The Archfiend Artifact

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8

DOWNTOWN, MABON CITY
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21
6:21 AM
I stuck to familiar roads as I navigated the city, diverting only once so as to avoid that blighted parking lot. The sun had just begun to paint the horizon in fiery colors when I ditched the ole Taurus at the airport. I made sure the security guards and cameras got a good look at me when I went inside. A few minutes later, I emerged a different person.

Not literally.

I had slipped into the ladies room to switch shirts and release my hair from the messy bun I had put it in. I also burned a couple of minutes counting out the money I had taken. The roll of bills totaled just under two grand (happy birthday to me). I ended up pocketing a couple fifties and twenties and storing the rest in my bag. By then, the plane I had been waiting for had come in, and I had vanished into the crowd to slip out the exit.

As I did, I couldn’t help but notice the blue and silver Rolls Royce Phantom that slowly cruised by.

“There’s something you don’t see every day,” I muttered, watching out of the corner of my eye as it pulled into a parking spot not far from the ole Taurus. Why would anyone park a half million dollar car in an unsecured lot? Only the gods knew. Still, I extended my senses towards the car to feel for anything abnormal. I got nothing back. Nothing. No life force. Either the driver and any occupants were dead—in which case, he or she did a spectacular job driving—or they left without me noticing.

I pulled my senses back and kept walking.

Less than a hundred paces later, I felt a gaze settle upon me. I still found nothing when I stretched out my senses, so I called upon my Second Sight. Some people refer to it as opening the Third Eye. You become aware of things that normal senses could never detect, and it is impossible to filter out what is real and what isn’t. Beings of spirit and shadow that lurk just beyond the physical world become as real and as solid as you and me. The intentions and feelings, both good and bad, of everyone and everything become swirls of dancing light. You can see the ebb and flow of life energies as they were, as they are, and as they will be. And what you See never really leaves your memory. People have been driven insane from it.

It’s a challenging thing to do; walk and See everything around you. Trust me when I say it’s nowhere near as simple as rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. It’s more like juggling flaming knives while riding a unicycle in an off-road BMX competition while wearing a blindfold.

Needless to say, I didn’t leave my Sight open for very long; just long enough for a quick glance around. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long enough to discover who had their eye on me. I turned my focus back to making my way to the train station, my pace a little faster due to my desire to escape. Once or twice, I thought I heard someone behind me, but I never saw anyone. I kept walking.

The vision struck without warning.

Cold, light-drinking marble stretched onwards, disappearing into the darkness ahead. Its footsteps echoed, quick and sure despite the constricting black.

Out of the void, two pinpoints of light materialized. Braziers. Each alight with azure flames. Betwixt them, twin doors of solid, ebony metal. Centuries had passed since last the doors had been opened. If it had its way, it would be centuries more before they opened again.

A key forged of the same strange metal unlocked the doors, and hinges screamed in protest as each crept inwards. It shoved them fully open, already knowing nobody would hear the noise. Only a select few knew of this location.

It strode in.

Azure fire burst into existence with a roar like a wild cat. The flames traveled along grooves in the floor, illuminating a cavern of a room in dancing light. The enormity of the space had been hand-hewn from ebony stone over several lifetimes, and boasted three stories and several separate antechambers. Stockpiles of weregold and dazzling gemstones filled the space on the main floor. Ancient texts and scrolls and treasures long forgotten by the Worlds had been stored in the upper levels.

Except for one.

That particular artifact sat in the center of the main room, perched atop a dais of solid gold. At its heart, black glass that reflected nothing until the spell could be used. Around it, the pitted and twisted bone of an ancient beast that had been stained dark with age and use. The mirror had been broken long before it found its way here.

At long last the two remaining pieces had been found. The artifact could once again be used. And the Worlds would suffer as they so deserved.

The presence strode right up to the dais and snatched the mirror from its pillow.

It turned to leave, froze in place.

Something stood haloed in the cold light of the doors.

Something with blazing, ruby eyes.

I snapped back to myself at about a zillion miles an hour. The vision had come and gone so abruptly that it left me dizzy, disoriented. Walking became impossible. I wound up flat on my ass on the sidewalk, clutching my head in my hands and praying for the world to stop spinning so wildly.

I have no idea how much time passed, but three cars had crawled by at half the pace of a snail. The horrific thought of them being a single police cruiser passing by three times is what finally got me moving. I had to use the wall for support during the first several shaky steps. By the time I crossed the first alley, everything had returned to normal.

My body may have forgotten the vision, but my mind sure didn’t. In fact, it was so wound up in trying to figure out the meaning behind it that I almost missed the appearance of a strange presence. It danced on the edge of my senses like a butterfly around a flower. I stopped, sent my senses out towards the presence. The energy it emitted wasn’t quite human, nor did it feel completely animal.

Could it be whoever is behind the ever-watching gaze? I wondered.

That’s when a creature stalked out of the shadows ahead of me. I say ‘creature’ because ‘siberian husky on steroids’ just doesn’t do it justice. It had a shaggy coat in river mud brown and eyes that glowed as blue as the midday sky. It must have been a foot, foot and a half taller than me at its shoulders and at least ten feet long. Its chest was broader than any canine’s, as if packed with a hundred pounds of pure muscle. Ears that resembled spearheads protruded from the top of its head, upright and focused forward as the canine searched for something. I saw the gleaming white of its saber-like teeth, heard the clicking of its ebony claws against the sidewalk as it drew nearer.

I noticed all those details in the span of a second. My reptilian brain admired the canine’s savage beauty, but my logical brain told me I had seen it someplace before. Then its glowing, pale blue gaze zeroed in on me, and it crouched, ready to pounce. Panic gripped me. Hard. And it took every ounce of self control I could muster not to double back on myself.

Its tail wagged.

I blinked.

It whined, pawed the ground twice.

I allowed myself to relax a little. “Are… Are you lost?”

It cocked its head, sat.

“I guess that’s a no,” I muttered. Louder, I said, “You’d better go home before animal control comes after you.”

It chuffed. Then it got up. I stepped to the side as ginorma-dog circled around behind me. It nudged me, nearly knocking me over.

“Oh, no. I’m not taking you home.” I faced the canine with my hands on my hips. “I’m going to the train station. I don’t have time for you.” With that, it pivoted on my heel and strode away.

I heard ginorma-dog follow, glanced over my shoulder at it.

“Sure, you can follow me to the station, just don’t expect to get inside. Or on a train.”

It gave me a soft woof and fell silent.

I tried to ignore it as the mile passed. It’s nearly impossible to do with a beast that size. Where had it come from? Why had it chosen to follow me? These are the things that kept going through my head as I walked. The feeling of being watched remained over me, but the canine wasn’t the source.

At long last, the squat, red-bricked building loomed before me. Only when I reached the glass doors did I finally slow down. I bade the enormous canine farewell and entered. The ever-watching gaze melted away. A few groups of people mulled about the lobby, which had a decor that went out of style some time in the 1870s. Only one man sat quiet and apart from everyone else, thumbing through an old magazine. I ignored them all, made for the Arrivals and Departures board. My footfalls on the hardwood floor were like thunder rising over the din of quiet conversation. My breath like gales of wind before a storm.

I stared at the board not really seeing it and trying to calm my hammering heartbeat. Now that I had arrived, the reality of what I had just done hit me. I had robbed a business and stolen a car. All for a dream I wanted more than anything to come true. I tried to convince myself this was all worth the risk, the potential jail time if I got caught, and that I had nothing to fear. My freedom from that wretched woman was finally within my grasp. I just had to decide which direction to go.

Then a voice from behind said, “I’d suggest Chicago.”

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