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You hold up a free hand defensively, while the other remains between you two—protecting the heart. You have to protect the heart. You feel that more strongly than ever now, even though you couldn’t say why. Of course you should be sacrificing the heart. But…
“Wait, Five,” you cajole. “One more moment. The way you’ve got me right now, I couldn’t give you the heart if I wanted to—”
“And I’m starting to think you don’t,” Five says flatly. “Or that you’ve lost it or taken it for yourself already.”
“It’s not that. It’s just—” You desperately seek for an excuse to get him to put his guard down. “While I was bearing it, something came to mind. A more powerful sacrifice.”
He’s visibly intrigued despite himself. “You’re stalling,” he says, but he doesn’t sound certain.
“Only because I want this to be the best sacrifice,” you say. You smile and wish you weren’t winging this. You wish you knew why you were struggling so hard. “We wouldn’t want him to wake up unsatisfied. The heart is a metaphor, yes?”
“The real sacrifice is our humanity,” you say, and sort of regret it as it comes out of your mouth. It’s not like you’ve ever heard anything like this before. But you have to make it sound real. “Our love, our hopes, our dreams, those things that set us apart… He’ll want that more.”
Five nods. “Yes,” he says. And then, “that’s what he’ll want to eat after he’s awakened. But we have to sacrifice enough power first. The time is now.“
You know now that you aren’t going to be able to talk him out of this. He’s done so many rites and rituals, and he knows what’s supposed to happen next, and he knows that you’re struggling against it in the final hour.
You can’t talk him out of it, but he’s still hoping you’ll give him the heart amicably. But you won’t give him the heart. You won’t give him anything. Still, he expects you to keep on trying, or he expects you to run—the knife is too close to risk fighting, and he doesn’t expect you to do that.
So you punch him in the throat.
He wheezes, and you take a quick step backward, only just barely moving out of range of his knife as he jerks it up. The front of your robes (robes?) tear and you manage to catch the heart before it falls out. He’s choking still, tears of both pain and rage blinding him, but he’s not letting it hold him back, grabbing you by the shoulder and hauling you toward his knife point.
You duck under and slam your head up under his chin, your shoulder into his chest. The heart goes flying, and your heart nearly stops, but you don’t have time to check on it. You’re fighting with Five, struggling for the knife, blood making your hand slick from some cut you don’t remember getting. He’s heavier than you but he’s winded, and you have the advantage, bending him back over the altar, pinning him down and jamming your elbow into his gut as you twist his wrist with your other hand.
The knife clatters down and you grab it, tightening your fingers around the handle as he scrabbles at you to try to get it back. There’s no time to think, no time to wait, it’s time.
You plunge it into his chest.
His blood is hot as it spurts out, drenching you, and he’s gasping something that turns wet even as he tries to say it, red bubbles forming on his lips instead of the words.
Beneath the ground, you feel him. The sacrifice is reaching down as Five’s blood pours out, a sacrifice made by the seventh son of a seventh son. The sacrifice of one sanctified to him as a priest. The sacrifice of an unwilling man. But you aren’t sacrificing love or hope or dreams. You aren’t sacrificing his kin, or yourself. You’re only sacrificing fear and death.
It’s not enough.
You realize that, and instead of feeling hope you feel fear. The ground is shaking, and you know he‘s half asleep, turning in his dream, hungry now, longing to find a way to exist. To awaken, or to find flesh of his own, or to pass from his own world and that of dreams to yours—
The ground shakes again. Five is dead. You roll off his body and fumble around to find the heart as the stars overhead wink out one by one, eyes of his kin in the outer heavens slowly closing as they realize what’s failing to occur properly.
For a moment, you have a strange thought: if I take the heart into myself it will be safe. But you know you’d have to devour it to do that, and then it wouldn’t truly be safe, only you would. You won’t devour it. You swore you wouldn’t.
You find it. It’s still beating, a panicked fluttering pace as it seems to realize what’s happening, and you pull it to you and hold it close and try to protect it and reality
Septimus woke in darkness. For a moment, strange memories racing through him, he knew that darkness was how it should be. This was the place that the sacrifice took place, this was the place that thing underground started to wake, and while inside the house wasn’t actually inside the terror, he knew they were right above it.
Slowly, he calmed down enough to realize he could hear rain on the window, smell the dusty scent of Sweet’s mother’s room. The thing they were doing before the dream came back to mind and he realized his hands are empty. In a panic, he patted around himself to find where he dropped the necklace and found, instead, a cold body beside him.
Septimus froze, then fumbled quickly for the flashlight on his belt. It was still there, and he thumbed it on as he yanked it free, shining it down.
Eyes half-open but clearly unconscious, Sweet was sprawled out next to him on the floor. There were damp patches on his shirt, and Septimus tried to keep his trembling hands steady as he stared, trying to see if Sweet was breathing.
He was, though slowly. Careful, Septimus reached down and touched one of the wet spots, and his fingers came away with a wet redness on them.
For a moment, the dream came swimming back, the sensation of stabbing another person, the way the hot blood had poured out. Had he done something in his sleep? Moving slowly more out of fear than anything else, he reached over and pulled Sweet’s shirt up to check the wounds.
There were eyes all over his torso. Like those on his face, they were half open, and these ones were leaking blood from their corners, like tears. Septimus stared at them, slowly panning the flashlight over Sweet’s body to try to understand what he was seeing.
Those eyes abruptly squinted, pupils contracting in the light, and Sweet groaned, shifting, head tossing uneasily.
Septimus’s gaze jerked back up to his face. “Sweet?”
Sweet’s eyes—all of them—focused on Septimus. “Didn’ wanna leave you,” he slurred, only half conscious. “Stayed. Tried to. It hurts. You okay?”
“I, I’m fine—”
“I gotta go… I gotta. Downstairs. I gotta go. He needs me. I’m late.”
[Please offer actions, thoughts, or concerns for Septimus in the Comments.]
[Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]