36. MIXED SIGNALS
Marianne was sitting on her bed, legs drawn up and eyes fixed on the mirror where Demian’s jacket was hanging. She was supposed to have been asleep hours ago, but hadn’t managed to do so, and despite looking thoughtful, her mind was blank. She couldn’t think of anything, just watched the garment as though it could disappear just by averting her gaze. Samael materialized in the middle of her room and looked seriously at her.
“I know what you’re gonna tell me. It was risky and I recklessly exposed myself to danger by approaching them,” Marianne said, assuming he was there to lecture her.
“Why did you ask me to take you there, anyway?” Samael asked, and she remained silent for several seconds, without taking her eyes off the jacket.
“I thought he might be the next victim. That he had the Supernatural gift.”
“Why would you think such a thing?”
“The thing I asked you earlier, about the obits . . . he has seen one of them several times before somebody died. He told me when I was at his house yesterday.” Samael said nothing, but she could see the disapproving look on his face without even looking at him. “Not that he knew what it was, but at least he could sense it. And I thought . . . ‘how is it possible that a human being is able to see things not even we have seen before?’ It had to be the Supernatural gift, it could be no other explanation . . . ”
“Well, now you know the reason,” Samael stepped in, diverting her attention from the jacket. “It’s because he’s not even human.”
“ . . . Stop,” she murmured, knowing what he would say next.
“He’s a demon,” he pointed out firmly, even if she refused to listen, so he stood in front of her and forced her to face him. “The person you’ve known all this time is not real, it was only a disguise to keep him hidden. Why? I have no idea, but now he has shown his true form, so we must be careful, okay?”
“He didn’t know. He must not even understand what’s going on right now. What if he’s actually been transformed into a demon? Just like they did with Ashelow. Deep down, he should still have a human soul,” she insisted, convinced that there might be an error.
“Listen to me,” Samael repeated with infinite patience. “I could feel his energy. It’s completely dark, evil. There’s no mistake, he’s really a demon, not by conversion, but his true origin. I had my reservations about him before, I could feel something was wrong, but couldn’t be sure. Now I can see it clearly. Whoever brought him to earth did an excellent job concealing all that negative energy I perceived in him. It must have been sealed from birth and then left him somewhere randomly, with a family that might raise him as their own, that way he would have a human life to back him up and make it even more difficult for the Legion of Darkness to find him.”
“His seed,” Marianne said after keeping quiet for several minutes. “Ashelow said it before dying. The Legion of Darkness was gathering the gifts to find ‘his seed’.”
“Yeah, Dark Angel’s son.”
Marianne felt chills just hearing that name, she recalled the moment she heard that powerful deep voice when they were about to defeat Hollow in the camp.
“Remember I mentioned that sometimes, when I sleep, I get new knowledge when I wake up? Well, I know this. Dark Angel is the original demon who created the Legion of Darkness and the rest of the demons that inhabit it. There was a battle between them and the Superior realm. The Battle of Descent,” Samael said while she paid attention, but her eyes kept glancing at the jacket hanging from the mirror. “There were too many casualties on both sides, but the Legion of Darkness was eventually defeated, with virtually all of its acolytes taken down. However, they couldn’t kill Dark Angel, he was way too powerful, so they had to seal him and he has remained in some kind of slumber since then, like hibernation . . . but that hasn’t stopped him from doing everything to repopulate his domains, waiting for the moment of his awakening.”
“And what does Demian have to do with it?”
“Well, he’s his son. His own flesh and blood. I still don’t know why he needs him for his awakening. The other demons are merely servants, created by him, but inferior nonetheless. He must have spent a long time looking to procreate a child of his own to inherit his power despite his condition, and when he finally gets it . . . someone makes him disappear.”
“Do you think someone could have betrayed him?”
“Demian just found out he was adopted. That the people he thought were his parents actually weren’t. He was confused, even hurt. Are you telling me it was all faked? That he really didn’t feel that way?”
“I can’t speak about whether he’s felt anything or not, just about what I know. The life he’s been living so far, it’s not real, even if he had come to believe it was, that was all just a façade. Now the carcass that was hiding his true self is broken, so the only thing left is to stay alert.”
As much as she found it difficult to accept, Marianne finally nodded, keeping her head low. Samael again refrained from any attempt to delve into her mind. If she had any further questions or concerns, he hoped she would turn to him if she needed it, so he turned away and wished her goodnight.
“Try to get some rest. Anything you need, you know where to find me.”
She didn’t answer. Samael heaved a sigh and disappeared in the middle of a flash. Marianne looked back at the jacket and after a few minutes, she got up and after folding it, she put it in a drawer inside the closet and shut the door. This was her way of saving the last piece of Demian’s humanity, because no matter what Samael thought, she was sure it had really existed. It still existed. How could anyone explain then that he would kill Hollow? Because he remembered what he did to his father, she was sure of it. Although, the way he looked at her when she tried to talk to him . . . and what he did. She didn’t know if it had been an attack or an automatic reaction, perhaps he didn’t even have any control over it, but to Samael it was a warning. Had it really been that? Thinking so much about it was causing her a headache. Since when did she care that much about Demian? At what point he had gone from being the guy from the accident to someone important in her life?
Refusing to dig deeper into it, she went back to bed and rolled under her sheets, trying to force herself to sleep, but every time she closed her eyes, she saw Demian’s demonic appearance and his blue eyes shining in the shadows. She huffed and lay back, staring at the ceiling, trying to empty her mind. This would certainly be a long night.
When Demian opened his eyes, he was surrounded by dark passages of what seemed to be a cavernous tunnel, as if he were lost in a maze of catacombs that came and went in different directions, diverging in various paths.
“Where are we?”
“The Legion of Darkness. Your home,” Ende replied, walking ahead of him to show him the place. “Someday you’ll be heir to the throne and all of this.”
“You said my father has been looking for me all this time . . . When can I see him?” Demian asked, somewhat anxious.
“Be patient, master. All in good time. When the moment comes, he will call for you,” the demon said, waving his arm, and a huge door opened on their side. Demian stopped and looked inside warily, as if expecting a trap at any moment, but Ende beckoned him to get inside. “Go ahead.”
Demian entered cautiously and watched the place. It looked to him like a dungeon transformed into a room. The atmosphere was heavy, and so was the decoration, and the furniture even gave him the impression of having been stored and unused for a long period of time. Anyone could feel claustrophobic just by looking at it from outside. He just stood in the middle of the room and glanced around. Among the old furniture, one piece caught his eye, cast aside in a corner, almost hidden behind a big dusty couch.
He walked over to get a closer look and noticed it was a type of crib, with carved initials in the header: ‘D.A.’ The demon that had led him up there had called him Death Angel . . . Could that be his crib then? He ran his fingers over the woodcut, and as his fingertips came in contact with the wood, an image flashed through his mind, as if he had been watching that same engraving from another perspective, right from inside the crib . . . Was that a memory?
“I’ve been here before,” Demian muttered in amazement.
“When you were born,” Ende nodded, pleased that he would remember.
“What happened? How did I end up on Earth?”
“No one knows. You just disappeared from one moment to another.”
Demian placed again his hand over the engraving and another vivid image appeared in his mind. He saw everything again in perspective from the crib, his avid infant eyes went to several points of what his limited confinement allowed him. They went from the woodcut to the ceiling then to the bars from the cradle, and while looking through the front, he managed to catch sight of a pair of amber eyes glowing in the dark like a wolf. Every time he looked again at that point, those amber eyes came closer, forming a silhouette around them until having a shadow almost above the crib, watching him like a predator about to attack. Then he saw something like a cushion down to his face and blinding his sight completely. A dreadful sense of suffocation came over him, despite being a mental image, so he immediately pulled his hand and stepped back, feeling for an instant that he couldn’t breathe. Had someone tried to kill him?
“I won’t stay here,” he spat, turning around and storming out of the room followed by a confused Ende.
“What? But, master. . .this is where you belong. . .”
“I know, but I can’t stay in this place. It’s. . .depressing. I’ll go back home.”
“Home?” the demon repeated, bemused.
Demian said no more, once he was in that cavernous corridor again, he vanished in the air to his servant’s astonishment. When he reappeared, it was right in the middle of what used to be his room. Everything was intact, just as he had left it before leaving. His bed was undone, the tidy desk with the monitor on, and a default screensaver rippled in the screen. The curtains were still unfolded and blocked the view from the window, which wasn’t apparently well closed since they were fluttered by the wind, slipping through some slit. Demian approached the window and after making sure to lock it up, he looked at the garden. He felt at home, but also like an outsider, as if he had died and become a ghost, haunting what used to be his house, clinging to the past, to a life that no longer belonged to him. . .that was never really his.
“Why are you back here?” Ende’s voice took him out of his reverie, forcing him to move away from the window and turn around. He was standing in the same spot he had appeared just minutes before, watching around almost with disgust. “You don’t belong in this place, master. Come back to the Legion of Darkness.”
“You’re supposed to be my servant, right? Don’t tell me then what I should or should not do,” he commanded with a stern voice, shocking Ende in the process. “I will stay here for tonight, you go back there. If you need something from me, you know where to find me now.”
The demon had no other choice but to bow his head in submission and abide by his orders, as crazy as it seemed to him, leaving a trail of mist after vanishing.
Demian returned to the window and folded the curtains, taking a new look outside. It was so quiet, almost as if time had stopped before his arrival. He stepped back and walked steadily toward his parents’ room —or at least, the people who had raised him. As he entered, he went straight to the closet where he had seen his father rummaging, looking for something just before being attacked by the demon. He opened the door, scanning inside with his sight. He pulled the door a little more and his attention diverted to the mirror embedded on the inside. For the first time, he saw his reflection after discovering who and what he really was, and the impact he felt wasn’t less disturbing.
His face . . . He began to touch it without taking his eyes from his reflection, eager for recognition, to identify that being he had in front as himself. He ran his fingers through the fibers embedded into the periphery of his skin and tried to remove them, and even though it was useless, he didn’t feel any pain either. His hair was intact, as black as the onix armour covering him, and the only touch of color was the blue in his eyes.
Those eyes were all he could identify of his old self. What he had in front of him was something dark, evil. Something that had been locked inside him and was finally released.
“. . .I’m a demon,” he whispered in the same tone as if confessing a shameful secret, just to confirm it to himself.
He remained staring at his reflection for several minutes, scrutinizing the image in front of him and reconciling it with the one he remembered of himself, when suddenly he noticed the armor began to recede and his pale dim skin recovered its color. He looked down and saw his arms were also being released from that material and all he felt was a slight tingling while this happened. When he looked back at the mirror, he found his old appearance gazing back at him, he was even wearing the same clothes. He checked himself once more and then at the mirror to confirm that was real. There was no doubt, he was Demian again. At least in appearance.
“. . .Weird,” was all he managed to say and realized it was almost dawn by a slight glimmer from the balcony. He stared back at his reflection and decided to make a test. He stood rigid and tensed his muscles, after which his body covered with that dark armor and his skin lost its color. He was now standing there with his demon form. After waiting for a few seconds, he did the same one more time, kept his concentration, relaxed and recovered his human appearance. The experiment had been a success. “. . .Interesting.” He glanced at the balcony, rays of playful sunlight were spreading through the carpet. “I guess demons don’t mind to sleep or not.”
He felt in his pockets, in search of something, but they were empty. It left him with no choice. He went out of the room. There were plenty of things to do, but first he would go for a walk with the new perspective he had gained. The view of a demon.
It had been a long night. Marianne had failed to rest her eyes and despite feeling tired, sleep refused her. She went downstairs very early with lazy steps and found both her father and Loui already dressed and ready to go.
“Where are you going so early?”
“I got a call from the hospital. They said there was a problem with your mother last night, but she’s now stable. We’ll go see her,” Noah said, putting on his coat just like Loui.
“Where were you last night? You didn’t show up until very late,” the kid chided her as if he were the father instead of the one at his side.
“It wasn’t that late. I’ll go with you,” Marianne decided to go back to her room and get dressed. The previous day had been so chaotic that she didn’t even have the time to see how her mother was doing with the new gift replacement she had created on an emergency.
She grabbed the first thing she found in the closet, not even bothering to check if it combined. She wasn’t exactly a fashionista, but preferred not to wear anything eye-catching so she could walk unnoticed, the opposite of Mitchell, who seemed to wake every morning and look for inspiration from a dough of melted crayons.
She took a sweater from the bottom of her closet and her eyes landed on the drawer where she kept Demian’s jacket. The image of him piercing through Hollow’s chest, and then throwing them away, with his blue eyes flashing, kept haunting her mind. She pulled the sweater and closed the door. She had to stop thinking about it. Demian was now a demon. . .and that made him their enemy, right?
They finally went to the hospital, and after staying with her mother for several minutes, listening again to that rhythmic and tedious tapping from the monitor, proving that she was at least stable, Marianne decided to stroll around and go check on his uncle and Lester’s status. Just like her mother, they were equally stable for now, so she hoped she wouldn’t have to worry about another near crisis for a while. Aware that Loui and her father would stay a little longer, she ended up wandering the hospital hallways, feeling idle, and before realizing it, she was already in the childcare area. There were several children in the playground with a couple of nurses watching over them.
She slowly approached the place, watching the children playing in the seesaw or the slide, swinging on their own or with the help of a nurse. Some were even playing in the sand, which she couldn’t help looking at with disgust, remembering that was the spot where Hollow had dissolved into ashes. She found herself fighting the urge to scare those children away, at the risk of making people think she was crazy.
She stopped at the Monkey bars and leaned on it, running her hand over one of the bars while staring at the swings. Why was she there? She had no clue, just as she didn’t understand either why she kept playing over and over in her mind the memory of the two of them sitting on those same swings. . .or the jacket, anyway.
“I wasn’t expecting to find you here.”
Marianne’s body froze upon hearing that voice and her breathing stopped. With an awkward and violent movement, she turned around and found herself facing Demian, dressed exactly as the night before.
Her face contorted in an alarmed expressio and she attempted to take a step back, but her legs were too stiff, so she ultimately stumbled and fell down. However, Demian held her right in time, pulling her towards him.
“Be more careful, these playgrounds are more dangerous to children than they appear.”
Marianne remained motionless, unable to react to his presence and wondering if there was any menacing tone to his words. Was he there to attack her and was holding back in the presence of the children? Or was he just taking that as some kind of twisted cat and mouse game?
“What’s wrong? Why are you making that face? Looks like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I. . .uh. . .N-No. . .I. . .” she stammered, unable to form a coherent sentence.
“You’re okay, right?” he added in a more serious tone, even looking worried while softly letting go of her arm. “Yesterday. . .I never got to know what happened to you afterwards. I . . . must have fainted or something.”
She looked confused at him, wondering if he was being honest or if it was some kind of test, but then remembered he hadn’t even seen her attacked, so he really couldn’t know she was an Angel Warrior. In any case, what was his intention acting like this? To keep that façade in front of other people so they wouldn’t suspect?
“I don’t know what happened, either,” she finally answered, trying to regain her poise to not raise any suspicion. “When I opened my eyes you weren’t there anymore and I. . .I was near the parking booth.” She looked askance at him, studying his reaction, and decided to add something else as a test. “The Angel Warriors were there, so I guess. . .they saved me.”
“Oh. . .The Angel Warriors,” he said with a tone that caught her attention, but he immediately changed the subject before she could continue with her queries. “Well, I’m glad you’re okay. I feel relieved just to know that.”
Saying this, he drew a relaxed smile on his face that made him look more like the old Demian, prior to the demon and his father’s demise.
“So. . .why did you come here then?” she asked, trying to sound more confident.
“I lost my medical record,” he explained. “I thought maybe I would find the papers here, after all this was the last place I was in.”
The jacket. They were probably inside the jacket.
Marianne was torn between telling him or not, maybe she should confirm it first, though she didn’t understand why it was so hard to say it. It belonged to him after all. She wasn’t keeping it forever, she would have to give it back someday. . .but had she really planned to do it? Even before seeing him again, acting like a normal person?
“Anyway, what are you doing next?” Demian asked, acting more comfortable and she hesitated.
“I’ll go to the coffee shop. I’ll see the guys there. In fact. . .it’s almost time to go, so. . .I won’t distract you anymore,” she replied, seeing that as her chance to cut and run.
“I’ll go with you,” he decided and Marianne looked at him in dismay. “This way, I brought a car.” He beckoned her to follow him to the parking lot and she took a look around, as if to make sure of the witnesses that could identify them in case of her disappearance. “What’s up? Weren’t you going to the coffee shop?”
She jolted, but eventually followed him through the parking lot, until they got to a car she seemed to recall. The car from the accident.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” she murmured and Demian turned to her.
“Oh, I see,” he said, noticing her expression. The corner of his lips curled up into a smirk. “Relax, I promise not to try to run you over. . .again.”
Even though he was clearly joking, Marianne couldn’t help feeling unnerved. She gathered courage and got in from the passenger’s side, almost holding her breath, as if getting ready for the worst. While Demian was driving, they both remained silent. She was visibly tense and he was attentive to the road.
“You still think I shouldn’t look for my real parents?”
Marianne turned to him, caught off guard by the question. It was obvious that he knew now where he came from, so she didn’t understand why he made it seem like he was still interested in finding out about it, perhaps just to look like the same Demian to her eyes.
“Does it really matter what I think? After all, it’s your life and you decide what you think is the best for you. You were right, there’s no way I can understand what you’re going through, I guess it’s normal to feel the need to know them. . .But just remember that, if you ever find them, at the end of the day they weren’t the ones who raised you for all these years. That’s what really matters.”
Silence. Demian didn’t take his eyes off the road and didn’t seem to have any reaction to her words. Marianne bit her lip, thinking that perhaps she had talked too much.
“You sound like a hallmark card, did you know that?”
A new smile formed on his face, and she didn’t know if it was because he was trying to lighten the mood or because it was ridiculous to him, thinking that way. Either way, she just looked out the window again, starting to worry about how the others might react when they saw her arrive with him.
Inside the coffee shop there was a rather gloomy atmosphere. It hadn’t opened to the public and the guys were the only ones there, scattered in different tables with downcast faces and worried expressions. Even, who had finally agreed to meet them there, seemed in a gray mood.
“I still can’t believe Demian is the one those demons were looking for,” Mitchell said after a long period of silence. “You say that this big demon boss, or whatever, is his real father, right? I don’t get it. How in the hell did he get here in the first place? Living a human life and never showing signs of what he really was . . . ”
“I don’t really know, but details are unimportant given that we face a major problem: he’s a demon, and according to what we witnessed, he has a power that exceeds Hollow. This is not a servant like those we have been facing. He’s Dark Angel’s offspring, head of the Legion of Darkness, and that makes him more dangerous than any other demon,” Samael explained, rubbing his temples as if having a headache.
“You said there’s something else, didn’t you?” Frank said, sitting at one of the bottom tables, playing with a napkin and nibbling a stick, since he wasn’t allowed to smoke there.
“Yes. But we’ll wait for Marianne. We all must be present.”
“I don’t know about you, but I feel so discouraged and confused,” Mankee said, practically sprawled over the counter. “I don’t even know if I should continue opening. I mean. . .two owners dead and another one missing who, incidentally, turned out to be a demon. . .I don’t know, it’s too much.”
“Don’t they say the show must go on? It’s the same here. At least this place helps us maintain a façade in front of other people,” Lilith suggested, building a tower with butter cubes. “And you need this place, don’t play fool.”
“Well. . .yeah, but. . .what if he comes one night when I’m alone and. . .attacks me?” Mankee asked, fearfully.
“Now you’re just making extreme assumptions.”
“Besides, we’re not even sure that Demian has actually become ‘evil’ since he hasn’t done anything to confirm it,” Mitchell said.
“Can you seriously say that after pretty much attacking grumpy and wings yesterday?” Frank snapped.
“There’s no need to be so negative, besides. . .I think that might not be considered an ‘attack-attack’ per-se,” Lilith replied, trying to find some reason for Demian’s behavior. “Maybe he thought he was in danger or something.”
“Danger? Now you’re the one sounding incredibly naive.”
“I’m just saying, I rather think of the glass as half full than getting carried away by pessimism, it’s not good for me.”
“Don’t misunderstand me, I would like to think the best too. . .but what if we’re wrong? What if he decides to get rid of everything that reminds him of his previous human life and the first thing he does is come to the coffee shop and destroy it. . .with me inside?” Mankee insisted, obsessed with the idea.
“With all due respect, I think you’re giving yourself too much importance as to think he would come here just to kill you,” Mitchell said, minimizing his concern.
“However, his fear is not unfounded,” Samael added without lifting his face, and the others looked at him, trying to grasp his meaning.
“Is that what you want to talk us about when Marianne arrives?”
He didn’t answer, though he wouldn’t have the time to say much either, because right at that moment Demian’s car arrived in front of the coffee shop, and while he parked, Marianne almost threw herself outside with the car still moving and opened the door with an alarmed face, trying to remember how to breathe.
“Don’t freak out!” she muttered, letting out a gasp and rushing inside, approaching the counter.
Her friends stared at her, but when the door bell rang again and Demian came in, their expressions contorted with a mixture of disbelief and dread.
Frank immediately turned tense and looked ready to jump up at any moment in response to an attack if necessary. Demian on the other hand, just stopped, noticing all those wide eyes watching him as if he were an apparition.
“What’s up with you all? Why are you looking at me like that?” Demian asked, raising an eyebrow “You’ve been calling me and going to my house every day, even when I don’t respond. I thought you wanted to see me.”
Marianne gave an imperious glance at the others, but they seemed just too shocked to answer properly, until it was Mitchell who finally decided to save the situation, or at least try, jumping up and approaching him with over the top movements.
“Of course, buddy! How good to see you here! You finally decided to go outside, breathe some fresh air!” Mitchell exclaimed, perhaps too enthusiastically even for him.
“Do you want something to drink? I’ll get it right now! Whatever the boss wants!” Lilith seconded, also trying to be overly energetic and indulgent, even getting to the extreme of giving him a slight nudge on the shoulder to make him sit on one of the stools in front of the counter.
Mankee immediately sat upright and moved away, nervously avoiding his gaze.
“D-Did you have breakfast already? D-Do you want me to prepare something? I’ll do it right away!” the trembling boy said, retreating to the kitchen despite nearly tripping several times.
“How’s it going, big boy? How are you holding up?”
Mitchell finally sat next to him, patting him on the back, as cautious as he could. Once Mankee and Lilith returned from the kitchen with their ‘tributes’, they also did their utmost to keep him distracted and appeased, as if he were a vengeful god who could vent all his fury against them at any time. Marianne hid her face to avoid watching that display of overacting. They were doing their best, but in vain. Demian, of course, noticed it.
“I’m fine, as you can see, you can leave the act,” Demian snapped and the guys exchanged alarmed looks, thinking he had finally realized who they were. He placed his arms on the counter and huffed. “It was hard losing my father and yes, I decided to cut off all communication for a while, but then I thought that I couldn’t do this anymore, living like a shut-in.”
“That’s some old bullshit.”
The sour comment immediately caught everyone’s attention, and all eyes fell on Franktick, still sitting in the back with a daring position, the way a mobster would do just to look intimidating. His eyes flashed as he stared at Demian with a challenging attitude, opposite to the others who had decided to play along for appearances. The guys looked at him with eyes as wide as golf balls and horrified expressions, trying to convey him to keep quiet and stay out of it if he didn’t want to partake in it. Demian, on the other hand, narrowed his eyes and gave him a questioning look, wondering what he was doing there and inevitably also ended up running his gaze towards Samael, who remained in his seat and watched him intently. After several seconds of tense silence, Demian finally decided to ignore them and turned forward again.
“Why is the place closed? It’s Saturday, it’s supposed to be open,” he asked casually and Frank huffed, not swallowing his passive reaction for a second. Mankee stammered, trying to give a coherent answer until Marianne decided to finally say something.
“It’s our fault, we told him not to open today, that he should take this day off because. . .it’s his birthday,” she made up with incredible ease.
“So, today’s your birthday,” Demian repeated, glancing at Mankee.
“Y-Yes. . .I wasn’t going to say it. . .but it just slipped and. . .I couldn’t just unsay it,” he babbled, feeling about to crumble under pressure.
“Congratulations, then,” Demian said and Mankee just responded with an attempt of a smile. After another period of silence, Mitchell felt compelled to break it once again to avoid suspicion.
“And that’s why we were about to throw a party over here just to celebrate with him! Will you stay with us?”
The warning glances he instantly received were a clear sign that he was going too far, and he just shrugged, like saying ‘what you gonna do?’.
“A party. I don’t know if I have the time for that,” Demian replied, staring at his hands thoughtfully, followed by a collective relief at not having to throw a fake party.
“Just a couple of hours, who cares? You’re not going to shut yourself away again, right?” Mitchell said, as if lacking control over what came out of his mouth just to keep up the conversation, earning him several murderous looks to shut up for once.
“Well, maybe a couple of hours won’t hurt,” Demian finally agreed and the others just remained quiet, having no idea how to proceed now.
“Then I guess I should better get going to buy the cake!” Lilith leapt out of the counter with a face that showed she had no clue what she was doing.
“Don’t forget the money we collected and gave to Mitchell, remember?” Angie said from one of the nearby tables, and Mitchell looked confused at them, but Lilith understood and came right to him, outstretching her hand.
“True, that. You got the money, give it to me,” Lilith demanded, raising an eyebrow and squinting, as though saying ‘you asked for it’. Mitchell just pursed his mouth and began to make faces, trying not to protest.
“Sure . . . Let me get my wallet,” he muttered through gritted teeth and forcing a smile while checking on his pockets. And then another hand reached Lilith, holding money.
“It’s on me,” Demian offered. Hesitant at first, she finally took the money and smiled as she walked out of there, aware that they would have to throw an improvised party now.
“We could use some balloons and streamers too,” Mitchell hinted, taking the chance to get out of there before making everything worse.
“This is ridiculous,” Frank muttered in a dismissive tone.
“You should come with me instead of complaining. At least you would be useful,” Mitchell proposed, and his cousin gave him a haughty look, but still followed him without protest. Rather leave than keep watching.
“I-I’ll go prepare the plates,” Mankee decided by himself, seizing the opportunity to also flee for a few minutes.
“Well. I guess I’ll help the birthday boy,” Angie was the next one to escape the awkward silence, leaving the remaining three to fend for themselves. Marianne kept distance from Demian with growing anxiety, and noticed that Samael didn’t take his eyes off him, monitoring him from his seat even if Demian wouldn’t turn around. She gave him a questioning look, but the angel just shook his head in response.
“Why don’t you sit down? You’re getting on my nerves standing there,” Demian said.
“Uhm. . .I’m fine, thank you,” she replied, settling an arm on the counter, trying to look calm. Demian also placed a hand on the surface in an impatient gesture. He started drumming his fingers on the counter when suddenly one of the salt shakers moved from the other end to his hand, like attracted by a magnet. He stared astounded at the shaker in his hands, and even though Marianne and Samael also saw it, she quickly turned away, nonplussed, and pretended not having witnessed it when he lifted his gaze.
“I wonder what kind of cake Lilith will bring. Chocolate, I hope, that’s my favorite,” Marianne commented just to say anything, trying not to show her disturbance.
What he had done was a lot like her own ability. Way too similar. Whoever lost their gifts also lost the characteristics from that gift. . .Did that mean she had lost her powers and they now belonged to Demian? After all, now he had all of them. The gifts. . .were inside him. She felt a knot in her stomach as it dawned on her. Her gaze met Samael, who seemed to be thinking the same.
Angie and Mankee returned from the kitchen, interrupting the moment of tension.
“I brought some plates, I hope the size is okay,” Mankee said, leaving a stack of small plates on the counter while Angie left the cutlery aside. Noticing how quiet they were, he stopped, cautious. “Is anything the matter?”
“Nothing, we’re just waiting for the others,” Demian replied, squeezing the shaker and pushing it back to where it was.
The rest weren’t out for long. Lilith brought a strawberry ice cream cake and Mitchell gave everyone a party hat and blew up some balloons filled with confetti, like a children’s birthday party. Only Mankee and the two of them ended up putting on one of those hats, while Frank remained apart, sulking in his corner. The others had no choice but to reluctantly play along, even when they lit the candles on the cake and had to sing ‘Happy birthday’. Lilith sang out of tune several times, but still kept going, trying to inject some spirits to the others while they all sang with muffled voices. However, one of them stood out. One by one they stopped to look stunned at Demian, as if it were the first time they heard him.
“What?” he asked, realizing everyone was watching him.
“It’s just that . . . you have a nice voice . . . Really nice,” Lilith said, trying to smile, but looking absolutely distraught. She had noticed it too.
Demian seemed uncomfortable, so he just nodded and averted his gaze.
“Why don’t we start eating the cake? Before the ice cream melts,” Demian suggested, trying to divert their attention from him. Mankee quickly blew out the candles at Lilith’s insistence and cut the cake in slices.
“You know what would improve this party?” Mitchell said, licking his fork.
“Please, don’t say the jukebox.” Marianne threw him a warning glare.
“I wasn’t thinking of that, but it’s not a bad idea either, does it even work?” he replied, quickly getting up and approaching the jukebox. He put a coin in it and pushed several buttons. A lively song from the sixties began to play. Then he approached one of the balloons floating over them and with the tip of his fork made it burst, confetti falling all over them.
“Why did you do that?!” Marianne shouted, brushing it off her hair. But Mitchell didn’t stop there, he went to the rest of the balloons and burst them one by one, confetti raining over them, leaving piles stacked on the counter and the floor. Then, giving them no chance to breathe, he took a handful of confetti and threw it at them. Their faces were filled with multicolored little paper dots while he laughed out loud, but laughter soon faded when Demian stood up, his face so serious everyone winced.
He looked up at Mitchell and gave him an intense look, making him gulp. In his head, Mitchell already saw himself as the fourth dead body related to the coffee shop, but then watched in awe how his lips curled up in a crooked smile, and in a split second Demian took another handful from the counter and threw it on him in response. He ended up spitting up confetti.
“Confetti war!” Lilith yelled, and that became a pandemonium from one moment to another, with everyone trying to get to safety while throwing confetti at their opponents in the middle of a colored storm and jukebox music in the background. Samael just dodged the attacks as much as he could without getting involved.
“Ridiculous,” Frank growled idly in his corner, until a wave of confetti thrown by Mitchell hit him as sandstorm. “You asked for it!”
In a trice, he jumped up and joined the pitched battle. Demian looked relaxed and seemed to be finally having fun after so long, but when he glanced at the street, he saw Ende standing there and watching everything disapprovingly. It was only a matter of seconds before he disappeared, but enough to make him stop dead, followed by the others. They watched puzzled in the same direction as him, but saw nothing out of place.
“I have to go,” he said as he came to his senses, shook off all the confetti he could, and headed for the door. “Thanks for this. I really needed it.”
“Will we see you again?” Marianne asked dubiously and he turned to her, puzzled by her question. She tried to rectify, realizing how eager she sounded. “I mean. . . you won’t lock yourself up again. . .right?”
“It’s not my intention. I guess you’ll find out very soon,” he replied with a side smile before leaving the place.
Everyone seemed like their bubble had just burst out and they’d landed back on earth. It didn’t take more than a few seconds to get back to reality once his car drove away.
“So? What do you think?” Marianne asked, trying to keep her poise at the unexpected situation.
“You see? I knew he couldn’t be evil or be against us,” Mitchell said with conviction, not even bothering to remove the confetti glued to his face in the shape of a hand. “Yesterday he was just confused, he had no idea what was going on. But now his head must have cleared out.”
“Oh, come on! He’s so obviously faking it. He’s trying to make us believe there’s no danger so when we least expect it, bam! He will catch us off guard,” Frank said, removing the confetti stuck in his palms.
“You’re just saying that because you’ve never liked him.”
“I’m saying it because I’m not blind to reality like you, letting a previous friendship influence your perception.”
“But we shouldn’t be that distrustful either.”
“What do you say?” Marianne asked Samael, who remained reflective, listening to their opinions.
“Just that we shouldn’t rule out any possibility. However, I was looking at him the whole time he was here. . .and I kept perceiving the same negative energy I caught yesterday,” Samael said, as serious as he could. “What he’s projecting to others differs a lot from the energy flowing around him. Besides. . .there’s something else I haven’t told you. A new knowledge I recently got.” Everybody kept silent and paid full attention to his words. “I’ve already told you about Dark Angel and how he, being his son, is the only one who can help him awake from his slumber. . .What I haven’t told you is how he’s supposed to do that.”
“How?” Lilith muttered, almost as if she didn’t want to hear the answer. Samael’s pause made them even more anxious than before.
“He must kill the Angel Warriors,” he finally revealed, leaving them speechless for several seconds. Marianne kept quiet and expressionless, even though she was already feeling sick to her stomach. Several images started to cross her mind, like flashes, perhaps fragments of a forgotten dream, where her friends began to fall one by one while a shadow chased her down and surrounded her completely. “I don’t know how, just that somehow our blood is needed to wake him up, and since he’s the heir, he’s the only one who can do it . . . that’s why Hollow had to stop so many times when he had the chance to kill us. It was forbidden to him.”
“But . . . that doesn’t mean he’s gonna do it,” Mitchell said, refusing to believe it. “After all, he was here with us and did nothing.”
“Because he doesn’t know who we really are, you fool, isn’t it obvious?” Franktick intervened, totally convinced by Samael words. “If he knew, I’m sure it would be another story. Also, we must not lose sight of one very important detail you’re forgetting . . . he’s got all the gifts now. And that includes ours.”
Even Lilith felt compelled to look down once the point was taken and Mitchell had no way to refute that argument. Marianne lifted her gaze and saw every single one of them had the face of someone who doesn’t want to do something, but has no other choice. Total resignation.
“Are you serious? After everything, after he looked so keen on going back to his old life, you still think he’s our enemy?” Marianne spat with a hint of anger. “He didn’t even have any idea they were looking for him! You can’t blame him for being something he didn’t ask for! We’re his friends!”
“He still has something that belongs to us.”
“Well, he’s going to return every single gift! We can’t consider him an enemy because of that!” Marianne replied, but no one responded, so she turned around and headed for the door. “I’m going home.”
Samael went after her while the others stayed in the middle of the coffee shop, silent and low-spirited, confetti still falling from them.
As Demian started the car and drove over a street, Ende suddenly appeared in the passenger seat, though Demian didn’t even flinch, just kept driving.
“What were you doing with those humans, master? Don’t you realize there’s no bond linking you to them? They’re an inferior race you must no longer mingle with . . . and that appearance isn’t worthy of you, either.”
“I’ll decide that. Whatever I do with them is none of your business, besides . . . I don’t want you to spy on me,” he demanded, without granting him a glance, but visibly upset.
“I’m your shadow, master. I have to follow you everywhere you go and make sure you have your responsibilities very clear as the Legion of Darkness’ heir.”
“And those are . . . ?”
“The most important right now is simple: kill the Angel Warriors.”
Demian didn’t answer, nor had any reaction at all, just kept staring at the road in front of him with an unfathomable expression.
“ . . . What if I don’t do it?”
The demon gave him a perplexed look.
“It’s not an option, master! You must! It’s the only way your father will awake!”
“If it’s that important, why don’t you do it yourself?”
“I can’t! It has to be the heir! You carry Dark Angel’s blood, you must do it!” he said, outraged, and suddenly Demian hit the brakes and turned to him with a grim and intimidating expression.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” he said with a dangerous nuance in his voice. Ende watched him, somewhat fearful, but still stood firm.
“I’m sorry, master. You may not like it, but it’s my duty to keep you focused. The Angel Warriors must die in order to wake your father.”
“How is that supposed to happen?”
“It’s a ritual bound by blood. You just need to kill them, and let the rest unfold.”
“And what will be next when he wakes up?”
Ende smiled, feeling he was taking genuine interest.
“With your help, he will rule all the realms.”
Demian scowled at this. He didn’t understand how he was supposed to help him rule all ‘the realms’. Didn’t even have any idea what that meant.
“So, I have to kill the Angel Warriors.”
“That’s right.” Ende’s smile grew even more confident. “And for that . . . we have to attract their attention.” Once he said this, he disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
Demian looked around, wondering where he could have gone, but his question was soon answered when he suddenly heard an explosion downtown, followed by screams and people running away from that direction.
He knew right away what that meant, so he squeezed the steering wheel, letting out a snort, and tensed his body at will. His skin began to lose its pigmentation and a dark shell covered him again in a matter of seconds. He looked at his reflection in the rearview mirror and eve though his expression didn’t show any sign of affectation, deep inside it was still quite unnerving. He then disappeared in a puff of black smoke, leaving the car parked in the middle of the street.
“Marianne, hold on,” Samael followed her up the street.
“I know what you’re going to say and I’m seriously not in the mood. Maybe you and Frank consider him dangerous, but I’ve seen him at his most vulnerable moment and I’m convinced he’s not like those demons we’ve faced.”
“But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s one,” he pointed out, and Marianne stopped, turning around to face him.
“What you have is a stigma against everything related to demons. It happened with Ashelow despite having been human once, and surely it would have been the same with Frank if you hadn’t noticed he was one of us,” Marianne replied angrily, and he couldn’t help but lower his gaze.
“Sorry, that’s how I was created. I’m an angel, and it’s in my nature to distrust any demon. But understand my position. My mission is to protect you and guide the others, how am I supposed to act when I receive in dreams the warning that the heir of the Legion of Darkness must kill the Angel Warriors? I’m not important. I’m just a guardian, a mere protector, but all of you . . . ”
“Don’t say that, either. At the end of the day, what would we do without you? The point is that you’re already demonizing him when he hasn’t even done anything to show he’s dangerous. Shouldn’t we give him at least the benefit of the doubt? After all, today he behaved . . . normally,” she made a slight pause, as if doubting her choice of words.
Indeed, after discovering that he was a demon, the expectation they had built around him was far from what they had just witnessed, but that didn’t mean they could consider his behavior identical to the old Demian. He seemed more cautious and reticent, as if he were trying to emulate himself.
“How did you run into him?” Samael asked.
“The hospital. I walked through the playground and he was there. For a moment I was nervous, but then he acted . . . like usual. I didn’t know what to think . . . but if he’d wanted to attack me, he had enough chances when I got into his car, so that’s why I believe . . . that things don’t need to be as you suppose.”
“What were you thinking, getting into his car? Do you realize the risk you put yourself through?” Samael snapped, and she rolled her eyes, already expecting that reaction from him.
“Relax. I’m fine, see? I’m still alive and intact. If I had been in real danger, you would have appeared, right? That’s what you always say.”
“That’s right, but . . . normally I would’ve perceived that feeling of fear when you first saw him and had no idea of his intentions . . . but I didn’t sense anything,” Samael said, taking his hand to his chin in a thoughtful gesture. “It’s like . . . his presence completely hindered you up from my radar.”
“What does that mean?”
Samael shook his head broodingly, and that was the moment they heard the explosion several blocks further midtown. They exchanged alarmed glances, in his case already assuming something like that would happen sooner or later. And for her, it meant that the benefit of the doubt was, in fact, questioned.
“Let’s go back for the others to see what’s going on.”
Marianne nodded wordlessly. At that moment, there was nothing to say. They ran back to the coffee shop while in the Main Avenue, Ende was wreaking havoc left, right and centre, crashing cars and setting them on fire with the impact of several power blasts.
People stopped whatever they were doing and fled terrified from the scene. Even the police couldn’t do much with an entire squad sent to face the threat, led by the tenacious Officer Perry. They couldn’t even approach him, constantly rejected by powerful energy waves that the demon kept throwing over and over again. Every time they chose to use weapons from a safe distance, bullets didn’t even reach their target and just bumped into an invisible wall or, in the worst case, ricocheted. It was total chaos.
“What are you trying to do?” Demian appeared beside him. He didn’t show a flicker of emotion by what was happening, as if he couldn’t care less about the situation.
“I’m just trying to attract the Angel Warriors. They will soon appear and you’ll get the chance to fulfill your mission,” Ende answered, clearly enjoying the moment. Demian said nothing and the demon gave him a sharp look. “Wanna try?”
By the way he tilted his head, Demian understood he was referring to the act of spreading chaos.
“I don’t think you need my help for that,” he replied, merely folding his arms with undisturbed temper. The demon smiled without ever ceasing to attack all around.
“Trust me, master, once you try this, you won’t ever want to stop. It’s liberating, having no boundaries,” he explained, almost with a hypnotic voice, as if trying to get into his head. “I bet you felt satisfied after killing Hollow, even euphoric. Didn’t you feel the adrenaline boiling inside you? It’s the darkness within you. It’s in your blood, the evil gene.”
Demian became increasingly tense at those words, until finally letting out a blast from his hand, exploding a police car while the officers around to take cover. Demian didn’t even flinch.
“See? You just need the proper motivation,” his servant said, taking that reaction as a little push, while Demian slowly lowered his arm without changing his impassive gesture. “A full-fledged demon.”
Demian clenched his hands, not as a mechanism of repression but as a way of embracing the fact that he was indeed feeling some sort of enjoyment after the attack. Maybe he had a greater inner darkness than he’d imagined.
The guys watched in shock the whole scene, like something out of an apocalypse, setting their eyes on Ende, and therefore on Demian, standing next to him.
“Angel Warriors! You finally came!” the demon said with a smile that seemed cut from ear to ear. “Go ahead, master, it’s your chance. Kill them!”
They looked immediately at Demian, waiting. He merely watched them in an analytical way. His face remained unchanged until he finally turned around and started to walk away.
“I won’t do what you tell me to. I’m the one who decides. I’m leaving.”
Ende’s grimace was so pronounced that his eyeballs seemed about to pop out of their sockets. The guys, on the other hand, looked surprised at each other, with no idea of what to make of it, until Marianne decided to step forward.
“Does that mean you’re not our enemy?” she asked with some caution, but still hopeful. Demian stopped.
“ . . . You did nothing for him,” he said without even turning.
Demian then turned his face and gave her a death glare. Marianne felt a twinge and shuddered. She couldn’t react in time when he outstretched his arm and a powerful blast lunged at her, throwing her to the ground and pushing her through the asphalt several feet away.
“That’s it! Now is the time!” Ende yelled with excitement, encouraged once more after seeing the sudden change of heart from his master.
“I told you! I knew he was dangerous and you didn’t listen!” Franktick shouted. “If you won’t do a thing, I will!” He took a few steps forward and punched the floor. A huge mound of asphalt was formed, moving towards Demian and the other demon like a concrete wave. Demian looked fearless at the asphalt wave getting near him and waited until it was close enough to stretch his arm again. The wave suddenly refrained and stopped a few inches from him, leaving that huge mound in pause until it regained momentum and came back to the others with the same force. “What the f . . . ?”
This time, Samael quickly stood in front of everyone and formed a protective barrier that, even when it stopped the attack, it couldn’t prevent the impact that tossed them back half a block. Demian lowered his arm, and just like that, he turned around and continued on his way, disappearing without saying any other word. Ende looked frustrated, but also seemed convinced that it had been a small step in the right direction. He looked at the guys with arrogance and vanished, too.
“Are you guys okay? Marianne?” Samael asked, focusing all his attention towards the others in case someone got injured, but they were too distraught to respond.
Marianne seemed shocked enough. In her mind, she couldn’t see anything but those blue eyes conveying what he felt just by looking at her: deep hatred.