The Archfiend Artifact

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5

MABON CITY CAMPUS, MABON CITY
MONDAY, OCTOBER 20
1:03 PM

Here’s an interesting little factoid for you: There are no swear words in Tsalagi. If we Cherokee wanted to cuss, we used English. And I unloaded every single one of them in a flowery bouquet of profanity, each syllable emphasized by the pounding of my feet against the sidewalk. I probably made quite a spectacle of myself to the people driving by, but I didn’t care at that point. I had a much, much larger problem. I’m not saying that four expulsions in two years isn’t something to be concerned about, it just pales in comparison to what awaited me at home. Just the very thought of it brought tears to my eyes and an old, familiar pain to my back.

“Stupid jocks. Stupid principal. Stupid school!” I kicked the school ground fencing as hard as I could, and the boards gave with a loud crack. Another lovely curse slipped past my lips and I struck the busted plank with a rapid one-two punch.

When the next solid strike broke the skin on my knuckles and set them bleeding, I forced myself to walk away. Some more logical part of my brain told me to go to the police; that they’d protect me. But fear and experience told me otherwise. Just like with Social Services, agilisi very well could have a few cops in her pocket, which meant they’d ignore my claims of abuse and turn me right back over to her custody. Or they’d release me to Social Services, in which case, I’d still end up back with agilisi.

Terrified of returning home and with nowhere else to go, I wandered aimlessly. I knew I was only delaying the inevitable, and my punishment would be even more severe as a result, but at least I could pretend things were fine for a little while. It also bought me some time to figure out what the heck happened during the fight.

I can’t recall how many times some sort of alternate personality took over whenever I got into a fight. When it did, it made me faster. Stronger. And I don’t mean it made me feel that way. I actually became superhuman. If I wanted to, I could have done a lot more damage to those boys than give them a few bruises and spotty vision.

That side of me also enjoyed causing pain, and it felt superior to those stupid humans.

I paused mid-step, made a face. ’Stupid humans?’ I lightly laughed. What a weird thing to say.

Sure, I’ve repeatedly said that people are stupid because, lets be honest, we do a lot of stupid stuff for stupid reasons. Don’t believe me? I’ll introduce you to a guy who stole a stop sign to impress a girl, bragged about it to the whole school, and now wonders why he has a juvie record. Or that pair of geniuses who wrapped their faces in duct tape, robbed a store, and wound up getting arrested when they went to the hospital for help getting the tape off. Or the drunk guy who stripped naked and rolled through a cactus patch to see if the needles really did hurt.

I could go on for a while. But my point is: I never once said humans were stupid. How strange to suddenly say that now. Stranger still was where this line of thinking had given me cause to stop: right at the edge of the parking lot and the vortex of negative energy. I had been unknowingly weaving my way back to it as if called by something. Though the energy had dissipated some thanks to the morning sun, the lot still had a feeling of someplace haunted.

The hairs on the nape of my neck prickled and stood on end. I shivered, and swept the blighted parking lot with a questing gaze. Only a handful of cars now dotted the space. A UPS truck sat parked a few feet from the old soldier of a building, hazards blinking and door ajar. Puddles from this morning’s storm pooled in low points of the pavement. Some old soda bottles and autumn-painted leaves lay in crevices where the masonry had crumbled away. Yellow police tape encircled the now empty section of the lot where the crumpled Escalade had been parked.

Everything was as it should be. Yet… Something just felt… wrong. The air had come alive with a strange energy, not quite evil but not wholly good either. The scent of fresh rain carried on the breeze yet there were only scattered clouds in the sky. I tried to tell myself that it might just be the remnants of this morning’s storm or, perhaps, the negative energy that had clung onto me, but that did little to ease the feeling.

“Man! Can this day get any more F-ed up?” I moved into the parking lot with exaggerated care. A stench like rotten eggs on a hot day filled the air where it had not been a moment ago. Something must have had died in one of the trash cans, and the rain from this morning had activated the stench. Perhaps the wind had simply changed directions, pushing the stench towards me.

Yeah. Right. And I might have just won the Powerball and a free lifetime stay at the Ritz.

The wind hadn’t changed; only my position along the street. To be sure, I sent my senses out in a wide search pattern, grasping for any hints of inexplicable energy. Only the normal pulse of the planet and its people came back to me.

How odd.

Something drew me further into the parking lot. Curiosity, maybe? Or, perhaps, an outside influence? The latter thought terrified me. So much so that the sudden slamming of the door on the UPS truck made me jump. I must have yelped too since the driver shot me a strange look before driving away. I let out a long, shaking breath, and covered my face with my hands. I stayed that way for a bit, berating myself for being such a coward.

When, at last, my heart rate slowed, I started across the parking lot with renewed determination. I had just passed an old Eighty-Eight when the entire car lurched. I jumped back with a wordless yell. The car creaked, and metal caved with a thunderous complaint. My heart leapt to my throat, and I dared a peek out of the corner of my eye. A monster, vaguely humanoid and blacker than any moonless night, stood hunched over on three limbs too long for it’s body. It held a fourth aloft, reaching outwards as if trying to touch me. Two ruby-like orbs floated in the ebony abyss above a stark white smile of needles. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t run. My fear had frozen me. And the thing just stared right at me.

It growled like some wild predator and slowly crossed to the hood of the old Eighty-Eight. I finally found the courage to move and stepped back as slowly as I dared. Metal complained as the mass of black moved off the car, never once breaking eye contact with me. It crept closer and closer, and the stench of rotten eggs grew stronger and stronger. It stopped about five feet away from me, where the shadows cast by the buildings gave way to late afternoon sunlight. I tried to move another step back, and it hissed venomously, showing me every needle-like fang in its twisted smirk of a mouth.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Yo-you’re that thief, aren’t you? The one who stole the jewel?”

It continued to grin like an evil Cheshire cat but cocked its head to one side like a dog does when it hears something funny. The fire in its ruby eyes seemed to grow curious, or perhaps puzzled.

Is it wondering how I knew of the gem? Or is there another one of these things out there, and I’m confusing this one for the other? That thought terrified me, and I felt tears of panic burn at my eyes. “P-please just leave me alone.”

Its creepy grin faltered slightly, almost as if it considered leaving. For that moment I allowed myself to hope that this… this terror would retreat back to wherever it had come from. Then it snorted. The shapeless lips peeled back even further, flashing its stark white mouthful of needles. And then it leaped towards me.

A brown streak zipped past my legs, heading right for the shadowy monster. The two collided in midair with a clap of thunder. They fell to the ground in a mix of flailing limbs and bestial snarls. Car alarms blared then promptly malfunctioned, victims of the strange energies the creatures radiated.

I didn’t stick around to see which one would win. I raced across the street, narrowly missing becoming a street pizza when a jalopy of a car sped past. The driver yelled a few choice words at me, but I didn’t listen. Bus Seventeen had pulled to the curb, and I was determined to reach it. I did. And just in the nick of time. I dropped my token in the slot and the bus started moving before I even took a seat.

I finally dared a look back at the parking lot. There weren’t any signs of a battle, but an enormous, brown husky sat on the sidewalk, watching the bus as it pulled away.

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