Chapter 18

18. THE THROBBING SCAR

The alarm went off at 7 am with a catchy tune, urging Mitchell to stand up and begin his daily ritual that included thirty minutes in the shower and anointing himself in creams and lotions to keep him fresh and scented for hours. Then there was the best part for him: choosing his anti-uniform (which he usually wore under his school jacket) and mold his hair so no fan nor wind would be able to rip a single curl from his almost plastic hairstyle.

Throughout the process, he kept a playlist of his choice in the background, just as catchy to keep his spirits up. He hummed the current song from the playlist and danced to its rhythm while choosing his clothes. He was so concentrated in his ritual that he didn’t notice Frank hiding motionless like a dummy thrown in the bottom of the closet, mingled in the shadows, and dressed entirely in black, including his face.

Mitchell turned his back to the closet, still humming softly the song from his playlist and completely ignoring the pair of gloved hands coming out of the closet towards him.

“Ready to start the day!” he said, pleased with the combination he had chosen. He barely finished saying this when the pair of hands caught him up, one hand covering his mouth and the other grasping his chest and pulling him inside the closet. He was swallowed by a bunch of colorful garments with a suffocated shout.

“…Wake up, sleepyhead.” Mitchell opened his eyes in a daze and saw Frank’s freshly washed face, with some traces of paint on it. “…We need to talk.”

He tried to say something but had been gagged with one of his socks, then tried to move just to realize he was tied to his desk chair with the shirt he had selected for his uniform. He couldn’t help but squirm and groan.

“What is it? Are you trying to say something? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you, you’ll have to be clearer,” Frank said, putting his hands to his ear and shaking his head in denial. Mitchell twisted his body with more muted screams. “Oh, are you willing to talk and answer my questions? Is that what you mean?” More incomprehensible noises came from him, and Frank began to untie his makeshift gag. “You should have said it before! And here I thought you were just starting to enjoy this.”

As soon as he removed the sock from his mouth, Mitchell began screaming to whoever was at home.

“Scream all you want. No one will hear you; they’re all gone,” Frank informed him with a relaxed expression. “We’re all alone, you and me.”

“Have you lost your mind or what the hell is wrong with you?! Untie me, you damn psycho!”

“Bad choice, Mitchellin. That’s not the answer I’m looking for.”

“My hair’s a mess, my shirt is ruined, and my limbs are going numb! Quit playing around and untie me for once! This isn’t funny!”

“You see, I’m not sure I remember how to untie a knot, it all depends on how convincing your answers are.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! What answers do you want?! You’re insane! You can’t go through life using such methods to get information!”

Frank suddenly took out a pocketknife, and Mitchell immediately shut up, looking frightened, but he then pulled out an apple and began to peel it.

“It’s simple. You tell me exactly what you and Lucianne were doing at the hospital the other day and I’ll let you go.” Mitchell twisted his mouth while Frank cut pieces of apple and ate them. “I admire your sudden sense of discretion, I really do, but if you don’t start singing like a swallow in spring, I’m going to test how good this blade is and give you a new hairstyle like a landing field. Maybe it even helps you out to get some air in that hard head of yours,” he slightly patted him on the head, making him flinch at the idea, but he still kept his mouth shut. “…Oh, look at that rogue lock that doesn’t stay still; maybe I can help with that, let’s get rid of it.”

He took a curl from his forelock and placed the knife in its base. Mitchell immediately jumped.

“All right, all right! I’ll tell you! Just leave Curly alone and I’ll say whatever you want!” Mitchell shouted as if having the knife to his neck and Frank pulled away with a loud chuckle.

“Did you name your rogue lock? You have no idea how happy it makes me to have this information for future references,” Frank said, laughing derisively. “Speak. What were Lucianne and you doing in the hospital?”

“We were trying to get information about you and that teacher you have problems with, okay? That’s it! She came to me because she thought I could help considering I’m your cousin even though I warned her it wouldn’t matter. We didn’t find out much anyway. More of the same— And maybe that your mother and mine took a class with that same teacher, like, 18 years ago, or something, but that’s it!”

Frank didn’t say anything, just looked at him with a hardened expression while Mitchell waited for some reaction and soon began to feel a tingling in his limbs.

“Would you untie me now, please? I’d like to get to the second class at least and try to sneak into the gymnastics club to see if Belgina gets in the official selection.”

Not a word. Nothing. And then Frank just turned around and walked out, leaving Mitchell tied to his swivel chair.

“…You’re just gonna get some fresh air, right? You wouldn’t leave me tied up here with no one else around,” Mitchell raised his voice. “…I could use some water too. I know we’ve had our differences in the past, but blood is always stronger, don’t you think, cousin? Hello?”

Angie arrived at class earlier than usual and waited for Marianne in her seat, wondering how to act in her presence.

“What a surprise!” Kristania said as she entered the classroom and saw her.

“…It’s not like I usually arrive late. I just woke up a little earlier today.”

“I’m not saying it because you’re early,” she said with a smile that made her look like the old —or hidden— Kristania. “…You see, I went to the ‘Louvre’ on Saturday.”

The ‘Louvre’ was the coffee shop she had gone with Samael downtown. The fact that she was there meant that she had seen them together, and given her history, Angie began to fear she would use that information to manipulate her with some goal in mind.

Kristania reached her desk and after leaving her bag on her seat, she sighed and stood with crossed arms in Angie’s direction. Her wicked smile was indelible despite her vain attempt to seem accessible, which made her more disturbing.

“…So, you finally decided to go out with the guy you like. Good for you,” saying this, she sat down and took out her notebook without saying anything else.

“Are you… Are you gonna tell Vicky?” Angie asked, fearing her friend’s reaction. Kristania looked up in feigned shock, as if it had never crossed her mind.

“Why would I? I think that’s not up to me, don’t you think?”

Angie said nothing but couldn’t help feeling uneasy the next few minutes. Now she not only had to think of how to deal with Marianne after what she saw on Saturday, but she also had to talk to Vicky before she found out by anyone else, because, even when Kristania swore she wouldn’t tell her, that didn’t mean she couldn’t tell someone else —if she hadn’t done it already—, and that kind of information spread quickly in school.

Soon, more students began to arrive. Belgina greeted her as usual, ignoring what had happened over the weekend. Angie waved back, trying to look normal, and that was when Marianne entered. She immediately straightened up, wondering what to say, but at her usual flood of ideas, she was just unable to react.

“Were you going to tell me about Saturday?” Marianne asked, stopping by her seat with an unreadable expression.

“You mean the date—?”

“I’m talking about seeing your father with—” she didn’t dare to finish, just picturing the scene made her sick. “Samuel told me, obviously; my question is why you didn’t want me to find out.”

Angie blinked nervously; she noticed that most of the classroom was already looking at them, attracted by their discussion, which made her sink lower in her seat.

“…Because I knew you would react like this,” she whispered, trying to avoid the stares from the rest of the class. Marianne finally looked around, realizing she was attracting too much attention, so she sat behind Angie and decided to keep on more discreetly.

“I had the right to know; it’s my mother, after all. You can’t decide whether I’m able to handle such information. I’m also involved in this whole… disturbing mess,” she said, leaning forward so only Angie could hear her, although Belgina seemed flustered in her seat.

“I’m sorry! I just— I didn’t know how to react at the time. I hadn’t seen my father like that in a long time and I guess… I panicked. I was afraid of what that could mean eventually… for you and for me.”

“It won’t mean anything,” Marianne assured. “My mother is just going through a phase. She’s hurt and trying to regain her self-confidence. But there’s nothing serious between them, there’s nothing in fact, she told me that.”

“Oh… You talked to her.”

“Didn’t you?”

“No, I— He didn’t know I was there in the first place.”

“Well… I’ve said all I had to say. Those little friendly dates won’t be more than that, I guarantee you, so let’s not talk about it anymore,” Marianne finished, leaning back to her seat. Angie just bit her lip and looked away, restless.

Since her mother left when she was five, her father seemed to have closed to any possibility of rebuilding his life with someone else. He threw himself completely into his work and taking care of her, so as not to collapse again as he had done after reading the note her mother had left before leaving. That was when he had his first heart attack. The moment his heart shattered to never be mended again. He had become extremely serious and bland, humorless, and only worried about her health. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him so happy and relaxed as in recent days; and if Marianne’s mother didn’t take him seriously, she feared for his emotional stability. She wasn’t sure he could stand another heartbreak. She might have to find the right moment to talk to him about it.

“Is it true?”

The voice brought her back and looked up. Vicky was standing in front of her with a look of concern.

“…What?”

“That you went on a date with Samuel,” Vicky added; some minor wrinkles on her forehead indicated she found the news disconcerting.

Angie had no answer; she didn’t expect her to find out about it so soon. Kristania. Somehow, she must have ensured to let her know. She stammered a few syllables right when the teacher came in, forcing everyone to take their seats. The last remaining students to arrive where Dreyson and Lilith behind him.

Dreyson went to his new seat, directing at Marianne a certain gaze as a reminder of the previous day. She squinted with chagrin while he smiled and sat down.

Marianne tried to attend to class whe she heard a crumpled paper ball falling on her desk. She quickly looked down and let out a grunt of annoyance, assuming who it came from. She carefully smoothed it and read the note.

‘Go out with me. I won’t stop until you agree.”

She rolled her eyes, and without wasting any time, she wrote a clear and concise answer: ‘NO’. She then crumpled the paper again and at the slightest distraction of the teacher, threw it back to Dreyson without checking if he received it; if it was up to her, she wouldn’t mind if it hit him right in the face or an eye. A few minutes later, she received the second paper ball right in her head, and even though it didn’t hurt, it made her turn around, annoyed at his audacity. The boy just smiled as if he had done it in purpose to get her attention. She reluctantly took the paper and read its content.

‘I like challenges.’

Marianne gritted her teeth and clasped her pen tightly to immediately write back like possessed.

‘I challenge you to stop bugging me and pay attention to class.’

She threw the response with a strong shot, hoping to aim for the face. This time it wasn’t even a minute when another paper ball fell on her head, forcing her to take it quickly before anyone else took notice of it.

‘Any challenge has a reward.

What will I receive in exchange for yours?’

Oh, the nerve! Did he really think she was going to play along? No, sir, he would have to look for someone else to respond to his attention seeking needs. She decided to stop answering, wrinkled the paper and threw it inside her own school bag, however, more paper balls kept accumulating on her desk during the course of the class, which she just shoved in her backpack without bothering to see their contents. He was crossing the line and she wouldn’t stand it.

When it was time for Fencing club, she rushed out to put some distance between them, but she had barely turned around the hallway when she was quickly reached by Dreyson.

“I don’t get why you’re so mad this time,” he said as if suddenly materializing beside her, making her flinch.

“…Will you stop following me?!”

“We’re heading to the same club.”

“Well, I sincerely hope that’s the only reason and not just an excuse to stalk me!” she replied, doubling the speed of her steps, albeit useless given the ease in which he quickly stood alongside her.

“I’m not stalking you.”

“Aren’t you?” She stopped and turned to him. “I have like ten or fifteen notes in my backpack that you threw to me during classes. I haven’t read them because I won’t play along, but the answer is still the same: NO.”

“I’m not playing,” Dreyson insisted, to which she kept snorting in response. “I don’t understand why you’re so mad, I just asked you out.”

“And I clearly said NO, but you don’t seem to get it either.”

“I don’t even understand why you’d say no. Everyone goes out and they don’t make a fuss about it. Several girls have even invited me out last week.”

“Perfect! Then go out with them and leave ME alone!” she concluded, resuming her way while the boy followed her closely.

“But I don’t want to. All they see is what I’ve become now.”

“Well, I thought that’s what you wanted; that’s why you went through all this makeover as I recall, so you have no right to complain now.”

“Oh, I’m not complaining, I enjoy the attention. But it’s you I want to go out with.”

“Well, it seemed to me that it was someone else.”

“Things can change from one moment to another.”

“Not overnight,” she snapped, and Dreyson walked in front of her to block her way.

“…I’ve never had friends,” Dreyson said in a serious tone. “You saw the before pictures; and all of this social exchange is still relatively new to me, so I can’t help if I suddenly say or do something that might be offensive to others. I figured you’d understand.”

“I see you’ve been asking around about me, apparently,” Marianne replied, crossing her arms, and feeling he was just trying to appeal to her sympathy.

“There’s more information in the school files than you think.”

“Well… first of all, let me say that snooping around private files is blatantly invasive and not the best way to approach someone. Leaving that aside, and pretending it’s not disturbing at all, let’s say I get what you feel being new in town, in school, without friends and whatever. That doesn’t mean I have to accept going out with you as a sort of silent pact between ex-misfits or something like that. Things don’t work that way.”

“Why not? Maybe we have more in common than you think.”

“Well, since you put it that way…” she said as if considering it. “…No.”

As she said this, she suddenly took off to exploit the element of surprise. Dreyson just watched her run away with a mixture of disbelief and amusement that ultimately made him smile, willing to grant her the advantage this time.

She got to the gym, panting and short of breath, and saw that almost all the guys were already wearing their outfits, discussing something with the coach while others warmed up. Demian was among the group gathered around the teacher, listening to his instructions.

She decided to head to the girls’ locker room, trying not to draw any attention and when her hand was on the door, Dreyson had already arrived at the gym, giving her a smile that meant he didn’t mind her running away from him. She snorted and tried not to give it any more importance than it deserved.

While Marianne was changing, she tried to focus on intercepting Demian at the first chance she had. There was still a pending issue with the cell she needed to resolve.

“Wow! Who would have thought?”

Marianne jumped after hearing that voice, breaking her concentration. Kristania had arrived a few minutes later than her.

“Seems like ‘swan boy’ has decided to lay his eyes on you.”

Decided seems to be the appropriate word,” Marianne muttered more to herself than in response to Kristania.

“So, what do you say? Will you go out with him?”

“…You heard us talking,” she guessed at her sudden interest.

“Well, quite enough before you just fled,” Kristania replied with a smile that revealed a joy beyond her intentions. “It’s your moment! You should accept, not every day one of the most handsome guys at school asks you out.”

“Why would I? If you think he’s so handsome, you go out with him,” she said, choosing to walk to the door now that she was dressed and avoiding her in the process.

“Oh, no! You’re the one he’s interested in right now; I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

Marianne had to make a superhuman effort not to laugh in her face at the irony of her words. She, who always lashed out against any girl that showed the slightest interest in Demian, or even exchange a single word with him. Her act seemed less and less consistent over time, but of course, if it wasn’t Demian, she didn’t care who dated who.

“No, thanks, I’m fine,” she finished, opening the door to get out.

“Is that in general or you’re just hoping for someone else to ask you out?”

Marianne stopped half out of the locker room with an expression of disgust. That was her act, faking kindness with double intention, trying to get information that could be useful to her.

“I have more important things to do than wasting my time that way.”

“Really? That’s so mature!” she said with a smile that seemed to show the true Kristania hiding behind the kind mask.

Marianne resisted the urge to snap back, but simply showed a forced smile before closing the door on her way out.

Dreyson was also leaving the boys’ locker room, so she hurried over to the rest of the fencing guys to prevent him from approaching her.

“Is something going to happen that I’m not aware of?” she asked Demian, who was sitting on a bench with the foil in one hand and balancing his grid mask with the other.

“Today will be decided who will represent the team in the interstate games. The favorite was, Lester, but… you know what happened,” Demian said, and Marianne glanced at the stands where Lester, leg cast and all, sat by the coach, discussing something while watching a list. “The coach decided to let him be sort of a councelor in the meantime.”

“Are they going to decide? I thought you were the second best from the team. I don’t understand why they have to discuss it that much.”

“Remember what happened in basketball, right?”

She declined to comment; it had been the moment she feared he wouldn’t be able to stay in control, and although he finally did, she hadn’t helped at all.

“Well… apparently the story spread and now my fencing teammates also want a chance to represent the team. They believe that chosing me directly would be a form of favoritism and some of them think what happened to Lester was just a stroke of luck for me.”

“Nonsense!”

“Being realistic… it’s true, I was responsible for what happened to him, but they ignore what was behind, so I can’t argue with that,” Demian said, too quiet in contrast to his reaction in basketball.

“…How are you holding up?”

“Honestly? I’m disappointed. But after what happened in basketball, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s as if suddenly everyone decided to unite against me, teammates I’ve been practicing with for years and now I can’t recognize them anymore, or they’re just finally showing their true colors. Anyway, I won’t let it affect me. So, I’m trying to keep it cool.”

And that was the reason why he was sitting appart from the others, Marianne thought, to avoid any possibility that his demonic side would take control of him again.

“And what’s supposed to happen then? Are they all going to fight against you for the chance to represent the team?”

“If it were so, it wouldn’t be in equal conditions. Six guys against me, match after match, it would frazzle anyone… but, of course, I’m not a normal person, and it wouldn’t represent a real problem for me, but I must abide under human rules. It will be a quick tournament. The winners will advance until only one remains.”

“You mean I just wasted my time putting on the outfit because we’re not doing anything else, us newbies?”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure the coach will find you something else to do,” he assured with a smile. She decided to take the time to talk about the doubt that had been gnawing her since the day before.”

“I was wondering if…” she began to say and Demian looked at her curiously. “…perhaps you remember the exact place where you found my father’s cellphone?”

“You mean the tombstone I found it on?”

“Yes, I thought… that maybe I could have a look. I’d settle for a sketch or something to locate it. I don’t use to visit the cemetery, so I don’t know it very well.”

Demian meditated about it for a moment and looked around; the coach had stood up and seemed ready to call everyone involved in the quick tournament, so he didn’t have much time left.

“I can lead you there, it will be easier for me to remember the way… Well, if you’d like to.”

“It’s… o-okay,” she replied after a few seconds in silence, surprised at his offer. “Could you… uh… is this afternoon okay?”

“Sounds good. After school or do I pick you up in your house?”

Marianne considered the options and wondered whether it would be more problematic to be seen leaving school with him or her mother watching him coming to her house. Anyway, it would just create misunderstandings and she wanted to avoid that.

“…Outside the cemetery. At least I know how to get there,” she resolved, and despite Demian understanding that was her way of keeping distances, he smiled and nodded.

“At five if that’s okay with you. If there’s any change of plans, you can text me.”

The coach made the call. The seven boys who would dispute the place for the interstate games met around the coach while Marianne stood next to the bench where Demian had been sitting, watching them intently.

“Is that why you don’t accept to go out with me then?”

Marianne flinched and looked at Dreyson, right beside her.

“What?” She seemed distracted and he made a nod, clearly pointing at Demian.

“You like him.”

There was a pause before her face flushed and quickly tried to mask her reaction with a frown.

“…What are you talking about?! We’ve been friends for a long time now and that’s it!” she replied defensively.

“Is that so?” he said, raising an eyebrow with a trace of wariness.

“You know what? Think whatever you want, I don’t have to explain anything to you,” she opted to turn around and go sit in the stands with the other newbies, but to her irritation, he sat right beside her and kept looking at Demian and the other veterans.

“I can be as good as him. I could even beat him,” he stated, and Marianne took her hands to her face in an exasperated motion.

“Oh, my god. Number one, you don’t have to be like anyone else. Number two, I’m still not going out with you. And number three, I don’t like him!”

“Your desperation to clarify that point is suspicious.”

“More than desperation I would say annoyance! You’re starting to get into my nerves!” she complained, massaging her temples.

“Easy, you’re gonna suffocate her if you keep pushing,” Kristania intervened after leaving the locker room with a slightly modified suit with the addition of a pink ribbon to mark her waist and a high pony tail. “Give her some space and maybe she would end up giving you a chance.” Marianne gave her a worn-out look and Dreyson kept quiet as she took a seat next to them. “What have I missed?”

“No, no, it’s not fair! Why do I have to be left out?!” One of the boys gathered around the coach raised his voice and everyone looked at them. “I also have the right to participate! I’ve been on this team for three years!”

“The matches must be in couples and there are only seven of you; sorry but one of you will have to stay behind,” explained the coach and the guy turned desperate towards the group in the stands.

“Let one of the newbies fight against me! Then we’ll have the four matches we need!” the boy suggested and several of the new recruits murmured nervously, wishing not to be chosen.

“It’s a solution, but we can’t force them to take part of a match so soon.”

“I’m sure some of them would be interested in testing what they’ve learned!” the boy insisted, almost appealing to the new members, but they remained silent, looking at each other as if waiting for anyone to volunteer to avoid going through a random selection.

After a few seconds, a hand lifted among them, attracting the attention of the rest.

“I’ll do it.”

Dreyson stood up between murmurs from the group to the boy’s relief after being about to be left out of the tournament.

“Are you sure, boy? It may be internal, but the rules will apply as if it were a championship tournament,” asked the coach and Dreyson nodded and shrugged as if it made no difference to him. “Okay then, everbody get ready, let’s start.”

“What the hell are you doing?!” Marianne muttered in a reproachful tone before he joined the group.

“I’m about to test what I’ve learned in class.”

“We’ve only had two classes by now! Really, this overconfidence of yours has to stop!”

“Now you’re worry about me?” he replied with a smile that made her grimace. “Relax, I’ve been practicing on my own. I didn’t have the intention to keep doing basic exercises for long anyway.”

“Those exercises are meant for something and maybe you’ll learn the hard way in a few minutes.”

“I guess we’ll see,” he said without looking a bit worried. “And since you’re so sure of it, I guess you wouldn’t mind a bet. Go out with me if I win every match.”

She scowled, but before she could refuse, he was already heading towards the fencers, getting ready for the internal tournament. A heavy hand fell on her shoulder and she didn’t need to turn around to know it was Kristania.

“This is going to be interesting,” she said in a tone ready to enjoy the ridicule, and Marianne made a great effort not to shake that hand off.

The quick tournament began with Demian and other boy, but the match took less than three minutes before his opponent ended up on the floor after five touches, and Demian was declared the winner. He made no fuss or any triumphant gesture, simply returned to the bench where the rest of the guys waited for the next match.

Another two matches passed by until it was finally Dreyson’s turn against the boy who was almost left out. The latter seemed eager to prove the mistake they were about to make while Dreyson stood in his spot, so relaxed he looked like an experienced fencer, or maybe it was just part of his overconfidence.

At the sign of ‘Go!’, the most experienced guy wasted no time and moved forward for his first attack, and although Dreyson seemed not too quick to react at first, as soon as the foil was heading to his torso, he diverted it with a fluid motion and then touched his opponent in a calculated way, taking not only the boy by surprise but also the rest of his teammates, who didn’t expect that kind of methodical reaction from a rookie.

The boy finally reacted and put on guard. The match continued its course and he tried to charge again, but Dreyson proved to be an opponent that couldn’t be taken lightly, and after several attempts to gain ground or attempting to make him traspass the limits, somehow Dreyson turned the situation to his advantage until he was declared the winner at the end of the match.

There was total silence in the gym, surprised by his unexpected victory. Dreyson took off his mask and while heading to the bench, he looked at Marianne with an expression that showed how much he was enjoying that moment and sat in the corner of the bench, with Demian giving him the side eye. It was his turn for the next round before the finals and had to concentrate on his own match.

Unsurprisingly, Demian won his next assault. Things were going as he expected at the beginning and he was hoping to keep things that way, whoever his opponent would be.

Dreyson stood up for his second combat and walked confidently to the center of the track. He took his position and when the match began, he let his opponent make the first move once again. After diverting it, he launched a quick counter-attack against his opponent, forcing him to retreat while the boy tried his best to stop him, though at the same time he was driven to the edge of the track. His opponent ended up using his free arm to deflect a rapier out of desperation which earned him a sanction. After that, he failed to recover, made mistake after mistake until the match ended and Dreyson was again declared the winner. He took off his mask and glanced towards Demian, while he merely held his gaze with no expression.

“Ready for the last fight?” the coach said, beckonning them both to come back to the center of the track.

They both took their respective positions, exchanging glances before putting on their masks and staying on guard.

“He’s been lucky until now. There’s no way he would beat Demian,” Kristania said, focused on the track and not caring if anyone else was listening.

Marianne chose to ignore her comment; either way, she doubted it was directed at her. She didn’t believe Demian would lose either, but she feared Dreyson would pressure him so much he would lose control.

“Go!” the coach said and Demian squeezed the foil handle, assuming Dreyson would wait for him to make the first move like his previous fights, so it took him by surprise when he suddenly lunged forward with a quick motion and barely managed to stop his rapier. Demian immediately stepped back, noticing the short distance between them and waited for the coach to determine whether he’d allowed it or not. He nodded to indicate his authorization, so Dreyson charged against him once again.

The match kept going with both guys equally measuring up to the other, each one trying to gain ground, but finishing at the same point in the middle of the track after the three minutes passed and the coach yelled ‘Stop!’. They were tied, none of them had made a single point, so they would have to go to an extra match.

All of the members from the club were so quiet that they could almost pass for decorative statues around the field. Both boys looked relaxed and poised like at the start, as if the encounter had been nothing but a warm up. However, Demian was starting to feel a tingle in his wrist, which could only mean that he was on the verge of losing control anytime now. He had to stay focused, otherwise something would happen, and he didn’t want another accident on his conscience. He rubbed his wrist while standing in position for the second match and regretted not having put on the arm warmer; maybe that would have reduced the urge to scratch his scar.

The coach announced the start of the fight and this time Demian didn’t wait; he immediately launched himself and the other boy did the same, both foils colliding with each other.

They stood like that for a couple of seconds, foils locked at close range, as if they were measuring their strength, throwing each other intimidating glares through the masks. They ended up breaking away at the same time and kept lunging and diverting thrusts while trying to lead the other to the limits of the track.

The tingling in Demian’s wrist was gradually increasing until it began to sting; his scar felt like raw flesh. He tried to ignore it as much as he could, but his hand was starting to weigh and acting on its own as an automatic reaction to the pain. Meanwhile, the other guy wouldn’t even budge an inch nor looked exhausted.

The itch was now spreading across de periphery of his skin. He feared that at any moment the part of himself he couldn’t control would decide it was time to change the odds to his favor. The match had to end as soon as possible. So, he did what he considered the most appropriate thing to do, given the circumstances: he pushed the boy’s foil away, and lunged a quick thrust to his chest to ensure a rapier. The blunt tip pressed the quilted suit against the boy’s chest, and at the same time he felt something hitting between his collarbones. He looked down, maintaining his arm in the same position, and saw the tip of the other boy’s foil had also touched him a few inches above the chest. Somehow his arm had gained momentum after diverting it and bounced back, so while he was focused on his own attack, the other guy had done the same and now the two of them were engaged with both foils against their oponent’s chest, wishing the tip would rip through their suits.

They heard the coach asking them to step away, but they didn’t move, only stared defiantly at each other.

“Break off, now,” warned the coach again.

Still gripping the foil so hard that he no longer felt the blood rushing through his knuckles  —and yet he could feel his scar throbbing, his demonic energy concentrating in that spot—, Demian gathered momentum to finally pull appart, and the sudden movement impelled his arm to one side; the blade slid on the other boy’s arm and he immediately jumped back, dropping his own foil and covering himself with his other hand.

There was a slight commotion; Demian didn’t understand what was happening at first until he finally saw a drop of blood falling to the floor and the red stain on the sleeve and glove of the other boy. Dreyson held his wrist, and at the coach’s insistence, he uncovered his hand and showed a cut that had pierced through the fabric and have reached the skin.

Demian lifted his foil and saw that the narrowest part of the blade was stained with blood. How could it happen? The weapons they used were sharpless, and even when they were advised to be careful with them, there was no way the blade would be able to go through the double layered fabric and the glove. He kept looking at the blade in bewilderment and his gaze flickered to his hand that remained stiff around the handle, a cold tingling still going through his nerve terminals. Despite the glove covering it, he could almost see the pallor of his knuckles alll the way up to his fists and soon to the rest of his skin. He had no doubt, that was the work of his dark power.

He struggled to open his hand, dropping the foil to the floor, and then he walked away, regardless that abandoning the track would mean disqualification. He thought to hear the coach ordering him to come back, but he didn’t stop, didn’t even remove his mask. He just needed to get away for everyone’s sake. He looked askance at Marianne and saw that she was already standing, but he still didn’t stop; in fact, he hurried to the door and left, taking off the mask once outside and throwing it down in a fit of rage.

He remembered then Addalynn’s words encouraging him to look for her whenever he felt about to lose control. He took off his gloves and saw that indeed, his knuckles had lost color and his throbbing scar was swollen. There were footsteps approaching the gym door, but he didn’t want anyone to see him in that condition. He vanished before the door opened and Marianne went out, only finding the mask on the floor. She picked it up and looked around before going back inside the gym.

“On your mark!” the voice of the swimming coach echoed, and Samael took the starting position in his lane along seven other guys.

From the stands, the rest of the club members watched and made their bets, although several of the girls seemed more engaged in whispering about the competing boys, especially Samael.

Addalynn kept her distance as always, sitting at one end of the stands with her resting pocker face and arms folded over her legs.

She no longer worried about her locker; since she had found her tattered uniform, she’d used a special method to prevent anyone else to approach it again. Whoever would dare to lay a hand on the locker would suffer electric shocks. She didn’t need to witness its efficacy, since the implementation, the locker had remained inviolated and her belongings intact. Hostile glares had increased, but she didn’t care. She hadn’t come to town to make friends. There was only one reason for her being there, and she would keep going until the end.

The coach gave the start signal and the boys jumped into the water. Addalynn followed the course of the race with apathy until she suddenly lifted her head, as if listening to something in the distance. She got up, and while the rest remained focused on the pool, she walked away guided by some instinct towards the girls’ locker room. Demian was in front of her locker room, with his back to her, wearing the fencing suit and breathing heavily.

“What are you doing in front of my locker?” she asked, and he turned his head. His face looked sweaty, and he was holding his right hand by the wrist. Given the discoloration of his knuckles, she immediately understood the reason.

“You said that if I ever felt about to… lose control again, I could come to you,” he said, trying to keep a restrained tone. “I tried to locate your energy and it led me here.”

A burst of applause and cheers were heard outside, so she wasted no time and approached him, gesturing with her hands.

“Palms up.”

Demian released his wrist and then placed his trembling hands as she told him, they were so pale that even his fingerprints weren’t discernible. Addalynn rubbed her hands as if charging energy to them, and once her fingertips touched his palms, he felt a jolt that immediately relieved him. She kept her eyes on the swollen scar across his wrist.

“Thanks. I don’t know how I could ever repay you. It’s not my style to seek for someonelse’s help.”

“Have you treated that already?” she asked, and by the direction of her gaze, he knew she meant the scar.

“…It’s nothing,” he said, pulling his sleeve to cover it. “Just an ugly scar that I can’t help scratching sometimes when I’m stressed out— I guess that reveals the level of stress I’ve been feeling lately.”

She kept silent for a few seconds, as if paying attention to some distant sound.

“You must go,” she added. “The locker room won’t be empty for long.”

“May I ask why this locker is full of your energy?”

“It’s because I put it in there. Let’s say it’s my insurance against theft,” she said nonchalantly, and he looked again at the locker.

“…Interesting. Despite being self-taught you seem to have more knowledge and resources than the others having a guide.”

“You don’t want anyone else to see you here,” Addalynn insisted, choosing to ignore his comment, and at the sound of the door, he vanished into thin air.

“The coach says you’re next,” a girl snapped, leaning out the door, as if to make clear she wasn’t notifying her out of her own initiative.

Addalynn just walked past her without granting her a single glance, which outraged the girl even more. Samael was heading to the boys’ locker room with his towel on his back. He smiled and stopped next to her to share the good news.

“I’ve been selected.”

“Did you even doubt it?” she spat without stopping and he just followed her with his gaze, wondering if she said it because he was an angel and that put him in clear advantage over the others. However, she seemed confident too, so much that she didn’t even show a hint of surprise when at the end of her test she ranked first and got selected for the interstate games. She got out of the pool, and after squeezing her hair as usual, she just took her towell and headed back to the locker room, bumping again into Samael who had been watching the competition. “No big deal,” she said as she passed by him, whose eyes followed her again with curiosity.

After school, Vicky was standing at the bus stop, watching the front of the coffee shop with a mixture of puzzlement and skepticism. The facade had been changed and now it looked like the entrance to a mosque with a colorful canopy that displayed the name in big letters Hisham Deluxe.

“One minute of silence for the Retroganzza,” Marianne said, approaching from behind with Angie and Belgina.

“I’m almost thankful that my brother isn’t here to see what it’s become.”

“…You’re not leaving with him?” Marianne asked, trying to sound casual.

“He said he had something else to do so we’ll go home by ourselves this time,” Vicky said with a shrug.

“Oh… did you see him?”

“No, he sent a message.”

Marianne glanced at Addalynn, glued to her phone screen. She wondered if Demian had come to her like the last time.

“Do you know by any chance if he saw Mitchell in class?” Belgina asked and both Marianne and Angie looked surprised at her. “…I’m just wondering out of curiosity.”

“No idea, I haven’t seen him since this morning. I can ask him by text if you want,” Vicky said, watching now the domes that were added on top of the coffee shop, giving it an oriental flair. Belgina refused with a quick shake of her head to avoid talking about it.

“Well… are you coming or not?” Marianne asked since they seemed hesitant, and they finally decided to cross the avenue.

The interior was even more changed than the facade. The vintage decoration had been completely replaced with colorful puffs that served as seats and embroidered tablecloths, long fringed curtains on the windows and a giant tapestry with ethnic patterns covering every inch of the floor so everyone who entered had to leave their shoes at the entrance and go barefoot. Such was the explosion of red, orange, and golden in the decoration that they felt compelled to look away, fearing to go blind if they stared for too long. The exotic ‘saber men’ now had different tasks with the new theme of the coffee shop; there was a pair of them welcoming people in the entrance like an elegant and highest quality restaurant and some of them weren’t just waiters but also stood beside the tables, fanning customers.

“If anyone tries to feed me grapes, that’s it, I’m out,” Marianne muttered.

They dropped on the puffs placed on their usual spot, and stood uncomfortably quiet with their backs upright, watching the new menu dispenser that was shaped like a tree with a card hanging from a branch. The new dishes were far from the burgers and fast food they were used to.

“…This is too much. Do you really think a coffee shop like this would work when its main customers are middleschoolers and high school students?”

“I guess it will work at the beginning due to the novelty,” Belgina said, seeing several of the clients fascinated by the colorful place and the exotic ‘ornamental waiters’ that devoutly served them as if they were royalty.

“My brother didn’t accept any payment, so technically the place is still ours— Do you think I should say something in his absence?” Vicky asked and, as if he had been summoned, Mankee appeared beside them in a submissive attitude, ethnically dressed.

“…Thank you for coming. I’m really sorry about everything… uhm… Are you going to be the only ones coming?”

“Demian had something to do, but I’m here on his behalf. I don’t want to be a killjoy, but I don’t think he would approve of the changes you have made to the coffee shop.”

“I know! I know! But I couldn’t do anything! It’s like having my hands tied!” Mankee replied with a desperate gesture.

“You look more like that girl’s slave than the ‘prince’,” Marianne commented and Mankee sighed with frustration.

At that moment, a mysterious yellow spice-scented smoke began to spread from the kitchen, but before anyone could stand up and shout ‘Fire!’, the door opened and the exotic girl who claimed to be Mankee’s fiancee came out, dressed as if about to perform the dance of the seven veils amidst the explosion of colorful smoke with various musky scents. There was applause and she made a slight bow with joint hands to the front, then approached their table and Mankee quickly stepped aside.

“…Whatever you do, don’t let her touch you,” he whispered in an ominous tone.

“Welcome,” she said, making a courtesy as if the saber incident on Friday had never happened. “I’ve been told you’re friends with Prince Hisham, and as such is my duty to ensure you’re comfortable, so don’t hesitate to ask me anything you need. My name is Latvi Mitra and I’m here to serve.”

The girls exchanged glances, still confused by Mankee’s request. Vicky decided to take the chance to speak on behalf of her brother about the turn the coffee shop had taken.

“Nice to meet you! My name is Vicky. Perhaps you’re not aware of this, but Demian’s my brother, so technically this place is also—”

“Oh, dear, I’m so sorry to hear that!” Latvi interrupted, touching her chest as if she had heard bad news. “You certainly don’t look like it.”

The other girls looked at each other, fearing that somehow, she would reveal that Demian wasn’t actually related to her by blood, even though she had no way of knowing that —unless Mankee woud have told her, which they doubted given his proclivity to avoid her like the plague—, but Vicky just frowned in confusion.

“…Well, what I mean is that my brother didn’t approve of any of these changes, and despite what he said on Friday, the truth is that he didn’t accept any payment, and Mankee was supposed to solve this apparent miscommunication, so you shouldn’t have done to this place whatever you—”

“Give me your hand, dear,” the girl interrupted again, turning a deaf ear to her words, and extending her hand. Vicky watched that well manicured tanned hand, and then looked at Mankee, who was desperately wincing in a way that seemed to ask her not to do it. “…I swear I don’t bite.”

Vicky hesitated for a moment, but then decided that if it was her, she wouldn’t like to be left with an outstretched hand, so she relaxed and shook hands with her. The girl then closed her eyes and shuddered as if a stream of energy had gone through her just by the touch. Vicky and the others looked perplexed at the girl, she even tried to pull away, but Latvi was holding her hand so strongly it was impossible. Puzzled, she turned to Mankee, expecting him to intervene, but he remained virtually paralyzed with a sheer expression of horror.

Finally, the girl opened her eyes after one last jolt, staring at the ceiling as if she’d just had an epiphany. Vicky pulled back nervously, and the girl’s sand eyes settled on her, so wide and expressive that it made her shiver.

The girl, however, kept looking at her with a stunned expression that did nothing but increase her nervousness. Just when she thought things couldn’t be stranger, the girl suddenly pulled away and surrounded herself with her arms, as if having goosebumps. She then looked back at Vicky with an unfathomable expression, straightened up, snapped her fingers and the man holding the fan beside their table immediately approached her. She said something in another language and with a bow, the man went into the kitchen.

“It’s done. This place will be set back to what it was. Anything else?”

Vicky couldn’t believe how easily she had agreed on it. Unable to answer at the time, she just shook her head and the girl seemed to take that as a sign that her work was done.

“All right. Whatever you need, you know where to find me,” Latvi finished, bowing to her and then to the rest of them, ending with a more pronounced bow towards Mankee before heading back to the kitchen, leaving them momentarily silent.

“…What the hell was that?” Marianne finally asked.

“Maybe she just… wanted to be nice,” Belgina suggested.

“Be friendly is not the same as acting like the genie of the lamp. Seriously, Mankee, what the hell was that?” Marianne repeated, and he stammered, attempting a coherent response.

“She was… just Latvi… being Latvi,” he finally said with a nervous laugh and starting to step back. “…I’m going to see how things are going in the kitchen and I’ll send you something, okay?”

“Hey, is Lilith over there?”

“…She didn’t show up today,” Mankee replied ruefully.

“Maybe she thinks she’s no longer needed with all the new uhmm… employees?” Angie said, glancing at the group of men who now seemed to handle everything.

“Could you tell her she still has a job here? She’s not answering my calls or my messages,” Mankee asked before going back to the kitchen.

“We will,” Marianne agreed, pulling out her cellphone once Mankee was gone; however, between the noise from the crowded place and the loud ethnic music, it was impossible for her to focus on the call, so she decided to go out. “Be right back. I’ll call Lilith and Lucianne to find out where they are. Ask for the ingredients of whatever they bring.”

The girls kept quiet as she left, Angie still feeling the tension between her and Vicky after learning about her date with Samael and, as if Belgina could sense it, she suddenly stood up with the excuse of going to the bathroom. Since Addalynn had already turned her attention to her phone, it was almost as if they were alone at the table, not knowing what to say to each other.

“So… you went out with Samuel on Saturday,” Vicky finally said, and Angie slightly hunched her shoulders throwing a brief glance at Addalynn who preferred to remain oblivious to the conversation.

“…Did Kristania tell you? Because sometimes she tends to exaggerate things. I wouldn’t trust her word so much.”

“Samuel told me,” she said, taking her by surprise. “Sometimes we text each other. I asked him what he had done on Saturday and said he’d gone out with you.”

Angie didn’t know what to say. She also used to text him since it was easier for her to communicate with him that way. He always replied no matter what, and somehow that made her feel special. Knowing now that Vicky was also talking to him by text made her see how delusional she’d been.

“I could have stepped aside if I knew you like him, you know. After all, you met him long before I did and you’re also my friend.”

Angie looked surprised and yet with the terrible feeling that she wasn’t that good of a friend since her heart persisted on its crusade to win Samael’s affection when none of that mattered at the end.

“…It’s irrelevant. Nothing we do would matter anyway,” Angie said with a sigh and Vicky’s eyebrows twisted inquisitively.

“Why is that? What do you know about him? Is he… you know… does he swing for the other team?” Vicky asked, lowering her voice, and covering her mouth discreetly. Angie couldn’t help slipping a chuckle.

“As a matter of fact… he may actually never play or even take the bat. I doubt he would even understand the game,” Angie replied with a touch of humor that would surprise her, if not for the underlying self-pityness in it.

Vicky, on the other hand, was still confused while trying to catch the meaning of the metaphor she had started herself. Angie wondered if it would be appropriate for her to let her know the truth about Samael or leave the responsibility to him, and from the corner of her eye she saw Addalynn slightly looking up from her screen, as if she knew where the conversation was going.

“Listen, I don’t know if you’ve noticed… but Samuel is unlike the others.”

“Of course, I’ve noticed! How wouldn’t I? By god, he’s like personified perfection! And I thought there was no such a thing as the perfect boy,” Vicky said with a dreamy expression. “It’s like he’s not from this world.”

“That’s because he’s not,” Angie finally let out. “He’s not even human… He’s an angel, and Marianne’s guardian, too.”

Vicky’s eyes widened so much they seemed to pop out of their sockets; Marianne returned along with Samael after meeting him at the door.

“Well, Lilith went shopping with Kristania for their club and Lucianne was picked up by her father. There’s no news about Mitchell and Frank either; they didn’t come to school. Have you ordered anything?” she said, sitting on the puff while Samael took a seat beside her and greeted the rest.

“Are you an angel?!” Vicky impulsively said and Marianne looked around in panic, some of the people in the nearest tables were turning curiously towards them.

“…Indeed, I am,” he admitted with that soft, smooth voice that invited to keep calm. “I was actually about to tell you. You were the only one left to know about it.”

Vicky kept staring at him with eyes like golf balls until she suddenly smiled.

“…That’s awesome! Please, I want to know more, this is just too cool to waste the opportunity!” Vicky asked, fascinated by the notion of him being an angel, and a smile appeared on Samael’s face since her reaction was totally opposed to what he expected.

Angie was greeted with a pang that told her no matter what she’d do, she would never get a smile like that from him.

When Marianne arrived at the cemetery, she wasn’t sure if Demian would be there —she wouldn’t even dare to text him for confirmation. She ran the last stretch that separated the bus stop from the cemetery and started to decrease her steps as she saw a tall figure standing in the entrance with its back to her. It was Demian, dressed casually, as if he’d been home, after all.

“…I wasn’t sure if you were coming.”

Demian didn’t turn to her at first, and after several seconds unanswered, she thought perhaps her comment was too much and tried to think of something quick to counteract it, but he then turned around and smiled.

“A promise is a promise.”

His smile seemed a clear attempt to show that he was in control, so it was better not to push him. She let out a slight sigh and looked towards the cemetery, just as he had been doing a moment ago.

“Something interesting in there? You seemed so engrossed when I arrived.”

Demian glanced again to a collection of tombstones at the beginning of the cemetery, all different sizes and styles, grouped into islands to form paths to walk by. Some trees garnished the view.

“When I arrived, there was a procession. So, there must be a funeral going on in there right now,” he said, pointing with his chin inside the place.

Given his expression when mentioning the funeral, Marianne knew immediately it was still hard for him to talk about whatever that reminded him of his father… and she couldn’t blame him. It was a death that could have been prevented, another victim of the Legion of Darkness. Demian ended up sighing and shaking his head.

“…I hate cemeteries. Let’s go before it gets dark.”

She followed him through the paths formed between the grave islets and while at it, she watched its architecture. There were some that looked very old, worn sculptures with cracks and discoloration, and even with several cases of vines invasion in others, but the place still looked well cared for its size and oldness. When Demian stopped, he was right on the highest point of a hill near some trees with so much foliage that they left everything in shadows. The path went down to the area where the spotless and well-maintained family’s mausoleum was.

Marianne stopped next to him and watched the crypt. They were virtually in the same spot where months ago they had hidden to watch his father’s funeral, feeling out of place and too remorseful to approach and offer their condolences.

“That’s where you found it?” she asked to break the melancholic atmosphere.

“…No. It’s right here,” he said, diverting his gaze from the mausoleum and returning a few steps back. He stopped in front of a simple headstone that could be confused with the rest if not for its only reference point: a tree that grew so close, its roots had begun to go around it, taking the shape of a chair with the stone being the back and the roots the arm rest. “It was between the stone and the tree. Had it not been for the reflection of the screen I wouldn’t have seen it.”

She got closer and leaned over the stone, cleaning the surface with her sleeve to see the engraving more clearly. Elsbeth Marie Grenoir, dead at 60, two years before she was even born. ‘A charming woman’ said her epitaph. Marianne frowned, trying to make sense of it.

“The name rings any bell?”

“…No. Never heard of it,” she replied, feeling she had entered the twilight zone.

“Grenoir. Sounds like Greniere. Do you think you might be related?”

Marianne shook her head, still intrigued by the name on the stone and trying to think of a reason why her father had visited.

“…My father’s family is not even buried here for what I know. My other grandparents are, but I never met them. It’s been less than a year since I moved, and I don’t even know where they are, though I do know their names. I had never heard of this one.”

“Perhaps it’s a distant relative of your father.”

“Our family is really small, apart from Lucianne and her father, we don’t have any living relative, and yet… our family tree doesn’t have a lot of branches either.”

“At least that you know of,” Demian pointed out, and she merely huffed. He was right. There were many things she didn’t know about her parents until recently. For example, the existence of her uncle Red, distanced from her mother since she decided to run away with Noah. Or the mysterious woman in his father’s life. And now Elsbeth Grenoir, who she had no idea how she was related to him. “Maybe she was just an old family friend as a child.”

“…You’re right. I shouldn’t keep thinking about it,” Marianne said, getting up and shaking her hands as if she had lost interest, even though she made sure to memorize that name. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed that he seemed lost in his own thoughts again and assumed it had to do with fencing. “Thanks for leading me here, you didn’t have to. Surely you have more important things to worry about.”

“Maybe I just need to stop thinking about them for now,” Demian replied, gazing into the distance.

“If it makes you feel better… he was perfectly fine when he returned to class. He said it was just a superficial cut, but you know, capillaries and stuff…”

“That’s not the problem. The thing is… if I’m not able to control myself whenever I’m competing in something, if my demon blood reacts immediately not as a defense mechanism but as a mean to ensure victory… then what’s the case of all this farce of trying to act like a normal human being? I’m not, I’ll never be.”

“Well… if we’re at it, we’re not exactly ordinary people either,” Marianne said, trying to downplay what happened. “And I know how it feels to act before your brain realizes what you’re doing. I’ve had a few of those problems in the past.”

“Yeah, sure, with the difference that your ‘lapses’ don’t put anyone in danger.”

“Well, if you don’t count Kristania.”

Demian looked at her, raising an eyebrow. She just moved her feet around the grass, looking embarrassed, which made him eventually show a smile of amusement.

“…So, you DID make her fall that one time.”

“And a few more  times,” she reluctantly admitted. “Not that I feel especially proud of it! In my defense, she could be a real pain.”

“Okay, you have my attention!” Demian said, unable to contain his laughter anymore; his features that had remained gloomy so far immediately relaxed. “I guess I can deal with this now that I know that you have a dark side.”

“I think we all have a dark side,” she replied, suppressing a smile. “It’s up to us to learn how to handle it.”

“I just have to keep trying then,” he finished with a sigh until he suddenly stood motionless and silent, staring at the distance, as if something had caught his attention.

Marianne followed the direction of his gaze, but didn’t see anything, and right when she was about to ask, he took off running, dodging tombs and even jumping over them as if they were mere hurdles in a steeplechase. It took her a couple of seconds to react and follow him, thinking he might have seen the smoke demon or perceived its trail. When she finally reached him, he had stopped several feet from a funeral in progress.

“What’s going on?”.

“…Someone will die,” he murmured, watching the people gathered around an open grave with a priest in front of everyone.

“What did you say?” she asked, also glancing at those people, but still unable to see anything out of the ordinary, for a cemetery at least. “…How could you know that?”

“I saw it.”

“What? Like a premonition, their auras or something like that?”

Demian’s eyes had been wandering around frantically until they finally stopped at a point on the opposite side. Standing among cherub sculptures and tombstones covered in brambles, a guy all dressed in black, including a hooded sweater, watched the group of moaners, and after consulting his watch, raised one hand, palm upward, and started to slowly close it, as if drawing something toward him.

Demian had barely set his eyes on him, but instantly ran in his direction, leaving Marianne stunned at his strange behavior. She intended to follow him when she heard a commotion among the people from the funeral. The priest had taken his hand to his chest and stumbled around until falling into the hole where they had desposited the coffin. The men closer to him approached the edge of the open grave and several women started screaming and sobbing while Marianne tried to make sense of what she was witnessing. Then she turned her attention to Demian and saw him in front of the tombs with the creepy cherub statues, but she didn’t see anyone around him. Trying to ignore all the fuss several feet away, she headed for Demian, intrigued by his sudden reaction and the fact that he looked like he was talking alone.

“…I have the right to know!” she heard him say so vehemently that she could sense the frustration and despair in his voice.

“Who are you talking to?”

Demian turned around as if he’d completely forgotten that she had followed him, and when he looked back to the front, his expression darkened again.

“…He’s gone again!” he spat reproachfully.

“May I know what is going on or I’m getting on a personal level I shouldn’t cross?” Marianne asked, totally confused. “You suddenly ran away, chasing ghosts, say someone will die and immediately a priest falls headlong into an open grave. At any other time, it would sound like a joke, but I don’t feel like laughing right now.”

Demian continued to sweep around with his gaze, and she twisted her mouth, thinking he was intentionally ignoring her

“…Well, thanks for everything. I’m going home.”

“Wait,” Demian said, turning around and reaching for her. “…Believe me, I don’t feel like laughing either.”

Marianne stood there with all the burial fuss on the background, waiting for an explanation with folded arms.

“What is it then?”

Demian glanced behind her; they had managed to get the priest out of the hole and gave him first aid, but he knew it was useless. He turned his eyes back to her, who looked impatient and willing to ignore what was happening a few feet away.

“Remember the time I told you I had seen death around my father as a physical manifestation, a person?”

He’d also said he had seen it the day she should have had that accident, as she recalled, but didn’t want to interrupt him. She wanted to first hear whatever he had to say and ask questions later.

“I’ve seen it a few more times. We’ve even talked,” he added.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“It’s been a lot to keep track on lately. The thing is that, for some reason, I can see it when I shouldn’t. You didn’t see anything, did you?” She shook her head. “He asked me why I could, and I didn’t know what to say until it suddenly hit me. I’m not human as the rest, so, whatever makes them invisible to others, it doesn’t work with me. Then he told me what he was, and I remembered having heard that word before: obit.”

Marianne said nothing, aware that he had heard it from her that exact day he told her about his previous encounters with that being, thinking she might have some answers. She didn’t at the time and neither did now, the difference was that at least she didn’t have an identity to hide from him anymore.

“…What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know, anything you know about them; something that can help me get an idea of how all of this is related to me.”

“Why would this be related to you?”

“…Because that guy recognized me from way back when I was a baby.”

Marianne’s eyebrows rose almost to the extent of her forehead, too shocked to respond, while the tragicomedy behind them completely faded out.

Samael and Loui had been playing ‘Empire of the gods’ for hours, all the while Loui seemed oddly quiet despite Samael’s effort to cheer him up. He didn’t say anything, though; if something was going on inside the kid’s mind, he expected him to eventually say it himself. Loui ended up pressing pause after losing to him once again and kept the control over his lap with his gaze down. Samael waited patiently for him to speak out, so when the kid finally did, he just listened.

“…I just wanted to be part of something special. To let you know that I can be trusted.”

“I think you’ve proven that already by keeping our secret.”

“But that’s not enough for me. I wanted… to be considered one of you. Be like a superhero,” Loui continued without dropping the control. “I hadn’t thought… the dangers it entailed.”

“What do you mean?” Samael asked, and the boy pulled his cellphone out of his pocket, looking hesitantly at it as he spinned it around in his hands.

“Maybe I’m not ready yet for that kind of responsibility… and I guess it’s better letting the experts do the job,” the boy added with a sigh and then handed the phone to the angel. “…I’ll go to my room. You can give it back when you’re done.”

Saying this, he just walked away while Samael stayed there in confusion, gripping the cellphone in his hand, and looking at a single video file on the screen, ready to be played.


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