Chapter 25


The headache was unbearable. Like having a tiny worker drilling his brain. Opening his eyes, he felt the light streak on his retinas, forcing him to close them again, and churning in an attempt to escape the brightness imprinted in his eyelids, but this only increased the dreadful pounding on his head. He rubbed his eyes, hoping this would help to clear him out; red spots stopped dancing in his view, but now a flame throwing dragon had awakaned in his stomach burning his gut, and along with the dryness in his throat made him crave a sip of water, he wouldn’t even mind to open his eyes and discover himself on the sand over the beach again, that way he would simply crawl into the sea.

Once he felt safe to open his eyes again, Demian did it more carefully this time avoiding the light, and his vision cleared gradually. He saw the flat roof with nothing but the lamp —lights off by then—, and as he scanned the wall, he wondered how he had managed to get to his room. His mind was blank.

The furniture was arranged in the same order he remembered, but something didn’t quite fit. From his side of the bed there was a chair with his jacket hanging on the back, but otherwise it all seemed neatly organized. The headache wouldn’t let him think clearly, so he stopped blocking the light with his hands and pressed his temples; there was a motionless bundle at the other end of the bed. Mitchell. He had given up his bed to him, but couldn’t remember when he’d gotten himself inside and fall asleep; he didn’t even remember taking his sleeping pills, if he had managed to find them among the clutter of bags Mitchell had…

His eyes snapped open immediately, realizing the detail that was eluding him at first. There were no bags around. All of Mitchell purchases, the disaster he had left behind, all of that was missing— or rather… never been there since that wasn’t his room.

Demian slowly turned his face to the bundle across the bed, a silhouette cut by the sunlight streaming through the window, and while it gradually took form before his eyes, the hammering had increased so much he could almost hear it echoing in his ears. The elongated body under the sheets, the brightness coming off the hair cascading on the pillow… Addalynn.

He pressed his hands to his head in a confused gesture, victim of the worst migraine he had suffered in his life. He tried to mentally recapitulate his actions after the angel’s disappearance, but everything was still blank to him, and the severe headache wasn’t helpful at all. Everything was spinning, and the dry throat did nothing but increased his general ailment.

What had happened?

Last night. The alley outside the hotel. Everyone was too shocked. Marianne walking away after revealing Addalynn’s condition. A twinge in the head. Fast forward. Then what?

Everyone had gone on their own, he believed.

The blood stain on the floor, someone had to clean it…

Vicky was questioning Addalynn, or so he thought; she was watching her with the same impending fear he had experienced firsthand during his early days as a demon —Though, of course, she was an angel, it wasn’t the same. It would never be. But he couldn’t recall if she had said anything. It was all too fuzzy.

Had he returned to the party? He thought he did but didn’t enter. He walked aimlessly. It was dark. But he ran into someone. Mitchell? No. Frank. Mitchell joined them later. They were at a table. Stale and nightlife atmosphere. Drinks in front of them. What did they talk about? How did he end up in Addalynn’s room? Memories eluded him with every head pounding, like opening a ghostly crack in his skull. Perhaps water would help clear his mind, to remember…

Hands still buried into his thick black hair, he took another glance at Addalynn, who remained asleep, and carefully got out of bed, holding from the wall after feeling a little dizzy, and once he was steady again, he got into the bathroom.

Sitting in the middle of the bed with her legs drawn up, Marianne kept her eyes closed, like in full meditation mode, though she was actually trying to summon Samael, hoping he would come back to her… but it seemed completely useless. She had been trying all night, unable to sleep in her altered state of mind, but had just failed miserably again and again. And now, another failure. She opened her eyes with frustration and took the remaining pillow on the bed, angrily hurling it across the room; it flung into the wall and fell down beside the other pile of pillows resting on the floor, leaving a trail of tiny white feathers hovering around seconds before going down, swaying like little toy soldiers descending in parachutes.

It was useless. Nothing worked. She remembered the first time he had disappeared for several hours, and she thought him lost forever. She had closed her eyes then, and after concentrating for a long time, she had managed to get a glimpse of the other side of the veil like a movie playing in front of her. He was there, bent over and apparently wounded. She brought him back then. That was the first manifestation of the transportation power he’d been slowly mastering with a little of her help, having her as his lighthouse. But now… she couldn’t reach him, and the worst part… she didn’t even know if he was alive.

No! He would be back. He had to. He couldn’t leave them without guidance and advice. Who else were they supposed to rely on? Addalynn? She couldn’t even give a single straight answer.

She stood up again, restless, and anxious, but thinking of Addalynn made her stop by the pile of pillows languishing over the floor, feeling a bitter taste rising in her throat.

She had made a mistake. She was aware of it. With her angel gone, wounded and unconscious inside a vortex appeared out of nowhere, she had revealed Addalynn’s true nature to Vicky in retaliation for her silence. It was wrong. It wasn’t up to her. What could she do now? She could see the morning glow streaming through the curtains and stared at the beam projected on the floor.

There was only one thing to do: apologize. The only way to recover Samael was by making peace with her and working together. Maybe it was true, Addalynn didn’t know the origin of the vortex, where it came from, where it led to, what triggered it; however, she was somehow linked to it. Perhaps unconsciously, but she could detect its formation, or at least was warned of it. Her very angel power maybe, or a direct line of communication with the Superior realm. It didn’t matter; the thing was that she was the key to bring him back.

After several minutes standing there, watching the beam of light spreading on the floor, she picked up the pillows and placed them back on the bed. It was still early in the morning, but not too late to make amends.

She lifted her face and walked to the door with resolve. She still wore the same clothes from last night, but it didn’t matter, she would change later. The first thing to do was to deal with Addalynn as soon as possible.

She peeked out the door. The hall was empty and very quiet; the rest of the girls who shared the floor were probably still asleep. Addalynn’s room was right at the end of the corridor, next to the emergency stairs, so she would have to walk a few feet and knock on the door discreetly so as not to wake anyone else… especially the room in front of her, which was Kristania’s. Fortunately, the carpeted floor muffled the sound of her footsteps, so she silently arrived at the door as she pretended… but the difficult thing was to gather the courage to knock, so she stood there for several seconds, with her hand in the air and constantly watching over her shoulder, as if she could almost see Kristania peering into the peephole. It was ridiculous to think so. It would be too much even for Kristania’s standards.

She focused on the door again and finally decided to knock. Just three soft tappings. She hoped Addalynn was a light sleeper, so she wouldn’t have to repeat them.

Addalynn instantly opened her eyes as if she were a robot who just had her power turned on. She got up, without stretching out nor even brushing her hair, it fell on her back as perfect as ever, as if it never tangled. She glanced at the bed and then to the bathroom. She then walked to the door and opened without bothering to look who it was before.

“Uh… I—” Marianne stammered for a few seconds looking for words, her hand still in the air as if ready to knock again before she opened. “I just wanted to… apologize.”

Addalynn watched her from the doorway with a slightly tilted head, so her hair fell like a cascade over her shoulder, and Marianne noticed she was wearing the same clothes. Her icy expression sculpted in marble didn’t hint her thoughts, which always unsettled her.

“…I shouldn’t have told Vicky,” she continued after the other didn’t answer. “I… I had no right. I just… wanted to tell you that.”

Another moment of silence. Marianne began to wonder if she could be sleepwalking… It wouldn’t be the first time she ran into a case like that. But no, Addalynn finally reacted with a shrug.

“What’s done is done. Is that all?” she said, turning to the closet and looking for clothes. Marianne frowned, not expecting such an apathetic reaction after what she said. Right at that moment, the bathroom door opened.

Puzzled, she stretched her neck to look inside and saw someone getting out and quickly reaching out for the jacket hanging on the chair near the bed before getting back to the bathroom. Demian.

Marianne froze, her face as white as paper. Bewildered, she stepped back while Addalynn got back to the door, carrying her wardrobe of choice.

“Anything else?” she asked, and Marianne looked at her with wide eyes, unable to pronounce a word for a while.

“That’s… That’s all,” she managed to say with a choked voice. “I didn’t mean… Sorry.” She immediately averted her gaze and quickly returned over her steps down the hall, although she couldn’t feel her legs.

Addalynn watched her with a mixed expression between curious and intrigued, until Marianne got into her room, closing the door as quietly as she’d arrived. When she was about to close hers, Demian stopped it by placing his hand on the door and scooting past her to stand in front of it.

“I… must go,” he said with a rush. His hair was wet, and he looked embarrassed. He tried to say something else, but the words ultimately died as he opened his mouth. The only thing he wanted right then was to leave immediately. “…Bye.”

He walked out, glancing down the hall, but instead of going through, he decided to leave through the emergency stairs under Addalynn’s watchful eye.

As he was gone, she finally returned to her room and the only sound that stood hovering in the air was a squeak on the opposite door, where Kristania was glued to the peephole with her fingers nailed to the wood. Her face twisted in such an expression of anger that only the tension of her jaw prevented her from opening her mouth to let out the scream she wanted out of her throat.

When Demian opened the door, he saw the shopping bags invading not only the floor but also the furniture just as he remembered. The only thing was that the curtains were closed so the whole room was dark, and he could barely see the bulk lying on the bed. He crossed through the bags to avoid stepping on them and opened the curtain with a swift movement. The light lit the room and fully hit Mitchell’s face, who immediately began to squirm on the bed like a worm getting fried.

“My eyes! Close the curtain! I’m going blind!” Mitchell yelled, covering his face, and turning his back against the light. Demian ignored him, just went to the bed, and took off the sheets so he wouldn’t have any other choice but getting out of it.

“You better be up soon. I need to ask you some questions,” he suggested, going to the other side of the bed to let the sunlight hit straight at him. Mitchell stopped squirming once his sight became used to it, and finally sat on the bed with sleepy eyes and haggard face.

“Good god! What a horrible night! For a moment I thought my head would explode or my brain would pour out through my ears on the pillow,” Mitchell said, taking his fingers to his temples to massage them.

“Do you remember what happened yesterday?”

Mitchell closed one eye to avoid the light while the other kept looking up to ponder on it, only to end up distracted by his hair that had lost consistency and was falling in waves on his head again.

“My hair is a mess! I can’t be seen like this. I must fix it. Do me a favor and give me that can on the dresser,” Mitchell said, pointing to a spray can while trying to pull his own hair up to make it stay in that gravity defiant position. Demian took the can, but instead of giving it to him, he just held it in front of him as if holding it hostage while the other boy stretched his free arm, like a child trying to reach a cookie jar.

“Now focus and answer. Do you remember anything from yesterday?”

Mitchell closed his eyes with a frown of deep concentration, fingers on his temples again while his hair was spilling in tufts on his head.

“Yesterday… yesterday… Samuel vanished,” he said, trying to recall their evening. “…I wasn’t there, but Frank told me. I was so discouraged about Belgina and then Samuel that we agreed to meet in a place outside the hotel. It was some kind of restaurant-bar or something. Hey, you were there! I remember being surprised when I got there and saw you with Frank. I even thought either one of you had gone mad and taken the other hostage.”

“…I may recall some of it; it’s all blurred in my memory,” Demian said, remembering himself walking aimlessly outside the hotel and then running into Frank, and right after his usual sarcastic comment, he finally invited him to join him and Mitchell. What did he say? Something like ‘Let’s put our differences behind at least for tonight”.

“Luckily he was there, armed with his arsenal of fake ID’s or otherwise we wouldn’t have been allowed in,” Mitchell continued, forgetting his hair for a moment, and letting out a deep yawn that quickly compelled him to squeeze his temples in pain. “…But still, remember me never to take any drink from him. Sometimes I forget his alcohol resistance is far superior to mine. I’m good enough with a couple of beers, thank you very much.”

“What did we talk about?” Demian asked again, trying to keep him focus.

“Oh, many things, you know. Weather, sports, demons, women, deceptions,” Mitchell replied, moving his hand in circles as if they were all trivial matters. “However, you were pretty reluctant to share your sore heart with us. But still, as I said then, whatever Marianne said, it was out of a moment of desperation. It’s easier to mourn an angel than defending a demon, and in my honest opinion I think she’s proven to be very much in favor of the latter.” Demian frowned while his mind tried to reconstruct part of the conversation, but still couldn’t. He just saw their blurred faces and lips moving without words coming out of them. But moreover, he couldn’t understand where Addalynn fit in all of this.

“What about later? What happened after that?”

“Beats me. You suddenly said you felt dizzy and decided to leave,” Mitchell said with a shrug and stared at the can again. “…Will you now give me the spray? The more time my hair’s without its daily dose, the harder it is to keep it fixed. I don’t want to look like a stuffed sheep.”

Demian gave Mitchell the can, and while he molded his hair to his liking, the other one paced the room, absorbed in his thoughts.

He’d left the place, okay, but then what? He did everything he could to remember. The only thing that came to his memory was going back to the hotel, but for some reason he had stayed outside, looking at the stars. In his cloudy mind he seemed to recall fireworks… and then someone approaching: Addalynn.

The banging on the door pulled him out of his reverie, and while Mitchell had already moved to the dresser to look in the mirror and check if everything was in place, he approached the door and cautiously looked through the peephole to see who it was. He then opened to meet his sister, anxiously fiddling with her gloved hands.

“About Addalynn—” she began and Demian tensed, thinking someone had seen him. “…Did you already know? About what she really was?”

His shoulders relaxed again but felt no relief. Vicky looked at him with unease, waiting for an answer, so he sighed and stepped away from the door to let her in.

“Tell me. Did you know?”

“…Yes,” Demian said, leaning on the wall; the accumulated exhaustion from last night taking a toll on him.

“Are you talking about Addalynn, the secret angel? Didn’t everyone already know? There was even this special meeting where— Oh, of course, she wasn’t there!” Mitchell said with the expression of having slipped something he wasn’t supposed to, like Kristania used to do, only that it seemed more natural and believable in him. Demian, however, gave him a warning look and he just laughed sheepishly. “I think… I’ll go for a walk around before someone tries to bite my head off. I can’t allow it now that my hair is molded to perfection… Excuse me!”

After leaving the room, Vicky stepped back with crossed arms and a disgruntled expression.

“Why nobody told me? I had the right to know.”

“We thought it would be more appropriate if she told you herself.”

“Well, she didn’t even talk to me after it was all out,” Vicky said, feeling betrayed. “…How am I supposed to think of her now as my guardian angel when she’s not even able to say things clear to me? At least Samuel—”

The reminder of his disappearance kept her from saying anything else, and Demian didn’t dare to speak either. She had the right to feel upset about it, but he still thought it should have been Addalynn the one to tell her. Vicky looked down at the gloves she was wearing and rubbed her hands, as if suddenly feeling cold.

“…She gave me these gloves to keep my power under control. I guess I didn’t question anything she did at the time because I was just starting to discover what this thing was. I thought it was because she’d been an Angel Warrior far longer than me— but she’s helped you to control your power too, right? How come I never noticed?”

“I think she was trying to avoid exactly this: that you would see her and treat her differently —That’s also what kept me from telling you who I really was,” Demian added with an elusive look.

“…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way,” Vicky said, trying to fix what she said. “…I want to talk to her, at least try it. Would you come?”

“Uh… I think it would be better if you speak with her privately. After all, it’s something that only concerns the two of you.”

“Do you really think she knows how to bring back Samuel?”

“I don’t doubt she knows certain things she prefers to keep to herself… but if she really knew how to do it, I doubt she would decide not to share it.”

Vicky nodded and glanced at her watch.

“I guess she must be awake by now. Wish me luck,” Vicky said, going out again, but stopping before closing the door. “Where were you yesterday, by the way? I came here after trying to talk to Addalynn, but there was no one in the room.”

“I just… went for a walk.” Demian tried to be the least specific as possible. Especially when he wasn’t even sure himself.

Once Vicky left, he leaned against the door and closed his eyes, trying to go back to the events that had led him to waking up in Addalynn’s room.

There were fireworks, he was almost sure of it. He was out of the hotel looking at the sky when he suddenly saw Addalynn still wearing the white dress stained with sangria. And she said something. What was it? He frowned, trying to dig deeper into his memories, until the blurred and soundless image of her suddenly had a voice, he just had to make some sense of it.

“Don’t do that. Someone might see you”.

Was that what she said? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t even understand what she meant. His head was spinning around right then, and even now a little bit, he couldn’t rely on the accuracy of his memories if he tried to go further.

The headache finally got the better of him and decided to drop into bed, falling asleep instantly. Until the sound of his cellphone woke him up. He reached out on the nightstand, but after feeling about for several seconds without finding it, he recalled that it was on his pocket. He sat up and glanced at the screen. It was almost 11 am and had just received a message.

“I need your help. Please come to the athletic field.”

The message was from Angie, and Demian was instantly intrigued. How could he be helpful to her? Her competition was about to start, so he had to hurry. At least the headache was finally gone.

It didn’t take him long to get to the athletic field. He just appeared from the shadows of the stands, where no one could see him, and went stealthily towards one of the complementary areas where competitors waited for their race to start. Angie was sitting on a bench with her hands gripping the seat and shoulders so tense that she looked like wearing football shoulder pads.

“Thanks for coming. I thought you wouldn’t.”

Her eyes were swollen and seemed about to start crying at any given time. Clearly, Samuel’s disappearance had affected her as much or even more than anyone else.

“I came as soon as I could,” he said, glancing at the rest of the competitors in case anyone called him out for being there, but most of them were just minding their own business, so they didn’t pay much attention to anyone else. “You said you needed my help… but to tell you the truth I can’t imagine how can that be.”

“I just… I can’t run like this,” Vicky said, gasping for air, her hand pressed to her chest like a claw. “Even if I try, I feel like I would collapse as soon as I take a step. It hurts… It truly hurts a lot.”

“I get it. But I don’t know how you expect me to—”

“Demons could rip out gifts at will,” Angie said, and his face darkened once he understood what she meant. “Please…”

“You can’t seriously ask me to do that,” Demian replied quietly and backed down a few steps. “You have no idea what that would entail.”

“I know! Of course, I know!” Angie pleaded. “I’ve spent some time without the gift, so I know exactly how it is. No pain, no suffering, that’s what I need right now.”

“I don’t mean that. The kind of influence the gifts have on me… I don’t want to go through that again. It would be a big risk.”

“…It’s just one. It may not be as strong,” she insisted, despite his understandable fear.

“It always starts with one,” Demian snapped, and Angie looked at him pitifully.

“Please. I can’t run like this,” she begged again, and Demian snorted, trying to stand firm in his decision.

“You forget what will happen once you lack the gift,” he tried to reason with her. “You won’t be able to stand on your feet, your body won’t respond, your functions will completely shut down. It will be like you’re—”

“I know. I have it covered,” Angie replied, glancing behind him, and he followed the direction of her gaze. Marianne was standing a few feet in the back, looking confused at both of them.

“I… I got your message,” she said, averting her gaze from Demian and focusing on Angie. At that moment they heard through the speakers that all competitors were called to the tracks, and everyone began to leave the facility.

Angie was the only one who stayed behind.

“…Quick, there’s no time left. It has to be now.”

“I can’t do it,” Demian refused, taking another step back.

“What’s going on? Angie, why did you call us?” Marianne asked blankly.

“I can’t participate in the competition in this condition. I will collapse if I even try,” Angie explained, trying to stand up. She had circles under her eyes and her face was pearly with cold sweat, but above all was that note of grief beyond physical pain.

“Don’t get up, stay there,” Marianne said, walking ahead to hold her arm after seeing her stumbling.

“I have to do it,” she insisted, struggling to stay on his feet and giving Demian another pleading look. “…Please.”

He wouldn’t let her convince him; the idea of having one of the gifts in his hands unnerved him. What if his body absorbed it just like that? What if that triggered another wave of gifts coming back to him, and enslaving him to his demon’s instincts? He didn’t want to take the risk, but on the other hand, he didn’t feel good refusing her plea.

However, while he hesitated over what to do and time was ticking, Angie took Marianne as a toehold and reached out until she managed to touch Demian. He instantly straightened up, as if an electric shock had passed through his body, and with a quick movement, his hand got into Angie’s chest like a shadow, and when he pulled it out, the glowing orb was already floating over his palm.

“What did you do?! Have you lost your mind or—?!” Marianne said, incredulous.

“Now create one of those temporary gifts. That’s what she wanted,” he said disapprovingly, aware of Angie’s ruse and keeping the gift as far away from him as possible. “She will have it back after the competition.”

“…Oh, Angie,” Marianne murmured with a scowl. It was an easy way out, but she couldn’t judge her; what would she do if she were in her place? Maybe it would be impossible not to do the same, given the chance to tear her heart out not to feel any pain. So, she finally created a temporary gift just for that occasion.

When Angie opened her eyes, her face had changed, it was now completely calm and restored, as if she had never been in distress; the red eyes were the only thing that betrayed her previous state of mind.

“You feel good?” Marianne asked.

“I’ve felt better,” Angie said, stretching her limbs to make sure everything was in its place.

“Well, go on then. The competition is about to start, and you better not get used to this, because that gift must return to its owner pretty soon,” Marianne warned her, unyielding.

“…Got it, Captain,” Angie said with a martial gesture and then ran to the tracks, leaving only Marianne and Demian inside the facility.

They remained silent for a while, not even looking at each other once, as if they were waiting for Angie to come back and tell them they could leave, until it was finally Demian who broke the silence.

“…Could you hold this?” he said, extending the glowing sphere to her. “…I can’t have it so close to me. It makes me ill.”

Marianne hesitated before taking the gift, and although she tried to avoid contact, as soon as their hands touched, she felt that brief spark of shock, prompting them to quickly pull apart, though they didn’t mention it.

She made every effort to keep staring at the gift and not look at him to avoid remembering what she had seen in the morning, but at the end she did it; she looked up and saw his face pale and damp, as if about to get sick.

“…Is it because of the gift?” she asked.

“I can’t help it. I think my body reacts to its proximity, or the mere fact that it’s out of its owner… I should better stay away from it,” Demian said, wiping his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand. She opened her small backpack and put the orb carefully inside; she then headed for the exit without a word. “…I didn’t mean it for you to leave.”

Marianne turned to him unexpressively, but then shied away from his gaze.

“…I’m gonna watch Angie compete,” she said, hurrying out of there, and even though he could have followed her, he didn’t.

Marianne ran into the stands while competitors settled into their lanes. A whole section of the stands was occupied by her peers from school, and she just crossed it until the very top where her friends sat. The mood in the group was gloomy; last night events were still very fresh, but they still managed to greet her and were very careful not to say anything about her outburst. She took the last seat of the row, right next to Vicky, but there was no trace of Addalynn around. Marianne stopped in front of her and didn’t know what to say.

“I… about yesterday—”

“Thank you,” Vicky said to her surprise. “If you hadn’t said anything, I might never have found out. I tried to talk to Addalynn, but… she just kept quiet, as always. I tried again this morning, but still got the same.”

Marianne bit her lip, remembering who she saw walking out of Addalynn’s bathroom that morning, and couldn’t help but wonder if he was still there when Vicky went to her room. No, there was no time to think about it; she dismissed the thought and decided to take a seat beside her, carefully placing her backpack on her lap.

“Angie looks relaxed,” Lucianne said, watching her getting ready on her lane. “Unlike this morning; if she hadn’t insisted that we brought her, we would have suggested a visit to the hospital.”

“Not a bad idea after this,” Marianne murmured, squeezing the bag to her chest.

A gunshot started the race, and while Angie bolted swiftly with her attention fixed on her own lane, Marianne glanced sideways and saw Addalynn at the bottom of the stands, wearing sunglasses and just standing there as if waiting for the competition to be over.

“Do you think she would talk to me now?” Vicky asked, but nobody answered.

Marianne tried to avoid looking directly at Addalynn, but inadvertently noticed that several girls from school were whispering and staring at her at times. She was no stranger to gossips of all kinds since her arrival, but this time it seemed weirder than usual.

The applause drew her gaze back to the track and saw the race was over. Angie stood victorious after coming in first place without looking as agitated as the rest of the competitors.

“She doesn’t look so happy… though I wasn’t expecting her to be squealing and jumping after what happened yesterday” Lucianne said, measuring her words in Marianne’s presence. The latter just looked down and kept her eyes on the backpack. The memory of the events still caused a knot in her stomach, and after her reaction, she didn’t know yet if she should apologize to everyone or only to those directly affected by her words.

A scream silenced everyone in the audience, and they all turned their heads in sync, even the competitors of the next race. Another scream was heard, and Marianne stood up with a jump and rushed down like a racing car over the seats, tossing people aside to get to the opposite bottom of the stands where Addalynn and others were trying to find out what was happening. A girl from the first competition was shaking hysterically while some of the coaches in charge were trying to calm her down.

“What happened?” she asked to anyone willing to answer, and to her surprise it was Addalynn who did.

“According to her, as soon as she finished the first race, she went to the locker room and ran into some guy hidden on a corner, and saw his face changing until transforming into a girl,” Addalynn said, without even turning or removing her glasses, her arms folded as if there was nothing to worry about. And it was clear why: that description fit Mitchell perfectly and it was something he would do.

Marianne snorted in a mixture of relief and indignation at the false alarm. Only then she noticed she wasn’t carrying her backpack. She ran back to her seat in the stands, and while the others asked for details, she discovered the backpack was nowhere to be found.

“Has anyone seen my backpack? I’m sure I left it here.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t notice with all the fuss,” Vicky apologized.

Marianne knelt, trying not to panic, and looked beneath the steps, getting a glimpse of an object below the stands. She let out a sigh of relief; it had just fallen to the ground, no one had taken it.

She went down the stands while the next race was taking place and walked between the beams until getting to the point below the stands where her backpack had fallen and picked it up. She dusted it off and opened it to check the contents, but there was no glow coming from inside. She felt a sudden cold pang; she shoved her hand inside, searching for the sphere, and ultimately spilled the contents on the dusty floor. There was no trace of the gift, it was gone… or someone had taken it. She felt a growing agitation in her gut and looked around as if expecting to see suspicious faces lurking in the shadows, but other than the sound of footsteps, the creak of the wood and the incomprehensible hubbub of dozens of voices shouting in support of their peers, there was no one else under the stands.

She couldn’t believe it. She had lost Angie’s gift in a terrible neglect, so unlike her. It was supposed to be just a few minutes while she competed and now…

When she finally emerged from the stands, carrying the bag dejectedly, she saw the others with Angie on the field. They seemed concerned about her lack of enthusiasm or any emotion at all after her victory, but she didn’t seem disturbed by it.

“Angie, I’m so sorry—” she started to say, not knowing exactly how to explain that she had lost her gift. “…I… I lost it.”

“Oh. Well, what you’re gonna do? C’est la vie,” Angie replied with a shrug.

“What did you lose?” Vicky asked.

“…Angie’s gift.”

“What were you doing with it? Why did you even have it?”

“She asked to remove it from her, right?” Frank said, unsurprised. “That’s why she’s been acting like a robot.”

Angie rolled her eyes at his comment and let Marianne do the explanations.

“My brother agreed to do it?” Vicky seemed shocked that he would do that.

“Well… technically Angie forced him to do it with her power,” Marianne said, and everyone looked at Angie disapprovingly; she simply shrugged it off while Vicky ran to the rest area where Demian was supposed to be. “We’re losing track of the real issue here. The gift can’t be lost just like that. Someone must have taken it.”

“Sure. You find an abandoned backpack on the filthy floor under the stands in the middle of a somewhat important competition, and the first thing that comes to mind is checking its contents. After all, what are the chances of finding a bomb inside with all the news about terrorist attacks in the world? You open the bag and find a glowing orb that’s also able to float and your first thought is ‘Cool lamp! I need one of those!’. And since there’s no one around to claim the goods, finders’ keepers. Is that an accurate description of what happened?” Frank said with that sardonic and condescening tone he used to get in their nerves.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Marianne snapped, throwing him an accusing look to remind him that he’d stolen a gift before.

“Touche,” he replied with a smile of recognition.

“If someone took it, is it possible to trace it?” Lucianne interjected. “I mean… the gift belongs to Angie, maybe she can sense it if it’s close.”

All eyes focused on Angie, who remained unflappable.

“I have to inform you that my emotional sensors have shut down until further notice,” Angie said, gesturing with her hands to simulate a closed door and she was called to the field again. “And right now, I have an award to accept.”

Before they could protest, she was gone, leaving them the responsibility of finding a solution to the lost gift while she could just wash her hands on the matter.

“…Maybe if Samuel were here, he could trace it,” Belgina said, a little dubious to mention it in front of Marianne.

“…But he’s not. And we can’t count on him until he returns. We must solve it ourselves,” Marianne said, trying to be confident that he would return, but still feeling that lump inside her chest.

“Well, in the absence of an angel, why not turn to another?” Frank replied, gazing at Addalynn, and the others did the same. She only lifted her gaze with an air of indifference and shook her head.

“You don’t want to, or you can’t?” Lucianne asked.

“I’m not familiar with the gifts. There’s no way I can locate one that’s disappeared,” she said reluctantly. “But there’s someone else you might ask.”

She meant Demian obviously, but the fact that she mentioned him and knowing what she knew, Marianne couldn’t help another pang on top of the knot she already felt inside.

“Did you find Demian?” Lucianne asked when Vicky returned, and she shook her head.

“He must have returned to the hotel. Everyone’s doing the same. Do you think we should too?”

Marianne looked around and saw most of the audience was already leaving their seats while the award ceremony was closing. She thought to see suspicious looks directed at them, but that could just be her paranoia after losing Angie’s gift. Could any of those people have taken it from her backpack? After all, there were also students from the Sun Valley School.

The halls became almost impossible to walk by at the hotel; everyone carried their bags and gathered in small groups that monopolized the corridor while waiting for the elevator to go down, instead of the stairs. The girls had already gathered near it, waiting for their turn, when Lilith joined them with a sullen expression.

“You did’t come to see Angie compete,” Lucianne chided her, and she looked pitiful at them, as if she were accused of some unforgivable action.

“I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t feel like going out,” Lilith apologized, pouting pleadingly at Angie and then to each one of them. “…I’m sorry if I failed you yesterday, too. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when Samuel vanished. I’m sorry for everything.”

She suddenly began to cry like a scolded child, drawing the attention of the rest of the girls in the hall.

“Is this because of the whole dress thing and the missing money?” Marianne asked, unmoved by her tears.

“I-I didn’t k-know. I-I s-swear,” Lilith wailed with her face dotted with red specks spreading from her nose to her cheeks. “I-I d-didn’t noticed a-about the mi-missing mo-money until I had a-already bo-bought the d-dress.”

Marianne seized her by the shoulders, forcing her to look into her eyes.

“Listen to me, you don’t have to explain anything to us. We believe in you, and we’ll never ever think you’d be able to do something like that intentionally,” Marianne said without softening nor raising her voice. “It was an unfortunate mistake, we get it; stop torturing yourself. That’s what she wants. Don’t give her the pleasure to see you like this.”

“Sh-She?” Lilith asked, wimpering, her eyes widening more to what her words suggested. “…D-Do you mean Vi-Vicky?”

“Not her! She’s got more important things to worry about,” Marianne replied with a snort and trying to keep her voice down. “…I mean Kristania. I don’t know how, but I’m confident that she had something to do with it, so don’t let her see you all miserable and gloomy.”

“But why would she want me to be miserable? We’re friends and lissen sisters,” Lilith replied as if the idea were inconceivable to her.

“That’s what she wants you to believe!” Marianne said vehemently, resisting the urge to shake her up, but the faces of her friends quietly denying with their heads dissuaded her to continue and only huffed reluctantly. “…Just get over it, okay? Nobody cares about it and there are more serious issues to focus on. End of discussion.”

Lilith closed her mouth shut, drowned her whimpers, and nodded with her red and swollen face, as if holding her breath. The elevator door opened, and the girls glanced to the bottom of the hall.

“Addalynn hasn’t left her room yet,” Lucianne said, as if their duty was to wait for her, and they looked down the hall again. Marianne noticed that several girls in the corridor seemed to be pointing at her door while whispering to each other. She tried to ignore the growing restlessness inside her and straightened up.

“She’ll catch up with us later. Let’s go down already,” she said, opting for the stairs to avoid the waiting. The others followed her with Lilith at the end of the line, trying to control her sobbing turned into hiccups, and the corridor gradually cleared out until it was completely empty. Finally, Addalynn went out and walked down the hall, pushing the button to wait for the elevator, watching the floor numbers lighting up.

The door opened and the only person inside was Dreyson. He stared at her without even changing position with his back against the bottom of the cabin and a bag on the floor. She considered for a moment waiting for the next ride, but since she was already delayed, she got inside and stood in the corner opposite to him, imposing her distance. The doors closed, and it began its descent.

Addalynn remained undaunted, watching the numbers slowly changing. If being in there with him bothered her at all, she didn’t show it.

“…I’ve heard some things about you,” he suddenly said after a few seconds of silence.

“People always talk,” she replied, staring at the plate with the numbers lighting up.

“Not everything people say is true, I know,” he added with his eyes still fixed on her, though she wouldn’t even turn to him. “…I wonder though, how much of this is true or false. I heard a saying that if there’s smoke—”

“I don’t care what people are saying about me,” she said curtly.

“Then I guess you don’t care if it involves Donovan too,” Dreyson snapped with a hint of indifference. “That he spent the night in your room.”

There was a twitch in Addalynn’s face, but just for a second before quickly going back to her collected self.

“…That’s not of their business,” she said.

“Sure. And they’ll keep talking,” Dreyson continued, glancing towards the panel with the numbers. “…And also adding more to their own version of what happened in there.”

This seemed to cause the desired effect on her, because Addalynn turned to him as if she had finally understood his innuendos, and her electric blue eyes seemed to flash, reflecting the light on them.

“Nothing happened in there, and it doesn’t concern anyone else in any case,” she refuted indignantly, looking again at the panel to end the exchange. Dreyson kept his amused hint of a smile and waited to see the number 2 lightening up on the panel.

“I want to see his face once he starts hearing the rumors spreading and tries to justify himself,” Dreyson added, stepping away from the back, as if getting ready to get out.

“He won’t need to explain anything. I will stop those alleged rumors if necessary,” Addalynn said with growing exasperation, waiting impatiently for the number 1 to light up, but right in that interval, she felt something pulling her, making her turn around. She tried to protest, but there was an obstacle, Dreyson’s lips were right on hers.

It was barely a fraction of a second until Dreyson pulled away from her, leaving her with a cold and numb feeling in her lips as the bell rang, announcing that they had reached the ground floor.

“You taste just as I thought you would,” he remarked with a smile as he got outside.

Addalynn stood still with a confused expression frozen on her face, like she was still processing what just happened. She felt numb, as if her body wouldn’t respond to her commands, but as soon as he was gone, and the initial shock passed, she pushed herself forward and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, as if she could clean away the taste of nothing from her lips. She saw the pink smudge of her lipstick on her hand and clasped it into a fist, quickly taking her lipstick out to fix it and be flawless again.

She stared at her reflection for a few seconds, as if something on her face wasn’t quite right anymore. Something she hadn’t seen before. Disturbance. That action had disrupted her usual composure and she wasn’t used to it. She tried to change her face to remove all traces of emotion until she finally regained the impassive demeanor she wanted to maintain in front of others. She closed her compact mirror and prepared to leave the elevator as if nothing had happened.

“What a lively group we have here,” Frank said sarcastically when he got to the lobby and saw the girls in complete silence.

Marianne was sitting on her suitcase staring at no particular point, rather just lost in her own thoughts so she ignored his comment. Among the hordes of students milling the lobby, they saw Demian carring only his gym bag and looking around the place. Lucianne waved her arm so he could find them.

“Where’s Vicky?” she asked once Demian approached.

“I took her back home. It was for the better, she couldn’t go with us anyway.”

“Did she tell you about our… little problem?” Lucianne asked again and he nodded.

“I don’t think I’ll be of any help. The only way I could invoke it back, would be using mine… but I have no control over it. What if I end up absorbing them all again? That would be… I don’t wanna go through that again.”

“Marianne said you’re affected just by being close to the gift,” Lucianne continued, glancing quickly at her cousin as if waiting for her to intervene, but she startled a little and just nodded. “…Like you get sick or something?”

“I’m not sure how it works,” Demian said. “But I think it’s just a momentary thing, like ripping out a wound scab. The pain eventually decreases and that’s my case. I can’t locate it, but I can’t exclude that I may feel its influence again if I get anywhere near it.”

“As if it were radioactive for you,” Frank said and Demian shrugged.

“I think that only happens with the gifts that were part of me for a period of time,” he added. “But I couldn’t tell.”

“So, basically, if we want you to invoke them, we take the risk that you end up taking all of our gifts and become the heir of darkness once again.”

“It’s not something to joke about,” Demian snapped with a frown and Frank smiled in that mocking way of his.

“Relax, ‘little dark prince’. I liked you better when you decided to embrace the absurdity of our situation last night.” Demian twitched at the thought of the previous night, memories that were still muddy in his mind. “Besides, we’re asking because the ice queen has no idea how to locate it… And speaking of the queen herself—”

Addalynn was approaching them with her head held up high while several other students turned to her and began to whisper in a not so discreet way, but she ignored them all, already used to the attention. She stood right beside them, keeping her distance, and stared to an indefinite point in the crowd. Demian looked nervously at her, wondering if others might perceive his unease. He had the feeling that the entire room was also staring at them.

Marianne suddenly jumped up with eyes so wide they looked like golf balls with an emerald in the center. They followed the direction of her gaze beyond the lobby and saw a head so fair that it almost seemed to glow among the crowd, which unintentionally gave way to him as he walked like Moses splitting the Red Sea. Samael.

“Marianne, wait a minute—” Lucianne said, seeing the intention reflected on her cousin’s face, but her reaction was authomatic; she raced, pushing anyone who got in her way, ears shut to any complaint or claim, solely focused on the vision before her, fearing it might disappear if she looked away for a split second.

“Samael,” she whispered almost inaudibly, stopping in front of him and hugging him as if there was nobody else around. “You came back. I knew you would.”

Samael stood still though, with halting hands as if uncertain of whether or not to respond the hug.

“Uh… Not that I want to ruin this moment,” he said looking around, noticing the curious glances at the warm embrace. “…Nor that I dislike receiving so meaningful hugs, but apparently you haven’t been informed, so I have the moral obligation to clarify that there has been a little confusion here… but I’d be lying if I said that part of me isn’t a little turned on.”

Marianne quickly pulled away and stared at him, confusion and disappointment all over her contorted face.


The face that belonged to Samael showed a wide smile that seemed more for the people around them to keep the illusion that everything was fine.

“Wow, had I known I would receive this kind of attention I would have chosen this appearance to walk around the streets from the beginning,” the fake Samael remarked lightly, apparently delighted by the reaction on his path.

Marianne seemed outraged. More than that, infuriated. She had to restrain herself from slapping him for giving her hope that Samael was back for such a let down; but she just turned around and went back to the others with clenched fists and arms stuck to her sides.

“…I’m sorry, we should have told you before,” Lucianne apologized. “Frank suggested he should take his place in the flight back home to avoid any suspicion.”

“It was a night full of ideas and personal epiphanies,” Frank said, and Marianne just sat back on her suitcase, crestfallen.

“…Whatever,” she said dejectedly, looking back at a distant point. The rest of them kept quiet, understanding what she must have felt, while Demian just watched her grimly.

The return flight took place without major difficulties, each one in their own seats, Mitchell taking Samael’s place as it had been determined. But instead of taking his role seriously, he took the opportunity to talk casually with whoever was in front of him. So much that even before the plane took off, Addalynn changed seats again and Angie reluctantly took hers to keep the same structure of the first trip.

“Aren’t you supposed to be afraid of flying?” the girl in front of them asked.

“Oh, yeah! Uh… Ohhhh, we’re gonna crash! We’re gonna die! Who’s going to calm me down!” he made a pale imitation of Samael, moving his arms and turning to Angie as if hoping she would cooperate, but she just glowered at him without unfolding her arms, so he turned back to the girls. “Well, I think I’ve finally overcome my fears. It’s a miracle!”

The girls laughed while Angie rolled her eyes and sulked into her seat, aware that she would have two more hours of the same.

Their trip was over, and they were returning the way they had gone in the first place, with an absence weighing on them. Marianne remained silent and lost in her thoughts throughout the flight, staring out the window, wondering what they would do if Samael didn’t come back soon, because in her mind she couldn’t harbor the possibility of not seeing him again, it just wasn’t an option. Sooner or later, he would find his way back to them, she was convinced of it.

The first problem took place when they arrived at the airport; her family wouldn’t be only waiting for her but for Samael too, and she didn’t want to take an impostor home even though it was Mitchell —Well, ESPECIALLY since it was Mitchell.

“You’ve got to make an excuse not to come with us,” Marianne ordered as they reached the arrival zone where several adults were already waiting for their children. Mitchell blinked with a distracted expression that looked so much like to the true Samael that she felt a knot again squeezing her chest.

“What do you want me to say? That I’m going to celebrate my victory going out all weekend to make some time, expecting for some miracle to happen? Because I would if I had something to celebrate, but I don’t think that would leave your angel a very good reputation, if you know what I mean,” Mitchell replied, looking increasingly comfortable wearing Samael’s skin, nodding and smiling at every girl that walked past them and they responded the same way in return, whispering and giggling as they went out.

“It’s not like you’re trying your best to keep it either!” Marianne claimed, grinding her teeth. “Besides, you still have some unfinished business, don’t you?”

Mitchell turned his face and saw Kristania reluctantly receiving her mother’s attentions, who seemed to be in constant suffering, pointing out her cellphone and holding her hands in a pleading gesture. He didn’t need to be a psychic to know the drama ahead of him if he decided to go back home.

“…I think I’ll be okay in the attic, thanks,” he decided to Marianne’s further irritation, but before she could even protest, her father approached with a smile.

“Welcome back! How was your trip? Did you guys have fun?” Noah said, taking their bags as diligent as ever.

“It was excellent. We won,” Mitchell said proudly, already living the role he was playing.

“Really? I’m happy to hear that. I hope you’ve recorded something, I would love to watch it,” Noah said, dragging their packs towards the exit.

“I think that can be arranged,” Mitchell said again, despite Marianne’s warning glares; he was already acting too extroverted for Samael.

Noah suddenly stopped and saw that a few feet from the exit door were Demian and Addalynn on their way out. Marianne already knew her father’s intentions when he suddenly changed his course, but failed to stop him before he did it.

“Hello! Are you going home?” Noah took Demian off guard and he reacted with a jolt before noticing them behind.

“Yes, we’re taking a cab,” he answered after a moment of hesitation and Noah smiled in that way that was impossible to deny him anything.

“No, you’re not. You’re coming with us. Come on,” he gestured to follow them. Demian glanced at Marianne, but she simply walked behind her father with the fake Samael following suit, who gave him a gesture too Samael-unlike and yet so Mitchell, whose eyebrows always seemed to have a life of their own.

If Marianne thought the return flight had been a torment, that car trip was no less comfortable. Despite Noah’s attempts to have a conversation with his passengers, only Mitchell seemed to play along, at least when Marianne wasn’t giving him silent but deadly stares through the rearview, which she tried to avoid as much possible so as not to see Demian and Addalynn flanking him, each one facing a window.

“Do you want me to drive you in?” Noah asked once he parked at the fence that bordered Demian’s house.

“No need to, we’ll walk through the garden. Thanks for everything,” Demian said, taking out their luggage and running his hand over a sensor, after which the gate opened.

“Anything you need, you know where to find me,” Noah said as he started the car again and drove along the street.

Demian finally pushed the gate and dragged their luggage inside, making their way through the garden. It was dark, but some lamps placed along the pavement had already lighten on, in addition of the light coming from the windows.

They walked in silence while Demian was fixed in the house, his mind going around about the same subject, seeking a way to address the issue before reaching the threshold and miss the opportunity once going through that door. He suddenly stopped a few feet from the entrance and Addalynn did the same.

“I think we should talk,” Demian said, not daring to meet her eyes. “…About last night.”

Addalynn frowned momentarily, and then her eyes widened as if just understanding what he meant.

“You don’t remember?”

“I can’t remember a thing,” he said with a sigh, and finally dared to face her. “… I drank a little with the guys last night and… my memories are all scrambled or temporarily unavailable. The only thing I know is that I suddenly woke up in your room and I have no idea how I got there. I’ve tried to remember something all day, but it’s useless, so I need you to tell me if I did anything I shouldn’t.”

‘Don’t do that. Someone might see you.’ She had said something like that. But what was it? He waited for her response. Addalynn kept that face that didn’t reveal her thoughts, until she opened her mouth, but then stopped. It took her a few seconds to reopen it, intending an answer, but once again she felt her words drowning in her throat, so she stood there, mute and perplexed. She couldn’t even make a gesture or nod in response. She didn’t understand what was happening.

Demian noticed her bewilderment and suddenly suspected the worst. And right when Addalynn made a third attempt to talk, the door opened, and the interior light bathed them.

“You’re finally here,” Vicky received them with a welcoming smile, and although Addalynn felt interrupted, she chose to take her luggage and enter the house immediately while Demian waited for her to go ahead so he could follow suit, but with a different idea in mind.

“…I’m sorry,” he said, suddenly disappearing without a warning, leaving Vicky at a loss.

“Brother? What—?”

He hadn’t really thought of his next move, just took the decision in the spur of the moment, and later on he found himself in some house porch, not really knowing what to do. He just stood several minutes in front of the door, hesitant about knocking, unsure of the answer he would get, but he couldn’t stand there all night like some kind of neighborhood demon gargoyle guarding the entrance, so he forced himself to take a step forward and knocked three times. Less than a minute later, the door opened, and a pair of startled eyes looked at him, making him falter for a split second before managing to say anything.

“I… uh… I need a place to stay. It will be for a short while.”

Noah seemed to study him for several seconds, as if trying to fathom his reasons to do it, but instead of asking anything, he just smiled and stepped away to let him in. Although it wasn’t out of the ordinary given his natural inclination to be kind to everyone, Demian couldn’t help but being surprised at the ease he seemed to accept the circumstances as they would come along. He bowed his head slightly in gratitude and got inside, carrying the few belongings he had brought from the trip without a clear idea of what to do next.

Lilith’s first stop wasn’t her house but the coffee shop, still carrying her bags and all —despite offers to take her home, refusing them after the whole ‘dress-gate’ thing.

She stared at the front for a while; it was back to its old retro style with the huge letters forming the ‘Retroganzza’ sign, lit by LED lights blinking steadily. She could see movement inside, although it was likely to be closing time by now, but that didn’t stop her from entering anyway, dragging her suitcase and going to sit in their special cabinet. The saber men didn’t mind her, and just continued their cleanup duties, as if she were a ghostly presence, but it wasn’t long before the kitchen door opened and Mankee went out with a big white smile that contrasted with his tanned skin.

“You’re back! How did it go?” he asked, hoping to get all the details. Even though the coffee shop had returned to its original vintage style, the men were still wearing their typical tunics, and Mankee now wore some kind of kurta like the one he wore the first time they met, though cleaner and more colorful.

“…What are you wearing? Did you suddenly feel nostalgic enough for your country as to wear kurtas again?”

“Oh, no, this is no kurta. It’s a sherwani,” he said, as if suddenly aware of his clothing and feeling self-conscious about it. “Latvi forced me to wear appropriate attire for someone of my ‘position’. I like to dress simple and clean… but I rather not argue with her.”

“Ha. Seems like we know now who wears the pants in that relationship,” she replied with a dismissive tone.

“We don’t have a relationship!” he said defensively. “I’m firm about that. I’m never ever gonna marry her and even less being an arranged marriage. That’s why I ran away and while I refuse to go back, she can’t do anything about it, it’s just that… sometimes she scares me.”

“Pfff. Chicken,” she hissed, pursing her lips willfully.

“It’s not that. You don’t know her like I do. The things she can do, the things she knows…” he added, adopting a more cautious stance and looking over his shoulder as if afraid of being heard by her.

“You make her sound like she’s an ancient hag capable of turning you into a toad just because you refuse to do certain things.”

“Well… there might be some truth in that,” Mankee replied, nervous at the mention. “…You have no idea.”

“Ohh, Ms. Captain’s back.” Latvi went through the kitchen door wrapped in a striking deep red and orange sari with embroidered rhinestones on the edges. “She comes a week late and when we’ve already closed, but I guess the concept of responsibility is different for people of this country.”

“I went with my school to a sporting event out of town! I announced it before I left!”

“And apparently they know plenty of excuses,” Latvi continued with such a cheerful tone she even sounded friendly, though Lilith bloated her cheeks in protest.

“Please, don’t,” Mankee asked with a begging expression to keep her from adding anything else.

“As you wish,” the girl said, bowing without losing her smile nor the elegance while pulling a cord hanging from the window beside their cabinet, and a curtain rolled down covering it entirely. She then went back to the kitchen.

“…Forgive her. Sometimes she doesn’t restrain herself. You better fill me in. This week has been very boring without you guys around here.”

Lilith returned to her serious stance from the beginning and waited for the saber men to go to the kitchen to speak freely.

“The thing is… there was a problem while we were there,” she said, adding ‘actually two’ in her mind, but her issue was still more personal, and she couldn’t understate something that affected them in a fuller scale. “Samael was attacked… and vanished.”

“Vanished?” Mankee repeated in bafflement, and Lilith proceeded to tell him everything in detail —at least what she had learned since she wasn’t present when it happened. The boy listened intently, with his face resting on his hands, staying that way for several seconds after she finished talking, making her think that he was too shocked to say anything, until he finally lifted his face. “…It’s horrible… What are we supposed to do now? He’s the one who’s always telling us what to do.” His face reflected a grim thought crossing his mind and hesitated to say it aloud. “…What if he’s dead.”

“Hush! Why do you have to be so fatalistic?!”

“You said it, there’s no way of knowing what really happened to him, and also… he was seriously injured, perhaps on the verge of death… or maybe not even that. Perhaps he was already—” Lilith gave him a resounding slap that left his cheek tingling.

“Don’t panic just yet, okay?! We need solutions, not adding more weight to the problem!” she said with a martial tone.

“…I wasn’t panicking,” Mankee replied, holding his cheek with wide, frightened eyes.

“Or maybe I just needed to slap someone to feel in control! Anyway, we must keep a cool head in this matter! I’m sorry and thank you very much!” she finished, pulling away the finger she’d been pointing at him authoritatively, while Mankee just rubbed his cheek and stood up.

“…I’ll go get something to drink.”

He went into the kitchen while Lilith sat in the cabinet with her suitcase under the table and her hands clenched on a plastic bag, as if carrying something she planned on getting rid of but didn’t find the strength to do it. The kitchen door opened again, but the one who went through it wasn’t Mankee, it was Latvi, softly setting a dish in front of her, as if taking an order to a customer. On the plate there was some kind of little breaded balls covered with a brown sauce that smelled good, but still Lilith just looked up at her with surprise.

“It’s a typical dish from our land, we call them ricochets. Try it, you’ll like it.”

Lilith looked dubious, not because she didn’t want to taste them, but because of Mankee’s constant warnings about not eating anything that came from her, even when it seemed an exaggerated reaction from him, especially how fearful he was in front of her.

That was just him, scared of everything and always predicting the worst. She lifted her chin with resolution and quickly took a stick to nibble one of the breaded balls and eat it to prove she didn’t have the same kind of control over her. Latvi kept that friendly but equally commanding smile as she watched her eat.

“I heard a friend of yours died,” the girl suddenly said, causing Lilith to glare at her without even letting go of the stick or stop nibbling the plate at all.

“He’s not dead! …Or so we think… We’re almost certain he’s not, though we don’t know where he might be… Anyway, it’s not like it has anything to do with you!”

“I can help,” Latvi said, ignoring her rambling. Lilith paused for a moment, trying to think what to make of that offer, glancing towards the kitchen door in case Mankee came out. He would be undoubtedly alarmed if he saw them both talking.

“…What? How could you help? You don’t even know… You don’t know the circumstances, how could you—?”

“I have ways,” the exotic looking girl interrupted; her inedible smile increasingly enigmatic, partly because her eyes seemed darker than usual, perhaps because of the change in lighting, or maybe not, but at least that kept Lilith’s mouth shut. “I can try to communicate with him, either alive… or dead.”

Her eyes flashed with a spark of excitement that Lilith hadn’t seen before, and right at that moment she seemed to understand the state of constant fear Mankee lived with, since she felt a twinge of fear herself; fear of the dark and vibrant eyes that seemed to be looking beyond her. Inside her very soul.