The Archfiend Artifact

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4

MABON CITY CAMPUS, MABON CITY

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20
12:19 PM

The morning drew on and on, as if time could only move at half the pace of a snail. Yet it kept surprising me. Just when I thought I had forgotten my homework for composition, I found it neatly folded between my notes. None of the usual jock bullies tried to challenge me. I didn’t get yelled at by teachers, sent to the principal’s office, or slapped with detention. I had to pinch myself a few times to make sure I hadn’t gotten trapped in some twisted dream. And even then, I had a hard time extinguishing the anxiety that something really bad was about to happen. So when lunch time finally rolled around, I found myself sitting at one of the tables on the outdoor patio, staring at the railroad spike and wondering if grounding this negative energy away was the right choice. Ever since it latched onto me, things have been looking up.

But I knew some things were too good to last.

And this might all be just a huge coincidence.

Movement out of the corner of my eye captured my attention. I shot a glance sidelong, towards the lawn between the school’s patio and football field. A handful of people were setting up a large tent. Others were piecing together stalls and a stage. That’s when I remembered the Autumn Festival kicks off this Friday, which coincided with the Great New Moon Festival.

The old Cherokee tales say that the world had been created in the autumn, so the Great New Moon Festival marks the start of our new year. There’s days and days of feasting, dancing, and praying. Then, ten days later, the Friends Made Ceremony is held, which is when old friendships are renewed and new friendships are forged. The first white settlers combined these traditions into what is known today as Thanksgiving.

I hope agilisi has plans of going this year. She might let me tag along.

An approaching presence jostled me from my thoughts, and I shot a look to my right. The girl with the cast—the one whose name escapes me—paused only briefly, and brazenly came up to me. She smiled, but it didn’t reach her tawny eyes.

“Hi,” she managed to squeak out. “I’m Aiden.”

“I don’t care.” My gaze returned to the spike. That’s right. Aiden Cross. Anjie’s little sister.

“You’re Cybil, right?” She sank into the chair opposite me. “Did you know the other kids call you J—”

“Jinx. Yes.” I sipped my soda.

“Mind if I ask why?”

My attention returned to my unwanted visitor. She looked miserable, and she hadn’t so much as touched her lunch.

“Because I’m not normal.”

She made a face. “So, um?”

I sighed. “What?”

“There’s something kinda important I’d like to talk to you abo—”

Six shadows suddenly fell upon us like vultures on a carcass.

Not today. I exhaled my annoyance as I scanned the faces of the boys that surrounded us. Just as I expected, they were school’s precious football players. At least, that’s what the school believed. They’re a bunch of racist egomaniacs. I had previously exchanged blows with a couple of them—off school property of course—and come out the victor. My guess, they were looking for some kind of revenge when they approached.

Their captain, a stub-nosed boy with freckles and horrible pimples, spoke first. “What do you think you’re doing here, injun? Don’cha know this is our table?”

I clenched my fists and tried to ignore the little voice in my head screaming at me to punch his lights out.

“Funny, I don’t remember seeing any names written on it,” Aiden said in an acid tone of voice she probably developed as a defense against her older sister.

“Like we really gotta put our names on it,” said the captain. “Everybody just knows that this is our table.”

“Yeah,” added a tall boy that looked like he could turn into a kite if a soft breeze blew in. “Do you know what we do to little twerps like you that sit at our table?”

I rolled my eyes, muttered, “Wena.”

“What did you say to me, bitch?” For emphasis, the captain slapped my drink aside. The bottle gushed soda before rolling off the table to clatter against the ground.

I stood so quickly the boys flinched. A smirk traced its way across my lips as I faced the captain. “I said, ‘Go away!’ There are several empty tables, so how about you be good little boys and go sit at one of those instead of irritating me.”

The next thing that I knew, someone held me pinned against his chest. The captain balled up his fists and closed in. Before he even got within striking distance, something within me roared to life. The air around me turned heavy. Colors grew more vibrant. My limbs tingled with static. My muscles tensed. I soaked up this feeling like a desert consuming a welcomed rain.

I slammed my foot on the knee of the guy holding me, smirked at the sharp crack. He released me in an instant, dropping to the ground with howls of agony. Two of the other footballers swooped in. I dropped one with a kick to the nads and kite-boy with an open-hand strike to his eyes. Then their pathetic, little captain stepped up. He apparently had something to prove because he dove right at me with a yell, intent on bashing in my face.

I swung my foot up to catch him in his ugly, little kisser. His head would have been ringing when he kissed the concrete, but someone else threw himself between us. The stranger caught the captain’s punch in the same instant he snatched my ankle. His grip clamped on me like a vice, and I worried he’d snap my foot off like a dry twig from a tree. I glared up at the intruder, ready to kick his face in too, and his emerald green eyes stared coolly at me from beneath a mop of muddy brown hair.

I realized I recognized him. And the high I had been riding suddenly evaporated.

“Hey, you’re the detective I saw at the crime scene this morning.” He must have been the one I sensed following me. “What are you doing here?”

The fierceness in his eyes ebbed, and he studied me with a guarded stare. The vice-like grip he had on my ankle slackened ever so slightly. He moved his lips to speak but a shout interrupted before he could utter a syllable.

“Starr!”

I rolled my eyes upon recognizing the principal’s growling shout. I finally bothered to look around. Several students had stopped what they were doing to see little me kicking the butts of the school’s precious athletes. A couple of them even had their cellphones out, probably to record the fight. And at least one of them had run to get Mr. Roan.

Son of a—!

“Fighting again?” Mr. Roan stopped to observe the scene before him. Then he turned his fiercest scowl upon me, which, for a nerdy, bald, toothpick of a man like him, wasn’t very intimidating. “That does it! You are out of here, young lady!”

The detective finally released my foot, and I brought it carefully down to earth. He faced the principal, flashed his badge. “My name is Quinn Calloway. I am a detective with MCPD, here to speak with Miss Starr.”

“Good!” snapped the principal. He knelt beside the big guy, whose knee I had kicked in, and told him that the nurse will be here in a moment. “That means you can escort that little hooligan from the school grounds before she tries to beat up any more of our students.”

“Actually, sir, she only defended herself. These boys,” the detective picked out the guys on the football team, “they started the fight.”

“We did not!” proclaimed the captain.

I glared at him. “Shut-up, you squeaky-voiced pansy.”

The principal shot the dirty look he usually held in reserve for me at the detective. “These boys are the school’s star athletes. They do not go around bullying other students. They know they will be removed from the team if they do. Miss Starr there, has a long record of violent—”

That does it! “Oh, yes! I am so guilty!” I screamed at him. “All I ever do is step in to stop bullies like you and your pathetic jocks and preppy egomaniacs from beating up other kids! And what do I get in return? Expelled!”

“That’s enough, young lady!”

I snatched the textbooks from my backpack, hurled them at him. “Bite me, you conceited jackass!”

I didn’t bother waiting for a response; I just grabbed my railroad spike and stormed off.

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