The Archfiend Artifact

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9

13TH STREET STATION, MABON CITY
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21
7:05 AM

I jumped, spun around ready for a fight. The man with the magazine just stared at me with a piercing, amethyst gaze. I realized then that I recognized him from agilisi’s store. He had come by yesterday afternoon with that antique car of his and that blonde woman.

“Duncan Thatcher,” he said, business-like, and extended a hand for me to shake. “Please, call me Duncan.”

“I remember.” I relaxed my fighting stance slightly, took his hand. A cold, tingling sensation shot up my arm. In that instant, I threw up my mental barriers, jerked my hand back, and took several shaky steps back and away from him. “What the hell was that?”

“Interesting,” he thoughtfully muttered, staring at his fingers. His gaze returned to me, and I could practically feel him reassessing me. After a minute or two, he said, “That, my dear, vas a test. And you passed vith flying colors.”

“What kind of a test?”

He flashed a too-white smile. “One vich proves that you and I have something in common. Something that ve need to address.”

Something in common? I stretched my senses out to him, searching for that commonality. What I detected frightened me almost as much as the thought of agilisi hunting me down. He had no aura. No life force. That, by itself, didn’t make sense. Every living thing has an aura of some kind. Insects, plants, animals. Everything. And that reaction just now, when we shook hands, meant an interaction of some sort of energy. So either this guy had managed to find a way to mask his life force, or… Or he wasn’t a living thing.

I studied his features again. Skin as cold and pale as white marble. Long hair as black as an abyss. Upturned eyes of an unnatural color. That a piercing gaze, like a lion trying to pick out the weakest in a herd of zebras.

I swallowed, my throat suddenly dry. In as level a tone as I could manage, I asked, “What are you?”

He nodded, impressed. “You are quick, Miss Starr. Have you had training?” He considered me again. “No. I guess not.”

“Look, Mr. Thatcher, Duncan, I’m busy. I don’t have time to be playing fifty questions with you. Either tell me what you want with me or get lost.”

“Actually, I vould just like to talk vith you for a few minutes.” He flashed me some delicate-looking golden broach pinned to a leather backing. A badge perhaps? “Vould you mind coming vith—?”

We felt the bone-chilling energy in the same instant, but he proved to be the quicker to react. He blurred then suddenly, he stood between me and a woman quickly approaching. She had on the most spectacular costume, and I couldn’t help but drink in the details. She had the kind of beauty that would make super models jealous. I couldn’t tell her age, but she had to be at least in her twenties. Her skin had been painted a blue so pale it almost appeared white, yet it shimmered in the light like new fallen snow. Her ears were elongated and came to a point like an elf’s, and a tiny, silver snowflake sat upon her brow. Ice blue eyes with feline pupils and a dusting of purple eyeshadow expertly scanned her surroundings. Hair that looked like liquid platinum cascaded in sweeping curls down to her hips where the color shifted to ocean blue. She wore a long vest of shimmering blue and purple tones, its coattails reaching down to her ankles, and leather pants that matched the blue in her hair.

“Khione,” said Duncan, his voice straining to sound friendly. She came to a stop just out of arm’s reach, regarded him with haughty superiority. “I believe you are outside your jurisdiction.”

She scoffed, and a small plume of steam sped past her grape-colored lips. “You AEONs and your jurisdictions.” She crossed her arms, cocked out a hip. “You should know by now, Revenant, that I go wherever NEST sends me.”

His fists clenched. “You’re here under orders?”

Khione nodded.

“Vhat are they?”

“I am here to meet someone. The identity of which is none of your concern.” Her icy, feline gaze slowly shifted to me. Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Interesting company you keep.”

Duncan shielded me with his body. “Vhat is so interesting about her?”

Khione’s attention returned to his face. “You know what she is. Perhaps I could be persuaded to return her to the Netherworld for you. After all, a Bloodless is not one of your kind.”

I almost laughed out loud. She had to be on drugs. Or she took her LARPing way to seriously. I mean, come on! The Netherworld? Seriously? And she had to be mistaking me for someone else in her troupe of role players.

“Bloodless?” He shot me a quick glance. “Are you certain of that?”

She gave him a look that said ‘did you really just ask me such a stupid question?’.

“Are you certain?” he demanded.

She waved her hand in dismissal. “Her face holds the memory of a demon I knew. As for whether or not she is truly a Bloodless half breed, I cannot say.”

“I see,” he muttered thoughtfully, cast another glance back at me.

“I am still willing to deliver her to the Netherworld for you. All you need do is ask.”

I growled, stepped past Duncan. “Listen, lady, I don’t know who you are, but I sure as hell ain’t going anywhere with you.” I shot Duncan a look. “Or you.” I turned back to the woman. Her frigid gaze gave me the willies, but behind the aloof mask she wore, I could see a burning curiosity.

Her mask fell back into place, and her features took on the air of aloof superiority once more. “It’s for the best, I suppose. After all, I can’t be dragging every lost demon you AEONs dredge up back to the Netherworld. And I doubt that petite thing could handle herself there.”

I fought the sudden, overwhelming urge to sock her in the jaw. Man! What has gotten into me lately? It’s as if I had been possessed.

That’s when the lights suddenly cut out. All of them. At the exact same moment. And the emergency lights, which should have come on automatically, didn’t. The first rays of the cresting sun seeped through the windows, casting shadows that resembled withered fingers upon the floor.

“Is this you?” they demanded of me at the same time.

“What?”

“Are you doing,” Duncan gestured to the air, “this?”

“Like I know where the freaking light switches are!”

“I vas afraid of that,” he darkly muttered, glowered at Khione.

Her eyes scanned the darkness. “It is not one of mine,” she said, her tone flat.

Someone screamed.

Duncan loosed what sounded like a curse in some other language. With a command to me to not move from this spot, he rushed away.

I scoffed. “If he thinks I’m waiting here, he’s a bigger idiot than I thought.”

I had expected a remark from Khione, but none came. I turned to face her only to realize she had vanished. I hadn’t even felt her leaving.

“Nothing like a pair of crazies leaving a kid alone in the dark.” My frustration bubbled over in a growl.

Something else echoed it.

Unnerved by the sound, I sent my senses out in search of the source. I found the groups of people, huddled together and murmuring. Their life energies were a turbulent storm of fear and unease. Panic took hold of me when a pocket of intense cold suddenly appeared beside a family. I recognized the signature and started for the family, intent on keeping that monster away from them. The signature vanished without a trace. I skidded to a halt on the waxed hardwood, scrambled to pick up the icy energy again.

Suddenly, the darkness before me grew even darker. Two blazing rubies appeared in the air. From one heartbeat to the next, I realized they weren’t rubies; they were eyes. And they had locked on me. My heart leaped to my throat. I fell back a step. The mass of black took a step forward. I cautiously stepped to my left. It stepped to its right.

A child screamed. The monster’s focus on me broke. The instant it looked away, I ran. I heard it snarl behind me, felt something grab my bag. My wounds cracked open with shocks of hot agony as I struggled to free it from the grip. Fabric tore. I surged forward, clutching my bag to my chest. The monster roared its frustration. I made for the exit, not daring to look back to see if it had taken up the chase.

I had nearly reached the doors when a shadow crossed in front of it. It was a man, and he stood with one armed raised. A barrel gleamed in his hand. A gun.

“Get down!”

I dropped to my right side with a pang of pain and a grunt. My momentum kept me going, and I slid across the floor a good six feet or so.

The ruby-eyed monster sailed clean over me. The gun roared as the man fired. The monster loosed a horrible screech and crashed to the ground. Another deafening shot from the gun sent it skittering away.

Silence fell.

The lights flickered on, bright and blinding.

My eyes adjusted slowly. The man in the doorway padded inside, tucking the gun into the waistline of his gray sweatpants. He wore no other clothing, and I couldn’t help but admire his healthy physique. Even his shaggy brown hair looked good on him.

He got within arm’s reach and extended a hand towards me. That’s when I realized I recognized him.

“Detective Calloway?”

He grinned. “You can call me Quinn.”

I gave him my hand and let him help me up. Why would he be here? Especially dressed like that.

A woman, probably a supervisor for the station, started asking around if anyone had been hurt. People murmured. A child cried about a red-eyed monster. The parents told her it had just been her imagination.

Must be nice to be that ignorant, I thought bitterly and retrieved my bag from the floor. My backpack bore the evidence of that red-eyed monster’s presence. One of the straps had been torn to shreds from where that thing had grabbed it. At least the other strap survived with only a minor cut.

“Ah, Fenrir,” I heard Duncan say as he approached. My attention shifted to him, then to the nearly naked hunk that stood nearby, watching me. “I had a feeling you vere skulking about outside.”

“I did tell you that I would find her.”

“Indeed you did.”

I pointed between Quinn and Duncan. “You two know each other?”

A small smile flashed over Duncan’s face. “Fenrir vorks for me. You’ll see ven ve are settled in the car.”

“The car?” I blinked. “After what just happened, you still expect me to go with you? How do I know it wasn’t you who cut the lights? Or summoned that monster? Hmm?!”

“I can assure you, I had nothing to do with the Shadow or the lights.” He looked grim as he said, “And vith vhat Khione said, it is more important than ever that you come vith us.”

“You don’t seem to understand,” I snapped. “I’m. Not. Going. Anywhere. With you.” I shouldered my bag, strode away. “I am getting on a train and getting the hell out of here.”

“Vhat if I gave you ten thousand dollars in cash?”

I stopped. That much money would keep me set for a long time while I got my new life sorted out. Rent. Groceries. New clothes. I could afford it all and still have some left over for emergencies. I could even pay tuition for online school with it. But…

I sighed. “It sounds too good to be true.”

Something tapped me on the shoulder. I glanced sidelong. A one hundred dollar bill glimmered at me from atop a stack almost half an inch thick. My heart fluttered at the sight.

“Ten thousand,” said Duncan, taking the bills back. I turned to watch him stuff the money in his inside coat pocket. “It’s yours if you stay vith me until Saturday.”

I could suffer a few more days. That’s provided agilisi never found me. At last, I said, “Under one condition.”

Duncan anxiously awaited my next words.

“You keep me hidden so that my grandma doesn’t find me. Ever.”

He considered it for a fraction of a second. “Done.”

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