In the dream, the young girl with dark copper hair pulled in a braid was begging someone not to leave. Someone she couldn’t see. She was tied up, twisting to break free from the only chair inside a little rustic shed.

 “It’s the only way I can protect you. I promise I’ll be back. As soon as it’s over . . . ”

The door opened and the sun outlined a silhouette, right before the light surrounded everything. Then a scream echoed in the distance. Total darkness loomed over the world.

Belgina woke up startled. Beads of cold sweat ran down her forehead. She reached for the alarm clock and saw it was barely five in the morning, so she dropped her head on the pillow.

“Gina, are you awake?” A woman burst into the room, dressed in a dark business suit with her hair tied back while she buttoned her jacket.

“Yes, mom. Are you going out so early?”

“I have to go the court. I must be ready for a major trial at eight. It may take all day so I’ll let you know if I can’t get back. I think there’s food in the fridge, but you can order something and charge it to my card, okay?”

“ . . . Sure. Have a nice day,” she answered, afflicted to see her go so hastily. Even though she was used to it, still she couldn’t help the void inside her every time her mother set off like that, which was pretty often since she could remember. She squeezed her sheets, and then the window flung open by a blast of wind.

She stood up quickly, covering herself from the gust, and closed the window. She then stood there for a few minutes with her forehead against the glass, watching her mother get into the car and go away with the rapid pace she’d handled herself all her life. Belgina tried to evoke a moment with her mom staying by her side beyond a weekend, but she invariably ended up remembering herself that way, a lonely spot in a sea of nothingness. No matter the material comforts she enjoyed, she still felt empty.

Belgina tried to push those thoughts out of her mind and brushed back her hair, which had been disheveled by the wind. She still had three hours left before school, but couldn’t get back to sleep, so she ended up going right to her desk, switched on a lamp, put on her spectacles and opened up her science book, which was full of jottings. She briefly glanced at a notepad hidden behind several books and anxiously drummed her fingers on the edge of the table until she reached out to it and began to turn the pages. They all had different dates, but in each and every one of them the exact same dream was described, with some variations. She got to a blank page and wrote down the current date, followed by a detailed description of the one she recently had.

When daybreak arrived, Marianne was already wearing her uniform, standing in front of a full length mirror —brought down from the attic to replace the broken one. She inhaled deeply and tried to concentrate on bringing her armor up, which began to cover her by parts, but stopped halfway through.

“Why is it incomplete?”

“The armor is for dangerous situations. It’s unwise to make it appear anytime you want, you could draw the enemy’s attention and we don’t want that.”

“How’s that even possible?” she asked while examining part of the shell through the mirror.

“In human form you can go unnoticed, but when you transform, the flow of your energy changes along with you, it increases. That makes you an easy target for them and they’d be able to identify you like that from now on.”

“And you’re telling me just now?!”

“I warned you, but you didn’t listen,” Samael stated, while she struggled to focus on disappearing her armor again.

“There’s no danger. There’s no danger . . . ” she repeated as a mantra with her eyes shut, and the shield began to slowly withdraw.

“Hey! What’s all that ranting about?” Loui suddenly asked, peering through the door. She abruptly opened her eyes and looked nervously at the mirror where she could see his reflection. Fortunately, the armor had vanished.

“I’ve told you to knock before!”

“I did! If you didn’t hear it’s not my problem. Mom’s calling us for school . . . what’s that thing on your arm?”

She looked at the spot he was pointing at and noticed there was a slight trace of armor left. She quickly shook her arm until it disappeared.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, you must be still half-asleep. Get out of my room now!” She pushed him out of the room and closed the door. “I’ll have to start locking the door.”

“And there’s also the risk of someone else finding out about you.”

“Yeah, okay! I get it! I won’t do it again.”

“Still talking to yourself?” her brother interrupted, still behind the door, and she responded with a couple of thumps on the wood to stop him from snooping around.

“Kids! When are you coming down?” their mother shouted with the phone attached to her neck. They went down the service stairs and she offered the phone to whoever might pick it up. “It’s your father. He wants to talk to you two.”

“I’m not here. I’m already at school,” Marianne replied nonchalantly. She sat at the table and proceeded to butter some toast, her face unyielding. Her mother grimaced while Loui conversely took the phone enthusiastically.

“Hi, dad! What’s up?”

“You can’t ignore him forever, you know?” her mother said in a whisper.

“I’m not ignoring him. I’m just not a phone person,” she refuted, taking a bite of the bread. Her mother declined to give any further comment while Loui walked about in circles, attached to the phone.

Ever since her parents had split up —leading to her mother’s decision to return to her hometown, children included— Marianne had already resolved to blame her father for the drastic change in their lives, after all, he was already frequently absent because of his job. Therefore, she was constantly looking for excuses not to answer his calls, adopting a mask of indifference in front of others.

 “Dad asked if Uncle Red had come to visit yet,” Loui said after hanging up the phone. “Do we have an Uncle Red?”

“I haven’t spoken to him in years,” their mother said with a bitter tone. “Well . . . I guess I could invite him over one of these days.”

“Done. I’m off to school,” Marianne said, taking her backpack to her shoulder.

“I haven’t had breakfast yet! Won’t you wait for me?”

“Mom can take you. I’m in a hurry,” she replied, rushing her way out without waiting for his response. She didn’t want to know anything about relatives at the moment, and even if going to school wasn’t a better option either, at least she could think of something to make up for walking away from Belgina the day before.

She was mentally prepared to be snubbed by her classmates once again, but she wasn’t expecting to go completely unnoticed once she got through the door. Everyone seemed more interested in a topic that didn’t concern her at all, at least not to their knowledge.

“ . . . And then this robot-android-weird entity showed up and it was thrown into the wall, smashing half the hall. It almost fell over me! Luckily, I reacted just in time and got away as fast as my legs allowed me. Look at them! They’re all bruised! And scratched!” Kristania narrated to the group gathered around her like she was some kind of survivor of a big catastrophic event.

Marianne suppressed the irresistible need to burst out laughing after recalling her hiding behind the receiver several feet away and scared to death. The bruises and scrapes came later when the hospital was filled with cops. She had decided to come out triumphantly of her hideout only to end up slipping at her second step and falling down to her knees in the rubble. Marianne had seen everything while blending with the people at the hall before leaving the place.

“Why are you looking at me that way?” Kristania paused after noticing her.

“What way is that?” Marianne held her gaze defiantly, trying to convey that she had seen her and wouldn’t flinch to tell the truth. The sharp-faced girl frowned as if she had caught the gesture and preferred to ignore it in favor of her story.

“ . . . Anyway, it was frightening, a terrifying experience if I may say. We all thought we were going to die. Even Angie can confirm it, she was also there.”

The attention shifted to the raspberry-haired girl sitting at the back of the class this time. Even Belgina was listening with vacant eyes.

“I . . . it’s not like I was there the whole time. In fact, I was already leaving when it all happened.”

“What were you doing there, anyway?” Kristania asked again, resting her chin on her hands. Angie suddenly seemed cornered, unable to speak.

“She was visiting a relative,” Marianne intervened, and all gazes switched to her now.

“And what were you doing at the hospital? You simply disappeared during the attack and then you came back when it was over. That’s very suspicious.”

Misstep. She was supposed to avoid drawing attention, not to put herself in the center of it. Even Belgina was looking at her, surprised to learn that she had also been there. Her bad habit of compulsively talking back had taken its toll.

“I went to see a psychiatrist to stop hearing pesky voices, but apparently didn’t work since I can still hear yours,” she spat with the kind of challenging attitude she used to take in that kind of situation, causing chuckles from the rest.

If Kristania was picking on her for some unknown reason before, now she was giving her the perfect excuse to continue doing so, but Marianne didn’t even care. If the gray-eyed girl was used to never being confronted by anyone, she had picked the wrong girl to pester.

Kristania shot her a withering look while she went to her seat and looked at Belgina, but she seemed immersed in her own thoughts. Perhaps finding out that she was also present at the hospital adventure made her feel neglected. Once again, Marianne felt that gnawing remorse inside of her.

“Pssst! Pssst!” There was a very quiet sound. She turned around and noticed it came from Angie, trying not to draw any attention to herself. “Thanks for that.”

Marianne nodded with a discrete smile. Maybe that girl needed to be reserved and she wasn’t going to judge her on that, since she also had some secrets of her own.

“Marianne Greniere, Angemona Minatt and Kristania Krunick, please go to the principal’s office.” They heard through the speakers at mid-morning, interrupting their assignments.

Marianne jumped up, followed by Angie and Kristania with matching bemused expressions on their faces, and the three of them walked dubiously to the door, their classmates staring at them as if they were on their way to the gallows.

Once at the office, they sat in front of the principal’s desk and he proceeded to explain the reason why they had been called.

“We received a call from the police department requesting for your presence regarding yesterday’s incident at the hospital. You just have to answer some routine questions and given that you’re minors it’s also required that we call your parents to let them know so they can be present.”

“No!” Marianne suddenly shouted, and noticing the way they looked at her, she tried to mend her own reaction. “I mean . . . my mom has already so many things on her mind right now, I don’t want her to worry about something unimportant.”

The other two girls quickly shook their heads, too shocked to give a proper answer.

“Well then, we’ve prepared the school bus to drive you to the headquarters. Your absence today will be justified, you won’t have to worry.”

In the following minutes, the trio was taken to the school bus, where they sat silently in their seats for the rest of the trip.

“We’re here,” announced the school driver. The three girls came down reluctantly, but knew they couldn’t put it off for long.

Upon entering the building, they were ushered into a huge packed room despite its large size.

“Look! Two free seats!” Kristania suddenly said, pulling the raspberry-haired girl and giving her no time to react, cutting Marianne off.

Angie only managed to shrug at her, so she had no choice but to swallow her anger and walk down the long hall, hoping to find some empty chair left.

She reached the bottom of the room and finally found the last couple of empty seats. Then plopped on one, crossed her arms and looked straight ahead, constantly moving her foot. She hadn’t thought of her version of the story just yet. She needed a compelling story to tell whenever her turn came and she wasn’t sure whether to stay with the ‘lost uncle’ one, but if she couldn’t come up with something else, she would have no choice. While she was musing about it, the adjacent seat moved. Someone had taken it.

She turned around and the first thing she saw was the tip of a sword next to her face, which prompted her to leap off her seat.

The carrier, covered in a white suit from head to toe, and wearing a mask with a metal mesh, struggled to get the sword into his sports bag and then took off his mask.

“You again!” Her muscles tightened like a surly cat’s when she saw Demian under the mask. The boy tussled his hair a little and put the mask on the bag, then sighed resignedly and took his seat again.

“I’m seriously thinking you’ve been hired to spy on me.”

“Excuse me? I was here before you even arrived!”

“What a coincidence,” he said sarcastically, lifting an eyebrow.

She gasped really hard for breath, ready to respond, but then noticed the stares from the people in the front row, so she opted to remain quiet and sat down again, though pulling her chair away from him.

“And for your information, it’s not like I wanted to be here, I was sent from school,” she muttered as discreetly as possible.

“Well, me too. I was dragged out of my practice and brought here. I didn’t even get the chance to change clothes. I don’t dress like this every day.”

“Well, that’s the most uniformed I’ve seen you.”

“Whatever, at least it helped me to go undercover,” he said this more to himself, keeping an eye to the front as if trying to hide from someone.

Marianne followed his gaze all the way to Kristania, with her back to them, talking non-stop to a very bored Angie. She was curious about what kind of relationship they had, considering their last meeting and his resistance to be seen by her, but refused to ask. She wanted to avoid any kind of contact with him, though apparently fate was constantly putting him on her path. It had to be some kind of bad karma.

One of the doors at the front opened and an imposing middle-aged man came out of it. He had a patch of white hairs distributed on one side of his dark hair in a lightning shape. They almost seemed dyed on purpose. Beside him was a young man she remembered seeing in her house while interrogating her brother. The latter was introduced as Officer Sascha Perry. He was tall and brunette with a flattop and brown eyes.

“Good morning. I’m Commissioner Fillian, the town’s police chief.” Demian winced slightly at the sight of him. “You’re here for a routine investigation process. We’ll only ask you a few questions and you’ll be able to go home. If we need any further confirmation, you’ll get a call back. Relax for now and wait to be called. We’ll start in a few minutes,” the man recited in his authoritative baritone voice.

Next, he turned around and went back inside, leaving his subordinate at the front, holding a list and reading some names aloud, asking them to enter the next room.

The people who were called followed instructions while Marianne leaned on the back of her chair, impatiently tapping her feet and rattling her fingers on the sides of her seat.

“Could you please stop doing that?” Demian interrupted. “You’re driving me crazy.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but this is my personal space and I’ll do whatever I want in it. If it bothers you so much, you’ll have to find another seat. I was here long before you.”

“Your personal space ends as soon as it starts to annoy someone else.”

“Oh, do I upset you? I’m so sorry. Maybe you should’ve thought about that before running me over. We could have saved ourselves all of this,” she objected with a sardonic tone and he rolled his eyes, already fed up.

“You’re quite stubborn!” he replied loudly, drawing their neighbors’ attention once again, so he sank deeper into his chair and spread his legs forward, trying to lower his voice. “Don’t ever mention it again, okay?”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t you just pretend not to know me and stop talking to me?”

“That’s easy. I don’t know you.”

“Good! That’s the spirit!” she concluded and they both remained quiet for the next few minutes, staring forward, waiting to be called at any given time and feeling overcome with anxiety as the room was getting emptier, to the point that Demian took out the mask from his sports bag and put it on again as Kristania’s visual field started to clear in his direction. Marianne peered at him and shook her head in disapproval. She even felt compelled to snatch his mask and shout at Kristania just to see his reaction. But she would have to keep these thoughts to herself because Officer Perry came out again with his list.

“Kristania Krunick, Angemona Minatt and Marianne Greniere.” The three girls got up in the same order they were called and while the first two had already approached the front of the hall, Marianne was just heading that way.

“Your name is Marianne then,” Demian said with his mask on, not moving from his position and keeping his legs spread, obstructing her way. She squinted and just turned around to walk behind his seat, slapping his mask away in the process, which dropped to the floor with a rattling noise.

“Oops, sorry, DE-MI-AN!” she shot back, making sure to pronounce his name loud and clear enough so Kristania would hear it. And indeed she did. Her head turned around like straight out of ‘The Exorcist’ and stared at him, a raptor looking at its prey.

That was enough to put a smile on Marianne’s face, the third round was hers. The officer on duty rushed them to get through the door, preventing Kristania from running across the room like a hare as she clearly wanted to do. But surely, she would have a chance later on, Marianne thought.

Once inside, the three girls were separated and taken to different cubicles, where one of the cops asked some routine questions and registered everything with a tape recorder. Marianne ended up sticking with the lost uncle story, even if she had to make up things on the spot. She was waiting to be questioned about her motives, up to the point of pinning her down, but they simply thanked her and asked her to sign a confidentiality agreement. Within half an hour she was out of the office and looked around the room, already emptied. She didn’t even know if Angie or Kristania were gone or still inside, but according to the huge clock hanging in the middle of the hall it was well past four, so she decided she’d better leave the same way she had come. After several days of eating poorly she was now feeling ravenous, and only getting home would make her satisfied.

When she exited through the side door, she noticed the building was connected to another one by an extensive paved passage.

“Go into that building now,” Samael suddenly said.

“Let me guess, you have one of your hunches.”

“I can’t explain it. I just need you to be there.”

Marianne sighed and crossed the passage to the front building. There was a sign at the entrance that read ‘Courthouse’. The interior was filled with marble columns lined up, leading to a complex of huge carved mahogany doors. Sculpted hand-railed stairs climbed over the walls to the sides, converging on top of the doors. For a split second, she glimpsed a figure in a gray hoodie looking at her from the top floor, but when she looked back no one was there.

She scanned the place, not knowing whether to go up or straight forward, but then she saw a familiar silhouette in the background. It looked tiny in front of the colossal doors.

“Hey!” she yelled after recognizing Belgina, giving her a start. “Sorry, did I scare you?”

“No problem,” she replied briefly, getting back to her previous position.

Marianne stood behind her, wondering how to address her now, feeling the gap between them. A gap she had opened herself.

“So . . . why are you here? Isn’t it forbidden to spy on government buildings or something?”

“I’m not spying. My mom works here,” she answered without a single note of emotion in her voice. That was really discouraging. Belgina was the first person who had befriended her despite her being the ‘new girl’. She didn’t want to ruin everything because of a trifle.

“Are you mad at me for not telling you where I was going?” Marianne took the risk of asking her directly. Belgina gazed surprised at her, and even seemed to meditate on it for a few seconds, but she finally shook her head and looked away.

“It doesn’t matter anymore. I have other things to think about.”

A sudden gust of wind passed between them and Marianne looked around for an open window.

“Ventus,” Samael said.

“Ventus?” she repeated, realizing that she’d said it aloud and Belgina looked confused at her.


“Nothing! I was just thinking about the wind. No idea where it came from!”

“Follow her everywhere she goes.”

Marianne had to bite her lip not to answer back and just smiled at Belgina.

“Well, I understand if you need to go now. I plan on staying here a little longer.”

“Let me stay with you. I’m in no hurry to go home, perhaps you could help me with the notes from today,” she quickly resolved and the bespectacled girl thought about it for a moment.

“Okay, follow me then.”

Belgina led her up the stairs until they reached the first landing, where instead of continuing up, she gave a couple of taps on the wall and a door opened.

“Is this . . . right?” Marianne asked after Belgina went inside. She looked around nervously and the girl peered through the hatch.

“Relax. I’ve done this hundreds of times,” she said while pulling her inside, the door closing behind them. They started to walk through a compact hallway illuminated only by low power bulbs. “200 years ago, this was the most important and symbolic building of the entire town, so it was used as a secret base to spy on several societies that held their meetings in the main hall. They built this secret passage leading directly to a strategic location over the room that had a peripheral view of the whole place and perfect acoustics.” After reaching the end of the long hallway and turning to the right, they came across a mechanical door with an electronic security system. Belgina gestured her to stop and took out an ID card from her pocket, passing it through a slot in the door, which opened instantly. “Obviously they’ve modernized the security system over the years. Go ahead.”

Inside, it looked like a spacecraft compartment, with only a piece of furniture at the center and a small table. Up front there was a huge glass instead of a wall through which they could see the entire room below.

“Impressive! Can they see us?”

“No. It’s a special polarized glass. The other side looks like part of the ceiling’s décor. That’s how this place has been kept a secret for so long.”

“It’s amazing! How do you know about this?”

“My mother spends her time at work since I was little, so she let me stay here when no one else could take care of me. It’s fully equipped, there’s even a bathroom behind that wall and the couch can be changed into a bed.”

“Which one is your mom?” Marianne asked, approaching the glass for a better look.

“She’s the judge,” Belgina replied, pointing out to the back of the court. There was a woman dressed in a toga, with a solemn expression that made her look intimidating.

“She looks stunning. How lucky having a mom like that.”

“You really think so?” She looked with a pained expression. Noticing her reaction, Marianne chose to settle on the couch and take out her notepad.

“Why don’t you give me your notes from class? If we have time we might even do homework together, don’t you think?”

Belgina sighed and nodded, trying to show a better face. Within minutes the table was filled with notebooks, pencils and books, and they had left the comfort of the couch to sit on the floor. Marianne had even forgotten how hungry she was until an unmistakable growl forced her to grab her stomach with embarrassment.

“Are you hungry? I’m sorry, I didn’t offer you anything.” As soon as she said this, Belgina stood up and went to the back wall where a sort of porthole opened with a fridge inside. She took refreshments and then selected some cookies from a vending machine on top of it. “Here you go.”

“Thank you. You meant it when you said it was fully equipped. By the way, what’s this button for?” she asked, pointing at a built-in button in the couch’s armchair, which Belgina pressed while sitting back in the floor.

“Listen for yourself.” The room was instantly filled with the clean sound of voices coming from the main hall.

“Tell me, Mr. Torry, what time you arrived to the bank?” asked one of the prosecutors heading to the stand.

“At 7:00. Maybe 7:10,” replied the defendant nonchalantly.

“And the shooting started at 7:20. Could you tell the jury what happened then?”

“I don’t remember,” said the man in the same monotone.

“Is it the trial about yesterday’s shooting?” Marianne asked, paying attention.

“Yes, it has received a lot of press, so it was decided to prosecute him as soon as possible.”

“Well, let me refresh your memory. At 7:20 you went to the front, ignoring the complaints of the people lined up, and without saying a single word, pulled a gun and fired left and right, wounding half of them. There’s no need for you to deny it, everything was caught on video. The question here is . . . why?

“I don’t remember,” the defendant insisted, shrugging offhandedly.

“He’ll play the insanity card,” Belgina intervened. “I have seen many cases where they decided to take that course for their defense. Having so much evidence against him, the only thing left is to go for the temporary insanity. That way they avoid jail and are committed into a mental facility.”

“Wow. You know a lot about this. You must’ve seen many trials in here.”

“Almost each and every one presided by my mom. This has become like my second home. In fact . . . I don’t remember any other day when there’s just been me and my mom, together like a family . . . It’s kind of sad, isn’t it?

There it was again, that melancholy in her face, which made Marianne feel uneasy. She was not used to dealing with other people’s emotions, not even her own. She really had no idea what to say.

“Sorry. I shouldn’t be telling you this. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. After all, it’s not like you’re supposed to care about it.”

“It’s not that I don’t care . . .. although I admit it’s a little bit awkward for me,” she tried to explain while her hands moved idly like whenever she was nervous. “It’s actually rather difficult for me to talk about personal or emotional issues, so . . . I don’t really know what to say or how to help you out.”

“You don’t need to say anything. Just being here is enough for me.”

“Well . . . then I’ll stay here all the time you need me to. I can live on soda and cookies.”

She put an entire cookie in her mouth to lighten up the mood, making Belgina reluctantly draw a smile on her face. However, that moment was promptly overshadowed by several screams coming from the hall. They ran to the glass and saw all the people rushing to the door, pushing each other to get out.

“Mom!” Belgina yelled, leaning on the glass.

Marianne turned to the stand and saw Ashelow holding the woman while Umber held the accused man, causing havoc in the courtroom, tossing people left and right. Several officers went into the room alerted by the commotion and pointed their guns at them.

“Hold it! Put your hands where we can see them!”

Umber roared with laughter and stretched out his arm towards them, taking hold of the man. His fingers elongated into the shape of blades and sank into the nearest men’s limbs, forcing them to drop their weapons or to pointlessly shoot at them, bullets bouncing from their bodies and ricocheting right before being expelled from the courtroom.

Marianne was trying to devise some plan when she felt another gust of wind. She turned to Belgina, still glued to the glass and saw what seemed to be some kind of disturbance around her.

“ . . . Belgina?”

She wasn’t listening. Her attention was fixed on her mother, held hostage by one of the demons while the other threw the man against the floor, ignoring his pleas, and after making a circular gesture over the man’s chest, he introduced his hand and took out a bright sphere. Belgina’s mother started screaming at the sight of it, but Ashelow clutched her harder. Right when the orb turned off after trying to get it into one of the containers, the demon threw it away, along with the lifeless body, and then set his eyes on the woman.

“Mom!” Belgina cried, desperately hitting the glass. The gust of wind that had appeared from nowhere swirled and surrounded her while Marianne watched it confused. She tried to hold her, fearing the glass would collapse, but Samael’s voice stopped her.

“I have no doubt anymore.”

“What are you talking about? I have to do something.”

“Remember when I told you there were others like you?”

It took Marianne a few seconds to make the connection.

“You mean . . . ”

A scream cut her thoughts short. The demon had reached into the woman’s chest and taken the gift out. It was so bright that for a moment a spark of triumph was noticeable in his eyes. Belgina watched everything with her face reddened, panting heavily. She had stopped hitting the glass, but her chest swelled and her throat was accumulating a cry that she finally let out in the middle of the disturbance that ended up shattering the glass, attracting the attention of both demons.

“We gotta get out now!” Marianne quickly pulled her to the compartment’s exit before Ashelow could rise at his master’s command.

“I have to get back for my mom! She needs help!” Belgina snapped, trying to break free, but Marianne stopped her.

“No, you can’t do it this way! It’s dangerous! You’ll have to do it like me!”

“What do you mean?”

Marianne stepped back, wondering if it would be safe to show herself, if Samael was even right, but time was running out and she couldn’t waste any more of it, so she concentrated until her armor completely covered her before Belgina’s astonished eyes.

“What . . . what did you do? What are you? Are you one of them?!”

“No, no! Listen to me! I’ll explain everything later! All you have to know is that I’m one of the good guys and those down there are demons. I must fight them and apparently there are others like me who don’t even know what they are, but just need a little push to understand it. Others like you!”

“What about me?”

“You’re like me! You’re also an Angel Warrior!”

“What?” Belgina mouthed in disbelief. At that very moment, a pair of lengthened arms went through the sealed hatch and caught Marianne, dragging her, door and everything, down to the courtroom’s floor. Belgina got up and returned to the compartment to watch through the broken glass.

“I should’ve known you’d come. You’ve become a very annoying stone in my shoe, you know?” Umber said, fiddling with the orb between his fingers as Ashelow held Marianne. “But I’m in a good mood, so if this happens to be one of the gifts I’m looking for, I’ll let you go, what do you think?” He conjured up another container and put the orb over, instantly absorbed by it. A huge smile of satisfaction appeared on the demon’s face, but within seconds it turned into a grimace when the vessel threw the sphere back, losing its light instantly. “Too bad . . . for you, that is. Finish her, Ashelow. I’m out of here.”

Saying this, he threw the orb next to the woman’s body and he dissipated into ashes.

“That’s so brave of him, letting his servant do all the work!”

“Quiet!” Ashelow shouted, squeezing her harder while Belgina watched everything, looking from her mother and back to Marianne, thinking of her words.

She couldn’t even fathom something like that. Her? Some kind of warrior? It had to be a mistake. Sheltered behind the glass, she watched carefully what was going on down there. Marianne seemed to be in trouble, slowly going out of breath, and Belgina covered her face with her hands in a desperate gesture. What could she do? She couldn’t help her. She didn’t even know what it meant to be like her. Her hands clasped her hair in a desperate gesture. She couldn’t do anything!

She was hit by a whirlwind, surrounded by it, putting her into some sort of trance. An ancient voice calling her from another time, before she was even born. Her eyes flew open, an epiphany sparkling behind them, filling her mind. A murmur from the wind brought the answer she was looking for: Ventus. That was her power.

A shell began to cover her body, standing out from Marianne’s in her cerulean tone and some armor shapes that gave her a streamlined appearance, including a helmet that suited her own glasses. She held her breath to keep her composure, not allowing herself to succumb to perplexity, and then sat up next to the breach that had been the polarized glass. After making some circular gestures with her hands as if collecting air, she stretched out her limbs and a column of wind suddenly hit Ashelow, making him release Marianne, who turned to look at her, flabbergasted.

“I can’t believe it. You were right.”

Ashelow looked up and, in a risky and completely precipitated act, Belgina launched herself from above, cushioned by a gust of air that helped her land gracefully on her feet. 

“ . . . Another one,” he said, taken aback, and Marianne took advantage of the moment to stand up and threaten him with her sword.

“That’s right! There’s two of us now. What are you going to do about it?”

Ashelow didn’t respond, he simply glared at her and disappeared. The two girls collapsed on the floor with bated breath. A few seconds passed and Belgina ran to her mother while Marianne tried to simmer down and absorbed her sword again.

“Mom! Please, wake up!” Belgina pleaded, without getting any answer.

“Don’t worry, I’ll give her back her gift right now, but before that . . . we’d better get back to normal. We don’t want to be seen like this when they all come in.” She pointed at the doors, clattering and about to be forced open. They didn’t have much time.

“So . . . what do I have to do? This armor just suddenly appeared and . . . !”

“Just relax. Think there’s no danger. Concentrate on that,” Marianne advised, trying to sound as if she had everything under control, even though deep inside she was perhaps as flustered as her.

Marianne returned the gifts to their owners and had to convince Belgina to leave her mother and hide before the doors gave in and the room would fill with people and cops who would consider it strange to see them inside.

They had to wait a while until they deemed it safe to get out again and mingle with everybody.

Marianne took Belgina’s shoulder, anxious to talk about everything now that she had a ‘partner in crime’.

“Hey, listen, I think we need to talk about . . . ”

“Not now, please. I want to be with my mom. We’ll talk later,” Belgina replied curtly, shaking her hand off her shoulder.

“Oh . . . Okay, sure. I understand,” Marianne said, trying to give her space. The girl walked away with her mother while she just followed her with her gaze, feeling the gap opening again between them.

“Don’t worry. She’ll end up coming to terms with it.”

“I just hope . . . this doesn’t end up alienating her more.”

After taking one last look at the courtroom, she decided to leave, relieved at least to be rid of yet another danger. Although, it was too early to call it a victory as across the cobbled passage, at the investigation department, the IT guy responsible for analyzing the hospital’s surveillance video had offered his seat to Commissioner Fillian.

The man watched the screen intently, repeating again and again the editing between two scenes: one with Marianne entering cardiology and the other one with a figure turning down the bottom hall, covered in armor. He put both frozen images head to head and rested his chin on his clasped hands.

“Interesting,” he commented, rocking on his chair as he stared at the stills.