When Marianne came back to the coffee shop for Loui, she found him very entertained, reading a comic with a tower of magazines at his side. Demian sat apart in one of the booths, lost in his own thoughts.

“I’m sorry it took this long. Did he give you any trouble? I can pay for any inconvenience he has caused.”

Demian lifted his gaze, but didn’t seem to look at her. A few seconds passed until he leaned on the table and got up.

“No problem, let’s leave it that way. Is Belgina okay?”

For a moment, she forgot her excuse, so she looked confused at him, but as soon as it dawned on her, she tried to act downplay it.

“Oh, yeah, sure! It was just . . . a misunderstanding with her mother.”

Demian didn’t ask anything else, yet he seemed deeply immersed in his mind, so she decided not to bother him.

“Well, we’d better get going, I guess . . . you still have things to do after what happened and . . . stuff. Thanks for watching over my brother for a while . . . Now, come on, leave those comics, we gotta go!”

“But these are Cameron Devlin’s comics! And I don’t have this one!” Loui protested, not wanting to leave the comics behind.

“I don’t care, we have to go home!”

“You can take that one,” Demian said. “And you can come back later to read the rest when you feel like it.”

“Thanks!” Loui exclaimed, smiling triumphantly at his sister to prove he had gotten his way once again. She just frowned.

“Okay, okay, let’s just go now!”

“Do you know when will your father be back?” Demian suddenly asked and by the look in Marianne’s face, he knew he should treat the matter with pins and needles. “My house is very big and . . . if you need something, well . . . ”

“I appreciate it, but we’re fine in our own house,” she answered in a way that seemed to say between the lines that they didn’t need his charity, so he decided to shut up and just nod. “Bye, and sorry again for the inconvenience.”

They both left the place, Marianne pushing her brother so they wouldn’t stop until getting home.

“You’re going to return that comic as soon as you finish reading it.”

“But he said I could keep it!” Loui protested.

“I don’t care! You’ll give it back, period! You have plenty at home.”

The boy grimaced, but didn’t argue.

“I hope you didn’t act like a brat over there. He didn’t seem very comfortable when I arrived, so if I find out you did something . . . ”

“I didn’t do anything! He handed the comics to me while he was going all over the place ordering things and speaking over the phone. I even had the consideration to drag him out of the kitchen when he almost fainted from the intense bleach smell. Maybe that’s why he lent me the comic, out of gratitude, so I have the right to keep it. And that’s it!” Loui said his closing argument, thus ending the conversation.

Marianne just grunted and kept walking in silence, though she couldn’t help the strange feeling that someone was following them. She turned around constantly, yet never saw anyone or anything unusual, so she tried to dismiss it before getting more paranoid.

Demian remained pensive long after Marianne and Loui left, sitting at the table they usually occupied. It was already dark and the only light on was the streetlight. Mankee walked out of the kitchen, carrying two plates of burgers, and sat opposite to Demian, giving one of the plates to him.

“You’ve been here all day without eating, your father will be mad.”

“Not worse than the disaster I got him into when I encouraged him to buy this place.”

“Well, at least no one else was here when Gerald died, it would have been worse. The guys won’t say a thing to harm the place, so I guess you shouldn’t be worried in that regard,” Mankee said, taking a bite of his burger while Demian watched him without touching his.

“May I know how is it that you’re suddenly so close to them?” Demian asked out of curiosity, and Mankee stopped mid-bite.

He was extremely grateful for his help, therefore he didn’t feel comfortable lying to him, but he knew he had to hide the truth.

“Well . . . you know. They spend so much time here that you get used to them,” he replied, trying to hide his unease with a smile.

Demian said nothing and decided to give the burger a try just to have something in his stomach, but once he felt the juicy meat, it whetted his appetite.

“Did you make them?”

“Yes, why? They don’t taste good? I’m sorry. I did the best I could.”

“On the contrary . . . I think this is the best burger I’ve ever had,” he said, examining the one he had in his hands. Now that he was paying attention, it didn’t just taste good, it looked appetizing and last, but not least, the smell only increased his craving. “Have you tried to cook other dishes besides hamburgers?”

“Well . . . I don’t know if I should tell you now that you’re the boss . . . ”

“I’m not the boss, stop calling me that.”

“Okay . . . Sometimes at night when everyone is gone, I try the specialties from the menu . . . but I clean everything so no one would notice the next day . . . I hope you don’t mind.”

“Quite the opposite. I think it’s the best thing I’ve heard the entire day,” he said with a smile, a little spark lighting in his mind as he took another huge bite of the burger.

That same night, Marianne’s nightmares came back. But it was different this time. She was in the middle of a huge empty dark hall that echoed her footsteps. Suddenly, the lights began to turn on at different points, lights from crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. She noticed to her surprise that she was wearing a fancy green dress with an organza tail. It was impossible . . . she never wore dresses.

An orchestra began to play a waltz in the distance. She looked around, but the place was still empty. She went around in circles, looking for the source of the music, and all of a sudden, she was already in somebody’s arms, dancing to that same waltz. She tried to see its face, but couldn’t, it was surrounded by shadows.

Suddenly, the music sped up and the view of the room began to daze her. She tried to get loose, but the shadow held her tighter and a threatening dark aura began to come out of it, looming over both of them. She wanted to scream, but something stopped her. The shadow began to laugh as darkness swallowed them. And then she saw Samael, standing at the opposite side of the hall, looking around, disoriented.

“Samael!” she managed to shout, and he looked at her. Her terrified eyes told him that she didn’t know what was happening either. He tried to come to her rescue, but an invisible wall prevented him from moving forward, repelling him like an electrified fence.

He stood up, back on his feet, and watched impotently as the shadow dragged Marianne into the darkness, even though she resisted, fighting to break free, shouting the angel’s name. He lunged against the invisible fence once again, hitting with all his strength even when it hurt him, calling Marianne, but she couldn’t hear him, the wall seemed to muffle his voice.

The shadow merged into the darkness, and now it was her turn. The dark aura was surrounding her, covering her from head to toe. There was no way to escape, and in her desperation, she let out a scream that was still trapped in her throat when her eyes flew open and saw Samael in front of her, looking concerned.

“It’s okay, it wasn’t real. You’re fine.”

“Samael, what . . . ?” She sat up without finishing her sentence, looking around to make sure where she was. It was her room, dawn already peeking at the horizon. Samael was in front of her, one knee on the bed, holding her face. “What are you doing here? I . . . had a nightmare . . . and you were in it.”

“I know. I saw it too,” he replied, letting go of her now that she had calmed down.

“You saw it?” she asked, surprised. “Did we just have the same—?”

“I was there. I wanted to try if I could get into your dreams to know what your subconscious shows you,” Samael explained. “It was difficult at first. The unconscious mind doesn’t work the same way when you’re awake and you can control your thoughts. There are too many obstacles and different slopes that can lead to false versions, traps from the mind to protect itself. But I finally got it, I found myself in the middle of a huge empty hall. There was music, but I couldn’t find the source of it and then I heard your voice calling me out. When I looked up and saw you in the distance . . . there was a shadow with you.”

Marianne shuddered. She remembered it. Now she could remember. And not only that, Samael had seen it too and for some reason that was what most upset her.

“Am I your guinea pig?” Samael didn’t know how to answer to that. “What were you trying to do by getting into my dreams? This is my subconscious we’re talking about, it’s more private, even for me.”

“I’m sorry, I just . . . wanted to help. The other times you’ve had nightmares you seemed pretty bummed out,” he replied, suddenly feeling guilty.

Marianne was upset, but only sighed and tried to soften her expression.

“So . . . what do you think? What does it mean?” she finally asked, and Samael just shook his head.

“Honestly . . . I have no idea. Maybe you’re just worried about what might happen if they complete the gifts.”

“Just three,” she said grimly. “Three more and they’d have won.”


“What do you think will happen if they get them all?” she continued.

Samael still didn’t answer.

“I know you’re as concerned as me, maybe even more, so I must insist that you should seriously consider my idea. We have not much time left and the more we think about it, the less chance we’ll have to recover the gifts.”

“There’s no discussion. You won’t get to do it,” he replied immediately.

“Who, then? You can’t, we could lose you in the attempt, and the girls and Frank no longer have gifts, plus they just found out that without them . . . ”

“I don’t know. I have a bad feeling,” Samael added, looking down worriedly. “Like everything we tried is useless and the gifts are predisposed to appear anyway . . . That nothing we do is enough and perhaps our attention should be set on what will happen next.”

“You can’t be serious,” Marianne said with a scowl, unable to believe those words had just come out of him.

“I’m sorry. My mind is a mess. I need to clear my head.” Saying this, he disappeared with a flash, leaving Marianne more confused than she already was. Surely, he had gone to the attic to think carefully about it.

She wanted to follow him and insist on the subject, but ultimately decided not to. She would let him meditate about it if that was what he needed. She checked her phone and found no response to her text from last night. An apology message.

Of course, they would still be upset, what did she expect? It wasn’t the same, thinking that they would live the rest of their lives without the thing that made them special in some way, then finding out that ‘the rest of their lives’ wouldn’t be more than a few months at most. She felt dreadful, how could she regain their trust? She dropped back to her bed and stood there for a while, leaning sideways until glancing at the clock. Seven in the morning and it was Sunday. Would they be bothered at Belgina’s home if she paid a visit? She was the only one Marianne doubted to hate her guts right now, but also needed to know how she was doing, that she really was okay.

And that was ultimately her next move. She went to Belgina’s house, and although she apparently woke her mother up, she let her in, muttering something about it being too early for visitors. Belgina was awake when she entered her room, sitting on the bed with her back extremely straight. A smile spread across her face when she saw her. They had breakfast over there, and although she looked better, Marianne couldn’t help but notice her distractions were becoming more frequent.

“Did the guys tell you what happened yesterday?” Marianne asked.

“Oh, sorry for not being available. My mother decided to spend all day with me. She took me to the clinic for some studies. They took blood. Mitchell came yesterday twice, but she didn’t let him in, I don’t know why.”

Marianne arched her eyebrows, wondering if her mother was taking out of context Belgina’s mysterious illness and attributing it to her secret relationship with Mitchell.

“Did you get the results yet?”

“They’ll be done by tomorrow,” she answered, lessening the matter.

“I can let you two in, but not him!” Her mother’s voice was heard from the living room, all the way to her bedroom. It sounded more outraged this time.

“Wait here. I’ll go see what’s going on.”

Marianne went out of the bedroom and walked straight to the living room. Angie, Lilith and Mitchell were at the door. The latter had the most terrified expression she had ever seen on him.

“But what did I do? I just want to know if she’s okay.”

“She’s perfectly fine. Now that you know it, you’re free to go,” Belgina’s mom repeated while letting Angie and Lilith in. They both came in without uttering a word, fearing it would worsen her mood if they did.

“But . . . but . . . ” Mitchell stammered, trying to find an explanation for such a hostile welcoming. The woman proceeded to close the door without giving him a chance to say anything else and walked away, mumbling something about how all men were the same.

Standing at opposite sides of the room, the three girls exchanged glances in silence. Lilith looked at Marianne with an unusual serious face while Angie remained stoic, glancing from one to the other.

“So, what then? You’re not saying anything?”

“I. . .I’m really sorry. I should’ve told you before . . . but had no idea how. Especially since you were the main people affected in this whole thing.”

“Is that the only thing you’ve been hiding from us or is there anything else?” Lilith asked, and Marianne shut up. There was still the pending issue about Samael’s origin. She couldn’t say another lie, it would be unforgivable . . . but she couldn’t just expose him when he was absent. There was only one thing to do.

“We . . . have to talk about that when we’re all gathered.”

Lilith looked confused, but didn’t ask anything else. They moved to Belgina’s bedroom, and while they were passing around a plate of fruit salad, they decided to fill her in with what was presumably happening.

“So . . . am I dying?” Belgina asked with a clueless expression.

“Let’s not think about it that way,” Marianne said, trying to erase that idea from their minds. “Death has no solution, but this does. We can stop the process and we may need to use somewhat dangerous methods just to have one more chance to ambush that demon.”

“You mean the induced death and subsequent resurrection, right?”

Marianne nodded, fearing they could refuse again, but Lilith seemed more willing to consider it this time.

“It’s possible to cause a respiratory arrest, and after a few seconds perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation,” Lilith said a little reluctant.

“Then I suppose I’m the most suit for such an entrustment,” Angie said.

“No. None of you can. You’ve already lost your gifts. Hollow wouldn’t be interested in you.”

“What do you suggest then?”

A thud on the window pulled them out of their concentration. They turned a bit puzzled and saw a second stone hitting the glass. They went to the window and peeked down. Mitchell was down the street, waving his arms.

“I just wanted to be sure Belgina’s okay!” Mitchell said loudly enough to be heard.

“There’s the phone, you know? You could have broken the window and hit one of us,” Marianne rebuked.

“You still have many things to explain, young lady!” Mitchell retorted, pointing at her and she rolled her eyes as Belgina peered out the window and waved back. “Hey, babe! Do you feel any better?”

She nodded with a smile, but none of them had time to respond because Belgina’s mother stormed out at that moment, like an angry beast.

“What did I tell you? You want me to call the police? I can do it, I have contacts!”

“See ya!” he managed to say before fleeing in a hurry.

“Will he ever notice that your mother thinks he got you pregnant?” Angie commented carelessly.

“He got me what!?” Belgina seemed perplexed for the first time since she was giftless.

Samael never used to dream. Each time he went to sleep, he plunged into a state of total slumber in which he wasn’t aware of anything until he opened his eyes again. It was like he had just closed them seconds ago.

However, sometimes when he woke up, he had new knowledge implanted in his mind. As if his brain had updated itself while sleeping. That was how from one day to another he knew he could modify memories, or suddenly found out he could transport everywhere just by thinking about it. That had to be the Superior realm’s work, he had no doubt of that. After all, they had sent him with one mission only, but with several gaps that he couldn’t fill without much prior knowledge.

Perhaps they had done it hastily. They sent him incomplete due to a miscalculation and to compensate that failure they had been gradually incorporating the knowledge he needed. Thus, he had awakened that morning with the certainty that if he tried, he could get into Marianne’s dreams and indeed had succeeded, but something else had been haunting his mind since then, and it had to do with the gifts.

For some reason, he had woken up with the idea that the gifts were hopeless, they could do nothing to recover them but wait until they were all complete to move to the next phase: deal with the consequences. This unsettled him. How could the Superior realm directly command them through this notion to let go of their efforts? It made no sense to him. What would the consequences be if the gifts were completed? Was there anything that prevented the gifts from being recovered once they started to appear?

He needed more answers that only sleep could provide, so he lay back and tried to unsuccessfully force himself to sleep. He then remembered the pills Marianne used to take after the accident. If he was lucky enough, maybe he could even find them in her drawer.

He moved to Marianne’s room and began to rummage her dresser until finally finding the bottles. The only thing he wondered was which one he needed to sleep. He read the labels, hoping to find out, but they were just complicated words that made no sense to him, so he chose to take a pill from each bottle.

Then, he returned to the attic and sat on the bed, hoping this time it would work. A few minutes passed and nothing seemed to happen, until the threshold of his vision slowly began to fade and he stopped thinking.

When Marianne arrived home, she went straight to the attic and was surprised to find him asleep. How unusual. He didn’t use to take naps during the day. She shook him slightly, but he didn’t wake. She made a second attempt, this time a little stronger, but he kept still.

This wasn’t normal. Some way or another, Samael was always alert when he was needed. Something was wrong.

“ . . . Samael? Hey, wake up! It’s not time for sleep, there are still things to do!” she said, shaking him harder, but it was pointless, he didn’t react.

She stepped back alarmed. The idea that he had done something to prevent her from testing her theory about the Resurrection gift was beyond her.

“Wake up! Wake up now!” She pushed him against the mattress, making him bounce, but still didn’t get a single reaction from him.

Exhausted and distraught, she knelt in front of him, putting her ear over his chest, not knowing what else to do.

And then she heard his heart. It was beating at a normal pace. She put her hand close to his nose and could feel his steady breathing against her palm, no wheezing or difficulties to breathe. His pulse also throbbed normally. He seemed to have no other problem, apart from the obvious part of not waking up. He was immersed in a deep slumber.

She pulled back and sat on the floor, her face up in relief while feeling foolish for thinking the worst when the first thing she had to do was to check his vital signs. Yet she didn’t understand the reason of his condition, if he was just sleeping or in a trance. Anyway, she couldn’t leave the door unlocked now. If he didn’t wake up soon, she would have to excuse him with the others and delay his revelation.

But unfortunately, he continued on that state up until the next day . . .

The angel stayed there, with the same peaceful stance that sleep bestowed him, while Marianne watched him, standing next to his bed.

“If you can hear me, I need you to know that today is the day,” Marianne murmured. “Lilith got everything. And although we haven’t agreed on who will do it, I already decided it will be me. Just wanted you to know.”

She waited a few minutes for a reaction, but nothing happened. She finally decided to leave, but not before locking up the attic door as a precaution.

On her way to school, she had again the unnerving feeling that she was being followed, but every time she turned around, there were only people heading to work or kids also running late. In all the time she had been living in town, she’d only felt that way when Ashelow had discovered her identity . . . but that wasn’t the case now.

She was late to class, but at least the feeling of being followed had vanished. She didn’t know whether to share her concern with the others or chalk it up to stress.

“We could convince Monkey to do it,” Lilith said while heading to their basketball club. “He’s practically the new guy, so he hasn’t faced enough dangers yet, he should at least make a small sacrifice for us.”

Marianne didn’t respond. She had planned to make her case when the time came, so they couldn’t step back. Neither Mitchell nor Mankee were right for such a task, since Hollow had already analyzed their gifts and weren’t eligible for him. It HAD to be her.

“Is it true that the Retroganzza’s cook died?” Kristania asked, appearing between them, holding their arms confidently.

“Yes! How did you know?”

“Rumors travel fast in here.”

Translation: ‘My brother told me and I told the others’.

“Poor Demian! He’s barely taken over the place and it’s already falling apart.”

“He’ll think of something to fix it,” Marianne said and suddenly ran into him right in front of the auditorium while going out with his teammates.

“ . . . Hi,” he briefly greeted them and they replied almost in unison.

He looked at one and another before setting his eyes on Marianne. He seemed about to say something, but didn’t dare in their presence.

“Could I talk to you later?” he finally said once his teammates left the place. His eyes fixed on Marianne. “I need to ask you something . . . It’s important.”

“Okay,” she said, finding it odd. He seemed serious, and she was curious to know what it could be about. He just nodded and then left while the three girls followed him with their gazes, looking intrigued. Once he left, Kristania strongly squeezed Marianne’s arm and whisked her away, looking at her with wide eyes and widemouthed. She looked unhinged.

“What the hell is wrong with you? Do you want to dismember me?”

“Don’t you get what does that mean!? He’s going to confess to you!” Kristania squealed with her hands almost embedded in Marianne’s arms.

Marianne’s face clenched into an expression of disbelief.

“Confess what? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“You really think so? Would he finally dare?” Lilith stepped in, drawing Marianne’s incredulous gaze.

“What is this? You too?” she protested, suddenly feeling attacked and betrayed by who was supposed to support her.

“Oh, come on! Drop the act and face the truth. Who wouldn’t fall for someone like him?”

“I would definitely squeal and faint right at that moment,” Kristania seconded.

“It would actually make sense, it would confirm our suspicions,” Lilith added, patting her head in a sympathetic way.

“Well, you’re all wrong! That won’t happen, okay? You’re misinterpreting everything!” she yelled, shaking her hand away and facing them, upset.

Someone cleared his throat and when they turned around, their coach was in the middle of the court, moving his foot impatiently.

“You come to talk about boys or to train? Ten laps around the court!”

They didn’t protest, just ran around the court at his command. By the time they left the building, they didn’t mention anything to Marianne again. At least for now.

They reunited with the rest after school and noticed that Belgina had a bodyguard now. Her mother’s assistant followed her very close, preventing Mitchell to get anywhere near her, leaving him no choice but to walk behind them like a lost puppy.

To their surprise, the coffee shop was open and had some clients, like any other day. As they entered, Belgina’s guard made a gesture to Mitchell to indicate he would be watching and the boy couldn’t help feeling something stuck in his throat as he saw him in the doorway. Inside, the other waiter went from one side to the other taking orders and instead of Mankee, Demian was also doing his part.

“What happened to Monkey? Did you fire him?” Lilith asked as soon as Demian approached their table. “How cruel! He had nowhere to go!”

“Of course not! He’s in the kitchen. He’s the new cook.”

“Really? And is it permanent or until someone gets food poisoning?”

“Don’t worry, he’s really good. It was quite a surprise, but I think that fixes the problem we had.”

“Does that mean he’ll be busier now?” Marianne asked, thinking this would only prevent him from attending most of their meetings and Demian gave her an unfathomable look, as if wondering what difference that made.

“Well, I guess that depends on our clients. That’s how this usually works,” he remarked, and she looked down, feeling stupid, suddenly wondering why she didn’t answer with some snarky comment as she used to.

“What about our free round this time?” Mitchell said, sitting in the corner of the table, watching Belgina’s caretaker through the window.

“Don’t push your luck,” Demian replied. Someone started calling him from another table and he had to go. “I’ll be right back for your orders.”

As soon as he was away, Lilith elbowed Marianne, taking her off guard.

“Ouch! Why . . . ?”

“Aren’t you going to ask him what he wanted to talk to you about?”

Marianne kept silent and glanced at Demian. He seemed relaxed, and the serious expression he had before had disappeared from his face.

“If it’s that important I’m sure he will tell me, otherwise I won’t bother him. He’s busy.”

Lilith wheezed and rolled her eyes in disagreement, then stood up.

“I’ll go convince Monkey to be our volunteer.”

And just like that she went to the kitchen, without any restrictions.

“I’m also willing to do it, just so we can end this madness at once,” Mitchell remarked, playing with a straw. Marianne preferred to keep her arguments for the proper time.

“Come on, Monkey! You have to do it for us! We’re all gonna die if we don’t get them back, don’t you feel for us?”

“I completely get it. It’s the same risk I’ll be going through,” Mankee replied while frying some burgers. “And even worse, if you couldn’t even bring me back. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens. Actually, I fear to be living my last hours! You know what I learned of? When Mr. Ganzza opened up this place, he was in charge of the kitchen, you know what that means?” Lilith only shrugged, unsure of where he was going with that. “Him, Gerald, the rule of three! I’m now in charge of the kitchen, I’m next!”

“Don’t you think you’re taking it a little too seriously? It’s just a superstition.”

A flash of flames suddenly burst in the stove where he was frying the burgers, reaching the smoke filter which caused the grille to fall on the handle of a soup ladle inside a pot, this one flew up knocking a knife holder, flipping it over, and one of the knives slipped down falling at Mankee’s feet, who managed to move away just in time.

“Do you see now? This place is trying to kill me! It won’t stop until it has its three deaths in a row!”

The boy looked really deranged and out of his mind. He picked up the knife, placing it as it was before, but as far away from him as possible.

“The only thing left for me now is just try to survive this week and hopefully break the rule, but if I do something stupid like putting my life at risk, I certainly won’t live to tell. Everything that could go wrong, will go wrong, do you understand? I’m walking on thin ice.”

“What are you doing here?” Demian asked, after seeing Lilith in the kitchen.

She just giggled and stammered some lame excuse, after which she walked out and returned to her seat.

“He’s still obsessed with all this ‘rule of three’ stuff. Says he’s next in line and can’t take the risk,” Lilith informed them with a sigh.

“Doesn’t matter, I already told you I’ll do it,” Mitchell repeated, looking at the street and noticing the man seemed distracted by a mobile device, chance he took to move his chair closer to the table. “Seriously, babe, I don’t understand why your mom hates me. Usually people end up loving me after getting to know me, not vice versa.”

“That’s right, Belgina. Why don’t you tell Mitchell the idea that got stuck into your mother’s head?” Angie said, placing her elbows on the table and staring at her.

Belgina just blushed and started coughing. Demian returned to them as soon as he was available and after taking their orders, he turned to Marianne.

“Could I talk to you for a second?”

Marianne looked up, taken aback, drawing the other’s attention in the process. Demian beckoned her with a gaze to follow him to the counter and walked away. Lilith immediately nudged her with a playful gesture.

“Ooohh, go see what he’s got to say! Maybe when you’re back you’ll have another type of discount in this place,” Lilith hinted, moving her eyebrows up and down with a mischievous smile.

“Stop that, Lilith! You’re being childish!” Marianne claimed, scowling and hoping not to have blushed.

The blonde just laughed and Marianne rolled her eyes while walking towards the counter as Demian asked her to.

She had a sick feeling in her stomach, which only seemed to increase as she stopped in front of Demian. She didn’t even dare to take a seat. It was ridiculous to even think about it, but Lilith’s idea had stuck in her mind now. What if she wasn’t entirely wrong? No, impossible. It had to be something else and even if she couldn’t think of anything at the moment, there had to be a perfectly rational explanation.

“Sorry for the mystery, I guess you’re wondering what I want to talk to you,” Demian said, staring at his hands on the counter, while thinking what to say. “Well . . . My question may take you by surprise . . . but I also hope you’ll answer honestly.”

Oh, no. That didn’t look good. It seemed to go down a path she didn’t know how to handle. She tried to swallow, but her throat felt dry. The discomfort in her stomach was growing.

“Don’t you think you should hire a second cook?” Marianne interrupted unthinkingly, even if she wasn’t sure what he was going to say.

 Demian raised an eyebrow at her changing the subject, and she quickly searched for a reason to explain the interruption.

“I’m saying it because Mankee is not used to the new job and . . . he may not withstand that kind of pressure. Anyway . . . maybe he could use some help.”

“Thanks for your advice, I may think of it. Now listen, I need to ask you . . . ”

“And another waiter!” she quickly added. “Now that many people are coming lately . . . I bet Lilith would be happy to do it, she was looking for a job, remember? She’d be grateful if she’s allowed to work here.”

“ . . . Well, thanks for your suggestion, I guess. But for now there’s something more important I need to talk to you,” Demian remarked, gesturing her to stop, but instead of continuing, his attention diverted to the door. His face tightened and huffed with resignation. “ . . . What’s he doing here?”

He left the counter and walked away, abandoning his original purpose. As Marianne turned around, she saw Mr. Donovan at the door, dressed in a gray suit with no tie, which made him look more casual. He was holding a suitcase with a warm smile, ready to inspect the place he just acquired.

“Why are you here? Didn’t you have a meeting today?”

“It was canceled last minute, so I have the evening off,” the man said, watching the decoration with interest.

“No one else but you can call off a meeting.”

His father smiled widely and nodded.

“That’s right. At this moment, I’m at home with the flu, you should be more considerate with your old folk.”

Demian declined to comment, just took a deep breath and expelled it again several times to stay in control while his father laughed and patted him on the back.

“Relax, son. I just wanted to know the place you fought so hard for. Looks good, are you going to make any renovation?”

“That depends entirely on you, it’s your property now, after all.”

The man laughed and held his shoulder to shake him a little.

“You’re really something special!” he said, noticing the guys at the table near the door. “Hi, kids! Glad to find you here, do you like the place? I’m sure you’re part of the reason my son decided to rescue it.”

“Awww, really? Do you like us that much?” Mitchell said with a big sly smile, fluttering his eyelashes just to annoy him.

Demian rolled his eyes and wagged his head as his father moved now to the counter once he saw Marianne.

“Hello there. Glad to see you all here. It makes me so happy that everyone my son cares so much is always present to support him.”

“ . . . I think I’d better go to the kitchen,” Demian muttered under his breath, unable to keep witnessing any of it.

“He’s a shy boy, he doesn’t do it deliberately,” his father excused him and she tried to smile.

On one hand, she understood his reaction, she also was elusive whenever her father tried to act all fatherly with her or started to socialize at her expense, but she didn’t think Mr. Donovan was the kind of absent parent her father had become, so she couldn’t justify Demian’s grimness around him.

“I’ll go see the rest of the place. It was nice to see you all,” Mr. Donovan finished, making a slight bow and getting into the kitchen, following his son’s footsteps.

Marianne felt she could breathe again. Whatever Demian was trying to tell her, he surely would’ve forgotten by now and she could return to her original concerns.

“So? What was it?” Lilith asked with swollen chest, her lungs about to burst.

“It wasn’t important, just a silly thing about . . . some comics my brother took yesterday and hasn’t returned,” she lied to avoid talking about it anymore. Lilith exhaled, as if deflating with disappointment, and the others chose not to talk about it, diving in further discussion on how to proceed with their plans that night.

Later on, the coffee shop began to clear, with just a couple of guys left on one of the tables on the other end when Demian’s father came out again, carrying a moose head and dragging a ladder while his son followed him.

“You don’t have to do that, the place is just fine as it is,” Demian objected while his father placed the ladder against the wall, just above the entrance, and lifted the moose head, visualizing it right up there.

“This was a gift from Eugene Ganzza, he gave it to me years ago and in honor of our friendship I think it’s fair to hang it here, as a tribute to him,” his father said, calculating visually and moving the ladder to the place he intended to put it.

Meanwhile, Demian swayed his head in disagreement, yet aware that he couldn’t change his mind, and the guys watched the scene curiously.

“Do you need help?” Mitchell asked, leaning back, chair and all.

“That depends. If you mean ‘help’ to stop him, be my guest,” Demian replied, begrudgingly, but his father just laughed.

“Hold this,” the man said, lending him the moose head to climb and Demian rushed to hold the ladder.

“You can’t go up so recklessly, be more careful!”

“Now the ducks shoot the guns, isn’t that right?” his father replied jokingly as he took back the ornament and placed it into the wall.

Demian grunted without letting go of the ladder and remained like that for a few minutes until something outside caught his attention. He narrowed his eyes, trying to see what it was, but the ladder movement distracted him. His father was getting down again.

“So, let’s see how it turned out.” Mr. Donovan backed up a few steps once he set foot on the floor and watched his work, clutching his chin in a thoughtful posture. “ . . . Hmmm, no, it’s not good. No one will see it coming in.”

“I’d say that’s for the best,” Demian growled, still thinking his father’s new whim was ridiculous, but he took his comment lightly and turned to his new goal: the wall above the kitchen door. It was right in the middle and it would be the first thing people would see upon entering.

“Bingo!” his father said, now moving the ladder to that point while Demian followed him, about to lose his patience.

“You really don’t need any help?” Mitchell asked again from his seat.

“There’s no need, thank you very much,” the man replied, already up several steps in the middle of the ladder. Demian rushed again to keep it steady and threw some reproachful glances at his father. “Relax, son. I promise not to break into your sanctuary once again after this. Grant me this small extravagance.”

Demian just let out a breath and looked straight upfront, waiting for him to finish placing the moose head. He didn’t want to look at the guys, just to avoid seeing Mitchell’s face, probably eager to make fun of him, or Marianne reproaching his behavior, so he kept his eyes out the street, feeling the vibration of the ladder while his father was doing his thing. And then he saw it again, what had caught his attention outside. It was barely a few seconds and his curiosity led to an alarming certainty that forced him to react at once.

“ . . . Down. Get down now!” he shouted, clinging to the ladder to keep it still, and even when his father looked confused, Demian sounded so eager that he decided to go down now that he had already placed the ornament where he wanted, but as soon as he set foot on the bottom rung, he slipped under his weight and fell back like in slow motion. No one managed to react in time. When Demian let go of the ladder and the others stood up, the man’s head was already bouncing against the tiles, lying motionless on the floor. “Dad!”

Demian pushed the ladder away and dropped to his knees, putting his arm behind the man’s back.

“Somebody call an ambulance!” Lilith shouted as they approached.

The few clients left didn’t move, but one of them immediately pulled out his cell phone to make a call. Mankee and the other waiter peered out the kitchen door after hearing all the fuss, and even Belgina’s guard/mother’s assistant came in with a device in hand.

Lilith took the man’s wrist to check his pulse and then put his hand to the side of his neck. Demian watched it all with bated breath, but her expression was discouraging.

“ . . . No pulse,” she concluded in a trembling voice.

Demian didn’t react at first, just looked flummoxed at her, his breathing intensifying, until it finally dawned on him what that meant.

“ . . . No, no, no.” He desperately pressed his ear to his father’s chest, trying to listen to his heart, but his whole body was silence and stillness.

“The rule of three,” Mankee whispered unable to avert his gaze from them.

Demian placed his father on the floor and immediately began to press his hands over his chest out of desperation, attempting first aid.

“What are you waiting for? Do something, help me out here!” he shouted, raising his eyes to the others while pressing on his father’s chest. He glanced at the street and his eyes lit up as he applied more strength to his hands. Lilith checked his pulse while staring at her watch and the others began to move tables and chairs to make some space.

“Five minutes now,” she announced. Marianne had been standing still all along until she finally bent down on her knees.

“Tell me what to do.”

Demian looked up at her, overwrought but still self-controlled, unwilling to accept the fate of his father.

“Help me apply pressure on his chest,” he said, showing her how, and she nodded, placing her hands next to his.

At the slightest touch of their fingers, she felt mild static, as if handling an iron bar in a bus. She raised her gaze and noticed by the look of his eyes that he had felt it too, but said nothing, just continued frantically pushing against his father’s chest.

“Ten minutes,” Lilith added. Demian’s desperation increased. Despite the pressure, despite everything they did, nothing seemed to work. Until all of a sudden, his father’s body jerked like receiving an electric shock, opened his eyes and took a long drag of air that swelled up his chest.

“Dad! Are you okay?” Demian held him while he breathed deeply several times in a row, trying to focus his eyes around.

“ . . . I think I scared you to death, huh?” he said, trying to smile.

“This is no time to make jokes!” Demian berated him, with gritted teeth and tensed limbs. His father began to stand up, helped by him.

“I guess I will have a huge bump after this.”

“We’ll go to the hospital right now, we won’t wait for the ambulance,” Demian decided, taking the car keys from his father’s pocket and sliding his hand down his back.

“Leo can take you to the hospital,” Belgina stepped in, beckoning her chaperone, who seemed to consider it for a moment and finally accepted.

“There’s no need for it, a couple of aspirins will do,” Mr. Donovan dismissed their concern, trying to let go and walk on his own feet, but Demian made him stop.

“Don’t even mention it! Mankee, you’re in charge for now. Lilith, you wanted a job? Well, you can be a waitress now.”

She blinked, startled by the unexpected task, unable to say a word. Demian ran his gaze through the rest before leaving.

“Thanks everyone for your help. The bill is on the house.”

And they left, led by Belgina’s guard toward the black van with the government emblem, despite the man’s protests saying he was fine.

The guys exchanged glances in complete silence. There was no need to express what they were all thinking.

“I guess plans for tonight are cancelled,” Mitchell said, finally putting words to what was in everybody’s minds.

As much as Demian would have preferred his father to stay in the hospital under observation, it turned out that not even the doctors could find a thing to care about, only a small bump on his head after the blow. He didn’t suffer any internal injuries, not even in his head, so Mr. Donovan decided to return home despite his son’s concern.

“Can someone tell me why are we here?” Frank asked, folding his arms and leaning on the fence surrounding Demian’s house. They were all sheltered behind a huge tree grown at that point. “I thought today would be the day of the resurrection experiment.”

“There’s no need to. It’s possible that Demian’s father will be Hollow’s next target, so we must be prepared for when that happens,” Mitchell answered with his hands in his pockets and constantly moving around.

“You really don’t want it back?” Belgina asked with Mitchell’s jacket on her back.

“No, no, babe, if you get sick, your mother won’t miss the chance to blame it on me and I don’t want her to hate me even more.”

“I can’t believe she allowed you to go out again, anyway. I guess you didn’t tell her he would also be present,” Lilith said.

“I didn’t say I was going out,” Belgina confessed “She’s already called so many times I had to turn my cell off.”

“Oh, well, I guess I have a few hours of freedom before she sends the police after me. Awesome, that’s just what I needed,” Mitchell replied, letting out a wheeze that expelled cold mist.

“Everything seems pretty normal over there,” Marianne said, staring at the house. The inside lights were on and no unusual movement was noticeable. “Once we perceive any sign of danger, someone should make sure Demian won’t try to interfere.”

“Seems like the right job for you,” Lilith said, wiggling her eyebrows with a playful smile. Marianne gave her a weary glare, unwilling to play along.

“I can keep Mr. Fancy Pants at bay,” Frank offered, taking a cigarette to his mouth and lighting it up, but before he could even take a puff, Marianne snatched it and turned it off on the floor with a stomp.

“You won’t smoke in our presence. We don’t want to attract any attention.”

Franktick looked incredulous at her and only snorted while taking another cigarette in defiance.

“Well, I’ve got news for you, we’re seven kids in front of a mansion’s fence, hiding behind a tree in a suspicious way, so of course we’re going to draw attention. Your wonder boy wasn’t available to transport you all to avoid this?” Frank spat, lighting another cigarette. Marianne reacted, throwing the cigarette to the floor once again and turning it off. He gave her a cold and challenging look. “Don’t you dare to do that again.”

She held his gaze and Mitchell immediately stood between them to avoid further friction.

“Calm down! Remember why we’re here? This is no time to argue.”

Marianne pulled away with a huff, and looked back at the house while Frank seized the moment to light his third cigarette triumphantly as she glared reproachfully at him from her position.

“It’s a good question, though, may we know why Samuel isn’t here with us? He hasn’t shown up since yesterday. Did something happen to him?”

“He’s . . . unavailable,” Marianne replied, trying not to delve into the matter. “We’ll have to handle this ourselves. We can do it.”

The others raised no other questions, merely observed the house, waiting for something to happen.

“Could you leave that already and go to sleep?”

Demian watched unsettled how his father had decided to start using the treadmill in the exercise room out of the blue.

“I’m not tired at all,” his father said with sweat streaming down his face, running on the treadmill in a tracksuit. “What happened today made me realize I need coordination and stay fit to avoid another setback . . . plus I’m filled with boundless energy, I think I could even run around the house until sunrise. And maybe I will, would you join me?”

“Obviously hitting your head messed you up. Go to sleep!” Demian decreed as an ultimatum. “And you better cancel your flight tomorrow because you’re staying in bed all day until we’re sure that blow didn’t have consequences.”

“Listen to yourself, who are you sounding like?” his father replied with a proud smile.

Demian felt his cheeks turning red, so he chose to look away and clear his throat.

“Okay, I’ll do it. I don’t want you to worry about me.” Mr. Donovan stepped down the treadmill and took a towel to wipe his face. “I may need one of those sleeping pills because I doubt I’d be able to do it on my own. I don’t feel tired at all.”

“Hold on here, I’ll go for the bottle and bring some water.”

Demian received a grateful pat from his father which eventually led him to show a more relaxed smile, then left the room and quickly went up to his dorm in search of the bottle. He decided to close the window before leaving and, as he locked the bolt, turned his attention to some silhouettes at the end of the gate, apparently watching the house, barely hidden by the large leafy tree at the entrance. He couldn’t see them clearly, but as soon as he spotted them, he had the feeling that something was wrong.

“Dad,” Demian whispered with the same certainty he felt earlier that something was about to happen, an overwhelming feeling of urgency. Wasting no time, he went running to the stairs, skipping steps like an obstacle course and once on the first floor, he ran nonstop to the exercise room, preparing himself for some tragedy as he opened the door, but only found his father cooling himself with the air conditioning on.

“Why are you so flustered? Anyone would say you’re being chased.”

“No, I just . . . forget it. Here you go,” he said, handing him the bottle and feeling his heart back into his chest.

“What about the water?”

“Oh, I forgot. Be right back.”

Now that he was more composed, he headed to the kitchen. The afternoon episode had just been that, an isolated incident, he should stop thinking about it and relax. He filled a glass of water and returned to the room.

“Maybe you should take the whole week off and consider it a vacation. I’m sure the company will survive a while without you,” Demian suggested, and while opening the door all his alarm signals fired up again when he saw a black hole opening in front of his befuddled father, giving way to a creature with red eyes and teeth like a saw, smiling dangerously. The glass slipped from Demian’s hands, crashing to the ground with the clatter of broken glass and splintered floor.

“Did you feel that?” Marianne’s alert went on, as she stuck to the fence with her eyes fixed on the house. The others imitated her after having the same feeling. “Something’s wrong!”

“Get on my back. It will be easier to jump over the fence,” Frank offered, leaning on it and arching his back to support their weight.

As soon as they were all inside, they rushed to the house, summoning their armors. They still had an identity to protect. Frank kicked the door open, eager to face the demon and following the path led by that irking feeling of danger.

They burst into the room without further ado. Demian was facing Hollow, standing in front of his father to protect him. The demon smiled, knowing it was useless for him to stand in his way.

“Remember what you said,” Marianne reminded Franktick, and he nodded, but once he made the slightest attempt to approach, an expansive wave of energy coming from Hollow blasted all of them to the floor.

“It didn’t take you long to come as I supposed,” Hollow said, taking a few steps towards the man that surely would give him the next gift. “You no longer have your protector with you? Did he come back to where he belongs?”

“What are you talking about?” Mitchell asked, trying to sit up, but apparently the blast had also left them paralyzed.

“What? You didn’t know? The truth about your highly skilled friend?” the demon continued, enjoying the anticipation. “Seems like he’s been hiding it from you all this time.”

“Speak already and cut the crap!” Frank shouted, his body tensing while trying to move. The demon stopped in front of him and pointed his finger at his face, implying to tread carefully around him, then smiled and moved on.

“Don’t listen to him!” Marianne yelled, fighting to move her limbs.

“I mean that he’s an angel, of course,” he revealed at last, letting the words flow into the air so they would grasp its full meaning. “Not like you, though: an identity and armor for protection, you’re nothing but mimickers . . . He, however, is legit. A real angel.”

His words seemed to finally break through their consciousness. Nobody knew what to say, their minds were busy connecting the dots and getting to their own conclusions, the same obvious truth they had failed to see before. They’d had an angel in front of their noses the whole time.

“You have no idea how much a demon like me would enjoy to end the existence of an angel. I’ve craved the moment I would bump into one of them to finally indulge in, but given that it will be impossible today, I’ll settle for that man’s gift.”

He turned to Demian’s father, whose back was against the floor as he approached. But he couldn’t go any further. Demian suddenly pounced on the demon, catching him unaware, and held him against the floor, allowing the others to regain mobility.

“Take my father away!” he said, staring furiously at Hollow.

Marianne beckoned Belgina to take the man and gestured Frank to get Demian out of there, however they didn’t have the time to comply once Hollow unleashed a new wave of energy, throwing Demian away and standing on his feet promptly, as stiff as a board. He looked at the boy, eyes ablaze with rage, and pointed at him.

“You’re gonna die for that.”

Demian stood up and faced him with a fierce attitude.

“Do it, now!” Marianne yelled and Mitchell raised his hands to draw an arc, leaving everyone under an opaque dome.

“Perfect, I was waiting for this moment,” Franktick said, snapping his fingers, eager for a hand-to-hand fight with the demon.

“What are you doing? You were supposed to take care of Demian! Guys, take him and his father out of here.”

“And what about you?” Lilith asked.

“I have the sword,” she finished, pulling it with a flick of her hand, and just when everyone was about to do their part, the layer surrounding them disappeared.

Their eyes strayed to the point where Mitchell was now on the floor, with a blurry shadow next to him, taking slowly consistency. It was the green-skinned demon.

“Do what you have to do and leave the rest to me,” the demon enunciated with his monotonic voice that seemed to speak in a haze.

“Run! Get out of here!” Marianne yelled at Demian, and even though he dithered for a moment, he finally helped his father up and took him out.

“Have fun,” Hollow said with a twisted smile while being absorbed by a black hole.

Knowing that Demian and his father would be alone at the demon’s mercy, the guys tried to get to the door, but the green-skinned demon stretched his fingers and some kind of electric wave reached them, going through their bodies and linking them like a chain. Marianne and Lilith made it out in time, and when they turned to see what was happening, they debated between going back to help or continuing.

“Keep going! You have to stop him!”

They both nodded after a brief moment of doubt and ran away, stopping right in the middle of the hall.

“You go look for them downstairs and I’ll go up,” Marianne said and they split up.

“What are you doing here? We should go now!” Demian urged his father when he ran upstairs and to his surprise went to the balcony room, which had remained closed since his mother’s death. “Dad, are you even listening to me?!”

When Demian went through the door, he found his father rummaging through the drawers, looking desperately for something, throwing clothes on the floor and leaving lockers open while passing to the next. When he didn’t find anything of interest, he went to the closet and continued his search.

“What are you looking for? Stop it, we gotta go!”

“I can’t remember where it is. I must find it,” his father snapped, pulling hooks —clothes and dresses still hanging from them— to check even further.

“This is not the time!” Demian shouted, approaching his father and forcing him to look into his eyes. “You can check out whatever you want later, but we have to go now!”

A vortex began to grow between the two of them and an arm emerged from it, pushing Demian away, who crashed against one of the many closet doors, instantly knocking him out. Another arm followed the first one, and then a head, until Hollow’s full body went out of the vortex, forcing the perplexed man to pull back.

Marianne saw the door open and ran as fast as her legs allowed her, holding from the door frame when she made a full stop. There was a whole mess of clothes and objects thrown on the floor, overturned furniture and broken glass, and Demian unconscious near the door. She wanted to approach him to learn about his condition, but she had a priority at the time, and that was his father.

She looked straight ahead and saw Hollow moving dangerously towards the man, who retreated in terror. The demon twisted his fingers, and once he felt her presence, he turned and gave her one of his fiery glances.

He didn’t say a word, just extended his arm and shot out an energy beam from his palm, hitting the man directly in the chest.

A glowing sphere was left behind while he was impelled backwards, thrown into the air and crashed through the huge glass door leading to the balcony, dangerously looming at the edge. Marianne quickly gained momentum and ran as quick as she could, using her power to try to hold him mid air, but it was just too much for her.

She clashed with the balcony balusters, losing control over her power and the man started falling in a tailspin. She gripped the rail as strong as she could with one hand and tried to grab him with the other, but his weight was too much for her to hold. She was dragged by him and was left hanging from the railing while grasping the man’s hand with all her might.

A wave of stupor rose to her head when she glanced down, so she closed her eyes and tried to stay focused on not loosening up. Hollow walked to the balcony and looked down to her with the gift floating above his hand.

“I know I’m not supposed to kill you, but . . . it’s so tempting now that I have the chance. Perhaps the fall doesn’t kill you after all . . . Wanna try?” the demon gloated with a wicked smile, and the only thing she could think of was Samael.

Lying on the mattress, the angel suddenly began to stir. The place was dark and a glow began to radiate from him. The kind of ethereal gleam that surrounded him the first time he took human form. His eyes snapped open and sat up with a bounce and one only purpose in mind. It was right then that he felt Marianne’s calling.

“We should first check if this is the Resurrection gift, don’t you think? I don’t doubt it, though, it’s just a matter of making it official,” Hollow continued, chattering above Marianne, whose hands were already stiffened and numb. A container materialized in front of him and, with a swift movement, introduced the sphere in it. The vessel produced a flash. It was a match. He was more than pleased. “You know? Despite everything, I admire your pathetic efforts to keep me from getting the gifts, the journey wouldn’t be as interesting without you.”

He placed his foot on her hand, clung to the railing and began to step on her fingers one by one. Marianne could no longer hold on. The pressure was becoming unbearable until her hand started losing grip.

She looked down with startled eyes and noticed the man was slipping out. She did everything in her power to keep hold of him, but it was useless. It all happened in slow motion, the body seemed to float, like suddenly developing its own gravity field and attracting the ground. At one moment, she was holding him and at the other, he lay motionless in the garden below the balcony, right under her gaze. Her lips began to quiver and a sense of utter bewilderment invaded her.

“He was a dead man either way,” Hollow said, letting out a disturbing guffaw. A surge of rage ran through Marianne’s body.

Her eyes were full of rage and she didn’t care anymore if her hand was still under the demon’s boot. Her sword began to emerge from her hand and molded to fit her grip.

Lilith appeared at the door and Marianne gave her a quick glance, enough for her to decide what to do next.

“Fire!” Marianne yelled and although Lilith didn’t seem to understand at first, she finally threw a flare-up of fire that the demon easily dodged, drawing a smirk right after.

“Is that all you got?”

“What about this?”

Marianne made a quick motion with her sword, from bottom to top. The blade had turned red and the demon didn’t realize what was happening until he saw his whole arm cut off his body. It was then that he began to howl.

She dropped her sword and let her hand absorb it to reach for the vessel before it fell, but the effort turned out to be too much. She let go of the railing and began to fall, squeezing the container against her chest.

She saw Hollow’s face, twisted by anger and pain, going farther and farther away from her field of vision as she was losing height, soon to hit the ground. But it didn’t matter anymore, at least she had saved the gift. Finally one victory.

She closed her eyes, waiting for the impact, but once she reached the ground, a pair of arms received her. Samael. It had to be him. She opened her eyes, expecting to meet his light blue eyes, but to her surprise there was a face hiding behind a gray hoodie, which only allowed her to see the outline of a chin with soft features. She wanted to say something, but the confusion stopped her.

Demian regained consciousness at the time, and as he opened his eyes, he saw a red armored figure in the middle of the room, watching the demon writhing on the balcony and holding onto his shoulder where he used to have an arm. The demon finally disappeared, absorbed by a black hole, while the armored figure went running to the balcony. He decided to follow her example, and despite feeling dizzy, he managed to get there and looked down. Another girl in armor was being carried by a figure with a gray hoodie.

Still dazed, Demian continued going through the garden with his gaze until finding him, his father lying motionless on the grass, in a position that triggered memories of his mother, blood staining the grass.

“Dad!” Demian yelled. Marianne reacted after hearing his voice and finally found hers to speak.

“Who are you? I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” she said, intrigued, but as she tried to see under the hood, the figure put her on the ground and ran away. Marianne didn’t just stand there, she decided to follow it too. “Hey, wait! Stop! Explain to me what . . . !” She tried to hold it, but her hand went through like it was made of smoke, and then it vanished, leaving her even more stunned than before. “What the . . . ?”

“Marianne.” A familiar voice behind her. She turned around. Samael looked exhausted and was panting heavily. “How long was I—?”

“You finally woke up! You have so many things to explain!” She gave him a big hug, but soon released him, remembering the container she was still holding tight. “The gift! I have to return it right now! Can you believe it? I got it back!”

“Marianne . . . ” he tried to say something, but she was already rushing to the man’s body lying on the grass. The other guys were already going out the house and approaching them too.

Marianne took the vessel in her hands and tried to open it, but it was sealed. She thought the sword would do it, so she brandished it and delivered several lunges, but the impact didn’t even leave a dent in the container.

“What’s going on? Why isn’t it opening?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Once the gifts are absorbed by those containers, they can’t be recovered . . . not until they’re all reunited.”

“All of them? But that means . . . ”

Her friends came upon them, tired and wounded, but whole at least.

“We were fighting with that zombie-skinned demon and suddenly heard a shriek from the other and it disappeared like mist.”

“Why haven’t you returned the gift to that man?” Frank asked, finding out that she still had the vessel in her hands. She didn’t answer, but when she saw Demian getting out of the house and approaching, she quickly leaned towards the man and created a surrogate gift under the confused looks of the others. He opened his eyes violently, gasping for air.

“Dad?” Demian dropped to his knees once he got near him, amazed to see him survive that fall.

The guys stepped aside to give them space and he looked to them, unsure of what to say. He noticed the vessel Marianne held in her hands, but she immediately hid it behind her back.

“I don’t know what to say, just . . . thank you . . . I guess.”

Marianne pursed her lips to avoid talking. She just beckoned the others to gather and, to Demian’s astonishment, they disappeared with a flash of light.

In the blink of an eye, they were transported to Lucianne’s living room.

“What’s happening? Why didn’t you return the gift when you already had it in your hands?” Lilith asked, but Marianne didn’t respond, just kept watching how the vessel shone as if the gift were throbbing from inside.

“Because it’s impossible to remove the gift from the container once it’s absorbed by it,” Samael answered. “Apparently, it’s part of a mechanism that is activated until they’re all together and functional, so the vessel won’t open until the rest are in the same conditions.”

“ . . . You mean they won’t open until they find the missing gifts,” Franktick added, remembering he hadn’t been able to open the vessel he had taken in the camp either.

The others exchanged gloomy glances, that was like a more concrete death sentence for those who no longer possessed the gifts, including them.

“We should hide it. Otherwise Hollow will be back for it, he’s able to track it wherever it is.”

“ . . . The lake,” Marianne muttered, and while the others took a little longer to make the connection, Frank caught it immediately.

“It’s the only option,” he said, with a serious tone. If it wasn’t possible to return the gift to its owner, the Legion of Darkness wouldn’t have it either.

It only took a trip to the Tokenblue Lake. Frank himself offered to bury the container under water. He didn’t advance as much as the last time, but still didn’t cease to feel something pulling him from inside. The others merely watched the colored lights floating inside the lake, as if trying to lure them into a trap.

When they went back to the city, they’d had enough for the day, just wanted to go home, but there was still one thing left to clarify and wouldn’t rest until confirmation.

“Are you an angel?” Mitchell directed the question to Samael without warning, straight to the point.

He fell silent upon hearing the words and looked at everyone’s faces staring at him. Cautious, skeptical and to some extent afraid of the truth. They looked betrayed and he couldn’t deal with it.

“Listen, why don’t we talk about this another time?” Marianne tried to mediate. “Today was a long day and . . . ”

“Yes,” Samael answered, trying to stand firm before them, even if their expressions of condemn hurt him. “I’m Marianne’s guardian angel.”

All eyes fell on Marianne who chose to keep quiet this time. They seemed really upset with those revelations, which made them see the two in another light now. Samael waited for them to say something, to react, to weigh in, but they remained completely silent, calibrating the information and joining the pieces that were finally falling into place.

Disgruntled, he decided to disappear from their sight before anyone could stop him. Marianne wanted to follow him, but their phones rang simultaneously and realized they had received the same message: Demian had taken his father to the hospital.

They found him in the waiting room, going from side to side, looking worried. There was not much to say, they just sat down to keep him company and wait for the news. Whenever someone left urgencies, Demian immediately stopped short and turned, but as soon as they went past him, he had no choice but to keep circling around anxiously.

It had been a couple of hours now and still no news, so they began to exchange uneasy glances, discreetly pointing at the clock to emphasize how late it was, but no one dared to say anything. And when Marianne finally decided to speak, Demian suddenly came to a standstill despite the fact that there was no doctor going out of the emergency area. His eyes, however, were fixed on the corridor next to urgencies, empty at the time. Suddenly, he ran in that direction taking everyone by surprise.

No one knew what to do, whether to follow him or not. They were so perplexed by his unexpected action that they couldn’t think of anything else.

“I’ll go see what’s going on,” Marianne decided after a few minutes, ready to follow his steps, but he then returned with the same odd look when he was gone, even more confused if possible. “Are you alright?” He raised his gaze and looked vacantly at her. “What is it?”

“Demian Donovan?” A man in a white coat came out of the emergency room and immediately caught his attention after hearing his name. It was what he was waiting for. “Your father wants to see you.”

He nodded wordlessly and glanced toward the others before going inside the area. They stayed there for several more minutes, growing impatient to know what was happening, until Demian finally came out, pale and expressionless.

“Demian?” Lilith spoke to get his attention and it was then that he barely seemed to notice their presence.

“What happened? How’s your father?” Mitchell asked and he remained silent for another few seconds, as if just processing everything. He finally opened his mouth, knowing that once he said it, there was no going back.

“ . . . He’s dead.”

A deathly hush came over the waiting room, as if time had stopped around them. Their first half win had become the worst of their failures.