Aria and the Seven Artifacts
There was currently a war raging within Randolph, and he didn’t know which side to root for.
The benefits of stopping time were astronomical. He now had time to both get his work done and do whatever he wanted without worrying about running out of it, for the most part. Both his parents and teachers had stopped complaining about his school performance. Now they praised him, both privately and publicly. It did earn him some ire from his classmates, but he wasn’t bothered too much by that.
But it also felt way too easy.
There had to be more to the watch than he was understanding.
Was he using it too much? He had to admit that it was much easier to just stop time than to manage his time properly. But who would pass up an opportunity like that? He couldn’t be blamed for wanting to take the easy way.
Then there was the idea of being caught. He reasoned that no one could even notice that time wasn’t moving. As long as he wasn’t in the middle of something he shouldn’t be doing, there should be nothing to worry about. But reasoning would not completely remove the anxiety from his mind. Instead, it festered at the very back, only noticeable when his mind wasn’t occupied by other matters.
Then there was his grandfather. Despite his best efforts, there was no way to fully convince the older man that all was well. While he wouldn’t pry into Randolph’s recent behavior, he insisted that he turn to him if he needed someone to talk to. Just remembering that sent a pang of guilt through him. He was doing this mainly so that he wouldn’t be separated from his grandparents, but he didn’t want to make them fret over him either.
“I know you’re keeping something from me. Please don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
As these thoughts swirled around inside his head, he was jolted back to the present with a flying ball to his face.
“Come on, Acedi! Focus on the game!” The PE teachers voice was as shrill as the whistle that hung around her neck. Randolph remembered where he was; hiding by a wall while the rest of his class played dodge ball. He didn’t have a drop of athletic ability, so he sat out as much as he could. It was a shame that this wasn’t a class that he could cheat using his overpowered item.
He rubbed his temples in irritation, then let his gaze fall to the ball resting by his feet. He had no desire to participate in the game and have dodge balls thrown at him nonstop.
Then his eyes went to the watch that rested on his wrist.
Maybe he couldn’t cheat, but he could get take a break. A finger was already hovering over the black stone, preparing to press down.
But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not now. It would be a silly thing to waste his power on.
‘It’s a worthless class. Let’s do something more fun,’ a voice resounded from somewhere. It almost sounded like his own voice. His head was becoming foggy, and it was getting difficult to think.
He felt his mouth curl into a smirk. There was nothing wrong with this, right?
Just as his finger was about to press the stone, a dam broke. His mind suddenly cleared, and fear flooded throughout his body. He ripped his hand away from the watch and jammed it into his pocket. His heartbeat pounded loudly in his chest as he struggled to control his breathing.
What was he doing?
“You okay, Acedi?” The gym teacher had jogged over and looked at him with concern. “If you’re not feeling good, you should go lie down for a bit.”
That didn’t sound half bad now. “I think I will. Thank you.” He turned and slowly made his way out of the gym, feeling the teacher’s gaze burn into the back of his head.
The hand in his pocket was trembling violently. It was still trying to reach the watch.
After agreeing to help with the artifact hunting, Aria began to spend her lunches with May. A few days later, they sat in the cafeteria at a table in the back corner of the room. The brunette listened idly as the demon went over the items in question, taking periodic bites of her sandwich.
What they appeared to be dealing with was the watch, fittingly referred to as Sloth’s Watch. It had the power to stop time, albeit only for up to four hours at a time. Then it took a full 24 hours to recharge. ‘What a cumbersome limitation,’ she had thought to herself.
But this left everyone else vulnerable, powerless to stop its user. The person could draw stupid things on people’s faces, skip classes, or get a four hour head start to get away from someone. When she noted this out loud, Aria laughed and called her thinking simple.
“Maybe that’s what you’d use it for.” She batted one of her tied fringes away from her face, only for it to return to its original place moments later. “But we’ve seen much worse ways.”
May ignored the heat rushing to her face out of embarrassment. “But this is obviously a student, right?” They’d gone over all the times she’d felt the time freeze and noticed it only happened during that last period. They’d deduced that it was a student but couldn’t get further than that. For all they knew, it could be an elementary student who was playing around with it.
“Considering that we haven’t seen the person yet, that’s only an educated guess at best.” Aria looked rather serious, pouring over something in her mind. “Or should I say it would be a best-case scenario?”
“And why is that?”
“Just imagine an adult wielding the powers of the artifacts!” Aria jumped from her seat and raised her arms. Her voice had carried over to the tables around them, and people were now staring at her. She froze, realized what she was doing, and promptly sat back down with her head lowered. With her voice lowered, she continued, “They’ve got more complicated reasons than kids. And you can’t go against them if you’re not one of them.”
May nodded. “I guess that’s true. But what if we find the idiot and they won’t give it back?” She had no desire to pick fights with anyone in school. Standing out was the last thing she wanted. She instinctively crossed her arms over her chest and waited for Aria to quip back. Instead, the demon was silent, her expression blank.
Did she not consider that a possibility?
Aria was truly an impulsive person, not thinking ahead for things like this, May mused internally. Was she expecting them to happily hand it back after being confronted? It was idealistic at best, and naïve at worst.
The warning bell rang out, bringing their attention back to the present. May shoved the rest of her sandwich in her mouth and began cleaning up. Aria followed suit, still oddly quiet. As they left the cafeteria and walked through the halls, her face broke into a wide smile.
“It’s whatever. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it!” She dismissed the topic with a wave of her hand. “But let me know if you notice something new. I’m out!” The demon weaved into the crowd of other students, her short stature allowing her to disappear.
May felt exhaustion take hold of her. That girl was too energetic for her to keep up with. She trudged along to her next class, the thoughts of her garden at home giving her just enough energy to get through the rest of the day.
Ever since she had agreed to assist Aria, she hadn’t experienced another time freeze. The last few days were relatively peaceful, Aria aside. It made her wonder if something was going to happen.
‘No,’ she thought, sitting in that History class. ‘I might as well enjoy the peace while it last.’ The teacher was giving a lecture about the Black Plague in a bored tone, obviously trying to get through the slides of the presentation as quickly as possible. She couldn’t get herself into the topic, but this was better than dealing with the supernatural BS.
As if mocking her very thoughts, the world then became still.
Even though she understood what was happening, it didn’t stop the ball of fear from forming. ‘Come on!’ Relieved that she could still move her eyes, she scanned them across the room. Like the last time, no one moved. The teacher was holding a remote with a finger about to push a button to advance to another slide.
Strangely, no one else was moving their eyes around. May appeared to be the only one who was conscious of what was happening. Was this why Aria had approached her from the start?
Had she found something within May that not even the girl was aware of?
But this had to be recent. May had never had to deal with events like this before. There were never cursed objects, demons, or anything supernatural about her life. Why did this have to happen now of all times?
Without control of her limbs, all May could do was stew in her thoughts. It took at least over an hour before the effects of the artifact wore off and she was able to move again. As soon as her mobility returned, she rummaged through her bag and pulled out a notebook, its pages blank.
She had planned to use it once her other notebooks had been filled, but now it had a new purpose.
She flipped through a few pages and began writing:
Thursday, February 21st, 2008
Sloth watch used at 3:23PM. No one else is aware when it happens. Am able to see what is in front of me and think, no idea why.
She wasn’t sure what else to notate, so she left it at that and put the notebook back into her bag. The notes weren’t really for Aria so much as they were for her. With a written record, she wouldn’t feel like it was just in her head.
When the bell rang, she jumped out of her seat, but didn’t move for a moment. It just felt good for her to be able to leave that cursed chair of hers. A girl that sat next to her pushed through her to leave the room, muttering something underneath her breath. May remembered where she was and picked up her bag to leave as well.
As she approached the front doors, a cheery voice called for her.
A little down the hall, Aria was waving and sporting a huge grin on her face. But the hand that wasn’t waving was clutching the sleeve of a boy next to her. The guy was a few inches taller than Aria, with a wide build and moppy brown hair. His gaze was fixed to the floor, not raising it to greet May. He looked extremely uncomfortable with the demon clinging to him, forcing him to stay in place.
“Randolph and I were gonna study for some exams, and the more, the merrier! Right?” She elbowed Randolph in the side, but the boy only nodded and refused to look at her or May.
Considering that she had never seen these two exchange words, much less hang out together, there had to be something to this. She could imagine her tulips and daffodils wilting as they waited to be tended to. But this was something she was going to have to see through.
“Sure, I guess.”
Randolph’s expression fell even further while Aria cheered. “Come on! She said yes! To the library!” She pulled him along, with May following the two closely.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
There was a surprise quiz in Algebra. Or rather, the quiz came as a surprise to Randolph, who had been spending his time worrying. Ever since that episode in gym class, he had refused to use his watch again. The thought of losing control of himself and giving in to those evil thoughts made his body tremble.
It could never happen again.
But even as scared as he was, he couldn’t make himself take off the watch. It was a gift from his grandfather. While he hadn’t known the true extent of its powers, he had given it with the intention of cheering him up. Looking at it made him think how lucky he was to have someone in his corner, and any thoughts of removing the watch would be lost.
But sitting in front of him was a test that might as well have been written in another language. Numbers blurred and moved along the page, and words had no meaning. No matter how many attempts he made to concentrate, it was all the same. He slumped over in his seat and stared at the ceiling.
What was the point, anyways? He was just going to fail this test.
Fail this class.
Fail his family.
He might as well get ready to spend the rest of his days getting screamed at and running laps through some convoluted obstacle field.
‘Is that what you really want?’ A voice rang out. He looked around, but no one else seemed to have heard it. ‘It’s right there in front of you. Why are you being so stubborn?’
He wasn’t going to fall for this.
‘What’s wrong with taking the easy route?’ it continued, ignoring the meager defenses that Randolph tried to put up. ‘You know what will happen if you fail now. Raise your hand. You know what to do.’
I can’t, he screamed internally. His hands began to shake on the desk in front of him. He gritted his teeth and tried to look at the test again. But the same mess of symbols greeted him. He refrained from slapping himself, straining to make sense of anything.
‘You can’t do anything without me, can you?’
The voice was amused.
‘Just give it up now.’
Unbidden, his left arm slowly rose from the desk and made its way to his right arm. When it was directly above, a finger extended out, pushing the black stone on the watch. The scene was frozen, like a still image. His eyes scanned the classroom, sweat rolling down his face.
“Why did I…?” The faint glow of the clock’s face was the only indication that the magic had worked as it always did. He sat in his seat, staring at that accursed watch as the time slowly ticked away.
He decided that it was pointless to push back, now that it’s already been done. He left his desk and approached the teacher’s desk. He murmured a quick apology before he grabbed his planner and riffled through for the answer sheet he needed. Once he located it, he returned to his seat and began copying the answers over.
The only sounds he could hear was the pencil scratching the surface of the paper and his pounding heartbeat. ‘This is the last time,’ he thought to himself. He was going to do something with the watch after this test, probably.
‘But it was a gift,’ he argued with himself.
No. It was a curse, a monkey’s paw. No sentimental value could dispute that.
‘But you only got this far by using it,’ that voice added.
Maybe he wasn’t meant to make it this far.
His faces of his parents flashed in his mind, stern and strict as always. They always wanted him to be the very best, but it was never out of the desire to see their child succeed. And the second he threatened their perfect vision with his lack of enthusiasm and results, they retaliated.
Now that he allowed his mind to be consumed by these thoughts, his entire body became heavy. What was the point? It would never be enough.
His pencil stilled; half of his test was still blank.
His body stiffened. That happy voice slapped him like cold water, sending chills down his spine. No one was supposed to be able to move, much less talk. He slowly lifted his eyes from the test to find himself looking into deep red eyes. A girl was grinning down at him, but that smile didn’t look friendly.
It was that new girl, Aria something or another. And she was moving, swaying herself back and forth in place.
He belatedly realized what was on his desk and made a move to cover the answer sheet with his arms. The girl caught on and quickly snatched it away.
“Oooh, so that’s what the answer to number seven was.” Randolph tried to take the paper away while he was still sitting, but she avoided him, dancing around the classroom. She bumped into the desk of a boy, but she simply moved away. “That’s quite sneaky, putting a question like that here!”
“Give that back,” he hissed at her.
She stopped her dance and grinned at him. “Oh? Were you using this?” She lifted it above her head. “I don’t feel like it~!”
He found himself jumping out of his seat before he realized and snatched the sheet away. “Just pretend you didn’t see anything,”
“Oh?” Aria’s smile never left her face. It made the girl even more unnerving. “So it was you.”
He took a step backwards. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about…” He needed to get away from her, and fast.
She took a step forward, covering the growing distance quickly. “But that’s rather lame, just stopping time to cheat on a test. But I guess that’s not the worst thing you could do with it.”
Her words were sinking in, and Randolph felt his legs turn to jelly.
“Hey!” She ignored his reactions and took another step forward, reaching him and looking up. “Why don’t you give me that watch now? Before it messes with you even more.”
She wanted the watch! This was the perfect chance to rid himself of it, at the expense of exposing someone else to its powers. Whatever happened to her wasn’t any of his concern.
But there was still that loud part of him that didn’t want to part with it. And it was that side of him that compelled him to pull his right arm away from her and hide the hand and wrist inside of his pocket.
“I’m good. Thanks.”
“I wasn’t asking.” Her voice took on a darker tone.
“Look, it’s mine. It was a gift. I’m not just going to hand it over because you asked.” Despite the protests from his legs, he was able to back further away. “Look, just forget what you saw. I don’t even know how you’re here now-”
“I heard someone talking.” She climbed up to sit on one of the desks. “Something about taking the easy route, or something like that. It sounded pretty mad, too. Hearing that broke the spell you cast on us all, apparently.” She grinned, but it wasn’t as confident as the prior ones.
“I know what that watch does. And it shouldn’t be in this world.” Her voice lost its aggressive edge and sounded much gentler. It was like she was handing over bad news to someone who was already suffering. “I know it seems like a godsend, but nothing good will come of holding onto it.”
She extended her hand out towards him. “I need you to give it back. And no one will need to know what happened.”
It was very tempting. But he couldn’t bring himself to give it up. Without it, he couldn’t keep up and would fail his classes. And that would be the end of everything for him.
“I can’t give it back. At least not until I pass my classes.” Spoken aloud, the words sounded weak.
“Just this class?”
He shook his head. “All my classes, until I graduate from this school.”
“Oh, hell no! I’m not waiting over two years for that!” Aria shot off of the desk and was back to standing in front of Randolph. She pointed a finger up at him. “You don’t need that damn watch to succeed! You’re smart enough without it!”
“That’s easy for you to say!” Anger was rising in his voice as well. “You don’t know a damn thing about me!”
“Maybe not, but I’ll prove it to you!”
“Oh yeah? How?”
“Second Trimester exam.” Aria bounced on her feet, trying to get some more height. “Pass them without using the watch. Study like a normal person.”
The school year was split into three sections. At the end of each trimester, students were made to take exams that lasted the entire day. A huge portion of their grades rested on those tests, so many students would put all of their energy into studying for those and those only.
Randolph had previously coasted by getting grades just high enough that he wouldn’t need to retake the class. But he still wasn’t exactly passing them. But now this girl wanted him to not only get a score high enough to avoid remedial classes, but to pass as well?
She appeared to notice his wavering thoughts, because she continued, “Let’s make a deal. If you try your hardest and really can’t pass, I’ll let you keep the watch until graduation. But you cannot throw it either. If I find out that you failed on purpose, not even God will be able to protect you from me.”
She giggled, but the malice from her words lingered. He swallowed and nodded.
“Neat! Let’s study at the library after school. I’ll pick you up.” She backed away from Randolph and began making her way out of the classroom. Right as she was about to leave, she turned to look him in the eye.
“You better put that back where you found it. You don’t want to get caught with that.”
He couldn’t get rid of the answer sheet fast enough. He threw it into the binder, not caring if it was in the wrong place, and placed it back on the teacher’s desk. Remembering that his test was still only half finished, he just took the rest of the answers from a student that sat on the far side of the classroom, so as to avoid suspicion.
Once back at his desk, the rest of his answers filled in, he sighed and pushed on the stone. The world began to move again, as if nothing had happened.
Inside, he was panicking. Someone had actually managed to catch him. And while she didn’t seem like someone to snitch on him, the idea of her having this kind of dirt on him left him terrified. He didn’t even know how she broke free and was able to walk about.
When the class was released, he found Aria standing outside the door, wearing an expectant expression. He wasn’t going to be able to escape her, it seemed. He pulled out his cellphone, a simple flip phone, and sent a quick message to his mother, letting her know that he would be studying. Once done, he begrudgingly followed the shorter girl through the hallway.
Though her immediate destination wasn’t the library.
“Over here!” To his utter horror, she was now waving over a girl that was about to step outside the school. She wore a headband with stars on either side to keep her reddish-brown hair back, as well as a khaki jumper over her polo shirt. While it wasn’t technically against the school dress code, it was not something commonly worn among the girls. Her green eyes narrowed at the pair, and he quickly looked anywhere but at her.
Without any input from him, that girl was invited to their study session. Any questions that he wanted to ask Aria about earlier would have to wait now. Pain radiated from the side that Aria hit, but he kept silent as he followed the girl to the library, with that other girl following right behind them.