13. BEWARE OF THE BRUISES
Lucianne was silent for a while in front of her father, her face contorted with a twisted grin of confusion, trying to process what he had just said.
“…Why?” was the only question that could get out of her mouth.
“Because I’m your father and I know what’s best for you, so I don’t want to see you or even hear you’re near that boy from now on.”
“It’s a little too late for that; we’re in the same class and we’re kind of teammates,” Lucianne muttered, her body so tight she couldn’t untangle herself from that position.
“There’s always the chance to change schools,” he replied threateningly, and her face contorted even more.
“…You can’t be serious! I already lost an entire year; you can’t make me lose another one just because of your prejudice against someone you haven’t even bothered to know!”
“All the evidence says I’m right to be worried about you; anyone who dares to beat his teacher and has no respect for authority isn’t good for you or for anyone, for that matter. He’s a time bomb waiting to explode in the busiest area in a peak hour.”
Lucianne’s eyes and mouth widened. If he knew about the teacher, it could only mean one thing.
“…Professor Leiffson talked to you.”
“And I appreciate his warning. I’m not gonna let you be exposed to danger by hanging out with that boy,” her father resolved. “Maybe you’re right, I can’t do much to keep him away while at school, but outside of it I don’t want you near him. Not even with your friends around.”
“You can’t forbid me… You have no right!” Lucianne replied, growing desperate while commissioner Fillian stood firm on his feet.
“Surely I can. I’m your father and you have to do as I say.”
“…Well, you didn’t seem to care that much when you decided to push me away and start a criminal career,” Lucianne scornfully retorted, shaking with anger, and her father looked at her wide-eyed, as if he’d been slapped.
They never talked about it; it was like a taboo topic. Weird and fuzzy months when he had acted completely out of character. Like dust, they had decided to sweep it under the rug and put a blind eye. But it just kept accumulating under layers and layers of more dust until it had finally overflowed. Lucianne knew it wasn’t right to blame it on him since it was out of his control, but she was so upset right now that she walked up to her room while he looked shocked —and hurt— by her comment.
She shut the door and stood by her window for a long time, letting the wind come in to clear her head. She had to redeem Frank in her father’s eyes, although she knew that his record so far made it an almost impossible task.
Frank was right, her intervention may have worsened things a little more, but still, she couldn’t stop thinking of finding out what had unleashed his anger against professor Leiffson in the first place. And she would resort to Mitchell as planned. So, once she regained her composure, she looked for Mitchell’s contact over the phone and sent him a quick message. Next, she would have to be mentally prepared to go back to her father and apologize, just to keep him at bay for now.
It was the second day in a row for Samael to stand in front of a door to a club he would belong to now. Several boys walked past him and got in the gym, looking at him like wondering what the hell he was doing standing over there, so he finally decided to follow their steps, noticing that most of them wore the training suit and the new ones were sitting in the stands, waiting for instructions.
“And here I thought it was just an excuse to talk to me,” Demian said after getting out of the locker room and bumping into him. Samael didn’t answer, he seemed slightly disoriented. Demian rolled his eyes and took one of the folded robes on a table and then hurled it out to him. “Here. Put it on and sit with the new guys. We’re almost starting.”
Samael just took the garment and followed his instructions without protest. Demian placed himself behind the table, counting how many robes were left while guessing that the angel’s main purpose to join the club was to keep an eye on him. After all, he was still a potential threat. He understood the need to be careful, but it still bothered him. He tried to distract himself by counting the uniforms again when the door opened and one more guy entered the gym. He recognized the boy he had seen arriving to fencing with Marianne the other day, and since he was approaching the table, he decided not to stay there so he wouldn’t look like the one delivering uniforms. He tried to quietly sneak away, but he wasn’t completely out yet when he heard the first question.
“Are they all the same size?”
He stopped with a sigh and had no other choice but to turn around while the boy stared at him, waiting for an answer.
“The first row’s medium size, the second row is large and the third one, extra large. Just… take one and go to the locker room to change.”
The boy ran his hand over the three stacks until he took one large size, then turned to Demian and smiled in a way he didn’t like.
He then went into the locker room, followed by Demian’s scrutinizing gaze. According to Marianne, that was the same guy from their team, but he looked completely different now. He wondered the reason behind his change.
Samael had already put on the suit and the only thing he couldn’t figure out was how to accommodate the front, so he tried different ways with the belt until the door opened and Dreyson came in, walking towards the other end of the room. The angel didn’t pay much attention; he was too busy struggling with the knot until he finally managed to leave it kind of decent looking. He took his neatly folded clothes and watched the row of lockers. There was a sign above that said ‘Rookies, don’t forget to add your four digits code or your stuff will disappear at the end of the day’.
He introduced his clothes on one of the lockers and looked back at the sign above, deciding it was best to follow the instructions, adding the first four digits that came to his mind and the lock was sealed. He stepped back to contemplate his achievement and turned around towards the door. On his way he caught a glimpse of the tall boy undressing at the other end with his back to him. His long torso made gave him a slender physique, but his shoulders were broad, strong and defined. Samael just glanced at him and grabbed the door handle to get out when he noticed the boy’s back as he bent over. Dark spots followed the lower curve of his spine, forming a bruise above it. The thought of the boys with stains in the hospital came to his mind and made him stop short.
Dreyson turned around as he was putting on the uniform and noticed Samael’s eyes fixed on him.
“…Is there a problem?”
Samael seemed stunned for a moment until his hand finally handled the knob and opened the door.
“…No. Sorry,” Samael forced himself to say something before getting out.
He walked towards the stands with a troubled expression, thinking over and over about the boys in the hospital and the bruises that weren’t exactly bruises. It was naive to think it wouldn’t happen again, but before jumping to conclusions he needed to confirm whether he had reasons to be worried and the only way he could do that was by touching the bruises… and the boy probably wouldn’t be so fond of him doing that.
Dreyson came out minutes later and joined the group, sitting in the stands under the angel’s watchful eye. The coach soon showed up to give the expected welcome and immediately started with the instructions.
They new members would be teaming up with the seasoned ones and would practice basic attack and defense movements with them. Just as the coach began to pair them up, Demian was dreading the name he would call when it was Samael’s turn, given his recent strike of luck, so it came as a surprise to hear him call someone else when he beckoned the angel. Someone who matched his size, apparently. Which eventually made him realize the only option left for him if the coach was pairing them up according to sizes.
“You, team up with Donovan,” the coach said, pointing at Dreyson, who turned an unfathomable gaze to him while everyone else pair up to start the practice.
They both stood in the center; Dreyson staring at Demian as if waiting for instructions.
“…Maybe we can start with some precision techniques. Just try to point directly to the mitt, or otherwise it could be considered a fault in a tournament, and you would be disqualified,” Demian began to explain, taking a training mitt from one of the tables and standing in front of him. Dreyson said nothing; just kept staring at him, which started to annoy him. “…Are you going to do it or not?”
“You don’t recognize me, do you?”
“…You’re in my sister’s team; you’ve gone to my house a couple of times. You just look different now.”
“I guess it’s easier to be noticed like this. But you probably already know that.”
“Could we just start practice? My arm’s getting numb,” Demian replied, trying to avoid any chatting.
Dreyson just smiled and threw the first punch to the mitt; Demian tried to keep it still despite the unexpected strength of the impact. Then he changed position and now the boy threw a kick to the mitt. Demian kept moving the mitt and the boy managed to score all points with high precision.
“Not bad for the first day,” Demian said, breaking the defensive position and bringing the mitt back to the table.
“When will the matches start?” Dreyson asked, apparently not tired at all.
“Freshmen usually participate after a month of practice.”
“I heard there’s a tournament ahead. I want to be a part of it,” Dreyson insisted despite Demian’s clear reluctance to any kind of conversation.
“As I said, the new members have the option to take part of the tournaments after the first month of training.”
“I don’t need a month.”
“I don’t make the rules.”
“But you’re the current champion, aren’t you? Maybe if I defeat you, I won’t have to wait a whole month to be able to participate.”
Demian’s jaw tightened but refused to take the bait. He just breathed deeply and turned to him.
“You should talk directly to the coach. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll face me in the first round.”
Dreyson’s mouth curled into a smirk.
“…You don’t think I can beat you, huh?”
“I think you believe you’re perfectly capable of doing so and I won’t discuss that,” Demian snapped bluntly, trying to stride away from the guy.
“I don’t believe it. But we’ll just have to wait and see then,” Dreyson finished with a self-assured tone that permeated Demian’s patience. His poker face couldn’t hide all the tension concentrated in his hands anymore, so much that he was once again feeling the need to scratch his wrist. And right when he thought he was about to retort, the boy smiled and made a farewell nod. Only after he was gone, Demian was able to relax his hands and drop the mitt, leaning on the table with a big exhalation. When he looked up, Samael was in front of him.
“Do you know him?”
Demian had to take another breath to get in his head that this was still going on, the angel was still talking to him.
“…Is this going to be a habit from now on? Are you gonna come to my house for tea and stuff?” Demian said with a huff.
“I wasn’t thinking of it… but I like tea, that would be nice.”
“…Forget it,” Demian said, shaking his head in resignation. “I assume you mean the guy I practiced with. I just know he’s in my sister’s class and they’re on the same team too. He’s been in my house a couple of times for homework.”
“And you haven’t noticed anything weird about him yet?”
Demian scoffed. The angel was now asking the demon if he had noticed anything weird.
“Beside the fact that he looks completely different now? And definitely more talkative.”
“You didn’t sense anything?”
“What was I supposed to sense?”
“I don’t know, I just… thought that maybe…” Samael stopped mid-sentence with a thoughtful expression, drawing Demian’s suspicion at his sudden interest on the guy.
“Speak. Something is bothering you and I want to know what it is.”
“You remember the guys at the hospital? The ones attacked by the yellow-eyed guy?” Samael asked and Demian immediately got tense at the mention.
He had chosen not to talk about his own incident with the guy with amber eyes, convinced that it must be a coincidence since there was no reliable witness (Kristania, a trustful source? Not a chance!), but deep down he didn’t want to admit that the reason of his silence was partly how vulnerable it made him feel. The snippets of memory from the time he was a baby proved that the demon had tried to kill him. And also, the fact that he’d been unable to react when he was face to face with him after the brief encounter with his father.
“…What about it?” he managed to say.
“That same day I went to the hospital to find out everything I could.”
“Yes, I guessed it for the way you suddenly disappeared.”
“Did anyone tell you what I found when I looked into those guys’ memories?”
“…Apparently, no one thought about telling me,” he snapped, aware that the lack of information put him in the clear position as the outsider from their exclusive circle.
“I saw the yellow-eyed guy in their memories. He was real,” Samael explained, ignoring his resentful tone. “He wore a demon-like mask under a hood. He did seem human at first glance. I couldn’t feel any kind of energy coming from him. However, when I saw his eyes… they glowed in the dark with a flash of gold. Like the eyes of a cat or a wolf.”
Demian shuddered at the last words. Wolf eyes. He could still see them through the shadows, lurking quietly around his crib, planning his death and perhaps responsible for his eventual disappearing . Nevertheless, he couldn’t imagine him outside the Legion of Darkness; he seemed to be one of his father’s closest guardians, aside from the demon with the skin carved in bone, but after learning that the latter may also have been away, looking for ‘something’ apart from the gifts, it wasn’t unreasonable to think the other could do it too.
“…Haven’t you thought that maybe you didn’t feel anything because you were watching the memories of a person and you weren’t actually there?”
“It’s possible. But then I saw something that convinced me he was definitely not human. At least not a common one.” Demian expected him to continue while Samael looked around and noticed they were practically the only two guys left in the gym. “…I discovered a number of bruises on each of the boys. But not regular bruises; they were slowly spreading under their skin and emitted electrick shocks at a single touch. They were made of evil energy.”
Demian pondered on the information, trying to make sense of it. It definitely sounded like some kind of manipulation, but he didn’t understand what it had to do with the original topic.
“…Does this have any relation to that guy you asked about?”
“When I was about to get out of the locker room, he was changing clothes. I saw his back. It was bruised. I couldn’t get a closer look, but it seemed suspicious to me.”
“You think it’s the same case as the boys from the party? Maybe the guy with the amber eyes is doing it to more people?”
“We didn’t wait to see the eventual effect of those bruises on them. Mankee absorbed them, so we cannot exactly know what their purpose was… But what if there are others out there also affected by the bruises? After all, we didn’t detect the first attack. This guy may possess some kind of… isolating power, so he can’t be located every time he attacks,” Samael continued, forgetting entirely who he was talking to, just following his train of thought.
“If those ‘bruises’ are meant to manipulate people… perhaps they’re also able to change them, produce some kind of physical improvement to give them superior strength,” added Demian, also considering the matter.
“It wouldn’t be the first time. Hollow did something similar to Frank one time; gave him a big amount of energy that increased his strength and some demon skills, but in exchange for that he lost his will. If we hadn’t intervened that time, he would have become one of them too.”
“Let me just make a mental note of that for the next time he tries to belittle my origin,” Demian replied, taking a moment to relish on that information. “…So, it’s likely that through those ‘bruises’ he makes a connection with his victims. And most likely they’re prone to change in addition to increase their abilities.” As he said this, he kept thinking about the boy’s sudden change, rather gloomy and even bland looking before, now brimming with self-confidence he didn’t seem to have before. “…If that’s true, maybe this guy is being affected by that energy, but we need to be sure first before doing anything.”
“There must be a way to approach him and be in direct contact with those bruises,” Samael added and Demian grimaced at the thought.
“Cornering him in the locker room is definitely not a solution,” Demian said when the doors opened, and the next club began to enter. Their time was up. “…We’ll have to think about it. Warn the others for now. If the bruising is a fact, he may not be the only one in school that has it, also… tell Marianne to be careful.” Samael frowned in confusion “The guy is in her class. I’ve seen them talk.”
“…I’ll tell her,” Samael agreed before heading for the exit while Demian came back to the locker room, amazed at how fruitful that conversation had turned out, but mostly convinced that, if the amber-eyed demon had decided to leave his position with his father, he would surely be looking for ways to get rid of him behind the Legion of Darkness’ back.
“That’s rubbish!” Frank yelled after Lucianne told him about his father’s ultimatum. “I told you not to talk to him; it would only get things worst. You see now? In the end I’ll have to change schools again.”
“I had to try, and don’t even think about doing something stupid, okay? I’ll handle my father; we just… have to let things cool down a bit.”
“That means I can’t get near you, are you okay with that?”
“Well, you’re right here with me, aren’t you? I don’t see anyone trying to stop it,” she said as they walked down the aisle before reaching the intersection.
Frank suddenly turned around and cornered her against the wall, stopping just inches away from her face with an intense stare. A gaze that, according to her father, would undoubtedly mean danger, and also stopped Lucianne’s breath momentarily. He just squinted and his expression hardened.
“…Seems like there’s no need, after all, you’re doing a fair job yourself.”
Lucianne blinked a few seconds before realizing she had inadvertently placed her school bag in front of her as a shield. Before she could react, Frank had already stepped away from her.
“I’ll go out first. That way no one will see you with me,” he finished, thrusting his hands into his pockets, and walking away with hurried steps, leaving Lucianne stunned and distraught.
She finally got her bag down and exhaled in a single breath. Her reaction had been automatic and was unable to explain it; maybe it was the way of her subconscious mind to protect her from deception.
After the time all her inhibitions underwent a radical change without her gift, making her act out of herself, maybe she just wanted to take things a little slower. Maybe…
She saw Mitchell coming down the stairs with a nonchalant attitude, so she rushed to step out in front of him before he could set a foot on the floor, startling him.
“Uoh! I think you’ve spent too much time with Frank; you’re starting to take his bad habit of showing up as a ninja,” Mitchell said, exaggerating. “By the way, I got a message from you by mistake yesterday.”
“It wasn’t a mistake; the message was for you.”
“Really?” Now his surprise was genuine, and his eyebrows rose so much, they seemed to merge with the marked line of his hair.
“I need you to help me find out what happened between Frank and professor Leiffson.”
“That’s easy. He punched him in the face and was expelled. End of story.”
“I know that. I’m talking about the reason. Why did he do it? What could have made him react that way?”
“Uhhh, you’re getting yourself into marshland. He never talks about it and gets angry every time someone even mentions it. You better not dig up the past.”
“Too late. With professor Leiffson here, he doesn’t want to go to his class and it’s just a matter of time before he decides to leave school.”
Mitchell whistled and wagged his head thoughtfully until shaking it in a negative gesture.
“I don’t know how I can be helpful. He’s never talked about it. He just said he gave him unfair grades and got carried away, but his grades were always pretty good.”
“Well, if you don’t know, then you’re gonna help me find out.”
“And how are we supposed to do that?”
“Come with me,” she finished, walking towards the side exit, and making him follow her. They barely came near the bus stop when a car got out in front of them, and she leaned on the window with the best of her smiles. “Hi, Perry. Could you take us to the hospital?”
Officer Perry looked from her to Mitchell, who seemed as confused as him, and Lucianne smiled to convey confidence.
“Don’t worry about him, he’s my teammate. We need to do some research,” she explained casually, and though it was technically true, she made it sound as if it were schoolwork.
The young officer didn’t make a comment, he just unlocked the back door while Lucianne took the front seat. Mitchell had to get in the back seat unconvinced.
“That was… unusual,” Angie commented after witnessing the scene with Marianne and Belgina arriving at the bus stop just a few seconds after they left.
“To say the least,” Marianne seconded as intrigued as her, and even though Belgina said nothing, her expression betrayed her concern while her eyes followed the car turning around the corner. “Although, not as unusual as Belgina finally deciding to join the gymnastics club.”
Belgina was taken out of her reverie when she heard her name and turned around.
“Yeah, you said you weren’t interested.”
“I just… thought it would be appropriate to go back to practice; it could be useful in the future.”
Marianne’s phone rang before she could say anything and saw her brother’s name on the screen.
“…What do you want? I told you to go home. If you don’t want to walk, take the bus,” she snapped to get rid of him.
“Dad came for us. If you leave me alone in this again, I’ll tell him to go see you at the coffee shop,” Loui warned her from the other side of the line.
“…You little blackmailer…” Marianne muttered.
“Call me whatever you want. It’s fair game to me.”
Marianne huffed again; she had no other option but to do it or otherwise he would carry out his threat.
“…I’ll be there in a minute. And you better sleep tonight with one eye open,” she finished, dropping the cell in her backpack. “I must go. My father came for us.”
Both girls said goodbye to her while she went around the corner, right when Samael was just getting out of school.
“Where is she going?”
Demian entered the coffee shop and saw Vicky sitting with Kristania in the ‘special’ table while Addalynn sat on another.
Although he didn’t like seeing Kristania over there, he was diplomatic about it and greeted everyone with a nod, immediately taking notice of the absences.
“Hello, Demian. All set and done for the tournaments?” Kristania tried to sound casual, but her body language showed how hard it was to restrain herself.
“I’m always ready,” he replied, focusing on his sister. “I’ll go see if Mankee needs anything else before we go.”
He hurried to the kitchen and saw Mankee preparing burgers with a flustered expression, as if he had taken some kind of energizing drink.
“The orders from table five are done, seven is in the oven and I’m now starting with four; I know exactly which ones are left, I don’t need you to repeat it,” he snapped without even bothering to turn while already starting to juggle ingredients from the pantry to keep them from falling.
“Hey, relax. Take it slower, will you?” Demian said, stoping several potatoes from falling to the floor and taking half of his load. “No one’s going to die for waiting a little bit. On the other hand, you seem about to.”
Mankee let him carry the remaining ingredients and leaned on the table, taking a long deep breath. Dark circles appeared down his eyes and had all the signs of having spent a sleepless night.
“Have you got some sleep? You look even more tired than yesterday.”
“If I sleep, I may see her, or even worse, she may see me, and that’s the least I need right now,” Mankee said unthinkingly and Demian frowned.
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing, nothing. I—I still have to finish several orders,” Mankee replied, realizing he had talked too much, but before he could take the pending orders, Demian took his shoulder.
“Why don’t you take a few minutes to rest? I got this. Maybe it’s about time to hire a kitchen assistant or something.”
Mankee merely nodded, taking the chance to unwind a little, and left the kitchen, taking refuge next the counter.
“Table six complained that their portions of fries were smaller than those from table seven.” Lilith appeared without warning leaving a tray beside the counter, startling Mankee while he was taking a soda out of the cooler. “Oops, someone is nervous. Don’t worry; I have that effect on others.”
He laughed with a mixture of relief and embarrassment for his reaction. He had to stay calm, there was nothing to fear in there —leaving aside the whole being a warrior destined to fight demons and stuff.
“Seriously, monkey, you look awful. What will the clients say if they don’t only lose the services of a dorkable angel, but also see their sexy foreign chef looking like a wreck? You’ll scare them off.”
“…Maybe I just need vacations.”
“I want vacations too! Where would you go? Sign me in!” Lilith said, smiling flirtatiously, and he almost choked on his soda. He squeezed the can and began to babble, his eyes darting away. His tanned face had taken on a reddish hue, especially in his cheeks.
“W-Well… if… if you want to…”
“Could you refill my glass? And add more ice too,” Kristania interrupted, setting her glass right in front of him with such a bluntness that made him wince.
“Uhm… yes, sure.” The boy hesitated before taking the glass and showing his most diligent smile.
“It’s a shame you don’t have time to sit with us. Part time work must be really exhausting, especially having to wait on your own classmates,” Kristania said when she got alone with Lilith.
“Sometimes, but it can also be fun! As long as those little Samuel’s stans don’t come by; they can be a real headache.”
Kristania smiled condescendingly and gaped at the kitchen door in turn.
“I’m sure he’s not the only one they come to see. I mean, there must be one or two guys who come here specifically for your service.”
The blonde giggled playfully.
“Many cute guys have come; I won’t deny my eyes a feast while working here. But definitely not like those girls obsessed with Samuel, though Demian’s got a fair share too. They look like they don’t break a plate sitting there, but they’re just as toxic.”
With a slight turn of her neck, she looked over her shoulder at one of the closest tables to the counter and Kristania followed her gaze towards four girls that were probably seniors, drinking coffee as if they were having tea at the Buckingham Palace.
“They seem nice and reasonable, but whenever Demian isn’t around, they act grumpy and leave right away. They don’t even leave any tip,” Lilith explained, lowering her voice. “I think they’re the kind that think if they can’t have something, no one else can have it. Their faces when Demian’s talking to any other girl are hilarious…”
“I see,” Kristania replied while slyly analyzing them, her mind already plotting at the speed of light.
“Here you go,” Mankee was back with her drink and turned back to Lilith. “By the way… I don’t think I’ll have vacations any time soon, but… maybe one of these days you and I could… I don’t know… go out somewhere?”
Lilith looked genuinely surprised and could sense Kristania’s disapproving face while sipping her drink. Lilith bit her lip, something squeezing her chest, and looked at Mankee with a troubled gesture.
“…Look, monkey, I didn’t want to give you the wrong impression. I’m just fooling around. I don’t expect anyone to take it seriously.”
“Oh… yeah, sure. I get it,” Mankee said with a disgruntled face, laughing uncomfortably while his eyes eluded her so she wouldn’t notice his disappointment. “No problem, I’m always tired after closing anyway… I think my break is done. I must go back to the kitchen.”
He quickly walked to the door and Kristania grinned derisively at Lilith.
“Go figure! Imagine yourself going out with the cook!” she scoffed disparagingly and Lilith turned to her with eyes like marbles. Mankee stopped for a moment at the door, as if he had heard it, and then just pushed and got inside.
“I’d like to hear the story of how you found out what you were,” Vicky asked once Samael and the girls arrived and Kristania wasn’t at the table. “I already told you about me; it would only be fair if you do the same.”
“We knew through Marianne,” Belgina said after a brief exchange of glances between them.
“And that’s it? I want details! How was it? How did she know it?”
“She learned it from me,” Samael said.
“You’re the one who started it all then?”
Samael gently shook his head sideways, meditating the question and considering if it was about time to tell her what he was.
“…You could say so.”
“Time to go,” Demian appeared at the table with his gym bag in tow.
“A little longer, pleeeeeeease!” Vicky pleaded, eager to hear more, but even if Demian struggled to grant it given her excessive attention to the angel, Addalynn proved to be more ruthless when she stood up quickly and moved towards the exit to her disappointment.
“I think she already decided for you.”
“That’s so unfair!” Vicky wailed with a pout, reluctantly getting up and remembering something all of the sudden. “Oh! By the way! Here’s the list you asked for the other day.” She took out a piece of paper from her bag and gave it to Samael with a smile. “See ya’ tomorrow!”
“Were you going to tell Vicky what you are?” Angie asked once they left.
“I wasn’t going to hide it from them anyway,” Samael said with a shrug while going through the list. “I just hadn’t had a chance, although… Addalynn already knows.”
“…Oh. You already… told her,” Angie said. A pang striking right in her chest.
“I thought it would be better not to keep it a secret this time. Though she didn’t look surprised when I told her.”
“Maybe there’s not much that can surprise her,” Belgina guessed, since Angie didn’t seem able to reply. “…Or maybe she already knew it somehow.”
Samael frowned at the possibility. Perhaps she had deducted something when he entered her mind, but given the different skills each one of them possessed, he didn’t think that was particularly different from flying objects or manipulating elements. Sure, he had quite a few skills, but none of them screamed ‘I’m an angel’. Perhaps he was missing something, a hidden skill she hadn’t shown so far. She was quite enigmatic after all; wasn’t she completely stoic and not amazed at all when they exposed themselves? Maybe she had a special skill to identify the nature of people after a brief analysis, and once confirmed it didn’t come as a surprise to her. However, it still troubled him the fact that she seemed to know things he didn’t even know and for some reason refused to share them. But he would keep watching her, and eventually would find out something.
After lunch, Noah drove them back home, but when he took a detour into another street, they began to wonder where was he taking them until the car suddenly stopped at a house that seemed uninhabited, albeit in good condition, with the grass growing carelessly.
“What do you think?” he asked, pointing at the house. Marianne and Loui looked confused out the windows. “I’ve been looking at several places around the city but this is the one I like the most. I’m still in discussions with the owner, but if everything goes as I expect, I’ll be moving in this weekend.”
“Will you buy it?” Loui asked, watching the house with more interest now.
“I’ll rent it for now, but maybe I will, eventually,” Noah said, turning to the back seat where Marianne watched the place unenthusiastically. “What do you say?”
All Marianne could think was that he could buy the house and it still would be cheaper than spending a night at that penthouse where he was currently staying.
“…It’s pretty big, are you planning on fighting for our custody?” she replied without thinking of the words until they were already out of her mouth.
“…I would never do that to your mother,” Noah assured.
“Oh, you wouldn’t fight for us then,” Marianne kept spatting, unable to stop even though her expressionless face didn’t show her internal fight. Loui gave her a warning glare while her father seemed afflicted.
“…I wonder if it’s haunted!” Loui intervened to break the awkward moment created by his sister. “There must be a reason why it’s abandoned in such a good area, near downtown. Does it have a story? Was someone killed inside? Did they find the murderer?”
“They just moved to another town,” Noah said, recovering the speech and trying to act more cheerful. “I can request a visit before moving in… I just wanted a house big enough in case you decided to stay overnight.”
Marianne assumed that was his answer, he was leaving them the option to be with him whenever they wanted. She inhaled deeply and leaned back in her seat with her arms over her chest.
“…I guess we’ll see it anyway when we help you move in.”
Noah smiled and started the car again. The place was just a few blocks from their own house, so they arrived within minutes.
“It was about time you came. I was about to call you if you didn’t show up soon.”
“Are you going out?” Marianne asked after seeing her mother dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt that made her look casual.
“I’ll just have a coffee somewhere.”
“With your new friends?” she asked again, picturing her meeting with her own friends’ mothers and starting the dreaded parents’ club.
“I have the right to distract myself, don’t you think?”
“Do you want a ride?” Noah asked, leaning against his car. She avoided looking at him while checking her bag and keeping her keys.
“I can walk, thanks. It’s not so far from here.”
“Come on. I’ll take you there,” Noah insisted, opening the passenger door. Enid huffed, but she finally walked to the car and reluctantly got inside, making sure her body language showed she wasn’t comfortable about it.
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours; I didn’t cook anything because I supposed you already ate, but if you get hungry, order a pizza or something,” Enid said, lowering the window. “And try to finally check those boxes from our moving before I hand them to charity!”
“Yes, mom,” they both said, closing the door once the car drove away.
“Where are you going?” Loui asked, watching his sister going upstairs.
“Where do you think? To my room.”
“When are you meeting again?”
“Why do you want to know? I’ve told you millions of times, it doesn’t matter how much you think you know about us, you can’t be with us whenever we meet. It may be too dangerous to get you involved.”
“But I can help!”
“You can’t even help yourself! Do you think I know nothing about those bullies?”
Loui scowled and tightened his mouth so hard his cheeks became red.
“…Well, believe it or not, I have it under control! And I’ll show you I can be useful!” Loui cried, quickly looking around for something he could use until remembering he had his schoolbag on his back. With a swift motion, he dropped it to the floor and then pointed at it. “…Pick it up!”
Marianne looked from him to the schoolbag and then back to him while Loui pointed back at the bag with greater emphasis.
“PICK-IT-UP!” he repeated, marking his words more firmly with an intense stare, but all he got from Marianne was a lifted eyebrow and crossed arms as a sign that she wouldn’t move a finger.
“Have you lost your mind? You threw it down, you pick it up! End of discussion!” Marianne replied while Loui stomped loudly at his failure.
“Maybe I still don’t have it completely under control! But I will, and you’ll see! You won’t be able to refuse my right to join the team!” the kid assured with unwavering conviction.
“I don’t have time for your games,” she finished, going up the stairs and ignoring her brother’s tantrum. Samael was already in her room, sitting on her desk and reading a piece of paper as if making time for her arrival. “How was it today? What did you talk about?”
“Not much, with that girl Kristania over there.”
“If only she would let go of her phony act and returned to her natural state of infinite hatred towards us.”
“Why would you prefer her to hate you?”
“It would be more honest and I would know what to expect from her,” she said, dropping her backpack on the mattress while sitting heavily on it. “Are you going to tell me now what did you talk to Demian yesterday?”
“We just… exchanged some impressions on the recent events,” he tried to avoid details, knowing how much it would upset her to know about their pact. “The important thing right now is that we have reached a consensus about a guy from your class; Dreyson I think he’s called.”
“What about him?”
“You’ve been talking to him lately to my understanding and I think you should be more cautious around him.”
“…I don’t think I get it.” Marianne frowned, confused at his words. “Did you get to a consensus… with Demian, that I should be careful around Dreyson just because we exchanged a few words?”
“He’s got bruises,” Samael tried to explain despite her inability to get where he was heading with that. “On his back. I saw him in the locker room.”
Gradually, Marianne seemed to finally understand. Her face went from confused to lowkey concern.
“…You mean bruises like the guys from the hospital?”
“I’m… not sure about that. I couldn’t get close enough to check.”
“Do me a favor and don’t ever try to touch his back while in the locker room. He could give it the wrong meaning,” Marianne advised him.
“What kind of meaning?”
“Seriously, you should be better versed in how people can misread situations by now. You’ve known Mitchell for quite long,” she said with a lifted eyebrow; she then walked to the window and pondered on the news. Indeed, Dreyson had undergone a radical change overnight, but she didn’t perceive any kind of negative aura from him —maybe his behavior could verge on disturbing, but that was a whole other story—, and if he had been ‘marked’, maybe he’d seen something. Although, the bruises could also be due to falling or someone beating him; someone like him wouldn’t be strange to bullying, but… what if it wasn’t that? Perhaps he was under evil influence and didn’t know it, like Frank at the time. He was looking for attention after all, and now he was getting it, even though it might not be entirely up to him. “…I’ll be aware in case I see something odd.”
“Wait. You don’t mean you’ll watch him closely; the reason I told you that was quite the opposite, to keep you away while we don’t have any confirmation.”
“So, you weren’t going to tell me if not for that? How many more things have you been hiding from me?”
Samael didn’t dare to answer. «Just a few. The necessary to keep you safe.»
“You’re not supposed to keep secrets from me, you’re my angel!”
“Technically, it’s the opposite; you’re the one who shouldn’t keep any secret from me. That’s how it was while inside your mind. I knew everything about you and now I have to wait for you to tell me.”
“Don’t try to turn it on me. You’ve been hiding things from me lately. If you think I’ll just abide by what you guys decide without intervening in any way, you’re wrong. You should know already after trying to keep me out of the fight for the gifts.”
Samael sighed. It was useless to argue with her, and he didn’t want to, either. All he wanted was for her to understand how much he cared.
“I’m only asking for precaution, okay? Promise you won’t do anything impulsive just to prove something; you know there’s no need for it. I trust your ability, but we don’t know what’s behind those bruises; or the effect they exert.”
“Relax. I won’t do anything that goes against my beliefs,” Marianne assured, but Samael didn’t seem soothed by her words, so she ended up rolling her eyes. “…Okay, okay, I promise not to unnecessarily expose myself, happy?”
“Not quite, but I guess that’s good enough for now.”
Marianne shook her head, glossing over his concern as excessive and unfounded. She leaned over her window again to look out and saw Loui leaving the house, carrying what looked like a garbage bag, but instead of stopping to dump it in the containers, he kept walking with determination.
“Hey! Where do you think you’re going? Mom didn’t say you could go wherever you want!” Marianne shouted, quickly opening the window so he would hear it. Loui paused for a moment, only to look at her with spite, and then ran away without saying anything. “…No, he didn’t! Samael, would you go after him to keep him out of trouble? He’s incapable of accepting a refusal as a mature and civilized person.”
“He reminds me of someone.”
She glared at him while he just smiled and quickly disappeared in a flash. Marianne snorted and looked back out the window, thinking about Samael talking to Demian, especially the fact that they had agreed on something, which seemed even more prodigious to her. The angel and the demon finally leaving behind their differences for a common goal. And she didn’t even have to intervene. The idea that their mutual mistrust could be over pleased her to no end and gave her hope that one day they could be considered part of the same team and work together (officially).
She was thinking about this when she suddenly glimpsed a shadow gliding through the garden, going from one point to another extremely quickly. For a moment, she thought she’d imagined it, but then she saw movement once more on the opposite side. The outline of a shaded figure disappeared around the corner, with the difference that this shadow wasn’t projected on the floor and seemed to have a body instead, although she didn’t get to see its shape.
Puzzled, she turned away from the window and stepped back, thinking she would probably be under attack at any time, so she closed the window with a quick wave of her hand and stood in the middle of the room, her fingers flexed in case she needed her sword at the slightest sign of danger. No time for panic, she needed to be prepared, but after several minutes of waiting, nothing happened. She wondered if she hadn’t really imagined it as she first thought, perhaps an illusion induced by paranoia.
While trying to convince herself the danger had passed —or didn’t exist, anyway—, she took her hands to her temples and began to massage them, hoping to alleviate the headache she was starting to develop.
Meanwhile, a shadowy silhouette looked at her from the distance, tilting its head to the side in a quizzical way, like a novelty. It didn’t take long until the figure smiled and finally vanished, merging with the darkness.