[New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]
Sweet was staring at him, frantically afraid and deeply unsure. Those uncountable eyes were focused on Septimus with a single-minded intensity, and Septimus held up both hands to try to ward that fear off.
“Okay, let’s get back to the basics,” Septimus said, as gently as he could. “Maybe you don’t know what to do, but we know what we do and don’t want, right?”
Sweet nodded uncertainly.
“We want to get both of us out of here safely,” Septimus said, holding up a finger that almost wasn’t shaking. “Both of us together or not at all.”
Septimus shook his head, wishing the fear wasn’t visible on his face but knowing that it was. He pushed on anyway. “Together or not at all. I need you to agree to this, Sweet. We have to be acting with the same intentions here. Everything’s symbolic. If we pull against each other, I don’t think we’ll succeed. Do you want to be out of this?”
Yes, Sweet ‘whispered’.
“Do you want me out of this?”
“Then that’s what we have to do,” Septimus said firmly. “Neither of us can afford to think ‘Oh, if one of us has to stay to get the other one out, it’ll be me’. We both have to focus on getting each other out and safe at all costs. Okay?”
Sweet nodded again, the movement jerky. Okay.
“Good,” Septimus said. “We have to prioritize that over anything else. So, to do that, we need to get away from your father, which he will not want. His goal is to destroy you to become you. We need to weaken him, or strengthen us. Put him to sleep, or get away anyway. Right?”
This time Sweet seemed more certain. “Right,” he said, his voice still rubbing the wrong way against what sound should be.
Septimus smiled at him, quick and tight. “Good,” he said again. “I don’t think there’s anything out there we can reach to. We’re inside his sphere right now so I’m not sure it’d be heard. Besides, you’re the only other thing like him that I even know of so it feels like trying to look for outside help in your… kin… would be a real mistake.”
“I agree,” Sweet said. “I don’t know of any either.”
“What do we know? Do we know how he got into the hill in the first place?” When Sweet shook his head, he refused to get discouraged, just pushing onward. “Do we know why he was sleeping?” Another headshake. “We do know what got him into his partially-awake state, though. Sacrifice.”
Sweet said, “I don’t think we should sacrifice anything to him. I have been, because he demands it of me, and he’s just gotten stronger and stronger.”
“Damn,” Septimus muttered. His heart was going too fast, adrenaline spiking the further they got into this plan. He wasn’t sure why, and didn’t like how it made it harder to think evenly. The more he thought, the worse he felt. Horror stories didn’t end well, and fairy tales and things like that only did if the people were tricky or steadfast enough.
Tricky or steadfast. Maybe those were their options.
Septimus asked, “Can our intent poison it in some way?”
“I don’t mean to hurt him, just… drug him to sleep. Like—dreams. He’s asked to eat those. Can we fully put him back to sleep with it?”
Sweet made a face. It twisted and pulled in strange directions and Septimus was forced to look away. “I’m not sure,” Sweet said. I think anything we sacrifice to him goes to him. Even if you sacrifice it in the wrong spirit, once it becomes an offering / it’s something he can devour. That’s why he can want good things. He’ll drain them from someone to make them worse, but they will just be / power / to him. He hesitated, then added, Though maybe, but only if you can think of something that would poison someone like him. Something that isn’t an offering, but which he has to accept into himself anyway.
“Okay. Maybe that. Or what if we gave him something that would distract him until we were out?” Septimus asked. “A big sacrifice, and then we bolt. It might make him stronger but if we weren’t there, he wouldn’t be able to wake up through you. Then we’d be safe and have time to plan until—when do you have to come back again?”
“The darkest night of the year,” Sweet said. When I was born. He’s only strong enough to call me those two nights. Right now, anyway.
“So it’s an option. Especially if we can come up with something that’s not an offering, not really a sacrifice, but which he has to take. Let’s table it and keep thinking, though.”
Sweet nodded again. His hand squeezed in Septimus’s, tight and nervous.
“Again: We know that he woke up because of a sacrifice, but the wrong thing was sacrificed, so it was weaker. It wanted a heart like yours—presumably not actually yours, though, since I guess it’d have to have been before your conception.” Septimus wondered briefly what happened to that heart, but it was a useless thought here and he dismissed it. “Like you said, the wrong sacrifice was still a sacrifice to him, so it gave him power. But: Five thought Seven could make a sacrifice to himself by eating the heart, and that it’d wreck their chances to wake him. So the same things that could be sacrificed to him could be sacrificed to something else to give that other thing power. Even to a human being like Seven, though I don’t know what it would have done to him.”
Another nod, though less certain. I wasn’t there. I don’t know.
“Yeah, that’s just, it’s my understanding. I know you don’t actually know,” Septimus said awkwardly. “But if we were more powerful, maybe we could force him back to sleep. Could we sacrifice something to… ourselves?”
Sweet’s eyes swiveled around uncertainly, as if searching the shadows for something that might work. “I guess we could,” Sweet mumbled abominably. “But what? How?”
“I tried… I tried to send you feelings earlier,” Septimus said awkwardly. “You know. Support. Hope and dreams and stuff. But I didn’t feel anything happen.”
I didn’t either. How did you send it?
“I, I just… thought about it. Wished it to happen.”
Sacrifice is an action. We’d have to choose something to do to symbolize it. Is there any symbolic term or meaning or action that could be converted into giving each other these things? Sweet asked. Then, awkwardly, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s enough to say it aloud, to use words like my father’s deliberate term setting, the whole ‘which do you want least to lose’. But I don’t… know. I’m cold and I’m, I’m scared out of my mind, I don’t know what works…!”
“Well, it’s an option to try, if we think of something to do or say to actually make it happen.” Septimus said. Then, slowly, “any other ideas?”
They both stared at each other for a few heartbeats. Sweet shook his head. Septimus nodded slowly, then shook his as well.
“So two options,” Septimus said. “And we don’t know how to do them.”
We’re running out of time, Sweet warned him. The candles are burning down. I can feel… I can feel him biting my wounds again.
“Okay. Okay. So we decide on one of those two things. We make a guess at how to do it,” Septimus said, feeling nowhere near as brave as he hoped he sounded. “And then we try it, since there’s no time for second guessing.”
“But which one?” Sweet breathed. “And how?”
[Please offer come up with a plan 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]