Man, has it been hot up here in the Midwest! I hope y’all have been staying cool. Summer is awesome, but heatstroke not so much.
Anyway, here is the day’s update under the cut. This one was very emotionally cathartic to write; both Valk and Elias had a lot of pent-up feelings they had to air. Happy reading!
With Love, Oxer
Hana starts panicking.
It takes me a while to process anything, but somewhere along the line the realization that Hana has followed me into the elevator hits and I don’t even react. I’m just so fucked up from that room, that place, that I just sit there and sob and I know Hana is talking to me and I need to interact but my brain is stuck and I seem to have lost all degree of executive function as I pull my hood down over my eyes–
But then the elevator gets stuck. Hana panics and I panic and it’s an eerily similar phenomena.
When Liang panicked, he slipped into an ancient language and his eyes glowed and Tavi had to calm him down before he somehow ripped open the space-time continuum. When Piper panicked, she flew into a rage. When Hollis panicked, all the glass in the house shattered and you hit the floor so as not to be stabbed on accident. When Tavi panicked, the air around him seemed to turn haywire and I never could tell exactly where he was.
But when I panic, I curl up in a ball like and shake. Apparently it’s the same thing Hana does.
Sloth still nags at the back of my mind, dark and sleepy, but some part of me manages to wrench my legs from my chest so I’m sitting with them out in front of me. I claw at the grungy carpeting and take deep gasping breaths because we are stuck in an elevator and this is all my fault.
Thus, I sit there, unreactive, and cry for a good five minutes.
I did this. My traumatized ass freaked out and kicked Hana and ran into the elevator without thinking, as per the usual, and then just started pushing buttons like a three year old and now here we are. Stuck. And I made Hana freak out like this. And that room, with that smell, I can just imagine my hood being down again and this is all too much–
Focus, I suddenly hear Liang’s voice in my mind telling me. You wish to know how I manage this demon? Pick one thing and ground yourself, pour all your being into it. Fear is a game of the mind, and you cannot win the game by playing along with it.
Focus. One thing.
There are no criminals around, no sins. I’m essentially in a bubble, I guess, and the only thing I have to worry about is Hana. I’ve got one job, one thing to be preoccupied with. Well, maybe two, the elevator could break and then we both could be tumbling to our deaths and–
No. I bite my lip, shake my head.
Then I look at Hana, curled up and clawing at her arms and I suddenly remember what Phoenix– no, Nick– had told me that night in the forest when I had freaked out and acted like an idiot in front of everyone. Deep breaths. And I remember him hugging me, remember how that went so well and how now I can ask for hugs from him whenever I need them. How awesome that is.
I have the ability to communicate with people and thus create bonds.
It’s such a stupid thing (“Use your words, Valk,”), but that’s all I’ve got right now. Besides a stuck elevator, a bunch of glowing runes all over my skin, my fucked up brain, and someone who tried to kill me who is probably having a panic attack.
But I know a thing or two about panic attacks.
I put my head in my hands and draw in a disgusting sniffle. My heart is going a million miles an hour, like some hummingbird who had drank too much espresso and I really want to puke.
But if I’m going to have any chance of getting out of here, I need to calm Hana, my almost-killer, down.
Great, I’m shit at calming people down.
I gulp in another breath of air and shift around onto my knees so I’m facing Hana and keeping weight off of my bum ankle. Just this makes my head spin; my arms and thighs are exposed in all their glowing glory for her to scorn and I want to curl up in my corner again where I could pretend I didn’t exist.
But I can’t. Life isn’t that kind right now. So, I reach forward with my left hand– the one that’s not as glowy– and avert my eyes, squish up my face before I put four shaking fingers on her arm.
It’s like that scene from How to Train Your Dragon, where Toothless and Hiccup make physical contact for the first time. I definitely feel like I’m negotiating with a dragon, some sort of powerful beast who could squish me into a little cloaked pancake if I so much looked at her the wrong way. Which I have a tendency to do because I’m an idiot and can’t act like a normal human being.
But I suppose neither of us are acting like normal human beings right now.
I close my eyes, disconnect from reality, and then force out what I hope is some sort of condolence. My voice has almost no substance to it and I’m on the verge of tears myself, but I hope it at least helps some. “I-it helps if… if you b-breathe. D-deep breaths. T-think of… think of kittens. Petting a kitten. M-maybe… talk t-to me? F-focus on how the carpet looks? Hug? Um…”
I bite my lip. Come on, Valk, think, say something coherent for once in your goddamn life, wait did I just say hug–
I’m blushing now, I know that, because I’ve been touching Hana’s arm for an awkward length of time (and it’s got a lot of muscle, holy cow) but I’m really not sure how else to give comfort. So I draw back, give another enormous sniffle and try to scrub my tears away. It doesn’t work. Even though I’ve pulled myself together enough for some comfort it’s like my eyes are goddamn leaky faucets or something.
“I’m s-sorry I k-kicked you…” I get out when I’m done trying to clean my face. I’ve only succeeded in getting tears and snot all over my cheeks. Will apologizing fix the situation? Probably not, but saying sorry for shit is such a go to at this point that it’s almost cathartic for me.
Words are falling out before I can stop them. “I-it probably hurts and I’m s-sorry. A-and I’m sorry I ran away and I’m s-sorry I p-pressed a bunch of buttons a-and got you stuck and I’m s-sorry I f-freak out at e-everything and I’m sorry I never c-calm down around you and y-you’re strong and I n-need to take deep breaths and I’m probably really a-annoying please don’t h-hurt me– oh fuck–“
This last part is because my stomach has decided that if I say any more it is gonna flip and if there is one thing I don’t need right now it is to throw up in a broken elevator. So I jerk away and go hide back in my corner and turn into a little cloaked ball again and try to ignore everything: my throbbing ankle, Hana, the eerie stillness of being in a stuck elevator that just doesn’t feel right.
And that dark sleepy thing called Sloth that nags at my temples. I’m panicking enough for now that I think it can stay away, but if I dare calm down I’ll fall back asleep again.
A place where my neuroticness comes in handy. Weird.
Past wounds do not heal easily, I suppose.
I would have imagined a reaction such as this from Valkyrie, who gave Izumi quite a kick before the pair bolted off, but not… not from Phoenix Thourne. He too is off like a shot, and there I am left staring at the entryway of the filthiest room I have ever seen.
As soon as I had opened the door– old and rotten near the hinges– the smell of my mother’s wine assaults my nostrils. But it is not the smell I associated with her, no, not the sweetness of the single glass she had with supper most nights. This is the stench that permeates the air of liquor stores, albeit ten times stronger, and it makes me give a very ungentlemanly gag as I force my way inside. Without thinking I take my handkerchief from my pocket and wrap it around my nose and mouth.
I must go inside. The others may run to safety, that I will allow, but if Sloth is in here I have no choice but to forge onward.
In what possibly is the most idiotic decision of my entire life I place a toe across the threshold, nudging a half full bottle of wine out of the way with my toe. It rolls away with a hollow clanking noise. I bring my powers to life on one hand but when the stench of ozone on top of alcohol makes me wretch I put them out again.
Interesting. I am at an impasse; I do not fancy vomiting. Maybe it would be for the best if I left–
Sin, my mind growls, and with that my powers come right back on. Sloth may have laid its filthy hands on Valkyrie but it shall not touch me.
What is interesting, I find, is how relatively easy this sin is to fight for me. I had felt its influence all the way up the stairs– something grey and sleepy nagging at the back of my skull– but I was able to press onward as normal (or as normal as I can be when ascending scores of flights of stairs). Valkyrie, on the other hand, was nearly unconscious as soon as we had entered the lobby. Too, Pride had made me the worst version of myself, and yet Valkyrie was completely unaffected.
Being that proximity is not the issue here, there must be another factor that influences how a sin takes power over a mortal. I must keep this in mind.
I slink into the room then, clinging to the walls and shadows. Dusty sun beams in from a window across the room, casting light over the piles of bottles that languish like dead bodies.
But I stay far away from that light as I progress through the room. It would be quite counterproductive to see what is outside.
It turns out that I must look at what is outside regardless.
I round the corner into the kitchen and I am forced to look straight at a window. Ordinarily this is not an issue (I have not the frazzled nerves of Valkyrie) but I am quite high up and pigeons spiral in the sky and become blurry as I register my altitude, my heart begins to pound and I am whirling away with my lungs in my throat and kicking glass every which way–
I hate heights.
There I stand, pressed up against a grimy wall and waiting for my heart to settle back down. It was a miracle I could get up those stairs (the “do not look down” technique they show in movies worked quite well) without anyone knowing that I could get vertigo the second I took a wrong step.
Where did this phobia come from? I would answer that question if I could. I cannot recall a single childhood incident that left me handicapped in this way, dizzy and panicky whenever I so much ascended a meter off of the ground. One thing I do know, though, is that it has stopped me from jumping on the space rocks I summon and using them as transportation, which, as Kiera put it, would be “quite dashing.”
Thus, when Phoenix Thourne enters the room, sees me standing the way I am, and says that the others have gotten themselves stuck in an elevator, I am understandably quite… embarrassed. .
I had been slouched against a wall, working on regulating my breathing as Kiera had taught me to do. I suppose I looked quite like a madman; handkerchief around my face, powers alight on one hand, my other taking most of my weight on the side of a bookcase, and my chest expanding underneath my blazer and pushing at the buttons.
“Phoenix?” I ask after a minute, tucking my hair behind my ear with my eyes still closed. “That is you, yes?” One more deep breath and I am pushing myself off of the wall, forcing my eyes open, and crossing the room of horrors as spryly as I can.
Am I spry? I am not sure. I am still coming off of that hellish adrenaline high from that conveniently placed window.
My heart leaps in my chest as I cross the threshold back into the hallway. Had Phoenix seen my actual reaction? Of course not, I had rounded a corner, though maybe it was possible– what would he say if he knew that I, Elias Blackmore, nearly melted to the ground if there happened to be a window in the correct location at the correct time–
I heave a sigh, drawing my nervous mind back into itself and turning to face Phoenix. The poor boy, he is breathing so quickly and looks about ready to drop dead. My brow furrows.
“… An elevator, you say?” I mutter, surreptitiously nudging the door shut with my heel. Sloth or no Sloth, I am not sure either of us could go back in there. I am just about to start drawing up a plan when I look up and see Phoenix’s face.
He had been seriously scared. That room had brought up things he would rather forget.
The hurt, the memories, are so plain in those pretty blue eyes, so obvious that even Valkyrie would be able to see it. Though, maybe I am just unusually perceptive, which may very well be the case.
“Have faith, Phoenix Thourne,” I murmur. I am not quite sure what type of murmur it is, be it flirtatious or something else entirely, but I do lay a hand on his arm and search out his eyes with my own so that I may hold his gaze. “And there is no need to apologize. I will keep you safe up here, yes?”
“There is nothing a Blackmore cannot deal with,” I quickly amend, stepping back and tossing my hair. Nonetheless, I cannot hide the look of concern on my face, even though it feels quite foreign. “We shall find your sister and Miss Ame– Valkyrie, I guarantee, and get them out of there somehow, but you must… stick close to me.”
So that we may avoid windows, I add in my head.