The Archfiend Artifact

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13

LOCATION: UNKOWN
TIME: NONEXISTENT

Darkness.

Sweet, sweet darkness. Ever present yet ever changing. It comforted me as only a loving mother would. And now I knew why. Shadow, they called me. Unholy wretch. Fiend. Demon.

Even the monsters feared me.

And I thought I had escaped all of that.

My eyes fluttered open.

I suddenly found myself standing in a cavernous box of a room. Blue candlelight, borne by candelabras recessed in stone walls, revealed the barrenness of the space. Behind me, a single, narrow hallway cut into the wall. Before me, wide stairs leading down, disappearing into the gloom beyond.

Something compelled me to move forward, and my footfalls echoed off the stone. With each step, the darkness seemed to condense more and more until I was all but cutting my way through it. The stairs quickly leveled out, and I reached forward blindly, counting each step.

One...

Two...

Three...

At seven, I stopped.

In the endless darkness, two eyes like glowing embers appeared. I immediately readied myself against an attack, but the eyes never moved. An eternity passed within a minute, and I forced myself to relax again.

Was that the thing had been getting me into all this trouble?

Trouble? came a raspy whisper.

I shrank back. So it can hear my thoughts. That’s kinda creepy.

The presence laughed, low and dark.

Right, I thought and crossed my arms. Like I wasn’t freaking out already. Let’s add a maniacal laugh to the soundtrack.

The eyes blinked.

I worked up the courage to finally confront the presence instead of simply thinking about it. ‘So... uh... How long have you been here?’

All your life.

I felt my eyebrow twitch in annoyance. ‘If you’ve been here my whole life, then why am I only now learning of your existence?’

I cannot get out.

‘Why not?’

You hold the key.

‘How can I have it if I’m just finding out you exist? That doesn’t make any sense.’

You’ve known. You’ve always known.

I frowned at it. ‘Since I’m new to this whole multiple personality thing, perhaps you can explain how you are able to influence my life when you’re locked in here.’

The eyes narrowed ever so slightly.

I realized it didn’t understand, sighed. ‘You get me into fights, and then force feed me superpowers so that I can win. How can you do that if you can’t get out?’

Every prison has flaws.

‘What prison?’

I heard it make a low sound that a human throat couldn’t possibly mimic. Then the eyes began to move, drawing closer. There were no footsteps or rustle of clothing as the presence moved, almost as if the creature was nothing more than eyes ever burning in the darkness.

It got within arm’s reach of me and finally stopped. Something tapped against an unseen force and violet lightning exploded into existence. It zipped over an invisible surface in a messy grid to reveal a net that spanned from the floor to a ceiling thirty-some feet overhead. It lasted barely an instant before the energy vanished and I was once again plunged into total darkness.

I returned my gaze to the monster’s. ‘You mean you can feed your power through the gaps in the net?’

The eyes retreated back into the gloom. Only a trickle.

‘Why so litt– Scratch that. Why do you even bother sending me power? Do you have any idea what it’s been doing to me?’

I heard the presence exhale. I give you but the tiniest fraction of my true power to protect you.

‘Protect me?’ I scoffed at the idea of this thing pretending to be my guardian angel—or demon, in this case. ‘You’ve done a crummy job in that department.’

It snorted.

‘Well, look at what you’ve done! You got me into so many fights that I’ve been expe–’

It was in your best interests.

‘Oh really?’ I snapped. ‘I find that hard to believe.’

The eyes narrowed dangerously. I do not care whether you choose to believe my intentions were to aid you or harm you, but it was not I who sought those meager squabbles with those pathetic humans. And, should you desire I remove myself completely from action, you merely need decree it.

‘Then consider this my decree.’ I turned my back on the presence, started for the stairs and the way out of here.

Very well. Before I take my leave, May I offer thee some advice?

I paused with a sigh, looked sidelong towards those fiery eyes. ‘Advise away.’

Ask yourself this, Keeper Mine: Why were you the only one to survive? Then the red eyes were simply gone.

I humphed, strode away.

The way up the stairs was harder.

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