2. CHOSEN PREY
Marianne slapped her alarm clock, half-asleep, and started to get ready for school like an automaton, without recalling the events of the past day until the cracked surface of the mirror at her vanity jogged her memory.
“Good morning!” Samael said, and she winced.
“Don’t do that! You’ll scare the life out of me!”
“Sorry, but you should really get used to it.”
“I know, I know.”
She was unsure of how to act around others now that her life had changed so radically. Nearly out the door, she noticed a pair of policemen in the living room, interrogating her brother. She backed up.
“What’s going on?”
Her mother excused herself and approached with a little smile.
“Apparently your brother was attacked yesterday on his way to the library, so I’ll take him to school once the officers finish with him. You should go ahead.”
“Isn’t that a little extreme? I mean, he looks fine, after all.”
“Had you been there, you could have been a witness. By the way, where were you? You just came back home and went straight to your room without even saying anything . . . and where’s your collar?”
“Gotta go, I’m gonna be late!”
Marianne hurried to the door, but managed to catch a bit of the exchange between her brother and the officers.
“And then this girl in armor showed up out of nowhere, is that right?”
She couldn’t hear anything after the door shut behind her, but the mere thought that they were unknowingly talking about her made her feel unsettled.
“Are you worried you’ll get in trouble for this?”
“Should I be?”
“As long as you keep to yourself, I don’t think so.”
“Well, I hope you’re right,” she concluded, still nervous.
Just before she entered the school grounds, she noticed a growing crowd on one of the side roads.
“He’s dead!” a woman yelled.
Out of curiosity, Marianne made her way through the dense knot of people until she managed to see what was attracting their attention: an ambulance and several police cars outside of a bank. The paramedics were removing a few unfortunate souls from the building, and performing CPR on one.
“A robbery gone wrong. A lot of people were injured and someone died, apparently. At least they got the one responsible for all of this,” said the woman beside her, unasked. Marianne focused on the man on the ground as the paramedics did their best to save his life.
“There is no blood.”
“It was a heart attack,” explained the woman.
At the end, the efforts to save him seemed to be ineffective. They covered the poor sod with a sheet.
Marianne looked at her watch again. Ten minutes left. She had started to make her way back to school when the crowd erupted in cries of surprise. The man everyone had assumed was dead seemed magically to have come back to life. The crowd burst into a round of applause as the man was led into an ambulance.
Marianne let out the breath she was holding and finally resumed her way toward school.
“Stop! You have to go back. I think that man could be the next victim.”
“I have school! Besides, how can you be so sure?”
“Trust me, I’ve got a feeling I’m right.”
“Well, your sixth sense will have to wai,” she huffed. “I have no intention whatsoever to get myself into more trouble than I already have.” She had barely turned the corner when she walked face-first into a pole. “Am I some kind of magnet for bad luck?”
She went straight to the school’s restroom. Her forehead was scratched and bleeding a bit.
“You could get that checked in the hospital.”
“Don’t insist! I’ll survive, alright? Actually, why don’t you heal me with the same trick you used on my neck yesterday, huh? Come on, do it!”
A girl with a raspberry-colored ponytail walked in, forcing him to hold back. She was wearing the same uniform as Marianne, but the girl was a little shorter than her. Marianne couldn’t recall having seen her before, so she assumed the girl was from a different class. She had walked over to the row of faucets to wash her hands and fixed her bangs a bit when she noticed Marianne dabbing at the still-bleeding scratch on her forehead. The girl rummaged through a small pouch.
“Here, have a band-aid,” said the girl with a smile. Marianne took it, surprised by her kindness, and couldn’t help but smile back at her.
“Thanks, that’s really nice of you.”
The girl nodded, drying her hands, and finally left the restroom, waving goodbye.
“Did you feel that?” Samael’s voice rang.
“Yes, that was my faith in this world been restored. I thought that there weren’t any nice people here besides Belgina, but I was wrong!”
“I didn’t mean that.”
“Done!” Marianne had finished placing the band-aid on her forehead and tousled her hair a bit to hide it. “Time for class.”
The girl’s gesture had lifted her mood so much that she practically skipped into the classroom, paying no attention to her classmates’ stares and whispers. Meanwhile, Belgina stayed in her seat, more serious than usual. A few rows ahead, Marianne spotted the girl with the raspberry-colored hair and her face brightened. The girl smiled and waved at her, so she did the same. However, Marianne’s smile disappeared when the girl with the sharp face leaned and whispered something into the other girl’s ear that made her friendly face change.
Glancing around, she noticed some of her classmates pointing their fingers at their heads and making circular motions. She couldn’t figure out how she had gone from ‘freak’ to ‘nutcase’ so fast, but there was nothing else she could do. As was becoming her custom, she waited for school to end and asked Belgina for the news.
“Why was everyone looking at me like that?”
Belgina glanced at the door, waiting for the others to leave, then looked back at Marianne.
“Kristania told everyone that she heard you talking to yourself in the restroom. You were arguing with nobody, so you must be crazy,” Belgina said and Marianne gulped, feeling exposed. “Is that true?”
“Uh, well it’s not like I was… talking to myself or anything,” she mumbled, trying to make something up on the spot to justify her behavior. “I was just cheering myself on. It’s tough to be new in town, having to endure all this negativity, so…talking to myself in the mirror helps.” Belgina nodded, her serious expression unchanging. “Is that why you’re making that face? Do you think I’m nuts?”
“No, not at all! I’m just tired. I haven’t been sleeping too well lately.”
“You could say that, yes.”
Marianne looked at her worriedly, and then let her gaze drift back to the seat that had been occupied by the raspberry-haired girl.
“Do you know the new girl who came in today?” she asked, pointing to the chair.
“Oh, you mean Angie! She’s been with us since middle grade, but she skips school sometimes. Why do you ask?”
“She gave me this band-aid,” Marianne explained, moving her hair aside to show it. “It was very nice of her, considering everyone else’s attitude.”
“I’m very sorry for how they’ve treated you,” Belgina said sincerely.
“It’s alright. I’m used to it, so they don’t really get to me.”
“By the way . . . your neck . . . ” Marianne’s hands flew to her throat.
“Oh, yeah . . . well . . . it wasn’t that bad after all.”
“The hospital! You must go to the hospital!” Samael suddenly interrupted her thoughts. Her face froze in an odd smile, as she tried to come up with an excuse to give the now concerned Belgina.
“Is anything the matter?”
“Say you have to go somewhere, but don’t say where, otherwise she’ll follow you.”
“It’s just that… I just remembered there’s something I have to do. I’d better hurry or I’ll be late.”
“I’ll go with you.” Belgina attempted to follow, but Marianne immediately put her hands in front of her, signaling her to stop.
“There’s no need to, really! You should go home and try to rest a bit. See you tomorrow!” She took off without giving Belgina a chance to reply, which made her feel guilty. “I can’t believe they heard me talking to you! How careless of me!”
“I could just hear your thoughts, you know.”
“It’s easier to focus if I do it this way.” The hospital loomed in the distance. She sighed. “You better be right about this, because I’ll be seriously mad if you’re not!”
“I’m sure he’ll be the next victim.”
“I don’t wish the man any harm, but I sure hope you’re right,” she finished, running as fast as she could down the street.
The hospital was bustling with people, full of relatives and witnesses of the robbery. She didn’t know how to ask about the mysterious man. Hospitals made her nervous and she did everything to avoid them (when she wasn’t waking up in one after an accident, of course). She walked over to the waiting area, but quickly realized that she didn’t even know the man’s name. Feeling down, she went to find a seat and crossed her arms.
“There must be some way to get in or find out who he is.”
“The place is packed, what else can I do? You tell me,” Marianne asked in her mind, biting her lip so she wouldn’t say it out loud.
“I could help you listen carefully.”
A million voices exploded in her mind. She covered her ears with her hands, but the voices were loud and came from the inside, she couldn’t hear herself think.
“What is this?! What did you do to me?!”
“Easy, now, I just heightened your perception skills.”
“The only thing heightening here is my headache! It’s too loud!”
“Try to concentrate on the people around you and the intense noise will gradually turn into clear words and ideas.”
Marianne tried to follow Samael’s instructions, but all the voices kept piling up in her mind, and she just couldn’t make anything out clearly.
“I can’t, they’re just too many! I can barely hear my thoughts!”
“Look at the person in front of you.” She looked up at a woman sitting in the front row, reading a magazine. “Focus on her. No one else. Soon you’ll begin to hear her thoughts.”
The voices around her slowly faded until only one voice, one person’s thoughts, prevailed above them all. They were all about shopping, living expenses and stuff Marianne wasn’t interested in, but at least she had managed to hear them clearly.
“Now open the threshold you had closed before, you’ll hear the other voices again. All you have to do is pick one up and focus on that, and then you’ll just have to repeat the process with every person here.”
Following his instructions, she began to hear more intelligible isolated sentences. Most of them were people worried about their relatives, or were just there for sheer commitment but disliked hospitals, a feeling she shared. Some thoughts were really intimate so she ditched them right away to avoid feeling like she was invading their privacy. So far none of them appeared to be related to the man she was looking for. She slid into her chair, defeated.
“I give up! This is pointless. I won’t get anything this way.”
“ . . . They didn’t let me in, but I was told his condition is stable despite the heart attack,” someone said behind her. She immediately straightened, and bent closer to listen. The waiting area contained several potted ficus, arranged in a way that divided the rows of chairs and blocked her view. “I tried to call them, but got no answer. I guess no one’s home . . . Okay, I’ll stay here for any news. I’ll try again later.”
She waited a few seconds for the person to talk again, but eventually ran out of patience and turned around. She knelt on the seat and moved aside the leaves.
“Excuse me! Are you talking about the man who had a heart attack at the bank robbery this morning? I need to ask you some questions!” Marianne blurted out with relief, but her heart sank once she saw that the boy standing behind her was the same one from the accident. He now looked at her with a raised eyebrow and an unfriendly look. “This can’t be happening.”
“You again,” the boy said with suspicion, cautiously looking sideways. “Are you following me?”
Marianne frowned and took a deep breath.
“Why on earth would I follow you?”
“I’ve bumped into you for three days in a row, it can’t be a mere coincidence. So, either you’re trying to blackmail me to get money for the accident or, you’re a stalker who has decided to follow me everywhere. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
She sank her fingers into the edge of her seat and gritted her teeth.
“Listen! I don’t know what kind of people you surround yourself with to even think I would do something like that, but I don’t want your money and I’m no stalker! If it was up to me I would never have to look at your face again!”
The boy examined her outfit and sighed with resignation.
“It’s like they multiply.”
“What do you mean by that?” she asked while he rummaged in his sports bag. “Hey! I’m talking to you! I just need to know where to find the man you were talking about and I’ll leave you alone, okay?”
“Why? You don’t even know him.”
“W-Who—who says I don’t? Maybe he’s family and you’re denying me the chance to meet him, why would you do that? Why are you so insensitive?”
“What’s his name?” he stared at her and waited for a response. She felt cornered, and remained silent.
“Well, what about you? Is he your family?”
“My father’s employee, but still you haven’t said why you are so interested in him.”
“I have my reasons!”
“Demian!” A voice interrupted—a voice Marianne recognized—and made the boy as tense as a bowstring.
She glanced behind him and immediately recognized the tall girl with wavy brown hair, looking at the boy with dreamy eyes. Kristania. Marianne quickly turned away, letting the leaves cover her up, hoping she hadn’t seen her.
“How lucky to find you here! Are you visiting somebody? Oh, don’t tell me someone from your family was at the bank shooting! If that’s the case I’m so sorry!”
The tone of her voice was completely different from the attitude she displayed at school. Marianne even toyed the idea that perhaps Kristania’s behavior at school was just a guise and that the real her was an attentive and solicitous girl. It could also be just an act.
“I was just passing by! Have to go now!” The boy spoke crisply and urgently. He sounded desperate to get away from there.
“Oh, that’s a shame. Hope to see you soon then.”
“I don’t doubt it,” he curtly replied. Much to Marianne’s surprise, he moved the leaves aside and handed something to her. “Like I said, you owe me.”
“What?” She looked carefully at her hand and saw a pair of broken glasses. She scowled and seized them hard. “You won’t let it go, will you?”
“Room 607, second floor, cardiology!” he raised his voice while walking away at a fast pace. That was all she needed.
“What are you doing here?” Kristania asked, reverting to her usual cold and dismissive tone. Suspicion confirmed: it was all an act.
“I could ask you the same.”
“Don’t be a smart-ass. My dad’s a doctor here. Why would you come? Besides . . . how do you even know Demian?”
So the guy from the accident had a name after all.
Clearly, the notion that she could know him in any way upset Kristania very much. It was kind of funny in a way, the girl who was making her life miserable lately was now feeling insecure because of her, and she was willing to make the most of it.
“I don’t think how we met is any of your business, but if you must know you should ask him. After all . . . why would you believe a self-talking loony like me?”
The girl gave Marianne the most murderous look her little gray eyes allowed. The green-eyed girl left, proud of her small triumph, so much so that for a moment she even forgot what had brought her to the hospital in the first place.
“Remember the man. You already know where he is.”
“Right!” She stopped and changed direction.
Making sure that Kristania wasn’t watching, Marianne took advantage of the crowded waiting room to infiltrate the interior of the hospital.
On the second floor, a sign announced the entrance to cardiology. While she stopped to concoct a story to explain her presence, the doors opened to reveal the raspberry-haired girl. She gave a small leap as soon as she saw Marianne.
“Hi,” Marianne said, trying to hide her surprise. The girl waved back, looking uneasy, but still managed to smile. “Um . . . I don’t think we’ve been officially introduced. My name is Marianne.”
“I’m Angie,” she replied only to lapse again into an awkward silence. She seemed eager to leave.
“Did you come to see someone?” Marianne asked out of politeness. Angie opened her mouth, but didn’t say a word, as if thinking too many things at the same time and couldn’t figure out what to say.
“Yes, I did,” she finally replied with a sad smile. Marianne decided not to pressure her.
“Well, I’m on a visit too. I came to see my . . . uh . . . my uncle who had a heart attack at the bank this morning.”
“Oh, I heard about that. He was very lucky. Well, I won’t keep you. I was leaving anyway.” Angie gave her one last smile before anxiously heading to the elevator. The automatic door closed and Marianne exhaled.
“Seriously, I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle this lifestyle. I’m on the verge of hysteria the whole time.”
“It will get easier with time. For now you must focus on protecting this man.”
“I still don’t get why would they attack him, but if you insist . . . ”
A loud scream pierced the air, leaving her petrified.
“Go now! You have work to do!”
She took a deep breath and ran down the corridor while her armor formed over her clothes, wrapping her tight until it covered her entirely. The alarms had been activated, and soon the place undoubtedly would be filled with authorities. As she passed by some glass doors, she caught sight of her reflection and came to a sudden stop. The articulated armor had a greenish hue. The helmet covered half of her face, but was so light she felt like she wasn’t wearing one. It was the first time she had seen herself in the armor.
“So this is how I look with this thing on? I look like a robot!”
“Could you worry about your looks later? You have something more important to do now!”
“Okay! I’m going!”
She turned around the corner and discovered several unconscious nurses on the floor. She had to be getting closer. The fingers on her right hand twisted and the sword emerged from her palm. She slowed down as she approached the man’s room and carefully looked inside. The demon with the fangs was already there, sitting on top of the patient with a glowing orb in his hand, which he was trying to get into a vessel. She took a quick glimpse around the room and saw no one else inside. Aware that there was another demon, but unable to waste any more time, she wielded her sword and entered, pointing at him.
“Back off if you don’t want me to cut off your other arm,” she said, attempting to sound threatening, but the demon just smiled at her.
“I was hoping you’d show up.” The container disappeared once the gift didn’t match, and the sphere dimmed while he rose calmly and stood in front of her. She was surprised to see his arm was intact. “What, my arm? You didn’t really think it would work, did you? After all, I’m a demon. You can’t beat me that easily.”
“I—I’ll cut your arms off as many times as necessary then!” she replied, holding the sword with both hands. She tried to calm her nerves, but she was already shaking.
“What an amateur.”
Once he said this, something held Marianne’s ankles. She looked down and saw a pair of hands emerging from the floor like they were made of smoke. Before she could even react, she fell to the ground, dropping her sword in the process, and was dragged across the floor. The demon took advantage of her absence and lifted the sword to get a closer look.
“Let’s see what’s so special about you.”
Fortunately, Marianne’s armor absorbed the shock, but she was concerned about where the demon was taking her. Once outside of cardiology, she thought the disembodied hands would crash her into the wall, but changed course and took her down the stairs to the ground floor, past the stunned gazes of the people in the waiting room. There, he wrenched her and hurled her to the back of the hall. She barely managed to fold her body before crashing against the hard surface. The hysterical screams immediately ensued.
When she opened her eyes and saw herself unharmed, thanks to the armor, she looked up and noticed that the wall behind her was crumbling, and people had gathered around, staring at her like she was some kind of monster appeared out of nowhere. Kristania was among them, hiding behind the reception desk, talking over the phone and looking terrified. Closer to the exit was Angie, perplexity reflected in her huge cobalt blue eyes.
The security guards kept waiting for something to happen, hands on their guns, ready to take Marianne out. She wanted to assure everyone that there was nothing to worry about—that she was there to protect them—but she was afraid that the two girls might recognize her voice, and wasn’t even so sure if she could even speak.
The demon fell through the ceiling into the middle of the room, igniting a new round of screams. The guards pulled out their guns and pointed them at him, but with a snap of his fingers, they began to grow into blades while people watched in horror.
“Stand back! Get away from him!” Marianne shouted, springing to her feet. The demon’s fingers lengthened rapidly, stabbing the nearby guards. “No!”
She waved her hand and a sudden invisible force seemed to throw the demon down, his fingers returning to their original size. He got up and rose to the ceiling transforming into smoke, while Marianne looked at her own hands, bewildered.
“Did I just do that?”
“I told you. You have skills that will increase with time. Now you have to go after him.”
She agreed and headed off. Some of the spectators were already fleeing and others assisted the injured. Kristania was still hiding behind the reception desk and Angie was nowhere to be found.
“She stopped me,” the demon informed his master, who was still analyzing the sword back in the man’s room.
“What did you just say?”
The sword suddenly slipped from his hands and flew back to Marianne. She pointed at them, this time without hesitation.
“Hand over that gift right now,” she demanded, her voice unwavering. The demon glared at her and smiled, throwing the sphere at her.
“You can keep it, it’s no use to us anyway.”
“Where you’re going? We’re not done here yet, you . . . demon!”
“Please. Call me Umber,” the demon said offhandedly. A wave of energy suddenly hit her, throwing her away, and the demon showed an arrogant smirk as a warning, before they both vanished into ashes.
Marianne took a moment to pull herself up and then ran to the gurney, holding the sphere a few inches above the man’s chest.
“Now what? I don’t remember what I did yesterday.”
“Just let your own power guide you.”
“I’m really trying!” she replied with impatience. She took the gift between her hands and, to her amazement, it began to shine again. Regaining her composure, she slowly brought the orb toward the man’s chest, pressing gently until it got inside. The man suddenly came back to life with a spasm.
“Who are you?” the man asked, trying to focus his gaze. She was about to answer when she heard a noise coming from the corridors.
“Police!” someone nearby shouted, amid the bustle of footsteps.
“I’m an Angel Warrior and I just saved your life, remember that,” she told the man just before hiding behind the door. To her surprise, she discovered the armor could mimic the wall. She waited for the police to enter the room, and held still so they wouldn’t notice her. Demian followed close behind.
“That’s him,” Demian said while a very cautious Marianne slid out from the door and out of the room. The boy heard the noise and peered out, catching a glimpse of her running down the corridor. It seemed odd to him, but decided not to mention it.
As she exited the cardiology entrance, Marianne’s armor began to retract until it was all gone when she was out. She slowed her pace to rest a little, totally exhausted, but after a few deep breaths, she ran downstairs.
“That was close!”
“You handled it very well.”
“Forget about it. Explain to me what happened because I don’t even get it.”
“Telekinesis. It’s a power that’s been dormant inside you for long, now it’s finally awakened,” Samael explained casually.
“Oh. How funny. I did turn out to be a freak after all.”
“Don’t say that. You should be proud of yourself. I know I am.”
“Lots of people were injured by my neglect. Luckily no one was killed, but still . . . how many more times will they attack without me around to help? I can’t be available all the time. It’s too much burden for me to handle.”
“But you won’t be alone. There are more like you. It’s just a matter of time before we come across them.”
“More like me . . . ” she muttered with exhaustion. “Well . . . I better get going.” She stretched out, ready to leave the hospital and mentally preparing herself for the aftermath.
The man of the moment was surrounded by doctors and police.
“Do you remember what happened?”
“They were demons. They wanted my soul. But then . . . this other one appeared. I think it was an angel . . . that’s what she said she was. An Angel Warrior,” the man said, choking back the words while one of the officers took notes.
“Was it something like this?” The young officer’s badge identified him as S. Perry. He showed the patient a drawing resembling part of Marianne’s armor.
“Yes, that’s her. That’s the angel,” the man nodded, pointing at the portrait. Another officer entered, carrying a videotape with him.
“I have today’s security footage from the hospital. There must be something on it.”
“Well, I think we have enough for now. Let’s get to it.”
They took the tapes and left, letting the medical staff take care of the man.