The Archfiend Artifact

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Thursday, OCTOBER 23

8:13 AM

I returned to my room with a bottle of vanilla latte and plate-load of sausage and a big ole waffle stacked high with all the good stuff. I set the food on the desk before sinking into the chair in front of it. I stuffed a few sausage links in my mouth before I spun the chair in a one-eighty.

The box of info pamphlets Duncan had collected for me sat untouched on the couch. I unloaded the contents one-by-one, stacking them neatly on the desk. There were booklets and info sheets with titles like ‘The Accords of the Three Worlds Senate,’ ‘Navigating the Three Worlds,’ and ‘AEON: What You Need to Know as an Agent.’ I turned to a new page in the notebook I had already used, and got to studying.

By the time I finished the last pamphlet, I had filled the rest of that notebook and started in another. I couldn’t help but feel stunned by what I had learned of the parathropic society. I mean, these beings and creatures have existed side-by-side with cowans since before the start of recorded history. And nobody notices them!

Do you realize how insane that is?

There are people and creatures out there right now with powers and abilities I had never even heard of. Not only that, but there are predators that make Shadows and vampires look like helpless, little kittens. And all of them are governed by the Three Worlds Senate and a set of laws known simply as the Accords.

The more I read, the more I kept coming back to the same bewildered thought: How could I not have noticed all of this before?

More importantly, how could I use all this info to help find the Mirror of Souls?

I sat back in my chair with a muttered curse. I completely forgot to tell Duncan about my vision of the woman with the weird phone. I had no doubt that the mirror had been used on her. But when? Why? What did she do to mark herself as the Shadows’ target?

Before I could follow that trail of thought, someone knocked on my door. It took my brain a beat or two to register the noise and inquire who knocked.

“It’s Morgan.”

Oh, great. What does she want? I trekked to the door, cracked it open. The golden-haired woman stood there, arms crossed and impatient. “Yes?”

“Duncan would like your input on something,” she said. “He requests your presence.”

“Okay. One sec.” I ducked back from the door, grabbed my room key from where I had put it on my desk and killed the lights. Morgan had moved a couple of feet during that time, but at least she had waited for me.

We took the elevator to Duncan’s public office and passed through the hidden door and into AEON Headquarters. Morgan led the way to an office down the hall from Duncan’s. Although similar in decor to the other, this office felt smaller; perhaps due to the addition of several tall filing cabinets along the right wall.

Quinn sat behind the mahogany desk with Duncan peering over his shoulder. They were studying the photographs sprawled over the desktop. The moment Morgan and I entered, the duo looked up.

Quinn stood. “Thanks for coming in,” he said. “I hope we didn’t interrupt anything.”

“Not at all.”

Duncan motioned for me to take Quinn’s chair. “Ve finally received the crime scene photos from the two thefts that occurred in this realm,” he explained as I rounded the desk. It felt awkward to be taking Quinn’s seat, and I tried not to let it show as I listened to him. “Ve are hoping to get your take on them.”

I glanced over the sprawl as I scooted the chair in. “My take?”

“See if you recognize anything,” said Quinn. “Or get a vision off of them.”

“Speaking of vision…” I looked up at Duncan. “I had one earlier.”

His brow furrowed. “Vhat did you see?”

I told him.

If there had been any color in his face, it would have drained.

“You know the woman in my vision.” I stated it as a fact, not a question. Still, he numbly nodded. “Who is she?”

He started to answer, faltered.

“Cynthia Santova,” murmured Quinn.

Why had I not realized that sooner? Of course she’d be a victim! Because of her residence in the Palisades, she likely had some high-end security system. Chances were good that she had footage that showed the thief taking the bone fragment. I glanced at the pile of photos before me, instantly zeroing in on the ones taken in the aftermath of the theft.

“Ve need to get over there,” Duncan said, finally finding his voice. I felt his gaze on me as he asked, “Do you know ven she…”

I shook my head.

He reached for the phone, stopped himself.

Quinn grabbed Duncan’s wrist, pushed it away from the phone. “I’ll talk to her.”

The vampire nodded, and Quinn quit the room without another word.

I turned my attention to the piles of photos, trying my best not to feel guilty about the doom I had just levied over Duncan’s lover.

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