The Archfiend Artifact

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39

SUBBASEMENT, MABON CITY CAMPUS, MABON CITY
TIME: UNKNOWN

I came back to myself. I felt cold. Dark. Sweet, sweet dark.

My lungs burned. My head ached. My throat hurt.

I choked down a gulp of air.

Air.

It was heavenly, even infected with mildew and smoke.

I devoured it.

Something was hissing by my ear. My gaze sluggishly rolled to the source.

A puddle of gelatinous goo had splattered on the floor. It was quickly dissolving into nothing, just like the demon I had shot earlier. But the inhuman shriek piercing my eardrums told me the remaining Shadow was still alive. And it was wounded. Grievously.

I was too tired to move, but I knew I had to. At the very least, I had to get Aiden out of here. My arms and legs felt like lead, yet I managed to somehow push myself to my knees. My right hand found its way to one of the shelving units, and I used it to leverage myself to my feet.

The room swayed.

I felt like I was going to be sick. I let my eyes drift shut, breathed in deep and exhaled slow. It felt like it took forever, but my stomach and my nerves eventually relaxed.

My eyes slammed open at the demon’s enraged shriek. I found Aiden a couple feet from where she had been thrown into the shelves. She had my gun in her hands, and she blasted the Shadow with shot after shot, tearing it apart piece by piece. The parts immediately turned to mucus that splashed against the floor, the walls, and the shelves, where they quickly hissed into nothingness.

What the heck kind of holy water is in that gun?

A water bullet ripped through the Shadow’s sole remaining arm, severing it and sending Mirror of Souls crashing to the floor. Unfortunately, the Mirror didn’t break, and the demon’s final act was to kick it away in a desperate attempt to keep it out of my hands. Then Aiden put a round into its head, and what remained of the Shadow burst into mucus and splashed across the floor like spilled milk.

Aiden spat on the goo as it sizzled and melted into oblivion. Then she aimed the gun at me. I blinked with surprise.

“Are you with them?”

I scoffed, choked out, “Are you out of your mind?”

She lowered the gun.

I pointed past her, to where the Mirror had been kicked. She followed my gesture. “Smash it, Aiden,” I said, my voice barely above a hoarse whisper. Talking made my throat burn worse than every cold and flu I’ve ever had, and still I urged her to do it. “Just destroy it.”

Without warning, she rocketed across the room by an unseen force. She flew over the circle and crashed into the stone wall head first within the blink of an eye. I turned to face Anjelah as her little sister lurched sideways, leaving a crimson trail along the wall while she melted down onto the floor.

Adrenaline and rage exploded into my system, and time slowed to a crawl.

Anjie had managed to get herself sort of upright despite the mess I had made of her face and leg. Most of her weight was on her hip, and her right arm kept her from falling over as she struggled to drag herself across the floor. She muttered something and moved her raised left hand in a come-hither wave. A quick glance back confirmed my suspicions; the Mirror was now speeding towards Anjie’s outstretched hand.

I shoved myself away from the shelf, moving faster and smoother than I thought possible. It wasn’t fast enough to get between the Mirror and Anjelah as I had planned, and the cursed artifact soared past me. I spun on my heel. My hand rushed out before me, snapping around the twisted bone handle a heartbeat before it flew out of reach.

I skidded across the smooth concrete, bumped lightly into the shelves along the opposite wall from where I started.

Time returned to its normal pace.

Anjie gaped in silent confusion.

I looked from her to the Mirror. An intense hatred towards the thing went through me. I hated it for the souls it took; the lives it destroyed. I was going to make sure this thing paid for every single one of them.

I felt a strange pressure begin to build up around the Mirror. It was Anjelah, trying to rip it from my grasp. For a moment, I was surprised that she wasn’t trying to take control of me again. Then I saw how exhausted she looked, and sneered.

She didn’t have the power.

I took a step towards her, ready to hit her over the head with the Mirror if I had to. Aiden came screaming out of nowhere to kick her sister in the ribs. Anjie shrieked in pain, and the power around the Mirror vanished. Aiden kicked her again and again, screaming wordlessly.

I blinked. I had never seen such a quiet girl like Aiden so angry. But I set my awe, my pain, my exhaustion aside. I had something far more important to deal with.

I glowered down at the Mirror, snarled, “You deserve to be destroyed for all the death and pain you’ve caused.”

The evil thing pulsed with power, protesting. That’s when I learned the Mirror had developed a soul of its own. It knew I was about to destroy it; to end its life like it had so many others. And it begged. It pleaded, desperate for its survival.

When it realized begging had failed, it turned to seduction. I suddenly felt like a child about to enter Santa’s workshop and walk away with the toy of my dreams. I was giddy with excitement and high on the rush.

At last, I understood what drew people to seek this twisted treasure out.

For a moment, I was compelled not to fulfill my threat; to hug the mirror close to me and vanish to my own little corner to use its power for myself. It would be the perfect way to retaliate against Taboo. I’d give him a little payback for all he’s done to me. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the flawless, obsidian glass. A stark white sneer beneath glowing, scarlet eyes glared back at me in the dark. The level of anger and malice in that monster’s expression left me stunned.

Never. I would never allow myself to change into that.

I turned the black glass away from me. Gripping the twisting, bone handle tight, I raised the mirror as high over my head as I could.

For barely a moment, Anjie’s screams to stop gave me pause.

“I fulfill my promise now!” I slammed the cursed thing on the floor as hard as I could. The ancient mirror exploded in a shower of glass and bone. A blinding, green light erupted from its shattered remains. I heard a whoosh as a wave of heat tore through the room. Suddenly, the space filled with countless screaming faces trapped within swirling, green flames.

They were the souls, I realized. Men. Women. Children. Human, and not. I caught a glimpse of Cynthia’s face in the frenzy and felt a sense of relief. Unspeakable numbers, harvested over the mirror’s centuries of use, all spiraled upwards from the Mirror’s corpse.

At last, they were free.

And they were furious.

Several of them homed in on Anjelah, their latest tormentor. They passed through her, ripping a white light from her with a horrid scream. A moment later, she slumped to the floor, staring ahead with glazed eyes. I didn’t want to stick around to see what else they would do.

In the madness, I somehow managed to find Aiden. She had been thrown aside—by her sister or by the souls, I didn’t know—and stood, leaning against a shelving unit in awe of the green vortex. I ran to her as fast as I could and snatched her arm. The only exit, a simple, wooden door that led into the laundry room, was at the opposite end of the room, through the swelling tornado of souls. It might as well have been a mile away for all the good it did us. I cursed my luck and hoped that I had enough oomph to do that Jump thing one more time.

The air quickly grew hotter. The souls crammed against the ceiling and the walls and started to spread out. They pressed against each other, desperate to escape the cramped basement. I could feel the pressure building and knew I had just seconds to get away. I closed my eyes and concentrated hard on Jumping myself and Aiden out of there. The noise and the heat made it difficult to focus, but one by one, I shut my senses off. I somehow managed to block it all out.

With the little strength I had remaining, I knew I had to pick a landing spot nearby or we’d never make it. I knew there was a spot on the front lawn, where a trio of trees created a haven of darkness. I picked it as my target and hoped it would be far enough from the blast. I visualized it in my head and wished myself there. When nothing happened, I closed my eyes tighter and kept wishing. I put every ounce of my remaining life-force into the Jump. The sudden and icy cold of the void swallowed me. I couldn’t say how long I was in that black space, but it felt like days.

Solid ground was suddenly beneath me once again. My knees immediately gave out and I collapsed onto the dew-spotted grass. Aiden slumped beside me. I only had a moment to check on her and catch my breath before a fiery, green explosion rocked the entire area. Too spent to move any more, I just lay there and let the blast wave rush over me. I could only hope that the countless number of souls that I had freed from captivity within the Mirror would see fit to spare the two of us.

My vision blurred and started to fade out. The last thing I could remember thinking was what a crazy week it had been. Then total, peaceful darkness overcame me, and I knew no more.

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