1. THE CHESHIRE’S SMILE
The airport was too crowded at the time, and one of the things he hated the most was the horde of people dragging their luggage without any regard for others in their rush to reach their flights or find their boarding gates. His feet were run by heavy suitcases more than once while the owners would not even apologize, and he was losing patience. Demian could picture himself breaking through people and tossing them away with his aura just to keep them at bay, but quickly dismissed those thoughts and tried to restrain them by looking at one of the screens with the news. They went from international conflicts to an unsolved murder in one of the neighboring cities and then switched to a mysterious fire that had swept away an area from the woods. It was then that he turned his attention to his watch. 6:00 pm already. The flight was two hours late and he was starting to get impatient.
After a while, he looked at the board again and saw that the status had changed to ‘landing’. He straightened up and took his hands out of his pockets. Finally! He pulled out his cell phone to check for any messages and was surprised to see one from Marianne.
‘We’re ready at the Retroganzza.’
Short and concise, like she always was, but still enough to draw a smile on his face. After everything that happened, despite his despicable actions, she had tirelessly advocated to give him a second chance, and even when he chose to isolate himself for a while, she constantly tried to keep him checked. He couldn’t help but think that it was mainly to prevent a new outbreak of his demonic impulses, but still felt grateful. He pressed the reply button and began to write back:
‘I can’t go. I’m waiting for…’
The cheerful voice interrupted him, forcing him to slam the phone shut and look up. A petite girl was running towards him with a long purple coat, holding a beanie on her head, made from the same material as her coat and matching gloves. She dragged a suitcase like an unbridled car, running over everyone she came across.
He smiled back, kept the phone and took a few steps forward only to be rammed by her with a hug. The suitcase slid on its wheels and crashed a parting couple bidding their goodbyes, throwing them down, luggage and all. Demian could do nothing but watch it unfold at the corner of his eye until she pulled away.
“I missed you so much and wanted to come home so bad! Why did you make me wait until now?” she said, giving him a gentle tap on the arm with a reproachful tone.
“Sorry, I had… some issues to take care of before,” he replied, and the girl squinted warily.
“…There’s something different about you. Did you lose weight? Grew a couple of inches? Cut your hair?”
“I’m still your brother,” he assured, trying to change the subject. “On the other hand, you look the same, only with a new wardrobe.” He touched her beanie and she held it tight so he would not take it, making him suspicious. “…What are you hiding?” He quickly reached out before she could stop him and removed the beanie, exposing her hair. It was dyed in a way that it started with a very dark purple at the root and grew lighter on the tips with lavender undertones. “…What the hell did you do to your hair?”
“It was a surprise! Do you like it? It’s the fashion in London. Doesn’t it look cool?!”
“…Yeah, sure, really cool. When we get home, you’re gonna get rid of that color, because you’re not in London anymore,” he replied, placing her beanie back and heading to pick up her luggage.
“But I like it! Besides, it’s my hair and I can do whatever I want with it! If I want to go bald, you can’t stop me!”
“Great. Then do that.”
“I won’t do what you tell me to!” she repeated, sticking out her tongue and Demian gave a big sigh, preferring not to argue anymore.
“You said you would bring a friend. Did she decide not to come after all?”
“…Oh, no! She’s just waiting for all of her luggage. She needs to see they’re all in the same order and be sure that they don’t have a single scratch. Ah! There she is!” Demian turned his head, but his sister pulled him and said something to his ear. “By the way… I must ask you to please be patient with her. She’s… a little special. Hey, Addalynn, over here!”
Walking with a proud air and soft cadence, a girl with long legs and slender figure came towards them followed by a couple of airport employees dragging an entire row of suitcases. She was all dressed in white and her long, straight hair was swaying along her movements with the same gradient style hair as his sister, only with blue shades. She wore dark glasses, which increased the attention she drew from people at her entrance, wondering if she was a superstar and trying to identify her.
“This is Addalynn. Addalynn, he’s my brother Demian. I’ve told you about him.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Demian, reaching out to shake hands with the girl, but she cringed at the gesture and he glanced confused at his sister.
She beckoned him with a grin and a slight shake of her head, so he quickly pulled his hand as the girl in white took off her glasses and looked at Demian for a second. There was a slight electric blue glow in her eyes and her pupils even seemed to dilate for a split second before she averted her gaze. Her features were delicate and harmonic, contrasting with the atypical way she conducted herself.
“Givicha said you have a pool at home, is it true?” she suddenly asked and Demian gave his sister a questioning look, but she merely shrug, as if already used to it.
“…Yes, it’s been empty lately, but I can make some arrangements to fill it again.”
“Fine. Sounds good,” finished the girl turning around and looking for the next exit. “How do you leave the airport?” With a gesture of her hand, she beckoned the two employees pulling her bags to follow her and both Demian and his sister followed suit, darting glances at each other like silently discussing what had just happened.
The Retroganzza had closed to the public, but the lights were still on inside.
Lilith came out of the kitchen carrying a cake covered with marshmallows and decorated with a simple ‘Congratulations’ made of sugar coating while everyone applauded.
“Ta-dah! Serve yourselves!”
“Thank you, guys, you didn’t have to. I was only admitted in the same school as you, it’s not that big of a deal,” Lucianne said while Lilith placed the cake in the center of the counter.
“You just enjoy, go ahead, do the honor,” Lilith insisted, handing her a knife for the cake and Lucianne stopped before making the first cut.
“You… didn’t bake this, right?”
“Why? Would it be bad if I did it?” Liilth snapped, crossing her arms and squinting indignantly.
“Well, it would be really pathetic to be saved from dying once to end up poisoned with one of your culinary experiments,” Franktick said, taking a bottle to his mouth and Lucianne gave him a little nudge to keep quiet, making him hunch to avoid spitting soda.
“Ugh. Fine, relax, I didn’t bake it. It was Monkey, happy?” Lilith said, rolling her eyes, and there was almost a collective sigh of relief as Lucianne was about to cut the cake. “I just helped with the stuffing.”
The knife barely sank into the bread and a red substance spilled out of it, making it seem as if the cake were bleeding.
“…Please, tell me there was nothing alive in there.”
“It’s strawberry jelly!” Lilith claimed while Mitchell ran his finger through the red substance and tasted it.
“…Nope. I’m afraid an innocent tomato has died. This is ketchup.”
Lilith grunted in frustration, her face getting completely red and turning back to the kitchen, nearly bumping into Mankee who was bringing a bucket and a spatula.
“Everything all right? I brought ice cream for the cake, how is it?”
The others only made faces while the cake was still dripping ketchup.
At the end, they had to settle for the ice cream. Marianne had barely tasted a spoonful when she heard her cell phone, an incoming message. She quickly took it out of her pocket and saw the display.
“…Huh?” Marianne lifted her gaze, thinking he may have decided to appear suddenly in front of them, but it was just Belgina eating her ice cream.
“Is it Demian?”
“Oh! Yeah, he says he won’t make it.”
“I don’t know why you’re so puzzled about it. He’s refused several of your invitations, surely out of shame, and that’s the least he should feel. What he did was pretty messed up,” Frank intervened without moving from behind Lucianne’s seat.
“…What are you implying? That he doesn’t deserve a second chance? Because if that’s so, then I shouldn’t be here either. After all, I also tried to kill you all,” Lucianne retorted, darting him with a reproachful look.
“It’s different; you didn’t know what you were doing.”
“No, Frank, I did know. And that’s what makes me feel even worse. I truly wanted to see you all dead. I remember the feeling very well, and it’s not pleasant, so I understand how difficult it must be for Demian. I’m still having a hard time just looking at your eyes.”
“But you weren’t being yourself!” he stated unwilling to compromise on that.
“A version of me at least.”
“Well, I’m sorry to debunk your assumptions, but that’s not why he’s not coming,” Marianne said before they would fall again in a rabit hole she would rather avoid. “He went to pick up his sister at the airport and they have a lot to catch up.”
“His sister?” Lilith got tense, remembering the strange vision she had the only time she had seen her in the cemetery.
“Oh, yeah, I heard she was coming!” Mitchell said, finishing his ice cream and licking his spoon. “So, we’ll meet the little sister soon! I wonder if she looks as good up close as from afar… Not that I think of her in any way, babe! You’re the real deal in my heart!”
Belgina hunched in her chair next to Marianne and practically hid behind her as a frightened fawn in the presence of a wolf. Mitchell sighed resignedly and looked at his empty cup.
“…Is there any ice cream left? I’m gonna need some more.”
“How’s your ice cream?” Angie asked, sitting at the end of the counter where Samael kept silent, staring at his sundae.
“Very cold,” he said with a detached smile.
“Try these,” she suggested, offering some marshmallows. “I rescued them from the ketchup cake. They taste great with ice cream.”
“Thanks,” he replied with the same aloofness of someone who is mentally elsewhere, and she tried to think of another tactic to approach him.
“Hey, wings!” Frank called him, prompting them to lift their faces. “We have something for you, too. Did you bring it, Mitchell?”
“Ah, that’s right!” Mitchell searched in his pockets until he took out some folded papers.
“…What’s this?” Samael asked curiously when he received them.
“Your new identity documents,” Mitchell explained. “You’re now officially a citizen with the same rights as all of us.”
“Did you really do it?” Marianne jumped out of her seat and stood beside Samael to look at the papers until she ended up snatching them from his hands to have a closer look.
“It was actually Frank’s deed. I only contributed with some minor details like zodiac sign, blood type, family tree, and so on…” Mitchell continued, pointing at the info. “…By the way, Marianne, your father now has an illegitimate brother he knew nothing about, who lived in foster homes until he escaped and spent some time in the sewers feeding on rats, then he met an exotic dancer, they married and traveled from town to town as con artists until they had Samuel and decided to make things right with their lives. They bought an RV, traveled through several towns for years until he found out he had a long-lost brother, left Samuel in a boarding school while they went in his search, and on their way, they lost control of the RV and crashed into a gas pipe, exploding into pieces, and leaving their only child alone in the world, with the task of finding his last relative alive.” Marianne gave him the most annoyed look she could over the papers. “…What? It’s the most beautiful love story ever told!”
“We decided to keep some info we used for the camp,” Frank said, pulling an usb from his pocket and handing it to her. “Here are the files, in case any of those gets lost.”
“And there’s more!” Mitchell interrupted again, making them turn the pages until the very end. Marianne took a paper with Samael’s picture and a list of subjects.
“…What is this?”
“I added him to the school system. From now on he’s listed as a new transfer student like Lucianne,” Frank explained.
“Did you hear that? You’re going to school with us!” Marianne said, shaking Samael’s shoulder and showing him the page.
“Well, he’ll actually be a senior like me. I thought it would be good for him to spend some quality time with us guys,” Mitchell clarified, pointing at the subjects.
“Well, most importantly you won’t have to be hiding in the attic anymore,” Marianne said and suddenly noticed that even though Samael’s eyes were fixed on the paper, he seemed to look through it, so she gave him a little shake to make him react. He looked up and saw everyone watching him as if expecting an answer from him.
“…Sounds great. Thank you very much,” he finally said, smiling and trying to act as lively as possible.
The others continued with the celebration and went from the ice cream to a competition of who could eat more ketchup cake, although only Mitchell and Frank dared to try it. Mitchell took the lead by a bloody marshmallow, but everything came to an end when Frank poured the rest of the cake over him.
On their way home, Samael kept completely silent so, unable to take it anymore, Marianne stood in front of him.
“Okay, you don’t fool me. Something’s going on with you, why are you so distracted lately?” she asked, and Samael seemed taken aback for a second, but then seemed reflective.
“…I don’t really know. It’s just… It feels weird that it’s been a month without any manifestation from the Legion of Darkness or so.”
“That’s good, right? There’s peace around.”
Samael nodded, but kept that troubled gesture, and she suddenly smiled.
“…I know what’s wrong with you. You just miss the action. It’s the moment when you can show yourself as who you really are, that you can take control. Without it you feel disoriented, with no purpose.” Samael clenched his face with that same brooding gesture while she turned around to get back on track. “It’s okay, war doesn’t last forever. Relax and enjoy the current peace.”
“But the Legion of Darkness hasn’t been completely destroyed.”
Marianne stopped, with her back to him.
“…Is that what you worry about? That Demian is still alive?”
Samael didn’t answer, he knew by the tone of her voice that it was a sensitive topic for her, and it seemed to affect her in levels he didn’t quite understand yet, but she then just kept walking.
“You shouldn’t. He cut ties with the Legion of Darkness, so they no longer have their main weapon against us, and everything they did to find him didn’t matter in the end. If they depended on him that much to wake his father, then there’s nothing they can do now.”
“That’s one of the things I’m worried about,” he said, and she stopped again.
“You’re never gonna let it go while he has demon blood, right?”
Samael twitched a little and avoided her gaze.
“…It’s not that. I think… I can learn to accept the existence of demons that don’t act according to the rules… But it’s difficult to believe that the Legion of Darkness would accept the defeat and just let him go. After all, he’s not a low-ranking demon, he’s their heir and they need him. Since there hasn’t been any news from them by now, it just makes me feel uneasy… I would like to just sit down and enjoy this peace, but I can’t help feeling that it’s only momentary and they must be planning something.”
“The calm before the storm…” Marianne paraphrased. “I understand what you mean, but you can’t live in a state of constant fear, thinking that at any moment someone is going to attack. Relax a little. You should take this opportunity to learn more about this world as a human, not as my guardian angel.”
With a pat on his shoulder and a smile, she indicated it was time to continue their way. Samael made an attempt to smile, as if willing to follow her advice, but the truth was that it was impossible for him to relax. After all, he had said that that was ONE of his concerns.
“I hope you feel comfortable in this room,” Demian said, setting down the last bag of the row that the girl in white had brought from London. She watched the room intently, as if analyzing it. It was spacious and sober, but without any particular detail to make it stand out. The bedspread and curtains were leaden gray, which next to the bare white walls gave it a neat and impersonal appearance. “…Vicky didn’t tell me she was coming with a friend until the very last moment, so I didn’t have time to arrange anything. Feel free to decorate it as you wish. Vicky’s room is next to this one and mine is down the hall.”
“Why would I want to go to your room?” she snapped without a particular inflection in her voice while examining the walls.
Demian opened his mouth surprised by her reply and his sister gave him a tap on the arm with a gesture to be careful with whatever he said.
“…It was just for information. In case you need anything, and Vicky can’t help.”
“Hmm. Makes sense.”
Demian gave his sister the most confused look he could, and she simply shrugged with a frozen smile.
“Givicha, once you finish setting in your room, would you come and help me unpack?”
“Uh… yes, of course! It won’t take long. After all, my room is just as I left it! Be right back!” And thus, the two siblings came out of the bedroom, Demian giving a questioning glance at his sister. “…What? I told you to be patient with her!”
“And you say she’s gonna stay the whole semester?”
“You’ll see how it will go by very quickly!” she said, undercutting the situation. “She has her quirks, but nothing too hard to handle. She won’t cause any trouble, I promise. Just… a few warnings: she doesn’t like people staring at her for long; contrary to what it may seems, she doesn’t like attention; she hates when guys try to hit on her and For. The. Love. Of. God. Never touch her hair.”
Demian sighed and just patted her head.
“…Get some rest. You must get used to our time zone again. School begins on Monday,” he advised, walking to his room.
“Good night, brother… and by the way! Did you make renovations to the house? Looks somewhat different… from the last time I came.”
Demian stopped short, remembering the reason of those renovations. Following the death of his father, and the eventual discovery of his real identity, he had virtually destroyed most of the furniture, searching for the object his father had told him about before he died. Object he now carried everywhere hidden in his pocket, which he made sure by reaching into it and squeezing hard. The medallion was still there.
“…Something like that,” he finally said in a grimly tone. As hard as he tried, he could never let those days behind. He just had to learn how to live with them.
“Everybody up! First day of school!” The voice echoed through the house, waking everyone, even Samael in the attic. Marianne and Loui’s synchronized replies were immediately heard, still drowsy.
Samael sat up straight and rubbed his eyes. Given his new circumstances he now also had to attend Marianne’s school and had to be ready. He looked at the screen surrounding the area and saw a uniform in a hanger. There was a school bag and some books on top of the trunk by the bed. For a moment, he felt overwhelmed and needed to close his eyes and rub his face with anxiety.
The truth was that Marianne wasn’t entirely wrong when she suggested that he was just thrown off by the current peace. After all, he had been created to guide and protect in dark times, fight evil, be constantly con guard, but it had been more than a month without anything happening. He hadn’t even received any new message from the Superior realm during his sleep. It was as if everything had been put in hold, and it worried him. There would never be a complete and definitive peace while the Legion of Darkness still existed, but he knew long periods of peace could last several lifetimes, time enough for the current Angel Warriors ceasing to exist, and he couldn’t bear the thought of being the only one to stay alive after all that time. He was an angel after all, even if he wasn’t immortal, he could be eternal. And now he had to settle on living a normal life as a human being…
He sighed and uncovered his face. If this were to be his life, he would better begin to get used to it. Now he had a human identity to back him up. He took the uniform and heard a noise at the door.
He put his jersey on and approached cautiously. It sounded like someone scratching the door or perhaps the floor. He placed his hand on the knob, waited a few seconds in case it stopped, but at the persistence of the noise, he opened quickly and saw Loui leaning on the floor, carving something on the board with a pocketknife. The kid looked up and smiled playfully.
“…Hello, cousin Samsa. Breakfast is ready.”
Then he ran down laughing while Samael read what he had carved on the bottom of the door: ‘Holy ghost’. He just sighed and closed the door.
“I hope you’re not forgetting anything because I’ll ignore any call asking me to bring it to you, okay?” their mother warned them as she filled a plate with pancakes just as she was making them.
Both Marianne and Loui sat at the table already dressed in their uniforms and she glared bitterly at him when he outlined a sly smile, showing the Saint Pearl’s emblem on his burgundy jersey, as if to rub it in her face.
“…Was it really necessary that Loui would get into my school? Couldn’t you just find another one for him? I already have to put up with him at home.”
“The Saint Pearl has a reputation as the best school in the state. Your brother deserves the best education just like you, so it’s only fair that he would go there too.”
Marianne snorted while Loui showed a smirk, pleased to invade his sister’s territory. Samael then peeked out the stairs with some reservations.
“Oh… Good morning, Samuel,” Enid said, dosing her attitude as if suddenly a special guest had arrived. Samael made a shy motion with his head and stole a glance at Marianne, who beckoned him to stay calm and her mother then forced herself to act casually. “…But come in! Sit down and have some breakfast!”
Samael sat at the table and a plate overflowing with pancakes was placed before him while Loui and Marianne devoured their breakfast very casually. He remained silent, looking at his plate with an unsettled face.
“Eat, boy. Go ahead, we don’t bite,” Enid prompted him, trying to show her most maternal gesture. Marianne gave him a slight kick under the table to make him eat, and he proceeded to take the first bite. “What do you think? Is it good?”
“…Thank you,” Samael replied with a nod, though not daring to meet her eyes.
“Don’t thank me. You’re part of the family now, it’s the least we can do for you,” she replied with a smile, turning to the stove to make more pancakes.
Samael’s face slightly twitched. The attention made him uncomfortable and felt undeserved.
It had been five days since they made their new identity effective, claiming to be the son of Noah’s lost brother. The surprise was immediate since Noah had always claimed to be an only child, but with all the documents and evidences he brought with him, he finally seemed convinced and accepted him. It also helped the fact that he seemed more distracted than usual since the resurrection gift was transferred to him. And now there he was, departing as another member of the Greniere family. He felt weird, like a fish out of water.
Loui leaned over the table and tried to snatch a pancake from Samael’s plate after finishing his share and Marianne stopped him with a slap.
“…Ouch!” the kid complained, rubbing the back of his hand.
“Behave!” she warned him, pointing at him with a fork.
“Stop, you two!” their mother intervened, slapping them both. “Can’t we have a day of peace in this table? Don’t mind them, Samuel, please. I don’t know who they got those manners from.”
Marianne tried to retort and received a slight kick in the shin by her own mother instead while Loui smiled mockingly.
“Isn’t dad up yet?” the kid asked, taking a bite.
“He must be sleeping. If you want him to take you to school, you’d better go and wake him up,” their mother replied, getting back to the stove.
“There’s no need. We can walk,” Marianne said, opting not to bother him.
Another thing since her father possessed the resurrection gift was that he spent most of his day sleeping. She didn’t understand why, even Samael wasn’t able to explain it. The only reason she could think of was that maybe his body had not quite accepted the second-hand gift and that was a side effect: sleep and permanent exhaustion, constant distraction and sudden mood changes out of character. She hoped it was temporary and his body would finally assimilate it.
Noah appeared in the kitchen door with a sleepy expression, rubbing his face with one hand. Enid replied curtly to the greeting, suddenly falling into an indifferent silence while she kept making pancakes. He sat down and looked past everyone until stopping at Samael. He watched him for a few seconds as if still processing who he was until showing one of his gentle smiles.
“…Hello. Did you rest well?”
“…Yes, thanks,” Samael replied, looking down at his plate and avoiding his gaze.
Noah nodded without erasing his smile, but soon got lost on his own thoughts and took his hands to his temples as if having a headache. Marianne and Loui exchanged uneasy glances.
“…Well, we should get going or we’ll be late on our first day,” Marianne said, getting up and beckoning the other two to imitate her.
“Do you want a ride?” her father asked, making a move to stand up.
“No, we’ll just walk. I think you still need some more rest… and perhaps an aspirin,” Marianne suggested, followed by Samael and her brother towards the door.
The angel glanced at Noah before making a slight bow towards Enid and leaving.
“What did you do to dad?” Loui asked as they walked towards the school district. “He’s acting very strange lately, not to mention that he hasn’t even left the house.”
“There’s nothing wrong with him, he’s in perfect health, okay? He’s just… a little exhausted maybe.”
“I hope you haven’t been playing with his brain as you tried to do with me because otherwise, I might slip some secrets,” Loui informed in a warning tone, earning him a bitter glance from his sister.
“…Tell me again why you haven’t erased this vermin’s memory,” Marianne muttered under his breath to Samael and Loui guffawed.
“Because even if you did, I’m so clever that I would end up discovering everything all over again and you’ll never get rid of me,” the kid said smugly. “…That and the hundreds of hours I recorded from the attic proving cousin Samsa’s presence before he even was cousin Samsa; tapes I hid in a secret place you’ll never find.”
Marianne rolled her eyes and snorted with boredom.
“…And I can’t take the chance to try and make another change in his mind; the first time was experimental and didn’t work at all as you can see,” Samael explained. “…I think it actually worked backwards; the failed modification ended up making him immune.”
“Ha! You see? You made me an aluminum head!” Loui replied with a smirk.
“Okay, I get it! We have no choice but to put up with the nosy worm! But just one word out of you and I can’t promise I won’t try a lobotomy on my own,” Marianne grumbled.
“Cool! Can I be an honorary member of your team now?” Loui added triumphantly and his sister glowered at him.
“…Don’t push your luck.”
When they arrived at school, they stopped to watch the building from outside. Everything seemed to point that it would be an ordinary school year, unlike the previous one with all the dangers they had to face. At least Marianne hoped it would be like that even if the routine was boring.
“Hi! Did you just arrive?” Lilith greeted them, pulling her little sister who also wore the burgundy uniform from middle school. “Ohh, I see it will be your brother’s first year too!”
“Unfortunately.” Marianne snapped with a buff.
“Hi, Loui. This is my sister, Romy. Looks like you’re going to be classmates, after all,” she said, leaning over him and pulling her sister closer to introduce her to the kid.
He merely nodded not so lively, and the girl responded also with a shy nod.
“I was about to lead her to the building and show her the middle school grounds so she wouldn’t get lost, do you want to come with us?”
“Can you take him? I wanted to wait for Lucianne. It’s her first day, too.”
“Oh, of course! No problem. Come on, kiddo. You may get to know my sister a little more. And then, who knows? You two might end up in love and we become one big family. It would be so cool!” the blonde said nonchalantly, embarrassing her younger sister. Loui gave Marianne a horrified look while being led by Lilith into the school.
“Good thing she doesn’t have a brother, or she would try the same with us,” she said with a shudder.
“Is it hard?” Samael asked, looking at the building as if he were about to enter a place full of mysteries and dangers.
“You mean the school? It’s no more dangerous than fighting a legion of demons eager to shed blood and corrupt some souls; although, there are one or two who fit the profile,” Marianne said, watching the amazons going through the huge entrance door while dedicating her the most spiteful glances they could once they recognized her.
She thought of Kristania and her more likely return as the evil queen bee. She hadn’t seen her ever since she was hospitalized following the gift crisis, but according to Mitchell she was back to her old ways, which surely included meetings with her sisterhood of flying monkeys to plan whose life would they ravage during the new school year —and Marianne had no doubt she was on top of the list.
Either way, she didn’t care. After all, there was nothing she could use against her anymore, and besides, she was perfectly capable to deal with her, just as she had done before. Although, she could not wait to see her face the moment they were in front of each other. Would she act like the previous months never happened hoping that the others would just follow her lead and would not make a comment about it?
“What are you looking at? The symbol of our youth slavery?” Mitchell appeared beside them, wearing a decent uniform for the first time, without any odd color highlighted in it.
“Who are you, impostor, and where you left Mitchell?”
“What? This?” he replied, pointing at his uniform. “The first day you have to leave a good impression. But as soon as the finishing bell rings…” he immediately unbuttoned his jersey to show the setback stamped with purple and blue stripes, “…I’ll be back!”
Marianne only raised her eyebrows with a dubious expression about his fashion choice, even if it was something she should be used to by now.
“Didn’t your sister come with you?”
“Oh, I see! The curiosity is killing you! Don’t worry, she’ll be here. She had a last-minute fashion emergency. But believe me, I would looove to be there when you’re face to face for the first time in this whole month. If I could, I would tape it for posterity. I could, actually! Does your phone have a camera? Let me set it up to record it all.”
“I won’t be recording the moment she arrives!” Marianne protested, preventing him from taking her phone out of her backpack and suddenly he went silent and stood up firmly, buttoning his jersey again and trying to look as decent as he could. A van with the Justice Department shield stopped at the edge of the sidewalk and Belgina went out of it. She greeted them with a smile, but once she saw Mitchell, she stood still like a stone.
“…Hey, babe! You look amazing today!” Mitchell greeted with a slight bow, and she began to babble.
“I-I… I’ll go the classroom,” she decided, sneaking away while Mitchell watched her going through the door, heaving a sigh of resignation.
“Give her some more time. I’m sure she’ll get over it,” Marianne said once she disappeared beyond the entrance.
“It’s been over a month, is she going to hate me forever? I don’t even know what I did wrong,” he snapped, disheartened, and the truth was that Marianne didn’t know either.
Belgina had been avoiding Mitchell at all cost since she regained her gift. Any hint they mentioned about it, she denied it flatly or mumbled something before changing the subject.
“…Well, have you been into the facilities yet?” Mitchell asked and Samael shook his head while throwing another look at the building.
“Why don’t you go with him? And you can take a walk around before classes start,” Marianne proposed, beckoning him to follow Mitchell. “I’ll keep waiting for Lucianne.”
Samael nodded, still overwhelmed by this completely new experience for him. He took a breath to gather some courage and joined Mitchell towards the door while Marianne sighed and folded her arms, waiting for her cousin to arrive.
She wondered if Demian had arrived by now and if he would introduce his sister to them. And if he had decided to tell her that he was actually adopted. During summer break, he had not shown up to the cafeteria and still acted with some reservations around, despite having told him in every possible way that there were no hard feelings between them. Marianne tried to keep him in touch through texts, so he could keep on clinging to his humanity, and it seemed to be working, allowing him to slowly open himself to them again. She still kept a text he had sent her one night to thank her for what she was doing. Thinking about it made her smile, but the sudden sound of the school bell brought her back to reality.
More and more students kept coming, either freshmen or transferred. Some even stood outside for a few minutes, watching the façade as Samael had done moments ago. She recalled her first day, when she didn’t even take a moment to look at it since she was in such a rush, which led to her first encounter with Belgina —or rather clashing with her and sending both of them to the floor.
She looked wistfully at the spot near the entrance where it had all begun, though there was someone else standing there, probably a new student too. A couple of boys ran past her, pushing each other playfully and ramming the guy standing at that point. He fell face first to the ground and a pair of heavy-thick-framed glasses fell a few feet ahead of him. Both boys stopped and laughed.
“Don’t stand in our way, specs!” one of them snorted with a guffaw while the other kicked the glasses away from the road. Next, they went into the school, celebrating their feat.
Marianne felt a sudden surge of rage, flashing back to her own experience as the new girl in school. She couldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior, and wouldnt contain herself, either.
“How brave of you, bullying a helpless guy!”
They were already at the school gate, but turned their heads with confused expressions, probably thinking she was some kind of weirdo.
She ended with a huff and stood firmly to regain her composure, not even caring if the newcomers looked at her like a deranged person. She took a deep breath and then turned to the boy still on the floor, covering his eyes with one hand while feeling the floor with the other. His shoulders were shaking a little, undoubtedly with rage. She looked around for his glasses and found them several feet away on the grass. She picked them up and cleaned them with her own sleeve to give them back.
“Don’t let them get to you; that’s what they want, boast themselves for having control over someone. But eventually you learn to deal with that kind of people over time,” she advised him, handing the glasses to him and reaching toward his arm to help him up, but the boy twitched.
“Don’t touch me!” he shouted, jerking away and snatching the glasses from her hand. She pulled back a few steps, startled. She wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction.
“…What’s your problem? I was just trying to help!”
The boy put on the glasses and got up with tense shoulders. He was so tall she had to lift her face to look at him.
“I don’t need anyone’s help,” he snapped hoarsely and then headed to the gate with a fast pace, bumping into her shoulder and making her totter a little.
“There’s no need to be rude!” she said, gritting her teeth with anger. “How ungrateful.”
“Marianne!” Lucianne was coming down from her father’s car, proudly wearing her new uniform and visibly excited. After waving her father goodbye, she approached and swirled around gracefully to show her outfit. “How do I look?”
“Great. There’s rarely something that doesn’t suit you though,” she replied, attempting a smile.
“…What’s wrong? Are you upset?”
Marianne put her hands to her hips and huffed.
“Don’t mind me, I won’t let anyone ruin my day,” she decided.
Another car pulled over, and Angie got out of it, running towards them with a smile.
“Hi! Is everybody already here?” she asked, brimming over with excitement.
It was nice to have the same old Angie back, just like Lucianne —although for obvious and different reasons; having her as an evil version of herself was exhausting.
“We’ll know when we go inside,” Marianne replied, heading towards the door.
Lucianne looked around with a sense of wonder, now an official student. Perhaps the only setback was that she would have to repeat eleventh grade, but still tried to stay positive.
While walking the main hall, they suddenly saw Demian coming through the side door. He stopped short at the sight of them and stood silent on the hallway.
“…Hi,” Marianne said to fill the silence, followed by Angie and Lucianne. Demian responded with a smile and after looking over his shoulder, he decided to approach.
“I brought company,” he explained with a motion of his head.
“Oh, so Vicky’s here then! I haven’t seen her for so long!” Angie said, and he nodded as he kept checking at the door.
“…She’s not alone, actually.”
Suddenly, a girl appeared at the door, with long wavy hair dyed in several shades of purple and wearing gloves that matched her uniform. After a few seconds looking around, she finally stopped at the sight of Demian and saw the other three girls behind him. Her smile grew bigger once she recognized a face from her childhood.
“Angie! Finally, I get to see you again after all this time!” she said, practically jumping on her in a tight hug
“I’m glad to see you again, too,” she replied, short of breath. Demian touched his sister’s shoulder to let her know it was enough and proceeded to the introductions.
“Of course! You two played basketball and videogames all the time. For a while I even thought she was just boy with long hair,” she replied, and Lucianne laughed at the idea. “I was like six! Have some mercy!”
“…And she’s Marianne,” Demian lay his eyes on her and she immediately stiffened. Perhaps it was hearing her name coming from him or maybe the usual reaction whenever she was introduced to someone new; either way she felt nervous.
“…Nice to meet you,” she reached out awkwardly and the girl with huge topaz eyes squeezed her hand tightly, with a smile so huge it formed dimples in her cheeks.
“I’ve heard about you,” she slipped with a twinkle in her eye.
“…Huh?” Marianne dithered with confusion and glanced at Demian, whose eyes widened as if not expecting her to say such a thing.
“Dad told me about you… About everyone, actually,” she clarified with a hint of melancholy in her voice, and a sudden silence fell around.
Marianne glanced back at Demian, noticing his face contorted at the mere mention of his father. It was still a sensitive subject for him, and she understood. He would possibly never get over it.
“…Oh, well; what’s taking her so long out there?” Vicky added in an attempt to lighten the mood. The girls twisted their eyebrows.
“She came with a friend from London,” Demian explained right when someone burst in through the side door, a girl with icy beauty and rhythmic walking, her long hair swaying at her back as she walked, and despite wearing the same uniform as them, she made it look like a designer outfit on a catwalk.
She stopped before them and looked around, as if making a recognition first, and then took a brief look at each one of them.
“It’s not as big as the Victorian Gold, but there’s nothing I can do,” the girl said offhandedly.
“The Victorian Gold was our school in London,” Vicky said, trying to minimize her comments. “She’s Addalynn. And they are Angie, Lucianne and Marianne.”
“Hello,” the three said and Angie stretched out her hand, but the girl immediately stepped back, and Vicky made a discrete sign, taking a hand to her neck and shaking her head in a sign to cut it out.
“Well, I think you were heading to your class,” Demian intervened to avoid any misunderstanding. “I still must take them to the school office. Since they’re transfer students.”
“Does that mean I should go too?” Lucianne asked.
“You can come with us,” Demian suggested, pushing his sister towards the opposite side. Lucianne changed course and followed them while Demian gave Angie and Marianne one last look before leaving and smiled. “…Glad to see you again.”
Addalynn followed a few steps behing them, keeping her distance at the same time. The two girls exchanged confused looks, not knowing what to make of the girl’s strange behavior, but they couldn’t just stand in there, so they decided to continue on their way. Marianne threw one last look at Demian and turned back to the front just as Demian glanced over his shoulder, only to watch them going into another corridor.
They arrived to the tenth-grade corridor and saw several of their old classmates roaming around several lists that were taped to the doors. Lists of the students for each class. They were about to search their own names when Lilith’s voice interrupted them.
“Hey, there!” Lilith yelled, waving her arm. Belgina was also beside her. The classroom was at the bottom of the corridor, but at least they were together again, and according to the list on the door, it seemed that the rest of their classmates would remain the same, including Kristania, who had not arrived yet. “This is so cool! Here’s hoping for an awesome year with no fights nor demons trying to kill us and stuff.”
“…Don’t you want to say it a little louder, so the rest of the school can hear you?” Marianne chided her, glancing around while Lilith just laughed.
“Relax! No one is paying attention right now! Don’t you see?” Lilith said, pointing at their classmates who were just chatting among them, ignoring the others, unless someone new came through the door, then everyone left whatever they were doing and turned around to see who it was, like prairie dogs. Only until they identified the newcomer, they returned to their conversation or greeted them if it was the case.
“I wonder which will be Vicky’s class,” Angie said, and Lilith’s spirits waned considerably. “…Even though her friend is really weird.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t judge on the first impression,” Marianne said. She used to be judgy about her first impressions but had learned to be more open over time. Even though she had no idea what to think of her. Just an odd, ambiguous feeling.
“My mother went to a seminary out of state, so I’ll be home alone. Would you stay with me tonight?” Belgina asked while writing a header into her new notebook.
“I have no problem,” Marianne said with a shrug and both Angie and Lilith agreed.
Suddenly the door opened, and everyone turned around. Kristania came in and stopped in front of the class, taking a few seconds to inadvertently comb her hair though anyone could see it was a deliberate move to let everyone take a good look at her. She had a reverse degraded dyed hair, beginning with platinum blond in the roots and darkening at the tips. Angie and Marianne looked at each other, thinking of the other two persons they had recently seen with that style.
Their classmates started to praise her and ask where she had done her hair and how she got the inspiration, while she kept a carefree pose, clearly enjoying being the center of attention. And then she saw them. The four girls sitting at the back of the class staring at her. Her body instantly tensed and after a few seconds unmoving, she began to walk towards them.
Marianne quickly sat upright. That was undoubtedly the moment she had been brewing in her mind for the last month, the confrontation with the queen bee reloaded. Now that she had her gift back there would be nothing holding her back. She had to keep a cool head and not let her power act on its own as an anonymous avenger, knocking her down again. Kristania was already close, a few more steps and they would finally find out how much her hatred had grown.
She stopped in front of the girls and looked at them with a serious face. Marianne was mentally ready for any malicious comments, but not even all the training in the world would have prepared her for what she saw next: a smile curling up on Kristania’s lips.
“…Good morning. Seems like we’ll be in the same class for another year. Let’s stay united and we’ll be the best class of all.”
The girls went mute; their incredulous and surprised faces unable to react, until Lilith jumped up from her seat as if stung by a needle.
“…Kri! I missed you a lot!” Lilith yelled with open arms and bright eyes, jumping over Kristania so impulsively she almost fell to the floor. Marianne twitched, thinking she would push her away, but she lightly patted her back instead.
The three girls exchanged astonished looks. It was as if Kristania had never received the Malice gift back, but it was impossible, even Mitchell had mentioned she had returned to her old ways, so why was she being kind then?
“If Lucianne hadn’t returned to normal, you’d think their gifts were switched,” Angie softly whispered, and Marianne nodded.
She did not take her eyes off Kristania, waiting for some gesture to betray her, and even though her smile was still there, she was sure it wasn’t the same kind of genuine smile from when she lost her gift. Was she playing some kind of mind game?
The door opened again, and a new teacher came in, forcing everyone to take their seats and leave the chat for later. Kristania said goodbye with unusual kindness, arising Marianne’s suspicion, and sat at the other end.
After introducing himself as their Literature teacher, he proceeded to the typical lecture and relevant instructions at the start of every term, announcing a parents’ meeting at the end of the week to discuss some events that would take place soon. Marianne felt a shiver, remembering the parents’ meetings in her previous schools, where his father would get all the attention the few times he attended. She just hoped it would not happen again here.
Suddenly, they heard a knock on the door. After a couple of minutes, the teacher came back inside to inform that there would be new transfer students in the class, and when they made their entrance, everyone turned automatically to Kristania, waiting for her reaction about the two girls’ hair style, the same as hers. She seemed slightly distraught, and only someone looking intently at her —which Marianne was doing— would notice her jaw clenching, her teeth gritting, and a slight twitch in her left eye. But she quickly composed herself and showed a clearly forced smile.
Marianne suppressed a smile of her own. It seemed so obvious to her that she was holding back in public. Perhaps, she was aware of the way she had been behaving the last months and decided to continue the charade.
While the teacher introduced the girls, she noticed the boy standing to their right and recognized him. The ungrateful guy from that morning.
“…And also joining us,” the teacher continued, reading the names from a list, and stopping on the third line, as if trying to focus his eyes. “…Dreyson Avery, is that how it’s pronounced?”
The boy just nodded once and swept the room with his eyes behind thick glasses. A few giggles were heard in the room. The boy was tall and perhaps too thin for his clothes that seemed a size too large for him, making him look clumsy and disheveled. His posture was slightly hunched forward with tense shoulders, as if trying to hide his height. He kept his head tilted downward, so his hair fell on his face. He was a walking target.
“Well, why don’t you go take a seat? There are some empty desks at the back,” the teacher suggested, turning to the blackboard to write something. Vicky immediately made her way with an enthusiastic smile, followed closely by Addalynn, who attracted every gaze while she walked past the desks; the tall boy, meanwhile, walked behind them, hands in his pockets and slouched as if to avoid any kind of touch, until he suddenly tripped and stumbled. There was laughter scattered around before he recovered his stooped posture and continued his path with eyes fixed on the floor, perhaps looking for the next foot he should avoid.
Marianne had a déjà vu of her first day at school. She had received the same treatment from Kristania and her flock of followers, so she felt a twinge of anger, but immediately dismissed it after his reaction that morning. If he wanted to be a victim and allow everyone to step on him, that was his problem.
Vicky took the seat next to Lilith and smiled at the girls while the blondie remained tense, her eyes to the front and her face clenched. Addalynn sat to Vicky’s left without glancing at anyone, not even for courtesy. The boy kept going in a straight line, and Marianne noticed a free desk to her left. He reached the bottom of the row and stopped right between that seat and the immediate one to the left.
Marianne was already cursing her luck, sure that he would sit next to her, but to her surprise he took the next seat, right behind Addalynn. She almost gave a sigh of relief. At least there was a middle seat in their way.
The teacher began to list the subjects of his class and they all opened their notebooks. Everyone but the boy with glasses. He just stared at Addalynn’s back, fixed on her hair, as if trying to unravel the formula of her shampoo.
Marianne only raised an eyebrow and quietly shook her head. He was definitely asking for trouble.
Lucianne waited to be introduced to her class. She was the only one standing at the door, feeling exposed. If she had transferred right when she decided to stay in town, she would be a senior now and would not have to be alone. But after everything that happened in the last months, she was lucky to even to be alive. All of them, in fact.
“Wow. So much anticipation just to introduce a couple of students.” Lucianne startled to hear that voice and turned around with her heart pounding. Frank was beside her with the school uniform and a smile that formed a single dimple in his cheek. “Hey, newbie; looks like we’ll be classmates.”
“Frank! But… how? You didn’t say…”
“I wanted it to be a surprise. I requested my transfer since I entered the system to introduce wings. I wanted to see your face when I showed up.”
“Well, mission accomplished, you really surprised me,” Lucianne waid with a smile. “…Wait a minute, does that mean you also manipulated our classrooms just so we could be together?” Frank merely widened his smile and she let out an incredulous laugh. “You’re unbelievable!”
“I’m glad you’re taking it so lightly; your father would’ve put a restraining order on me,” he replied and Lucianne winced at her father’s mention.
Since he was back as himself, his sense of guilt for what he had done while he lacked the moral gift was so big, he tried not to lose sight of her, and whenever he had to be out due to his job, he called pretty much every hour. When Frank showed up in her house one day, he seemed to recognize him, although that time was still somewhat blurred to him, like a dream. Of course, he forbade her to see him. He could not trust a guy who would sneak into someone else’s house, not to mention the multiple problems he seemed to be involved in. Naturally, this had caused frictions between Lucianne and him, defending her right to choose her friends, and torn between guilt and overprotection, her father had finally agreed that she could see him, as long as the rest of her friends would be present too. And so, the coffee shop became neutral ground for them.
…And now they had school. At least until her father found out and then made the restraining order effective. She thought him capable of it.
“You look like you sucked a lemon,” Franktick said, holding out his laughter and Lucianne immediately relaxed her face and smiled a little embarrassed. “I hope it’s not because of me following you here or that I hid it from you.”
“No! It’s not like you had the chance to tell me, given my father’s new ‘friends included all the time’ policy.”
“Well, now we have eleventh grade entirely for us,” he said, tilting his head in a small bow right when the door opened, exposing them to a classroom full of curious faces. “…And another forty pair of eyes.”
Samael’s introduction was way shorter. Mitchell had already led him to their classroom, so when the teacher arrived and started to ask for the new student, he was already sitting by the window. Mitchell was sitting right behind him, followed by Demian, who merely looked out the window with disinterest.
Even though he was in good terms with the others —except for Frank, who always gave him the stink eye each time they were under the same roof—, he preferred to keep his distance from the angel, which would be harder now. So, while everyone was focused on the “new student shtick”, he looked outside the window. It was a sunny day and a gentle breeze slightly blew through the treetops; not a single soul wandering out at the time.
Demian kept staring at the garden to keep his mind distracted when he glimpsed a shadow flickering in the grass, just for a split second. He winced a bit. Why did he suddenly feel uneasy? It had not been more than a play of light and shadow, wasn’t it? He should not get paranoid about it. He had been through that everytime for the last month, expecting some kind of retaliation after rebelling against his roots, against his own blood. They would have done something by now. He kept looking outside, but nothing else happened in the following minutes, just the breeze swaying the grass and leaves.
“…Mr. Donovan, is there anything out there you would want to share with us?”
Demian turned around after hearing his name. The teacher was staring at him just like the rest of his classmates. Some time in the previous minutes the focus had shifted to him and he couldn’t help feeling like a circus freak, as if somehow everyone could sense that he was not like them, that he was a different species. There was a sudden surge running through his veins; his body tensed, and he quickly shook his head. He should not draw any kind of attention. He didn’t want to. The only thing he wanted was that they wouldn’t look at him anymore.
Stop looking at me…
“…Hey, prof! I heard rumors that the interstate competitions will be held this year in the coast. If I join a club, is it possible for me to go too?” Mitchell suddenly interrupted and now all eyes rested on him. “I like the idea of beach, sun and bikinis. I would certainly look good in any of those.”
Several classmates laughed while Demian relaxed again; for a moment he felt about to lose control. He would have to thank Mitchell later for his timely intervention, as if he already knew he needed it. For some reason, it was easier to keep control around them than around other people, perhaps because they were the only ones who knew about him and accepted him. Or at least he wanted to think that way.
The days following their encounter, he couldn’t shake the feeling that they would eventually turn against him and kill him to prevent any relapse, but being fair, perhaps they felt the same way about him. It had been tough, he had spent days of internal exploration and rediscovery, trying to feel human again. And he had finally reached a point where he could almost feel like himself again. Almost. There were still times when he felt bouts of anxiety, dark thoughts crawling his way back into his mind, thoughts he tried to dismiss; he even started taking his sleeping pills again. He could not risk what his subconscious was able to do. He was not ready to test his control over that part of him.
“…Thank you,” Demian murmured while getting ready for their next class. Mitchell looked at him as if not understanding what he meant. “…For what you did a while ago.”
“Ohhh! That’s nothing. I’m really interested in the interstates, if it means being surrounded by beautiful girls on the beach,” Mitchell stated with a carefree smile. Demian smiled back and then left the classroom.
According to his new schedule, he had Fencing now, so he went downstairs, feeling more relaxed, and before going out the side door, he glanced at the hallway, but the corridor remained empty at that time.
The Fencing club had decreased considerably after several of its members graduated, but within a week the traditional club hunting week would be held and most of the eight remaining fencers were confident that others would join and started planning their display. Lester had taken over the leadership after his comeback, ‘stronger and more fearless than ever’ —his own words— and decided that this year they would showcase a higher-level exhibition where all of them would face each other at the same time until one of them remained victor at the end, which, according to his prediction, would be him, of course.
Demian just followed his instructions, but his mind seemed to be elsewhere, even though once their practice started, he fought whoever he came across, beating them one by one until there were just Lester and him. Demian looked more focused than ever, and his movements were precise, while Lester seemed to struggle for the first time. The boy used to remain stoic during his confrontations, always getting an easy win, but this time it was a very close fight.
Demian, on the other hand, tried not to get over his head that he was finally giving Lester a proper match —now that he was in good condition—. Although… could that merit be due to his demon blood? What if everything he had achieved so far was only because of his physical superiority as a demon? Wouldn’t it be like cheating? He had skills beyond human comprehension, unearthly powers, no human could face him equally; there was no merit in that. He soon began to feel anxious. What was fair for a demon then? Facing other demons only? Fighting against others with similar skills? No, he had already been there. He was allowing darkness to take over him again. He needed to empty his mind, focus on the practice, and put aside those thoughts. He could question himself about the ethics of it later… But then he saw it again. A shadow crossing the stands in a blink, disappearing at a wall. He had seen it clearly this time, it couldn’t be a hallucination. Had they finally sent someone to get him? Had they found him?
Then he felt a strong pang in his chest, making him lose his balance and fall to the ground, right outside the line. And thus, the practice ended with Lester as the winner. He stood up and put the foil back in his poised stand and then took his mask off, offering Demian his hand to help him up. He looked up, almost expecting his usual haughty gesture, but to his surprise there was no trace of that arrogance, he even seemed to have developed a new respect for him.
“It was okay, Donovan. You almost made it. Stay focused the next time.”
Demian raised an eyebrow with disbelief. Was he really giving him a compliment? Perhaps, the time he was giftless had given him a new perspective. He took his hand and stood up, shaking off his uniform and trying to relax, though he couldn’t help glancing around, in search of the shadow, not to be seen again. Maybe it was all in his head. He decided to let it go.
Once fencing finished, Demian was the only one left in the locker room, settling his sports bag really slowly, dragged once again by his dark thoughts.
“Finally, you’ve been taking this seriously,” Lester said, getting him out of his reverie. Demian looked up and saw him leaning on the door, still in his fencing outfit.
“…Who says I wasn’t before?” he replied, and Lester shrugged.
“I’m just saying what I see. I don’t know what’s happened while I was out of game, if you had some sort of epiphany, but you seem different; you’re no longer playing to see how many clubs you can join and what other sports you can practice. Even your eyes look different. Now all you need is to keep that drive and don’t get distracted the next time… but that doesn’t mean I’ll let you win.”
Demian said nothing, he understood this was his very particular way of showing respect and even gratitude for his patience, so he just chuckled through his nose and shook his head. Lester also responded with a slight smile before he left.
He returned to the track, took his foil, and started practicing his moves, careful to keep his posture. It was almost like he was still afraid to lose his skills once again, hence he needed to keep training endlessly in his spare time. At least to prove he still had his skill.
He continued in a straight line after a round of halts and moves in a row until stopping in the middle of the track to catch his breath. That was when he saw his shadow suddenly lengthening, a pair of cat eyes shining on it while rising from the ground. His body froze as he watched it, his brain unable to react to what was in front of him.
“…Master,” the shadow gurgled with a hollow voice, as if it lacked vocal cords.
Lester’s body finally responded, stepping back and starting to hyperventilate. Once he managed to open his mouth and let out a scream, the shadow went through his body.
Demian was already tense before the scream, overwhelmed with a feeling of dread he couldn’t identify, so when he heard it, he lifted his face as if it were the confirmation of his worst suspicions. He dropped everything he had at hand and ran for the door. He saw Lester on the floor, as if he had just collapsed, and then some kind of smoke coming out of his body, taking the form of a shadow without defined features, holding a glowing sphere in his hands.
“…You are not master. Where is master?” the shadow hissed. A voice that was no voice, floating over the boy’s unresponsive body.
Demian felt his stomach twisting. It was finally happening. The Legion of Darkness was at him again. He couldn’t allow it. He didn’t want to go back. He would NOT return to that place. When he realized, his hands were already losing its color and felt a cold rush through his body that indicated he was taking his demon form. He didn’t want that, but he finally came to an understanding. He couldn’t change what he was, but what he did with it. If he couldn’t just resist his nature, then he would use it, even if it meant acting against it.
Filled with resolution, he vanished from the locker room and appeared again in front of the shadow, with his hands outstretched in a threatening manner.
“…Let go of that sphere.”
The shadow outlined a huge broken smile on his featureless face, and his cat eyes glowed.
“Master Death Angel,” the shadow wheezed and Demian felt a mixture of disgust and rage. He shot a dark beam from his hands, but the shadow dissolved into smoke and rebuilt itself again, allowing the beam to pass through it without doing any harm. Its smile remained indelible, unsurprised by his action, and then took the orb to the huge torn line it had for a mouth. “…You’ll be back, master.”
Demian’s face clenched, ready to fire again, but to his bewilderment, the shadow swallowed the sphere whole; his cat eyes glowed and blinked from inside, reptilian style.
Gobsmacked by his action, he immediately started shooting power after power in its direction, but the demon just hovered around the place like smoke and burst into guffaws, rushing down to his position, getting through him like a ghost and blending with the projected shadows on the floor until it completely vanished, leaving Demian panting and unable to stop him.
He dropped to his knees in front of Lester, frustrasted. It was right in front of him and he hadn’t been able to do anything. Was that how the others felt whenever the Legion of Darkness was one step ahead of them? It was just awful. He gritted his teeth, angry with himself, and closed his hands around Lester uniform, restraining his urge to shake him, but feeling desperate in his own right. And then the gym doors flew open, forcing him to lift his distraught face, a wild expression in his eyes.
The guys stood there with their armors on, ready to fight. They all stopped short in the doorway, looking at him with faces ranging from confusion to bewilderment. And among all, Marianne looked at him with her face frozen and eyes that showed concern, because what they had in front of them at the time was a demon holding his victim, about to lose control.