The Archfiend Artifact

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37

PRISON OF THE MIND
TIME: NONEXISTENT

I was met with frigid, asphyxiating dark no light could pierce. Icy barbs, hurled by hurricane wind, thrashed at me like ten thousand tiny needles. I threw my arms up to protect my face, and the barbs chewed through them as if they were tissue paper. With furtive steps, I trudged blindly through snow that clung to my hips, ever wary of the stairs I knew lay ahead.

My limbs grew heavier the further into the blackness I pushed. Numb from the cold, and shivering uncontrollably, I didn’t feel the floor suddenly give way. Somehow, I managed to catch myself before I went head-first down the stairs. I sacrificed a few precious moments more to descend the stairs carefully. Once I reached the landing, I counted each step forward for a third (and hopefully final) time.

It took a few tries to get my mouth working properly, and I called out to the presence. Or, at least, that’s what I tried to do. The cold choked my throat, and wind stole my hoarse whispers away again and again. I turned my back to the onslaught, blew into my hands in the vain attempt to warm them and my voice box. Then I shouted for my inner demon.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice.

At long last, those eyes like smoldering embers appeared.

Ah, so, mine Keeper dares yet another return, it said, its raspy whisper laced with annoyance. The eyes disappeared into the dark once more. How brave.

‘Cut the crap!’ There wasn’t any time to put up with this stupid thing’s personal issues with me. ‘Turn this damn storm off and give me back my powers. Now.’

No.

I ignored its response, stamped my feet in the vain attempt to restore some feeling to them. As I did, I filled the demon in on the situation. ‘Anjie and a pair of Shadows have us trapped in a circle. The only way we can get out of it to save ourselves and put a stop to their plan is to Jump out. I can’t do it alone, so I am asking you to return the powers you gave me.’

There is no us.

‘Listen to me, dammit!’ I lurched forward a pace in my rage. As if sensing my anger, the wind picked up and the temperature plummeted to an all new low. There was no point in worrying about the weather if I couldn’t get this stupid creature to help me. ‘They are going to kill me. And you. Then they’re going to kill an innocent girl. I can’t let that happen. You need to help me stop it!’

The eyes slammed open with an enraged snarl. You ignorant child!

The fiery glow of the demon’s eyes streaked towards me. I fell back, some instinct driving me to a defensive posture in case the demon didn’t stop. But it did. Just out of arm’s reach.

Do you seriously believe that everything you see and feel here is real? We are inside your head, you moron.

‘Of course we are, you stupid thing!’

Its irritated growl reminded me of rumbling thunder. I mean, this is not an ice storm. You are not in a dark prison. I am not real. You made all of this up because you were too afraid of the truth to face it.

‘I wasn’t af—’

Your over-confident attitude and tough girl mask might fool other people, but you can’t lie to me. I know you inside and out better than you do. I know for a fact that the minute you learned you weren’t entirely human, your rational mind short-circuited, and you created this elaborate mirage to avoid dealing with it. This prison, the eyes swept the darkness, the wind, the cold, the barrenness; all of that is the lie.

Yet, here we stand now, at each other’s throats, because you refused to use the powers you were born with. And it’s all do to the fact that you were afraid you were going to lose yourself to the darkness. Well, kid, I’ve got news for you: we have been in that darkness for fifteen years, and we are still the same person. We would willing sacrifice ourselves for our friends if it meant saving them. If you don’t believe that, open your eyes and take a look at the situation we’re in.

Now, suddenly, you want your powers back. The demon sighed. I hate to break it to you, kid, but I can’t restore them. It’s impossible. Do you want to know why?

Stiffly, and a little uncertain, I nodded.

The demon leaned in closer. I felt hands take me gently by the shoulders. Because they were never really gone to begin with.

Never. Gone?

I felt the wind shift into a wild spiral around me. My hair battered my face, and I shoved it aside with a huff.

‘My powers were with me this whole time?’ I stared into those crimson eyes, desperately searching for any sign of deception. It was a wasted effort. Everything my demon said was true. But it didn’t make any sense.

I said you repressed your power. The weight of my demon’s hands on my shoulders disappeared. You may be able to lock it up in a deep, dark hole somewhere for a few days, but you could never completely divest yourself of it.

‘How do you know about all of this?’

Its scarlet gaze quickly surveyed the space around us. It would be easier to explain if you’d just turn the lights on.

A frown tugged at the corners of my lips. ‘How the hell am I supposed to do that in this win—’ I froze.

A playful mischief flashed in those eyes as the demon’s focus once again settled on me.

I just stood there like an idiot for a handful of precious seconds, disbelieving what had happened without my notice. The dark prison had gone as silent as a graveyard at midnight, and I no longer felt the biting chill of windblown shards of ice.

I all but cheered, ‘There is no wind!’

There is no spoon.

I think I’m finally beginning to understand. From the moment I set foot in here, I had been fully aware that this prison was within my mind. What I had failed to realize is that the entire thing was nothing more than an elaborate dream construct. Like with lucid dreaming, I had complete control over every single detail. Including—and I looked into those crimson eyes—my subconscious.

Torches flared to life all around the prison, washing the two of us in warm light. At long last, I saw it. No. Not ‘it.’ Her. From her hairstyle and color to her clothes and posture, my inner demon was a perfect reflection of me in every way, save one: her ruby red eyes.

She flashed a smile. Now you see.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘The reason you have all the answers is because you, as my subconscious, remember everything I’ve ever heard or seen or felt. My entire life’s story wrapped up in one neat, little package.’

Precisely, she said with a nod. Now, there’s but one question left unanswered.

‘Oh?’

She raised her arm as if she wanted to arm wrestle and held it between us. Are you finally ready to kick some ass?

I felt a jolt of cold energy pass through me as I gripped her hand.‘Absolutely!’

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