Rahanvael

Deliverance 7-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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For those who don’t want to read about Fossor there is a summary at the end.

I had never truly seen Fossor angry before. Annoyed, perhaps. Arrogant for sure. But not angry. I’d never seen him actually upset and ready to unleash on anyone, let alone me. He’d always been in control, had always been at most amused by the thought of anyone standing against him. I’d never been in a situation where he’d actually been hurt by something, even tangentially. 

But now I saw it. Now, in that single moment, I saw the look on Fossor’s face and knew that if he had the chance, he would hurt me. More than hurt me. In his mind, I was going to pay for even thinking about disobeying him, let alone everything I’d actually done. I had put his home in danger, had actually beaten his security and brought his enemies down on his head. And he was going to make me pay for it. 

Fire, the flames violet and silver, sprang to his hands at a word. There was anger in his gaze, actual, genuine anger rather than the casual contempt I was used to. Before I could so much as think about moving, the flames rushed at me, ready to envelop my body in fire and pain. 

But my mother was there. She interceded between us, hand raised to catch the violet-silver flames on a shimmering white forcefield. It flickered slightly under the force of his attack, yet held. And my mother’s voice rose over the sound of that fire, filling the room around us like the crack of thunder. “No!” That was all she said. She didn’t give some diatribe about protecting me, about how he would never hurt her children again. She didn’t threaten him, or say anything about all he had done to her. She didn’t need to do that. Everything that needed to be said was in that single word. That single word that rebounded throughout the chamber, echoing repeatedly. The force of her voice propelled me to my feet, just as the forcefield Mom had been using exploded. Fossor was blown across the room, even as my mother and I were hurled in the opposite direction. Mom caught me in the air, flipping over to land on her feet while setting me down. The two of us slid backward along the bone floor another few feet before coming to a stop. The center of the room was filled with smoke, which gradually faded to reveal Fossor on his feet as well. He had a dozen or so ghosts with him, including Jorsher and Ahmose (whom he had apparently felt was useful enough to expend the effort of summoning back after that banishing spell). His frontline, immediate troops, summoned to his side in an instant. They formed a semicircle ahead of him, while Fossor himself cracked his neck. 

“You…” His words were dark, filled with clear rage that he was barely containing. “You have been such a disappointment. But you will still fulfill some purpose, at least. You will still be the catalyst for the spell that will finally put this world into my hands.” 

Mom gave a short shake of her head. “The Heretics are coming, Fossor. You know that what few defenses you have left on this place won’t hold them back. Your spell in this room has been broken. You don’t have time to reconstruct it before they get here.” 

“Time?” Fossor gave a low chuckle, seeming to consider something for a moment. “Yes, well, we’ll see about that. I hate to tell you, but while a setback, your actions here are hardly the end of the line for my endeavors. You may have shattered the prepared spell, but the body of it still exists. Given another few days to repair it, and everything will be set right.” 

“Few days?” I shook my head. “You don’t have a few days. You don’t have a few hours. You’re on borrowed time, Fossor. Any minute now, this place is going to be swarming with a whole lot of people who want you dead and buried.” 

His stare seemed to burn through me, the anger in his voice almost enough to make me take a reflexive step back. But I barely held my ground, even as the man himself snarled, “You would be surprised to find what I can accomplish with limited time. You will be corrected, your actions punished. Then the three of us will retire to one of the… summer homes, where you will find the accommodations far less pleasant than these have been. At least until the spell is complete.” 

Even as he said those words, more and more ghosts kept filling the room. He was summoning them a dozen at a time, flooding the room with an army of his ethereal troops. It was clear that he knew he’d have to go all out to overwhelm my mother (and me, to a lesser extent) in the time that he had left. And he was ready to do just that. More and more ghosts arrived. Some had powers of their own, while others held things like swords and spears. All of them surrounded their master in a horde, ready to swarm over my mother, Kendall the golem, and me. 

And it was more than just summoning frontline ghosts. The house ghosts were mixed in there too. All the ones I had banished with that first spell. Fossor was spending power and effort that he didn’t have to waste on standard ghosts, just to prove that he could undo anything I did by pulling those ghosts back. 

Just as Mom had said he would. 

In any case, there were so many of the ghosts that there was no chance we wouldn’t be overwhelmed, simply through sheer numbers. The man obviously wasn’t taking any chances now. Not after what I had just done. He intended to tear us down and drag us out of here to his secondary home to continue this psychotic fucking plan. 

“We are not going anywhere with you.” That was Mom, her voice hard as she stood protectively in front of me. She ignored all the ghosts, her gaze centered on Fossor. 

As soon as she said that, two more blasts of deadly fire shot toward my mother and me. Again, she summoned a shield that flickered a little under the assault, yet held steady. The twin fire blasts were followed by what looked like a giant spear (it was a good fifteen feet long and at least a foot thick around the shaft) made of bone and covered in glowing blood that flew at us. That one, Mom didn’t stop with her shield. Instead, she created a localized whirlwind that sent the spear up into the ceiling. Upon impact, it exploded, sending a wave of nasty-looking gas everywhere. But with the whirlwind still active, the gas was pushed away from us. 

“I know your tricks!” That was my mother, her voice thundering through the room. “You spent a decade showing them to me! And you don’t have time to play these games now. You have a chance to escape this place before the others make it through your defenses. But you don’t have a chance to take us with you.” 

“I don’t?” There was a soft chuckle from the man, after he had tested my mother once more with a quick lance of flame that she caught on her shield. But it didn’t sound like his normal, collected and unflappable self. He was angry, barely keeping himself in control. Good. That meant he was right on schedule. “I think you’ll find I am more than capable of putting the two of you in line quite quickly.” 

As he said it, the man raised his hand, clearly about to send his ghosts at us. But before he could, Kendall moved ahead of my mother. The reanimated dead girl’s body looked almost laughably inadequate, standing against, by that point, over a hundred armed ghosts that were clearly one word away from falling onto us like a tidal wave of malevolence. 

Hand raised, Fossor paused, staring at the golem in front of him. “I realize I’ve taught you quite a bit, Felicity. More than I should have, perhaps. But sending your little friend here to stop these ghosts is not going to end well for you, regardless of the tricks you’ve picked up.” Again, the words sounded just like they probably would have at any time, but his voice was wrong. It shook a bit, cracking just as the facade of control around the man himself had cracked. He was emotional, annoyed. He wanted to smack me down and have me know that he did it, that he beat me. He clearly wasn’t thinking as straight as he should have. There were Heretics coming for his home and he was delaying because he was pissed at me. 

Finally. After all this time. After everything this psychotic, evil piece of shit had done, I had made him feel something. I hurt him. I wounded him, even if it was simply by delaying his plan and injuring his pride. I still affected that fucker. 

And I was about to affect him again. Because the next words that left my mouth were, “Who said I moved her?” 

Fossor didn’t understand. He couldn’t. But that didn’t matter. He still focused on Kendall, instantly lashing out with his hand, the order to destroy her on his lips. But it had only half-left his mouth before the spell from the runes that had been secretly carved into her body ignited. The erupting greenish-blue necromantic energy was entirely directed forward, washing over Fossor’s army of ghosts before flaring almost blindingly bright for a moment.

Then it vanished. And with it went those ghosts. All of them. 

“They’re free, Fossor!” I called, my voice filling the room even as the sound of the eruption faded. My whole body was shaking from the rush of adrenaline and emotion. “That spell tore your tether away from them. Jorsher, Ahmose, all those other ghosts you summoned to deal with us, they’re gone. They’re free of you. That spell right there, it banished them and tore your tether away. You can’t find them again. They’re invisible to you. You’ll never hurt them again.” 

It wasn’t even close to all the forces he could send at us, of course. He had an entire planet full of people he could use, to say nothing of all his other victims. But Ahmose, Jorsher, and the other immediate house ghosts were freed. It was the least I could do, after getting to know them these past few weeks. Setting these few ghosts free wasn’t much. But it was something. And after all the time I’d spent here in this hell, being able to do something… well, that was everything.

“No.” Fossor’s voice actually faltered a little bit. “No, you–that’s not… you don’t have the power to do something like that. You don’t have that kind of power, or the skill! And I would have detected it! I would have sensed that kind of spell, I… someone has been aiding you. But who could…” He snarled, snapping his fingers to summon a rush of flame that moved faster than I could possibly have intervened. The fire tore through Kendall’s body, turning it to ash while the man bellowed, “Show yourself!” 

The dust settled, leaving behind a single glowing figure. That of a teenage girl, whose appearance made Fossor abruptly freeze. He went completely still, staring as the flames he had summoned vanished in an instant. 

“Hello, brother,” Rahanvael greeted simply. “It’s been a long time.” 

Yeah, of course it was Rahanvael. She had helped with everything. Drawing energy from her allowed me to set up spells that Fossor couldn’t detect, thanks to his blindness to any energy involving his sister. That included both the still-active beacons that were already drawing the others here, and the ghost anchor-severing/banishing spell that had sent his summoned army away. That and Shyel’s tutelage were the only real advantages I’d had in all this, and I’d used them both as well as I could, by preparing the spells taught by Shyel, and keeping them hidden  with Rahanvael’s energy. We’d used the basic concept of the way that Rahanvael had been freed of her brother’s control and turned it into a spell to permanently free those other ghosts, including Ahmose and Jorsher. 

There were other ideas I’d had to level the playing field a little more. Mom and I had both intended to be in a much better position to actually escape the second all this went down. Or even trap him for the others. But Fossor sort of forced our hands. We just had to hope that what we had now was enough. 

“Rahn.” Fossor’s voice was… pained. He pronounced what was obviously his sister’s nickname like ‘rain.’ “No–no, it’s–that’s a trick. You can’t be here. You aren’t–I didn’t–No, no, that’s wrong. No…” If it was almost anyone but him, I might’ve felt sorry for the effect seeing his millennia-dead sister suddenly appear in front of him was having. First I broke his spell, then I banished his front-line ghost army. Now his dead sister was in front of him. He was staggering, the cracks in his armor breaking even wider.

“You summoned me before,” Rahanvael was saying. “You brought me back. But I hid from you, because…” There was pain in her voice too. “Because you are not my brother anymore. You are a monster. You are not Mera!” 

“I am better than Mera!”  Fossor’s rage broke through his shock, the explosion of his voice literally rocking the room around us. 

Wait. No, the room was actually rocking. Explosions. There was something going on upstairs in the main palace. Our–the others! They were here! They were tearing through what remained of Fossor’s defenses. 

But Fossor wasn’t paying attention. He was focused entirely on the ghost of his sister. The man was literally trembling with emotion. “You–you are… I am better than I was. I made them pay. I am making them pay. All of it–everything for you, Rahan. For you and our mother.” He said something else, but it was obviously in their own language, because I couldn’t understand. But it sounded like a plea of some kind. Pleading for her to understand? To come with him? To abandon me? I didn’t know. 

Either way, Rahanvael shook her head. “You are not my brother,” she repeated. “And I will see you destroyed so that he can finally rest, as he should have so very long ago.”  

“See me destroyed?” Fossor’s voice cracked. He was clearly losing it. Or had already lost it. “You will come to me!” There was indescribable power behind his voice, as the man stretched out his necromancy to force his own sister to bend to his will. He was breaking. Everything happening so suddenly, everything hitting him rapidfire like that, it was getting at him. Now he was going as far as attempting to enslave his own already-dead sister to his will. 

But it didn’t work. Rahanvael stood strong against the onslaught. Her voice cut through his bellowed demand. “I am anchored! I am anchored to the one you taught! I have had your entire existence to know you! I have known this ‘Fossor’ since you existed, and I knew Mera before that! I know everything of you. You cannot bend me to your demands!”

Fossor’s response was a snarled, “You… you will…” He trailed off, his eyes flicking over to me. “Anchored. You won’t be anchored for long. Then you and I will have our own reunion.” There was a crazed look in his eyes. I was pretty sure he’d almost entirely forgotten about his home being under attack. And I was also fairly confident that he wasn’t thinking about keeping me alive either. He wanted the anchor broken so he could yank his sister away. 

He wanted me dead. 

That much became perfectly clear in the next moment, as Fossor launched his next attack. This wasn’t like the others. This wasn’t meant to teach me a lesson, it was meant to kill me. He’d summoned a single giant bone spear before, and a couple flames. Now there were twenty flying spears, all coming at me from every direction and each covered with fire so hot it instantly turned the massive chamber into an oven. The flames erupted from the weapons as they all converged on me. I would have been dead in an instant, before I could even move. 

Would have been. Except for my mother. She was faster, moving in a blur to intercept each and every one of the projectiles. She doused the flames, redirected the explosions of gas, caught every piece of shrapnel from the bones that blew apart, summoned a glowing sword that cut through a blood-tentacle that tore its way up out of the ground right in front of me. 

Everywhere there was a threat, she was there. Everything that could possibly have harmed me, Mom cut it down. She was a force of nature. Because as angry as Fossor was in that moment, my mother had had a decade of anger. More than that. My mother had had a lifetime of people threatening or outright hurting her children, and she was not going to let it happen this time. 

Then I felt it. Fossor’s hands reached out to either side, and he summoned every last bit of power in the chamber. No, not just the chamber. Everywhere on the grounds. Hundreds of years worth of residual magical energy, everything he’d put into this place that wasn’t already going toward those beacons. Everything he had, all of it. He summoned it all for one spell. 

“Mom!” I blurted out loud, “Look–” 

She was gone. My mother vanished in an instant, there and gone in the span of a blink. 

With a scream of rage, I hurled myself that way. Fossor had actually doubled over, and my fist collided with his face. I’d forgotten my staff, clutched tight in my other hand, as I collided with the man and knocked him to the floor. My fist hit his face as I screamed, “Where is she?!” 

“When,” Fossor snarled, his elbow hitting me in the face hard enough that I saw stars. “When is a much better question!” As I recoiled, his hand caught my throat, squeezing tightly. He squeezed until I couldn’t breathe, until I could barely see through my dimming eyes. “Thankfully, there are still remnants of the spell I used to bring you forward to me, carved within this very room. Remnants I can shape and fill with power once more. Your mother has been sent forward a couple of days, and to a safe location. I’ll collect her when she returns, and we will finish the spell.” 

“Others… coming…” I managed to force out while being choked. “… Stop… you.”  

“Oh, I’m afraid they won’t know anything about it,” Fossor insisted. He was choking me even more, so hard I could feel myself slipping away. “I’m certainly not going to tell them. And you–” 

“Fossor!”  

Abruptly, his grip loosened just a little. He was still easily holding me. But his attention was on Rahanvael. 

“I am life-anchored to Felicity. If the girl dies,” she informed him, “you know what that means. You will never find me again.” 

Even as she said those words, a portal appeared. Then another, and a third. I saw Gabriel Prosser, Athena, Nevada, Avalon, Shiori, Wyatt, Sands and Sarah, the others. I saw them. They found me–us. They found us, they were right there. They were here! I heard my name shouted from several of them, everyone converging on the point where I was being held by the throat. 

Fossor’s gaze snapped back to me. I could feel the rush of power he still had. He’d summoned everything in the house, and it was still swelling in him. With that much, would he be able to fight that many people out for his blood? 

No. That wasn’t his style. He wasn’t going to fight them head-on. He was going to retreat. But first, he smiled at me. It was a pained, clearly deranged and damaged smile. I’d hurt him really badly, and we both knew it. 

With his free hand, the one that wasn’t tightly clutching my throat, he produced a small white orb. “I admit, you are forcing me to reach deep to my reserves for this power, my girl.” He snarled the words, his eyes and voice both half-crazed, even as Prosser hit the glowing dome-shaped forcefield that Fossor had clearly summoned around us. It almost shattered from that single hit, so it obviously wouldn’t hold for long. 

It didn’t need to. Fossor hurled me away from him, while hurling that orb to the floor. It shattered, and the area around us was suddenly flooded with so much stored magical power that the air literally grew burning hot. He sent it all at me, using the same time-travel spell he’d just used on my mother. The same one he’d used to send me three weeks into the future almost a month earlier. 

Time travel. He was sending me through time, again. But this time felt different. This time, there was a hell of a lot more power involved. That orb, the magic battery or whatever, had held more power in it than had been in this entire house. I could feel that, even as the spell took hold. Even as the others shouted my name, as Avalon and Shiori were right there, just breaking through the forcefield separating us. I felt a rush of power that made what I’d felt during the three-week jump seem like a light sprinkle of rain. 

How far was he sending me? 

The last words I heard were Fossor’s, his voice echoing through my head with a simple, “I will be around to collect my sister soon enough.” 

As before, a floor came up and smacked me hard. I was lying there, sprawled out haphazardly while some kind of blaring alarm filled the air. It took me a moment to realize it wasn’t just in my head. 

“Felicity!” It was Rahanvael, floating in front of me. “Get up!” 

Groaning, I rolled over. Everything hit me at once. “How… how many weeks ahead did he send us? Gotta… gotta find one of my friends to send us back. Someone… someone…” Only then did I glance around. The room we were in was gleaming silver, with holographic control panels, and obvious viewports overlooking millions of twinkling stars. 

“It is not a question of weeks, Felicity,” Rahanvael quietly informed me. “It is a question of years.

“And I am afraid that we are nowhere near your world, or any of your friends.”  

 

SUMMARY

Fossor goes ballistic trying to make Flick pay for her trick. Her mother, however, intercepts any attacks he sends at her daughter. The Necromancer summons a bunch of ghosts back, including the ones Flick sent away, just to prove he can undo what she did (spending effort and time in the process). Just as he’s about to send an army of those ghosts to wash over Flick and Joselyn, Rahanvael reveals herself by exploding a spell built into Kendall (whom she was actually inside of), which not only rebanishes all those ghosts (including Jorsher and Ahmose), but also completely frees them from Fossor’s control and makes them invisible to his power the way Rahanvael is. As all of Flick’s allies and friends show up, breaking through what remains of the defenses, Fossor uses all the rest of the power in the house to send Joselyn several days into the future and to another location. As he is about to kill Flick in a rage, Rahanvael informs him that she has life-anchored herself to the girl. Which means that if Flick dies, Rahanvael herself will vanish forever. This forces Fossor to use a ball filled with magic, wasting it in order to banish Flick and Rahanvael years into the future and to some other point of the universe far from Earth.

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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 freewill 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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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 6-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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There is a summary at the bottom of this chapter for those interested, though Fossor does not directly appear. 

Finally, my mother managed to speak. “Be careful,” she said quietly, yet urgently. “If you–” Then she stopped, putting a finger to her lips while her gaze snapped over toward the door. A second later, her hand was against my face as she spoke quietly. “Keep your head down. We’ll find a way out of this, Lissy. I… I’ll get you out of here, I promise.” 

Right, yeah. Someone was close enough to overhear us, or just paying attention through some kind of spying magic. Either way, we couldn’t talk about Rahanvael. But Mom knew that anyone who was eavesdropping wouldn’t believe we were just talking about innocent things, thus saying what she did. It was an understandable thing for the two of us to be whispering about. 

Before I could say anything myself, the door opened and that tall, purple ghost with the long beard and red eyes appeared. Ahmose. The one with the torture-touch. Part of me still thought it was kind of surprising that Fossor kept a ghost around who had his own name and apparent personality. But then, I had Rahanvael, who had apparently maintained her own personality and thoughts throughout multiple millennia. So I supposed that it wasn’t exactly unthinkable. Even if it was odd because, well, Fossor.

Either way, Ahmose floated through the open door. Which, I was pretty sure, was only something he did to be… polite? That sounded wrong. But I wasn’t sure why else he would bother with the door. Maybe it had to do with the same thing that made him keep his name? Maybe he tried to hang onto as many huma–errr, living things as possible. That was… curious.

While I was thinking of my way through that, Ahmose glided over in front of us. His voice was stiff. “You will both proceed to the dining area for breakfast. Lord Fossor will not be joining you. After you eat, you will then both make your way to the arena where the lord is waiting.” His crimson eyes burned a little more brightly as the ghost focused on me. “Young Miss Chambers will be tested.” 

Right. Yeah, I’d known something like that was coming, of course. Fossor wanted to see what I could do, while also making me… making me kill people I had no real reason to. Just to show how much control he had over me and my mother, because he was a gigantic fucking piece of shit. And, of course, if I refused… well, bad things would happen. And the people he wanted me to kill would die anyway. So I was just in a fantastic position all around. Go, Team Flick. We’re doing great.

“Thank you, Ahmose,” Mom said quietly and politely. I shot a quick glance toward her, curious. But she didn’t seem cowed or anything. Given the pain touch the ghost had, I’d been… worried. But if anything, my mother seemed genuinely grateful. She gave the tall, menacing spirit figure a nod before looking at me. “Let’s go, Felicity. I suppose it wouldn’t do to keep our… host waiting.” 

Ahmose turned away, then vanished into nothingness without actually moving. With a shrug toward my mother, I passed through the area he’d been standing in and walked with her. 

On the way, I hesitated before reaching out with the necromantic senses that I’d been trying to develop. I felt… traces of ghosts. Which made sense. But I didn’t feel anything immediate. Just to check, I focused inward, trying to concentrate on the thought of Fossor’s sister. Rahanvael? Are you there? 

Unlike with Tabbris, I didn’t get a verbal answer. She wasn’t possessing me. Instead, I felt an acknowledgment and confirmation. It was hard to really explain the specifics of. It was just a certainty that she had answered me without her actually answering. She was there. But she wasn’t going to risk actually speaking or appearing. Which was fair enough, given the situation.

I wasn’t sure how much she knew or had been keeping track of things, so I informed her quickly and silently about my mother knowing about her. Then I asked if she sensed any of Fossor’s ghosts hanging around or secretly watching. The response that came back was negative. 

Thanks, I started before hesitating. Um. Can you tell the difference between ghosts that I’m consciously aware of and ghosts I don’t know about? Again, there was a positive feeling of confirmation. Okay, if you sense any ghosts I don’t know about lurking around, could you poke me about it? 

Another sense of agreement came, along with a belated and hesitant sort of… reassurance. I wasn’t sure I had the feeling exactly right, but that was the gist of it. She was trying to make me feel better about the whole situation, like an emotional… pat on the back, essentially. I did my best to send the same sort of feeling back that way, but it probably didn’t come out right. Hopefully, she’d at least get the gist. 

I didn’t have time to wonder too much about that, or to talk anymore with my ghost companion. Because in the next moment, Mom and I passed through the door to reach the dining room, which had already been laid out for breakfast. There was a veritable brunch buffet scattered across the table, and it smelled incredible. Which sucked, because the thought of dead things making the food made me think that it should’ve smelled bad. But then I remembered that the food at Crossroads had been fine for all the time that Chef Escalan had been a zombie, and that just made me depressed again. Poor Chef Escalan, even if I’d never really known him while he was alive. It was still just… just another example of Fossor being a giant piece of shit. Another life he destroyed. God damn it. 

Apparently I froze as those thoughts rushed through me, because I suddenly felt Mom’s hand squeeze my shoulder while she looked at me with obvious concern. “Felicity,” she whispered, “do you want to take a plate and sit out on the patio? There normally isn’t a problem with that.” In other words, Fossor normally allowed her to do that. I could read between the lines of her words. She’d spent so much time trapped here in this house, had been his prisoner for so long… the thought just pissed me off again. I had to calm down, had to make myself calm down. 

“Sure,” I managed, looking to her with a hesitant smile that I knew didn’t reach my eyes. I knew because her answering smile didn’t reach her eyes either. We were play-acting, each trying to make the other feel better about this. I could tell Mom was thinking about dark times in this palatial house, even as she did her best to shield me from those memories. Even now, after more than a decade of being separated, I couldn’t actually… fully relax with my own mother because of this whole evil, dark, horrific situation we were in. And the fact that we were in it while standing in a brightly lit, beautifully decorated dining room full of incredibly delicious food just made the whole thing so much worse. It was like being at a carnival run by a serial killer. No matter how bright and fun everything looked, you’d know better. Just like we knew, no matter how good the food smelled, no matter what this place looked like, it was a prison run by one of the most evil, sociopathic pieces of shit who had ever set foot on this planet.

But I pushed that aside. Because I had to. Because there was no other choice. I would shove the horror and the revulsion away and focus on surviving one more minute, one more hour, one more day in this place. However long it took to get the hell out of here with my mother. I would make it work. I had my mom. I had a secret weapon in the form of Rahanvael. I could do this. I just had to make it through breakfast first. And then, of course, the arena. 

With somewhat shaking hands, I filled a plate. Mom hovered over me. When I started to leave with only a couple things, she shook her head and stopped me. “You’ll be fighting,” she reminded me in a quiet voice that was somehow both resigned and firm. “You need energy. Don’t worry about things being too fattening or heavy, regeneration will take care of that. Just get things that will give you energy. Fill up. I know it’ll be hard. You won’t want to keep it down, but do it anyway. You understand? Do it anyway. Eat.” 

She knew. She’d been through all this. She made herself eat to survive, to have the energy to fight no matter how horrible doing so made her feel and no matter how disgusting she found the whole situation. She forced it down, and now she was telling me to do the same thing. Because it was all she could do. She couldn’t protect me from going out there. She couldn’t force Fossor not to put me in his sick fucking arena. All my mother could do was make sure I was as ready as possible for it. And that meant making me eat, no matter how bad it felt to do so. 

So, I nodded and filled my plate better. Taking as much as possible, I ignored every thought in the back of my mind about how the food was made, where it had come from, the man responsible for it being here, everything. I shoved it down in the deep dark hole and buried it. 

Then I walked out of the dining room behind my mother, the two of us taking our plates and glasses of juice out onto the quiet patio overlooking one of the gardens. A ghost at the door appeared and stared at us as we approached, but faded when Mom paid no attention to him. 

“He’ll report that we’re out here,” she informed me while setting a plate on the table. “But as long as you don’t try to go past the wall there, none of them should bother you.” The wall she was referring to had to be two or three football fields away from the patio. 

“I guess you don’t know where we are, exactly?” I asked curiously while pulling out one of the chairs to sit down with my own plate. Part of it was simple conversation, of course. But I was also very curious. “I have… I have a power to sense how far away places that I know about are, but I can’t sense anything now. I’m not sure if that’s because we’re nowhere near Earth, or…” 

“We’re on Earth,” Mom assured me. “Fossor uses so many protection spells to hide the location of this place, that’s probably screwing up your Blemmye power. He’s a bit paranoid about it.” 

Of course he was. Because if anyone actually found this place, wherever it was, Fossor would have what amounted to an entire combined Seosten-Heretic-Gehenna-Whoever-The-Hell-Else-He’d-Pissed-Off Force coming to kick his ass all the way back to his own planet. He was powerful, but not powerful enough to fight off everyone who wanted a piece of him all at once. Maybe they couldn’t kill him because of his ability to shove damage off onto his planet of hostages, but they could sure as hell restrain him with enough people. He relied pretty heavily on choosing the battlefields and when to fight. He needed this place to remain a secret, a safe sanctuary for himself. 

With a sigh, I picked up my fork, staring at the food for a moment as I worked up the nerve to start shoveling it in. Quietly, I murmured, “Here’s hoping I can actually keep this stuff down. 

“Because I don’t think stepping into that arena and throwing up would really work as an intimidation tactic.” 

******

Entirely too quickly, breakfast was over, and we were heading for the arena. I honestly wasn’t sure which I was looking forward to less in the next few minutes, my first fight in Fossor’s stupid arena, or whatever evil little psychological torture he had in mind that was going to be my ‘birthday present.’ He’d promised it would be something good, so I could only imagine just how terrible ‘good’ in his mind meant. A lot of dark, horrible possibilities had flashed their way through my head every time the thought popped up, but I kept pushing them down, praying that whatever he was going to give me wasn’t as bad as my imagination. Because my imagination was being pretty damn horrific every time I gave it a chance. Stupid imagination. It was so fired right now.  

Mom was giving me advice the whole way there as the two of us walked through the vast, winding corridors. Mostly it amounted to telling me not to hold back, and to shove my guilt about the whole thing down until the fight was over. She promised we would talk it out, that she would be there for me when it was done and I could feel as bad as I wanted to. But for now, for this moment, I had to deal with surviving. She reminded me that it was Fossor’s fault that these people had to die, not mine, and that this was a tab he was running up. A tab that would be collected someday. Her voice was hard as she said those words, making me wonder just how high the cost already was on her end. How many people had he forced her to kill over the years? How full was the box that she had been shoving her own guilt into? Would it burst? 

I also wasn’t sure how she was dealing with the news that I had Fossor’s millenia-dead sister attached to me, wanting to help take her brother down. We hadn’t really had much of a chance to talk about that before our day had started. Obviously, she wasn’t going to say anything about it while we were out here, and seemed to trust the whole situation enough that she hadn’t immediately started an exorcism or whatever. But time would tell just how that was going to go. All I knew was that even with both of us together, we needed an edge that Fossor wasn’t ready for. And Rahanvael was that edge. We just had to find the best possible way to use that, because we’d only get one shot. Fossor would only be surprised by his sister’s presence once. It had to count. 

Promising my mother that I wouldn’t let myself freeze up during this fight (even as part of me worried if I was telling the truth), I had just asked if she had any idea what I would be fighting, when we descended a short flight of stairs to reach a cement tunnel. There were two double doors ahead of us, but before we went further, my mother took my arm and squeezed it. Her voice was quiet. “He’s been keeping me in the dark about what… or who he’s throwing at you right now,” she informed me. “But whatever happens, keep moving, keep your guard up, and try to end it as soon as you can. Don’t let them get into your head, Felicity, because some will try.” 

Right, don’t let them into my head. The question was, how would they manage it if I was already so far into my head myself that there wasn’t any room left for anyone else? My tactics were genius. Or was that strategy? I always got the two mixed. Regardless, I was brilliant. 

To that end, I took my mother’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “Mom,” I assured her quietly, “I… I don’t want to say I’ll be fine, cuz no one’s that optimistic. But I’ll deal with it. We’ll deal with it.” 

The two of us embraced tightly, standing there like that for a few long seconds. Mom held me close, tenderly brushing my hair before whispering, “I love you, Felicity. You are as brave and brilliant as I could ever have wished for. You are a wonderful young woman. All I wanted throughout this was to give you a chance to grow up, and you have. You have grown up so beautifully. Your father is an amazing man, and you are a remarkable young woman. Everything I’ve heard, everything you’ve said, it makes me so proud of you.” 

My mother was proud of me. My mother had told me she was proud of me. Was… was Fossor’s little arena fight here going to involve needing to fly? Because I was pretty sure I could right then. 

Yeah, I knew that things were about to come crashing down. But I enjoyed the moment for what it was. In a minute, I was going to have to go into that arena, see what Fossor wanted me to fight to the death against, and find out just what kind of present he had for me. So yes, I knew things would turn bad again very soon. Let them. Let that horrible thing come when it did. I couldn’t stop it, and I had this moment right now with my mother and I was going to enjoy it for another few seconds, damn it.

Or, apparently we were done. Because I sensed clothes and armor approaching from the same way we had come. Looking that way, I saw two heavily armored figures (my stolen necromancy power belatedly recognizing them as zombies) move up to the top of the stairs. They stared down at us pointedly, making a low growling sound that was clearly an order to keep moving. 

So, we did. Mom gave the two zombies a brief glance before turning back to the double doors. 

I really hoped she was right. Otherwise, this was going to be a very short turn in the arena. 

On the other hand, wouldn’t Fossor be pretty embarrassed if he went through all this trouble to grab me and I ended up getting killed five minutes into the first arena? 

Fucking hilarious. 

 

SUMMARY

Flick and her mother are interrupted before Joselyn can say anything about Rahanvael. Joselyn does not seem to hate Ahmose the torture ghost when he shows himself for that. Flick has breakfast with her mother out on the balcony, where Joselyn tells her that they are on Earth but there are too many protection spells for Flick’s power to tell her exactly where. With her mother giving her advice, they go to the arena to find out what Fossor wants her to fight and what Flick’s ‘birthday present’ is.

 

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Eighteen 6-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – Despite Fossor not physically appearing in this chapter, summaries for this imprisonment arc have been requested, so one follows at the end for anyone who would like to read just that. Or would like to read it to see if they want to read the chapter in full. 

The first thing I did, before anything else, was quickly move over to the tub. Leaning in, I twisted the handles and let the bath start filling with water before any of the possible minders anywhere nearby could get suspicious. Once that was running, I hissed a quiet, “This is a trick, a trap.” Even as I said that, my eyes were darting around, looking for someone or something else. 

Rahanvael’s ghost gave a slight headshake, watching the water stream into the tub for a few seconds. “Why?” she finally asked, her voice somehow simultaneously pointed and gentle. “What sort of trap could my brother possibly need to use on you when you are already here and under his power?” She gave me a long look before quietly adding, “I’m… sorry to be so blunt, but he doesn’t need to trap you, Felicity Chambers. He already has you in the trap.” 

Okay, she had a point there. Still, I replied, “To fuck with me. You think Fossor wouldn’t dangle some kind of hope right in front of my face and then snatch it away just to fuck with me and maybe break me a little more easily? Or just for the hell of it. Because I’m pretty sure he’d do exactly that. And he’d definitely think to plan ahead and have you appear to me before.” 

“You’re right,” the ghost allowed. “That does sound like my brother. But… he wouldn’t use me for that. He’d do a lot of horrific things, but not that. And I know it’s easy for me to say, because you don’t know him like I do. On the other hand, you had all those tests done. Virginia Dare, your brother Wyatt, Sariel Moon, and Apollo. All four of them tested me. All four of them said that I wasn’t lying or controlled by my brother. It’s your energy pulling and keeping me here, not his.”

For a moment, I just stared at her. My mind was rushing in a dozen different directions. I almost wanted to scream. There was so much pressure. If I did the wrong thing now, what would happen? I was so… so afraid. The constant threat of being taken by Fossor at some future point that had hung over my head so long had been replaced by the cold hard fact that I was his prisoner. And the things… the things that he had implied he wanted to do… the things I knew he was capable of… I wanted this to be real. I wanted so desperately for this one single advantage I potentially still had to be a real thing. I wanted to trust her, but it was so dangerous. If I was wrong, if she was playing me–if Fossor was playing me just for the hell of it, would I ever recover from that? If he had somehow tricked all four of the others into being wrong…

And yet, at this point, what did I really have to lose? I was here. I was trapped in this house with my mom, who had already been trapped here for a decade under that monster’s control. Yes, if this went wrong and turned out to be a cheap trick, it would devastate me. But I was already devastated. I didn’t have any other choice. If I didn’t do something, then… then I was lost.

That was what the real crux of this whole thing was. Mom and I needed some kind of edge, something special that Fossor hadn’t planned for. This had to be it. Assuming this was real… if it was real, then there was absolutely no way that asshole could have prepared for something like the sister he had killed millennia ago suddenly showing up again and helping to take him down. 

By the time I looked up again after going through all that in my head, the tub was full. I reached out, without taking my eyes off the ghost, and turned off the water. Listening to the last few drops, I quietly whispered, “What if he knows you’re here now?” The unspoken question, of course, was my fear that Fossor was spying on me when I was about to clean up in the tub. 

“If he knew I was here,” Rahanvael gently pointed out, “he would already be in this room. If he knew there was a strange ghost, he would be here to cast me out. If he knew it was me, he would…” She paused, seeming to think about that for a moment before continuing. “I’m not sure what he would do, exactly. But he would not leave you in here alone with me, either way.”  

While I nodded slowly to that, she went on. “And I would know if either he or his.. minions were watching this room. I was my brother’s first real ghost. I have a connection to the others, and to every other creature touched by his power. I can sense them, feel them. I can tell you how many are in this house right now and where they are. As for Merakeul, I can sense him as well. Right now, he is out in one of the gardens, that way.” She turned, pointing off into the distance. 

“Merakeul, that’s… that’s Fossor?” I slowly asked, sitting on the edge of the tub. At this point, I was all-in. There was no other choice. If this turned out to be a trick or a game of some kind, I’d deal with that. But for the moment, taking a chance that this was actually real was my only shot.

She gave a slight nod, clearly watching my reaction. It was strange, first seeing the ghost of a girl who looked a little younger than I was, and also because her eyes seemed so much older than the rest of her. Which was kind of an effect I’d seen before, considering how many people around my life were a lot older than they looked. But still, in this girl, it was even stronger than most. Her eyes were ancient, and spoke of a deep weariness and weight. When I’d first seen her back at the camp, I thought she looked mischievous. And she did, on the surface. Beyond that, however, especially when I stared at her now, I saw what had to be the pressure she felt from the fact that her own brother had turned into… what he had turned into. 

“You should bathe,” she reminded me. “They’ll expect you to delay and be a bit slow, so we don’t have to hurry too much. But they’ll still get suspicious and check if you take too long. He’ll be waiting and watching to see the first move you make to escape. He might expect you to try to run tonight.” 

“He’s having my mother and I sleep in the same room together,” I murmured, frowning a bit. “It’s to tempt me. He wants to see if we’ll try to run away together, if one of us has some kind of plan to get out of the house. I mean, he has to know that we know it’s a trap, but…but he also wants to see if we can resist taking a shot.” Saying it out loud like that, I knew it was true. The whole reason Fossor wasn’t pushing too hard right now, letting Mom and me stay in the same room, even letting her wear clothes when he… urggghh… when he usually didn’t. It was all to see if we would try to escape right now, when he was most ready for it. 

And the worst part was, a part of me was still tempted to take a shot at it. I was so… terrified of being here, so scared of what would happen in the future, that… yeah, I was tempted to try to take off with my mom. Logically, I knew it was stupid. I knew Fossor was ready for that. He had to be. But there was just this voice in the back of my head that was constantly whispering reminders of what kind of things would happen to me here, what I could be forced to do. And between making me think about everything I really didn’t want to think about, the voice occasionally added a very pointed, what if? What if I could escape with my mother right now and I didn’t try? What if I could get her out of here, run away, and not have to deal with any of that? Yes, there was a ninety-nine percent chance I would fail. But that one percent…

I might’ve tried it. Gods help me, even knowing how unlikely it was, knowing Fossor was anticipating it, I still might’ve tried to escape with my mother that night, just off that one percent chance. I was so scared of the future, my future in this place, that I might have taken that one percent chance to maybe escape. Might have, except for one thing: this ghost. Rahanvael. She was my real one chance. Not rising to Fossor’s bait tonight. No, my one chance was her. If Fossor truly didn’t know about her, if she was really a total blind spot for him, then she was my only real chance at getting out of this. My only real chance at beating that son of a bitch, and getting the hell out of here with my mother. I couldn’t waste that. 

Lost in those thoughts, I hesitated before looking over at my ghost companion. “You’re really sure that no one’s spying on us right now?” I wished that I had Shiori’s power to know if anyone was secretly looking at me. It might not have been strong enough to beat Fossor,  but it still would have made me feel a little better. And while I was wishing for things, I might as well have wished that I was wherever Shiori was right then. I never would have wished that she, or anyone else I cared about, was actually here with me. It was bad enough that my mother and I were trapped in this place.

Rahanvael didn’t answer immediately. She looked around the room, clearly focusing for a few seconds. Finally, she returned her attention to me and nodded. “Yes, I am certain that no one touched by my brother’s power is near enough to hear or see what is happening in this room, and that no spying spells have been set up. He is not attempting to eavesdrop right now.” 

“Mom,” I realized. “She said she could tell if he was spying with her own magic. I bet Fossor knows that. As long as we’re here in the building, he probably figures there’s no reason to use a bunch of spying spells constantly. You know, since Mom would know about it anyway.” 

Then I hesitated before looking to the ghost. “Um. I know this is probably weird given the situation. But would you mind, umm, you know…” 

“I will turn around and look the other way,” Rahanvael agreed with what I swore was a small smile. She looked maybe a year or two younger than me, though I knew she was actually thousands of years old. Actually, come to think of it… “Do ghosts mature after death?” I asked while getting myself ready and stepping into the tub. I really would have preferred a quick shower, but this was what I had to work with. Besides, the hot water actually did feel good. 

“Physically, no,” she informed me, her voice sounding contemplative as she floated there facing the far wall. “Mentally, emotionally? Experience leads to maturity in those things. I have spent a very… long time hiding from my brother. First, I looked for someone who could help stop him. But that was…” She trailed off, her voice turning a bit pained at some long-ago memory. “That was unhelpful.” 

“He was in prison, wasn’t he?” I put in. “He was supposed to be in that Gehenna place.” 

“He shouldn’t have been,” she said quickly before stopping. “I mean, yes, he is… he is absolutely evil. He should be stopped and… and killed now. He should be put down. But at the time, he only… he was only trying to make me immortal by… by killing me and putting my soul back in my body.” 

I turned a bit in the tub, staring at her from behind. “He wanted to make you immortal by killing you?” 

“He wasn’t of sound mind,” she replied simply. “I know that. He thought that his power would allow him to make me immortal by turning me into a ghost, then putting me back into my body and sealing it within once more. He was wrong. He was wrong. He was sick. But he wasn’t evil then. He should have been put in a hospital. He should have been helped. Instead, they put him in the worst place imaginable. They put him in Gehenna for seventeen of your years, stuffed in a hole with nothing but the most evil, dangerous, monstrous people in the universe for company. He was younger than you were when you began all this and they put him in that place.”

“I hope you’re not trying to make me feel sorry for him after everything he’s done,” I said quietly. 

“No,” she assured me, her voice soft. “My real twin, my Merakeul, died in that prison. The brother I loved never came out of there. The monster he is now, the evil creature that being in that place turned him into, needs to die. It needs to be destroyed forever so my real brother’s spirit can rest. I want Fossor to die so that Mera can be done. I don’t expect you to know him the way I used to. I don’t expect you to understand just how much he has changed, just how… just what kind of person he was when we were children. I would never expect you to think of him that way. That was my Merakeul. And he will stay in that prison for all time.” 

A few seconds, I tried to think of how I would feel if I was her. I knew this ghost wasn’t the real Rahanvael, like her actual spirit or anything like that. The ghost was the remains of the real girl’s magical energy when she had died. Magic given a personality and memories. Still, as far as she was concerned, she was Rahanvael and Fossor was her brother. So, if I was in that position, would I be able to think like that? I thought about how I would feel if my mother turned evil and did all the things that Fossor had done for so long. Would I be able to focus on wanting her dead so she couldn’t hurt anyone else? How long had it taken this girl to come to the conclusion that he could never be helped? Actually, come to think of it…

“What were you doing in those seventeen years he was in prison? Did you… see him?” That didn’t sound right, considering if Fossor had known the sister whose death started his entire slide into what he was today was actually around as a ghost, he would have done a hell of a lot more to keep her around him all the time. I was pretty sure he had no idea she existed. 

Sure enough, the ghost shook her head, voice soft. “I remember drifting, aimless and… empty, sort of. It was like floating on the water, staring at the stars forever. I… I heard my brother’s voice now and then, but it was faint. Then I felt him tugging me. I felt more… together. I felt like myself again. He pulled me back, but it was after he destroyed that prison. After he killed so many people. He was killing people, taking their power and adding it to his own. And he tried to pull my spirit back. He was trying to bring me back again, years after I died.” 

“But you didn’t go to him,” I realized. “He pulled at you but you… resisted?” That was a bit surprising, considering how powerful Fossor was. “Is it because you’re his sister?” 

“I think so,” she agreed. “I understand his power, I can avoid it. I can sense it, feel it, let it slip past me. He never sensed that he’d actually brought me back already. I was invisible to him–am invisible to him. I wanted to fade away again, I wanted to go back to laying on the ocean and seeing the stars. But I couldn’t. I saw everything he did. I watched everyone he killed on our world. I’ve seen what he turned it into.” 

“But you’re not actually tied to his magic,” I pointed out carefully. “Sariel and others already worked that out. You aren’t directly connected to him anymore.” 

“Yes,” she confirmed. “I separated myself from my brother’s power. I can still feel it, can still avoid it. But over the years, I extricated myself from him. It was like untangling a very complicated knot. And I had to do it without letting him know. It was so… complicated. I had to only pull at the strands connecting me to him whenever a different spirit was fighting him, so that he wouldn’t notice my own tugs at his power. But I did. I pulled myself free and then… then I hid from him. I saw all the things he did on our world, the way he’s made our people into his… his batteries, his hostages. Everytime something bad targets him out here, he transfers it to our people. Our people live and die as nothing more than his slaves, for… for thousands of years. It’s–” She stopped, clearly taking a second to collect herself. “I want Fossor dead so my world can be free again. You have every right to hate him. But for me, I just want him gone, my brother put to rest, and my world to be free. They… they deserve to be free.” 

Shifting a bit in the water, I watched her, thinking about everything she said before speaking. “I want him gone too. And I want your world to be free. I want my mother and me to be free. But the only way either of us are going to get any of that is by working together and being smart about it. 

“And by getting pretty damn lucky.” 

 

SUMMARY

 

Flick has a discussion with Rahanvael, establishing that she is invisible to Fossor’s senses due to being his first ghost and spending many years secretly extricating herself from his power while he remained unaware that he had successfully brought her back. She is also capable, due to her connections to her brother, of sensing his power and any of those brought back by it. This allows her to tell Flick if they are being spied on or where any of Fossor’s ghosts and other necromantic creations are in the area. Rahanvael tells Flick that she wants Fossor dead so that her brother’s spirit can rest and their world can be freed.

 

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Eighteen 6-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – Despite Fossor not appearing in this chapter, there is a summary at the bottom for those who are sensitive about this general storyline. 

My mother and I walked together in silence. Neither of us said anything else for a few minutes as we moved further away from the dining room. My gaze was on the floor, my heart somewhere down in my stomach. Why? Why did this son of a bitch have to ruin what should have been the single most joyful moment of my life? I was with my mother. I should have been happy! I should… I should have been happy. 

Instead, I was silent, not trusting my voice. I didn’t even know if I should say anything. Fossor would probably eavesdrop on everything, and I didn’t really feel like letting my emotions at finally finding my mom be some kind of obscene entertainment for that fucking piece of shit. 

I didn’t really pay attention to anything about where we were going until I felt open air and looked around to see that my mother had led me outside. We were moving through one of the flower gardens and I found myself looking toward the blossoms while wondering just how long the necromancer had been working with Kwur to pull this whole thing off. It was a bitter thought, the knowledge that Dakota’s family had been killed and she herself had been so thoroughly traumatized just as part of a plan to eventually kidnap me. As if I didn’t owe that fucker enough pain already. The fact that I’d gotten through an entire meal without uselessly hurling everything in sight at him, including myself, while he was so close had to be some kind of miracle.  

To be honest, if there was one thing I really needed right about now, it was an actual miracle. But something told me that my mother and I were on our own in that regard. Tabbris couldn’t get to us. None of the people on the outside had any chance of helping. Not in any reasonable timeframe, anyway. Dare, Deveron, Avalon, Gwen, Tabbris, Sariel, Gabriel, Athena, none of them could help this time. Whatever came next, unless I wanted to sit here as Fossor’s prisoner for years and suffer through whatever his idea of a good time was, would be up to us, not them. 

Finally, Mom stopped. Her hand found my shoulder, making me come up short before she simply stood there beside me. Glancing over, I saw her look toward the mansion. Her eyes were on one window in particular, and stayed there for a few seconds before she slowly stepped around to face me. Our eyes met, and I saw… something I didn’t expect. There wasn’t sadness, or pain at the fact that I had been brought here and was now a prisoner as well. In her eyes, I saw… power. I saw determination, the kind I had tried to show Fossor when I told him he would regret starting this whole thing, but so much stronger. I saw certainty, power, and utter fearlessness. I saw the Joselyn Atherby who had once inspired a rebellion that nearly tore apart the entire Seosten-created Heretic civilization when she was still barely more than a child. 

“Felicity,” she began in a soft, tender voice. But that tenderness wasn’t weakness. There was a strength in it that I couldn’t yet begin to truly understand. My mother had, for so long, stood as a titan in my thoughts. Only now, seeing her like this, did I really see how she could be that same titan to others. The strength in her, the gift she had for raising others so high, was there now. After ten years as Fossor’s prisoner, after he’d had so long to break her, so long to destroy that spirit in an effort that had culminated now with the abduction of her daughter, she was still here. After having her first children stolen from her just to make her surrender, she had survived. After choosing to have her life, her family, her memories, her very self taken away in order to save her people from generations of blood-curse induced slavery, she had survived. 

After choosing once again to sacrifice her own freedom to this monster in order to protect another of her children, and spending over ten years as his slave, forced to bear him a child who had been corrupted, destroyed, and eventually killed, she still survived. 

Joselyn Atherby, Joselyn Chambers, her name didn’t matter. She was and would always be the woman who had taken Bosch Heretic society apart at the seams. She was and would always be a leader, a titan, a hero. 

She was and would always be my mother. 

Swallowing hard, forcing down the lump that had taken over my throat, I straightened a little and met her eyes. “Mom.” I said that single word, before stepping forward. I’d hugged her before, but this was different. This was us, together and in as much privacy as we could possibly have in this situation. My arms wrapped around her tightly, and I felt hers do the same. I felt that same strength I’d seen in her eyes, the way it held me up. She gave that strength to me, from that seemingly endless well within her. 

“Whatever happens, whatever comes next,” Mom quietly, “You are not going to be alone. Do you hear me? Wherever I am, wherever any of us are, you’re never alone.” 

Unlike her, I realized. Mom had been alone here for so long. Almost no one had remembered her. Dad and I thought she abandoned us, and I had spent most of those missing years hating her. She had been here, alone save for her son, whom Fossor had eventually turned into the monster that I had known. 

“I’m sorry.” The words felt empty and worthless as they left my mouth. But I had to say them anyway. “Mom, I wanted to save you. I wanted to fix everything. I thought I was ready for him, he told me he was coming on my birthday and–and I thought we could stop him and plan for… I didn’t think he’d…” My eyes closed, and I felt the tears rush to them before I forced them back. 

Mom’s grip tightened around me. She held me up as my own legs felt weak. “My sweet, brilliant little reporter,” she murmured before kissing my forehead. “Maybe not so little now. But brave. My brave girl. Are you dead?” 

I paused, frowning a little before shaking my head as I leaned back to look at her. “Dead? No.” 

Meeting my uncertain look with a soft smile, Mom quietly confirmed, “Of course not. You’re alive. That, Lissy, is what matters. Whatever happens, survive. Live. Come what may, every day that you open your eyes is a day when things might change. Every moment you survive is another moment when he can make a mistake. Especially now. Fossor believes that having you here gives him the edge. But it also means that our deal is ended. And while he has his magic and his threats against you to keep me in check, the power of that binding arrangement is over. He may find that to be more trouble than he realizes.” 

Tilting my head, I found a hesitant smile to match hers. “You know he’s probably listening to everything we say? Or at least recording it for later somehow.” 

“He knows how I feel about him, and I would say it to his face,” Mom replied simply. Her hand touched my cheek. “But in this case, he’s not listening. We have privacy, for now.” 

“But how… how do you know for sure?” I pressed uncertainly. 

Stepping back, Mom took my hand and started walking. “Because while I may not be strong enough to physically challenge that man at this point, returning my memories returned many important spells I learned in the old days. Believe me, if that magic is enough to stop members of the Committee from eavesdropping, I would know if any of Fossor’s ghosts were spying on us.” Pausing then, she shrugged before adding. “And he will simply force one or both of us to tell him of any actual plots we might make against him anyway.” 

Turning a sharp look to me with that, Mom pointedly continued, “Which is why any plan either of us come up with cannot last longer than it takes for him to force the truth. He has a place called the Writing Room, which forces you to write the truthful answers to any questions he asks. And he will use it often, particularly now, until he feels that he has a handle on you. You will be forced to write only the truth to his questions, but you can be as specific about that truth as you wish. Do you understand? He can’t just ask general, all-encompassing questions and get anything helpful. They have to be somewhat specific. If he does not ask the right questions, his ability to force the truth to them is less useful. Also, the Writing Room does not force you to put things in any particular order, especially with more open questions. If he asks if you have any plans of how to break out of this place, you can start by writing down any random plan you like no matter how unlikely it is to ever happen. If he asks you to write down every plan you have, just put more and more absurd plans until he stops you, because the Writing Room has limited power. You see how it works? If he’s too general, you can waste time and the room’s power by listing far more useless examples and including intricate but meaningless details before it gets to the parts you don’t want him to know about.” 

Right. Ammon had mentioned the Writing Room and told me about it back when he showed up at Crossroads, I remembered, slowly nodding. “I get it. I don’t know how much good it’ll do, but at least it’s something. I’ll… try.” There were a few things I really did need to keep secret, that was for sure. Though ‘I was contacted by your dead sister but she disappeared and I haven’t seen her in a long time so I guess that didn’t amount to much now that I’m here’ might just be worth seeing the look on his face. To say nothing of the fact that I had a miniature virtual Chayyiel slumbering in the back of my head. Even if she hadn’t left anything too dangerous in her virtual self considering she was just supposed to tutor me, the idea of Fossor having any access whatsoever to her was still a horrific thought.

Still, it was unlikely that he would think to ask something specific enough to draw that out. At least I hoped not. But honestly, I was afraid of any question he might ask. I didn’t want to tell that monster anything at all. Nothing. But I was pretty sure he had an extensive list of questions for me that would dip into the extremely personal. Either because he thought it might actually give him important information, or just for the hell of it. Because he was an evil son of a bitch and would get so much satisfaction from making me share personal details about my life. 

“I never wanted you to come here,” Mom informed me gently, her hand cupping the side of my face. “But we don’t obsess over regrets and wishes. We live in the world that exists. We change the future, not the past. You understand? We will get through this. We will survive. Whatever it takes, whatever we have to do, we buckle down and we survive. We move on. We wait for our moment, because it will come. Take the hits, let him think he’s won. Because we only need one moment. He has to be careful every moment of every day. All we have to do is watch for the one time when he’s not careful enough.” 

I knew that a big part of this was just Mom trying to make me feel better. But I also knew that she really believed it. She had to. It was both who she was and the only way she had stayed sane through all of this. She couldn’t let herself surrender to doubt and despair. And frankly, if she could keep herself going through all this time, including seeing me dragged in here to join her, and not give up, I could do it too. 

“Watch for the moment,” I echoed with a slight nod to my mother. “I can do that. I… I will do that, Mom.” Staring at her, I felt tears rush to my eyes once more. Blinking them away so I could keep seeing her, I swallowed hard and quietly added, “I love you.” 

Her fingers gently brushed over my face, and my mother leaned in to kiss my forehead once more, with a softly whispered, “My sweet girl. I love you more than I could ever tell you.” 

“You have told me,” I assured her, my voice cracking a little bit. “Mom, are you crazy? Look at what you did for me. Look at what you’ve done for me this whole time! if I didn’t know you loved me after all of this, I’d be the world’s biggest… idiot.” It was hard to force those last few words out past the lump that had returned to my throat. “You’re right. No more apologies. No more… regrets. I’m here, you’re here. And we’re gonna get through it. You and me, we’re together, right?” After a brief pause, I admitted in a barely audible voice, “But I’m still scared.” 

“Oh, my girl.” Embracing me once more, Mom quietly assured me, “It’s okay to be scared. But we’re stronger than the fear. We’ll push past it. We’ll deal with it. We’ll face it.” 

With that, she released me and took my hand instead, squeezing it as she started to walk with me through the flower garden. “Well now, you had an interesting first year, didn’t you?” 

“Oh… yeah, you got that upload about the war and all that too, didn’t you?” Looking to her, I quickly added, “Gaia did most of that. It was her big idea and… and she set it up.” 

“Gaia is very smart,” Mom agreed. The account of her voice, I was pretty sure she was thinking of examples from her own childhood. Then she looked at me. “But your little magic tell-all didn’t actually tell all. I want to know everything that happened last year. Can you do that for me?” 

I knew what she was doing. Mom needed to clear her head and think. And at the same time, she wanted me to calm down. So, she was trying to get me to tell her stories that would make me focus on other things besides our current situation. Not only would that give her time to think and collect herself, it also allowed her to listen to me, hear my voice, and watch me. 

And I was okay with all of that. So, I took a breath and started with, “I guess the best place to start is my last night at my job at the theater…” 

******

Obviously, I didn’t get through the entire story that day. If I was actually going to write down everything that happened to me last year it would probably take at least a million words. Maybe two. There was no way Fossor would leave us alone for that long. So I just got as far as I could before we were interrupted by a ghost that popped right up out of nowhere. Mom was fine, but I jumped, and I saw the way the ghost smirked a bit. He’d definitely done that intentionally. But did that mean Fossor had done it on purpose, or was this just this particular ghost’s personality? 

Either way, the ghost actually spoke. It was in a voice that was low, yet somehow still boomed and echoed around us. Which was… weird. It also gave off a chill through the air. “Lord Fossor has requested that the two of you be escorted to your room for the evening, Missus. He has graciously decided that you may sleep together for now.” The ghost looked to Mom then before adding, “Your normal nighttime dressing rules have been suspended for the time being. Now come.”

We walked and I looked at my mom with a frown. “What does he mean, normal nighttime dressing rules?” I had some ideas but I was really hoping that they were completely wrong.

I saw the slightly pained look that crossed my mother’s face and she was silent for a few moments as we walked. Finally, she answered in a quiet voice, “As part of his effort to remind me of his total ongoing control, I am to wear only what he decrees at any given time. In the bedroom, that is nothing.” 

Well, now I just wanted to throw up again. Mom admitted that humiliation in such a simple, dismissive voice. But I could see beyond that. I could see and hear just how frustrated, angry, and… and helpless that made her feel, even if she had brought it under control. Having to admit the situation to me had probably just brought those long-buried feelings roaring back to the surface. Which, of course, was obviously the entire point of the ghost being told to say that in front of me so I’d ask about it. Fossor was enjoying himself with all this, even in his pretense at being gracious.  

Yeah, I didn’t believe for one second that Fossor was allowing my mother to wear clothes at night out of the goodness of his heart. He was playing an angle. He made sure I knew about the rule, ‘graciously’ suspended it rather than extending it to me (oh God, I was gonna be sick), and expected gratefulness. I was fairly certain that either tomorrow or very soon, he would bring up reinstating the rule unless one or both of us did some kind of favor for him. We would have to earn that kind of leniency.

And that was just one small manipulation. I had no doubt there would be more, and worse. This was what my entire life in this place was going to be like. Fossor was just getting warmed up. Unless my mother and I got out of here soon, things were going to get very bad, very quickly. 

We stopped in front of a door and the ghost who was escorting us pushed it open to reveal a very nice bathroom complete with a large whirlpool tub. “The child will bathe here and dress in the nightclothes provided on the counter,” he ordered. “The mother will bathe in the room across the hall.” He pointed that way, to a matching door. “When either is done, they will wait in the hall for the other, then the mother will take the daughter to her room for sleep.” 

Mom gave me an encouraging nod, squeezing my hand and leaning in to whisper that we’d be okay. Then she, clearly reluctantly, released me. I sighed, giving her a wave before stepping into the bathroom and turning to close the door. 

“Funny…” A voice from behind me spoke up, prompting me to nearly jump out of my skin and spin that way. I saw a young girl, her figure greenish-blue and partially transparent. Another ghost. A special ghost. 

“My brother always said he wanted to live in a place with a lot of bathrooms, because he was tired of waiting for his turn,” Fossor’s dead sister, Rahanvael, informed me. 

SUMMARY

Flick and Joselyn have a discussion. Joselyn assures Flick that she would know if they were being spied on due to the fact that getting her memories back restored her knowledge of all the privacy spells she previously used in the rebellion. She also informs Flick of more details on Fossor’s Writing Room, a place where he can force anyone to write the truth to any question he asks, and how to beat it by including as many irrelevant details as possible. The two have some emotional moments before being escorted to separate bathrooms to clean up. Flick walks into her bathroom, closes the door, and is met by the ghost of Rahanvael, Fossor’s long-dead sister.

 

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Denouement 12 – Life And Death (Heretical Edge)

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“You… you saw her?” Flick’s tentative, quiet voice quivered just a little as she stared at Sariel while Tabbris stood a bit out of the way. The three of them were otherwise alone in one of the Atherby cabins at this point, almost immediately after the escape from the Crossroads prison. The girl had been immediately pulled aside by Mercury and taken to where Sariel waited while everyone else was still sorting themselves out. 

With a single nod, the Seosten woman carefully replied, “Yes. She’s okay, Felicity. Or she was when I… when we left.” Her face fell a bit as she added, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t bring her out. There was no way to do it, not with the spell Fossor had on her. If I possessed her, or took her away from there, it… there wouldn’t have been time to save her. There just wasn’t time, and I didn’t want to play that kind of game with her life. I didn’t want to take that risk.” 

Flick was quiet for a few long seconds, mind lost in considering everything that could have been. So close and yet so far from being reunited with her mother. “And if you did bring her, we don’t know how much it would have helped,” she murmured quietly, clearly trying to convince herself. “She’s still under his control, still sworn to follow his commands. He probably has her under orders to come back to him the instant she’s taken away. There’s not–we don’t know what would’ve happened.” Despite her words, it was clear that Flick desperately wished that a miracle had happened. 

In the end, it was Tabbris who came forward and put a hand gently on her sister’s arm. “Flick?” she began slowly. “A… a lot of good things happened today too. We pulled off a lot of really hard things.” 

With a small smile, Flick took the girl’s hand and squeezed it. “You’re right. A lot of really hard things happened today. A… a lot of really hard things happened this whole year. Impossible things. Starting the rebellion up again, escaping Crossroads, meeting Guinevere, getting the Seosten to back off for a year, everything that…” She swallowed. “Everything that happened with us being out in space. Finding out about you…” Her free hand fondly brushed Tabbris’s hair back. “I can’t believe it hasn’t even been a year since that day on the bus. I haven’t known about all this stuff for even a year yet. I’ve said it before, but it… it feels like a lot longer. A hell of a lot longer.” 

Gazing off into the distance for a few seconds, Flick finally shook that off before focusing on Sariel. “If you think I’m going to blame you for not getting my mother out of there, you’re wrong. You did the best you could. You… you got her friends, her old teammates out. That should’ve been impossible. I know what Fossor does, how he… how he likes to be in control. I don’t know exactly what you did, but I know that if you got both of those hostages away from him, it must’ve been one of the most amazing things in a world full of amazing things. I know you must have risked a lot to save them. You could have left. You could have recalled out of there. You had to fight my mom with Fossor right there, and you stayed? You stayed and you got my mom’s friends out. You saved them. If your guilt complex thinks I’m going to be mad at you because didn’t manage to throw the game-winning touchdown through a neighboring basketball hoop to pull out that game at the same time, you’re crazy. Yeah, I wish my mom was here. I really wish we could’ve added her to the list of rescued parents this year like that. But I’m not mad because it didn’t happen. This whole thing isn’t over yet. Nowhere near it. You didn’t fail to bring her back, you succeeded at stopping him from using my mother’s friends to torture her even more. You took them away from him.” 

Through the resulting long silence as Flick finished talking, she and Sariel stared at one another. Finally, Tabbris leaned that way and stage-whispered. “See, Mama? I told you Flick’s great.” 

The words made both of the others laugh a bit despite themselves, before the girl in question cleared her throat a bit awkwardly. “Um, you said you brought Roger and Seamus out of there?” 

“Yes,” Sariel confirmed. “But they are… well, they’re still being tended to. We’re having them checked thoroughly for any traps or tricks. You can see them as soon as we’re absolutely certain nothing… bad will happen. I don’t believe Fossor intended them to be rescued, but we’ve already found several trap spells on the two that he clearly left just in case. We’re making sure those were the only ones before letting them anywhere near you or any of Joselyn’s family.” 

“That makes sense,” Flick muttered darkly. “I’m pretty sure Fossor doesn’t like his toys being taken away. Of course he’d have contingency measures for even ones like them. And… and my mother… he’s had her a lot longer.” Her voice shook, eyes widening with thoughts of what kind of measures the necromancer might have taken to ensure her mother would be with him forever as she clutched a hand against her suddenly queasy stomach. 

Sariel stepped that way to embrace Felicity. “I will promise you every day until it happens, we will get your mother away from that monster. Whatever we have to do, he is not going to keep her.” 

Flick, a bit surprised by the hug but going with it, swallowed hard. “I… I know. It just feels like we’ve had to ignore him for so long this year. We’ve ignored him and look what he’s done. He killed one of the Committee members and blamed Gaia for it. He stole the Hangman rope for… for whatever horrible thing he’s planning to use that for. When I met him, I had one year before he came for me. Now I have a few months. That’s it. A few months, then whatever plan he’s got for me, whatever he’s been working on this whole time, it’ll be time for it.” 

“Whatever it is,” Sariel firmly assured her. “I can’t promise we’ll be ready for it. But I can promise that we will do everything possible to make sure you’re not alone.” She released the girl, stepping back to look at her. “As long as you don’t go off on your own. You understand? I know you want to save your mother. And he will probably promise any number of things. He might tell you that if you come to him, he’ll take you instead and release her. He might even magically swear to it. Do not listen to him, Felicity. I don’t care what he promises, what he threatens. If you go to him, he will win. Your mother–” 

“Mom would kill herself before she let me trade myself for her,” Flick murmured, glancing away. It was clear the thought had occurred to her before. Particularly with the way she and Tabbris exchanged very brief glances before the older girl’s gaze found the floor. “Or she’d just kill herself trying to get me away from him. I wouldn’t be saving her, I’d be condemning her to die one way or another. Either from doing something stupid to get me out of there, or just… or just being killed by him when he didn’t need her anymore. Or because he sacrifices her for whatever plan he has. I know. I know all that. I get it. I’ve thought about it for months now, all the time.” 

“You thought about offering to trade yourself for her already,” Sariel gently noted, watching her. 

A slow nod came. “I thought about it. I even worked out how it might go, how I could maybe make sure he had to follow through.” Then she shrugged, her voice hollow. “It wouldn’t work. It would be dumb, and… I’d be betraying everyone here. My friends, my dad, the rest of my family… you guys. I’d be hurting everyone just to feel for a second like I was being proactive. It would make me feel less useless for a second or two, that’s it.” 

Smiling very faintly, Sariel noted, “The fact that you recognize that puts you quite a bit ahead of many others I could mention.” Her voice softened a little more, as she added, “You are like your mother in many ways, Felicity Chambers. Almost supernaturally surprising at times.” 

Finally glancing up, Flick met her gaze, voice hard. “Whatever happens when my birthday comes, let’s just hope that necromantic bastard gets to be surprised too. I really want him to realize he’s made a huge fucking mistake about two seconds before his head comes off and we get to play soccer with it.” 

Raising a hand, Tabbris offered, “Maybe Chayyiel could possess you again. I’m pretty sure Litonya was really freaking surprised by that.” 

The words made Sariel begin to chuckle. “Yes, I’m sure that would–” She stopped then, blinking at her daughter, then to Flick, then back again while her mouth opened and shut. “Wait…

“Chayyiel did what?!” 

*******

From the dark cabin where several of the strongest mages the combined Atherby, rebel Seosten, and former Crossroads groups could field had gone over him with a fine-toothed comb to ensure there were no spells or other magical tricks, Sean Gerardo emerged. He stepped out, feet making the porch creak heavily as he moved down onto the grass. Down into the sunlight. 

He stood there, eyes closed for a moment while he slowly tilted his head up toward the sky. There, he stayed motionless, simply breathing in the new, non-recycled air. The real, true outside. Freedom. He breathed in freedom after eight years of imprisonment. He breathed it in. 

And he cried. Hands clenched at his sides, face upturned toward the sun in this moment of what should have been pure, unadulterated joy at his own freedom, Sean cried. Tears fell freely as he let go of everything he’d been holding in for so long. The unfairness, the unjust treatment, the insanity of his parents agreeing to it. He let all of it free, allowing it to fall right along with his tears. He was lost, adrift on his own chaotic maelstrom of fears, joys, loss, and triumph. 

He was free. Yet how much had he lost? Eight years. He had been there for eight years. Eight times longer than he had even known Flick. Those people had completely lost their minds. They were insane. His parents and the rest of them, they… they had to be stopped. He understood that more than he ever had before this. He understood just how far they would go to maintain their delusions, just how obsessed they were and how willing they were to break everything to avoid admitting they were wrong. This wasn’t a case of simply misinformed people. They truly, fanatically believed that if the entirety of humanity would be erased if they didn’t do what they were doing. They believed that every single species in the universe would gleefully eradicate every human being if given half a chance, that they were the lone defending force against total human extinction. And against that kind of pressure, against the extermination of all humanity, there were no measures that were off limits, nothing some of them wouldn’t do. 

This was going to be a war, in every sense of the word. More than anything else, he had learned that over his time imprisoned. The levels they were willing to go to… This wouldn’t be some simple matter of just telling them the truth. Many would never accept it. And those… he knew what would have to be done. He didn’t like it. But it was coming. To change society, to really change it… they would have to do harsh things. 

“Hey.” 

The word caught his attention, and Sean turned a bit to see his brother there. Ian stood a few yards away, just as bloodied and dirty as he’d been back on that battlefield. It looked like he’d gone through hell. 

“Gross, dude,” Sean murmured after looking him up and down. “Ever heard of a shower?” 

A snort escaped the other man before Ian crossed the distance between them. His hand moved to take his brother’s before stopping himself. “I–sorry. That… I guess you’re probably not used to people touching you, huh?” 

Glancing away, Sean squeezed Ian’s hand a bit testingly. “It’s kind of a new experience, especially doing it for real instead of in my head.” Exhaling, he turned his gaze back to the other man’s. “And that sounded really creepy.” 

“I’m sorry, man.” Ian’s voice was quiet, his hand still holding his little–now not so little–brother’s. “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you. Not just through this… this prison shit. Ever. I’m sorry I’ve been a shit brother for so long even before that.” 

Sean shook his head. “Part of me feels like I should make a crack about how you’re just sad that you can’t give me noogies anymore. But… but maybe that’s just because this whole thing is really awkward.” He focused once more, meeting Ian’s gaze. “Everyone keeps saying they’re sorry, as if this is their fault. But I know whose fault it is. And they’ll get theirs.” 

“Our family’s kind of fucked up, isn’t it?” Ian muttered the words under his breath before muttering several curses in Colombian Spanish. “You’re right, they’ll get theirs. Mom… Dad… and all the rest of them.” 

Before Sean could say anything to that, Sebastian came into view from the side of the cabin. “It’s not going to be easy, you know,” the man announced. “Physically or emotionally. It’s not just your parents. It’s your old classmates, your friends. It’s other people’s family, people they care about. All these people here in this camp? All the Heretics who came here, they’ve all got people they love or want to protect who stayed at Crossroads. This whole thing is going to be one big joda.” He gestured then. “Now, you two gonna hug so I can get my own out of my favorite nephew, or what?” 

“Oh, he’s your favorite nephew now?” Ian started before Sean gave him a little yank by the hand. The two embraced briefly, hands clapping each other’s backs before they stepped aside.

“Now?” Sebastian retorted while taking his turn to embrace Sean tightly. “He was always my favorite.” He leaned back then, looking up at the boy… man in question. “Even if he did get too damn tall like the rest of you.” 

With a dry chuckle, Sean replied, “Not our fault you stopped growing at sixteen, Tío Sebastian.” It was such an easy thing to say, springing straight to his lips. Then he thought about the fact that, from their point of view, he hadn’t been that much older than sixteen very recently. It was enough to cast a dark cloud over their reunion, but he pushed on anyway. Just because you couldn’t stop dark clouds from showing up didn’t mean you had to lay down in the puddles they made. “What are you doing here anyway? I thought you retired.” 

Giving him a long, thorough tongue lashing in Spanish at the very suggestion that he would sit on the sidelines while his nephew was in trouble, Sebastian settled with, “And I’m not sitting out any more. Not this. Not now. This war is going to take everyone. Especially if we’re going to get anywhere with it before this whole Seosten time limit thing is up next year.” 

“That and you don’t want Mateo running off by himself,” Ian noted mildly. 

“Mateo would never be off by himself,” Sebastian informed him. “He’s got his pack. And… speaking of which.” With a brief glance over Sean’s shoulder, he took Ian by the arm. “Come on then, let’s not monopolize the boy.” He met his just-freed nephew’s gaze pointedly. “Whatever happens with your parents, Sean, you’ve still got family. Don’t you forget that.” 

Ian started to say something else, before he too looked past Sean. Raising an eyebrow, he murmured, “Muy bueno, hermano.” Then he allowed himself to be pulled away. 

With a very small smile as he shook his head, Sean spoke up. “Hey, Roxa.” 

There was a brief pause before the girl’s voice flatly asked, “Did your brother just call me ‘very good?’” 

Snorting, Sean turned to face the girl. When he saw her, bloodied, covered in mud and dirt, clothes torn, he made a noise in the back of his throat. “Oh… God. He wasn’t wrong. You… look…” Stopping himself, he winced while shaking his head. “I’m sorry. Shit. I know we had this whole thing going on and to you it was like… a couple months ago. So you really didn’t sign up for… for this. I spent eight years building you up in my head. Eight years thinking about what you looked like, making this perfect picture of you in my own imagination, some… crazy version idealized of you that couldn’t hope to match up to reality. I spent eight years building the perfect image of you in my head. 

“So how in the hell is the real you even more beautiful than I ever imagined?” 

In a rush of motion, Roxa was in front of him. Her arms went around his neck, and she hopped, legs wrapping around his waist as her mouth sought and found his. 

He kissed her. He held her. His arms clutched the now-much younger girl tight against himself, and he didn’t let go. Not for a very long time. 

His girl. 

His wolf. 

*******

“You know, if you were really that tired of being identical, there were easier ways to take care of it.” 

The words came from Sands, as she stood in the camp medical center with her hands on her hips, staring at her twin sister. Scout was sitting on the edge of a hospital bed. Or rather, most of her was. Her left arm had been removed entirely, all the way up to the shoulder. In its place was a thin rounded metal cylinder about eight inches long and three inches thick. 

In response to her sister’s worried teasing, Scout poked her in the stomach with her remaining hand, offering her a smile before simply saying, “Upgrade.” 

“Yes, yes, upgrade.” Instead of Sands, it was a short, red-skinned man with a bright shock of wild white hair who spoke then. He stood barely an inch taller than the twins, approaching with a couple fancy-looking tools in two of his four hands (he only had two arms, each splitting around the elbow into two forearms) as he offered them both a smile. “It is an upgrade. But as I said, if you would prefer to take the time to let the arm regenerate more… naturally, even with magical assistance, that is an option. With your kind of power and what was done to your arm, it will take a month or so, but it’s there.” 

“Are you sure about this, Scout?”  Larissa asked from where she was sitting, tensely watching her girls. “You don’t have to go with the tech replacement if you don’t want to.” 

Head shaking at that, Scout softly replied, “Advantages are good.” 

“Alright,” the doctor, an Alter by the name of Bhenquiet (he went by Dr. Ben) announced while using his tools to make a couple last minute adjustments to the implanted metal cylinder. “Remember, anytime you want to take it out and allow the arm to grow normally, let me know. Do not try to do it yourself. I don’t want you hurting yourself or my work. Here.” He stepped back, gesturing for Sands to do the same. “Let’s see it. Just like I told you.” 

Closing her eyes, Scout focused. It took a few long seconds before there was a flicker of an image from the cylinder. It flashed in and out a couple times, then reappeared and solidified. It was her arm. Or rather, a solid holographic projection of her arm that looked identical to the real thing.

“It’ll be stronger than your old arm was, though not as strong as you could get it to be through… powers,” Dr. Ben informed her with only a slight bit of awkwardness around the idea of her killing others to make her real arm stronger. “Right now I’ve got it programmed for the arm, a sword, a shield, and a few other basic things. You can go through them and add more. I’ll show you how, or you can get a programmer to do it. There’s some other details, about what kind of magic you can use with it, that kind of thing. Oh, and don’t forget, you can’t activate magic that requires touch with this hand. It’s not real. If you’ve gotta touch a spell to activate it, you’ve gotta use your real hand. Understand?” 

Scout nodded, before asking, “Doug and Jazz?” 

“The girl’s just fine, just a little beat up.” The answer came not from Dr. Ben, but from Donald Therasis, Rudolph’s many-greats grandfather. The older man came into the medical cabin carrying a clipboard in one hand and a leather bag in the other. He set both down on the nearby table before adding, “Douglas chose to have his own eye replaced similar to Scout’s arm, though I’ll let him share the specifics with you. I wouldn’t dream of taking that kind of surprise away from him.” 

With that, he embraced Larissa. “I’m glad you all made it out. It sounds like things were… intense.” There was a certain sadness behind the old man’s eyes. Long as he had lived, he still felt great pain at the loss of those he cared about, and he had truly cared for Rudolph.  

But he did, at least, now understand what had happened to the boy. He had the whole story, and had made the choice to come here to the Atherby camp to help in any way that he could. 

With a small smile, Larissa squeezed the man tightly. “We’re all glad you’re here, Donald. I’m pretty sure we’re going to keep you, Dr. Ben here, and a lot of other people pretty busy this year.” 

“Not too busy,” Donald replied easily, “I’ve still got a tennis game to keep up on. And speaking of tennis, how’s the girl’s new arm working out?” 

With a thought, Scout made the holographic projection of her arm turn to a sword, then back again. “Good.” 

“So she says,” her mother murmured, stepping over to put a hand on it. “Feels pretty close to the real thing, at least.” She smiled then, though it was a worried smile. “My brave girls. My Sandoval. My Scout.” 

“No,” the girl corrected, head shaking. “Not Scout. Sarah. 

“Just Sarah.” 

*******

“Joselyn should be here.” 

It was late that night, the celebrations (punctuated by careful tests for any kind of trickery or traps) having gone on throughout the day and evening. There was still a lot to do, even just counting dealing with the prisoners they had pulled out of the Crossroads prison and figuring out who could be trusted. There was more work to be done than anyone could name. But for now, for this moment, they were celebrating. 

This particular celebration, somber as it might have been, revolved around the seven figures who sat around a small campfire on the edge of the lake. Five had been former teammates. Deveron, Lillian, Seamus, Roger, and Tribald. The other two were Felicity Chambers and her father, Lincoln. As the flames crackled, the group listened to the music, shouting, laughter, and general merriment coming from the rest of the camp. 

Roger, who had just spoken, continued. “She should be here. Not… not with that psycho.” 

“She started this,” Tribald murmured quietly, the incredibly tall, disconcertingly lanky man’s knees drawn up almost awkwardly as he poked at the fire with a stick. “She should be here now that it’s back.” 

Deveron cleared his throat a little, glancing toward Lincoln and Flick. “We just have to bring her back. Even… especially if it means prying her out of that necromancer fuck’s cold dead hands.”

“I like that plan,” Lincoln put in before laying a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “I mean, I didn’t grow up with Joselyn the way you all did. I don’t know her as well. But–” 

“Yes, you do.” That was Deveron, his voice quiet, yet firm. “You might not know the Heretic, Lincoln. But you know the woman. You know Joselyn. Everything important, everything that’s her, you know.” 

The two men met each other’s gazes for a moment, a deep understanding passing between them before Lillian spoke up. “Dev’s right. You know who Joselyn is, the kind of person she’s always been. For details… we can provide those. Until she’s here to do it herself.” 

“Speaking of details,” Seamus began, reaching over with his foot to bump Deveron’s, “are you planning on looking like that for the rest of your life, or would you like to join the rest of the adults?” 

Giving him a wry smirk, Deveron gestured. “Okay, okay. I guess part of me was just waiting for the best time. But this is as good as any.” His hand reached up, producing a knife from nowhere. Drawing a thin cut across his arm, he held it out over the fire. As the blood dripped into the flame, the man murmured a spell under his breath. He grimaced then, while the blood continued to drip until a small onyx marble appeared, drawn out of his arm. The marble fell into the fire as well, breaking apart into a cloud of black smoke. 

Over the next few seconds, Deveron’s appearance changed. He grew older, appearing much like himself, but in his late twenties. While the others watched, he stretched out a bit, cracking his neck and then his knuckles. “Ahhh… there. Good to be me again.”

“Pffft.” Dismissively waving a hand, Flick informed him, “Sean already beat you to the whole ‘suddenly appearing older than he was’ trick. Now it just looks like you’re copying him.” 

“Oh good,” Lincoln muttered in the wake of that, “now I can stop feeling quite as awkward about my wife having children with a guy who looks too young to vote.” 

“Gross,” Flick informed them both before pushing herself up. As Lincoln made as though to stand up as well, she waved him off. “Stay. You guys… talk. I just need to stretch my legs. I’ll be right back.” 

With that, she looked around the fire at the group of her mother’s old friends before stepping away. Silently, the blonde girl walked away from the camp a short distance. She climbed the nearby hill, thoughts kept only to herself, as Tabbris was with her own mother and other siblings.  

At the top of the hill, Flick stood there and looked out at the camp. She watched all the people. Some were Atherby regulars. Some were Crossroads rebels. Still others were Seosten former prisoners, freed from the hell created and maintained by Kushiel. 

Finally, she raised her gaze to the sky. “Well, Mom, we’re doing it. We’re gonna keep this whole rebellion thing going. You know, until you can be here yourself to show us all how to do it right. Then you can tell us all about how bad we are at it and fix everything.” 

Smiling a little to herself, Flick repeated those words more quietly. “Fix everything. I guess that’s gonna be a lot harder than I ever thought, huh?” She sighed, long and low. “There’s so much going on, so many bad… evil… horrible people. Sometimes it feels like it’s too much. I suppose… when it comes down to it, no matter how many things you have to do, no matter how… overwhelming it feels, all you can do is take one step at a time. It might be a lot of steps. But I’ve seen the video of you teaching me how to walk. I started… running almost before I even had walking down. Okay, it was a goofy run and I nearly killed myself a few times, but still. I’ve been crossing steps faster than I was supposed to basically my whole life. Old habits die hard.  

“I love you, Mom. We’re coming for you. No matter what happens, I swear, we’re coming for you. We are. I just…” She sighed, long and heavy. “I wish… I keep wishing we had something, anything that… that was an advantage. Something to… something to hold over him, or to trick him with, or… I don’t know. It just feels like he’s always ahead. Sariel got one over on him today, but I don’t think something like that’ll work again. And I just… wish we had… anything that could–”

“Hello.” 

The greeting, coming from behind Flick, cut her off. She turned, expecting to see one of the camp people, or maybe one of the new Crossroads rebels. Instead, she found herself facing a blueish-green figure, partially transparent. The figure was a teenage girl, pretty even in that state, with short hair and a mischievous look. 

“What–who… you…” Flick stared in confusion. “You’re a… a ghost, right? You’re a ghost. Did… I call you or something? I’m not very good at this necromancer thing yet. It’s kind of a whole issue.” 

“Yes, I am a ghost,” the impish girl confirmed. “And I’m here because of your power. But also because I want to help you.” 

“Help?” Flick echoed. “How–I don’t understand. What can you help with? Who are you?” 

There was a brief silence as the ghost girl hesitated. Then she met Flick’s gaze. “My name is Rahanvael. My brother is the one you know as Fossor. 

“And I can help you beat him.” 

TO BE CONTINUED IN YEAR 2. 

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Interlude 12 – Fossor

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Several Thousand Years Ago, Somewhere Very Far Away From Earth

The boy’s name was Merakeul. Barely nine years old, he was an unimpressive sight. Slightly less than average height for his young age, with a very slightly chubby build yet not exactly fat. His brown hair was worn long, with a pony tail that matched that of the pretty girl who stood beside him. Where Merakeul was average, his twin sister Rahanvael was decidedly not. Her own features favored their very attractive mother far more than their father as Merakeul’s did, granting her an impish appearance that many said would lead to great beauty once she grew old enough for such things to be noticed.

Both of the twins, Mera and Rahan as they went by, wore the traditional mourning whites. They were shapeless, sack-like robes that society dictated be worn by the immediate family members of the deceased for at least one week following such a loss. After that, they would wear a simple white sash or armband denoting their grief for the remainder of the year. None but those grieving the death of dear loved ones ever wore an all white ensemble, or even the white sash or armband. It simply wasn’t done.

Staring straight ahead through the small, entirely empty and undecorated room at the single metal door set against the wooden wall, Mera struggled not to let himself squirm too much. The mourning robes were hot, and these ones clearly hadn’t been washed properly, because they had been itching since he put them on. Still, he tried to remain quiet and motionless, waiting as patiently as a small child could for the door to open. That was the right thing to do. It was what his mother would have wanted.

But it was just taking so long. And now his forehead was itching. Slowly and carefully, the boy lifted his hand, just to give his head a tiny scratch. Yet before he managed to get any relief, there was a whistle of wood, followed by a sharp pain in his knuckles that made the boy yelp in spite of himself.

“Be still,” Ozinar, father of the twins, ordered while lowering the cane he had used to discipline his son. The man was tall and heavyset, with a plain face that was well-lined from years of working in the fields. Like his children, Ozinar wore the traditional whites, though his were old and had been patched several times from previous mourning periods. The last had been his own father three years previously.

Flinching from being caught (and still itching), Mera lowered his stinging hand. Beside him, Rahan took it gently, her fingers cool as she used Mera’s body to shield her actions. With a tiny smile that only Mera could see, the girl gently rubbed the sting out of his knuckles, just as their mother would have.

The sting had faded by the time the door ahead of them opened. A figure in a red robe stepped into view. A golden hood obscured part of the man’s face, leaving his features in shadows. This, again, was tradition. The idea was that person who guided a mourning family through their final rites should have no real name nor appearance, as far as the family themselves were concerned. Their identity was unimportant. They were anonymous. Only their work, their gift to the surviving family, mattered.

The golden-hooded guide said nothing. He simply stood there while Ozinar gave his twin children a little push. Together, the two nine-year olds started to walk that way. They passed the silent, robed figure while their father fell into step directly behind them. Through the doorway, they found themselves in a narrow corridor that was cold enough to make Mera shiver. Why did it have to be so cold in here? Tradition again? Why did tradition dictate everything they did? It didn’t make any sense.

The corridor slanted downward, leading the group deep under ground. They had been walking for ten minutes, and both children were tired by the time the slope leveled off and the corridor opened up into a large circular chamber. The room they were in now was enormous. The ceiling, if there was one, was far out of sight through the darkness. The chamber was lit by spotlights positioned along the walls, focused on two bits of furniture: a small wooden table and a stone coffin that lay directly behind it.

Those two pieces, the table and the coffin, were the only objects within this massive chamber as far as Mera could see. Other than that, the room was empty. Which made the boy wonder why they needed a room that was this big anyway, if all that space was wasted. Tradition yet again? Did it really matter?

Their guide strode past, moving to the table on the same side as the coffin. As the hooded man turned to face them, he laid his hands on the table and spoke clearly for the first time. His voice was deep, but purposefully plain and forgettable. “You who have lost, come to pay respects to they who are departing this world. You who have lost, step forward and bid farewell to those who must dwell no longer.”

Together, the twins and their father moved across the chamber to join the man at the table, standing on the opposite side. Ozinar positioned his children to his right hand side, as was expected. Descendants of the deceased stood to the right of their mate or closest living relative, while other family stood to the left. As they had no one else save for the three of them, the space to Ozinar’s left remained empty.

Once they were in position, the hooded man spoke again, reciting the words exactly as Mera had seen them written many times. “Those who are prepared to depart, show yourself here one final time so that they who remain in your wake may bid you farewell. Come forth, one last time, to say goodbye.”

Then… Mera felt a tug. It wasn’t quite physical. Yet it was more than just a thought or an imagined feeling. Lifting his head, the boy looked to the source of the tug: the stone coffin that lay behind their guide. There was a sort of energy there, a feeling that he couldn’t explain. But it was growing stronger.

“The boy,” their guide broke from the established script for the first time. It was surprising enough to break Mera’s concentration, and he looked up to find the hooded figure staring at him while continuing to speak. “He has the gift. He can feel the energy of life as it gathers here. He will join the Order.”

“He will farm,” Ozinar stated flatly, his voice brooking no argument. “As I have, as my father did, and as all of our fathers have for as long as the fields have taken our seeds. That is how it shall be. It is–”

“Tradition,” the hooded man finished. He clearly didn’t agree, yet had already broken the ceremony too much to risk continuing the argument. His head turned slightly, and Mera felt eyes on him from under that hood before the man turned to gesture with one hand. The energy that had been steadily gathering suddenly peaked, coalescing into a single bright point of light that flared up almost painfully bright.

When the light faded, a translucent figure floated there atop the coffin. As soon as he saw it, Mera gasped in spite of himself. Beside him, Rahan did more than that. Her mouth fell open and the little girl blurted, “Mother!” She even made ready to fling herself that way before their father laid a hand on her shoulder, stopping her without speaking. Yet there was no reprimand. Stern as he was, even Ozinar recognized the situation. He simply put his hand on his daughter’s shoulder to stop her, then nodded.

At the nod, the hooded man waved his hand, and the ghost of their mother crossed the distance from the coffin to the table. She floated there, beautiful and smiling. When she spoke, it was quiet and sounded as if the sound was coming across a vast distance. Yet even then, there was love in her voice.

She told them how much she loved them, how much she missed them already. There were tears from mother and children, and even the stoic Ozinar dabbed at his eyes. The family held one last, final meeting. They spoke of school, of what the children were going to do and who would ensure they made it to school on time while their father was working out in the fields. They reminisced and spent their final ten minutes together talking about as much as they possibly could in such a limited time.

It couldn’t last. There were too many others waiting to have their own final rites, and only so many members of the Lerikan Order, those precious few with the ability to summon the recently deceased before they moved on. Ten minutes was all that Ozinar had been able to afford. Yet that was more than many. Some only managed the law-mandated two minutes to say good bye to their dead loved ones.

Astinel clung to her last few seconds, smiling in a way that didn’t quite hide her fear. “My family. My beautiful family. I love you. I love each of you. Rahan, Mera, mind your father. Be good, my beautiful babies. Be careful and live your lives. Be safe. Be prosperous. Grow old and be loved.”

She made a motion as though to run her hands through her children’s hair while smiling at her husband before beginning to fade away as the hooded member of the Lerikan Order stopped using his energy to anchor her. The figure faded, growing harder and harder to see before entirely disappearing…

And then reappeared, solidifying as much as she had been at the beginning of their meeting. Both ghost and the hooded figure gasped, and their eyes moved together to the single small figure who was holding his hand out.

Mera could feel the energy. He’d spent the entire meeting with their mother’s ghost testing it, reaching for it, until that final second. Just before the energy, his mother’s energy, had faded away entirely, he grabbed for it. He grabbed and held onto it, feeding his own strength into the connection.

“Merakeul!” his father snapped, the horror in his voice turning it hoarse. “Stop this now! Stop it at once!”

“I can hold her, father,” Mera spoke calmly, eyes wide as he stared up at his mother. “I can keep her here. She doesn’t have to go. She can stay. I can hold it. It’s all right now, it’s okay. We don’t have to–”

Something was tugging at his mother, trying to tear her away from his grasp. Mera turned his gaze to the hooded figure, whose own hand was twitching. The man spoke calmly, yet there was a strain to his voice. “It is not done,” he tried to explain to the boy. “Holding the deceased beyond their death is an affront. It is against nature. It is against the will of Ysoldeh. We say our goodbyes and allow them to depart. That is how it is done.”

“No,” Mera argued. “It doesn’t have to be that way. I can hold her. You don’t have to do anything. I can do it. I know I can. Just let me–”

His father’s cane rapped hard against the knuckles of his outstretched hand. The pain made Mera yelp and recoil, grabbing his hand. Too late, he felt the energy slip from his grasp while he was distracted. When the boy looked up, the ghost of his mother was gone. And he couldn’t feel her anymore.

Rahan grabbed and held him, hugging her twin brother tightly while crying openly. Mera let her hold him, turning his gaze away from their father and the hooded man. His eyes were lowered contritely, his shoulders shook, just as his sister’s did.

Yet where Rahan was shaking from her tears, Mera’s emotion was different. He felt grief, yes. But far more than that, burning deep within him, the boy felt a very different emotion toward their father. He shook not from sorrow, but from hatred.

Pure, unbridled hatred.

******

Seven Years Later

“Okay, okay.” Sixteen-year-old Rahan’s laughing voice filled the woods on the edge of their family’s property as Mera dragged her on through them. “I’m coming, already. What’s the rush? You never want anyone to come with you out here.”

“I’m ready,” Mera announced. The intervening years had not made him any more handsome nor distinctive. The teenage boy looked just as unremarkable as he had as a child. He all-but carried his sister toward a specific clearing, where a table stood with a cage set in the middle of it. In the cage there was a pella, a small rodent with pale green fur and a long snout that was used to stick into holes to find the bugs that were its primary diet.

“Ew,” the pretty girl made a face while staring at the rodent. “Please tell me that’s not your new pet, Mera.”

“It’s my demonstration,” Mera corrected her. “Just… stand there, Rahan. Just stand there and watch, okay?” When the girl reluctantly nodded, he reached out to open the cage. The pella made a bid for freedom, but he caught it in both hands. As it struggled, he turned to show it to his sister.

And then he swiftly broke its neck.

A scream of surprise escaped Rahan. The girl stumbled backward, eyes wide. “Mera!” she blurted in shock. “What did you—wh-what did you do?!”

“It’s okay, it’s all right!” Mera insisted. “Look, look!” Focusing on the energy, he made a gesture with one hand while using the other to hold the dead rodent. Before his sister’s eyes, the ghost of the small creature rose up, looking terrified and confused as it floated there in the air between them.

“Y-you killed it. You killed it,” Rahan stammered. “That’s its… its… ghost? But… but why–”

“Watch.” Mera held the pella’s corpse up, then gestured with his other hand. The translucent ghost-figure floated that way, scrambling against the invisible force controlling it until it was shoved back into its own body.

Then the rodent’s eyes opened and it jerked a little in his grasp, kicking and squeaking its little head off.

“You…” Rahan moved closer, staring in shock at the creature. “You brought it back. But—but how?”

“It’s not hard,” Mera explained. “Not now anyway. I’ve been practicing for years. But it only works if I do it within a day of the death. After that, there’s not enough energy. The spirit’s just… gone. And watch.”

He put the rodent down against the table, holding it steady while producing a small knife from his pocket.

“Don’t!” Rahan objected, moving to grab his arm.

He looked back at her. “Trust me. It’ll be okay. I promise. I know what I’m doing.” Extricating his arm from her grasp, he carefully exposed the animal’s neck before plunging the knife into it.

Rahan screamed again and jerked away… but there was no blood. There was almost no reaction at all. The rodent squeaked, but made no dying noise. Nor did it flail about in pain. It yelped a little, but seemed mostly unaffected.

Mera stabbed the thing twice more before pulling the knife away, showing her that there was no blood. “When I put it back,” he explained, “they’re different. They don’t die unless I want them to. They’re immortal, Rahan. Really immortal. As long as I want them to live, they will.”

“Mera,” Rahan managed, staring at him with wide eyes. “We have to tell father. We have to go to the Lerikan Order and show them what you can do. They can–”

“No,” Mera snapped. “Don’t you remember? I could’ve kept mother. I could’ve helped her. They wouldn’t understand.”

“But we can’t just keep it to ourselves, Mera!” Rahan insisted. “This is—if you can… this is too big for us. We have to talk to someone. We have to tell father.”

“Father is a–” Mera started before stopping himself. Taking a breath, he turned to put the pella back in its cage. Closing the door, he gestured to it. “Help me take it up there? He’ll want to see.”

Breathing a sigh of relief that her brother was being reasonable, Rahan stepped over to help pick up the cage. However, even as her hands closed around the handle, Mera caught her wrist. When she looked up, he stared into her eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I didn’t bring you here just to show you. I brought you here to help you.”

“Help me?” Rahan blinked. “Help me with what? Mera, what are you–”

His knife found her neck, stabbing deep into it. Tears filled the boy’s eyes as he plunged the blade through his twin sister’s throat. She made a strangled noise before starting to fall, and he quickly caught her.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he frantically apologized. “I love you, Rahan. I promise, it’ll be okay. It’ll be all right. I’ll bring you back and put you in your body again. Then you’ll live forever. You’ll never die, not until I want you to, and I’ll never want you to.”

She lay collapsed against him, gurgling her last breaths while he cried for having to hurt her in order to save her. “I can’t lose you, Rahan,” he whispered. “Never, ever, ever. I won’t. I won’t lose you like we lost mother. I’ll bring you back and you’ll be immortal. You’ll be immortal, Rahan. I promise, it’ll be okay. It’ll be–”

A noise behind him. Mera turned his head that way, just in time to see their father racing across the clearing, his cane held high while a bellow of rage tore its way past his lips.

“Father!” Mera blurted while holding his sister’s rapidly dying body. “Wait, it’s okay! I can–”

The cane whipped around, slamming into the side of the boy’s head. He fell sideways, releasing Rahan. The girl fell to the ground, her wide, sightless eyes meeting Mera’s own.

“Wait!” the boy screamed as he struggled to get up, trying to reach out for the energy that was his sister’s life-force. “Stop, sto–”

His father’s foot hit his stomach, driving the air out of him. Then there was another kick, and another. Still, the boy fought to remain conscious, reaching out toward his twin. The energy. He could feel it. He could reach it. Right there… he was so close. Everything would be all–

His father’s cane came down hard against his head, and the last thing Mera saw before his consciousness fled was the ghost of his sister, slowly fading away.

******

Seventeen Years Later

“Fah-Twen!” The guard of the prison where Mera had spent the past seventeen years of his life, ever since his father had stopped him from saving his sister in time, stood two cells down. Two more guards, each armed with stun weaponry, stood a safe distance back. The man called again. “Fah-Twen! Present yourself.”

The prison assigned each inmate numbers in the old world style, from one of the nations that had existed before the great unification.

Grumbling, the massive figure that was prisoner Fah-Twen (thirty-two in standard numbers) stood up from his bunk and stepped over that way. He stood there, allowing the guard to first cuff him, then search him before letting him out of the cell to head for dinner.

Next, the guard and his two companions moved to the cell beside Mera’s. “Fah-Kwur,” he called the next number. “Present yourself.”

Again, the prisoner did as ordered and was eventually sent to the meal. Finally, the guard moved to Mera’s cell. “Fah-Seur!” he called. “Come on, you know the drill. Front and center.”

This was it. Years of planning, of favors, of missed opportunities, and everything else had led to this. He had only this one, single opportunity. If he failed, there wouldn’t be another.

He stood from his bed, shuffling that way as he had every day for the past seventeen years. Shifting his feet apart, he put his back to the bars and allowed the guard to cuff him before starting to pat him down.

“Turn,” the guard ordered, and Mera obeyed. He pivoted, letting the man pat up his front while straightening. “Open,” he instructed, waiting to check the prisoner’s mouth for contraband.

Instead of obeying that time, Mera pursed his lips. A moment later, a small straw appeared, pushed into position by his tongue.

“What the hell is–” the guard started, just as Mera blew into the straw. A small, crudely fashioned dart shot from it and hit the man in his exposed neck. He recoiled as if he’d been struck by a bee, slapping his hand up to the wound.

As the man collapsed, the incredibly fast-working poison doing its work, both of his fellow guards lunged that way. One raised his weapon to take aim at Mera while the other checked on their companion.

The guard facing him fired a shot, but Mera was already diving to the floor. He landed awkwardly and painfully with his wrists cuffed behind him as they were. Yet the stun shot still missed, passing directly over his head.

By that point, the man he had shot the dart into was already gone. And as the guard by the cell fixed his aim, Mera rolled over while reaching out with his power. Immediately, he felt the dead man’s ghost. Tearing it away from the body, he forced the thing to obey his will, the way he had practiced with various dead animals for nearly two decades.

The ghost lunged upward, turning just solid enough (thanks to considerable effort from Mera), to rip the stun rifle away from the first guard. While he was still recovering from his surprise, the ghost dove onto the second guard, wrapping its hands around his throat and choking him. It took more effort than Mera would have liked to force the ghost to remain solid for that long, but it would be worth it.

Meanwhile, the second guard straightened from the dead body and spun that way. A cry escaped him as he tried to shoot at the ghost to save his co-worker. Yet the shots went right through it. The ghost was only solid where Mera wanted it to be.

Then… there were two ghosts for him to work with. Both caught hold of the remaining guard’s shoulders, slamming him backwards against the cell to bang his head hard off the bars. They repeated the motion again… and again… and again.

Soon, Mera had three ghosts to work with. Whistling to himself, he forced their spirits back into their bodies before ordering them to stand up and release him from the cuffs.

Then he stepped out of his cell, brushing himself off. In the distance, the alarms had already started blaring as the people observing over the cameras noticed what had happened. A voice over the intercom reported, “Prisoner Fah-Seur has escaped his holding and has taken control of several guards. Repeat, Fah-Seur has escaped holding and is in control of several guards. All units, report immediately to…”

The voice droned on, but Mera ignored it and began to walk, accompanied by the first of what would soon become many, many new companions.

No. He paused, shaking his head. Not Mera. He hadn’t been Merakeul in a very long time. This prison had shaped him over the past seventeen years. Since his father had destroyed his chance to save his sister, since the man had ripped his twin away from him because of his pathetic lack of understanding, Merakeul had died in this prison. It had shaped him, reformed him, and now he was more than he had been.

He was Fah-Seur. Thirty-four. And he was done trying to explain himself. He was done trying to make people understand. He’d lost his mother because they wouldn’t let him try, and he’d lost his sister because they were too stupid to let him finish saving her.

From that point on, no one was going to stop Fah-Seur from doing anything he wanted to.

No one.

******

Present Day

“Don’t think that I don’t know what you did.”

It was evening, and Fossor was sitting in his ornate dining room (one of several throughout the mansion, which itself was one of at least a dozen spread throughout this world), enjoying the meal that had been prepared by the reanimated corpse of a chef who had once been renowned throughout high society. His eyes were not on the delicious meal, however. Instead, they were focused at the other end of the table, where the beautiful blonde woman sat, her own plate untouched.

She had been watching him, waiting for the man to speak. Now, Joselyn Chambers arched an eyebrow. Her voice was calm. “What I did?”

“You,” the man replied while carefully cutting into his steak. He took the bite and savored it briefly before continuing. “Told our son how to break into Crossroads to visit his sister.”

The woman didn’t bother denying it. “You did say that I should do all that I could to let our son enjoy his birthday. I believe your exact words were, ‘no matter how much it disgusts or horrifies you, make sure our son has anything he asks for.’ And I do have to obey you in all things.”

Fossor took another bite, shaking his head. “Yes. And somehow, what our son chose to do just happened to expose their weakness to that school. And may even have drawn your not-so-little girl toward more answers than she deserves. Answers that you know full well she would not have found without that little bit of aid from Mother-dearest.”

That time, Joselyn said nothing. She simply sat there, watching him.

“It won’t matter,” he informed her after taking a sip of wine. “When the time comes and Felicity reaches her eighteenth birthday, she will join you here.” Setting the glass down, he added almost casually, “Perhaps she’ll provide me with another child, as you did. I’m sure that Ammon would appreciate having a younger brother or sister.”

She stood up at that. Surprisingly, the woman forced herself up against his previous order to sit. The magic that bound them should have kept her in her seat until their meal was done. Yet, despite that ancient, powerful magic, Joselyn rose to her feet.

She could go no further than that, only managing to stand and go no further. Still, her eyes were as hard as they had ever been.

“If you touch my daughter, in any way,” she promised him, “I will end you.”

For several long, quiet minutes, Fossor simply continued his meal. He said nothing, not addressing her failure to sit as ordered, or her words.

Finally, after setting the fork down on the empty plate and dabbing his mouth with the nearby napkin, the man looked up to meet the woman’s gaze.

He spoke quietly, calmly. “I have subjugated worlds, eradicated entire species, domesticated legions of once-brave warriors who thought to oppose me, yet now serve my every command. One of those is you yourself. And you say you will somehow end me if I touch Felicity? My dear Joselyn, it has never been a question of if.

“Only a question of when.”

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