31. OVERDUE PUNISHMENT
“No!” Frank yelled, just as Lucianne fired in cold blood.
He saw the bullet heading in slow motion towards the girl. He could do nothing to stop it, he wasn’t that fast, but then the bullet bounced on something invisible. A barrier. Samael had appeared at the right time in front of the girl, stopping the bullet from wounding her. Franktick sighed with relief.
“What a nag,” Lucianne snorted after her shot was hindered, and just as she was about to try another one, someone stopped her from behind and snatched the gun.
“It’s over,” Marianne said firmly while the others surrounded her, causing another panic attack among people.
“The Angel Warriors are attacking us!” someone shouted, while the people crowded the exit again.
“This doesn’t look good.”
“What are we going to do with her?” Mitchell asked, trying to keep Lucianne still, although she didn’t seem to offer much resistance anyway.
“Don’t you dare to hurt her!” Frank warned him.
“Of course we won’t! What do you think we are?”
“People are terrified. We should get out of here before the police arrive,” Angie suggested, and soon as the sirens were heard.
“That’s timely!” Lucianne said, starting to laugh. “If the police were already targeting you before, with this you surely will make the most wanted list.”
“And all thanks to you!” Marianne reproached her, trying to contain her anger.
“Ohhh, what’s wrong, cousin? Are you mad at me? Or maybe jealous?”
Marianne squeezed her hands but said nothing, instead she threw the gun to the floor.
“Lilith, melt it down.”
Lilith nodded and after leaning on the floor, she sent heat waves to the gun, which slowly began to melt into a shapeless mass of metal stuck to the floor.
“I really suggest we leave soon,” Angie insisted, attentive to the movement outside.
“You should listen to her, otherwise I’ll escape,” Lucianne seconded.
“Don’t you feel remorse for this mess you’ve caused?”
“Let me think, ummmmh . . . no,” she replied without a hint of affectation in her voice, completely detached from everything.
“You can’t keep holding her that way, you’re gonna hurt her.”
“She should have thought of that before attacking innocent people,” Marianne replied bluntly, her face hardened.
“Could you please decide what to do now? My arms are getting numb,” Mitchell said, trying to stay rigid, even though Lucianne remained quiet.
“Let her go, then,” Frank demanded, walking towards them.
“And then what? Will you stop her or just watch her destroy everything?”
“You don’t know what I’ve done.”
“Well, I don’t think it’s been that much by the look of this place.”
“Would you two stop arguing? We have more important things to worry about.”
Lucianne took advantage of the distraction, pointed her fingers down and the light beams she shot pierced through Mitchell’s feet. He immediately released her and dropped to the floor, shrouded in pain.
“Stay away or I won’t hesitate to shoot any of you.” Lucianne slowly stepped down, aiming at them and laughing wickedly. “Don’t you think it’s funny? This whole time you worried about fighting demons, but never prepared to face one of your own. Bonding always ends up messing up everything.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Frank intervened, taking a few steps forward. “After all, you saved me.”
“Awww, how sweet. Still, you didn’t save me.” Saying this, she started shooting at them. They quickly dispersed to dodge the shots, but Frank kept moving towards her despite the injuries she inflicted. “Come closer and this time I’ll aim for the head!”
“Go ahead,” Frank said, standing in front of her. “I won’t move, do it now.”
Lucianne remained serious for a couple of seconds and he thought she was possibly conflicted about it, which was a good thing, but his hopes were quickly erased as she raised her arm and pointed straight to his head.
Angie jumped over her and took her face, deflecting her shot to the side of Frank’s head. Lucianne wriggled free and turned towards her angrily.
“Attacking your teammates from behind is not fair play!”
She quickly pointed at her, but Angie made a motion of her own and Lucianne suddenly imitated it, lacing up her arms in a way that her hands pointed at herself. Lucianne looked confused for the first time that day.
“Surprised? Apparently, I’m not so useless after all.”
“Police! Come out with your hands where we can see them! The building is surrounded! I repeat! The building is surrounded!” The sound of the amplified voice came from the street and forced them to be silent, exchanging urgent glances.
“The police! What are we supposed to do now?” Lilith muttered.
“We must leave, immediately.”
“Quick, come here,” Samael said, helping Mitchell up.
Within seconds they all disappeared, right when the police were coming, guns in hand, and looking bewildered at how shattered the place was, as if a tornado had passed by.
Lucianne’s house was the place they opted for shelter once again. She tried to resist Angie’s control, and although the latter looked exhausted, she didn’t seem willing to budge.
“Oh, god. I don’t know if I can bear this sight,” Mitchell said, looking at his feet. A pair of holes went through them like they were made with a cookie cutter.
“How are you?” Marianne asked Frank. Blood splattered on one side of his head, right above the temple, and multiple wounds on his body.
“I’ll survive,” he said with a grim look and disappointed expression.
Samael tried to place his hands on his head, but he pushed them away, unsure of his intentions.
“Relax, he’s just trying to heal you. He already healed Mitchell,” Marianne explained, pointing at his cousin, whose feet holes had already closed.
Frank looked warily at Samael, who kept his distance to show he wouldn’t do anything against his will. Finally, the boy seemed to relax and changed his posture. The angel went over to heal him.
“Do you think this is over?” Lucianne spoke, struggling to break hold of Angie. “You’re wrong if you think I’ll just let you walk over me like this. There are still many things I can do that you can’t control.”
“Oh, yeah? Like what?” Marianne asked and Lucianne just smiled. She had something in mind and they couldn’t know unless . . .
“Grab her, now! Before she—” Samael’s warning came too late. A couple of bright beams pierced through Lucianne’s arms, right at the spots where she had her hands pressed against her skin.
Angie lost focus and her body unstrung, thereby allowing Lucianne to regain control over her movements. Although hurt, it didn’t stop her from scurrying up the stairs, where she was quickly stopped by Frank, careful not to touch her wounded arms, though her fingers were already lighting up again.
“Mitchell, neutral layer, now!”
He had barely put on a shoe and had to throw the other on the floor to draw an arc with his arms and lift a neutral barrier over them, nullifying all power inside it. She stirred frustrated in Frank’s arms, while the others only let out a weary puff.
“What are we going to do with her? She’s right, this isn’t over, not while she’s giftless,” Marianne said, resting her back on the wall, exhausted.
Samael remained thoughtful as he watched Lucianne, trying to find a solution, but apparently, there was only one option.
“We’ll have to enclose her and seal her powers.”
“How are we supposed to do that?”
“In theory . . . we could combine our powers to create a resistant layer to keep her captive even when we’re not present.”
“Wait! Are you talking about locking her up like a prisoner? What’s your problem? You’re supposed to be her friends!” Franktick opposed.
“And because we are, that’s the best we could do for her,” Marianne said, supporting that resolution. “You saw what she did. Right now, she’s a danger to others and herself.”
“If we lock her up she will be protected, she won’t be able to hurt herself either,” Samael said, trying to convince Frank.
“Or do you have a better idea? Go ahead, we’re eager to hear your suggestion,” Marianne spat, crossing her arms as the boy kept quiet, trying to think of a way to keep them from locking her up.
“The waitress boy,” he suddenly said. “He released me from Hollow’s influence, didn’t he? Maybe he could . . . ”
“Lucianne’s not being controlled by demonic forces,” Samael explained. “There’s no external force influencing her. That won’t work.”
“How do you know if we haven’t tried?” Frank insisted.
“Okay, then! If that makes you happy!” Marianne spat, losing patience.
After a few minutes, Mankee was transported from the coffee shop and while the situation was explained to him, Samael healed Lucianne’s wounds, with Mitchell nearby to prevent another incident like the last one.
“I don’t think this will work,” Mankee said, unconvinced.
“You and everybody else, but Captain Fist here thinks he knows more than we do,” Marianne said, feeling they were wasting their time.
“It’s worth a shot,” Franktick replied, holding Lucianne. Mankee sighed, approached them and stood still, thinking how to start.
“Is she well-tied?” he asked out of precaution.
“Will you do it now?” Franked demanded, making him jump.
“Are you sure it worked with him? He doesn’t seem so different.”
“I swear to god if you don’t do it now, I’ll hunt you down until I finish what I started yesterday,” Frank snapped, giving him the most daunting glare he could. Mankee gulped and quickly put his hands on Lucianne’s forehead. He closed his eyes to concentrate and his hands began to glow, surrounding the girl with its light.
After a few seconds, he pulled away to see if it had worked. Lucianne opened her eyes, hesitant and disoriented, looking around as if trying to locate where she was.
“Guys . . . where am I? What happened?”
“It worked!” Frank was unable to hide his relief while the others exchange skeptic glances.
“Why . . . are you holding me? You’re hurting me,” she said in a painful tone and he immediately loosened his grasp.
“Sorry! It was just for precaution. But you’re fine now. Everything will be fine.”
Once released, her reaction was immediate. She pushed Frank and stretched her arms forward, injuring Mankee. Franktick watched everything in shock, while the others already seemed prepared and stepped away to avoid her attacks. Samael made a quick motion with his hands and an energy dome fell over her, locking her up instantly.
“Get me out of here! Let me out right now or you won’t like it!”
“What now? Convinced?” Marianne said as Franktick looked baffled at Lucianne.
“So? Are we doing this or what?” Lilith asked, watching the barrier that now enclosed the girl.
“I don’t think it’s convenient to leave her in the living room like this, anyone could see her. It may be better to think of a more hidden place.”
“Like the basement?” Angie said, checking behind a door hidden under the stairs.
The suggestion was taken immediately. The following minutes they moved to the basement and discussed how they would proceed while Lucianne repeatedly hit the wall and Franktick stood apart, visibly upset.
“Can’t we just leave her locked up like that? It seems to work very well,” Lilith said.
“The problem is that it won’t last long. However, if we all combine our own energy, we can strengthen it so it would stay when we’re not in the same place. All we have to do is to recharge it every so often,” Samael explained while healing Mankee’s wounds.
“Like a rechargeable battery,” Marianne said, facing the barrier, watching her cousin pacing back and forth like a caged animal.
“And there’s another problem: if it’s just my energy that keeps her locked . . . ” Samael continued, but was interrupted by a spark from the dome. Lucianne was now throwing beams against the wall trying to release herself, “ . . . Well, there you have it. Sooner or later she will end up bringing down the barrier with her own power.”
“If she doesn’t do something to hurt herself before, like a while ago,” Angie added.
“Well. It’s settled then,” Marianne concluded, turning away from Lucianne so she wouldn’t have to see her in that state. “What do we do now?”
“Each one will focus your own energy in your hands and place it over the barrier, layer after layer to bolster it,” Samael instructed them. “I suggest Mitchell to be the first one, that way the innermost layer will help to neutralize her powers.”
“Well, here I go!” Mitchell announced, snapping his fingers and approaching the barrier with anticipation. He brought his hands closer while moving his fingers as if playing the piano until he touched the layer. It took an opaque shade, instantly neutralizing Lucianne’s powers. “I think it also disabled your original barrier, is that supposed to happen?”
“It’s okay. I figured that would happen. Now we’re next.”
Samael created a second barrier to reinforce Mitchell’s, and one by one they all followed suit, until only Frank was left.
He was sitting on a small wooden stool, apart from everyone. When he felt their eyes on him, he finally decided to lift his gaze.
“You’re the last one. You have to cooperate, after all, you’re also one of us.”
Frank laughed bitterly at those words and then sat up.
“Well, I think you can handle it just fine without me. We all know the only reason I’m here is because of Lucianne, so why pretend interest? The truth is that you don’t like me and that’s fine, I wouldn’t expect otherwise after the things I’ve done. But don’t give me that ‘you’re one of us’ crap because it won’t work with me.”
The others fell silent. Their bewildered eyes said it all, but Marianne finally stepped forward and stood firmly in front of him.
“You’re right, I don’t like you, but it’s not like you’ve made a great effort to change our mind, either. Besides, we don’t get to decide who joins our fight or not, this is how things are, period. If it was up to me, Mitchell wouldn’t even be here . . . ” Mitchell turned to her, offended, as if he didn’t know already, “ . . . and yet he’s still here, like a fungus that refuses to go away.”
“Hey! I’m standing right here, I can hear you!”
“But nevertheless, I’ve learned to put up with all of his cringy habits and might even say that I appreciate him . . . when he’s not acting like a total pervert.”
“Oh, well, thank you. I love you too.”
“The point is that it’s not up to any of us. You are what you are and nothing can change it. I won’t pretend to like you, but I can make the effort to tolerate you. If you don’t care about our fight, at least do it for Lucianne. You owe it to her. She will never be the same until we defeat that demon and recover the gifts.”
Once she finished, Mitchell began with a slow clap to follow her speech and all eyes rested on him, and he stopped and folded his arms like nothing had happened.
Meanwhile, Frank seemed thoughtful. He glanced at all of them until he laid his eyes on Lucianne, confined inside that energy dome with both hands resting on the layer, contemplating with predatory eyes, as if she were imagining all the ways she could torture them once she broke free.
“ . . . For Lucianne,” he finally said with his eyes fixed on her. “Until she’s herself again. I’ll just help you because of her.”
Marianne nodded and, with a motion of the head, she beckoned him to do his part. The boy came closer to the dome and put his hands above the layer, making eye contact with Lucianne, who looked undeterred and unwilling to plead.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered while his hands tensed and the surface of the layer began to tremble, as if made of a ductile material, returning then to the same solid and visually glass-like state.
“Well, we need not only a plan of action, but also a story to cover up for Lucianne while she’s locked,” Marianne said once they headed back to the living room. “Maybe I can come up with something to justify her absence, but we have to think about how we’ll handle our presence in her house without raising any suspicion.”
“When we meet tomorrow at the coffee shop, we could . . . ”
“Wait a minute,” Frank interrupted right away, showing his dissent. “I won’t set foot in that place and you won’t convince me otherwise. If there’s going to be a meeting place, I’d rather take this one.”
“Seriously? Are you that upset about the whole Demian thing? That’s just stupid, Lucianne isn’t even being herself,” Mitchell commented, shaking his head.
“She isn’t, but he is,” Frank snapped with a bitter tone.
“We’ll meet here then,” Marianne agreed without much objection.
Her friends looked at her, surprised that she would give in to his demand so easily.
“We’ll meet here tomorrow afternoon,” she continued in that unfazed pose. “That is if your majesty has no other objection.”
“Seems perfectly fine to me,” he replied, taking his hands to his pockets and lifting his face to show he could also make an effort to be diplomatic.
As the matter had already been settled for now, they prepared to leave, but Frank kept looking back anxiously.
“Don’t even think about it, you’re not staying here. She’ll be fine, she’s protected,” Marianne warned him.
“If you think being held prisoner is ‘being fine’, we’ll have trouble understanding each other,” he spat, pushing through them to get out without even saying goodbye. The glances they exchanged as soon as he left said it all.
“I’ll try to talk to him to tone it down a notch the next time we meet,” Mitchell said to calm the waters. No one talked, it was an unspoken fact that things would be like that from now on. They finally left and everybody went separate ways. Marianne and Samael kept silent all the way back home.
“Were you with your cousin?” That was the first thing her father asked when she came home almost at midnight.
She was surprised to find him still awake. The house lights were off except the kitchen’s, from where her father came out holding a cup of coffee.
She wondered if that was his way of compensating for being extremely permissive over the years and now tried to play the role of the concerned parent who stayed up late waiting for his children.
“Yes, I’m coming from her house.” She closed the door and stood stoic to avoid raising any suspicion. “She is . . . deeply affected.”
“I think she shouldn’t be alone in that house while her father is in the hospital.”
“Well, she wouldn’t be the only one trying to get by on her own without her parents.” The words just came out unthinkingly. She wasn’t supposed to say it out loud, but she did. Noah’s gaze sombered, knowing that she meant it for him. Marianne’s mouth tightened with remorse and she tried to think how she could fix it or maybe act like she hadn’t said anything. “What I meant is that there’s no need. She . . . has decided to go back to her boarding school for now. She’ll leave tomorrow. I was helping her pack, that’s why I was late.”
“But isn’t it a little hasty to leave so soon?”
“What happened to her father has been painful to her, and while he’s still in the hospital, she doesn’t think she’ll be able to cope with it by staying here. I will call her periodically to give her news about him.”
“Well, if that’s her decision, we should respect it,” he ended with a sigh, and looked away as if he had something else to talk about, but didn’t know how to say it.
“Is something wrong?”
“I . . . don’t know how to say this . . . ” He drummed his fingers on the cup he was holding and moved his foot anxiously. “ . . . I’ve been called from work. I requested some time off given our current situation and they want me to go back to give them some papers and sign some more . . . ”
Every vestige of remorse faded from Marianne’s face. She adopted a mask of indifference while her father continued talking, or rather tried to justify himself, as she saw it.
“It’s gonna be one day, two at most. I leave the papers, sign whatever they want me to, and return. Loui already knows. I must go tomorrow first thing in the morning, just needed you to know.”
“Well, mission accomplished. Have a good trip,” she finished curtly, running to her room.
He hadn’t waited for her because he was worried, he just needed to tell her in advance his intentions to depart once again and leave them alone. Father of the year.
She had to restrain her desire to throw the door shut and cause a racket that would awake the whole neighborhood. Instead, she closed it carefully, ensuring that the lock would gently fit.
“Are you upset?”
She quickly turned around and saw Samael sitting on her desk, waiting for her. She supposed he had gone straight to the attic, but seemed to have changed his mind. She snorted and left her school bag seated on the bed.
“No, I’m just tired.”
“I don’t think it’s just that.”
“Oh, of course! You know everything about me, right?”
Samael just stared at her with those inquisitive blue eyes and she let out another huff to control herself.
“Back in the coffee shop, when you went after Lucianne,” Samael finally said, “several glasses exploded for no apparent reason. This was because your mood was altered . . . but why?”
Marianne was momentarily silent. She wasn’t even aware that she had blown out glasses. She tried to recall the feeling that had taken over her at the time, but everything seemed hazy.
“I think it’s reasonable after what Lucianne said.”
“I don’t think so, you did hold back after she said those things, but afterwards . . . Was it because of what she did before that?”
“What are you implying with that?” she interrupted with narrowed eyes.
“I don’t know. I’m just trying to understand why your power suddenly went out of control. It could be a future problem. You could even attract Hollow’s attention that way and expose your identity, so I think we should work on that before you betray yourself,” the angel reasoned in a practical way, looking genuinely concerned for her.
“Don’t worry. It won’t happen again, you can be sure of that,” Marianne said as she leaned against the window frame and looked out with a thoughtful expression.
“Your father . . . ” Samael added, bringing her back to reality.
“I know what you’re going to tell me,” she went ahead. “And my answer remains the same. I don’t want to know what’s going through his mind. Not anymore.”
“It might not be as bad as you think.”
“Or it could be worse,” she snapped.
Samael nodded, aware that he couldn’t convince her otherwise. He got up, rolled the chair under the desk and left the room, wishing her good night. He headed for the attic, but stopped after hearing a noise from the room where Noah was staying. He turned back briefly to make sure Marianne’s door was shut and approached the room with stealthy footsteps. The door was ajar so he didn’t need to get too close, just peered through the opening. Noah was taking some clothes from his luggage and putting it into a smaller one.
Although Marianne had said she didn’t want to know, that didn’t stop him from finding out on his own, so he kept staring at the man and concentrated. He stood like that for several seconds, until he stopped and frowned.
Noah suddenly raised his face, so Samael immobilized and quickly transported away, vanishing in the air right when the man turned towards the door. Noah remained alert for a few more seconds and then continued packing his suitcase as usual.
The sound of knocking on the door woke Franktick from his sleep. It was only the second day he loomed at home after being used as a tool of the Legion of Darkness, even if it was only to spend the night. His mother didn’t ask any questions, it was enough for her to know he had returned. He got out of bed, looking bleary-eyed, and glanced around to make sure he was really there. Clothes lying everywhere, movie posters covering the walls, cables snaking across the floor connected to different models of computers, and they all shared the same screensaver: a cartoonish scene with a palace that seemed made of sweets and one by one the PowerPie girls flew out with their colorful style inspired by different cakes and desserts. A sentence formed as the characters fluttered on the screen: Brownie forever. The knocks on the door persisted and he slapped his face with small taps to force himself awake.
“I’m coming, stop the noise, geez!” he said, hoping the knocking would stop.
He stood up and walked barefoot across the room through the gaps left by the cables and then to the front of the house. He put his hand on the doorknob and tousled his hair with the other before opening. The house was so hermetic that it was usually dark inside, so his eyes had to adjust to the brightness of the morning light and then focus on the shadowy figure in front of him.
“You know why I’m here, right?”
He recognized that voice and had a very clear idea of what he was doing there, but what he didn’t understand was why it had taken so long.
Once his vision stabilized and the image stopped dancing as a fuzzy blob in front of him, he wasn’t surprised to see Officer Perry looking down at him. His face looked quite recovered, but he still had some green bruises on his cheeks and small scars on the lips and the bridge of his nose. Frank sighed and leaned his shoulder on the door frame, knowing there was no way to escape from this.
“I have an idea.”
“Well, then I hope you won’t resist the arrest, it will make the process way quicker for you,” the officer said, taking out some handcuffs and making sure he would notice the gun in his belt.
Franktick didn’t say a word, just turned around and stood against the wall with his hands behind his back so he could handcuff him, as if he already knew the procedure.
“Can I call someone?” he asked as he was being led to the car.
“You can make all the calls you need when we get to the police station.”
They got into the car and while Perry drove, Frank looked out the window towards his house. He had to pay for his mistakes.
“I’m really starting to believe there are ghosts in the house,” Noah said, coming down to the kitchen with a bag over his shoulder.
Both Marianne and Loui were having breakfast in silence, in the middle of a gloomy atmosphere that followed his announcement that he would be leaving them again. They exchanged knowing glances, but only a few seconds passed by and Loui replied in high spirits, downplaying his departure.
“Did you see one of Marianne’s ghosts, dad? What did he do? Did he read a passage from one of the books of the attic while you were asleep? Or did he tell you about the time his father dismembered him and stuffed him in a trunk? Does he think now that you’re his father and seeks revenge?” Loui said mockingly.
Marianne’s eyes narrowed. Traitor. He wasn’t supposed to accept his father’s new escapade so easily.
“Nothing, I just thought I heard something outside my room, but could just be the wind,” Noah concluded with a shrug, checking the fridge and pantry. “You have everything, right? You don’t need anything else.”
“If you mean something material, I don’t think we’re short of anything . . . but in the parental department, on the other hand . . . ” Marianne blurted automatically, receiving a kick below the table, so she threw Loui an outraged look as he glared back at her.
Noah said nothing, but by the way he closed the pantry and settled his travel bag on his back, she knew the bitter comment had really got to him. Marianne’s remorse emerged once again as much as she intended to dispose of it.
“Well . . . I better start driving if I want to get on the interstate before rush hour,” he said, trying to show them his best smile. “I’ll be back in a day or two at most.”
“Will you bring me something?” Loui asked with a wide smile.
“Of course, champ. When have I forgotten?” Noah said, tousling his hair while Marianne rolled her eyes and got up, leaving her bowl of cereal in the dish washer.
“I’m leaving too. Excuse me.”
“I can drive you to school in passing,” her father proposed.
“No, thanks, I can walk,” she said, without even turning back. She left the house and didn’t stop until she reached the next block, from where she got to see her father’s car already leaving. She pursed her lips and looked forward, taking a long deep breath. Then she caught a glimpse of the parallel street where she had been zigzagging the day before. The street where she had bumped into Demian.
She slightly scowled and kept walking straight to the school district. Just as she approached the main entrance, Demian was already turning on the street, submerged in his own thoughts.
He stopped at the sight of her and their eyes met. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but she just sneaked a look and gave a simple ‘Good morning’ instead, going past him and hurrying her steps in the last stretch to disappear down the hall.
She leaned against the classroom’s door as she came in and stayed there for a moment, realizing how ridiculous she was acting, so she shook her head. The madness that had taken place in recent days had completely drained her and was surely making her behave that way.
Finally, in her seat, she pulled out a folded paper from her pocket and began to smooth it out carefully with her hand. It was the page where Samael had written down everything regarding the gifts. With a pencil, she crossed the circle corresponding to the Kindness gift and peered at the remaining ones. She tried to rethink how they might reveal themselves and what kind of people might possess them. Supernatural, Resurrection, Reincarnation and Death. Would it work if they tried to put a trap again? Knowing now that there were two demons?
She was pondering for so long that she was taken by surprise when suddenly Kristania came through the door and went to her with a pitying expression.
“I heard what happened! I’m so sorry!” she said, sitting next to her and taking her hands with eyes like an agonizing deer.
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
“What your cousin did. I can’t imagine how you must have felt. I myself felt a lump in my throat just thinking about it.”
Marianne shifted in her seat, inhaled deeply and crumpled the piece of paper she was holding with her clenched hands.
“You have no idea what really happened yesterday, so you better not talk about it.”
“You don’t have to fake it. You can pour your heart out with me. No one better than me to understand what you’re feeling,” Kristania insisted, squeezing her hands even though Marianne had already turned them into fists.
“Come on! I have more important things to think about!” she snapped, narrowing her eyes and pulling away before she would get her in a worse mood.
“ . . . Got it,” Kristania replied with the gesture of a martyr. “I understand if you prefer to hide it, maybe you feel you’re protecting yourself that way. I won’t pressure you in that case. Everyone has their own way to cope with pain.”
She would have loved to punch her in the face just to see her focusing on real pain, but restrained herself. After all, she had no choice lately, what with Kristania and her overwhelming need to ‘do good deeds’.
She wondered what was so different between the old Kristania and the current Lucianne. After all, the gifts they possessed were practically opposites and therefore under that assumption, it should be as if they had exchanged personalities, however, the old Kristania hadn’t gone as far as trying to kill someone . . . That, of course, without counting the moment she had pushed her into the lake and got her almost drowned.
But despite that, Kristania was able to feel remorse, to restrain herself, to set some boundaries. She wouldn’t have gone as far as to physically harm people just for fun, and the only reason she made that impulsive action was the deep hatred she felt for her. However, her cousin didn’t hate them, nor even had any specific reason but the pure pleasure of acting without inhibitions. It was an issue she could have a long discussion about with Samael.
But putting her thoughts back on trail, about Kristania and her recent endless ‘acts of kindness’ that were apparently more focused on her than the others, a new doubt struck her: What had driven her to take it against her in the first place?
“Can I ask you a question?”
Kristania looked interested. Her eyes lit up as if she had said that she accepted to be her best friend forever . . . as long as she was giftless.
“Of course! Just tell me,” she replied with anticipation.
“May I know . . . why me?” Marianne asked, confusing Kristania for an instant, and she tried to explain. “Why did you take it against me from the beginning? I had done nothing to you. I didn’t even know you and yet you were cruel to me. I even wondered that maybe you were . . . ”
She fell silent, refusing to follow that line of thought. The idea made her feel uncomfortable with herself, like giving herself too much importance.
Kristania waited for her to continue, but since she didn’t, she decided to add what she supposed Marianne was thinking.
“That I was jealous of you?”
Marianne grimaced. She had never seen herself as the object of anyone’s jealousy and had no reason to think she could be, so the fact that the thought had crossed her mind at some point somehow made her feel ashamed.
Kristania suddenly laughed. Not in the cynical or mocking way she would normally sound, but warmly. And the thought that something might sound warm coming from her brought chills to Marianne.
“Sorry, I’m not laughing because I’m making fun of you,” she clarified with a smile. “It’s just that I used to fear you could think that exactly, that I was jealous of you.” Her smile remained on her face while she seemed to hesitate whether she should continue talking, but ultimately decided she owed it to her. “But no, it wasn’t that.”
Marianne raised her eyebrows with surprise. Admittedly, she wasn’t expecting that. She had seen herself dealing with her incipient ego, thinking she might be right, but now that the reason was ruled out, she didn’t feel relieved, either.
“I hated you because I couldn’t control you,” Kristania continued with a humble tone. “I was used to being the leader, everyone would do as I said and no one contradicted me. Every time a new student came, I tested them for a few days to see how much they could resist. The others played along, of course, the herd goes wherever the shepherd leads. After a while I would just begin to include them in the group without further explanation and the others accepted it just like that. But you challenged me. You never let me test you or didn’t even seem affected by the group’s rejection. I was wondering what you were made of, what were your intentions . . . so I asked my cousin to get me some info about you from your previous school.”
Of course, Franktick the hacker. It suddenly made sense that she had managed to grab hold of that kind of information.
“And then I understood why you were immune to my intimidation attempts. You were used to not being a part of the social ladder, so you had no reason to think it would be any different here. But something happened, you didn’t just refuse to play along . . . but also started to take my power over others. First Belgina, then Angie . . . and when I realized, you had already your own little entourage that followed you everywhere . . . even my own brother!” she said the latter laughing, as if she could appreciate the irony looking back. “If you want to see it this way, we were two alphas fighting for territory.”
“My intention was never to lead or control anyone. I didn’t expect to make friends getting here, but it happened. It wasn’t a competition.”
“I know, but that’s how I used to think . . . I hope it doesn’t bother you. I just want to be completely honest with you now that I’ve changed.”
Marianne watched her in silence. It was difficult to take as honest these words from someone who wasn’t being herself at the time, yet she knew she was telling the truth. Kristania was really convinced that she acted on her own will, so she decided to stop being defensive around her for the time it lasted. The problem would come later once she recovered the lost gift and realized how she had been acting. That would surely be the Holocaust.
“Okay. I appreciate your honesty. I think I have a clearer perspective on things.”
Kristania smiled again, relieved and happy that she finally seemed to accept her.
“Perfect! Thanks for understanding!”
Lilith came in at the time and quickly opened her arms as soon as she saw her.
The two girls approached each other and hugged with a feigned kiss on both cheeks.
“I brought Lissen Rox’s latest single, ‘Engel soul’ limited edition with postcards and DVD, behind the scenes included. You can give it back anytime you want.”
“Oh, thank you so much! I’ll stay awake this night watching everything!” Lilith said enthusiastically, treasuring the package in her arms like a baby.
“It’s nothing! Lissen sisters must unite!”
And then, as if in previous agreement, the two of them began to make their secret handshake in sync, finishing with their hands on their foreheads forming horns. They both laughed and pulled away as Kristania left the classroom and Lilith headed to her seat.
“Kri? Lil?” Marianne asked, feeling sick having witnessed that.
“It’s a pet name. You can call me that if you want to, I won’t bother.”
“No, thanks. I’d rather keep calling you Lilith like I’ve done so far,” she replied warily, and Lilith laughed, patting her shoulder as if to convey she didn’t have to be jealous.
The rest of their classmates arrived soon after, and by then she had already kept the page with the gifts back inside her pocket.
Once classes were over and the girls were leaving school, Mitchell hastily ran through the corridor, dodging and pushing whoever got in his way until he stopped in front of them, panting like a maniac.
“There’s a problem!” he announced, almost choking, holding his knees and trying to catch his breath. “Frank called! He was arrested!”
“But I melted the gun, there was no evidence left that he shot . . . ”
Marianne quickly covered Lilith’s mouth before she continued talking about a delicate subject amid the throng of students going out.
“That wasn’t the charge,” Mitchell said more fluently once he was able to breathe again. “Assault on an officer. Apparently, he beat up Lucianne’s friend when he was still under the influence of . . . you know.”
“Ohhhh, that’s a bad thing!” Lilith said, clenching her face as though she’d seen someone receive a painful punch.
“I guess the meeting at Lucianne’s place is postponed until further notice.”
“We must tell the others! Let’s go tell Monkey!” Lilith suggested, but Marianne was already starting to divert her way. “Where are you going?”
“You go on and tell him, I have something to do before. We’re still meeting at Lucianne’s, remember that . . . the thing needs recharge.”
She didn’t elaborate, just left while the others exchanged odd looks, but they still crossed the street to the coffee shop. What they weren’t expecting was to find it closed.
Lilith stuck to the glass like a windshield mount and tried to see inside. Mankee was sitting on a table with a lost stare and Demian was on the counter with a mournful expression. She tapped on the glass to get their attention, and even though the two boys seemed to hesitate whether or not to attend her call, it was finally Demian who approached the door and let them in, only to close it again as soon as they were inside.
“We thought something bad had happened when we saw the place closed! Why the long faces? Did someone die?”
Both boys seemed uncomfortable with that comment and shared another glance.
“Actually . . . yes. The owner, Mr. Ganzza. He died yesterday of a heart attack,” Demian revealed somberly. The others went silent, unable to say anything appropriate.
“Oh, I get it. You closed in mourning.”
Mankee shifted in his seat and made a noise that sounded between a groan and a cough. Demian grimaced, looking for ways to explain.
“More like . . . closed indefinitely,” he answered. The cook and the other waiter came out of the kitchen then, carrying boxes with them. They threw glances at the guys, as if it were improper for them being there under the circumstances, but said nothing and left.
“Like, how? Are you going to close for a few days, weeks? That won’t be good for business.”
“I doubt there’s going to be a business after this,” Mankee intervened, sorrowful.
“Mr. Ganzza died without a will,” Demian said. “And since the only family he had left was a distant cousin, the property is now his, and as he lives in another country, so most likely he’s going to close the place and see what to do with it.”
“But . . . if it closes, what’s gonna happen to Monkey? He lives here.”
Mankee sighed and rested his chin on his knuckles.
“I guess I should start looking for new shelter.”
“I told you not to worry about it. My house is available for you.”
“What? You offer him your house while you don’t even invite me to spend some time there?” Mitchell protested, crossing his arms in a resentful way.
“This is not the time to get jealous,” Demian retorted, lifting an eyebrow.
“It’s possible that the new owner is willing to sell,” Angie speculated, keeping her face expressionless. “If so, maybe someone could buy the building and keep the place open.”
“That’s a good idea,” Demian considered, leaning back into the counter broodingly.
“If I had the money I’d buy the place, keep it open until afternoon and shoot adult films in the dungeon at night. Now that’s a business,” Mitchell said with such seriousness and conviction that the others doubted he was joking. Demian then looked around more intently, like something was missing.
“Marianne didn’t come with you?”
“She said she had something to do and left before we could ask.” Lilith shrugged.
“That’s right. You know that feeling after seeing something . . . you didn’t expect. It could affect you,” Mitchell said, an eyebrow lifted and showing a meaningful smirk. “By the way, how was that kiss yesterday?”
Demian glared at him while the others seemed attentive to his answer, but he just stood up and got into the kitchen, swatting at the swinging door.
“Well, we’ll be here for a while, so be nice and bring us some drinks and snacks, will you?” Mitchell added, patting Mankee and settling comfortably in one of the seats. “If the coffee shop’s closing, let this be our farewell, don’t waste the pantry.”
Mankee looked at him as if he were way out of line, but finally sighed and stood up.
“I don’t know if this is entirely right,” Samael said as he and Marianne approached the building where she had been for the interrogation weeks ago.
“These are desperate measures. We’re not in conditions to lose another member of the team now that we can’t count on Lucianne. And despite how conflictive Frank may be, we need him. He’s the only one who’s been on both sides, his experience with Hollow can be helpful to us, give us an advantage.”
“I know. It’s the way that doesn’t convince me.”
“Welcome to the human world. Not everything is black or white.”
The public entrance to the police station was next to the building. Marianne went straight to the first desk she saw while Samael stayed near the door.
“I would like to speak with Officer . . . uhm . . . Perry, please.”
The woman sitting at the desk looked warily at her from head to toe, as if judging and analyzing her at the same time.
“What for?” she asked with assertive eyes.
“It’s a private matter. Could you call him now, please?”
The woman seemed upset, but still got up and walked to the back of the office, peeking through a door. Marianne was aware that perhaps she had been blunt, but didn’t care, she had more important things in mind.
“That was a little rough.”
“I will apologize in my prayers if that soothes you, but she wasn’t being nice, either, by the way she was looking at me.”
“She was wondering if Officer Perry had switched from one student to another, although I didn’t quite understand the meaning of that.”
Marianne did, however, and chuckled. A few minutes later, Officer Perry came through the door and looked a little surprise to see her there. He approached, trying to stay poised, but as soon as he stopped in front of her, couldn’t help but show a hint of concern on his face.
“ . . . Did something happen to Lucianne?”
“What? No! She’s fine.”
“I haven’t seen her since yesterday. I know that she must be affected by what happened to her father, more than she’s able to show, so . . . I try not to take personal all the things she said to me, but still I can’t help worrying about her . . . Is she truly alright?”
Marianne looked at his face, colored with greenish bruises, wondering what Lucianne could have told him to make him look so disheartened. Maybe that was what had driven him to hasten Frank’s arrest, but she couldn’t be sure. He looked quite battered indeed, and Frank certainly deserved to pay for it, but there were lives at stake for what he was needed.
“She’s fine, really. Actually . . . since she’s so affected about what happened to my uncle . . . she decided to go back to her boarding school for a while,” she said to settle Lucianne’s disappearing for now without leaving any loose ends. “She left this morning.”
The young officer frowned at the news, unsettled by it.
“Did she leave . . . just like that?”
“Yeah, well, she said she would return as soon as she cleared up her mind, and I would give her news from her father, whether good or bad.”
“I’ll call her.”
Officer Perry suddenly pulled out his cell before Marianne’s petrified look. Out of everything she had considered, she didn’t think of that. What had they done with Lucianne’s cell? Have they taken it away from her? Was it somewhere in the house? She remained silent for several seconds, waiting for him to make a move or say anything, until he finally closed the phone.
“Nothing. She won’t answer.”
“She said . . . she wanted some time off. She’s the one who’s gonna get in touch with me when she needs it.”
The officer nodded, discouraged, but seemed convinced that it must be true. Meanwhile, Marianne could breathe again, relieved now that they could go ahead with her plan.
“There’s one more thing . . . Could you come out with me for a moment? I would like to avoid . . . prying ears.” Samael took that as his signal to leave the building. Officer Perry followed Marianne to the door, a little puzzled, and then along the street until they reached the underside of the arches, where the cobblestone passage connected to the Court. Samael was already there waiting for them. “I heard this morning that you arrested Frank . . . ” She hesitated for a second, realizing she didn’t know his last name. “ . . . Lucianne’s friend. I also heard what he did to you and I don’t condone him, but . . . do you have any idea how long he will be locked up? My cousin asked me to keep an eye on him while she was away and that’s what I’m trying to do. Perhaps . . . could I see him?”
“You better stay away from him. He’s a latent danger, a ticking bomb. I warned Lucianne several times, but she ignored me. Had it not been for her, this would have been much worse,” he said, pointing to his own face.
“So . . . how long?” she repeated, gulping hard, and the young officer huffed, taking his hands to his waist.
“A few days, perhaps, while he’s been evaluated. Depending on his psychological tests, he may be spending some time in juvenile or, in the best of cases, he would only have to go to therapy,” the officer said and Marianne quickly glanced at Samael with urgency. He sighed, understanding the meaning of that, and began to approach him while Perry seemed distraught at that exchange. “What are you . . . ?”
The thought was cut off right there. Samael took the guy’s head, his fingers touching his temples and looked straight into his eyes. He remained silent, unable to take his eyes off the angel, mesmerized. A few seconds passed and he finally let go. Perry blinked as if he had been exposed to a very bright light and put a hand to his forehead, feeling dizzy.
“Sorry, did you say something? I think I lost track for a few seconds.”
“No. You already answered my questions . . . Thanks. I’ll let you know once I hear from Lucianne,” she assured, a little nervous at what they had just done.
Officer Perry made a slight bow as a farewell, and returned to the police station while they both watched him with curiosity.
“Will it work?” Marianne asked expectantly.
“We’ll know later. For now, I did everything in my power. I hope I’ve corrected some of the mistakes I made with your brother.”
Marianne nodded and they stood in the same place, waiting for something to happen. They waited for a couple of hours until they finally saw Franktick leaving the building. He looked confused and incredulous, as if something crazy had just happened.
“Hey, you! Here!” Marianne called him and he turned, even more confused.
After looking around to make sure he wasn’t being followed to be arrested again, he headed towards them with his hands in his pockets.
“What are you doing here?”
“We were waiting for you, what else?”
“Waiting for me? How did you even know they would let me free just like that?”
“Why don’t you tell us what they said when they let you go?”
“Just that Officer Perry had dismissed the charges because he thought I had learned my lesson and to be more careful from now on.”
“See? It worked!” Marianne cheered, elbowing Samael, even though Frank didn’t understand what was happening. “It was him who convinced him to let you go. He slightly modified his memories to make him think the beating you gave him wasn’t so bad, and also added a little self-defense from his part. So, according to him, you also ended up badly wounded after that.”
“I don’t get it . . . Did you do that for me?” Frank asked skeptically.
“We need you,” Marianne said, and his expression changed.
“ . . . Oh, right. I’m a useful asset you can’t leave behind. I forgot that,” he replied with a resentful tone, and started walking past them.
“Where are you going? We still have a meeting to attend.”
“Yes, yes. I know. Where do you think I’m going? If I can’t shake you off my back, at least I will do everything in my power to end this nightmare soon,” he replied.
Marianne and Samael shared a resigned glance and went after him.
Hollow stood on top of the abandoned building where he used to meet Frank, looking around quite stoically.
“Your human servant won’t appear anymore? He was eliminated that fast?” Ende appeared behind him, leaning his back on the wall in a peaceful manner.
“He wasn’t my servant,” Hollow growled. “ . . . And no, he wasn’t eliminated, but I’m intrigued to know how they managed to release him from my influence. Those Angel Warriors are a boxful of surprises.”
“Don’t tell me. You really think so?” the other demon said with a smile that seemed to hide something else. “And you haven’t even heard the half of it.”
Hollow watched him, waiting for him to keep going, and he chuckled in amusement.
“I guess you’re aware that although we’re recent demons, the Legion of Darkness has existed since the dawn of time. Haven’t you wondered if, before those kids, it had been some other group with the same mission?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Before them, there were other Angel Warriors,” he finally said, delighted to have valuable information that no other demon had. “Long ago, even before we were created. And as I heard, there are high chances that any of those ones . . . was reborn . . . Do you know what that means?”
Hollow’s face underwent a change that emphasized the intensity of his deadly red eyes.
“One of them might have the Reincarnation gift.”
Suddenly his mouth twisted into an intimidating smile. That was it. Shortly he would have another gift in his hands.