The Archfiend Artifact

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18

SAATHOFF ACADEMY, DARK MOON PORT, MABON CITY

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22
9:01 AM


The elevator doors opened to reveal a throng of students, each clad in immaculate white and forest green uniforms. It came as a bit of a shock, seeing a bunch of kids up and ready for school at this hour. I gaped at them stupidly for a handful of seconds before realizing the time. As I ambled through them, I found myself wishing that I could join them. How crazy is that? A teenager wanting to go to school. I must be cross wired or something. The kids at Mabon City Campus just wanted to be at home playing video games or at the mall shopping.

I never got to do either of those things.

I never got to be a kid.

I swallowed bitter tears before they could fall, unlocked my dorm room door. Once inside, I flipped on the light and thought of going to bed. I quickly passed that idea up—I had slept all day; there’s no way I’d get to sleep any time soon. So I grabbed a bag of Cheetos from the stash Zero had slipped me and flopped down on the couch to eat.

“I really should find the cafeteria.”

As I sat there, crunching away and wondering what I could do in the wee hours of the morning, I noticed the laptop Quinn had brought. It sat there, disconnected from whatever that gray cable was and beckoning me to touch it. I briefly wondered if I’d be breaking any rules by using it.

Probably not.

So I moved over to the computer chair and flipped open the lid. I had used a Macbook in school a couple of times and agilisi never bothered with anything made after 1940, so I had very little experience in computers. In fact, I felt like a two-year-old in the International Space Station. It didn’t have any branding I could recognize, but it looked like it could withstand a nuclear blast.

I scavenged for the power button, found it among several other buttons. It powered up quickly, and I suddenly found myself looking at a picture of the Saathoff Academy crest and three icons. I hit the one labeled Browser. A page with a bunch of news stories popped up. I munched on a Cheeto while I read through them, froze when I saw a photograph of a sizable, pale blue jewel wreathed in glistening, white diamonds. It lay atop a royal blue fabric behind safety glass. The headline read:

HOPE DIAMOND: STOLEN!

For several seconds, I forgot how to breathe. I just sat there, gawking at the photograph. That’s the jewel Robert Patterson was guarding when the Shadow came!

I had to read the article a few times before I could make sense of it. Investigators hadn’t been able to lift any fingerprints—No surprise there—and had put out an APB on Robert. I scoffed at the latter. They thought he had played a part in the theft since he hasn’t been seen since.

“Apparently, they didn’t bother checking any morgues.”

The female guard on duty that night had survived, but couldn’t tell the police anything useful. It struck me as odd that the demon had let her live. Something about that just didn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad she’s okay. But I would have figured the demon had killed her to keep its existence secret. So why had the guard survived with just a few scratches?

I shook my head in disbelief, backed out to the other major headlines. There were stories about an earthquake, some rapper I didn’t care about, and the freak weather. Nothing really stood out to me until I got to the local news.

ROBBERY AT SANTOVA ESTATE

I knew of Missus Santova, mostly because of the library named in her honor. She worked as a paleontologist or something like that, and lived in an area on the east end of town called the Palisades. That’s where most of the rich people in town lived.

Yesterday’s date glared at me from atop the article.

A frown tugged at my lips. Why did that seem familiar?

I chomped on a Cheeto as I read the article. The only thing that had been stolen was some ugly, deformed bone Cynthia had dug up recently. It hadn’t been anything particularly special, so she didn’t understand the reason for the theft.

Wait a minute! I read her name again. Cynthia Santova. Didn’t Quinn say something about a Cynthia after Cartouche dropped off that theft report? What had she said? A demon had done it?

That made two thefts within seventy-two hours. Both by demons.

No, wait. Three.

The mirror from Hell had also been stolen by a demon. Three thefts in three days can’t be a coincidence.

I spun around in the chair, snatched a notebook and pen from my tattered backpack. I flipped to an empty page and started sketching. It took a bit of concentration for me to remember as much detail about the mirror I had seen in my vision a couple days ago. What I drew turned out to be something hideous and misshapen, covered in spines, with black glass at its heart.

I sat back, staring at it and wondering what that thing had in common with an old bone and the Hope Diamond. And what the heck the number three had to do with anything.

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