Chapter 24


Marianne left her room before seven am and saw that the hallway was empty and quiet. Apparently, her roommates were still asleep. Instead of going back to her room, she decided to walk around for a while. She reached the elevator and caught a glimpse of the sliding glass door leading to the balcony, and while waiting for the elevator to open, she ended up going outside. She could see the sea from there, looking like a quiet crystal lake. The breeze was refreshing and subtle, bringing the scent of the ocean with it. She sighed and leaned on the railing, feeling relaxed for the first time since they arrived. She didn’t know what it was, perhaps the fact that they had overcome their first game successfully, that there hadn’t been any more difficulties recently —that Demian was back, and they had cleared up some misunderstandings.

She shook her head after that last thought. She had no idea where it came from. Yes, they had bridged some gaps between them and could get along just like before, but that was no reason to sigh. She tried to clear her mind of any thoughts and just admire the view of the dawn before her. She stood like that for a few minutes when she suddenly felt something falling on her head.

“…Ouch,” she muttered, touching her hair, and feeling something small and hard between her fingers. A pebble. “What—?” Another one fell on her, and she looked up. A pair of dark eyes watched her from the balcony above her with an amused smile. “Very funny!”

“You’ve woken up early.”

“I could say the same,” she replied with a scowl. Dreyson gestured her to wait, and he suddenly climb down the balcony by holding the railing, swinging, and dropping on his feet in front of her, who looked at him with a lifted eyebrow. “…Are you crazy or just trying to impress?”

“Even if it was so, I’m sure it wouldn’t work with you,” he said leaning on the railing beside her and enjoying the view.

“I’m glad you’ve finally come to that conclusion,” she replied, stepping away to put some distance between them.

“Today is the Tae kwon do tournament and I want you to support me,” he said very confidently, and she turned incredulous to him.

“…Excuse me? Anything else you want, your highness? Want me to wipe the sweat off your face at the end of every match and throw petals on your path?” Marianne replied sarcastically.

“I don’t hate the idea, but it’s enough if you’re there. I could use some support.”

“I don’t know if you’ve been living under a rock, but I think you’ve got a lot of support since you started your campaign for the change.”

“But I want YOU to come,” Dreyson insisted, turning to her with resolve. “You were the first person to offer your selfless help and the closest thing to a friend.”

“Don’t you dare to use emotional blackmail with me,” she said with a squint until she realized something. “Wait… that means you DO remember our first meeting!” Dreyson smiled as a confirmation, and she let out an exasperated groan “I knew it! You were just pretending! You were a jerk when I was just trying to help!!

“I was defensive, you can’t blame me,” he justified himself, while she still twitched at the mere thought. “I never felt comfortable among people. I’ve just never liked them.”

“Well, you’ve been hiding it pretty well lately.”

“I guess you can blame yourself for that,” he snapped with a crooked smile that immediately made her think of Demian. She twitched and quickly looked away, disturbed by the thought. He seemed satisfied with her reaction and walked away from the balcony. “The competition starts at four. I’ll see you there.”

“I didn’t say I would go!” she replied, but he was already closing the sliding door and smiled confidently through the glass. The only thing left for her to do was letting out a snort and stay a little longer on the balcony, trying to wrest from her mind the image she had summoned of Demian smiling that way. “…How stupid.”

Minutes later, she returned to the hallway and saw the rest of the girls were out of their rooms, dressed in their beach clothes.

“Are you going to the beach?”

“We’re gonna make the best of this trip. The swimming competition will be held very close to the beach,” Lucianne explained.

“We’ve got to support Samuel!” Angie said, drawing from her little pouch some pennants with his face and name.

“And Addalynn, too. She’s also in the team,” Lilith added as a reminder and Angie’s enthusiasm seemed to wane.

“…Oh, yes, of course.” Angie repeated, and Marianne looked behind them.

Addalynn was coming out her room, wearing a simple white cotton dress that made her look almost ethereal, like an angel —which she was, after all. She could almost see and hear the expressions of awe from everyone once down at the lobby. She wondered if it was only due to her condition, and if she sometimes wished not to be angel, given all the unwanted attention. At least Samael seemed indifferent to this fact… if he even noticed.

“Will you come with us?” Marianne asked her when she walked past them.

“I’ll go to the sports center. I’ll warm up until the competition begins,” Addalynn replied without stopping. The girls exchanged glances at her rejection and finally shrugged, deciding to go on with their plans.

They found Frank and Samael in the lobby, signing on the reception list while watching the horde of kids gathered in the hall.

“Have you seen Mitchel hanging around looking like another person to throw us off?” Marianne asked while signing the list, and right then they saw a familiar face approaching them with a big smile.

“Hello! I was looking for you! Can you believe I’m here?!” Vicky greeted them all jolly and excited, and Marianne snorted in disgust.

“This is the last straw,” she muttered, and as soon as Vicky was in front of her, she took her by the shoulders and began to shake her. “Do you have no limits? What made you think this was a good idea? Do you know what Demian will feel if he sees you like this?”

“Why are you shaking my sister?” Demian asked, appearing a few steps behind Vicky, carrying a suitcase. Marianne seemed confused at first, but then released the semi-unconscious Vicky and jumped away with her hands up in the air.

“I’m—I’m sorry… I thought—”

“What are you doing here?” Angie asked, surprised at her apparition, and Vicky held her head as if that would stop the world from spinning around.

“I convinced my brother to bring me here. I’d rather miss school than miss the chance to support all of you,” she said cheerfully, as if nothing had happened. The others remained skeptical and confused, as if having missed something important in the span of a few hours.

“She officially took a plane to get here without thinking of the consequences… if anyone asks,” Demian said while Vicky seemed brimmed with energy, even though Lilith shrank again in her presence.

“Well, I have to go the sports center. I guess I’ll see you all there,” Samael said, taking a sports bag to his shoulder.

“Of course!” Angie and Vicky said at the same time and while the latter laughed, Angie reddened

“Oh, my god, are you really here?!” Kristania’s voice was heard from the other end of the hall, displaying her eyes of predator that only saw what was in her best interest. Unfortunately, that meant she was going to follow them around, and they would have to be very careful with whatever they would say.

Kristania wouldn’t stop talking while they were heading to the beach near the sports center, and everyone seemed fed up with her. They found shelter from the sun below some sort of kiosk, and while Vicky listened intently to everything she said, she suddenly received a text message. It was from Demian, despite being a few feet from her, and he asked her to look for an excuse to take Kristania away from them for a few minutes.

“You know what I would like?” Vicky interrupted her. “To dip my feet in the water. I haven’t been to a beach for a long time, and it would be a waste not to do it. Come with me!”

“But… isn’t everyone else coming?” Kristania asked confused, even though her gaze was fixed on Demian.

“They will catch up with us when they’re ready!” she replied, taking off her sandals and pulling her towards the shore, giving everyone else a respite.

“I thought she would never leave!” Frank exhaled, throwing his head back with ennui.

“Do you think Vicky would accept to sacrify herself from now on?” Marianne asked with a sigh and suddenly she shut up. A group of guys had arrived at the beach and quickly spread into little groups. Everyone got sportsbags with the emblem of the open book and the sun coming out of the pages. “… It’s them.”

They all watched them intently, trying to decide what to do next, until Frank straightened up and started walking casually towards one of the groups.

“I’ll keep an eye on the ones laying the net,” Frank decided, looking at Lucianne as if inviting her to join him until she finally followed suit.

Other three headed towards the water while the rest had settled in the kiosk near theirs.

“…Dipping our feet in the water doesn’t sound so bad,” Lilith said, deciding on those who had gone to the shore, and she glanced at Angie and Belgina as a sign to follow her as well. Angie went along with her, but when Belgina tried to pull away from the fence, Marianne stopped her.

“You could try listening to what’s going on our left side,” she whispered with a slight shake of her head to point to the guys at the other kiosk.

Belgina returned to her position next to Marianne and Demian, aware that Lilith’s intention was to leave them both alone, but she did as Marianne suggested and focused, sharpening her hearing in the hopes to catch what their neighbors were saying.

“So… you finally faced Vicky,” Marianne said after several minutes of silence.

“Something like that,” Demian replied. “I wouldn’t say it was planned, but it turned out for the best for both of us.”

“I’m glad that at least that’s solved for you two.”

“One less problem, 99 more to go,” he said jokingly.

Belgina stood to one side quietly, attentive to the conversation from the neighboring kiosk, but not getting anything relevant, so she chose to try to relax and leave all the drama behind. She glanced around with a sigh and managed to see the rest following the other guys they were watching and taking the chance to dip their feet on the water while other people enjoyed the beach, everyone minding their own business. Suddenly, a red spark caught her eye. There was a figure on the main dock, apparently staring at them.

Despite the distance, she could tell it was a tall figure with wild hair, but with the sun right behind, she couldn’t make out its features. She feared it could be Mitchell’s new ‘disguise’, but after a smaller and slender figure joined it, she felt uneasy. The two silhouettes were cut by the sun with their hair waving in the breeze, the taller one with the likes of a treetop sprouting from her head and the smaller one with a long braid fluttering in the wind.

Soon the turmoil gave way to anxiety and a distressing sense of deja vu, not because of the moment, but because of the smaller figure against the sun. It reminded her of something, someone— a recurring nightmare, a tumultuous cry and darkness looming over the world. She jumped up with a gasp and both Marianne and Demian turned to her, surprised at her sudden reaction.

“Belgina? Are you okay? What happened?” Marianne asked.

“…There,” Belgina said, pointing at the dock. “…They were watching us.”

Both Marianne and Demian turned to that spot but saw nothing out of the ordinary. The dock was empty.

“Well, unless they just dived into the sea, I don’t see anyone there,” Marianne said with a hand over her eyes to cover from the sun.

“They were two, I’m sure. They were looking at us and—”

The scream, the darkness falling… There was no way to explain it without looking like she was suffering of a paranoid episode with the entire Mitchell situation going on.

“What part on the dock?” Demian asked, taking it seriously.

Belgina again pointed at the left side, just above the point where the beach converged with the sea. A lamp stood there, but there was no one leaning on the railing. Anyway, Demian decided to take a look while the others were returning and looked confused at his sudden departure.

“Was there any problem?” Vicky asked, looking anxiously towards her brother, fearing there had been another misunderstanding again.

“Belgina says there were two people on the dock watching us,” Marianne explained. “Demian went to see if there was something.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t Mitchell in his stalker phase?” Frank commented.

“Did I hear you mentioned my brother?” Kristania asked, the last one the show up.

“I was just saying it’s time to take today’s video and send it to Mitchell to torment him a little more for not being here. Want to do the honors and send some words of discouragement for him? I bet it would flow naturally coming from you,” Frank edited himself casually and Kristania just rolled her eyes.

“There was no one around, but I perceived… some footprints,” Demian said at his return, quickly fixing what he was about to say, realizing Kristania was there.

“What kind of footprints?” Marianne asked.

“Why are you all so interested in some footprints?” Kristania asked with a frown, feeling she was the only one to think it was pointless.

“…Oh, the swimming competition is about to start!” Angie intervened before Kristania would dig deeper. “We should go and take our seats.”

While they headed to the sports center to avoid further questions from Kristania, they discreetly exchanged notes about the guys they were watching, but they didn’t find anything in particular. They hoped to have better luck during the rest of the competitions.

Inside the sports center, Addalynn was already set up with her special swimsuit, sitting by the practice pool with her feet in the water while waiting for the competition to start. Samael joined her, sitting beside her, and plunging his feet in the water just like her.

“Vicky is here,” he remarked while she kept on moving her feet in the water.

“Oh, is she?”

“I thought you would know that already. Just like I always know where Marianne is.”

“Except when she’s around Demian, am I right?” Addalynn snapped with the same unsurprised tone and Samael had to admit that she was right, if she had been with Demian all the time, perhaps she hadnd’t detected her presence either.

“I thought you would want to know that she’s fine,” Samael added.

“I don’t see why it should be the opposite,” she said with a shrug, and then pulled her feet off the water. “The competition is about to begin; you might want to swim a little to be ready. I already am.”

And she left, taking her towel over her shoulder while Samael watched her walk away, trying to unravel her without accessing her mind, but it was useless. She was elusive and disconcerting.

The girls’ rounds were first. They went in groups of eight classifying the two best times until only eight were left for the final round, including Addalynn.

The guys had gotten good seats in the stands, and while they watched the last group as they placed in their respective lanes for the final competition, Marianne noticed Dreyson was below their seats, staring at the group of girls.

According to her clock, there wasn’t much time left for the Tae kwon do competition, so it seemed odd that he was still there, especially considering he would have to go to another center.

The starting gun forced her to return her attention to the pool. The eight finalists were already in the water, and while seven of them had surfaced, Addalynn remained under water until she emerged ahead of them, swimming with such ease that it almost seemed like she had motorized feet. It was no surprise to anyone when she reached the finish line more than one second ahead of the others. She went out of the pool with her towel on her shoulders while the coach celebrated her victory aside.

“So cold! It’s like she just came out of a hot tub all relaxed and smooth,” Kristania said disparagingly.

“She’s always been very confident,” Vicky said, trying to justify her. “But she’s a good person even though she doesn’t speak that much.”

Marianne thought that at least Samael had been doing a better job mingling with humans so far; Addalynn just seemed totally into herself.

“…She doesn’t act like an angel at all,” Marianne murmured.

“Huh? Did you say something?” Vicky asked, and she just shook her head, regretting her slip.

“You should be careful. She doesn’t know anything about her yet,” Demian whispered from the back seat. “If anyone must tell her, it should be Addalynn herself. I would’ve been upset if someone else told Vicky about me.”

Marianne nodded, feeling chided, and while the applause continued with the official anouncement of the three places, leading to the boys’ rounds, Dreyson got up from his seat and headed out of the stands. He caught a glimpse of Marianne and changed direction, going up the stands.

“My competition is about to start,” Dreyson said, glancing at Demian who was right behind her.

“I didn’t make any promise, and we’re yet to see my cousin competing over here,” Marianne replied, folding her arms to show she wouldn’t budge.

Dreyson turned to the pool where the first group of boys was settling into their starting lanes and Samael was on the far right, focused on the water in front of him.

“You just have to get to the final round, that’s the one that matters,” he said, as if granting her the time to get there and devoting a gaze at Demian before going down again. “You might also want to go see what you’re missing out. You’re invited.”

Demian didn’t answer, but his face said it all. His arms kept resting on his knees while his body tensed. The scar was burning again.

“How rude! As if he had the power to invite or uninvite anyone!” Kristania snapped once he was gone and seizing her chance to score some points. “Don’t listen to him, Demian, he’s just an opportunist.”

Marianne could barely contain the urge to roll her eyes at the irony of her comments, and then the gun shot was heard again, so they all turned their attention back to the pool. Just like Addalynn, Samael didn’t disappoint in his performance. He easily finished first and both Angie and Vicky stood up, cheering and applauding, while Demian rose from his seat and walked down the stands upon their friends’ confusion.

“Where are you going?” Vicky asked.

“I’ll go take a walk,” he said, keeping his hands in his pockets.

“You’re staying close, aren’t you?” Vicky said and realizing they all looked concerned, as if fearing he could have another one of his lapses, he tried to smile reassuringly.

“I’ll be right outside. I just need some fresh air. See you later when it’s all over.”

He quickly walked away, running into Addalynn at the bottom of the stands, and after a brief exchange, he kept going while she sat right behind Vicky.

“Surprised to see me?”

“Should I?” Addalynn replied, devoided from emotion.

“Congratulations! You were great!” Vicky added, smiling despite her friend’s apathy.

“I know I was, I wouldn’t have won otherwise,” Addalynn said, making Vicky laugh while Kristania gave her a nasty look.

The aquatic center mascot was a dolphin, so they didn’t find unusual when a huge dolphin motley started up the steps and gave away small balloons with its image that burst after a few seconds, revealing confetti inside.

When it reached them and started to give them balloons, they burst out, sprinking them with confetti… everyone but Kristania’s balloon, which splashed her confused face and clothes with blue paint. She jumped up shouting and threatening the motley as she rushed out, looking for a public restroom. The rest of the balloons finished exploding, and Belgina soon discovered a note had fallen into her lap.

“Hit the dolphin all you want, but please forgive me.”

The motley showed up to her side, its fins joined in a begging gesture, and she twitched, leaping from her seat to the next, and then making a motion with the hand that flung it through the air until it fell in the middle of the pool, ruining the second round.

Belgina stood up, shaking the confetti off her lap and ran away before anyone could say anything to her, though they were all busy gawking at the dolphin motley floating in the pool and unsuccessfully waving its fins while trying to get to the nearest edge. Frank pulled out his cell phone and started recording the scene with a big grin on his face.

“It was taking long for his stupidity of the day,” Marianne said with a weary huff.

At the end of the day, it didn’t matter anyway, since Samael swept away the competition without even showing the slightest hint of effort and the group came out of the sports center, cheering and carrying two big trophies.

Demian was outside the building, leaning against a sculpture with such a form that it made him look like having a pair of black wings from a far. He stepped away and waited for them to approach.

“You should have stayed!” Vicky said enthusiastically. “Samuel destroyed the competition and there was an incident with a motley—!”

“I know, I saw it escorted out,” Demian said. “You don’t need to tell me who it was, I also saw Belgina getting out.”

“Do you know where she headed?” Marianne asked.

“I asked her if she was okay and just said she would go back to the hotel. She looked very upset.”

“No wonder after what Mitchell has been doing. He has to stop.”

“I’ll talk to him when we return to the hotel.”

“Is there any other competition you want to see?” Lucianne asked, pulling out the schedule for the day.

“Maybe Tae kwon do isn’t over yet. We could get to the end,” Marianne suggested, glancing at her watch, and when she looked up again, she noticed Demian was frowning.

“You can go if you want to. I’ll just go for a walk somewhere else,” Demian snapped, turning around to walk on the opposite side. Vicky hesitated before following him.

“Wait! I’ll go with you!” She ran behind him and Addalynn ended up joining them too, carrying her trophy with one hand. Marianne seemed taken aback by his reaction.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see any more competitions right now,” Frank said next, stretching his arms until they cracked. “I heard there’s this place downtown where they make any kind of ice cream you want, if they don’t have it available, they name it after you. Wanna come with me?” He turned to Lucianne in a casual stance. “I want to mess a little with them, giving made-up names for ice creams and luckily have one named after me by the end.”

“Uhm… I’d like to,” Lucianne said, looking shyly at the others. “…If you don’t mind”

“Ice cream, yummy! I’m in!” Lilith said, joining them, and Frank didn’t seem happy.

“Do you still want to go to the tournament? We can get faster if I transport us there,” Samael said as they were left alone with Angie. Marianne thought about it for a minute, but finally refused.

“…I think I’d rather go back to the hotel. Maybe I could talk to Belgina. If you wanna do something else, like going for ice cream with the rest, go ahead, I won’t stop you,” Marianne said, low-spirited, and Angie immediately looked at Samael, willing to follow her suggestion.

“I have a list of the next competitions for the Sun Valley School,” Samael said, taking out a piece of paper. “I think I’m gonna attend to some and be on the look for any detail.”

Angie’s head seemed to deflate, loosening her shoulders, but instantly straightened back and tried to look casual.

“…Of course. Some other day, then,” she added with a resigned smile.

Marianne dreamed again with the shadow that haunted her, but unlike previous times, it was her who was hunting the shadow across what looked like a huge store in the dark; the only light came through the windows above. Full moon light that barely let her glimpse shapes in the dark. The faintly traced figures resembled human forms that stood on both sides of her path, doing nothing but watch her, with no distinguishible faces on them. The shadow moved erratically between them, hiding, and re-emerging, as if waiting for her. Rather than being hunted, it seemed to be playing a cat and mouse game and enjoying it.

Marianne didn’t know why she followed the shadow. Something inside her told her to stop, that she would end up regretting it, but couldn’t help feeling the urgent need to reach it, to catch it… and then what? What would she do then? The shadow cackled at the persecution, and even stopped at times to keep her in sight, like urging her to keep going, taunting her. The rows of figures flanking her came to an end, and she got to a bifurcation that she took unthinkingly, and right when she turned around, she met face to face with the shadow, standing at the bottom of a dead end. Marianne stopped and faltered for a moment before drawing her sword, opposite the impassive shadow apparently waiting for her, quietly, in an almost defiant position.

«Do it. It’s the only way» An ethereal voice reached her from nowhere. She recognized it… At least recalled it from somewhere.

“…I can do it,” Marianne murmured, squeezing the handle of the sword.

The shadow laughed. She could even see a white smile trace in the faceless figure made of darkness. Marianne brandished the sword, gathering the courage and walking purposefully towards it, but when she tried to thrust the blade to its chest, the shadow vanished, and the sword got stuck on a smooth surface behind it. She saw her reflection in the front, cracked by the sword plunged in a mirror. She grabbed the handle with both hands, pulling it tightly as the giggle was still hovering around her, and when she finally managed to get the sword out, a black fluid started to flow from the hole, right in the middle of her reflection, on her chest.

She backed off, disturbed by the sight of the dark liquid flooding from the mirror, and impulsively looked down to her own chest. There was a hole in the middle with red blood flowing in torrents. The sword slipped from her fingers and fell to the ground with a muffled sound, as if she had been transported into a vacuum place outside of space and time. She raised her trembling arms, but only kept them above her chest, not daring to touch the hole; her eyes began to blur and see double.

«You had to do it»

Marianne struggled to lift her gaze and a luminous figure appeared in front of her increasingly blurry vision.

«You let it escape»

Marianne couldn’t say anything; it was as if she had turned voiceless. Her breath began to fail too, and when she opened her mouth, all that came out of it was blood. The silhouette remained unmoved, but it displayed a pair of bright wings that blinded her as she slowly suffocated in her own blood.

When she opened her eyes with a jolt and took her hands to her chest, gasping violently for air, she realized she was in her hotel room. She took her hands away from her chest and saw they were clean, not a single drip of blood on them, just cold sweat. Her wheezing turned into a sigh of relief, and while her heart regained her normal beating, a flash of light announced Samael’s presence.

“Are you okay?” he asked in a concerned tone. “I suddenly felt this pang and for a moment I thought something happened, that you had been attacked or—”

“I’m fine, it was just… a nightmare,” she said, sitting up with her feet out of the bed and rubbing her face to keep herself awake.

“What kind of nightmare?” Samael asked, knowing it could mean something.

Marianne remained pensive for a few seconds, going over her dream to make sure she wasn’t missing anything, and as soon as she recalled the blood flowing from her chest, she raised her hand as if she could still feel it.

It was only a nightmare, and yet it seemed so real.

“…I was hunting down this shadow,” she began to speak, her breathing still uneven. “There were several figures around just watching. Like a game. And the shadow just kept laughing as I followed it. It almost seemed like it was leading me instead of running away from me.” Samael didn’t say a thing, he waited patiently for her to finish her story, but kept making guesses along the way. “I tried to stab it with the sword, but—” The mirror. The dark fluid. Blood gushing out her chest. “It managed to avoid me. I couldn’t do it in the end.”

“That shadow… was it the same from the dream at the ball?” Samael asked, recalling the time he had been able to access her dream in which a shadow held her hostage as they danced around in the middle of a big room with ghostly music coming out of nowhere. Marianne looked up, knowing what he was trying to hint at; that dream kind of came true during prom night, when Demian had found out they were the Angel Warriors, and every tiny hope they had in him to cling to his human side seemed lost.

“…It was just a shadow, without a specific form; it doesn’t have to be the same.”

“May I see?” Samael insisted, but Marianne abruptly turned away.

All she could think of was the blood coming out of her chest. If he saw it, he could tie it to the shadow and therefore Demian, given how convinced he was that it represented him. That could even revive his distrust and go back to the state of constant alert around him. Things were fine for now; she didn’t want it to change.

“There’s no need to. It was just a nightmare, like the others. It doesn’t have to mean anything,” Marianne said, lying down again before Samael could insist on it.

“…Okay. But if something worries you, don’t hesitate to tell me,” Samael replied, with no other choice but pulling away from the bed and leave.

Marianne then recalled the comment Demian had made after the basketball game.

“Samael… did you talk to Demian on the balcony the other day?” The angel turned back, unsurprised by her question, and nodded without even hesitating. “…What did you talk about?”

“I asked him about the amber-eyed demon.”

“The one from the video? Did he say he knew him?”

“He eventually recognized it,” Samael replied with a shrug. “But he wouldn’t say anymore. Apparently, the demon who attacked him also has amber eyes, so maybe that’s why he was so interested in him.”

“…The demon who attacked him,” Marianne repeated to herself, trying to think of it and leave her dream behind.

But she would later keep thinking about it, standing in reception while signing on the list. Each time she lifted her gaze a little, she could see her reflection on the mirror that covered the bottom wall, and almost expected to see a hole in her mirrrored chest and black fluid coming out of it, but quickly looked down again and tried to expell that image from her mind.

“You didn’t come to the tournament.”

Marianne dropped the pen and turned around with a sigh. Dreyson’s face didn’t show any irritation, he simply looked at her, waiting for an explanation.

“I wasn’t in the mood to go, and I didn’t promise anything,” she quickly responded with an indifferent shrug.

“I was hoping you would show up at the end at least. I won.”

“Well… at least you can not blame me for a defeat,” Marianne said with lifted eyebrows, not knowing whether he wanted a compliment or an apology. “I didn’t need to be there after all, so… congratulations?”

Dreyson kept that inscrutable expression until he ended up smiling without moving any other muscle from his face, other than his lips.

“…Save it. Your congratulations don’t count if you didn’t see it. But you can still make up for it by coming to the fencing competition this afternoon. It will be right after gymnastics, so you have no excuse this time.”


“We’re good to go,” Samael intervened, pointing to the rest of the guys waiting in the lobby, including Demian, who was leaning back on a column while looking at Dreyson with a scowl. The latter just walked away, but stopped mid-way, like remembering something.

“…By the way, I was informed this morning that I’ve been named temporary captain of the basketball team for the rest of the competitions,” he remarked casually, loud enough for Demian to hear it. While she processed the information, he smiled and resumed his way.

She noticed Demian following Dreyson with his gaze, and she feared the way it would affect him.

The gymnastycs competition was scheduled to be held in a not too big but fully equiped sports complex. They all got seats in the front rows and waited patiently for Belgina’s turn, starting with the beams. Even Addalyn had surprisingly showed up, still keeping her distance though, sitting in the farthest end but close to Vicky, which seemed the only sign of the link between them. Kristania had also stuck to them like gum, for the chance to be near Demian, even though he didn’t even look at her, sitting in the back row with a thoughtful expression.

There was movement in that row, someone coming through, possibly searching for a seat, and they all heard Kristania’s shriek.

“You idiot!” she yelled with her back arched and her face broken into a grimace as she pulled her sleeve, stained with a purple liquid and piles of frost of the same color starting to melt. Right behind her, a boy with a hooded sweater held a glass of what looked like a slurpee, constantly sipping from it as he listened indifferently at Kristania’s whining. “Why don’t you watch your steps?! You ruined my blouse! It’s silk!” She left enraged while the boy just took a few steps and dropped into the seat next to Demian, taking the hoody over his head and loudly sipping from his frozen drink.

“You know you shouldn’t be here,” Marianne said without an inch of doubt of who it was. “If Belgina sees you, she could lose her concentration.”

The guy pulled the straw away from his mouth and sighed as his face changed instantly to Mitchell’s, hidden under the hoody.

“…I know, but I’ll try to stay hidden. I just want to see her compete.”

“What you really want is to see her in her little leotard, you don’t fool us,” Frank said from the row below, and although Mitchell didn’t answer, he took the straw to his mouth, and after one more sip, he aimed to Frank and blew out a single purple missile that hit right in the target, sliding along his neck and through his cousin’s back. He squirmed in his seat like a worm on fire. “Do that again and I’ll make you a colonoscopy with that same straw!”

“Look,” Marianne said, pointing at the court, and everyone saw the competitor in turn. Her leotard had the emblem of the Sun Valley school and something else they couldn’t avoid noticing during her routine on the vaulting horse.

A strange spot in the back of her hand seemed to move to the palm whenever she set her hands on the vault to do cartwheels with methodic precision, finishing with a straight pose and raising her arms. The spot appeared to have vanished.

The guys exchanged looks, wondering the purpose of that bruise, if it was giving her advantage on her routines.

“It’s Belgina’s turn!” Vicky announced and they all put their attention to the court. Belgina was out with the official school leotard with a design in the center that ressembled a pearl with several ray patterns that followed along the sleeves and back, crisscrossing in aquamarine and deep blue tones.

“…Holy Mother Pearl,” Mitchell muttered, the straw falling from his open mouth.

With a pony tail and contact lenses replacing her glasses, she looked quite different. Staring at the bars, she covered her hands with magnesium and paused a little, as if taking a moment for a mental prayer. Then she hung from the lower bar to start gaining momentum, and everyone watched in awe as she passed from bar to bar with such speed and grace that for a moment the guys forgot that they had already seen her in action during their training. And so, it was like that on the rest of the devices. Right before starting, Belgina seemed hesitant and insecure, but once she was up, all those thoughts disappeared, and she became one with the devices. Even in the floor rutine she seemed unable to commit any mistake, and as the music began, Lilith had to refrain from yelling as she immediately recognized the tune by the first notes.

“It’s ‘Toten Blumen’! She’s using my favorite song from Lissen Rox!” she said, almost jumping out of her seat, but when she realized it was her voice and not the original singer, she was on the edge of an emotional breakdown and had to put her hand to her mouth. “It’s the one I sang in the contest! She’s using the one I sang! Oh, my god, hold me or I’m going to shout and cry!”

“Tell me someone’s recording this. I need that video to overcome my long lonely nights full of atonement and guilt,” Mitchell said with his drink already melted.

“I’m on that, but you’ll have to do a lot if you want it. Perhaps I’ll end up selling it to the black market, who knows?” Frank said, recording the whole thing with his cell phone, and Mitchell immediately lunged at him and started to fight over the phone while the others stepped aside, ashamed of their behavior.

Belgina finished her routine and eventually turned to the hubbub; despite the distance and the hood covering his face, she instantly knew who it was, and felt a rush of embarrassment running through her body.

“Stop it! You’re going to ruin Belgina’s moment!” Marianne scolded them with a glare that promised blood if they didn’t stop.

But it was too late, Belgina had recognized him and her concentration had been disrupted, so when her next turn came, she walked out with tense shoulders and stiff body, trying to stare at the vault she would have to jump, aware that he would be watching. Nervously, she took her position and breathed deeply to try to calm down. It was the last device; she just had to focus on making the jump and then keeping her feet from tumbling in the last fall. She shook her hands with magnesium, and after trying to relax her muscles, she ran without averting her eyes from the vault. The audience was quiet, so she had no reason to break concentration, and even though part of her knew he was still there, she tried to dispel it from her mind as soon as the device was in front of her.

She placed her hands firmly on the surface, which gave her a foothold to propel herself and make a big jump that seemed to last years. She had to complete the somersaults she had been rehearsing so hard, so she did three spirals upside down, then folded her legs and knees to her chest, and as she spinned in the air, she couldn’t get the notion of Mitchell watching her out of her head; she could almost feel his gaze, prolonging that brief moment to what felt like an eternity. After the last spin, she straightened up and stretched her legs to set her feet on the ground, but her mind was still so fazed that they failed on the landing and ended up stumbling and falling down on her knees, over the padded surface. The gasps from the audience were immediate and she stayed on the mattress, unable to react until she forced herself up, raising her arms over her head as professionally as she could, and immediately rushed back to the locker room.

“…I hope you’re happy,” Marianne said, directing Mitchell a reproachful look and although he didn’t answer, his guilty expression said it all. He pulled the strings from his hood, burying his face inside, and decided to leave even though the damage was already done.

All competitors came out again for the award ceremony. Belgina was rewarded for the first three devices, but was out of the top winners from the last one while the girl from the Sun Valley School was rewarded in all four. She accepted it with as much dignity as she could, despite feeling torn apart by the situation, and when she cast a glance to the stands and found out that Mitchell was gone, she seemed to sink even more instead of feeling relieved.

The competition was over, so everyone stood up to leave right when Dreyson entered followed by other guys, going straight to the locker room, carrying their suits and foils.

“The Fencing competition is next,” Marianne recalled. Dreyson turned to the stands, and a slightly crooked smile spread across his face, raising his hand to show three fingers.

“…What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I think it’s about the three clubs he’s in; his intention is to succeed in all three of them,” Marianne said.

“Well, he can brag all he wants, but if our team wins in basketball, it will be our victory, not just his,” Frank replied, still looking cranky.

“…Although, the one who receives the trophy is usually the captain,” Marianne said with a grimace.

“He’s not captain,” Frank refuted with a huff, but Marianne’s elusive gaze just confirmed it. “Really?! Did they finally convince the coach? I heard them talking about it, but I didn’t think they were gonna make it, after all, he’s just as new as me. Had I known I would have put myself into consideration too!”

Demian had said nothing all along; everyone seemed aware of his reaction, expecting him to get up and leave, do something, but he stayed there, ominously still and quiet.

“…Want to go back to the hotel? You might want some rest before the game tonight,” Vicky suggested, concerned about his inaction.

“I’ll stay and watch the competition,” he decided, so the rest of them couldn’t help but exchange concerned looks.

The Fencing matches were the last competition of the evening. Since Dreyson’s first match, he seemed quick and unerring in his lunges, overcoming them without much difficulty. Every time he won a combat, they looked askance at Demian to see his reaction, but he remained impassive, his eyes carefully following every movement, trying to find mistakes in his technique, but there was none to his growing frustration. It was like, instead of weeks of training, he had already several years behind his back. He hadn’t even achieved that kind of level so quickly. And to top it all, he made it look effortless. Demian didn’t want to show it, but he was feeling increasingly anxious and irritated, especially when he noticed that after each victory, Dreyson looked up to the stands towards them, as if making sure they were still there, and outlined a mysterious smile that seemed exclusive to him.

It was time for the final match. Dreyson had surpassed all of his opponents to get there and his rival was already a previous winner, but as usual, he didn’t seem worried. The fight began and while both exchanged lunges and their foils clashed, Demian’s irritation seemed to reach a point where his scar was starting to throb and sting.

Samael didn’t lose sight of the boy’s movements either; despite having ruled out the bruising on his back, he was still curious enough about him. Suddenly, he noticed on the track where the combat was taking place, some sort of shadow taking form, moving through the floor towards Dreyson, without anyone else noticing it, and when it reached him, it held his foot, making him stumble and lose ground to the other guy, but quickly faded as Dreyson regained his balance. Samael immediately turned to Demian, noting he was holding his wrist with a puzzled face, making clear to him that he was unconsciously responsible.

He also stared back at him; his troubled face showed his impotence, not only for having his power acting on its own again, but also in front of them. He squeezed his wrist so hard it was like he was trying to choke it, and it wasn’t long before Marianne also turned around to him. He couldn’t take it anymore. He got up, wishing to leave before anyone else noticed it, but suddenly Addalynn approached him and pulled his hand, giving him a brief touch on the wrist that instantly soothed him. Demian immediately felt relief, but still looked puzzled at her. The others were already watching them in confusion, and even though Marianne had already seen her do that before, she still felt a twinge inside.

Addalynn seemed oblivious to everyone or just didn’t care; as she released Demian, she combed her hair and ignored the curious stares.

When they heard the applause, all eyes turned back to the track. The only people watching them now were Vicky and Samael, the latter with growing curiosity about Addalynn’s action. But Demian didn’t make any comment. He lowered down his hand and recoiled from their eyes. That was it, they had seen it losing control over his powers, it couln’t be worse.

In the middle of the track, Dreyson stood victorious with mask and foil under his arm, receiving applause. Demian frowned and for a moment wished the shadow would have succeded if it was going to get out of control anyway.

“Nervous?” Demian asked, entering her field of vision right where the basketball finals would be held.

Marianne turned around with a slight jump. People were just starting to fill the stands, but their final game was about to begin and the pressure was increasingly palpable. It was already Friday; the athletic competition would be the next day and then it would all be over.

“…It’s the final game. I didn’t think we would make it this far,” Marianne said with her hands gripping the barrier dividing the stands from the court.

“Just keep playing as you’ve been doing so far,” Demian advised, also leaning on the barrier beside her. He seemed relaxed, especially considering he had been benched in the recent games.

“…How about you?” she asked, puzzled by his apparent calm. He smiled with his eyes fixed on the court.

“I’ll watch the game and enjoy it. You should too; victory is just a plus.”

It wasn’t the answer she was expecting, but if he had found a way to keep himself under control, even when things weren’t going as he wished, then there was no reason to pressure him. Someone grabbed her back and before she could react, she was being dragged by Kristania toward the locker room.

“Come, come, we have to be ready for the game,” Kristania said, pulling her and waving at Demian in a way that intended to be casual, though it was clearly a way to get his attention.

The match soon started, and the opposing team proved to be a serious contender that didn’t give them time to even breathe.

The girls made a lot of mistakes at the beginning, especially coming from Kristania, who was constantly complaining about being pushed at the slightest touch, making the outraged rivals become harsher in their plays, while her own teammates were frustrated, hoping that she would be sent to the bench one way or another, until it finally happened when she tripped over her own feet and fell, complaining of a knee injury. There was a brief pause to remove her from the court while another girl was sent to replace her; luckily that was a change for the better, since they were already losing not by much.

“I want you and Lilith to be near me,” Lucianne said, approaching Marianne while Kristania was taken to the benches instead of the hospital as she was demanding. “It’s time to be a little more offensive.” Marianne nodded, still watching the show Kristania was able to put just to get some attention. “…I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I was hoping she was sent to the benches since a while ago, but I didn’t expect it to be that way—”

“I think we all hoped for the same,” Marianne replied with a shrug.

“It’s funny though. It’s like our thoughts were in synch and caused her to stumble, though I know it sounds like nonsense, and the idea doesn’t make me feel better,” Lucianne added and the thought didn’t sit well with Marianne, either. In her mind, memories of Lester’s accident came back, also Aldric’s, Dreyson stumbling during the Fencing final game… She turned to the stands, and after a quick sweep with her eyes she found Demian, sitting behind Vicky and looking intently at what was happening on the court.

No, there was no reason for him to do it, even unconsciously. Chances were that Kristania had just tripped out of her own clumsiness and acted like a victim to mask her own failing. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The whistle made her push the thought from her mind to focus solely on the game. Without Kristania on the court and following Lucianne’s strategy, they were stepping on their rival’s toes, so much that about to finish, they were behind by just one point. They just had one score to win by a very narrow margin.

There were 18 seconds left on the clock, and Lucianne managed to steal the ball on their side of the court before the other team scored again and hurried to the other end, calling her teammates to not break formation. Reaching the hoop area, she was intercepted by a girl, so she threw the ball to Lilith, who was also quickly blocked by another. She threw the ball to Marianne and she noticed two other girls heading towards her. She could have thrown the ball to one of her teammates coming behind her, but there were only 5 seconds left on the clock, not enough time to do anything else, so she just took a breath and flexed her arms while holding the ball.

She didn’t trust her aim that much, but there was no time to consider another solution, it was all or nothing, so she threw the ball with all her might, while the defenses from the other team went back to try blocking the shot. The rest of the girls stopped to watch the ball fall in slow motion with the clock down to 4, 3 seconds, then 2…

The ball hit the rim and stayed there going around like a roulette, and Marianne feared it would fall outside the basket given the trajectory of the ball. Down to 1 second, the ball seemed to stop his spinning and was already going out of the ring; she could almost hear the disappointed expressions and Marianne herself was already feeling down when she suddenly saw a shadow moving fast under the basket, pushing the ball to the ring right when the clock reached zero.

It was only a split second; Marianne blinked in confusion while cries of celebration erupted around her and mutiple hands pulled her and patted her back to congratulate her. She knew they had won by a hair’s breadth, but despite the festive atmosphere, she couldn’t stop thinking about the shadow. No one else had seen it apparently; it had been so quick and sudden that she was still amazed at having seen a glimpse of it. Amid the celebration, she turned towards the stands and saw Demian standing with the rest, also clapping.

Nothing in his demeanor indicated that he had anything to do with that, but still needed to be sure.

“Good job,” Dreyson said as he passed by her when both teams crossed paths between the stands and the court, right when it was the boys’ turn to play.

Marianne just nodded mechanically, and her eyes focused on Demian, right at the end of the row. Once she was close enough to him, she pulled him over despite his confusion.

“You didn’t have to do that. I told you I’d rather win on my own merits than leaning on our powers,” Marianne whispered in a secretive tone, making sure there was no one else listening.

“…Do what? What are you talking about?” Demian asked, befuddled.

“That last shot— It shouldn’t have entered,” she replied, releasing his arm and trying to make it look like they were talking about something unimportant. “It was already out of the ring and then it just… was pushed inside. I saw it with my own eyes.”

“And you think I did it,” Demian said, hardening his tone.

“…I saw a shadow,” Marianne added, suddenly doubting her own deduction; he seemed offended at the alegation and yet he hadn’t even denied it the last time.

“You saw a shadow,” Demian repeated, “and you immediately thought it had to be me. The demon in rehab.”

“…It was just like the last time,” she said, not so sure anymore of what she had seen.

“And I promised then that I wouldn’t do it again. If you ask me, I saw no shadow, but I did see the ball getting ‘external aid’ to get into the ring. I thought it was you, but I wasn’t going to judge you for it; it was a very tight game.”

“No— It wasn’t me,” Marianne said, sinking now into confusion and remorse for having believed him responsible. The coach calling for Demian was enough to break their concentration.

“…I must go. I guess I’m too vital on the bench,” Demian said with a resigned sigh.

“I’m sorry for thinking—”

“Never mind,” Demian interrupted. “Kill a wolf and you’ll always be called a wolfslayer. I know how this is; I should be getting used to it already.”

The pang of remorse again. She didn’t doubt his veracity, but if it wasn’t him who had produced the shadow, who then?

“Did something happen?” Samael asked as she joined them in the stands. Marianne looked around discreetly to avoid prying ears.

“…Did you see that last basket?” she asked softly and he nodded. “You should have noticed then that the ball didn’t just go in by itself.”

“That’s what you asked Demian? If it was him?”

“He swears he didn’t do it; he even thought I had done it, but… it wasn’t me either. It was a shadow,” she assured with a thoughtful expression. “It was a flicker, but I’m sure of what I saw. It was a shadow that pushed the ball into the basket. But if it wasn’t him, then where did it come from and why?”

Samael froze after hearing that, but she was so engrossed in her own thoughts that didn’t even notice. A shadow. It was a general knowledge to him that demons usually had shadows at their service, and even were able to control them as extensions of themselves, just like Demian had lately shown. The shadow Marianne had seen… could it be perhaps a manifestation of—?

“The smoke demon!” Marianne said, bumping her fist to her palm, as if suddenly seeing the light. “It’s got to be the smoke demon. Maybe it’s hanging around here, don’t you think? We should be more watchful in case it shows up.”

“…Sure. The smoke demon,” Samael repeated in hesitant confirmation.

“But why would it do something like that? Why would it care whether we win or not?  It doesn’t seem to have a very sharp mind; in fact, I don’t even think its brain is bigger than that of a fish,” Marianne continued mulling over it.

Soon the game started and she dropped the subject, at least for the moment.

Demian wasn’t required during the game, as he expected, and he remained on the bench. However, it all went smoothly; the team acted as an organized swarm with a single rebel bee in Frank, who ignored instructions and did whatever his instincts told him to do. Still, they ended up winning the game, and while the captains from each team were up in the podium during the awards ceremony, Marianne noticed Dreyson holding up three fingers with a smile.

Marianne just rolled her eyes and let out a huff. She wouldn’t give rise to his entitlement.

“I’m confused, is this prom already? Did the year pass by that quickly?” Marianne remarked later that night during their celebration party, when Lilith showed up at the table where she was gathering snacks on a plate along with Angie and Belgina.

“Well, say what you want, I could use this at all parties!” Lilith replied, laughing at her comment. She was wearing the inverted rose dress. “I love the way it looks on me, and it would be a shame to use it only once, don’t you think? Do I look amazing or not?”

“It’s a gorgeous dress and it fits you like a glove,” Vicky said behind her, and although Lilith twitched for a second, she turned to her in an attempt to smile despite how tense and uncomfortable she still felt around her.

“Tha-Thanks. I—I’m glad you sorted things out… with Demian.”

Vicky smiled at her words. Addalynn stayed very close and just took small sips from a glass with a red liquid that looked like blood, while looking around indifferently. She was dressed in a simple yet stylish white dress and, as always, attracted attention wherever she went. Lilith saw a chance to perhaps redeem herself in Vicky’s eyes and quickly took a plate and held it in front of her.

“…Do you want something to eat?” she asked, starting to put everything on the plate and handing it to her like a peace offering, even after having almost taking the snacks out of their friends’ hands.

“Thank you, you shouldn’t bother,” Vicky replied, overwhelmed by her attention.

“Wow, it was true then! You got the dress after all!” Kristania suddenly appeared beside them with a twinkle in her eye that always gave Marianne a bad feeling. “It really is spectacular.” Lilith smiled and turned around, feeling like a princess in that dress. “You must tell me how you got it; its price was almost as much as our budget for the event.”

Lilith stood still, frozen in time. Even worse was seeing Kristania apparently connecting the dots and taking a hand to her mouth, as if she had said too much. Vicky looked at one and another, puzzled at the implication.

“It’s… It’s not what it seems,” Lilith tried to explain. “I… didn’t know… I just took my savings without thinking—”

“Did you use our budget money to buy a dress?” Vicky interrupted, bewildered. Kristania kept covering her mouth in a gesture of shock.

“It wasn’t on purpose, I didn’t… I didn’t realize it until—” Lilith continued, trying to justify herself, but Vicky’s face was aghast, and she no longer felt comfortable nor glamorous dressed like that. It had been a bad idea, a stupid whim; it was a tainted dress and she shouldn’t have thought to wear it, not even once. What the hell was she thinking? She felt so ashamed that she bolted out of there despite the girls asking her to stop.

“So awful; I don’t think she did it on purpose. I’m sure she didn’t have bad intentions,” Kristania said, feigning dismay and Marianne glowered at her.

She couldn’t prove it, but suspected that Kristania had something to do with it, despite all the charade. She was sure of it. A snake who keeps its fangs hidden has to find other ways to spew its venom.

“…Oh, look. Seems like the copy cat is still enjoying his five minutes of fame.”

Near the stage, several reporters surrounded Dreyson to interview him even though he looked annoyed and bored, probably even using nothing but monosyllables to answer. A few professional coaches were also waiting to talk to him.

Kristania’s cell began to ring with one of Lissen Rox’s songs as a ringtone, and as she glanced at the screen, she rolled her eyes and cancelled before keeping it in her purse again.

“My mother,” she said as if they had asked. “She’s been calling every day to ask if my stupid brother has contacted me. I’m pretty sure he got himself in trouble again, most probably with girls. It wouldn’t be the first time.” Belgina looked away to avoid showing any reaction to her comment, but Kristania acted as if she had done it unknowingly. “Oops! Sorry! I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. I thought you were over him already.”

She just took a sip of her drink not to respond. Demian entered with his hands to his pockets in a mixture of relaxed attitude and reluctance to be there, while someone else wearing a cap and a hoody sneaked furtively behind him, hiding his face from those who might recognize him… but the trick didn’t work with those who already knew about his presence. Belgina immediately stood behind her friends as if that would keep him from seeing her, but he seemed to have implanted a radar as he quickly located her among everyone, and after saying something to Demian, he went the opposite side while the latter looked warily towards Dreyson.

“…Excuse me, I’ll go get something to drink,” Kristania said, running her hand through her hair in a gesture that seemed to imitate Addalynn’s manners, though it looked like a desperate attempt to draw attention… especially since the table with the drinks was right next to Demian. “Do you wanna come with me, Vicky?”

Vicky still looked distraught by the whole Lilith situation and after looking at the others with her huge topaz eyes, she let herself be led by Kristania.

“Where’s Samuel?” Angie asked after scanning the place with her gaze.

“He said he needed to make contact with the Superior realm to know what to do about the guys with bruises; which is code for taking a nap before coming here,” Marianne said, refilling her plate with snacks without really looking at what she was taking as she glanced towards Demian, talking to his sister while Kristania was prowling on their side, trying to insert herself into the conversation, although he seemed to ignore her completely.

“Wanna go there?” Angie asked at her constant glancing, but Marianne shook her head.

“I’m staying here until I get tired of the food.”

“…The one who seems already sick of the attention is Dreyson,” Angie added, and Marianne turned around. Dreyson had simply decided to ditch the group gathered around him without explanation and began to walk across the room in her direction.

“…Dammit,” Marianne murmured, looking around as if searching for the quickest way out, but fortunately for her, a group of girls clashed with him halfway through, spilling their drinks onto his jacket.

The girls apologized immediately, trying to dry his clothes, but he jerked away to keep them at bay while watching his spoiled jacket. His right sleeve and back were completely soaked and dripped sangaree. Dreyson’s face was expressionless, but the girls seemed unsettled as they stepped back from him. He suddenly broke through them and headed for the exit, while the girls quickly pulled away, fearing his return.

“…It’s weird that they just tripped on him. He was right in front of them and they didn’t even seem distracted,” Angie said and Marianne glanced at the other end of the room, meeting with Demian’s elusive eyes, who immediately focused on his sister again.

If he looked guilty, Marianne couldn’t say so, but he conveyed some sort of tired resignation of being considered the prime suspect in such situations, which in turn made her feel remorseful for looking for him to clear all doubt as her first reaction when it was exactly the doubt that most affected him… She didn’t want to contribute to it anymore. She didn’t want to be that kind of person, but how to change it? She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be in his shoes.

When the elevator reached the ground floor, Samael went out with a disappointed expression after another failed attempt. He might need one of those sleeping pills again, but for now, the doubt prevailed.

…Though what he really feared was a confirmation of his suspicion. The shadow Marianne had seen during the match hadn’t been manifested by Demian… but her. How to explain it to her without going deeper into reasons? It could set off a storm if it was known. Many questions that he still couldn’t provide answers to. It would create a climate of mistrust among them and toward her and he couldn’t allow it. He had to protect her despite all— Even from the truth and from herself.

He walked down the hall, very lonely and quiet despite the growing noise as he was approaching the place of the party. He would rather stay in his room to try and reach the Superior realm, but he had promised to keep them company for a while. He suddenly stumbled with a short stride and stopped. One of his shoelaces was untied. He bent down to tie it up and as he did, a boy and a girl walked past him down the corridor and he recognized them by the school emblem of the open book. He followed them with his gaze when he suddenly saw the outline of a shadow moving across the floor to then rise before him, condensing itself until forming a dark cloud. The smoke demon.

He stood still, expecting the shadow to turn to him at any time and attack him, but it seemed distracted by something at the bottom of the long corridor where the two guys had disappeared. It hovered above for several seconds without noticing him, swaying in the air until it suddenly flew across the hallway, sticking to the walls and blending in the furniture’s shadows. Samael jumped up, knowing he had very little time to decide what to do. If he went to warn the others, he would lose sight of the demon and therefore, the chance to catch him. He couldn’t afford it.

The only solution he could come up with was to secretly follow it. Of course, in other circumstances he would condemn it if the others did it, but he had the means to remain unnoticed, such as his ability to make himself invisible and certainly the time was right to do it; so, before the smoke demon was out of sight, he clasped his hands and ran in the same direction, becoming transparent and going past the entrance to the party without anyone else noticing.

“Come on, you must have upset each other or have an argument before,” Kristania said, monopolizing Vicky’s attention in order to get also Demian’s, but he stood aside, drinking from a cup and looking into infinity and beyond with a bored expression. “All siblings fight. I argue with mine all the time; it’s normal.”

“Not us, we’ve always got along pretty well,” Vicky said, turning to Demian as if trying to include him, but he’d rather not participate. He was mentally somewhere else. “We’ve disagreed sometimes, but he eventually ends up budging in my favor.”

“Well, well, an indulgent brother,” Kristania glanced at Demian, who still didn’t seem alluded. “The missing link; the kind of brother everyone would love to have.”

Vicky smiled while Demian just breathed a sigh of weariness. Addalynn was beside him, the perfect silent company. She was also drinking from a glass, looking even more bored than Demian.

“…I’m willing to listen to any escape plan. Vicky is hopeless, but we still have a chance to save ourselves and run to freedom,” Demian whispered and although Addalynn didn’t respond, she outlined a slight smile at his comment.

Kristania stared at them while carefully placing herself next to Addalynn. She kept her frivolous talk going, her voice so annoying that both Demian and Addalynn preferred to close their ears to any sound coming from her. Had it not been for this, they might have noticed the slight change of intent on her voice when she paused with a surprised inflection, and the next thing they knew was that Addalynn’s immaculate white dress was covered in red as if she had been shot in the chest.

“Oh, I’m so sorry! I was so engrossed in the conversation I didn’t notice!” Kristania said with a dramatic tone to match her most surprised face while the red spot spread all along Addalynn’s dress. “You should go change before it spreads even more! Here, I can lend you my coat so no one would notice!” She took her long wool coat off with the best disposition, exposing her bare shoulders and a neckline that seemed more proper for a courtesan than a high school girl.

Addalynn made no move to take the coat and was just looking at the spot, as if hypnotized by it. And then she suddenly dropped the glass she was holding, falling at Kristania’s feet and soaking her shoes. She let out a shriek after seeing her precious shoes stained in red, but nobody paid attention to her, because Addalynn instantly bent forward, clutching at her head while both Vicky and Demian watched her in bewilderment.

“Addalynn, are you—?” Vicky’s question was interrupted by Addalynn’s sudden jolt when she straightened up again with a distorted face, and immediately dashed out of there. Demian and Vicky exchanged glances and wordlessly abandoned Kristania —too busy cleaning her shoes to notice— and went after her while the others were quick enough to notice something was happening.

They followed her along the corridor and turned on several corners until they saw her heading to one of the emergency exits.

‘Just like the last time’ Marianne thought, wondering where she would lead them now. For some reason she felt an unexplainable lump in her chest, but tried to ignore it to focus on Addalynn. When she saw her going through the door, she doubled up her speed and touched the door at the same time as Demian. They just looked at each other, but it was enough to share the bad feeling that something was wrong.

They pushed the door in synchrony and saw Addalynn on the other side, standing in front of an intense source of light and turmoil at the bottom that forced them to squint or covered their eyes. They caught up with her and got to see a shadow beside the light source, which quickly got away from the source of energy and left before they could even see it in detail.

They tried to focus on the light source to figure out what was happening and then they saw it. The knot in Marianne’s chest tightened again.

“No, no, no…”

Right in the middle of the disturbance was Samael, suspended several feet above ground, glued to the wall like a magnet, only that instead of the wall, there was some kind of vortex behind him where all the light and energy came from, swallowing everything around… including him.

“…Samael!” Marianne yelled, but he couldn’t hear. He was motionless and unconscious, and even worse, a large hole stood out right in the middle of his chest as if something had gone right through him, staining his shirt with blood.

…And the vortex was still absorbing him, like claiming a replacement tribute for the one recently taken away from his bowels. Marianne intended to run to him, but Demian stopped her, holding her arm before she would go any forward.

“You don’t know what might happen if you get closer!” Demian raised his voice to be heard amid all the noise and the force field generated around the vortex, and Marianne gave him a fierce look.

“You’re still alive! Now let go of me!” she replied, pulling her arm until she managed to free herself and ran towards the vortex, avoiding wisps of energy coming off of it with sword blows, though it seemed a futile effort.

Demian followed her closely, trying to cover her back. She thought hearing the others calling for her, but paid no attention; all she could think of was to arrive in time before Samael was completely swallowed by the vortex.

He was only one foot away, she could see him; half his body already inside the hole and even the crimson stain in his chest was slowly absorbed, as if sinking into a water whirlpool. She needed to stop it; she had to do it before he was completely gulped down. She used all her might to cross the remaining distance, saving one last push to clutch the sword and thrust it in the vortex, but when she reached her goal, the hole had already absorbed Samael and closed, cutting short all the light and energy unleashed by it, leaving only the quiet alley dimly lit by a few lamps, and the blade stuck in the concrete wall.

The silence surrounding them was only broken by the sound of their breathing and the sparse wind blowing. The only reaction that followed the commotion was Angie dropping to her knees with a pale face. Marianne finally pulled her sword from the wall, and after absorbing it with a swift motion, she turned around and looked at them with a dumbfounded expression; despair taking over her. A few seconds passed, and she ended up posing her gaze on Addalynn.

“…Bring him back,” she said with a choked voice, and given their confusion, she firmly stepped forward and raised her voice. “…Bring him back!”

“What makes you think I can do that?” Addalynn asked.

She wanted to say that she had led them to the vortex that had thrown Demian out and now to the one that had taken Samael. She wanted to say that, but the only thing that came out of her was what she thought was the most valid reason of all.

“Because you’re an angel, do what you have to do to get him back!”

“…An angel?” Vicky repeated in disbelief.

“Your guardian! Why do you think she’s always following you around?!”

“…What are you doing?” Demian interjected and she turned to him, looking increasingly agitated and out of control.

“She deserved to know! Enough with the lies and secrets! I know you didn’t like him, so you don’t care, but I won’t stay here without doing anything! I won’t let him go away just like that! He’s my angel and I want him back!” she demanded, unable to contain the desperation that shook her body. She gasped for a few seconds, trying to catch her breath, and noticing their stunned faces at her reaction she took a hand to her face and was surprised to feel her cheek wet. The first tears she remembered in her life… and had to shed them right there in front of everyone.

She raised her gaze, feeling exposed, and her eyes met with Demian. His face shrunk in a somber expression that went beyond distraught.

She squeezed her hand, wet with tears, and stormed out of there, going through the same door while the rest remained silent and motionless, watching the wall where minutes before Samael had been absorbed by a hole, and below that, the floor covered with his blood.