Happy Thursday! It’s been a busy week over here, but what better way to (almost) end it than with an update? Looking back, this section was incredibly fun to write. Hopefully it’ll be just as fun to read. Enjoy the rest of your week, and we’ll be back Sunday!

– Wysteria ❤

— Hana

I fold Valkyrie’s note and keep it in my pocket.

————————–

+ Phoenix

I can’t find the motivation to stop Hana as she rushes off ahead. That would be an ordeal on a good day, and in this heat… it’s not worth it. Instead, I focus on fanning myself and warding off the oppressive aura that fills this apartment building.

If Sloth wanted a suitable environment, it got one. The whole place looks tired, from the heat to the tornado-zone lobby. I can’t pretend I don’t feel it myself. I’d kill for a fan and somewhere to lie down.

The alarms in my mind blare – that’s the sin talking, not you. I jolt back to life like someone has stuck ice down my shirt, blink until my eyes stay open, and try to shake off the sluggishness.

Somewhere in the middle of this, I register a warmth against my arm – different from the suffocating heat in the air. I glance over to see Valk leaning against me with eyes shut. Half of me wants to smile – it’s kind of cute – but the other half is filled with a dread heavier than the heat, and I’m inclined to trust the latter. I shift in an attempt to (gently) jostle her awake, but Elias beats me to it.

“You are well deserving of an entourage,” he mutters, gently prodding Valk’s shoulder. Heat rushes into my face; I collect my voice just enough for a small laugh.

“I don’t know. I think you’d handle one better,” I murmur, turning to watch as Valk regains consciousness with a yawn and a hazy look in her eyes. She blinks but never lets go of my arm. I give her a nudge of encouragement and glance back to Elias, who is backing away with the faintest hint of… something less than hopeful on his face.

“Keep an eye on Miss Amethyst, Phoenix Thourne, please. I do not think Sloth will be kind to her,” he sighs. “I loathe to ask this of you, after what… happened in Innismuth, but you are so kind to her–“

“My pleasure.” I glance down at her with another soft smile that I’m not sure she’ll catch. “I don’t mind the… oh.”

Hana moving toward us like that is never good news. I sigh, adjust myself to keep Valk upright, and catch the tail end of Elias’s words before Hana slips in.

“Never mind my rambling, there are more pressing matters at hand. But once we leave this building, I must have a… word, I suppose, with you in private. It is deeply important.”

A word in private. I try not to dwell on it too much.

— Hana

Alright, so Trust Fund is right for once. Valkyrie is damn near unconscious at this point, falling all over him like a monkey making a frantic grab for the nearest branch. Yeah, somebody has to carry her.

And Nick is looking straight at me.

Elias isn’t doing the same (he knows better), but I can feel the expectations burning at my reputation clearer than anything. I’m the strong one, I handle the heavy lifting, I’ve got every reason to say yes.

My eyes lock with Nick’s. “No.”

“Hana, please. You know I can’t lift her.”

There she is, flung onto Elias’s arm. Oh, God. I’m gonna slip and break her like china. “Do we really want a repeat of past events?”

There’s silence on the other end. Nick’s eyes haven’t moved from mine, narrowing slightly, like he’s squinting to see the deeper issue here. He looks so much like a floppy-eared puppy trying to be serious, I almost lose my nerve. And it’s not like I can’t carry her. I just don’t want to.

I throw up my hands. “Fine.”

Nick looks pleased, both with the situation and himself, and that’s how I end up as Valkyrie’s personal wheelchair.

As expected, I don’t like it. From the minute I pick her up, she feels too vulnerable. All soft and fluffy, like a heavy kitten in my arms. A kitten that, based on prior experiences, I’ll do something horrible to. Maybe I’ll make her cry this time. Ugh.

I shift her in my arms, careful not to slip, as we climb stairways (no one trusted the elevator) and visit abandoned rooms. Leave it to my damn brother to throw smug looks my way every five minutes; sometimes I wrinkle my nose at him, sometimes I look straight ahead and keep walking.

“See, you’re not going to break her,” Nick says at one point, watching Valkyrie with a soft smile.

I huff. “It’s a little early to make that call.” You little shit, I want to add, but Elias is here.

Said little shit shrugs, smiles. I keep walking.

I don’t know which room it is – they start blending together after a while, identical apartments with small couches and white kitchens – but at some point, we come across… a different one. The door swings open, and it hits instantly.

Alcohol. The stench of it burns so badly that I can’t smell anything else. A headache bites the back of my skull; I turn my nose into my hair, try to inhale conditioner instead of booze. There are glasses scattered everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if alcohol was everywhere, too.

There’s a thud against my side, a choking sound. “I’m gonna, uh, check the other room,” Nick sputters, stumbling back and out the door like a man possessed. I open my mouth to call out to him, but something nails my stomach and knocks the wind from my lungs before I get the chance. I cough, curse, stumble back, while Valkyrie tumbles out of my arms and bolts away like a bullet from a gun.

“Wait, Nick, Valk – fuck,” I hiss, then turn on my heel and sprint after her.

Her footsteps fall heavy against the carpet. I follow the sound through the corridor, into an alcove with plants and an elevator. A splotch of blonde hair flashes behind the elevator’s closing doors, and I’m barreling in just before they slide shut with a thud.

“Valkyrie.” Her name comes out in a gush of air. My back slams into the closed doors, heart thudding in a chaotic rhythm as the blur of blonde shifts into focus. Sobbing, curled-up focus.

“Valkyrie, I – “ My voice catches in my throat. What happened? Why the fuck did you nail me in the gut? Are you okay?

I can’t get anything out.

+ Phoenix

I stop when I back into a wall and I can’t see it anymore.

Breath after breath comes in ragged, desperate – suddenly I can’t get enough of the fresh air, untainted with that awful smell. My hands go over my eyes, my knees almost give out.

All of it was too much – the fear, that dark feeling, how close it came to my picture of… people I’d rather not think about.

It’s gone, I tell myself, but it’s really not.

— Hana

I dropped her. Fuck, man, I knew this was going to happen. Maybe it wasn’t my fault that she freaked out, but why didn’t we expect this? Every time I try to do something with her, I mess it up. Now she’s shaking in a ball, sobbing so hard it rocks her entire body. 

…And despite everything I just said, I kneel down in front of her. Shakily, of course, because I still hate the idea, but my brain is telling me to do something.

“It’s, uh, it’s okay.” I swallow. “If it was the room, we don’t have to go back there. That… sucked for all of us.”

I stare at the ground and swallow the lump in my throat. For a second, my hand wants to go to her shoulder. But any thoughts I had about attempted comfort get slam-dunked into the trash when the entire elevator jolts.

I jump back. A low thunk echoes through the space, the jolt evens out, and everything just… stops.

I’ve never been in a broken elevator before, but I know one when I feel one.

And for a second, everything stops in me, too. But when my mind starts running again, the realization is pretty ugly.

The walls are closing in. They’re too close, unmoving, and as I look at the doors I finally register that they won’t open. We are stuck in this floating metal casket.

Immediately my leg decides to spasm; I fling myself forward and slam my hand into the emergency button in a flurry of clicks. The frantic tapping of my foot adds to the symphony. I think I’m cursing under my breath, too, but that’s not on my list of priorities.

I end it with one last “shit,” a good hard slam against the button, then whirl around and start pacing. Corner to corner, fingers tapping against my leg, I whip out my phone and punch a message to Nick with fingers sliding all over the screen.

Valkyrie ran into an elevator so I ran after her and now we’re stuck

Oh God. No one’s coming for us. Unless Nick has an axe, there is no fucking way we’re getting out of this thing, not with everyone in the building passed out or gone completely –

A whimper slides out of my throat. I back into the wall and tremble like an idiot, spasming arms folded tight across my chest. Something in my mind registers that Valkyrie is seeing all of this; half of me is so mortified I want to punch myself in the face, and the other half is too busy panicking to care.

I want to tell her not to look at me, but I can’t. Instead, I turn away and hide behind my hair.

+ Phoenix

Eventually, I peel my hands away from my eyes and realize I’m in a room I don’t recognize.

There’s no alcohol. No people, either. It’s not the cleanest place – shoes and clothes are scattered on the couch, and there’s leftovers all over the kitchen – but at least I can breathe. I slump against the wall and, finally, relax.

It’s a drained kind of calm. My energy, buzzing like a pack of bees within me, is settling down. Vaguely, I feel Sloth’s presence dragging at the edges, but I at least have the willpower to shrug it away.

I’m going to have to offer an explanation, considering I fled the room in the middle of a conversation. I cringe and curse at myself, swallowing the bitter taste in my mouth. I’ll just apologize.

…Hopefully no one asks me to elaborate. I’ve never actually told Hana the full story, let alone a whole group of people. I’d rather not dredge up all the memories.

I sigh, pat down my jacket, and head for the door.

I’m not as lucky as I expected/prayed. I have one foot past the threshold when my phone buzzes. I cringe.

It’s probably Hana, asking what the hell happened. That sick feeling rises in my throat as I pluck the phone from my pocket, excuse after excuse whipping through my head.

Valkyrie ran into an elevator so I ran after her and now we’re stuck

Something sharp and heavy stabs through my exhaustion. I shove the phone into my jacket and bolt for Elias.

The room number is familiar enough. Not that it matters, anyway; all these apartments are abandoned. I fling the door open, cringing as alcohol stings my eyes, but don’t step in.

“Elias, I – I’m sorry. I just got a text from Hana, and she and Valk are stuck in an elevator.” The words rush together as I pant for air, resisting the urge to lean my weight against the door.

If I did, I’d be back in the room, and I can’t handle that again.

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