The light receded to reveal Victor’s surroundings: a large room almost identical to the one in which he had defeated The Dragon Lady, empty but for the piano and its stool. Gary—his own aura restrained to a soft, pulsing glow—stepped over to the door and opened it. “The curse is broken, Victor. You must leave.” He motioned for Victor to follow him.
Out in the mansion’s upstairs hall, Victor followed the ethereal beacon walking quickly ahead of him. The high window at the end of the hall smashed outward and wild wind howled through. A cannonball boom of thunder shook the house from within, and Victor stumbled as he rushed after Gary, who had turned to descend the stairs. As Victor reached the staircase he paused and stared agape at the grand room below: a raging red fire spewed upward from the fireplace, setting the rug and one of the chairs alight; the reflection in the wide mirror made it seem as though half the room was ablaze. Dust and ash rained down as the mansion groaned and creaked like a wooden ship in stormy seas. A long plank of timber fell from the ceiling and smashed into the floor. “Victor!” called Gary from the bottom of the stairs. His voice had regained its thunderous quality. “Hurry. You must go now.”
“What’s going on?”
In the blink of an eye Gary stood beside Victor, and then a blink later they were at the bottom of the stairs. The floor shuddered beneath Victor’s feet at a horrendous blast, like a car crash, from a nearby room. “Quickly,” urged Gary. “To the door.”
Victor followed him like a sleepy child dragged along by his parent, and then stopped, squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “Wait—you say the curse is broken?”
Gary, his hand on the doorknob, turned back to Victor. “Yes,” he smiled, “it is done. “You can go.” A low, grating rumble sounded above, and Gary looked up at the ceiling like a sailor watching a black-clouded horizon.
Timber pieces and fragments of stone fell about Victor as he stood and scratched the back of his head. He winced and examined the dark slit in his palm, and the exit wound on the back of his hand. A sharp crack drew his attention: the portrait of Gary’s stepfather had fallen off the wall: after teetering upright on the floor for a second, it fell forward. Victor watched Arthur’s image smack face-down onto the timber. “Then I did it,” he muttered. He turned to Gary with an eager smile. “That means I did it, right? I broke the curse—I defeated all the rooms.”
Gary tilted his head and gave a curious half-grin. “Well, yes and no, Victor. You broke the curse, but you did not defeat all the rooms. Now please, hurry.” He opened the door to the hall at the mansion’s entry.
“Wait… what do you mean? There were no more rooms. I beat them all. You said so yourself.”
“I don’t think so,” said Gary, eyeing the ceiling cautiously. An awful metallic screech rang out from the rear of the house. The floor trembled; flames from the fireplace lapped the ceiling. He turned to Victor. “You cannot wait. Get out of the house.”
Victor stepped back. “I did clear all the rooms. There were none left—none with the curse.”
The brilliant light of Gary’s face reddened, and his voice became low and haunting like a droning cello. “Seven cursed rooms remain in the house. But that is irrelevant—the rooms upstairs are defeated, and the curse is broken.” Victor stared at him in confusion. “Here,” said Gary. Instantly he was next to Victor, and a split-second later the two of them were in the back right-hand corner of the room, below the staircase. “There’s another door. See?” Gary rapped the side wall with his knuckles; Victor stared at the shadows on the timber and shook his head. “Unless you’re up close,” said Gary, “it’s hard to notice.” He took hold of a small black doorknob that blended in like a knot in the wood. With a short turn the latch clicked, and a strip of light outlined a tall rectangle in the timber boards.
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