how they were reacting to this. I didn’t care about Fossor perched above on his throne. All I cared about was the two dead figures in front of me. Two people who had died for such stupid, meaningless reasons. 

My eyes closed, and I murmured softly under my breath. “I’m sorry.” With my right hand still on Gavant’s unmoving chest, I moved the left to Kendall’s equally-motionless shoulder. “I am so sorry. I’m sorry I… “ My voice trailed off, words stuck in my throat. What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to do right now that wasn’t utterly meaningless? They were dead. I couldn’t bring them back. Not in any real way. They weren’t even hearing any of this. Talking to them was pointless, it served no purpose other than to let me express my feelings. And that was stupid to do right here in front of everyone. None of these evil fucks deserved to know how much Fossor’s bullshit right now had affected me. Least of all the necromancer himself. No, I had to get myself under control and deal with the things that I could actually affect at the moment. Not just stand there apologizing to a couple dead people who couldn’t hear me. 

Apologies would come later. I would deal with that, with both of them, when the time came. When I wasn’t standing here in front of an audience full of psychotic evil fucks who were no doubt amused by this whole thing, then I would work my way through it, psychologically. 

But for now, I wasn’t going to give them any more of the satisfaction. Instead, I turned on my heels, arms falling to my sides as I lifted my gaze toward Fossor. “And if I tell you that I’m not going to use them?” I asked flatly, watching his expression. Not that I expected that to fly. 

Sure enough, Fossor met the question with a slight, humorless chuckle. As he did, others around the room chuckled as well, as though his reaction had given them permission to do so. They stopped instantly when he began to speak. “Well, dearest girl,” the man casually informed me, “if you are not happy with the tools I have provided, I suppose I would be forced to work my way through others in your past life until we find a pair of subjects whom you are satisfied by.” 

Others. He would keep killing people I knew until I accepted and worked with the people he gave me. Who else? Who would he see as a valid target to kill and hand over to me? Given he’d used Kendall of all people, I was pretty sure there was a very long list for him to draw from. A long list of people who would die just so Fossor could make a point about his control over me.

I couldn’t do that. As much as I loathed the idea of using my power to control Gavant and Kendall, if I didn’t, Fossor would just kill more people I knew. Many of whom wouldn’t be targeted by him otherwise. No, I had to do this. As much as it killed me on the inside, as much as it made me want to throw up and shove these stupid Necromancy powers into a deep dark hole and never use them again, I had to. Not only because of the threat to others, but also because it wasn’t the fault of the power itself. It wasn’t its fault that Fossor and Manakel had both tainted it like this. It was a power, like a gun or a sword. It could be used for good or evil. Either way, I had to do this. I had to use the power to control Kendall and Gavant. 

Logically, I knew all that. But it still took me a moment to force the words out. “No,” I finally managed. “They’ll do just fine.” I had to bite my lip to avoid adding anything nasty onto the end of that. Given the situation, I didn’t want to provoke my… host any more than I already had. Not with my mother right there and all of his guests watching this entire exchange between us. If Fossor thought he was taking too many insults and being seen as too weak in front of these people, I really didn’t want to think about how he might retaliate. Now was the wrong time for bravado, as much as it might have made me feel better for a few seconds.

From the look on his face, Fossor knew everything that I’d been thinking. He gave me a slight nod, one eyebrow raised thoughtfully. “Good,” he announced. “Then we’ll begin your training. First, you’ll learn to manipulate the smaller one. Then the larger one. Once you have the basics of moving them around and working your will through them, we’ll move on to the first match.” He gave me a slow smile, his eyes briefly moving away to look at someone off in the audience. Mom. He was looking at my mother. I knew that without even glancing that way. The expression on his face made that much clear. He was looking over to see her reaction to this whole thing. 

Then he looked right back to me, that slight smirk remaining. “I do hope you’re not a slow learner, Felicity. All of the fine people here came to see a good show. It will be very disappointing to them if we spend the entire time watching you learn to make a corpse wave.” 

I had a few thoughts about what the people around me could do with themselves if they ended up being disappointed in my performance. But I kept those words buried. Instead, I simply cleared my throat and flatly retorted, “Then I guess you should show me what to do.” 

The smile that appeared on his face when I said that made me really uncomfortable. Wearing that smile, the man stood from that throne of his. As he did so, a ghost appeared, floating in the air in front of the throne on his hands and knees as though placating himself before the necromancer. Then another appeared slightly ahead of and below the first, and another lower than that. They were forming a staircase out of ghost bodies. A staircase that Fossor casually strolled down until he was in the arena with me. While I watched, the ghosts disappeared and he moved until he was directly between Kendall and Gavant. “My dear girl,” he all-but purred. 

“All you had to do was ask.” 

Before I could shrink back, he stepped forward. His hand found its way to my shoulder, and I had to seriously work to suppress the urge to lash out. But what was I going to do? There was no way Fossor would let me get away with slapping his hand away, insulting him, or doing anything that might make him look less than perfectly in control in front of this whole audience. He would take any insult seriously personally, and while I absolutely did not care about his feelings of all things, I did care about the fact that he would likely hurt my mother in front of all these people just to punish me for acting out. So, I stayed as rigidly still as I could with that disgusting, horrible hand gently squeezing my shoulder. It felt like a venomous snake was coiled up next to my ear. Except that a snake would have been infinitely preferable to this.  

From the look on his face, Fossor was fully aware of the thoughts and impulses that had been running through my mind. He waited calmly, before smiling faintly when I managed to suppress my instinct. Our eyes met, and he actually winked at me. Yeah, that made it even harder to resist the urge to punch him in his smug fucking face. Or, better, stab him right in the throat. 

But that wouldn’t accomplish anything. Well, nothing other than killing some innocent person on his world. Which was sure would amuse Fossor to no end, but other than that. After hearing Rahanvael’s side of the story, I was even more loathe to do things to Fossor that would hurt the people on their world. Those people had been through so much for literally thousands of years. 

Honestly, I had to think about that to truly comprehend it. They had been enslaved for three thousand years. That was like if Earth had been under the sole control and power of one psychotic despot since 1000 BC. Three thousand years of being enslaved and forced to do his bidding. Three thousand years of anyone at any time just… randomly dying, or simply being injured or crippled, as Fossor passed any damage given to him off to them. Three thousand years. How many generations was that? Too many. Too fucking many. I wasn’t even sure how long their people generally lived or how similar to humans they were in that regard. But either way, it was too God damned many. They had all suffered more than any world should have. No wonder Rahanvael wanted her people to be freed from her brother. 

Stepping behind me, Fossor kept one hand on my shoulder while his other hand took my arm, lifting it to press a hand against Kendall’s forehead. Kendall. The dead… dead Kendall. Now I really needed to throw up. Or cry. Or scream. Or hit something. But I couldn’t do any of that. I couldn’t do anything except let this evil fuck touch me, his voice quiet as he murmured about closing my eyes and reaching out to sense what he called a web of power that had been woven around Kendall. He described it as similar to a net, one that had been woven around every part of the girl in front of me. Slowly, reluctantly, I closed my eyes and reached out that way, sensing through the hand that was pressed against Kendall’s head. 

I felt it. Fuck. I felt the web, felt the way the power was wound around and… and through her form. A slight tug at the web binding her arm made that arm lift, rising above her head. Then I tugged the other one up and made her hands clap together. 

Cheers filled the arena, clearly urged on by Fossor. God. No. No, God, I was going to be sick. I couldn’t do this. I had to–had to stop. I had to–

“Felicity.” It was my mother’s voice, somehow right next to my ear, a whisper that, as far as I could tell, even Fossor didn’t pick up. My head snapped that way to see her. She was standing flanked by others in the outer ring of the arena. Her lips moved, and I heard her voice once more. “I love you. It’s okay. You can do this. You can’t help either of them now. You can’t help them. You have to play along.” Her hand lifted very subtly, and I felt her touch brush down the side of my face very gently. “Please, Lissy.” 

I exhaled, giving a short nod to both her and Fossor. My voice cracked a little, but was at least audible. “I… think I get it.” Closing my eyes, I focused on tugging at the invisible webbing to make Kendall turn in a circle. It was easy. It was so easy, and that, somehow, made the whole thing worse. 

With a smile in his voice, Fossor squeezed my shoulder and arm. “You see? Very good. You are such a remarkable student, my dear. Now then… let’s see a bit more.” 

We continued that way, and… to my incredible disgust and hatred, Fossor was actually a good teacher. Yeah. Being near him was one of the most truly awful moments of my life. Listening to his voice, feeling his hands touch my shoulders and arms, having him so… fucking close and not being able to do anything about it made me want to shove my fingers through my own skull and tear my brain out. But, even with all of that in mind, he was still effective. He was patient, careful to explain things properly, made sure I understood one thing and could duplicate it before moving on to the next concept, even linking what I knew to what he was teaching me so he wouldn’t lose me after all that. 

He was a good teacher. I hated him. I loathed him. I wanted him dead and buried in the ground. But he was still a good teacher, at least of necromancy. Even (or maybe especially) in front of this audience, Fossor was so disturbingly good at just… teaching me how to control Manakel’s power. Everything he said made sense, and he weaved together the various parts of the lesson in how to move the bodies properly, how to push my own strength into them, how to essentially boost the so-called golems to be faster and stronger than they should have been. 

I hated it. I hated every single second. But I was going to use it anyway. I was going to use every little thing he taught me and be the best possible student he could ever have. Because somewhere in those lessons might possibly be something that would someday help me kill him. 

Through it all, the audience watched. They called out advice now and then, and I had the feeling that they couldn’t hear what Fossor was explaining to me. He was using some kind of magic to ensure that only I could hear his actual words. Which I supposed made sense, given he wouldn’t want to be explaining the nuances of even one part of necromancy to a whole audience. Either way, I was surprised they weren’t getting bored or complaining about the lack of fighting and blood. Maybe they just knew better than to do that in front of their host. 

Whatever it was, eventually Fossor stepped back. He gave a satisfied nod. “Now then, the best way to test what you’ve learned so far is a nice little match. Let’s have you control the little one for now. Just to start.” With a gesture, he sent Gavant to sit in the corner of the arena, leaving me standing next to Kendall. Across from us, four figures entered. Four familiar figures, at least as far as their species went. Chamrosh, they were all Chamrosh, the things that the rest of my team and I had fought for our first hunt just before the Amarok showed up. They were the younger, smaller cousins of a Griffin, each with the body of a canine and (oversized to fit the dog body) head of a bird. Of these four, one was a huge Mastiff with the head of some kind of hawk, the second had the body of a border collie and the head of a vulture, the third had the body of some kind of wolf and the head of an owl, and the last one had the body of a smaller dog like a terrier matched to the head of a woodpecker. 

The four Chamrosh spread out, staring and growling at Kendall and me. Meanwhile, Fossor took the ghost-stairs back up to his throne while informing me, “You don’t fight, my dear. Step out of the arena. You control your minion to do the fighting.” 

Turning to settle himself into his seat while his ghosts vanished into nothingness, the man added slyly, “Oh, and let’s make this a bit interesting, shall we?” With that, he snapped his fingers, and one wall above and to the left of the arena lit up. It was like a jumbotron monitor. On it, I saw… a school? Wait, my school. It was a view of the front doors and parking lot of my old middle school back in Laramie Falls. A middle school full of students walking around, heading for classes, stopping to chat, or just goofing off. It was a bunch of middle schoolers. 

There was also a moving van parked in the lot. Even as the moving van came into focus, the wall turned somewhat insubstantial, revealing the interior. An interior full of over a dozen of these same Chamroshes. 

“If you win this fight using only the girl,” Fossor’s voice informed me (and the audience), “the van drives away and nothing happens.

“But if you lose, those doors open, and we’ll see just much damage sixteen Chamrosh can do to a school full of preteen children.” 

 

SUMMARY

Flick apologizes to the (already dead) Gavant and Kendall for Fossor dragging them into this, and reluctantly agrees to use them as her golems to stop him from simply killing more people from her life. Fossor then instructs and guides her in how to control the golem bodies, and turns out (much to Flick’s annoyance) to be a very good Necromancy teacher. To test her new skill, Fossor tells Flick that she will use Kendall to fight several Chamrosh (the same animals from the first hunt way back in the first book, canine bodies with bird heads). He then adds that if she doesn’t win, a larger group of Chamrosh will be unleashed on her old middle school to kill all those innocent students.

 

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Eighteen 6-08 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Fossor does appear in this chapter. For those who would prefer not to read chapters with him, there is a summary at the bottom.

Mom took my hand, squeezing it while leading me that way. “You can do this,” she assured me. 

Then we passed through the doors, emerging into a circular fighting pit surrounded by raised stands for people to watch. Fossor’s seat, of course, was above everyone else’s. But there was also a surprising number of onlookers. He had brought on an audience. Showing off his new Heretic? Or was this just a normal event for him? I wasn’t sure. Either way, I was honestly surprised that he had so many living people willing to come to his home like this. Though I probably shouldn’t have been. Necromancer or not, he obviously had living allies. Or at least living people who were willing to risk being around him. After all, there were people willing to go into his arena, and they couldn’t all be dead. There wouldn’t be any way for Mom to get stronger if they had been. So, obviously Fossor had living people either allied with him or willing to be paid to stick around. I wondered briefly if they all had some connection to the people in the arena. Was there a gambling system going on? Were they bringing in their own fighters to face Fossor’s? I wasn’t sure how the whole thing worked, but I was sure I would find out soon. 

I also wondered if any of the fighters in here were either or both of Miles’ parents. I’d talked with the older boy a little bit over the past few months, enough to know that his birth father was a Kejjerfiet (or bogeyman) while his mother was a Natural Kejjerfiet Heretic and had been since she was a little girl. If they were here, I had to make sure they knew their son was okay. And try to get them out, while I was going about the already impossible task of getting myself and Mom out. Adding two more onto that list wasn’t so bad, right? Like tossing a few more rocks onto the mountain I was trying to lift.   

We weren’t actually in the main arena part just yet. There was a fairly narrow space (just large enough for something like a troll to squeeze through sideways) all the way around the fighting area, with various tunnels leading out to it. I could see several figures hanging out both in the main arena and at the ends of the tunnels. All of them turned to look as Mom and I emerged, and I immediately sensed the hostility. Yeah, no one was happy to see us, that much was for sure. 

Before I could say anything to Mom, a trio of ghosts appeared hovering above the arena. They had trumpets. Literal trumpets (which looked physical rather than ghostly, raising more questions in my mind) raised to their lips. They blew the trumpets, sending a loud cacophony of sound throughout the room which drew everyone’s attention to Fossor, who had stood up. I had no doubt that everyone would have immediately looked at him anyway without the help of the trumpets, but he had to make a whole big production out of it just to show off. 

Only once he was absolutely sure that every eye in the room was on him did Fossor speak. “Welcome, friends,” he finally began in a broad, commanding voice that easily filled the room. “It’s so good to have all of you here on this momentous occasion, when my Joselyn is joined by her daughter.” As he said that, the vile fucker gave a broad gesture toward the spot where Mom and I were standing, directing everyone to stare at us. I resisted the urge to flip all of them off. Good as it might’ve made me feel for just a moment, it either would have annoyed or amused Fossor, and I didn’t want to do either. Instead, I simply stood silently next to Mom and watched while the audience and other fighters alike stared at us like we were animals in the zoo. Animals they really wanted to kill. 

Fossor was still talking. “Of course, we know how eager some of you are to pit your champions against either of mine.” He said that pointedly while looking at me with a little smile that made my stomach turn over. “And that will come in due time! But for today, I promised my girl a very special birthday present to start things off, and I do prefer to keep my promises. So, Felicity, come to the center of the arena. Joselyn, stay where you are. That’s a good girl.” 

Feeling my mother’s hand squeeze my shoulder, I glanced that way briefly. She met my gaze and nodded while speaking in a quiet, yet firm voice. “You’ll be okay. Whatever he does, just let it wash over you. Focus on surviving and getting out of here. We can deal with things later.”

Deal with things later, right. I knew what she meant. Any trauma, horrible feelings, regret, guilt, any of that I would have to bottle up and talk through with her later, once the fighting was over and we were safely out of the arena. She would help me cope with whatever I ended up having to do. But for now, I had to actually do it. 

So, with a deep breath, I started walking that way while my heart tried to pound its way out of my chest. I was terrified about what was going to happen in that arena, what I was going to see. A heavily scarred rat-like man with three long prehensile tails used one of those tails to open the gate leading into the arena before he stepped aside. His arm was raised in a grand gesture for me to go ahead. As I passed him, the man whispered, “Gonna cut you later. See what your blood tastes like, pretty girl.”

“While you’re at it,” I retorted without thinking, “could you maybe try to come up with a less cliche threat to taunt the next girl with? Because that was pretty weak, dude. Two out of ten, would not recommend future fight banter with. It’s like you’re not even trying to be intimidating.”

The rat-guy looked like he wanted to say something else to that, but I was already moving on. I stepped over to the middle of the arena, ignoring all the people staring at me. I was being assessed from all sides, both by the fighters in and around the arena itself, and by the spectators in the stands. I was pretty sure most, if not all, of them wanted to see me die, though how much of that was personal against me or my mother (or Heretics in general) and how much was just them wanting to beat Fossor in his own house was up for debate. Briefly, I pondered what would happen if one of their people actually killed Mom or me. It was an incredibly morbid thought, but still. I was curious about what kind of things they were gambling with. Also, I wondered if Fossor would actually let them live long enough to collect any prize they were owed. 

Once I was in the middle of the arena, I stopped. Taking a moment to push down as much of my uneasiness and fear as possible, I slowly raised my gaze to look up at the spot where Fossor was sitting on his throne-like seat. A few pithy comments had jumped to my mind on the way out there, but they all vanished as soon as I actually looked at him. My voice stuck in my throat. From the outside, it might have looked like stoic silence. But inwardly, I was just terrified. I had no idea what he had in mind, what he was going to do right then. I didn’t know what this present was going to be, what he was going to make me do, what… any of it. My imagination was running wild. It was all I could do to keep myself upright, stop my legs from collapsing out from under me, and keep staring at the man. Saying something witty or insulting was completely beyond me. Actually, not saying anything at all was probably for the best, considering any attempt to talk probably would have resulted in my voice shaking and cracking. Being silent was the only chance I had at not being seen as the terrified little girl I was.

I was pretty sure Fossor knew exactly why I wasn’t speaking, because he gave me a small smile before gesturing. His voice was… ugh, fond as he announced to the gathered audience. “My brilliant girl. She was a reporter in her hometown, you know. Not for any of the more… official publications, of course. Though she did have a few short articles published in the local paper under the junior reporter byline. Her true work was in the school newspaper. Those I had to have brought here specially, as its online presence was sadly quite lacking. Not even a proper Facebook page?” 

Somehow, I found my voice. “I already totally believed you were an evil, remorseless, soul-crushing irredeemable psychopath without literally trying to push Facebook. Don’t oversell it.” 

There was a short bark of laughter from Fossor. That was the only reaction, at least at first. The rest of the audience seemed to wait to see how he would respond, before chuckling softly. Meanwhile, I was busy telling my mouth to shut the fuck up or get off my face so the rest of me didn’t get hit with the blowback from what it insisted on blurting out. 

“Yes, well,” Fossor casually drawled, “I suppose it’s time for your presents, isn’t it?” 

“Presents?” I echoed warily, frowning. I’d been worried enough about one present. But multiple? Yeah, the idea of that didn’t exactly give me warm fuzzies. “I think I’m good. What’s that religion that doesn’t do presents on your birthday? Jehovah’s Witnesses? I converted like… three minutes before you grabbed me, and I really don’t think I should push things this early. It’s not good for my growth.” 

A very slight smile touched the man’s face, as he watched me. “But if you don’t take your presents, dearest child, you’ll have no golems to fight for you in the arena.”

Confused, I ignored the snickers around me to slowly ask, “Why do I need someone to fight for me? And what do you mean by golems?” 

“Because that is your training today, of course,” Fossor patiently informed me. “You are my budding apprentice. What good does watching you get your own hands dirty do? You will learn to manipulate your necromantic powers properly. Part of that involves learning to control and empower golems. Zombies, of a sort. Dead who are raised and enhanced by your power, directed by your own tactics. Puppeted, if you like, to act as an extension of your will. You are not here now to roll in the muck with the filth. I could have pulled any fool off the street for that. My apprentice is far more special. You are here to learn to weave our power through those who have already fallen, to raise them up and put them to work serving their betters.” 

“You… you want me to fight with zombies?” I couldn’t keep the faint disgust out of my voice. 

“No,” Fossor informed me in a patient, patronizing voice. “I want you to fight using golems. As I said, they are similar to zombies. But think of them as… super-zombies. Their power, strength, all of it depends on your own power. The stronger of a necromancer you are, the better you can make your golems.” 

“My… present isn’t just teaching me about these things, is it?” I carefully asked, watching the amused reactions all around me. That fear I’d been feeling the whole time? It wasn’t getting any better. 

Fossor, meanwhile, gave a low chuckle. He was clearly enjoying himself immensely right now. “Hardly,” he replied. “I have acquired and prepared two golems for you to work with. One from your previous life, and one from your present life. One an enemy, one a friend. The enemy first, perhaps?” 

Enemy? What did he– Then I saw a figure march robotically through the crowd, step into the arena, and stop in front of me. It was… a cheerleader. There was a blonde cheerleader in front of me, which was giving me all new revulsions about what Fossor had meant when he’d said that this present was ‘perfect for me.’ 

Wait. Hold on. I knew this cheerleader. 

Kendall?!” I blurted out loud, my eyes widening. Kendall. It was that girl from Laramie Falls, two years older than me. Miranda and I had caught her stealing from a school carnival that everyone had been using to raise money for a field trip back when we were in sixth grade and she was in eighth. 

“That’s right,” Fossor agreed, while Kendall simply stared blankly at the floor. She was dead. I could sense it. I could feel it, could practically taste it. She was a zombie. Or at least something similar to one. A ‘golem’, as he had put it. There was no life or personality inside her. 

“What the hell is she doing here?” I demanded, my eyes widening. “What–you killed her?!” 

With a courteous bow of his head, the necromancer intoned, “You’re very welcome. You see? Things can be very different between us. Your enemies can be my enemies. And we can settle old feuds.”

Old… feuds… I’d barely thought about Kendall at all since leaving Laramie Falls. Actually, the only time I could even think of her coming up was when I was telling Deveron about her that one time. Sure, I’d disliked her in school. But honestly, I’d moved on basically even before ending up at Crossroads. She was just some stupid older girl who always got what she wanted because she was some smalltown princess soccer star. She left for college the summer before all this happened. She was gone, and I barely thought about her, months before I’d ever known anything about Heretics. What old feud was he…

And then I understood. I understood something important about Fossor. Something that had occurred to me somewhat before, but had never truly and fully clicked in my head until this moment. He never let anything go. Never. He didn’t understand how to move on from things. Why would he? He was a necromancer, his entire being was based around keeping things long past death. But more than that, he kept grudges going back millennia. His reaction to being cursed to stay off of Earth or risk losing all his power was to find a workaround and continue risking it just because he could not stand being told no. 

Fossor never let anything go. He never accepted being denied anything he wanted, not for long. He might temporarily retreat to attack something from a more advantageous position, sure. But he would never really abandon it, would never just move on. More than that, he couldn’t conceive of the fact that I could have some random girl I didn’t like in school and then just… move on with my life without thinking about her, without obsessing over her. Because that was just the type of person he was. 

“I see you’re overwhelmed by the generosity,” Fossor easily and casually announced, drawing chuckles and snickers from the audience. “But yes, your old rival from school, the girl who dared cause you unhappiness, will be your tool from now on. You will learn to empower and control her, to manipulate her body to fight for you.” 

Swallowing, I stared at Kendall, guilt welling up in me. If I hadn’t made… No. Push it down. I shoved it away and left those feelings for later. “You… said two,” I reminded him, my voice cracking a little. “You said there were two. One from my past life and one from… from my present life. An enemy and…” I couldn’t say it. 

“And a friend, yes,” Fossor confirmed. “You will have two bodies to practice with. This girl is the first, and the second… well, he and several more of his people came, I believe, with the intention of taking both of my girls away. I’ve put the others he came with to work on my own projects. But I decided you should have at least one. After all, they did come here because of you.”

Because of me. A group came… to save Mom and me. A rush of horrible possibilities ran through my head. Except Fossor had said more of ‘his people.’ Did that mean… what did that mean?  

While my panicked brain was trying to sort its way through everything Fossor had implied, a new figure entered through the same opening that Kendall had come through, moving the same way, as a dead puppet before stopping in front of me. I wasn’t watching them come in. I was staring at the ground, afraid of what I would see. Terrified of what… who would be in front of me. 

Finally, I exhaled and slowly lifted my gaze, steeling myself as much as I could. I looked up… and up… and up a bit more. Then I saw the person, the friend, whom Fossor had… recruited for me. And I immediately realized that this wasn’t just for me. It was also for my mother. 

Because the figure in front of me, the figure who was only one of apparently several of the same people who had tried to help us and paid the ultimate price, was one of the first friendly Alters I had met. He was someone who had remembered my mother from so many years earlier and whose beacon had originally summoned Shiori and me to their world when they sought help from Joselyn Atherby. 

The man in front of me was the nine-foot tall Meregan named Gavant. 

 

SUMMARY

Flick and Joselyn enter the arena and find it full of onlookers and other fighters. Fossor plays up to the crowd a bit, then informs Flick that she will not be physically fighting today. Instead, she will use what he calls ‘golems’  or ‘special zombies’ that she can personally direct and empower with her own strength. He has brought two so-called ‘golems’ for her to use. The first is referred to as an ‘enemy from her old life’, and turns out to be Kendall, the human girl from Laramie Falls whom Flick had several altercations with, including the time she and Miranda busted her for stealing from a school carnival. From this, Flick realizes that Fossor is incapable of understanding that someone could move on from an old grudge without being obsessed with it.

Fossor then introduces the second golem, referred to as ‘a friend from her new life.’ This turns out to be the Meregan known as Gavant, while Fossor notes that more Meregan came with him and are all his dead servants now.

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