“You did what? Nobody told you to!” Marianne protested, halting in front of the coffee shop.

“You’re right, and that’s exactly why you should be thanking me: I had the initiative to do it for you all, so you could start by showing some gratitude,” Mitchell retorted, placing his hands on his waist proudly, while she tried to resist the urge to strangle him.

“You shouldn’t have signed us up without consulting us before!”

“I thought yesterday’s talk counted.”

“For the last time, to keep insisting doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on it!” she said, her hands clenched into fists as she fought the murderous desire he was starting to inspire in her.

“Anyway, it’s done, and these are your foolscaps. It wasn’t cheap, huh? So, again, you should thank me a little,” he demanded, handing them some half letter-sized sheets with their registration details, including the date and place they were going to be picked up.

“This requires personal information…how did you get it?”

“I have a cousin who is a hacker,” he replied like it wasn’t a big deal. “I also have Lucianne and Samuel’s forms. By the way, my cousin had to create a temporary identity for him, just for registration. He failed to get his data, and that frustrated the hell out of him, heh, heh. Who’s going to hand it to them?”

Marianne gave a sigh and reached out to get the forms, and there was apparently a few more left.

“Who else did you sign up?” she asked, fearing the worst. Mitchell made a face as he looked shiftily.

“You see, the thing is…that once my parents found out about the camp, and considering they’re my source of income, they thought it wasn’t too brotherly of me to exclude my sister, and once she found out, one thing led to the other and she ended up joining with her friends.”

“You mean the gargoyles are also coming with us?” Lilith said, displeased.

“Don’t worry, you won’t even notice them. My sister will spend the whole time chasing Demian. He will serve as bait to distract her.”

“So you also signed him up without asking.”

“I have it all under control!” he assured with his thumbs up. Marianne rolled her eyes, tired of trying to reason with him, so she chose to continue her way to the coffee shop along with the rest. They didn’t realize that a few feet from the bus stop, a police car had parked. Officer Perry waited patiently inside, watching carefully every student crossing towards the coffee shop.

Anyone would think he was waiting for some dangerous criminal to show up, given his keen expression, but when he saw his target, carrying a sports bag and going through the bus stop to cross the street, he started the car and came to a sudden stop right in front of him, blocking his way.

“Good afternoon, officer, is there a problem?” Demian asked, leaning forward to look inside the car, recognizing Officer Perry. He remained with sullen eyes, looking straight ahead with his hands on the wheel.

“Get in. We’ll go for a ride,” he ordered without any nuance in his voice, so Demian looked strangely at him.

“Is it something important? I have to go to work.”

The young officer reached for the door handle and opened it as a clear indication to get in the car.

“Then we shouldn’t lose any time. Get in.”

Demian looked sideways, trying to decide whether to do what he was ordered or not. He didn’t like his intimidating tone, but was intrigued by what he might say, so he finally got in, closing the door. The car started and turned right when it reached the corner. Demian kept silent, waiting for the guy to start talking.

For several minutes, while the car was rolling, no one say a word. The atmosphere was tense and anyone could perceive the growing anxiety taking hold of the officer as he pressed his hands on the wheel, until he finally spoke.

“The last seven years I’ve been looking after Lucianne, protecting and taking care of her every time her father was busy, even when he didn’t ask me to do it.”

Demian didn’t even have to look at him to understand where he was going.

“She’s so kind and generous that she usually ends up helping strangers without even taking notice at how dangerous they can be, or their intentions. Too many times I’ve had to chase away any kind of danger that could be lurking around her. And so, I won’t let anyone hurt her.”

“Does this have anything to do with me?” he interrupted, trying to keep a calm tone. “Otherwise I don’t see the point of this discussion.”

“I just want to make clear that the only thing I care about is that she’s happy, and anyone who threatens that happiness and makes her suffer will have to deal with me.” A brief spark crossed his gaze as he laid his eyes on him, the first time since he got in the car. “Understand?”

Demian stared back without losing his stoic face, but still remained silent. The car ended up stopping in front of the coffee shop after a full round to the block. Demian opened the door to get out.

There was not a word or exchanged glances; as soon as he closed the door, the car left, wheels grinding on the asphalt.

“Was that Officer Perry? Did something happen to Lucianne?” Marianne asked when he entered the cafeteria.

She was sitting next to the window where the whole front of the street could be seen; the four girls taking care of a plate of fries at the center of the table next to another with nachos.

“No, everything’s fine,” he replied, unable to erase that stern face that had helped him to remain undisturbed in the car.

“Look at you, so healthy after yesterday. And to think it was because of my remedies that you got better,” Lilith said smugly, dipping several fries in the melted cheese from the nachos and then into her mouth. “Next time you get sick, don’t hesitate to call me. I’ll gladly make you my special teas.”

“Thanks, now I have an additional incentive to not get sick.”

“You’re welcome!” she said as if she had a filter to hear what she wanted.

“Ah, good thing you finally came!” Mitchell left the kitchen as if walking through his own house. “I thought you were inside. I have something for you.”

He instantly pulled a paper from his stuff and handed it to him.

“What is this?”

“Your registration form for the camp that starts this Monday. Whenever you can pay me back is okay; it doesn’t have to be right now.”

“And when did I agree to do this?”

“Come on! It’ll be fun! We’ll all go!” he said, pointing at the girls.

“As much as I’m delighted in your company, I have to work, so start by thinking what to do with this,” Demian said, giving the paper back and getting into the counter even with Mitchell following him, not willing to budge an inch.

“You don’t have to worry about that, really! I spoke with your father yesterday…” Demian twitched and immediately turned to him, “and he agrees that you should go. I explained to him about your situation.”

“And what is my situation supposed to be?”

“You know.” He arched an eyebrow saying this and winked as if they shared a secret, but Demian only looked confused and tired of his games.

“I have no idea what you mean, and frankly I don’t care. I won’t go and that’s my final word,” he stated, ending the conversation and starting to set the glasses on the counter. Mitchell remained undaunted by that statement and without saying a thing, took out his cell phone and started pressing a few keys. It drew Demian’s attention. “What are you doing? Who are you texting to?”

“Oh, you’ll see,” he said, closing the phone again and keeping it back with a smile on his face. Before Demian could say anything else, his phone rang, causing him to look back at Mitchell as if he had something to do with it.

Mitchell just smiled, showing his teeth, and walked towards the table as Demian pulled his cell quickly and looked at the screen. It was a call from his father. His face broke into a grimace and a sigh of resignation when he finally answered.

“Seems like things didn’t go as expected, huh?” Marianne said as soon as Mitchell sat on the table with them.

“Just wait and see,” he replied without showing an ounce of concern.

“Anyway, don’t think that just because you signed us up, our parents are going to automatically allow us to go.”

“I already have it all covered. While we were in school, my mother called your parents to convince them of the benefits of nature for all of us. She can be very persuasive and convincing.”

“You’re kidding.”

Demian approached at that moment, frowning, and snatched the registration paper from Mitchell’s hands.

“I hate you,” he muttered, squinting and heading back to the counter.

“See? I told you I had everything under control.”

“You’re a complete schemer,” Marianne blurted out with a scowl. But as it turned out, Mitchell wasn’t lying. He had effectively convinced their parents to let them go. “I guess it’s official. We’re going to the camp.”

“It will be to our benefit. I’m sure of it,” Samael said with his registration form in his hands. “Samuel Darwin.”

“Mitchell said they had to create a fake ID for you since they failed to find any kind of information. I thought perhaps it might be useful in the future, I mean, to have an ID and stuff so you can pass like a normal person, what do you think?”

Samael looked at the page in silence, as if analyzing all the information in it.

“Do you think it’s better this way?”

“Of course! You might even get your own house someday and not depend on anyone, get a life of your own. You just need a human identity starting with a full name. What do you think about that one? You can change it if you wish; after all, it’s just temporary.”

“What do you think?”

She thought about it for a moment, reviewing in her mind other possibilities until she seemed convinced and looked back at him with a smile.

“I don’t dislike it. I think it has musicality and a touch of irony.”

“Irony?” he repeated, unsure of her meaning. His eyes remained fixed on the name, popping out above the rest of the information. “Samuel Darwin it is then.”

“Perfect!” she celebrated, spinning around in her swivel chair.

The place where they would leave for camp was the town central park, which was surrounded by the main government buildings and had a parking area where three buses waited for them. Her father stood beside her, taking care of the luggage while watching the increasing arrival of teenagers equipped like explorers. Because of his insistence on taking her, Samael had to stay behind and she had promised to text him the instructions to get to the meeting point.

“It looks like fun. I wish I could go,” Noah said, looking excited at everything.

“Take my place, no one will notice,” she murmured unenthusiastically. Her friends hadn’t come yet and she tried to think a way to get rid of her father.

“I’m hungry! How long are we going to wait?” Loui asked, showing up behind them with an annoyed look in his face. He had agreed to go with them on his father’s promise to go for pizza afterwards.

“Hold on a little more. Here, go buy something meanwhile,” his father said, giving him money and pointing at a little store some yards from the park.

“You don’t need to stay until I leave, you can go if you want. I’m sure my friends will turn up any minute now.”

“Then we’ll wait until they come,” her father resolved with his ‘everything’s fine’ smile, which used to exasperate her. Even worse, whenever some new girl arrived and passed in front of them, they glanced at him without any discretion. It was really irritating and one of the reasons she preferred he didn’t go with her.

“Perhaps I should go buy something over there,” she said, turning around with the intention of walking away from him at least for a while, but as soon as she did it, she met face-to-face with Kristania and her two minions, flanking her on each side.

“Ah, look who we have here,” she said with a snarky tone and crooked smile. The bandage on her foot was already a little less bulky, but she was still using crutches. “Are you alone? Have your friends left you?”

“How do you think I would look like with a jacket like that?” Noah said, taking Marianne’s shoulder and pointing at a boy several feet away wearing a black leather jacket with red stripes and metallic finishes and the collar up, which gave him a rebellious appearance. “Would I look cool with that or maybe dangerous? I’m thinking of perhaps renewing my wardrobe.”

She rolled her eyes with a snort and Kristania looked at him suspiciously.

“Well, well, well! Could it be that you have another good friend living in your house too? You seem to be having quite some fun, huh?”

“He’s my father,” Marianne grumbled, gritting her teeth and frowning. Kristania was silent for the first time as if aware that she had crossed a line she wouldn’t allow herself.

“Hi! Are you Marianne’s friends? Nice to meet you, you can call me Noah,” he introduced himself, offering his hand with the smile that won him followers. Marianne squinted, challenging them to say something, but they were mute, as if the presence of a parent intimidated them.

“N-Nice to meet you…We…have to go now…Excuse me,” Kristania finally replied, adopting an unusually subdued attitude and starting to move the crutches to get away from there along with her friends.

“Weird girls,” Noah said, withdrawing his hand from the air.

“Hey, what’s up? Haven’t the others come yet? It’s almost time.”

Mitchell showed up a few seconds later after his sister’ retreat. He wore mustard colored pants with a striped shirt in blue and white, and a red jacket with edges the same mustard color as the pants. The piece in his left ear was red this time, probably to somehow match his jacket despite the jumble of colors he was. And of course, his perfectly combed pompadour was fixed with spray.

“No one else besides you,” she replied while he stopped before them in silence, waiting for a proper introduction. She rolled her eyes again once she understood. “He’s my father, and this busybody here is Mitchell.”

“Oh, the father! Great!” he remarked, shaking hands with him enthusiastically. “Did you know I was this close to becoming your son-in-law?”

Marianne threw him an angry look and her father tilted his head as if hadn’t heard right.

“Stop speaking nonsense!”

“But don’t worry! Now I have my eyes set on someone else. Although you know, that doesn’t stop me from havig a look here and there, if you know what I mean,” he continued rambling, winking and elbowing him to her growing irritation.

Fortunately, her friends’ immediate arrival one after another prevented a tragedy.

Belgina was brought by her mother’s assistant, even when the park was just in front of the Courthouse where she usually was, and yet she seemed unresponsive to this fact, unlike how she normally would react to her mother’s return to her old ways. Perhaps one of the advantages —if one could call it that— of lacking the intellectual gift was that now she didn’t stop to overthink everything.

Right after her, Angie arrived in a car along with her father; a red-haired man about forty, thin and fragile looking, possibly due to his heart condition. He wore glasses and a business suit as if ready to attend to a meeting. He helped her unload her luggage and she said something to him; he then looked at the guys and made a slight bow to greet them before leaving.

“Has Samuel arrived?” was the first thing Angie asked when she approached them.

“Hello, good morning, Angie, always a pleasure.”

“Oh, sorry! Good morning,” she corrected herself, giggling in shame and pulling out her cell. “I’m asking because he texted me saying he was on his way.”

“Then he should be coming, don’t worry,” Marianne said, analyzing her face while she looked at her phone.

She was tempted to talk to her and remove all doubt, but didn’t want to do so in front of everyone. She should at least wait until they were alone.

Then Lilith appeared completely by herself, dragging a suitcase. Her mother was a nurse so it was expected that she couldn’t go with her. As soon as she stopped in front of them, she let go of her suitcase, panting tiredly, and putting her hands on her hips.

“Have you heard Lissen Rox’s new song?”

“Uhm…no,” Marianne replied. That was an odd question to start the day.

“You’ll hear it then. You have to,” she said, shaking her limbs to loosen up.

This time she didn’t show the usual emotion when talking about her favorite singer, and that seemed weird to everyone.

“Well, I see your friends have come, so I guess you’ll want me to leave,” Noah said, getting ready to go. “I’ll go get Loui.”

“Hey, Demian, over here!” Mitchell yelled, waving his hand.

In front of the park,a black car was parking. Demian went out of it not-so-cheerfully while his father greeted them with a conspiratorial smile as he drew his luggage from the trunk and closed it. He waved reluctantly at his father while walking away from the car, and the man suddenly got out too and began to walk alongside him, to Demian dismay.

“Hi, I just wanted to take a moment to greet you all. I imagine you’re all excited about this trip. If I were your age I would definitely go with you.”

“That’s exactly what I said,” Noah intervened, already on his way out.

Mr. Donovan didn’t notice him at first, mistaking him for someone from the group, but once he realized he was another parent like him, he seemed more spirited.

“Ah, finally someone who understands me! A pleasure to meet you, my name is Dante Donovan.” He shook hands with Noah, while Demian seemed like he wanted to disappear.

“Noah. I’m her ather.” He said laying his hand on Marianne’s shoulder.

“Oh, really? In that case let me take this opportunity to apologize on behalf of my son for the accident.”

“Dad!” Demian exclaimed, flustered that he would bring that up again.

“Accident? What is he talking about? Why has no one said anything to me?” Noah asked softly to Marianne’s ear.

“It wasn’t that serious!” she said, trying to settle the matter and not talk about it again.

“But don’t worry, everything’s fine, they’re good friends now,” the man added, patting Demian’s shoulder, who tried to hide his embarrassment with a facepalm.

“See? They’re getting along very well,” Mitchell whispered, nudging him in the ribs, and he took his hands away from his face.

“So what?”

“You know,” he repeated with a wink, upsetting him even more.

“Honestly I don’t! Stop talking in code!”

“Daaaaaad, can we leave now? There was nothing I liked at the store.”

Loui had returned and was now standing with arms crossed and a bored face.

“Oh, yes. Excuse me, I think it’s time for us to leave. Please, take care of her,” Noah finished, tousling Marianne’s hair.

She just let out a wheeze of resignation, repressing the urge to shake her head and claim she wasn’t a little girl anymore that needed to be taken care of.

As both left, Demian’s father also decided it was time to go before his son’s exasperation would increase.

“Well, as I said, I only came to say hello. I must go now, so excuse me. Have a good time. You’re taking everything, right?” he asked Demian before leaving and he just nodded, which seemed to reassure him. “Well, have fun then. Goodbye, everybody!”

As soon as he left, Demian felt like he could breathe again. He loved his father, but sometimes was annoyed by the way he kept treating him like a child; he could be overprotective and say the most unnecessary things at the wrong time.

The large number of kids gathering in the area suddenly began to move, summoned to one side by a young couple a little bit older than them. They immediately introduced themselves as their guides, Benny and Luna. They explained there was a delay waiting for the rest, so meanwhile they were going to fill up two of the buses and would leave instantly to their destination.

Samael and Lucianne hadn’t arrived yet, and that was starting to worry them, but soon a police car stopped in front of them and Lucianne came out of it with a bag, closing the door behind her and waving towards Officer Perry with a smile. He looked at Demian as if silently conveying his warning again. The latter held his undaunted gaze the whole time, until the car left. Lucianne seemed to ignore the talk that had previously taken place between the two of them as she looked relaxed and greeted everyone once she got close.

“We thought you wouldn’t make it.”

“Fortunately Perry spent several months putting off his vacations and decided to take them now, so he can watch over my father while I’m at camp.”

“Is your father sick?” Demian asked, followed by a few seconds of silence when Lucianne realized she had probably said too much. After all, he wasn’t aware of what really happened to her father.

“Yes…You could say that.”

“Attention, guys! This bus is for the girls and this one for the boys! The first group will depart in ten minutes!” announced Benny, one of the counselors. The buses began their boarding.

Angie repeatedly checked her cell awaiting news from Samael and Marianne couldn’t help but notice her concern. Thankfully he hadn’t arrived while her father was still there, otherwise her brother would have certainly recognized him, but if he didn’t appear soon, he probably wouldn’t go with them either.

“There’s still a bus left waiting for the rest, he could go on that one,” Lilith suggested. The rows formed in front of the buses were decreasing until they were the only ones left, still undecided.

“What are you waiting for? Didn’t you want to go to the camp so much?” Demian asked, noticing no one had moved from their place.

“Yes, but Samuel hasn’t come yet,” Mitchell said.

“Is he coming too?”

“Ohhhh, right,” Mitchell then added, seeing an opportunity to poke him. “Don’t you know that wherever Marianne goes, he goes too? He’s like her shadow.” Demian maintained his grim expression without saying a word. “Why? Does it bother you that he’s coming?”

“Whatever,” Demian replied, looking towards the bus they should have been boarding right then.

“You’re the ones left! What are you waiting for?” Benny, the guide, said from the boys’ bus while the other counselor was also beckoning the girls to get in theirs.

They exchanged undecided glances until they started to carry their luggage. Marianne tried to stay back for a last look around waiting for Samael to appear, and it wasn’t until she stepped into the bus that she finally saw him coming. He was carrying an explorer backpack that she had found in the attic and didn’t seem tired at all or in a big rush, but once he saw her from afar, he hurried to catch up.

“It was about time!”

At the other bus, Mitchell and Demian stopped at the door when they heard her.

“I’m sorry, the instructions you sent me weren’t very helpful. I had to handle it myself,” he answered, stopping in front of her.

“Well, seems like he did make it after all, let’s go up then!” Mitchell said, getting into the bus while Demian looked askance at them before following him.

“How was it so complicated? I made it very clear!”

“I’m still not familiar with the streets of the city. I got lost, so I had to follow your energy.”

“My energy? Can you still do that even when there’s no danger?”

“It already worked once when I transported the first time,” he added with a smile. “I actually had the chance to do the same, but I thought it might be a problem if I suddenly appeared among so many people, so I decided to continue walking, guided by you.”

“Well… that would have definitely been a problem,” she agreed, though she was still amazed by his growing skills. She wanted to ask more questions about it, but Luna was calling her from the bus, announcing it was time to leave. “You have to go on the other bus. Mitchell’s there. Stay with him and remember not to reveal anything about yourself. See you when we get to the camp.”

The first ones to go in both buses had occupied the back seats, so the girls had to take the ones in the front, leaving only a pair of empty seats in the right row. Marianne had to sit in one of those while Angie and Belgina sat on the left side. Lucianne and Lilith took the ones in the second row.

“Was that Samuel?” Angie asked, leaning on the arm seat and pulling out half of her body towards Marianne.

“Yes, he managed to arrive on time. There’s no need to worry about him anymore,” she replied, sitting next to the aisle to be closer to them.

“Phew, thank goodness!” Angie added with a sigh of relief, leaning back in her chair. Lilith immediately leaned forward and pressed Marianne’s arm, giving her a knowing glance.

“Uhm… Angie… I was wondering…”

“Open the door! We’re leaving someone behind!”

The bus door opened again as Luna, the camp counselor, looked outside.

“I just went to the bathroom! Shouldn’t you be aware if anyone is missing?” the newcomer complained, who was none other than Kristania. She looked for her friends, sitting at the back, but they hadn’t saved an extra seat for her, leading to a silent tantrum. “Where am I supposed to sit now?”

Marianne looked at the empty seat next to her and began to curse her luck. It didn’t take a psychic to know what would happen next. The counselor told Kristania to sit on the only available seat and once she saw Marianne, the protests ensued, even calling out to exchange seats with someone, but the proposal was received with a silence that said more than a thousand words. Of course no one would accept such an exchange, not even her minions who were very well positioned at the second to last row.

Finally, after her failure, she ended up threading her way through, thrusting her crutches on purpose against Marianne’s legs to sit next to the window. The latter didn’t even glare at her and remained stooped on the opposite side, resting on the arm seat and holding her chin with a scowl until she felt Lilith’s hand patting her shoulder sympathetically. That was enough to make her think that no one‘s fate could be worse than hers at that time.

On the boys’ bus, on the other hand, Demian looked incredulous at Mitchell who had taken Samael to his seat.

“Can you repeat that?” he asked, trying to absorb what he had just said.

“I’m leaving Samuel with you. I have to talk to someone at the back, he saved me a seat,” Mitchell replied, completely unconcerned, instructing Samael to sit on the side of the window and as he did, Demian got up and grabbed Mitchell by the shirt before he left.

“When you told me to save you a seat, I didn’t think it would be for someone else!” he muttered under his breath.

“Relax! You just have to know him a little more. I promise you’ll like him. Be nice, okay? Now excuse me, I have some business to discuss.”


As much as he tried to stop him, he went away, leaving him with the unexpected company. Demian sat back and let out a snort while Samael stared out the window. The only thing that was clear to Demian was that it would be a long trip.

“Pssst, pssst!” The sound behind her seat caught Marianne’s attention and once she turned, Lilith talked to her ear. “When are we going to talk to Angie?”

Hearing this, she glanced at Angie, who was busy with her cell, watching the screen with a smile.

“We’ll have to wait until we get to the camp. We can’t do it with…witnesses,” she said discreetly, tilting her face towards Kristania. The blonde showed her thumbs up and Marianne turned her head back to the front, but a few seconds later she felt a pair of hands holding her face, and before she could react, something was placed over her ears. “What the…?”

“I said you had to listen to Lissen Rox’s latest song.”

Lilith’s voice sounded muffled through the headset she had put her on.

“Could it be later?”

The music began to play, so she threw her head back and tried to relax while the song was playing. The first notes came from a harpsichord which gave the song a little gothic intro, but after fifteen seconds, electric guitars began to play and the song increased its rhythm at a vertiginous pace. She wasn’t a fan, but she had to admit it sounded good. And then she heard the lead voice with a soft tone that reverberated in her ears, going easily from the lowest of notes to impressive trebles; he definitely had an incredible ductile voice. However, as soon as she paid attention to the lyrics, she began to get why Lilith was so insistent in her listening to it.

It basically told his meeting with two heavenly beings and their battles against demons to keep them from stealing people’s essence; all of this spiced with a mystery arc around these beings of unknown origin that may or may not be angels. She thought it to be a coincidence, but since she heard the word ‘gift’ as a reference to that stolen essence, she knew it couldn’t be the product of chance. It had been unwise of them to speak in front of him, thinking he was still unconscious; clearly he must have heard part of their conversation and now this was the result: an emo rock song about them, despite the artistic liberties. Their promise to remain discreet wasn’t working so far.

“Well?” Lilith formulated gravely. “Is there anything I should know?”

“Uhm…must be…a coincidence.”

“Really? A coincidence?” she continued, squinting suspiciously. “Hey, Belgina! Did you bring your i-pad? Do you still have the video I sent you?”

Belgina pulled out a device and handed it to them. It had a small screen and Lilith connected her headphones to it, putting them back on Marianne. She kept her eyes fixed on the screen and as soon as the first notes from the same song were heard, she saw a ballerina dancing to the music in the distance, with graceful and feathery movements that looked more like classic ballet than the style it represented. She didn’t understand how it was related to the song, but she kept watching until the intro came to an end and she got a close-up to the ballerina, stooping on the floor with the last note of the harpsichord. She had a bob cut just like her, and as the guitars began to play, a pair of wings unfolded from her back, and from that moment on, the video was filled with fast paced action with demons forming from shadows and people being attacked in the middle of a rock concert, where the singer was the last one standing, immersed in his own music, unaware of what has happening around. His saviors appeared, then. Winged silhouettes from afar, though their wings instantly covered them and solidified to form a metal armor that resembled their own. Then they went on to battle against the demons out of the shadows, defeating them one by one while he continued singing as if his life depended on it, until the last demon was upon him and the music was cut as he fell and lay motionless on the floor.

During the next few seconds, nothing else was heard except the echo of footsteps on the stage, stopping before him. The figure then leaned over him and took off its helmet, to reveal the girl with the same haircut as Marianne, who returned him to life with a kiss. Instantly the music continued playing towards the grand finale, in which both alleged angels disappeared at the end of the song, amid a blaze of colored lights and smoke covering the entire stage.

The video finished, leaving Marianne with a gaping mouth, twisted eyebrows and no idea of how to react to what she’d just seen, especially with that last scene, which had turned her stomach, even though she kept telling herself it was only his magnified version of the events.

“Pfffft!” A snort to her right made her turn her head. Kristania had seen the video and raised an eyebrow in a petulant gesture. “I can’t understand how some people can like that guy or his music. He even wears more makeup than me.”

“And that’s saying a lot,” Marianne added so she would stop talking to her and mind her own business.

“Hey, I like him! I’m a ‘lissener’ and proud of it!” Lilith protested, clinging to the back of Marianne’s seat.

“Which reinforces my opinion about it,” Kristania replied, causing the blonde’s face to redden as her fingers nailed to Marianne’s seat.

Lucianne immediately launched to the rescue, at least to prevent her seatmate to commit any folly.

“Look, Lilith! I brought some cupcakes for the trip, do you want one?”

Lilith’s face regained her natural tone and softened just by hearing the magic words.

 “Cupcakes! I want a chocolate one!” she said, returning to her seat as if nothing had happened moments before.

“Do you want some?” Lucianne offered to the others, including Kristania who not only rejected her offer, but looked at her analytically.

“So you’re the one who went out with Demian.”

“Well… as friends, yes.”

“Exactly, only as friends. Don’t get your hopes up,” she finished, looking at her disparagingly.

“Don’t bother listening to her.” Marianne motioned Lucianne to say nothing and she simply sat down with a disgruntled gesture. Kristania seemed satisfied and looked back out the window.

“You still have nothing to say about the video?” Lilith asked her again, leaning to her side of the chair with half a cupcake in her mouth.

“When we get there, okay? This is not the place,” she whispered, knowing that anything they said would be heard by her spiteful seatmate and quite possibly would be used against them, so they remained silent for the rest of the road, though they constantly heard Angie’s phone while she wrote on the keyboard with a big goofy smile on her face, and for Marianne it wasn’t hard to imagine who she was texting.

In short intervals, Samael cell’s alarm was constantly activated with a sound that was starting to annoy Demian, so much that he decided that if he heard it just once more, he would snatch the cell out of his hands and throw it out of the window. And he was tempted to do it when he heard it again, but realized that this time it was his own phone. He looked at the screen and saw it was a text from Mitchell, requesting him to strike up a conversation with Samael and be nice to him, which seemed like the last straw.

He turned around and caught a glimpse of Mitchell leaning over the back of a seat at the bottom, pleading with his eyes and then sitting again, though he couldn’t see who was next to him.

Demian rolled his eyes and turned back to the front, looking askance at his companion, who was now watching the road with the window half-open, the wind right on his face. He seemed to be enjoying it, like it was something new to him.

“Haven’t you traveled before?”

Samael seemed surprised that he would talk to him.

“No, it’s the first time.”

“Really? Have you spent your whole life locked up or what?”

He kept silent since it was basically true, but it wasn’t something he should be talking about and let alone to someone external to them.

“Let’s say I hadn’t had the chance.”

Demian seemed unconvinced of his response, but he didn’t intend to dig deeper. He was just trying to make conversation as Mitchell had asked, but soon realized he couldn’t think of anything else to say, and there wasn’t any kind of topic he would consider talking to him.

“You don’t have to talk to me just because Mitchell asked you to,” Samael added, taking him unaware. “It’s really unnecessary.”

“Well, he can’t say I didn’t try,” Demian finished, settling into his seat and looking back at the front. Samael stared at him, trying to search in his mind, but to his confusion, he couldn’t catch anything.

He could sense the thoughts of everyone else in the bus, including Mitchell, who was apparently regretting the help he had asked of someone, but Demian seemed completely sealed to him. The latter, in turn, tried to ignore the fact that he was watching him earnestly, but was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

“Do you need anything else?”

“No, nothing,” Samael responded, realizing he was upsetting him, so he simply looked back out the window, leaving Demian somewhat baffled by his odd behavior.

The trip lasted for a couple more hours until they got deeper into a wooden area, where they could see a set of huts irregularly distributed at the end of the road. There were three persons waiting for the buses arrival. As soon as they reached their destination, everyone began to get out of the buses. The counselors asked them to maintain order, but their attempts to control them proved futile given their excitement in seeing the camp at last.

One of the advantages of having sat right at the front was the chance of being first to get off, and Marianne didn’t waste any time to leap out of her seat and run to what she considered freedom.

If she remained sitting next to Kristania for another minute she could suffer from soul poisoning just by breathing the same air as her for so long.

“You weren’t in a hurry to leave, huh?” Lucianne commented, trying not to laugh as they got off the bus. She just answered with a wrinkle of her nose.

“Are the boys out yet?” Angie asked zelously.

“If by ‘boys’ you mean Samuel, it seems he’s already getting off the bus,” Lilith said, pointing to the other end with her gaze. The girl blushed momentarily, but followed her gaze and saw him coming down distractedly.

She instantly started to call him out, waving her arm so he could see them among the growing number of teens descending from the buses.

It took him a few seconds to realize they were calling him, so when he looked at the crowd and saw the girls waving to get his attention, he slung his backpack on his shoulder and started walking down the stretch that separated them. Demian just followed him with his eyes, but when he felt the weight of a hand on his shoulder, he quickly moved away just to discover Mitchell behind him.

“It’s me. How did it go? Did you get to know each other a little better?”

“Don’t even talk about it,” he snapped, picking up his luggage to get away from there, but Mitchell blocked his path.

“Hey, by the way…I don’t know how to say it…but I need to ask you something.” His gesture revealed some unusual concern in him, and Demian decided to pay attention just out of curiosity. “You see…I hope you don’t mind. I may have screwed up a little this time…”

“Just say it, Mitchell. Stop beating around the bush.”

“You’re still on that ‘Lucianne’s just a friend to me’ thing, right? You wouldn’t mind if, let’s say, someone else is interested in her or something like that…”

Demian gave him a suspicious look that he immediately set out to clarify.

“No, I’m not saying it for me! Though in all honesty I would have tapped that in other times… But that’s not the point! Let’s say that maybe I rushed into accepting to owe someone a favor, and maybe this someone came here following me and may have asked me to introduce Lucianne to him…just maybe.”

He waited for Demian to respond, but he only stared at him with a stern and daunting gesture, so he began to step back with a forced smile until turning around and running away as fast as possible.

After Mitchell’s getaway, Demian fretfully took his luggage and with a swift motion lifted it to his back with bad timing, as someone was just getting off the bus at that very moment, and the impact knocked the guy out in such a way that he ended up on the ground, eating dust.

Demian stood unmoving for a moment, cursing his luck while people crowded around to see what was going on.

He finally turned with the intention to apologize and saw the boy he had knocked over, face down the floor and wearing a black leather jacket with red stripes, trying to push himself up, and once he lifted his face, Demian noticed he was bleeding from a cut on his lip.

“I’m sorry,” he said, feeling abashed and offering his hand to help him up. “I didn’t…”

The boy pushed his hand away and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and then looked at it carefully.

His face immediately clenched at the sight of blood, like a raging bull, and some could even swear to hear him bellow.

It all happened in a matter of a few seconds and no one got to react or foresee it, until Demian had his face turned to one side, staggering and trying to stay on his feet.

Once he managed to regain his balance, he felt a warm tingling on the edge of his mouth. He took his hand there and noticed the blood between his fingers. He looked up and saw the boy with black jacket and red stripes in front of him, furious eyes and clenched hands in a defensive pose, waiting for the next punch.

Around him everybody moved expectantly aside to see the beginning of a fight.