The last reveille was promptly heard at eight o’clock as usual. The young campers started to wake up and get up, ready to pack their belongings and leave.

Although Angie stood up alongside her friends, she hadn’t been able to sleep the last couple of days. She just kept lying on her bunk with her eyes closed, hoping to trick her mind and induce it to sleep, but still couldn’t. There was no rest for her mind or herself.

More than her mind, she feared her own heart was starting to take over all of her functions. It was not only the physical effort that made her heart suffer anymore, but the mere thought of something emotionally harmful. Self-pity made her feel that way, as well as her insecurity of her contribution to the team, but nothing was more painful than the certainty that as close as she was to Samael, he was still unattainable.

Despite his friendly and kind nature, there was something about him that separated him from the rest. She didn’t know what kept him on a different level, but he was to some degree holographic, like a robot programmed to behave in a certain way without actually engaging his emotions in the process, with Marianne being perhaps the only exception.

He was overly protective of her, anyone could see it. And even though she admitted not having caught any kind of attitude between them pointing to a relationship beyond what they proclaimed, he seemed to depend a little too much on her in the most mundane situations, except during battle or training when he suddenly became a leader. It wasn’t her common sense anymore, it was her heart telling her there was something hidden.

“Did you pack everything?” Marianne asked while she struggled to close her suitcase. Angie watched her distracted and saw the others were all set and done, waiting for them outside to go have some breakfast.

“Go ahead, I’ll catch you later,” she answered in a monotone.

Marianne had no doubt that something was going on with her, but couldn’t say anything at the time, so she just nodded. Once her suitcase was closed, she took a jacket and left it on top of the luggage, leaving the cabin after the others.

When Angie was alone, she began to pack her bags, but she was still flooded with the same questions that were bothering her up until now.

It all stretched back to the day they all had found out about him living with Marianne. She couldn’t help but feel deceived at first. But then she thought it better. Despite knowing about her feelings before even telling her, Marianne never tried to keep her away from him.

She decided then that there was no point in staying in the background, so when she asked him to go to the lake, she wanted to take the opportunity to find out more about him.

“You know? My father is the lawyer of a business man with a residential complex and he’s got him out of trouble plenty of times. If you’re interested . . . I could help you get an apartment of your own,” she proposed, a little nervous. “That way you won’t have to worry about becoming a nuisance or a burden at some point.”

“A burden?”

“I-I don’t mean you’re one! It’s just a saying. At least . . . that’s how I guess you must feel in a way,” she quickly tried to fix it, thinking she had offended him. However, he didn’t seem to take it that way, and like always he maintained a gentle face.

“I had never thought about it,” he answered with a thoughtful gesture, which she took as a good sign.

“Well, I could ask my father as soon as we’re back in town, if it’s okay with you.”

“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind,” he ended with a friendly yet distant smile. It was the kind of smile he gave to everyone and also to no one in particular.

He looked back at the lake, lit by multicolored lights like thousands of fireflies trapped in the water, trying to fly to the surface and never touching it.

Angie knew she had lost his attention again. She wondered what was going through his head, what he really felt, if he felt anything at all. An idea crossed her mind. She recalled practicing her own power with him and her friends, even though she dreaded whenever her own yearnings betrayed her, which withheld her from trying. Maybe she would fail again, or even if she succeeded, he could take it the wrong way, given how it wasn’t a practice with his prior consent. Either way it was risky.

She gave him another look. He was still watchful of the lake, lost in the lights. She took a quick glance around. Everyone seemed distracted, if not by the lake, by their own chatting. More to her right she saw Mitchell and Belgina. While she seemed enthralled by the lake too, Mitchell took the opportunity to raise his arms with a yawn and slowly lowered them toward her. He caught a glimpse of Angie’s condemning glare, so he dropped his arms to his sides, letting out a jaded puff.

After confirming that no one else was aware of them, she took a breath for courage. Samael seemed distracted enough, so she held her breath and took him slightly by the wrist. He shuddered a little, but as if turning on a switch, he suddenly turned mechanically to her.

“It’s not that I can’t find a place to stay. I need to be close to Marianne. I can’t leave her.”

Angie’s face was becoming purple, until she reminded herself to exhale and then gasped for some more air.

“Is it because you’re bounded by a promise or something?”

He blinked again, trying to recover his train of thought.

“Not bounded,” he replied after a moment. “But it’s my duty to protect her.”

“Do you . . . have feelings for her?” she asked with a trembling voice. She felt the vibration of her own heart in her ears, pumping harder, every beat throbbing.

He looked blakly at her, disoriented, apparently unable to grasp the meaning of her words. Angie clasped her fingers around his wrist as time passed without an answer, until he took his hand to his head with a pained expression and she immediately let go.

“A-Are you okay?”

“Yes. I don’t know what happened. Did you say something?”

His voice sounded normal and his expression was the same as ever, but when he lowered his hand, Angie could glimpse a trickle of blood running down his nose.

She pointed at him, choking a gasp, and he wiped the blood with the back of his hand, staring curiously at it.

“That’s odd.”

She couldn’t say anything after that, just turned around with her heart thumping in her ears and ran away. If she had been the cause of it, she would never forgive herself. The least she wanted was to hurt him.

That same night she was attacked by insomnia. As much as she closed her eyes and changed her position constantly, all she saw was Samael, as pale and glowing as he was, with that red trickle contrasting against his skin. The more she thought about it, the more she felt violent pangs in her heart. She even considered getting out of there to ease her anxiety when she suddenly heard a noise in the bottom bunk.

She opened her eyes and saw Marianne putting on her boots, opening a drawer and carefully taking out some dark glasses. When she looked up, Angie closed her eyes and remained quiet until she heard her out of the cabin. She waited a few minutes and then stood up.

“That was the saddest and most depressing breakfast ever,” Lilith said while putting their suitcases in the trunk of the bus. “I don’t wanna go! Can’t we stay here forever?”

“You can try and sneak into some empty cabin. You could live from the kitchen reserves until they run out and you’ll have to learn to hunt and live in the woods like a wildling. We won’t say anything, because who are we to stand in the way of your happiness?” Marianne said sarcastically.

“You may be joking, but I might end up doing it. Don’t try me.”

She just let out a snorted laugh as she left her luggage in the trunk, holding the jacket.

“You still have Demian’s jacket? I thought you had already given it back to him.”

“I haven’t had the chance. I was thinking of doing it before boarding the bus.”

“That was sweet, don’t you think? He’s a gentleman, he doesn’t need the white horse,” Lilith commented, taking the jacket and sniffing it as if it were a bouquet of roses. “It’s a real shame that SOMEONE doesn’t appreciate what’s standing in front of her.”

Saying this, she glanced at Lucianne reproachfully.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Let’s see, why would it be? You have a handsome prince at your disposal and instead you decide to go for the barbarian cave man. A completely logical decision.”

“Don’t say that! Besides, I’m tired of repeating again and again that my relationship with Demian is not as you think. We’re just friends. Friends!”

“Just like with Mitchell’s cousin?” Marianne said with that kind of look that showed her dissent. Lucianne shook her head and decided to walk around the bus.

“Let me know when you stop being so pesky.”

“And now we’re pesky!” Lilith protested with indignation. Meanwhile, Marianne snatched the jacket from her hands and walked toward the boys’ bus.

“Aren’t you going to miss this?” Mitchell said, dragging a long breath after leaving his suitcase in the trunk. “I feel like, after being here, I’ve been purified to almost a saint level.”

“Not even you believe that,” Demian said with his back against the bus, eager to start boarding.

Samael stood to Mitchell’s side, looking around as if to memorize the sight before leaving.

“Ohhh, what is it, Demian? Are you upset because the bad kid from camp stole the candy you were keeping in your pocket?” Mitchell said mockingly. “But don’t worry, there’s a tasty hazelnut mint sweet on the display, you just have to make up your mind and take it, I know how much you crave for it.”

“I’m starting to think that pure oxygen is messing with your brain. Luckily, we’re already going home,” Demian growled at his friend’s amused smile.

“And speaking of hazelnut mint . . . ”

Marianne was coming towards them, with the jacket on her arm. Demian knew immediately why she was there once he recognized the garment.

“Here. I hadn’t the chance to give it back before. Uhm . . . Thanks,” she said plainly, as if swallowing the words instead of letting them out.

Demian took the jacket without saying a word and immediately noticed Mitchell’s smile, as if about to say something Mitchell-wise, which started to get on his nerves.

“I wasn’t expecting to have it back, it’s shrunk, anyway, I can’t use it anymore. You could have thrown it out, it’s just a jacket, I have plenty.”

Mitchell let out a whistle, knowing what that would entail. Marianne’s jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed as a sure sign that Rome was about to burn.

“Oh, okay! I see!” Marianne spat, snatching the jacket out of his hands. “I’ll take care of it then!”

She turned around and strode away and snorting at every step.

“Well done, champ, way to go. Disdain the hazelnut mint, I’m sure you’re gonna have a less craving for it,” Mitchell whispered in his ear, patting his back. Demian jerked away, throwing him a murderous glare.

“Stop talking nonsense, will you?”

“Oh, but is it nonsense? Is it?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

Demian rolled his eyes with a grunt, and then walked away too.

“Sometimes I wonder why I have to put up with you.”

“You can’t handle the truth!” Mitchell replied, watching him walk right in the same direction as Marianne.

Samael tried to follow them, but Mitchell stopped him, put an arm over his shoulder and clicked his tongue.

“Calm down, pretty boy, she doesn’t need you to rescue her all the time. I’ve been thinking that perhaps you need to get out more, socialize with other people, so I thought that once this whole gift madness ends, I will give you a special tour through my favorite places, sponsored by me. I’ll make a new and more experienced man out of you, I guarantee.”

Samael said nothing, just looked at him, not understanding a single word he was saying. He never did.

“May I know what are you planning to do with it?” Demian asked, following Marianne through the path leading to the lake.

“What do you care? It’s just a jacket, you said!”

“Don’t you think you’re overreacting over nothing?”

Marianne turned to him, setting her feet firmly on the ground, and he also stopped, keeping his distance.

“If you didn’t want it back, your opinion doesn’t count!” she yelled, resuming her way, and so did he.

Once they got near the lake, she stopped before reaching the dock and clasped the jacket with one hand, getting a running start to throw it away, but right when she was stretching her arm forward, Demian held the jacket’s sleeve.

“Have you gone insane?”

“Let go!” she spat, pulling the opposite sleeve to snatch it from him.

“I won’t! It’s mine after all!”

“You said I could throw it away if I wanted, so you don’t get to decide on it.”

“You’re so exasperating! Did you know that?”

“Me? I was just trying to be grateful, but now I know that I don’t even have to bother next time!”

Demian let out a frustrated growl and finally snatched the jacket out of her hands.

“So much trouble over nothing!” he snorted while taking off the coat he was wearing to put on the one in contention. “There! I’m wearing it now! Happy? Thanks for giving it back!”

Marianne gnashed her teeth with every intention to keep arguing, but when she saw the jacket’s sleeves practically on his forearms, she suppressed a laugh.

“It looks good,” she mumbled with her hand covering her mouth, a vibration coming from her voice and threatening to burst into a fit of laughter.

“No, it doesn’t,” he said, lifting an eyebrow to state the obvious.

She finally let out a laugh and clutched her stomach.

“You look ridiculous!”

Demian’s expression seemed to relax too, and half a smile curved his lips.

“I appreciate your honesty.”

“I guess I’ll have to agree on that,” a third voice interrupted, attracting their eyes and removing the smiles from their faces.

A few yards away, on the lakeshore, Franktick watched them with a caustic expression, sitting on a rock like he had been there the whole time.

“About looking ridiculous, I mean,” he added, outlining a cynical smile.

Demian’s face tensed and his hands began to form into fists.

Meanwhile, the boy jumped up, shaking his pants.

“Have you finished already or is there more to witness? Because honestly, I was expecting to spend some time alone before going back to the bus, but your little mating ritual keeps me from doing so.”

Demian stepped forward with shadowed eyes, but Marianne went ahead of him.

“Who do you think you are to talk to us like that! Perhaps you’ve managed to convince Lucianne that you don’t have bad intentions, but not me! I don’t know what you’re up to, but I’m sure it’s nothing good!”

“Wow, the claws are out!” the boy let out, taking his hand to his chest in a hurt gesture. “And here I thought that our little gathering yesterday had filled your hearts with rainbows and stars.”

“It’s impossible to speak seriously with you,” she finished, choosing to leave. Demian, on the other hand, stood in the same spot, staring at him, struggling to stay in control.

“Aren’t you going after her?” Franktick asked, keeping that cheeky sneer in his face, but he stayed silent. “So . . . two cousins, huh? Who would’ve thought that about you, looking so uptight? Maybe I misjudged you at first and you’re not as boring as you seem.”

Demian clenched his hands and when he realized, they were already gripping the boy’s shirt in a threatening manner, though he remained undaunted, his cinnamon eyes staring at him. Demian seemed to perceive a strange red glow in them, like a spark lit inside him.

 “Demian!” Lucianne’s voice cut right away the tension between the two boys as if a spell had been broken. She was watching them from the slope, breathing heavily after having run for a long stretch. “What are you doing?” she asked, noticing he was holding Franktick from his shirt, so Demian released him. Then picked up his jacket and walked away in silence.

“Be careful,” he said while walking past her. She followed him with restless eyes, looking back to Franktick afterwards.

“I guess he waited for the camp to be over so he could retaliate. He’s no fool,” he said, shaking his shirt, downplaying it.

“Did you say something to provoke him?”

He looked at her and just let a crooked smile curl his lips.

“I guess that even if I say no, you’d still think I did, so why should I even bother to deny it?”

“You know what? I’ve really tried, but if you don’t make an effort, I can’t do anything else.” Her voice was tired, or perhaps disappointed. “I don’t think it’s because you’re not interested. As you said it yourself, it’s because you’re used to it.”

“You’re giving up on me so soon? I thought I was a good project for your samaritan soul,” he said, taking it as a joke.

Lucianne just sighed and turned away, looking back over her shoulder.

“Goodbye, Frank. Even for a short time, it was nice to meet you.”

Franktick said nothing, just watched her walk away through the road he had taken so many times before. He seemed composed, but his eyes had darkened. He glanced back at the lake to the exact spot he had immersed and buried the vessel, away from the red-eyed demon, and now maybe out of his own reach too.

They were already boarding by the time Demian returned to the buses, and Mitchell couldn’t resist letting out a guffaw after seeing the jacket he was wearing, which barely covered his forearms.

“Shut up if you want to keep living,” Demian warned him, getting on the bus.

Inside, the seats were being taken, and Samael was sitting at the same place they were the first time on the bus, next to the window. He looked up, sensing his presence, and for a second their eyes met. Demian averted his gaze and sat down a few rows behind. Samael didn’t seem to take it personal, just looked out the window again, waiting for their departure.

“Was there a problem?” Marianne asked when her cousin returned. Minutes earlier she had warned her about Demian staying behind with Franktick.

“Fortunately not. But maybe if I had arrived a few seconds later . . . ”

“At least nothing happened.”

Lucianne nodded. She knew Demian very well, so she was certain that he wasn’t used to take the initiative upon provocation, however, it seemed that he had done it this time.

“My day couldn’t get any worse! Are you seriously going to leave me here all by myself?” Lilith burst out while dejectedly boarding the bus.

“Fate decided, you can’t complain,” Marianne said while Lilith whined and whimpered in an attempt to make someone cede her seat.

“You’re mean to me!” the blonde pouted while sitting alone in the front row.

“Now you know how I felt,” Marianne replied, taking a seat in the second row, but before Lucianne could sit next to her, suddenly Kristania got out of nowhere and settled next to her before their confused eyes.

“I think I’m gonna keep you company all the way back. It’s like coming in full circle. The best way to end this enlightening journey that has changed my life,” Kristania said with a smile that gave them chills.

Marianne threw her a sullen look, trying to scare her off with her eyes. If she didn’t like the old Kristania, she liked the new one even less, which ineluctably made her feel a little guilty, aware that she was just trying to be friendly and there was no evil scheme behind her actions. After all, she now lacked the gift for it.

While Luna gave her farewell speech, Lucianne glanced out the window and saw Franktick passing by, barely getting back from the lake.

She was about to call him, but then changed her mind and decided to leave it that way, a decision she ended up regretting once the buses arrived at the end of their route a few minutes apart. The boys were already off the bus and Franktick was nowhere to be seen.

 “Perry will be here soon, do you want a ride?” Lucianne offered once Marianne was the only one left along her. “Or will your father come to pick you two up?”

Marianne glanced towards the boys’ bus and located Samael, who already had the explorer pack on his back. Perhaps it was best not to draw any attention when they arrived home, since Loui could still recognize him.

“No problem, my house is really close, so we better walk.”

Only a few minutes apart, Officer Perry came for Lucianne. Marianne thought she had nothing else to do there, since almost everyone was already gone, and walked straight to the boys’ bus. Demian was there, waiting for the place to be cleared to retrieve his luggage, and to her surprise he was still wearing the shrunk jacket. Samael was waiting for her on the other end.

She silently beckoned him to leave, a sign he seemed to understand.

“You’re walking home? We can take you,” Kristania suddenly said, appearing behind her, which creeped her out.

“Did Belgina already leave?” Mitchell asked, approaching with his suitcase on his back.

“A while ago.”

“But we can take them, right? I’m sure you don’t mind going in the front seat so I could go with my new friend,” Kristania proposed, taking Marianne’s arm as she twitched like a cat, throwing a glare to Mitchell as a warning to take her sister away from her.

“I have a better idea!” he said, smiling as if he had come up with something she wouldn’t necessarily approve. “Let Demian take them to their house.”

Demian reacted after hearing his name, right when he had already located his luggage.

“What do you mean? I’m walking home.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Mitchell lifted his eyebrows in a shifty smile.

Demian analyzed his expression for a moment until seeing he had his phone in hand.

“You didn’t!”

Mitchell just wiggled his eyebrows and almost immediately the sound of a car horn was heard. A white car had parked at the edge of the park and Demian’s father was cheerfully greeting them from inside, sticking his head out of the window.

“Mitchell, I swear if you don’t run away at this very moment, I’ll break your hands so you can no longer use that phone again in a long time.”

“Luckily it has voice recognition,” he refuted, without taking him seriously.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were already here? You know I would have sent for you. Look! I even decided to drive myself today.”

Demian sighed, knowing he had no way to excuse himself. He just took his luggage and preferred to head for the car to end it at once, though his father diverted his attention towards Marianne.

“Hello, there! Is your dad coming for you?”

“Uhm . . . no, but we were already leaving . . . my cousin and I,” she answered, pointing at Samael, who stood aside, waiting for instructions.

“Walking with those heavy bags? No way am I going to allow it. Son, put their luggage in the trunk.”

Demian looked incredulously from his father to them and then back. Aware that protesting would be pointless —once his father had an idea stuck in his head, no human power could take it out— he dropped his suitcase reluctantly and took theirs, while Mitchell grinned satisfied on the side.

Having no way to refuse the man’s insistence, Marianne had no choice but to accept his offer. It was risky, but she hoped to come up with something on the way home. Although the road was essentially a short drive from downtown to her house, she felt uneasy throughout the way, imagining different scenarios they might face and possible solutions.

Meanwhile, Demian was in the passenger seat with a grouchy expression. In the rearview mirror he could glance at the back seat, where Marianne was looking with a blank stare out the window while Samael looked the opposite side the same way. They seemed a reflection of the other.

“We’re here. This is where you live, right?” Mr. Donovan announced, just parking outside Marianne’s house. She hurried down before he would also come out to greet her father or, in the worst case, even stay to chat.

“I really appreciate you brought us here. It wasn’t necessary. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have so much unpacking to do,” she expressed in a rush to enter, however the man took his time to get out the car and walk her to the door.

“No problem, I’ll just say hello to your dad, let him know we brought you safe and sound, and then we leave,” Mr. Donovan decided, standing at the door and starting to knock. Marianne watched him anxiously, glancing at Demian.

He only huffed with a weary expression, already used to his father’s anctics. Samael chose to stay away from the door in case someone opened it. However, a couple of minutes passed and no one came out.

“I guess they’re not home,” Marianne said, a little relieved.

“We’ll wait, then,” the man suggested more than willing to sit on the porch and wait, but Demian cleared his throat to draw his attention.

“I think they’ll have better things to do than sit around and wait for their family.”

“But they could take long,” his father replied and Marianne quickly pulled something out of her pocket.

“No problem! I have a key.”

Quick as a magician, she put the key in the latch and the door opened in a flash.

“Oh, well. If there’s no inconvenience then, we’ll go now,” the man finished with a slight nod, to which she responded with a similar though awkward motion of her own.

 “Aren’t you going to say goodbye?” he said to Demian after getting in the car.

Demian responded with a snort and turned to face them, forcing a smile.

“I can’t wait to repeat this.”

A hint of a grimace appeared on Marianne’s face as the car drove away. What was his problem now? She wouldn’t let him ruin her day.

She had almost finished emptying her bag and keeping her belongings away when she heard the sound of the front door and the resounding steps that couldn’t belong to any other than her brother.

She seriously considered remaining quiet and staying in her room to avoid any questions about the camp, but then thought it was maybe too drastic to starve just by a whim. So she got up and then headed for the stairs.

“Yes, I’m home. But I warn you I’m not in the mood to talk about the camp, or the trip or anything . . . ”

She stopped when she saw her father’s serious face and Loui’s red eyes. The first thing that crossed her mind was that something had happened to her mother and her stomach stirred at the thought. She didn’t even dare to ask, her throat was closed.

“Mom . . . mom is . . . ” Loui began to say with a hoarse and trembling voice, but it broke and he ran away, leaving his father standing in the middle of the hall.

He remained straight and unfazed, trying to convey serenity. Either that, or he just didn’t really care that much, Marianne thought.

“She fell into a deep coma,” he finally announced in a solemn voice. “Doctors have no idea how long she’ll be like that. It could be days, weeks or even months. It all depends on her progress. The point is . . . at least she’s stable.”

Marianne didn’t answer, just turned around and retraced her steps, but instead of going to her room, she went up the attic, bursting inside without a warning.

“Stop whatever you’re doing. Take me to the hospital right now,” she asked with a surprisingly calm voice.

Samael put down the book he was reading and looked at her with inquiring eyes, but still didn’t talk, just stood up and reached out to take her hand. The place they were standing on immediately started to change as if they were in front of a slide in the middle of a transition. All that was visible blurred, changing from living colors to dull sepia tones and finally a charcoal version that faded away until there was nothing left. Then the process repeated in reverse, creating a new space before them, everything within seconds. They were now in a cold hospital room with the aseptic smell Marianne hated so much. Not even two seconds passed before she ran the distance that separated her from the only bed in the room. Luckily there was no one else around, so they weren’t caught in the moment.

Her mother was lying in bed, connected to several machines that she didn’t quite know what they were for. She tried not to touch anything nor trip on the wires and tubes. The only ones she could identify were the cardiac monitor and the ventilator, and seeing her connected to them didn’t appease her. Despite that, she appeared to be just in a peaceful slumber. Like Sleeping Beauty, except that waking her would take more than a kiss.

Samael stood beside her, who remained motionless in front of the bed, just watching her mother. He knew it wasn’t the time to say anything, so he just waited until she was the one who spoke.

“What now? How much time does she have left?” she finally asked, her voice restrained.

Samael was silent for several seconds, thinking how to answer that.

“I can’t be sure,” he admitted. “As I said, the effect of lacking the gift depends on its main function. Your mother had the Health gift, without it she’s just going to get worse over time. Her body has weakened. I told you that would happen. For now . . . the machines from your world will take care of her.”

“But for how long?” Marianne insisted, her eyes fixed on her mother. “How long until not even machines can keep her alive?”

Samael didn’t know what to say anymore. He looked down, disappointed for not being able to help her.

“The others must not know about this,” she said in a firm voice and he looked up again, surprised at her request.

Her expression was resolute and her jaw remained tight. Finally, she looked back at him, dead set.

“If they find out, they will only focus on my needs and perhaps even be overindulgent. I don’t want that, I won’t be able to handle it. We need to concentrate on defeating that demon and retrieving the gifts. So . . . don’t say a word about this.”

Samael stared at her, dumbfounded. That wasn’t the reaction he had expected from her. He knew she could be tough at times, but this was something else, something different she had been developing from the moment she became an Angel Warrior: the sense of responsibility.

“I don’t know if it’s the right time to tell you this, but I’m proud of you.”

Marianne gave him a surprised look. She felt grateful and was compelled to respond, but she just sighed and turned on her heels.

“You’re right. It’s not the right time. Let’s go back home.”

He followed her example, and once they were several steps away from the bed, held hands and disappeared.

Angie’s father had been serious and distant all the way back home, which seemed strange, but she didn’t expect that once she crossed the door he would stand in her way, taking a paper from his pocket and showing it to her.

“Could you explain this?” he asked with a severe expression, and Angie looked closer. It was her entry to the Athletic club.

She was speechless. She had postponed her confession for a long time and that wasn’t precisely the ideal moment for her. Her father gasped and made several paused breaths. “When were you going to tell me?”

“I don’t know,” she finally replied, unable to look him in the eyes.

Her father crumpled the paper in his hands.

“Well, when you go back to school, you’ll go straight to that club and quit,” he ordered. “You know you can’t expose yourself that way. It’s dangerous for you.”

“But, dad! The doctor said I can run and I’m very good at it! There’s a good chance I can go to the interstate games!”

“I said no!” he raised his voice so loud that she got silent. “I can’t let you do that! You know we have the same condition! Do you also want to end up using a pacemaker for life like me?”

The more he shouted, the more his face got even redder. He took his hand to the chest while panting.

“So either you drop the club, or you’ll change schools!”

Angie looked at him, feeling helpless. Her eyes began to burn and her lips trembled. It was the first time her father had yelled at her like that and she couldn’t stand it.

As much as she tried to hold back, her eyes eventually filled with tears and all she could do was run to her bedroom and shut the door, trying to stop crying. She proceeded to make several breaths as she had been taught to retrieve her heart rate and once she regained control, dried her tears with the back of her hand and lay in bed, pressing her face against a pillow hard enough to stop breathing.

She was like that for a while. She didn’t even look what time it was until she heard her cell phone beeping. She raised her face again and took out her mobile to check it out. It was a message from Marianne:

‘Tomorrow noon at the coffeehouse. Don’t miss it.

Important strategies to discuss.”

She whimpered a little and closed the device, laying on her back and staring at the ceiling. There was only one thing she wanted to know at the time and it certainly wasn’t what Marianne had in mind for discussion. She closed her eyes and saw everything like it was all happening in front of her again.

Minutes after Marianne had left the cabin, Angie got up too and carefully went down her bunk. She thought there wouldn’t be enough time to change clothes at the risk of losing sight of her, so she just took a coat and left the place.

The weather had considerably dropped, so she almost instantly began to regret her sudden detective-like urge while still wearing pajamas. She paused, trying to see beyond her nose, and thanks to the moonlight she could see Marianne several yards ahead, entering deep into the woods, on the road leading to the lake.

It was surprising at first, especially after the recent events that bound her to the lake, but she decided to not make any guesses and just follow her. She walked a few steps, trying not to trip when she noticed a second figure coming out from another cabin. She stopped again and tried to perceive who it was, which wasn’t very difficult once she noticed the unnatural glow of his skin under the moonlight, like some kind of halo around him.

It was Samael. He seemed to know exactly where to go since he just set a foot outside the cabin and was already going in the same direction as Marianne.

Angie remained static for a few seconds, with different ideas floating in her mind until she tried to shake them away. Then she decided to continue on the road, despite how insecure she felt right then. She was already getting to the edge of the woods when she heard a noise approaching the opposite side, right from the path leading to the lake.

She quickly hid behind some bushes and saw Demian passing by, looking serious and tense. He went past her without noticing her presence, as if not even paying attention to his surroundings.

Once he was away, she stuck out her face with curiosity, looking in his direction and then at the other side, wondering what could have happened, until once again she heard the footsteps. She barely managed to hide when a couple of familiar voices spoke as they walked down the road.

“Seriously, you don’t have to come running to my aid every time you think I may be heading to trouble. I can also take care of myself.”

“Sorry, I just can’t help it. I promise to give you more space next time . . . or at least try.”

Marianne and Samael were approaching right at the spot where she was hiding and she feared they might perceive her presence. She considered walking away before they came any closer, but something inside her wanted to keep listening.

“Well . . . I must admit I’d never thanked you enough for the lake though,” Marianne added, trying to soften her tone. “If it hadn’t been for you . . . even since that time when I was a child . . . ”

“I’ve told you, you don’t have to thank me. It’s my duty to protect you after all,” he interrupted with a smile.

Marianne grimaced and stopped before reaching the place where Angie was hidden, and she held her breath.

“I don’t understand how can you simply find out where I am and whether I’m in danger or not.”

“Me neither. I just know that since the moment I took human form I can sense your energy wherever you are,” he explained, like it was a simple thing. “So I find it easier to ensure your safety that way.”

“If you say so,” Marianne replied, thinking it wasn’t as irrelevant as he made it seem. “All I want you to understand is that you don’t have to keep an eye on me all the time, not only because you take me off my own responsibility, but also . . . because the others might suspect something.”

He looked at her for a few seconds without answering, and finally smiled.

“I’ll do my best to control my impulses next time.”

A flock of birds flew out from the top of a tree near them, attracting their attention and providing Angie an opportunity to flee and return to the cabin before Marianne.

She practically held her breath all the way, leaving it out in a single exhalation once she climbed her bunk. Her chest began to ache, but she couldn’t afford to get down again for one of her pills, so she just closed her eyes and tried to focus on her breathing to slowly control her pace.

During those minutes that seemed endless, she heard Marianne getting back to her bed, and even falling asleep almost immediately, while she had completely lost the urge to do it.

In her mind, the only thing repeating over and over again were the words she’d heard from both of them. But above all, a phrase echoed inside her head, one that perhaps encompassed all the answers to the riddle that Samael was for them: ‘Since the moment I took human form . . . ’