For a demon, regeneration usually required all of its strength, which also meant the loss of part of its own energy to do so, and the time it took to recover depended on the type of wound. But when the amputated part wouldn’t regenerate, that was a problem, and Hollow had learned it the hard way from the first time he had lost his fingers under the edge of that girl’s sword blade. But losing fingers didn’t compare to losing an entire arm.

Aware that it wouldn’t grow back, he had patiently waited for the fibers of its clothing to help close the wound at his shoulder level. To create a prosthetic extension with the strands as he had done with his fingers also required a greater use of energy than he was willing to lose, so he just decided to leave it that way and concentrate on the limb he still had left.

“Luckily, the gift is inside the vessel,” Ende said, watching the other demon trying to mend himself. “Once they’re all complete, it will automatically join the others, so there’s no need for you to try to retrieve it. Just a couple of gifts left and we’ll get to the next stage, which means the death of those kids and the Master’s eventual advent.”

“Just two more gifts,” Hollow repeated with a menacing tone, staring at his stump, his eyes ablaze with rage.

“It would really be enough to find the Supernatural gift, though. The last one will just emerge on its own once the others are gathered.”

Hollow took his remaining hand to his chest and the filaments that covered it began to stir and open up like some sort of compartment. He pulled a piece of paper and looked at it carefully. Marianne’s name was written on it, with strong angular lines. The boy would probably have offered him any name out of desperation, but he would lose nothing just by giving it a try.

He then closed his hand around the paper and crumpled it until it ripped into pieces and dropped the remains on the floor. It was etched in his mind now. He had his next target.


Franktick had made many bad choices and lots of mistakes in his life, always led by his impulsiveness and inability to accept help from others. But he considered himself a constant sample of trial and error. He needed to make those mistakes to then find a way to fix it when he came to his senses, to redeem himself somehow, but he preferred to do it secretly from others.

When he gave Hollow that piece of paper with Marianne’s name on it, he was aware that he was selling him not just any random victim, but someone who nevertheless had put some confidence in him, and just for the remote chance to recover Lucianne’s gift, even if his common sense was screaming he wouldn’t get it in any way. And now the only way he had to make amends was watching over Marianne, following her everywhere she went, from the moment she went to school until she was back home.

Several times she would almost discover him, sensing someone was following her, but he was quicker than her, so he would go into hiding before she could see him.

He followed her all the way from the Courthouse to Lucianne’s house, where, after waiting for a few minutes, he stood in front of the kitchen door and knocked out of sheer decency, despite knowing exactly where the key was, and having already come several times before when there was no one else home.

Marianne opened and looked at him, annoyed but not surprised at all. He just nodded as a greeting and made a motion to enter, but she stopped him, pointing at the cigarette between his hands. Frank rolled his eyes and dropped it on the ground, putting it out with his shoe. Then he looked back with a grimace that seemed to say ‘Happy?’ and she finally let him in.

“I don’t know how everyone puts up with you, seriously,” Frank said, walking past her and she just rolled her eyes. “Isn’t your angel boy with you today? He always follows you everywhere.”

“How do you know he didn’t come with me?” Marianne asked suspiciously and he kept silent, realizing he had said more than needed. His face remained expressionless, though, while he pretended to look for a glass on the shelf.

“Just saying. I don’t see him watching over you nor following you like a shadow.”

“He’s in the coffee shop,” she grumbled. “Unlike some people who do nothing useful out of their lives, he does try to be helpful.”

“Ouch! So cruel!” Frank said, taking a hand to his chest. He then went past her towards the basement. She decided to ignore him and concentrate on the food.

While waiting for her friends’ arrival, she kept pondering over Demian’s words. In any other circumstances, she would have been defensive, but she just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t even in consideration for the recent loss of his father —although it influenced it, of course— but what kept her from dismissing his words was the situation she had witnessed between Demian and his own father. His sense of stress wasn’t much different from how she felt whenever her father tried to act like a responsible parent. It was very selfish of her to think her situation was unique and her actions justified. Wasn’t it, after all, how many teenagers felt about their own parents? If Demian had managed to make amends with his father was the least important thing, because their shared time had been dramatically reduced. And there she was, refusing to give her father a chance, having their whole life ahead, which was fleeting and unpredictable anyway. He was right, she didn’t know what fate could bring overnight, but was she ready to talk to her father about that specific subject? She had no way to answer that question until she was in front of him.

 “What are you saying? Your father is now Demian’s legal guardian?” Lilith asked with surprise after she told them everything.

“It was either that or they would be at the mercy of social services or a senior partner of his father, eager to control the company.”

“But doesn’t that make you two some kind of . . . tutelage siblings or something like that?” Mitchell said, withholding his opinion.

“Funny you mention it. I was wondering exactly the same.”

“But . . . but . . . it would be a little disturbing if Demian and you . . . ” Lilith said with a mixture of skepticism and unease.

“Oh, yeah, that would be disgusting, right? I guess you can’t keep imagining impossible things then. The end,” Marianne said, taking the opportunity to finally bury that silly idea they had stuck in their heads. Lilith let out weird whining sounds from her throat.

“If it’s forbidden . . . that makes it even more exciting!” she suddenly said, her face lighting up with a ravenous smile. Marianne rolled her eyes, knowing it would be impossible to get her out of that state.

 “We better go reinforce the barrier,” she decided, sending everyone to the basement.

“Hey! Now that I think about it, does this mean you’re now gonna live under the same roof?” Lilith asked, not letting go of the subject while they went downstairs.

“Not at all! I told you it’s just a title! My father won’t be taking care of them as the law says. It’s just a façade.”

“And you think he’ll be content on not doing his duty just because he’s being used as a cover-up?” Angie asked, and Marianne was about to comment again on what she considered his father’s lack of responsibility with his own children, but stopped on time and simply grimaced.

“Demian was very clear. They just need a guardian by name to leave them alone and continue their normal life. My father knows it and agreed, end of story, no more talking about it,” she said, considering the matter finished and pointing at the energy dome where Lucianne was locked up. “Mitchell, you’re first.”

The guys went ahead one by one to reinforce the layer, settled their hands on the surface and left them there for a few seconds while a tingle ran from the base of their palms to their fingertips. The barrier emitted a flash everytime a new layer had been charged and then they proceeded to raise their hands and stepped away from the dome. Without any precise order, apart from Mitchell being the first one, the last turn went to Belgina, who had remained silent up until then and her movements seemed slower than usual.

“Are you alright, Belgina?” Marianne asked and she turned mechanically at her, but didn’t seem to pay attention. She put her hands on the layer and once it slightly shone, she moved back a step and suddenly fainted, dropping to the floor. The others rushed towards her and tried to wake her up, but nothing worked. The moment of crisis seemed to have finally fallen on her.

They spent that night in the hospital for the second time in less than a week, sitting all lined up in the waiting room, watching Belgina’s mother talking with a doctor. Soberly dressed in a business suit, the woman listened with concern at what the doctor was saying. The guys couldn’t hear a thing, but Samael was on their side telling them whatever he could catch from the talk.

“They can’t find anything wrong with her, but she still won’t react. They’ll monitor her and let her know as soon as there’s any change in her condition.”

“So . . . it’s finally happening. We’re next,” Lilith pointed out in a discouraged tone.

“There must be something we can do. We can’t leave her in that state, we have to do something!” Mitchell demanded, standing in front of them, but everyone looked down, knowing they couldn’t do anything for now. “You’re going to give up and let Belgina in a vegetative state? What kind of friends are you?”

“You know it’s not like that,” Marianne said. “This isn’t over yet, and the situation won’t improve unless we recover the gifts, and now we know what it takes to do so.”

“The missing gifts have to appear,” Samael said, voicing what everyone was thinking without having to get into their minds.

Mitchell sat down dejectedly and joined the general atmosphere of despair. Frank glanced at Marianne and just like it used to happen whenever he overthought things, suddenly the idea of protecting her seemed pointless if they needed the gifts to appear anyway. Maybe if she was attacked . . . No! He had to push away those thoughts. Getting rid of those demons should be his primary target once they attacked . . . though perhaps expecting to find the remaining gifts first.

Marianne and Samael went back home in silence for most of the way. What happened to Belgina was another setback to them since it meant one less power to rely on. And right after Lucianne, that was a major loss. Naturally they should be thinking about strategies, but suddenly Samael took Marianne off guard with a question she wasn’t expecting.

“Why did you go see him by yourself?” Marianne didn’t seem to understand what he meant so he tried to explain. “Yesterday, when you were coming back, I could sense you approaching and suddenly changing course. You didn’t plan it, right?”

“No. I just . . . wanted to check if Demian was fine,” she said with a shrug, but Samael looked unconvinced.

“Why did you offer to help him? You’re not bound to do it.”

“That’s unimportant. Why do you want to know?”

“I just think you take too many troubles with him.”

Marianne stopped, forcing him to come to a halt too.

“I’m not doing it for some hidden reason, if that’s what you mean. And I don’t want you to try scavenging in my mind for an answer, because you won’t get one.”

“I’m just trying to understand. You’ve changed in certain aspects since I took this form, and I want to know why. I used to know all about you, and now I feel like I’m running behind, trying to catch up to you.”

“You can’t know everything about me. That wouldn’t be healthy for either of us. Nobody knows absolutely everything about the other, it’s better that way.”

With that said, their exchange ended. Marianne resumed her way to the door while Samael gave a resigned sigh and disappeared. She shook her head, knowing he had probably gone to the attic.

She got in the house and saw her father and Loui sitting in front of the TV, testing the new console.

“Good night,” his father greeted after seeing her standing in the room. She just tilted her head forward and then looked away, not daring to meet his eyes after walking away from him in the courtroom.

“You’ve been killed, dad! Be more careful, you just have one life left!” Loui shouted, bouncing on the couch without taking his eyes from the screen.

“Okay, okay, sorry. Let’s continue,” he replied, laughing warmly and turning his attention to the screen.

Marianne watched them for a few seconds. The perfect image of father and son having a bonding moment. She could even picture it as a stamp under the title of father of the year if not for the woman’s voice still booming in her head. Demian’s words echoed in her mind again. Life was fleeting and unpredictable, one day he was there and the next he may not be anymore. The things she wanted to say could never been said later.

She went to her room and waited for Loui to go to bed. It was almost midnight when she decided to go look for her father in the kitchen, where he usually was, but it was empty. She heard noises in the living room and went over there, finding him facing the TV, clinging to the joystick and trying to pass a level from the game he’d been playing with Loui not long ago until the ‘Game over’ title appeared on screen.

“Maybe it’s too late for me to try something like this,” he commented, dropping his hands in his lap and smiling wearily as he turned off the device. “I’ve been watching how it’s done for years, and now that I try it, I turn out a flop.”

Perhaps she was reading too much between the lines, but Marianne thought it sounded like a metaphor for what had been for him the sudden parental responsibility, and she couldn’t help but feel the same pang she felt every time he reacted to her constant rejection.

“As they say, practice makes perfect,” she replied and her father just smiled, resigned that it would never work in his case. Marianne kept quiet while thinking of Demian’s words, and the woman’s voice she heard over the phone. It was an inner battle, until finally she just let it out. “ . . . I know.”

Noah looked up at her, oblivious, as if those words weren’t enough to shed light on what she supposedly knew.

“About your trips . . . I know everything.”

“ . . . Everything?” The look on her father’s face transformed immediately. His lips tightened and his expression twitched, unsettled. “What’s . . . that exactly?”

“I know there’s another woman,” she answered, after taking a deep breath and mustering the courage to finally say those words. “You’ve been seeing her every time you leave for one of your ‘work’ trips.”

Noah kept silent with a gesture of distress, the face of someone who had been caught and had no way to escape.

“ . . . How?” he finally asked with a steady voice.

“The envelopes you’ve been receiving. I read one out of curiosity. The handwriting was extremely delicate and the perfume . . . definitely a woman,” she revealed with incredible serenity and fluidity to her own surprise. Her father listened intently. “And then on your last call . . . I heard a voice behind you . . . A female voice.”

“I see,” was all he said after that confession, and she suddenly felt seethed at his passive reaction.

“You see? You see! Can’t you say anything else? You have no idea what I’ve felt all this time since mom is in the hospital and you’ve been going to your so-called work trips while I already suspected what was really going on!” she exploded, clenching her hands and staying tense in the same spot.

Noah just nodded without meeting her eyes.

“You’re right and I don’t blame you for being upset,” he granted her with the passive attitude that constantly got in her nerves. “You have every right to hate me if that’s what you prefer.”

“I don’t . . . ” she started to say, but stopped in favor of her breathing, trying to regain her composure. “How long have you been living this double life?”

“It doesn’t matter, not anymore. It’s over,” he assured, keeping his head slightly tilted in a restrained gesture.

“Is it because I just told you or . . . ?”

“It’s over since the last time I went. That was the end of it. I won’t go back. I’ll stay here with you.”

Marianne looked skeptically at him. Her anger had subsided and there was only the numbing feeling that follows a violent cramp. It wasn’t the reaction she expected from him, she thought at least for once he would be defensive, trying to justify himself, to give some sort of plausible explanation, but on the contrary not only had he accepted it, but also dared to swear it was over. Just like that.

“And for how long? Until mom leaves the hospital and can take care of us again? So you can return to your nomadic lifestyle, going from one place to another and dropping by once or twice a month?”

Her father looked into her eyes with a hurt expression, yet pleased that she was finally letting out her feelings.

“No. I’m not leaving. If it’s necessary I will seek a place in town to stay close to you,” he said in a determined tone, and she didn’t know what to make of it. That, of course, meant their parents would never be together again, and even though she had already made up her mind about it, her mother still seemed hopeful, so it was difficult to assimilate it after an implicit confirmation.

“Does mom know? About the woman?”

Noah shook his head.

“No. And it’s better to keep it from her.” Marianne bit her lips: that meant she had to keep another secret. Noah got up from the couch and approached her. “Could I ask you from now on to be honest with me whenever you feel this way? I know I haven’t been the best father, but I’m trying . . . At least give me the benefit of the doubt.”

She didn’t answer, just nodded at the end. Her father came closer for a hug and she tried to respond to it, but it was just for a couple of seconds before she let go again.

“I’ll go to bed. I’m sleepy.”

“Of course. Get some rest.”

He tried to smile, but it was even sadder than other times. Maybe the reason was feeling finally exposed or the fact that she had suspected all along. Anyway, it was clear that at least now he was aware of what she thought of it. They both knew it.

Marianne went back to her room with slow steps, still wondering whether or not it had been better to finally speak up her mind. Between suspicion and truth, she had no idea what she preferred at that moment, but the only thing she was certain was not to talk about it again, ever. She’d had her moment of relief. That was what she needed, right? Tired of keep coming back to the same thought, she lie down in bed and fell asleep instantly.

A couple of days passed before even realizing it. Demian hadn’t returned to school since his father’s death. They’ve gone several times to his house in an attempt to see him, but no one had opened nor answered. They were worried about him.

“He’s closed himself up like a hermit,” Mitchell said while sitting at the counter, given how their table was occupied once again by some middle school girls smitten with Samael. “I’ve tried calling several times, but he never answers, the voice mail keeps popping up. I think he’s turned off his phone so no one would bother him.”

“I can’t believe he just decided to shut himself away. I thought he was coping just fine. He said he was going to miss school for a few days, but didn’t specify how many. Maybe we should give him some more time.”

“Or maybe he’s just starting to absorb what happened,” Angie said. “Not many people cope very well. Once the funeral passes and all the ‘mourners’ are gone, they have no choice but to face the loss by themselves, and that’s when reality hits.”

“Has someone from your family died, Angie?” Marianne asked as tactfully as possible, even if Angie wouldn’t take it in a bad way given her current condition.

“No. But I saw my father heartbroken long after my mother left,” she said nonchalantly. “I guess it’s kind of a similar loss.”

Marianne just kept quiet, not daring to say anything else about it. She knew Angie only had her father, but up until then she had never mentioned her mother and now she understood why.

“Ugh, this is so depressing,” Mitchell blurted out, dropping his head over the counter. “Knowing that Belgina is in the hospital and we can’t do anything for her while the last gifts haven’t appeared is stressful.”

“Maybe if we had some idea of who may possess them, but then again, would that imply allowing those demons to introduce them into those containers?” Angie raised the question, making them reflect on that.

“We might as well offer them on a silver platter,” Mitchell considered, clearly disagreeing on the subject. Marianne just nodded and checked her watch.

“Gotta go. See you later at Lucianne’s.”

“You know what would be good?” Mitchell said before she left. “Your dad could use one of his new rights as Demian’s guardian to force him out. It’s not good to stay locked up for so long.”

She had no answer to that, so she just tightened her mouth and continued on her way, stopping for a moment to say goodbye to Samael.

Once at home, she ran into her father, who was just going downstairs and taking the car keys, ready to go out.

“Are you going somewhere?”

He turned to her, a little distraught, feeling as though she was accusing him of something, perhaps suspecting he would leave again.

“Yes, I was. Your friend Demian called, he needs me to sign some papers and requests. I’m not sure why. I’m heading to his house.”

She took that as an opportunity to find out how he was doing, so she quickly offered to go with him.

“I’m coming with you!”

She let out the words with such eagerness that it surprised even herself. Noah smiled despite how odd it seemed to him and accepted with a nod.

The road wasn’t that long, but they still went in Noah’s car. When they arrived at the gate, it opened within seconds as if they were being awaited. The car passed through the garden and stopped in front of the entrance. They both came down completely silent and walked to the door. Marianne twisted nervously the cords from her sweater’s neck.

Demian opened the door and his face contorted surprised at the sight of her.

“What are you doing here?” The emphasis he gave to that ‘you’ took her out of balance and made her think that perhaps this was a mistake.

“She asked to come. I hope there’s no problem with that,” Noah said, sensing the sudden tension. Demian seemed to realize his reaction and immediately tried to rectify.

“No, no. Of course not. Uhm . . . the studio is right over here. I have already prepared the forms,” Demian said, pointing to his left.

The man went behind him, beckoning Marianne to relax, and then she was left alone again in the middle of that huge room, questioning her decision to go. Not that she expected some kind of special treatment from Demian, but certainly she didn’t imagine his cold reception. She had helped him to get the guardian he needed after all, right? She’d even lent him her own father! Didn’t she deserve a little more gratitude? But that thought was soon overshadowed by the memory of her own responsibility in Mr. Donovan’s death. It was she who felt indebted, not vice-versa.

She sighed and looked around instead. The art paintings that used to decorate the walls had disappeared and only a couple of portraits stood out at the top of the stairs: the one of Demian’s mother she had already seen before, and beside that was a new one of the same size and style, but it belonged to his father. She looked the place more carefully and realized that there was furniture out of place, as if someone had recently moved in or shifted them out.

She was starting to feel a little tired of standing up when she suddenly heard her father and Demian’s footsteps out the studio.

“I really appreciate what you’re doing,” Demian said.

“No problem. I like being helpful,” Noah replied with a smile as he approached Marianne and took her by the shoulders. “Shall we go?”

“Uh . . . could I . . . have a word with her?” Demian interrupted before they left, and both stopped at the door. Marianne and her father exchanged a confused look and he finally seemed to accept willingly.

“I’ll be in the car,” he murmured, giving her a slight squeeze on the shoulder and getting out of there.

Marianne stood in the doorway, staring at Demian, waiting for him to talk, but he seemed lost for words.

“I see you’ve been doing some remodeling around here,” she said to break the ice and he glanced around.

“You could say so,” he replied, a little tense, and finally came to face her. His posture showed restlessness, and she felt a knot in her stomach having him so close. “Listen . . . I’m sorry for my reaction, I’m just . . . going through tough times and didn’t mean to . . . ”

“I understand,” Marianne said, suddenly feeling like her father whenever she faced him. She didn’t know whether to laugh or not at the irony.

“No, you don’t. But I sure hope you will,” he said with such an unease she couldn’t grasp. Then he pointed at the living room and she followed him, sitting face to face around the tea table. She kept silence for a while and the wait was starting to unnerve her. “Remember I was trying to tell you something . . . the day my father . . . ?”

Oh, no. Not that topic again. She thought it had been buried and forgotten with all what happened, but for some reason he was bringing it up again. She tried to convince herself it must be something really important and not the stupid thing that had gotten into Kristania and Lilith’s head, but the truth was that the idea was taking over her thoughts again.

“I was trying to say that . . . ”

“Is your sister home?” she interrupted impulsively, standing up and leaning towards the stairs as if waiting for her to come down.

“No, she left on Sunday, she had to go back to school, but listen, I wonder if you . . . ”

“I thought you had people working here. I haven’t seen anyone else around when I’ve been here. Didn’t you used to have a driver?” she interrupted once again, unable to contain herself despite knowing how annoying it was, but her need to avoid ‘the talk’ that could turn awkward was even bigger.

“They don’t work here anymore. I paid them off, but . . . could you please stop interrupting me? You’re driving me crazy,” he asked, making her sit back in the couch.

“O-Okay . . . I’m sorry.” Her shoulders were tense and she crossed arms and legs to suppress the urge to interrupt again.

Demian cleared his throat and looked thoughtful for a moment, staring at the floor as though he would find answers there. Marianne’s agitation increased as time passed and began to feel that knot in the stomach again, twisting her inside.

“Okay. Here it goes. I hope you don’t take this as a joke because it’s really serious to me, and you’re the only one I could talk about this.”

Marianne held her breath, her heart was throbbing. She was even tempted to cover her ears and close her eyes, but wasn’t even able to move. Demian averted his gaze, unable to look her in the eyes while speaking.

“Remember the second interrogation about the attack at the hospital?”

Marianne’s tension suddenly began to recede. She had no idea where the conversation was going, but she definitely doubted it was remotely related to the topic her friends had insistently planted in her head. She finally stopped holding her breath and her heart regained its normal rhythm. Demian didn’t seem to notice that sudden change and kept talking.

“We were the only ones who received the call back.”

“I remember,” Marianne said, this time not to interrupt but to encourage him to continue.

“Well, then I guess you recall when I asked you why you were so interested in my father’s employee . . . and what your answer was.”

Of course she remembered. That was one of the first of many times she had to resort to a lie —or as she preferred to call it, ‘a distortion of reality’— to muddle through. She thought he would have forgotten by then, after the silly thing she had come up with.

“I don’t get what this is about,” she asked, puzzled, and he seemed torn between telling her or not, but given that he was already on track, he decided to simply let it out.

“You said you possess a sixth sense that makes you see . . . spirits. I didn’t know how to react back then, I thought you might be joking, but you said it so serious, so convinced that I didn’t dare to make a comment. Ever since, the idea has been floating around in my head, especially lately, in light of recent events,” Demian started to explain, not meeting her eyes.

Marianne had the suspicion this was going in a direction she couldn’t handle and which would only hurt him even more, but she had no way of knowing at the time that a silly excuse could lead eventually to something like that.

She started to feel remorse for the disappointment that would cause him. But Demian didn’t stop there, he still had more to say, which apparently was the real nub of the issue, as he paused for breath and convinced himself to continue.

“I’m bringing this up, because I thought that perhaps you were the only one who could understand this, as I . . . I’ve seen death.”

Marianne’s eyes immediately fell upon him, stunned and incredulous. That had taken her totally off guard.

“At least that’s what I think it is. It’s been a few times now,” Demian continued, immersed in his thoughts. “First I thought . . . it had to be some kind of trick of the lights, just a quick glimmer, but then I realized it wasn’t . . . It was something else.”

“When you say you’ve seen death . . . you mean some kind of premonition that someone will die or . . . ?”

“No, I mean the personification of death. A person.”

Marianne couldn’t help but make the connection with the gray hooded guy that had appeared to her on several occasions. Just like him, she had thought it was a hallucination, but then became more real than imagined. Could it be the same person?

“This vision . . . did it have by any chance a gray hooded coat?”

Demian looked at her, mystified by her question.

“No. Not at all. I saw his face. I saw him perfectly. Although your description seems familiar to me.”

She recalled the moment the gray hooded guy had saved her and Demian had leaned on the balcony above and surely had glimpsed them before turning his attention to his father. If he remembered that detail and made the connection, no doubt he would realized that she was an Angel Warrior, so she had to redirect the topic quickly.

“It was nothing, forget it. So . . . you say this person is the personification of death.”

“At least that’s what I think. I remember him very well. Pale skin, completely black hair and eyes, a black wool coat. I saw him just before the cook died, he was out of the coffee shop, looking suspiciously at the inside. It was just for a few seconds and then it vanished. Then I saw it just before my father . . . had that accident,” he said, his voice choking at the mention of him. “He reacted, though, and I thought it had been just a coincidence . . . but later . . . I saw him again at the hospital . . . and I followed him . . . ”

“What happened then?”

Demian was silent again, as if he couldn’t bring himself to talk about it. But at the end, he tightened his lips and swallowed.

“He said it was his job . . . and then he was gone. Minutes later . . . my father died.”

Marianne remained silent. She didn’t know what to say and thought that nothing could top her amazement, up until he lifted his gaze, with a face so serious anyone would consider disconcerting.

“I was undecided whether to tell you this or not . . . because after all . . . the first time I saw that same figure . . . was the day of THE accident . . . ”

Her face instantly clenched. All her current problems and the personal bonds she had made since then stemmed precisely from that moment: the accident.

Was there a mystical force, perhaps, directly responsible for everything that had happened since then? Could it be that she wasn’t in the wrong place and time but everything was planned? She didn’t get it . . .

“Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know what to make of this. It’s been . . . a big shock for me. You saw that figure when it all happened? Does that mean I should be dead? So why am I still here? You said yourself you got to step on the brakes in time . . . It doesn’t make any sense then that he would be there . . . ”

“I braked because I saw you . . . but also had a glimpse of that guy in the corner . . . looking directly at you.”

Marianne felt a shiver down her spine. What could that mean?

“When I got out of the car to see how you were, I glanced back at that point, but there was no one there . . . That’s why I didn’t mention anything, I thought it had been a mirage.”

“Why? Why you’re telling me this now?”

“Because up until now I had no idea what it had really meant. And maybe I don’t even quite understand it yet. I thought . . . maybe you’d have some idea.”

She didn’t answer. She was too shocked with what she had just learned. Demian’s face began to darken with the sudden realization that it had been in vain.

“But I get now that you don’t. That whole thing about seeing spirits wasn’t even true, was it? You were just making fun of me.” Marianne tried to say something, to excuse herself, but he stood up and turned his back. “Your father is waiting. You should go.”

She perceived a trace of anger in his voice and a hint of disappointment. He was relying on the veracity of those words she had said once. He’d counted on her and she had failed him. Unable to say anything else, she got up and headed to the door, where she gave him one last look before leaving.

Demian didn’t even turn to her, and for some reason she felt something inside her shattering. When she got back to her father’s car with her contorted face, he seemed worried and hesitated to ask.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, sure. Let’s go home,” she answered, trying to sound normal.

He started the car and drove to the gate, which automatically opened. They remained in silence for a while until she finally decided to talk.

“What was it that he asked you to sign?”

“I don’t know very well, they were some kind of requests for access to his family medical records, but I didn’t ask. After all I’m nothing but a façade, it’s not up to me to ask that kind of questions, right?” he said with a bitter smile and she didn’t say anything. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with someone else’s disappointment because of her. Her father looked sideways while driving, and eventually decided to express what was hovering in his mind. “I know this might not be any of my business, or maybe you think I have no right to ask this kind of question, but . . . is there something between you and that boy?”

“No! What makes you think that?” she yelled, getting defensive immediately. “We’re just friends!”

“Oh, okay. Got it,” he replied, apparently relieved at her answer. Marianne just shook her head and decided to look out the window to avoid any further questions. She’d had enough with everything Demian said as to also worry about what her father might think.

She needed to focus on this new information, there had to be something important there, but she couldn’t concentrate with such a muddled mind. She didn’t stop thinking about it as she walked to Lucianne’s house, even with that feeling of being watched and the smell of smoke that came from somewhere.

She had spent barely five minutes inside when Frank knocked on the door. As Marianne opened it, he came inside with his usual cockiness.

“You’re early again. Anyone would think you have nothing better to do,” Marianne said, to which he responded with an indifferent snort and when he walked right in front of her, dragging that smell of cigarette, she suddenly had a déjà vu that put her back in the street, with hidden eyes watching her and the reek of smoke chasing her. “Have you been following me?”

“What?” Frank stopped and turned to her, unable to believe she had just asked that so lightly. “Are you crazy? Why would I follow you?”

“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.”

Frank hesitated, but quickly resumed his overconfident attitude and cocked his head with arrogance.

“What? Now you think I might be stalking you? You must have a huge self-esteem. Well, sorry to bring your ego down a notch, but you’re not my type. I like your cousin, and I also like girls more . . . developed.”

“Jerk,” Marianne grunted, slamming the door and striding out the kitchen right away. Frank sighed, thinking he had dodged the bullet, and headed to the basement.

Once the rest arrived and they were all in the living room discussing the options they had left to retrieve the gifts, Marianne took Samael apart from everyone.

“Can I ask you a question? You once mentioned something about these entities called obits I think . . . The ones who take care of human souls when they die, isn’t it?

He nodded, wondering why she would suddenly take interest in that subject.

“Is there any chance that maybe they could be colluded with the Legion of Darkness?”

“What? No. Where do you get such an idea?”

“It’s just a hypothetical question, would there be a reason for them to ally?”

“None. They have their own domain and stay out of the way from the other realms. The only one they could be interested in is the human world because this is where the souls come from, and they need them to keep the obitual realm in function. It’s like a symbiotic relationship. In any case, the Legion of Darkness goes against everything they defend: they corrupt and destroy souls, that’s why the obits would never ally with them.”

“And could someone, let’s say, see one of these beings?”

Samael looked at her increasingly intrigued.

“Have you seen something that has caught your attention lately?”

“No, it’s just . . . a question.”

“Well, the answer is no. Obits are invisible to the human eye, at least when they’re on duty. Some could mingle with humans, but try not to draw any attention.”

Marianne grimaced. How could that explain then that Demian had seen one of them? If that was really what he saw.

“But couldn’t a handful of people exist in the world with a . . . highly-developed sense that perhaps could spot one of them for a few seconds?”

He kept staring at her in silence, resisting the urge to get into her mind and find out the reason for her sudden interest.

“It’s possible, yes. But the odds are very thin.”

Marianne kept musing about it. If Demian had a highly-developed sense that allowed him to see flashes of what could presumably be an obit, and if said obit was present the day of the accident… What could all of that mean? …Demian with a highly-developed sense, something out of the ordinary . . . Supernatural. The very thought fired an alarm in her. Would it be possible? After all, no one had seen the same thing as him. If that was true then . . .

“What’s this all about?” Samael asked, hoping at least for an explanation, and she winced as if just waking up from a dream.

“I’m not really sure, I would need to do some inquiries first. Would you take me to the hospital? I’ll let you know when I’m done so you can go back for me.”

“I could stay with you.”

“No, you must come back with the others and not let them wait. I won’t be long anyway. Don’t worry.”

“I worry when you say that.”

She smiled reassuringly as she took his hand and vanished with a flash.

The first thing she did at the hospital was to go straight to reception and try to find out something about the medical records and where they kept them, in addition to the type of information they contained.

“Basically, they contain all of your data since your birth, your health condition, any piece of relevant information your parents would want to keep safe, even personal documents, anyway, the kind of data that should be handled confidentially and therefore certain protocols and permits are required to access them. Unless you’re bringing a document signed by your legal guardian, I can’t tell you where we keep them,” the nurse on duty explained.

Marianne was about to protest when a beep from a control panel behind the woman interrupted. The panel contained several numbers with a series of LED lights that were usually off until those beeps began to resonate. It was then that a couple of lights went on intermittently and the nurse quickly took the phone.

“Emergency in rooms 306 and 308. I repeat. Emergency in rooms 306 and 308,” the woman said, displaying her self-control. Surely, she had been through emergencies like that too many times before. Right when Marianne was about to leave to let her do her job, another light turned on in the board along with its respective beep. “Room 310 too.  Emergency in rooms 306, 308 and 310.”

She felt her soul leaving her body. Her mother’s room was 310. She took off running towards the hallway leading to that room, dodging nurses, doctors and interns from the night shift to get to room 310. She opened the door and saw one of the interns and a nurse trying to stabilize her mother’s vital signs, but the monitor connected to her —which up until then used to get on her nerves with its constant tapping— now had a flat line with a long one-note beep, as if her eardrums had exploded and that was the only thing she could hear.

“Prepare the palettes, I’ll go for one of the doctors,” the intern said, pulling away from the bed and running out of the room while the nurse went to a corner and began to pull a resuscitation cart, preparing everything.

Marianne walked to the bed with slow and faltering steps, like it was all a bad dream. Was that it? She couldn’t help feeling it was some kind of karma. She couldn’t save Demian’s father and now she was losing her mother. Were any of those obits behind her right at that moment, waiting for their turn? …No. She wasn’t going to allow it. It couldn’t end that way. If they wanted to make her pay for cheating death, well she would make it difficult for them. They wouldn’t take her mother.

Driven by an act of desperation, she put her hands over her mother’s chest, the way she did when creating a surrogate gift, and an opaque sphere of light formed between them. Bewildered, she glanced at the nurse who was too busy preparing the pallets to pay attention, and encouraged by a new determination, adrenaline pumping through her blood, she applied pressure on the sphere, introducing it into her mother’s body. The long beep suddenly was cut short and returned to the constant tapping that marked the heart rate. Only then the nurse turned to her. She immediately quit what she was doing and approached the monitor and the woman, making sure it wasn’t an error from the machine and her signs had actually stabilized. She seemed genuinely surprised, but not as much as Marianne. She recoiled, incredulous of what she had done, and let the woman do her job, though it was clear she had succeeded. She had extended her mother’s life once again.

She didn’t know it was even possible. That meant she could give the others a chance to hold on a little longer while they recovered the gifts. That thought encouraged her, it was a spark of hope within the series of calamities that surrounded them lately. She remembered then the other two emergencies: Rooms 308 and 306. Now that she could think clearly, she rushed to room 308, her uncle was there. She waited for the moment when both the doctor and nurse were distracted, so she could get in quickly and repeat the process with him. The monitor alarm stopped and returned to the soft beep that indicated the stabilization of his vital signs. She would have liked to stay and see their puzzled faces after finding out, but still had one more room to visit.

She reached room 306 and saw it was empty. The person lying on the bed was covered from head to toe with a sheet. Apparently, they had given up on him.

She quickly walked over and uncovered him. It was Lester. The first three persons losing their gifts were past their crisis breaking point. She placed her hands on his chest and struggled to create another sphere. It took a little longer than the previous times, but finally got it. Once she introduced it, his monitor instantly rang with a patter. Then, she pressed the emergency button and left the room.

As she set a foot outside, suddenly the world started to spin around. She leaned on the wall and closed her eyes, trying to regain balance. Perhaps it had been too much to create three surrogate gifts in a row. She would have to stop for now, but would give it another chance later to prove if she could make Belgina regain her consciousness.

She stood up straight and opened her eyes to continue her way and then she saw Demian a few feet from her, getting out of an elevator with some papers in hand. He looked at her with a mixture of surprise and confusion by the uproar in the corridor, doctors and nurses going in and out of the rooms, and laid eyes on Marianne again, as if waiting for an explanation, but she couldn’t say anything. She seemed to have run out of her ability to speak. She tried to take a few steps and felt dizzy again, but this time Demian held her.

“Can you walk?” he asked, sliding his arm around her back, so she could lean on him as they walked out of there.

Behind the hospital, in front of the childcare wing, there was a playground for the kids, deserted at that time of the night. Marianne was sitting on a swing when Demian returned and handed her a can of soda, taking the swing next to her.

“Do you feel better?”

“Yes. You didn’t have to do this,” she answered, taking the can in her hands and recalling the time he had done something similar in the auditorium. She no longer felt dizzy, but Demian had stopped her from getting up and had gone to get something to drink. She didn’t understand, just hours before he had practically kicked her out of his house.

“I heard there was a problem with some coma patients . . . Was your mother one of them?”

Marianne nodded, still feeling the adrenaline of the moment.

“My uncle too . . . and Lester. But apparently, they’re stable now,” she answered, giving a sip to her soda and both remained silent, hanging from the swings with no more noise than the squeak of the brackets at the slightest movement. Marianne knew she should say something, especially after the secret he had entrusted her with the false hope that she would ‘understand’. And indeed, she understood, but not for the reason he thought. “Listen . . . about earlier . . . ”

“Sorry if I behaved so bluntly. It’s just . . . I’m not at my best right now.”

“It’s okay, I don’t blame you,” she dispensed him, and noticed he was still holding those papers he carried while getting out of the elevator. She considered asking about them, but he continued talking.

“I wasn’t entirely honest when I told you that. The truth is that I didn’t just expect you to understand what I’m going through, but also wanted your help,” he admitted. “I . . . I thought that somehow you could help me contact my father.”

Marianne looked at him with a hint of sympathy, it was just what she feared.

“But why? Don’t you see it would only hurt you more?”

“There were certain things . . . he didn’t get to tell me,” he added, tensing his jaw and squeezing the papers in his hands. “And now all I can think of is getting answers.”

“What are those papers? Is that why you asked my father to sign a petition to delve into your medical records?” she ventured to ask. Demian looked down at his hand and unclenched it as he realized he was crumpling the documents. He seemed pensive for a moment, and finally handed the papers to her with a sigh, to let her see for herself.

Marianne held the soda can between her knees and flipped the pages with some caution, unsure of whether she should be looking at that kind of information, even if she had his approval. There were certificates, medical tests of all kinds, even some handwritten notes, but still didn’t understand a thing. “What does this mean? I don’t know what these papers prove.”

“It means I was adopted,” he said, his eyes fixed to the front and his body hunched. Marianne’s face couldn’t reflect more perplexity than it showed at the moment. The revelations didn’t seem to end that day.

Franktick finally came out of the basement and joined the others in the room, still discussing their next plan of action. He took a slice of pizza from the coffee table and plopped down on the couch without paying much attention to their words. Talking to Lucianne drained him mentally and left him exhausted. All he could think of was to disconnect himself for a while and enjoy a moment of serenity. He took about three bites and finally decided to look at the others. He scanned the room with his eyes and realized Marianne wasn’t there, and even more, that the others didn’t seem worried about that.

“Hey, where’s grumpy?” Frank asked with his usual brashness. The guys looked intrigued that he would ask for her.

“She went out for a moment. She’ll be back in a minute,” Samael said without ever imagining he would suddenly jump up and react alarmed.

“What do you mean she went out? And you just let her go like that?”

“What’s gotten into you? Since when do you care about her?” Mitchell asked, increasingly puzzled. Frank forced himself to shut up and a grimace appeared in his face. If he dared to talk about his motives they would never forgive him. So, he feigned outrage and decided to leave, so he could go find her.

“I don’t care about her and I don’t have to explain anything to you, either! I’m out of here!” he shouted with all the arrogance he could, but before he could cross to the kitchen, Samael got in his way.

“Why are you in such a hurry to leave and look for Marianne?” the angel asked with a scrutinizing gaze.

“You said you weren’t going to get into our minds again! Way to keep your promise!” Franktick claimed, frowning at him, but Samael didn’t show any sign of intimidation or even intention to move away.

“If it’s about Marianne’s safety, be sure I won’t mind breaking some promises,” Samael said, holding his gaze defiantly, despite being surpassed in height by a few inches.

“Ooohh, we have a tough angel right here,” Mitchell said to lighten the tension.

“Not the moment, Mitchell,” Samael replied without taking his eyes from Frank, who remained standing in front of him, as tall and steady as he could. “You better tell us what’s happening or I’ll have to dig into your mind on my own and perhaps in the rush I won’t be so careful to leave everything intact in there. Maybe I would neglect some memories and you won’t be able to recover them.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No. I’m just giving you the option to be the one to tell us on your own what’s going on. If it’s about Marianne, we have the right to know.”

Frank’s grimace intensified. They all looked at him expectantly, and he knew the time was running out. His muscles tensed and his chest swelled, until slowly expelling his breath with a sigh.

“You’re gonna hate me for this,” he said, looking away with a more restrained attitude.

“Don’t you always say we already hate you anyway?” Mitchell retorted as if that would improve things.

“I’ve been following her behind her back…Something like extra protection.”

“Why would she need extra protection?” Lilith asked while he tried to think of a way to tell them.

“Because she could be Hollow’s next target.”

“How would you know that?”

“Because I gave him her name, okay? When I went looking for Hollow it wasn’t to offer myself in exchange for Lucianne’s gift! It was to deliver someone else! And it was her name I gave him!” he finally revealed, unable to look into their eyes. The others fell silent at his confession.

And then Samael grabbed him by the shirt, giving him a glare so intense they never expected it from him before. The rest of them held their breaths, thinking it would end badly, but Frank didn’t flinch. He wouldn’t stop the angel from beating him up. He deserved it. However, Samael ended up loosening his grip and releasing him, while regaining his composure.

“Let’s go. I’ll try to locate her,” he decided, pulling back a few steps while the others approached him. Frank dithered, but also joined them.

Marianne looked at Demian, unable to utter a word. Surely he had been through hell over the last days between loss, doubt and then finding out the truth. She couldn’t imagine herself being in his place.

“He told me before he died,” he went on after a pause that helped him sort his thoughts. “I didn’t want to believe it. I thought he wasn’t…reasoning anymore…but I ended up confirming it. “

Marianne stared at the papers she guessed were the adoption files. It included the names of Dante and Damaris Donovan, and Demian’s name below, when he was only one month old.

“I’ve been living a lie all along. Those I thought were my parents…actually weren’t. What am I supposed to believe in now?”

“But they WERE your parents. They raised you and made you who you are now. What if you don’t have their blood? Your father loved you and anyone could see it just by the way he treated you, as though he couldn’t do enough for you,” she said, leaning slightly forward to try to set her feet to the ground so the swing would stop grinding.

“There’s no way you could understand. You would have to find out overnight that your parents are not who you thought they were to even imagine how I feel.”

She couldn’t refute it. She had no idea how she would react to news like that, she already couldn’t take her father’s secret trips very well, or even his alleged affair. She toyed with the papers for a while before folding them and handing them back to Demian.

“Then I suppose you intend to find out who your real parents are.”

“Wouldn’t you want to know?”

“Some things you’re better off not knowig,” she determined, drawing circles on the ground with the tips of her shoes. The weather had dropped considerably, and despite bringing a sweater, she couldn’t help rubbing her arms to prevent the fabric from cooling.

“Are you cold?” Demian asked, looking askance at her.

“The usual, I guess.” She shrugged it off like it was unimportant, so it took her by surprise when Demian got up, took off his jacket and placed it on her back.

She was immediately shrouded in its warmth, her heartbeats intensified so much that she even felt them drumming in her ears. Demian stood behind her, his hands gripping the suspension from the swing as if he were about to rock her at any moment. She didn’t dare to turn, but could feel his proximity and her body couldn’t respond, her limbs were stiffened. Then she heard movement behind her, and despite not being able to see him, she immediately knew he had leaned towards her, since she could almost hear his breathing near her ear, making her tense.

“Run,” he whispered, confusing her. He then grabbed her by the shoulders, forcing her up to her feet and pushing her forward. “Run!”

Marianne didn’t understand what was going on. She took a few steps forward, but ended up tripping over her own feet and hardly got to cushion her fall with her hands. Just then she turned over and saw Demian at the back in a defensive posture. She tried to look past him and saw a shadow slowly approaching, with only one limb hanging on one side. Marianne knew what that meant, exactly what she feared, happening right now.

She sat up, tucking her arms inside the jacket, and stood on her feet just as Hollow stopped a few yards away. He was showing off his lack of arm almost proudly, as though to demonstrate nothing could stop him.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” the demon said with a smile that drove Demian mad and alarmed Marianne.

“Stay away from him! He’s coming for you!” she yelled to warn him. Demian scowled without moving and Hollow laughed at her words.

“Stupid girl. It’s you I came for,” he replied with a note of triumph in his voice. Her face paled instantly. Of course, he was the one who had been following her. But why her? Did he know she was an Angel Warrior?

“Didn’t you hear me? Go away, now!” Demian commanded, standing in Hollow’s way. He just watched him almost condescendingly, knowing that any attempt to stop him would be useless.

Marianne hesitated. She wanted to confront him, but Demian was there and could find out her identity. However, her right hand was starting to writhe, getting ready to draw her sword at any time. And then she noticed Hollow’s gesture, watching her with predatory eyes. It was the face of a hunter prowling for his prey in the hopes of getting a reward, and it was clear what he coveted the most. He was there to steal her gift. If he did, she wouldn’t be able to fight in that case. She would have to wait for her friends to appear, which she knew it would be any time soon, she just had to stretch it.

Having the certainty now that he wasn’t there for Demian, she started running as he asked her to, leaving the playground under the demon’s gaze, who seemed to be doing some calculations. He tried to take a step forward and Demian blocked his way once again.

“You really think you can stop me?” he asked, lifting an eyebrow with a mocking gesture.

“You attacked my father,” Demian spat under his breath, trembling with rage. Hollow smiled amused.

“Nothing personal, but I would do it all over again,” he said with a sinister smile. Demian winced, as if he had lit a fuse, and with a boost leaped on Hollow, who only extended his remaining arm and threw an energy ball that went through Demian and continued its way towards Marianne.

She had left the playground and was closer to the exit booth from the parking lot. She just had to get past that booth and could call her friends and then…something struck her from behind, making her feel as if her body and mind were completely disconnected, leaving her conscience for last. She saw a glowing sphere emerging from her chest just before descending into darkness. Her body dropped to the floor.

Hollow approached her, conspicuously pleased and confident that everything had turned out just fine. He took the orb in his hands, shining with that glow that undoubtedly gave it away as the gift he was looking for, and the corresponding container appeared before him. He could almost taste the victory and took a moment to savour it.

“What are you waiting for?” A voice pulled him out from his moment of glory. Ende had appeared behind him and seemed even more anxious than him to complete the process with the absorption of that gift. “Do it now, don’t waste any more time.”

Hollow didn’t like being ordered, after all he wasn’t the Master, but truthfully, they had no time to waste, so now on the right track, he placed the orb above the vessel and it was instantly absorbed by it, stirring during its analysis until it finally stood still.

“At last. The gifts are complete,” the demon with wrinkled skin said enthusiastically despite his laconic and lethargic voice.

“I thought there was one left.”

“I told you, once the rest appeared, the last gift should arise by itself. Now just take out the rest of the vessels and . . . ”

Turning around, the demon suddenly fell silent. Hollow followed his gaze, intrigued, but only saw the boy’s body with another sphere above him, the one that got shot from his chest. He had decided to ignore it because he wasn’t there for him, but watching him intently now, he realized that the orb was completely darkened and yet emitted a singular glow, infrared-like. Ende moved quickly towards him, followed closely by Hollow, leaving Marianne’s body in the same place now that she was useless to them.

On the other side of the parking lot, the guys appeared transported by Samael, ready for anything, but once he saw Marianne unconscious on the floor several feet away, he lost his composure.


He ran towards her without waiting for anyone, panic taking over him. If she had been stripped from her gift, how would they bring her back? She was the one responsible for creating the surrogate gifts, no one else could. The thought that they couldn’t bring her back increased his anxiety. He was supposed to protect her, what kind of guardian angel he was if he wasn’t able to fulfill his main duty? He was already close to the booth when he suddenly saw a hooded figure next to Marianne with its hands placed over her.

“ . . . Hey!”

The figure lifted his face, but the hood covered it enough to conceal it, all he could see was the soft line of its chin just before getting up and leaving on the other way, getting lost in the shadows. Marianne’s body suddenly stirred with a spasm and she snapped open her eyes while Samael leaned forward, surprised to see her conscious.

“What happened?” she asked, trying to focus her eyes, feeling disoriented.

Samael looked cautiously at the demons, but they seemed too busy to notice them, so he helped her up and took her back with the rest of the guys.

“What happened to you?” Lilith muttered as they approached.

“Hollow . . . He appeared, saying he was coming for me,” Marianne began to explain. “I ran, but then I felt something hitting my back and everything went numb . . . but I saw this light before . . . ” Her face changed once it dawned on her what had happened. “A gift . . . It was mine . . . But how is it possible that I’m still conscious if . . . ?”

“We’ll find out later, but for now . . . it seems like those demons have finally got what they were looking for,” Samael declared, glancing back where they stood around something or someone.

“Demian!” Marianne muttered, looking at the playground. “Demian’s still there! We must do something!”

“What were you doing with him all alone?” Lilith asked, but she didn’t bother to respond, just started running back to that place, automatically covered by her armor, but Samael stopped her before she could get past the booth.

“Stop! We don’t even know what they’re planning to do!”

Marianne was about to protest when they all heard the demon’s voices loud and clear.

“Don’t you realize what this means?” the dormant voice from the green-skinned demon acquired a higher and urgent tone. “It’s the Death gift!”

Hollow looked sparse at him, aware that whatever he said it wouldn’t matter, that wasn’t in his plans at all.

“Quick! The vessel!”

With his remaining hand, and wordlessly, Hollow made another vessel appear, the last empty one, which was completely black. He placed it hesitantly below the gift surrounded by a dark aura. The orb was instantly absorbed and the vessel began to glow with an infrared light while both stepped away. The rest of the containers began to appear surrounding the black vessel, and like a mechanism automatically triggered, suddenly all the containers opened at the same time and the gifts began to float and rotate in a vortex around Demian’s gift, joined by another sphere that seemed to have gone through a long distance to get there.

“That gift . . . didn’t we hide it in the lake?” Mitchell asked once they reached Marianne and Samael by the booth, watching the scene unfolding before their eyes just as stunned as them.

Meanwhile, Frank had his eyes fixed on one of those gifts since it emerged from its respective container. He had it identified. It was Lucianne’s. He didn’t even bother to locate his own. He didn’t know how much time he had left, but he was aware that the moment was propitious while they were all focused on the scene. He gave all the push he could to his legs and ran straight to the gifts while the rest of them could do nothing to stop him. Both demons sensed his presence.

“Don’t let anyone come closer!” Ende ordered, giving Hollow a sharp look and the latter just made a swift movement with his hand creating a wave of energy that blasted Frank and hurled him back to the others.

“What were you thinking?” Mitchell exclaimed.

“Getting the gifts back! Don’t you realize it’s the moment we were waiting for? They’re no longer inside those vessels!” he explained and the guys turned to look at the vortex created by the gifts, swirling around the dark sphere that hovered over Demian.

“He may not have acted cautiously, but he’s right, we can use this moment . . . Go!” Samael motioned them to get going, but right when they were ready to charge, the vortex suddenly shrank, forming a twister that ended up merging with the darkened orb before their astonished eyes, and to their greater confusion, the dark sphere went back into Demian’s body.

A deadly silence and an eerie calm followed. Nobody knew what to say or what to do.

“What was . . . ?” Mankee’s question was interrupted when Demian’s body jumped up, stirring with spasms, his back arching backwards, like being pulled from his chest, right where the gift had entered.

“What is this?” Hollow finally asked and the other demon turned around. His skin was starting to change to a pale tone as he closed his eyes and raised his head, like getting an unexpected load of power.

A thick dark fog began to emerge from Demian’s chest, covering his body, similar to the material coating the other demons. The spasms seemed to increase, twisting his limbs. It was then that he opened his eyes and began to scream as his body writhed, wrapped by the dark effluence like a cocoon, followed by a shell, forming into a flexible armor very much like the Angel Warriors, except that it was as dark as onyx. The shell began to rise through his spine reaching out the head and moving towards his face, surrounding its periphery, as if embedding into his skin, which was also losing its color and taking an unnatural pallor.

Finally, the spasms stopped and Demian’s body hunched forward, supporting his weight on his feet again. His head remained bowed down while the constant movement of his shoulders, up and down, showed the heaviness of his breathing.

Marianne watched everything, too dumbfounded to react. Her wide eyes were fixed on Demian, trying to understand what was going on.

“We’ve made it,” Ende said with a triumphant smile even though Hollow didn’t look pleased. “I feel all my power back and there can only be one reason. We’ve found you, master Death Angel.”

To say it was a big shock to the others would be an understatement. Flabbergasted and unable to utter a word, they merely watched and heard everything as if witnessing a disturbing film they couldn’t avert their eyes from.

Demian lifted his face and looked at the demon with a dazed expression, as if trying to discover where he was. His blue eyes were highlighted by his now monochromatic appearance, with his pale skin and black armor covering him. Suddenly he focused on his hands and began to carefully analyze the armor that clothed him, running his hands through it and up to his face as if not identifying himself.

“Master, we’re at your command,” Ende made a bow, getting down on his knees. Meanwhile Hollow kept watching him, skeptical and suspicious, hesitating at the posture the other demon had taken, but at the warning look Ende gave him, he had to swallow his pride and slowly began to bow before him.

“ . . . Master,” was all he said, not quite convinced.

Demian raised his gaze and his eyes ignited at the mere sight of him. With a quick motion and before he could react, he reached for him and pierced his chest with his bare hand to their bewilderment.

Hollow looked perplexed at him, but couldn’t do anything, his body began to deform, as if melting from the inside, until eventually dissolving into no more than a small pile of ashes scattered on the floor, ebbed away by the wind. Ende and the rest were stunned by his action.

“…Master! Why?!” the remaining demon exclaimed, standing up and looking at him with a mixture of bewilderment and fear that he would do the same to him.

“Did you see that? He killed Hollow so easily!” Mitchell said, as surprised as the others. “He must be on our side!”

“We can’t jump to conclusions until we’re sure,” Samael warned them, trying to be cautious about it, but Marianne suddenly bolted out in his direction. “…Wait!”

She sprinted up until stopping a few feet from Demian and the other demon, who still had that bug-eyed look on his face, fearing his own end.

“Tell me you’re on our side…You are, right?” Marianne asked with bated breath and eager eyes, unable to accept what was happening, but anxious to know that despite everything, he was still the same and would do the right thing.

Demian’s eyes, however, laid coldly on her and almost immediately darkened after identifying her.

“…You,” he spoke with a deep, flat voice that froze her blood.

An aura began to grow from his feet, spreading out dangerously toward her, who could only watch, unable to move. The energy was practically about to strike her when Samael appeared in front of her, resisting the attack by placing his hands upfront and raising a protective barrier.

The collision was so strong that, after holding up for a few seconds, the layer ended up giving way and hurling them with all its power. Seeing this, Ende seemed to regain his confidence and approached him, taking his shoulder like a student who needed guidance.

“Come on, master. Your father’s been looking for you for a long time,” the demon waited for Demian to follow him, and even though he kept staring at the couple of Angel Warriors he had just tossed with his aura, he finally turned around and let Ende guide him, disappearing amid a bank of black mist.

“Are you okay?” the others asked, rushing to help Marianne and Samael.

“What was that about? I mean, what the hell was that all about?” Mitchell said, still incredulous of what they had just seen.

“It was a warning. That’s why we’re still alive and unscathed,” Samael answered, shaking the soil from his armor.

“But why Demian…? Why did he…?” Mankee was unable to complete his thoughts.

“Because he’s the one they were looking for,” Marianne replied bleakly, remembering Ashelow’s last words before dying and recalling what she had just learned from Demian himself. “…It was Demian all along.”

They all fell silent, and despite their many questions, they just exchanged unnerved glances while their armors retracted. Marianne’s eyes glistened with distraught, staring at the point where Demian had vanished and then down to the jacket she was still wearing. Demian’s jacket. The same jacket he had gently put on her back just moments ago. Her fingers curled up into fists and remained in that tense position as she tried to cope with the idea that Demian was gone…and that perhaps he had never even existed.