The basement smelled musty and cobwebs kept brushing against Arden’s face no matter how much they ducked their head. If the Center staff had been spending the last few weeks cleaning the space up, they were doing a terrible job.
“I should have grabbed a flashlight,” Gabriel whispered, “All the lights are broken down here – I can’t see a thing.”
“Wow, that must suck,” Arden said dryly. Benny snickered.
Arden was holding onto the priest’s arm reluctantly as they made their way through the halls of the basement. They had never been down there before so they had no idea where to go. If they got separated from Father Gabriel, they’d be screwed. Benny was still weak from Misty trying to summon him, so Arden doubted that he’d be able to make them see for more than a minute without getting too weak to do much else.
They had been wandering the basement for a few minutes already. The further away from the church they got, the better Arden and Benny began to feel, but Misty trying to summon Benny was still causing some problems. For one thing, Benny suddenly had total control over their right arm and neither of them could figure out why. Arden didn’t tell Father Gabriel, of course – there wasn’t a need to freak out the priest any more than he already was. Apart from Arden suddenly having a possessed arm, Benny wasn’t showing any signs of being strong enough to fight off his brother. If they got to Misty, and the killer had already finished with his ritual …
Neither of them wanted to think about what might happen.
Father Gabriel, however, didn’t get the memo.
“If Misty is already dead, how can we stop the demon from rising? I mean, we don’t have many options after that point, do we?” he asked. Benny clenched Arden’s fist, but Arden shot him a ‘don’t you dare’ thought. The last thing they needed at this point was for Benny to punch their only ally.
“Crantraeth can be stopped when he first rises,” Benny explained, relaxing the fist and shoving the hand into Arden’s pocket, “The key I used to lock him away is inside of an idol that looks like an ancient carving of the Virgin Mary.”
“Why on earth would you use the Mother of God to hide a key to a hell gate?” Gabriel asked, sounding flabbergasted.
“Well, odds were good – especially around the time that I locked him away – it would get found by some missionaries or crusaders or whatever, they take it into a church. No self-respecting demon is going to go looking for a hell key in a house of God,” Benny pointed out, “And it’s not really a key. Inside of the idol is some of Crantraeth’s blood. If we can destroy him or the idol before he can consume the blood, then we’re good. But if he gets the blood first …”
“…Then it will be hell on earth,” Gabriel finished, horrified. His arm was tense under Arden’s grip.
“Then let’s keep going. We’ve got to be getting closer, right?” Arden said, practically dragging the priest forwards. Gabriel stumbled a little but quickly picked his pace back up. The basement must look creepier than Arden thought it did if the priest wanted to cling to the possessed kid while they were down there. Arden was 90% sure the reason Gabriel suggested Arden holding onto him was strictly because he was scared. They could feel his arm trembling.
“I see a light up ahead,” Gabriel whispered, “Down the hall, through a doorway on the right. It looks like candlelight.”
Benny inhaled with Arden’s nose and let out a sigh of relief.
“I don’t smell sulfur. That’s a number one sign that a demon’s been summoned,” he explained to the priest. Arden shuddered at the memory of Benetraeth burning his forearms, sulfur stinking up the room before they had passed out. Arden felt Benny cringe at the memory, and they felt a pang of guilt for not doing a better job of hiding the memory from Benny.
“You goddamn creepy asshole!”
Misty’s voice echoed down the hall, but her voice was muffled. She’s probably gagged, Benny pointed out, We need to hurry.
“Come on,” Arden hissed, pulling the priest down the hallway. They didn’t stop to worry about running into anything – they just needed to get to Misty.
Benny, you good to take over? Arden asked, concerned. Benny nodded.
This will probably hurt, he warned.
We’ll be fine. Go get Misty.
Just like he had in the bathroom, Benny pushed himself forward in Arden’s mind, flowing into his torso, out into his arms and legs. Unlike last time, Benny pushed some extra power into Arden’s eyes, forcing sight despite the pin pricks of pain that shot through their head. Benny blinked a few times to clear his vision before taking off Arden’s sunglasses. He folded them and tucked them into Arden’s jacket carefully. He looked over at the priest, who was sweating bullets.
“Don’t look so scared, Father,” Benny whispered, making Gabriel jump and stare at Benny in horror, “You got the devil on your side tonight.”
Benny gave Gabriel a wicked grin and ignored Arden’s disapproval of the joke. He turned his attention to the doorway that was illuminated with candlelight. He carefully peered around the corner and swallowed a lump that had appeared in Arden’s throat.
Misty was tied to a chair, her facing the doorway so Benny could see a red cloth wrapped tightly around her mouth. The cloth looked wet, with something red dripping down her chin.
What’s in her mouth? Arden asked. Benny widened Arden’s eyes and looked around the room frantically. Misty was in the middle of a massive pentagram, but it was a basic summoning circle. That was how she was able to try to call him, Benny realized. On the other side of the room, a man was bent over, painting the lock symbol on the floor with his back to the door. On the wall above the symbol were leather straps meant to hold someone up while they were bled dry.
“Crantraeth’s blood. Misty’s not the sacrifice,” Benny whispered, “She’s the vessel.”
“So who is the sacrifice?” Gabriel whispered.
A metal click came from behind when Benny, Arden and Father Gabriel. They slowly turned around to see a security guard with a gun aimed right in between Arden’s eyes. Benny had to fight to keep Arden’s face from reacting to the barrel of the gun. Behind the gun, Officer Brad had a grim look on his face.
“You are, Arden,” he said, pushing the cold metal of the gun into Arden’s forehead. Their heart pounded in their chest, but Benny managed to keep them looking calm.
Can we heal from a bullet? Arden asked, sounding frantic.
I don’t know. We’ve never been shot before, Benny admitted.
“Damn it, Brad, you’re supposed to be the cool one,” Benny said, using Arden’s voice to speak. There was no need to give away that it wasn’t Arden driving the body. Not yet.
“I am the cool one,” Brad said, offended, “I’m the one helping to stop a demon. Now stand up before I shoot you.”
No part of that was cool, Brad, Arden retorted quietly. Benny had to agree.
“Do you have them, Brad?”
Benny and Arden cringed at the irritatingly familiar voice coming from the room behind them. Brad grinned and waved his gun, gesturing for Benny/Arden and Gabriel to move. Benny didn’t move a muscle, still feigning Arden’s blindness. Brad rolled his eyes and aimed the gun at the priest.
“Help freaky Ray Charles into the room please, Father Gabriel,” he said. Despite the please, it was clearly not a polite request. Reluctantly, Benny let Gabriel help him to his feet and lead him into the room.
Inside the room, there were dozens of broken chairs, some old desks with rusted metal, and a few dented file cabinets that were pushed against the walls to make room for the symbol painted on the floor. Every available surface was covered in candles, wax melting and dripping down to the floor. Misty sat in the middle of the pentagram, staring up at Arden, Benny, and Gabriel with wide eyes. Tears streaked her face as she tugged at the leather straps binding her wrists to the metal chair. Benny wanted to race over to her and untie her, but Father Gabriel held Arden’s arm tightly, and Brad still had the gun pressed to their back.
Call-Me-Ted straightened up from where he was squatted in the corner, stopping to admire the symbol he had just finished painting. He turned around and smiled at Arden, his pale face stretched into a toad-like smile. Paint covered his shirt, like he had been wiping his paintbrush on his shirt as he worked.
He looks like those freaky pale fish you find at the bottom of the ocean, Benny said quietly, completely disgusted, The ones with the flabby skin, you know?
No, I don’t know, Arden replied, I’ve never seen one, obviously. How do you know?
The bottom of the ocean is one of Earth’s few hell entrances.
I … okay, I’m definitely going to have some follow up questions about that later, but can we please focus on stopping a murder? Ours, apparently?
Yeah, of course. Sorry.
“Didn’t I tell you there were freaky black eyes under those shades, Brad?” Ted said, pointing at Arden’s face. He was standing so close that Benny and Arden could see the flecks of red paint on Ted’s pale face. The stabbing pain behind their eyes was getting worse.
“Yeah, you did,” Brad said, coming around from behind Arden and Gabriel, “I still can’t believe the kid’s possessed. They’ve always been so … well-behaved.”
“The devil knows how to fool anyone, Brad,” Ted said solemnly, “Right, Father?”
“Theodore, you need to let these children go,” Gabriel said. He was trying to speak with the forcefulness that he always had in the church, but his voice wavered. He really picked a bad time to be a chicken.
“Not until we finish what we started,” Ted replied, “Help us out and chain the demon to the wall, will you Father?”
“No! They are innocent, and you need to stop,” Gabriel snapped, “Hasn’t there been enough bloodshed?”
Ted snorted and shook his head.
“No. No he needs one last sacrifice, one more damned soul to free him,” he retorted, “The soul of someone possessed is as damned as it can get.”
“Why do you want him free?” Arden demanded, Benny giving them a turn to speak, “Do you have any idea what’s going to happen if you let him out of his prison?”
“Of course,” Ted replied, smiling. Arden felt their stomach twist at his horrifying gleefulness. “He’s going to smite the sinners. He spoke to me and told me as much. He said the streets will run red with the blood of the wicked, and the righteous will inherit the earth.”
Benny blinked in surprise. That … wasn’t the line his brother used to use when trying to tempt someone into committing atrocities in his name. It was usually more along the lines of tempting sinners to bring down the righteous and the holier-than-thou folks.
“Who exactly do you think you’re summoning?” Benny asked carefully. Ted’s eyes lit up and he looked over at Brad, who was also beaming proudly.
“We’re going to save the Archangel Raphael from his prison in Hell,” Call-Me-Ted said proudly. He puffed out his chest and looked at everyone gathered in the room, like he expected them to gasp or applaud him.
“What the fuck,” Arden and Benny said together.