Marianne jumped off the bed with a sudden sense of urgency, feeling something was wrong. She left the cabin expecting the others to appear, but only saw Samael rushing toward her.

“Did you feel that?”

“Yes. It’s definitely Hollow. He must be attacking someone right now; I could see it for a moment. Where are the others?” Samael said.

“They were going back to the rally, I guess we can go look—”

Samael suddenly covered his left eye with his hand. It was the vision behind the veil again, only this time he could see it by closing one eye only.

“There’s no time, we have to go immediately,” he stated, seeing a tinted version of Hollow holding someone by the neck and a glowing sphere flying out of its chest.

“But . . . do you think we can do it by ourselves?”

They heard steps approaching and soon the others came running at full speed. They stood in front of them, looking for words to say, until Mitchell decided to break the silence.

“It’s battle time, right?” he said with a huff, and Samael just nodded, his hand still over his left eye.

Franktick remained hidden in that huge tree cavity, between its roots, watching the demonic entity toss his cousin’s body aside like a disposable object and focusing entirely on the glossy sphere before him.

“Malice,” he uttered with a hint of a smile, watching the distinct brightness coming from the orb.

A vessel appeared above him, and once the sphere was placed over, it was absorbed instantly and wasn’t rejected. A triumphant smile appeared on the demon. However, the smile faded when the vessel flew from his hands and crashed against the trunk.

“I thought I was done with you,” he spat, annoyed at the realization that the ones he left for dead had suddenly come back for more. “I guess I shouldn’t have underestimated you.”

The guys looked at the ground, realizing it was Kristania who was attacked. Mitchell clenched his hands while the others tried to keep him at bay.

“You bet you shouldn’t!” Lilith said, snapping her fingers. A flame fluttered with blue and orange hues.

The demon smiled and straightened up to face them.

“I cannot wait to see what you have learned since your defeat.”

Saying this, he made a gesture with his hand and a layer began to cover the whole area surrounding them, in a circumference that included the tree where Franktick hid.

He looked up, following with his eyes the border of the barrier that had formed over them and down to the ground a few feet from where he was.

It seemed invisible to the naked eye, but when he focused, he could discern a crystal edge, as if a huge glass dome had locked them.

“Is it the same barrier as the last time?”

Samael approached his hand, sparks flew just by grazing it.

“It is. I guess he doesn’t want us to escape anywhere.”

“I can neutralize it,” Mitchell suggested, starting to crack his knuckles, but Samael took his shoulder to stop him.

“We need our powers. You’re not affected by the barrier, take the advantage.”

Mitchell nodded at his words and looked back at Hollow, who just waited for someone to make the first move, like a duel. They spotted the vessel with the gift a few steps behind the demon, at the base of the huge tree. They had to be fast and accurate if they wanted it back and defeat the demon.

Franktick peeked through the roots again, trying to figure out what was happening now between that entity and the other weird armored figures. The only certainty he had was that he couldn’t get out unless the red-eyed guy was defeated, and as long as no one knew he was there, the better. He looked at the guys, wondering where they had come from, if he had seen them somewhere else, but before he could delve deeper into it, they made the first move, and for just a fraction of seconds apart, the other guy did the same. Everything happened so fast that he had no time to exhale. He saw flames colliding in the air, sparks emerging from nowhere, light beams crossing from one end to the other, hitting the transparent wall. He heard the clank of a sword, and if he focused his eyes, he could glimpse brief flashes of it, lashing at the guy with red eyes, who was busy not only rejecting the constant attacks he received, but also staring at the container near the tree.

One of the armored figures had outrun them to pick up the container and Frank saw the pink marbled tone of its shell. By the silhouette he could deduce it was a girl, but everything was going so fast that he didn’t even know where to focus.

“I got it!” Angie celebrated as soon as she recovered the vessel, but before she could finish her sentence, Hollow had already grabbed her by the neck, his long fingers tightening until she would drop it, while still using his other hand to defend himself from the others.

“Take the gift far away!” Marianne yelled at Mitchell, struggling to strike a blow with her sword.

He took the container and ran far away, crossing the barrier and undoing it before the demon’s enraged look.

“Not so fast,” he said, dropping Angie and straightening up with a quick motion that released a wave of energy, hitting everyone and throwing them away. His arm stretched like rubber, reaching out for Mitchell. He fell into the ground, trying not to drop the vessel, protecting it against his chest as he was dragged all the way back.

As soon as he was at Hollow’s feet, he snatched the container and put a hand in front of him. His palm began to emit a dark glow, threatening to blow up. Mitchell knew his intention, but also knew he wouldn’t move away in time so he rose his hands up to his face trying to create a layer, but the burst of energy emerged from him, and the unfinished layer received all the onslaught, though to his amazement, it reflected the attack, blasting the surprised demon with such an impact that he got momentarily stunned.

The container was ejected after the impact, falling behind the tree, just a few steps from the cavity where Franktick was. He glanced at the object while trying to remain still and silent in his hideout.

“Did you see what I did?” Mitchell said with a mix of frenzy and amazement.

“Don’t be so confident, keep focused,” Samael warned once they gathered around him. “This can be our chance. Don’t let him get up! Don’t even give him time to breathe!”

“I’ll go get the gift!” Angie offered, knowing there was nothing she could do at the time.

They launched attack after attack, not allowing the demon to recover. Hollow could only use his arms as a shield, protecting himself from the fire and sparks of light continuously shot at him, still dazed by his own power.

“Be prepared, as soon as he stops covering, it’s the moment to finish him,” Samael murmured without losing sight of him. Marianne nodded, focused on the red-eyed demon’s progressive collapse.

Hollow still couldn’t believe they were really defeating him. Not so long ago he had almost killed them and now the scales had tipped in their favor.

His energy was diminishing and he was aware of it. His demonic face, which usually showed a disturbing dispassion, was deformed in a desperate wince, full of anger and disbelief at the situation. It was impossible to reach such a level in that short amount of time! Or maybe the problem wasn’t that, but the way he had underestimated them since the beginning. Up until then they were no more than just a bunch of kids playing heroes. And now there they were, almost about to beat him. He hadn’t given them the importance he should have from the start and now he was paying for it. But he wouldn’t make that mistake again. And he would start by using his remaining energy to destroy them. They wouldn’t stand a chance.

“I don’t want to worry you . . . but I’m burning out,” Lilith informed them, starting to wheeze. “I’m about to run out of gas.”

“Me too. How much longer are we going to do this? He doesn’t seem to yield any time soon,” Lucianne seconded.

“I have an idea,” Marianne said suddenly and touched Lilith’s shoulder. “Stop for a moment. Lucianne, can you hold on some more?” Her cousin nodded despite her exhaustion. “I don’t know if it would work, but we must try.”

Once Hollow felt their attacks decreasing, he decided to take the opportunity. Using his remaining energy, he took a running start to get up and moved away from the direct line of attack, after which he quickly headed towards Mitchell before he even had time to react, and knocked him down while his own wounds closed, as though a set of tiny spiders were weaving the ductile material that clothed him.

With the distraction, the demon was ready to energize his body with his own reserves in order to become some sort of ticking bomb. His body began to emit a dark glow, like an eclipse.

“We must stop him or he’ll do something worse than last time!” Samael warned everyone, and Lucianne hastily shot light beams at him, but these were blocked before reaching him, a dark halo around him was now working as a shield to protect him from their attacks.

“It doesn’t work! What do we do now?”

Marianne watched the demon, feeling helpless, trying to think of something quickly, and then noticed beyond the trees a hooded figure that she couldn’t see its face. She was about to mention it when she suddenly recalled the idea she had earlier.

“Quick, make a flame appear,” Marianne asked Lilith.

“But I don’t have much power left, it won’t be strong enough.”

“It doesn’t matter, just do it!”

Lilith tried to do as she was asked, not quite convinced, creating a little flame in her palm and then Marianne pulled Belgina to her side.

“Send a blast from this flame toward Hollow!”

Belgina didn’t understand her intention, but instead of asking, she just did it. A gust of wind pierced through the flare, transforming it into an intense blaze that spread out towards the demon, blasting him directly and making its way through the halo, cracking under the fire heat to his puzzlement.

“Now’s the time!” Samael announced and Marianne brandished her sword, placing it in the dense flare’s path. The blade took the burning hot red hue, and she went after her opponent.

Hollow watched her coming closer, trying to convince himself that in no way she would beat him, but since he started to feel the effects from the flame piercing his coat, he realized he couldn’t underestimate her. Having only a split second to take action, he raised his arms in an attempt to stop the attack with, but as soon as he touched the blade, it cut off a couple of fingers from each hand and his reflexes made him pull away in time from being cut in half, moving just a few inches away as the blade went down on him, inflicting a deep cut along the torso.

He stumbled a few steps, his face distorted with shock. His hands touched the wound across his chest only to find both of them lacked the pinky and ring fingers, making it look like he had tridents for hands. He glanced at them, nonplussed, his eyes about to pop out of their sockets. He didn’t expect to end like that. He couldn’t believe it was really happening.

Marianne swung her sword again, ready to finish what they had started. It was the chance they had been waiting for. She leaned on her left heel to take a boost and resume the attack. Her sword was lifted, her eyes fixed in Hollow’s head. She was just inches away. A single strike and it would be over. Her sword was already going down when a burst of energy exploded right between her and the demon, throwing everyone out several feet behind.

She instantly got up again and found out that some kind of vortex had appeared in front of the demon, who looked as surprised as everyone.

«It’s not your time yet. Return right now. »

A voice boomed from the vortex, and a cold shiver ran down their spines.

Hollow stood up and kept his arms tight against his body. He cast them a wrathful look just before entering the maelstrom, absorbed by it until it closed shut.

“What was that? Did we just let him go? We had him in our hands!” Lilith yelled after several seconds of dead silence.

“We could do nothing, there was an external intervention,” Samael replied as they slowly regained control over themselves.

“Are you okay?” Belgina tried to wake Mitchell up. Angie, on the other hand, also joined them, looking confused.

“I didn’t find the gift. I looked behind the tree, right where we all saw it fall, but there was nothing. It just disappeared.”

“Or somehow that demon had the time to take it back and we failed to notice.”

They all exchanged skeptical glances, but there was no other explanation for the moment, so they decided to leave the place, though Marianne seemed particularly distracted.

“What do you think?” Lucianne asked, noticing her gesture.

“That voice . . . ” Marianne said and couldn’t help a slight grimace on her face. “I get the feeling that something terrible is behind it.”

“You’re not the only one,” Samael said. “But there’s nothing we can do for now.”

She nodded, and after checking they were all in good conditions, they focused on Kristania. Her body remained in the same place, lifeless and giftless. Marianne came closer and stopped by her side, staring at her as if trying to find within herself the scrubs to leave her there without any remorse after what she had done, but as much as she stirred inside, she couldn’t find that resentment to her surprise.

The truth was that she now pitied her, and not for seeing her reduced to that state, but because of her actions.

“What was the gift they took away?” she asked flatly.

“According to what I saw when it was in my hands, it said ‘Malice’,” Angie replied.

“Does it mean that without the gift she will be . . . good now?”

They all looked at each other with some kind of morbid curiosity. Marianne proceeded to kneel next to her.

“I suppose we’ll know in a few minutes.” She placed her hands on the girl’s chest    and glanced towards the others before continuing. “Perhaps Mitchell should stay here and we should leave as soon as I reanimate her.”

Nobody had any objections, so she just put the spark of energy that would supply the gift for a while and departed afterwards, heading back to the camp in silence as night was falling upon them.

“Maybe we should start preparing for dinner.”

“Oh, no. Could you excuse me to the counselors? I’m not in the mood to prepare dinner for anyone,” Marianne said, remembering the punishment for the losers.

“You won’t. The guys are doing it,” Lucianne replied.

“What? But we didn’t deliver all of the elements from our instruction . . . ”

“Well, the ones we handed were complete,” Lilith added. “Demian took everything Kristania left behind and gave it to us. It was everything your instruction said.”

“Even the water lily?”

“Yes, why do you ask?”

Marianne kept silent, wondering if Demian would’ve collected it and if so, why give it to his opponents?

“It’s nothing. Let’s get ready for dinner then,” she finally said.

Once they were reunited with the other campers, the boys were sent to the kitchen to prepare dinner while the girls gathered on their own side of the dining room, forming their little groups of friends, some of them acting a little arrogant after winning the competition.

The quintet on the other hand remained quiet in comparison, looking around as if they hadn’t left the battlefield yet, until a couple of long shadows forced them to lift their gazes. Sela and Tanis stood at the table with arms folded, looking at Marianne with disdain.

“Where’s Kristania?” one of them asked, maybe Tanis or perhaps Sela, it didn’t matter, for the two seemed cut from the same cloth.

“I don’t know,” she replied, trying to ignore them.

“You teamed up with her, and since the rally started, we haven’t seen her.”

“So, you must know what happened,” one completed to the other, in sync. The girls rolled their eyes and Marianne snorted.

“You’re supposed to be her friends and don’t even know where she is, how do you expect me to know?”

Both girls narrowed their eyes into slits and kept staring at her suspiciously until they just headed back to their own table.

“Any idea how she and Mitchell returned from the woods?” Lilith asked once the girls were gone, and the others shook their heads.

“He’ll tell us once he’s out of the kitchen.”

It didn’t take long for supper to be served, but there was a small introduction by Luna, who didn’t waste any time congratulating the girls on their victory and proceeding to give some news: since there was a full moon, after supper they would move to the lake to see the aquatic lights that should be more intense in a night like that.

“Will you go after all?” Lucianne asked, while Marianne seemed pensive, knowing now the reason why the lake caused an inexplicable fear to her and yet still feeling something squeezing inside. She needed to go back and watch the lights from a safe place. Perhaps that way she could discover what was behind them.

“I’m not sure yet,” she replied, focusing on the kitchen door.

A row of boys started to get out carrying trays and serving dinner at each table. Samael, Mitchell and Demian were among them. The latter didn’t look so well, he either seemed exhausted or maybe in the verge of getting sick.

Samael came to their table and served them with utmost care, his hand slightly trembling while laying the plates, making clear it was something he had never done.

“Will you go with us to the lake after supper?” Angie asked, eager to make conversation with him. He looked confused at her, and then turned a questioning gaze to Marianne. But she was watching Demian instead, wondering if she should approach to ask or just wait until he came closer.

In another table Mitchell was serving dinner sloppily. He had a net over his head to preserve his precious hair from the kitchen heat, and by the look of his face, anyone could say he would rather be on the other side of the table instead of playing the waiter. When he noticed the girls gesturing at him, he finally focused. He left the dishes carelessly on the table, tossed the tray aside and rushed towards them.

“What happened to your sister?”

“Well, she’s okay, I guess. She was very quiet though, unusual for her. Said she felt indisposed, so I left her in her cabin to rest. I don’t think she would cause any more trouble for today.”

Franktick entered the dining room and sat lonely on the side of the boys, right on the table next to the girls. He was still wearing the same clothes and his passive attitude seemed to hide something.

“Typical Frank. Always eluding any kind of responsibility and suddenly appears at the very last minute to take advantage,” Mitchell remarked with a snort.

Lucianne gave a quick glance at the guy who had been so fixated on her the previous days and now seemed distracted.

“Demian doesn’t look well either, is he sick?” Lilith said, noticing how pale he was.

They heard the clatter of dishes crashing then, and when they turned their faces, Demian was on the floor, unconscious. He had to be taken to the infirmary where he was to spend the rest of the night, despite his reluctance.

“Maybe we should go with him instead of going to the lake,” Lucianne suggested once they left the barn.

“If you all agree, I’ll just stay a couple of minutes and then go see the lake. You’ll go with me, right, babe? It might be a romantic view,” Mitchell said, winking at Belgina, who remained oblivious to everything.

“Sure, why not?” she said, shrugging nonchalantly, to which he responded with a victory sign while the girls glared disapprovingly at him.

“Hey, how are you feeling?” Lucianne asked as they entered the infirmary.

“You didn’t have to come. I’m fine, but they won’t let me go.”

Lilith approached without saying anything and put her hand on his forehead.

“Think again. You’re burning. It would be a good time for one of my famous infusions, don’t you think?” she offered with a wink.

Demian grimaced, remembering the disgusting goo she had made him drink the last time.

“Don’t worry, we’re not here to torment you, we just wanted to make you company,” Lucianne said, pulling Lilith away before she tried to force her unorthodox cares on him once again.

“Thanks, but like I said, I feel better.”

“Did something make you ill? Were you too close to the lake, maybe?” Marianne asked, and he looked at her as if he weren’t expecting that question. She held his gaze, waiting for an explanation for the water lily, but the only thing he did was to shrug.

“It was foolish of me. I was going down the dock and I tripped over one of the boards. Fortunately, the shore isn’t too deep, so I got up right away.”

“Is that what really happened?” she asked, squinting.

“Why would I lie about something like that?” He raised an eyebrow, as did the others.

Marianne chose not to insist, since he didn’t seem to go in the direction she intended, nor did she wish to question him directly in front of everyone. Perhaps she would have another chance later, she thought.

“Now that you’re here . . . could I ask for a favor?” Demian added reluctantly. “Could someone bring me a bottle I left on the nightstand next to my bunk?”

They exchanged glances, puzzled by his request, but Mitchell immediately offered to get it. Once he returned with a small bottle in his hands, he just handed it directly to Demian without even checking what it was.

“Here it is, and now off I go. If you excuse us, Belgina and I have some aquatic lights to witness,” he said, taking Belgina’s hand and quickly getting out of there before anyone would stop them.

“Someone should keep an eye on them,” Lilith whispered, and Angie seemed to take it as an opportunity.

“Would you come with me, Samuel?” she proposed hastily, though almost regretting it after attracting not only his attention but the others’ too. Still she decided not to back down. “You know, to keep an eye on Mitchell.”

Samael glanced at Marianne, waiting for her approval, and she only made a slight nod, so he ended up leaving the cabin with Angie, but not before looking hesitantly back at her.

“What is that?” Lucianne asked when Demian opened the bottle.

“Sleeping pills.” He tried to take one pill, but Lilith promptly snatched it and read the prescription.

“These pills are a very strong dose. I can’t allow you to take them. No, sir. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll go to the dining room and don’t know how, but I’ll break into the kitchen and prepare a terrific tea that’ll make you sleep like a baby, what do you think? Here I go!” Lilith recited, without even giving him time to respond, and she was already off in a hurry, leaving the bottle to Lucianne.

“Why do you need to take sleeping pills?” she asked as Marianne peeked over her shoulder.

“Just . . . because,” he replied, reluctant to talk about it.

“How long have you been taking them?”

“Since I was a child . . . Could you give me the bottle, please?”

Lucianne was about to give it back when Marianne intercepted it.

“You’ve been taking these pills for so many years, and you don’t think that may be affecting your health?” Marianne said shaking the bottle above her. “It’s obvious that this has been weakening you all along. You should stop taking them.”

“I don’t think you’re the one to tell me what I can or cannot take for my health. You have no idea. Maybe you should mind your own business,” he said sternly, under Lucianne’s overwhelmed look, afraid to intervene or say anything. Meanwhile, Marianne gritted her teeth and grasped her hands after hearing that very phrase applied on her now. She couldn’t repress herself for so long and ended up throwing the bottle, which he caught midair.

“Do whatever you want, then! Choke on them if you prefer!” she shouted in a fit of anger, leaving the cabin and slamming the mesh door shut. Lucianne remained still in the same place, fearing that a single movement would unleash another storm.

“Forgive her, please. She doesn’t mean it. You know her by now, she can be very impulsive.”

Demian didn’t answer, just stared rigidly at the bottle in his hand and began to spin the cap to open it.

“Could you get me some water?”

Lucianne nodded and approached the table where a jar of water was settled.

Demian took a pill to his mouth, but suddenly stopped. He watched the pill for a few seconds with a thoughtful face, wondering if after all this time it wouldn’t matter if he took it or not anymore, and finally decided to return it to the bottle and place it on the desk.

Lucianne took notice of it, but made no mention and just gave him the water, receiving a dry ‘thanks’ for an answer.

Marianne walked enraged through the camp, pausing for a moment to see Mitchell’s cousin getting into the woods through a forbidden path. It didn’t surprise her though, considering what she knew about him, so she looked back to the road that led to the lake. She still wanted to see the lights again, but wasn’t in the mood to deal with anyone else at that moment, so she walked to the cabin and dropped into her bunk, waiting for her anger to wane.

She stayed like that for a couple of hours until she heard several steps. Her friends were coming back and taking their bunks, so she slightly lifted her face to see who had arrived.

Belgina was on her right side and Angie on the top bunk. Lilith was above her and it was Lucianne’s shift in the bunk she had taken the very first day.

“How was the lake?”

“Good,” Angie said briefly while preparing to sleep. The rest of the girls remained equally silent, a sign she interpreted that they were still angry at her for not telling them about Samael living in her house.

She leaned back on one side, thinking she would have to do something to make up with them, when suddenly she heard a ‘pssst’ from Lucianne’s side.

“You don’t have to worry, he didn’t take the pill,” she whispered with a smile, and Marianne didn’t know what to say, until she let out a snort.

“Whatever he’s done, I don’t care. Just as he said, it’s not my problem,” she replied with a scowl, trying to show indifference. Lucianne simply responded with another smile before snuggling into bed.

Marianne tried to sleep too, but as the hours passed, the memory of the lake lights and their hypnotic power came back to her. She wondered if there was any way to approach it without being drawn back into the depths of the waters.

She sat up and looked out the window, noticing that the full moon could still be clearly glimpsed in the sky. She then glanced at the girls and noticed they were all sleeping peacefully.

Looking around to where Belgina rested, Marianne’s attention went to the glasses she had left on the drawer. A sudden idea began to take shape in her head. She took her mobile and checked the time. It was past midnight. If she wanted to do what she was thinking, she had to take action now and not later when she could regret it.

She carefully opened the drawer, hoping the noise wouldn’t wake anyone up, and after briefly rummaging inside, she took out a pair of sunglasses she had brought. Then she dressed up as quietly as possible to get out of there without attracting anyone’s attention, though apparently the battle against the demon had drained all of their energy because they had all fallen asleep rather quickly.

Within minutes she left the hut and the brightness of the full moon was good enough to show her the road towards the famous lake.

She had the precaution to wear a hoodie and kept her hands into her pockets to avoid any foliage that could drive her mad.

When she was closer to the slope, she proceeded to put on her sunglasses. It would be more difficult to see the road that way, but at least she would make sure the lights wouldn’t exert their influence on her.

Coming down the hill and approaching the dock, she saw a figure standing at the edge. It seemed weird for someone to be there at that time of the night, so she slightly lifted her glasses to see who it was. As soon as she did this, the colored lights flowing from the lake hit her straightaway. It was even brighter than she imagined.

She rubbed her eyes, trying not to look directly at the lake, and focused on the person standing in the edge. Despite having his back towards her, she got to see who the person was.

“Demian?” she murmured, surprised to see him there.

However, he seemed focused on the lights, which made her think that perhaps they had caught him too. She slowly approached, her hands holding on to the railing to avoid slipping back into the water. There was an absent look in his eyes, as if hypnotized.

Aware that she was too close to the lake, she put on her sunglasses again and clutched the railing with one hand while approaching Demian. She stopped next to him and moved her free hand in front of his face.

There was no response, he was completely gone. She shook her hand a little more quickly to get his attention, and he suddenly grabbed her wrist.

“What . . . ?” She didn’t have time to react. He pulled her away from the rail and tried to push her towards the lake. She tried to let loose, but he was holding her so tightly it was impossible, even her glasses ended up falling in the water. She suddenly realized she was on the edge of the dock and started to panic. “Stop! What are you doing?!”

He kept pulling her until she was almost teetering on the edge, barely held from his hand when he slowly began to loosen. Realizing she wasn’t only about to lose balance but also the only support that prevented her from falling, she clung to him.

“Wake up! Demian!” she yelled, and he finally regained conscience. His gaze focused on her while his hand reached the rail, leaving both hanging dangerously from the edge.

He seemed confused but pulled her in and they both dropped onto the dock planks, trying to catch their breath after the brief moment of danger.

“What the hell is your problem?” she exclaimed once she found her voice.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, disturbed.

“Me? I could ask you the same thing!”

“You’re right,” Demian said, looking around as if still trying to figure out where he was. “I don’t even know why I’m here.”

Marianne watched him, distraught, realizing he was honest in his confusion, and for some reason her first thought was the last thing Lucianne said to her.

“Those pills . . . ” she spoke with some reserve, “ . . . are they supposed to prevent something like this?”

He held her gaze for several seconds until a slight glint of recognition appeared in his eyes.

“Maybe,” he answered, muddled. “As a child I suffered from sleep disorders and very often my parents had to wake me up. I never remembered my dreams, but all I knew was that I didn’t want to sleep again. Only the pills helped me and didn’t make me feel disoriented after waking up.”

“You’re a sleepwalker,” she stated, and he grimaced a little, looking befuddled and distressed.

“It seems so.”

“Well . . . that explains a few things. But doesn’t explain why you tried to push me while you were asleep.”

Demian looked back at her, something snapping in his head.

“I did what?”

“But surely you don’t remember because you were sleepwalking and stuff,” she added, moving her fingers to give it an enigmatic sense.

He didn’t know how to respond to that, and just put his hand to the bridge of his nose in a regretful gesture.

“I’m sorry if I hurt you, it wasn’t my intention.”

She noticed how afflicted he seemed. There was something in his face that made him look overwrought, so she chose not to add any more weight to his concern.

“And I’m sorry for meddling on a health issue that didn’t concern me.”

Demian kept silent, a lot of thoughts wandering in his head at the time, but finally decided to cast them aside.

“Then again, I guess we’re even.”

“How convenient!” she replied with a sarcastic tone, which made them both laugh.

“You came to see the lights?”

“Something like that,” she replied, glancing towards the lake, though nor for long. Then she remembered the water lily and faced him back. “Why did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“The lily. You took it, didn’t you? So . . . why did you give it away to complete our task?”

“Because you were about to get it anyway. It seemed fair,” he replied, shrugging like it wasn’t that big of a deal, but almost immediately looked away with a flash of guilt. “Besides . . . it was the least I could do. Had it not been for me . . . she wouldn’t have done that in the first place.”

“Do you mean . . . ?”

“I did what you warned me not to do. I confronted her. I couldn’t remain silent anymore. And . . . I made the mistake of saying it was you who told me everything,” he explained, avoiding her eyes. “I couldn’t imagine . . . that she would try to get even with you. I just didn’t think.”

Marianne seemed surprise. This was a response she wasn’t expecting.

“You had no way to predict what she would do,” she eventually said, and they both kept quiet until Demian began to get on his feet.

Once he was up, he shook his hands and suddenly stopped, staring at his palms while remembering the electric shock he felt while helping her up in the auditorium. He wondered if it would happen again and glanced towards Marianne.

She was already about to hold onto the railing when she saw Demian’s stretched hand. She seemed hesitant, but eventually accepted his help and took his hand. He expected to feel the electric shock, though nothing happened. He just felt her cold hand.

When she was on her feet, Marianne looked up and realized he was still holding her hand, as if waiting for something.

“Uhm . . . I’m already up, thanks.”

He released her, feeling embarrassed. It was ridiculous, expecting to feel some sort of electric shock when it was obviously static. He tried to apologize again, but fell silent when their eyes met.

Marianne suddenly felt her cheeks starting to burn. She blamed it on the cold wind, but still couldn’t think of anything to say, her mind was blank.

Crickets chirping, the music of silence. Not a word was spoken, their eyes were locked on each other, until they heard steps approaching the dock, breaking the spell.

They turned around and saw Samael a few feet from them. He looked somewhat surprised to see them precisely in that place, until Demian turned around and walked away.

“You should better go back to your hut before someone else finds out you were out on forbidden hours,” he suggested, passing Samael and completely ignoring him while the latter followed him briefly with his gaze.

“What are you doing here?” Marianne asked as she approached him.

“I was worried. I saw you coming to this place and thought it was weird. Did something happen?”

“No, well, yes. Actually . . . not that I was in real danger. What I mean is . . . forget it,” she stammered, unsure of how to explain what just happened, but aware that she didn’t need to say anything.  Samael only had to read her mind to understand what she meant . . . though in such circumstances she preferred him not to do so. “I’m fine, that’s what matters, isn’t it?”


“Let’s go back to the camp, then,” she finished, starting to walk, followed closely by him. She avoided turning her gaze back to the lake, with its water illuminated by the mysterious lights that were diminishing as the full moon rested.

As they parted from the seemingly lonely place, a rustle in the bushes gave way to a figure that had been waiting all along, hidden, to finally come out.

After looking curiously at their direction, he headed cautiously to the lakeshore, getting into the agleam water until it reached up to his shoulders. He then immersed for a few seconds and came up to the surface again with some kind of dark cloth bag from which he extracted an object.

The vessel with the missing gift.

He brought it slowly to his face to look at it in more detail.

“What’s so important about this that everyone wants it?” he whispered with interest, running his finger along the lines of its cover, staring fascinated at his acquisition.

Franktick smiled with a twinkle in his eye as he returned the item to the bag.