Chapter 20:

Into the Hearts of Darkness

By the Shores of Time

“Funny to find you here,” Alex grimaced, his voice devoid of his usual vigor.

A strange chill lingered when he chuckled. His outline barely showed through the dark corner’s thicket as Celeste kept her distance.

“No,” she shook her head. “You’re not here.”

“Am I not?” his bloodied face emerged with a smile widening in a twisted fashion. “I’m here in the flesh, just like yourself. You can’t keep running—”

“I’m not running from anything!” she raised her voice, her nails cutting into flesh.

Her blood dripped onto the grimy floor; the once-polished surface was indiscernible. His blue eyes pierced through the dull setting as he towered over her. She found herself pressed against the desk, seeing him shuffle toward her. She tried to withhold her distress, though her body quivered uncontrollably.

“Well,” he commented. “You seem like you don’t want me to be around.”

“F—fuck off,” she shoved against him weakly.

“That’s too bad. All I ever wanted was what was best for you, but you’re so ungrateful.”

“No, that was never it… You weren’t who you were when we first met. I saw that side of you—”

He slammed his fist next to her, collapsing one side of the desk, silencing her. She minimized herself, shuddering without looking him in the eye. She hoped he’d go away, but his repressed anger rung its familiarity.

“I did everything to protect you!” he yelled in her face.

“While hurting others?” she questioned in a subdued voice. “Is that your idea of love?”

“My idea?” he leaned away after revealing his talon-like fingers. “You’re questioning me? You’ve been selfish, hiding behind things when things didn’t go your way. Heh, Gabriel isn’t here to protect you, but if he was, I would’ve killed him right in front of you.”

“Are you really that petty?”

“No, I just know you’d come crawling back to me when it’s all over.”

“No—I wouldn’t.”

He couldn’t hold back his laughter as he took a few steps back. She winced to his maniacal expression, knowing he was getting under her skin.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“You’re down here by yourself… Alone in the dark with monsters. You can’t hide when they can see you.”

“No, I’m not alone. Because I’m doing this for the people I care about!”

“That’s rich, coming from someone that’s gotten people killed all for one—”

“It’s not like that!” she yelled, prompting his sudden anger.

He swung at her with enough strength to slam her through the door. She tumbled along the dull hallway floor, surrounded by broken wood. She heard the cocking of several guns as she slowly turned toward beams of light. Victoria signaled her men to stay put while cautiously stepping forward.

“Celeste?” the lieutenant called.

“Victoria,” her voice trembled, remaining still. “He’s in there.”



When Victoria guided her light, she found an office largely intact. She gestured her soldiers to investigate, hearing nothing coming from them when they reappeared. The wary lieutenant looked upon the young woman as suspicion swelled.

“I swear, he was in there,” she panicked.

“And you’re going to tell me,” she kneeled over. “He threw you out the door?”

“There’s no reason for me to lie to you!”

“I don’t even know if you are who you say you are.”

“Vicky, we need to get out—”

“And go where? I’m sorry the last I checked everything is gone! This is all we have, everything we’ve managed to fight for.”

“But, it's not worth dying for.”

She received her glance, sensing doubt in her words.

“On your feet, you’re going to isolation for now,” she said plainly.

“You’re kidding m—” she spoke while cautiously getting up.

“Or a bullet to your head, we can check if you’re one of those things.”

Celeste complied while gun barrels guided her toward the room down the hall. The eastern entrance was shut and barricaded as the infected continuously slammed against it. The remnants of survivors were reduced to bouts of panic and shock under the little of light she discerned.

She was ushered in before they shut the door. As the draft blew, she averted her attention to the other end of the small office. A familiar figure lingered as she waffled forward. Her anxiety crept with the person’s troubled breathing. The foggy lighting outside revealed Ricardo’s pained expression.

“Cel,” he uttered, grunting as he sat up. “Guess they took you for one of those things too?”

“Ricardo, I—” she gasped, unable to look at him.

“You made it. Good.”

“But—” she stopped just short a few feet, glimpsing his broken arm. “How?”

“The second-floor railing. I tried to catch it on the way down and, well…”

He lifted his arm, letting it go as it dangled against the light. Celeste glimpsed it, redirecting her gaze toward Gabriel’s fair-weather friend. A smirk crawled along his face, attempting to make her feel more at ease.

“Why—Did you do it?” she asked upon meeting his weakened expression.

“I’ve never seen him so happy,” he replied. “There was probably a lot he didn’t bring up with you back then. He doesn’t bring up much at all.”

“For better or worse,” she nodded, subconsciously crossing her arms.

“That’s Gabriel for you. But he was never a bad person, regardless of what he’s said before. He’s done a lot since all of—This, happened. It wasn’t just for the people here, but for you.”

“He said—” her eyes teared.

“He did everything to push you away because the last person he wanted to hurt was you.”

“But, why would he do that? After everything we’ve been through?”

Her vision blurred as she broke down into her hands. She struggled to speak but found the swirl of emotions too much to speak coherently. Ricardo watched quietly, without ever changing his expression. Celeste slowly collected herself, feeling the sweat stinging in her reddened eyes.

“Gabriel,” he repeated with a nod. “I guess he thought it was the best way to let you move on.”

“Then,” she thought aloud with her eyes directed the grayish fog beyond the blinds. “He really is that selfish.”

She glimpsed him once more, seeing the weak shrugs of his broad shoulders.

“I think this is it,” he continued. “Those doors won’t hold. Those things will find their way through.”

“No,” she responded as her right eye turned into a faint purple.

Ricardo noted it, remaining silent upon seeing her determination. She walked toward the door, sighing before reaching the door handle. She realized he consigned to the cruel fate that awaited everyone. Celeste looked over her shoulder, seeing him gaze from the darkness.

“Wait,” he said. “Where are you going?”

“Ricardo,” a tired smile crept along her face. “Thank you for everything.”

Opening the door with ease, she entered another room resembling the cafeteria. The darkness spanned into an unforeseeable distance. She took a deep breath to ease her tension as she walked forward. The strange fleshy substance layered beneath the low-hanging fog. Her eyes strained to another figure as its footsteps splattered upon the squishy floor. A strange religious hum followed. She confirmed who it was, stopping to keep his appearance masked.

“Nathanial?” she evoked his name reluctantly. “Why are you here?”

“The same reason you are,” his smile came with an empty tone. “We’re all sifting through the darkness to find ourselves.”

When he became clearer, his shirtless, emaciated body was covered with symbols etched into his pale skin. His grizzled beard was longer than she remembered. His head of hair was reduced to but a few pathetic strands. But his eyes were still as piercing as ever, giving the impression of a deity looking into her soul.

“Your eye,” he spoke cryptically with a peculiar fixation. “Those are not yours.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, taking subtle steps back while he inched closer.

“I wasn’t just a priest, you know. Being a theologian, you study other religions. In fact, you can certainly develop an appreciation of the overlap between all of them. Imagine all these different cultures arriving at similar conclusions? Some were outliers, though.”

“What are you babbling about? What does this have to do with my eye?”

“Turn around and you’ll see,” he grinned.

Celeste reluctantly looked over her shoulder, finding a mirror hanging. Blood smidgen her expressionless face, her tears from earlier dried along her cheeks. It was perhaps the first time she had seen herself in the mirror as the face before her was unfamiliar. The lilac eye stood out against the darkness behind her. She leaned over to get a closer look at the ethereal beauty embedded in her.

“Some of the fringe cults,” the priest startled her when she saw him standing behind her. “Mentioned a single purple eye. They were often found in select women.”

“What—Does it mean?” she asked, keeping her eye on his reflection.

“It was typically tied to wisdom or some unseen power. Few, whoever, spoke of being able to access the heavens. Ethos was often brought up, but that is Latin for—”

“Ethics,” the word rolled off her tongue.

“The concept that questions religion is derivative of its own. One found within all of us: empathy, compassion, community… They’re all central to it.”

“What are you getting at?” she questioned as she swung around. “Huh?”

Nathanial vanished, as did the mirror behind her. Wincing in confusion, she looked toward the depths once more, recalling what he said. Though his strange tone left a lingering impression of what lay ahead, she recognized the truth laced within his message.

“Victoria wasn’t kidding,” she sighed. “He’s actually Rasputin.”

As she strained her eyes into the darkness, she took a step forward, stopping only after sensing something watching her. Brisk movement sped through the squishy grounds of the large room while she grew frightened by its incredible speed. The more she listened the more she realized how big the thing was that kept in the shadow. A twisted cry rang out, encircling her hearing as she tried to spot it. Gusts whipped beneath her feet, blowing her hair against the empty draft. Her body tensed upon hearing the sudden stomp of the creature. Celeste looked over her shoulder before it swung its massive malformed arms at her.

Her lilac eye appeared as a blip in the abyss before a blinding flash filled the room.

TBH, it was kinda nifty writing this. xD
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