There seemed to be a limit on the maximum speed Des could reach as she traveled between realms, realities, timelines, and universes. Wanting to go faster was pointless, as the red-streaked blonde had once attempted to increase her speed, yet the amount of extra effort made no difference. On top of that, Pearl was with her. She didn’t want to try anything that could potentially harm the brunette. Other than ensuring her parents were safe, the girl in her arms was her number one priority. She loved her.
The time traveler’s speed didn’t really matter though, the probability of success didn’t depend on how fast she could travel, but rather which point in the timeline she and her girlfriend returned. For their next step, success or failure would be determined by Pearl’s actions.
Des had been around Rachel enough to know the Watcher’s sight had its limitations. She wouldn’t be able to see the outcome of her decisions if they directly impacted those she loved or her own survival. Though, it did seem like Rachel knew Marzanna needed to extinguish the flame so she could light it with Kate’s recording. Maybe, like everything else, the Watcher’s abilities could grow from practice. Rachel pushed boundaries by traveling out of her realm and helping Des’s parents each time they were in danger. Maybe she continued to level-up during her time as the Watcher. Despite wanting to explore her new ability, Des couldn’t concern herself with Rachel or her limitations at the moment.
She was restricted from fully seeing what would come next after they returned. Like a thick mist in the forest, the probabilities were hazy. They were mixed around and out of order like a trillion-piece puzzle with no corners to help put it together.
Des knew Pearl didn’t understand her own ability yet; she didn’t even know she had a power as far as Des could see. Several moments from her past revealed what the girl could do, but the painter was in a state of denial. Her first two experiences could have been viewed as coincidental, but the third was clear. She was the only one who could challenge Death, and Des knew exactly how to push her in the right direction.
Standing beside the living room window, nervously peeking out the faux wood blinds, Esther kept watch while Max’s and Chloe’s bodies remained still on the couch, side by side. She used two fingers to slightly part the slats creating a gap large enough to see down both sides of the street and across the road.
The former zealot no longer cared about her past faith. Nor did she allow intrusive thoughts about not fulfilling her purpose to enter her mind. Her one chance at redemption was to protect the married couple’s bodies while they did whatever it was they needed to do. She wasn’t quite sure what Chloe was up to, but after she closed her eyes, Esther thought she saw Max’s body shift, marginally; barely enough to even perceive it.
Suddenly, she noticed it again, out of the corner of her eyes. This time she knew, without a shadow of doubt, that Max’s body moved. Esther twisted around to face the couch they were lying on. She tiptoed over and looked down. She could see the paleness in the brunette’s cheeks slightly filling with color.
Leaning down, Esther placed her ear as close to Max’s mouth as possible without touching her, and she could hear barely detectable, tiny streams of air moving in and out of her mouth.
“Holy, damn,” the black-haired girl whispered, eyes widened. “Chloe is saving her. But… how?”
As soon as the hushed question entered her mind, Esther heard an almost metallic buzz fill the room. A cold, dark breeze created goosebumps on her skin. An ominous feeling of dread filled her heart.
“Hello, Esther,” Marzanna spoke before an impish chuckle. “What are you still doing here?”
The girl’s heart rate increased and fear enveloped her mind. She stood from her crouching position over the two bodies on the couch, turning towards the interior of the room. Esther made eye contact with Death. The woman smiled as she took a step closer.
“St-Stay back, M-Marzanna.” The girl’s arm was extended and her palm held out flat, perpendicular to the floor and ceiling. Despite being afraid at a deep level, down to her very soul, Esther found a redeeming courage somewhere inside her.
“Why would you risk your life for them? Would they do the same for you?”
The woman’s words had no effect on Esther, though she knew keeping Death talking was the best way she could buy Max and Chloe more time.
“Maybe they would. They’re good people with big hearts.” She racked her brain for whatever combination of words she could think of that would distract and delay Marzanna from getting to their bodies.
“Oh, please. Trust me, those two would watch the entire world burn as long as they were together.” Death took another step closer. She chuckled. “They’re the villains here and they don’t even realize it. Get out of my way, child. There’s no need for you to die as well.”
“I’m not afraid to die.” Esther frantically scanned the room for some sort of item to aid her in distraction. When she noticed a rod-iron poker hanging beside the fireplace, she reached down and grabbed it in her hands. She held it back like a baseball bat readying to swing.
“Do you really think you can challenge me, weak girl?”
“Can you see them?” Esther had an idea. “Do you see them on the couch? Don’t you think it’s odd that Chloe would just lay there and not defend herself?”
Marzanna halted her approach. She tilted her head to see around the girl that stood between herself and the couple on the couch. “That is odd, but it doesn’t matter what she’s doing. My need is greater. Everybody needs me to fix this mess.”
“Chloe thinks she can help Max,” the girl with long, black hair began. “I guess they’re somehow connected. I don’t know, really. But she trusted me to watch over them in case you showed back up. I plan on making sure you can’t disturb them.”
“Of course they’re connected. Do you know how many times Chloe was on my doorstep a few years ago? Max somehow pulled her back every time. I’ve never seen that before; such a willful control over death. It was annoying at first, then I just grew to accept it. But this time, I need them dead. Both of them. This is important for everyone. Don’t you understand?”
“I understand that you are being reckless. There has to be another way. Hurting everyone on blind faith until you magically solve your problem isn’t the right way. Trust me. I would know.”
In a flash, Marzanna was standing nose to nose with the girl between her and her destination. “One small movement and we’ll be touching. Then you die, child. It doesn’t have to end this way for you.”
Esther swallowed hard. She slowly stepped to the side, giving Death a clear path to Max and Chloe.
“There’s a good girl.” The woman chuckled then turned and faced the married couple.
As soon as Marzanna took a step towards the couch, Esther tightened her grip on the fire poker with both hands. She raised it up like a spear above her head. Just as Death noticed the girl making a move, the former zealot thrust the pointed end through the woman’s head, entering one temple and exiting the other.
“AHHHHH!!” Marzanna screamed, stumbling from the living room towards the kitchen and hallway. “AHHH! You fucking little shit!” She desperately clawed at the item that was now part of her, ripping at the spots where it entered and exited her head.
Esther ran over to the bodies and put one hand on each of their outside cheeks. “Whatever you’re doing, you have to do it now. I bought you a little more time, but it won’t last. Please, Max. Please, Chloe. Come back!”
Max frantically searched the realm, seeking those that perished in the Arcadia Bay storm of 2013. She didn’t have much time, so she hastily pushed through the crowd, moving countless bodies out of her way. She could feel Chloe’s energy still inside providing her essence with the boost it needed, and it gave her confidence to continue going. She badly wished her favorite person could see what she was seeing but didn’t want to risk it.
There were so many lost souls gathered in Death’s realm, Max figured she could search for a hundred years and might never find those she sought. Eventually, after passing by thousands she didn’t recognize, the brunette decided to give up. She couldn’t search forever, and she knew her purpose for being there was to free those that were trapped.
Max turned towards the closest body and looked into her clouded eyes. Again, she could see the woman’s essence deep inside like a tiny wisp of light, so she decided to latch on. This time, however, she didn’t pull it to the surface. She pivoted to her left and grabbed onto the man’s essence beside her as well. Quickly pulling at the same time, sparks flew out and the souls vanished. She was gaining momentum and becoming more efficient with the process.
“Wowser! If I can latch onto multiple souls at a time, maybe I can do this more quickly than I thought.” She figured she would be able to carve a path through the sea of souls and free so many more.
Then, a new thought crossed her mind. Everything that happened to her previously, had led her to that exact point. She knew she could control time in small, pocket areas now like she did when she healed her own forehead after being struck by Esther. She also recalled the time another version of herself opened up a wormhole and saved Chloe from death row. By combining the two abilities, maybe she could create enough energy to save an exponential amount of souls rather than just a few at a time.
Her plan was as risky as meeting Chloe in the mindspace like she badly wanted to do, but she needed more of her wife’s energy in order to successfully pull her plan off. A reunion was now necessary and it made Max smile.
She pushed through the crowd and made her way to a wall, crouching down. She shut her eyes and tunneled inside herself, beneath the raised area where her power was housed. She easily located the space where their essences were coiled together, and she dove inside head first. Her heart raced as the anticipation of seeing her soulmate increased by the second.
Finally, after a moment without vision, grey static was gone and replaced with the familiar ballroom area she had grown to love. A childlike sense of wonder flowed through Max’s body. She was giddy with excitement to see her wife again. It felt like a lifetime had passed since they were together.
In a matter of seconds, Max felt Chloe’s arms wrap around her and pull her into her chest. Max reciprocated and squeezed back. The physical pleasure was almost overwhelming from simply touching one another. The pleasure was mixed with a deeply seeded love the pair equally felt for one another, and it was breathtaking.
“Oh, Chloe! I’ve missed you so much!”
“Me too, Maxi! Fuck!” Chloe sniffed back tears as she spoke. “I watched you die, love. I fucking watched you die!”
“It doesn’t matter. We’re here now, babe.”
Chloe leaned back and looked down into Max’s eyes. “You’re so beautiful,”she whispered, gaze alternating between her lips and her blue irises.
Like moths to a flame, their lips were immediately drawn together, slamming into one another and twisting around with passion and intensity. Their mouths were tangled, and they slid around while their tongues played a frenzied secret game of tag. They stayed that way, continuing to enjoy each other with excitement and fervor, until Max abruptly pulled away, coaxing a groan from her lover.
“Chloe, as great as it is to be with you, we need to conserve energy.”
“I know, I know. Dammit.”
Their bodies still touched in the middle, while they held hands beside their hips, fingers interlocked, foreheads touching together.
“Wait,” Max started, “where is your body?”
“Right where it belongs, dork. Beside yours.”
“What if Marzanna comes back and kills you while you’re here?”
“Well, I thought about that. Esther is watching over us.”
“Can you trust her?” Max wasn’t so sure.
“I think so. We sorta have to at this point.”
A moment of silence passed between them, be it brief.
“Well, let me show you where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. I can free souls, but I need your help, babe.”
“Oh. Yeah, okay. Of course, you can. You’re Super Max. You can do anything.”
“Come into me and see for yourself. We’ll need to focus our energies. I’ll show you.”
Max was still crouching down against the wall in Death’s realm when Chloe joined her. She knew her wife could see what she was seeing, as she felt her inside.
“Holy shit, love! This place is awful. It stinks of suffering.”
“I know. But this is what we have to do.” Max stood and scanned the area to give her wife a better look.
“Damn… so many people here.”
“Yep, and we have to free them all.”
“How are we gonna do that? From what I can see, I’d say there are probably trillions here.”
Max sensed her partner’s concern. “Let me show you.” She faced the nearest body to her location, found the man’s essence, and freed him as she did several times earlier. It was a quick and smooth transition.
“Fuuuuuck. Max, that’s pretty badass, not gonna lie.”
“Now, help me this time.” Max latched onto two others. She felt a surge of energy ripple through her body.
“Yes, that works, babe.”
The brunette, with her wife’s supportive line of energy, latched on and freed thirty or so souls in one fell swoop.
“Damn, Maxter. That was totally awesomesauce!”
“Okay, so. We can easily free a few handfuls. This next one should be even bigger. Are you ready, Chlo?”
“Yep, yep. Let’s do it to it.”
Max held out her hand towards the sky and felt the rewind in her mind. The threads of time, subatomic particles, and stardust in the air felt like unseen stitches in the fabric of space. Her power’s actions became minutely intentional and surgically detailed.
A wormhole blasted open above their heads causing a heavy breeze to kick up in the realm, blowing dust and dirt around.
Summoning the details to manipulate time in specified areas, Max combined her abilities.
“Whoa, dude!” Chloe blurted, voice stretched in surprise.
“I… need… help… babe…” Max’s body trembled.
Not wasting any time, she felt Chloe add more of her energy into the mix, which almost engulfed her at first. Then, Max adjusted her grip on the wormhole and focused Chloe’s power into her own. On a massive scale, she gripped as many essences as she could handle. With one swift pull, the realm was lit up like a fireworks show on the Fourth of July. Dozens of souls were rapidly released at one time. Then dozens more. Then hundreds more. Then thousands…
After a minute or so, Max felt weary, so she released the power and allowed herself a break to rest. The wormhole winked from existence and the wind dissipated.
“Goddamn, Max! Look.”
Slowly pivoting around and looking in each direction, they realized an entire section of the realm had been freed. Thousands if not hundreds of thousands of souls were no longer there.
“How are you feeling, Maxi?”
“I-I feel great, actually. I felt tired then it went away. Honestly, I feel so alive. Even though technically I guess I’m not.” The smaller of the pair giggled.
“That’s good, Max, but I’m not ready to laugh about you dying just yet. Let’s finish the job and get back to our bodies.”
Just then, more souls started spreading out and walking around. The newly vacant space in the realm allowed those still trapped to have more room than before. From all directions, the area began to fill in. Even though they freed many on a large scale, there were still countless others who needed saving.
As Max was mentally preparing to begin the process again, she noticed familiar faces in the distance. “Holy shit. It can’t be.”
“What is it, love?” Out of the millions of faces in the direction Max was looking, Chloe couldn’t tell who she had singled out.
Max trotted towards some people about 200 feet from where she had been standing. “Them.” She pointed.
“Oh. My. God!” Chloe’s voice trembled as she must have realized who her wife was referring to.
Max slowed her gallop and walked up to the group.
“Dana, Trevor, Brooke,” she mouthed, though barely any sound came out.
“Max, are you okay? This can’t be easy. I’m not even actually there and my heart is hella racing.”
She didn’t respond. Her mind was occupied by seeing old friends whose lives were cut short because of that devastating storm. Max stood there and gawked at the trio.
“Max?” Chloe raised her voice to draw her favorite person’s attention.
Max shook her head left then right to focus back on Chloe.
“I’m sorry. It’s just… I mean… damn, babe.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Chloe, should I speak to them?”
“Can you even do that?”
“Before you were with me, I freed a few souls. When I pulled their essences out slowly, they became aware for a moment before passing on. I had a full conversation with a guy named Gabe. I could do the same with them but I don’t know if I can handle it. They’ll remember their final moments before the storm claimed their lives. Do I really want to experience their terror? Maybe I owe it to them to have to endure what they did.”
“Listen to me, Max. You don’t owe anybody shit! The storm wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t! We’re way past feeling guilty about any of this. We never chose it.”
“Maybe I could just hear their voices one last time.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. It’s your call, but if you want my vote I say to just free them like we did last time. There’s no need to rehash that shit.”
Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed a couple more she hadn’t previously. “Warren, Frank, and… Oh, God!”
Chloe recognize the last person as soon as Max did. “M-Mom?”
Max could feel the tears sliding down Chloe’s face as if they were her own. Her heart broke in a thousand pieces, not only for Chloe’s loss, but she loved Joyce as well and missed the woman tremendously. She often wished she could have seen Joyce as a grandmother.
The couple just hung there with their thoughts, not moving. Things slowed down a bit and Max could hear her own breathing. It felt like each breath was beginning to strain and she realized Chloe’s energy, that was keeping her alive, was depleting.
“Chloe, you’re right. We have to move forward. We don’t have much time left. The best thing we can do for them is to help them pass on. Anything else would be for selfish reasons, and we’re not here for ourselves. We’re here to free them.”
Max heard her wife sigh. “Yeah. Okay, Max. Seeing her again… it fucking sucks, ya know?”
“Yeah. So let’s free her soul, Chloe. Let’s help her move on.”
Max’s breathing returned to normal and she could feel Chloe’s essence filling her up once more.
“Are you ready, babe?”
Chloe sniffled one final time and her voice was full of confidence once more. “I’m the readiest.”