The Archfiend Artifact

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33

MABON CITY CAMPUS, MABON CITY

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24
10:02 AM


Ten o’clock had rolled around when Quinn pulled the car to a stop in Mabon City Campus’ parking garage. I climbed out of the sedan’s back seat, made a final adjustment to the concealed holster at my ankle. Duncan had been adamant about me going in armed. ‘Just in case,’ he had said. But the super soaker I had wouldn’t fit in my bag. So, I had been given a little rig only slightly bigger than the size of my hand instead. And the flare leg of my jeans hid it perfectly.

Quinn was also packing. Since he had chosen to wear cargo shorts and a tee shirt, I couldn’t figure out where, but I knew his gun had real bullets and not holy water. Morgan didn’t need a mortal weapon. She could simply summon one from the light if she needed.

Cheater.

Specter had joined us for this outing. He had been given the important job of being my bodyguard. More importantly, he was going to help me interrogate Aiden. All while invisible. That should be interesting.

Once the car had been locked up, I took the lead. Quinn and Morgan were right behind me, but I couldn’t see Specter anywhere. We exited the parking garage, headed for the football field on the south side of the school. The festival was just kicking off, and air was a sweet and delicious mix of candies and roasting meats.

Immediately to the left as we approached, a group of people were playing a game in the mowed grass. Quinn paused to watch as one of the players tossed what looked like a baseball onto the field. Scattered applause from a few onlookers followed.

“It’s called digadayosdi. Marbles,” I said without being asked. “It’s sort of like golf meets shuffleboard. Players throw the balls to try to get them into the holes while trying to keep their opponent from doing the same.”

“When I played marbles,” he looked at me over the rim of his sunglasses, “the balls weren’t the size of your hand.”

I flashed him a cheeky grin. “When you played marbles, dinosaurs still roamed the earth.”

He tilted his head back and laughed. Even Morgan cracked a smile.

I led the way around the Marbles field, towards the small stage and dancing area. A familiar voice suddenly shouting my name made me freeze. I looked in the direction of the school’s outdoor food court. Mister Roan marched a weaving pattern through the tables, making his way towards me on a mission—most likely one to kick me off school property again. The little man’s hands were fists and his mouth bore a scowl so deep it practically cut his face in half.

I braced myself for the worst.

To my great surprise, Morgan cut him off before he could get within ten feet of me.

He stabbed the air with his finger, pointing at meas if I were an ugly piece of furniture. “Get that murderous witch off school property!”

I didn’t know whether to be shocked or furious or embarrassed. Not only did he believe that I had murdered someone—most likely those two boys from the school’s sports teams—he shouted it so loudly that almost the entire gathering of people stopped to gawk. I grit my teeth so hard it felt like my jaw would break just to keep from saying anything back.

A terrifying thought passed like a ghost through my mind. Could that horrible man be the Shadow we’ve been after all week? I firmly told myself no. Roan couldn’t be the demon. Sure, the guy had issues with me, but he cares too much for the school’s athletes to kill them or stand by and let someone else do it.

“Principal Roan,” said Quinn, facing the man. “That was completely out of line.”

“She,” Roan snarled, “isn’t allowed here anymore.”

“Oh?” Quinn crossed his arms, cocked his head to one side. “Why? Because of that bogus expulsion you slapped on her?” He paused long enough to flash his badge to the approaching school security guards. They promptly stopped in their tracks. “Oh, wait. I forgot. That expulsion was illegal, and—if memory serves me right—you haven’t even submitted the required paperwork to the school board to actually begin the process. One could almost say you’re desperate to get hit with discrimination and harassment charges.”

Roan’s eyes flew wide.

“Now, I suggest you apologize to Miss Starr before you embarrass yourself further.” The werewolf just coldly stared at him, smiling as if he was the principal’s old friend.

Mister Roan’s scowl grew even deeper, and he turned his heated glare on me. “Not one toe out of line, young lady!” He wagged his finger at me. “I mean it!”

I kept my mouth clamped shut to prevent a snide remark from slipping past my lips, but I managed a curt nod. He eyed me suspiciously a moment more, then turned and rushed away muttering something. The gathered spectators began to thin.

“Thanks for that,” I said to Quinn.

He frowned at the principal’s retreating back. “What a jerk.”

I agreed with him. Then I pointed out the patio tables and asked, “Do you think our little friend could fit through those?”

“It would be a tight squeeze,” said Morgan, “but a cornered demon will try to escape via any route it can.”

Quinn was quiet a moment, his brow creased in pensive concentration. Then, “Specter.”

For barely a moment, the scent of rain overpowered the smells of candies and roasting meats. Then an echoing whisper said, “Deployed.”

I watched as Morgan took her phone from her pocket, tapped an app. The screen changed, dividing into quadrants that reminded me of four-player mode in one of my PlayStation games. A live video feed of the food court appeared in one of the squares.

Morgan muttered a confirmation.

I led everyone on a short tour through the festival in search of more shadows deep enough to serve as doorways. We passed the food pavilion (and my mouth watered in anticipation of the roasted meats), glanced over the little kids’ gaming area, and ventured through the double row of vendors. Each time Quinn or I pointed out a particularly large pool of shade, Morgan and Specter repeated the procedure they had with the outdoor food court. Morgan’s phone continued to fill with video feeds.

At long last, it was on to Mabon City Campus’ prized football field.

It was all sunshine and freshly-mowed grass until the end zones, where the field goal posts formed long and thin shadows that could make for quick doorways. We als worried about the bleachers, whose shadows were so vast Quinn worried about the Shadow summoning in an army for backup.

Specter deployed even more of… er, whatever those invisible things were, and Morgan’s screen filled with twelve additional feeds.

“I think that’s it for out here,” I said with a shrug.

Quinn did a slow three-sixty, nodded. “This is a lot more ground to cover than I had been expecting.”

Morgan looked up from her phone. “What about inside?”

I frowned at that thought. If Quinn believed the outdoor setting to be more ground than expected, adding the interior of the school was only going to complicate things even more. I took a minute to recall the layout of the school’s interior before finally breaking the news.

“Well, there are two sets of bathrooms inside—one on either end of the cafeteria, through there,” I pointed at the double doored entrance that served as a gateway between the food court and interior of the school, “that visitors are allowed to use. They can also go to the library, which is where the students have set up art and science displays. The seven designated women for the festival are allowed in the kitchen as they are responsible for most of the food. Then there’s the students who can come and go on their off hours or lunch breaks and when school lets out.”

Quinn exhaled his dismay in a gust of breath. “Specter?”

“Already on it.”

Morgan muttered something about needing a larger screen, asked for the car keys.

After she left, Quinn looked to me. “When’s your friend’s lunch hour?”

“She’s not my friend.” I glanced at his watch, told him that if Aiden had come today after being out so late last night, her lunch would begin in about forty minutes. He nodded, and we settled in to wait.

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