The Order’s eldest living member pulled up to the address indicated on the sheet of paper. Simon Nilin left the instructions to his closest confidant as a failsafe for their plan. Father Isaac sat there staring at the front door of an old, nearly dilapidated building momentarily lost in thought. The man felt a sense of pride in his accomplishments, despite not succeeding with the final piece of their mission. His mind jumped to the little, black-haired girl he essentially raised, who became the first female bishop within his religious organization. She was dedicated, worked hard, and the young woman would have made her father proud if he were still alive. Isaac wasn’t sure what all happened during the past few days, but he truthfully didn’t care. The actions she chose were hers to make, and he had faith that God would lead the girl in the direction she needed to go.
Using all the energy he could muster, Father Isaac removed the machine from his vehicle and placed it on the rickety cart he brought with him. Without the assistance of the younger man who helped load the device earlier, Isaac struggled, but finally managed to unload it successfully.
He leaned against the trunk for a few seconds to catch his breath, thankfully not coughing as much as he suspected. He glanced back at the instructions which led him around back. Dragging the cart behind him, Isaac pushed through the tall weeds along the dwelling’s north-facing side, getting hung up in the ruts in the soft dirt while tangles of blackberry vines grabbed and tore at his exposed ankles.
There was a cellar with an angled, wooden platform designed for easily bringing items in and out of the building, so the man didn’t have to worry about going up or down stairs.
The elder wheeled it inside the abandoned building, through the unlatched cellar entrance, and down to the basement his mentor detailed in his letter. Once inside, he closed the heavy doors behind him then doubled over. Isaac whooped and hacked uncontrollably, gasping for air. He knew the end was growing near and his time in this reality was almost over.
When the coughing fit subsided, he located a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed the corners of his mouth. Drawing it away from his face, he noticed thick, scarlet liquid that had almost saturated the entire piece of cloth. It would have probably frightened the man if it had been his first time dealing with his condition. According to The Order’s medics, he was lucky to have lived as long as he did.
He returned to his feet and carted the machine through the large doors that led to a dark, musty room, appearing to be some sort of study. He flipped the light switch and the ornate chandelier fixtures buzzed, shining a dim light through the room. There were no windows in this underground cellar, but the old lighting still worked enough for the man to clearly view the space.
Cobweb-ridden, floor-to-ceiling book shelves lined one of the larger walls, while the others held artwork and antiques. Father Isaac was surprised the items were still there and hadn’t been stolen at some point. Most looked rather expensive. Simon left him the note many years prior; if the doors hadn’t been secured since then, it was a miracle everything still remained. From what he could tell, it seemed like a scene in which, despite the layers of dust, time had stood still or forgotten.
Away from the walls, blanket-covered furniture crowded the interior of the room. He didn’t have the energy to rearrange things, so he wheeled the cart into the nearest corner and left it. Looking up at the oversized portrait hung high above him in the darkened gloom, he noticed a name on a bronze faceplate near the bottom. The first name was too grimy to be read from his vantage point, but the last was clear: Prescott.
He didn’t know why Simon chose this place nor who the portraits belonged to, but he could sense his concern for life slipping away. Father Isaac made his way to a piece of furniture in the shape of a couch. He pulled the sheet that was draped over it to the floor, causing a brief fog of dust to cloud the air. The man sat down and laid back. He genuinely felt comfortable as his thoughts drifted towards the romantic summer he and the love of his life spent together several years before Esther was born.
The zealot leader smiled while tears filled his eyes; not because of sadness nor a fear of dying, but rather because of the idea that he might be reunited with Simon soon. More than anything he had ever wanted before, the elderly man wished to see his lover again. Tears slid down his cheeks as his lungs released the last breath he would ever experience. A tiny puff of air exited his lips and Father Isaac was no longer in this world.
Landing on their feet behind the bush-lined side of her parents’ house, Des grabbed onto Pearl’s shoulder and urgently pushed her down to a squat. Crouching, she led the brunette behind shrubs where they were hidden from view.
“Pearl, listen to me,” Des whispered. She peeked out and looked around to make sure they were completely out of sight before lowering herself and continuing. “Marzanna is about to be inside and she’s going to try and kill my moms. You have to use your power, please. You have to.”
“What are you talking about, Des?”
“You’re special, Pearl. Uh… not just, well… not just to me… as in… I care about you.”
“Huh?” The brunette’s face was scrunched, trying to make sense of Des’s rambling.
The red-streaked blonde slapped her face with her palm and shook her head. “No, I mean. I care about you. That’s not why I said you’re special. Remember the not-so-dead bird you revived, your grandmother, and… fuck. Yourself! You are like an anti-death superhero.”
For some reason, the way Des said the last part, Pearl couldn’t help but giggle. “Oh? I’m the superhero? You are a gosh dang time traveler. Even more than that! You can travel between universes, realms, timelines… who knows what else.”
Des knew the conversation could go on longer than they had time for, so she cut to the chase. “Pearl, focus on me. Just me. We’ll have time to discuss everything later on.” She placed her hands on both of the girl’s cheeks and drew their faces together so their vision was aligned. “You are the only one who can fight Marzanna. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you are her kryptonite. Her touch shouldn’t affect you, like, at all.”
“Whoa, Dragonfly.” Pearl took her girlfriend by the wrists and pulled them off her face. She pivoted away for a moment and took a deep breath.
“Pearl, this is fucked up, I know. I’m sorry you have to intentionally use your gift for the first time against that bitch. It’s unfair to ask, but please save my moms. You’re the only one who can.”
“I trust you.” Pearl turned around and craned in for a kiss. She energetically pressed her lips to the blonde’s while caressing her cheek with one hand. With eyes closed, the athlete tucked as much of the red in Des’s bangs as she could behind her ear. Surprised, the time traveler let her concerns slip away for several seconds, enjoying her favorite person’s lips twisting and sliding around her own.
Simultaneously, the couple moved away. They heard an almost metallic buzzing coming from inside the house. A cold, dark breeze created goosebumps up and down Des’s arms. An ominous feeling of dread filled her heart and she knew what that meant.
“Fuck! She’s here. Let’s go.”
Still squatting down behind the bushes as they walked, the two girls made their way to a window in the back. They both tiptoed and looked in. Esther was defiantly holding her hand out towards Marzanna as she stood over Max’s and Chloe’s bodies on the cough.
“Shit. I don’t know what’s happening but we gotta get in there, Pearl.” The two had shared affection for one another on several different occasions– romantically with kisses. But this time, Des wrapped her arms around her girlfriend and buried her head in the girl’s chest. She realized she was getting emotional seeing her parents lying together on the couch that way; and she prayed they were still alive. The way the former zealot seemed to be protecting them, she suspected they were doing the mindspace thing they had previously mentioned years prior. Regardless, they didn’t have much time.
Nevertheless, Des took a brief moment to tap into her newly acquired Watcher powers. Her eyes rolled back and she quickly searched the timeline for the different branches. As she suspected, she couldn’t see anything beyond that moment. She viewed the beginning of several paths, but none showed the outcome or the probabilities as she would have liked.
Rolling her eyes back to the front, Des’s mind returned to reality. “I don’t know what to do, Pearl. But if we don’t get in there, they might not make it.”
“I guess you’ll need to follow my lead now, won’t you? Just follow The Phoenix, I’ll show you the way.”
“The Phoenix?” Des asked.
“Well, if I can bring things back to life, I guess that would be my spirit creature, right?” She grinned, shoulder bumping her friend as she spoke.
Des’s heart was thundering in her chest. She could hear each beat deep inside her ears like a reverberating bass drum. Despite having to face countless scenarios where she saved different versions of her mothers, she was borderline panicked. This time, things were different. There was no buffer for mistakes. Now, if anything happened to them, it would be devastating and permanent.
All of the girl’s fear started bubbling up inside her. How Pearl could keep herself so calm, she would never know, though she suspected being a dedicated athlete helped.
“Hey, silly lady, you’re shaking.” Pearl rubbed the small of her back to try and calm her nerves. “Des… we’ll get through this, okay? We will. I promise. Just take a good breath.”
Des slowly inhaled deeply. She felt the cool trails of oxygen enter her nasal passages, and it actually soothed her worries, if only a little bit. She exhaled then nodded. “I’m good.”
Suddenly, through the door, they heard Marzanna scream. ““AHHHHH!!””
Des and Pearl looked at each other with wide eyes.
“AHHH! You fucking little shit!” Death clearly sounded hurt.
Des ran up to the door and put her ear on it. She listened in as Esther hurriedly spoke with an emboldened voice. “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!”
A squishy, spaghetti-like sound could be heard, then a metallic, fleshy slice.
“Oh, fuck!” Des followed instinctively responded as Pearl ran up behind her.
A large thud came from something heavy hitting the floor inside. It sounded like a bowling ball being dropped on the lane. Then another, less direct crumbled impact sounded.
“You didn’t have to die, girl. Such a pity.”
On instinct, and without taking Pearl’s lead as they agreed to do, Des stood and kicked the door in. There’s hinges broke off and she busted inside.
From her vantage point in the kitchen, she could see a lined trail of blood on the living room wall that must have been slung up from something sharp. As she rounded the little kitchen island, she saw Marzanna chuckling, looking down at something beside the coffee table near her moms on the couch.
When Des realized she was looking at the decapitated head and body of the former zealot, she almost doubled over and puked.
Pearl was right beside her, but refused to look down at the carnage. Her brows were furrowed as she stared at Marzanna, who turned her head and glanced back before speaking.
“I didn’t want things to get dirty like this. It is getting a bit out of hand.” Death grinned as she asked the rhetorical question to herself while looking in their direction. “How high will the death toll be when I’m finished?”
Max and Chloe were fully latched onto as many essences as they could handle. One after another, they watched as the wormhole freed millions of souls at a time. It was like the rift they created was a hole to another universe– the afterlife. The ones that had been stuck there for decades, along with new arrivals, were all successfully moving on.
As Max was beginning to feel strained and weary, she looked in the direction of the new souls who just arrived because they had recently died. They were zooming past her and into the wormhole at extremely fast rates. She had to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground and lean against the wind to keep from being sucked up herself. Chloe’s energy was still providing the lifeline that Max’s body needed to stay mostly alive.
Max noticed a black-haired girl that looked familiar rapidly heading towards the afterlife. As she whipped past, it was almost like everything slowed to a crawl. She made eye contact with the girl just before her essence slid into the wormhole. Max felt Chloe’s heart sink.
“OH, FUUUUUCK!!!! THAT WAS ESTHER!!”
Max didn’t respond with words but knew they needed to hurry. She reached deep down inside herself and directly synced with her wife’s essence. Together, they released the largest pulse of energy they could find, and they were both astonished by the results.
“I have always left a trail of bodies in my wake, but I have never been so willful about it. It has never been my own decision to kill people. When a person’s time came, I would collect their souls and help them pass on. It’s my job, the role I play. But, as you two know, when your back is against the wall, you do what you have to do. I’m truly sorry about this, Destiny.” Marzanna dropped the fire poker she had pulled from her own head and murdered Esther with, then she turned towards Max’s and Chloe’s bodies and started to move towards them.
“NO!” Des hollered.
Marzanna stopped for a moment. She noticed a barely discernible sound coming from the freckled woman’s mouth. A tiny trickle of air was moving in and out. “What?! I thought I killed Max. How the fuck is she still breathing?”
Pearl ran up behind the woman and grabbed two fistfuls of hair. She yanked Death away from Des’s parents and onto the floor. “I think we need to have a little one on one time.”
Des ran over to her mothers’ bodies and pulled them in for a hug. “We’re here now. Pearl will take care of Death. Finish what you’re doing then come home. I can’t wait for you to meet her. She’s beautiful. She’s… perfect.” Des felt the sting of tears filling her eyes.
Marzanna quickly floated back up to her feet. “Oh, you’re going to regret that.” She pulled her own arm back then slapped Pearl across the face with force.
Pearl turned with the impact of the hit but swiftly spun back. She looked into the woman’s ageless eyes, which were wide with surprise. The brunette’s eyebrows were down and a look of anger was cast on her face.
“Your touch doesn’t affect me, Marzanna. You have no power against me.”
“I am the Grim Reaper; the Taker of Souls! I am the Defender of Death!”
“I guess that makes me the Light of Life, and I’m gonna kick your goddamn ass for trying to hurt my girlfriend’s parents.”
Pearl spun around and roundhouse kicked Marzanna in the gut. The woman bent forward from the impact. With both hands, the athlete clutched Death’s hair again and slung her body through the large windows at the front of the house. Glass shattered everywhere as she flew through the panes and onto the front porch with a clomp.
Almost immediately, Death flew through the hole in the wall that was once a window. She used her strength to knock Pearl to the ground. The athlete landed on top of Esther’s severed head, causing it to tumble out and roll across the floor, leaving a grotesque trail of crimson ruin behind it.
Marzanna jumped on top of Pearl’s chest with her legs pinning the brunette’s arms to the floor. She wrapped both hands around her throat and began to squeeze. “You might not be able to die to my touch, but I bet you can still die. And I’m stronger than you, dumb girl.”
Gargling noises came from Pearl’s mouth as she clawed at the immovable hands that were crushing her windpipe.
Des noticed Pearl being strangled on the floor and released the embrace she had on her parents’ bodies. She grabbed the bloodied fire poker and readied to strike. Keeping careful distance from Death as to not be touched herself, she swung it at the woman, striking her skull with a hard smash. The woman ground her teeth but was mostly unfazed. She didn’t loosen her grip even slightly.
Pearl continued to squirm, fighting for air, as Des swung the metal shaft again. Over and over she hit Marzanna with little to no effect.
“Let her go, Marzanna! Fuck you!”
“Not this time. You’ll have to watch your little friend here die. That is, if she can. I realize my touch doesn’t do anything to her, but she’s still made up of flesh and blood. I’m willing to bet, if I restrict air from her brain and heart long enough, her organs will shut down. What do you think? Let’s call this an experiment.” She chuckled.
Des felt helpless. She knew every power had restrictions, and she didn’t know enough about Pearl’s to want to risk Marzanna being correct.
Pearl turned her head slightly to look over at Des as her squirming began to slow. Her face was turning purple and her movements were ceasing.
“MARZANNA! Don’t do this!”
“I have to, child.”
The wormhole increased in size due to the enormous surge of energy Max and Chloe provided. Large chunks of rock were flying through the air and disintegrating as they entered. Max could no longer keep her feet firmly on the ground, so she made her way to the side and grabbed hold of a boulder column, placing herself between it and the vortex.
“CHLOEEEE! WE HAVE TO LET GOOO!” Max yelled to be heard over the noise. Even though Chloe existed inside her head, the rushing wind was so loud she could barely hear herself think.
“I DON’T WANT TO! WHAT IF I ACCIDENTALLY LOSE YOUR COIL, MAX? WE CAN’T RISK IT! I REFUSE!”
“WE HAVE TO, BABE! OUR WORK HERE IS DONE!”
“WILL YOU EVEN BE ABLE TO COME BACK TO YOUR BODY?”
“I DON’T KNOW, CHLOE, BUT WE CAN’T STAY LIKE THIS FOREVER!”
“WHAT IF YOU DON’T COME BACK? I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU!”
“CHLOE CAULFIELD-PRICE, HAVE FAITH! WE WERE BROUGHT HERE FOR A REASON! THE UNIVERSE WILL REWARD US WITH EACH OTHER! I BELIEVE THAT!”
“I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, MAX!! SO, SO, SO GODDAMN MUCH!!”
“I LOVE YOU TOO, CHLOE. I’LL SEE YOU WHEN WE GET BACK!”
“IT’S A DATE! DON’T STAND ME UP, MAX CAULFIELD-PRICE!”
“NEVER! OKAY, ON THE COUNT OF THREE, WE RELEASE. ONE… TWO… THREE!!!”
Chloe’s essence disappeared from Max’s body as the connection broke away.
The wind began to die down.
Max scanned the chamber. It didn’t appear to be a dingy, cave-like space any longer. It almost resembled the ballroom within her and Chloe’s mindspace, which was actually quite lovely. New souls were entering the area and passing on freely, without the need for her wormhole. She and Chloe did it. They had succeeded in fixing the problem that had been created when their pure and extreme love for one another merged timelines, ultimately leading to a fractured multiverse.
She looked down at her hands, arms, and legs, and she could see right through them. A translucent outline around her body began to glow, and her soul’s particles started to stir and disperse. There was no doubt in her mind, she was about to pass on to the afterlife if somebody didn’t do something.
All of a sudden, Marzanna released her grip on Pearl’s neck. She stood and looked towards the sky. “Something has… changed.”
Pearl coughed and gasped for air as Des jumped down to her level and helped her to a sitting position. Color returned to her face. The athlete quickly recovered because of her life-bringing power and she blinked several times to shake away the previous few minutes.
Marzanna looked over at Max’s body and noticed her chest not rising and falling as it had previously. “I really am sorry, girls. It looks like I have accomplished my goals.” She pointed at Des. “I will be seeing you again one day; when your time comes. And you,” she moved her finger in Pearl’s direction, “I do not know if I will ever see you again. But if I do, I hope we can meet as friends. This was all business, you see.”
“Fuck you,” Pearl scoffed.
Death chuckled then vanished.
“Max!” Chloe called out as she lifted up and began shaking her wife’s body. Her throat sounded dry; voice dire and afraid.
“Mom!?” Des quickly slid over to embrace her oldest mother, but she was sort of pushed to the side.
“Max!” Chloe continued. “Please come back to me! Please, love!”
Pearl stood up and jumped onto the couch. She gave her girlfriend’s mom a hug, the way she had with her grandmother when she was a little girl. A swift, palpable torrent of energy rippled through the room.
A thorny wave of nervousness and uncomfortable anticipation clouded the area. Everything went silent. Both Chloe and Des anxiously looked on as Pearl cuddled up against Max’s body.
Des gave her mom a side hug for support and Chloe returned the gesture. They stood in wait, in silence, hoping to see Max lift her eyelids or hear her soft voice again. Maybe she would shift around a bit before awakening. Anything.
Several moments went by with no response.
“Uh, guys?” Pearl seemed confused. Her confidence deflated.
Des’s heart sank hearing her girlfriend’s voice become so frail and defeated.
Shaking her head, Pearl admitted, “I think we’re too late.”
Chloe looked at her wife’s body.