They had been walking in the woods for a while with Samael in the lead, weaving among the trees, when they began to suspect he didn’t really know where to go.

“Are you sure it’s around here? Because I think we’ve passed that spiral tree about three times already,” Lilith finally said.

“No, it’s not this way,” Samael admitted without stopping.

“ . . . And you say it so nonchalantly? How much longer did you think to keep us walking around in the woods until accepting we were lost?” Mitchell said, shaking leaves and twigs off his camouflage jacket and making sure not one would stay pinned to his hair.

“We’re not lost, I know exactly where to go,” he added, rounding a thick tree trunk.

“Then why—?”

“We’re being followed.” The others fell silent and began looking cautiously at the sides, hoping to detect any movement outside their own. “Since the moment we entered the woods. I’m trying to lose track.”

“But who could it be and why?” Angie asked, trying to keep her voice as low as possible so only they could hear her.

“I don’t know, but we can find out. See that group of trees ahead? As soon as we turn around them, you have to stay as close to me as you can. I will create a layer that will make us invisible and then we’ll see who’s behind us.”

Everyone nodded, and as soon as they got to the set of dense trees that formed a wall of logs, they rounded it and then stuck together while Samael made a motion with his hand, creating a layer that covered them. They remained motionless and silent for about a minute, listening at any sound that would indicate them there was someone else in the woods with them, but nothing other than ambience noises seemed unusual. Lilith was about to jump out of the invisibility zone, tired of waiting, but Samael beckoned her not to move, and it was then that they heard it. There was a slight rustling of leaves, like footsteps getting closer.

They stood there expectantly until they saw the boy with the black jacket and red stripes emerging from the undergrowth a few feet from them, scanning the place with his gaze. His presence took them by surprise, but they knew it was no time to react.

They held their breath but stood still as statues while the boy passed a few inches from their position, on the lookout, attentive to every little sound. He lurked around for several seconds, often too close to bump into them, but finally decided to turn around and go back the way he had come.

They let enough time to pass until coming out of the barrier, allowing themselves to properly react to what had just happened.

“Why was your cousin following us, Mitchell? Did you say anything to him?” Marianne asked, holding him responsible.

“I swear I have no idea! I’m as surprised as you are!”

“This just confirms that we can’t trust you. You’re just as loud as your wardrobe,” she remarked, and he clutched his chest in a melodramatic gesture.

“Ouch, you hurt me! How long were you thinking of that retort? Are you satisfied now that you got it out of your system?”

“Enough,” Samael said with a steady voice, standing between them. “It’s not the moment for discussion. We must get to that place and begin training as soon as possible.”

“And for the next days, maybe we should change our tactics a little bit. We spent, like, twenty minutes wandering around the woods without even noticing we were being followed, except for Samuel,” Lilith suggested.

“We’ll need another way to get there too. I don’t doubt that guy will follow us again,” Marianne said.

“Well, I’ve only done this under a lot of stress and I don’t know if I can repeat it . . . but I guess I can try,” Samael said, sighing and standing in the middle. “I need everyone to gather around and hold on to me.”

They got closer and rested their hands on him as he tried to concentrate on the place they were heading to. He had been careful to memorize every detail to visualize it in his mind without difficulties. It started as a blurred version of the place, and then gradually started to define itself until seeing the version behind the veil. As soon as it cleared out and opened his eyes, the great expanse of land surrounded by large trees was in front of them, and the rest of the group looked around in amazement.

“That was awesome! Let’s do it again!”

“Are you okay? Or was it too much effort?” Marianne asked when he stumbled for a second and bent down to catch his breath.

“I’ll recover. The important thing now is to start right away,” he said, straightening up again and making a move to cover the entire area with a barrier. “Since we’ll have a few hours a day to improve our skills, we can’t waste a single second.” He ipointed at Marianne, Belgina, Lilith and Lucianne. “You have your abilities very clear, so you should practice them and work on your athletic skills.”

The four of them started walking away, following his instructions.

“Angie, Mitchell.” he stopped them before they followed the rest. “Since you have the most problems controlling your powers, you’ll practice with me. If you don’t mind.”

They both nodded meekly, knowing that was a subtle way to say that they weren’t up to the others’ level, still Angie didn’t seem to mind that much. At least she would get to spend some time with him.

They stood four hours practicing relentlessly, and when they returned to their huts it was two in the morning already. Everyone was asleep so they got quietly into their bunks, and as soon as their heads hit their pillows, they dropped dead.

At eight am, a reveille boomed in the speakers, waking everyone with a jolt. Mitchell even thought to be back in his military school, but after seeing Demian getting ready in the next litter he snapped back to reality.

“Thank goodness! I almost thought Sergeant LaRue would come through the door and start yelling at me to get up!” he said, rubbing his face as he sat on the bed. Demian said nothing, just continued tying his shoelaces as if he hadn’t heard. “Oh . . .  right . . . about yesterday . . . ”

“You don’t have to explain anything,” he interrupted without looking away from his shoes.

“Oh, come on, buddy! Don’t be resentful. It’s not like we’re avoiding you or anything,” Mitchell tried to explain, looking for ways to fix it. “In fact . . . uh . . . I can only speak for myself, but the reason I didn’t go to the campfire yesterday . . . was because I gave a walk through the camp with Belgina, away from prying eyes, you know.”

Demian finally raised his face and looked at him, not believing a thing.

“I’m serious, dude! You can ask her if you want! As for the other girls, they were . . . taking care of Samuel. He suddenly began to feel ill when we left the cabin. Right, Samuel?”

Both eyes rested at the top bunk while Samael gazed down, confused, buttoning his shirt. Mitchell gestured to him, as discreetly as he could, to play along, but as he didn’t respond, he tried to give him a lead.

“But you feel better now, right?” he repeated, waving his head to indicate he should answer affirmatively.

“Yes,” he finally said dubiously, and someone laughed at the back of the cabin.

Mitchell’s cousin approached the door, very close to them. As he walked by, he glanced at them and a crooked smirk appeared on his face.

“Hey, wait!” Mitchell ran after him, leaving the two boys in their bunks. “What were you doing yesterday prowling in the woods?” His cousin maintained his bold smile and gave him a meaningful glance.

“Yesterday? I don’t know what you mean. How would you know of my whereabouts if you were somewhere else?”

Mitchell knew instantly that if he admitted having seen him in the woods, it would also mean accepting their presence in the same place, so he chose to keep quiet.

Given how easily they had been followed, the subsequent days they opted for a new plan to mingle with the rest of the campers on the bonfire nights and after a few minutes, disappear one by one, giving different excuses.

With that system, they all had great progress on their training. Mitchell could now form a neutral barrier at will, even if it also meant suppressing their abilities. Angie had learned to channel her emotions regarding her needs at the time, directing them towards whoever she touched, although her practices were confined to simple instructions, given how she had to use her teammates as her test dummies. She gave them simple commands like raising their arms and move, jump or spin around, but when it came down to Samael, she tried to keep away any thought that could produce an awkward moment for her.

Mitchell’s cousin hadn’t followed them again after their radical change of method, but it still didn’t stop him from staring at Lucianne, unsettling her deeply.

It was increasingly difficult for hrt to ignore him, and did nothing but toy with her breakfast in despair, staring at the plate without tasting a single bite.

“If he makes you so uncomfortable, you should speak up,” Marianne suggested, seeing how stressed she was. Lucianne looked at her, grateful that someone would have noticed.

“I don’t want any trouble.”

“What are you talking about?” Lilith asked, diverting her attention from her breakfast.

“You could ask someone else to confront him. I don’t know, maybe Demian,” Angie suggested.

“No! If they have problems again, he could be expelled from the camp.”

“Are you talking about Mitchell’s cousin? What’s he done now?”

“He keeps staring at Lucianne,” Marianne said.

“Really? Let me see . . . ” Lilith intended to turn back without any caution, but Lucianne stopped her.

“Be discreet! I guess he’s just an attention-seeker. Don’t give him the pleasure.”

“But all the while you’re the one having to put up with it, and that’s not fair, he has no right,” Marianne snapped.

“I know, but I prefer to avoid confrontation,” Lucianne said with resignation.

Marianne huffed and rolled her eyes and right after she got up and walked away to their confusion. Soon they realized that she was heading towards that boy and they panicked.

“Hey, you! Stop looking at my cousin like that, you’re upsetting her,” Marianne demanded, and a moment of silence filled the barn. The boy looked up at her nonchalantly.

“Oh, is that so? Why doesn’t she come and say it herself?”

“This is not a game! Whatever issues you have pending with Mitchell, it’s your problem, keep her out of it,” she spat, giving rise to a smirk on his face.

“What do you suggest then? You’re gonna take her place?”

“Just stop behaving like children already!” She finished and turned around, but the boy grabbed her wrist.

Demian got up immediately, but it was Samael who acted first, rushing right next to her and slapping away the boy’s hand. Everyone choked a gasp in their throats and waited for another possible face-off, given the palpable tension between the two boys.

Samael stood between Marianne and the boy, looking earnestly upon him while the latter held his gaze, unyielding. The counselors finally showed up to avoid conflicts.

“What’s going on here? Is there a problem?” Benny asked, hurrying to mediate between them, but Samael just turned around and walked outside along Marianne, followed almost immediately by Lucianne and the rest of the girls.

“There’s no problem, as you can see. Everything’s wonderful in your camp of unicorns,” the boy replied, settling into his seat with his cocky attitude.

Demian also decided to leave, followed closely by a hesitant Mitchell.

“Did he hurt you?” Samael asked once out of the barn.

“You didn’t have to help me, I had it under control.”

“Why did you do that? Have you gone crazy?” Lucianne asked, reaching them.

“I just did what no one else dared to: I faced him. It was about time someone told him off,” Marianne said, convinced she had done the right thing.

“He could’ve hurt you if not for Samuel!”

“He would have my shoe printed on his face right now,” she replied, trying to downplay the incident.

“You underestimate other’s responses to your confrontations,” Lilith said, shaking her head in disapproval. Demian walked by right then and paused.

“That was utterly reckless of you,” he said in a serious tone, after which he continued his way to the cabins, and Marianne grinded her teeth.

“Mind your own business!”

She hated to be treated as an irresponsible brat who didn’t measure the risk of her actions. She had simply taken in her hands an issue that was affecting one of her friends. She did what she had to do and didn’t regret it. They had faced worse dangers, after all. However, her eyes met Samael’s disapproving gaze, and she felt scolded.

“Don’t you ever do that again,” he said with concern.

She just folded her arms and puckered up. She still had a long day ahead and didn’t want to engage into a discussion.

After breakfast, everyone gathered around the central pole to wait for instructions for their next activity, and it was Luna who took the microphone.

“Good morning, campers! Today we have a different dynamic from the ones we’ve had so far. It’s a rally. Not a regular rally though . . . but a battle between boys and girls! The winners will enjoy a very special dinner while the losers will be responsible to cook and serve it,” Luna explained, followed by a statement by Benny trying to excite the boys just as she tried to do the same with the girls.

Each group would be divided in teams of two, and each team would be responsible for an instruction from a very long list, so the first group to complete the totality of the instructions would be the winner.

It sounded easy, if not for the fact that forming teams of two made things difficult for the girls. They instantly immersed themselves into an argument about who would ‘sacrifice’ herself, not because no one wanted to, but because they were all willing to do it, so they finally decided to leave it to fate. They gathered some sticks and whoever took out the shorter one, would stay without partner.

Marianne couldn’t help but attribute it to bad luck when she drew the shortest branch. She sighed as she stared at the twig, having no choice but to accept it, even though her friends immediately offered to trade places with her.

“Don’t worry, I only have to find a partner and that’s it,” she said, glancing around. The teams were rapidly forming, to the extent that within minutes, no one seemed to be available.

“Anyone who still doesn’t have a partner anywhere?” Luna began to shout over the microphone and she raised her hand at her friends’ insistence. “Oh, good! Seems like you’ve found a new teammate. Go with her!”

She realized her mistake too late when she saw Kristania beside her, already scowling, and when she noticed who she was paired up with, her face shrunk even more. Marianne closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of resignation. If it was fate, she must be doing something wrong.

The boys’ separation, on the other hand, had fallen to Mitchell’s final decision. He didn’t want to choose between Demian and Samael, so he finally decided to pair up with his cousin, forcing the two boys to form a team after everyone else had already organized.

“Don’t worry, everything will be okay. Think of this as a way to get to know each other a little better,” Mitchell said, patting them on their backs before leaving.

Demian adopted a resigned stance while Samael looked rather indifferent to the pairing. He just didn’t take those dynamics too seriously, instead he preferred to focus all his attention and energy in their night trainings.

“Just so you know, I won’t do anything that requires effort,” Kristania warned as soon as they were set in pairs, showing her still bandaged foot. “I haven’t recovered yet from you pushing me on purpose.”

“You don’t have to rub it into my face every chance you have,” Marianne grumbled, rolling her eyes.

“I’d be insane if I didn’t,” she replied with a catty smile. “And you should remember, I still know something about you that the others don’t, and I could unintentionally slip out.”

Marianne glared at her and declined to comment. That was exactly what she wanted, an excuse to rile her.

Then the counselors handed out the lists of items for every team. To make it fair, the list was split into strips of paper and shuffled into a container, asking each couple to take a piece of paper with the corresponding set of instructions they had to do at the rally.

‘Catch the nymphs’, what’s that supposed to mean? Will there be people in disguises that we must hunt or what?” Kristania asked after reading their instruction.

“The nymphs are considered spirits of nature tied to trees, forests, mountains and water. We must find elements corresponding to each one, I guess.”

“I know what they are, don’t treat me like one of your idiot friends,” she said with disdain, and Marianne clenched her jaw with growing irritation. “But there are too many elements to consider, it should be more specific.”

“In that case you should know it’s referring to flowers. The water lilies are also known as water nymphs. So, we must get flowers that grow on trees, also the ones that grow in the woods and mounds.”

“Oh, you’re so clever, huh? Very well, good luck in your search then. Especially when you go for those water lilies,” Kristania replied, crossing her arms with a cunning smile.

The prospect of searching for a water lily by herself made Marianne feel a weird tightness on her chest.

All groups had dispersed through the camp to fulfill the instructions of the rally.

Just as she had foreseen, Kristania didn’t even make the minimal effort to help her, she just sat on a rock, crutches aside, and pointed to Marianne where to search.

“Higher. No, not there, you have to climb over. Are you a wimp or what? Use those arms and climb!” she bossed her around while Marianne tried to climb a lilac tree to take the flowers. It was too upright and didn’t have that many branches to hold on to.

“Yelling at me won’t make me miraculously reach the top!” she protested, holding to the trunk, reaching out to try and take one of the lilacs.

“If I weren’t disabled because of YOU, I would have easily reached there.”

Marianne grunted, trying to ignore her words. She secured her feet in a pair of branches and stretched her arm to pull an orchid.

“Perfect!” she muttered, holding the flower in one hand triumphantly, but the pleasure was short-lived as a rustle alerted her and suddenly slipped into a tailspin until falling into some bushes. She got up instantly, bouncing and shaking her body desperately. “Bugs! Bugs! Get them off!”

Kristania got up, leaning on her crutches and let out a loud cackle, then snatched the flower from her hands and put it with the others they already had.

“How ridiculous! Screaming over a few leaves.”

Marianne stopped shaking, realizing there were dry leaves on her instead of bugs, and stood still, trying to regain her composure. Her hair was disheveled and twigs were pinned on her arms. She couldn’t stop reproaching herself for reacting hysterically again and giving quite a show to Kristania’s amusement.

“The water lily is the only one left,” Kristania said, counting the flowers, after which she sat down on the rock to show she had no intention to move an inch. “So, you may start looking for it.”

“And you’ll be just sitting there while I’m doing everything.”

“Like I said, I would do it, but . . . ” she retorted, pointing at her foot.

Marianne rolled her eyes and decided to head towards the lake, but once she saw the edge of the slope, she began to feel the oppression in her chest again.

She halted at the beginning of the small dock and tried to control her breathing, racing along her heartbeats. She didn’t understand why the place made her feel that way, but wasn’t willing to be overwhelmed by it, so she tried to cast it away and started walking across the dock very carefully, holding the handrail until she reached the edge and looked at the surface of the lake with a pale face. Floating in the water was a lonely water lily at a distance she couldn’t just reach out and take it. However, her attention was fixed on the water, clear and settled. It was as if the light reflection of the surface were enticing her.

She shook her head and looked around, trying to think of a way to get the lily. An idea crossed her mind, and after a quick glance to make sure no one else was around, she held from the railing and focused her eyes on the flower, putting all of her mental effort to attract it, though it seemed attached to a very long root. The pressure didn’t let her focus enough and she decided to at least get it as close as possible so she could grab it just by stretching her arm.

The lily began to slide towards the dock to a point where it couldn’t move anymore, but at a distance as to just reach out to take it.

She took a breath to release some of the pressure in her chest and slowly knelt down. Once she found herself on her knees and facing the lake, she clung more tightly to the wood, practically nailing her fingers in it. She was starting to feel short of breath, so she closed her eyes and counted to ten, trying to imagine that she was on solid ground, ignoring the sound of the water.

When she opened her eyes again, she was ready to reach out, emptying her mind at the risk of regretting it beforehand. The lily was still a few inches away, so she put her hand into the water, but as soon as she made contact with it, something in the bottom of the lake drew her attention. It was shining.

She kept her eyes on the water, hypnotized, all of her thoughts flying out of her mind. She almost swore she could hear bells in the distance, as if something was calling her, but didn’t know what.

“Did you find the notebook to sign?” Lilith asked, checking on the bushes while Lucianne looked under the rocks.

“Nothing. It must be camouflaged somewhere, they weren’t going to make it easy.”

“Maybe we should split up. Want to return to the camp or keep looking in the woods?”

“I’ll stay here, you go check the cabins and whoever finds it notifies the other.”

Lilith nodded, showing her thumb up, while Lucianne proceeded to analyze a tree’s trunk for a hollow point. She stood for about five minutes in that position when she heard the rustle of leaves announcing someone approaching.

“I didn’t think you’d come back so soon. Did you find it?”

“Depends on what you consider I was looking for.”

Lucianne winced at the voice and turned around, stirred up. Mitchell’s cousin was in front of her. He smiled sideways as he made eye contact with her and held a cigarette between his fingers.

“But as for me, I already found it.”

She stepped back nervously, wondering if he had been following her, but the tree blocked her way and stuck her back to it. She didn’t take her eyes off the boy.

“You didn’t have to send one of your friends to face me, you just had to tell me.”

“What do you want from me? Why are you following me? I don’t even know you.”

“Oh, forgive my rudeness. My name is Franktick, but you can call me Frank.” He introduced himself, keeping his distance. “And I have to differ with you, because I do know you.”

“What? But I’ve never seen you in my life,” she said, bewildered.

“Well, I’m sure I’ve seen you before. I don’t know where, but I know we’ve met,” he said confidently. “In fact, that’s why I wanted to come here in the first place. After I saw your picture, I made up my mind. I had to see you in person.”

“Is that why you asked Mitchell to introduce us?”

“And even though he hasn’t actually done it, I’m here,” he said, shaking the cigarette’s butt and turning it off with his fingers. He then wiped his hands on his pants, while Lucianne watched him with distrust.

He stepped forward, and she clung to the tree, as though afraid of his intentions.

“Relax, I don’t bite . . . unless you provoke me. All I wanted was to see you up close.” She remained motionless as he watched her, as if deciding whether she was as he imagined or, in his case, remembered. “Yes, I definitely recognize you from somewhere.”

“Sorry if I can’t say the same,” she replied, unsure of what to think of him, and he showed a less affected smile.

“No problem.”

His tough attitude seemed to make a one-eighty turn, and suddenly he didn’t seem so menacing with that relaxed smile. Yet she was aware that she shouldn’t lower her guard, so when he took his hand to his back, she immediately lifted her hands in a defensive pose, while he pulled out a small notebook with a degraded cover that looked like it was made of dried leaves.

“I think you were looking for this.”

She slowly lowered her arms, thinking she might have rushed her reaction and took the notebook cautiously as the boy stepped back and walked away with his hands in his pockets. When she opened it into a page marked by a handkerchief, she realized it was the one they had to sign in order to fulfill their part of the instructions. They couldn’t find it because he had taken it instead of leaving it in the same place for the search. She didn’t know whether to thank him or berate him, but whatever she decided, she couldn’t carry it through since he was already gone.

A few feet away, hidden among the trees, Kristania smiled maliciously.

Demian and Samael were in another part of the woods, still in the limits of the camp, trying to collect the items from their instruction without interacting too much, each one on their side. Samael was looking for something in the bushes while Demian took advantage of his height to climb a tree and pluck a flower from one of the branches, after which he jumped down, only to come across Kristania in front of him.

“Hello, Demian, is that flower for me or did you get the ‘nymphs’ instruction too?”

“What are you doing here? We’re in the middle of a competition, so you shouldn’t be talking to me,” he replied coldly, wishing her away.

“I couldn’t care less about the competition. I just wanted to say hello,” she continued, openly showing her interest. “If you’re missing a flower, I wouldn’t bother giving you the ones I have. Right now, that idiot Marianne is looking for the last one, but as soon as I have it in my hands, I could manage to give it to you.”

Demian gave her an incredulous look, struggling not to talk back at her.

“Thank you, but I prefer to do things by myself,” he answered curtly, turning away to continue his search. She followed him like a shadow.

“Well, anyway, that’s not actually the reason why I’m here. I’ve heard rumors about a girl from your childhood . . . who you recently met again.” She winced in disgust by saying this. “Her name is Lucianne, I think?”

“What about her?”

“Well, I recently saw her talking very friendly with my cousin. You know, the one you almost fight with the very first day, and I assumed that something like this could . . . get your attention.”

She pulled out her cellphone and showed him some pictures she had taken at a distance, where Lucianne seemed very close to that boy. In the last picture, he appeared to be giving her something in her hands. Demian watched the photos expressionless, and once he finished, gave the device back to Kristania.

“So? What’s the reason for showing me those pictures? We’re just friends. She can talk to anyone she wants. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have things to do.”

“Of course you’re just friends,” she repeated, letting out a relieved though overconfidently laugh. “You’re not the type of guy who goes out with several girls.”

He stopped at those words, feeling the rage boiling inside him, starting to throb against his temples. His mouth tightened. He couldn’t keep holding it for long and finally turned to her.

“Just to be clear: yes, I dated Lucianne, and even though things didn’t come up the way we expected, she’ll always be special to me. Trying to discredit her before my eyes won’t change a thing, and also won’t change the fact that I’ve never dated or will ever date you,” he said with a severe tone, leaving her stunned at his sudden outburst. “That’s right, don’t think I haven’t heard about the rumor you’ve been spreading about us over the years, a little late, but I finally found out. The only reason I decided not to expose you in front of everyone was because the girl you call an ‘idiot’ stopped me from doing it, so you should be more grateful to her for avoiding you a public humiliation.”

“Did she . . . tell you that?” Kristania asked with a strained voice, trying to keep it stable between gasps. Her face was turning red and her eyelids and lips were shaking.

“Yes, she was the only one who had the decency to say it to my face,” he finished harshly, willing to walk away from her, stopping to add something else. “And by the way . . . you don’t need to keep using those bandages, you can walk perfectly, like right now standing on your feet without any crutches.”

She looked down to discover she was leaning on her supposedly injured foot and hadn’t brought her crutches. Demian consider the talk as finished and decided to get away from her, not even caring anymore about what she would do next or whether he was too harsh on her or not. Samael approached with a flower in his hand and a confused expression on his face after the scene he had just witnessed at a distance.

“I found this one. Is it useful?”

Demian looked at him, forgetting that he was nearby. He took a moment to try to calm down and wheezed.

“Yes, I guess. There’s just the one from the water left,” he answered with diplomacy while Samael glanced behind him. “Just ignore her.”

“She’s gone.”

Demian turned around and realized she was no longer there.

At the lakeshore, Marianne was on her knees, watching the water with a blank expression, mesmerized.

After dropping the crutches on the grass —thus muffling any noise it may produce— Kristania took her shoes off and walked barefoot on the dock, staring at Marianne. Her face was grim and her gaze, gloomy. Red eyes about to pop out, only her brow able to hold them back.

Marianne stood there, unaware of her surroundings, her attention fixed on the lights dancing at the bottom of the water. The lake was famous for its natural spectacle from the moonlight reflection on the bottom rocks, but at that moment it was still broad daylight, so there was no explanation whatsoever for that vision.

She had her arm outstretched with her hand barely touching the surface of the water, her fingertips dipped into it, and all she could hear were the waves and the mysterious tinkling of some distant bells. She felt compelled to look back, but before she could turn around, she was shoved on her back.

The water was lukewarm, with several shades of green shining at the touch of the light on the surface. There was no current, but something was absorbing her into the depths. She looked down and saw the multicolored glow at the bottom.

It was calling to her, dragging her down, an unknown force.

She waved her arms, trying to reach for the surface again, but the water seemed to have turned into air: there was no friction. It was too similar to a nightmare she barely remembered having once, or at least that was what it seemed. Something had sparked off in her mind, a memory that placed her in similar waters a long time ago. But something was missing, something that had changed her life that time.

Kristania contemplated in distraught how the waters appeased after what she had done in her fit of rage. She began to step back, realizing the extent of her action, thinking of a way out, when someone scurried beside her.

Once he reached the end of the dock, Samael jumped into the lake. Demian arrived just seconds later, coming to a halt to look beyond the dock, trying to find out what was happening.

Marianne had stopped fighting against the invisible force dragging her into the depths. Just like in her memories, the surface light was fading away. She was losing consciousness, and still waited for that something, whatever it was. She had seen it in her dreams, but always forgot waking up. Perhaps a bright silhouette, a winged figure just like the one she seemed to glimpse through the edges of her eyelids right now.

She opened her eyes a bit more to see it, but the winged form immediately vanished as if it had been an illusion created by the light over the surface. But there was another figure in the distance, coming to her, swimming as fast as his strength allowed him. It was Samael. His natural halo was accentuated by the brightness of the surface.

Once he reached her, he took her by the shoulders, and even though his lips didn’t move, she could hear his voice in her mind, saying: “Relax, I’m here to protect you.”

«I’ll protect you. I always will» A part of her memory was triggered.

She tried to say something and only her breath came out, becoming bubbles in the water. Samael quickly held her with one arm while the other struggled to swim back to the surface, but something was dragging them both to the bottom.

A couple of minutes passed without any movement from the waters. Kristania was utterly disturbed, already thinking about the consequences, until finally they both came forth to the surface, dragging for air, their lungs were about to burst.

Samael latched on to the dock and climbed up, holding Marianne. As soon as they were safe, she coughed off all the water, trying to breathe through her mouth and nose at the same time, feeling her chest and throat burning at each gasp.

Realizing how close she still was to the shore, she crawled over the dock, thinking a pair of aquatic hands would suddenly emerge and try to pull her back to the lake.

“Are you okay?” Samael asked, barely catching his breath.

“It was you,” she let out between gasps. That part of her memory she had previously considered a nightmare had cleared up, and once she felt her lungs drained enough, she looked up at Samael, flabbergasted. “Years ago . . . it was you. The voice. The angel.”

Samael looked at her for a moment not knowing how to respond, until he finally smiled with relief.

“You remember. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if you’d heard me or if it had been my imagination. You have no idea how happy I am that it wasn’t.”

Marianne didn’t say a word, just hugged him tight, pressing her forehead against his chest like a child seeking for protection.

That moment from her childhood had been crucial for her, since thereafter she had begun her quest to learn more about angels and this new revelation was like the closure of an entire phase of her life.

Samael gave her a gentle pat on the back to soothe her, conveying that he would always be there for her.

Demian stood watching from the base of the dock. He had one hand on the railing, while the other hung on his side.

Kristania stepped back, intending to get away as soon as possible when several people ran past her and headed towards the edge.

“What happened?” Lucianne asked.

They were both soaked and Marianne pulled away from Samael as soon as she heard their voices.

“Did you fall into the lake?” Angie asked, feeling a tightness in her chest

“She was about to drown,” Samael replied, helping Marianne up.

“I don’t know what happened. When I realized, I was already in the water.”

“Why don’t you ask her? She was here before everyone else,” Demian suddenly said, and Kristania reacted. All eyes were now on her.

“Did you push her?” Lilith asked with an accusatory look.

She couldn’t speak, feeling the full weight of those judgy eyes staring at her, clearly blaming her for the incident. She soon found herself panting, gasping for air and grasping her hands, her body stiffening.

“Sure! It’s so easy for you to blame me for everything! Like I’m the villain! Well, guess what! If she were so innocent, she wouldn’t be lying or keeping secrets from you, but that’s exactly what she’s been doing!” Kristania shouted, completely losing it.

“What are you talking about?” Angie asked, and Marianne opened her eyes wider, realizing where she was headed, a gesture Kristania noticed and prompted her to crack a wry smile.

“That they are living together!”.

The rest of them exchanged looks of surprise, dedicating one to Marianne and Samael. Kristania was feeling confident again, at least until Lilith decided to speak.

“So what? Of course he’s staying at her house, they’re family.”

Kristania’s smile faded and her mouth became a tight line that began to twist in her face.

“Besides, what does that even care? If you’re saying it just to create conflict between us, it’s not going to work.”

“Seriously, even for your standards you’ve exceeded yourself, sis,” Mitchell interjected. “And I hope you’re aware that there’ll be consequences for what you did. You have to take responsibility for your actions, because I won’t do anything to cover you.”

Kristania grinded her teeth, frustrated to see her tactics didn’t work. She turned around and met Demian’s cold eyes, watching her with contempt, and she couldn’t stand it anymore. She couldn’t care less what the others thought of her, but not him.

A new surge of rage went through her.

“Think whatever you want! I won’t apologize to anybody!” she shrilled and then ran away barefoot, leaving her crutches behind.

“I knew she was faking it!” Lilith said, pounding a fist against her palm.

“Hey . . . about what she said . . . ” Marianne tried to explain.

“You have to change immediately or you’ll get sick,” Angie interrupted.

“Give her your jacket, Mitchell,” Lilith commanded.

“But . . . it’s silk . . . it could get damaged,” he said, receiving several upset glances in response.

“Take this,” Demian said, throwing his jacket at them.

“Thanks,” Marianne murmured with a raspy voice as she put on the jacket and headed back to the camp with her friends.

“You saved my jacket, I owe you one,” Mitchell whispered as he walked past him.

Demian didn’t answer, just watched them askance as they walked away, and then looked back at the edge of the dock once alone, approaching eventually.

The wood was a bit slippery, but the lake looked like a plate, completely still as if no one had been about to drown in there a few minutes earlier.

The water lily was floating a few inches from the dock. It was the only one in the lake, so he assumed the counselors had made sure that at least one of the teams wouldn’t complete all of the instructions to have a single winner. Without much thought, he leaned over and reached out to take the lily as it was at a suitable distance for him, but as soon as his hand touched the water, he felt an electric shock, forcing him to pull away immediately.

He looked astonished at his hand and the water, wondering if it would’ve been a matter of static. Then decided to give it another try and reached towards the lily again, pausing right before touching the water, hesitant.

He carefully touched the surface with his fingertip, but didn’t feel any kind of electric charge this time, so he put the whole hand inside. The water felt lukewarm and any evidence that might have caused the sudden shock had disappeared.

Despite his confusion, he finally took the flower, pulling up the root that tied it up —probably to make it more difficult to obtain— and once it was in his hands, he just stared warily at the lake.

“Do you need anything else?” Lucianne asked once Marianne had put on dry clothes back in the cabin. She refused, keeping her eyes fixed on the bunk. “Well, we’ll let you rest then. We’ll be back once the rally’s over.”

“Aren’t you going to say anything about Samuel?”

The girls stopped at the door and exchanged glances.

“The real question is whether you want to tell us anything,” Lilith said and she squeezed her hands on her lap, thinking carefully what to say.

“He has yet to find a place to move, so meanwhile he’s staying in the attic. We prefer to keep it a secret to avoid misunderstandings.”

“So you thought we were so close-minded as to not understand it,” Lilith retorted, and she looked distraught at them.

“It’s not that. I would rather tell you from the start, but. . .”

“Why don’t you get some rest and we’ll talk later?” they insisted, leaving her alone in the cabin, feeling remorseful.

Out of the camp limits, there was a huge tree that seemed to be formed by Siamese trunks molding into a concavity in the rear that could well serve as refuge on rainy days.

Right inside the concavity, Franktick was settled in the base of the trunk like a bed, arms over his head as a pillow and a cigarette in his mouth.

He had decided to simply quit the game once it had served its purpose and hide somewhere to avoid being bothered.

What he didn’t expect was that someone else would think just like him and choose the same place as a shelter, even in a fit of anger. He heard a screech in the distance that became increasingly raucous, like sharp fingernails scratching a chalkboard. He peered through the roots of the cavity and saw something approaching with the rumbling of a wild beast in attack mode.

Kristania stopped at the tree, fuming mad, her face red and swollen like a balloon about to explode. She began to pace back and forth while still making those unpleasant squeals mixed with snorts that made her resemble a bull, ready to lash out at the slightest movement.

After several pants that seemed to leave her out of breath, she looked down, still eager to take her anger out on something and saw some stones the proper size as to hold with one hand. She leaned very quickly and as she was picking up the rocks, proceeded to throw them in all directions with unbridled energy, she didn’t care where they might fall or what they could hit, because at that moment she just needed to wear out the uncontrollable rage that had taken over her.

“Stupid! She and her friends! And my stupid brother too! Every one of them!” she bellowed, quivering with rage and throwing rocks like a baseball pitcher, some impacting the trunk and damaging the bark, so the boy hid in the cavity to avoid being hit, and had to put out the cigarette. He stayed there, eavesdropping at his cousin’s tantrum. “This is far from over. She would regret having set a foot in our school!”

He rolled his eyes, wondering how much time he would have to stay there and rested his head on the trunk, assuming it would go on for long.

“So young and so much hate inside,” said a voice behind Kristania, and Frankitck peered again through the roots, curious to hear it.

“Who’s there?! I’m warning you, I’m not in the mood!” she shouted, turning her face, still broken by anger, but as she did, she met a pair of red eyes burning like coals.

Franktick stood still, realizing that what he was about to witness didn’t compare to anything he had seen so far.