Chapter 24:

Sandcastles By the Shore

By the Shores of Time

“Well, you’re here,” Alex snickered.Bookmark here

Her white dress blended in with the fog, all but the blood-spattered hem. She maintained her gaze, walking toward him. He posted against the grimy walls with arms crossed and a sinister smile. His hair had fallen out from the grotesque transformation, leaving little resemblance of who he was beneath his blistered face. His body mutated beyond its disabled state, deformed into an unevenly distributed muscular physique. Keeping her distance, she stood before him, her dress rustling against her body from the empty air. With her fear withheld, she bit her lip, replacing it with disgust and the masked bravery.Bookmark here

“As gorgeous as I remember,” he continued with a nod before walking toward her.Bookmark here

“Stay back,” she raised her voice, taking a few steps away.Bookmark here

He couldn’t help but grin to her cowardice.Bookmark here

“Even at the end of the world?” he chuckled, complying with her wish. “I would’ve thought you’d put that all behind you.”Bookmark here

“Why are you here?” she questioned, clenching her fist. “Why is it you I have to see?”Bookmark here

“So harsh… But who knows? I don’t think too much about that. What matters to me, is what’s happening now. I mean, are we really going to hold a grudge? Now, of all times? C’mon, Celeste—”Bookmark here

“Don’t!” she interrupted, closing her eyes. “Don’t patronize me! Don’t say this is all my fault!”Bookmark here

“What do you mean? This is all your doing! You can’t run away from that. It’s interesting how you like to bullshit people—”Bookmark here

“I never lied to anyone. I just wanted an escape. I just wanted to be someone else. I—”Bookmark here

Celeste choked up on her words before crying into her hands. The despair set in her mind while her words drowned uncertainty, all to Alex’s satisfaction. Anger boiled within her as her body trembled. Her right eye’s sudden glint sent a shivering fear into Alex upon his first step toward her.Bookmark here

“I said, stay the fuck back,” she growled, delivering a cold, piercing gaze. “I won’t let you hurt anyone else.”Bookmark here

“What?” he responded. “Celeste—”Bookmark here

A burst of energy blinded him, sending his body through the wall with little resistance. His body tumbled away, broken and battered by the violent impact. He looked toward Celeste who paced forward from the humming portal without a modicum of concern for what she’d done. The area looked like a large field, but it wasn’t the precinct.Bookmark here

“Hey—” his voice cracked, reaching out toward her. “C’mon!”Bookmark here

She kept walking with her chest out and head held high and a lingering silence, leaving a haunting impression. He got onto his knees, immediately driving his fists into the ground. Roots and gravel shredded through the grassy field, but the destruction didn’t impede her, not as the vegetation whipped against her body nor as the stones struck against her face. Her lilac eye pierced through the settling dust, emerging unscathed by the ravaging assault.Bookmark here

“But—How?” he questioned, crawling back as she inched closer.Bookmark here

“Because nothing you do can hurt me now,” she spoke softly, stopping yards away. “If this is the world I created, then… Nothing should hurt me. But—It’s hard to imagine this is what I made.”Bookmark here

“You’re fucked up in the head! How many people died because—Of your fucked up fantasies.”Bookmark here

“Maybe this is exactly what I deserved.”Bookmark here

“What?” he took her response by surprise.Bookmark here

“I wanted an out to everything. I wanted—” she uttered, her eyes shifting to her left. “I wanted someone to save me from those things… From myself. My life isn’t exactly how I imagined it to be.”Bookmark here

“You made those monsters, you turned me into this!”Bookmark here

“Those monsters were spawned from us. You enabled that too.”Bookmark here

“That doesn’t make any sense.”Bookmark here

“The way we interact… It leaves an impression on the other. It creates beauty, but also ugliness. Maybe—Had things been different I wouldn’t be standing here. To think, there could’ve been something—”Bookmark here

“Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?” he growled, stammering onto his feet. “Look around us! This is what you chose.”Bookmark here

His harsh rebuke was met with her indifference.Bookmark here

“No,” a sorrowful smile crawled along her face. “This is destiny.”Bookmark here

He dashed forward, closing the gap between them with a wide swing. A blinding flash overwhelmed the area and a bloodcurdling howl echoed. Alex tumbled past her, missing an arm while another slowly regrew. Celeste looked over her shoulder, seeing his scowl on full display. The bone-crunching reformation overshadowed his cries.Bookmark here

“Gah!” he grit his teeth.Bookmark here

“You tried to hit me,” she turned around, recollecting on their past. “Just like before.”Bookmark here

“Celeste, this is enough.”Bookmark here

“It’s too late. We’re past the point of no return. Our bodies and our minds are no longer what they used to be.”Bookmark here

“Enough with the new age—”Bookmark here

Alex was knocked by a subtle gesture of her hand, tearing through another portal. She calmly walked through, glimpsing the beautiful skies above the horizon. The warm hues turned to a cold blue color above her. He agonized by the pristine shores, struggling to lift his face from the shallow depths. His skin melted, steaming from the sudden teleportation. She looked upon him, emotionless when he turned over, soon realizing the sluggish recovery of his caved-in chest.Bookmark here

Celeste sealed the portal behind her as it disappeared into pale purple embers. She marveled at the brilliant hues of red against the western shores; the perpetual fog retreated to the north and south, giving way to the celestial skies. The lingering stench was replaced by the sea breeze that whipped her hair over her shoulders.Bookmark here

Alex splashed in the crystal-clear water, disturbing the serene atmosphere. She glimpsed his failing body, noticing his chest halting its recovery and his miniature arm stunted in its growth. He couldn’t reach the rocks next to him. He gasped for air, falling back into the water each time. She continued unflinchingly before nudging him against the rocks. Alex caught his breath, wet and pained, while clung to the jagged edge.Bookmark here

“Where are we?” his voice shook from the cold water.Bookmark here

“This—” she winced as a strange sensation overcame her. “This is the Shores of Time.”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“It’s where time overlaps. The currents carry lost souls and guide them back. Sometimes, they may remain adrift for eternity.”Bookmark here

“How do you know all that?”Bookmark here

“I—Don’t know.”Bookmark here

He growled in pain, feeling the rocks cut into his chest. Her eyes cast a familiar concern, seeing him struggle to lift himself out. As the crashing waves soaked carried the hem of her dress becoming a deep crimson. A motherly smile crept along her face with its deceiving warmth.Bookmark here

“What the hell are you doing?” he became increasingly panicked, sliding further into the depths.Bookmark here

“Something I should’ve done a long time ago,” she responded, looking into his fearful eyes.Bookmark here

The terror coursed throughout every fiber of his body, grumbling in agony realizing his neck was barely above the water. He lost his grip, falling beneath the crashing waves while his hands barely reaching above water. He gasped for air, holding his head up for a moment as she watched his pathetic state.Bookmark here

“Celeste!” his pleas quickly became muffled when submerged.Bookmark here

“This is how it has to be,” she responded compassionately while pressing her foot against his chest. “You don’t have to suffer anymore.”Bookmark here

She could feel him writhe beneath her light pressure; His chest never fully restructured. Celeste looked off toward the beauty of the endless sea. The overlap of crimson brought warmth her soul cried for while warm tears rolled down her face. The pained sensations ran along her ankle as he dug his fingers to loosen her grip, but it quickly numbed to the soothing waters. Her feet pressed further, feeling his fingers slowly loosen while his body thrashed. Soon, she saw his hands flail through the water. A mix of his weakened state and his stunted recovery brought him to his inevitable end.Bookmark here

“No more pain,” she uttered sadly. “No more back and forth, no more jealousy—No more lies. This—is where your story, no, our story ends.”Bookmark here

Within his last moments, she graced him with a final farewell, gurgling his last air bubble with his eyes wide open. His warmth slipped away as the current spread his arms apart. Her heart thumped, feeling the weight of her actions. The inevitability of the path chosen was ordained by the unseen hand she often felt she was guided by. Watching as his lifeless body was carried toward the sea, the breeze carried off the entrenched burden, leaving her numb.Bookmark here

I often wondered why things had to be the way they were. All this pain I had to deal with throughout my life. I was—always hiding behind something or someone. I always needed affirmation, some protection, but it was always rinse and repeat… A vicious cycle. I—Never learned. Now… I stand alone, just like how we’re brought into this world.Bookmark here

The young maiden turned around, glimpsing the darkness overhead as she summoned a portal with a gentle whisk of her hand. She looked at her hands, uncertain of where the haunting portal would take her. Taking a few shallow breaths, she stepped forward, thinking about the first person who came to mind. Her eyes remained opened as she passed through. With what little hope she had left, she thought of Gabriel.

Now on to our final chapter,
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