The Archfiend Artifact

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11:58 AM

The doors swung shut with a barely audible click, cutting off the easiest escape route. My sight was rendered useless in the asphyxiating gloom. Everywhere I looked, an unnatural darkness loomed before me. I had been in here five days a week for the last two and a half months. I knew the theater’s emergency overhead lights and little, golden step lights needed to be lit at all times. Yet none of them were on. Either someone knew where to find the fuse box to turn all the lights off manually, or the Shadow had blown them out simply by appearing here.

Ten bucks says it’s that wretched Shadow.

I got my bearings, continued forward with measured steps. The deeper I plunged, the more my eyes grew accustomed to the dark. I began to make out the shapes of chairs, the positions of guard rails, and I felt a little more confident than before.

The flight of stairs eventually came to an end. I paused at the front row of seats, adjusted my grasp on my bow. I cast my gaze about the room, even way up into the rafters. The theater was empty. And cold—not physical cold, but something terribly nefarious.

Had I missed something?

I brought my bow up and dared to tiptoe closer to the stage.

Movement out of the corner of my eye made me freeze. An utter darkness yawned where there hadn’t been one a moment ago, and the stench of rotting eggs assaulted my senses. I threw myself into a forward dive, rolled up to my knees, and loosed the arrow.

The Shadow let out a hissing snarl, yanked the arrow from the spot between its glowing ruby eyes. I had no time to admire the luckiness of the shot. It hurled the projectile at me and I lunged sideways to avoid it. By the time I recovered, the demon had vanished. Unfortunately, the stench of its presence didn’t.

I scanned the shadows and readied another arrow. “So, was this your plan?” I called to dark. “Draw me to a secluded area for a duel? A little payback for that shower I gave you.”

Ear-grating laughter erupted all around me.

I took that as a no.

Something slammed into the small of my back with the speed and strength of a bullet train. The impact knocked the wind out of me and snapped my head back sharply. I crashed to the ground and lay there in agony as stars whirled before my eyes. Through the confusion, I realized the Shadow now stood over me. I felt it grab me by the back of the neck and then the world turned glacial cold.

I suddenly found myself floating in emptiness. There was no sound. No light. No smell. Just total, icy nothingness, as if all my senses had been turned off. I felt waves of panic and despair crash over me. There was just no other explanation.

I was dead.

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