Chapter 9:



The elevator stopped after around a minute. Once it did so, Scarlet drove Claire’s car into one of the hundred-or-so empty spaces and let us out of the vehicle. “Please don’t try and run,” he said. “There are automatic gun sentries that will mow you down if you step into an unsanctioned area. Getting shot by them hurts a lot.”

“It sounds like you’ve had experience with the matter,” I commented.

“Yes, I have.”

There was a pair of glass doors nearby the spot where Scarlet parked. Waiting just outside the doors was what seemed to be a young man in a wheelchair. He wore glasses and bore long white hair atop his head. His eyes seemed almost lifeless, but you could still distinctly tell his intent. He was waiting for us.

“Good evening, Mr. Rose, I take it the girl is the demon you mentioned?” The man with white hair said.

“That would be correct,” Scarlet then turned to Noe and I. “I would like you two to meet Eden Ainsley, my only real higher-up at the West Branch.”

“Only? How many people work here?” I asked.

“There are about three of us who are still around. Most of our branch got moved over to the East side to get as many hands working on a scientific breakthrough as possible,” Scarlet explained. “And at that, only the two of us here are around most of the time. Blaise is a bit less consistent.”

“Why didn’t you three get relocated?” I asked.

“Because the three of us would be considered a danger to the operation,” Eden explained. “All of us are sorcerers in one way or another.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask this, what does being a sorcerer actually mean? I haven’t gotten a straight answer from Noe that explained my situation,” I asked. “I know it has something to do with a demonic pact, but other than that I only know what she’s told me.”

“Of course, that’s because Noe herself probably doesn’t know much about the matter. Telling you anything to begin with is foolish,” Eden glanced over at Noe, who looked distinctly embarrassed. “You have a pathetic excuse for a demon.”

Eden turned his wheelchair towards the door behind him and gestured for us to follow before wheeling forward up to the wheelchair button and pressing it. The door slowly opened, and we walked inside.

“A sorcerer is a human being who has a pact with a demon, just as Noe has told you. What she didn’t tell you is that certain conditions must apply to a given pact for the recipient to be considered a sorcerer,” Eden explained to us as we walked into an elevator inside and begin riding it down to the second floor. “Either a demon has to be willing to enter into an egalitarian contract, which as far as I know has never happened, or the human must somehow assert control over the demon that they have contracted with. Often times, this process involves a forbidden exorcism technique that allows a human to harm or even torture a demon into submission, only then can a human claim the demon’s power for themselves. Even after that, the terms of a demonic pact may still apply, something that only one of the three of us has managed to avoid.”

“Why did Noe call me a sorcerer then?”

“Because she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It’s true that you were able to see into a projected future, but that was only because she allowed it. You wouldn’t be capable of anything beyond that of a normal human if Noe decided to betray you,” Eden continued to stare into his distorted reflection on the steel doors of the elevator. “To put it simply, Noe is effectively the rightful owner of your soul. If you ever want to be rid of her, she could simply kill you and take it for herself.”

“Noe?!” I turned to her. “You said there were no strings attached, were you lying to me?”

‘No!” Noe shouted back. “These two are the ones who are lying to you, how long is it going to take you to realize that?!”

“I want answers,” I replied. “Those people you killed in the alleyway said the same thing, what’s going on here?!”

“They’re all lying to you! Why can’t you just trust me?!” Noe’s voice resounded throughout the elevator just before the door slid open. Eden was the first to leave, followed by Scarlet. I then silently stepped out into the room that awaited us, leaving Noe to step up behind me.

“You have two choices, Ashton Phillips. Either leave Noe with us and agree to never involve yourself with demons ever again, or help us find the man who can teach you the forbidden exorcism technique. Either way, you’ll need this,” Eden said. I felt something metal, like a handcuff, snap itself around my left wrist.

“What?!” I looked down to see a metal ring. I was right, it was just like a handcuff, but it was only one half. “What is this thing?!”

“It’s a soul shackle, it’ll keep you connected to Noe across a longer distance. She’ll disappear if there isn’t anyone to provide her life force,” Scarlet explained. I saw a tendril extending from his foot retract, that must have been how he put this thing on me. Scarlet then walked over to Noe. “I suggest you put this on if you don't want to demanifest,” he offered her the other soul shackle, which she reluctantly equipped.

“So, what’s it going to be, Ashton? Do you want to help us, or would you rather just leave all of this behind you?” Eden asked. “Both choices have their benefits, but it ultimately doesn’t matter to me.”

“This forbidden technique, it would force me to hurt Noe, wouldn’t it?”

“That is likely correct. A demon willing to give their power away for free is an unwise one, so I doubt Noe would make that mistake,” Eden said. “You and Noe will become enemies if you choose to take that path.”

“Then I won’t do it.”

“Very well,” Eden said. “Scarlet, please escort Ashton out of the facility.”

Scarlet sighed. “Alright then,” he walked over to the elevator and pressed the call button, causing the elevator to instantly begin opening. “Come on then, the boss wants you out.”

“You can’t do this to me!” I shouted. “What makes you think this is okay?! This is my problem, not yours!”

“Unfortunately, this has been my problem for a long time. Scarlet would say the same,” Eden replied. “Keeping humans safe from demons is our responsibility after what happened two years ago, we can’t let something like that occur again. If it weren’t for what we do, Seattle would fall into utter chaos. Don’t forget that.”

“Why you-“

Scarlet put his hand on my shoulder. “Just leave him,” he said. “He’s right, you don’t have to deal with this.”

“But… I want to deal with this! I want to help!”

“Why?” Scarlet’s words stopped me in my tracks. He had a point. Why did I want to help? All I’ve wanted since I met Noe was to get away from all of this, why did that change? When did that change?

“I- I…” My gaze turned to Noe. She looked worried, not for herself, but for me. “I don’t know why! I just know that I have to help Noe!”

“Help her with what?!” Scarlet asked.

“I don’t know with what, I just know that I have to help her!”

“You aren’t being coherent,” Scarlet said. “You can explain it to me better when we’re on the elevator.”

“I- I- I…” I couldn’t form the words anymore. I looked over to Noe, she was smiling at me. There was no smirk or cruel grin on her face. It was a smile of acceptance and reassurance. Her fate was in my hands, this was my choice. To abandon her, or to trust her. The answer was clear, Noe would never betray me.

“Fine!” I said, shaking off Scarlet’s arm. “I’ll help you, but only if you promise to not hurt Noe!”

Eden closed his eyes and smiled. “You’re positive that Noe will cooperate, aren’t you.”

“Of course I am! I trust her!” I shouted in reply. “Noe isn’t just a demon, she’s my friend! I know that she wouldn’t do anything to hurt me! I would never abandon her!”

“Fine then, give me your phone,” Eden instructed. I reluctantly pulled the device out of my pocket and handed it to him. He was careful to not make contact with my hand, for some reason, even though he was wearing thin, black gloves.

“I’ve put my number in your phone and sent a message to myself. That way, I’ll be able to contact you if there’s something you can do to help find Fr. Joseph,” Eden explained as he handed the phone back to me.

“Who’s Father Joseph?” I asked.

“He’s an old acquaintance of Scarlet and I, the one who invented the forbidden exorcism technique,” Eden answered. “He’s an ex-priest who specializes in dealing with demons. Ever since the incident two years ago, he’s been off the grid, though he’s supposedly still somewhere around the city.”

“Why do you think I can help?”

“The more hands, the better,” Eden replied. “You have the ability to see demonic traces if I recall correctly from Scarlet’s report, so you might be able to find him slightly faster. Regardless, it’s time we send you home. For now, you should just go about your business as usual. We’ll let you know if you’re needed.”

“So you’re just going to send me away? What about Noe?!”

“Noe will be safe here with us,” Eden said. “Scarlet, walk him out.”

“Fine then,” Scarlet yawned as he stepped into the open elevator. A tendril from his leg reached out to my hand and yanked me into the elevator doors.

[ cut ]

After a fairly quiet elevator ride, and then another one inside of the car, I was finally about to see the light of day once more, so to speak. It was actually way past sunset by now. Scarlet drove me over to me and my sister’s house. I then remembered that he borrowed my sister’s car for this whole operation. Now I get to see how the two of them interact. This is sure to be interesting.

Scarlet first walked up to the door and knocked on it nervously. I could practically see him shaking. Then, my sister answered the door.

“Who is-“ My sister looked down towards Scarlet and then up at me. “Oh, so you two came back.”

“You weren’t expecting that?!” I replied.

“I thought you were getting kidnapped,” Claire’s voice barely had a hint of sarcasm, a testament to her mockery skill.

“Uh- Um… Sorry for having to borrow Ashton for a bit, I needed some help with something,” Scarlet said.

“Don’t you work for the government? This doesn’t have anything to do with law school, does it?” Claire said, clearly fed up with his social incompetence.

“You knew about all that?!” I asked Claire. “I thought his job was so secret that he couldn’t tell me his name!”

“I mean, he’s not supposed to talk about it, but I’m pretty sure he only kept his name hidden from you because he’d get a panic attack trying to introduce himself.”

“No, this has nothing to do with my education. You met Noe, right?” Scarlet interrupted.

“Yes, I did. I take it you tried to bring her in and got Ashton involved.”

“How much do you know about all of this?” I asked.

“Enough,” Claire said. “Now both of you get inside. It’s the middle of summer, the AC will stop working if I leave the door open too long.”

[ cut ]