Aria and the Seven Artifacts
May fidgeted with the zipper of her backpack as she sat in her Algebra class. She couldn't focus on the teacher's lecture at all.
Burning in her mind was the note left on her desk.
What makes her think I'll even listen to her? Her thoughts were all defiant against the idea of humoring Aria's demand. She could only imagine that Aria only wanted to meet with her to threaten her if she even thought about revealing her true nature to their peers. She’d probably threaten to ruin her reputation or something stupid like that.
But this really has nothing to do with me.
If a demon wanted to pop herself in and drain the life force out of classmates – or whatever it was that demons were supposed to do – she didn't really care. May just didn’t want to become ensnared in whatever trap the devil girl had in mind.
Before long, the bell rang to announce the end of class. May put her empty page of notes and textbook away into her bag and stood up from her desk. She saw her classmates break into groups as they chatted while walking to the cafeteria.
Steeling herself, she half marched herself to the cafeteria to get some food for herself.
She decided that meeting Aria was just a bad idea all around. There was nothing stopping the demon from killing her off and making it look like an accident. Or worse...
She shook out those darker thoughts and picked a small turkey and cheese sandwich from the towering pile of food on the front counter. After paying for her meal, she took a seat at an empty table. She ate in silence, only breaking it by moving the plastic wrap down as she tore into her sandwich.
A few tables down, a group of students erupted into laughter. One of the guys had apparently told a joke as he looked proud of himself. One kid even had tears running down his face.
For a split second, she felt a twinge of envy.
As much as she preferred her own company, it was at times like this where she wished she had even one friend to chat with. While she would have loved to have a friend that liked flowers as much as she did, she’d settle for someone who would just listen to her once in a while.
She was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn't hear someone clearing their throat beside her until the last moment. She turned to look over but saw no one there.
Could have sworn I heard someone there...
“Hey there, friend!” A cheerful voice rang out on her other side. Quickly spinning her head around, she found the previously empty chair next to her occupied by none other than Aria. She nursed a small juice box in her hands, no food in sight. She couldn’t help but think that the girl looked a bit younger than she claimed to be. If it wasn't for the standard uniform maroon polo and beige skirt she donned, she would have thought her to be some kid who wandered in.
“What's with that face?” Aria's expression immediately darkened. “I know you're thinking something rude, so cut it out!”
Was it that obvious? “Uh...” May forced herself to focus. That’s right. She was facing a demon, supposedly. “Why are you here? Weren't you supposed to be on the roof or something?”
“I was, but someone didn't read my note, apparently.” She took a sip of her juice. “I'm pretty sure I didn't give you a damn choice in the matter.”
"Students aren't allowed on the roof." May made her voice as deadpan as she could manage. "I would have told you, but you ran off."
Aria scoffed. "Then where do you people go to have private conversations in this place?"
Instead of answering, May took another bite of her sandwich. It was a bit drier than she would have liked. Chasing it down with some water did little to help it. But the only alternative was to bring in a lunch from home, since only senior students and staff could leave campus for meals. But cooking wasn’t exactly something she was good at, so she didn’t bother with it.
Aria realized that she wasn't getting the reaction she wanted out of May, so she crumpled up her now empty juice box and tossed it into a trash can some feet away. Naturally, she missed her mark, and it bounced off the edge.
"Look, I don't need stray ears listening in. I just want to ask for some assistance is all. Can you at least hear me out after school?"
May took a moment to think it over. She ultimately decided that as long as it got this demon out of her hair, she might as well just sit through whatever story the girl would spin. "Fine. Then we'll talk after school. I'd prefer the track field bleachers to the roof, though."
Aria flashed a cheeky grin at that response. "Cool beans, or whatever you people say. I'll see you then." She jumped out of her seat and headed for the door. It was slightly annoying how happy she was for this arrangement.
Seeing the crushed juice box still lying on the floor, May sighed in resignation before she stood up and walked over to it to throw it away properly.
Sitting in her last class for the day, May couldn't help but feel like time was flowing slower than syrup. Every time she checked the clock, it always seemed to display the same time. It wasn't like she wanted to rush to meet with Aria, but sitting in World History with nothing but her finished quiz in front of her certainly wasn't any more appealing.
She hoped that she could get Aria's little story done and over with before the sun set on her, and she couldn't go back to the park. The wildflowers weren't going to tend to themselves. She also needed to deal with the ones that had been crushed under Aria’s feet.
With no work to do, her thoughts returned to her arrangement with Aria. No matter how she tried to imagine it, she could only imagine that the girl was going to threaten her into silence somehow. Since she hadn't already gone into a rampage, she probably wanted to keep her true nature under wraps.
She seemed to be avoiding outright panic from other humans.
Finally, time lurched forward and ended her history class. Unlike most days, she took her time gathering her things and test from her desk. She plopped the offending paper onto the teacher's desk as she passed by.
To get to the track field, May walked by the school entrance and headed to the west side, coming out of a door on the very end. The sun shone brightly, temporarily blinding her. The grass she walked on was neatly trimmed and a lively shade of green.
She found Aria sitting on the grass a bit away from the bleachers. Her lavender hair was as neat and pristine as it was earlier in the morning, not affected by the bustle of the day. The longer fringes tied up on either side framed her face in a way that made her look even more childish than her height and stature could pull off.
She definitely fit the image of a little brat.
Steeling herself, she sat herself a few feet away from the other girl, keeping her hands crossed on her lap. They sat in silence for a few moments before Aria stretched out her arms and yawned loudly.
"Geez, you're boring!"
"Fine." She drew out the word a bit longer than necessary, then continued on. "So I just need some help with a little… project. And no, I’m not trying to take over the world or subjugate your fellow people."
May side eyed her. "With what, exactly?" She wasn’t planning to agree in any case, but curiosity won out.
"Just some information gathering!" She turned herself to face May fully. "Like... Has there been anything weird happening around here lately? Things that shouldn't be?" Her expression gradually became less confident as she went on. "I can't really sense the damn things unless there’s more than two together, so I'm really just waiting for one of them to start causing trouble."
"Uh... no? You're the weirdest thing I've seen around." This was really throwing May off. This wasn't the direction she was expecting the conversation to go.
"No! Well, I mean, true? But still..." With every second, Aria seemed to be losing control of the conversation. "Look..." She scratched her head and avoided looking the other girl in the eye. "I've kind of been given this... mission? Basically, I gotta get some stuff back that doesn't belong in your world."
"And you think your stuff is here?"
"I know it's in this area, at least!" Aria looked a little proud of herself, but immediately deflated. "But I can't pinpoint it. So, I was kind of hoping something was already going on and I could find it that way."
How admirable of her, to let it mess with the lives of ordinary people first before acting. It wasn't out of line for a demon at least.
"I'm not interested."
A moment passed before those words sunk in.
"Wait, what do you mean you’re not interested?!” Aria was visibly panicking. “These things can really screw with people if they’re not found! They can turn your little town into a literal Hell!”
But May wasn't convinced. "And how is that my problem? I'm not going to blab about your horns or whatever, but I don't feel like scavenger hunting with you." She stood up to leave but was stopped in her tracks when Aria suddenly lurched forward and latched onto her wrist.
"Look, I can't just go up and ask anyone. I don’t have any comrades to help. You’re literally the only person I can ask! I can't do this alone!" Her voice rose with each word, and she was almost shouting by the end. Her blood eyes were wide, putting her desperation on full display.
"Even if you don't have anyone else, I'm just a normal human." She pulled herself out of Aria's grip and took a few steps away. Facing the setting sun, she continued, "I'm sorry, but don't involve me in this. Find help some other way." She walked toward the setting sun to return home.
She refused to look backwards to Aria. Even without looking, she could clearly envision the utter despair in her face.
With the first rays of sunlight shining through the cracks of her curtains, May's thoughts should have only been revolving around either the flowers she could see along a nice after school walk or her brother's biweekly visit from college. Instead, she could only replay yesterday's conversation, hearing Aria's desperation. Even pushing the pillow down on her head couldn't drown it out.
She didn't know why she even felt bad about it. Aria was a demon that came from God knows where. Who was to say that her story had even an iota of truth sprinkled in? She could easily be lying through her teeth, waiting until May went along with it to make her move and attack her.
And even if she wanted to help, what was she supposed to do? Become the neighborhood watch for any weird occurrences? She had no interest in supernatural studies and had no special abilities outside of a green thumb. She wasn't going to be much use anyways.
The smell of pancakes wafting through the air broke her train of thought. Quickly changing into her maroon polo and khaki jumper uniform, she practically raced down the stairs and into the kitchen. Sitting in her spot at the table was a face she wasn't expecting so early in the morning.
"Oh! Good morning, May! Tyler will be down soon!" A young man with fluffy light brown hair took a moment to address her before returning to devouring the stack of pancakes in front of him. The sight made her compare him to an overexcited puppy that just found its food.
"Alright... Thanks..." May sat in the chair next to her brother's friend.
Aaron was the complete opposite of both her brother and herself; cheery, outgoing, and full of energy. He'd been a permanent part of their lives since he and her brother had been in kindergarten, and they somehow stuck together since then.
It was almost surreal to see.
Lumbering down a few minutes later was her brother. His shoulder length auburn hair was all over the place. His eyes were half closed, as if he could go right back to sleep at any moment. Aaron pulled out the chair on his other side and then his attention returned to his food.
Her mother clicked her tongue at Tyler's appearance. "Could you have at least brushed your hair before coming downstairs? Or maybe just get it cut?"
It was no secret that their mother did not have a high opinion of her son's longer hair. She was a bit old fashioned when it came to things like that. Even May's shorter hair was pushing the limit a bit, but adding a headband seemed to appease her just enough that it was never brought up.
Tyler simply let their mother's comments roll off him as he started working on his own plate of food. Not wanting to sit in silence, May looked over to her brother. "What are you guys doing today?"
"Hmm?" Tyler swallowed his food and looked up in thought. "Not sure. Might just hang out here."
So he had no plans.
Aaron laughed at May's look of dismay. "Don't worry! I'm not letting him hide in the house today! We're meeting up with an old classmate of ours for lunch."
"Wait, that was today?" Tyler groaned. "Can we cancel that?"
With the same blinding smile, Aaron only replied, "Nope~!"
From the corner of her eye, May noticed the time and shoot up from her chair. "Sorry, gotta get to school! It's good to see you again, Aaron. I'll see you later, Tyler!" Her brother made a noise to acknowledge her. With that, she grabbed her bag from the floor and ran out the front door.
Sitting in Algebra that day, Randolph felt his spirits soar when he looked at the score scrawled into the top corner of his test.
It really wasn't a dream! Even his teacher had looked surprised when handing him the test back, but he hadn’t said anything about it. He could feel hope begin to seep into him. Perhaps he had a chance of escaping his parent’s punishment after all.
While his classmates chattered amongst themselves, he studied his right wrist. Light shined off the face of the watch his grandparents gifted him. The hands continued to move as time passed.
To anyone else, the watch was unremarkable, if not a little fancy for a high school student to have.
But that changed when he pressed his finger against the black stone protruding from the middle. As if a fairy godmother had waved her magic wand, everything around him froze. The sounds of his classmates talking ceased. Even the chirping of birds outside was gone, replaced with a silence that was normally impossible to achieve.
Randolph stood up from his desk and slowly made his way back up to the teacher’s desk. Ignoring the man, he instead peered over to the planner that was laid open. While it listed the plans for the day to be reviewing their tests, the entry for the following Monday revealed that there was going to be a pop quiz.
A quick ruffling through the teacher’s binder revealed the answer sheet for that quiz. Randolph stopped himself from chuckling as he carried the paper back to his desk. Within seconds, he was copying the answers from the answer sheet to a randomly selected page from his notebook.
He’d found this little feature by accident yesterday during the test. He’d tried taking the test seriously and panicked when he realized that he didn’t know as much as he originally thought. As he had fretted over this, one of his fingers had strayed to the watch and pushed down on it.
As soon as he had done this, the world froze over. It had admittedly taken him a few minutes for him to figure it out. But once he did, the gears began spinning in his head.
Naturally, there was a part of him that balked at the idea of stealing the answers from his unsuspecting classmates or teacher. But that side was easily crushed when he reminded himself of what would become of him should he not take this chance.
Who in their right mind would reject this gift?
Now finished with copying answers down, he returned the answer sheet to its place in the teacher’s binder. Glancing down at his watch, the face underneath the glass glowed with a faint, eerie red light. There was a small chunk of the circle missing, and the darkness was slowly increasing.
This was how he could tell how long he had before the time stopping effects would wear off.
A part of him still felt guilty about using this amazing watch for cheating his way through his schoolwork. But just like the light on that clock face, his guilt would shrink further and further until it was gone for good.