It was nearly four hours later when Arden was finally able to return to their room. They changed their clothes and paced the small space, running their shaking hands through their hair. Their stomach was still churning in knots.
The police had been called, and nearly the whole Center was under suspicion. There were more than a few people that would be able to pull something like that off, but it took a very long time to convince the police that it couldn’t have been Arden. Misty and Officer Brad helped provide their alibi, and the fact that they were blind and not able to draw as detailed a symbol as what was on the floor helped a lot too. They were still anxious as hell.
“So who’s your brother?” Arden asked, speaking quietly, “Why did you lock him away?”
“His name was Crantraeth. He was a much higher level of demon than I ever was,” Benny answered, speaking out loud. He kept his deep demonic voice low. Even though they were alone, neither of them wanted someone walking by to overhear the conversation.
“He was hell-bent on taking over the world. He wanted the demons to have human slaves, to burn the whole world to make a literal hell on earth,” Benny continued. Arden flinched at the image, “To be honest, his plan wasn’t very original, but he was one of the only demons that actually acted on it.”
“And you were against that?” Arden asked. They felt a prickle of annoyance from Benny.
“We all were,” he explained, his tone icy, “I pushed my luck trying to take a soul I had no claim to – Crantraeth was worse. Demons need their rules, and staying in hell is our role. We can come up to earth sometimes, but we can never rule it. It’s just one of those cosmic rules we have to follow.”
“But he tried anyway?” Arden asked. Benny made Arden nod their head.
“He tried stealing Lucifer’s sword - the one he had when he was cast out of Heaven. Crantraeth was convinced that if he had that sword, he could rule Earth and Hell. He almost got it too, but Lucifer’s right hand man caught him. He sentenced him to a cage, way inside the bowels of hell, where he would be trapped until the end of time,” he explained, “Because he was my brother, I could have either been trapped there with him, or be put in charge of making a seal that would keep him there. I didn’t want anything to do with him, so I made it so there’s no way for him to escape.”
“But someone’s trying anyway,” Arden pointed out, “They wouldn’t have killed Bruce is they didn’t think they could raise Crantraeth.”
“I know. The only thing I can think of is that Crantraeth somehow found a way to break the seal, and he needed someone up here to do something to open it,” Benny said, “He’s be down there for ten centuries – he’s definitely had some time to think about how to get out.”
“Jesus,” Arden muttered, causing Benny and themselves to flinch. Sometimes they slipped with phrases like ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘oh my god’ and it made the two of them flinch at the mention of them. Arden sometimes couldn’t help but slip up every now and then.
“Sorry,” they muttered, “Why kill Bruce? Isn’t demonic sacrifice usually a virgin thing?”
“Normally, yes. But Crantraeth was the worst of the worst demons. Using something pure like a virgin wouldn’t work to summon him. He would need the worst of the worst,” Benny said. Arden stopped pacing.
“Bruce killed three people. His soul was tainted, you said so yourself,” they said, “If Crantraeth needs people with tainted souls to escape, whoever’s summoning him found the best place to find tainted souls.”
“I mean, a prison would probably be easier,” Benny pointed out, making Arden shake their head.
“Yeah, but if someone is ritually slaughtered in a prison there would be an uproar. Those places are crazy guarded. Here? No one cares what happens to the kids here. We’re problem kids that no one wants anything to do with,” they pointed out. Benny went quiet, his nervousness radiating in Arden’s head.
“I’m really worried about this, Arden,” Benny admitted.
“Your brother rising from Hell and slaughtering the world?” Arden asked sarcastically, “I wonder why.”
“I’m being serious,” Benny snapped, surprising Arden, “The killer is going after people that have tainted souls.”
“You have a tainted soul.”
Arden’s blood ran cold. They knew having a demon inside them wasn’t good for their soul, but Arden had never actually seen theirs. It was just something that they couldn’t see for whatever reason. It’s not like it showed up in a mirror’s reflection or anything.
“It’s not as ugly as Bruce’s,” Benny added, sensing their unease.
“Well that’s comforting,” Arden said sarcastically.
“My being with you all this time has put you in danger,” Benny continued, “Your soul is only dark because of me. If your parents can get me out, you’ll be safe.”
They cringed at the idea. Ever since they had been sent to the Center, Arden’s parents pushed for them to agree to an exorcism. Benny had known that there was a good chance that if they went through an exorcism, one or both of them would survive the process. From what Benny had told them, it wasn’t like banishing a ghost – there would be blood, screaming, agony, and a chance of no one surviving the process. Arden was too scared to go through that, and they didn’t want Benny to get hurt either. They still had faith in the idea that Benny would get out by doing something selfless, no matter how unrealistic it was.
“But if you leave we won’t be able to stop the killer from raising your brother,” Arden pointed out quickly, “He’ll probably needs more than one kill, right? We have to stop the killer before he hurts someone else. I can’t do that without you.”
“Yes, but you would be safe from getting sacrificed.”
Arden felt briefly touched that Benny was worried about them like that. They even smiled.
“I can’t just worry about my own safety,” Arden replied, “I don’t want to get sacrificed, and lots of the people in here are dicks, but they don’t deserve to get killed like Bruce did. Even if Mom and Dad figure out how to get an exorcism allowed in here, you can’t leave me until we stop the killer. Okay?”
Benny was quiet for a long time. Arden started to worry that he had decided to go hide in Arden’s subconscious they could still feel Benny there in their mind.
“Okay,” he agreed. Arden smiled and nodded, sitting down on their bed. They laid down, suddenly exhausted, pulling the blanket up under their chin.
This is why your soul isn’t as tainted as the others, Benny said, speaking quietly. Arden smiled again, closing their eyes.
In Arden’s dreams, they could always see. Tonight, they wished they couldn’t.
In their nightmare, they were in the Center. The walls were on fire, and there were people strung up on the wall with spikes through their hands and chests, just like Bruce. Only they were alive and screaming in agony and horror. Arden didn’t recognize any of the people’s faces, but he knew the sounds of their voices. He recognized them all. When Arden tried to run to them to help, the roof would start crumbling down. Arden ducked to avoid a massive chunk of the roof falling. The ground beneath their feet shook violently and split open, creating a massive chasm. Arden backed away, pressing their back to the wall and their heart pounding. The scars on their forearms burned painfully, and when they looked down they saw that their arms were actually on fire.
Arden looked over on the other side of the break in the ground, seeing Misty clinging to the edge of the floor, her legs dangling into the pit.
“Arden, help!” Misty screamed, clawing and trying to get out of the pit. Arden was suddenly on the same side of the pit as Misty and they grabbed her arms. She gripped their forearms, not seeming to be bothered by the flames raging on their skin.
“I got you! I got you!” Arden cried, struggling to pull her up. Misty looked up at them, and suddenly Arden felt their stomach drop. In an instant, they had switched places with Misty, and she was struggling to get them out of the pit. They kicked their feet wildly, trying and failing to get their footing.
“Just go! Get out of here!” Arden yelled. Misty shook her head.
“I can help! I can get you out!” Misty screamed, but her grip on Arden’s arms was starting to slip.
“Arden!” A familiar but terrifying voice cried out from the bottom of the pit. Arden looked down and saw pitch blackness creeping up from the bottom of the pit, swirling around their legs.
“Arden, wake up!” the voice cried out just as Misty lost her grip. Arden screamed as they plunged into the blackness.
Arden sat up in bed, feeling wonky and disoriented. They felt around them, making sure that they were still in bed, in their room. They ran their hands over their scars, which ached in memory of the fire in the dream, but weren’t burning anymore. Arden took a deep breath and buried their face in their hands.
“Holy shit,” they muttered, wiping sweat from their brow.
Are you okay? Benny asked, sounding concerned. Arden nodded.
“Yeah. Yeah, it was just a nightmare,” they replied, lying back down on their pillow, “Thanks for waking me up. It was intense.”
It wasn’t a nightmare.
Benny’s words made Arden freeze.
“What do you mean?”
I never see your dreams, Benny explained, And you never see mine. But I saw that. I saw Misty trying to keep you from falling into the pit.
“So what was it? A warning? A reminder that Crantraeth is going to get out and do … that to the Center?” Arden asked.
Not just the Center. He’ll do that to the whole world if he can get out of Hell, Benny said grimly. Arden sat up and leaned their back against the wall, heart pounding in their chest.
“How can we stop him?” Arden asked.
We find whoever is killing for him and kill them. It’s the only way, Benny said. Arden swallowed the lump in their throat.
“I don’t think I can kill someone,” they admitted.
That’s okay. I can do it for us, Benny said. Arden didn’t say anything, but didn’t feel comfortable with that.
It’s not like I’ve never killed someone, Arden, Benny reminded them. Arden nodded.
“I know. I know, I guess I just … I don’t know. I don’t want to set back you getting out of me if you’ve been doing so well lately,” they said. Benny seemed amused by that.
Plus if I kill someone, I’d have to use your body to do it, he pointed out, That probably doesn’t help much.
“I mean, not really. If we get caught killing someone, we’ll never get out of here. We’ll go to prison for who knows how long,” Arden said. Benny sighed.
Maybe I don’t have to kill anyone, he said finally, I think I know someone who can help.
Misty. In the dream she was trying to save you. I think she can help.
“How can she help? Like you said, she’s a pyromaniac, not a relatively powerful demon.”
Benny didn’t respond. He briefly took control of Arden’s hand to feel their watch for what time it was. It was nearly 6:00 am. Misty had said many times that she was an early bird – odds were good that she would be awake right now.
We should go talk to her. Trust me, Benny said. Arden felt skeptical, but nodded anyway. Maybe Benny and their weird dream (vision, apparently? That was something new) were right. They just had no idea how they were going to explain any of this to Misty.