Review: Letters for Lucardo

5/5 stars. Buy at: Iron Circus Comics (ebook) | Iron Circus Comics (Print) | Preorder on Amazon

Letters for Lucardo by Noora Heikkilä is a graphic novel and the first of four books. The protagonist, Ed Fiedler, is a normal human, 61 years old and a scribe by trade with rather unusual employers—the Night Court, ageless royals with a taste for blood (so, yes, absolutely vampires). He has the even more unusual distinction of being courted by the handsome, eternally-33 year old Lucardo. As both grow ever closer, they have to deal with a variety of culture shocks—a human among the inhuman, a man just this side of elderly with the eternally youthful, and a tangle of mortality with and against immortality.

I loved the art and concept for this book when it first went up on kickstarter and jumped on the chance to contribute, and was so glad I did. I absolutely wish I had been able to buy in paperback, not just digital, but shipping to Canada is always a buzzkill. If there’s an omnibus of all 4 parts later? I’ll take the plunge for sure, because count me in as a new fan.

I found this work absolutely charming. It’s sweet and hot in equal measures, with a thread of potential tragedy running throughout, and a great sense of when to build drama and when to undercut it. Which is to say, it does one of my favorite things when characters are annoyed with each other, which is to get them distracted by how much they like (and are attracted to) each other.

I enjoyed that Ed’s age wasn’t treated as a barrier to sexuality in any way, either to Lucardo or to the artist. Ed comments that age wasn’t kind to his body, but Lucardo really does not give a damn. It’s drawn likewise—he’s no silver fox, and Heikkilä doesn’t shy away from the physical features that often come with aging, from sagging chins to thin ankles and everything else in between. But it’s drawn with respect and affection and acknowledgement that he’s still sexual, both to himself and others, rather than being treated as off-limits or grotesque as older bodies so often are in media. Likewise, his desire for romance, intimacy, and a lot of really enthusiastic sex isn’t either ignored or treated as abnormal. (This should probably not be so rare as to be praiseworthy, but it is. And it is so deliberately and easily handled as completely normal here!) Likewise, Heikkilä is great at character design; there’s a wide variety of characters with distinct and varied appearances (and a very multi-ethnic cast as well).

Oh, one note—this is not a book to read in public, at work, or around kids! There are a lot of graphic sex scenes and the heat index is quite high in it.

Despite the thread of potential tragedy, it doesn’t feel like it will end up a sad story. This volume covers the setup to that developing tragedy, sure, but mostly seems to illustrate the political background and players for the story to develop further in the later volumes. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s visually delightful—and also, it’s a really good length, at 142 pages absolutely packed with content.

I for one can’t wait to see volume 2 announced on Kickstarter!

Review: Hexbreaker

5/5 stars. Buy at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I picked up Hexbreaker (Hexworld #1) by Jordan L. Hawk as part of a goal to read through the other Rainbow Awards winners, and I literally couldn’t put it down once I started. Irishman Tom Halloran is a New York copper with a dark secret; Cicero, a cat shifter, is a flamboyant Italian  bohemian working as a familiar with the NY Metropolitan Witch Police. Normally, the two police forces don’t work together, since one handles regular crimes and the other crimes of hexation, but when a hex causes problems that leave both of them missing a friend, the two decide to team up and take on a case that nobody else is interested in.

Friends, this is a turn-of-the-19th-century historical buddy cop police procedural soulbonding gay paranormal romance. If you aren’t at least intrigued by that description alone, I don’t know what to tell you.

The mystery is very solidly written, where the twists and turns of the plot all make sense, but you still need to read through all the pieces to see it really come together. The characters are even more so; everything they do at every turn makes sense for their characterization, motivations, hopes, and fears—even the things you really wish they wouldn’t do all come from that solid base of knowing why they do it anyway. Tom’s situation is absolutely believable and his genuine good nature shines through in everything he says and does, and Cicero’s sharp-edged abrasive affection likewise. They both come from very different social spheres, and seeing how they try to adjust to make that work rings very true to me.

Beyond that, the historical setting itself is an absolute delight (and I need to check out the reference book recommendations Hawk makes in the afterword). From tenement houses to tunnel gangs, from bohemian parlors to seedy dance halls, from anarchist publications to Oscar Wilde, you feel like you’re there—if it’s a there that includes professional hexmakers, spell forensic experts, and an entire group of people who change into animals and soulbond to witches, of course. Hawk blends this in seamlessly by capturing the spirit of the time through little details, such as playing off the boom in commercialism by using product slogans as keywords to set spells.

Ultimately, this story is fun. Hawk has a real talent for knowing exactly when to throw in some relief from the more intense scenes, and if I were to list every moment that made me grin, I would probably end up spoiling half the scenes, so I won’t—I can only encourage you to check this out to discover them yourself. It’s also got a very high heat quotient, my goodness. The sex is steamy, erotic, detailed, and absolutely avoids the pitfalls that you sometimes see where it becomes about the acts rather than the characters.

Hexbreaker winning best Gay Paranormal Romance in the 2016 Rainbow Awards might have been why I picked it up, but I’m going to purchase the next few books in the series immediately.

Rainbow Awards 2016

Print

I can’t possibly begin to say what this means to me. I got this news while I was on the way out the door to celebrate my 10th anniversary with my fiancee (which is one of those things that, if it happened in fiction, would be totally hard to suspend belief on, you guys), and I actually cried with joy. It’s so, so incredible to me that my first book was this well-received and I’m still more or less incapable of finding the words for it.

Congratulations to all the other winners and runners-up as well*, and please know that so much of the joy I feel is for you too.

In celebration of their placing authors, my publisher, Less Than Three Press, is holding a sale until midnight on December 9 where all the placing books are on sale for just $0.99. That of course includes Beauty and Cruelty, which is a full $6 savings. (EDIT: NOW OVER and back to regular price) . Please check it out—along with all the other winners, naturally! Beauty and Cruelty can also be purchased on Amazon. You can see details on it, along with my other books, on my Books page.

Thank you so much to the Rainbow Awards judges for this honor.

*At the time I put this link  up, the URL directs to the contest-hosting page, but it should shortly be updated with the full list of winners as announced on Elisa Rolle’s blog and Twitter.

Halloween 2016 IF – Author’s Notes

Thank you, once again, so much for playing in this little Halloween event. I hope both players and readers enjoyed it—I know I had a wonderful time!

I want to give a huge shoutout to everyone who played! My biggest fear when I started this was that nobody would comment and it would flop before it even started, and you all stepped in and instead, under your direction, this became something incredible—28,000 words of it, in fact! An extra special shoutout goes to Vikarmic, who did the impossible and commented to every single day.

In thanks, a little giveaway! Vikarmic, if you can leave me the email address associated with your kindle and the name of a story you want to read, I’d love to send you something! I also put all the other commenters in a hat and drew one at random—the lucky winner is Dranachronisms. So, Dranachronisms, if you have a kindle, please let me know the email for it and an ebook you’ve been wanting to read so I can fire something your way (or otherwise drop me a way to get you an ebook <3). I can’t get something for everyone, but I want to say how I’m so grateful for every single person who played, and want to thank you all so, so much.

If you enjoyed Septimus and Sweet, you will always be able to read it again from my Extras page.  If you’d like to support my work in general, I hope you’ll consider checking out my Novels and Short Stories to see if there’s anything you’d like to buy, and following me on Twitter and Tumblr to keep up to date on my work as it comes out. As well, if you read and like my other works, please consider giving it a good rating and/or reviewing on Goodreads! I can’t stress how helpful a good rating is in drawing in new readership and supporting me. 

Finally, what you’re all here for— Q&A! Feel free to ask me anything you want about the story, what my writing process was, things people may have suspected but not had confirmed, whatever. Wonder what would have happened if you’d done X instead of Y? Ask it here! I mean, for starters, I had a totally different story planned if people had Sep go “fuck this eldritch bullshit” and drive away, lol. Also: Is this sort of thing something people would like to see me do again someday?

So: Ask me whatever you’d like and, once again, thank you and happy Halloween!

[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 – Conclusion

In the end, it wasn’t much of a decision.

Sweet’s father couldn’t be set free, and putting him back to sleep would just leave the problem for the future, however near or distant. Leaving him alive in any way left open a connection between him and Sweet that might never close, might always keep Sweet captive in some way. Trying to channel that power back to change him was, in some ways, even more horrible.

So they would destroy him.

It was done quickly, but not with malice. Despite everything Septimus had gone through, despite everything he knew Sweet had gone through, he couldn’t find it in himself to hate the creature. It was what it was, and it was doing what it knew how to do. It didn’t have anything inside itself to care one way or another who suffered in its path, so nothing it had done was actually cruel.

Sweet had hated him, but had wanted something more, too. Septimus could feel that, almost taste that, and he bundled it up in the rest, in that forgiveness and regret and killing intent, and he released it all at once.

Fire exploded around them, heat and flame, instant and fatal. The screaming outside stopped. The void outside stopped. A multitude of stars closed their eyes.

And Sweet drew a sharp breath in as he felt the sudden end of a connection that had been there as long as he had been alive.

Septimus closed his eyes too, rested his forehead against Sweet’s, and pulled on the bandage.

They collapsed in a heap against the wall outside the basement door—or, rather, what had once been the basement door. It was a twisted, blackened thing, the wood warped beyond all recognition and barring all passage. The basement, and everything in it, had burned, but the house above still stood.

Finally, unsteadily, Septimus exhaled. His breath felt raw, and that foreign heart still beat in his chest, but they were both too tired, too drained from that to be much more than human right then. He wondered if it would return someday, if they would fill back up with that strange power.

That was a thought for another day, though.

“You okay?” he managed, with a slow, tired tongue that didn’t want to form words.

For a few moments, Sweet didn’t answer. Then he nodded and shrugged at the same time, looking up at Septimus with his eyes that refracted hundreds of times, as they always did. But there were only the two, and they were in the right place, and they were flooded with unshed tears.

“I don’t know,” Sweet said. “I think so. I haven’t really… processed.”

“Yeah,” Septimus said softly.

“The power won’t come back. I mean, the electricity,” Sweet said, as if that was what was important right now. “He powered it. The house.”

“We… could probably power it,” Septimus pointed out with a weak laugh. “If we wanted.”

“Not now. Maybe not for years.” Sweet seemed to look inside himself, unsure. “Maybe not ever. We spent a lot on—that.”

He couldn’t say it, or didn’t want to. There was no point in forcing it, though, not this soon.

“Yeah,” Septimus said. “…m’cold.”

“Me too.”

“And tired.”

“Me too.”

“And alive.”

“Somehow,” Sweet said. He managed an unsteady smile. “Want to go to bed?”

“Yeah,” Septimus said. “For… however much of the night is left.”

I don’t have anything to do tomorrow,” Sweet said. He rose unsteadily, shaking the burned remains of the gauze bandage from around himself, and held out a hand to help Septimus up.

Septimus took it, and they almost both tumbled over again, but managed, if only just, to get upright. “Damn,” Septimus said. “I don’t know what I’m feeling.”

You don’t know what you’re feeling,” Sweet grumbled, half-supporting Septimus and half being supported as they dragged themselves up the stairs. For a few steps, neither of them said anything, and then Sweet let out a wet little laugh.  “I can’t believe you married a guy you’d known for three months.”

“I think it was a bit more permanent than marriage,” Septimus said, mustering up a dry humor. “Hopefully it works out.”

“I think it will,” Sweet said. “I’m an optimist.” They paused in the upstairs hallway. “Do you want me to take my mom’s room?”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

Another strange, wet laugh, and they headed together to Sweet’s room and fell down together on the bed.

“Shit,” Sweet whispered. “The comforter.”

“I’ve got it,” Septimus said, and pulled it over them.

They both paused, silently trying to figure where he’d pulled it from—then both simultaneously decided to deal with that another day too. They just pressed together for warmth and comfort as they fell into an uneasy sleep.

And though Septimus was woken hours later by Sweet sobbing, he was a little glad, because eldritch horrors and cosmic power was one thing, but holding someone and rubbing their back and soothing them—that was something he understood.

[Happy Halloween and thank you for playing!
Please check out my Author’s Notes post for a thanks, a giveaway, and Q&A!]

[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 – Day 25

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

Septimus’s brows creased in stress and fear as he closed his eyes and thought about all their options: everything he’d laid out, everything they’d thought, everything they could do.

Warmth. Hope. Dreams. Love.

Fire. Destruction. Fear. Sacrifice.

He knew which of the two he preferred.

He opened them again, feeling a little more resolved, and looked at Sweet. Sweet seemed both scared and hungry, small and large beyond all reckoning, as foreign god and human upbringing churned inside him, his flesh hardly enough to contain him.

Septimus loved him.

He loved him just as he was. The Sweet who had originally covered his eyes so he wouldn’t see what now seemed like such a small horror, that uncomfortable moment in an old film. The Sweet who had invited him out here, bought pie, played games with him. The Sweet he’d spent long hours exploring. But also this Sweet: the one who had lied to him about his nature, who had brought him into the den of some deep terror, who was filled with space and eyes and void.

“Sep?” Sweet asked him in a very small, very unnatural voice.

“Yeah,” Septimus said. He smiled and leaned over, pulling him close.

And he kissed Sweet.

It was a symbol so long as it carried the meaning with it: Passion, a future together. In so many fairy tales, it was the signifier for every other promise, marriage and union and happily ever after. He tried to pour that all into it, kissing him with everything he had, all of his love, all of his hopes, all of his dreams.

For a moment, Sweet was frozen with surprise, stiff against him.

And then he let out a little whimper in that voice that wasn’t a voice, winding his arms around Septimus, bandages catching against him, mouth opening onto eternity.

Septimus kissed that as well, determined to accept it all.

When the kiss finally broke, both were breathless, airless. The room had seemed to fade out around them into darkness lit by strange lights; Septimus refused to look at that, at anything except Sweet.

“I love you,” he said, and surprised himself by not stumbling over saying the words for the first time. “I want to stay with you from now until the end of time. I promise that—I swear that.”

Sweet stared at him. Flesh came and went, reforming and vanishing, eyes opening and then blinking closed into nothing again. He said, softly, “I want that too.”

“Then say it. Promise it.”

“I love you,” Sweet said. It came out shyly, and his arms dropped from around Septimus, but only so he could find Septimus’s hands, squeezing them. He let out a weird, echoing laugh. Is this really happening?

Septimus gave him a half-smile, heart pounding, wry. “We’re either going to die together or live together,” he said. “It seemed like a good time to say it.”

Even with the room gone, it felt like something wasn’t quite right. Not quite done. He didn’t even have to think, though, to realize what it was.

He was giving Sweet his heart. It had to be literal.

But—

“I’ll give you my heart,” Septimus said, “if you give me yours. That’s… what this kind of promise is supposed to mean, right? That kind of exchange. Sharing. Not something one-sided.”

Sweet stared at him. His eyes grew larger and larger, opening onto infinity, until only the sensation of Sweet’s hands in his kept Septimus grounded.

Okay, he whispered.

And suddenly it was the two of them again, and Sweet looked normal, human. Septimus drew a breath, trying to understand what was about to happen.

Sweet’s chest opened.

His ribcage popped like a gate, doors swinging wide, showing only nothing inside, his black-purple heart pumping void into himself. Septimus stared at it, morbidly excited, then let out a shout as a sudden pain and heat shot through himself as well, a sharpness in his chest like he’d been stabbed.

There was a horrible creaking feeling, a popping, more pain, unbearable pain, and he felt his own chest crack open.

He didn’t dare look down. He didn’t want to see himself bleeding out, his insides working, or, worse, something more unnatural.

Sweet, though, was staring at Septimus’s chest. “Is it all right?” he asked in his normal voice. “Really?”

Septimus almost didn’t dare speak. He knew he had to. “I’m giving you my heart,” he repeated, and heard the wheezing of his own lungs from the outside. “Give me yours.”

Sweet smiled.

And he reached into Septimus’s chest.

It hurt unbearably. He was screaming, couldn’t help it, squeezing his eyes shut and unable to watch as Sweet tore it free. He felt, for a moment, a horrible cold nothingness, his body struggling to function with nothing there to allow it, but with it came a sense of relief. He didn’t need to feel anything like this. With no heart, there was nothing to feel with and no need to do so.

And then Sweet placed his own heart in Septimus’s chest and he felt it start to pump again, blood and emotion and something else. Once, twice—

His ribcage slammed closed. Again, an unbearable pain welled up in him, and this time, as he screamed, he felt heat racing through him. He could taste eternity, feel reality spinning around him, and knew that he could touch some greater power now. Bend it to his will. Their offering to each other had doubled, quadrupled, rushed back through each of them in turn and reflected and grew, finding more and more to build off of. He felt like he could grant wishes, reset time, give life or death at will—

Septimus opened his eyes, drawing an unsteady breath.

The sound of screaming continued, but it was no longer Septimus doing it. It was Sweet’s father, that petty, old thing, a great creature who had once been powerful enough to be a god but now barely could keep its eyes open. He was screaming and tearing at what Septimus realized was a small, portable world they’d created around them to give them space to do this, a circle within Sweet’s father himself.

The basement room, all of it, had still been inside Sweet’s father. They were still there. And they could tear him apart if they wanted, as they left.

Sweet was pressed against him, arms wrapped around him, breathing steadily with his eyes closed. For a moment, Septimus worried that he’d fallen asleep, but no; he was just reacting to whatever he felt within him of this power, or, perhaps, just to Septimus’s humanity. They were tied together, Septimus realized, by the bandage he’d used to act as a guide home.

All he’d have to do was follow it and they’d be out in the real world. But he knew that Sweet’s father would come pouring out of the hole they’d made, chasing them, trying to get his son back to eat him, too stubborn to stop.

They had enough power now to deal with him. They could put him back to sleep for however long it took the next foolish cult to bring him back. They could burn him in their joint power so he would be destroyed. They could take the connection he had to Sweet and reverse it, so Sweet could devour him instead. Or they could wake him, let him free to do as he wished to the world.

The unmade decision hung heavily around them as Sweet’s father raged and tore at the edges of their world, threatening to break it open.

“I don’t know what to do,” Sweet said softly, wryly. “He’s still my father. But he’s not good. He’s not human. He doesn’t feel what I do, because he can’t.”

“I’ll decide,” Septimus said gently.  “Sometimes we need other people to make these decisions for us. Will you trust me? Will you forgive me?”

“I do,” Sweet said.

[Please decide what Septimus will have them do about Sweet’s father.

Please keep in mind that this is the last chance to influence the story,
as Day 26 will be the final part and thus the outcome!]

[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 – Day 24

[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.”

“But—”

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?”

“Yes!”

“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?”

“Poison…?”

“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 conceived. 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]

Halloween 2016 IF – Day 23

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

Septimus swallowed back the scream he could feel bubbling up in his throat. It was Sweet, and he knew it was Sweet, but even so, he could hardly bear to look. It was an image that would haunt his nightmares for years, decades to come—if he even had that long left.

Because it was wrong. Every inch of him, every part of him that could react, was reacting. His body crawled with a rejection of the sight in a way it hadn’t even done in the corridor—maybe because whatever was there had hidden in darkness, instead of in plain sight the way this was.

Don’t look at me, Sweet whispered, the sound brushing against Septimus’s exposed cheeks. Please don’t look at me. I didn’t want you to see me like this—

Septimus closed his eyes and drew a deep breath.

Then he opened them again and stepped closer. “Hi,” he said weakly. “I missed you. I, uh, I got worried, so I came.”

Don’t look / don’t look / don’t look, Sep, don’t /

“It’s not so bad,” Septimus lied. He was sure Sweet could feel the lie, but he said it anyway. He stepped closer again, then again, until he was within arm’s length. “I mean, I’m not sure how I could kiss you with an eye for a mouth, but, I mean, you’re still you.”

You don’t want / don’t lie, you don’t want to!

“I mean, in general,” Septimus clarified. He reached out and touched Sweet’s arms, fingertips curling into the void where some of Sweet’s flesh had come away. It felt like a brush against eternity, ice cold and hopeless, but he kept himself from flinching. “Can you come down from there?”

I don’t know—

“Come on,” he rephrased. “We’re getting you down from there.”

Moving incredibly slowly to keep himself from pulling away, Septimus moved his hands along what remained of Sweet’s arms, tugging him into a gentle embrace and pulling against whatever force held him up. There was a moment’s resistance, and then Sweet was collapsing like a wing pushing down, a gyrating wave that didn’t match what his body should be doing as he folded into Septimus’s arms, radiating ice cold and wrongness.

“That’s right,” Septimus said through chattering teeth. “I’ve got you.”

He managed to shrug off his backpack and get it open despite numb fingers that didn’t want to obey him after the things he’d been asking of them, tugging the comforter out. He wrapped that around Sweet’s shoulders, cocooning him, keeping the blanket between the two of them as he did it. It seemed to help a little, as did the way Sweet kept his face lowered, his hair falling forward. It made him seem human except for the tiny eyes open along the back of his neck.

“Better?” Septimus asked.

“Mm—” Sweet was trying to talk, and it grated against reality the same way touching him had.  He gave up a moment later, falling back into that horrible mental whisper. It wasn’t much of an improvement. Thank you / you shouldn’t have come. What did you give up?

“Just that necklace,” Septimus said. “Though I still don’t know what it was.”

Some part of him / I think, Sweet admitted. Something he gave my mother a long time ago. In return for whatever she lost.

Septimus ran a careful hand over the back of Sweet’s hair. “Was she the girl in your story?”

It was… a fictionalization / you told me to make one up. But…

“But essentially yes,” Septimus said softly. “Some time ago, something woke him up, but only partially. And when she found him half-awake, however much later that was, he acted on her in that state.”

Yes / yes that’s what happened / yes, that’s correct.

“How did it end?” Septimus asked, though he thought he knew.

Ten months later I was born, Sweet said against Septimus’s mind. Her little demon, conceived in the basement of her childhood home. And he feeds on me every year / I only just learned why / he needs me, though / he does need me.

Septimus repressed a shiver. “Wait here for a second,” he said.

Sweet’s head jerked up to look at him, and Septimus really wished it hadn’t. But he smiled as reassuringly as he could.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he added. “I just… I brought some things, and I thought they might… help?”

It was maybe a silly thought, but at this point, every bit of symbolism he could muster felt important. He walked around the basement, careful of the debris, putting candles down to form a rough circle and lighting them with matches. As the darkness began to withdraw from the room, he saw, unexpectedly, the end of the bandage-thread he’d made hanging off the end of the stairs.

So it had done some good after all, at least. But he didn’t think that leaving would be as simple as just going up the stairs.

That was two symbols down: light in dark places, a guide home. Three, maybe, since he’d put the blanket around Sweet to warm him. He swallowed, taking the medical kit out of his bag and bringing it over, picking one of Sweet’s hands up and kissing the fingertips before starting to wrap the eyes on that arm in the tenser bandage.

“Sep—”

At the sound of Sweet’s voice, Septimus’s head jerked up; Sweet’s mouth had returned, and his face was almost back to normal, although everything below it still winked and twinkled with the strain of a foreign sky trying to pour through.

“Hey,” Septimus said, voice coming out wobbly.  “I’m, uh, out of bandages now, but I thought it would help? I could… I could try putting Neosporin on, but I’m not sure you want that in your eyes.”

Sweet let out a weird, anxious laugh and shook his head. “No,” he said. “Thanks.”

“Yeah,” Septimus said. He swallowed. “It’s okay, you know. I mean some guys would probably give their left arm to date an, um—” the phrase devil’s child came to mind and he wished he could think of a better one.

“Horrorterror?” Sweet suggested. An eye opened on his cheek, then closed again, as if through a force of will.

“Half,” Septimus said. “On your father’s side.”

Sweet groaned. “I guess he told you that,” he said, and pulled the blanket more tightly around himself. “I’m sorry. It’s never been this bad. I wouldn’t have invited you if I thought—”

“It’s okay, Sweet.”

“I’ve never understood what he needed before,” Sweet whispered. It fell out of sound again a moment later. He wants to eat my heart. The human half of my heart. Once that’s gone, he can wake up by wearing me. My flesh is designed to hold / what I am, what he is / but my human blood keeps me myself.

“Why didn’t it happen before now?”

“He’s been working on me” year after year. I guess this is just the year that it “got far enough.”

Septimus rubbed his brow, aching inside and out from the feel of those words against himself. Half to keep Sweet quiet for a few moments, he carefully explained what had happened to him when he’d come down here, the things that Sweet’s father had said—then looped back around to his memories of Seven, abruptly remembering that he hadn’t had the chance to tell Sweet about them before.

For a little while after he’d finished, Sweet remained silent. Then he let out a choked laugh.

You could eat my heart,” he said, in a very small voice. “Then I’ll at least know he won’t get it.”

“No,” Septimus said quickly. The memory of Seven’s temptation rose up in him. “No, Sweet.”

“Then what?” Sweet asked roughly. “He’s not letting go this time and he’s… he’s stronger. I thought I might be able to go when you started to light this place up but he’s become stronger really fast. The necklace, the thing you sacrificed to him—”

“I’m sorry,” Septimus said. “I didn’t know how else to get to you.”

Sweet closed his eyes—all of them.  I don’t know what to do, his essence breathed. I understand now that if we sacrifice anything to him / he’ll get stronger. He won’t let me leave this time, and he’ll eat me empty /so he can become me. But without a sacrifice /

He didn’t finish the thought.

“Well, do… do we have to sacrifice to him? If we have to give something up, can we find something to give up that’ll make him weaker, or make you stronger?” Septimus asked. “Five had thought Seven could try to take the power for himself, or… something. And Seven sacrificed the wrong thing. He said something about the heart being a symbol, right, but… I mean, the trouble is, I don’t know how right or wrong they were about any of it.”

But what would we sacrifice and to whom? Sweet hesitated, then reached out his bandaged hand and put it in Septimus’s, squeezing. … and even if we find something, what if it hurts him? He’s still my father, even if…

“He wants to eat your heart and wear your skin!”

“But…” I don’t know what to do, Sep!

[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 – 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]