The Archfiend Artifact

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8:03 AM

With someone shadowing me and the school bell just minutes away from ringing, I jogged the last few blocks. I made it to the school grounds just as the first bell sounded. On the outside, Mabon City Campus is an H-shaped building not worthy of description. It’s just a pile of gray bricks surrounded by a white-washed, wooden fence. The only thing uglier than it right now was the jalopy of a station wagon that pulled to a stop at the curb.

The car might have had a lovely, royal blue paint job once—back in the Eighties when it was new. Now rust and mismatched primer overtook much of the original paint, and the hood and passenger door had been replaced from two different donor cars; one green, the other red. I had no idea who drove such an eyesore, but, with just moments before the tardy bell rang, I couldn’t stick around to find out.

The front doors of the school had become crowded with other late arrivals, so I made for entrance on the southeast side of the school. It’s definitely shaping up to be one of those days. I just hope it doesn’t end like the last one. My back spasmed, and I stumbled a step as the memories shot through my mind like a runaway bullet train. I quickly shoved them away. Not today, Cye. I found my stride again. Don’t think of that today.

I passed through the side entrance, bolted straight down the empty hall to the theater doors, and gagged the moment I crossed the threshold. The stench of new construction and fresh paint hadn’t dissipated in the slightest over the weekend. Stupid remodel. I found the offending plastic buckets of paint and the pile of well-used brushes atop cheap card tables a few feet to the left of the door. A couple of the lids sat askew, indicating that the work would likely resume after homeroom cleared out.

The tardy bell rang and I made for my usual seat in the back row, far enough from the teacher to avoid her prying eyes. She never could tell whether or not I had been paying attention to the Media Club’s version of the morning news (News my wrinkled rump! It’s just school gossip the club found juicy enough to share.). I needed to exploit that little bit of privacy this morning if I were to have any hope of dispelling the negative energy that had latched onto me. I just hope it’s not too late.

When you work with as much negative energy as I have, you learn that running water is the best way to cleanse it. Well, that, and reiki—though I’m not sure if that technique would work in this situation—or a variety of crystals and herbs. And since I couldn’t pop down to the gym for a shower, I’d have to resort to grounding. Grounding works sort of like a water wheel. I send any bad energy I have into the earth while, at the same time, siphoning off some of the earth’s bountiful good energy. My biggest problem with grounding is that I suck at it. It requires a level of concentration I just can’t achieve most of the time. I require a focus to, well, focus on my intent, which is why I always keep one with me.

I dug into the side pocket of my bag as I flopped into my seat, and removed the old railroad spike I kept there. Why a railroad spike? Simply put, iron sucks away negative energies like a black hole devours light. Hence the ole horseshoe-over-the-door thing. I have no money to buy a horseshoe, but I could afford a free railroad spike. Since workers leave the old ones lying around when they fix the tracks, finding one is extremely easy. I picked this one up during my last escape-from-home attempt. It’s rusty and pockmarked, but that’s fine for what I use it for.

At the head of the spike I had tied three ribbons, each three feet long (before you ask, no, I didn’t steal them; I got them from my art teacher) and a different color. Each color represented a specific purpose. I used white for balance and cleansing; purple to drive away evil; and black for grounding and banishing negativity.

This is my focus.

It also makes for a pretty decent improvised weapon, but we won’t get into that.

I waited until after roll call, when no one would be paying any attention to the back row. Then I got to work. I started with spinning the spike between my hands as if I were making a Play Dough snake. This got the iron tuned to me and my intent. That done, I took the ribbons and began to braid them. With each knot, I imagined the negative energy affecting me being bound into the strands, where it would remain until it could be grounded into the earth proper.

I managed to get half-way through the lengths of ribbon before the doors behind me squeaked open, thus breaking my concentration. I heard the vice principal, Mrs. Nygarde, tell someone to take a seat before she strode past me. I cast a quick glance at the late arrivals as they sank into a pair of seats just opposite the aisle from me.

I recognized the younger of the two girls as a classmate of mine, but her name escaped me. I believe we shared science and math classes. She had an inch or two on me in height, and shoulder-length caramel-colored hair. Her second-hand jacket bunched awkwardly at her left elbow, and an almost glowing white cast covered her forearm. I couldn’t remember if she had had the cast when I last saw her.

The elder girl I knew as Anjelah Cross. She had the preppy attitude one would come to expect from the new Prima Donna of the Theater Club. Anjie stood taller than the other girl by about six inches, and that’s without her famed knee-high, stiletto boots. She had on a short skirt and a maroon sweater over a white blouse. She kept her chocolate and caramel-colored hair in an asymmetrical pixie cut. The look flattered her, but I’d never tell her that.

Unfortunately, their late arrival had interrupted the grounding procedure at a crucial time, and I couldn’t simply pick up where I left off. I exhaled my frustration, glanced at the clock above the doors. If I could regain the concentration I had a moment ago, I could redo the entire grounding before first period. I might have to rush it a little, but that’s a risk I’d have to take. So I broke the braid, releasing the half-bound energy I had gathered. At least this time I wouldn’t have to tune the railroad spike to me. I blocked out all thought except my intent and started the braid again.

Not three knots in, I heard a hissed whisper that shocked me out of the correct state of mind for a second time. “How many times are we going to have this conversation? I told you, I’ll take care of it.”

“I don’t like how you take care of things,” came the equally whispered reply.

“You don’t think the bitch deserves it?”

“Yeah, she needs to be punished. Just… Just not in the way you’re talking.”

Intrigued, I extended my senses towards Anjie and the other girl. What I picked up gave me the willies. I’m talking spiders-climbing-up-your-spine freaky. Unfortunately, they were sitting too close to each other for me to positively identify which of them gave off such a creepy vibe. Chances were remote they were both radiating it. Even identical twins aren’t completely capable of synchronizing their auras like that. If I wanted to figure out the culprit behind this vibe, I’d have to get either Anjie or What’s-her-name alone, and that’s not likely to happen during school hours.

The bell rang just as I thought that, and a muttered curse slipped past my lips. I had forgotten about the grounding ritual. I could always skip class and finish it, but agilisi would be notified and that’s the last thing I wanted. I sighed, returned the spike to its side pocket. It would have to wait until lunch period.

And I prayed to the gods that nothing went horribly wrong for me until then.

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