Marianne came home that night, tired and hungry. As she entered, she noticed Loui in the living room, lying on the couch and watching TV. His bare feet fidgeted on the armchair while his head rested on the cushions. On the floor, there was a bowlful of chips he picked up just by extending his arm.

“Where’s dad?”

“Went out for dinner. It’s going to be Thai.”

He was alone then. That was her chance. She took a breath and walked to the living room, even when he didn’t seem to be paying any special attention to her, as though he were hypnotized by the TV. Then he saw something that made him bolt upright.

“Oh, did you see that? Did you see?” he said, pointing at the TV and bouncing excited on the couch, not even caring if the bowl overturned on the floor in the process. “It will finally happen! They’re gonna make a Shadow Detective movie! I wish I were a few years older to do the cast for Cameron Devlin!” Marianne said nothing, just stood in front of him, blocking his view. After snatching the control from his hands, she turned off the TV. “Hey! Why did you do that?”

She leaned forward to stare at him, arms folded and eyes narrowed into slits.

“What are you planning?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, holding her gaze defiantly.

“Don’t play dumb, I know you know something, or at least think you do. I’m not stupid and neither are you, so tell me what you’re planning to do.”

Loui stretched his neck, straightened in the couch and stared back at her with challenging eyes.

“You’re paranoid,” he remarked, emphasizing the words.

“Very good, then. So, you’re not budging an inch.” Saying this, Marianne turned and walked towards the stairs with determination.

Perhaps what she was about to do was crazy, but if her brother was stubborn, she could be even worse, and would go to any length just to prove her point. She didn’t stop until she got to the attic and, taking Samael by surprise, she held his arm and forced him to follow her.

“What are you doing?” he asked, confused, but she didn’t answer, just kept pulling him downstairs until finally, without any warning or notice, she pushed him into the living room and into Loui’s presence.

“So? What do you say now?” she asked, pointing at Samael.

The angel looked at her, bewildered, as if she had lost her mind or was controlled by some evil power that was forcing her to do that.

Loui looked in his direction and then back at his sister, unfazed.

“Say about what?”

Marianne gave him a fiery look and pointed at Samael again.

“What do you mean by that? Are you blind?”

The child once again laid eyes on the spot she was pointing at, and turned back to her, raising his eyebrows in a gesture of incomprehension.

“Is this another one of your ghost stories? Because there’s nothing there.”

“What are you saying? Don’t you see him?” she insisted, while Samael just wanted to get away from there.

“Unless you’re talking about that awesome Battle of the gods’ jacket hanging from the coat rack, I have no idea what you’re talking about, and frankly, I’m starting to get worried. Maybe it’s time you see a psychiatrist.”

Marianne looked thwarted at him, but all she did was turn around in a dramatic gesture and run upstairs.

Samael stood in the living room, unsure of what to do, feeling exposed before Loui, who didn’t show a flicker of emotion or even look at him, as if he really weren’t there. He finally decided to follow Marianne’s steps and went upstairs in a hurry.

“He must be laughing right now! I know he’s just making fun of me and enjoying it! That little worm thinks he can outsmart me!” Marianne grunted, circling in her room like a caged beast. Samael closed the door behind him and tried to calm her down.

“Maybe he really can’t see me. It’s a possibility,” he suggested, not daring to cross her path at that time. She paused, as if her feet had become glued to the floor, and gave him a harsh look.

“A possibility? Are you serious?”

“Well, that technique I tested on him . . . like I told you, it was the first time I tried, so it could have had some . . . odd consequences,” he explained. “Maybe he didn’t just bury that memory, but also his own mind has blocked my presence.”

 “But then, if that’s true . . . Loui won’t be able to see you, then?”

“We can’t be sure if it’s just temporary, though, so . . . we better not provoke him,” he suggested, hoping to have calmed her with that.

“Rather he’d better not provoke ME,” Marianne concluded, stomping on the floor and thereby considering the matter over. He sighed and turned around to get out.

“I’ll be upstairs if you need me.”

“Hey, wait. What are we going to do with this Mankee thing?”

“He works at the coffee shop, right? We can see him there tomorrow.”

“Okay, after school then,” she agreed while Samael nodded with exhaustion and left.

Marianne dropped on the bed, thinking she could finally get some rest, but then a thought struck her, or rather she just realized something: Lucianne hadn’t gone to the hospital with them.

With a leap, she turned back to her feet and rummaged in her backpack until she found her cell phone. She patiently waited for her to answer, but the call was diverted to voicemail. Her cousin had turned off her phone. She sat back on the bed, tapping her chin with the device, somewhat concerned.

Lucianne hadn’t missed a meeting so far, not even with her father’s disappearence. Something should have happened, something important enough not to attend. And then she remembered Franktick. He had gone to the event, but after the attack he hadn’t reappeared yet, even among the injured people. Could he be involved with it? She could bet he was.

With a sigh, she began to shake her head. That guy was bad news. If only Lucianne could also be convinced of this . . .

Lucianne was convinced. Frank was the Legion of Darkness’ emissary. How had he come to that point? She had no idea, but one thing was for sure, he mustn’t have known what he was getting into. Maybe he thought it was a game and now he was paying for it, getting controlled by forces beyond his comprension, and unable to find a solution he had come to her that morning . . . but things spiraled out of control. She had seen it in his unnatural eyes before he left. And so, she was certain now. She had to help him. Maybe she wouldn’t get the others’ support in her decision, but if it was necessary she would do it herself, she couldn’t just abandon him to his luck.

While thinking about this, she contemplated the flounced dress intently, carefully extended on her bed with the note on top. Why the botanical garden? Why that dress? What was his intention?

She felt a chill through her body, feeling observed. She looked at the window and thought she saw a shadow passing in a blink. She quickly walked over and leaned against the frame to peer out more closely. Not one soul outside. The wind blew in constant gusts waving a lone handkerchief someone had left tied up in one of the cables from the lamp posts, so she figured that was what she had seen. She finally decided to close the window and secured it. She wouldn’t gain anything getting paranoid, so she picked up everything, the dress and the note, folded them carefully and kept them in the closet.

Nevertheless, she had every reason to be paranoid. It would have been the saner thing to do, to suspect something, since she had been watched by Hollow the whole time, from the moment she found the package at the front door.

The loss of her gift was definitely a difficult burden, especially for someone as unstable as Lilith. However, she felt lighter and relaxed. So much that, even if her mother would allow her to stay home to rest, she still chose to go to school.

She woke up early for her very long road to the school district. That would give her enough time to think what she would say to the others after the way she had acted. And as if they had all agreed, she ran into the girls at the school entrance. They looked at each other as if they hadn’t met for years and couldn’t recognize themselves.

“Do you feel fine?” It was Marianne who spoke first, looking at her with concern, so Lilith couldn’t help but take a breath and divert her gaze to the ground.

“Better than yesterday, yes.”

“You looked possessed,” Belgina remarked with wide eyes, in a way that her glasses made them look even bigger.

“I agree. You were ready for the psychiatrist,” Angie seconded, earning her a reproachful look by Marianne. However, Lilith chuckled and shook her head as if pondering the comparisons.

“I won’t deny I’ve sometimes needed medical help. But for some reason I don’t feel so . . . down since yesterday. And I guess I owe you for that. I’ve never had friends who decided to stand by me after seeing me . . . in that state.”

 “We wouldn’t leave you for something like that. But the reason you feel that way . . . you should thank Mankee for that.”

“Huh? What does he have to do?”

The school bell rang and Marianne couldn’t tell her the rest. They decided to enter the school, but once they turned around a corridor, found several students from different classes staring at Lilith with a straight face, so they stopped in their tracks.

“I don’t like the look of this . . . do you think they’re going to stick my head into the toilet or throw me to the garbage can?” Lilith whispered, expecting the worst. Kristania suddenly moved to the front, hiding something behind her. Marianne seemed to be ready to defend Lilith if she needed to, but then something unimaginable happened.

Kristania took out a banner with a smile and they all shouted: “Congratulations!” in unison. Streamers and confetti rained all over an amazed Lilith.

“What is this?” Lilith asked, almost stammering at the unexpected surprise. She couldn’t believe it was all for her, but ultimately it was her name on the banners.

“To us you’re the true winner and we don’t care what a bunch of deaf judges have to say about it!” Kristania said, shaking the sign with Lilith’s name. The sign was decorated with stars, glitter and sequins.

“Y-You really think so?” Her voice was shaky, moved by the support, and at Kristania’s sign everyone started to cheer, making her relive the feeling she’d had standing on that stage. Her spirits flew high once again.

“Come. Tell us how everything was while we head to our class!” Kristania took her arm and walked her to the classroom like they were the best of friends, while the three girls looked like they had witnessed a strange staging which they had not been part of.

“Well, who knew? Your best friend has really replaced you with Lilith,” Angie commented, just to say something, and Marianne gave her one of her deadly glares.

However, despite it being a joke, it didn’t seem too far-fetched. When it was time to go to their basketball club, Kristania intercepted Lilith at the door and walked along her almost galloping, arms chained and exchanging giggles.

Marianne followed behind, watching them as someone who looks at the person who took the last slice of cake. It was outrageous. And right at the opposite side, the amazon girls also sent them suspicious looks, more like they were losing a leader than a friend. Marianne shook her head, almost empathizing with them, which was already unheard of.

“I swear, when you started to sing, Lissen’s face was fully attentive, you left him mesmerized undoubtedly, and if he hadn’t taken off before your song ended, surely he would have said something like ‘Oh, what a wonderful rendition of my song, it’s like an angel singing, I don’t have to listen to anyone else, you’re the winner, let’s duet right now’,” Kristania babbled as they entered the auditorium snd Lilith listened to her, more than delighted. “The judges don’t know the first thing about music. They chose the one who gave a show, not the real talent.”

“Oh, really, thank you very much for telling me this! You have no idea how much I needed it!” Lilith thanked her, clinging to her arm. “I was so downhearted!”

“You should sing in the upcoming prom! You’d do great!”

Lilith remained silent at that proposal, quickly lessening her mood. Marianne tried to stand beside her, but she managed to handle it in the end.

“I’ll think about it. Thanks for the encouragement,” Lilith replied, trying to smile as they passed by the guys from the basketball team, already getting out of there. At the end of the line was Demian with his sports bag on tow, looking distracted. He didn’t have the bandages on his head anymore and seemed fully recovered. As he walked next to Lilith, he gave her a smile.

“You did very well. Congratulations. Glad to see you’re okay.” He bowed his head in recognition and she responded with a grateful smile.

“Thank you. I’m glad you’re okay too.”

Whispers echoed in the front of the auditorium, apparently from some guys of the team. Would it be because of those rumors about him again? After what happened to Lester, the implicit rumor that he was involved with his mysterious relapse had regained strength. If they now dared to involve him in what happened in the event only because of his presence, it would be too much.

Demian, however, seemed oblivious, or perhaps just chose to ignore it. He glanced at Marianne, and since she had bothered to tell his father where he was, he thought to thank her, but when they crossed paths and tried to say something, she turned her face and ignored him.

He seemed confused. The last time they had spoken —not counting her brusque reception at the event—, he had tried to apologize for the way he had talked to her and she’d ended up opening the wound regarding his mother. So, he just shook his head and continued on his way.

 “What I said yesterday . . . ” Lilith said with a faint voice as they left the auditorium once the practice ended. “About everything being over for me . . . ”

“You didn’t mean it,” Marianne said, knowing it was a sensitive subject for her.

“No, I meant it,” she confimed, averting her gaze. “That’s how I felt at that time, you know?”

Marianne looked at her sullenly. She didn’t know what to say, it was an issue that she didn’t really know how to treat.

“I’m not proud of those lapses. Sometimes they come, sometimes they go. I’ve even spent long periods without wanting to see the sunlight. My mother didn’t know what to do with me . . . and then suddenly one day I would get up wanting to go outside, walk, eat and laugh euphorically.”

“Did you ever . . . know the reason for those changes?”

“No. I did all kinds of tests. I had no childhood trauma, or chemical reactions, or anything that could produce it. It just happened unnoticed. I lost so many friends because of it. They liked me when I was funny and lively . . . not so much when I was in one of my ‘lapses’. I thought . . . if you knew about it . . . you would also stay away from me.”

“You won’t get rid of us so easily,” Marianne said, trying to lighten up the moment and Lilith smiled.

“The strange thing is . . . just a week before meeting you, it was the first time I experienced true euphoria in a long time and wanted to return to school right away. My mother wasn’t sure I was ready, but I didn’t show any symptom of another ‘lapse’ coming, so she just let me go . . . and I met you guys.”

Marianne thought about the previous week before they met her, it was when she moved to the city. Could it be somehow related to that? Of course not, it had to be a coincidence.

“Everything was going so well. I felt so comfortable and at ease . . . I didn’t think they would come back so soon.”


Lilith kept silent after her slip. She didn’t want any of them to learn about the voices, so she tried to dismiss it.

“Nothing, I just . . . thought I would lose your friendship after yesterday, and seeing it didn’t happen, it really comforts me.”

“Lilith, there’s a big chance that what you’ve experienced so far had been largely caused by demons.”


“Come with me. It’s time to talk to Mankee.”

After school, they met Angie and were joined by Mitchell and Belgina.

“Isn’t your new bestie coming?”

Marianne just grunted at Angie’s comment while Lilith outlined a smile.

“Do you mean Kristania? She’s such a good person lately. I like her that way! We all could be good friends! Can we include her in the group?”

“You’re not serious!” Marianne protested, unable to conceive the idea.

“In any case, the real question here is . . . would it be possible for her to live that way?” Mitchell spoke with a tone that put Marianne on alert.

The previous day she had slipped a comment about the ‘crisis of the gifts’. Maybe they had heard it and had begun to draw conclusions or at least ask questions about it. Angie was the only one who knew what was happening, but had promised not to say a thing, and once she looked at her, Angie merely made a gesture that seemed to say ‘I warned you’.

“Why don’t we talk about anything other than Kristania?”

“Fine, let’s talk about the gifts then, what if we can’t recover them?”

Misstep. He had brought exactly the subject Marianne was trying to avoid. She puckered her lips, trying to think what she could answer, when she saw Samael facing the window of the coffee shop, looking at the inside.

She stepped up to get to his side, relieved to have escaped a topic she wasn’t ready to address.

“Have you waited too long?”

“A few minutes,” he replied, watching Mankee’s movements inside very closely.

“Have you talked to him?”

Samael shook his head.

“I was waiting for everyone to arrive.”

“I haven’t been able to reach Lucianne, I don’t think she’s coming.”

Samael finally looked at her and seemed like he already knew it.

“We have to talk about that later. There’s something I need to show you all,” he replied pointing at the backpack he was carrying.

Without further explanation, he entered the cafeteria, followed by the rest and heading to the counter. Mankee walked out of the kitchen and stopped with a wince after seeing those staring faces forming a barrier around him, freaking him out.

“He-Hello . . . If you’re here looking for Demian, he hasn’t come yet.”

“Well, guess what, my exotic immigrant friend? We came to see YOU,” Mitchell said, leaning forward and arching his eyebrows.

“To see . . . me? It’s-It’s another one of your jokes, right?”

“You know why we’re here,” Marianne intervened as Lilith was trying to follow what was going on.

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mankee replied, holding the tray.

“What you did at the hospital yesterday,” Samael finally spoke.

“I have nothing to say,” he replied, trying to hide his nervousness.

“Yes, you have. How did you learn to do that? Are you aware of what you faced?” Marianne added to confirm Samael’s suspicion.

“It was nothing. Could you please let me go?”

“What did you do yesterday?” Lilith asked, pushing through them. Mankee looked surprised at her.

“You-you’re fine. I’m glad . . . and excuse me for last week, I . . . ”

“What happened at the hospital?” Lilith repeated steadily. She needed to know what they were talking about since she remembered nothing. Mankee kept quiet, feeling overwhelmed by the sudden focus on him.

“I did what I had to,” he replied, taking a deep breath and trying to break through them. “I got rid of the Nonuma, that’s all. Now, excuse me, I have to work.”

“You know that what you faced were actually demons?” Samael murmured as he passed by him.

“Evil spirits.”

“Not the same.”

The boy gave him a confused look, as if the two weren’t different to him.

“What are you talking about? What demons?” Lilith had already moved beside them, trying to follow the thread of the conversation, but feeling increasingly disoriented.

Mankee looked from her to Samael with a puzzled face, until the angel grabbed his arm and he felt a slight tingling in his skin.

“You’re not a common human,” the angel said, staring at him, trying to get into his mind. Mankee felt tense at the contact, watching those eyes as blue as a crystal lake beginning to stir and drawing him into its depths. He suddenly panicked and pulled his arm away, dropping the tray on the floor. The crash attracted the clients’ attention.

“Go away,” Mankee muttered in a huff, recoiling in terror. “Leave me alone!”

He got into the kitchen, leaving the others puzzled by his reaction.

They turned around and noticed all eyes on them, maybe speculating about what they had done or said to the boy. Yes, it was definitely time to go.

“Why did he react like that? Somebody explain to me what’s going on!” Lilith demanded once they were out.

“We better go somewhere private,” Samael suggested, deciding that a sidewalk as busy as that wasn’t the ideal place to talk about it.

“We can go to my house, my mom’s not there at this moment,” Belgina offered and the matter was settled.

They ended up in a large living room with only a small Japanese table at the center and some cushions around it so people could sit on them. It was uncomfortable, but they tried to settle as best as they could, finally opting to sit on the floor.

“Would you like something to drink? We have several types of tea and a set of china my mother bought for this room.”

“Whatever you have will be fine.”

“I’ll help you, babe. Come on,” Mitchell said, standing on his feet and going to the kitchen as if he already knew the way, producing another suspicious look from Marianne.

“Are you going to explain to me about yesterday or not? I’m confused . . . What does Monkey have to do with anything?” Lilith asked, sitting in an awkward position on the cushion.

“He’s the one who set you free from those demons’ influence,” revealed Marianne.

“Demons? What the . . . ?”

“That’s what was keeping you in some sort of catatonic state,” Marianne continued. “Apparently, they were trying to take over your will . . . To consume you.”

Lilith’s face reflected a deep bewilderment. The memory of the voices came back to her, the whispers she heard at night like nightmares trying to escape from her ears, inviting her to join them, showing her disturbing scenarios that constantly haunted her. Lies, deceit, she knew it was all that, but they could be quite convincing. And it had been like that since she could remember. Her entire life. How was it possible that they would just disappear overnight? Demons . . . they were demons. Were they really? She didn’t feel so different. She had stopped hearing them, indeed, she felt lighter and more lucid, but still could perceive their presence as an indelible imprint, like invisible eyes watching her in an empty room. But they couldn’t harm her anymore, she was sure of it. She sighed and lifted her gaze.

“So . . . Monkey managed to block their control . . . how?”

Marianne and Samael looked at each other while Belgina served them tea.

“We believe that . . . he may be one of us,” Marianne said and the consequent banging noise of the cups against the china, plus Mitchell spitting his tea was a clear indication of their surprise.

“The immigrant is one of us? I thought we were already complete,” Mitchell said warily.

“Yeah, well, I thought that too before you showed up,” Marianne replied, glancing at him to make him see how intolerant he sounded.

“Don’t misunderstand me, I appreciate what he did. He’s undoubtedly some special guy, hurray for him! But I think we’re like a little tightly fit by now. What’s next? Offering subscriptions to join the team?”

“It’s not just about denying him the entry, we’re not a VIP club. We were all called for a reason, because we were born with this power. We weren’t chosen randomly. Tell them, Samael.” He quickly looked at her as soon as she called him by his real name in front of the others. They, in turn, exchanged confused glances as if they weren’t sure what they’d heard and Marianne tried to rectify the situation at once. “Samuel . . . Tell them, Samuel!”

“Did you just say ‘Samael’?”

“No . . . I mean . . . it was a slip. I meant Samuel, of course, anyone can get mixed up,” Marianne said, though the others looked unconvinced.

“We’re digressing,” Angie interrupted. “The important thing is that if this guy is like us, then he should know.”

Marianne gave her a grateful gesture and she just shrugged apathetically.

“We’ll talk to him. We need to convince him to listen to us.”

“I’ll take care of that,” Samael finally said, holding the backpack he had on one side. “Now . . . you should see something.”

“What have you got there?” Marianne asked and Samael seemed dubious at first, but still opened the bag and took out a laptop. “That’s my laptop, why did you bring it?”

“I had to show you something,” he answered, settling it on the table and turning it on. “The day before of the event I installed a camera in the ceiling of the stage. I programmed it to start recording at the time the contest began.”

Marianne gave him a curious look. She was sure that was the camera her father had given her for her birthday last year and she kept it stored in its original package in the closet.

“I was looking at the recording today.”

The rest of them waited for him to talk, but after several seconds of silence, they tried to suppress the urge to shake him to speak.

“Well? What did you find then?” Marianne asked, inducing him to talk. Samael cleared his throat and took a deep breath as a sign that it was nothing good.

“I’ll let you see for yourselves.”

He pressed some keys and adjusted the screen so everybody could watch it. The recording focused on the seats and they could see where the jury would sit and part of the stage. People began to take their places and everything seemed to go normally for the first seconds until the video jumped forward and they were already in the competition, people were on their feet applauding and supporting the contestants. After that, the recording jumped again and now people were running hysterically over the seats, pushing each other, trying to escape. They saw the judges’ bodies being thrown by an external force over everybody’s heads. The nearest chairs began to clear up and then noticed someone making its way through the crowd, trying to move towards the stage in the opposite direction from the stampede.

“That’s Demian,” Marianne murmured in recognition.

“Maybe that’s how he got injured, trying to approach the stage.”

“Keep watching,” Samael suggested. Demian tried to advance through the horde pouring towards the exit, and a few feet from him, they saw a figure appearing in the corner of the screen, also struggling against the current, getting closer and closer to him.

“Isn’t that your cousin, Mitchell?”

“It seems so, what was he up to?”

When he was almost next to Demian, they saw him bend over to pick something up and then stand up again, holding a metal pipe in his hands, and with no sign of slowing down, he suddenly struck Demian with it, leaving him unconscious on the floor. The guys reacted with a gasp.

“Mitchell, what’s your cousin’s problem? Why would he do that?”

“I swear I have no idea! He’s always been unpredictable!”

“You must see something else,” Samael added, pressing a series of keys, after which the image froze right in the moment when the boy turned around and lifted his face. The image enlarged, making a closer look to his face and they all got to see his eyes. They looked different, like a mixture of colors.

“His eyes . . . Are you implying that he is . . . ?”

“The human with demonic energy.”

“What are you saying?” Lilith asked.

“Someone released Lucianne’s father. According to his analysis, the remains of the energy he found was part demonic, but there was also something human in it,” Marianne explained. “That means there’s a human working with the Legion of Darkness, receiving power in exchange . . . and maybe in the process of becoming one of them.”

The rest of them looked disgruntled. It was one thing to fight a demon, but quite another to face a human becoming one.

“Does Lucianne know about this?”

Marianne denied it and glanced at Samael, meaning they would have to tell her soon. Mitchell stood up all of a sudden.

“I’ll go look for that moron and ask him for an explanation!” he said, marching towards the door.

“Where do you think you’re going? It could be dangerous!”

“In any case, I’ll neutralize him and that’s it!” he said without stopping or even turning to them. The door was slammed a few seconds later.

“That idiot will only get himself hurt! Belgina, Angie, can you follow him and keep him from doing anything stupid?” Marianne asked and they nodded, going after him. “I guess we should go talk to Lucianne.”

“I’ll talk to Monkey, if you think it’s fine,” Lilith decided and Marianne nodded in approval. “And Marianne . . . thanks for everything. Even if I don’t get my gift back . . . at least I’ll get to stay alive, and I’m grateful for that.”

Marianne’s expression was as if her soul had fallen to her feet.  She felt her heart clenching and her throat closed, but still made the attempt to draw a hint of a smile on her face while leaving the place. Then she erased it.

All she had done was to extend their agony towards an imminent death if they didn’t retrieve the gifts, and as things were going . . . the hourglass was getting emptier.

Lucianne sat alone in the kitchen with a cup of tea in hand without touching her food. She was staring at the table. There it was, the note she had found in the package with the dress. Frank’s note. She watched it thoughtfully, trying to make a decision. Should she tell the others or take the risk and go by herself? They already had a bad opinion of him, maybe if they knew, they would try to catch him as another demon. But wasn’t there still hope for him? After all, he had come to her, probably for help, and despite what he had done to Perry, it still wasn’t him, she was sure of that.

Suddenly a knock on the door took her out of her reverie. She kept the note into her pocket and got on her feet in a hurry.

Marianne and Samael were at her door, and even though it took her off guard at first, she tried to look casual and quiet. “Hello! Sorry for not going to the hospital yesterday. Something came up, is Lilith okay?”

“Yes, she’s doing better. We were worried about you.”

“No need to worry, I’m fine.” Noticing Marianne’s gaze, looking inside the house, she stepped aside to make room for them. “Come in!”

“We need to talk to you.”

“Sure, let’s talk, I’m all ears,” Lucianne said, without taking her hand off her pocket.

“It’s about that boy, Frank.”

Lucianne stopped at that moment with her back at them and her hand clung to the note.

“He’s dangerous.”

“Well, you’ve been saying that for some time now. Tell me something new,” she snapped, facing them. She tried to smile, but looked tense instead.

Marianne glanced at Samael for support and he seemed to understand.

“We have reasons to believe he’s the human with demonic energy.”

Lucianne’s smile faded away. She squeezed the note so hard she even thought to feel it throbbing in her hand. Then she opened her mouth and a faint sound came out of it.


Minutes later, Lucianne was watching with a pale face the video with Franktick knocking out Demian and the close-up of his face. Her lips were stretched in a line and her brow was clenched in a worried gesture.

“Do you understand now?” Marianne said once the video had stopped and the screen showed the close up to his face. Lucianne kept biting her lip. Her cousin attributed it to the shocking news, but Lucianne was really thinking about how to react without them suspecting she had already realized that by herself . . . and boy, how she had. She swallowed with difficulty and started to say something, anything, whatever it took to not prolong that moment any longer.

“What do we do now?”

“We must locate him immediately before the transformation is complete and he ends up becoming one of them,” Samael explained.

“And when we find him . . . what then? Is it possible to reverse the process?”

Marianne turned to Samael, waiting for him to answer. Until now she didn’t know what they would do once they find the boy, and given Samael’s expression, neither did he.

“We’ll figure it out.”

Lucianne just nodded and looked down, not daring to speak. Marianne watched her, thinking how she had underreacted, definitely not the way she expected.

“He’s not been here, hasn’t he?”

“ . . . No. Not at all.”

Which was technically true, sinc he wasn’t there, inside the house. Marianne tried to imagine what was going through her mind, so she took her hand.

“Listen, Lucianne. Whatever you do, don’t try to make contact with him. If he comes, let us know. Don’t try to do anything heroic just because you trust in any kind of feelings he may have for you. At this moment, he’s not himself,” she advised while Samael kept staring at Lucianne, as if analyzing her.

She nodded again and this time tried to smile reassuringly.

“I’ll be careful,” she finished, and thus they winded up the visit. Lucianne walked them to the door, and as they parted, a doubt struck her. “What would it take . . . to complete the transformation?.”

“There are two ways a human could become a demon once the assimilation process has begun: to die . . . or to kill.”

Marianne shivered at the thought of either the two options and couldn’t help wondering what road had Ashelow taken to become one of them.

“What happens when . . . the transformation becomes complete?”

They both looked at each other. Marianne remembered Ashelow and how his death had released him. She kept it to herself. She just couldn’t say that and didn’t want to consider that possibility.

“We’ll do our best to prevent that,” Samael replied, and even though it wasn’t the answer she was looking for, she accepted it and said goodbye to them. As the door closed and they walked away from there, he sighed and spoke again. “ . . . He came to see her.”

“What? But she said no! Did you read her mind?”

Samael nodded and didn’t even seem apologetic.

“He left her a note. Wants to see her tomorrow night at the botanical garden. She’s thinking of going.”

Marianne huffed, placing her hands on her hips in disapproval.

“If you think about it, that way we can intercept him. We just have to get in time.”

 “Even if we find him, he’d be still under demonic influence . . . How do we . . . ?”

“We have an ace,” Samael interrupted confidently. She waited skeptically for him to go on and he gave her a smile. “Let’s just hope Lilith gets to convince him.”

Franktick sat on the floor with his back arched, and his legs folded up to his chest. He hadn’t taken off his hood at all, letting it cover his face. For some reason, it made him feel protected, as if it could restrain his evil urges.

He slightly lifted his face and glanced towards Commissioner Fillian, lying tied up and unconscious. He had no idea what to do with him now. He couldn’t afford to get him back home, exposing Lucianne, knowing now how dangerous he could be under his condition. He wasn’t even sure if he could return to his own house. Maybe he could just stay still in that corner until something happened, maybe disappear . . . or die. At that point, it didn’t matter anymore. He was already gradually losing himself anyway.

He laid eyes on Lucianne’s father once again. He hadn’t moved for hours. Maybe he was in agony . . . maybe it would be better for him to be dead right now. A wave of heat went through his spine, forcing him to straighten up and continue on that line of thought. Perhaps he would be better off dead . . .

Suddenly he crouched and began to crawl the distance that separated him from the man until getting to his side. Frank turned his body face-up and looked at him through those unnatural eyes that now allowed him to see everything in a new light, as if he had a series of filters implanted, becoming more distant and unreal to him. Perhaps he would be better off dead.

His hands began to move towards Commissioner Fillian’s throat, like they had a will of their own, until his fingers took a hold of him. He would be better off dead. He slowly closed his hands around his neck. His palms were numb so he pressed harder, trying to feel something, the throb of a vein, the porosity of the skin, anything. The man didn’t awaken, but started making guttural noises as his throat closed.

Frank wasn’t listening as he normally would, though. He was trapped inside a shell of himself. He squeezed more. The guttural grunts increased and the Commissioner’s face began to redden and swell. It was too easy. Killing a person could be too easy if he wanted. And he wanted it. He would be better off dead.

And suddenly he stiffened, feeling another shiver run down his spine and thought the floor was moving. He immediately pulled away from the police chief and stepped back into the ground until his back bumped against the wall again. What was he about to do? He took his hands to his face and pulled the hood down. Don’t see, don’t feel, don’t think, that was what he needed at the moment. He was losing himself and didn’t want to be aware of when that would happen, which apparently wouldn’t take long.

Lilith looked through the coffee shop’s window and saw Demian already positioned at the counter, as usual. She puffed her chest to muster her courage and entered.

“Hi. I thought you weren’t coming today,” Demian said after greeting her.

“We were here earlier, before you arrived, now it’s just me.”

“Oh, and to what do I owe this honor?”

“I need to talk to Monkey,” she replied casually, and he looked at her with a lifted eyebrow. It was the first time someone had asked to speak with him directly.

“Mankee? He’s in the kitchen. I’ll go tell him.”

“Don’t say it’s me!” she said, foreseeing that he wouldn’t come out if he knew it was her.

Demian considered t it even stranger, but still agreed and went into the kitchen. Lilith placed her elbows on the counter and crossed her arms. She was still confused about how did he save her, but hoped to clarify it by talking to him. When the kitchen opened again, Demian walked out, a little upset.

“I’m sorry, he went out shopping and—”

“Did he ask you to tell me that so he wouldn’t talk to me?” she asked, squinting suspiciously and immediately plunged into the kitchen without permission, but she only saw the cook standing in his station.

“I told you he went shopping,” Demian repeated, pointing out towards the door leading to the alley.

If intuition didn’t fail her, this was his way of telling her where to wait for him. And so she did. She stood in the alley in spite of the cold, and devoted herself to wait for his return. To counteract the weather, she placed herself next to the dumpster so it would cover her from the cold air. It took a while until she heard footsteps approaching. She waited for him to be as close as possible to give him the least range of escape, and as the footsteps echoed along the dumpster, she came out of her hideout.

“May I know why you are avoiding us?” Lilith came out unexpectedly and caused him to jump in fright, dropping the bags he was carrying while taking his hands to his chest.

“Could you please not do that again? You almost gave me a heart attack.”

“Don’t change the subject. Look, I’m not quite sure of what happened yesterday, I have no clear memories, but from what I’ve been told . . .  you saved me . . . and apparently, you’re likely to be one of us, so I don’t understand why you’re avoiding us.”

Mankee closed his eyes and sighed.

“I just don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want anything to do with whatever you’re involved in.”

“But why? Do you at least have any idea of what we are?”

“No,” he said tersely as he bent over to pick up the bags and stood up again, now staring at her. “And I don’t want to know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to work.”

And thus, the exchange ended. He entered through the back door, leaving Lilith in the alley, unsure of what else to say to convince him.

“And that’s what he said. He doesn’t want to get involved or even know what we’re doing.” Lilith finished her tale during a break from class, as the four of them sat on the steps leading to the seniors’ area.

“He won’t be easy to convince, apparently.”

“Why don’t we just force him?” Angie suggested. “There must be some way. I could try it.”

“No, he has to accept it on his own. If only we could find the root of his rejection . . . By the way, did you manage to reach Mitchell?”

“We went to his cousin’s house, but no one answered,” Angie replied. “He called his aunt and she said he hadn’t showed up for a couple of days. So, he took a key under a pot and we got inside. His room was a disaster, and not just because of the cables all over the place, but all of it was upside down, as if someone had been looking for something inside.”

“It felt evil,” Belgina said with a lost stare. Marianne glanced at Angie, waiting for her to explain more clearly.

“It was a mild trail,” she continued. “But it was definitely demonic. And it had been there recently.”

“Do you think it was Frank?”

“It was too defined to be him. Unless his transformation has completed.”

Marianne pursed her lips in distraught. Maybe she didn’t like him at all, but that didn’t mean she would be indifferent if he were to become a demon. Lucianne would definitely be the most affected by it and she wanted to keep her from the pain . . . plus she was planning to meet him, apparently, so that only endangered her more.

“Here comes Mitchell,” Belgina announced, pointing to the corridor. He was coming along with Demian, who was carrying his sports bag, surely heading towards the gym.

As soon as Marianne saw him, she immediately stood up, making some excuse to get away from there.

“I gotta do something, be right back.”

And without further explanation she just left in a hurry.

“Where is she going?” Mitchell asked as he approached the girls.

“She just said she had something to do,” Angie shrugged and Demian looked in her direction, starting to wonder if he was the reason for it.

“Hey, Demian, do you think it’s possible for Monkey to leave work during the afternoon?”

“Why are you asking me? I’m neither his boss nor the owner, in any case, he would have to ask for permission,” Demian replied, intrigued by the sudden interest they seemed to have for Mankee.

“Are you jealous of the immigrant now?” Mitchell said with a smirk, and Demian responded with a death glare.

“I have to go to my club. So long,” he finished, adjusting his sports bag behind his back and starting to walk away.

“Don’t be jealous, honey, we love you too!” Mitchell yelled from his spot, having fun at his expense. Demian just gave him the finger without even turning, causing him to laugh out loud.

He went out through the side door towards the gym. He had almost reached the door already when, checking his pocket, he remembered he had something to get rid of and thought maybe he could give it to one of the girls. He turned back and retraced his steps, when halfway through, he noticed Marianne a little farther away, her back to him and looking inside the building as if searching for something or maybe verifying that someone wasn’t nearby. He squinted, assuming who that certain ‘someone’ would be, so after adjusting his bag once more, he walked purposefully towards her.

“Are you avoiding me?”

Marianne flinched upon hearing his voice and turned around, unable to hide her surprise. Demian was watching her sternly, waiting for an answer. She tried to think of something quick, wishing she had a software in her brain programmed to select the perfect excuse. But she couldn’t think of anything just now, so she just decided to be honest.

“I’m just making things easier for you.”

“What are you talking about? Make things easy for what?”

Marianne scowled and gave him a look as if it were obvious.

“Not to cross paths with you anymore, of course,” she answered, but he kept staring at her, puzzled, scratching his head unable to understand what she meant. She rolled her eyes, realizing she would have to explain. “You told me to stop appearing in front of you, so that’s what I’m doing.”

“What? When did I say that?” he replied, feeling in some sort of twilight zone.

“At the hospital! I saw you unconscious on a stretcher, I approached to see if you were okay and suddenly you woke up, saw me and yelled at me out of nowhere.”

Demian was baffled at her statement.

“I don’t remember any of that.”

“Oh, sure, now you don’t remember.”

“I was unconscious . . . and suddenly I woke up? Maybe I didn’t,” he started to ruminate, more to himself, and she suddenly had flashes from the camp, when they were at the lake. He was sleepwalking and didn’t remember how he’d got there. Perhaps what happened at the hospital was no different. Marianne was starting to feel ridiculous now after all she’d done following that incident. “…I mean, not that I dream of you or anything like that, I just don’t remember saying it.”

“Okay, okay! I believe you! Sorry to assume you were being a jerk without even giving you the benefit of the doubt.”

Demian raised his eyebrows and chuckled.

“And you’re the one who’s constantly complaining about my presence, what does that say about you?”

She didn’t respond, but made sure to give him her sourest glare, which didn’t erase the smile from Demian’s face. After a few seconds, he gave a sigh and looked around.

“So . . . do we make it official then?”

“What?” She didn’t understand what he was talking about, and then he stretched his hand out towards her.


Marianne looked at him in surprise and, after thinking it over, she also reached for his hand, finally shaking it.

“Does this mean we’re no longer arguing?”

Demian laughed again and cocked his head.

“Well, I could be optimistic and say I will try, but I’m afraid it’s not up to me,” he said, lifting an eyebrow, and she seemed offended.

“Are you implying that I’m the one who starts all the discussions? That I have a bad temper?”

“You just answered yourself,” he ended with an amused smile. Marianne had run out of arguments, and merely moved her mouth wishing she could come up something, but her snark was failing that day, so she chose to fold her arms and keep quiet, while Demian turned around. “They’re waiting for me at the club, see you . . . Oh! I forgot!”

He pulled something from his pocket and threw it out to her which she got to catch in the air. It was the bracelet from the event.

“I won’t ask how it got to my hands, but I guess you must already know,” he said, casting a significant glance at her and then continued his way to the gym, making a farewell gesture as she slightly blushed, remembering how she had lost it, possibly trying to reach into one of his pockets before he held her wrist. She immediately shook her head, forcing herself to stop thinking about it, kept the bracelet and headed back to the building.

Lucianne looked at the clock, fidgeting, waiting to be six o’clock. She had already put on the flounced dress, and was sitting in her living room, waiting for time to fly, constantly moving her feet and tapping her fingers on the arm of the couch.

She had been careful to tell Perry she would be out with her cousin and wouldn’t come back until late at night so he wouldn’t show up unexpectedly before she left, because seeing her dressed like that would only make him suspicious. The last thing she needed at the time was for him to follow her and found out about Frank.

But what would she do after seeing him? She hadn’t even thought clearly about it. She was simply following an impulse. What if he tried to hurt her? She didn’t think he could, even under evil influence. Perhaps she was being naive, but she had convinced herself that somehow, he would manage to restrain himself before her, that she would help him to keep his essence, save him . . . but perhaps she was letting her mind wander too much. She sat up, feeling her anxiety about to explode, and began to circle around the room. The wait was killing her, so she decided to go to the meeting point at once.

She went upstairs and took a coat quickly, ready to go down again, but stopped with one foot on the stairs. She was acting irrationally, she was aware of it, and she would keep doing it nevertheless, but perhaps it would be better for her to take some precaution. She looked at her father’s room with a sudden idea in mind, and before cowering, she went ahead and opened the closet, starting to check one of the internal drawers to finally pull out a gun. She contemplated it like a fictional object she had only heard in legends, and yet she had been seeing it most of her life in her father’s belt. She checked the bullet compartment and pulled out all of the bullets, leaving only one. And just for double caution, she locked it, sighing as she squeezed the handle. It was time to leave.

Franktick was curled up in a corner, as if this would suppress his increasingly violent boosts. He had been considering for several hours the solution to his problem and only saw one way out. His only regret was not being able to tell Lucianne why he had originally looked for her and now it was too late, he couldn’t risk appearing before her. He didn’t trust himself anymore. He was totally out of control. But not for long.

He shifted in the dusty floor and reached into the pocket of his jacket, pulling out a swiss knife. He watched it for several seconds, holding it in front of his face. He squeezed it and took the knife to his neck, ready for what he had to do. His muscles tensed and his hand began to shake. He tightened his mouth in frustration and lowered his arm. Then, he wielded the knife again and this time he crouched down in four, crawled towards Commissioner Fillian and began to cut the ropes that bound him. It would be the last thing he would do before ending it all.

Once he released him, he turned his back against the wall and inhaled deeply until his lungs filled up. He wouldn’t stop now, that was for the best, he wouldn’t handle being controlled by anyone. Frank grabbed the knife again and placed it under his chin, rubbing the skin of his throat. A quick movement, that was all he needed to finish it.

“Go ahead. Do it. Make my job easier.”

Frank stopped when he heard the voice. Hollow stood a few feet away from him, resting on the doorframe and looking at him with a wicked smile.

“But if you do it now and that way, maybe there’s no case in keeping that girlfriend of yours alive. By the way . . . cute dress you got for her. She will surely look good in it when I meet her in that garden.”

The boy’s features immediately tensed, but the demon didn’t erase his smile. He then made a motion with his hand and the commissioner’s body floated towards him.

“Well, it’s time to go. I won’t keep her waiting.”

He grabbed the man’s neck, and with a smirk, he got inside one of his black holes, taking the police chief with him.

The boy’s breathing sped up again and all his muscles tightened. He was talking about Lucianne. Somehow, he had learned about the present he was planning on giving her, and now he was going to meet her up there. He couldn’t allow it. He kept the knife back and sat up holding the wall.

If he was to do one last thing before the inevitable loss of his soul, it would be to prevent that demon from hurting her, maybe his life would be worth something then.

“Are you sure it will work?” Samael asked as they waited in the middle of the alley next to the coffee shop.

“According to Lilith, he will come out through here for sure. She said to give her five minutes,” Marianne replied, looking at her watch. Just as she finished saying this, the side door opened and Mankee came out, carrying a piece of paper in his hands. When he saw them, he stopped abruptly and considered stepping back, as if rewinding a tape, but anticipating his intentions, Samael stood between him and the door.

“You again? What do you want from me? You’re making me nervous.”

“We just want to talk,” Marianne replied, trying to maintain a calm tone.

“There’s nothing to talk about! I told you that, whatever you’re up to, I don’t want to get involved. I don’t want anything to do with it.”

“But why? Do you even have any idea of what you did in the hospital? What you faced?” Samael intervened.

“No, and I don’t want to know!” he shouted, taking his hands to his ears while Lilith came running from the other side and stopped in front of them, exhausted.

“Did you convince him already?” she asked, breathing heavily.

“Did you arrange to ambush me?”

“Come on, Monkey! Stop playing tough! Listen to what we have to say.”

“Why is this so important to you?”

“Because you’re one of us and we need you,” Samael said with a steady voice, drawing the boy’s attention.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Samael glanced at the girls, as if they had previously agreed on something, and they nodded. Their bodies then began to be covered by their armors to Mankee’s astonishment. He recoiled in horror.

“What . . . what are you?”

“You better ask yourself that question,” Samael replied while their armors retracted.

Mankee was petrified. He had stepped back until he bumped into the wall and looked at them with eyes so wide they seemed to pop out of their sockets. They didn’t understand why he was so terrified.

“Speak out, Monkey. Say something.”

“You don’t get it . . . All of my life I’ve had to deal with the unknown. And I can’t . . . stand it. My horror is beyond description,” he confessed, clinging to the wall, as if about to be murdered.

“Is that what you really did at your town? Things like . . . what you did with Lilith?” Marianne asked, and he just looked away, which she took as confirmation. “Is that why you ran away? So you wouldn’t have to keep doing it?”

“I thought I would have a normal life here. Everything was fine until now . . . Why did I have to run into you guys?”

Samael approached him, and Mankee raised his arms defensively, but he took his face, forcing the boy to look at him.

“Because it is your destiny,” he enunciated so he could absorb his words.

Mankee stared at him, diving into his eyes and inside himself at the same time. His body was completely numb and yet he seemed to feel a tingle in his skin. He didn’t understand what was going on, if the blond boy was causing it, but he wanted to scream and he wasn’t able to. Suddenly a burst of light blinded him and he remained still for several seconds, until he slowly recovered his vision and glimpsed three silhouettes in front of him. When his sight cleared, he noticed the boy had moved aside and joined the girls to watch him intently.

“Why are you looking at me like that? Is there any problem?”

“None,” Lilith said, taking a small portable mirror from her bag and raising it in front of him so he could take a look. The image freaked him out. His face was covered in a material that didn’t weight anything, nor could it be felt. Even worse, his whole body was wrapped in that same sort of shell. Desperate, he tried to strip it off, but it was firmly adhered to him.

“What is this? What did you do to me?”

“Take it easy. You must relax or otherwise it won’t disappear,” Samael advised, but he was in shock and began to recite various phrases in another language. He stuck to the wall and lifted his face up. “He’s too upset.”

“Leave it to me,” Lilith said, moving toward him and slapping him a bit, taking his shoulders to keep him still. “Focus! You’re still here! Nobody’s hurting you! Stop being such a wimp and relax! Stay calm and everything will be okay!”

Mankee’s breathing slowed down, recovering its normal pace, and his armor retracted.

“How’s that even . . . ?”

“Come with us and we’ll help you control it,” Samael offered, inviting him with his eyes to follow them. Mankee blinked dubiously, but the angel insisted. “We don’t have that much time, and we need you. We’ll explain on the way.”

The boy gulped bitterly and glanced towards the closed door behind him. He was still afraid, but he was also eager to go with them. He weighed his options: to flee again to another city or face what seemed to be his destiny. He finally sighed and decided that he was tired of running away.

“Just help me justify my absence from work or I will lose my job.”

The three smiled to see they had finally convinced him.

It took Lucianne thirty minutes of walking to get to the botanical garden. The temperature had dropped so much that her breaths came out in wisps and her sweater covered her dress in such a way that the ruffles weren’t even showing, but it didn’t seem to bother her. The only thing she could think of was when Frank would appear. What to do then? Would she pull out the gun to show him that she was capable of defending herself? But that would only prove her distrust, and she still wanted to trust that part of him that had protected her, the part that had come to her for help. Why the gun, then?

She was so anxious that she couldn’t think clearly. How much longer would she have to wait? She had the feeling that she was being watched, but tried to convince herself it was due to her nervousness as there was no one else there. The botanical garden was commonly visited in the mornings and afternoons, but closed after five. All she could do was to wait for Frank to say what he had to say.

But little did she know that there were indeed eyes watching her. Three pairs to be exact. Angie, Belgina and Mitchell had been tasked to monitor the site closely while the others went for Mankee. The moment they saw her arrive, they were on guard.

“She arrived before time.”

“Isn’t that some kind of record for a girl?” Mitchell said casually, earning him a disapproving look from Angie.

“Ignoring the sexist comment, we must advise the others to hurry up, just in case he happens to get here earlier.”

“What if someone else comes?” Belgina asked, looking to the point they were supposed to be watching and the other two followed her gaze. A hole was opening behind Lucianne and a pair of hands came out of it without her even noticing.

“Oh, shit,” Mitchell let out with his mobile in hand just as he pressed the call button.

What was that? What’s happening? Hello?” was heard through the earphone.

Lucianne didn’t even have time to react. A hand covered her mouth while the other enfolded her shoulders to then pull her into the hole. The three of them came running to the place, but she had already disappeared.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Mitchell repeated, stomping his foot onto the ground, realizing they were late. He still had the phone in hand with the call on.

Could you please stop cussing and explain what happened?” Marianne demanded over the phone, waiting for information.

“Excuse me, my lady, would you rather hear me say ‘feces’ for your delicate ears?”

Mitchell . . . !” she yelled, losing patience and Angie snatched the mobile from his hand.

“We have a problem. An . . . unexpected event,” she explained without losing stoicism. “Lucianne was kidnapped by Hollow. We failed to stop them.”

Okay. We’re on our way.

As soon as the call ended, Marianne lifted her gaze to the others, who watched her on tenterhooks, intrigued to know what had happened.

“I think Lucianne fell into a trap.”