The Archfiend Artifact

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15

AEON HEADQUARTERS, MABON CITY
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22
5:18 AM


I slipped into my old moccasins, ran my fingers through my hair, and followed Quinn out the door. I practically had to run to keep up with him as he rushed to the elevators.

“What’s going on?” I breathlessly complained and tried to adjust my foot in its beaded leather slipper.

He impatiently mashed the down button. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, and Duncan needs to know about this immediately.”

The elevator arrived in time with my eyeroll. I followed Quinn inside, watched as he passed a white card over a sensor and jabbed at a button marked O. The car began its descent.

“You knew them,” I stated. “Didn’t you? You knew my parents?”

He was quiet a moment, then, “Not personally, no.”

“Yet you recognized them on sight. You even knew their names.”

“You’ll see why in a couple of minutes.” He finally looked at me. “I promise.”

The elevator gave a polite chime and the doors opened. Quinn led the way into a small room with only a single door and a wall composed of a dark mirror. I recognized the one-way window from my stint in police custody after a failed attempt to escape agilisi.

“Agent Fenrir with material witness Cybil Starr,” announced Quinn, and he recited a sequence of numbers. I heard a buzz and a soft click before he pulled the door open. Quinn led the way down a long hallway that screamed of hospital. The linoleum floor tiles were cream but a border in dark gray hugged close the pale green walls. We passed a door that looked like it could withstand a nuclear blast and turned right. Five more security doors were set into the left wall while the right one was glass and steel. The latter was an extensive laboratory with a few people still working despite the hour.

Quinn stopped at the last security door and started punching in the code.

At the end of the hall, few paces ahead, I could see a door with a piece of paper taped to it. I read the hand-written, blocky letters aloud.“WEIRD?”

“Hm?” Quinn glanced up from the keypad, saw where I was looking. “Oh. Yeah. That’s their new office.”

“What are they?”

The door clicked open, and Quinn held it slightly ajar. “They’re the Astral Plane’s version of AEON.”

“Oh.” I muttered and followed him. A door had been left open at the end of this hallway, spearing light into the otherwise dark area. I could hear voices coming from within; a man and a woman. They were saying something about the jewel theft when Quinn and I reached the doorway.

I paused at the threshold to look around. It reminded me of an ultra-modern lawyer’s office, with a seating area formed by leather couches surrounding an oval, glass coffee table. A small conference table sat against the far end of the room, and an abstract watercolor hung centered on the wall behind it. An L-shaped glass and steel desk made up Duncan’s workspace. Here and there ferns and shelves of knickknacks were set, giving the room a welcoming, yet professional look.

The blonde driver from yesterday sat on one of the couches. She gave me a passing look and returned her attention to the tablet she had with her. Duncan sat only a few steps away, seated in the chair behind the desk and looking very worried. Someone stood between me and him… Someone I could see straight through.

Though mostly transparent, I could still make out a blonde man with green eyes who could not have been much older than twenty-five. He wore a beat-up Roman legionnaire’s leather and iron chain mail armor, greaves, and leather sandals. His arms and legs were muscular, and scars marred the skin in a few places. I had no doubt that he had been in a war or two during his lifetime.

“Hi, Specter,” Quinn said as he stepped past me and into the room. “This is Cye. Cye, this is Tiberius Sempronius Atratinus, aka Specter. He’s our IS – Information Specialist… And, obviously, a ghost.”

“Nice to meet you.” I had to admit, talking to someone you can see through is rather awkward. Just imagine talking to dead air (no pun intended).

Duncan’s frown grew ever deeper as he eyed Quinn.

“I know. I know,” Quinn said, his hands raised defensively in front of him. “But this is important.” Then, ignoring Duncan, he turned to the ghost. “Specter, pull up Forlorn’s file.”

That instantly drew a curious reaction from the three.

“Vhy the sudden interest in him?”

Quinn hooked his thumb back at me, which was, apparently, the only explanation needed.

I watched as Specter brought his hands up before him as if holding a soccer ball. A spark of ghostly blue-green light flickered between his fingertips, then, suddenly, an orb appeared. It was as transparent as Specter and covered in hundreds of symbols I couldn’t even begin to recognize. The ghost’s fingers flew over the glyphs like mine would a keyboard, each one lighting up for an instant before returning to its normal glow. Then, he turned his attention to the conference table.

The watercolor painting on the wall suddenly went black, and I realized that it wasn’t a painting at all, but a television. And within it appeared my father. He had shorter hair when the photo had been taken, but there was no mistaking him.

“Incredible,” I heard Duncan whisper. “How did you learn of this?”

“She has a photograph of him taken years after he retired,” said Quinn. “And that’s not all. In the same photo is Cassandra Lilley.”

A riot of exclamations swept the room.

The ghost went back to manipulating his ball, and a photo of my mother appeared on the TV beside the man they call Forlorn. I stared at the familiar yet alien people on the screen. It upset me… no; it royally pissed me off that these people knew my parents better than I did. I’m their daughter. Their flesh and blood. Shouldn’t I have known they were part of this AEON Agency? A part of this horrific and terrible paranormal world?

“Finally!” Duncan thumped his desk. “Some answers.”

I tore my gaze away from the television to glower at him. I all but snarled, “Maybe for you.”

His eyebrows disappeared beneath his bangs.

Quinn looked sidelong at me, his mouth agape and eyes wide.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the blonde woman begin to move. A subtle gesture from Duncan made her stop. “Please accept our apologies, Cybil. Ve are just ecstatic to learn that you are the daughter of von of the greatest AEON Agents in history. If you vould like, I can explain everything.”

I allowed my glare to lessen.

He took it as the sign that it was, licked his lips. “The man there,” and he pointed to the television “is your father, Salem Starr. Correct?”

I nodded.

“That vas just one of the many aliases he’s used over the centuries. His true name is Lord Draethius Inferna, and he ruled over the Netherworld Province of Elysium.”

Elysium? Isn’t that where Khione said the mirror had been stolen?

“Vhen he defected to join the AEON Agency, he took on the codename Forlorn. He is your demon parent. And Cassandra Lilley, his wife, your mother, vas von of the most accurate psychics ve have ever had the pleasure of vorking vith.”

“Besides being the only psychic Shadow in recorded history,” Quinn quickly added, “you are the legitimate Heir of Elysium. The only heir.”

“And that is vhy these demons have been after you.”

I remained silent for a time, letting the information sink in. It just didn’t seem real. My mother was a psychic. My father, a demon lord who had defected. Something clicked at that thought. “Is that why my parents were killed? Because my father joined AEON?”

Quinn and Duncan both grimaced.

“It is what we believed,” answered Specter. My gaze snapped to the ghost. He had been so quiet that I had forgotten he was in the room. He flashed a wry and understanding smile. “Because Forlorn was the Lord of Elysium, he had rivals. Lots of them. We suspect that when he came to work with us, those rivals saw it as a legitimate reason to have him assassinated, and they sent one of the worst demons possible to pull it off.”

My heart skipped a beat. “You know who it was!”

The ghost balked a little before nodding solemnly. “We found that demon’s energy at your house the night your parents were murdered. If we had known you existed back then, we would have taken you into our protective custody.”

I stepped towards the ghost. “Who was it? I want a name.”

“Cybil—”

I cut Duncan off with a glare. “Ten years! Ten years of not knowing who or why. Ten years of living alone and suffering with that wretched woman. I deserve to know. I need to know.” My focus returned to the ghost. “Tell me!”

Specter’s gaze darted towards Duncan. The vampire hesitated then gave a curt nod. The ghost looked me in the eyes and solemnly said, “His name was Taboo.”

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