The Archfiend Artifact

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6:43 AM

Rain fell in cascading sheets, pummeling the fire escape outside my second-story window, splashing on the streets and sidewalks in a relentless torrent. Gray fog rode the air like roiling smoke, veiling the world outside until everything appeared as little more than shadows. Lightning flashed, close and blinding, and thunder rumbled on its heels.

Perfect weather.

I sat alone in the dark, watching the storm as it battered every inch of my hometown. An hour, probably more, had passed since the first roars of thunder had awoken me. It hadn’t been fear that had roused me. No. It had been the storm’s song; the serenity of rainfall and thunder amid the raw, unbridled energy that danced from cloud to cloud. I always found the sounds peaceful, especially on days like today.

Unfortunately, that peace never lasts long. Footsteps were already approaching my bedroom door. Sighing in annoyance, I reached up without looking to brace the mirror that hung just over my desk.

Golanv! Ayega!” the usual loud and repetitive banging on my door promptly followed. Then another yell in Cherokee. “You’ll miss the bus!”

That’s agilisi. My grandma. I’m required to endure imprisonment in the tiny spare room of her one-and-a-half bedroom apartment. I hate the place with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. The walls are paper thin so I can hear everything going on in and around the complex. The noise of cars racing by with their stereos on max bass or drunkards stumbling home from the bar just up the street often kept me up at night. I couldn’t even have my friends—if I actually had any that is—over to hang out because we’d make too much noise merely talking about how we hated homework. Not that you could fit more than one person in this minuscule space.

The prison cell that is called my room used to be an office, which agilisi had been forced to convert when she got dumped with me. It is filled to the brink with a twin bed and small desk that doubled as my vanity. The drab, olive green wallpaper had started to curl up years ago, so I hid the eyesore with dozens of drawings or coloring pages. I kept the hideous, worn yellow-orange carpet covered with my second-hand clothes and a few battered knickknacks I had managed to save from the dumpster. The only attractive feature of the room is a single, dingy window. It leads out to the fire escape, where I hide when I need some time alone.

Like this miserable room, agilisi had been the only constant in my life since I turned five. On the good days, she and I got along about as well as two feuding warlords. I think it’s because she blames me for what happened to my parents. Sometimes, I think she wishes I had joined them. Sometimes, I wish I had, too.

I cut off that line of thinking as quickly as it had come, hollered over the insistent drumming. “Howa, elisi! I’m awake!”

Agilisi gave my door one final whack, hard enough to set the wall quivering. I waited until I heard the door to the bathroom squeal as it opened and closed before I finally let go of the mirror.

Truthfully, I didn’t want to go to school today. Not just because Principal Roan despised me or because I am the new girl with a bad rap. I didn’t want to go because today is the twentieth of October, and that is never a good day. Not going, however, would be even worse. Agilisi would force me to work all day in her thrift store downstairs, but not before she turned her switch on me. I’d sooner live in school or on the street than have to endure another of her torture sessions.

Running away wasn’t an option. I’ve tried twice already, and she had been able to find me after only a few hours. It’s not like I could get far with no money and being too young to be employed. Those jerks from Social Services and my shrink were no help either. I honestly believe agilisi paid them off to keep me in her custody.

The sooner I get out of here, the better.

I tore my gaze from the storm to delve into my would-be closet—a stack of cheap, wire shelves mounted to the wall over my twin mattress—in search of attire. I dug out a plain, black tee and my only pair of pants: black Levi’s. I had resorted to stealing them after my last pair got tore up in a fight—that I did not start—and agilisi refused to buy me another pair.

Before you ask, yeah, I felt like a total dirt bag afterward. But how can someone seriously expect a teenager to make one pair of jeans last her entire high school life? Besides, I swore I’d never do it again.

And I always keep my promises.

I laced up my shoes, slung my tattered, old backpack over my shoulder, and made for the back door, pausing just long enough to grab an umbrella from the hook. Agilisi stood waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs, next to the stockroom door of her store. I had the great misfortune of looking almost exactly like her. Both of us had round faces with high cheekbones and slightly bent noses. Heavy, almond-shaped eyes the color of milk chocolate. Smooth reddish-copper skin. Thick hair that fell like a moonless night down the middle of our backs.

Honestly, the only difference between us is her hair had streaks of gray.

Agilisi held out some crumpled bills for my lunch along with a couple bus tokens. I stuffed the money in my pocket, rolled my eyes as she told me to behave for once. With a mumbled goodbye, I shoved the heavy security door open and stepped outside.

The rain plastered my hair to my skull before I even had a chance to open the umbrella. It’s a cold autumn rain, too. Not that that bothered me any; I am incapable of feeling cold unless it’s something like liquid nitrogen. I’ve never been able to figure out why, and I’m too afraid to ask agilisi about it. She’d probably sell me to some laboratory or something.

Without bothering to look, I started for the opposite side of the street. Chances of getting run over in a town of two hundred and eleven people during rush hour are almost zero. See, Obsidian Grove is a Podunk town known for nothing except it’s now defunct drive-in movie theater. For a teenager like me, this place is as dull as a weekend in a convent. The main strip is Main Avenue, which is a whopping three blocks long. The town’s only cafe (aptly named Oh! Gee) is a tiny thing at the west end. Agilisi’s store stood at the east. And a quaint convenience store sat right in the middle, across the street from the post office slash bank slash town hall.

There’s no bus stop in Obsidian Grove (not an official one anyway), so all the people who need to go to the big city during the day tend to congregate at the convenience store. The usual crowd had already arrived, coffee and doughnuts or other fat pills in hand, and bus number seventeen had just pulled to the curb when I arrived.

The driver, a twenty-something college kid, greeted everyone by name as they boarded. “Good morning, Cye.”

My name is Cybil Golanv Starr, but everyone just calls me Cye. I’m fourteen-years-old and half Cherokee. If you believe the hype, I’m the kid your parents warned you about. You know: the playground bully, the emo-fueled loner. The troubled kid. The bad influence. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Let me set the record straight once and for all. I don’t know what the heck emo is. Yes, I am a bit of a loner. No, I don’t set out every day looking for a fight. In fact, it’s the bullies who often pick a fight with me. I’m just usually the last one standing when the dust settles. And to the victor goes the spoils.

Osda sunale.” I dropped my bus token in the slot, made for my usual window seat. Moments later, we were on the highway heading to Mabon City.

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