The Archfiend Artifact

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28

SAATHOFF ACADEMY, DARK MOON PORT, MABON CITY
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23
5:12 PM


“And Cybil even had a standoff with the blasted thing,” Quinn finished as he strode into his office. I looked up from the floor to see Duncan and Specter both giving me nods of approval as they filed in. Then Quinn added, “Then she gave it a nice shower, and sent it packing.”

“Impressive,” said Specter. “I can’t believe you stood your ground like that. I ran from the first demon I went up against, and I’m a ghost!”

I couldn’t tell if his words were meant to be serious or not. I figured he just wanted to make me feel better.

“Indeed,” Morgan stated as she entered. “You handled yourself... better than I expected. Well done.”

I couldn’t believe it. Morgan, the person who basically stars in the role as my arch nemesis and a constant pain in my you-know-where, hadn’t just praised me; she did it with a smile—sort of. I began to wonder if the Shadow had replaced her with a friendlier clone. Whatever! I smiled. At least she’s not criticizing me… or trying to kill me. Just bask in it while you can, I told myself.

“Well then…” Duncan dug into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. “I think this deserves something special.” He held a box the size of his palm out to me. I looked from the box to his face and back again. Finally, I accepted it.

Quinn flashed me a thumbs up as I removed the lid. Some kind of circular broach lay nestled in white tissue paper. The thing measured about the size of my palm, and had been made of a shimmering, black metal. It had two layers of growing circles and triangles stacked within each other. The bottom portion of the largest circle bore a three-digit number: 333.

I heard Quinn and Specter congratulating me on it, but I could only stare at the thing in bewilderment.

“That,” Duncan chuckled, “is an AEON Agent badge.”

I gawked at him. “Badge?”

He nodded. “Yes. Sin dropped it off at the behest of The Lady. She even gave you an honorary rank to go with that special badge for your helping us vith this case.”

“Oh.” I tried not to sound disappointed by the news that I had missed the chance to meet Sin. “But what’s so special about this badge?”

“Aside from the fact that The Lady sent Sin to drop it off, vhich irritated him by the vay, that badge used to belong to your father.”

I looked at the black ornament with new appreciation. My father’s badge. It wasn’t an illusion or dream. This little thing had been an actual, physical possession of my dad’s. It’s the closest I had been to a piece of him in ten years.

Somehow, it seemed heavier than it had a moment ago.

An arm suddenly wrapped around my shoulders. “I’m sorry, Cybil,” Duncan murmured in my ear. “I did not mean for it to make you cry.”

I’m crying? It took a moment to sink in before I noticed my eyes were burning as tears threatened to fall, and my throat had tightened with emotion. I despised crying in front of people. I didn’t want them see me as a weak, little girl.

Well, I’m not a weakling. And I’m not a little girl. Ten years at the mercy of agilisi had beaten that crap out of me.

So I battled down the emotions and choked out, “It’s okay.”

“You sure?”

I nodded, hugged my father’s badge close. “This is the greatest gift anyone could have ever given me.” I looked him in the eyes. “Thank you.”

He lightly smiled, backed away a couple of steps. “I had some equipment sent to your room as vell.”

“And you can keep the super soaker,” added Quinn with a wink. “I’ll show you to the armory later on so you can stock up on the water canisters.”

“Quinn, vhy don’t you help Cybil back to her room so she can check everything out? Maybe get some rest.”

The werewolf nodded. “Sure thing, Duncan.”

I glanced around the room, taking stock of everything in an attempt to find a reason to stay a little longer. My gaze lingered on a short stack of newspapers atop one of the filing cabinets. Hadn’t my demon said something about a newspaper, too? Now that’s an odd coincidence.

“I vant you to take a break; relax a little.” Duncan put his hand on the middle of my back and steered me towards the door. “You’ll burn yourself out vorking so hard.”

“No. Wait.” I planted my feet to prevent him from moving me any further.

“Vhat are you—?”

I snapped my fingers several times. There had to be a connection between the papers and Cynthia. Perhaps I had seen it during the vision in the mansion. I closed my eyes and summoned up the memory of what I had seen.

It had started in the sunroom. Cynthia had been reading something in a folder while she paced. She had slapped the folder shut, but a piece of the document within poked out. I caught a glimpse of that little corner.

Without warning, I spun on my heel and hurried to Quinn’s desk. I snatched a pen from among the many I knew lay strewn across the desktop and scribbled on the back of my hand. I released the memory as I opened my eyes, looked down at my hand. I had no words to describe the weird, scrolling symbol I had scribbled.

Morgan immediately jumped on my case. “Where in the Three Worlds did you learn to write in Hellion?”

“Hello!” I snapped. “I copied it from my vision, you idiot!”

“Enough.” Duncan stepped between us before we could come to blows. He tapped his index finger on my hand.“Vhere exactly did you see this symbol?”

I told him the details of my vision.

He frowned at that, turned to Morgan. “I don’t suppose you know vhat it says?”

She shook her head. “We were taught to recognize it, not to read it.”

“Not again,” muttered Specter, stepping towards me. I watched as he summoned his sphere, passed it over my hand. A split second later, Duncan’s cell phone rang.

He grimaced at the caller ID, set it to speaker phone. “He—”

“Why the hell are you bothering me?”

I suppressed my excitement. It was Sin.

“I do apologize for disturbing you, Sin,” Duncan said through a forced smile. “But ve vere hoping you could help us translate a Hellion sym—”

“Who’s the idiot that drew it?”

I slapped a hand over my mouth before a snide retort could escape.

“They missed half of it.”

Duncan’s phone suddenly chimed.

“It says ‘Tartarus’.”

“Thank—”

The phone beeped disconnected.

Duncan sighed in relief.

Quinn exhaled the breath he had been holding. “Must have caught him on a good day.”

“Yeah,” agreed Specter. “He was almost cordial.”

I swallowed my laughter, cleared my throat. “So, uh, is this Tartarus a person? Place?”

Morgan gave me a steady glare before stating, “It could refer to either the capitol province of the Netherworld or the capitol city.”

I pursed my lips.

“And you saw this…” Duncan turned his phone so that I could see the image Sin had sent back. He had added two lines and a squiggle to it. “On something Cynthia vas carrying?”

“Yeah.” I nodded for emphasis. “She put it in the safe under the stairs. I think she may have clipped it from a newspaper or something.” I thought about that for a second, added, “Do demons even have newspapers?”

“Yes. Yes, they do.” A small smile parted Duncan’s lips. “As you vill discover, the Nethervorld is very much like our own realm.”

“Hang on a sec.” Quinn stepped forward. “Are you thinking that Cynthia might have been featured in a Netherworld newspaper?”

“Only if it had this symbol.” I pointed to Duncan’s phone.

The werewolf frowned, looked sidelong at Duncan. “That’s going to be a huge archive to comb through.”

“Better get started.”

“Um.” I nervously raised my hand, which seemed to greatly amuse the centuries old parathropes around me. Whatever. At least I had their attention. “Just a thought; You could try narrowing it down to when Cynthia found the mirror’s handle. If the demons knew what that piece really was, it probably got a lot of exposure in the Netherworld news outlets.”

Specter nodded in agreement.

Duncan turned to the ghost. “How long vill it take you to comb through such a list?”

“Dunno,” he looked down at the sphere in his hands. “A couple of hours at least.”

“Okay.” Duncan turned his attention to me. “You might as vell get some rest vhile ve vait for Specter to complete the scan.”

I wanted to help with the search, but one glance at Specter told me that he clearly had it under control. Besides, I had more important and personal things to worry about. So I smiled and simply said, “Okay.”

“I’ll escort you,” Quinn said around a yawn and gestured for me to precede him from the room.

I did.

We quickly made our way through the maze that made up the bulk of AEON Headquarters and to the tiny room with the huge one-way mirror. I stepped up to the elevator and summoned the lift. I yawned, suddenly exhausted. And if I’m exhausted, I could just imagine how tired Quinn felt. I glanced over my shoulder at him in time to catch the last second of a huge yawn. He could probably fall asleep standing up. “Duncan should order you to bed, too.”

The werewolf smirked. “He usually does.”

The elevator doors opened with their annoying and polite ding. This time, Quinn rode up with me. It felt like mere moments before I found myself strolling down the hall to my room.

“Mind if I ask you something?”

I paused, looked at Quinn. He had been so quiet that I almost forgot he had come with me. “Sure.”

“The other day, you sensed the Shadow in the alley long before it approached you. Today, you didn’t even pick up on the danger until I reacted.”A frown pulled at his lips. “I don’t know. Maybe I just imagined you had gone blind and deaf or something.”

I made a face. While technically correct, I didn’t know how to answer him. Could I tell him that my wretched inner demon had messed with my senses to get back at me for telling it to take a hike?

“Maybe it was just your nerves. Anyway, I just wanted to make sure you were alright.”

“Yeah, that’s probably it,” I muttered, unlocked my door. “Nerves.”

He studied me for a moment more, clicked his tongue. “Well, I’ve got a lot of work to do. See you tomorrow, kiddo.”

“Good night,” I said and stepped into my room.

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