Chapter 17


She hadn’t opened the envelope yet. It was over there, on her desk, her father’s name on plain sight while she sat right up front with her back straight and just stared at it, as if trying to see through the paper without touching it. She wanted to open it and didn’t want to at the same time, afraid of the information she might find in it. The lavender scented woman had been there, in the hotel, she knew where to find him. Why didn’t she go then when he was there? Did she make that trip all the way to the city just to leave the letter? It didn’t make any sense at all. Maybe she was from town. If she went to the hotel knowing he wasn’t there to slip the letter under his door, hoping he would see it when he’d return, it meant that at least they had met there before. And the mere thought made her sick. Liar. He had lied when he said it was over.

‘But now he’s free to do as he pleases’, a part of her mind justified. No! That was no excuse. Not when the woman had apparently been a constant long before his divorce. It really pissed her off. So much her body seemed nailed to her chair to the extent that only levers would remove her from there.

But she couldn’t postpone it forever. She had already spent the whole afternoon tormenting herself over that. So, she forced herself away from the backrest and put her hands on both sides of the envelope, still not daring to touch it. She glanced towards the door as if afraid someone would enter at that moment, interrupting her. She pictured her father standing in the doorway, looking at her with a mixture of guilt and disappointment at her mistrust after taking something behind his back.

…Screw it. She was no angel and wouldn’t feel remorse about it. It was time to open it. She took the envelope in her hands and snapped open the flap with a noise that took her by surprise. The envelope was now open, the hardest step already taken, she only had to remove the letter and read it.

With eyes fixed on the folded paper inside, she reached for the opening so cautiously, it would seem like she was expecting a mousetrap to close around her fingers once she introduced them. The lavender scent out of the paper was still so pronounced that she would proably end up taking a dislike of it.

‘Don’t wait any longer’ she thought, finally holding the paper between her fingers, and when she was already pulling it out of the envelope, the door opened, forcing her to push it back and place a book on top of it. With her heart pounding, she turned to the door, trying to hide her nervousness.

“…You. Don’t you ever do that again, you almost gave me a heart attack,” Marianne took a long breath after seeing Samael coming inside.

“I’m sorry. I needed to talk to you.”

“How did it go with Angie? Did you follow my advice or just let her keep thinking that she stands a chance with you?”

“Chance?” Samael repeated, ignoring the meaning of that.

“…Forget it. Just tell me what happened. I need a distraction right now.”

“We got to the Retroganzza, but it seemed very busy with everything moving and changing around, so we went elsewhere…”

“Are they remodelling the coffee shop? Demian won’t like that if he finds out.”

“Mankee didn’t look happy either.”

“Yeah, well, he’s their ‘prince’, he might well do something to impose himself, but it seems like his bride-to-be is the one who bosses everyone around.”

“She’s peculiar,” Samael added, recalling the strange way she addressed him.

“To put it in some way. Well, you went somewhere else, then what?”

“It was another coffee shop downtown. We talked for a while, ate burgers, when suddenly…”

“Any specific topic?”

“Well… there were quite a few. She was asking some things; about me, Addalynn—”

“Wow, she really went there. Are you sure you didn’t say or did anything to keep leading her on?”

“I said what you told me… Sort of,” he said, not so sure about it anymore, and she shook her head, guessing he had messed everything up. “But that’s not what I needed to talk to you. I was a little dubious about telling you because Angie didn’t want me to, but I think you should know.”

Marianne frowned curiously and turned her chair around towards him. Samael thought for a minute how to tell her and she started to get impatient.

“…Go ahead. I’m waiting.”

“When we were there… Angie suddenly saw her father. She got very nervous saying he wouldn’t take that well to find her alone with a friend instead of a bunch of them, or so I understood. But he didn’t see her; his attention was completely drawn to the person he was with.” He paused to see how she was taking it and she merely nodded, waiting for him to finish his story. Given Angie’s reaction and knowing Marianne, he was aware of how it would affect her, so he tried to think of a way to smooth it ou. “Promise me you’ll take it calmly.”

“…What do you mean? Why would I take it calmly? What is it?”

“Just promise me.”

“Just say it then!”

“…He was with your mother.”

Marianne was mute for what seemed to be several minutes, just looking at him with a blank expression. Samael just waited for her to speak, but she didn’t; he even began to wonder if she had understood or even heard what he said. Then, the sound of the front door broke the silence.

“I’m home!” Enid announced.

Marianne’s eyes widened, and Samael immediately knew what she was about to do.

“Wait, Marianne—”

She suddenly jumped up from her chair and before Samael could do anything to stop her, she was out of her room, running down the hall towards the main stairs and stopping on top of them.

“You’re dating Angie’s father?!”

Her mother turned around, taken aback after hanging up her coat on the rack and saw her up the stairs, breathing violently with an enraged expression. It took her a few seconds to realize Loui was watching from the living room in confusion, ignoring the TV for the first time.

“…Loui, go to your room; your sister and I have to talk.” The boy didn’t answer, just stared at her as if having an impostor in front of him. “Loui, do as I say!”

He finally got up, turned off the TV and left the room, taking the walkie-talkie with him, giving one last look to his sister as he went up the stairs while she kept her gaze on her mother, eyes burning with anger.

“…Well, why don’t you come down and talk about this quietly?” Enid said as soon as Loui was out of sight.

“Since when?” Marianne asked, not moving from her place.

“Please, don’t make this bigger than it actually is.”

“Since when?!”

“We’ve barely gone out a few times. It’s nothing serious, okay? He agreed to be my lawyer and has been very supportive, so we’re just… knowing each other—”

“Lawyer?” Marianne felt increasingly angry at the implications. “Have you been going out with your divorce lawyer?”

Her mother breathed out, trying to not give way to her exasperation.

“Not the way you’re thinking. We’re just friends, nothing else.”

“When were you going to tell us?” Marianne insisted, her body so tense she couldn’t even move a finger.

“I just… wanted to let some time pass so you can get used to the idea, and then—”

“How quickly you stopped loving dad,” she interrupted again, and her mother looked stunned.

“…You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“Why then would you have to go out with someone else? Because of that saying that ‘the quickest way to get over a guy is to go out with someone else’? That’s just stupid! The idea that you need to resort to a replacement to overcome a break up it’s so pathetic and deceiving!”

“Mind your language, young lady; don’t forget I’m still your mother.”

“Sometimes it’s like you have to be reminded that you are!” saying this, she turned around and ran back to her room without giving her mother a chance to respond. Samael was still inside, waiting for her to return, and once he saw her with that sullen look on her, he knew it was time to leave. “…Don’t say anything; I can’t and won’t talk right now. Just… leave me alone, please.”

Samael nodded in silence and disappeared, leaving her alone with her repressed rage. She wanted to throw something on the floor and smash it but didn’t want to act like a spoiled child, so she just stood in the middle of her room, holding her arms and giving strong breaths to calm down.

If her mother was able to start dating someone else right away, what difference did it make whatever information she could find in the letter? Her father was an unfaithful and pathological liar and her mother had been quick to find a replacement for him; nothing could be worse than that. So, as soon as she managed to force her limbs to move, she returned to her desk and sat down, determined to end it once and for all. She pulled away the book she had placed over the envelope, and this time didn’t hesitate to pull the letter out. She held it up to her eyes, seeing past the brief note, written with that stylized calligraphy, and after closing her eyes, she took a deep breath to strengthen herself.

The lavender scent invaded her senses, and she tried not to think about it to avoid another wave of anger. She then opened her eyes again and read.

“By the time you receive this, I’ll be on my way back home. I would’ve wanted you to come, but I’m also aware that it’s not possible for you right now and you have already made a choice. I just sincerely hope it wasn’t forced due to your situation. I worry about you, especially in a day like this; it would be very hard to go through that again. Wherever you want to be it’s not important anymore, but never forget that you also have a family here. I’ll keep an eye on you even though the doors are closed.

Always remember,


Marianne lowered the letter, dropping her arms on the desk and feeling utterly confused. She read and reread the increasingly cryptic message. She had no clue of what it meant entirely, but if anything was certain was that whatever was going on between her father and that woman, it was nothing casual, their relationship seemed to have started a long time ago. And if she had interpreted right, the ‘choice’ he had made meant staying with them, so, maybe her father was telling the truth when he said it was over. The woman left the note and slipped it under the door before he returned to the hotel because she wasn’t supposed to be there. But still… ‘you also have a family here’. How was she supposed to take that? Literally or figuratively? The very idea that her father had a secret family from his many trips over the years made her sick. Would she be able to confront him on the subject? She had no way of knowing, and right now she felt so troubled by the recent events that she couldn’t think of anything else.

Sunday morning was a time many students took to sleep, and although Lucianne used to get up early, she was still in bed when the sound of a knock on the window woke her up. First, she opened her eyes, thinking she was still dreaming, because it wasn’t possible for anyone to be knocking on a second story window, but then she heard the noise again. Something was slamming into the glass, not strong nor large enough to break it. She stretched out and rubbed her face, wondering who could be at that time in the morning. For a moment, she thought of Frank and considered taking some time to at least fix herself up a little, but when she reached the window, she saw Perry instead.

The young officer had thrown another pebble that crashed against the glass right when she peeked out, causing her a slight jolt. Lucianne opened the window confused and lowered her voice as much as she could.

“…Why are you throwing rocks at my window? We have a door; in case you didn’t notice.”

“I assumed you wouldn’t want your father to wake for what I have to tell you,” he whispered loud enough to be heard by her. Lucianne noted that he was dressed as a civilian, though the police car was parked in the sidewalk. “Or maybe you would prefer to come with me to the headquarters before he finds out. I’ve claimed my favors.”

She was so sleepy she didn’t understand at first, but then remembered the request she had made, and her eyes widened.

“…I’ll be down there in a few minutes,” she said, closing the window again and taking the first thing she saw in the closet, trying to make as little noise as possible to avoid waking up her father.

Officer Perry stood in the little garden away from the door and the main window, his hands in his pockets and drawing circles on the ground with his shoes while waiting for her. He didn’t want to harbor false expectations, it was just a favor, he reminded himself. Although, it did feel good to regain some of the trust between them, broken months ago after those unpleasant events.

He suddenly heard a noise behind him, and his police side immediately came out, turning around with his hand where he usually had his gun, despite not carrying it at the time. Not feeling the weapon made him hesitate, which in any other risky situation would prove to be fatal, however, he didn’t see anyone around. Maybe the job was already making him paranoid, after all. He then heard the faint sound of the door opening and closing, and Lucianne came out, looking fresh as a lettuce despite being 6 in the morning.

“Dad won’t wake within two or three hours; do you think we’ll be back by then?”

“Even if we don’t find the information you need, I promise to bring you back right in time,” he assured, leading her into the car and opening the door for her. Soon, they left behind the quiet neighboorhood, not yet awoken, except for the other only human being in the street.

Stepping away from the parked van on the opposite sidewalk, Frank watched the car drive away, hands and jaw clenched, turning around, and retracing his steps.

The trip to the police office took them merely twenty minutes. Although it was Sunday, some remained on call in case any incident was reported.

“…And today it was Timmy and Jimmy’s turn. They’re the IT’s I told you about, they owed me a couple of favors.”

“Are they brothers or something?” Lucianne asked and Perry laughed.

“No, but you’ll see them. They’re quite characters.”

Instead of going for the main entrance, they entered through the Investigation department building where there was only a guard, and once he saw officer Perry, just nodded in greeting and moved to the side to let them in.

They went through a long empty hall up to a sealed door. Perry took some keys from his pocket and introduced them into the lock, but they didn’t seem to work. He snorted, as if expecting something like that to happen, and knocked on the door.



Said a voice followed by another one in perfect coordination behind the door.

“Come on, you know who I am, we don’t have time for your little games.”

“Codeword!” the voices repeated in unison now and Perry gave another impatient snort.

“…I’m a little teapot strong and stout. Open the door already.”

“That’s not the whole codeword…”

“…nor is it correctly stated,” they completed their sentences again.

“Do it right or we won’t open,” they ended in chorus.

Perry glanced at Lucianne who just witnessed the exchange in silence, without knowing what to make out of everything. The officer closed his eyes with a grimace, steeling himself for what he was about to do. He then took a deep breath and began to hum hastily.

“I’m a little teapot strong and stout…”

“You’re not dancing.”

“That’s your second shot; three strikes and you’re out.”

The young officer looked up at the corner of the door and saw a small camera with a red light on. The two bastards were watching and did all that stunt just to annoy him as they saw him arrived with a girl. He could only swallow his pride and give them what they wanted in order not to waste any more time.

“…I’m a little teapot strong and stout, here is my handle, here is my spout. When I get all steamed up, hear me shout. Just tip me out and pour me out,” he repeated from the beginning, doing the required movements while glaring at the camera. The door finally opened, and a couple of young guys dressed in denim jeans and identical jackets appeared before them.

“Perry, what a surprise!”

“To what do we owe the honor of your visit?”

The two guys smiled, fully aware of the humiliation they had put him through. The left one had a label with the name Timmy in it while the right one said Jimmy, and if not because the first one’s eyes were brown and the second blue, they could pass for twins or at least siblings. They even had the same haircut and wore the same type of glasses.

“Very funny. Let’s do this once, you know what I came for.”

“Won’t you introduce us…”

“…to the lady?” they both took turns, looking at Lucianne with big smiles.

“It’s Lucianne Fillian— As in commissioner Fillian’s daughter,” Perry said with a warning tone.

“Ohhh, the boss’ daughter,” they chorused, stepping back as if he suddenly had a gun pointed at them. “Better not to tempt fate.”

“Nice to meet you too… I think,” Lucianne said.

“Let’s get this over with and move on; we’re short of time,” Perry suggested, motioning for everyone to enter.

“Oh, of course, just imagine what would chief Fillian say…”

“…if he finds out that you have sneaked his daughter out…”

“…at such early hours of the morning…”

“…and it’s been caught on video…”

“…which can be accidentally leaked into the official network.”

Both guys turned with mischievous smiles and Perry squinted with clenched teeth.

“…Okay, now I owe you each a favor, happy?”

“Oh, no, my brave officer!”

“This will require more than just getting us out of trouble once in a while.”

“For example, I haven’t done my laundry in a month.”

“And it would be nice to occasionally eat anything else than donuts and cold pizza.”

“For a full month.”

“Weekends included.”

They both took a deep breath at the same time to end in unison.

“Starting tomorrow.”

“Or… maybe someone could make an anonymous call to my dad and tell him a couple of sassy techs have been using the facilities as their own entertainment center. Maybe I could lose some lipstick around or even a more intimate garment of my own that could put you in trouble. I know every corner and password from my father, even the most hidden nooks, and maybe someone could leave there any evidence that leads to you. You should take that into account.”

The two guys looked at her with wide eyes and Perry couldn’t help but smile at the change of circumstances.

“…She’s scary.”

“Better not make her angry.”

“Come on. Just follow us,” they finished their own phrases once again as it seemed to be their habit, and then walked in.

“They’re disturbingly coordinated,” Lucianne remarked almost with fascination.

“We have the theory that they’re the same person from different dimensions, but one of them found the entrance to this one and can not return anymore. We have yet to decide which one is the visitor,” Perry muttered as they followed them a few feet away. “…By the way, that was an excellent reply.”

“Do you think so? I tried to channel my cousin. Something had to get stuck with me after hanging out with her, though I’m sure she would have thought of something even more sadistic.”

“It was the right amount of wickedness,” Perry assured and for a moment it felt like old times, when they could speak confidently without his walls up.

“If it’s time you’re worried about…”

“…we’ve already connected everything to the databases from every school in town.”

Lucianne watched the area composed of several interconected processors converging on a central device that was projected on the wall, on a screen the size of a blackboard.

“We just need to know the name of the professor…”

“…and the hawk will search for all data concerning him in the database.”

“…The ‘hawk’?” Lucianne asked.

“That’s how they call the main system,” said Perry.

“And we really need a name.”

“We can’t just seek randomly.”

“Oh, yes, of course— A name,” she said starting to fear the information they would find there. “It’s professor Tobias Leiffson.”

The two IT’s immediately got on with it while Perry tried to recall that name.

“…I think I may have heard that name before.”

“We’ve got matches!” the guys exclaimed in unison and the screen started to fill with data along with a recent picture of the teacher. Perry looked intently at him for a few seconds until he seemed to recognize him.

“Is that the professor you’ve been talking about? He’s a friend of your father. I think he even took some classes with him or something.”

Lucianne said nothing; she knew they were at least acquaintances since she saw them during the parents meeting at school but didn’t know what kind of relationship they had.

“Currently the only school he’s working at…”

“…is the Saint Pearl institute.”

“That’s my school,” Lucianne said without taking her eyes off the screen. “…Could you check on his past schools and classes for any incident he may have had then?”

“Last school he was working for was Redmington High a year ago…”

“…and before that he was an academic consultant at the Arkelance Institute for over twenty years.”

“He taught some courses there,” Perry also joined the exchange and both tech guys threw him death stares as if he had interrupted their perfectly established dynamics. “…The boss has mentioned a few times he took criminology with him.”

“Could you check on the Redmington database? Look for all kinds of reports that may have been on record,” Lucianne asked, focusing again on the screen.

“He seems to have a clean record…”

“…except for one report last year.”

“That one! Open it!”

Following her orders, they opened a file, and the report was displayed on screen with two pictures on both extremes: the professor on one side and Frank in the other. Perry looked at Lucianne after recognizing him, but she kept her eyes fixed on the screen.

“According to this, the report wasn’t for him, but for the student Franktick Krunick…”

“…for assaulting a teacher.”

“Does it say the reason?”

“An argument about a low grade,” they both chorused. Lucianne wasn’t satisfied since that was the same thing she was told.

“…Is there a way to find out if it was changed or if there was a previous report, probably removed from the system?”

“Each time someone enters and modifies something, they leave a signature that’s recorded in the history file…”

“…but it’s not always possible to trace it if the person knew how to mask its IP.”

“But it’s still on record, is it?”

“You bet, boss girl,” they answered while typing some codes, their fingers flying over the keyboard.

She needed to take some breath while hoping they would find something else besides what she already knew. The display changed, getting all blank.

“Nothing. No report was changed…”

“…nor was there any other that has been deleted before.”

“It’s legit,” they finished in chorus.

“…It’s not possible,” Lucianne murmured, biting her nail.

“The student left school shortly after that…”

“…so, there’s no more information that can be linked to him.”

“…He left school? Wasn’t he expelled?”

“According to this report, the professor decided not to press charges…”

“…and he was just penalized at school but not expelled.”

Lucianne frowned. It made no sense if he was so concerned about his grades to assault a teacher and then decided to leave school despite being granted a second chance.”

“…Could you finally check the Arkelance Institute records? In case you find something odd or at least… something that catches your attention.”

The guys went at it immediately while Lucianne was still mulling over the matter in her head. There was probably an agreement before the record was even seated, that was for sure, but the reason why escaped her understanding.

“Well, well, well! Look who we found here!”

“Mr. Brownie seems to be everywhere!”

“Huh?” Lucianne looked confused at the screen, but only saw several rows of codes that meant nothing to her.

“The institute records related to our good ole’ teacher have been consulted several times but not modified.”

“And by quite the legend nonetheless!”

“What are you talking about?”

They highlighted a part of the code that simply said metabrownie209.

“It’s the username for one of the most elusive hackers in town.”

“Not even we have managed to trace him.”

“And that’s saying a lot.”

“But he’s awesome in ‘Empire of the gods’ online.”

“Boss would kill us if he knew we play on the same team.”

“But his ability to focus and skills are amazing!”

“Thanks to him we have a record of zero lost battles and almost a divine level…”

“…which will allow us to create our own worlds and new levels of the game.”

“He’s a legend, I say!”

Lucianne made no comment. She knew Frank was a hacker and she could bet that was his nickname but wouldn’t say anything that could implicate him. What she didn’t understand was why he had been looking at the Arkelance Institute records for Professor Leiffson. It only increased her doubts about the real reason for the conflict they had a year ago.

When they finally left the place, Lucianne walked quietly, immersed in her own thoughts while Perry opened the car door.

“You didn’t tell me the friend you were talking about was him.”

Lucianne snapped out of her reverie and turned to him. His hands were on the steering wheel and his eyes on the road. She could sense the disappointment in his expression and tone, but she had no one else to rely on.

“…I’m sorry. I figured you wouldn’t help if you knew it had to do with him.”

“You didn’t think I would help even if you asked me?” Lucianne didn’t respond so he sighed and stopped the car once they were outside her house. “…Have a nice day, miss Lucianne.”

She turned to him, realizing he wasn’t even looking at her. He had returned to his strictly formal pose. It hurt, but she couldn’t do anything other than to apologize; he had the right to feel offended after using him that way, even when it wasn’t really her intention.

“…Sorry,” she repeated before leaving the car and walking quietly back to her house.

Demian watched the cellphone he had found, wondering what to do with it. After checking the number, he knew it belonged to Marianne’s father, and since he had no way to notify him, then he should hand it to her… but given her tendency to be elusive about her father, he had some reservations.

After pondering for a while, he took his own cell and began to type a message, but when he selected Marianne’s contact to send it, he hesitated once again, and just as he tried to force himself to press the send button, he heard Vicky’s voice downstairs.

“Are you coming down for breakfast? Addalynn made waffles, your favorites!”

Demian’s fingers stopped inches away from the key and finally decided to discard the message, putting the phone away.

“I’ll be down in a minute!” he said looking back at the found cell.

Perhaps it would be better to just get out and clear his mind a little. He pulled his chair from the desk and suddenly the phone rang. He paused, mid-standing, watching the device while it vibrated every time it rang. On the screen, it showed that the incoming call came from an unknown number. He wavered about what to do until finally taking the phone and pushing the button to answer. He remained in complete silence, just listening.

Interference first, then static, and finally a delicate female voice.

“I think she saw me.” Demian tried to hold his breath to not betray himself, though he couldn’t really prononunce a single word anyway. There was a moment of silence on both sides of the line, only static, until the voice spoke again. “Noah?”

After a moment of distraction, Demian forced himself to clear his throat and say something.


Silence. Interference. Static and finally a cut sound. Demian pulled the phone from his ear and watched the screen in puzzlement, the message ‘Call ended’ appearing on it.

The voice… He was sure he had heard it before but couldn’t remember where or when. That was the reason why he stood speechless at first, it sounded familiar to him.

“Breakfast is getting cold!” Vicky yelled again and he took the phone to his pocket, deciding it would be better to give it to Marianne personally, and the sooner, the less chance of misinterpretation (after keeping it a whole day long).

As he left his room and walked down the hall, he heard the doorbell ringing. Whoever it was, he thought, his sister would have to take care of it, so he just kept going. While going down the stairs, he saw Vicky opening the door, talking to someone and then turning towards him.

“…Someone came to see you.”

“I’m going out. Tell them to come later or something,” Demian said, but as he reached the bottom of the stairs, the view to the door cleared out and saw someone standing there. He stopped when he saw Mankee. “…What are you doing here?”

“Please, just listen. I didn’t want any of this to happen, nor intended to deceive you, I swear,” Mankee said, placing his hands upfront to sign him not to leave yet.

Demian stood rigid, with a sullen look.

“Where did you leave your servants? Are they rounding the house to break in unexpectedly whenever we’re like two feets away from you?”

“No. They won’t do such a thing, I promise.”

“But they ARE surrounding the house, aren´t they?”

“…Not exactly,” Mankee winced and both Demian and Vicky peered behind him.

All the space from the gates to the entrance of the house was occupied by two rows of servants, swords sheathed and dressed in their typical robes.

“They won’t be getting inside, I promise.”

“Not even your girlfriend or fiancee or whatever she is?”

“She didn’t come. She stayed in the coffee shop directing—” he forced himself to shut up, thinking it would anger him even more to know about the renovations without his consent.

“Keep talking; doesn’t matter anyway. The place is yours now, I thought I was clear.”

“Please, don’t say that. I can’t see the place as mine when you wouldn’t even accept any payment in return.”

“I don’t want your money,” Demian replied curtly.

“…I think I better leave you two alone,” Vicky said, getting away to avoid the discussion. Demian didn’t move from his place and stood with arms folded, making it clear he wouldn’t be the one to talk, so Mankee looked around from the doorway, feeling uneasy.

“Uh… can I come in?”

Demian rolled his eyes, and without saying anything, he walked to the living room, which the boy took as a positive response, and after a small bow to an invisible presence, he came in and close the door to prevent his servants to follow him.

“Make it fast, I have things to do.”

“…Y-Yes, okay, I’ll be quick then,” Mankee said, feeling so overwhelmed that all he could get was a headache. “…I’m sorry. I really regret the way it all ended, but in my defense, I really thought I had escaped from that yoke. I just wanted a fresh start.”

“…Yoke? You’re the bloody prince of an entire nation.”

“Well… not so much a nation… more like a small kingdom; it’s not very extensive. Also, if you think about it, it’s not so different from rejecting the position of prince of darkness.”

“You really think it’s the best time to bring that up?” Demian replied, raising an eyebrow with an unpleasant expression. Mankee gulped, aware that he had perhaps gone too far, and quickly decided to have a look around to avoid meeting his eyes.

“…It’s a nice house,” he said, trying to change the subject.

“I’m sure it’s not even the tenth of your opulent palace full of servants.”

“Please, I’m trying, I really am!” Mankee said with a snort and clutching his hair in frustration. “What can I do to atone for not saying who I really was all along? I couldn’t with all the responsibility I had on my shoulders, and as I turned eighteen and the preparations for a wedding I didn’t want started, and a throne I wasn’t prepared to take either, I panicked. There were all these rituals I was forced to make as the prince… and Latvi—” he pronounced her name almost with a hint of terror, sending shivers down his spine. “…I decided to flee a few days before the wedding and the coronation. Got some pirates to introduce me into a cargo ship as a stowaway in exchange for all the gold I was carrying. Of course, a pirate can’t be trusted. They waited for the news of my disappearance to be spread because they knew that returning the prince safe and sound would bring them an even greater reward; they didn’t care about what I could say about them, after all, I was the fugitive prince who would do anything to escape. So, they followed the boat I was in very closely and once it docked at the port and I vanished, they had to seek help from the immigration authorities saying that I was a dangerous criminal, thus ensuring their cooperation without attracting much attention. It was difficult at first to live humbly, almost empty-handed, but I prefer that a thousand times than returning there and be enslaved to a life I don’t want, so yes, in a way a felt like a slave.”

“Poor Mankee. You expect me to feel sorry for you?” Demian said unshaken.

“No, I just… want all of you to understand,” Mankee said, hunching back in a defeated gesture. Demian said nothing for about a minute, time in which he began to reconsider his attitude.

“…I won’t accept a penny for the coffee shop. You know that, right?” Demian said and Mankee just nodded, staring at the floor. “It’s not about the money. It was practically a gift from my father and it’s special to me.”

“I know, it is to me too.”

“But I’m also aware that I’ve only spent a few minutes there lately and then just leave again. In this regard, the place is practically more yours than mine, and you’ve taken responsibility for it more than you could have done for your own kingdom. So, I don’t see why you can’t continue that way. We don’t need the income, you can do whatever you want with it… although, given all the gold you seem to bear, I doubt you also need it at all.”

“You’re implying that—?”

“When I said you could keep it, I meant it. All I ask for is not try to change its essence; that’s what makes it special.”

“Oh, yeah… about that…” Mankee stammered and frowned. “…Latvi has taken some liberties… that she wasn’t supposed to.” Demian didn’t talk, didn’t move, just kept staring at him in a way that seemed to pierce him. “…It’s—It’s not as bad as it seems! You might want to go check it out tomorrow.”

“…Or maybe you can just start using your crown benefits to get your decisions done. You’re the prince, right? If you can’t fight it, at least use it on your advantage.” Mankee just nodded with a grimace; it was easier said than done; meanwhile Demian checked his watch. “…If that’s all, I think we’re done. I have to go.”

“Oh, yeah, sure! So… are we good?” Mankee asked with some reservations.

“It depends on the coffee shop’s condition when I go see it tomorrow,” he finished, heading for the door, but just as he opened and took a few steps outside, a dozen swords pointed at him. He immediately gave Mankee a warning look while he laughed nervously and beckoned his men to put their weapons down.

Lying in bed, Marianne read the letter once again. She had practically memorized it but kept returning to it as if trying to unravel some hidden message between the lines. She didn’t have dinner last night nor breakfast after arguing with her mother, but she knew that sooner or later she would have to yield, and given her growling stomach, it would be sooner than she hoped.

“I’m going shopping!” her mother shouted downstairs and Marianne slightly sat up and listened. Once she heard the sound of the door, she rushed to look out the window and saw her mother crossing the corner. This was her chance to go look for something to eat.

She used the service stairs to go down to the kitchen and began to scavenge the fridge. She could hear the TVin the living room and her brother yelling while probably playing a videogame. She finally decided to make a sandwich and eat it while thinking of the letter.

If this one proved her father’s final decision (choosing them over that woman), then she didn’t understand why he had filed for divorce. Adults were very complicated.

She quickly finished her sandwich and once her hunger was satisfied, it was time to return to her room, but before that she would check on her brother to make sure everything was okay.

She went across the dining room, getting a clearer view of the living room. Samael and Loui were in the middle of an “Empire of the gods” battle in two players mode, and while the angel remained focused on his side of the screen and his fingers handled the control skillfully and completely undeterred, the kid kept jumping up, shouting and waving his control back and forth as if that would correct the course of the game. When they reached the end, Samael had won while Loui collapsed defeated on the couch.

“How did you get so good overnight?! Just by reading the instructions?! It’s not fair, I want to become an expert just by reading something once!”

“Are you alright?” Samael asked once he noticed Marianne’s presence.

“…I am, thanks for asking,” she said, trying to minimize the issue.

“Have you finished ruining this family with your allegations or you still have more up your sleeve?” Loui snapped, staring resentfully at her.

“I made no accusation, at least not a false one. If you would rather make a blind eye for convenience is different.”

“La-la-la, I can’t hear you!” Loui took back the control and turned back to the screen. “I demand a rematch! Let’s play again!”

Marianne rolled her eyes and headed upstairs again.

“Wanna talk?” Samael asked before she left. Although he was still holding the control.

“I told you I’m fine,” she said, gesturing with her hand to let it go. “You keep playing. I’ll be in my room doing some homework. Kick that vermin’s ass!”

“Don’t even think I’ll let you win again!” Loui cried after starting a new game.

Samael gave her one last smile before turning to the screen again. She started to go up the stairs and halfway through she heard knocking on the door. She doubted either of them would move from the couch after starting a new game, so she reluctantly retraced her steps.

“I’m coming!” Indeed, neither of them had moved an inch, fully immersed in the game, so she just rolled her eyes and opened the door unenthusiastically, but when she looked up and saw who was in front of her, she couldn’t help but frown flummoxed. “…You?”

After getting those dozens of men out of his property, escorting Mankee as if they were in the middle of a parade, Demian was finally able to mind his own business. He left by foot, since Marianne’s house was within a walking distance, and he wasn’t planning on going anywhere else after that, anyway.

When he was almost there, he walked on the side of the house and look askance at the windows in case someone was leaning on them, but they were all closed.

He kept heading to the corner, but while he was getting to an angle that allowed him to see the front side, he stopped short after noticing she was already at the door with someone else. He stepped back and pulled up against the side wall before even realizing he had no reason to hide, but still stood there, peering out the corner.

In front of Marianne, Dreyson was standing with his back straight and hands thrusted into the pockets of his jeans, part of his new wardrobe, resembling the poses of models in magazines.

“How did you know where I live?” she asked after her initial surprise.

“It’s in the school records,” he said as if it were the most normal thing to snoop on private documents.

“What the—? What are you doing here?”

“I was thinking about what you said the other day, that I was using you, and you’re right, maybe I was,” Dreyson said while she remained suspicious. “That’s why I decided to come and fix it.”

“Uhmm… okay,” Marianne said, considering it was just his odd behavior again. “It’s rather… nice of you to come here and apologize for that… even when you could have done that tomorrow at school, but you could just—”

“Go out with me,” Dreyson let out abruptly. Marianne frowned deeply until her eyes were slits.

“…Say what?”

“You’re the only person I’ve had some kind of connection here. You don’t get intimidated so easily and I like that. So, let’s go out. Right now. We have the whole day ahead.”

Marianne kept looking at him in disbelief, her mouth hanging open while trying to decide if he was joking or just playing around.

“…Oh, my god, I’ve been asked out! What shall I do? What should I wear? Oh! I know! I’ll just close the door and pretend this conversation never happened. Go home, Dreyson.” And she then shut the door without giving him a chance to say anything else.

He seemed confused at her reaction and knocked again. Marianne opened and looked fretfully at him.

“I’m serious. You have nothing to lose.”

“…Pffft, listen, I don’t care how sincere you are, I won’t go out with you and nothing will change my mind,” she said with growing exasperation, pushing the door to close it again, but Dreyson blocked it with his foot.

“Maybe I’ll just stay here outside your door until you accept, at least if not today, some other day. I’m in no hurry. What do you say now?” he said with a wry smile on his face, to which she responded with a squint. After a few seconds of silence, she finally answered.

“…Nope. You better sit down. And watch out for the sun,” she finished, closing the door.

Demian had to suppress the urge to laugh at his failure while Dreyson seemed perplexed at her unexpected answer, but he ended up laughing too and shaking his head. He intended to knock again, but a noise made him stop and turn around, noticing Demian at the corner. He grimaced at his own carelessness and decided that there was no point to keep hiding. He stepped away from the wall and pretended to be arriving.

“…Are you waiting for something?” Demian asked, stopping a few feet from the entrance with a nonchalant posture. Dreyson just looked up and down at him and straightened away from the door.

“…I was just leaving.”

Demian suppressed another smile at his departure and walked the few steps separating him from the door.

Marianne snorted in exasperation with her back to the door and noticed Samael and Loui looking at her from the living room with the game in pause.


The two of them just raised their eyebrows and the kid resumed the game. She gave another puff and was about to go upstairs when the door was knocked once again. She went back reluctantly and opened once more.

“Now what?!” At the sight of Demian, she faltered for an instant. “…I-I’m sorry. I thought it was— Nevermind.”

“Seems like you had a visitor.”

“It was nothing. What are you doing here?”

Demian checked his pocket and made sure the phone was still there.

“Do you know if your father lost something recently?”

“How’s that—?” He pulled the phone out of his pocket and placed it in front of her. “…Where did you get it?”

“I found it yesterday… in the graveyard,” he said, studying her reaction to know whether to go into further details or not.

“What?” she said, taking the phone with increasingly puzzled expression. “But how did it get there?”

“I don’t know, I just found it when we were getting out of there, right next to a tombstone. It was a surprise when I picked it up and saw your missing calls.”

Marianne kept watching the phone screen without daring to check its contents or respond, strange ideas starting to haunt her mind.

“…Is everything fine or something’s wrong with the phone?”

“No, no. I’ll give it to my father when I have a chance.”

“There’s… more,” he decided to continue despite his initial doubt. “There was a call from an unknown number this morning.”

Marianne immediately thought of the woman at the hotel, but couldn’t say anything about it. She just looked up and saw Demian’s wary expression, waiting for her reaction.

“Did you answer?” she asked, trying to sound as casual as possible, but he quickly sensed her tension and hesitated before replying.

“I did… but didn’t hear a thing. It was just static and noise.”

“…Okay. Thanks for bringing it,” she said, with an attempt of a smile that didn’t go as natural as expected. “Lucky you found it. We thought it was lost for good.”

“It’s okay— Well, I must go back. I just came here to give you that. I was going to do it tomorrow, but I figured he would need it for work.”

“…Sure, work. I appreciate it.”

He waved as he left the porch and turned around the corner. Once she lost sight of him, she took out the phone again and stared at it, making a decision. She had something to prove. She went back into the house and hurried up the stairs.

“Is everything okay?” Samael asked, averting his attention momentarily from the screen to check on her.

“Perfectly fine,” she said, going past the living room while the angel gazed at her until she climbed the stairs, time enough for Loui to take advantage of his distraction and kill his army.

“Yes! Crown’s mine again! I’m still the champion!” Loui celebrated while Samael just turned his eyes to the screen, realizing he had lost.

“…One more time,” he asked, clinging to the controls to start over again.

As soon as she came to her room, she settled on the desk, with the envelope still in sight, and devoted her full attention to her father’s cellphone now.

She knew it was wrong, but it was something she needed to do. With a flick of her thumb, she began scrolling down his contacts but found nothing out of the ordinary. He had their numbers, her mother’s, Demian’s too and other names followed by references pointing at his current job. Nothing odd. No suspicious name or any word in code. She also checked his messages, either received or sent, but he only had saved theirs. She then decided to check the call log and saw the missed calls she had made as Demian said. It was the last received call that caught her eye, an unregistered number.

She thought about that woman, but it didn’t make sense that her number wasn’t registered, unless, of course, that he’d foreseen such a situation, someone from the family looking into it. He could be absentminded in appearance, but he was also quite cautious in such matters, no wonder he had been able to keep it hidden from them for so long.

Her finger remained hovering above the call button, wondering if anyone would answer the phone, coming from her father’s number. What would she say then? She couldn’t picture herself threatening a complete stranger to stay away from her father; she would have to do the same with Angie’s father in that case. In the end, curiosity got the better of her: she pressed the button and stood very still, waiting for someone to pick up. It took a few seconds of the dial tone until a recorded message told her the number she tried to reach didn’t exist. She tried again unsuccessfully until she hung up and put it beside the envelope.

A disposable phone. It had to be it. The reason she had to resort to such methods escaped her reasoning, but it made her uneasy. As if she were running from something. How did her father get involved with a woman like that, she had no idea… but she no longer wanted to think about that. She couldn’t take it anymore, just needed a break. So, she put the letter inside a heavy book and took off, bringing the phone with her.

Later that night, Loui had settled alone in the living room to play more videogames, with the walkie-talkie right next to him, even though there had been no results so far. He was still confident that sooner or later something would happen, but it was tiresome at times.

He was so focused on the screen that at first didn’t hear the static coming from the walkie-takie until he heard an exasperated ‘Answer, dammit!’. He immediately paused the game and turned to the device as if hearing dead people. Usually, he was the one who talked to the three bullies every night to make sure they were doing their rounds as ordered, but there hadn’t been any report to him. Until now.

“What’s the news, beta commando?” Loui asked, regaining control over himself and holding the walkie-talkie.

“Suspicious movement in an abandoned warehouse near the coast. There are chants inside and a hooded guy just entered.”

Loui felt a surge of adrenaline rushing through his body. He knew what that meant, a chance to prove himself. He turned off the game and headed for the stairs, taking the device with him.

“…I’ll go to sleep!”

“So soon?” his mother asked, peeking from the kitchen. “It’s barely eight; usually I have to force you yo go to bed at ten.”

“I’m sleepy. I’ve been playing all day,” he said, hoping his excuse would work. Once in his room, he lifted the walkie-talkie as he opened his window and made some visual calculations. “Give me the exact location and I’ll be there in minutes.”

There were a few advantages about his size and build, he used it to slip quietly through the pipe next to his window and disappeared into the night. It took him ten minutes on the bus to reach the coast, but eventually managed to find the right place. It was an abandoned building that was probably a department store in the past, now covered with graffiti, broken windows and chipped walls. He went around the place and headed to the bottom, where several boxes of garbage were piled up. The brush head boy was already there, watching the warehouse with binoculars and hiding among piles of garbage.

“What’s the report so far?” Loui asked once he felt safe behind those boxes.

“They’ve been there since half an hour ago. I’ve heard voices, laughter and invocations. No one has come out or entered.”

“Sounds more like a party or a secret meeting to me.”

“Look, dwarf, I’ve done what you’ve asked for, reporting any unusual activity or a suspicious hooded person. As far as I’m concerned, my job here is done. So, take your stupid toy and keep playing detective with yourself. I’m going home,” said the boy, tossing him the walkie-talkie.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Loui snapped resoundingly, and the brush head boy couldn’t help going back at the same point against his will. “You’ll stay here until they leave, or something happens.”

“…At some point you’ll be distracted and when that happens, you won’t know what hit you,” the boy muttered, and Loui just gave him a stern look.

“Be quiet,” he said undeterred and the boy kept silent on the spot.

The rickety back doors opened and they both remained hidden to watch everything. A group of people came out, laughing and wearing hooded robes, but once they took them off, it was revealed that they were no more than teenagers.

“Will there be another session tomorrow night?”

“Of course; we’re gonna need more black candles. Someone has to bring one of those cups like they use on church; maybe with a few drops of blood, things would get more interesting,” one of the boys said while the others laughed and shared impressions until another one of them asked them to be quiet and pointed to the front of the building.

A backlit figure was approaching.

“…I’m out of here,” said the brush head boy, taking advantage of the distraction to slip though the garbage and stacked boxes before Loui could do anything about it.

He remained in hiding, also watching with fascination as the figure approached, until it finally reached the end of the road and stopped a few feet from the group of teens. It had a gray hooded sweater and hands inside the front pockets.

“If you come for the session, you’re late, we just finished. But there will be another tomorrow, if you want to join us,” the ringleader informed, and the newcomer only cocked his head ominously. The laughter soon vanished, and the group plunged into a disturbing silence upon that presence standing between them and the path out of that field. “…Well, then, off we go. It’s over for now. Come on.”

The guys tried to make a detour from the figure blocking their way, but it suddenly swerved its head in their direction with a movement that froze their blood. Before they could even react, the hooded guy jumped over the middle boy and held him against the floor while the rest of the group screamed. Some tried to escape, others tried to help their friend, the uproar was such that neither of them realized when they were thrown to the floor and against the walls, most of them losing consciousness. The figure leaned closer to the boy, immobilized under its weight; a gling of golden eyes flashed under the hood and a bright smile widened at the sucessful hunt.

Loui watched the scene in a daze, holding his breath as he realized the danger. It was completely reckless of him to have gone there. What could he do? Nothing, just keep still and try not to attract any attention. And while the hooded figure lashed at its helpless victims, the kid did the only thing he could think of at the time: pull out his phone and start recording