You grab your brother’s arm and drag him toward the stairs. After a moment’s hesitation, he begins to move at pace with you. As you begin up the stairs, he looks over to Gerard and stops. You follow his gaze and see the seven children moving to circle the old man. They seem completely solid now, each one beginning to form individual traits. A lanky young man, taller than all the others, stands directly in front of him. He strokes Gerard’s face with his hand. Tears begin to stream down the old man’s cheeks.

The young man leans into Gerard. The old man wavers for a moment before giving in, pressing his lips against the boy’s. The boy wraps his arms around Gerard, never breaking the kiss. Blood begins to seep from between their lips. The young man grips him tighter, his arms stretching to wrap around Gerard’s body several times, like a snake crushing its prey.  The young man pulls his face away from Gerard and begins to lap up the blood that had trickled into and collected in the old man’s beard. Gerard does not shy away; he seems to enjoy it.

This time, your brother tugs on your arm. You both run up the stairs as the entities haunting the catacombs are distracted by Gerard’s sacrifice. Your flight up the steps seems shorter. In just a few minutes, you reach the apex of the spiral and dash down the torch-lit corridor that brought you there. You pass the bloodstain on the wall and the scratch marks on the ground, arriving finally at the crossroads. Standing there smiling is Gerard. He no longer looks bedraggled. His hair is combed, his beard clean and trimmed. His clothes, though still wrinkled, are no longer covered in dirt.

“I’m so glad you made it out!” He steps forward and extends his arms in an embrace.

Will puts his arm out to bar your path. “No,” he says. “We won’t be fooled that easily.”

Gerard’s smile does not break. In your mind, you hear his voice. “Of course you wouldn’t. We expect more from you.”

From behind you, a young woman’s voice: “Do you know the meaning of the name William?”

You turn around and see the most beautiful woman you have ever seen in your life. She is tall and slender, with curves in all the right places. She is dressed like a celebrity about to win an award. Despite wearing high heels, she moves with perfect grace as she approaches you. Her dress drags along the dirty floor, and yet remains perfectly clean. She is radiant.

“It means ‘protector,’” she continues. “You live up to your title.” She smiles. “You should be proud. You have saved the world from the Formless.”

You look at your brother. “Aren’t these…” you begin.

He scoffs. “No, just souls corrupted by them.”

The woman pouts. “How can you say such hurtful things after I gave you such a fine compliment?”

Will leans in and whispers in your ear. “Go back home and destroy the seal.”

“It won’t stop them,” the woman begins.

“Or us,” the thing that was Gerard finishes.

You spin about to find him right behind you, a knife in his hand. He moves to stab you, but Will lunges to intercept the blade. It slides into his stomach. Blood begins to bloom forth from the wound, crawling across his shirt. Gerard holds the knife steady as your brother collapses upon him. Through gritted teeth, Will repeats: “Go back home and destroy the seal!”

You hesitate. The woman smiles. “Don’t worry,” she says. “Everything will be fine.”

Gerard pulls his blade from your brother and lets his body slump to the floor. He turns to face you, teeth bared in an empty grin.

“Run,” you hear your brother strain. “Run!”

You take a step back and turn to sprint down the dark hall that brought you to this place. The light fades from the world, but you do not stop. You run through the darkness, until you see a light flickering in the distance. You can see the walls of your brother’s basement room. You feel a wash of relief run over you, but it only lasts for an instant. You can hear breathing behind you. It’s that thing that was Gerard, and he’s getting closer.

You give one final push, and the entire world turns white. The light from the candles in the basement overpowers your eyes until they finally adjust. Nauseous and confused, only one thought fills your mind: destroy the seal. But how? Your eyes dart around the room for something that could break the concrete floor of the basement’s foundation. You don’t expect to find a pickaxe nearby.

 

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