Everything around you is caving in Who: Nish [Loki] and Obed [Hades] What: Nish has to make a decision Where: Dreamspace When: after this thread.
Nish didn’t sleep much these days, though she did spend long periods of time unconcious. It was more like passing out and then waking up disoriented and tired than actual rest. When she did sleep it was unpleasant, and so she avoided it whenever possible, though sometimes it snuck up on her.
She was back in the cave, the familiar setting almost a comfort after all the other stranger dreams she’d had lately. The difference was this time she was on the table. She wasn’t tied down, but she still felt trapped, as if the table had a magnetic pull she couldn’t escape from. She felt heavy and tired, like all she wanted to do was give into that pull, lie on that table forever and give up. As if getting up, walking away, was just too hard.
The snake was coiled above her, gently dripping venom from its fangs. Once in a while she’d catch a drop on her face, but instead of screaming as she usually did, it was instead a pleasant burn, like the feeling of alcohol sliding down her throat or powder burning her nose. The acid wounds repaired themselves as fast as they appeared, but the longer she stayed under that corrosive drip, the longer it took to heal, and the more it began to scar, but she still didn’t move.
Someone watched her for a time, a thing of tangible shadow looming alongside the stone table. There was no malice in it, only curiosity; it watched, and said nothing, until the time between wounding and healing stretched entirely too far out. Then it drew near to her, and Hades at last showed himself.
"Where is the one you watched here before?" he asked. "Have you taken his place, and his punishment as well?"
She opened her eyes, turned her head towards the shadow, but didn’t move beyond that. “Isn’t it obvious?” she asked, the words coming to her from somewhere else, as if it wasn’t she who was speaking them. “He is me.” Another drop landed on her forehead, appearing for a long stretch of time as if it was a bullet wound, until it closed up again. “I didn’t know...but now it’s too late.” Somewhere else in the cave she heard a low growl, as if a large dog or a wolf was lurking out of sight, watching her with hunger and malice.
"Your name is not in my records," Hades said, "so it is not yet too late." He moved closer, only his pale head showing from a mass of black robes. He watched her as another drop fell; watched it mar her fair skin, eating through to the bone. His frigid gaze was impassive, utterly unmoved by her pain. Behind him he felt the twin doors of truth and falsehood lingering just beyond sight, waiting to open at his command.
"What might you change, if you could?"
The growling was getting louder, more vicious with each passing moment. She feared the source of it more than the venom dripping on her face, goosebumps covering her skin as it seemed to grow nearer, lusting after her blood.
“Accepting him,” she said, knowing that it was safe to do so. He wasn’t here, she had taken his place, his punishment. He had come to her so young, and she hadn’t known what it would mean for her when she allowed him to stay in her. But now it was too late. Now she couldn’t live without him, even though he was the reason for her misery.
“If I had said no, I wouldn’t be here now.” But even as she said the words, she wanted to take them back. Thinking about life without him was as painful as imagining life without one of her limbs, or voluntarily going blind. As much as he’d made her suffer in life, she would never have become who she is without him.
Hades felt her uncertainty. He turned it over in his mind, its presence as real to him as if he held it in his hands. He studied it closely, and found it sincere. "I find it interesting," he said, "that you believe you had a choice at all." Something uncharacteristically soft threaded through his voice, a note of something that was almost pity. "Gods are not in the habit of making requests, Nishka Bariss. Do you believe yours made an exception for you?"
She looked up at him, met his eyes, and then a memory flashed behind hers. One she had thought she’d long since forgotten.
It was the day of the funeral, her grandfather had passed in his sleep and the family that loved him had come to see him off. She was sitting in the bedroom she always played in, six years old, building a tower with the same wood blocks she always played with when she visited. The ones with runes on them instead of letters.
Then a little boy came in. He sat with her and played with her, and she didn’t care that she’d never seen him before, or that none of the other people in the room seemed to notice him at all. They had fun building up and tearing down their towers, and she felt happy again since she’d heard that grampa was gone. “We can play together all the time,” he said, “would you like that?”
“Yes!” she agreed eagerly, “I’ll ask mom if you can come over after…”
“No...they can’t know about me, Nishka,” he said seriously, “it’ll be our secret.”
“I could have said no,” she protested, back in the cave again, another drop of acid tearing at her skin. “I could have told somebody.” But even as she said them she knew she was wrong, and he was right. She never had a choice. He’d chosen her; asking was just a formality.
Hades was near enough to her he might have touched her. In a moment, he did: One pale hand left the folds of ink-dark robes, tracing softly over her arm. Whatever bound her in this place disappeared. Hades took a single step back. Behind him two doors opened, each a mirror of the other. Their opening showed only a void, bereft of stars or sun or path to guide her.
"Choose, then," he said. "And bear the consequences."
She sat up, suddenly free of the invisible force that had been pushing her down, the acid on her face. She felt light, as if a weight had been lifted she hadn’t even known was there. He gave her another choice, but she hesitated, remembering the last time. “The choice is no choice at all,” she said, not moving from the stone, but eyeing both doorways with a frown. Both identical, neither giving her a clue of what lay beyond. “I don’t know what I’d be choosing.” She remembered saying something similar last time, but it was in her nature to question. She supposed she had Loki to thank for that.
"No-one ever does," Hades answered. He did not move from his station before the doors. Not even his robes stirred; not a breath of wind moved from the doors to indicate what she might find through each. "Again," he said, "I advise against inaction." A low growl sounded from the darkness around them, as though to underscore his warning.
She glanced behind her, seeing teeth glinting in the darkness, drawing closer to the table, straining to break free from bonds she couldn’t see. She stood and backed away, keeping it within her sights as if it would pounce at any moment, but she knew it couldn’t get her, not this far away. She swallowed and looked up at Hades, then towards the doors behind him, taking a moment to steel herself before choosing, this time opting for the door on the right.
The door on the left faded to nothing. Hades appeared close by, walking in the shadow of her steps. He was a presence felt more than seen; a chill that toyed with short hairs at her nape. The door closed behind them, and they found themselves in darkness once more.
Small blue lights winked above them, but they were not stars. They were insects, innumerable and constantly shifting, drawing pale blue paths and constellations overhead. Sleep crept into her body, making her limbs feel heavy, drooping with exhaustion. Someone spoke, and it was neither Hades nor Loki, nor any other voice she had heard.
Rest, it said. Rest, and lay your burdens down.
She struggled to keep going, pulling herself along on limbs that refused to cooperate. The blue lights were soothing, reminding her of fireflies she saw while camping as a child, or the northern lights painting the stars that she’d seen on holiday in Norway. She wanted nothing more than to lie down, to sleep, to let go, but knew inside that she absolutely could not give in. “No...let me go,” she said to that voice, one she didn’t know or trust. “I can’t stay here…”
Hades' presence was gone. She was alone in this place, whatever it was. The lights winked, each one flickering on, off, on again, in its own indiscernible rhythm. The ground beneath her feet was wet and thick. It was impossible to see in the darkness, but each step she took caused a heavy squelching sound, and each movement forward was more difficult than the one before. It sapped her energy, coaxing her to lie down as she had before, to accept the stillness this place offered her.
She turned on the spot, but she might as well have just stayed still. Besides the lights, there was nothing here. Nothing but blackness and heaviness pulling her down to the earth, the earth itself seeming to pull her to it the longer she stayed. “No…” she said again, trying again to move forward, but her feet were stuck in the mud. She struggled, frantically trying to get out, panic starting to rise in her throat.
’Help me,’ she pleaded, looking for that voice, that comfort of never being alone. Only it didn’t respond. “Please! Help me!” she cried, aloud this time, panic shifting to terror.
Nothing answered. Even the voice that had greeted her was gone. One by one the insects above put out their lights. Constellations disappeared. The blackness made the chamber's ceiling feel at once too close and entirely too far; she could not touch it, but all the same, her breath returned to her as though a barrier lay just overhead. As she sank, a scent from below her grew stronger. It smelled of blood, both fresh and old, thickly commingled with musky earth.
Her breath came in quick gasps as the stars winked out, the air thickening around her as the blackness invaded her every sense. The only sounds were her heart thumping in her ears and the sounds of her own struggling, deadened by the darkness that seemed to be a physical thing surrounding her.
She reached down her body, using her hands to try and pry her foot from the muck. All it accomplished was getting her hands stuck, as if the ground itself was pulling on her, dragging her down. She fell to her knees, and they too sunk into the ground, anchoring her even more. She managed to use her lower body to give her enough leverage to pull her hands out, using them now to try to crawl, hoping to find solid ground somewhere but sinking further down the longer she tried.
Little by little, the bloody muck swallowed her whole. There was progress to be made, but every inch was hard won, and in the blackness that surrounded her there was no landmark by which to gauge her movement. But by slow degrees the earth below her seemed to angle upward; what was rich, loamy soil felt harder now, and after a time, as solid as wood.
She explored the solid surface gratefully with trembling hands, the blackness making her feel as if she'd been suddenly struck blind. She coughed into her arm, the reek from whatever she was crawling in growing stronger and making her glad she couldn't see what it was. Her fingers suddenly found something in the sticky mass beneath her, a solid ring, cold and hard, like metal. She pulled on it, at first feeling something move in front of her, and then gathered her strength to give it a good hard yank, pulling open a door in front of her, down into the depths of wherever she was.
Without hesitation she climbed into the new space, falling several feet and landing hard on her side, and though there was no squelching muck beneath her here, it was just as black and featureless as above. She curled into herself, pulling her legs to her chest, the sudden unbearable silence deafening her. “Please. Please come back,” she whispered, though in that complete silence it sounded like a shout. “I need you, please…”
It was not Loki who answered, but the master of this place. Hades stepped out of the darkness, blue eyes shining with their own inner light. He watched his visitor closely, staring down at her as long minutes stretched into hours. When he spoke at last, his voice echoed, reflecting off walls a great distance away. The delayed echo gave the effect of him speaking with many voices, each of them coming from some different location.
"You say you need him," Hades said. "So you admit you would change nothing, even if you could. Remember this in the waking world when you seek to free yourself of your union with him. You risk more than your mortal form, Nishka Bariss."
She closed her eyes, blocking his from her view. He was right, she knew he was right. As much as they fought, as much as his voice grated on her sometimes, or said things she didn’t want to hear, or forced her to do things she’d rather not, she needed him. She needed that comfort of never being alone. The crutch of knowing all of her decisions were shared, the responsibility not solely her own. “He scares me sometimes,” she admitted aloud, the words a surprise when she heard them. “He makes me do things, say things...but I don’t want to be alone. I can’t bear the silence.”
"Then you must learn to better cope with the noise." A thin crack of light showed some distance away. A door had begun to open, though only slightly; if she wanted to make use of it, she would have to do the work herself. Hades made no motion toward it, did not so much as look in its direction. "You know what will happen if you continue down this path."
A flash of the ceiling of the ER came to her, the feel of a tube down her throat, the sensation of the frantic movement of doctors around her bed, and then it was gone.
“I do,” she said, finally opening her eyes again, the light from the doorway momentarily blinding her. She stood on shaking limbs, slow cautious steps taking her forward towards that light. She wanted to ask him how she was supposed to cope, what she was supposed to do, but knew he wouldn’t have those answers for her. But maybe...maybe that voice did. She stepped through the door.
Her eyes opened, the familiar shadows of her darkened bedroom closing in around her like a blanket. For a moment the room was just as silent as her dream had been, just as terrifying. She pressed her hands to her face, trying to banish the dream, and then felt a sudden weight next to her on the bed. Her hands fell away, and she watched Bear curl up next to her. She smiled and reached out for him, and his purring filled the room around her with glorious sound.
“Don’t ever leave me,” she whispered to him, but it wasn’t Bear who answered.
’I’m not going anywhere, love,’ the voice soothed. Her eyes slipped closed and she felt tears prickle behind them, her pounding heart finally slowing as she released the breath she hadn’t known she was holding.