11. THE NEW SIDE OF THE COIN
Samael walked across an empty space, though there was no actual floor beneath his feet. He didn’t know how long he’d been walking, going nowhere and seeing nothing around. He recalled having been in a place like that the day he had his first dream… or at least what he thought was a dream, considering that he had nothing else to compare it with since he had never dreamed before. Could this mean something? If so, something should have happened by now, he should have bumped into someone, a mysterious figure, anything…
And then he saw it, a slender silhouette at the bottom, as if waiting for him. Samael stopped and stared at the figure, giving it the chance to come closer, but nothing happened, it just stood there as if expecting the same from him.
“…Got something to say?” he finally dared to speak. The figure shifted, as if tilting its head in a thoughtful gesture, before returning its attention to him, yet silent and brooding. “…I need answers. There’s a smoke demon collecting the gifts again and we don’t know how to defeat it; there’s a yellow eyed guy who seems to be attacking innocent people for no reason and two unknown figures with armors very similar to ours. And there’s also this girl who came from London; it’s like… she’s got some kind of gravitational force inside of her. I don’t know what it is, but I need to know more.”
The figure didn’t answer, and despite his attempts to approach it, the distance never shortened. But he didn’t stop; his need to know had become the need to vent with someone, even if it was a distant silent silhouette.
“And there’s also the matter with Demian, and Marianne’s father… and herself. We’re supposed to root out all demons prowling the earth. It’s engraved in my mind, but lately… I don’t know what to think; what if there’s people with a percentage of demon blood? Are they even a threat at all? Or even those who are entirely demons, what if they don’t want to continue their linage? I don’t know… I’m really confused. It may sound ironic coming from me, but… I need guidance.”
He stopped short as he finished speaking. The figure was on the same spot, like a static image moving along him. Samael was already giving up when the silhouette suddenly disappeared, and he looked around, thinking it was gone, until he felt the weight of a pair of arms embracing him.
«I’m sorry »
He heard a disembodied whisper a few inches from his ear, coming from everywhere. He didn’t understand, but those arms seemed unwilling to release him, they embraced him stronger instead. He started to feel like vanishing within his dream while hearing someone sobbing in the background, whether it came from afar or from the same ethereal voice inside his ears, he didn’t know.
The emptiness around him vanished. The voice faded away as well as the weight of those arms around him. When his eyes flew open again, he was back in the attic, watching the ceiling planks before realizing he’d woken up. How long had he been asleep this time? It didn’t matter; he had to go look for the others to talk to them. It was right at that moment that his sense of alarm set off, like every time there was an attack. He immediately jumped out of bed and vanished with a flash.
Mitchell was paralyzed watching the smoke demon floating in front of him, scrutinizing him with those feline eyes, like deciding whether he was who he seemed to be.
“…Now! Do it now! Don’t just stand there!” Frank had to shout from the shed to make him react, which alerted the demon, but Mitchell woke up from his trance, and after a hand gesture, an opacque barrier enclosed them, turning him back to his original appearance, armor included.
The smoke demon solidified, forcing itself to go down and stand on its feet once on the ground. It looked like made of ash, with its cat’s eyes glowing in a face that seemed formed with shaped chips about to fall apart at the slightest breath of wind.
“Now brace yourself, demon!” Frank yelled, snapping his fingers, and running towards the creature. Despite looking like a sculpture made of dark dust, the demon’s face sliced open into a smile. Frank reached the demon and threw the first punch, which sank in its chest as if it were made of quicksand. “…What the hell?!”
The demon’s smile widened and then held him with both arms, spreading over him as if having complete control over its molecules even in that solid state.
“…Let go! You’re not swallowing me like you did with the gifts!” Frank shouted, unsuccessfully trying to get away.
Mitchell’s limbs finally managed to respond and ran towards them, lunging against the demon to help Frank, but when he was trying to hold its neck, his hands also sank into it.
“…Any other idea?!” Mitchell said as his arms were trapped inside the creature.
“There’s got to be a way to beat it! We have made it solid, dammit!”
The demon started to become unstable, as if striving to return to its gaseous state, and Mitchell looked up to discover his barrier was coming down in pieces.
“…How the hell is he doing it?”
“It doesn’t matter now! That means I have my power available now! Neutralize the demon!” Frank yelled, taking his hands out while Mitchell kept his inside of it. The demon solidified again, and Frank laughed out loud. “Ha! You weren’t counting on that, were you?! Now I’ll retrieve all the gifts you’ve stolen!”
“Oh, god, what is that thing?!” About a few feet from there, Mankee watched horrified the creature they were fighting against.
“What are you doing over there?!”
“I live nearby in case you forget. I figured you’d need some help, but the barrier was on… I didn’t think it would break if I touched it.” He raised his hands apologetically, showing his palms glowing slightly red.
“You can’t go around undoing your friends’ powers! That’s not cool!” Mitchell yelled while still struggling to keep the demon solid.
“Says the one who blocks the others!” Frank rebuked.
“Gee! I’d really like to discuss the contribution of each one of us to our ensamble, but I must warn you that I was never good with the mechanicall bull!” Mitchell cried, struggling to stay on top of the demon.
“Wait a few seconds,” Frank said, standing firmly in the field and shaking his hands. “…If I can manipulate ground and concrete, what is a lot of ironmongery waste for me?”
The ground below the demon began to tremble, forming a crust around it. The back of the creature arched backwards in a pronounced and unnatural angle, slamming Mitchell to the ground and leaving him stunned, so the demon was finally able to return to its gaseous state, releasing a chilling throaty cackle.
“We can’t let it get away!” Frank shouted, waving his arms as the ground rose in its direction, but the demon writhed in its smoke state, dodging the ground geiser and hurling into a tailspin towards Mitchell, who was just getting up. “Get away from there!”
But the warning came too late; as Mitchell stood up, the demon went through him, appearing on the other side with a sphere in its hands. His body went limp while Mankee watched everything in horror, and Frank raised his incredulous gaze towards the creature.
“…That’s not one of the gifts you’re looking for!”
The demon with feline eyes and twisted smile didn’t seem interested in this information at all, just took the sphere to its half-splitting-head mouth and swallowed it.
“That… That’s not how it should work… is it?” Mankee asked as baffled as Frank.
“Not the master. Don’t care,” the demon said with that hissing voice, floating above them with his reptilian-catlike eyes.
Frank was ready to charge against the demon again when it suddenly rushed down, as if drawn by an invisible force pulling it down. Behind him, Demian stared intensely at it.
“Master! Come with me?” the demon said with a smile that showed the poor rettention of his short-term memory. Demian’s face shrank with a grimace and lashed him on the ground again despite its vaporous state.
“How did you do it?”
“…I’m learning to control my ability to invoke shadows. Now, can someone explain to me what happened here? I can’t lose concentration or else I could…”
A sudden punch in the back sent him to the ground, breaking his focus. The smoke demon quickly rose above them, and before Frank could try to stop it, it vanished into thin air, showing a smile that matched its feline eyes, the last things to disappear like some sort of evil Cheshire cat.
“You let him escape!” Frank shouted in frustration while Mankee made desperate signs towards Demian. A small mauve-tone armored figure attacked him from all sides, kicking and punching left and right while he just tried to dodge it. Whenever the small figure sneaked away and placed its hand on some part of his black armor, it started to suffer wild changes, which he had to stop with his own power, neglecting his flanks and receiving another wave of attacks.
“We should help him, right?” Mankee asked doubtfully.
“The armor… it’s just like ours,” Frank said without taking any step further, cautiously watching the figure when another one appeared out of the blue and stood between them, stopping the first one and holding it back while Demian finally managed to straighten after returning the last streak of his armor to normal.
“Why are you attacking me?! What do you want from me?!” he demanded to know and the figure that had attacked him made an attempt to go after him once again, only to be stopped by the other.
The rest of their friends materialized, transported by Samael, and looked around in confusion, discovering those other two figures a few yards from them.
“Who are you?” Marianne asked, staring at the two figures. “Why are your armors so similar to ours?”
“Because they’re Angel Warriors like us,” Samael said with total certainty.
“…What? But how is that…?”
Samael took a few steps forward while the two figures didn’t make any move.
“I know it. So…” he said, taking his hands to his helmet and, to everyone’s suprise, removed it and exposed himself to them. “…will you talk now? Or should I start?”
The two figures exchanged glances until the platinum armored one also took a few steps forward, followed by the one with the lavender armor, and simultaneously put their hands to their helmets, letting their long hairs with impossible tones loose once they take them off.”
“Oh, my god, I can’t believe it!” Vicky’s heated and smiling face emerged from the lavender armor’s helmet to the others’ surprise and Demian’s dismay; she was the one who had attacked him.
“…You?” Marianne said in disbelief. Addalynn’s face remained undaunted while Samael stared at her.
“Do it,” Samael gestured at all of them to do the same, and even though they hesitated at first, they complied. Vicky seemed beyond ecstatic as they exposed themselves, too.
“Awesome! You’re just like us!” she said with a constant state of wonder. “We didn’t know your true intentions, so we were afraid of approaching. Had we known before…”
“What do you mean by true intentions?” Marianne asked.
“Well… you’re working along with a demon,” she said dismissively, and the others cast a quick glance towards Demian, whose face twitched to hear her talk like that.
“Wait… You don’t know that…?”
“I suppose there’s a lot to talk about. But now is not the time or the place,” Addalynn interrupted Lucianne before she could finish her sentence. She didn’t seem surprised at all about what they had witnessed. “Besides, I think your friend needs help.”
The attention shifted to Mitchell, lying on the ground behind them.
“What happened to him? What were you doing with the smoke demon?” Marianne asked, kneeling beside Belgina to check his vital signs.
“It took his gift,” Mankee said since Frank wasn’t answering.
“But that’s impossible! Why would he do it? His gift wasn’t…”
“Is it really necessary to talk about that in the presence of the demon?” Vicky chimed in, and the rest of them looked at Demian. He was quiet, with a disgruntled expression until he just silently disappeared.
Marianne tried to focus on Mitchell. That he was stripped off his gift was disconcerting since they were supposed to be collecting the original gifts to attract Demian back to the Legion of Darkness. It made no sense.
“Reanimate him,” Samael said, taking her out of her reverie. “…I’ll explain later. We should leave for now.”
She nodded and proceeded to create a replacement for Mitchell’s gift. His body spasmed as the spark of life was breathed back into him and he scanned everyone’s faces, trying to understand what was going on.
“…I think I hit my head very hard; I’m seeing more faces than usual.”
The others smiled, relieved that his personality seemed unaffected in the absence of the stolen gift, whichever it was.
“Get up. We must leave,” Frank said, helping him up.
“Hey… I know there are still several things to clarify but… I left my father waiting for me two blocks away, thinking I suddenly had an intense craving for gummy bears,” Angie said. “…If he even thinks of going to the store I allegedly entered and doesn’t find me, he’s capable of reporting my kidnapping.”
“Mine too. He will lead the search party himself,” Lucianne concurred, and Marianne imagined her father waiting for so long at the school gates that he decided to enter and find the sentai meeting.
“You’re right; we need to talk about this more calmly.”
“Tomorrow at the coffee shop,” Samael said. “Mankee could close, and we’ll have the place for ourselves.”
“Uh… I don’t know if I can just do that. After all, I don’t own the place and…”
“As far as I know, my father bought it, right? That means it also belongs to me, so I give my permission to do it. I’ll handle my brother,” Vicky solved immediately under their cautious expressions, and finally agreed without making any further comment.
Demian leaned on the car with his hands in his pockets and his foot moving restlessly. His eyes were fixed on the floor while remembering the look on Vicky’s face after calling him a demon. He seemed more shaken by that than the fact that she and Addalynn turned out to be the Angel Warriors that had attacked him. But how? When did it happen? How long have they known? Was his sister already one when she returned for their father’s funeral? His mind was filled with questions that needed answers and he didn’t even know how he could stay there, waiting, when just a few minutes ago his sister had looked at him with a contempt he never thought to see in her eyes.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t even notice the time!” Vicky ran towards him with her usual smiling face as if nothing had happened minutes before. “I hope you didn’t have to wait for so long!” She got in the car in a hurry and gave him a relaxed smile. “Are we going now?”
Demian didn’t answer, just looked at her, waiting for any kind of reaction, but she remained the same. Addalynn impassively came to the car, opened the back door and briefly glanced at Demian.
“Is something wrong?” Vicky asked, finding his silence odd, and he finally got in the car despite his befuddlement.
Once at home, Vicky ran upstairs with an unusual load of uncontrollable energy.
“I’ll be in my room getting everything for teamwork tomorrow, in case you need me!” she said while Demian stopped at the bottom of the stairs, following her with his eyes until she was out of sight. Addalynn walked past him then, but he got in her way.
“Since when do you know?” he asked, trying to keep his voice low to prevent Vicky from listening. Addalynn looked up and just stared silently at him. “…Tell me. It’s clear that Vicky has no idea, but you…”
“I suspected something at the beginning, I wasn’t really sure,” she finally said. “So, I watched you carefully, analyzing you, to decide if you were dangerous or not.”
“Did you come to any conclusions?”
“If I thought you were, we wouldn’t be talking right now.”
Demian huffed and ran a hand through his hair impatiently.
“…Why haven’t you told her? About what I am.”
“It’s not up to me,” she replied, arching an eyebrow to indicate it was up to him. She then dodged him and went up the stairs while Demian stood in the same place, holding the railing with clenched hands, thinking about Vicky’s expression when she called him demon. Her sneer, he couldn’t forget it, and the thought of seeing it again was unbearable. He couldn’t tell her. Not yet.
“What happened while you were sleeping?” Marianne asked, peering into the attic once back home.
“Not much, actually; I got a gist of the information we needed,” he replied. “But what I saw…”
“You saw something then. I thought you said you didn’t dream,” she said, closing the door behind her and sitting on the edge of the bed.
“I don’t know if I can call it a dream because I have nothing to compare it with. I just know that… it’s the second time I see it now that I remember”
“What was it?”
Samael returned to his thoughtful gesture, remembering the feeling of numbness when the figure wrapped its arms around him and uttered “I’m sorry”, followed by a series of sobs —or whatever they were, he wasn’t sure—, before sinking again into unconsciousness. He wished for an explanation, but he had no clue of its meaning.
“…It was a silhouette. I couldn’t see it very well,” he said. “As much as I tried, I couldn’t approach it and it didn’t say a word. It was like a statue in the distance, until it suddenly appeared behind me.”
“Do you think it might be the same silhouette from my dream?” Marianne asked, and Samael tried to draw a mental picture of it. The figure he had seen was definitely not winged, but it had some sort of luminiscent halo that made him assume it might be an emissary of the Superior realm, but he had no way to prove it; he would have to see Marianne’s memories for himself and the last time he tried, he had failed.
“I don’t know. There’s the possibility, of course… but we can’t prove it for now.”
“Was this figure the one who told you about Vicky and Addalynn? Because when we got there, you already knew who they were, right?”
“I’m not so sure,” Samael admitted. “It may be so, but not with words, more as programmed notions. And not as a certainty, but as a suspicion.”
“That’s not all you know by now, right? I could see in your face that there’s something else, that’s why you said we should all talk quietly elsewhere. Does it have to do with that demon taking Mitchell’s gift when it’s not one of the originals? Because if what the Legion of Darkness is trying to do is tie Demian back to them, why would they need a gift that doesn’t correspond to the ones they took in the first place?”
“…I’m starting to doubt that’s what they’re looking for,” he guessed.
“Why would that demon take Frank and Lester’s gifts then?”
“I don’t know the reason, but after what happened with Mitchell one thing is for sure: collecting the gifts isn’t their priority. The attacks we thought premeditated at first were actually random. It didn’t matter whether they were the original bearer of the gifts or not, that’s not what they’re seeking right now. Keeping the gifts… is just a ploy to make things harder for us.”
“So… Demian isn’t the one they want?” she asked in a relieved tone she tried to hide.
“I can’t tell, I just have this feeling that… things are not how we first thought. Of course, they must want him back, but as I said, I don’t think that’s their priority right now.”
“That’s all I have for now.”
“Well, in that case…” She slapped his arm, and he just uttered an “Ouch” with a confused expression. “That’s for not holding on for one more day as I suggested.” She then stood up and walked towards the door, showing a hint of smile before getting out of there. “Good night.”
Samael responded with another smile before he was left alone in the attic, knowing he would be awake all night and he would better find something to do in the meantime.
The next morning, Marianne was the first to get to the park and waited while wondering how she should act in front of Vicky and Addalynn now that their identities were revealed. There was so much she wanted to ask but didn’t know if she would have the time to talk to them before Dreyson showed up. Her main question was how they knew. For them, Samael had been their guide, but who guided those girls?
“Are you the only one coming?” Dreyson interrupted her musings, leaning on the nearest tree as if he’d been there all the time.
“They must be on their way, don’t get so desperate, and greetings to you too,” Marianne replied, thwarted that now she couldn’t ask any question in his presence. The boy remained in the same position, with his back to the trunk and slightly bent forward, letting his hair fall over his face. Although his clothes were now more appropriate to his own size, he seemed yet to find something that didn’t make him look awkward. He was still a bully magnet. “…May I know why you joined fencing?”
“For the attention,” he replied quite casually.
“You shouldn’t be doing things just for someone’s attention?”
“Does that include claiming to like someone aloud?” Dreyson said, and her face shrunk at the mention.
There was a moment of silence before the sound of a car stopping in front of the park broke it. Vicky pranced out of it, followed by Addalynn while Demian stayed behind the wheel, locking eyes with Marianne once the line of sight was clear. She immediately looked away. Demian averted his gaze, and once Vicky waved him goodbye, he took it as his cue to leave.
“We’re so sorry for the delay! I was trying to decide what to bring for the investigation.”
“No problem,” Marianne said. It was weird knowing that those girls were Angel Warriors like her and unable to say a thing in Dreyson’s presence.
“Are we going now?”
Dreyson pulled away from the tree and silently headed for a taxi stop next to the park while the girls followed him, until he leaned towards the window of a cab and said something to the driver.
“…Had I known we would ride a taxi, I’d better ask my brother to take us. He shouldn’t be too far away, I could call him,” Vicky said, pulling out her phone, but Marianne prevented her from making the call.
“Let him take care of it, after all, we’re going to his house.”
Vicky sighed and slipped the phone back to her bag while the boy approached them.
“Get in,” he said pointing at the cab.
“How much do we owe you?” Marianne asked, pulling out her wallet.
“It’s all arranged, just get in,” he said authoritatively, and the three girls jumped in the back while he took the front seat.
After several turns in different streets and making all the way in complete awkward silence, it finally stopped in front of a small two-story house painted in white, with no decoration on the facade while most of the houses in town had at least a touch of color. Marianne thought it was kind of a reflection of the boy’s stoic personality.
They got out of the cab while Dreyson treated directly with the driver. The three girls remained standing at the entrance until he opened the gate and entered without even checking if they were following him.
“…Are you staying there?” he asked when he reached the door and the three finally decided to get inside.
The house interior was almost as austere as the facade. The bare walls, devoid of any pictures and family portraits gave it a cold appearance, and if not for some furniture and the scent of fresh baked cookies coming from the kitchen it would look uninhabited. There seemed to be no more than the basics in that place.
“…Did you just move in?” Marianne finally dared to ask.
“A couple of weeks ago,” he replied, acommodating some chairs around the empty table in the center of the living room.
“I assume you’re new in town then.”
“You could say so.”
“We’re also new,” Vicky interjected, glancing at the chairs as if deciding which one to place her bag on. “Only it’s more like a return in my case; I spent several years studying abroad.”
“That’s how you met Addalynn, right? I would like to hear that story someday,” Marianne commented as a hint while Addalynn sat next to Vicky, so graciously that she looked like a princess about to drink tea.
“…Maybe you’ll hear it soon,” Vicky answered with a knowing smile and the kitchen door flung open at that moment. A woman came out with a long skirt that reached her ankles and a high collar wool blouse with long sleeves and an apron. She had her hair in a bun and oven mitts that she immediately took off to greet the girls with a smile.
“Dreyson’s mother,” Marianne whispered to them very quickly.
“Nice to meet you! My name is Vicky,” she said standing up to shake hands with her and while Addalynn also got up, she opted for a simple nod to avoid shaking hands. Far from being offended, the woman also responded with a nod and then made hand gestures the girls couldn’t understand.
“She says it’s a great pleasure meeting my friends and you can call her Felicia,” Dreyson translated while the woman made other signs. “She also says you can make yourselves at home and she’ll let us work. If you need anything she’ll be in the kitchen.”
The woman went through the kitchen door again with an air of a pleased mother.
“I’m sorry if I’m being indiscrete, but… is she deaf? Does she read lips or…?” Vicky asked while Marianne sent her a withering glance.
“She can hear perfectly,” Dreyson replied without looking offended. “It’s just a problem with her trachea that prevents her from talking.”
Marianne remembered the fingerprints she had seen on her when trying to settle her scarf during the parents’ meeting. They hadn’t seen any sign of his father in the house and considering the way he had spoken about her father… No, she shouldn’t do that, drawing early conclusions. She decided to focus only on the investigation.
Eventually, Dreyson’s mom came out of the kitchen carrying a bowl filled with freshly baked cookies and drinks for everyone, even though Dreyson didn’t touch them and only replied with nods each time his mother said something with hand gestures.
Addalynn didn’t touch the cookies either, but she did accept a cup of tea, like some kind of brittish stereotype. Dreyson stared at her through his big glasses barely shielded by his hair, and if she noticed, she tried not to show it. When Dreyson’s mother came out of the kitchen for a third time, Addalynn stood upright, keeping her head up.
“Could you indicate me where’s the bathroom, please?” she asked, and the woman motioned towards the narrow stairs across the room, so she thanked her with a nod and turned to Vicky. “…Givicha.”
Vicky seemed clueless and confused until she understood she meant her to go with her.
“Uhm… excuse me, we’ll be right back,” she said, giggling with embarrassment as she followed Addalynn upstairs. The woman stood in the middle of the room with a smile as if waiting to be told if they needed anything else.
“The cookies were delicious,” was all Marianne could say with unease, and the woman made a slight grateful bow. She then straightened right away, as if suddenly remembering something, and went upstairs, making quick hand signs. Marianne tried to focus on the book in front of her, but finally decided to rest her arms on it. “…Well, if you’re still so fixed on getting attention, maybe you could try little changes here and there. I don’t mean like the magazines you were looking at. Just… I don’t know, maybe you could lose the glasses and use contacts or something,” she suggested, and the boy gave her a suspicious look.
She feared he might ask if her sudden interest in advising him had something to do with what happened the day before… because it didn’t. She didn’t even care; and frankly, she didn’t even know why the thought had crossed her mind. Dreyson, however, only shrugged and outlined a tight-lipped smile.
“…Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I guess we’ll see.”
Vicky and Addalynn returned a moment later to continue the research but were interrupted again minutes later when Dreyson’s mother went down with a book covered in thick leather that she immediately placed on the table, so the girls could watch it. There were pictures on each one of the pages. A family album.
“…What are you doing?” Dreyson said with the coldest tone possible, and his mother looked at him with fearful eyes.
“Oh, it’s all right! Don’t worry! I love to see photo albums!” Vicky expressed to reassure the woman and she smiled again, starting to turn the pages with several pictures of her with a baby Dreyson. There were a lot of pictures of him growing up as a little reticent chubby boy with glasses who seemed to hide from the camera. “Wow! You must have lost a lot of weight,” she said as they got to his pictures as a teen, not long ago. He still looked overweight, and along with the glasses and the hair on his face, he looked even more marginalized back then. Perhaps that was the reason why his wardrobe was a larger size. Dreyson, however, didn’t say a thing, just stood up and walked away, leaving his mother with a worried expression. “Don’t you worry! It’s completely normal for boys to feel embarrassed when someone brings up their childhood pictures. They don’t realize how adorable it can be.”
Among the last pages of the album, there was a picture of a tough looking and intimidating man next to Dreyson as a child. He didn’t seem comfortable in the photo, as if fearing retaliation within minutes after taking the picture. The woman quickly closed the album and took it under her arm, smiling as if she had forgotten something else and had to leave unexpectedly, running upstairs.
“…Weird, isn’t it?” Vicky commented, though Marianne didn’t reply; she assumed that man was Dreyson’s father. A few minutes later, the boy came back, but instead of taking a seat, he remained standing.
“We won’t be able to continue today. You’ll have to go,” he said and even when the girls exchanged confused glances, they started to gather their stuff.
“Well, at least we did enough. Maybe next time we can go to your house,” Vicky said, ending with a positive note as always, though Marianne shivered at the thought. When they left the house, the same cab that had brought them there was already at the entrance.
It seemed a little odd to them, but they got into the car and left. They arrived at the Retroganzza minutes later and sat at their usual table in silence while waiting for the others.
“So… who would have thought it, right?” Vicky said, while toying with her gloved hands.
“Did you really have no idea who we were?” Marianne asked, and even though Vicky shook her head, Addalynn remained undaunted. She held her gaze for a few seconds before focusing on the window, making her suspect that maybe she knew more than she was willing to admit. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Why did you attack De…?” she immediately paused before saying his name, and even Addalynn turned from the window to look at her, so she corrected right away and recalled the name she had heard once from his servant. “…Death Angel.”
Vicky’s face darkened and looked more serious than usual.
“…Because he’s a demon,” she replied matter-of-factly, but Marianne frowned, trying to understand where that animosity came from. Vicky took a breath, aware that she would have to give a more detailed explanation. “…The day dad died, I had a nightmare… or at least I thought it was. I saw him being attacked by a demon with red eyes, stripped of that glowing sphere you call the gift and finally saw him falling down. I woke up so disturbed and worried that I broke into our principal’s main office to call home, but no one answered… That was the second sign that something was wrong. Then I talked to Addalynn and she confirmed my worst suspicions because she had seen it too: it wasn’t a dream but an attack that just happened across the ocean, and there was nothing we could do about it.”
“Do you mean… you could also feel whenever an attack occurred on this side of the globe?” Marianne interrupted, surprised at that information.
“Oh, yes. But as I said, there was nothing we could do. We had no way to transport as you do; that is truly amazing!”
“Are you saying… that you already knew by then what you were?” Marianne asked again, and Vicky nodded several times.
“We could feel a bunch of other attacks… but none of them as intense as my father’s,” she continued, grieving his memory. “When I got my brother’s call the next day… I felt like dying. He was all we had left… and we lost him because of that demon,” she said with such resentment, Marianne shivered. “…So, that’s the reason. I don’t know how you can trust that demon or how come you have allied with him. But I don’t trust him. And you shouldn’t either.”
They were silent for several seconds, Marianne glancing from her to Addalynn, unable to talk. She couldn’t imagine what Demian was feeling at the time. The only family he had left in the world and she unknowingly hated him. It had to be difficult for him.
The door flew open with the tinkling of the bells announcing someone’s untimely arrival. Lilith ran breathlessly, red-faced after running several streets non-stop.
“Sorry! I fell asleep! I’m late, but I promise I’ll compensate it overtime!” she wheezed among exhausted gasps and stopped after seeing Marianne with the other two girls at their usual table. She just managed to say an awkward ‘Hello’ and then jumped into the kitchen for shelter.
“…Now that’s been clear that we’re on the same side, may I know why she hates me that much?” Vicky asked.
“She doesn’t hate you!” Marianne replied, even though she didn’t know either why she behaved that way in front of Vicky.
“I won’t say a thing, I swear! I just want to know if I did or said something to offend her, I don’t know. I need a reason.”
“So what if she doesn’t like you? You can’t expect everyone to like you,” Addalynn said, rolling her eyes, as if it were stupid to worry about it.
“But at least I can try!”
The rest arrived to the cafeteria in the next few minutes and started taking the available seats as well as additional chairs around the table. Once they were all assembled, the coffee shop closed and even the other waiter was sent home despite his suspicious glances.
“Well… where do we start?” Vicky said once they were all gathered.
“I think you could start by telling us how long you’ve known what you are.”
“Well… what is it? Like four months or so?” Vicky turned doubtful towards Addalynn for confirmation though she remained silent.
“How did you know? Who told you?”
Vicky looked back at Addalynn as if waiting for permission to keep talking, and at her sign, she finally replied
“She let me know. It was during a Lissen Rox’s concert. I skipped school because I had a special pass to backstage and I met Addalynn there for the first time,” she told them while the others watched Addalynn askance, skeptical. Of all the people that could be fans of Lissen Rox, she was the least they would think of. “She seemed so mysterious, as if waiting for something, and didn’t take her eyes off me. Everything happened very fast right after. I heard screams, people running, I didn’t understand what was going on. I held onto a beam, but it suddenly began to collapse and Addalynn saved me. She said we had work to do, and I didn’t understand what she meant at first, but when she transformed before me, it was like turning on a switch inside me, something I hadn’t used all my life and suddenly I discovered that I could. We reached the dressing rooms and once inside we found a guy in a suit that seemed to be made of a dark material such as tar, and instead of skin, he seemed to be carved from bone. It was holding Lissen Rox’s shirt and shouting something like ‘You must know one’ or something like that; my poor idol was terrified, he kept saying he didn’t know what he was talking about. There was another being inside, with pale skin and black eyes with fully dilated pupils, and when he saw us, he pointed at us and shouted ‘There!’. I had never been so scared in my life, but just to see Addalynn fighting in such a badass manner gave me the courage to follow her example. We managed to drive them away and that was my first experience as an Angel Warrior. It was truly unbelievable.”
“They attacked him?” Marianne intervened with a frown. “…But that’s impossible; they had done it before, and he didn’t own any gift they wanted, why would they do it again?”
“We never saw them taking any sphere,” Vicky said with a shrug. “I don’t even know what the gifts are for.”
The guys exchanged mystified glances. If the gifts weren’t what those demons were looking for, what then?
“You’ve told us how you knew you were an Angel Warrior,” Samael said, looking at Addalynn next. “…but so far we don’t know how it was for you.”
The others waited silently for the girl to answer, but she just looked impassively at Samael.
They couldn’t believe the ease with which she refused to answer their questions and Vicky just laughed it off in an attempt to downplay it.
“She’s been telling me the same thing all this time. Don’t take it personal.”
“You have to understand that we need to know,” Marianne insisted. “Otherwise, how are we gonna trust you?”
“I don’t need to ask you how you discovered who were you to recognize you for what you are,” Addalynn replied unyieldingly. “If you choose not to trust us despite everything, we have nothing else to do here.”
She stood up abruptly and Vicky tried to calm things down.
“Wait, relax! Why don’t we try to calm down for a moment and start again? Hello, we’re Vicky and Addalynn and we’re like you. Do you accept us on your team?”
Addalynn gave her a harsh look and sat down, crossing her arms inflexibly, earning her several confused looks.
“You don’t need our approval to join us because you’re Angel Warriors too,” Samael said to reach an agreement. “You can’t choose otherwise, we’re part of the same team, even if some liked it or not at the beginning.”
“He’ll never let it go,” Frank snapped with a huff and a shake of his head.
“Anyway, we carry the same responsibility,” Samael continued, ignoring Frank’s comment. “How you discovered what you are, although intriguing, is circumstantial. What matters is that we stand together with our mission: defending human kind from the Legion of Darkness’ threat.”
“And that’s why it’s not clear to me why would you work along with a demon,” Vicky said, to which Frank replied with a guffaw.
“That’s what I’ve been saying all along, but coming from you makes it even better,” Frank said with a conceited air despite the reproachful look of Lucianne.
“He’s cut ties with the Legion of Darkness,” Marianne said as briefly as possible. “He’s not like the rest of the demons we’ve faced.”
“Really? Because I can’t see the difference.”
“It’s… complicated. Let’s not talk about it at this moment,” Marianne said, preferring to change the subject. “So, you’re saying the demons you faced weren’t looking for the gifts. What did they want then?”
“We have no idea,” Vicky said with another shrug. “They just attacked someone, we fought them and they left.”
That made no sense and they all knew it. Demons were always looking for something that would report them benefits. Those people should have something in common if they weren’t interested in their gifts and they had to establish a pattern.
“Remember any of those people? Can you make a list for us?” Samael asked, increasingly intrigued.
“I think we could work on one when we get back home,” Vicky agreed, looking for Addalynn’s approval with a glance.
“You can create lightning,” Marianne said and Addalynn stared back at her wordlessly, and she then turned to Vicky. “And you can change the molecular structure of things.”
“Did you get to see us?”
“We have a video recorded from afar,” Lucianne said, pulling out her cell.
Vicky reached out to take it and looked at the screen up close while Marianne watched her hands intently.
“Is that why you always wear gloves?” she asked, and Vicky seemed to twitch slightly, leaving the phone on the table and starting to rub her hands nervously. She then removed one of the gloves, moving her fingers in anticipation until reaching carefully the jukebox-shaped napkin ring adorning the center of the table. At the slightest touch, it began to change its structure automatically in a virulent way, as if its molecules reproduced creating branches. It was barely a couple of seconds and once she pulled her hand away, the changes stopped, while she put on her glove quickly.
“I can’t control it yet. It started the same day I met Addalynn. The gloves help me to contain it.”
“You mean if you touch someone without your gloves on you could deform it?” Frank asked, his eyes full of morbid curiosity.
“Even if it comes in contact with any part of your skin?”
“Oh, no, for some reason it only focuses on my hands.”
“Train with us,” Samael suggested. “Maybe we can help you control it.”
“Really? It would be great!” Vicky smiled excited at the idea.
“And what about you?” Marianne asked, turning to Addalynn who didn’t seem satisfied. “Would you also train with us?”
“…If have no choice,” she said with complete disinterest.
“Come on! That’s why we came here, remember? We had to meet the others, you said it yourself,” Vicky snapped, and the girl gave her a sharp look as if she had said too much, but since she failed to realize it, Addalynn just rolled her eyes and looked back at the window.
That seemed to close the deal; they had finally come to an agreement despite not getting all the answers they needed. At least Addalynn hadn’t entirely refused as they thought she would.
Monday morning seemed to go by normally. The club hunting madness had been left behind and now classes were returning to their usual course. The new club proposed by Vicky had been finally accepted and she couldn’t be happier, and even though Kristania had also contributed to this, she didn’t seem as excited. Her face even looked more like the old Kristania —or the true one, as Marianne regarded her— than the avatar she’d been creating lately. She glanced bitterly at Addalynn and after a while, she inhaled deeply and began to greet everyone with the most forced smile she had ever showed.
Things looked to be an ordinary day; such as any other morning, until the door opened and entered a guy they had never seen before.
There was total silence in the room as they all turned their attention to the newcomer, who had stopped right in front of the class and swept the place with his gaze, like a new teacher analyzing his students, if it weren’t for the uniform. Several girls soon began to settle into their seats, adjusting their hair and looking interested at whom appeared to be a new classmate —and a very handsome one, according to whispers. The boy scanned the place until stopping on Marianne. Suddenly, a crooked smile was drawn on his face.
“…Do you know him?” Angie whispered quietly in front of her.
“I have never seen him before!” Marianne muttered back with a frown but looking back at the boy she seemed to recognize that sided smile and the backpack on his shoulder. And then he set his eyes on Addalynn, who contrary to her usual indifference was also looking at him with suspicion. It was then that Marianne’s eyes widened and almost let her mouth hang open in astonishment. “…Oh, my god, it’s Dreyson.”
The whole room filled with whispers as soon as the information began to spread. No one could believe that the lanky, scruffy boy with huge glasses and hair falling on his face was that same guy with a neat appearance, standing to his full height with his head lifted as if looking down at everyone. His hair no longer hid his face and the glasses had disappeared revealing attractive features that seemed carved in marble, and a pair of brown eyes that, without the glasses to magnify them anymore, now seemed darker and more intense than ever. His shoulders didn’t hunch forward and now were in perfect alignment with the rest of his body, making him look imposing. He settled his backpack again and started walking among the desks with his head held high, ignoring everyone else’s bewildered gazes. Addalynn remained unflinching while he walked by her desk, glancing at her with an unfathomable expression, but instead of stopping on the seat behind her, he crossed to the next row of seats, sitting on the last free desk next to Marianne. She gave him a grim and confused look while the rest of the classroom kept watching him as if they had never seen anything like it, but the state of wonder was soon broken by the first teacher of the day, coming in so unexpectedly that most of the guys jolted in their seats.
“…What do you think you’re doing?” Marianne whispered once they were no longer looking at him.
“Taking a seat, what does it look like?” Dreyson replied with an amused tone. He seemed to be having fun with the whole situation, and no wonder, moving on from being the mockery to be the center of attention.
Marianne’s eyes narrowed warily and decided to leave it that way and attend to class. She would have her first fencing practice that day and needed concentration, mentalizing on being the only girl on the team; she didn’t have the time to think about Dreyson’s dramatic makeover.
“What a change, right?!” Lilith whispered when the class ended. Dreyson had stood up and walked out the door under numerous incredulous gazes from their classmates. Once he was out of the room, the whispers ensued.
“He just combed his hair and took off his glasses, it didn’t require that much.” Marianne seemed unimpressed while settling his stuff.
“But he seems so different! Even his uniform looks more elegant and stylish now!”
“The wonders of posture and fitted clothes.”
“Do you think he’s done it for Addalynn’s attention?” Angie asked, lowering her voice.
“If so, it worked. At least she did look at him this time around,” Lilith said.
Marianne began to walk towards the door once she kept all her stuff.
“…See you later; first day of fencing.”
“Oh, wait!” Vicky stopped her before she reached the door. “Since you’ll see my brother, could you tell him to wait for us in the coffee shop? We’ll have our first club meeting with Miss Anouk to outline our first activities. He’s been in a shifty mood these days. I don’t know, maybe he’s embarrassed about the other day, so he’s been avoiding us.”
“…I’ll do it if I have the chance,” Marianne replied hesitantly, trying not to stop so she wouldn’t ask for anything else. She suspected the reason he’d been avoiding her was mostly due to the contempt Vicky showed towards him while on his demon form.
“You took your time coming out.” Marianne jolted upon hearing that voice once she got out of the classroom. Dreyson was leaning with his back on the wall, as if waiting for someone; he then sat up straight and walked beside her. “Shall we go?”
“Wait, what?” She scowled, between confused and distrustful. “…What are you intending to do?”
“Go to fencing club. Did you forget?”
Marianne kept surveying him before reluctantly resuming her way while he walked casually to her side.
“You don’t seem impressed,” he suddenly said while going past the auditorium.
“Why should I be?”
“The rest couldn’t take their eyes off me when I arrived.”
“I guess you must be proud of it, if that’s what you wanted.”
“You said a change wouldn’t hurt. I don’t get why you’re so upset.”
Marianne stopped at the gym door and turned to him with an acrid expression.
“Why did you sit next to me? Why did you suddenly decide to walk with me to fencing? What are your intentions?”
“I thought we were friends.”
That assertion disarmed her momentarily; maybe she was overthinking everything; after all, she was the only one who had taken the time to treat him in one way or another before his ‘glow up’ and sudden boost of confidence (although, she had the impression that he had plenty of confidence even before that; his new image had just accentuated it). She sighed and rolled her eyes to dimiss it.
“…Okay, let’s just get inside.” She pushed the door and the members of the club were already there, as well as new additions.
The usual whispers were heard, even some ‘It’s a girl!’ as if they hadn’t seen one in their whole life while Demian looked at them from one of the benches.
“Come in. We’re about to start the introduction for the new members,” the coach announced, beckoning them to take a seat in the stands. Marianne took a deep breath, ready to dash through the room full of guys when the door opened again.
“I’m sorry! Am I too late? I had something to solve before.”
Marianne turned around in disbelief. Kristania was standing at the door, and as their eyes met, she smiled with a hint of triumph.
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, turns out I also decided to join the club, so we’ll be teammates, aren’t you glad?” she replied with a conniving smile that was more like the old Kristania she knew very well. “So, you won’t have to worry about being the only girl on the team.”
“Oh, yeah? You did it for me? How kind of you!” Marianne said, narrowing her eyes, though Kristania seemed to purposely ignore her sarcasm and glanced at Dreyson up and down.
“…Not bad. I wonder if you were inspired by someone else,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, but he didn’t respond nor granted her any look. The coach insisted them to come over. Soon they were all divided into two groups: old members would be practing on the other extreme of the track while the new ones listened at the coach’s instructions with Lester’s help, who was unable to train with his peers at the time. They were provided with a foil to practice and started to learn the basic moves.
“This is boring. When will we do the same as them?” Dreyson said, pointing with his head towards the more experienced boys in full practice mode.
“You can’t expect to be ready for a fight without even knowing the basic moves. You have to be patient,” Marianne snapped while following the coach’s instructions, brandishing the foil to the front and then returning to her position on guard as indicated.
“I could handle it.”
“I think you have become overconfident; your new image doesn’t make you invincible, you know?” Marianne rebuked, and he laughed.
“Maybe I’m a quick learner and just need a chance to prove it.”
“Oh, my good, he speaks!” Kristania suddenly said, getting near them through displacements, holding the foil upfront. “Seriously, it’s as if aliens abducted him and left a body snatcher in his place. Are you sure you’re the same guy who looked like a nerd and never talked to anyone? I would find it easier to believe that you’re the handsome twin that has taken his place.”
Marianne gave her a look of warning and although Dreyson didn’t respond, the way he looked at her wasn’t nice at all.
“Oh, relax! I’m just kidding! I’m completely harmless,” Kristania said and Marianne simply frowned, recalling the day she had pushed her down a lake and nearly drowned. Kristania suddenly screamed and bent forward, her hands covering her face and dropping her foil to the ground.
“I’m sorry! It just slipped from my hand!” a boy said, hastily approaching and picking up another foil on Kristania’s feet. The coach came to see what was happening and she lifted her face to reveal a small cut on her left cheek.
“It’s nothing serious. Just disinfect the wound and put a band-aid on it. Someone take her to the infirmary,” the coach said, and the guilty boy offered to take her while she seemed enraged, repeating phrases like “It’s not fair” and “Why me?”.
Marianne followed her with her eyes, noticing that Demian was also watching from the other end. When their eyes met, she quickly diverted her gaze and heard some scattered comments like “That’s why we don’t have girls in the club” and its variants. If he thought she had done that like other times, she could’t do anything about it, the only thing left was to keep practicing her moves.
When practice ended, and everyone was leaving the gym, Marianne took a new look at Demian who remained in the farthest bench, settling his sports bag in silence.
“Let’s go,” Dreyson said and she looked confused at him. “There are still classes.”
“Oh, yeah, uh… I still have something to do, you go ahead,” she suggested with a wave of her hand and looking back to the spot where Demian was. The boy followed the direction of her gaze and turned around without saying anything, walking out of there like everyone else until the gym was empty. Only then she took a breath and walked towards the benches where he kept adjusting his bag, immersed in his own thoughts, but as soon as he felt someone approaching, he lifted his gaze and stared intently at her, which made her difficult for a moment to think of the words to address him. “Uh… Vicky asked me to tell you… to wait in the coffee shop after school. She’ll be out a little late because of a meeting or something.”
“…Oh. Thanks for letting me know,” Demian said, trying to smile, and she quickly turned around to walk off, but only took a few steps and stopped. Why was she acting like that? They were friends after all and he was having a tough time with the whole Vicky situation. So, she pivoted and walked back, sitting next to him, who seemed surprised.
“Well… who would have thought it? Vicky and Addalynn turned out to be like us.” Demian didn’t answer, just kept staring at her, making her even more unsettled. “…Your sister and the girl you like.” He made the gesture to say something, but she continued. “You shouldn’t worry. I’m sure once Vicky learns the truth, her mind will change. She’ll understand, after all, you’re her beloved brother.”
“…You really think so?”
“Of course. So far, she’s only seen one side of the coin. Sure, it will be difficult for her at first as it was for everyone. But I’m sure she’ll end up accepting it… Even Addalynn seems to understand that none of us can intervene. You have to be the one to tell her.”
“…Yes, I know that, but I have no idea how to start the conversation. I’m still too shook with this whole thing as to think about it.”
Marianne finally dared to look at him. His eyes were now set on the floor and noticed how he rubbed his wrist like an acquired tic he hadn’t realized yet.
“You’ll think of something. Don’t torture yourself with it,” she said with a sigh, suddenly feeling lighter, even calmer after having finally talked to him.
Demian glanced back at her and thought it could be the right time to explain the whole thing about Addalynn, so he cleared his throat.
“About what I said… that day…”
“Oh, yeah. That was quite a surprise,” Marianne said before he finished speaking. “I mean, it’s the first time you publicly admit liking someone; no wonder it had an impact… But I’m glad you said it.” She smiled saying this while Demian, on the other hand, seemed more confused than ever.
“Yeah, well, it’s just… you’ll probably think it’s crazy, but… Lilith had this completely ridiculous idea stuck in her mind,” Marianne replied, taking another breath now that she could finally take that weight off her. “She was convinced that you… well, that you liked me… in a certain way.” She tried to hide her blush just to talk about it by fixing her attention to her feet and laughing nervously. “Can you believe it? I don’t know how she could come up with something like that. But worst of all… for a moment I even considered the possibility of it being true… and I didn’t know how to react. The idea terrified me… and that’s why every time I thought you would prove Lilith’s absurd assumptions, I kept interrupting you. It’s funny yet embarrassing now that I think of it in hindsight.” Demian kept a deadpan expression, just staring at her while she spoke. “But I must not worry anymore because now you’ve finally said who you really like… Well, it also shows I should have never worried in the first place, right?”
“…I see,” he finally said after several seconds in silence. “So that’s the reason.” He paused for another moment to think what else to say and finally forced a smile. “I guess you can go back to act as your usual sef, then.”
Marianne responded to his smile with another one to reassure him and stood up after consulting her watch.
“Well, I must go back to class. See you later. And don’t worry about Vicky!”
“The guy you came with… Is he new?” he asked before she left the gym.
“Dreyson? No, you’ve already met him; he’s our teammate. He just had a makeover.”
Demian didn’t say a thing as Marianne left the gym, and once out the door, Dreyson suddenly walked out, startling her.
“What are you doing?”
“I waited for you,” he answered nonchalantly.
She just huffed and decided to ignore it and continued on her way, followed by him. Demian left the place seconds later and saw them walking away, inadvertently rubbing his wrist before realising and releasing it immediately, noticing not only that his scar was red but a trickle of blood came out of it. Stunned by it, he chose to keep his hands in his pockets while looking up at them again before vanishing amidst a curtain of black smoke.