Chapter 23:

Private Hell

By the Shores of Time

Footsteps echoed in a thin veil of fog spanning the foreseeable darkness. She focused on her breathing, clenching her shotgun. Her eyes darted, glimpsing whatever she could while the subtle gnawing sounds persisted. Like so many times before, she was left to wonder where the path would take her. A sudden gust gave pause as she stood in place, aiming her shotgun with her nerve-wracked handling.Bookmark here

“Show yourself,” she shouted.Bookmark here

A mad dash of something large became muddled in the strange atmosphere, her senses bombarded in every direction. Frozen in fear, she could only swing to the perceived direction, expecting it to strike from the darkness. It wasn’t long before the lingering decay filled the air, followed by a woman’s agonized moans. Bookmark here

The thing was near.Bookmark here

“C’mon,” she raised her voice, masking her nervousness. “What are you afraid of?”Bookmark here

The gnawing went silent, prompting her shallow gasp. A sudden thud was the last thing she heard before her body skid along the fleshy ground. Her shotgun fired, managing to strike whatever it was as it squealed before the weapon slid into the abyss. She caught her breath, struggling to get on her knees. Gritting her teeth, she staggered onto her feet as her eyes sought the creature.Bookmark here

It could’ve killed me if it wanted to, she acknowledged.Bookmark here

It trotted around her, still sounding off on its pain. She didn’t know where the shotgun flew as she kept her attention on its movements. Glimpsing the metallic barrel, she dove toward it as it spiked tendril slashed against the grounds. The gnawing turned into lowly shrieks, which she ignored when she got up. Her lilac eye lit up, granting her better visibility. A pair of women’s unsettling wails came with horrible, audible convulsions, sending chills down Celeste’s spine.Bookmark here

It knows, but how do I draw it out? She wondered.Bookmark here

She couldn’t find an end through the plain of nothingness. It would only give chase if she proceeded. Having slung her shotgun over her shoulder, she ran to her left. She’d soon glimpsed the monstrosity pursuing her.Bookmark here

“C’mon,” she yelled. “I know you can run faster than that!”Bookmark here

Its sudden burst launched it closer to her.Bookmark here

“Why did I open my big mouth!” she panicked.Bookmark here

For all its might, it still hadn’t killed her. It was as if it were trying to guide her to where she needed to go; She couldn’t rationalize it any other way. Another lunge knocked her off her feet as a trembling gasp left her lips. She slammed through another door, breaking it away from its hinges.Bookmark here

Her body tumbled through the thin layer of gravel while somehow holding onto her weapon. Disoriented, she found herself on the precinct’s gray rooftop. Her clothing changed; the white sundress was left untouched by the tumble. Using the shotgun’s barrel, she slowly picked herself up, watching as the creature burst through the stairwell entrance.Bookmark here

“What the hell is going on?” she muttered. “This dress—"Bookmark here

The horrific monster was finally on full display. Its disjointed body was a mix of melded corpses. Greg’s face was amongst the many adorning it's rotting body. Celeste staggered backward, seeing Victoria and Elizabeth’s bodies slowly being absorbed against it. Half of their bodies stuck out, leaving her torso dangling to the side. Her pained gasps were overcome by sinister laughter by the creature’s head. Nathanial’s chest sprung from the shapeless form he inhabited, although fully conscious. Four different voices overlapped as it looked upon her with an unsavory grimace.Bookmark here

“Nathanial?” she uttered.Bookmark here

“There’s nowhere left for you to run,” he spoke with the agonized voices of Greg, Elizabeth, and Victoria.Bookmark here

“You could’ve easily killed me in there.”Bookmark here

“I’ve come to learn… That I can’t do that, not yet.”Bookmark here

“Why?” she winced, trying to process the grotesque being in front of her.Bookmark here

“I had to lead you to—What you would call safety. Otherwise, you’d only be able to come back, stronger than before.”Bookmark here

“I—Don’t understand,” her voice cracked. “Speak normally!”Bookmark here

“You were always reflective, Celeste. Always observing—Seeing what others couldn’t see. Yet, you couldn’t look within yourself. This world we live in… It’s all because of the power within you.”Bookmark here

Something innate struck a chord when the twisted voices responded. Memories of the past lingered and she’d do anything to forget them. Her relationships, her goals… everything, but she knew she couldn’t get away from the ugliness within or the sins she committed. She clenched her stomach, her hands reluctant to let go. Warms tears trickled down her face, accepting the reality she created.Bookmark here

“Now you understand?” they asked inquisitively.Bookmark here

“This isn’t what I wanted,” she wept, falling to her knees. “I—I always wanted an escape, yes. But I wanted to be far away from all my problems. Instead, I made a private hell for myself. The things I’ve done, my child—What choice did I really have? I wasn’t ready to be a mother… And Alex, he—”Bookmark here

“Shifting blame?”Bookmark here

“Shifting blame? That’s not what this is about. He didn’t want to be a father, either. So, why should I bring a child into a world that wouldn’t love them? I had nothing to give but my debt.”Bookmark here

“Ever the selfish one,” he replied indifferently while pacing around. “You’ve learned nothing this whole time. How many people had to die for you to live? Look at the world you left behind? Yet, you ask for sympathy?”Bookmark here

“How was I supposed to know?” she raised her voice.Bookmark here

Her right eye illuminating its violet tinge, putting Nathanial in a defensive posture. A low bellow followed as it took a few steps back. Somehow, she was able to control herself upon seeing the blood beneath her, serving as a reminder of the weight of what she’d done.Bookmark here

“How was I supposed to know this was going to happen?” she asked while looking away from her hands. “How was I supposed to know I’d find a place in the world? How was I supposed to know I’d fall in love again? You stand there and judge me, but what kind of sin does someone commit when they don’t know where they’re going?”Bookmark here

Celeste stood up, finding the hem of her dress soaked in blood. She unclenched her hands, letting go of the ill feelings that permeated her heart for so long. The mask she wore slipped with a mature outlook. If it took her until the end of the world to realize. Tucking her hair behind her ear, a sorrowful smile crept with an understanding of what needed to be done.Bookmark here

“Who here hasn’t committed a sin?” she questioned.Bookmark here

She took a few steps forward, stoking fear within the towering beast.Bookmark here

“No one knows the path they take,” she continued. “Life branches from the day we’re born. And with fate—There can only be one way. Everything I had now—Gabriel… I wouldn’t change a thing. But, if this is the end, then so be it.”Bookmark here

She slowly reached her hand toward him, light emitted from her palm. A pale green orb hovered as she flicked her wrist to hold it. A cool warmth encompassed her hands, bringing them closer to her chest. A multitude of spinal tendrils sprung from his back, lashing out at where she stood. Nathanial kept his distance as it whipped up a frenzy.Bookmark here

Within the bombardment, a green flash burned away at once, blinding him in the process. The collected wails echoed in pain as he thrashed about. Blinded in one eye, he glimpsed her standing amidst the destruction around her feet. She was unscathed by the deadly attack he unleashed. The orb she held shone brightly, defogging her surroundings.Bookmark here

“H—How?” he stuttered, stammering away from her. “You’re supposed to be dead.”Bookmark here

“Does it have to do with what you said about darkness?” she asked curiously. “Maybe, you missed the point.”Bookmark here

“No, it couldn’t—”Bookmark here

“This goddess you spoke of—Ethos, was it? This other world is her, no… My creation. That would mean I can bend the rules, no? Why would I allow myself to be killed?”Bookmark here

“Because that is your fate? A god must sacrifice to recreate the world again.”Bookmark here

She chuckled, drawing his ire.Bookmark here

“You think—This is funny?” he growled.Bookmark here

“No,” she responded with a somber smile. “I’m not some goddess, I’m just a woman trying to find their way. But, if I had to die for something… Anything—It wouldn’t be to fulfill whatever the hell your goal is.”Bookmark here

“It’s the natural order you’re fighting. Once your powers awaken—”Bookmark here

“I’m free to make things right.”Bookmark here

She looked toward him, determined to put an end to the hell she created. If she had a choice at all in the matter, she could fix things so the next world wouldn’t have to suffer the same fate. Nathanial tried in vain to lash out against her, but the orb shredded it in contact. The orb expanded in her hand, pulsing with every shift, and as quickly as it grew, it exploded.Bookmark here

The violent gust eviscerated everything as their figures lingered in the basking green light. The creature’s screams were overshadowed by the celestial devastation that eventually took caved in the roof. Erased from existence, Celeste felt the weight of her body as she plunged into the darkness below. She felt at peace, letting everything go as she caught the ominous red sky above.Bookmark here

“So,” she thought aloud. “This is the end of the line?”Bookmark here

Without ever posing the question, she let the descent guide her.

Things are coming to a close,
Who knows where the descent takes her
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