The Archfiend Artifact

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19

SAATHOFF ACADEMY, DARK MOON PORT, MABON CITY

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22
1:13 PM


I have to admit: Google is pretty freaking awesome.

It is absolutely amazing what you can learn just by searching for it. I had spent most of the last couple of hours learning about police procedures and various schools with online classes. But, perhaps, the most important thing I learned was something known as the Wiccan Rede. The Rede speaks of the Rule of Threes, which states that everything you do comes back on you threefold. So, basically, Karma. Except that it hits you either three times over and over again or three times as hard.

But there is another aspect to the Rule of Threes, and boy is it a doozy.

Apparently, if you say something three times, like, say, a promise, it becomes binding. You are forced to uphold whatever was agreed upon, be it something good or something bad. And if you break that promise, the backlash can be horrifying.

Of course, that report had been written by a tenth grader on something called a blog, so I couldn’t be certain if any of it was true. Still, I made a note of it in my notebook, under the drawing of the mirror.

I looked for that ugly thing as well, but found nothing on it. Since it had been locked away in my dad’s vault in the Netherworld for who knows how long, that came as no surprise. Who the heck runs around with a demonic mirror anyway? But the lack of any leads proved to be a huge problem. I needed something to give Khione before Friday night, or I might as well just let her cut my head off now.

The alarm clock exploded in sudden noise, scaring me half to death. I rushed over to it and slammed my fist down on the off button. The clock glared a quarter to five in the morning. I had been awake all night, which sort of threw me for a minute. I hadn’t felt even a hint of weariness in that time. Now, as dawn approached, a wave of exhaustion rolled over me. I stared at my inviting bed, argued with myself over crawling into it and hibernating. I knew I should, but I needed to talk to Duncan or Quinn or—Gods forbid—Morgan about what I had discovered. They needed to know about the pattern of threes.

So I fought off the exhaustion, grabbed my notebook, and walked out my door.

A couple of students were already roaming the halls. I felt a lot out of place in a tee shirt and jeans while they all wore matching uniforms. It earned me a couple of stares, and I did my best to ignore them. I must have been doing a pretty good job because the next thing I knew something hit me in the back of the head.

I whirled around, instinct automatically driving me into a fighting stance. The kids drew back in fear.

One started screaming at the top of her lungs, “Demon! She’s a demon! She’ll kill us all!”

I recognized the girl as the bottle blonde who caused the scene at Paradox and forced me to leave. Felicity.

I grit my teeth in both anger and annoyance. My fists clenched even tighter. I wanted to sock her in the jaw, partially out of revenge but also to get her to shut up. But that would have just proven her right about me. I would truly become the monster she believed I was.

So I relaxed my muscles one by one. The tension bled out of me. And with it, my rage. I relaxed, stood to my unimpressive height. I scanned the crowd of students. Most of them looked terrified. Others stood, ready for a fight. Only one looked at me with sympathy and understanding. A tall and skinny boy with a messy mop of shocking white hair and dark eyes.

Necro.

I might have smiled if Felicity hadn’t kept screaming.

He shoved his way through the crowd to stand beside me, turned a scowl on Felicity. When that failed, he yelled at her to shut up or he’ll give her something to scream about.

She choked on a sob, and finally—thankfully—fell silent.

“It doesn’t matter what we are,” he said and eyed the crowd. “What matters is what we do with the powers we have.”

“Oh, shut up, Necro!”

“Quit preaching, dude!”

“No demon could ever be good!”

I scoffed. “Thanks for trying, Necro.”

He smiled over his shoulder. “We evil stereotypes gotta stick together.”

Evil? I stretched my senses out to feel him. Or I tried to. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. What the hell?

Behind the growing crowd, the elevator doors opened with a chime. “Vhat is going on here?”

I sighed. Duncan.

The crowd parted as he strode through it, looking this way and that. I had enough time to note that he had changed his suit to a steely gray number. Then, suddenly, his gaze landed on me. Curiosity flashed in his violet eyes. It took him less than a second to figure out what had everyone’s attention.

He tilted his head back and to one side ever so slightly. “Don’t you lot have some place to be?”

The crowd quickly began to disperse.

Necro looked at me. “Sorry I wasn’t much help.”

I waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. Happens all the time.”

“Well, it shouldn’t.” His brow furrowed. “You’re really a demon?”

“Half,” I muttered, glancing around the now nearly empty hallway. I

“Cool.”

That single word told me a couple of things. One, though he claimed to be an evil stereotype, he wasn’t a demon himself. Two, he actually sounded impressed. He really didn’t mind my demon side at all. It came as a greater relief than I had realized to find someone who didn’t have their head up their butt.

Yet my mind couldn’t get over the fact that I couldn’t sense him. He had too much color in his flesh to be a vampire, and he obviously wasn’t a ghost. So why couldn’t I sense his life energy.

“Listen,” he said, and I met his gaze. “Don’t pay any attention to Felicity and her peanut gallery of friends; they think they’re better than everyone just because they’re Daughters of Mab.”

“Who?”

He laughed. “Exactly.” Then he glanced towards Duncan, who gave him a courteous nod. “Well, I’d better skedaddle. Don’t want to miss my favorite meal of the day.”

“Okay.”

“See ya around,” he murmured, backing away a few paces. Then he pirouetted and jogged towards the stairs I watched as he bounded up them two at a time like he had done it a million times before.

Suddenly, Duncan and I were alone. And the vampire regarded me in the deafening silence. At long last, he sighed. “Allow me to apologize.”

“There’s no need.”

“I should have told you that some of the population—”

“Are demon-phobic?”

He paused to consider my words. “Vell, that is von vay to put it.”

“Whatever.” I waved it off. Racism wasn’t anything new to me. Still, it did hurt to be screamed at by kids who were supposed to be like me. Nobody is like me.

Duncan must have been reading my mind because he said, “I know how alone you must feel, Cybil, being as uniquely gifted as you are.”

Gifted? Right.

“Give the kids some time to adjust to your presence. They vill come around.”

“Time is one thing I don’t have a lot of,” I said, and held out my notebook. My drawing glared up from the page. “I need to find this before 9:17 PM on Friday, or I’m dead meat.”

He frowned down at the mirror, accepted the notebook from me. I watched as his eyes drifted over the page. “Vhere did you see this?”

“In a vision Monday morning, minutes before Quinn found me on the sidewalk by the train station.”

“And you are certain of the design?” His violet gaze met mine.

I shrugged. “It might be a little off, but yeah, it looked like that.” I waited while he studied it again, noting how his brow furrowed and a thoughtful frown tugged at his lips. “Do you recognize it?”

“No.” He met my gaze again, passed the notebook back. “But perhaps Specter can pull some information on it from our database. Come.”

He led the way to the elevators. We rode down in silence, mostly because I wasn’t sure how to bring up what I wanted to tell him. I knew the info I had would help him on his theft cases, but I felt like I would be overstepping my bounds by telling him. I may as well tell the Chief of Police how to do his job.

The doors opened to reveal a lobby half the size of the Titanic. There were huge portraits in gaudy frames hanging on the walls. A luscious mini garden—complete with a working fountain—sat between the elevators and the wall opposite. I guess it had been intentionally designed and decorated that way so as to impress the parents of potential students.

(Who wouldn’t be impressed simply by the fact that the Saathoff Academy was a cruise ship?)

Duncan immediately made for the double doors across from the elevators, and I followed on his heels. We entered an empty waiting room, the only noise coming from a television in the corner that quietly played the morning news. I spotted a door to the right of the receptionist’s desk. It bore Duncan’s name. He unlocked it with a deft hand, and ushered me through.

This office looked almost identical to the one I had been in last night. It had more personal items, like framed photographs and little nick knacks, and it lacked the conference table area. However, it did have a wall of shelves leadened with leather-bound books behind the desk. I suspect, like the lobby, all of this had been set up for show; dupe the parents in believing the ship isn’t hiding a secret government agency.

Duncan rounded the glass and metal desk, picked up the phone. I stood by the door, patiently waiting while he muttered something into the receiver.

“Specter vill be in in a minute,” he announced and hung up the phone.

I nodded, moved a little further into the room.

“Vhat else did you vision show you?”

“Some huge, dark room lit by blue flames.” I shrugged a shoulder. “It had a bunch of gold and jewels piled all around the space, with the mirror on a pedestal in the middle of all of it.”

He hummed in thought. So much so that I almost believed he knew the place I had just described, but he couldn’t recall the name.

At least now I had a segue into bringing up what I had discovered. I just hoped he didn’t take my helping the investigations as an insult.

“Speaking of jewels,” I said and dared a couple steps closer to his desk. “Did you know that the Hope Diamond was stolen?”

He nodded. “It has been in the news. Vhy do you ask?”

I swallowed. “Because the Shadow that killed Robert Patterson was the one who took it.”

The vampire frowned at that.

“Then the mirror got stolen from a vault in the Netherworld the next day. And your friend Cynthia Santova was robbed the day after that. Also by a demon.” I could see the gears turning in his expression. “Doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that three thefts occurred within three days, and all of them were done by Shadows?”

I watched as haunting realization rolled over Duncan’s face. He sank into his chair as if someone told him he had contracted a terminal disease. I gave him a minute to recover before hitting him with another whammy.

“I believe the three stolen items—the mirror, Cynthia’s bone, and the Diamond—may have something in common. Otherwise, why go through all the trouble?”

Duncan’s gaze focused on me for a moment, then shifted to something behind me. I realized then that the temperature in the room dropped about thirty degrees and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing at attention.

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