At the sound of knuckles rapping at the door of his room, the sound of Melancholic rustling, rising, and then listlessly shuffling to the door can be heard from the other side in advance of the barrier's reticent opening. A sliver of his shadowed face can be seen through the crack as he peeks out to spy Penitent, then opens the door wider.
Scrawnier than he had been the last Penitent had seen him, and with dark shadows beneath his eyes, the combination of not eating and not sleeping has returned the man to an unhealthy and gaunt look -- in contrast to Jonathan's relative fitness. "Hey," he greets, subdued and terse with his lip twitching in a hint of uncertainty before he shrugs and steps back, letting the door swing open to allow entry -- and to reveal the darkness and sparseness within. One has to wonder what, exactly, he's been doing all that time shutting himself away in the room, if not -- as the shadowed bags beneath his eyes might imply -- sleeping.
Penny was just sort of studying the the symbol upon the door before it's opened, patiently waiting. She's wearing her usual facility casual outfit. It's all loose fitting sweatpants and a black singlet top. No shoes. She beams a guileless sort of smile at the Melancholic as the door opens, all pleased and reassuring. "Hello," she says in a strangely bright tone.
Once the gesture of invitation is made, she steps within, glancing around the room. She hadn't seen it before, and there's been something of an interest in seeing what this place gives people. "This feels familiar," she admits as she considers it. "What do you think of your room?" A pause. "Sorry. I should ask how you are, first. Jonah? Do you prefer either specific name?"
Dark eyes track Penny's ingress with slow curious blinks before the scrawny man turns to follow her gaze around the interior of the room as if considering it for the first time -- unlikely given how much of his time here is spent inside. "It's sad," he concludes simply. "But I like it. It's simple," he decides of the mostly-empty space and the cramped cot.
Though the reminder of the name Jonah startles him, initially, it does cause his lips to briefly twitch at the corners into a tiny smile that rapidly dissolves on his shadowed face. "Jonah's fine," he concedes agreeably. "I think that I liked him more than Jonathan," he admits in a brief window of candor as his eyes drop to the leather book beneath the cot. "What do you like to be called?" he asks uncertainly, tiptoeing around the question of his wellbeing with brows furrowing in a feeble attempt at recollection. "It wasn't Nettie or Emily," he supposes.
Turning about as she takes it in, she nods slowly. "My room feels kind of like a cell, you know? But it's no less than I deserve, so I find it comforting. There's a few people that hate their rooms, so you know, I tend to ask what people think about them." Penitent explains with a slow nod, before she sets her gaze back upon the man with a simple, pleasant smile.
"I didn't get to know Jonathan really, but he seemed nice. I remember when he gave me that carving." She follows his gaze down towards that leather book, naturally following where he's looking. "I don't mind which name I'm called. I prefer Nettie or Kylie over Emily or Madison though, but I'll answer to any of them anyway. A lot of people seem to be choosing names for here lately, but I've never been able to ... attach to one."
"It reminds me of the cell Jonah stayed in in Prosperity," Melancholic observes of his own room, while he brings his hand up to scratch thoughtfully at the back of his head before a slight shrug. "It's nothing special, but rooms are just places and things are just things," he decides.
There's a momentary pause as his brows furrow, the mention of the carving bringing a brief smile to his lips, before he shakes his head. "Jonathan was sad and angry, and when he ran out of things to be angry at, he was angry at himself," he observes thoughtfully. "Jonah was sad and dying, but he died with people he loved. Jonathan died alone and angry." Gloomy as the observation is, he ultimately lifts his hands in a helpless display. "I don't much mind, either. They both feel like aspects of myself, but they're not quite me."
"The rooms here are very different, however," Penitent explains, shifting on the spot, hands resting at her sides for the moment. "And it is something special. Just like the symbols on our doors, and the common themes we find running throughout our lives. Things that I'm trying to ... fight against, but it's hard." Another small smile creases her lips.
"Maybe he was sad and angry. I didn't really notice, but Emily was pretty much wrapped up in herself to notice much. Thinking now about the things that she -- I -- missed? Just make me kind of roll my eyes." But those gloomy observations do make her smile falter a little, and she steps foward a little. Because she's about to hug him, arms lifting and spreading to provide some kind of sisterly comfort.
Something about his recollections of the previous lives causes Melancholic's breathing to quicken and his eyes to widen fractionally, but when Penny lifts and spreads her arms he leans into the hug. The tension slowly starts to bleed out of his scrawny frame and the panicked breathing relaxes until he finally withdraws with a faint smile. "Thanks," he says quietly. "I think I needed that."
"I'm glad you're fighting," he adds, smile widening just a fraction. "Nettie was a fighter, even when it seemed like it was a futile effort," Melancholic reminisces, until that smile withers. "I don't think I'm cut out for it, though," he confesses wearily. "Are there... more people, than before? Like when I appeared?" he wonders, curiosity winning out.
It's just that, a comforting moment. An attempt to be so, at any rate, and once he withdraws she too steps back and offers that simple little smile. "Of course you did. You should come out more and talk to people. I'm guessing you haven't happened to run into Roxie? I dunno where she got off to. I've seen her around but ..." she shakes her head and shrugs.
"It's hard, because it's like it's just a part of me. My thing is this ... burden of guilt, you know? Nettie had it, too. She was just the best I've ever been at dealing with it. But it's always there." She nods slowly, expression turning thoughtful. "There's new people that were at that lodge with us. I met Lulu, one of my sorority sisters. Oh, Finn is here too. And Christine as well, those I know for sure. There might be some new blanks that weren't at the lodge with us? I'm not ... sure on that."
"I should," Melancholic concedes reluctantly at Penny's suggestion he leave the room more, followed by a wince at the mention of Roxie. "I haven't seen her since... well," he pauses uncomfortably, brows knitting together. "She died. I remember her from before, though, she was here," he recalls.
The mention of Lulu and Finn being present engenders a carefully loosed sigh, with just a touch of relief -- he'd seen Lulu die, and Finn had been a friend, at least insofar as anybody was Hawkins' friend. "I don't think you've done anything to warrant that burden," Melancholic claims of Penny, despite his limited experience. "But I guess we don't know what any of us did before this," he supposes. "If there even is a before... this..." he concludes with a lazy wave at their surroundings.
Apparently, he's snuck out of his room at least once to come by a pack of cigarettes, because he leans over to rummage beneath his cot and come up with a pack, as well as a familiarly rusted zippo lighter. After plucking one out for himself, he pries a second free and looks to Penny curiously. "Want one?" he offers.
"I did see her, after the lodge, but she's gone somewhere, I guess. Those magic rooms can be easy to get lost in." Penitent says quietly, her gaze somewhat unfocused as she considers, looking at nothing in particular. The sigh gets her attention back however, and she nods. "They're coping and ... figuring things out, I guess."
There's a thankful little smile from her, and her hand lifts up as she gives something of a lopsided shrug. "Everyone says that I didn't do anything, but you know, I did anyway. Or I make choices based on how much they'll make me feel guilty, and pretend everything is fine because that way I won't upset anyone, maybe. And all my selves have definitely had something to be guilty about."
There is a curious look at his rummaging however, until the cigarettes come out and she cants her head to the side slightly. "No, thank you," she says, but it's thoughtful and a touch curious. "I've never really had the urge to smoke while here."
After using his zippo to ignite the tip of his cigarette and plant it in his lips, Melancholic tucks the spare back into the pack and then leans down to retrieve his ashtray, which takes a little work as he has to nudge the overflowing butts back into the plastic tray to ensure they don't fall free before he lifts it.
"It's relaxing," Mel observes after he draws in and then exhales a cloud of smoke. There's a pause, and then his lips twitch at the corners into a faint grin as he acknowledges: "Especially now that my lungs aren't full of blood and pus and phlegm."
While he taps the ash from his cigarette into the heaped tray, he admits: "I haven't seen the magic rooms. I haven't really seen much... aside from my room, and the parlor." There's a pause, and he adds, "And the dispensary. What are they like?"
Once again glancing around the room, Penitent considers quietly. "I used to specificly avoid most of anything Madison did to convince myself that I wasn't her. I wouldn't even touch alcohol here for a while, because she was kind of a drunk. And yeah, I guess that's a good plus. Though," she looks back over to him, and her face falls for a moment.
"The magic rooms, they ... are whatever we want them to be. It seems whatever you think of is what's behind the door. We could even go back to Prosperity. There's even other people in there now. Though, we seem to become our selves from wherever we go, if we visit those kinds of locations. Which means you'd probably get ill again, while there, if we went to Prosperity." She looks apologetic at this, shoulders slumping a little.
"Conrad -- Cillian, or ... Christian? Joshua," she shrugs a little. "Wants to use them to go back to a time before one of our stories and try to stop it from happening. The first one we were in, the island of Wyred Fest. When he was Conrad and I was his sister, Madison. See if we can't stop the horror from happening and then ... see what happens. It might make us feel a little bit better about leading all those people to their deaths."
"There are worse things to be than a drunk," Melancholic points out congenially, eyes closing for a second as he takes another rattling drag from his cigarette, then frowns in contemplation. "We can see places besides the ones that we've been to, then?" he asks, curiosity starting to pique. "Maybe happier places than the ones we've experienced?" There's a touch of hope in his tone, but it shatters at the mention of Christian, which causes his face to contort into another pained expression.
"I guess I know something about leading people to their deaths, now," Melancholic sighs out quietly, tapping off a cylinder of ash and then letting his head hang so that he can massage his furrowed brows with his palm. He's quiet for several seconds, steadily taking drags from his cigarette as he collects his thoughts and gradually returns to a state of relative relaxation.
"What happens when somebody who wasn't there goes to one of these places?" Melancholic wonders, now, curiosity getting the better of him. "Who would I be if I went to this... Wyred Fest?" he asks. "Or was I there already, and I just don't remember?"
"There are. But it was more about not wanting to be Madison, if you follow?" Her arms fold over her chest for a moment, her posture shifting as she nods slowly, tilting her head curiously at that pained expression. "We can find any place, yes. It doesn't have to be from or own ... lives. The first time, I found a swimming pool." She beams a bright smile at this. Like a swimming pool is possibly the best thing in the world that the Penitent could imagine.
She watches him smoke quietly for those seconds, glancing aside for a moment as she considers the questions that come. "I don't remember seeing you at the Island, or on the Noc. Uh, Christine came to the space station with me and she just became some corporate ... I don't want to say nobody, but it gave her appropriate attire, you know? I definitely became Kylie once again, she was just 'someone'. Maybe she was there before ..." she trails off thoughtfully, and frowns a little as she thinks. "I don't know how it works. That's partly why we're testing things out."
The mention of a swimming pool, or more likely Penny's joy at the recollection of such a simple pleasure, brings the hint of a smile back to Melancholic's lips as he nods gently to her. "So we could have been there before, as nobodies, and then we became somebodies," he supposes, before letting his head cant to the other side. "Or the rooms sort of... integrate us into your memories of the place in a way that isn't so jarring," he suggests the other, more plausible, possibility.
"I'd like to help," Melancholic finally decides, though that momentary certainty quickly begins to evaporate. "But I don't know if I could go back to Prosperity," he confesses with a grimace. "Or be sick again," there's a pause, and then his features tighten as he looks up. "But I guess I could try, if it's with you and the others. It's -- it's not real, right? It would just feel like it."
"Or you were just kept in a different location just like this one and were moved for ... some reason. And the move reset your memories?" Penny says with that little smile, nodding and then shrugging. "Who knows, really. The theories on what this place actually is are huge. Prison, virtual simulation, hell. And everything that could be between those, I guess."
She nods slowly at his request, eyes brightening up a bit. This is good! "Well, Conrad and I are going to go back to the time before the Island, before Wyred Fest, and stop that horror from ever happening. We put that festival together and ran the whole thing, so we're in a position to stop it. And then we'll see what happens." A pause. "I don't think it's real. The Noc was self-destructed but we can still go there. I'm pretty sure the room draw on what we want them to be. Consciously or subconsciously. Somehow. So it's just a copy. I don't know if we can find ... variations. Like, a Prosperity where we decided to feed the demons rather than fight them, and keep the contracts going. Or a Prosperity where I didn't run off to join the Widows." She shrugs. "Angeline had the idea of going to the Prosperity after we'd won, and trying to track down and talk to Zeb."
After puffing his cigarette down to its filtered butt, Melancholic snuffs it out into the stuffed ashtray with the calloused thick of his thumb, then leans down carefully to set it aside. The hints of a smile on his face returns at the mention of Angeline, and after a nod he wagers: "I bet that devil made off with at least one bottle from the vineyard, before Samuel put it to the torch." Something seems to occur to him, though, and that bit of levity fades as quickly as it had appeared.
After muffling a hoarse cough into his fist, Melancholic clears his throat and then peers at Penny apologetically, asking: "What happens if you... you know... die there?" There's a pause as he lets the morbid question hang in the air. "Is it like when we die and wake up here? Could... Prosperity and the Lodge... could we have maybe been in those rooms the whole time?"
There's a little laugh, that strange fondness for Zeb, even if he did demand a sacrifice of their family, he was just so damn likable all the same. "We've had a few cases where some of the people we've known in our other lives are ... they know what we're in, here. Old Scratch said as much, and apparently Julian, one of the frat boys -- Glenn from Prosperity, you remember? Had one of the ghosts say something similar. If we could find the real Zeb, maybe he knows something. But I think it would just be a copy."
Her hands slide into the pockets of her pants and her eyes widen at the question. "I don't know about dying in there. I know if we die here we just wake up again. Our first time through -- well, some experimentation wasn't exactly pleasant. Lupe, though she wasn't Lupe then, said she'd tried to kill herself and woke up again. There were some who wanted to see it first hand, and well." A shrug. "She just woke up again the next day. And I don't know. The rooms weren't even here until last time. I guess the same, uh, technology could be behind it all. But we don't lose all our memories in there, though who we were does seem to become more ... in focus."
The mention of Melancholic once-sibling's reversed efforts at suicide elicit a wince, cringe, and shudder from the man, whose arms fold around the front of his body tightly for several second before he carefully and steadily breathes out and then relaxes his grip on himself. "Even if he's just a copy, and it doesn't lead anywhere, I suppose it's worth a shot," he decides, though he doesn't sound especially hopeful. "What else are we going to do with our time here?" he wonders, shoulders drawing up in another helpless shrug as he looks over at Penny. "It should, at least, feel more meaningful than eating, sleeping, and waiting for whatever horrors come next," he supposes. "Even if it's not."
Bringing his hand up to his bicep, Mel scratches irritably at his skin briefly and then looks warily towards the open door. "I guess you can count me in," he decides, before he tilts his head with a realization. "I noticed the television's gone, now," he points out. "And there's a radio. Does that happen often?"
"I know that Cillian struggles with the pointlessness of existing here. At least when we're someone else, we have hopes and dreams and goals we can work towards. Even if it's something as simple as surviving. Here we just kind of exist. I like the break from everything we go through, but sometimes I do get bored just ... lingering. I'm scared about actually deliberately being Madison again. But maybe this will help me accept her as a part of me more ..." Penitent shakes her head, looking down at the floor a moment and just shrugging her shoulders in a slow gesture.
"I'll keep you updated with what we decide, and all. I guess if I'm gone for a bit you'll find me in one of those rooms if you need to, as Madison Wellson. I hope I don't forget the rest of me, doing this for an extended period of time." She glances up again, and nods. "Yeah, things change. At first there was nothing there, then one morning there was the tv, with just a countdown ... and then I guess we moved onto our second lives once it hit zero. Since then it seems to be a hint of things to come. It was playing westerns before Prosperity. It was playing MTV right out of the 80's before the Lodge. Now it's an antique radio ... so I think we're heading back. Some said what it's playing, sounds like the 20's or 30's."
After nodding along with quiet sympathy at Penitent's mention of Cillian's struggles with the futility of it all, Melancholic tilts his head faintly, but mostly listens as she discusses her dislike for Madison and reluctance to return to her. "I don't think you'll forget," he reassures, forcing a weak smile.
"Maybe that's why we're here," he supposes skeptically as he steps towards the open door to peer at the symbol on it. "To confront the worst parts of ourselves." A hitch draws his shoulders up into a shrug, and then he turns back to the side to face Penitent, with the faint residue of a smile still lingering at the corners of his lips.
"The twenties or the thirties?" Melancholic affirms, thoughtful and wistful as he cogitates on the period, wracking his -- or Jonathan's -- memories for some context for the era. Then, something snaps into place. "Ah, the Great Depression?" he supposes, uncertain, but with a curious hint of amusement as his eyes turn back to the symbol. "I guess we'll be in my element, then," he decides, staring at the image of the sad, lonely man curled up on the front of his door. "I'm glad you knocked."
"I hope I don't. But I'm telling a lot of people about it just in case." Penitent says quietly, giving that smile smile of her own at the reassurance, head bobbing at the idea of it. She shifts, stepping behind him as she peers around him at the symbol as well. "Maybe there's no reason for it at all. Apparently the people here were watching us at the lodge, on the television. Just like a show."
"Seems like it. I'm wondering if Zeb has gotten up to something that's gonna haunt us next time around. I've noticed we're always dealing with someone's history. In Prosperity, it was our own families history with the benefactors and the deal. At the lodge, there was a massacre thirty years before we even were there. You know? But if it's about Zeb, or something, it would be the first time we'd be dealing with our 'own' history. But I don't know who we'll be."
Another little smile, and she shifts again. "I'm glad I did too. But I guess I should keep on moving and try to find Roxie or Cillian. Unless you suddenly know how to fix a camera made in 2018?" That's a different request!
Slowly, Melancholic turns away from the image at his door to smile at Penitent for a second, before his eyes take on an incredulous look at the mention of a camera made in the twenty-first century. The surprise gives way to a laugh, and then he scratches at the back of his head helplessly.
"I guess I'm more of a tape decks and rocking chairs kind of guy," he confesses apologetically, before peering out into the empty hallway. "Maybe Roxie can figure it out, though. She was pretty savvy with electronics -- I don't know if she was that far ahead of our time, though."
Stepping aside to make room for her, he clears his throat. "Don't hesitate to knock if you want help, or just to talk," he offers quietly. "I'd like to help, if I can, and -- well, I could probably use the distraction. Even if you have to drag me kicking and screaming."
"Well, that'd be great if I could find her," Penitent grins a little there, shaking her head and then shrugging. "Oh well. The camera will vanish with the next reset anyway, so I guess it'll go nowhere." She grins further at the mention of tape decks and rocking chairs. "Anyway, I'll remember that. Kicking and screaming even. And feel free to come see me if you want. Did I tell you my room? It's the one with the weeping woman on it. Cheerful, I know. At least we have that in common."
With that, she steps out and into the hallway, looking up and down the thing. "Either way, don't go being a stranger, okay? Kinda missed you a bit. Maybe some day you'll tell me what Jon was really all about?" And then with a finger wriggle of a wave -- a very Emily sort of gesture -- she moves to head off down the hall.