Noe and I sat exhausted on the floor of the abandoned library. It was sometime in the afternoon, close to the evening. The setting sun’s incandescent light faintly shined through the hazy glass windows. I took off my jacket and unraveled the bandages that covered my arm. The mark from earlier was gone, right?
Along my arm itself was the words from the book engraved into my flesh. I should have figured they wouldn’t disappear. I was no longer revolted at the sight of them, but it was still a bit unnerving.
“Ashton, don’t look at it!” Noe shouted.
“Look Noe, I’m fine now. Killing those demons undid the curse, right?” I replied.
“Not your arm, it’s your-“
I looked at the palm of my hand. Etched into it was the same, horrifying mark that graced my arm. It took a different shape, however. Among the charred and molten flesh was a single rune, a letter beyond my furthest comprehension. My heart pounded instinctively the first moment I saw it, my vision tunneled on the mark and the mark alone as I gazed into an infinite abyss of rotting tissue. The corrupted flesh around the mark began to slowly grow across my arm; the more I noticed it, the faster it engulfed me. I watched as it crept up my elbow before-
“STOP!” Noe grabbed my face. “You can’t look at it! That will kill you!”
My eyes wouldn’t listen. In the corner of my vision, I watched as my arm continued to decay. I felt nausea slowly build up inside me. There was a pain in my arm as well, it was overwhelming. Noe said she had dulled my senses, maybe that was wearing off.
Suddenly, I felt something make contact with my face. It was my lips; something was happening to my lips. Noe was happening to my lips. I didn’t know why she was doing it, but Noe was kissing me. My eyes immediately darted away from my arm for a split second, but that was all it took.
Noe slammed my head into the bookshelf behind me and held it in place as she began to bandage my hand. I was surprised that she could fully bandage it with only one hand free, it was truly impressive. After she was done, she let go of my head and I looked down at my arm, and then my hand. The decay was gone, my arm was back to normal. The bandages now only covered up my hand.
“Don’t make me do that again,” Noe said stubbornly. “We’re getting out of here before another demon shows up.”
“Why didn’t my curse fully go away?” I asked bluntly. “Wasn’t this supposed to fix the problem?”
“It should’ve, but it seems like you’ve actually been cursed twice.”
“The curse from these two demons is gone now, you’re not at risk of possession. The trouble is the mark on your hand. It was from a different demon,” Noe explained. “It doesn’t seem to be an active curse, so you likely won’t die if you don’t look at it, but I’ve never seen anything like this used on a human before.”
“What’s so unique about it?”
“Most of the time, a demon can’t claim a human’s soul unless the victim is willing. That mark seems to have done just that. If you die with that mark, the demon that created it will consume your soul,” Noe said. “In case you’re wondering, that’s a really bad thing.”
“How do we stop it?!”
“We have to kill the demon that created it, just like last time.”
“That sounds like a good plan, where is he?!”
“I don’t know. All I could tell is that the demon that created that mark isn’t currently manifested. Anything beyond that is out of my league,” Noe looked a bit disappointed. “I was hoping killing these two would solve the problem, but they must have been working with that other demon.”
“Is that a normal thing that happens?”
“Not really. Demons hate each-other almost as much as they hate humans. If they’re working together, that means they’re probably under threat or blackmail.”
“What’s blackmail for a demon?”
“Oh, that’s simple,” Noe said. “If a demon’s true name is spoken aloud, they die.”
“I’m not sure exactly how, but there a certain angel with a reputation for killing any demon that has its true name uttered. Supposedly, every demon that exists now has and never will have its name spoken, since demons that have their name revealed aren’t just killed, they’re erased from existence. The only angel with that kind of power would have to be an angel of death, an angel tasked with killing demons that claim human souls for themselves. I’m surprised that a mark like the one you have could even exists with an angel like that around, but maybe they just haven’t taken notice of the demon that made it.”
“So, hold on a minute. There are demons and angels?!” I was stunned. Yeah, I could believe in evil supernatural spirits that claim the souls of the living, but there another, entirely separate faction of spiritual beings that protect us?
“Most people across the world believe in angels and demons. You’re an atheist, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, though I’m seriously questioning it right now.”
“Unfortunately, it’s impossible for me to give you proof that God exists. Angels and demons are both bound by laws that are impossible to break, and one of those is that no human can ever have evidence of God’s existence.”
“So you’re saying that there’s a God too?!”
“Who knows?” Noe gave a knowing smile.
This was starting to get frustrating. I really don’t understand anything, do it? Maybe I just shouldn’t bother.
“Anyway, we should get back to your house and plan our next move,” Noe suggested. “If the demon we’re fighting against was working with these two demons, you can count on there being more.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
Noe and I made our way out of the library and walked over to the parking lot. My sister, Claire, was waiting for me next to the car.
“Hey, Ashton! I was just wondering how long your were going to take in there!” My sister shouted.
“Uh… I’m here now…” I replied. There was something off about her, normally she would have some quip about me being a virgin to start off an interaction like this.
“I hope you weren’t doing anything naughty in there with your girlfriend...” Claire gave her normal teasing grin. Never mind my observation from earlier, this is definitely Claire.
“No, of course not!” I rebutted. “Why would you even think like that?!”
“Sheesh, I’m sorry,” Claire said. That certainly wasn’t normal. Maybe she woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something?
Claire opened the back doors of the car and stepped into the driver’s seat. I got into the back of the car, but Noe chose to ride shotgun for some reason. Claire started the car, and we began driving back home. It was about five minutes later when we took a wrong turn.
Noe immediately pulled the pair of scissors out of her pocket and aimed the shimmering blade towards the driver’s neck. “I know who you are, now pull over and let the two of us out of the car.”
“Sorry, I can’t do that.” The driver replied.
“Noe, what’s going-“
In the blink of an eye, instead of my sister sitting in the driver’s seat, it was Scarlet. I had the feeling I hadn’t seen the last of him.
“Ashton, why did you break the cube?” He asked.
“What did you do to my sister?!”
“I asked her if I could borrow her car.” Scarlet replied.
“How do you know my sister?!”
“We were both involved in the pentagram case. I thought you knew this by now.”
“One wrong move and I slit your neck!” Noe said.
“First off, that won’t kill me. Second, if I die the car goes off the road and you two go with it. I’d suggest you don’t do that,” Scarlet explained. “You might be able to survive that, but I assure you that Ashton here can’t.”
An idea came to my mind. It was crazy, but it just might end up working.
I reached over to the car door on my left and unlocked it before pulling the handle and opening the door slightly. “You want me alive, right?” I said. “I’m going to call my sister. If you’re telling the truth, I’ll go with you. If not, you’re going to park the car and let us out. If you don’t comply, I’ll jump out of the car,” I could barely tell that my words were trembling.
“Are you insane?!” Noe shouted. “If you die then I-“
“Make the call,” Scarlet interrupted.
With my left hand on the door, I scrolled through the very short list of contacts on my phone before finding my sister and tapping on her. I held the phone up to my ear and heard the dial-tone ring.
“Hello?” My sister’s voice pierced through the dial tones and echoed into my ear. “What’s up?”
“I don’t want you to be alarmed or take any sudden action,” I said. What am I doing? This isn’t a time to get all serious, that’ll just make her more worried.
“Is everything okay?”
“Where are you?” I asked.
“I’m on the way home. Alex needed to borrow my car for some reason, I didn’t bother remembering. You can walk home, right?” Claire said.
“Who’s Alex?” Just because her story lines up with Scarlet’s doesn’t mean he’s necessarily telling the truth. He can shapeshift, so with enough research he could definitely fool my sister into thinking he’s someone she knows.
“Oh yeah, you’ve never met him. We met each other during the pentagram incident, he was part of the investigation team, but he was actually a little younger than me.”
“Can you describe him?”
“Uh… I don’t really know what to say. He has dark brown hair, fairly short. He looks like a girl,” Claire’s description certainly lines up. But I have to be sure.
“Is there anything about Alex that only you would know?”
“Not that I’m willing to tell you.”
“Secrets are meant to stay between the people that know them.”
“I’ve been KIDNAPPED by someone who claims you lent them your car. I want PROOF that they are who they say they are.”
“Fine, you win…”
I heard what my sister had to say before hanging up the phone. It figures that she’d bring that up, especially at a time like this. She really likes to tease people about this sort of thing.
“Hey Scarlet,” I said in a deadpan tone.
“What did she tell you?” It sounded like he knew exactly what I was going to say.
“You’re a virgin, aren’t you?”
“So’s she,” He replied.
“Answer the question.”
“Is that really necessary?”
I pushed the car door open again.
“Yes,” Scarlet painfully admitted.
“Are you dating my sister?” I asked him smugly.
“Do you like my sister?”
“N- No…” Scarlet stuttered. “How is this relevant to the current conversation in the slightest?”
I slammed the door shut. “Okay, I believe you.”
“Can you answer my question about the cube, then?” Scarlet said as Noe continued to hold her sword up to his neck.
“Noe, stand down,” I asked.
“I still don’t trust him, but fine,” Noe reluctantly retracted the blade from her scissors and lowered them.
“I don’t know anything about the cube,” I reached into my pocket to find it, but I felt something wet. Reversing the compartment, I found the inside of my pocket soaked with blood. “I take it this is yours?”
“Huh? Did it get smashed by accident?” Scarlet asked.
“It must have,” I answered. “It this going to come out in the wash?”
“Out of all things that’s really what you’re concerned about?”
Scarlet reached his hand back towards me as the blood from my pants jumped from the fabric and into his palm. It then seemed to form an incision and crawl inside.
“So, what you’re saying is that you don’t actually need any help?” Scarlet asked. “How did that thing break? Did you fall from the ceiling or something?”
“What is it that you want? I would expect you to rush in and do something if you really thought I was calling for help,” I said.
“Yeah, admittedly I’m not being very subtle. I saw the fight through that cube. It functions as sort of a remote sensory organ.”
“Why are you picking us up?” I asked.
“The higher-ups want to examine Noe. After my fight with her, it seems like they’ve taken an interest in her unique circumstance,” Scarlet replied. “I don’t know all of the details.”
“Why did you lie to us then?” Noe had her scissors at the ready.
“I figured you might fight back if I told you the truth immediately.”
“Well, you’re right,” Noe held the radiant blade back up to Scarlet’s neck.
“Noe! Stand down. There’s nothing you can do,” I shouted. Noe obviously wasn’t listening.
Just then, Scarlet took a left turn directly into a concrete wall nearby. I panicked for a brief moment before I realized that the wall was just an illusion, some kind of holographic projection. He parked the car in an outlined space before pulling his phone out of his pocket. “This is Scarlet, move the elevator,” he spoke into the device. After a moment of silence, I heard the whirring of nearby mechanisms as the floor began to sink. The car traveled downward to an as-yet unknown destination. “Welcome to DEED’s West Branch,” Scarlet said as he stuck the phone into his pocket.
[ to be continued ]
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