The Archfiend Artifact

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14

SAATHOFF ACADEMY, MABON CITY
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22
3:43 AM

I came back to myself with a shudder, cast a glance around. It took me a minute to recall what had happened earlier. I had left Paradox only to run into Khione, who warned me about the bounty on my head. After that, I had stormed to the ship and sealed myself in my room. My emotions were too out of control for me to do much of anything, so I had slipped into the shower in the hopes that the running water would ground out my excess energy. Some time during that, I must have slipped into a meditative state.

I thought back on that waking dream, frowning. My inner demon’s final, cryptic message echoed in my mind. Why had I been the only survivor that night ten years ago? I had tried for years after it happened to remember the events that night. I could recall the explosion that woke me, the terrible scream that continued to haunt me. Then, suddenly, I had found myself in the arms of a police woman. What happened between those two events remained a complete mystery. Surely I didn’t have that wretched thing to thank for saving me.

I shuddered again, admired the way my skin turned to goosebumps. What an alien sensation! It must be a sign that my inner demon had done as I commanded and stopped force feeding me its power.

So this is what it feels like to be cold. For a brief moment, I wished I hadn’t given that command, then I remembered all the trouble the damned thing had gotten me into.

“Good riddance!” I turned the shower off, wrapped a towel around myself. I dressed in the same pajamas as before and wandered my room in search of something to do. Normal people would probably sit down and watch TV or play around on the net. I’m not one of the former and I didn’t have a computer to do the latter. So I settled into the arm chair with a sigh. For a long moment, I just sat there and soaked in the silence of the night.

Finally content, I glanced over the bookcase behind me. I didn’t recognize any of the titles, but one in particular stood out from the rest. It was bound in plain black leather that had seen many years of use. I grabbed it and started flipping through the pages. I discovered that everything had been written by hand in weird, curvy symbols.

I remembered seeing these once before. A lady had come to agilisi’s store with some antiques to unload. A book similar to this had been among the many in a box I got stuck sorting, and I had to flip through it to figure out where to put it on our shelves. I would have suspected some sort of foreign alphabet, but some of the pages had intricate drawings with perfect English beside them. I ended up setting that old book aside and less than an hour later, discovered it gone.

“Maybe it’s a code,” I muttered to myself as I continued scanning page after page of the strange tome, admiring the intricate details of the drawings and pondering the cryptic writing. Eventually, the look and feel of the pages changed. The paper was of a new, thinner material; something between printer paper and parchment. And the ink and the way the curvy symbols were drawn had subtly changed as well. So too had the formatting.

Now, instead of being textbooky, this section had a more cookbook-ish look to it. Some of the words I presumed to make up the ingredients lists had been crossed out and replaced with English in yet another subtly different penmanship. There were things like Adder’s Tongue, Bloodroot, Foxglove, and Hyssop.

None of which sounded like anything that would go into a cake or dinner.

I kept turning. The pages continued to get newer the further into the book I got. With each new generation of paper came an ever-so-slightly difference in penmanship. It became obvious that this journal–for lack of a better word–had been passed down many times through its life, rather like a special heirloom.

“I wonder why somebody would give this away?” I muttered and continued flipping. I had almost reached the end of the book when something gave me pause.

Scrawled across several pages were circles. Intricately decorated circles, sort of like the ones used for transmutation. Some had fancy sigils scribbled in shapes positioned along the edges while others had the astrological signs in a ring around a variety of shapes or intersecting lines. Among the many, only one was a simple, undecorated circle. Scrawled beside it in all capital letters the writer warns:

USES: BIND, IMPRISON, OR SHIELD

- BREAK TO RELEASE

- SILVER BEST

- GEMSTONES EMPOWER

I had no idea what any of that meant, but I found it fascinating. Mostly because whoever wrote it had different handwriting than the person who had penned the rest of the English in this journal. And, judging by the nice handwriting, I felt certain that it belonged to a female. Too bad I had no idea who she was. If I did, I’d ask her what all these symbols mean.

More importantly: why had she left the book here?

I continued leafing through the pages, this time in search of a name or some other way to identify the author. I had nearly reached the end when someone came knocking at my door. Not wanting to deal with more hysterics prompted by my demon side, I ignored it.

“What?” I furiously snapped when another round of knocking broke my sheltering silence.

Though muffled, a familiar voice seeped through from the other side of the door. “It’s Quinn. Got a sec?”

I slapped the tome shut, dropped it into the armchair as I made for my door.

“Everything okay?” he asked when I jerked the door open. He hadn’t changed from the sweatpants and tee-shirt he wore earlier, but his eyes had gone pale blue. And he held something tucked under his arm.

I shrugged, not really wanting to get drawn into a long and personal discussion. That’s the reason my shrinks hated me—I don’t talk. So I changed the subject. “Why are your eyes blue?”

“The moon is out,” he stated as if it were obvious. Then he gestured to the thing tucked under his arm. “Duncan said your room didn’t have it’s laptop, so I dug one up for you. Can I come in to set it up or are you busy?”

“I was just reading.” I stepped aside so he could enter.

He crossed the threshold asking, “Anything good?”

“Educational.”

He made a noise like he approved and knelt beside the desk where he dug around for something. A gray cable suddenly surfaced from the little gap in the desk’s surface, and he moved to grab it. He froze, staring in wide-eyed fascination at something on the desktop.

My Polaroid!

I rushed forward to retrieve it, and he looked at me. Recognition dawned in his eyes, and he pointed to the photo. “Your parents?”

I nodded.

“Your parents are Salem Starr and Cassandra Lilley?”

How did he know them? I nodded again, more slowly than before.

He set the laptop down, gaped at the photo again. “You need to come with me.”

I blinked.

His moon blue gaze fell on me. “You need to come with me right now.”

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