Read The Artifact of Foex Online
Authors: James L. Wolf
Tags: #erotica, #fantasy, #magic, #science fiction, #glbt, #mm, #archeology, #shapeshifting, #gender fluid, #ffp
“We won’t get another chance thanks to
Clementina. We’re so close. It’s almost—” Journey gasped as the
object they’d been unearthing popped free. She toppled backwards,
the relic in her hands.
They all froze, staring at the dusty thing.
It was about ten inches in diameter, a spherical shape with spikes
coming out, like an archaic morningstar, or a doedicu’s tail. Under
the dust, Chet realized the object was wrought of copper and glass,
set with jewels. It was unabashedly gaudy. Chet knelt for a closer
look, not yet touching the piece. There were Magician's symbols
etched around the spiky parameter. He knew some of those symbols
from years of study.
," Chet whispered.
This was fantastic! What a find. The god Foex
had encouraged his honey-eyed affiliate Magicians to delve into
dark, blood-bound magic. Real magic, not the fake stage stuff.
Every affiliate had powers of one sort or another, gifted by their
chosen god. Even Literati, like Professor Tibbets, had their
mysteries and tricks. But no one—not even Flame with their showy
shapeshifting—could hold a candle to Magicians. Foex had gifted his
followers with astonishing power: the ability to draw energy from
spilled blood, a power which ancient peoples had called magic. It
hadn't mattered if the blood had been animal or human. Chet had
always been taught that magic had vanished from the world since
Foex’s death, yet here was something that
Thunder echoed throughout the dig site.
would be mine,” Fenimore
growled, making a grab for it. Journey pulled it away as he
scrambled after her. “I lost three hundred years of my life because
of the Raptus.”
is the Raptus.
stared as Knife placing a restraining hand on Fenimore’s shoulders.
“Absolutely not, Fenimore,” Knife said soberly. “We’re taking the
Raptus to the nearest Shadow-Dancer Cluster. It won’t be hard;
their representative is nearby.”
“What? You want to give it away? Knife, we
both know it was the Shadow Dancers who failed in their vigilance,
letting the Raptus fall into the wrong hands. Why give it back to
them when they’re clearly not the correct guardians for it?”
“It’s their god-given responsibility. Better
than that professor woman, anyway. Petitioning a Pantheon member to
destroy it would be best, but first we’d need to unlock it. Too
risky. Not a task I was planning on taking on this week.”
it?” Fenimore was obviously
He grabbed the object—the Raptus—and tried to
pull it away from Journey. Knife grabbed it as well, and the two
Flame united to keep it from Fenimore’s possession. A fierce
Chet was growing angry, too. “Stop it! That’s
a valuable relic! Anyway, you can’t remove something from the site
before it’s been catalogued.” Who did these Flame think they were?
Give away or destroy a cultural artifact? The idea was repulsive.
Horrifying. Instinct rallied against his training, and Chet grabbed
the object, too.
An enormous pressure hit him, slamming him
He awoke to dust. Chet coughed and raised his
head. He was lying on the ground, his hand still grasping the
Raptus. Chet glanced around and realized Journey, Knife and
Fenimore were all lying on the ground, unconscious. They formed a
human cross around the object, each positioned at right angles with
regard to each other. To Chet’s relief, the others stirred as a
flash of lightning split the sky. No one was dead apparently.
“What was that?” Journey whispered.
Fenimore groaned, still face down in the
dust. “Were we hit by lightning?”
Knife was frowning at own hand, still
grasping the Raptus. “I can’t... can’t seem to let go.”
Chet tried and found that the ancient relic
was stuck to his palm as if it had been superglued. “I can’t,
“We must have triggered some reaction in the
Raptus, asleep as it is,” Fenimore said as he looked up, his face
plastered with dust.
as it is," Journey correctly
sharply. “Neither of you two are god affiliates. This should not
Chet stared at the Raptus. Journey’s
condescending attitude was like a slap in the face, but it was a
familiar feeling. Not like a magical relic which shouldn’t still
work. Foex was dead, and nothing would ever bring him or his
Magicians back. So why did this object still hold power?
Thunder cracked overhead, loud and immediate.
“About fifteen miles away now," Knife whispered under his breath.
Had he been counting the pause between lightning and thunder? “We
don’t have much time.”
Chet grabbed his own hand and attempted to
lever it off, using all his upper body strength. Fenimore was doing
the same. They locked eyes. Fenimore’s pupils were enormous. No one
had to say it aloud: they were trapped, and the Flame were about to
burn. Chet wondered what that would look like and immediately
decided he didn’t want to know. Journey and Knife didn’t deserve to
suffer and die.
Chet licked his lips. “We’ll all run
together. But where to?”
“Not the processing pavilion,” Journey said.
He could see the whites around her eyes. “Clementina will be coming
Reminded, Chet glanced over his shoulder. A
few graduate students had spilled out of the pavilion and were
headed straight for them. They must have seen the Raptus... Chet
was suddenly possessed with an unfathomable urge to get away from
them, to protect the relic stuck to his hand.
“We’d best run
as if echoing Chet’s instinctive urge.
Chet scrambled to his feet, dreading another
marathon. His body was already aching. The alternative, however,
was to witness Journey and Knife—do what? Melt or bubble away,
hissing and sputtering like pure sodium dropped in a bucket? Not
much of a choice.
Journey and Knife murmured, conferring as
everyone scrambled up the grade, but this time, Chet didn’t
understand the language. Journey glanced over her shoulder at him.
“Chet, when you and Fenimore traveled here, did you see any of
those prostitution vans?”
“Yes!” Chet cried out. “In the Shining
“Lead us there.”
“But... the prostitute had a customer," he
said, gasping with exertion. Was that a drop on his cheek just
“Unless men are made of stauncher elements
than they once were, he should be done by now,” Fenimore put in. He
loped along at a steady pace, his expression grim.
Chet counted blocks and watched for
landmarks. Yes, they’d passed that bank, that laundrette. Right,
left, another left. People jumped out of the way as they ran. Chet
saw a mother with her daughter, both of them wearing white gloves,
neat and clean. The mother issued a short scream and grabbed her
daughter, clutching her in fear as they passed. Chet blinked.
Why is she afraid of us?
Then he glanced at the Flame and
it. Knife had lost his cap somewhere along the way;
his bald head was exposed for all of Wetshul to see.
The random drops resolved into a light
pattering rain as they crossed over into the Shining Futures
District. Three blocks or four? Knife and Journey were sprinting,
and Fenimore’s loping had resolved into an all-out run. Perforce,
Chet raced as fast as he could, yet he was slowing the others down.
He could not breathe. The stitch at his side was agony, but the
Flame must be in worse pain in this light rainfall. He could hear
their labored, gasping breaths, their small whimpers. They should
really duck into one of these buildings.
buildings. It was stupid to keep going, but the Flame did not stop.
Knife’s jaw was set, Journey’s eyes half closed to slits. Chet
realized he could see the answer in the expressions of just about
everyone they passed. This was Wetshul. Knife and Journey did not
know what their reception would be in random locales, only that it
would be unpleasant, possibly lethal if one or both of them were
thrown out again. Who knew how long the rain would last?
They rounded a corner and Chet spotted the
blue van. “There!”
The last hundred feet were the fastest he’d
ever done in his life. Against all bets, the door was open. It was
the usual sign of a prostitute waiting for a customer as Chet
understood the process but still. They slammed inside the vehicle
with the force and speed of stampeding doedicus, collapsing into a
pile inside. Chet was buried beneath someone, but he didn’t care.
Just so long as he could hold still and
“Hey, hey, this ain’t a playground. There’s
no crack-the-whip games here. And I don’t
a female voice complained. Chet groaned into the vinyl pressing
into his face. He hadn’t considered that a prostitute van meant a
Journey’s voice growled, “I will give you
two-hundred gilt to let us stay here through the storm, and
afterwards to drive us to the location of our choice in the
“I ain’t fucking all of you. Well, maybe the
two men, but not you, lady, or the Flame.”
will not be fucking anyone,”
Journey said. Chet heard Fenimore protest wordlessly somewhere
above him, and Journey added, “Or rather, if
to have you, he can negotiate from his own belt purse. I’m not
paying for it. Three-hundred gilt and that’s final. Best offer
you’ll get in this rain.”
There was a sound like popping chewing gum,
then, “What, I’m just supposed to sit here with you four, playing
card games while it rains... for three-
“Actually, we’d prefer if you stayed in the
front seat and didn’t say anything," Knife put in. Chet realized
the small whimpering noises filling the van emerged from Knife’s
The prostitute snorted. “You’ve got a deal.
Give me the money, and I’ll shut up.”
By the shuffling taking place above him, Chet
assumed money exchanged hands. There was a slamming of van doors,
and the space suddenly seemed darker.
thought. The windows were covered by gauzy curtains. Curious of his
surroundings, he untangled from Fenimore—who had been draped over
him—to looked around. Unsurprisingly, a majority of the space was
taken up by a bed, built right into the van frame. It was covered
by a demure, flowery comforter. The inside walls of the van were
wallpapered with a print of sunshine and wildflowers. Chet hadn’t
imagined a prostitute’s van would be so... homey.
Now that negotiations were out of the way,
both Flame were hastily removing damp clothing. Sure enough, their
skin was reddened and bubbled in places, as if from a very hot
fire. Journey’s head had been mostly protected by her wig and hat,
but Knife had been exposed. His bald scalp was covered in bubbling
burns, some of them as large as a cherry. Water drops sizzled his
skin as they dripped down his face; he swiftly wiped them off as he
discarded clothing. Knife was crying, Chet realized. Journey
murmured soothingly in some other language, perhaps the same tongue
they’d conferred in earlier. Both Flame were down to their skivvies
now. Journey’s bra was bright fuchsia and satiny—her tits filled it
Chet looked away, his face hot. Then he
gasped. “Knife, Journey, look! You’re not touching the object. The,
They appeared startled. “I still
it, though,” Journey said as she retrieved Knife’s
lighter from his discarded trouser pocket.
Chet tried to let go of it, and found that he
could. Barely, but he could. He could feel an invisible cord
running between the relic and his navel, as if it were physically
tied to him. What a bizarre sensation. Journey was running the
lighter over the worst of Knife’s head and face burns,
which—depending on their size—smoothed out or burst under the tiny
fire. Knife sighed in relief, his eyes shut tight as she ministered
to him. Chet noticed that she ignored her own burns, which were
admittedly lesser. Knife tended to his own hands, then gave her the
lighter as he looked her over critically. Apparently satisfied with
what he found, he turned to Fenimore, who was picking himself off
Knife took hold of Fenimore by his crocheted
lapels, hauled him upright... and socked him full in the face. “You
Fenimore spat blood and grabbed Knife,
grappling with him. “How—dare—you!”
” Knife said through
set teeth. “You know what’s at stake! You
destruction the Raptus could cause should it fall into the wrong
hands. In this century, the danger is greater than ever before;
it’s far easier to communicate and travel these days. The power of
the Raptus would be a disaster.”
“I fought and nearly
“You and I were charged with bringing it back
to Konstantine. Well, he’s dead. Who are you going to bring it back
to now, LaDaven? Who?” Knife let go of Fenimore, hissing under his
breath. Fenimore must still be wet. “You weren’t even thinking,
were you? You were just
“So what? I—” Fenimore stopped, as if struck
by a thought. “Oh. Prince Konstantine
“He is.” Knife sank to the bed where Journey
was tending to herself. “He died in 7314 of a bleeding ulcer and
treachery. Not that he didn’t deserve treachery at that point, the
cunning bastard. While he might have had something to offer us as a
Konstantine would not have been a good
guardian for the Raptus. I know that now.”