“Sure, that name will work well enough,” Noe replied. “You could have come up with a lot worse.”
“Hey, I was trying!” I said in return. “I’m sure you could do much better.”
“Actually, no demon can provide a name to themselves,” Noe explained. “A demon’s name can only be given the power of existence by another creature.”
“Let me guess, God or something?”
“You’re close. Humans have the ability to name a demon.”
“How does that work?”
“Demons gain power from human souls that have submitted to them. This power is amplified if the human knows that demon’s true name, but most demons can’t afford to give something like that out to just anyone, so they let humans call them by whatever they want. The reason why a demon can’t give away their true name is because it can be used against them in a multitude of ways. If another demon discovers their true name, it’s game over.”
“I guess I should have expected you to give me a metaphysics lecture when I asked that,” I said. This was getting exhausting. My brain can only hold so much information.
“Well, we’re here at the mall to get your VR headset prepared, right?” As Noe said that I looked up to see the large concrete arch that welcomed visitors to the mall’s main plaza. “You lead the way.”
“Can’t you see the future?”
“Well, not always.”
“What does that mean?”
“I… I’m working on it, okay!”
“For a demon you’re kind of pathetic.”
[ cut ]
Noe and I wandered around the mall looking for a map for about 15 minutes. Once we found the location of the store, we rode an escalator. Noe was mesmerized by how it operated, which was a bit weird; but other than that, the trip was uneventful. I dropped off my VR headset at the repair shop I’ve been to once before, after I bought this very headset used and in slight disrepair, and was told that the repairs would only take around an hour. It would be more efficient to just stay here until it was done than it would be to head back home.
Every time we passed by a clothing store, it was blatantly obvious that Noe was vaguely interested in fashion. I decided to humor her and take a step into one of them, knowing well that the only thing stopping her from going berserk was the threat of getting lost and “dematerializing” or something.
“It’s ‘de-manifesting’ you moron!” Noe shouted, barely breaking me out of my bored daze.
“Was I saying something?”
“Yes, you were! Something about me going berserk. You know that all of the other people in here can hear you, right?”
“Can’t they hear you too?”
“SECURITY! COME AND DETAIN THIS B*TCH!”” Noe cried out. I covered my ears, cringing in horror. I was sure that the mall security would hear her. Thankfully, nobody showed up. “See, I told you. Nobody can hear me.”
[ cut ]
Eventually, Noe required me to stand outside of the changing room to wait for her. Surprisingly, nobody noticed her take a stall without talking to the lady standing out front.
“There are rooms open,” The woman said to me. There wasn’t a glimmer of joy or excitement in her eyes, just the hope that at the end of her shift she could go home. It wasn’t really hope though, more expectation.
“I… Uh… I’m waiting for someone.” I said awkwardly.
“Okay then, just make it obvious that you’re not in line and take a seat.”
I sat down.
[ cut ]
Eventually, Noe walked out of the changing room wearing a new outfit. It consisted of some kind of thin jacket or sweater (I really couldn’t tell), one of those shirts that hangs on to those straps over your shoulders, a surprisingly short skirt given what she was wearing earlier, and black leggings. She was also wearing a pair of boots.
I forgot to describe exactly what she was wearing when I first met her. It was a simple white dress that went down to her knees. That was basically it. She was also wearing some kind of tights and very simple shoes, but it looked like the default outfit in a really boring videogame. Her new outfit was definitely an improvement, at least to my tastes.
Noe then walked out of the changing room and began to approach the exit. I had a choice now: do I stop her from shoplifting or just wait for the ink tags on her clothes to detonate? If I stop her, I’ll probably have to pay for her clothes, but that might happen anyway.
In the end, I ran up behind her and put my hand on her shoulder.
“Uh… You should probably pay for that,” I said.
“You really think they’re going to notice?”
“Maybe not, but you certainly will,” I pointed down to the bulky off-white tab that was stuck to one of the buttons on her coat. “That will explode if you walk out, and I’m sure the alarms will go off too. You should probably pay before you simply walk out.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Can’t you just make some or something?”
“I could solicit favors if that’s what you mean.”
“That isn’t what I mean!”
“What do you want me to do then!?”
I looked around before reaching for the wallet in the left pocket of my pants. I took it out and opened it up. I had a debit card with a bunch of money on it, but I was saving most of it for when and if I ever go on a date. Maybe this is a date? Well, if it is, I’m not interested in a second one.
“You’re going to have to take those off,” I said. “The cashier can’t ring them up if they’re on your body.”
“You want to see me naked, don’t y-“
“No, not particularly.”
I watched, half in horror and half in anticipation, as Noe took off her clothes in front of me. I expected her to be naked for some reason, but underneath her new outfit was the dress she was wearing earlier. That was… weird to say the least.
“Did you really think that a demon needed human clothing?” Noe remarked smugly.
“I guess not,” I replied. “Why am I paying for it then?”
“Because if I actually do need to get someone’s attention I would prefer to not look like a lost medieval princess.”
You could say that again.
To be honest though, Noe was quite the sight for sore eyes. She was undoubtedly beautiful and somehow, quite paradoxically for a demon, quite innocent. I mean sure, she wasn’t exactly proper, but it was hard to believe that she was telling the truth when it came to her nature. Maybe she was really an angel in disguise? No, I doubt it, why would an angel lie?
Once Noe was done taking off her clothing, she tried handing it to me. I initially refused, but then I remembered that I didn’t have any cash to give her. Oh well.
I walked up to the cashier holding a few articles of feminine clothing. I awkwardly stood there as the person at the desk, a man in his late twenties, took the clothes one by one and rung them up before removing the ink tags. Once they were done being rung up, I inserted my card into the reader, but before it was done, the man spoke up.
“How’s your girlfriend?”
I stood stunned in silence for a moment.
“She’s… Uh… She’s doing alright.” I replied. It was so obvious that I was lying, wasn’t it? There was no way he actually believes a guy like me could-
“You’re lucky. When I was your age, I was too busy working a job to have any friends at all outside of work, let alone a relationship.”
He believed it, I guess.
“Okay… Thank you, mister.” I emptied the card reader as the cashier handed me a bag with the clothes in it and a receipt.
“Have a good day and good luck!” He said back. I didn’t bother looking him in the eyes.
[ cut ]
As Noe and I walked out of the clothing store, we were thrust into the bustling crowd of mall-shoppers. This wasn’t unusual for a place like this, but it was nonetheless an uncomfortable experience. Statistically, at least one person in this crowd has killed someone, either directly or indirectly. It’s thoughts like that I hate, the ones that make me distrustful of others. Could I really trust Noe?
Suddenly, Noe’s head turned and locked on to a direction within view. The ahoge atop her head seemed to bob up and down as though it acted like an antenna.
“I smell blood.”
“What does that mean,” I asked. “Are we in danger?”
“There’s another sorcerer here.”
“Is that a problem? I’m sure there are-“
“I doubt it’ll take them very long to divine what my nature is, demons hate each-other almost as much as they hate humans,” Noe explained. “We’ll have to get out of here before-“
Suddenly, Noe pulled a pair of scissors out of her back pocket and slashed it through the air. As the blades flew, a blade of brilliant light engulfed them, only to be painted by a splash of crimson blood.
“What the hell was that?!” I shouted.
“They found us.”
“I can’t tell, there are too many people here. We have to get outside!”
Noe grabbed me by the arm and dragged me through the crowd of people traversing the shopping mall. I made contact with like 4 different people, it was horrible. Nothing happened while we were leaving though, almost like this is what our assailant wanted. We got outside and were greeted by the concrete archway once again.
“If I try to track them down, they probably won’t go for you. Stay here,” Noe said. “If anything happens, just yell as loud as you can.”
“Uh… Okay,” I am 99% sure this is a mistake. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“I can stay manifested for about an hour when I’m separated from you, I think. I should be fine,” Noe replied.
“I’m more worried about me.”
“They shot at me, not you.”
“They shot at you?”
“That thing you saw me slice in half, that was a bullet of some kind,” Noe explained. “Whoever they are, their power probably has something to do with blood.”
“That… Okay, I trust you.”
Noe then ran back towards the crowded mall interior, leaving me standing alone in the courtyard. There were several dozen people passing through here at any given time. If Noe was wrong, and whoever shot us was really after me, they could be right here, and I wouldn’t even know.
“Excuse me” I felt a tap on my shoulder, “would you mind doing me a favor?”
I turned around in a startled manner to see a young-looking girl with short dark hair. She was wearing fairly normal clothes and didn’t seem to be carrying any sort of weapon. I thought she was trustworthy, at least a little, and having someone else around might help get the attacker off my trail. The only odd thing about her was the light scarf she was wearing, it looked as though it was made of some kind of black metal, but it flowed like fabric. It’s probably just some kind of new fashion article.
“Uh… What do you need?” I muttered anxiously. If there was one group of people that I had trouble talking to, it was young women. I guess most guys around my age have trouble with that, but there’s a reason I’ve never had a girlfriend before. Noe and Brooklyn are the exception, not the norm.
“Well, first off, can we go somewhere a little more private?”
[ cut ]
I knew it was against my better judgment, but I followed the girl over to a restaurant nearby. I didn’t see exactly how this was “more private”, but I wasn’t the one asking for privacy. The dark-haired girl offered to pay for my food, but I wasn’t hungry, so I just ordered some fries and a drink. I began to get suspicious when my new “friend” didn’t order anything at all, but maybe she wasn’t hungry either.
“I want to know what you’re doing around that demon of yours.”
I began choking on my soda.
“You don’t seem like the kind of person who would be willing to sacrifice so much for power, and most people who are tricked into a contract don’t act so cordial with their new ‘benefactors’,” she continued. As she spoke, I felt something creep up my torso before noticing that her scarf looked different. It was thinner now.
“What… Who are you?” I asked, trying to conceal my panic.
“Your demon friend managed to deflect my attack, so I figured a different approach would be necessary to separate you two,” she said. “I didn’t expect you to be so gullible, though.
The scarf continued to coil around my body, restraining me. I tried to struggle against it, but whenever I applied pressure, it became as hard as steel, locking me in place. “Let me go, is this really your problem?”
“Unfortunately, it is my problem.”
“Because I get paid to deal with this shit,” the girl said. “It’s against the law for a human to have a pact with a demon, end of story. Decades ago, a law was signed internationally that forbade even government officials to hold a pact, though that doesn’t stop most politicians from trying to find them. Only members of a few approved organizations are allowed to make contracts, and they’re highly moderated. Simply put, you’re breaking international law by having a pact with that demon, and I’m here to put an end to it.”
As she spoke, I stared into her eyes, at her face, at the pores of her skin, the way her hair grew. There was something so profoundly fake about all of them, despite how profoundly real they were. It was almost as though I was looking at her through a mirror. This girl, no, this thing, was inhuman. I didn’t know why or how, but something about her disturbed me in the depths of my soul.
“W-what the hell are you?” I asked.
“I’m no different from you. Some call me a sorcerer, others a wizard or witch. It doesn’t matter, you and I are the same,” she answered. “However, what you’re concerned about is my body. Suffice to say, I’m not quite identical to your average human.” The girl held up her hand. I saw five small strands reaching from the tips of her fingers to her scarf. Was it a part of her?
“Let me go, I’ll stay away from Noe if you want, just leave me alone!”
“Unfortunately, I’m going to need that favor from you,” she said. I felt the bizarre sensation of her scarf crawling under my shirt before a piercing sensation pricked near the base of my neck. Next, I felt the metal writhe beneath my skin as my body began to feel weaker and weaker. I struggled, but it was to no avail. My mind raced with possibilities of what was going on, but one stood out as the most likely. She was draining my blood from the inside. Was it for some twisted form of sustenance? Was she trying to weaken me to use as bait?
Suddenly, her eyes shot wide. She reached her arm across the table as her scarf retracted from inside my body. Grabbing a hold of my left arm, her scarf tore away my jacket to reveal the skin underneath. She tightened her grip on my arm as I looked down in horror.
“Where did you get this?!” She asked, almost panicking.
I looked down to see a line of dialogue etched into my flesh. I read it aloud quietly.
“I walked into the building and saw a corpse hanging from the ceiling…”
“What did you see in that library?! What happened in there?!”
Those words were familiar. Wait, isn’t that what the book I found said, the book made of… human… flesh…?
“We need to get out of here, now!” Still holding my arm tightly, the inhuman girl dragged me out of the booth and through the front door of the restaurant. It was a good thing they had me pay upfront when I ordered. Once we exited the restaurant, we were greeted by a familiar face, one that brought both fear and relief to me.
“Let him go, witch,” Noe said, pointing her open pair of scissors toward my captor while standing far across the plaza.
“I would actually prefer sorcerer, if you wouldn’t mind,” The girl said. Well, now I’m a little bit confused. Isn’t ‘sorcerER’ the masculine form? This isn’t an anime or something, there’s no way this cute ‘girl’ was actually a dude, right? Of course, this is the 21st century, thinking along those lines is a bit archaic at this point.
“I’ll ask you one more time, let go of my master,” Noe stepped closer to the girl (?). “You know that you don’t stand a chance against me.”
“We’ll have to see about that,” My captor let go of my arm as I fell to the ground. I was a bit conflicted about who to trust for some reason, my gut was telling me to run. As I hit the floor, I saw a small black cube drop to the ground from the attacker’s hand. It was about the size of a die. I instinctively picked it up without a second thought.
“By the way” The person of an as-yet undetermined gender said, “it’s not my name, but you should call me Scarlet.”
“Well then, Scarlet” Noe said, beginning a charge forward, “I hope you’re more durable than you look.”
[ cut ]
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