|Isobel Brandt \\ Persephone (praxidike) wrote in paxletalelogs,|
@ 2017-10-21 23:08:00
|Entry tags:||hades, persephone|
waves of old tension still controlling us
Who: Obed & Isobel.
What: An answer to a pre-existing problem is found in the unlikeliest of places.
Where: Fourth floor.
When: Directly following this.
Isobel sighed, and opened her eyes to the sight of Obed's neck and chest; her head rolled away from him, adjusting her gaze to the ceiling as she slowly made sense of where she was. She'd been getting Hanni settled after a late afternoon walk when Obed had come home dripping wet. Confused and a little scared (and yet amused by the strange little cowlick he'd unknowingly given himself), she'd not had to do much to usher him into the bathroom, wanting explanations but waiting until he'd stripped and showered while she'd mopped up the drips that traced an outline from their front door inward.
Then she'd sat on the bed while he described what he and Gabe (his friend, he'd explained, from the eighth floor, a tangent that had made Isobel smile) had tried one of the keys and had seen a giant...serpent was the best word he had to describe the creature, though it still seemed not enough. The great beast had carved out a world, no, a universe, where they'd seen stars and planets blown into existence, all before the thing had shed its skin and sent them swimming for safety.
It sounded the exact opposite of what she and Rafe and Alice had dealt with, which made her wonder how many rooms held the prospect of such danger (all of them, a voice in her mind answered, it seeing the waters less lifegiving than lifetaking) and which held the promise of such beauty. Isobel had all but pulled Obed into bed, saying she wanted a nap even at that late hour, able to read the long lines on his face like a book. She'd been proved right; he'd passed out not long after, and Isobel found herself quickly growing used to this shared space much as she had before.
She measured the movement of his breath and did nothing to wake him as she turned over his amazement-filled descriptors in his head. He'd been comforting when she explained how her own adventures had gone, and when she examined the rock of her thoughts turned over in her mind, she found that she was not jealous he'd gone with someone else. Instead, his exploration just underlined to her the fact that they needed to know more about...whatever these rooms were. Dreams, as Rafe would have them, or hallucinations. It had seemed more real to her because of what she'd experienced. But the sound of Obed's heartbeat in her ear, along with the familiar rise and fall of his chest made her decide that the experience was worth the cost.
They passed over an hour in this way, and at last Obed stirred from his sleep. That he had slept at all appeared to surprise him; he woke blinking down at Isobel, his arm still circled tight around her. "Did I sleep long?" he asked, his voice thick and rasping; she smiled, shaking her head in response. He kissed her forehead, smiling sheepishly. "I hope you haven't been awake all this time… but thank you."
Slowly he untangled himself from her and rose, even slower, from the bed. He felt only slightly sore from his earlier adventures, and he had recognized the curious gleam in her eyes when he had regaled her with that tale. So he cocked an off-kilter smile as he looked to her, and asked a question whose answer he was sure he already knew.
"So… what would you like to do tonight?"
Isobel pushed herself to sitting Indian-style on the bed, her hands worrying at each other in her lap. His smile made her heart skip a beat, her mouth curving in answer before she even replied.
"I thought we could go to the fourth floor. And... if you're up to it, explore one of the rooms." A hand rose, brushing hair behind one ear as her eyes dipped toward the floor for a moment, more explanation emerging in slow, carefully considered beats. "It just makes sense that we find out as much as we can, with all of these... these gods and goddesses, and it looks like these rooms are connected, and just between the way things went for each of us..." Her eyes had drifted back upward, following the line of his figure until they found his face once more. Her shoulders rose and dipped in quick succession, a smile playing at the side of her mouth.
"It might be fun, too. And I can't say I'm not a little jealous that you went without me, but I guess I started that trend, didn't I?"
Obed grinned, impish and quick. "You did indeed," he said. "But since we're even now, it only makes sense to go see one together." He leaned down to retrieve his shed clothes: stepping into worn jeans, pulling a soft, plain tee shirt over his head. He padded back over to her, his bare feet shuffling on the hardwood floor. He held out a hand for her to take. "I'll even let you choose the key," he said. "You deserve a mulligan for that first one, after all."
Isobel took his hand, rising off the bed toward him while laughing. "Are you sure? I didn't pick the last key, but it might be bad luck." She tugged him out of their bedroom and together they retrieved their shoes by the front door after moving almost silently through the apartment. Halfway through Hanni had joined them, his nails clicking on the hardwood. Isobel unwound her hand from Obed's for a moment, kneeling down to the small pom's level.
"No, you have to stay here, baby," she crooned, scritching the top of his tiny head. Hanni whined, but seemed to understand the missive. He sat, watching Isobel tower above him as she rose. She wrapped her hand back in Obed's, the two of them slipping out of his apartment like dark shadows toward the elevator.
"Which key did you and Gabe use, again?" After tapping the call button, she turned back toward Obed and slipped an arm around his waist, her head partially against his shoulder as she looked up toward his face.
His arm moved around her, pulling her closer. "It was white," he said, "with a forked tongue at the end. I really only chose it because I didn't feel anything when I grabbed it." He shrugged, knowing this explanation made less sense when spoken aloud. "I don't know. I thought it might be good to see something different. Maybe H—" The elevator doors opened, and he cut himself off. To say the god's name aloud felt foolish. Obed had done it once, with Gabe, and the look on his neighbor's face had only reinforced Obed's certainty he should not do so again.
Inside the elevator, Obed thumbed the button for the fourth floor. Then he looked down to Isobel, carefully considering for a moment. He patted her side where his hand had come to rest. "It's been nice," he said, "having you back home. Do you think… you might want to move back permanently?"
It was surprising how one simple question brought a mixture of feelings floating around in her gut. Rather than the immediate yes she assumed he was looking for, she looked down, teeth sinking into her bottom lip.
"Not...yet," she answered. Her gaze rose immediately back up to his, and she quickly offered more explanation; a hand came to rest on his chest as she turned into him, her body trying to be as reassuring as her words. "It's not that I don't want to. I do. I miss you, I miss our home, I miss waking up next to you. I just..." She chewed her lip again, unsure how to phrase her next words. Simple seemed best. "I want Bryan taken care of. I want everything settled. I want it to be just you and me. I'm sorry," she added, a glimmer of a wince riding over her features.
Only long years of practice kept Obed's face from falling utterly. He gave her a brief, reassuring squeeze, slowly nodding his understanding. And he did understand; he just didn't particularly want to.
"Then I guess we had better figure out what to do about Bryan," he said. The smile that played over his lips was not a pleasant one, but this unpleasantness was hardly directed at her. As the elevator doors slid open Obed found himself caught up in thoughts of how best to deal with this recurring problem. Part of him ached to handle it himself, and for good; the rest of him remembered too well his conversation with Praxidike, and he could guess how such an affront would be rewarded.
Isobel's mind was likewise distracted, though she unconsciously wove her fingers through Obed's and tugged him into the hallway with her. She'd tried so much before; a simple no, police, a restraining order, even jail time had come into the equation. It seemed nothing would deter her stalker, and her mind had begun to wonder if it was somehow connected to Persephone. Perhaps not Persephone exactly, but the fact that she and Isobel were interchangeable. The deity's presence blossomed in her mind, bringing up darker suggestions that Isobel was not wholly comfortable with.
The keys overhead swayed a little, spinning in place. The hairy one caught her eye, the one that had opened the door to the tent and the strange meal, making her shudder. She picked out the white key Obed had used, but she wanted something different, something they hadn't yet touched. Finally, her eyes fell on what looked like a stone in the shape of a key, mold growing along the stem. She pointed, glancing at Obed. "What do you think about that one? I don't think I've seen anyone post about it on the forum."
He narrowed his eyes and peered up at it. He thought back over the forum post, the numerous responses he had seen, but nothing jogged his memory with regard to this particular key. So he reached up with his free hand, plucking it free of the ceiling, and handed it down to Isobel. His brow furrowed. "It's warm," he said, letting it go as she grasped it. "I didn't expect that. It's kind of… welcoming, actually." He shrugged. "This seems like as good a choice as any. Want to try it over there?" He pointed to a distant door, an apartment he knew to be vacant.
Isobel nodded, holding the key between two hands. The mold felt soft, the warmth of the key like a stone warmed in the sun. Nothing about it advertised a terrible sight to see behind the door, so she put the key in the lock and opened it, pushing the door wide for whatever lay inside.
It was dark; Isobel's eyes strained to find some light, some outline to tell her where they were. As her sight adjusted, she saw a tightly wound circular, stone room that twisted upward hundreds of feet. Moss covered most of the stone walls' surface, the rock still wet to the touch as she took a few hesitant steps inward. As she followed the sunlight's path down, her gaze fell upon a pedestal, on which something hairy rested. She took a few steps forward to get a better look, and then jumped back with a gasp as it became clear the thing was a severed head. Her hands reached back for Obed's.
Quickly he took her hand, and pulled her back to him. But curiosity soon drove him forward, and he found himself holding her close even as they leaned in to better observe this head. Its eyes were open, though it did not deign to look at them. Instead, its attention seemed directed upward, toward where a song drifted down to them. They could see no-one, but the voice was clear and precise.
Then the song ended, and the breeze carried only the faint scent of fresh herbs. The head began to speak; though they could not understand it, no more than they understood the song they'd heard, it seemed as though the head was responding, answering the earlier call. Obed leaned down, his lips at Isobel's ear, as though he feared to disturb the severed head.
"Does it sound like they're talking to you?" he asked. "Having a sort of… conversation?"
Eyes wide and unmoving from the head, she nodded. It wasn't gibberish, necessarily, but some foreign tongue that sounded odd to her ears. She stayed close to Obed for a moment, rebuilding her courage as they watched this exchange pass a few more times; the music, a combination of wind and string instruments played gently, filtered down much like the sunlight, and then the head in return. Isobel waited patiently for one such interlude to pass before her mind could allow her to make an attempt at the same.
Once it was quiet again, she took a brief step forward (her hand still tangled in Obed's) and spoke. "Um, hello?"
The head turned toward them, its gaze still unfocused. The fact that it had responded at all was surprising, though it still wasn't clear if that was the simple fact that it had heard a sound or if it truly understood Isobel's words.
Obed walked forward to meet her, his shoulder pressed against her own. Whatever this scenario planned to bring them, they would greet it together. Still, he was not prepared for what came next.
"You are not of my kind," the head intoned, this time. "How have you been allowed in this place? And for what purpose?"
Isobel blinked, more than surprised at the head's straightforward manner. Part of her actually felt guilty, as though they'd intruded into someone's private space.
"No... No purpose," she replied, trying to put her thoughts together enough to be cohesive. She glanced up at Obed, then back to the head. "We found our way here by accident. Who are you talking to?"
"Odin All-father," the head answered, as though this should have been perfectly obvious. "In all my days here I have never had a visitor, save him. How strange you look. Are you Vanir?"
Obed answered quickly. "No. We're just humans. Mortals." He looked to Isobel, uncertain what direction they should take this bizarre conversation. The head seemed to have ideas of its own.
"Very well, mortals. Do you have a question? You have as long as it takes Odin to come up with his own. He takes precedence, of course."
Isobel's mouth opened for a moment as she floundered, completely uncertain what she should ask.
"What kind of questions—" she stopped herself; it was clear they had a specific amount of time in which to query, and she had no desire to waste it. Her mind groped for words as her eyes darted to the walls and then upward, where this alleged Odin was. The name sounded somewhat familiar, but Isobel shut down that line of wonder as she focused on the problem she and Obed had been struggling with upon walking into the door to begin with.
"How, how do you deal with someone for whom all other courses of action have had no result?" It sounded inane, and Isobel kept trying to word it in such a fashion that she could get a useable response. "Someone who's done terrible things, but no punishment seems to be enough?"
The head's bright eyes met hers, studying their depths as though weighing the sincerity of her question. It only took a moment for it to decide. "You already know," it said. "The Aesir do as well, but they are too weak willed to follow through, to rid themselves of the rot at their very core. Are you?" It looked to Obed, but its glance was brief. Even a disembodied head knew the true decisionmaker here.
"Uncommon tenacity must be met with equally uncommon force," it said. "If all options have failed, one still remains. Don't think of it as punishment when none will suffice. You are eliminating an untenable danger; nothing more."
Isobel's lips thinned at the expected but unwanted answer. She'd so dearly hoped there was still another option left to them; that there was a button or catch she could pull that would simply make the whole problem disappear. Her hand sought Obed's, fingers threading through his as the frown her brows made carried through to her mouth.
"What if—" But she did not get a chance to finish as another bout of music filtered through, pulling the head's attention away. It began muttering in a strange tongue once more, and it was clear their conversation—albeit short and stunted as it was—was over. Isobel waited a moment, her mouth opening and closing in futile attempt to think of something that would pull the thing back toward their questions, but she knew it was just putting off the inevitable.
Turning away, Isobel tugged Obed back into the hall. She felt upset, unhappy that she'd found answers and yet found them wanting. She looked back at Obed. "What do you think? Do you... Is that what you think, too?"
She would not want the answer already on Obed's tongue; of that he was certain. He offered it anyway. Praxidike, after all, had quite bluntly demanded honesty and openness. "It is," he said. "I've thought that for a while now." His grip tightened on her hand. His expression, for a moment, was almost apologetic. "It's always been your decision to make, Isobel, and I'll support whatever you decide now. But I can't say I disagree with… that." He nodded back toward the moldy well, disappeared now behind a perfectly ordinary door.
Her eyes carefully studied his face; was she the only one who had issue with this course of action? Did that mean she was being too... too soft?
"You think that, not... not Hades?" The word felt no stranger than when she talked about Persephone. Except Hades was the one from her dream the one from which she'd run, the one that made the warm presence in the back of her head flower in red and pink spirals. She knew exactly what Persephone thought, how she would deal with the problem—the answer was clear enough. Isobel wasn't sure if she was strong enough to actually do it.
To his credit, Obed gave this considerable thought. But the answer was as clear as his earlier one had been. "We both do." He took up her free hand, holding both of hers in his own. He brought them to his lips, kissing her bent knuckles. "I would do anything to protect you, Isobel. He feels the same for her. Bryan hasn't listened to reason or threats. So something has to be done before he escalates any further."
The feeling of his lips pressed to her skin made her visibly soften; she chewed her lip as her eyes roved over his familiar face.
"I hate that he's put us in this position," she finally said, the words low and laced with both frustration and sorrow. "I hate him." Isobel pulled her hands from his, and moved them to cup his cheeks, thumbs tracing the outline of his cheekbones. Stubble poked her palms, but she had no desire to pull away.
"All right," she nodded. "I want you to find him, and when you do, get... I guess get him and put him somewhere? We can... At the very least, we can make this quick." She immediately doubled back. "I will. I should be the one to do it; I'm not, I don't want you carrying this on your conscience. It's my fault he's even in your life." Her eyes followed the line from his mouth upward again, drinking in the sight that she so loved. "Does that, can you do that?"
This time he did not hesitate. He nodded at once, his hands falling to her waist, gripping her tight. "Absolutely. But Isobel… please understand none of this is your fault. He is not your fault. Bryan is a problem of his own making. And you and I will deal with him together."
He glanced up and down the hallway. They were entirely alone, but he lowered his voice all the same. "I'll call Carver tonight. You'll know the moment we have him." He leaned down to her, his forehead pressed to hers. "I promise you, Isobel, this will all be over soon." Her head tilted eagerly up toward his, the smile on her lips not matching the downturned curve of her eyes.
"Thank you," she said quietly, her hands slipping down to brush his neck, then his chest; she lingered there a moment longer, before gently pulling back. "I want to go outside," she said, suddenly, her voice at a normal pitch. Her hands dropped down, winding one with his to tug him toward the elevator. Even as she began to walk away, she looked back at him. "Get you some sunshine, while it's still up, and maybe some dinner? It's not too early." Even as her words struggled for some semblance of normalcy, a worried look still tinged her features. She pushed it back, the slant of her mouth pushing upward.
Obed found it quite easy to fall back into that rhythm. He supposed he had more practice than Isobel at being comfortable with unpleasant courses of action, and he would help her through them as best he could. His smile said he agreed with her plans for their evening; his mind, though, was already hard at work, cataloguing those places he owned that might best hold a temporary captive. The more he thought on it, the more sincere his smile was. By the time the elevator was in motion, he felt almost at peace.
"Dinner, hm? I could go for a steak and a nice, strong wine."
"That...honestly sounds great," she said, her mind having previously been entertaining fleeting thoughts of salad. She leaned into him, her arms winding around his waist and head settling on his chest for the few moments of privacy they had while the elevator descended. The more they moved away from that room imprisoning the bodiless head, the further distance put between them and all the memories they'd built up in this building, the better. She knew she'd feel calmer once they were outside and actually touched by the sun's rays.
But for the moment, his cool touch and quiet strength made her feel like the world wasn't spinning out of control. By the time they were in the lobby, her leading him outside, she'd put most of that current evening behind her.