• Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 22

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    It was almost impossible to think. The eyes were watching Septimus closely, too closely, impossibly closely. It felt like they could see his thoughts, his soul, everything he’d ever done that he didn’t want brought to light, every sin and grief and shameful hidden thing that he’d forgotten along with those he hadn’t. It welled in him like sweat seeping through his skin, unable to be held back just by wishing he could.

    It was easy to see how people went insane in stories about things like this. He bit back an inappropriate laugh.

    “I…” What could he even sacrifice that could possibly help either of them? If he lost his love, he probably wouldn’t keep fighting for Sweet. He thought about that and wished, briefly, that he could do more for Sweet now. The monster had said he could enhance Sweet’s humanity—he tried to send some to him, to will his love, his hope, his dreams to reach. But felt nothing.

    And why would he? The thought rose bitterly. These things were only shared when communicated. Wanting it to happen didn’t mean anything unless he could do something about it.

    So it was back to sacrifice. His dreams? That seemed like the safest option, but he didn’t trust it. In so many ways, dreams were the symbol for the future, and if he gave that up, wouldn’t that mean he’d stop fighting for himself?

    And hope…

    No, above all, he couldn’t give up hope. Hope was the only thing that even had a chance of standing up against a creature like this. Everything about it threatened to overwhelm him with madness, misery, the loss of self. If he lost hope, he’d stop fighting entirely.

    What was the best option? Giving up the things that made him human was less of a concern than it should be—Sweet wasn’t, apparently, and he seemed just fine—but in terms of what part of it wouldn’t be giving up too much to let him save them both—

    “I need more information,” he blurted.

    The creature didn’t respond to that except for a sense of brief confusion—only barely that, though, brushing against him with a lack of concern.

    “A sacrifice has less value if it’s made while not knowing the value,” Septimus said, and hoped it was true. It seemed like the sort of thing Seven would have believed, for better or worse. “I don’t know anything about you, o-or him, or any of this. You were, you had a relationship with Sweet’s mother, right? Miranda?”

    The end of the corridor was almost there. He focused on it, hoping without much faith that he’d reach it while the thing was distracted.

    Miranda, she / yes, a tool / she could birth something I could

    / hollow /

    / out.

    That didn’t sound good for Sweet. “Hollow out? Is that why you’ve been feeding on him?”

    The things he loses makes / room.

    / nurtures me /  drains him / shifts from one to another /

    You know that, surely?

    The last with a strange, horrible amusement that washed out over Septimus. He broke into a run, his will snapping, reached the end of the corridor and—

    —he came back to himself wrapped in something, dangling over a whirling void, breath pushed from his lungs. That awful thing’s presence was closer here, rather than further away, and he realized that the end must have been a pitfall, a drop further into the earth, into this thing’s self.

    It held him carelessly, slithering darkness crawling over his skin and leaving coldness behind.

    I would rather / you make this sacrifice /

    knowingly.

    “Please,” Septimus sobbed, teeth chattering, his calm swept away against his will. In the darkness, with no solid ground underfoot, vertigo hit him and it felt like he was spinning and spinning, falling. “Let me see Sweet!”

    Why? It was unconcerned. Only curious.

    “I—” Wanting to wasn’t enough. He knew that.  “Can’t you rewind time? Make this how it never happened? If I gave you something good enough, could you do that?”

    No. / This is outside time but / inserting you will move you forward.

    It seemed to consider.

    I could keep you out here endlessly

    endlessly/endlessly

    “No,” Septimus groaned. Everything ached with the cold, and he was more deeply afraid than he’d ever been in his life. He reached up, tugging the necklace free from his shirt. “Is this enough? If I gave you this? Is it something you want?”

    It seemed like reality drew a breath.

    “It is,” Septimus said, chattering. “So it must be a strong sacrifice. You can have it, just free me and Sweet—”

    Not enough / but / if you sacrifice it, I will bring you to him.

    Not give him back to you but /

    / bring you / show you / reveal /

     

    / him. /

     

    Then / perhaps

    / you will find something better /

    / to give up.

    He could tell that he couldn’t bargain any further; had nothing left to bargain with but parts of himself. And if he dropped, it’d get the amulet anyway, along with the rest of him. It’d just be less power than if he gave it willingly.

    But if they were together, maybe they could figure something out.

    “Fine,” he said. He tore the necklace from his throat and let it drop from numb fingers into the void.

    Reality wrenched again and he found himself in what looked like a normal basement. His flashlight illuminated it as usual, casting shadows around broken glass and wood shards and dusty air.

    And Sweet.

    He hung in the air like he was suspended by a thread, rotating and coming to pieces. His skin had flaked off to reveal darkness underneath—no, Septimus realized, not darkness, but void. It was the night sky, endless and deep, stars glittering in their depths. No, eyes. Eyes that were stars, stars that were eyes, staring up through the gaps in his body where his flesh had been stripped from him.

    Sweet’s mouth opened and opened and opened, splitting along its middle and through his cheeks, void pouring out of it. An eye opened in its center, where  his tongue and throat should be, fixing on Septimus with such an intensity that a bolt of pain shot through him.

    Sep? Sweet said, soundlessly.

    [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]

  • Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 21

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    The most bizarre thing was how unsurprising that news was. There was some part of Septimus that was in shock, sure—a part that had been holding out hope that Sweet himself was normal, and things like the eyes, his eyes, were just the effects of this place, some kind of curse, something like that. But it was mostly drowned out by the sheer amount of evidence that had been hanging over his head, unacknowledged.

    Honestly, this wasn’t even the weirdest thing that had happened tonight.

    But at the same time, he didn’t want to let the strange banality of the realization make him too complacent. Even when he’d thought Sweet’s father was human, he’d known that Sweet had a poor relationship with him. Sweet didn’t even go by his first name, but instead his mother’s maiden name, and he’d avoided talking about his father whenever possible. Some of that was probably that he was apparently an eldritch abomination living in the basement of their family home, sure, of course, but it was clear, too, that he was using Sweet in some way. That it was his fault Sweet was cold, exhausted, tired—if not worse.

    “Nice to meet you, sir,” he managed, keeping his eyes straight ahead as he continued down the hall. “My name is Septimus Boon and I’ve been dating your son for a few months now.”

    He brought you here / he told you to leave him here / leave him here.

    The voices came from all around, overlapping and difficult to pick out in their strange susurrations, coming in together only on the final here of each one. Septimus repressed a shiver and kept walking, slow and steady, like he wasn’t fighting the primal urge to break into a run, to just flee until this thing was left behind.

    “I know, sir,” he said. “But he’s been in a bad way tonight and I’m worried about him. He was pretty weak when he came down here to see you, and he’s been down here longer than before. I just want him to be healthy and happy, so I’ve come to check on him. May I see him, please?”

    Go back / pretend you saw nothing / or go ahead and / find him / but you won’t be able to leave.

    The pitch blackness of where the eyes ended was around twenty feet away, he guessed, though it was difficult to judge distance in this place. He could tell he was speeding up despite his attempts to stay measured. “What do you mean?”

    He’ll be gone soon / the part that makes him him / Sweet / Damien / gone / you’ve done a good job restoring his humanity / he struggled / but he’s just temporary

    A placeholder /

    / a space to be filled.

    “I—”

    I will awaken.

    “I disagree, sir,” Septimus choked out. “He’s no more temporary than anyone else, and he’s a lot more than just empty space. And I’d like to see him and take him upstairs, if you’re done with him. I’m sure you’ll have another chance the next time he comes here, so if you’ll let me see him now—”

    /now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/
    now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/
    now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/
    now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/now/

    The echoes grew and rumbled and roared around him. The end of the corridor was still out of reach—ten feet? More, less? It was hard to think, the words pounding around him and through him, disrupting the pace of his heartbeat and the rhythm of his footsteps.

    And then they fell silent, suddenly. Against his will, so did Septimus’s walk, feet rooting to the ground. He wasn’t sure whether his heart was still beating, feeling only a tight squeezing in his chest.

    Or will you sacrifice yourself to me instead? 

    He couldn’t answer, suffocating on lack of air. Wasn’t sure he should. He’d played enough games and heard enough folktales to know the danger of bartering with something like this.

    On the other hand, he wasn’t sure either would get out of this alive if he didn’t offer something.

    /what will you give up/yourself/him/yourheart/youreyes/
    what do/
    /you want to lose the least/
    /hopedreamslove/
    /humanity/
    /self/
    /those things that make you/ human/
    /what will you give me so I don’t take that last
    / drop/
    /of what he has that has let him/
    /stay/

    /human/

    Air rushed back in. Septimus’s feet remained frozen and he willed them to move—felt, after a moment’s aching effort, his toes wiggle. The walls seemed to be moving closer now, closing in around him, in front of him. If he ran he might be able to make it to the end.

    If he could run.

    ANSWER

    [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]

  • Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 20

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    The darkness radiated out from the basement like something with both weight and gravity, trying to pull Septimus forward. He drew a sharp breath and shut the door, a little more firmly than he meant to.

    He was going to go down there, but that didn’t mean he needed to be stupid about it. Sweet kept coming back cold, so it was probably freezing down there. There might be glass and nails, and even if there wasn’t, there was a risk they could get hurt—and any bit of blood might count as a sacrifice. Plus, there was a good chance he might lose his way—if it turned out to really just be a basement, even if it had something in it, that was one thing, but…

    So many stories his parents had told him came flooding into his mind of heroes descending into the underworld, heroes entering mazes, heroes and their journeys. Things to do, things not to do. Some of the traditional rules would be easy to follow, since he definitely didn’t intend to eat or drink or sleep while in there. Others…

    Septimus headed back up the stairs to the bathroom, digging around under the sink until he found a first aid kit stashed there. Checking the medicine cabinet, he found a few additional rolls of gauze.

    It wasn’t yarn, and it wouldn’t nearly be long enough, but it’d have to do. Ariadne’s was enchanted, he remembered, and that might make all the difference, but if nothing else, it should at least be long enough to lead from the outside of the basement door down the stairs, and if he needed it to be a lifeline, that might be enough to help him find his way from inside to outside again.

    (Of course, he remembered, Ariadne ended up lost herself later, abandoned on the island of Naxos by a faithless lover. He tried not to think about that further.)

    From there, he went back to Sweet’s bedroom. The way it was set up, homey and normal, hurt him to look at now. It was all too easy to imagine a younger Sweet on some earlier Halloween, shivering in his unnatural cold, knowing his mother wouldn’t listen and that soon the power would go out and he’d have to head back downstairs. He wondered if Sweet had the eyes then, or if they’d developed over time. He suspected the former, since Sweet had said he’d planned to hide some effect of being here from him. 

    He picked up his backpack and jacket from where he’d left them on the bed. He shrugged the jacket on, feeling the amulet shift on his neck as he did, then touched it briefly, unsure whether to keep it on or take it off. In the end, he left it on. Maybe it would do some good after all.

    The jacket was at least both extra warmth and extra pockets. He took Sweet’s extra flashlight and put it in one of those pockets, then took a couple of the candles they’d set up in the room and the matches and stuck those in the other. Better to have light easily available. His phone went back into his pants pocket, though he knew the battery would die soon. His change of sweater went into the bottom of his backpack, leaving space for one or two more things. The medical pack would go in there too, he decided, though after he’d packed the comforter. Just so he’d have the former near the top. That he’d have to go back downstairs, though.

    Septimus paused and closed his eyes, trying to think of anything he was forgetting. He wished he’d brought gloves or an umbrella, anything he could use to shield his hands or prod the ground in front of him, but he hadn’t, and there was no point in second guessing these things.

    Was there anything else he might need? Anything else Seven might have wanted? He wished their minds had either been more mingled or less in that dream—it was hard to pick apart what he’d thought and what Seven had been thinking, let alone to project on it.

    A knife, he decided. Items of intent and power. Symbols.

    On second thought, maybe he didn’t want to think like Seven after all.

    He picked his backpack up and headed back downstairs. In went the folded comforter, and then—just barely fitting with the zipper done up—the medical kit, minus three rolls of gauze. Two of these went into his pants pockets, and the third he tied to the kitchen doorknob just down the hall from the basement door, unrolling it a little as he headed back there.

    Then he shrugged on the backpack, drew a deep breath, and opened the basement door. One step at a time, he reminded himself, meaning it entirely literally as he put his foot on the first basement stair.

    It was like wading deliberately down through mud; there was a thickness to it that drew at him even as it provided resistance, and he forced himself not to tense up, letting the gauze unroll in his hand and taking the next step, and the one after.

    His flashlight flickered and died, and he paused to reclip it to his belt, then dug out Sweet’s. This he didn’t turn on yet, taking the next few steps in darkness, feeling the comforting sensation of the gauze unwinding.

    Five steps. Six steps. Seven steps.

    Something was watching him. The thought came to mind and he felt his skin crawl abruptly, but forced himself to keep progressing. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve—

    His next foot forward only found ground, and he shifted his weight onto it fully.

    The eyes opened.

    They filled the darkness around, outlining a shape of a corridor. The gauze felt like it had reached its end, so he juggled the flashlight and a second roll for a moment, tying the end to a new one, then forced himself to continue down the corridor, trying not to watch as the eyes followed his movements, watching him.

    He turned on the flashlight as he went; it cast a thin beam that illuminated nothing, no path, no walls for the eyes to sit in, only further darkness as if it was sucking the light back up. Still, he kept it on, trying to balance the fear of the battery draining against the fear that he’d overlook something.

    The stairs were no longer in sight, only more darkness and eyes behind him, but the gauze was at least comfortably in his hand.

    The whisper came so faintly that he almost imagined it: What are you here for?

    Septimus had to clear his throat before he could talk, the weight and darkness and pounding of his heart all too much at first. “I’m here to fetch Sweet,” he managed.

    Sweet? Miranda Sweet?

    “Damien Sweet.”

    He continued forward. He could see what he thought was an end now, or, at least, the eyes seemed to stop after a certain distance. Would it be better to just break for it and run, or continue at this slow pace…?

    While he was trying to decide, the voice came again:

    What do you want with my son?

    [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]

    [If you missed the art my friend Mikage sent me for this, check it out!]

  • Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 19

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    Septimus found that he wasn’t meeting Sweet’s eyes any more—at least, not the ones on his face. The ones on his stomach and chest seemed a bit swollen, blood trickling, and their pupils were too wide, which he had to assume still wasn’t normal, even in this incomprehensible circumstance.

    He pulled his sleeve down over his knuckles and used that to dab away some of the blood, careful not to get his sleeve into any of the eyes. The nearest one squinted shut in alarm as Septimus’s finger grew near, then slowly opened again at his gentle touch.

    “I’m sorry,” Sweet groaned.

    Septimus hesitated over what to do, trying not to freak out but still find a way to express what he was thinking. “Well,” he said. “I mean. I did realize by now you weren’t being totally honest to me.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    He couldn’t quite bring himself to say it’s all right, but he nodded, knowing that Sweet could see it quite clearly. “Are you sure you need to go down there?” he asked, instead of pursuing it further. He wanted to know, but honestly didn’t have any particular questions come to mind. The weirdness was too weird to know where to start. “You don’t look good.”

    “I know,” Sweet said. “But I have to.”

    He pushed Septimus back a little. Sitting back on his heels, he felt something sway against his chest, and raised a hand to find himself wearing a necklace—presumably the one he’d found in the chest, though he hadn’t got a good look at it then, and couldn’t now with it on him. “Did you put this on me?”

    “Huh?” Sweet had got to his knees, his shirt falling back down and making him seem human again. He stayed there, swaying, staring at him. “Oh. No. It wrapped itself around you. I tried to get it off and you clonked me with your elbow.”

    “I—sorry,” Septimus stammered, aghast. “Really?”

    “Not why I’m out of it,” Sweet promised him, managing a smile. “Sorry, I can’t—I really gotta go. I feel like I’m coming to pieces.”

    Septimus looked at him uncertainly for a long moment, then slid an arm around Sweet as carefully as he could. He couldn’t stop thinking about those eyes, and how many more his arm might be pressing against under Sweet’s shirt. How uncomfortable this might be. “Is this okay?”

    “Thank you,” Sweet whispered.

    Throat suddenly too tight to answer, Septimus just nodded.

    The two of them made their way down the stairs with great care, flashlight clutched in one of Septimus’s hands as he supported Sweet. It was still almost impossible to see where they were going, and between the darkness and Sweet’s difficulty carrying himself, it was an agonizingly long process of feeling out each step before shifting their weight to it.

    Sweet let out a sigh of relief as they came to the main floor, though whether it was that he was fighting the compulsion less, or that he was just tired after all that, Septimus couldn’t say.

    “I’ll take it from here,” Sweet said.

    Septimus cleared his throat. On the one hand, it was probably a bad idea to offer—he still didn’t know exactly what was down there, or what tie Sweet had to it, or anything else. But like the guy in the—memory? Dream?—he too was a seventh son of a seventh son, so that had to have some kind of power or significance. Maybe there was something he could do.

    “I’ll come with you,” Septimus said, and managed to keep his voice steady.

    Without any hesitation, Sweet shook his head, then groaned. He pulled away from Septimus and stood on his own, though he kept a hand on the wall to do it. “No,” he said. “It’s a bad idea. Please. It’ll be fine—it’s always been fine before. He already knows you’re here. I don’t want him to be able to do anything about it.”

    “I don’t want to stay up here while you just—”

    “I told you before,” Sweet interrupted. “I invited you here because I, I need you to be here for me after. If you go down and get—if things go wrong for you down there, we’ll both be in trouble. If you want to support me, let me go alone.”

    Helpless, Septimus stared at him, searching for some kind of argument—though he didn’t have enough answers to make one. He wished, briefly, that he’d asked more, pried more, learned more.

    “All right,” he said, finally. “I’ll get the blankets and stuff ready. Don’t fall down the basement stairs.”

    “Thanks,” Sweet said. He smiled softly, and opened the basement door. “Love you.”

    And then he was taking a step down into the darkness, shutting the door behind him.

    Septimus staggered back against the wall of the bent hallway, trying to will his heart to calm down, his mind to stop rushing, everything to slow down again. He swallowed the lump in his throat and mechanically dragged himself back up the stairs to go fetch the blankets.

    On the way, he stopped in front of the door Sweet had identified as the bathroom, hesitated, then went in. It had been a long few hours. When he was done, and had quickly washed his hands—there was at least a little cold water left in the pipes, though he couldn’t be sure if the house need electricity to pump up anything new—he carefully angled his flashlight to check the necklace he was wearing in the mirror over the sink.

    It was a small anatomical heart in glass or resin, attached to a chain. His own heart sank, because there was no way it could be a coincidence. It wasn’t the same heart—or at least, this one was small and seemed artificial— but it wasn’t like that was reassuring.

    Shaking his head, Septimus made himself keep going. He’d probably taken four or five minutes up here already. He went and gathered blankets, dragging them back downstairs to the basement door, and waited.

    And waited. And waited.

    His phone was showing 10% power remaining and had frozen at 3 am, but he had no idea how long into the power outage he’d been unconscious for.

    He waited.

    It was definitely more than six minutes now, and there’d been no change. He began counting hundreds again, and got to eight hundred before he was too disturbed to continue.

    Sweet had been so sure that it’d be fine, but what if it was different this time? There were so many reasons it could be, from Sweet’s attempt to fight it to stay by Septimus, to Septimus’s dream with the necklace, to Septimus’s presence here in the first place—the dream had made it clear that the seventh son of a seventh son had some significance. Or it could be all of them together, or other things he couldn’t begin to guess at.

    He guessed that roughly fifteen minutes had passed by now, which was not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but when compared to six minutes both times previously, it felt like an eternity.

    Septimus rose and put his hand on the basement door. The knob was ice cold as he turned it, opening it to try to shine his flashlight into the darkness below. The light didn’t penetrate it, like the darkness itself had mass.

    Was there anything he was forgetting? Was there anything he should do to prepare for this? Did he need to take anything?

    There was no question for him any more that he should follow Sweet down, though.

    [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]

    [Also, a friend, Mikage, surprised me with art to accompany Day 18. Check it out!! My skin has cleared up and blessings have been laid on my household. I am currently eating both my fists in pure joy.]

  • Halloween 2016 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween 2016 IF – Day 18

    [New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

    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?”

    “A… metaphor.”  

    “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

    reverts

    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]