The Archfiend Artifact

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29

SAATHOFF ACADEMY, DARK MOON PORT, MABON CITY
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23

8:32 pM


I flipped the lights on, crossed my room to set my father’s badge and the tactical super soaker on the desk. A smart phone and tablet were there, plugged in and charging. Both of them were flat gray and black and looked like they could take a hit from an F-22 and come out without a scratch.

“Cool.”

A brochure for the Saathoff Academy had been set on the desktop beside them. A sticky note had been stuck to the top page with a note. In metallic blue ink, someone had written:

In case you change
your mind.

D.

I scowled at the booklet for a beat before surrendering to my curiosity. I skipped though the first few pages of welcoming messages and statistics and found the list of classes available. Several of them were either ones I wanted to take or piqued my interest. Then I found the page that listed the other locations of the school. They had one in Africa, South America, even Asia!

I really could escape agilisi if I chose to become a student.

I dropped the booklet on the desktop, flopped down in the computer chair. “Why does this decision have to be so difficult?”

My gaze drifted to my dad’s badge. My badge.

I’m a cop.

And even though my inner demon had gimped me, I still had my psychic abilities to rely on. And I had to find that Shadow and it’s accomplice before they could hurt anyone else.

I sat forward, woke up the laptop.

I don’t know what compelled me to look up Cynthia’s archaeological finds, but that’s where I started. After scrolling past a few local headlines, I started seeing interviews with her in all sorts of languages. I clicked on a few of them just to look at the photos of all the stuff Cynthia had dug up.

I quickly realized that my idea of an archaeologist being some kind of daredevil explorer delving into tombs to unearth ancient treasures was completely wrong. It’s more like the game Minesweeper; a cautious, little peck here or there in the hopes of stumbling upon something of significance. And most of Cynthia’s findings were, well, garbage. Busted pots. Some ancient tools. Disfigured statuary. Nothing even remotely close to stumbling upon the next King Tut.

She did have one great find.

In some remote corner of the jungles of India, Cynthia had discovered what I could only describe as a horrifying necropolis. (I’ve always wanted to use that word.) Photographs from within the underground grave site gave me chills and immediately brought to mind the story I heard of Mount Vesuvius. Like the people of Pompeii, those in the grave had died still carrying on about their lives as if they had no cares in the world.

But, as far as I knew, there weren’t any volcanoes in India.

The handle for the Mirror of Souls had come from that site, which explained why the thing had been mistaken for a deformed bone. Now I couldn’t help but wonder if the mirror had had something to do with the deaths of those people.

I scrolled through picture after picture in complete awe.

And then I saw it.

It took a handful of seconds for it to register in my brain. I checked the back of my hand. Then the screen again. Back and forth three more times.

I snatched my badge and rushed out the door. I sprinted past students and teachers who yelled for me to slow down, ignored the elevators—they’d take too long—and took the stairs. I flew down twelve stories, finally reaching the deck where I’d find Duncan’s office.

“I need to speak to Duncan,” I breathlessly told the receptionist, who looked at me like I had rabies. “It’s an emergency.”

“I’m sorry,” she drawled. “But Mister Thatcher isn’t avail—”

I slapped my badge on the counter. “He’s available.”

She stared at the badge for a beat. Then at me. At long last, she reached for the phone, pressed a button. “Sorry to bother you, Mister Thatcher. There’s a girl here with an AEON badge who says she needs to speak with you.” A pause. “Right.” Then she hung up.

The door to Duncan’s office jerked open. I thanked the receptionist and rushed to the vampire. “Cybil, you can’t just—”

I flashed him the back of my hand as I passed him. “I was right about this symbol.”

He sealed the door, faced me with a thoughtful frown. “How so?”

“It’s not Hellion; It’s from here on earth.”

He blinked.

“Okay.” I shoved my bangs out of my face. “Cynthia’s last discovery was a necropolis in India. It made headlines in a couple of newspapers including one that’s written in symbols like this one. I don’t know what language it is, but there’s a photograph of Cynthia in the necropolis and this thing…” I pointed to mark on the back of my hand. “… appears in the top right corner like a watermark. That’s what I saw Cynthia putting in her safe.

“Now, I know I’m overstepping—and I do apologize for that, really, I do—but I believe there’s something in that photograph that frightened Cynthia. Maybe it even got her killed. But I don’t know how to manipulate an image to bring out the little details so we can see what it is.”

“And you are hoping that Specter can.”

I dropped my arms to my sides. “Yes.”

Duncan stood there a moment or two just thinking before spinning on his heel. I watched as he made for the hidden door behind his desk. I waited until after he had punched in the access code to unlock it before moving to follow him. His long, quick strides meant I had to jog to keep up with him as we moved through the halls. It took less than five minutes for us to reach Quinn’s office.

He burst through the door saying, “Morgan vas mistaken.”

The three AEONs looked up from their work, and I could see the confusion on their faces. Morgan’s gaze fell on me, and her expression quickly turned to fury.

“The symbol Cybil saw vas, in fact, a Mortal Language.” Duncan shocked me when he turned the floor over to me.

After a moment or two of panic, I managed to tell them about my online search. I watched Specter out of the corner of my eye while I spoke. The ghost had suddenly started fiddling with his glyphed sphere. By the time I reached the end of my explanation, Specter had already found the photo I had seen of Cynthia and had it projected onto the wall.

“Well,” said the ghost. “Cybil is correct. The symbol she drew is Sanskrit, and there’s only one newspaper in the Mortal Realm who uses it. Sudharma.” He looked at me. “I presume this is the image you want adjusted.”

I studied the photograph of a woman in filthy jeans and a khaki vest. Cynthia had been kneeling beside some twisted construct within the cave. Shadows of petrified people and debris closed in all around her, illuminated only by giant flood lights that bathed the grave site in a weird, pale blue light.

“That’s the one,” I confirmed.

“All right. I’ll see what I can do with it.”

I watched as colors were enhanced and outlines sharpened. Then Specter began to manipulate the contrast. When the shadows were reduced to little more than gray masses, one remained darker than the rest. It could have been another person, but something about it just seemed off.

I pointed to it. “Specter, can you do anything to clear up that shadow?”

“One sec.”

The image shifted, zoomed in on the shadow. It pixelated as Specter adjusted things. Then it cleared.

Quinn growled a vicious curse.

The others echoed his disdain.

I could make out a face, but it didn’t look human. The cheeks were too sharp and the ears too long. Its eyes were huge—like a Martian’s—and it seemed to have a lightened mark on the forehead.

I looked sidelong at the werewolf. “You know that demon?”

“So do you,” he gravely said, looking into my eyes. “You were just too young to remember.”

The name immediately jumped to my lips, and I felt my blood boil. “Taboo.”

“Taboo is the most elusive demon in history,” seethed Morgan, “and Cynthia’s in the same room as him? Impossible!”

Specter looked at me. “Where did you say this picture had been taken?”

“Somewhere in the jungles of India. In a cave.”

“Oh no,” he muttered, glanced at the image again. Then he faced Morgan. “Remember the Kaanch ka Bageecha Massacre?”

Her eyes widened in shock.

“Never heard of it,” said Quinn.

“You might know it as the Glass Garden Massacre,” explained Duncan.

But Quinn just shrugged. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Vell, it vas von of the more infamous demon attacks on the Mortal Realm during the var.”

I frowned at the word war. What war?

“The rumor was the Mirror of Souls had been housed there for a time,” said Specter. “Along with some other artifacts.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Of course, the Netherworld saw it as too good an opportunity to pass up, so they sent a small army to take possession of the mirror. We’re talking A Class and S Class—maybe even a few B Class—coming in from all corners of the Mortal Real and Netherworld.

“There were no known survivors, so nobody knows what happened in the ensuing battle, but given this photo…” He glanced at it with a thoughtful frown. “I’d say an earth demon of some sort lead the attack. It’s why we see the petrified people so calm and unassuming. I’m betting things are way different further into the cave.”

I turned my back on the image. “Given the fact that Cynthia found the handle of the mirror there, I’m willing to bet that it actually was at one point. And something must have happened once the demons got a hold of it, seeing as how it had been in three pieces up until a couple days ago.”

“But why would it have been broken up?” asked Quinn. “I mean, the handle and the Hope Diamond both remained in India, but the mirror itself somehow found a way into—and out of—Cybil’s family’s vault in Elysium.”

I looked to Specter. “Could my dad have been at that battle?”

The ghost made a face. “I think it was before his time.”

So how did my family get the mirror?

“We also have no clue why a Shadow…” Quinn paused for a beat. “Or anyone, really, would use the mirror on Cynthia.”

“It wasn’t the Shadow,” I stated. “It told me someone else wanted her dead. I’m guessing its accomplice is the one it meant.”

Morgan roared, “And you kept that fact to yourself?”

Quinn stepped between us before she could throttle me.

It did nothing to stop me from snarling; “I didn’t even remember it until a second ago, and it’s not like I was ever asked about it!”

“Ladies, simmer down!” shouted Quinn. Quieter, but just as forceful, he added, “Please.”

“Um…” All eyes instantly shifted to Specter, who balked under the collection of glares. “Are you saying that Taboo has the Mirror? ’Cause that would be very bad.”

I thought about that for a moment, frowned. “I don’t know.”

Quinn groaned. “If he does have the Mirror, you can bet we’ll never see it again, and that’s if he doesn’t use it on us first.”

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