The Archfiend Artifact

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31

SAATHOFF ACADEMY, DARK MOON PORT, MABON CITY
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24

12:01 AM


By the time I had reached my room and hung my new uniforms in the closet, I felt much better about myself than I had in a long time. In fact, I felt as if the weight of the last ten years had been taken off my shoulders. I knew eventually the nightmares would cease. The scars would fade. And at long last, I would be a normal teenager.

Well, as normal as a half-demon girl living in a private school for monsters could be.

Unfortunately, I still had to find the mirror. And I had just twenty-one hours left to pull it off. Otherwise I might as well kiss this sparkling new dream-come-true life goodbye. Everything hinged on the Shadow’s accomplice. I just have to figure out who that is.

I fell into the computer chair with a sigh.

“Okay.” I steepled my fingers, closed my eyes. “What are the facts of this latest fluster cluck?”

With the hardware as messed up as Morgan had made it when she kicked the doors in, and the Shadow focused on me, someone else had to be there. And not just to keep the doors shut despite an angry werewolf slamming into them. He or she had also cleaned out the safe and erased the security footage. All in the time it took for me and Quinn to catch a glimpse of the Shadow outside.

But how were the doors held shut?

I felt my lips pull into a frown. Were wizards and witches considered parathropes? Do they even exist?

I snorted. “Stupid question.”

A sudden scratching at my door roused me into action. I snatched the super soaker from atop my desk, rushed to the door. I unlocked it and jerked it open in one swift move. Gun held at the ready, I stepped into the hallway. Darkness lay beyond the quaint pool of light that spilled out from my door. A chilling panic settled over me.

Shouldn’t there be lights? Where are the lights?

The door slipped shut, and the darkness deepened. My heart raced. A second passed like an eternity.

My eyes finally adjusted to the gloom, and at last I could see the faint yellow-pink glow from the security lights that ran along the floor.

“Strange.” I glanced up and down the length of the hall. I didn’t hear the sound again. Nor did I catch any signs of movement. But I didn’t dare move to investigate. I was already pushing my luck being out in the hall after curfew.

I silently slipped back into my room, locked the door. A handful of moments ticked by while I stood there, listening. Wondering what could have caused that scratching noise. The mystery would likely plague me until I discovered the answer.

I thought about my badge, wondered if I could use it as an after-curfew hall pass. I really didn’t want to abuse my privilege as an honorary AEON Agent—provided I even had privileges. But if I could take a quick look around, maybe it would put my mind at ease. Then it occurred to me, I’m technically a nocturnal student. My curfew wouldn’t roll around for several more hours. So I slipped out the door before I could talk myself out of it.

I navigated by using the glow of the security lights. The ship’s forward elevators were only about a hundred feet from my door, and no one occupied the little lounge area opposite them. For a moment, I thought I heard receding footsteps on the stairs, but the sound quickly faded. A guard, maybe?

I kept going.

The student lounge proved to be empty. As did the laundry room and bathrooms.

I exhaled in frustration as much as relief, started back the way I had come.

I had barely managed a few steps when a soft voice shattered the silence. It sounded like it had come from the elevators.

Water gun at the ready, I started towards the elevators again. I kept to the shadows as much as possible as I approached. Two people stood in waiting at the elevators. One had long, dark hair styled in dreadlocks. She shifted her weight, and I caught a glimpse of a dark mark running the length of her arm.

Zero.

The girl with her had dressed in jeans and a hoodie, with one arm bunched at the elbow. A cast covered the rest of her arm and, like her clothes, appeared to be stained with dark splotches. Only when she turned her head to scowl at the elevator did I recognize her.

Anjie Cross’ little sister.

What on earth is she doing here? I closed my eyes to listen.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about yourself: When you lose one of your senses, say, sight, for example, your other senses grow more acute as a result. Having been agilisi’s prisoner for ten years, I taught myself how to eavesdrop on her so I could be wary of her presence at all times. All I needed to do to improve my hearing was close my eyes and put very little effort into concentrating. Though they were whispering, I heard them loud and clear.

“—real reason you have come here tonight?” Zero asked.

Little sister remained quiet for a moment before stating, “I came to you because I need your help.”

“I can see that. You look like you got hit by a bus. What happened?”

“Remember those stupid jocks that got the weird girl at my school expelled?”

“They did this to you?”

Little sister nodded. “That’s why I came to you. I need your help getting back at them.”

“Heh. Say what?”

She made a disgusted noise. “I want you to help me beat them up.”

“What? Now?” Zero paused long enough for her to nod. “Are you out of your mind, Aiden? It’s after midnight. I’m not sneaking out to break into people’s houses just to beat up some stupid bullies.”

Little sister’s voice turned to venom. “I thought you were my friend, Rhea.”

“Oh, don’t even start that shit,” seethed Zero, and she jabbed the elevator button. “I am your friend, Aiden, whether you choose to believe it right now or not. But what you are proposing to do is not only illegal, it’s freaking stupid. If you want to go breaking into people’s houses in the middle of the night to beat up kids, then that’s on you. Don’t come crying to me if you end up in jail.”

“Fine!” Little sister spun on her heel and rushed to the stairs. Zero and I both listened as her footsteps faded into the silence. Then, with a sigh and a muttered curse, Zero turned to go back to her room.

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