Death greeted us.
When I opened the door into the next chamber, I found a set of stairs leading up and the body of a child.
As I walked towards the small corpse, the boys filed in behind me. They formed a protective wall around the dead boy on the stairs and me as I crouched down beside him.
Gently, I turned the body over and looked upon a face that had known far too much sorrow and pain in his young life. There was no sense of ease, no sense of peace upon his fine features. Only the stamp of sadness was there.
I don’t know what if anything killed him. He may simply have died. He may have given up and refused to awaken.
I returned his body to the position in which I had found it and settled down on my haunches. Around me, the living boys remained silent, waiting.
It was the raven who broke the silence.
“There is nothing to be done for him,” the Gallows god informed me.
“I know it.”
“We are nearing the end.”
I looked at Grimnir in surprise, and the old raven nodded his head.
“Soon,” he continued, “we will come upon the domain of the Keeper. You will face the Keeper alone, Duncan Blood, and I will stay with the children.”
“And what of them?” I asked, motioning toward the boys.
“Worry about your fate and no one else’s,” the raven informed me. “It is all you can do at this time.”
It was a statement I disliked, but I accepted it for what it was – a gentle reminder that death comes for us all, as the body on the stairs showed us.
I stood up and nodded to the boys around me.
Without a word, we left the corpse on the stairs.
My hands found the hilts of my Colts and touched the cool wood. After a moment, I shook my head.
“What is it?” the raven asked.
“I’ll not use my guns to kill the Keeper.”
“My knife,” I told him. “This killing’s personal.”
The laughter of the Gallows god filled the air as we made our way up.
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