The Archfiend Artifact

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2

PRIVATE PARKING LOT, MABON CITY

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20
7:07 AM

Mabon City is a study in contradictions. New, lean skyscrapers of glass and metal stood beside stocky, century-old brick buildings. There are waterways and highways, concrete industrial parks and thick, luscious forest, dingy slums and luxurious mansions. All existing within stones throws of one another.

The parking lot across the street where my bus drops passengers off is a prime example of the peculiarities of the city coming together. The buildings flanking either side of the lot were squat, old apartment complexes. The elder of the two, a red-bricked heirloom, sported the scars of a hundred years’ use. The other, a thirty-something with orange-creamsicle vinyl siding, had only just begun to show its age. Behind me, a sparkly new high rise pierced the sky. Across the parking lot from me, a quaint public garden—still alive with a riot of colors despite the recent cold snap—stood defiantly in the face of the urban jungle around it.
When my bus arrived, everything surrounding the lot flickered with the lights of the emergency vehicles. My fellow riders were quietly inquiring each other what they thought happened. Me? Well... Let’s just say I had some specialized knowledge no one else did; not even the cops.

Okay, I confess; there’s something I neglected to mention earlier.
I’m not exactly... normal. I realize teenagers say that a lot, but trust me when I say I’m in a whole different, freaky category. It’s hard to describe what I am, but I think psychic comes close. I have this weird ability to feel things. I don’t mean with my fingers, either. It’s more of a sixth sense; like warning bells that trip when something weird and inexplicable is going on. I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar at some point—that moment when the hairs on the back of your neck rise and your gut tells you that you’re not alone. For me, it’s a bit different.

Every living thing has a unique corona of ever-changing energy around them. It’s commonly known as an aura, prana, chi, ki… you get the picture. Whatever you call this energy, I am able to sense it the same way a metal detector in a steel box would pick up on metal. Sometimes, I can even focus on the signature and know whether a person is your everyday stranger just going about their business or a cold-blooded killer looking for their next victim.

Freaky, right? Guess what: That’s only half of what I can do.
The other half is where the term psychic applies. Ever since I can remember, flashes of events that are going to happen or those that have already passed have appeared in my dreams. I have no way to control these visions, but I do know they are accurate one hundred percent of the time. I’ve lost count of how many times the things I see in my dreams become the top news stories. I’ve seen it all—from natural disasters and man-made catastrophes to devastating plagues and never-ending droughts. Trust me; it’s horrible.

That’s the reason why I’m always saying the name Cybil fits me. And why the kids in grade school called me Jinx all the time (they believed I had been cursed).

Since Mabon City is such a vast space with a couple hundred-thousand inhabitants, it has a wide variety of energy signatures. So it came as only a mild surprise when an abnormal sort-of pressure began to settle over me the instant the bus entered the city limits. The closer I got to downtown, the more the pressure continued to build. Combined with a tingling chill that left me barely able to breathe, I knew something terrible had happened.

And very recently.

A sinister energy that screamed of anguish and revenge struck like a knife on raw nerves the moment I stepped off the bus. Yelping in surprise at the unexpected intensity prompted a few fellow bus riders to ask if everything’s okay. It wasn’t, but I declared everything hunky-dory and sent an apprehensive look towards the source of all that horrible energy.

It emanated from the parking lot.

Crap.

As a general rule, I avoid the places where negative energies materialize. That negativity has a tendency of latching on to people like leeches whenever they get close. Don’t worry; there are ways to get rid of it, but it can be time-consuming if you’re not practiced at it. I’m not, so I definitely did not want to bring that nastiness home with me (I have enough problems in my life). Unfortunately, the route I take to school passes right through the parking lot, and I didn’t have the time to navigate around it if I wanted to make it to school before the first bell.
I quickly slipped into the trickle of commuters in the crosswalk and made for the edge parking lot furthest from all the police activity. Every step closer caused my heart rate to spike more and more. The very air seemed to come alive with marrow-chilling tension. Tendrils of malicious energy reached out in ragged threads, desperate to take hold of anyone foolish enough to wander too close.

I hated being one of those fools.

But I despised that something compelled me to stop.

Frowning, I sent my senses out in search of the reason. The garbled mess of the police radio and the cacophony of voices from those gathered around were the only things I picked up. Whatever had reached out for my attention had become so faint that it could no longer pierce the noise. I had only moments before it drowned in that turbulent sea of evil energy.

Ignoring the instinct that told me to just keep walking, I moved in for a closer look. Onlookers and press teams vied for position along the yellow police tape. I knew I’d never get anywhere near enough to see beyond the wall of their backs. Instead, I hopped up on the concrete ledge of a nearby light pole.

Cops were everywhere, snapping photographs, measuring stuff, taking notes. A few stood by their squad cars, talking over the radio. Two detectives in cheap suits were being interviewed by the press. Uniformed officers stood guard on the sidelines, intent on keeping out anyone who might interfere with the scene.

The usual controlled chaos.

The wreck that had been a Cadillac Escalade caught my attention first. The roof had been struck by something substantial enough to cave the windshield and blow out the driver’s window. I scanned overhead, measuring the rooftops. Even an Olympic athlete couldn’t leap the forty-some feet to land on the roof of a car in the middle of the lot. Shards of glass littered the ground beside the SUV, telling me that the vehicle hadn’t been moved.
And, judging by the body bag the two guys in blue jumpsuits were jostling onto one of those wheeled beds, this wasn’t a meteorite or weather balloon. I knew the corpse couldn’t be a stunt skydiver with a faulty chute. If that had been the case, there would be evidence of the chute somewhere. Ropes. Cloth. Something.

You can probably tell that I aspired to become a police officer one day. (Not that that would ever happen with my “mental instability.”) This crime scene served as a test for my fledgling investigative skills, but I didn’t have the time to be this wound up in it. I took a deep breath to calm my racing thoughts and wished I hadn’t. Something else lurked among the blending smells of colognes and perfumes, car exhaust, and rain. This scent reminded me of last week’s geology lesson when we studied the properties of little, yellow lumps. Though faint, I recognized this as the pungent odor of sulfur.

I wiped my nose. How in the world does sulfur wind up in a parking lot?

The back of my neck tingled, and a heated wave crashed over me. I held my breath, ready for the plunge knew I couldn’t stop. Everything went numb, and the world fell away like a dream…


A guard moved through the halls, confident in his stride despite the dimness of the estate. He had these halls memorized, and knew he could navigate them even without the security lights. He paused at a doorway, chuckled at his younger colleague. She stood ogling the half-dollar sized jewel on the pedestal. He shook his head and moved on. He hadn’t even gone three paces when suddenly the few lights that remained on began to flicker.
A heartbeat later, they went out entirely, and darkness swallowed everything. A sudden, icy chill made him shiver, and he could swear he saw his breath escape in a cloud of mist.
He heard someone stumble, and called out to see if they were okay.

Glass shattered.

An alarm blared.

The guard quickly pulled his sidearm from its holster and rushed back to the hallway he had just passed. The air turned freezing and rank with the stench of rotten eggs. His colleague lay on the floor; dead or unconscious, he couldn’t tell in the constricting dark. But someone… No. Something stood over her. A mass of black darker than a moonless night. It could have gone unseen had it not been moving, taking the dazzling gemstone from the display gingerly into its claws.

The guard trained his SIG on the dark mass and shouted as boldly as he could, “Freeze!”

The shadow whipped around with a hiss that no human could possibly make. Two glowing orbs the color of blood were instantly trained on him. The thing bared startling white fangs in a grin that reminded him of an evil Cheshire cat. He aimed for the thing’s trunk and squeezed the trigger. He felt his heart plummet into the pit of his stomach when he heard the bullet ricochet off the far wall. The shadow chuckled, dark and mocking. It lunged at him, and he screamed as he emptied the clip.

The next thing he knew, his entire body had gone numb, and he shivered uncontrollably, just as if he had been caught outside during a blizzard in Antarctica. He barely caught a glimpse of the shadow before it blinked out of existence; it had kept that same horrible grin in place.

When at last sensation began to return, he instantly knew what had happened. Wind ripped past him, tearing away the breath from his lungs and water from his eyes. It reminded him of his days in the Air Force’s jump school. Only this time he plummeted in free fall towards the ground without a lifeline.

A car alarm erupted as metal crumpled and glass blew.


Snapping back to reality as if someone had dumped a barrel of ice water on me nearly cost me my footing on the narrow concrete ledge. My breath came in shaky gulps like I couldn’t get enough air. Goosebumps covered every inch of my skin while sweat traced a trail down from my temples. And the hair on the back of my neck tingled from the slightest touch of the morning breeze. I tried desperately to shake it off, but the strange feeling only remained to plague me.

Movement on my left finally stole my attention, and I watched the two guys in jumpsuits load the body in the back of an ambulance. I knew precisely who lay underneath the black plastic of the body bag. I could see his face in my mind in crystal clear HD, though I had never laid eyes on him before. He had bright, hazel eyes beneath bushy eyebrows. He had a crooked from that time he got punched in a bar fight in Korea. A faint scar ran along his chin, a reminder from when he fell out of a tree as a kid.

That’s why you stopped me, isn’t it? Because I could see what happened to you?

The faint presence finally lost its battle against the seething energy.

Sorry to waste your effort. I don’t have the power to help you.

The ambulance doors closed, and I looked away.

My gaze shifted to a guy with shaggy, brown hair watching me as he spoke into his phone. I figured him for one of the police officers on the scene since he wore a suit similar to the other detectives. He must have been eyeing me because of my visibility above the crowd. I put on what I hoped looked like a sweet smile and waved a little. He continued to stare at me, but his expression changed from sour to curious.

I don’t need any more trouble from the police, and it was past time I got out of here anyway. Agilisi would have me enslaved in her shop for a month if I arrived late to Homeroom and slapped with another detention.

I rushed away from the scene before anything else could stop me, continuing my usual walk to school but at a faster pace. I couldn’t escape the weird feeling of being followed. A few times, I thought I even heard footsteps or breathing, but every time I looked over my shoulder, the sidewalks would be empty. Already aware that the intense negativity had more than likely latched on to me, it made sense. Now I just had to remember to get rid of it before my day could get any worse.

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