The Archfiend Artifact

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8:12 AM

Quinn didn’t say much during the walk back to the elevator. That didn’t bother me. In fact, I wanted the silence. I used it to help sort through the bazillion thoughts that were running rampant in my brain. Naturally, my parents were at the forefront of the raging torrent. How could they not be? I mean, I learned more about them in ten minutes than I ever knew. But if I had an opportunity to talk to them once more, I’d ask one simple question:

Were you ever going to tell me?

I desperately wanted to know if they had had intentions of telling me about their alternate lives. Would they have told me about AEON? About my true heritage? My powers? Anything?

They had left me with nothing. Or, if they had, it had been confiscated by agilisi a long time ago. The only surviving remnant of that happy life lived on in the tiny polaroid that now lay on the desk in my borrowed room.

Of course, that was here on earth or—What do these monst– uh, these beings call it?—the Mortal Realm. I had an entire province waiting for me in the freaking Netherworld. Of all the places in the whole universe, I get to inherit a chunk of Hell. And I’d probably never even get to see it. Unless…

I looked up from the sterile flooring to focus on Quinn’s back. “Hey, Quinn?”

He glanced over his shoulder.

“Is there a way to get to the Netherworld from here?”

He stopped so suddenly that I almost ran into him. He stood there a moment before slowly turning to face me, a curious look in his moon blue eyes. “There are ways, yes. The question is: Why are you asking?”

I shrugged.

His expression softened. “Thinking about your dad?”

“Yeah,” I mumbled.

“Well,” he began, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “There are legal and illegal ways to get to the Netherworld. The legal way is to use the Gates of the Fallen, which is sort of like the border between Mexico and the US. AEON controls this side of the Gate, and NEST—they’re the Netherworld Elite Special Tactics Force—controls the other side. Getting through requires proper documentation or an AEON or NEST badge.

“For the illegal ways…” he made a face. “I’m told there are secret gateways all over the place, but the only AEON who knows where they are is Sin. And I wouldn’t get within fifty miles of that guy.”

There’s that name again. “Who is this Sin character? And why is everyone afraid of him?”

Quinn cleared his throat, reached up with a hand to stroke an invisible beard on his chin. “He’s a Nightmare. Literally; that is his rank in the demon guild he trained in. The Tainted Souls.” He shuddered. “Just thinking about those monsters gives me the creeps. They’re a bunch of… well, I’d say ‘guns for hire,’ but they don’t use guns.

“Nightmares are the guild’s highest ranking assassins, and they make NEST look like children. That’s why everyone stays away from Sin. Well, that, and the fact that his being forced to work as an AEON has seriously pissed him off. I don’t know how The Lady—she’s the agency’s founder—keeps him under control, but she uses his knowledge of the Netherworld’s politics and persons of interest to our advantage.

“Sin has actually saved several thousand lives during his time as an agent,” he begrudgingly admitted. “But he’s slaughtered countless more, including AEON and WEIRD Agents. And I was unfortunate enough to see him in action. Gave me nightmares for a month afterwards.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “How in the world could someone like that become an agent for AEON?”

“To be perfectly honest, Sin is on probation. When it ends in sixty-three years, He’ll probably try to kill us out of revenge.”

I snorted, crossed my arms over my chest. “You guys put a mass murdering psychopath on probation? You don’t have a prison to lock him away?”

“Actually,” Quinn fretted at his lip, “your dad was the one who made that call.”

I blinked.

“Yeah. Forlorn had been sent to kill Sin because of the threat the guy was.” He paused for a beat. “Is.”

My jaw and arms fell slack.

“And our prisons, while far more advanced than anything the cowans can make, aren’t capable of holding someone with Sin’s combination of abilities. We lucked out in finding a way to prevent him from escaping to the Netherworld. And,” he sighed. “Before you ask, no, I don’t know how your dad discovered how to do that. Or why he spared Sin’s life.”

Well if AEON can recruit a guy like that, then… “Is it possible for me to join?”

Quinn quirked an eyebrow, shifted his weight to one foot. “You mean be an agent?”

I nodded, smiled at a woman in a lab coat who walked passed.

“I don’t see why not. The only thing The Lady would have a problem with on your application is your age. Last I heard, the average age for new agents is sixty-eight. You’re not even fifteen yet, so you might have a bit of a wait.”

Understandable. “How old was my dad when he joined?”

“Er.” He shrugged. “I think he was around eight centuries.”

I forgot how to breathe for a minute. Eight. Hundred? How the—? What? “If he got to be that old, how could he die? He was immortal!”

Quinn scratched a temple with his finger, softly chuckled. “You’re confusing immortality with agelessness. Immortality is perpetual deathlessness. Nothing can kill whatever the immortal thing is. Ever. Shoot it. Cut its head off. Light it on fire. Stake it through the heart. It keeps coming back. Right?”

I numbly nodded.

“Well, contrary to what you may have learned in fairy tales and movies, all parathropes can be killed. Take” he swept a hand up and down over his chest indicating himself. “I died at the age of twenty-two, after a wolf attacked me. And that happened back in the winter of 1691.”

I. Blinked.

He grinned, and I got a glimpse of his lengthened canines. “Yup; I’m over three centuries old. But, like with vampires and most other were-creatures, I stopped aging when I turned. I haven’t changed physically since I woke up in my grave, and, while I can shrug off getting hit by a bus going sixty, something like getting shot in the head would kill me. And it would be especially painful if the bullet contained silver.

“Cowan-born parathropes, such as human psychics and witches, age like their cowans parents. Other species will age extremely slowly once they reach a certain physical peak, retaining their youthfulness so they can fight longer. Pure blooded demon nobles age rapidly at first, then just stop aging completely. Angels and ghosts don’t age at all. But every single one of them can be killed in one way or another. In fact, if you do eventually become an agent, you’ll learn what to use against each species so that you are able to defend yourself in an emergency.”

All those different creatures. All with different weaknesses and strengths and characteristics. It was already a lot to try to wrap my head around, and I got the distinct feeling I had much, much more to learn. I couldn’t imagine what the basic training for an AEON Agent entailed.

Then a thought occurred to me. I’m half demon noble and half cowan... “Will I stop aging?”

Quinn pursed his lips as he studied me with those inhuman, moon blue eyes. After a handful of moments, he shrugged. “Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve never met a half demon like you.”

“But you have met other half demons.”

He loosed a nervous, little laugh. “Just one. He’s nothing like you.”

“How old is he?”

“I think he’s about my age. Maybe older.”

“So I could live to be ninety or nine hundred.”

He gave a slight nod.

I sighed, stepped around the werewolf. I could feel his eyes on me as I made my way to the security door. Quinn appeared beside me a moment later, unlocked the door and held it open while I walked through. I found myself in the small room with the huge one-way mirror taking up one wall. The elevator beckoned to me from across the space, and I made my way towards it.

“Anyway,” Quinn said from the doorway. “If you’re really serious about becoming an agent, I’ll let Duncan know. He might be able to pull some strings and get you on the force early.”

I hit the button to go up. “Cool.”

He softly called my name, and I faced him. He leaned against the door frame, arms crossed across his chest, but not at all displeased. “How did Khione find you?”

I told him about my excursion with Zero’s group, leaving out the part where I had been forced to leave because of what I am. He made a face as he listened. I half expected him to go off on an angry rampage or something about my leaving the safety of the ship.

He didn’t.

Instead, he muttered, “I wonder how she knew where to look for you.” Then he suggested limiting my excursions for a while, or at least going with a bodyguard.

The elevator arrived, and I bade him good night as I stepped onto it. “And good luck on those theft cases.”

He flashed a thumbs up as the elevator doors slipped shut.

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