Noe broke into a dash, holding her closed pair of scissors at the ready to strike. Scarlet replied with a defensive stance as their scarf transformed. Instead of simply looking like a black scarf, it now consisted of flowing blood. At its tip was a black arrowhead aimed to combat Noe’s charge.
“Stand down,” Scarlet said. “If you keep fighting, you’ll get your master killed.”
“Don’t you touch him!” Noe shouted. She planted her foot into the ground before Scarlet and slashed through their body.
As Noe recoiled from the strike, half of Scarlet’s body separated itself from the whole. The severed flesh seemed to hang in the air for a moment before dissolving into a hovering mass of blood that reformed itself onto Scarlet’s body.
“How did you?” Noe was stunned.
“Your master here isn’t the only one with a demonic pact.” Scarlet stood menacingly before Noe, flourishing her scarf midair. “The difference is that I’m in full control of my demon.”
“That’s impossible, no demon would let itself be bent by a human’s will!”
Noe took a step back as Scarlet reached out their hand. The scarf retracted into a spot on the back of their neck as the arrowhead reformed into a gun at Scarlet’s outstretched palm. Scarlet pulled the trigger, shooting a tendril of blood toward Noe.
Though she tried to dodge, the projectile strafed to pierce Noe through her stomach before morphing into a hook and latching onto her. The gun in Scarlet’s hand disappeared as they grabbed the tendril of blood and threw Noe into the wall of the nearby mall building. The blood then retracted back into Scarlet’s hand like a tape measure and became a scarf again.
“Your demon… I can’t see it…” Noe said, still resting in the person-shaped indent of the wall.
“No, you can. You’ve been seeing it this whole time,” Scarlet walked over to the weakened Noe.
“It’s that scarf, isn’t it,” Noe concluded. “That black lump of metal is what your demon manifested into.”
“That doesn’t make any-“ I had been silent this whole time until now. I should have known not to open my mouth.
“Most demons can’t manifest fully into the material world, so many of them make a compromise, taking on a lesser form,” Scarlet explained. “The demon I have a pact with chose to manifest as the iron within my body. This demon here is the exception, she was able to manifest as a human being somehow.”
“Noe is… Noe is a human?” I asked.
“Not exactly,” Scarlet said. “Though she might not look like it, she’s practically immortal and much stronger than a real human of her build. She also possesses those scissors-“
Scarlet was interrupted by an attempted slashing attack by Noe. In response, Scarlet formed their blood into a barrier and parried the blow. Scarlet then reformed the gun and pointed it at me.
“Hey, what are you-“
“Put down the scissors and surrender,” Scarlet said. “If I kill him, it’s the same as banishing you.”
Noe held her sword high for another strike in contemplation. I couldn’t tell exactly what she was thinking, but it was probably something like “If I kill this b*tch now she won’t have the chance to hurt Ashton,” or something. I knew that wasn’t really what she was thinking, but that’s what came to my mind, I guess. The moment of Noe raising her weapon lasted longer than I expected.
Within her eyes, I saw another scene unfold. A set of interlocking cogs separated and unfurled, turning backwards freely against time itself. I saw Noe strike Scarlet before they pulled the gun’s trigger, impaling my skull with a spear of blood. Everything after that was a blur.
From Noe’s head sprouted two gearwheels, a pair of demon’s horns.
Pieces of spectral clockwork bathed her body in blood as they emerged from within her and formed a wreath at her back, a set of angel’s wings.
A blinding scythe, pure and devoid of darkness, formed at her hand, a reaper’s tool.
Within her gaze was not anger or sadness, not joy or suffering. Her eyes betrayed nothing of humanity. The wolf does not feel mercy for its prey, so too does the hunter not feel for its query.
An angel of death.
A reaper unparalleled.
A machine that swallows demons.
The sound of metal clattering to the ground pierced my eardrums. Scarlet lowered their gun as they saw Noe’s weapon drop to the ground. The demon who called me master raised her arms to the sky in surrender.
“You win, Scarlet,” Noe said.
Scarlet raised on eyebrow before turning to look at me, then back at Noe. “I see. You’ll both be coming with me then.” They turned around and began walking towards the parking lot.
I faintly heard the clattering of a tiny chain.
Suddenly, a flash of steel caught my eye as Noe’s scissors flew across my vision. Scarlet then held out their arm as a blade of blood and iron formed to catch the blow that Noe had kicked towards them. The sword seemed to me unwieldy and massive, but Scarlet held it as though it weighed nothing.
“I see you’ve taken to lying now, demon,” Scarlet said snidely.
“You really thought I would just take defeat lying down?” Noe remarked. “For a witch, you’re pretty dull.”
“That’s because I’m not a witch, I think someone like you can see that plain as day.”
“I don’t know what the hell you are,” Noe said. “It’s like your body and soul are from two different places, I’m getting mixed signals.”
“Heh, so I guess my ‘benefactor’ left me with a few tricks I didn’t know about,” Scarlet replied. “I would have never thought he’d be so generous.”
“So that’s why I can’t figure you out,” Noe twirled her scissors around, causing them to change shape. “I don’t know what kind of demon messed you up that bad, but I imagine you got what you bargained for.” What rested in Noe’s hand now more closely resembled a sword with a split handle.
“I got what I asked for, and in the end, I paid the price,” Scarlet looked as confident as ever, a smile painted across his face. “What makes you think I regret my choice?”
“If you’re still using that power, I don’t see why you would,” Noe held her blade in front of her, ready to strike should her opponent approach.
“I’ll let you ponder that for yourself if you’re unsure,” Scarlet then stepped back, bumping into a random woman attempting to flee the mall.
In an instant, Scarlet released a wave of blood across the ground that kicked up a massive cloud of dust. After the dust had settled, Noe and I saw Scarlet run towards the cars.
“I’ll go after him, you stay here. Don’t touch anything!” Noe ordered.
“O… Okay…” I mumbled as Noe dashed after Scarlet.
Nearby me, the woman who Scarlet made contact with was sitting on the ground, obviously disoriented by what was practically an explosion. Disregarding Noe’s command, I walked over to help up the stunned woman. She was gracious to accept my offer as I reached out my hand to bring her to her feet.
When I touched her hand, it felt off. The texture just barely seemed to be out of the ordinary. I looked at it to see if she was wearing gloves, but I only saw it… changing… The woman, who was now standing on her feet, transformed into a face I now recognized.
“It’s a nice trick, isn’t it?” Scarlet said. I free my hand from his and jumped away. I should have known something like this would have happened.
“What the hell?!” I shouted. “Where did that woman go?!”
“She ran off in the direction Noe went. The disguise I put on her will protect her should Noe try to attack,” Scarlet explained. “I don’t want to be going around hurting innocents.”
“What are you?”
“Really,” I looked him up and down. There was not a masculine trait about him. What I saw looked to be a woman in every way shape and form. “Like, are you-“
“I was born a man,” Scarlet said. “It’s a long story that doesn’t concern you.”
“How is that possible, you look just like a-“
“You just saw a fight between a demon and a wizard, and you think the fact that I happen to look a lot like a girl is hard to believe?”
“Look, I’m not one to take offense from someone misgendering me, but there are a lot of people who would take what you said as an insult,” Scarlet chastised. “Regardless, can you do me a solid?”
“Why would I help you? You just tried to kill me!”
“Stay away from that demon of yours.”
“Nothing good comes from associating with demons, end of story,” Scarlet said. “I know enough people who learned that the hard way.”
“You said it yourself that Noe was a human!”
“I don’t know what exactly she is, but she certainly isn’t human. If she claims to be a demon, you should stay away from her.”
“You still haven’t given me a reason to listen to you.”
“I said earlier that you didn’t seem like someone who would give something up for power,” Scarlet said. “People like you and I shouldn’t be around demons, we’ve got too much to lose.”
“What did you lose?”
“My body,” Scarlet began to walk back towards the mall. “I didn’t want to end up like this, but I can’t say it isn’t what I asked for. Just know that whatever you got out of your deal, it wasn’t worth it. Demons don’t offer you things out of pity or graciousness. I asked to be special, so a demon ruined my life. From what I hear, I got it off easy. If you don’t regret your pact already, don’t worry, someday you will.”
[ cut ]
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