20. THE SECRET GUARDIAN
Lilith spent several minutes outside the coffee shop, watching the facade that had changed once again overnight and now looked just like before. She hoped they had decided to go back to their country and leave everything as it was before, but she knew it was too much to ask, especially since she could see their silhouettes through the windows.
She took a deep breath and finally entered the place. It looked the same as usual, except for the army of saber men practically serving as decorative objects for each table, and they kept their typical tunics looking completely out of tune with the coffee shop theme.
“Lilith! You came back!” Mankee suddenly showed up from behind the counter, as if she had come to his rescue after overcoming countless obstacles in a maze of pipes. “I thought you wouldn’t come back!”
“Yeah, well, I was tempted not to,” she replied curtly. “But turns out that, as much as I try, I don’t seem to be able to make money appear out of nowhere… yet, so I need to keep the job for a little more.”
“No problem, of course you can stay.”
“…Are you sure? Because it doesn’t look like there’s enough room for me anyway,” she said, casting a glance at the saber men, who pretty much monopolyzed the entire dinning area. “…I don’t even see Remy.”
“I told him he could stay here, but he decided to leave because he didn’t want to take part of this madness,” Mankee explained with a resigned sigh. “…You’re the only one left as a link to the old place, please don’t leave.”
Lilith took enough breath to puff her chest and raised her shoulders. Then looked around as if the place was a lost cause and had to think about it.
“Why aren’t you in the kitchen? Is it a task too unworthy of a prince?”
Mankee lowered his gaze with shame, and twisted a handkerchief in his hand, which given its multiple folds and wrinkles it seemed to now serve as the equivalent of a stress ball.
“That’s what Latvi thinks. She says the kitchen is no place for ‘the prince’ and she would take care of it now.”
“Well, lucky you! You have an attentive fiancee that will cook and take care of everything for you, isn’t it lovely? You must be excited,” Lilith snapped with a resentful tone.
“No, no! That’s not how things are!” he said with desperate hand gestures. “I fled my kingdom to avoid the wedding, and that won’t change just for the fact that they found me.”
“Well, things have changed already if you didn’t notice,” she said, gesturing around them, with the saber men hangind around and himself out of the kitchen with nothing else to do. Mankee kept quiet in silent agreement.
“Prince Hisham! You have to try this new ice cream flavor we’ll be offering our clients!” Latvi left the kitchen dressed in a white robe, her hair in braids forming a tower and decorated with strings of jewels in spiral. She was carrying a plate with what looked like a lily, and inside of it there was a ball of ice cream so white it seemed to glow with golden sparks as if they were gold nuggets. “It’s white lily and sea fome with golden chips scent. It’s completely edible, I swear.”
“I think… I caught a cold, so… I’d rather not to” Mankee apologized, pretending to have a raspy voice and his hand on his throat.
“Oh, prince, please don’t make any effort. I’ll send immediately one of the servants to take care of you,” Latvi decided, placing a hand on his forehead even though he seemed reluctanct and tense. Lilith narrowed her eyes at him and raised her face with her chin up.
“…I’ll taste it! I’m not afraid of trying new things,” she offered herself and the girl turned to her as if just noticing her presence. Mankee beckoned her to stop and shook his head to indicate she shouldn’t do that, but she was completely determined.
“Ah. I remember you. You were here the day we arrived and when we were remodelling this place. Are you also one of the prince’s friends?”
“And partner in crime. My name is Lilith,” she introduced herself with a stern attitude, to show she wouldn’t be intimidated. Latvi was already stretching her hand when Mankee rushed to stand in front of her despite his clear fear of the girl.
“She worked here before you all came and she intends to keep doing it,” intervened Mankee. “So… by official mandate I command her to be… head waitress from now on without revocation.” He paused, trying to look tough but internally dreading any reaction from the girl. However, she just gave Lilith an analytical look and then back to him.
“If that’s what the prince wants, it will be done without discussion,” Latvi said with a bow. “I’ll wait in the kitchen for the new head waitress to start her duties.”
“I’ll take care of it, don’t worry,” Mankee said, and the girl nodded, glancing at Lilith before returning to the kitchen, after which he let out a sigh of relief.
“That wasn’t so difficult. I don’t understand why you can’t simply impose your will.”
“Listen to me, don’t let her touch you and don’t eat anything she offers you, okay?” Mankee asked her in all seriousness, so much it seemed a matter of life and death to him.
“…Okay,” Lilith agreed dubiously. It seemed a little too much to overreact like that, but considering he was almost scared of everything, she decided to play along.
“Thanks for coming back, seriously. I was starting to feel lonely and trapped within four walls.”
“Ohhh, poor you. How miserable your life must have been in your castle of gold and diamonds with thousands of servants at your disposal,” Lilith said with folded arms. “I still don’t forgive you for deceiving us with the slavery story, so don’t expect any consideration from me. Now excuse me, I have work to do.”
She went into the kitchen before Mankee could say anything in his defense. There were still a thousand things they needed to discuss once the rest of the group arrived.
As he came out of his class, Loui walked through the halls, staring at the floor and an overall posture showing his discouragement. He didn’t even seem to mind the trio of bullies shouting unpleasant epiteths at him while running beside him. He had forbidden them to lay a finger on him, so he didn’t worry about it, but right now his mind was fully occupied by the brutal attack he had witnessed days before. He had been feeding these fantasies about becoming a superhero and join the team her sister had assembled to fight evil. But even with all their amazing skills and special powers, not one of them had came to help those kids. How did he expect to do something if even the experts weren’t able to stop it? He wondered, because he was sure the guy with yellow eyes had seen him just like the first time, but for some reason chose to ignore him.
Was he so unworthy of interest or so insignificant? Granted, he wasn’t a suitable opponent, but he still was an eyewitness, and no self-respecting criminal would let someone who could later identify him live— Though, realistically, there wasn’t much to identify; the guy was very well hidden under that hood. But the fact that he had let him go without any warning prevailed.
The boy stopped when he heard his name, getting back to reality. He was already in the intersection and had been coasting through the main hallway. Samael and Demian were heading surprisingly towards him, coming through the side door.
“We need to talk to you,” Samael said, both of them blocking his way.
Loui looked at them, frightened as a little mouse. Standing before him that way, made him feel tiny and puny next to them. He noticed that most of the students passing by gave them curious looks, wondering what a couple of senior boys would want from a little middle school kid, which seemed a reasonable doubt since, as he was concerned, the last thing they wanted was to get him involved in their matters, and by the look of their faces, he was certain that an invitation to join them was the last thing going through their minds at the time.
“What? I haven’t done anything,” Loui said automatically, retreating one step and getting ready to flee.
“Relax. We just want to know about the video,” Samael said in a soothing tone.
“Everything you need to know is in the video itself.”
“Yes, but you were there. You had a direct perspective of what happened.”
Loui grimaced, reluctant to talk about it. Demian stepped up now, and Loui flinched, remembering he was an actual demon.
“You saw that guy with amber eyes. You had it right in front of you. There must be a detail that caught your attention then.”
“It-It was very dark. I couldn’t see anything more than what’s on the video,” the kid insisted, taking another step backward, intimidated by his presence.
“That’s what you think, but the human brain is able to capture details that are discarded at first sight. Everything is recorded in the memory. All you have to do is allow me to access and I’ll take care of the rest,” Samael asked, and Loui frowned.
“…You want to go inside my head. Again.”
“It will only be for a moment, just to gather the details you don’t remember or weren’t in the video.”
“If you do, then maybe you will modify my memory and try to seal all I know so far to keep me from meddling with you.”
“You know I can’t do that,” Samael replied patiently.
“We’re wasting time. Why don’t you just go into his mind and finish this?” Demian interjected quietly, making sure no one else was listening close.
“I can’t if he doesn’t let me.”
“As if it that would be enough to stop you.”
“It is. The first time I tried to change someone’s memory, it was his, and something went wrong. Since then, I can only access the parts of his memories he allows me to.”
“I don’t want you inside my mind,” Loui reiterated more confident this time, knowing that he had the upper hand.
“Please, Loui, you need to understand. There could be some key details in your mind that will help us know more about this guy and what we could do to face him.”
“You won’t get into my mind!” the child repeated willfully, and some students turned around.
“…We shouldn’t be talking about this right here. Take the kid and let’s go,” Demian suggested, increasingly impatient at his refusal.
“We can’t do that, it would be kidnapping,” replied Samael and Demian rolled his eyes.
“This is ridiculous,” he huffed, walking towards Loui, who pulled back in dread, and suddenly saw a pair of figures approaching behind Demian.
“Oh! Hi!” Vicky said with surprise as the boy ran towards her wordlessly and hid behind her, clinging to her back for protection. “Oh, okay… Do you need anything or—?” She noticed the boys approaching them with apparent hurry and her confusion was even bigger. “Is there a problem?”
Samael and Demian exchanged a strangely knowing glance and looked askance at Addalynn, who stood aside Vicky without intervening.
“We just want to talk to Loui. That’s all,” Demian replied, trying to sound as casual as possible. Vicky felt the child squeezing against her back and she seemed to get the message.
“Well, apparently he doesn’t want the same. May I know what business you have with him that seems so important?”
“…It’s personal,” Demian said to not give away any more information, but all he got was a scowl from her.
“You can’t make me do it!” Loui finally said, deciding to try another tactic. “If you get any closer to me, I’ll tell everything I know!”
Demian paled at his words.
“What is he talking about? Is there anything I should know?” Vicky asked and at Demian’s silence, the kid seemed to regain confidence.
“They want to use me as a guinea pig for an experiment in one of their classes. Don’t let them do it, please!” Loui pleaded so convincingly Vicky began to pat his head to comfort him.
“They won’t do anything to you, I promise,” she said before directing a repproaching look at the guys. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Samael simply kept his mouth shut and Demian grunted. Loui slightly raised his head to look at them discreetly and an amused smile appeared on his face at the success of his tactics.
“…Whatever. I’ll wait in the car,” Demian finished, aware that they wouldn’t get any answer with his sister around.
“We’ll go home later if you don’t mind. We have… things to do before,” she informed him, and he responded with a wheeze, aware that they would meet to discuss the video without him.
“…Of course. See you at home.” And he left without further ado, with a sidelong glance at Samael.
“Done. You have nothing to worry about anymore,” Vicky said, offering Loui a reassuring smile and he blushed, quickly pulling away from her as if just getting self-aware. She leaned a little to look into his eyes. “They won’t bother you anymore, you’ll see.”
Samael kept quiet all along. He would try again later at home, but it was better not to insist under the circumstances.
Loui seemed to have lost his speech and confidence. He looked at her with wide eyes, dazzled as a deer, mumbled something that sounded remotely like a ‘thank you’, and immediately ran away from there.
“…Oh, well, there he goes again,” Vicky said with her hands on her hips and letting out a sigh, after which she returned her attention to Samael. “Well, I think we still have a long afternoon ahead, right?”
Samael looked at Addalynn, who remained impassive next to Vicky. She winced a little, sensing that he wanted to talk to her, either alone or in the presence of the others.
They didn’t last long in the coffee shop. Given the confidential nature of the information they needed to discuss, they decided to move to Belgina’s house. Her mother was away, engaged in a new court case, so they have the place to themselves, but that didn’t stop Mitchell from being cautions and wary, as if at any moment the woman would step out to kick him out of there.
“…Say that again. You had been seeing this gray hooded guy, who even saved you a couple of times, and you never thought it was something we all needed to know?” Frank’s voice echoed through the living room, where everyone had gathered. Marianne grimaced and kept her eyes on the glass of soda she was holding in her hands.
“…It didn’t occur to me at the time.”
“Oh, it didn’t occur to you. Of course not. Why would we be interested in a mysterious guy showing up suspiciously a few seconds to see us fight and then leave the same way it came? It’s not like it was, I don’t know, a potential demon spying on our progress to inform to some superior or something. Not at all! Impossible!” Frank replied, displaying his sneering tone.
“Frank, stop,” Lucianne warned him. “What matters is that she’s telling us now, so we can do something about it.”
“Of course! Now that a video comes to light it suddenly reminds her of the existence of that guy because, what a shocker! Mother of all coincidences! It’s possibly the same!”
“Not that I had voluntarily kept silent about it,” Marianne justified herself with a frown.
“Telling your angel doesn’t count. He’s supposed to know these things, it’s his job,” Frank snapped without budging.
“I saw it too,” Lilith said, raising her hand. “It was the day Demian’s father was—” She stopped, remembering Vicky was also there at the other side of the table. She hesitated until it was Vicky herself who spoke.
“…Go on. I’m perfectly aware of what happened to my father that day, it’s no longer a surprise to me.”
Lilith bit her lip uncomfortably, but upon her friends’ expectant eyes, she decided to keep going.
“…Marianne fell from the balcony after struggling with Hollow. I ran in that direction as soon as he disappeared and when I looked down, I saw her in the arms of this gray hooded guy. Oddly enough, I wasn’t instantly aware of the weird situation: a strange guy showing up out of nowhere and disappearing the same way.”
“Why didn’t you mention this before?” Frank asked, and she stammered.
“…Honestly, I don’t know. It was like my mind just decided to let it slip; we had more important things to be concern at the time.”
“…Maybe that’s his special treat,” Samael ventured, thinking carefully about it. “To let his sighting slip in the background, regard it as unimportant; so that, even if we try to remember it, all we get is a fuzzy patch in our memories.”
“And yet now that it’s been caught on video you seem to remember very well,” Frank spat, unwilling to let it go.
“We can’t be sure it’s the same, it just reminded me of it because of the gray hood,” Marianne clarified.
“I think we’ve learned so far that there are no coincidences,” Frank shot back, and she grimaced, as if biting the inside of her mouth, unable to argue that.
“If it is a demon, why would it help Marianne?” Vicky suddenly asked, and Samael flinched.
“Because he had to,” Belgina said and the others looked confused at her, trying to understand her reasoning. “…Don’t you remember? We were supposed to die at the hands of…” She paused, reminding herself not to mention Demian in front of Vicky, “…the heir of the Legion of Darkness. Therefore, it wasn’t fitting for them that she would be killed otherwise.”
The others nodded at her logic, and even Samael tried to convince himself that this was a reasonable argument, but Marianne couldn’t help having doubts.
“Apparently you keep a very good memory of that time, Belgina. I thought those memories were fuzzy to you,” Lilith said lightly.
Belgina blushed as she looked askance at Mitchell and averted her gaze with increasingly reddened cheeks.
“But, hey! Let’s not stray from the subject matter!” Mitchell intervened. “The gray guy. How do we get him and how do we make sure he’s a demon?”
“I think that attacking innocent people is proof enough,” Frank snapped with a breath so pronounced that, if he would have been smoking at the time, a fumarole would have been puffed out of his nose.
“Weeeeeeell, if that’s the excuse, we can’t be one hundred percent sure those victims are completely innocent.”
“Are you implying then that he’s a masked vigilante who has taken the law into his own hands and decided to clean the streets from troubled teens?” Frank replied with a skeptical chuckle.
“Don’t twist my words, you’re always doing that,” Mitchell refuted. “All I’m saying is that we don’t even have evidence. Samuel says he rushed to the place from the video, but there was no sign of struggle or any trace or energy residue. If the victims are still out there, somewhere in the city, we would have to identify them first and the quality of the video makes that impossible.”
“You’re good with computers,” Lucianne said, turning to Frank who, unlike the others, sitting comfortably on the floor, was crouched, as if ready to jump as soon as he lost his temper, as it used to happen very often. “Maybe you could process the video and see if you can clear their faces.”
“…I can try,” he agreed, modulating the tone of his voice when speaking to her.
“What do you think, Samuel?” Marianne asked since he kept his thoughtful pose. He glanced at Addalynn, who had remained silent all along, so he decided it was time to bring up the new information.
“…I want to hear Addalynn’s opinion in this matter,” Samael said to assess her reaction and she just raised her gaze. “Did you come across something like that before? Maybe you know something we don’t. Information from a special source.”
Addalynn squinted at his odd reference and Vicky looked from one to the other, waiting for her response.
“No, we never dealt with a demon with those characteristics,” Vicky intervened at her friend’s silence. “I think we already told you. I guess our best chance right now is trying to identify the guys who were attacked.”
“Why don’t we go to whoever took the video?” Mitchell insisted on the matter.
“I guess we’ll talk to him when we get home,” Marianne said, shaking her head in disapproval of her brother’s reckless action.
“Was it your brother who took the video?” Lucianne asked with concern.
“The little guy is really something! He’s got some guts for a twelve-year old. Some of us could learn something from him.”
“It’s nothing to be proud of, Frank! Something could have happened to him,” Lucianne snapped reproachfully while Vicky meditated about it, starting to connect the dots.
“Wait— Is that why you tried to talk to him after school?” she asked, and Marianne looked inquiringly at Samael. “If so, why was my brother with you? He wouldn’t have to know anything about this—”
Marianne’s questioning face grew puzzled. How come they suddenly decided to ally behind her back and ambush her brother? However, she couldn’t ask about it while Vicky was there, and now that she had begun to establish the connection, Demian’s secret was endangered. She had to think fast to justify them, but her mind had gone blank.
“…You must be careful with amber-eyed demons,” Addalynn suddenly said, and all eyes laid on her, surprised at her unexpected intervention that immediately diverted their attention. She had been so timely and deliberately intentional that Marianne gave a sigh of relief and gratitude.
“Didn’t you say that you never saw a demon with those characteristics?” Samael asked, determined to follow that line.
“And we never did. I just gave my opinion; it’s what you asked for, right?” Addalynn replied without further explanation, but he didn’t seem inclined to let it slide this time.
“Have you heard of obits?” She frowned a little while Marianne gazed at him again, confused by his insistence on questioning Addalynn, and about that issue of all. The others had decided to remain silent to see where this was going. “They’re reponsible for transporting human souls to the spiritual realm. They’re also invisible to the human eye, except for non-humans like them. Like demons. Or angels. Like me.”
A faint smile was barely noticeable in Addalynn’s face, even though she still seemed reluctant to collaborate.
“Oh, yeah? You seem to know a lot about them, but I don’t understand what that has to do with me,” she said, as if daring him to continue.
“I think you do know,” Samael insisted while the others seemed completely lost.
“…Okay, could someone explain what’s going on here and why we’re discussing about these things whatever they are and with whom we have no connection?” Mitchell asked, becoming the spokesperson for the utter confusion they were feeling right now.
Samael kept staring at Addalynn, expecting her to finally speak out, but she only held his gaze for a few seconds before standing up.
“I think we’re done for today,” she said, not even bothering to beckon at Vicky as she immediately followed suit.
“…You’ll have to explain several things to me when we get home,” Marianne whispered, and though he would have to do it, first he had to close the matter in his own terms.
Vicky and Addalynn arrived at home in complete silence. It was a normal attitude in Addalynn, but in Vicky it highlighted her confusion at the time. On several occasions she had turned to Addalynn with eager eyes, opening her mouth to say something, but eventually closing it again. Meanwhile, Addalynn did nothing to encourage her to continue. It was until they got to the bottom of the stairs that Vicky made another attempt to speak.
“Did you have any trouble coming home?” Demian was the voice that came instead, interrupting her. He was standing up the stairs, looking at them as if expecting to see on their faces —at least in Vicky, given Addalynn’s poker face— any indication of what they had spoken during their meeting.
“…No, no. None at all,” Vicky said, trying to smile and going up the stairs without waiting for Addalynn.
She stopped next to Demian and gave him an expectant look, the words struggling again to get out of her, but unable to form any phrase to express the mess in her mind. Demian stared back, perhaps getting ready for what would eventually be the moment of truth.
“Is something wrong?” he asked, and she just showed an exhausted smile.
“No, I’m… I’m just a little tired. I’ll be in my room.”
Demian watched her walk away in silence. If she had begun to have some questions, he couldn’t do anything about it. Not while she didn’t dare to ask him directly. He waited until losing sight of her, and then went down the stairs, blocking Addalynn’s way up.
“Do you mind? I also would like to rest a little,” she said, motioning him to step away, but he didn’t.
“We need to talk.”
“Let’s talk tomorrow.” She took a sidestep to walk past Demian, but he did the same to stop her.
Addalynn held his gaze with a challenging expression, until finally rolling her eyes and turning around. A few minutes later they were in the office; she sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk while Demian made sure no one —which meant Vicky— was following them and closed the door carefully.
“Make it quick, I have things to do,” Addalynn said nonchalantly.
Demian moved around the office until standing in front of her.
“I think I’ve been kind to you while you’ve been here, haven’t I? You even know certain things about me that not everyone knows,” Demian started to say. Addalynn merely looked at him from her seat as he began to pace back and forth, unable to stay still. “All I ask of you is some honesty in return. I want to be sure you’re not here to test me or guide me into some kind of trap.”
“Why would I do that?”
“You tell me,” Demian snapped back, standing in front of her and hoping she would talk, but Addalynn was unfazed.
“What am I supposed to say?”
Demian huffed impatiently, but still tried to stay calm.
“You saw the guy in black the day we went to the hospital. You saw it as clearly as I did.”
“I don’t see what’s so special about it,” she said with a shrug.
“It’s an obit. No one else can see it. Not even the others.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” she said with unchanging expression and Demian felt about to lose his head.
“The truth, Addalynn! I want to know the truth! What are you and why did you come?”
“You already know what I am,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “I’m an Angel Warrior.”
“I think you’re more than that,” Demian insisted and then a flash of light in the middle of the room made them turn. Samael had materialized in front of them. “…Great, just what I needed.”
“I guess I made it in time,” Samael remarked and Addalynn looked from one to the other.
“What is this? Did you agree to intercept me just like the child? It’s a very immature move from the two of you.”
“We didn’t agree. I didn’t even know he was going to show up in the middle of our conversation,” Demian replied, glancing reproachfully at Samael who chose to ignore him and give priority to the reason he was there for.
“We left an unfinished subject at the meeting,” Samael said, staring at Addalynn who seemed already annoyed.
“Just one? I thought that was the protocol: leave uncovered issues at every meeting,” she replied with a dismissive tone.
“I suppose Demian’s been already talking to you,” Samael continued, regardless of her tone and finally recognizing Demian’s presence. “So, I won’t repeat it, I just want to hear it from you this time.”
Addalynn gave no answer; she just sat there, staring straight ahead, and the little patience Demian had left started to crumble.
“Answer already! Why can you see those things no one else but only non-humans can?” Demian repeated, waiting to finally get a response from her, but there was only silence, so Samael decided to take another approach.
“…You’re an angel like me.” Addalynn finally looked back at him, expressionless but interested enough for Samael to keep going. “That’s why you know so much and don’t look so surprised each time we have new information. You rather keep silence than being asked questions. But why would you hide it, knowing that they all know about me? It is no different.” Addalynn kept looking at him without speaking. However, her expression had undergone a change that made her look more scrupulous, as if analyzing her ways out of it. “…Vicky doesn’t know, right? She has no idea what you are. Is that why you’ve chosen to keep silence?” Addalynn didn’t answer, but to Samael it was no longer necessary; he had already figured it out. Lots of things that confused him about her now made sense. Demian, meanwhile, had decided to step momentarily aside to see how things unfolded. “…You’re the one who told her what she was. You’ve been with her from the beginning. You’re… you’re her guardian, aren’t you?”
Addalynn turned to the window and stared at it for several seconds, as if deciding how to respond, but even if she didn’t, Samael was already convinced that he was right. She was not only an angel, but a guardian like him; that was the reason he felt so drawn to her. The idea of having someone like him so near excited him but also intrigued him. What kind of information had she been exposed to? Perhaps the same as him or even more. So many new possibilities!
“…Will you tell her?” Addalynn finally spoke.
Samael was relieved because it meant at least an implied confirmation.
“I don’t think it’s up to us. You should do it yourself when you feel ready.”
“But you’ll tell everyone else.”
“It will be for the better, if you don’t want them to keep asking questions you don’t want to answer and make Vicky suspicious about it.”
Addalynn suddenly sighed, taking both by surprise, considering it out of her character.
“If it must be that way, then so be it,” she concluded, getting up eventually.
“That’s it? You’re not saying anything else?” Demian said incredulous at her lack of reaction or explanation at all. “All this time you’ve been hiding who you are and evading questions. You can’t keep doing it now that we know.”
“I have nothing else to say,” she said, reaching for the door, and when she opened it, she ran into Vicky, who had her arm raised about to knock.
“I… I searched for you in your room and didn’t find you, so—” Vicky babbled and when she realized that the two boys were there too, she blinked with a dazed expression. “This… This is funny, but… would you believe me if I tell you that I never imagined the two of you together in the same room? So, when I saw you after school with that kid—” She shut again. Her face reflected the many questions flooding her right now.
“Let’s leave them alone. I think they need to talk about boys’ stuff or something,” Addalynn said, motioning her to follow her. Vicky glanced at the two boys before quietly going after her.
Demian and Samael were left in the office in silence for several minutes, inmersed in their own thoughts about the implications of Addalynn’s true identity.
“Why are you so interested in the obits?” Samael dared to ask at last. “Is it just because you think the one at the hospital recognized you when you were little?”
“…Marianne told you about that too,” Demian said, clearly upset that he was informed about those details. “I could ask you the same. If you already knew about their existence, I don’t see why your sudden interest in them overnight.”
“Let’s just say it wasn’t nice finding out that there was an obit present the day Marianne had that accident,” Samael answered, and Demian just nodded. He wasn’t willing to share his secret desire to find out about her mother if that obit had truly met them when he was a baby. “…Obits try not to get in the way of angels and demons, and they in turn usually tend to ignore them too. It’s always been that way. Everyone takes care of its own grounds and interests. The fight between the Superior realm and the Legion of Darkness it’s not the obitual realm’s business and they prefer to stay out of it.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because maybe you’re making too much from a coincidence. And if the obit doesn’t seem to give it importance, maybe you should start looking for other means to answer your questions, whatever they may be.”
“I’ll decide that for myself. It’s time for you to go,” Demian snapped, crossing his arms uncompromisingly, meaning he couldn’t arrive to his house and tell him what to do. Samael nodded, aware that he had nothing else to do there and disappeared in a flash that forced Demian to close his eyes and rub them. “…Angel light. What a hassle.”
Samael returned to the attic and found Marianne already sitting on his bed as if she had been waiting for a long time.
“You’re going to tell me why did you and Demian go after my brother and I won’t move from here until you do,” she stated with her arms crossed.
Samael sighed, aware that she wouldn’t let it go.
“…I needed to identify the obit he’s met several times, and in return, he needed more details about the guy from the video,” Samael said, and Marianne frowned, but before she could ask more questions, he decided to drop the next bomb. “…And moments ago, I was at his house. I talked to Addalynn.”
“Why did you want to talk to her? What is this all about? What does she have to do with anything?”
“Remember when I told you it was no surprise that Demian could see those obits because he’s a demon? The same applies to me since I’m an angel… and I saw the obit Demian was talking about,” Samael commented in passing, trying not to give her time to ask questions. “…Anyway, apparently Addalynn has also seen it.”
Marianne blinked in confusion, trying to unify all the information into something that made sense to her.
“…How are you even sure she really saw it? She never says anything and doesnt’ answer any question. If obits are invisible to the human eye, she shouldn’t be able to—”
“Exactly, she shouldn’t,” Samael said, and she fell silent, letting the idea sink in.
“Are you saying she’s—?”
“An angel. Like me,” he completed again. Marianne clasped her hands and let her mind wander off.
It was the most logical answer, how she hadn’t seen it before? No wonder she reminded her of Samael sometimes. That look of perfection beyond terrestrial, the supernatural halo that surrounded her, the fact that she seemed to know in advance a lot of things and yet refusing to participate in their discussion. Her ostracism only helped to increase the mystery she represented. And if they added that she seemed glued to Vicky all the time…
“When you say she’s like you… you mean she’s the same kind of angel as you?”
“She’s Vicky’s guardian… but Vicky doesn’t know it yet.”
Marianne needed another moment to absorb that. So far, she had grown used to the idea of being the only one in the team having her own materialized guardian angel, and now she didn’t know how to take the inclusion of another one, especially with her ward unaware of it. It was too contrived. Why keep it a secret from the one she was supposed to protect?
“And I guess we shouldn’t say anything to her until Addalynn does.”
“It’s something personal and a unique bond; it is her who must tell her.”
“I understand,” Marianne said with a sigh, still thinking about the relevance of that information. “…I guess that now that it’s no secret what she is, she will be more willing to share her knowledge, at least with you; after all, you’re of the same kind.”
“Well… I’m not so sure she will do that,” Samael said, cocking his head. “She didn’t accept or deny anything, she just asked if we would tell Vicky. I guess it’s been so long keeping the secret to herself that she needs a little more time before she decides to share her thoughts.”
“…I still can’t quite fit in my head how she managed to keep the secret from Vicky all this time. I mean… it should have been obvious to her, right? A strange girl appears out of nowhere, tells her what she is, guides her in their battles, knows more things than she admits. At least she should have been suspicious of her at some point.”
“Well, to be fair, the others also thought that about you at first. Perhaps the notion of a real angel on her side didn’t seem possible to her before she met me,” Samael guessed.
“How did Demian take it?” she asked, and Samael twisted his eyebrows confused by her question.
They suddenly heard footsteps up the stairs and within seconds the door opened. Enid peeked furtively as if looking for a thief.
“…Oh, you’re here. I went to your room looking for you,” she said with a smile that seemed forced, looking at Samael and then at her with a paranoid hint.
“I was just talking to Samuel,” Marianne said like it was no big deal and her mother’s smile widened beyond the elasticity of her skin.
“I hope everything’s okay at school… Can you come with me for a second? I need your help with something.” She then gave Samael another unnatural smile and left. The two of them exchanged confused glances until Marianne shrugged and headed for the door.
“Don’t you dare question Loui without me,” she whispered while walking past him.
Her mother was waiting at the bottom of the attic stairs. Her face seemed to pretend there was nothing to worry about, but her posture said otherwise. Posing her arms over Marianne’s shoulders, she led her to her room and sat on her bed, motioned her to do the same, which was increasingly odd to her.
“…Well, I don’t know how to say this,” her mother started with a tone that was difficult to identify. “You’re already sixteen and as you know, your father and I decided to run away when we were your age.”
“Oh, god, please, not THAT talk,” Marianne interrupted, clutching her face in an uncomfortable gesture.
“Just listen to me, please,” her mother said, pulling down her hands to focus on her. “I know it’s a difficult age: the constant feeling that everyone’s against you, that no one understands you, hormones… Believe me, I also went through that.”
Marianne just raised an eyebrow and bit her tongue not to say any of her snarky comments like ‘Do you mean in the distant past or yesterday, when you were whining that we didn’t have the slightest consideration for you?’. Her mother, however, continued her speech, disregarding the faces she was making.
“…And that’s why I know what a girl your age may feel when a change is introduced into her family dynamics, for example, to share roof with someone new overnight, and even more if this someone turns out to be a boy about her age and quite attractive—”
“Wait a minute, what are you implying?” Marianne interrupted again, narrowing her eyes, hoping she wasn’t thinking what it seemed.
“Calm down, dear. Believe me, I get it, but I wanted to make sure you understand how inappropriate it would be. You must not forget he’s still your cousin.”
“Oh, my god, no! You’ve got it wrong! I don’t see him like that! Where did you get such an idea?”
“Your brother made some comments that suggested maybe you’re spending too much time with him, and although you swear you don’t see him that way, I needed to make sure,” her mother responded, and Marianne rolled her eyes. Clearly her brother had used that ploy as a warning to not approach him or try to pry any information out of him by force. The little monster had done it again and she couldn’t warn her mother that he was manipulating her. “…I even feel a little hypocritical telling you this, after Noah and me.”
“That doesn’t have anything to do with this, mom.”
“But it does. I think I understand my brother a little better now,” her mother continued with a sigh and Marianne raised her gaze at her in a questioning gesture. “…You weren’t supposed to know this, but Noah lived here with us for a while, right before we ran away.”
“…Here? What—?” Marianne babbled with surprised, taking a quick look around as if about to see a projection from the past. She started to figure out why she had made the connection —though a wrong one— of both situations. Her mother soon realized she was already making assumptions, so she was quick to clear things out.
“Oh, no, not that we were family or anything like that. It’s just that there was this time when he wasn’t doing very well. As you know, his parents died long before you were born, and there was no one else to take care of him,” her mother explained. “We were friends, so I convinced your uncle to let him stay for a while until his situation was resolved. At that time, he had just married, and his attitude had softened, so he accepted. Noah lived with us for a few months, right in the attic room, actually.”
Saying this, she stared at the ceiling as if she could see it in her memories and Marianne followed her example, unable to believe what she was hearing.
“Seeing you there, talking to Samuel, reminded me of all the times I used to sneak up and stay up late, just talking.” Noticing Marianne’s clenched face, she was quick to clarify this point. “Don’t misinterpret; during the whole time he was living here, Noah was very respectful. We wanted to do things the right way, so once Lucianne was born, we talked to Red about our intention to get married after graduating. He obviously didn’t take it well and threatened to send me away to a boarding school; he still had my custody after all. And so, we finally decided to run away… and a few months later you came to our lives.”
Marianne stared at her, wondering if there was some regret in her eyes, especially now that her marriage was over.
“…I guess it’s no surprise that my brother decided to stay away from this house after what happened and moved to his own,” her mother added with a long sigh. “Too many bad memories for him: the death of our parents, and me running away… And yet he left it on my name. Maybe he still hoped someday I would come back and look at that! I actually did.”
No wonder commissioner Fillian didn’t seem so fond on her father, after all, in his eyes he had betrayed his trust by taking his little sister away.
“…Why are you telling me this now?”
“I told you, because I understand now my brother’s concern back then when I took the easy way out. I wouldn’t want you to make the same mistake.”
Marianne’s extremist side considered that she and Loui were part of her mistakes, but she shook her head to cast the thought out of her mind.
“Rest assured that I don’t see Samuel like that.”
“All right. I just had to tell you. I thought it was time for you to know,” she concluded, running her fingers through Marianne’s hair with a little sad smile, as if talking about it had revived her nostalgia, and perhaps the longing for her father. Marianne just nodded and avoid making any comment.
Her mother got up and left the room while Marianne couldn’t stop thinking of her father living right there in the attic, months before running away with her mother, which meant some of the things they had found there belonged to him at some point. Maybe if they checked the place more in depth, they could find more items that might be useful.
She lay in her bed with a thoughtful expression. There was still something she had to resolve as soon as possible. She took her cellphone and rummaged through her contacts.
“Hello? Is there a problem?” Lucianne replied, sounding puzzled at her decision to call instead of texting them as she usually did.
“No, no, everything is fine. I just… needed to ask you for a favor.”
“Sure, tell me.”
“I know Frank doesn’t have any issue looking for people’s information and I was wondering if you could ask him to look up something for me.”
“Of course, but you could ask him yourself.”
“We both know he will only do what you tell him to, even if he doesn’t get anything out of it,” Marianne replied, and she only heard ‘mmmmmh’ on the other side of the line. “I need him to find out what he can about a woman named Elsbeth Marie Grenoir, who died about eighteen years ago. Do you need me to spell the name for you?”
“No, that’s okay. I got it.”
“Well… I also need him to investigate any possible link to my father,” she added wih discomfort, and after a moment of silence on the other end of the line —in which she didn’t stop repeating in her head ‘Please, don’t ask. Please, don’t ask’ like a mantra—, Lucianne finally answered with a doubtful ‘Okay’.
After hanging up, she held the phone away; she felt a calm going through her now that she had taken the step to know who that woman was and why her father visited her grave.
“Who is Elsbeth Grenoir?” Samael asked, unexpectedly appearing behind her, making her flinch a little.
“…I don’t know,” she said, like a child caught in a prank. “She might be no one. It’s not important.” Samael didn’t look convinced at her response, so she tried to change the subject. “Hey, remember all those old boxes in the attic? You kept them in the camouflaged closet, right? Could you take them out one of these days? I would like to check their contents.”
“If that’s what you want,” Samael agreed with a shrug. “I’ll start soon. But first I want to talk to Loui.”
“That would be a little difficult right now since what happened in the attic moments ago was the little worm’s work. A small warning to leave him alone.”
“Moments ago?” Samael repeated, as if he had forgotten her mother’s little act in the attic, and since she wasn’t willing to explain it, she chose to skip it and take the risk with her annoying little brother.
“…Well, if you insist, let’s try.”
Loui was fully inmersed in one of his comics when a flash of light forced him to gaze at the center of his room where Samael and Marianne appeared. Before they could say anything, he pulled the magazine away and with a flick, he took a small megaphone from the nightstand. It looked like something from a toyline.
“Stop right there if you don’t want me to call mom. I will make a fuss so big that the neighbors will think the apocalypse is finally upon us,” he said, keeping the megaphone close to his face and his finger firmly placed on the switch. Marianne had to make a superhuman effort not to pounce on him.
“Please, you need to understand this is really important,” Samael said.
“Of course it’s important! It’s my head! I don’t want you to go in there and play with my mind!”
“I won’t do that. I can’t intervene in your mind anymore. I’ll just see whatever you allow me to see. You did it for a long time, remember? You got us believe that you no longer kept any recollection of me by channeling your thoughts on what you wanted me to catch,” Samael explained in complete calm, and since he was starting to hesitate, Marianne took the moment to make a motion with her head and the megaphone flew away from the kid’s hands.
“Hey, that’s cheating!” he complained, but Samael went ahead before he could go back for the megaphone.
“Please, Loui. You’re always asking for a chance to prove you can be helpful. Well, now’s the time. Your memories may contain vital information for us.”
After a long time meditating about it, the boy finally snorted with resignation and dropped his shoulders in a defeating posture.
“Do you promise not to manipulate my mind in any way?”
“Will you allow me to access your memories then?”
“Promise me first that you won’t lobotomize me,” Loui demanded, and Samael nodded firmly. The child took a deep breath and got his cell from the nightstand, starting to check it while folding his arms and legs on the bed. “…Only five minutes. I’ll take the time and once the alarm sounds, it’s over.”
“Right now? I promised Demian he would be present when I checked your memories.”
“I could regret it later, so it has to be now. Take ir or leave it,” the kid dictaminated, sure to have at least the upper hand in this regard. Samael looked at Marianne, as if she were the only one able to fix that problem, and although she still wasn’t convinced about the agreement with Demian, she pulled out her cell phone.
“…I’ll call him.”
“Well, let’s get ready meanwhile,” Samael said, leaving Marianne to deal with it. “You have to be comfortable and relaxed. Remind yourself that you’re giving me the permission to access your mind.”
“Yeah, yeah, let’s just get over with it,” Loui replied, settling his back straight, but resting on his pillows. Marianne returned after a brief moment over the phone and by her expression she seemed worried.
“…He’s not answering; it goes directly to voice mail.”
“Did you try another way?”
“I could call to his house, but Vicky could answer and if he’s not there, I could get him in trouble.”
“Does he have to be here? Because I won’t wait anymore. I’m ready and if it’s not now, I may change my mind soon,” Loui interjected, and given their indecision he ended up showing the screen of his cell that had already established a stopwatch. “…Time starts to run on 5, 4, 3—”
“Okay, okay, we won’t wait for him,” Samael said. “Send him a message. At least we made the attempt to locate him.”
Marianne just did as he asked, though her face showed her disapproval. Samael stood before Loui and stared into his eyes.
“Now think only of what happened the night you took that video. Don’t let any other memory in, or it could disrupt the continuity of it. Relax. Stay on that night. Don’t think of anything else,” Samael said with his soothing voice and Loui obeyed, keeping his eyes fixed on him. The timer started counting.
Samael’s surroundings changed in an instant. The lit room lined with posters and walls decorated with comic drawings had darkened, becoming some sort of backyard from an abandoned property, only illuminated by the moonlight. He recognized it as the place he had analyzed right after watching the video, though he was now standing behind a row of trash bins and the place was as lonely as he remembered, but just like the room, it had suddenly transformed, some figures began to transfigure in front and next to him, like three-dimensional images.
He finally had a complete picture of how things had been that night. Beside him was Loui with another boy, surveilling the small group of figures coming out of the building in front of them, wearing long coats with hoods, as if they were freshly out of some black mass. They laughed as they dropped the hoods, and Samael could see they were just a bunch of teenagers. With a wave of his hand, he stopped the memory and decided to approach and look at them up-close. There were three boys and two girls. They didn’t seem familiar to him, but the school was so big he doubted having seen even half of its students.
He sought another sign that could help identify them once back in the real world, because the video made it impossible. Besides their backpacks, they were carrying shopping bags with some candles, cups, and other objects. He still didn’t find anything useful until noticing the hoods they were wearing. Each of them had an embroidered badge. It must belong to a school, although he didn’t recognize it. But he was sure to reproduce it again later. An open book with the flame of a candle like a sun above it. Piece of cake.
He turned away and returned to the two kids’ hideout, so the memory could continue. He saw someone coming down the road to the front of the building, while the other boy next to Loui ran away, but just like Loui, he was more interested in the guy approaching the other teens. He waited, aware of what was going to happen next, he had watched the video so many times he had memorized it; so, once he stood before them, he paused the memory again. The gray hooded guy remained clear and visible, it hadn’t turned into a blur like the time he tried to look at him in Marianne’s memory. This was a step forward, he only needed to see him up close now.
Samael walked towards that point, but once he was a few feet from the guy, suddenly it was impossible to keep moving forward, as if an energy field around prevented him to go any further. He tried from several points, but it was useless, he couldn’t get any closer. He kept the memory going, to see if he could catch a glimpse of him, some other detail apart from the amber eyes sparkling behind the hood, but he couldn’t, and his inability to approach did nothing but increase his frustration.
Soon, the teens had been attacked, and the running time corresponding to the video was coming to an end; the guy in the sweater turned and seemed to look in Loui’s direction, who almost dropped his cellphone. It was right then that the image seemed to leap and interweave with another one for a split second, like interference.
Samael blinked, thinking it was maybe because his own power was starting to lose effect now that he was running out of the time granted by Loui, but then it happened again, the place around suddenly changed intermittently until he was standing in front of an entrance to another building in broad daylight, but it was so dark inside he could only glimpse a shadow lurking over some kind of bundles. Looking intently, he noticed the bundles were actually three bodies, and the shadow hunched over them was the same gray-hooded guy, who raised his face, and despite the hood and the darkness, he could see his bright amber eyes and a bright smile forming in his lips. It placed a finger to its mouth, as if asking him to hush; and Samael heared a muffled gasp beside him; it was Loui, with a pale face and terrified eyes.
There was a loud beep, and he felt a strong jolt that blurred his vision until he was back to the room. Loui was pressing several keys from his phone while Marianne stood aside, watching expectantly.
“So? Did you see anything?”
Samael didn’t seem to react yet, looking around disoriented and stopping at Loui with a dazed expression. The child frowned, realizing the way he was looking at him, and Samael quickly stood up and averted his gaze, trying to focus on Marianne’s question.
“…Not that much from the guy, actually. But I managed to distinguish some badges in those kids’ clothes. I think that will be enough to identify which school are they from.”
“I’ll notify Demian then and look for some pen and paper, so you can make a sketch of it,” Marianne said, turning around as she took her phone again, but stopping a moment to address Loui. “I don’t say this very often… but thanks.”
The boy just shrugged as Samael looked askance at him from his position. He didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but what he saw was very unsettling, especially that last memory mixed with the one he was analyzing. He had the feeling that the guy knew about Loui’s presence, and not only that: he wanted to be seen by him, as if… showing off to an apprentice.