“ . . . And then he told me he hoped I’d learned my lesson and that he was relieved knowing you were out of my reach, but he would still be watching me to make sure I stay out of trouble,” Frank said, sitting on a stool in front of the energy dome where Lucianne looked bored. “He’s really convinced you left. At least that will keep him away from here.”

“And you’re telling me this because . . . ” Lucianne replied, raising an eyebrow peevishly. Frank shrugged, twisting and making knots with a rope he found in a corner.

“Just wanted to see you and talk to you, the subject doesn’t matter.”

Lucianne grunted and dropped to the floor with arms crossed.

“Don’t you have anything better to do like hang out with your new friends?”

“They’re upstairs talking about me. I didn’t feel like listening to them, so I came down. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they’re my friends, but they’re yours even if you don’t seem to care anymore. And as we have the common interest to bring your old self back, we decided to put our differences aside . . . for a while.”

“Oh, you’re so civilized. Such a good heart you have,” she sneered.

“We care about you more than you think,” he said, not allowing to be swept along by her words. Lucianne grunted again and looked around.

“I’m hungry. Is anybody going to feed me?”

“I’ll go get some food,” he replied, throwing the rope to the floor, close to the barrier, and headed to the stairs.

Once out of the basement, he heard the voices coming from the living room. They were still arguing about him. He rolled his eyes and walked into the kitchen without even bothering to pay attention.

“So, now we support criminal behavior,” Angie said in the living room.

“Great! We should start measuring our level of tolerance for breaking the law,” Mitchell intervened sarcastically. “We already have included concealment of crime, or, well, two if we count the illegal. No offense.” Mankee frowned at his side. “What else? Oh, yes! Lying to an officer, implanting a false memory, and incidentally violating his privacy by getting into his mind. Did you also do that to us, Samuel? Do you get into our thoughts whenever you get bored?”

Samael looked down and didn’t answer. He seemed embarrassed and remorseful.

“Leave him alone. He just did what I asked him to,” Marianne snapped.

“May we know then why we’re just learning that he has this ability up until now?”

“Because . . . you don’t need to worry, okay? He doesn’t read your minds whenever he wants! He can control it.”

“But I imagine he’s done it at some point. And what if he has also changed some of our memories! Have you done it?” Mitchell continued, turning to him, who remained silent with his gaze down.

“Mitchell, enough is enough!” Marianne repeated defensively.

“And you don’t even know the rest,” Angie commented heedlessly, and all eyes fell on her.

“What does that even mean? What else are you hiding?”

Angie shrugged, unwilling to say anything else, and stared at Marianne, hinting that the information was in her hands.

“You don’t need to worry. I . . . try not to hear your thoughts. I know it’s wrong,” Samael finally said, not daring to look into their eyes.

“But you have done it at some point,” Mitchell probed and Samael was forced to nod, so he took his hands to his head, resisting the urge to pull out his hair. “Ugh! I feel mentally raped!”

Frank left the kitchen, holding a sandwich and a glass of milk, and walked by them, trying to ignore whatever was happening in the living room and heading back to the basement. Lucianne was sitting with her legs folded in a fragile posture. As Frank came downstairs, she followed him with her gaze.

“I brought you something. It’s the best I could do with my zero cooking skills,” he said, showing her what he was holding. Lucianne just gave him a blank stare.

“And how am I supposed to eat that?” she asked, slapping the barrier to show how solid it was. “I remind you I’m stuck in here.”

Frank stopped at the dome thoughtfully. They hadn’t had the chance to reinforce it, so it was possibly weakened already, though it still seemed pretty solid to Lucianne. When he had touched it the previous day, it made him feel like touching liquid. So, he held the plate and the glass with one hand and set out to prove his suspicion with the other.

With the tip of his index finger, he softly brushed the layer and felt it vibrate under his touch. He pressed a little harder and the wall seemed to give way a little, like a soap bubble or a balloon, until his finger ended up permeating inside.

He quickly pulled it out and noticed the layer got back to its previous state. It could work, he thought. He knelt and settled both the plate and the glass on the floor to slide them towards the dome while Lucianne watched it all without losing detail.

The only thing Franktick was worried about was that the layer wouldn’t let through anything else, however, to his surprise, the containers began to break through, maybe because he was holding them. As Frank’s hand also went through the layer, Lucianne pounced on him, holding his hand tightly and sinking her nails into his skin to climb her way out through him.

His screams were heard upstairs, interrupting the discussion. After exchanging alarmed glances, the guys rushed down to the basement. Lucianne was already half out of the dome and strangling Frank with a rope.

“Take her off him!” Marianne yelled, but when they tried to approach, Lucianne raised a hand and started shooting beams everywhere while still clutching the rope with the other.

Marianne decided to try her luck with her own power. She planted her feet on the floor, her eyes narrowed and her teeth clenched, making a mental effort to stop her. But it was impossible, she wasn’t as effective as Angie controlling her, so she focused on the rope instead. It suddenly came to life and began to coil around Lucianne, immobilizing her.

As Frank broke free, he crawled away and looked at Lucianne in bewilderment, watching the rope curl around her body until it completely tied her up.

“What’s happening?”

“It’s Marianne,” Lilith replied. “She does it with her mind.”

Franktick turned to see Marianne. She had knitted her brow and her eyes seemed to trace the rope’s movements. She made a last effort, pushing the head forward, and Lucianne was again repelled into the dome. That was the moment the rope lost its tension.

“We need to reinforce the barrier!” Samael said and everyone followed his orders. Meanwhile, Frank sat on the floor with a hand on his neck, breathing heavily.

“Done. You’re the last one,” Marianne said, drawing his attention.

Frank took his hands away from his throat and tightened his mouth, disgruntled for letting it happen. He pushed himself up with a boost to do his part.

Lucianne wasn’t tied up anymore, but she was now locked up again under the energy dome. Her eyes flashed with anger. Frank chose not to look at her. He simply passed his hand over the surface of the layer, turned away and hurried up to the stairs to exit the basement. The others followed him later. He was standing in the middle of the living room with his back to them in an uneasy posture.

“So . . . how are we going to get those things you call gifts?”

The others then decided to leave behind their previous discussion and get down to business.

“Well, that depends . . . what can you tell us about the Legion of Darkness, or more specifically, Hollow?”

“What am I supposed to say? I know nothing about him, we just met in an old building where I gave him information and he granted me a bit of his own power in return . . . and he only did it because I hid one of those vessels he’s always carrying around.”

“How did you manage to hide one of the gifts from him? It makes no sense, he would have found it immediately,” Samael asked.

“I hid it in the bottom of the camp lake,” Frank revealed with a shrug. “Apparently, he couldn’t go past the shore. Every time he tried to cross it, something kept rejecting him, as if the lake were surrounded by an electrified fence.”

“Like an energy field,” Samael murmured thoughtfully.

“What do you think? Why would a simple lake have that kind of effect on him?” Marianne asked, noticing his expression.

“I have no idea,” he confessed, shaking his head. “Maybe we can explore the place later.”

“When I was in that lake, I felt something pulling me inside,” Franktick added, which made Marianne have a vivid memory of her own experience there. The lethargic feeling while losing herself in the depths, her inability to rise to the surface, the anguish and ultimately the resignation. Samael put his hand on her shoulder in support. He understood, he had felt it too.

“The last time he brought me there to give him back the vessel . . . the water burnt me,” he continued, also reliving the moment. “No, burning in boiling water would have been nothing in comparison. The water was frying me, that’s how I felt, and yet my skin only got red. I was ready to die, but it didn’t happen, the bastard decided to turn me into a demon like him.”

“Rather you were in transition. Fortunately, Mankee got to stop it in time,” Samael explained and Frank just mumbled a reluctant ‘Thank you’ in Mankee’s direction. The latter just gave a slight nod to accept his gratitude.

“What kind of information did you give to Hollow?” Mitchell asked and his cousin realized that he was about to enter marshy grounds and had no other choice but to go through it.

“He wanted . . . information about people. I had to tell him every time I came across someone who had some specific characteristic. He would tell me what type. Someone who was extremely kind, someone who showed their emotions openly, someone with any artistic talent . . . ”

The rest were silent for a few seconds, grasping the meaning of that.

“You . . . sold him . . . innocents.”

Frank flinched guiltily and avoided their glances, aware of what he did.

“Is it because of you that I lost my gift then?” Angie asked without showing any affectation at all. Frank didn’t answer, but his expression did it for him. “Oh, well. What can you do? Maybe I should thank you. You took a big weight off my shoulders.”

“You can’t be serious. I no longer have my only talent! I guess I should blame you for that too!” Lilith claimed, giving him a bitter look.

“Well, technically I didn’t point directly at you, but the event in general.”

“Oh, well, that changes everything. You didn’t offer a person but a whole crowded place. That surely makes it better,” Mitchell retorted. Frank remained with a tough expression, unwilling to show any weakness.

“Have you finished making your complaints or will you keep wasting time with the same crap?” he snapped.

“Stop. He’s right. It’s not worth going back to the same. What’s done is done, he can’t change it, but he can try to amend it,” Marianne decreed, trying to leave that topic behind. “He’s sorry . . . isn’t that right?”

“I’m not exactly here because I’m proud of what I did,” Frank protested, fed up with the prosecution. So, the guys decided to leave the discussion aside again and focus on what really cared: how to get the gifts back

The next morning Marianne arrived to school in a rush after oversleeping. As she walked down the hall, she caught a glimpse of Belgina at the intersection. She stood staring at one point on the wall, as if something had caught her attention.

Marianne approached, wondering what could have distracted her, and once she was close enough, she saw her eyes were fixed on the school’s master clock, though not really looking at it. It was like she had been frozen in time.

“Belgina? Hey . . . wake up,” Marianne ran her hand over her face, expecting to get a reaction from her, until she finally seemed to come to her senses, shaking her head.

“Sorry, I think I got distracted . . . Were you saying something?”

“ . . . Nothing. We better get to class,” suggested Marianne, forcing a smile onto her. But on the inside, she was starting to realize what those increasingly frequent distractions meant. The countdown had begun.

She put her hand around Belgina’s shoulders to lead her to their classroom, but as soon as she took a step, her legs weakened, and Marianne tried to keep her from collapsing.

“It’s moving . . . The floor is moving,” Belgina muttered, staring at the floor. Her eyes moved tremulously as if she couldn’t fix them at one single point, and her skin was cold.

“Don’t worry . . . You won’t fall . . . I’ll take you to the infirmary.” Marianne made an effort to keep her on her feet and changed course, heading now towards the side door.

There she paused to lean on the door frame and hold Belgina more tightly, but she was like dead weight, her feet seemingly made of jelly.

“Come one, Belgina, help me out a little. I can’t carry you all the way.”

“But everything’s twirling and spinning.”

“Is she okay?” a voice asked behind them. Marianne tried to look back while Belgina’s arm around her neck made it difficult. Demian was watching them worriedly with his gym bag on his back.

He took charge of Belgina and carried her to the infirmary while Marianne followed them closely behind, taking his gym bag in exchange. They were left out once there, and sat quietly on a bench while waiting for any news about her.

“You don’t have to stay here. You were going to one of your thousand clubs, weren’t you?”

“They’re three, and I was only going to Tae to drop some things,” he said, his eyes fixed to the front. “But I want to wait. Belgina’s my friend too.”

“Okay, then, but don’t blame it on us for being late.”

Demian smiled lightly and both went quiet again. The silence was tense, and while she looked uncomfortable, he seemed uneasy. At times, he looked askance at her, as if about to say something, but then stopped. Finally, he decided to speak.

“She took me by surprise.” Marianne turned to him, not understanding what he was talking about. “Lucianne. I had no idea what she would do . . . If I had known, I . . . ”

“Why are you telling me this?” she interrupted, giving him a questioning look. “You don’t need to explain anything to anyone, let alone to me. Besides, it’s not like a big shock given your history with her. I get it. Anyone would get it.”

“My history with her didn’t get past fourth grade,” Demian added. “When I saw her again, I thought maybe we’d have a new chance, but . . . many things had changed by then.”

Marianne said nothing, just stared at him. He had averted his gaze, broodingly. Perhaps he was worried that maybe Lucianne would still have feelings for him based on her action. Marianne huffed.  She didn’t even know anymore why she had been so hostile to him lately.

“If it makes you feel better . . . she wasn’t being herself,” Marianne said, trying to sound less blunt. “She’s a little unstable currently after what happened to her father . . . so, she decided to go back to her boarding school to clear her mind.”

“Then she left again,” Demian said with a sorrowful tone. Déjà vu. Seven years ago, she had also left without saying goodbye, but this time it didn’t feel like they were leaving something unfinished.

“But she’ll be back. She won’t be gone for long,” she said to reassure him, and couldn’t help but add an ‘I hope so’ in her mind.

A phone rang. Marianne quickly pulled her cell out after recognizing the tune and saw it was her father. Her mouth immediately tensed.

“Aren’t you going to answer?” Demian asked, noticing she was staring at the screen, undecided. She sighed and pressed a button.

“Yes? What is it?”

How’s everything? Has there been any problem in my absence?” Noah asked from the other side of the line.

“Everything’s fine, Loui and I haven’t killed each other yet,” she replied robotically and Demian raised an eyebrow. Noah’s clear laugh could be heard even when Marianne didn’t seem to be joking.

Listen . . . There’s some paperwork here that will take some more time that I thought, maybe one more day. Anyway, I would be telling you if there’s any change . . .

Marianne’s eyes hardened again, her face turned to stone. She was about to backtalk when suddenly she heard a voice behind her father: ‘You should stay here’.

She paled. That was a woman’s voice. She heard it as if it had been spoken to her father’s back in a whisper, but it was undoubtedly a woman. She kept silent for so long with her hand gripping the mobile that Demian looked puzzled at her, wondering what had suddenly changed.

Are you still there?” Noah asked after receiving no answer, and she blinked back to reality.

“Yeah. I’m here,” she replied, back to her curtly tone, not even realizing she was talking faster than usual, as if about to hyperventilate. “One more day, got it. Take all the days you want. I’m in the middle of a class, gotta hang up, okay?”

Oh, okay. I’ll call you later,” he finished with a note of discouragement and Marianne hung up.

Demian only stared at her.

“What?” Marianne growled, noticing the way he was looking at her.

“Nothing. I was just wondering where I got the idea that I shouldn’t be so ungrateful to my father . . . ”

She groaned while putting her cell phone down. The infirmary door opened and both rose to their feet.

“How’s Belgina?” Marianne asked, concerned.

“She’ll be fine, you don’t have to worry about her, she just has low blood pressure. Someone’s going to pick her up in a few minutes. She will be better tomorrow,” the nurse answered with a reassuring smile, and Marianne let out a sigh of relief.

“Well, I think it’s time to go to the club and then to class,” Demian decided, stretching and taking his gym bag in tow. “I’m in time for 50 lashes instead of 100.”

“And now you’re gonna blame it on us!”

“I’m just kidding,” he answered with a relaxed smile. “Jesus, do you really think we get lashed for any delay?”

“Okay, okay! Go now or I’ll be the one lashing you!” she snapped and Demian raised his brow.

“Don’t let Mitchell hear that,” he retorted, suppressing a smile.

Marianne blushed and chose to just wrinkle her nose and shut her mouth to say no more. Demian was already leaving, but stopped halfway and turned back to her.

“By the way, you might want to stop by the coffee shop later. I have a surprise.”

He didn’t say anything else, just kept on his way, leaving Marianne intrigued as she entered the infirmary to check on her friend.

“You should’ve told me! I would have taken her home no matter what,” Mitchell claimed after school.

“Don’t even think we’re going to give you more chances to take advantage of her,” Marianne replied grimly.

“Well, excuse me, but I haven’t taken advantage of anyone,” Mitchell protested. “She lost the Intellectual gift, not the will. Maybe we’ve kissed once or twice, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It was completely innocent and natural.”

Marianne stopped, turned around and punched him in the arm.

“Ouch! What’s your problem?”

“I just felt like it. It was completely innocent and natural. Did it hurt? I’m sorry, it was just momentary. It’s a shame you’re going to get a bruise.”

“You’re sadistic, you know that?” Mitchell complained, rubbing his arm, and Marianne punched him one more time.

“Hey, look! The coffee shop is open!” Lilith said, surprised.

“Now that I remember, Demian said we should go, because he had a surprise.”

“A surprise? I love surprises!” Lilith said, jumping in the air like an excited child. Going through the door, they noticed the place was packed full to the brim again.

Mankee greeted them with a smile and a bow, pointing to the booth they always took, the only one empty. It had a chain to the front which prevented anyone passing through, like an exclusive area.

“What does it mean?” Marianne asked, amazed.

“What do you think?” Demian appeared next to them. “You come here so often and always sit in the same place, I figured it would be a nice touch to have it private for you.”

“Do we really have our own VIP area now? I feel important!” Mitchell said, removing the chain and sitting at the table, delighted, as if he had never done it before, taking a deep breath to fill his lungs. “It even smells different!”

“But how did this happen? Up until yesterday you were closing the place,” Lilith said.

“My father got in touch with Mr. Ganzza’s relative and asked him about his intentions regarding the place. He was thinking of selling it so he made him an offer,” Demian explained.

“So now you practically own this place.”

“More like I’m my father’s employee now, and knowing him, he won’t make it easy for me. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some privileges now, for example . . . inviting you guys to a round of free milkshakes.”

“Yes! Free milkshakes!” Lilith yelled without measuring her tone, and the full place immediately burst into gleeful applause and whistles, while Demian seemed flustered.

“I meant only for you,” he muttered, unable to retract himself.

“Oops!” Lilith couldn’t help but chuckle at her indiscretion, and after that, Demian had no choice but to send free milkshakes to everyone in the coffee shop.

Marianne decided come to Lucianne’s house ahead of time and give her food. She thought to be the most qualified for the task, because she wouldn’t be so easily fooled.

Since they had to be cautious getting in the house, they had agreed to enter through the kitchen door.  So, once she got there and looked around to make sure no one was watching, she slipped into the back where she surprisingly found Franktick sitting at the back door.

“I was waiting,” he said as if he’d been there for hours. Marianne just snorted, took a key from inside a pot and opened the door.

“Don’t even think that just because you know now where the key is, you can come whenever you want,” she warned him while getting into the house. “You can’t stay alone with her after yesterday.”

“She just took me off guard. Anyone could make a mistake.”

“Well, you already surpassed your share of mistakes, so forgive us if we prefer not to take the risk.”

“I understand you don’t trust me,” Frank replied, trying to remain unshaken. “So far, I’ve done nothing but make the wrong decisions and it’s likely that I’ll keep doing it, but when it’s about Lucianne . . . I just need to be there with her.”

Marianne looked straight into his eyes. She could see he was being sincere and had a spark inside him whenever he spoke about Lucianne, but she still didn’t want to soften her attitude towards him, so she tried to keep her firm stance.

“You lower your guard every time you’re with her. You could say what you want, that you’ll be more careful, that you won’t let her trick you. But the truth is that Lucianne is your weakness. You’d better keep your distance from her right now. You may see her when someone else is in the house, but not on your own. It would be too risky.”

Frank kept silent, staring into her eyes, so blankly that she didn’t know whether he was going to make a scene, or maybe he was imagining the ways he could murder her.

“May I go down to the basement now, your majesty, please? Or do you need to supervise I won’t touch anything or make eye contact with her while I’m down there?” he said under his breath. She put her hands to her hips and let out a snort.

“Just stay away from the barrier, okay? And don’t listen to anything she says.”

The boy made a sort of bow and headed to the basement. Marianne rolled her eyes and opened the fridge to see what she could quickly make, finally deciding on a frozen pizza. She tucked it into the microwave and, while waiting for it to bake, sat at the table and pulled out a paper from her pocket, placing it in front of her. The page with the list of gifts.

Four more gifts. Four more chances or everything would be over. She thought about the contest. They believed to be luring Hollow when it was really Frank who gave him the idea to attack.

Maybe they could do another attempt to lure him, but without risking any more innocent people. Perhaps . . . if one of them was the bait . . . but how? She stared at the four uncrossed circles and her attention fell on the Resurrection one.

A dangerous idea began to germinate in her mind, too risky for any of them, but if properly executed, they would have a chance.

After all, Lilith’s mother was a nurse and Frank’s mom a doctor, if they asked the right questions without raising any suspicion, it was possible to carry out her plan . . . The problem was which one of them would dare to take the step forward.

The knock on the kitchen door roused her from her reverie. She opened it and found Angie resting her shoulder on the frame.

“Angie. Why are you here? I wasn’t expecting any of you for another hour or so.”

“Samuel sent me a text. He said he wanted me here for a test or something . . . or should I call him Samael in your presence?” Angie said with a deadpan face. She was speaking without any emotion or resentment, but Marianne couldn’t help sensing a hint of bitterness.

“No. Keep calling him the way you know him. Did he tell you what kind of test?”

She shrugged and right then they heard a thud in the living room. It didn’t take them long to rush over there, only to find Samael getting up from the floor with an aching gesture.

“What happened? Did you slip or . . . ?”

“I just wanted to prove something,” he replied with a sheepish smile. “I tried to think of the house as a place in general instead of focusing on a specific point. The result is that I ended up being thrown randomly.”

“And why would you do that?”

“Maybe that way I could expand the list of places where I can transport, not only those I already know. Just having an idea of the place, I could appear there . . . even if it’s throwing me out like this.”

“Well, lucky for you the floor is not lava and there are no cliffs.”

“He could have dropped in with Lucianne,” Angie chimed as if that would be worse.

“You were lucky,” Marianne reiterated while he brushed his knees. “Why did you tell Angie to come here before the meeting?”

“Oh, right! It’s about the skill you’ve shown lately,” Samael replied, addressing Angie directly. “I would like to do some tests with you.”

“What kind of tests?”

“I want you to try to control me just like you did with Frank and Lucianne.”

“I have nothing better to do anyway,” Angie concluded, unfolding her arms and moving towards him. She watched him from head to toe, deciding what part to touch before extending her hand to his face and slipping it down his neck. Her touch was warm, unlike the previous times when she would always have cold, shaky hands. That was before the loss of her gift, and now she was entirely unperturbed.

She stared at him and then began to raise an arm. Samael saw from the corner of his eye that he was starting to move his, like a reflection. He concentrated to try and stop it and his arm tensed, vibrating a bit as if in the middle of an arm wrestling battle, which he was losing.

“Should I keep going?” Angie asked, starting to lift the other arm and he did the same. Marianne watched everything intently.

Samael seemed to be making a huge effort to resist her control until a spark burst in the middle of them, and he dropped his arms again, recovering his own movements.

“Did you just use your shield against me?” Angie asked, briefly stunned.

“I’m sorry. It was a defensive mechanism, it’s not that I’ve done it on purpose,” Samael replied, shaking his arms as if they were numb.

“What do you think, then?” Marianne asked, curiously.

“When’s that meal going to be ready?” Frank shouted from the basement and Marianne rolled her eyes at the interruption.

“Why don’t you do something useful and go to the kitchen to fetch it? It’s in the microwave! Just wait for me to hand it to her!” she shouted back. “You were saying?”

“Yeah, well . . . what I noticed is that the control you have over the person you establish contact with, however strong and defined, it’s still just physical,” Samael explained while Frank walked out of the basement and went straight to the kitchen without paying them any attention. “I tried to resist and my shield activated automatically. In contrast, the kind of control you had before, despite being weaker, it was voluntary. There was no resistance from the body you aimed your power to. For example, in our practices, the orders you gave us were executed on our own will.”

“Yeah, sure, because commanding you to turn around or jump was very useful.”

“It could have been with time, as it developed.”

“Doesn’t matter, anyway. You’ve given me another reason why it would be better not to have my gift back,” she said lightly, causing Marianne to scowl, exchanging glances with Samael.

Frank, meanwhile, took the pizza out of the microwave and while looking for a plate to place it, he saw the extended paper on the table.

He moved closer and saw its content out of curiosity. At first, he didn’t understand what it was, but when he saw the circle containing the word ‘Kindness’ crossed out, he thought of Lucianne. Those were the so-called gifts they were looking for.

An impulse forced him to take the paper and keep it in his jacket as he proceeded to return to the basement, bringing the pizza.

“You can’t say that, Angie. You know it’s essential to recover the gift you lost.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, otherwise I’ll die,” she spat, rolling her eyes as if it weren’t that big of a deal, and Frank stopped in front of the basement’s door after hearing that. “Well, maybe it won’t be that bad after all. I’m not even suffering about it.”

“That’s because you’re not feeling anything. You need to get it back, that is how things should be.”

“To go back and be as useless as before? Now I have more control over my power, I don’t need a stupid gift that only restrains my potential just because it will eventually cause my death. We all have to die of something.”

“Angie, enough!” Marianne spat at her reproachfully.

Franktick opened the door and went down to the basement. He sat on the same stool he had been using, at a considerable distance from Lucianne, and set the plate on the floor to then pull out the paper he had taken in the kitchen. He stared at its content in all seriousness, as if studying it. If Lucianne didn’t get her gift back, she would eventually die. He couldn’t allow it. He had to do something soon.

“That’s what you’re going to do now? Will you torture me showing me food I will never get as punishment for what I did?” Lucianne interrupted his thoughts. Frank looked up and saw her sitting there under the dome, with her angelic face and innocent pose.

“In a moment,” he replied, trying to look past that appearance. He knew if he got too close it could be dangerous for both of them. She was safer there, locked up. He understood now.

“What is it? You need permission now to get close to me? Ohhh, poor little Frank. You’ve been tamed.” She smiled wickedly, erasing her previous innocent look.

Frank declined to say anything. He focused on the page to avoid having to watch her that way, with a gesture that didn’t belong to her or the words that would never leave her mouth in normal circumstances.

There had to be a way to get Lucianne’s gift back. The others planned to attract Hollow, but while they were deciding, the clock was ticking and Lucianne’s life was at risk.

He noticed the circles unmarked, the gifts that were yet to appear. The Supernatural gift caught his attention. All of them had some kind of power, couldn’t that be considered a form of supernatural ability? Although four of the girls had already been stripped off their gifts, maybe one of the others . . . then he recalled the previous day. Marianne had moved the rope with her mind. If that wasn’t the very definition of a supernatural power, he didn’t know what else it could be. There was also Samael, he seemed to have many tricks hidden up his sleeve. Those two were the most viable options to consider. While they were still breaking their necks thinking of ways to attract that demon, maybe he had found a quicker way to recover Lucianne’s gift.

It wasn’t long until the rest of the guys got there for their scheduled meeting in the afternoon. Marianne let them in through the kitchen door and approached the table to pick up the paper she had left on top of it, but there was nothing but the tablecloth. She looked around and on the floor, but didn’t find a thing.

She then went to the basement. Lilith was helping to carefully push the plate through the energy dome while the others proceeded to reinforce it, and once Frank did his part, he went up the stairs in a hurry.

“Where are you going?”

“I have things to do. I can’t stay today. You can keep me update later if you wish,” he said, passing by.

“Hey . . . did you see a paper in the kitchen for any chance?” Marianne asked and Frank stopped on the stairs, turning unexpressively towards her.

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

And without any further explanation, he left. Marianne frowned suspiciously, but said nothing, there was still a long evening ahead of them to discuss the dangerous idea she had.

And just as she supposed, they all immediately rejected the plan. It was madness, and wouldn’t consent to any of them putting their lives at risk, not even if she offered herself up voluntarily. Her proposal wasn’t well-received, but she remained firm and the meeting ended with her asking them to sleep on it and discuss it again the next day.

That night, Marianne was already set to sleep. She had turned off the lights, curled up in bed and closed her eyes when a voice interrupted her.

“Don’t think I’m going to let you risk your life in a plan that we’re not even sure will work,” Samael suddenly said. She opened her eyes and looked at the edge of the bed. He was sitting on the floor, his back on the mattress.

“We already risk our lives every time we fight, don’t we? Also, when did you come to my room? I didn’t hear you.”

“I transported here. I figured it would be less noisy.”

“Okay, you’re creeping me out,” Marianne said, raising an eyebrow, but he remained silent, staring at the door.

She finally got out of bed and sat next to him, their legs folded.

“Okay, you wanna talk about it? Let’s talk then.”

“I won’t let you do it,” Samael reiterated with determination. “I know what you’re thinking and I won’t consent to it in any way.”

“I think that’s not your decision,” she shrugged.

“Even if it’s not, I have to protect you, it’s my duty. So, if it’s in my hands to stop you from doing something insane, I will,” he insisted. “Inducing yourself into a clinical death to bring you back to life doesn’t ensure that demon will appear, and it could not work either, you could just stay . . . ”

He paused. He wasn’t able to finish that sentence. His throat choked with it.

“We’re running out of options. Something must be done, even if it’s dangerous. At least we should try it.”

“But not you. If so, I’d rather do it. I’ll volunteer,” he decided briskly and Marianne turned to him, distraught.

“But you can’t. You said angels don’t have souls, if you die . . . then it would be impossible to revive you . . . isn’t that right?”

Samael fell silent again for several seconds.

“I guess there’s only one way to find out.”

“Let’s not talk about this anymore, okay? Tomorrow the rest must have thought about my idea and can discuss it calmly. It’s time to sleep now.”

“Can I stay here?”

“Do you really think I’m able to do something?” she muttered with a snort. Samael just shrugged, and she sighed, got up again, went to the closet and pulled out some blankets and a pillow for him. Then she climbed back to the bed, feeling exhausted. “Good night.”

Franktick didn’t come home that night. Instead he went to the place where he had taken refuge up until days ago, while he felt like a fugitive monster. He went up to the top floor, taking the stairs, knowing that the elevator wouldn’t open to him anyway, and once he got to the floor he already knew very well, he walked to the bottom with faltering steps. He didn’t know what to expect, even doubted he would appear, but still wanted to give it a try. He had to, for Lucianne.

He stopped in front of the door the demon used to come out from, and waited, but nothing happened. He decided to open and look cautiously inside. No one was there. It was just a simple, empty and dusty office.

He then entered, closed the door and sat on the floor, his back against the wall. He would stay there all night if necessary until the demon showed up. After all, this was his lair and he eventually would have to go back there. He leaned his head to the wall and set to wait until he slowly fell asleep.

The sound of the phone woke Marianne. She grunted and reached towards her desk to take it, glancing at her watch. It was already ten o’clock. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and checked the message she had received. It was from Lilith: they had decided to go to the coffee shop, quoting her words, ‘to seize the benefits of being the owner’s friends’.

She rolled her eyes in disbelief and swung her feet to get up, accidentally stepping on Samael and waking him up at once.

“Oops! Sorry. I forgot you were still there. Did you sleep well? Lilith says they all went to the coffee shop, they’ll be waiting for us.”

“Why exactly there?” Samael asked, stretching his limbs to perk up.

“Because they’re a bunch of freeloaders, that’s why.” She left the room and went downstairs where she found her brother sitting at the table with a bowl of an already mushy cereal, toying reluctantly with it. “What are you doing up so early on a Saturday? You usually wake up at noon or later.”

“Nothing is normal in this house anymore, not since mom’s in the hospital,” he said without even looking at her, nor did he stop stirring the spoon. “Dad didn’t return. He said it would be only for one day, and he hasn’t come back.”

She tensed her mouth, remembering the call from the previous day. And the woman’s voice . . . There was a woman with him. She gulped and tried to cast it away.

“I forgot to tell you. Dad called yesterday, said he would stay a little longer than expected for some paperwork that’s giving him trouble,” she tried to sound casual to reassure him. Loui didn’t take his eyes off the bowl and just muttered an ‘Oh’, as if he should have seen it coming. “There is still some food in the fridge, you have the TV all to yourself, you can watch it or play videogames all day, whatever you want. I have to leave.”

“Can I go with you?” the kid let out with his best ‘helpless orphan begging for a bowl of soup’ face.

“No. I have things to do that are not of your business.”

“I won’t bother, I promise,” Loui begged.

“I said no!” she repeated authoritatively, and he looked at her so pitiful that it made her heart twinge with guilt. She eventually accepted, unable to take it anymore. “Okay, but I warn you that you must stay away from us, you must not intrude in our conversation and sit where I can see you, okay? Now wipe that look off your face, it makes me sick.”

“I’ll go get dressed!” her brother said, jumping up from his chair, leaving his breakfast almost intact.

Marianne began to regret her decision. Now she would have to tell Samael to stay home even though everything pointed out that her brother wouldn’t be able to see him, but better not to take the risk. She took the bowl of cereal and left it in the sink while waiting for Loui to come down. She had the feeling that this would be another long day.

Lilith, Angie and Mitchell were already at their usual table at the coffee shop with banana splits in front of them. The place had just opened so there was no one else but them.

“Where’s Belgina?” Marianne asked when she arrived.

“I went for her, but her mother was at home and said she was still weak after yesterday. Didn’t let me see her. I think she doesn’t like me,” Mitchell said, discouraged, taking a spoonful of ice cream to his mouth.

“I wouldn’t blame her,” Marianne snapped, and Mitchell responded with a nasty look.

“I want one of those,” Loui said, pointing at the banana splits.

“Go to the counter, order one and stay there.”

“But there’s room enough for me to sit here.”

“I said the counter!” she hissed. Loui folded his arms and frowned as if about to throw a tantrum.

“Aww, you brought your little brother!” Lilith said, leaving aside her spoon after having finished her dessert. “How cute! He’s my sister’s age, right? Hey! I just had the most awesome idea ever! What if I tell Romy to come? We introduce them, match them and within a few years we’ll be family. Oh, that would be wonderful!”

Loui became as white as paper and promptly turned around and fled to the counter.

“Thanks. That was genius,” Marianne said with a sigh of relief, sitting in the corner of the table.

“You’re welcome!”

Demian left the kitchen and stopped, confused, when he saw Loui at the counter. He, in turn, pointed at him in recognition.

“Hey, you’re that guy from the movie theater! My cousin’s boyfriend!”

Marianne jumped up from her seat and ran to the counter.

“Ignore him!” Marianne said, covering the kid’s mouth while Demian seemed uncomfortable at his comment. “He’s actually not here! He’s just an astral projection . . . that will get a banana split like the others if he just keeps quiet while we’re here. Do you understand, worm?” Loui squinted and glared at her, unwilling to compromise.

“No problem,” Demian finally said. “He can say whatever he wants.”

Marianne huffed in annoyance and released the kid, while Demian leaned down to him.

“Looks like you’ve got a good memory, I’m sure you must have good grades too.”

“I’m the best at school,” he said, raising an eyebrow with petulance.

“I see. Let me tell you what, you deserve that banana split as a prize for being such a good student. I’ll bring it in a minute . . . ah, one more thing! Lucianne and I are not dating, we’re just good friends. Your sister can confirm it.”

Marianne shot him a sharp look for passing the ball to her court while he returned to the kitchen. Loui rested his chin on his hands and gave her a questioning look.

“So . . . are you the one dating him?”

“NO! That’s not what he meant!” she shouted, turning red. Loui just lifted an eyebrow and looked away, as if having heard enough.

“Whatever, let me just remind you that you’re talking to someone who’s not here. People will think you’re nuts,” the kid added condescendingly. “But of course, talking to yourself is something you’re very good at, right?”

Marianne gritted her teeth, resisting the urge to shake him up, but she wasn’t going to fall into his game. It was only a ploy to get on her nerves. She turned around and returned to the others. Mankee came out a few seconds later with a tray full of chips and cheese sticks. He gave an odd look to the kid, spinning around on the stool, while he approached the guys’ table.

“Ignore him, he’s not even there, it’s just an optical illusion,” Marianne growled, taking a chip directly from the tray to her mouth.

“I didn’t say a thing, I’m just an employee here and you’re the clients,” Mankee said with a shrug while setting the dishes on the table.

“VIP clients!” Lilith said proudly, feasting on the last scoop of banana split.

“Wasn’t Samuel supposed to come with you?” Mitchell asked.

“He had something to do before. He’ll catch up with us later.”

“Hey, Monkey! The free dessert of the day doesn’t include refills?” Lilith said, licking her finished plate.

“Sorry, I don’t think that would end up being profitable for the place . . . besides, the ice cream machine is making a weird noise and it might need replacement.”

“But I want more ice cream,” Lilith said, pouting and starting to make noises with her throat, as if she were about to sob any minute now.

“Oh, god, give the girl an ice cream already. I’ll pay for it if that’s what it takes,” said Marianne and Mankee sighed, heading back to the kitchen. Lilith smiled after getting her way, like a little girl.

“Should we talk about your idea that one of us should die and then be resurrected to attract Hollow and catch him?” Angie remarked, as though it were some trivial issue.

“Would you mind saying it aloud for my little nosy brother to hear it and then decide to poke his nose where he’s not invited?” Marianne muttered through clenched teeth, turning swiftly to check that Loui hadn’t heard anything.

“You were the one who brought him despite what we were about to discuss, so don’t blame me for your own lack of judgment,” she replied, taking one of the cheese sticks. Marianne let out a breath, unable to refute it, and stood up again, approaching Loui.

“I changed my mind, you should go.”

“Why? I haven’t even had my dessert yet.”

“I’ll bring you something later, just go back home or go to the hospital, but you can’t stay here,” she insisted and the kid began to puff his cheeks as if about to protest, but the arrival of his promised banana split interrupted him.

“Here you go, I hope you like it, we’re having some issues with the ice cream machine back there.” Demian set the dish in front of Loui, who was already drooling at the amount of whipped cream on top.

“You’re not gonna eat that, go home right now,” Marianne warned him, but the child threw her a challenging glare and, to spite her, began to devour the dessert. “Didn’t you hear me?”

“I’m just a projection. I don’t hear nor see anyone around.”

“You little insolent worm . . . !” Marianne grunted.

“He’s just a kid. Let him enjoy for a while.”

“You’re not the one who has to put up with him later!”

“I don’t think a few spoons of ice cream are enough to repeat what happened at the movies.”

“You have no idea!” she protested while Demian couldn’t help but let out a short laugh that suddenly faded from his face when he looked outside. “ . . . What?” she asked, noticing his sudden change of expression. She followed his gaze to the window, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “What are you looking at? What is it?”

“I’m sorry,” Demian said, shaking his head, noticing that not just Marianne but also the others were looking at him in puzzlement. “I just thought I saw . . . nothing, forget it.”

A few more seconds passed in silence when suddenly an explosion in the kitchen alerted them. The guys looked at each other, prepared for anything as the door burst open. Mankee came out of it with a panicked face.

“It’s Gerald, the cook!” he cried, almost out of breath.

They all headed to the kitchen and saw the man lying on the floor in a puddle of melted ice cream. Demian quickly knelt to check his vital signs.

“I don’t know what happened. I was washing some dishes when I suddenly heard like a spark and then the ice cream machine exploded and he fell to the floor,” Mankee explained, stumbling over his words nervously.

“He’s dead,” Demian announced in shock. He turned towards the others with a pale face, waiting for someone to tell him what to do, but they all looked equally stunned.

“Did I hear someone died?” Loui plowed through everyone curiously, but once he saw the man’s body in a pool of ice cream, like the one he was just eating moments ago, he went completely green and threw up a multicolored mixture with chips included over Mitchell’s shoes.

“My suede shoes!” he cried, more horrified for it than the body itself.

“Is it possible to . . . bring him back?” Marianne asked, ignoring Mitchell’s tantrum and the others quickly looked at her, understanding her train of thought.

“Someone call an ambulance. Quick,” Lilith said, taking charge.

The paramedics arrived minutes later, but couldn’t do a thing. The man had died electrocuted. The coffee shop had to close and while the body was carried, the guys remained sitting with gloomy expressions, looking befuddled at each other.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Demian said finally. “First Mr. Ganzza and now the cook. It’s like . . . this place is cursed.”

“ . . . The rule of three!” Mankee suddenly yelled, covering his mouth right away as if it were bad luck just to mention it, but it was too late: the others were already looking at him with interest.

“What are you talking about?” Demian asked, but the boy kept his mouth shut, refusing to talk about it. “ . . . Speak up!”

“ . . . It is said that when a person dies, he doesn’t go alone,” Mankee began to explain. “Two more people die in the subsequent days, usually related to the first one in some way. Mr. Ganzza owned the place and now the cook dies . . . I don’t want to be next!”

“Nonsense! It’s just a superstition, you can’t believe in that,” Demian said, scrapping the idea. “What I’m worried about now is what will happen to the place. We don’t have a cook and until we find another . . . ”

“Could I try?” Lilith raised her hand at that moment. “I’ve been looking for a part time job and I could use it right now, I need the money.”

“But you won’t be able to be here when you’re at school. We need a full time cook,” Demian answered and Lilith returned to her thoughtful pose like the others, everyone taken aback by the situation.

“The prodigal son returns.”

Frank opened his eyes with a jolt and looked up. Hollow stood before him with a wicked smile. He got up with a leap and stepped back.

“I’m curious to know how those kids managed to get rid of my control over you, but what’s most intriguing right now is . . . what must be going through your head to have come back to the demon cave.”

Franktick took a breath, puffed his chest to pluck up the courage and lifted his chin.

“I’m here to make you an offer.”

The demon seemed incredulous, but his smile widened even more.

“What could you possibly offer that might interest me?”

“The Supernatural gift,” he said firmly, arousing the demon’s amazement. If he knew specifically what he was looking for, then he might consider letting him live a little longer.

“I’m listening.”

“I have information on who may possess the supernatural gift . . . ”

“Try again, you’re losing me,” Hollow interrupted, yawning and turning around.

“I KNOW who has the supernatural gift!” Frank corrected, raising his tone. The demon stopped with a smirk, turning back to him to keep listening. “In return . . . I want you to give me back the Kindness gift.”

Hollow didn’t answer, but didn’t flinch at the proposal either, as if he were already expecting something like that. His smile remained fixed on his face, for he had now the perfect excuse to verify the information he had obtained.

“You mean this one?”

A vessel appeared with a motion of his hand, floating next to him. The boy watched it anxiously. The engraving read ‘Kindness’. Yes, that was the one he wanted. The gift that belonged to Lucianne. He reached out to take it, but the demon pulled back and swayed his finger in a negative gesture. Frank quickly reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of folded paper.

“This is the person with the supernatural gift.”

Without further delay he handed the paper to Hollow, who kept it in the folds of his suit, which seemed to retreat by itself, as if the substance that formed it untwined and wove again. The demon then extended the vessel to Frank who, despite everything, seemed suspicious. He couldn’t believe he was really getting what he went for, and once the vessel was in his hands, he squeezed it tightly, anxious to go back to Lucianne’s house.

He looked up at Hollow and began to pull back, afraid that he would say anything or stop him, but when the demon didn’t move, he turned around and started to walk out of there. His heart was beating excitedly as he approached the stairs. He’d really done it, he had regained Lucianne’s gift . . .

“ . . . Stop.” Hollow’s voice boomed thunderous across the floor and, in a flash, he had crossed the distance between them and slammed him into the wall, snatching the gift out of his hands. “I never said you could keep it.”

Frank opened his eyes in pain and looked at him furiously. The container had already disappeared while the demon approached with the same sinister smile.

“You couldn’t have come at a better time.”

A cold feeling crept through everyone’s spine while they were still at the coffee shop, helping to collect the chairs now that it was impossible to receive customers for the day. Something was happening. It had to be an attack. They needed to get out of there right now.

They seemed to communicate with each other through glances, peeking at Demian who circled around with a phone in hand, making calls. Loui was sitting at the counter with a drink in front of him to settle his stomach.

“Can I ask you a favor?” Marianne came close to Demian and he just nodded, still too shocked to respond. “Do you mind watching over my brother for a while? I got a call from Belgina and . . . she has a problem, we need to go see her. I can’t take him.”

Suddenly her phone rang. It was a message from Samael. She already knew what it was about without having to see it. She lifted her gaze again and found herself subject of Demian’s questioning look, but Marianne didn’t have the time to give some intricate explanation.

“Please. I don’t have anyone else to look after him,” she insisted, almost pleading, and he got the meaning of the phrase, in light of the call he had witnessed the day before. So, he finally agreed and she left the place followed by the others, stepping outside and sending a code glance to Mankee.

“We’re out of cleaning products. I’ll go buy some to finish cleaning the kitchen,” Mankee said, going to the opposite side and out the back door.

In less than five minutes, Demian was alone in the cafeteria, with only the company of a child who looked at him expectantly from the counter.

“So . . . do you like my sister, then?” the kid let out like he had nothing else to say, and Demian started to massage his temples with an impatient snort. It was barely a few seconds and he was already regretting his decision of taking care of him.

They appeared in a dark, dusty floor. Hollow was a few feet away, holding Frank from the neck and smiling widely at them.

“Angel Warriors. I was waiting for you,” he said with an oddly enthusiastic tone, but they didn’t have time to stop and think about it.

Marianne drew her sword and headed towards him, intending to cut off his hands to release Frank, but the demon quickly moved away, throwing the boy as if he was no longer of any use. They noticed that he hadn’t snatched any gift from him, so they didn’t understand the reason for the attack, perhaps it was some kind of retaliation after getting free from his control.

They beckoned him to leave and Frank immediately ran to the stairs, going down a few steps until losing sight of them, but then stopped. That was also his fight and now he wanted to kill that demon more than ever. He grasped his hands and went back, deciding to join them.

“What is this? Why did you attack someone if you weren’t looking for a gift?” Marianne asked as they all lunged at him, while the demon only dodged them with a suspicious smile.

“Who says I’m not?” Hollow replied, snapping his fingers. A sequence of filaments began to arise from the floor, made of the same substance as his suit, trapping them from the limbs and neck to immobilize them. “The only difference is that this time the victims just came straight to me.”

The guys exchanged nonplussed glances. He had done exactly what they were planning to do, he had drawn them into a trap.

“You see, it recently came to my knowledge that there were other Angel Warriors in the past. All of them dead by now, of course,” the demon said as he walked among them, as if choosing his first victim. “And it wouldn’t come as a surprise that one of you could also be a reincarnation of one of them.” Saying this, he stopped in front of Mitchell who was struggling to get loose from those strands, and without saying anything else, the demon extended his arm towards him and a sphere came out of his back.

The others couldn’t do anything but squirm helplessly as he examined the sphere and instantly dismissed it. He then turned to Mankee, who was trembling with horror, his throat paralyzed, struggling to let out a scream. Hollow was quick, and soon enough, another sphere was in his hands.

Samael realized, unsettled, that he was next in line. If he did the same to him then he would know. Everyone would know, because angels didn’t have souls nor gifts.

“ . . . This ain’t one either,” Hollow said after analyzing the second gift, also throwing it to the floor. His gaze fell on Samael then. The angel couldn’t help but twitch, aware of what would happen next. “Let’s see if you have something for me.”

“No!” Marianne yelled as the demon placed his hands against Samael and a bright sphere came out of him.

The idea of death as the ultimate end for him made her lose her breath as Hollow smiled and took the glowing sphere in his hands, until it suddenly disappeared. The orb just vanished in the air with a burst of light. He couldn’t hide his surprise, and was even more shocked when Samael loosened the strands with a swift motion, tearing them up. The demon was quick enough to grab him by the neck, lifting him up.

“What are you?” he asked, bringing him closer and trying to look through the hull. The flash of light blue eyes gave him the idea of what he had in front of him. A raucous laughter escaped his lungs. “Well, well, well. Aren’t you a real treat from heaven? I’ve always wanted to kill one of your kind . . . ”

The floor began to shake, causing the filaments to become loose. Concrete shards and dust fell from the ceiling.

Hollow didn’t even see it coming. One moment he was holding Samael by the neck, and later, a large lump collided against him, throwing him to the ground. Lifting his gaze, he saw another Angel Warrior with a rusty-toned armor in front of him, his chest expanding and contracting at each breath.

“Give us back the gifts. Now,” he warned, pointing menacingly at him, and the demon just watched him curiously, having the feeling that he already knew him. Either way, now he had another possible candidate for the gift he was looking for, so he smiled.

“I have never been so glad to see another Angel Warrior in front of me.”

“Stay away!” Marianne tried to warn him, but it was too late. Hollow didn’t waste any more words, and he had already moved in front of him in the blink of an eye, and pressed against his chest. A bright orb was instantly expelled from his back.

Frank’s eyes stared at the demon even after losing his gift, as if his body retained his conscience for a few more seconds until finally shutting down his functions and falling flat on the floor. But the demon’s sight was on the shiny sphere now. That was the one, he could sense it. He put the container below and it was absorbed instantly with a flash, sealing in approval. Hollow’s mouth curved into a triumphant smile and turned to those still standing. For once they had been really useful, and thus he bowed to them mockingly, going into a black hole before they could even reach him, and leaving a laugh in the air that froze their blood, hearing its echo even after the hole closed.

A few seconds passed and Marianne finally headed towards Mitchell and Mankee to give them back their gifts, ending with Frank, creating a replacement gift for him.

“What happened? Where’s the demon?” Mitchell asked as soon as he woke.

“He’s gone . . . and took another gift with him,” Lilith answered glumly.

“Another? Don’t tell me that . . . it was mine?” Mitchell took his hand to his chest in a bemused expression, but Marianne shook her head.

“It was Frank’s,” she replied as he got up, a little dazed.

“What about me?” Frank asked, his hands clutching his head.

“You had the Reincarnation gift. Hollow has it now. It was just a trap to lure us here, he knew one of us had it. Why were you with him, anyway? What were you doing in this place?”

“Wait, hold on a minute. I had what?” he repeated, shaking his head as if he hadn’t heard right.

“Answer our questions. What where you doing with that demon? Did you come to him again? What the hell were you thinking?” Marianne continued her barrage of questions while Frank was still trying to assimilate that he had now lost a gift.

“I did it for Lucianne!” he finally said, with clasped hands and a defeated attitude. He felt stupid for having been fooled again. “I thought I could make some kind of trade so he would give me her gift if I . . . offered him another one in exchange . . . ”

“Is that why you decided to offer yourself up?” Marianne asked and he fell silent. She had it all wrong, he hadn’t gone running to offer his own gift. He didn’t even know he had one. He lifted his gaze at her and then looked at Samael. The piece of paper he delivered pointed at one of them, but who was it? He took his hand to his pocket and pulled out another paper, keeping it back once he glanced at its content.

“I had to do something. Not just sit around discussing plans while we were running out of time. And now my days are also numbered! Did you all know that if we don’t recover the gifts we’ll die?”

Marianne turned immediately to the others. They all looked taken aback, except for Angie, who didn’t look surprised at all.

“Is it true?” Lilith asked, but Marianne said nothing, confirming the revelation. “When were you going to tell us?”

“I—I didn’t know how to do it.”

“Then what’s happening with Belgina lately is . . . because she’s dying?” Mitchell asked, alarmed.

“No. She’s not dying,” Marianne said, raising her voice. “Listen, I know it’s hard to assimilate, but I didn’t want to tell you this because I feared this would discourage you . . . or even worse, drive you to do crazy stuff like Frank did today.”

“Still, you should’ve told us,” Lilith said, disappointed. Marianne went mute again, unable to speak. And then Mitchell headed to the stairs.

“I’ll go see how’s Belgina doing.”

“Could someone tell me how to get back to the coffee shop from here?” Mankee asked, following the same direction, and finally, Lilith decided to leave too, diverting her eyes from Marianne without saying anything.

Angie walked past her, merely shrugging.

“I told you they would find out eventually.” And thus, she left.

Samael waited for Marianne to say something, but she didn’t. She just kept her eyes fixed on the floor. Frank stood up, brushing himself off and stared at them.

Then he brought his hand to his jacket again and took another look at the piece of paper he had left. The name ‘Samuel Darwin’ was clearly on it, which meant that the note he had given to Hollow had Marianne’s name on it.