“What’s going on over there?” Marianne asked after seeing everyone gathering around the other bus.
“Maybe they’re giving instructions,” Lucianne guessed, trying to see what was happening just like her, but the crowd made it impossible.
It wasn’t until they heard someone yell ‘Fight’ that they decided to merge in the throng, which was so heaped that they couldn’t advance too much, so Mitchell decided to break through, pushing everybody away until getting to the front. There he found Demian at the center, next to the boy with the black jacket.
“Oh, no,” Mitchell said, alarmed.
The guy in the jacket was as tall as Demian, and was more than ready to fight, leaning from one foot to another with his guard up, as if it weren’t the first time he was involved in a similar situation. Meanwhile Demian stood motionless, staring at him with a tense jaw. His hands were tightly grasped, until the other boy decided to throw another punch, which he blocked with one hand, holding him firmly and squeezing his grip. The boy struggled to maintain his posture, engaging in some sort of arm wrestling in which neither of them was willing to give in.
“Mitchell, do something!” Kristania demanded, emerging beside him among the horde of teens and slapping him.
“Why me?” he replied, rubbing his arm, and the group began to move aside, making way for the young counselor along with another man, who immediately separated the two boys and took them away.
The girls were surprised to discover that Demian was involved in the fight and was led to one of the cabins along with the other boy, whose savage eyes gave them chills.
“Attention, everybody! We’re sorry for the recent incident and hope it won’t happen again. We’re going now to the cabins to unpack, and when the last bus arrives, we’ll give you a tour around the camp,” counselor Luna announced, signaling the girls to follow her into the cabins.
Each hut had capacity for twenty people, with five bunks on the right and five on the left. The girls at the front looked at each other as though the same thing crossed their minds, and in a split second they raced to take over the bunks of their choice, pushing each other until they were all taken. The five girls didn’t even blink before realizing they had been left out of the share-out along with several other girls behind them.
“Don’t worry, there are still empty cabins,” Luna said to calm them and while leaving they caught a glimpse of Kristania near one of the bunks, looking at them triumphantly.
They tried to keep themselves quick-witted in the next one and once Luna made the sign, the five girls ran to the nearest bunks to the door, and Marianne noticed the others occupied the two next to her.
“Well, thank you very much for leaving me alone again.”
They looked at each other, realizing they had repeated the same distribution as the bus.
“You want to switch places with me? I’m the ‘plus one’ of the group, anyway,” Lucianne offered from the next bunk.
“No, it’s okay. You should get to know them better,” she decided with a sigh. Lilith jumped from the top bunk and sat next to her.
“Don’t feel bad, we can rotate shifts per day. Today you’re in this bed, but tomorrow is my turn and so on and so forth, what do you think?”
“If you all agree . . . ”
Lilith put an arm around her in a bearhug.
“It’s decided, then! Now, how about an explanation about Lissen Rox?” she added under her breath, holding her tight so she wouldn’t escape, and she had no other choice than to confess, with a few omissions.
“It was the first time Samuel found out he could transport,” she began to explain, once the cabin was empty and only they remained inside. “It turned out that the victim was him, Lissen Rox.”
“Is that all?” Lilith squinted, expecting more.
“If you ask about the video, there are obviously some reinterpretations that never happened!”
“But you knew how much I worship him . . . Why didn’t you take me?” she insisted with a pout and Marianne rolled her eyes, knowing that the serious moment was over.
“Oh, here you are!” Mitchell stopped at the door, looking cautiously inside. “I thought you should know this, but Samuel went alone into the woods. Looking for a place to train.”
“And you didn’t stop him?”
“Did I have to?” he asked carefully, and Marianne grunted while pulling out her cell.
“Where are you? Why did you leave without informing us?” she said over the phone before everyone else’s intimidated gazes. “What if someone finds you or worse, you get lost?”
“Don’t worry, no one will notice. Just let me know when I have to be there and I’ll get there on time. I think I’m on track to find something useful.”
“But you might get lost!”
“If that happens, I’ll be guided by you.”
She remained silent, aware the others were watching, and finally sighed and try to restore her calm.
“Just don’t go too far and be careful.”
Once she ended the call and put the cell away, she noticed everyone watching her expectantly, especially Angie.
“He’ll be back in time. Or so he says . . . And he better be, for his own sake.”
“Otherwise you’ll punish him?” Mitchell interjected in jest, raising his eyebrows with a smirk, and she threw him a look of disgust.
“Do you know what happened to Demian?” Lucianne asked.
“I was on my way. Follow me then.”
Outside, most of the campers had started to mingle and get to know each other while waiting for the last bus to arrive. Kristania hadn’t missed the chance to gather a small entourage around her, adding new acquaintances from other schools.
Marianne wondered what kind of story would she be making up right now, but decided to pay no mind to her. They continued on her way, until they got to the cabin at the entrance of the camp. There was a pair of stretchers separated only by a room divider, and the two boys sitting on them like patients.
On the right, Demian was holding an ice pack against his cheek, while the other guy —besides having his respective ice pack against the mouth— was having his hand bandaged by a woman who seemed to be a nurse. He kept swearing whenever the bandage pressed his hand, and the woman responded with disapproving glances. As they heard the sound of the door, their eyes laid on that point.
“What are you doing here?” Demian asked, straightening up on the stretcher and putting the ice pack away.
“We were worried about you.” Lucianne decided to enter the cabin while the other boy’s piercing cinnamon eyes followed their every move, making them so nervous that they immediately felt relief as soon as the folding screen hid them from his sight. “What were you thinking getting into a fight after barely a few seconds in the camp?”
“I didn’t start it.”
“Well, that guy’s hand and face say that you didn’t do that much to avoid provocation either,” Marianne snapped.
“I just stopped him!” he tried to justify himself.
“Why are you still there? Aren’t you coming?” Lilith asked, realizing Mitchell was still at the door, going in circles with uneasy pace.
“Uhm . . . I’m fine here,” he said, turning his face as if trying to conceal it, and giving them the back. It seemed odd, coming from him. On the other side of the folding screen they heard the other boy reciting another litany of curses, making them feel awkward until the nurse left the cabin.
“Do you have to stay here?”
“We were told to wait here until the coordinator talks to us,” Demian said reluctantly. The guy on the other side suddenly laughed. “What’s so funny?”
The boy pushed the screen away, his lips had turned upward into a cynical smile.
“Are you serious? Have you heard yourself?” the boy said with an expression that screamed insolence, from his sharp cinnamon eyes to his mahogany hair, just above the shoulders, and upswept in a rebellious ponytail. “You’re the typical daddy’s little boy that would never dare to contradict any adult.”
“Hey, you don’t know him! Don’t talk to him like that!” Lucianne said, defensively. The boy stared at her with a straight face, and then smiled again.
“My bad, then, I meant daddy’s little boy who needs his girlfriend to defend him.”
“I’m not his girlfriend!” she quickly replied, and he seemed satisfied.
“Well, good to know,” the boy said, accentuating his cheeky smile. He then rose from the stretcher and headed for the exit with a smug air. As soon as he reached the door, he put his arm around Mitchell, patting his chest like an old acquaintance. “Your friends are interesting, Mitchellin. You still owe me a favor.”
Having said this, he cast one last glance at the others, setting his eyes on Lucianne a little longer, and winking to her bewilderment. Everyone was left confused at his departure, while Mitchell looked tense, like a child caught up in a mischief.
“What was that? Do you know him?”
“Yeah, well . . . he . . . ” Mitchell stammered, letting out a sigh. “He’s my cousin. He’s the one who helped me get your ID’s.”
“Your cousin, the hacker, is that thug,” Marianne reiterated.
“You’re such an idiot! How dare you give our personal information to someone like that? What were you thinking?”
“I actually wasn’t,” he answered honestly, laughing it off as if it were the only thing left to do, making Marianne even angrier.
“So, he’s the one you owe a favor,” Demian emphasized and Mitchell seemed afraid of his reaction, but he just stared at him with a lifted eyebrow.
“But I told you, if that bothers you, I won’t do it!”
“It’s not me you should ask,” he repeated, while the girls watched them, trying to follow the flow of information.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, how do I explain? The reason he followed me here was to cash in the favor he did for me, and as payment . . . he’s basically asking . . . to meet Lucianne.”
“Huh? What do I have to do with this? Why would he want to know me?”
“Is it really necessary to explain?” Lilith said.
“It doesn’t matter, because Mitchell won’t introduce anyone to that guy . . . right?” Marianne remarked, giving him a menacing look and he decided to just keep quiet. “Let’s go then.”
“You’re not coming?” Lucianne asked, seeing Demian wasn’t moving from the stretcher. He looked upset despite his efforts not to show it.
“No, go ahead. I’ll wait for the coordinator to come.”
They finally got out of the hut, and once alone, Demian touched his face to verify it the swelling was going down. Then he looked sideways to the other stretcher where the other boy had been minutes before. He hated to admit it, but that guy was right about something.
Even though part of him wanted to leave with the same lack of concern, the side that used to follow the rules prevented him from doing it, which only led to manifest his frustration through his growing rage. He hated to feel like that and couldn’t do anything against it. The only thing that could be helpful right now was to get some rest, and he needed his pills for that.
“Seems like the rest have arrived,” Angie said when a new group of teens entered the camp.
“The tour must be about to begin then.”
Marianne was texting Samael to return as soon as possible while they watched the newcomers being led to the empty cabins.
“Uh-oh, seems like it’s scolding time,” Mitchell said, seeing a man getting into the main cabin where they had left Demian.
“It’s not fair that he takes all the blame,” Lucianne complained. “You should talk to your cousin, Mitchell, try to reason with him.”
“Trust me, I’ve tried so many times, but it’s like talking to a wall.”
“Maybe the problem is that no one has ever bothered to tell him off. Sometimes a good scolding might help to put things in perspective,” Marianne said, checking her cell phone, waiting for news from Samael.
“If you want to try, go ahead. Did you bring your whips and all?”
She gave him an annoyed look as he smiled playfully.
While they were grouped with the other campers, Demian joined them with a calm expression, his previous anger already cooled off.
“What happened? What did he tell you?”
“Just to stay away from that guy, and if something happens between us again, they’re going to notify our parents and possibly expel us from the camp.”
“Not bad for the first day, huh?” Mitchell joked, patting him, and Demian just threw him a spiteful look.
“Don’t go near him again, then. We don’t want you to get expelled,” Lucianne adviced. And then she noticed that boy, leaning against a tree with folded arms and away from everyone, staring at her in such a way that was impossible to ignore. As much as she averted her gaze, she still could feel those unsettling cinnamon eyes fixed on her.
“Are you alright?” Marianne asked, noting her sudden change of mood.
“Yes, of course. It’s just the expectation,” she replied with a forced smile, but Marianne didn’t quite believe it.
She decided to glance around. Among the crowd of attending teens there was only a pair of eyes looking at Lucianne insistently. He didn’t even try to hide it, the guy in the black jacket and red stripes seemed determined to be noticed.
“Good morning, everybody! You’re officially welcome to our spring camp!”
Luna’s voice rumbled through the speakers installed on a pole that stood at the center of the camp. Right there, on top of a makeshift platform, she was next to the other counselor and three other people she introduced as the camp managers.
Next, she listed the rules and daily itinerary. Their schedule began at 8:00 am with breakfast and at nine they had planned several activities, with a lunch break, until 8:00 pm, when they would serve supper. They were free to take part in the campfire or relax in their cabins afterwards. Among their rules they were banned from visiting other huts at night and evening strolls outside the limits of the camp were forbidden. She also emphasized they wouldn’t tolerate any kind of aggression or fights and everyone should participate in each activity scheduled.
“What did I miss?” Samael was already standing next to them, as if he’d been there the whole time.
“We were worried for you!” Angie said, relieved at his sight.
“You’re late,” was all Marianne said when she turned around to confront him.
“I wanted to return through the same route I used to make sure it was the right one, so we won’t get lost,” he explained, maintaining his relaxed stance.
“Well, I hope you can guide us at night because we’ll only be available after eight.”
“We’ll be busy the rest of the day and must participate in all activities.”
“That’s not what I expected,” he said, trying to concoct some solution, but it didn’t seem to decrease his spirits. “Never mind, we can adjust to the schedule. If it has to be at night, then at night will be.”
“I totally agree! Many interesting things can happen at night, if you know what I mean,” Mitchell added, winking and flashing a huge smile showing his teeth, though Samael didn’t really know what he meant and Marianne gave him a slap in the ribs.
“Stop being a creep!”
“All right, now that you know the rules, join me to take a look at the rest of the facilities.” Benny, the boys’ counselor, took a megaphone and started to walk throughout the place, past the dorm area consisting in twelve equally spaced cabins.
Moving on, they got to the dining area which was some sort of barn fully equipped with its own kitchen and picnic tables distributed in an organized manner, with a narrow empty space in the middle, which they would later learn was to separate girls from boys.
Behind the dining room there was a play zone, which was an extension of land of a proper size for a race or competition.
Then there was a small area right on the edge bordering the forest, surrounded by enough trees to give the illusion of being inside the woods. There was a line of rocks at the center for the bonfire.
“Now, if you follow me, you’ll get to know finally one of our main attractions of the camp,” the guy continued, gesturing them to follow him along a path that led through the forest up to a point where they couldn’t glimpse past it, since it seemed to fall into a slope.
“Aren’t you excited? It’s like being on an adventure deep into the heart of nature!” Lilith declared, delighted.
Marianne, on the other hand, didn’t seem quite enthusiastic. So much that as soon as she set a foot outside the camp into the forest, she unfolded her sleeves and put on her hoodie, lowering it enough to cover her face, trying to walk in the middle of the group.
Her friends looked puzzled, but didn’t dare to make a remark. They remained in the same formation, following the group ahead while Marianne seemed more alert than anyone, and at the slightest sound or movement from the brushes she startled.
“Gee, anyone would think you’re afraid of a few plants.”
“Not exactly,” she replied, watching carefully the ground she walked on.
“Relax,” Samael whispered, standing behind her to let her know he was right there.
Demian was at the back, not very excited by the whole camp thing, and given the recent events, one would think he’d gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, he only needed one last push to convinve himself of that.
It wasn’t even a minute later when there was a commotion up ahead. He raised his gaze and saw Marianne stepping back, shaking her arm desperately.
“Get it off! Get it off!” she yelled urgently, trying to shake off a beetle caught in her sleeve. The others tried to help her, but she didn’t stay still.
The rest of the campers were already turning around, curious to know what was happening. Demian tried to stop her, but at her next motion, her hand punched him right in the jaw, making him back up a few steps. Samael finally got to hold her and remove the bug off her, and she immediately calmed down.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Lilith asked once she had cooled off.
“I hate bugs. I can’t stand to have them around.”
“Oh, well, look around at where you’ve come, the insect kingdom.”
Marianne snorted at her snarky comment while trying to regain her composure, and soon noticed several curious eyes on her.
“Is everything all right back there?” the powerful megaphone was heard from the front and she sighed, aware of the show she had just given and would surely haunt her for the rest of the camp.
All she could do was raise her hand to indicate she was okay to end the matter as quick as possible. It didn’t come as a surprise to hear some laughter in the distance, but she couldn’t do anything about it. Then she remembered that she had accidentally hit Demian in her desperation to get rid of the bug, so she turned to him, embarrassed.
“Are you hurt?” Lucianne asked, while he uncovered his face. The cut on his lip had reopened.
“Looks like today’s not your day, huh?” Mitchell said lightly. One look was enough to let him know that Demian wasn’t in the mood.
“I’m sorry,” Marianne apologized, visibly ashamed. “It was an accident . . . Although if you want to see it this way . . . we’re now even.”
He looked at her with a deadpan expression, but ended up laughing while touching the edge of his wound, checking if it wasn’t bleeding again.
“At this point I think you already owe me,” he replied, taking his hands to his pockets and resuming his way.
“Owe you?” she protested, but as she had no arguments to refute, she just grumbled and followed suit.
The end of the road was already close and those at the front began to go down the slope. Marianne was still alert for any other insect that could get stuck on her clothes, but as she looked around the place, she began to have a sense of déjà vu, as if she had been there before. She tried to access her memories, but her mind didn’t allow it, and her body inadvertently started to tense.
As she reached the slope, an inexplicable and overwhelming feeling grew inside her, sending shivers down her spine. When she saw what was down the road, she stopped in her tracks as though hitting an invisible wall.
“The Tokenblue Lake has been here for thousands of years as far as we know. You may have heard of it, one of its main features is that the bottom stones sparkle at night by a refractory effect with the moonlight, making the surface of the lake filled with colorful lights,” said the counselor, standing in front of a small wooden dock by the lake. “Many have tried to analyze them, but once out of the lake, the stones lose their iridescence, and neer regain it, not even in another type of water. On the other hand, the water tests haven’t yielded any unusual results either, so this is a very special place that cannot be explained or duplicated.”
The group came closer with curiosity to see the lake while Marianne stepped back, her face pale and bated breath.
“What is it? You’re pale, are you feeling sick?” Lucianne asked and the others also turned around to see her face, white as paper.
“I . . . I don’t feel very well. Maybe I should get back to the cabin.”
“I’ll go with you,” Samael offered.
“Uh . . . I’m going with you too!” Angie suddenly said, approaching them. “You know, in case you need help.”
Their friends saw them leaving with a mixture of concern and surprise, while Demian just followed them with his gaze.
“Demian, you’re bleeding,” Lucianne pointed out. He scratched his lips, finding out that his cut had begun to bleed again. She pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his wound, but he stopped her gently.
“Thank you, I can do it myself,” he said, taking the handkerchief.
Lucianne lowered her hands hesitantly and just laced her fingers, averting her gaze. She then noticed the guy in the black jacket still watching her from the distance. She frowned and looked away, feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
“You don’t have a fever,” Angie said, holding a digital thermometer, while Marianne lay on her bunk. “Maybe it was just your pressure.”
“Yes, maybe it was,” she agreed, the color back in her face, but still looking distraught.
“You’ll be fine,” Samael said. “Remember that you have nothing to fear.”
“I have nothing to fear,” she repeated as a mantra.
Angie returned with a glass of water and stopped a little just to watch them together.
“I think someone should tell the others you’re okay, so they won’t worry. Could you do that, Samuel?”
“Sure. Do you need anything else?” he asked, and Marianne shook her head.
“Just tell them I need some rest, that’s all. I guess I’ll see you at lunch.”
He nodded with a comforting smile and then got out.
“He’s very protective of you, isn’t he?”
“It’s his duty, after all,” she replied unwittingly, before realizing what she had just said. “I mean . . . given how he’s virtually family, my dad has made him promise that he would look after me at all times. He’s always been like that.”
“Oh . . . you mean that he makes it a habit.”
“Yeah, you could say so,” she concluded with a sigh of relief. That was close. She then looked back at Angie, who had begun to adjust the sheets as if having nothing else to do. “Hey, Angie . . . do you like Samuel?”
She reacted nervously at the question.
“W-Why do you ask? What makes you think that? I mean . . . he’s cute, of course, anyone could see that . . . and he’s also kind . . . ”
“You like him!” Marianne repeated, more certain than ever, and Angie blushed.
“You sound like I shouldn’t.”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with it,” she said, trying to correct her previous reaction, yet aware that she should do something about it. “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Why would I get hurt? Do you know something about him to say that?”
“I don’t mean that he would do anything to hurt you willingly, just . . . I don’t think he has that kind of interest for anyone.”
Angie looked increasingly intrigued, so Marianne tried to think of something that wouldn’t sound so suspicious.
“But hey! That’s just my opinion! I’m just saying it because I wouldn’t want you to fall for him so soon.”
“Don’t worry. I can’t help liking him, but I understand that he’s equally kind to everyone and after Aldric . . . well, just to see him and be close to him is enough for me,” Angie said while toying with her fingers. “Could you please . . . keep the secret?”
“Okay. Although I’m not the only one who has noticed it, I mean . . . you’re not exactly discreet about it.”
“Really? Am I that obvious?”
Marianne gave her a look that made her blush even more than she already had. On the other hand, she tried to think how she would talk to Samael about it.
It was one thing that Angie may not be aware that he possibly would never reciprocate those feelings, and another to let Samael inadvertently dazzle her. She just had to find the right moment to talk to him.
That night they were given instructions to attend the first bonfire, but according to Samael’s words they couldn’t waste the valuable time they had left at night, so they devised a simple plan to stay behind on purpose while the rest of the campers headed to the campfire. Mitchell would tell Demian to go ahead and they would catch up with him later.
“Are you sure there’s no one around?” Marianne asked once they had cautiously left the cabin. She was covered from head to toe, hoping not to get through another embarrassing moment.
“No, they’re all at the campfire, and if they ask about us, we have already settled our beds to look like we’re in them.”
“It’s a real shame. I was dying to attend the campfire, eat marshmallows and tell horror stories,” Lilith bemoaned as she watched the orange light coming from the distance.
“Maybe we could take a night off one of these days.”
“If we don’t get better, don’t count on it,” Samael said, going in the opposite direction while doing some mental calculations.
“What a killjoy.”
“Do you think we’ll be able to keep this pace every single day? If we don’t appear at the campfire once it’s understandable, but if we never go, it would be suspicious.”
“Maybe we should ideally make an appearance a few minutes and then slowly disappear,” Marianne suggested, putting on a wool hat with side flaps to cover her ears.
“We’ll decide that tomorrow. We should get on track now,” Samael said.
“Have you checked the cabins in case anyone was left behind?” Lucianne asked, feeling a little paranoid.
“No one left, I double checked,” Mitchell confirmed, raising a hand.
“Then there’s no more time to waste, follow me,” Samael repeated, walking towards the limit line marked by the beginning of the woods.
The rest went behind him, and Lucianne couldn’t help but take a last look, feeling they were being observed, until she eventually turned around and ran into the woods to catch up with her friends.
A few seconds later, a pair of feet stopped right where they had entered. The figure didn’t give it much thought, and immediately ventured stealthily through the same path, following their steps very closely.