Chapter 14:

An Illusion of Order

By the Shores of Time

“Why are you here?” her voice held contempt.Bookmark here

Laid before her was Alex, gazing back with his typical smugness. She basked in the fog-induced light within a barren room. Sitting up carefully, he examined her, absorbing her energy as she clenched her dress.Bookmark here

“I’d think you would’ve missed me this whole time,” he scoffed.Bookmark here

“Not at all,” she dismissed.Bookmark here

“Oh, come on. This isn’t you. After all, I’ve known you—”Bookmark here

“There you go, going back to your saving grace. Our history… It’s always about how it was, but never what it’s become.”Bookmark here

“How about where it could be?”Bookmark here

Where it could be, she repeated.Bookmark here

“That look on your face,” he remarked condescendingly. “You’ve changed quite a bit.”Bookmark here

Celeste refrained from looking into his eyes after delivering his undermining words. Looking toward her forearms, she saw new cuts overlapping the old from her experiences outside. Her body had grown thinner, parting her food for those in need. And through the countless nights awake, she still had the energy to press on. She glimpsed the blinds, seeing trails of foggy light seep. Its haunting glow would’ve brought her a sense of peace had it not been the man in front of her.Bookmark here

Pain, sorrow, and regret filled her conscious. Alex cleared his throat, gauging her reluctant gaze upon seeing the lilac tinge. Years of history between them became reduced to an existential disdain. Part of her hoped he’d died out there, a wish she knew was selfish. Yet it was the only way she thought she could move onBookmark here

“You hate me, don’t you?” he smiled, seeing a jolt in her firm posture.Bookmark here

“Hate? That’s—a strong word,” she replied weakly as she gripped her hem.Bookmark here

“You asked me why I was here, right? You probably don’t care about what happens to me from this point.”Bookmark here

“Of course, I care. But we’ve all sinned.”Bookmark here

“Sin? That’s novel coming from you—”Bookmark here

“Don’t,” she interrupted him upon seeing his grin. “Don’t do that. I’ve always been—Somewhere on the spectrum of what I believe. Whether or not there’s a god, it keeps me awake, thinking… Hoping for an answer.”Bookmark here

She lifted her head, looking directly in his eyes. It was the first time in a while he hadn’t been intoxicated. A glimpse of innocence, a look into what was left of the hollow husk of the man he once was. His long, messy beard shone a gray color, while his blue eyes cast an icy gaze. This exchange was perhaps the most unadulterated between the two.Bookmark here

“Did you ever get that answer?” he asked.Bookmark here

“I—Don’t know,” she responded honestly. “I wonder if this was where I’m supposed to be. No, where we’re supposed to be. I feel a change coming, heh—Imagine, at the end of the world.”Bookmark here

“The world,” he muttered. “It ends with you, doesn’t it?”Bookmark here

She winced as he looked off toward the window, looking into the infinite fog. A gentle touch brought her back into a dark room, which she gazed off toward the blank wall. The dim candlelight cast its usual shadows against the furnishing around her. Gabriel sat by her with an uncharacteristic concern. The strange, dream-like quality lingered just as she slowly sat up.Bookmark here

“Is everything okay?” she asked.Bookmark here

“You were doing that thing again,” he responded. “You know, the staring off into space.”Bookmark here

“Ack, sorry—Just a bit on my mind. I…No, we all have something on our minds, I shouldn’t have said that.”Bookmark here

“We can talk about it.”Bookmark here

“We could, but…” Celeste’s words trailed off as she looked toward the worn floorboard.Bookmark here

“I won’t pry,” he sighed, knowing he wouldn’t reach her.Bookmark here

“Do you think there’s some grand design behind all this?”Bookmark here

“Come again?”Bookmark here

“Is this what we’re destined for? Just death and obscurity?”Bookmark here

“Celeste,” he spoke, reflecting on what she said. “There’s not a day that doesn’t go by where I haven’t thought about all this and that goes back before all of this. My life before this… Probably had a little less meaning, but the things I have now made me grateful for all I have now.”Bookmark here

His eyes reached her smile, observing her nod as she flicked her wavy hair over her shoulder. Gabriel would always find the right things to say amidst her neurotic doubts. When she found herself winded, he’d be there to help her. Such a quality was indispensable to her since her thoughts easily became jumbled through time.Bookmark here

“I still find it hard to imagine how you were before we met,” she continued.Bookmark here

“Maybe that’s all a part of fate,” he shrugged.Bookmark here

“Was that your idea of clever?”Bookmark here

“No… Just shining a light in the dark.”Bookmark here

Meanwhile…Bookmark here

“Nathanial,” Victoria sighed, gesturing a seat for him. “Thanks for coming, I wasn’t expecting you to come so soon.”Bookmark here

“Of course,” he spoke ghoulishly.Bookmark here

Elizabeth sat with her arms crossed, assessing the priest’s sickly appearance as he sat down. A strange, inexplicable odor came from him, wafting in the cigar-cloaked air. Even with the weak lighting, his skin was ghastly and bloodshot eyes were prominent. The glazed-over expression unsettled the tired nurse, having worked throughout the night to observe the people in the holding cells.Bookmark here

“How can I help you?” he continued.Bookmark here

“You need to talk with your followers,” the lieutenant demanded.Bookmark here

“I beg your pardon? I have no control over their actions. I haven’t even been involved with anything happening.”Bookmark here

“But when you’re around, they listen,” Elizabeth interrupted. “So, maybe you can keep them in check. Do you know how many people got hurt or killed yesterday?”Bookmark here

“Again, how am I liable for this?”Bookmark here

“With Alex back and your Rasputin-like influence, it makes for a bad combination. It would be unfortunate if anything happened with your followers.”Bookmark here

Elizabeth glanced toward Victoria, seeing her fixation upon the dodgy priest.Bookmark here

“Is that—A threat?” he winced uncharacteristically.Bookmark here

“It’s only a threat if I’m not giving you options. There’s no need to put anyone’s life in danger. Your rhetoric divided the house… And if cool heads can’t prevail, we lose everything to those who act on impulse. It’s really simple. It’s in our best interest—”Bookmark here

“Best interest for whom? People were already losing trust when you sent Alex away without much of a say. Now, their expecting him to be reinstated in some capacity.”Bookmark here

“How do you know that if you’re hidden away most of the day,” Elizabeth asked, glimpsing his indifference.Bookmark here

He began twiddling his fingers from the mere glance from the hardened soldier. Silence filled the gap between them, raising further suspicion. Victoria knew the priest to be a terrible liar, but the fact he insisted on lying made it even more amusing to her. It reminded her of those she tortured to get information from; It always started with a friendly conversation before she abducted them later on. She put out her cigar, perhaps the third she had in the past few hours. Elizabeth watched the smoke rise, recalling the sleepless woman declining when she suggested to lay off the heavy smoking habits.Bookmark here

“You gonna answer that?” Victoria pressed, scrutinizing his reaction.Bookmark here

“Do you not listen to what they have to say?” he responded with an assured glance. “People are on edge. They see your leadership as something dangerous.”Bookmark here

“I’ve done more than that stump-armed prick when it comes to taking care of people.”Bookmark here

“Then how about the fact you’ve barred people from leaving?”Bookmark here

“Whose—Trying to leave?” The nurse winced.Bookmark here

“You mean, the scouts?” Victoria sighed. “The circumstances have changed. The fog doesn’t just bring those monsters, but it throws off time. According to Celeste, it only felt like a day since they left. Imagine two weeks go by? It’s insane to think about. Also, we’ve lost too many good people to throw anyone else out there until we can figure out what to do.”Bookmark here

“Have you considered that perhaps nothing can be done?” he questioned.Bookmark here

“No, we’re going to figure this out—”Bookmark here

“Think about it!” he stood up in a rage. “Within two weeks the precinct nearly fell, our food supplies dwindled, and everyone is looking over their shoulders. Your soldiers are far from the guardian angels you portray them. How many times has there been allegations levied against them for misconduct?”Bookmark here

He dismissed her scowl as Elizabeth listened.Bookmark here

“We can’t have it both ways,” he waved his hands in what could be described as grandstanding. “Our leadership in the matter evokes order: one of law and the other of morality. We’ve both failed at what we’re tasked to do, but… I’m not the one with the guns here now, am I?”Bookmark here

“It’s not a tit for tat,” Elizabeth added. Bookmark here

“No, if she’s goes to blame me for everything that’s happened then it’s only appropriate that she admit to it as well.”Bookmark here

“If we both see the issues in front of us, why can’t we address it? It seems like neither of you want to budge and that’ll cost everyone.”Bookmark here

“I don’t know what to tell you,” the lieutenant conceded. “We’re at our wits end. We even had to reroute the backup generator source to keep the roof’s lights on. And once that goes—”Bookmark here

A sudden commotion beyond the door drew their attention, which followed with a burst of gunfire. They rushed out to find a shaken soldier stand above a limp body at the main hall. Blood pooled around his weathered boots while a small crowd watched in horror. Visibly panicked, he glimpsed his superior as she approached in her quick strides. As she kept her composure, she noted everyone’s reaction, disgust and disdain coated their gaze as they angrily decried his actions.Bookmark here

“What the hell happened?” she grumbled, seeing a knife in the deceased’s hand.Bookmark here

“He shot him,” someone from the crowd shouted.Bookmark here

“Seems like he tried to run at him with a knife.”Bookmark here

“He spooked me when I was walking by,” the soldier insisted. “He tried to stab—”Bookmark here

“He was harassing his wife,” another added.Bookmark here

“Where’s the woman in question?”Bookmark here

Her question was met with collective silence as she looked around. The crowd took a few steps away when she paced forward to look at each of them. The lieutenant wasn’t sure whom to believe with all the allegations laid amongst her comrades. Elizabeth observed everyone from afar as she had done thus far. The inconsistencies, the pettiness… The order was visibly coming undone with the distrust between the parties. As she walked forward, she glimpsed Celeste and Gabriel watching from the stairs. The silence brought frustration for Victoria as it reminded her of her service as a guerilla. The things she did to get answers resulted in horrific beatings and that impulse had long lingered since the outbreak happenedBookmark here

“Everyone, back in your rooms,” she ordered, hearing the immediate reaction of her soldiers. “You have 5 minutes! If anyone is outside, we’ll throw you into the hold.”Bookmark here

“When are you releasing them?” someone demanded an answer, causing an uproar.Bookmark here

Victoria raised her pistol, firing a single shot through the glass ceiling. Everyone cowered as she maintained her impatient gaze. Holstering her pistol, she walked back to her office, leaving the priest and nurse to their own devise. Celeste watched on, feeling tense as she felt Gabriel’s hand massage her right shoulder.Bookmark here

“5 minutes, nobody better be caught outside,” the lieutenant repeated.Bookmark here

“This—This isn’t going to end well,” Celeste muttered.Bookmark here

“She’s under a lot of pressure,” Gabriel nodded, meeting her concerned glimpse. “No checks and balances, just a bunch of people with guns. But, she’s trying, but… Nathanial is making it real hard for her to adjust.”Bookmark here

“What makes you say that?”Bookmark here

“We all came from the same monastery, and Alex was in charge until recently. It’s pretty obvious where the problem lies.”Bookmark here

“I wish there could be another way.”Bookmark here

“There usually is, but aren’t we a prideful bunch here.”Bookmark here

Celeste tightened her lips, seeing little point in continuing as they observed the defiance below. People became unruly, pushing the lieutenant to the edge. The fake-outs her soldiers contended with, begged for an accidental misfire. The priest watched while the soldiers were focused on maintaining order.Bookmark here

“You can’t do that!” someone protested.Bookmark here

Victoria’s hands crawled along her holster, seeing the violence in their eyes. The constant reminder of her past struck a chord as she took a few steps back. Protestors and enemies alike filled her sight with unsavory imagery as her mind raced. Drawing her pistol at the nearest person, she pulled the trigger, adding to the chaos as she stood aghast by her actions. Bookmark here

She took a few steps back, watching the blood gushing from the massive head wound. Victoria panted, looking around to find everyone’s distress as they cleared the area. Looking toward Elizabeth, she seemed numb by what she had done, as though expected. Without saying a word, she returned to her office while her soldiers began herding everyone to their rooms.

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