It’s early morning, and as expected, the hall is engulfed in shadows, lit only by the dim moonlight coming through the large windows surrounding each wing of the house. The atmosphere is quiet, only the ticking of the clock marks the rhythm of his slow and stealthy footsteps as he walks down the corridor, reaching a double door room. After pressing both handles, it opens, nothing standing in his way. It’s dark inside, but the light of the full moon can be seen beyond the balcony, its glass doors also wide open. A gentle breeze blows through them, fluttering the curtains almost in an ethereal way. Looming through them, a figure is standing on the balcony, her back turned.

He goes into the room with that same slow and wobbly pace, approaching the presence, who admired the night scenery from her privileged perch, her own private box with outdoors view and the wind playing with her hair, floating like the curtains. The sound of steps getting closer ends up alerting the stylized figure, who turns around with curiosity. Her dazzling topaz eyes watch him, puzzled, and then outlines a warm smile while leaning forward, letting her silky light brown hair fall over her shoulders like a waterfall.

“What are you doing up so late, dear? You should be asleep.”

No answer. The woman tilts her head to one side and smiles sweetly, but this doesn’t seem to work. She heaves a sigh without erasing her warm expression, and takes a step forward, trying to come closer to him.

“Come on, honey, I’ll take you back to bed.”

However, once she tries to take his arm, she suddenly stops, frozen in time. The smile on her face slowly begins to fade, giving way to a confused and disturbed expression, which as much as she tries to hide, it seems impossible. Her limbs become rigid and stiff, and even though she tries to straighten up and step back, she just can’t.

“ . . . Demian?” she says with a trembling voice and terrified eyes, not knowing that it would be the last word she would ever pronounce.

Like absorbed by an invisible force, her body is thrown out of the balcony, out of sight, in an instant. Everything returns to calm. For a few seconds, he just stands there, feeling the cool night breeze, until his bare feet get going again. He approaches the balcony with the same unsteady footsteps and stops at the balustrade, leaning on the railing and standing slightly on tiptoe to take a better look. Down there, those topaz eyes are staring at him, dull and lifeless, and the body they belonged to is now staining the grass in red.


Demian’s eyes flew open at that moment. He looked around and realized he was back in his room. He dropped his head on the pillow, hands on his forehead. Those images again. From the moment of his transformation —or awakening, whatever they called it— he’d been watching those fragments of memories that were sealed inside him. Recollections of moments that, up until then, constituted a gap in his memory every time he went to sleep, but now they were released. And it hadn’t been pleasant.

The first time he had realized the truth, was when his body was in that transition state, when the physical pain was unbearable, but nothing was worse than finding out that he had been responsible for his mother’s death.

It was during one of his sleepwalking trances, which he wasn’t aware of until Marianne told him at the camp. That was the reason he needed to take those sleeping pills, so he wouldn’t fall into one of those trances when he had no control over himself . . . or maybe, it was actually the moment he showed his true nature: an uncompassionate demon.

He sat up in bed and covered his face with both hands while gasping for air. Thinking about his mother’s face, with those beautiful dead eyes under the balcony, unsettled him. He had been standing there for a long time until coming to his senses, and his first memory was waking up that day and seeing those eyes staring at him. It left him shook up. That was the moment when his father entered the room, coming back from his last trip, and found him standing there in a deep state of shock, after which he didn’t speak for a couple of months. His father never displayed it in his manner, but now he was sure he knew he was responsible for her death, that was why he insisted so much on taking those pills, to protect him from himself . . . to protect what was left of his family. Now he understood why he had sent his sister away just after their mother’s death: it was a precaution, so she wouldn’t be in danger in case he would fall back into one of those trances. The very idea of his father being aware of what he was capable of, even with no clue of his true nature, made him sick.

So that was how things were. Sometimes he didn’t remember having dreams, because, either he was under the influence of those pills, or his true self took control over him when he slept without them. The sleep disorder he allegedly suffered from was actually fragments of memories of his brief stay in the Legion of Darkness, as well as his own actions every time he fell into that demonic trance. His life so far had been no more than a shell that had just hatched. Suddenly he wanted to laugh at everything. He had worked so hard to make things right, to keep himself busy . . . Would that perhaps be some unconscious way to ward off the demon inside him?

“Still here, master?” Ende appeared, watching him with an air of condemn for deciding to stay in that place instead of returning to the Legion of Darkness.

“And I’ll stay here until I do what I need to do,” he replied, standing up and going to the closet to pick his clothes.

“I hope that means killing the Angel Warriors,” the demon replied, but Demian said nothing, deciding on what he would wear that day. “Master, I’m serious, you have to eliminate them. You can’t just ignore your duty as the Legion of Darkness’ heir.”

“And I’ll do it eventually, okay? I have other things in mind right now. They can wait, they’re no real danger.”

“Underestimating them isn’t the best option. You should kill them before they cause more problems,” he refuted, trying to be patient with him.

“Tell me something,” Demian asked, completely ignoring the demon’s plight, “is anyone from the Legion of Darkness able to find me wherever I am?”

“At least when you’re in your true form, master,” Ende answered, a little weirded out by his question. “Your human form served to conceal you and still now can block any tracking. The only reason I can follow you despite that is because I’m your shadow and I know your identity now.”

“Good,” he curtly replied without adding anything else. He put the chosen clothing on the bed and, right before taking his shirt off, glanced at Ende who wasn’t moving. “If you don’t have anything else to say, you can go. I don’t need you watching over me 24/7.”

The demon straightened with a sulky temper and, after a huff, disappeared just as ordered. Demian took that moment to sit on the edge of his bed and rest his arms on his knees in a reflective stance. The truth was that he no longer belonged to the human world, or rather had never belonged, but neither could he trust the Legion of Darkness, after all, someone had tried to kill him when he was born, he was sure of that, and could also bet that somehow that shadow was involved in his disappearance.

“Another day of searching,” he muttered, standing up again to get dressed.

After the sudden attack downtown, the guys had an emergency meeting at Lucianne’s house. Even though most of them were reluctant at first, they finally agreed that Demian was indeed a danger to them as Angel Warriors, so they would have to be more careful. However, given the unusual circumstances, they also decided to keep acting normal around him in case he came back, so they could keep an eye on him.

“I don’t know if I can. The pressure is too much for me,” Mankee had said, unconvinced.

“None of us are comfortable with this situation. Think about me! I would have to tease him as usual and even snoop around him so he wouldn’t suspect. Those things don’t work out if it’s not natural,” Mitchell had replied, equally worried, but willing to do his part as they had ageed.

Marianne, however, didn’t feel comfortable with the plans and decisions they were making. She felt that deceiving Demian like that was cruel. On the other hand, it wasn’t like they could refuse though, their lives were at stake, after all, but still she didn’t want to pretend to be ‘the same as ever’ in front of him —which, as she could remember, included arguing, pouting and some unpleasant encounters. No, that wouldn’t work with her. Perhaps it would be better just . . . avoiding him, in case she bumped into him again.

“Why is it so hard for you to accept the plans?” Samael asked suddenly, way after midnight. Marianne opened her eyes from her current insomnia, leaned on the edge of the bed and saw him sitting on the floor, with his back against the mattress as he used to do sometimes. “What would you prefer? Declare war openly and thus reveal our identities?”

“I don’t know. I’d rather have no war at all,” Marianne said, dropping her head back on her pillow, not wanting to start an argument.

“You have seen on your own that it’s impossible. He tried to hurt you . . . ”

“He didn’t. Okay, he threw me away, but didn’t hurt me,” she replied.

“ . . . And he returned Frank’s attack.”

“He answered an attack with another attack, that’s what happened.”

“Are you justifying him?” he asked, baffled.

“No, I just . . . try to put myself in his place,” she answered, surprised by his question, as if she hadn’t thought about her reasons to defend Demian’s recent actions. “What would you do if I turned out to be a demon? Would you turn your back to me and try to kill me, too?”

“What kind of question is that? It’s preposterous to even think about it!”

“But suppose for a moment it’s like that, would that change anything for you? Would you still protect me?”

Samael fell silent. That exercise of assumptions was too much for him, it contradicted his knowledge and obligations.

“…I see. An angel, guardian of a demon, it would be unthinkable. I guess then if I were one, things would change.”

“It’s unfair to put me in this position. The field of assumptions is too broad and unexplored. You want to know what would I do? Well, I don’t know. Something like that hasn’t even crossed my mind, because it’s unthinkable like you said.”

“Well, now you know how I feel,” she said, ending the conversation. Samael leaned his head back on the mattress’ edge and sighed.

“This won’t lead to anything today. I’ll let you rest,” he finished, getting up. “I’ve decided, by the way, that starting tomorrow we’ll go back to train.”

“You mean the camp?”

“We need to be prepared for anything . . . and that includes facing Demian.” Marianne pursed her mouth and slightly twitched to hear that. “Good night.”

He disappeared in a flash. She remained on her back, staring at the ceiling, thinking that insomnia would win that night again, although this time fatigue got the better of her and several minutes later she fell asleep.

It was her cell that woke her up in the morning. She caught it from the nightstand and brought it to her face, rubbing her eyes to look at the screen. It was nine already, and she had an incoming call from her father, which meant he wasn’t home. She answered, babbling, and her father apologized first for awakening her and then explained that he and Loui had gone to the hospital.

“I forgot the house keys in the rush, could you bring them? I know you go out later and we don’t want to risk coming back when no one’s home.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll bring them to you.” She had to remind herself to answer instead of nodding as she did first.

She decided to leave a note for Samael and took the keys from the living room pendant. She had enough time to liven up for good on her way, and now she couldn’t stop thinking about the attack. Even though it was technically true that he hadn’t physically hurt her when he tossed her away —thanks to her armor, undoubtedly— she couldn’t take off her mind his look full of hatred. And what he had said . . . what was that supposed to mean? Maybe Samael was right about going back to train outdoors, but instead of a confrontation with Demian, she felt they needed to focus on the demon that followed him like a shadow. Perhaps he was influencing his actions, wasn’t there a saying that everyone had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other telling them what to do? Maybe if they got rid of that demon, then they could have a civilized talk.

She kept thinking about it when she reached the hospital doors, and as she was about to enter, she suddenly stopped short after seeing Demian in reception, talking with one of the nurses. Apparently they had already finished, because the woman turned around and walked away. Distraught, she also turned around, fearing he could see her, and decided to retrace her steps, trying to get outside one second too late. He had already turned to the door and saw her right when she was closing it again.

“ . . . Marianne?” As she heard her name, her limbs became stiff, while he opened the door behind her. “Were you going somewhere?”

“N-No, I just . . . thought I had dropped the keys, but I found them,” she immediately said, pulling out the keys from her pocket. “My father asked me to bring them.”

“Oh, okay. I was starting to think again that you were stalking me,” he said with a relaxed smile, and even though she knew it was a joke and would have responded with some snarky remark before, she couldn’t think of any comeback right now, so she just remained silent, which caught Demian’s attention. “Is something wrong?”

“No! I—I’m just half asleep yet. That’s all. I’ll be okay in a couple of hours.” Half asleep and half in pain after being tossed away the day before, but he had no way to know she was an Angel Warrior, so she tried to say something else so he wouldn’t suspect. “And you . . . what are you doing here?”

“I wanted to know if the hospital retains copies from the medical records, but apparently they don’t, so . . . I’ll just have to get used to the idea that I’ve lost them.”

The famous medical record again. If she wasn’t mistaken, the papers should be in one of the pockets of his jacket, but with everything that happened in the last hours she hadn’t had the chance to check it out. Why so much interest on them? Didn’t he already know where he came from? What other mysteries could some papers unravel?

“I was thinking on going for something to eat after this,” Demian continued. “I feel like I haven’t eaten in days.” Which was true, not counting the coffee shop party thing.

Marianne wanted to say something, but her thoughts were interrupted by the sudden growl of her stomach, she hadn’t eaten since yesterday, either. Demian raised an eyebrow and couldn’t suppress a smile.

“Apparently, you feel the same,” he added, amused, and she immediately turned red, crossing her arms over her stomach. “There’s a small coffee shop across the avenue, where they make delicious waffles . . . Wanna come?”

The outrage against her stomach was immediately overshadowed by her surprise. Was he inviting her? She felt a lump in her throat and tried to find some pretext to excuse herself, but the only sound that came out of her was another tummy grunt. Stupid human body and its organic functions. Demian tried to supress another smile, so she wouldn’t think he was mocking her.

“I think your stomach just answered for you.”

He could say that again. Before she could even think about it, she was already sitting at an outdoors table, staring at a plate of waffles filled with strawberries and other seasonal fruits, in addition to chocolate syrup on top, while Demian was in front of her, eating heartily his own waffles, covered with a single layer of maple syrup. The façade of the coffee shop was covered with a colorful front for those who preferred to sit outside. It wasn’t that big, but the decoration gave it a cozy look.

“You’re not going to eat that? I thought you were really hungry, and those waffles taste better while still warm.”

She didn’t answer, but tried to take the cutlery and start cutting portions while trying to avoid the mess she had in her head right now. Demian noticed her absent expression, so he slightly arched an eyebrow.

“Is everything really okay?”

“Sure. Why wouldn’t it be?” she reiterated, taking a heavy piece of fruity waffle, oozing juice and chocolate in her mouth, to finally quell the uproar in her stomach.

Demian kept staring questioningly at her, until laying the cutlery on the table and resting his arms at the edge of it.

“Did I say or do something to offend you?”

Marianne looked up, distraught, the fork still sticking from her mouth.

“N-No, of course not,” she muttered, covering her mouth with her hand and trying not to choke.

“I just notice something different about you lately. I understand that after . . . what happened to my father you’ve been unusually nicer to me, even when I wasn’t in the mood for anyone . . . but I’m trying to leave everything behind and just keep forward. If I can do that, I’m sure you can also leave your considerations aside and treat me as usual.”

“It’s not that I’m being especially nice to you!” Marianne protested with an urgent and uneasy tone, placing both hands on the table in a rigid posture. “Haven’t you thought that I may have other things to worry about? Also, I feel like I’m the same . . . which is more than I could say about you!”

She didn’t modulate the volume of her voice, so everyone sitting at the closest tables turned to them. She became stiff and quiet. Demian gave her an unfathomable gaze for a few seconds, making her think that she had undoubtedly angered him, and even if she tried to look poised, she was already prepared for anything. However, he suddenly smiled.

“Now you sound like the usual you.”

She blinked, dumbfounded. He had thrown her off balance once again, and had no way to respond to it. Demian noticed she had a chocolate spot on the corner of her mouth and his smile accentuated.

“You got chocolate on your face.”

“Huh?” Marianne inadvertently felt her cheeks.

“Let me help with that,” he offered, extending his arm toward her and gently rubbing his thumb over the chocolate spot.

She stood still like a statue and a shudder ran through her body, riddling her with goosebumps. Demian also stopped and his smile faded, realizing what he was doing. Confusion was written in their eyes, but still unable to pull away. At least until a pang forced Demian to withdraw his hand, though his face remained unfazed. He quickly averted his gaze to the table and recomposed, taking the cutlery again and going back to his breakfast without a second thought.

“You should really eat those waffles, the chocolate will eventually soften them.”

Marianne hardly knew what to make of that. She wasn’t even sure exactly why she had reacted like that —or not reacted in any case. She finally decided to refocus on her plate, though her mind was mulling over his weird behavior.

“Did you know the downtown area was attacked yesterday?” Those words came out of her mouth unthinkingly, and although Demian slightly frowned, he was equally stoic and controlled, not even taking his eyes off his breakfast.

“I heard it on the news,” he replied curtly.

“People say they were two demons,” she continued, staring at him, attentive to his reaction. “They just appeared and started attacking left and right.” Demian kept eating, apparently unaffected by her words. “There were several people injured.”

“But no one died,” Demian finally replied, as if that would make things better.

“Luckily,” she spat, unable to stop the torrent of words coming out of her. “I hope no one dies the next time.”

“How do you know there’s going to be a next time?” Demian gave her an intense look. Though it made her nervous, she tried not to show it.

“I don’t know, but . . . isn’t that what’s been happening in the recent months? People are being attacked for no reason and when least expected. No one has been able to do anything about it . . . except maybe for the Angel Warriors.”

Demian left his cutlery on the plate with a clatter and let out a snort as he motioned for the bill. Marianne was silent, thinking that now she had certainly overstayed her welcome, but still remained firm, not to show that she knew more than she seemed.

“I don’t know if I will go back to school any time soon after all,” he said, changing drastically the subject and returning to his relaxed stance. “I have some issues to resolve first . . . Can you tell the others when you see them? I don’t want them to worry . . . I don’t know when we’ll meet again, so I trust you’ll tell them.”

Marianne frowned confused.

“You don’t know? Are you thinking on locking yourself up again?”

“No, but I might take a few more days than I planned,” he replied, standing up once he paid the bill, and she followed his lead.

“How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing, it’s on me,” he replied and Marianne made an awkward grimace. Demian smiled sideways. “I know, you have a little obsession with balance and not owing anything to anyone. If you want to see it this way, the balance is still leaning on your side after your help . . . so consider this a small fee.”

She didn’t consider what she had done to tip the scales in her favor. In any case, not even all the good deeds would bring back Demian’s father to life. She walked behind Demian, her eyes on the sidewalk with the same uncomfortable expression as though she were set on autopilot, and when she tried to cross the street on her way back to the hospital, she was suddenly pulled back to the sidewalk right when a big, heavy truck passed in front of her. Puzzled, she looked up and saw Demian following the truck with his gaze while holding her protectively.

“You should be more careful. Didn’t you learn to look both ways before crossing the street?” Demian chided her, showing genuine concern. She said nothing, didn’t even seem to assimilate what he had just done, it just happened too fast. Had he really just saved her? Could it be considered that way even if she didn’t notice herself being in danger? He slowly loosened his grip and let go. “You’re like a magnet for accidents, you know that?”

There was never a truest statement. Marianne took a deep breath once he released her and said the first thing that came to her mind.

“Well, you don’t need to worry. If it were my time you would have seen one of those obits, right?”

“Obits?” he repeated, his eyebrows furrowed questioningly.

Marianne kept quiet again, realizing what she had just said. He had no idea what obits were, at least the word itself, and she had been careless enough to mention it in his presence.

She mentally scolded herself while thinking of some excuse, right when her cell phone rang. Saved by the bell —by Pachelbel’s Canon in D to be exact. It turned out to be her father again, asking for the house keys and if something had happened on her way. He had never been so timely.

“I have to go back to the hospital. My father’s still waiting for the keys.”

“I’ll walk you back, lest you be run over by a chariot the next time.”

She wanted to protest, but couldn’t. Demian followed her to the hospital, slightly holding her arm while crossing the street as if ready to pull her back if another car approached dangerously. It was like he was taking Samael’s place at that moment. The idea seemed ironic, and suddenly she imagined how offended the angel would feel if she were to comment it to him.

“Did you see something funny?” Demian asked, looking askance at her and she realized she had been smiling.

“No, I just . . . remembered something.”

Demian released her once they were in front of the hospital. They exchanged glances for a couple of seconds, as if thinking what to say next, until he spoke again.

“If you’re just leaving the keys, I can wait for you and take you wherever you need to go next.”

She was supposed to go to Lucianne’s house to meet her friends and then go to the camp where they would have a hard workout ahead, but of course he shouldn’t know. She had to come up with some excuse soon, but couldn’t think of anything else to say. She felt mentally drained after the strange morning she just had.

“I’ll go home and . . . do some homework.” That was the only thing she could think of. Her head was just empty right now.

“Wow. That sounds incredibly boring . . . but it’s on my way home, so I could give you a ride,” he decided, taking his hands to his pockets and smiling, but as his gaze set on the entrance’s glass door, he discovered a shadow in the reflection, way behind them. His face tightened and his smile quickly faded after recognizing Ende, watching them harshly from a bus stop full of people. He had managed to mingle with them with a coat and a hat.

“Is something wrong?” Marianne asked, noticing his sudden change of expression, and Demian quickly turned around, looking at the spot where he had seen Ende’s reflection, but he was already gone, only common faces of people giving off the weak and harmless aura from humans. “Demian?”

“Sorry. I think . . . I’ll have to leave now. I forgot I had something to do.” He excused himself with an urgent tone. His relaxed look and smile had vanished from his face.

“No problem. We all have important things to do, I guess.”

Demian tried to smile as a goodbye, but his smile felt forced unlike earlier. And he just left without wasting any more time, rounding the building while Marianne followed his movements until he was out of sight. No doubt he had seen something . . . or someone. Even though she should be relieved at his departure, for some reason she felt a little disappointed, as if part of her wanted to spend more time with him. She immediately shook any strange thought off her mind and entered the hospital. Samael was sitting in one of the couches and gave her a look like he’d been waiting for her.

“What are you doing here? What if Loui sees you?”

“I checked before staying here, he’s in your mother’s room and seemed very entertained with a device in his hands. I read the note you left, so I came. We should be ready for training.”

“Yeah, I know we said at ten and it’s past eleven, but something distracted me . . . ”

“I know. I saw you with him,” Samael interrupted with a serious look that seemed inscrutable. “I saw you leaving the hospital and crossing to a coffee shop.”

“I guess now this is the part where you lecture me for my irresponsible act of exposing myself to danger once again,” she added with a snort, and hunched her shoulders slightly forward with a resigned posture.

“Why would I? You did exactly what we all agreed to do in case of meeting him again: act normal. Although I must admit that deciding to go eat with him was perhaps a little unnecessary, since you could have just declined in some way that wouldn’t raise suspicion.”

Marianne tightened her lips into a grimace of discomfort. She couldn’t say she was acting, rather than hiding information, even though everything regarding Demian lately was so complicated in terms of right and wrong.

“You keep thinking he’s not really dangerous?” Samael asked, noticing her gesture.

“I don’t even know what to think anymore,” she answered honestly. “He behaves like usual, even friendlier and controlled . . . It’s the opposite of what a demon should be.”

“On the surface,” Samael replied to make it clear. “The demons we had met so far represented the lower ranks of the Legion of Darkness. They weren’t made to interact with people, just to create chaos, destruction . . . But a high-level demon like him needs to also have other means to attract people and dispose of them later, to corrupt and destroy their souls . . . What role do you think the gifts that awakened him play in all of this? He absorbs their qualities and characteristics to finally use them at his convenience.” Marianne tried to swallow with a dry throat, but only felt a knot in it. “That’s why I say you can’t really trust him. There’s no way to know how much of what he does is part of the power he gets from the gifts and how much is real.”

“Then what I saw is true . . . He has my power now.” Marianne recalled the salt shaker moving toward his hand. “I don’t want to sound defeated, but . . . what am I supposed to do now if I don’t have a power anymore? I don’t think I could be useful this way. Without that, I’m just an ordinary human.”

“What did I tell you about the gifts? They don’t define you as and Angel Warrior. You’re one because it was fated. If you can’t use your powers, you still have other physical skills you can use and develop. For example, you still have your sword.”

Marianne nodded, trying not to look dejected, and took a deep breath.

“I’ll give the keys to my father and we’ll leave, okay?”

“Sounds good to me,” Samael agreed with a sober nod. She tried to smile, but only managed to curl up one corner of her lips, so she opted to turn around and walk down the corridor.

Samael watched her with concern. He didn’t understand why it was so hard for her to accept that Demian was a demon, or why it seemed to affect her so much. He hoped she would eventually talk to him, but as things were going, that moment still seemed too far away, and perhaps the only way he could find out would be doing what she categorically forbade him to do: getting into her mind. But he didn’t want to resort to that. It was a vote of trust she had given him and shouldn’t break it. Although, she wasn’t giving him much of a choice later with her constant silence.

When Demian reached his car, Ende appeared at his side, without his coat and hat, and watched him in a recriminatory way.

“What do you want? I told you I don’t like being spied on.”

“I don’t understand your reasons to keep seeing these humans, master, but this doesn’t pertain to your responsibilities as the Legion of Darkness’ heir.”

“Whatever I do or not do here is none of your business. You’re here for my srvice, don’t forget that. I don’t answer to anyone,” Demian snapped angrily as he unlocked the car and opened the door to get in.

“However, I don’t think your father would like to know his son befriends an inferior race. And even less if he shows interest in a human girl.”

“What did you say?” Demian stopped with his hand on the door and glared at him.

“I’m just saying what I saw, master. And I don’t know how I’m going to report to your father that instead of focusing on your mission, you’re more busy spending time with a disgusting human. If you’re so eager on . . . experiencing certain things, there are far more attractive specimens, but for that you should first take care of your responsibilities.”

In a blink, Demian moved from the door to the other end of the car, standing face to face with Ende until their foreheads were almost touching, staring into his eyes with a ferocious expression.

“You won’t speak to me like that anymore, do you hear? You don’t report anything I do to my father, either, he would have to talk directly to me first,” he warned him with a ruthless tone. His blue eyes flashed, fixed on his servant, who held his gaze without moving an inch despite the underlying danger in his posture, he just remained in that position until finally looking down and slightly tilting his head forward in a servile way.

“Whatever you command, master.”

Demian said no more, he simply got into his car, started the engine and drove away, leaving Ende standing in the same place, following the car with his gaze until he lost sight of it. While he had to follow his orders, he was also sure of one thing: if he didn’t do anything soon, that girl could hamper his master’s mission, and he wouldn’t allow it.

Luckily, he had identified her as one of the gift’s original owners, and hadn’t received any order to stay away from her. He smiled at that thought. The girl would have to disappear mysteriously.

The clearing was just like when they were still in the camp. Samael immediately took charge of the situation and began to instruct them about what everyone would do to practice their skills.

“Since when is wings the leader?”

“It’s always been this way since before you joined us, so you should just shut up and do whatever he tells you to,” Mitchell snapped and Frank responded with a snort.

“I know very well what I’m made of, I don’t need anyone to tell me how to train. I can control my power,” he replied with an arrogant attitude, throwing a rock with a single snap of his fingers.

“I’m glad to hear that, because you’re going to help Mankee and Mitchell to strengthen their physical skills,” Samael said, walking past them while doing some calculations.

“I’ll do what?” he asked, lifting an eyebrow, unsure of what that meant.

“Teach them how to fight and defend themselves,” the angel explained, giving him a look of approval. “And don’t try to restrain yourself. If they feel endangered, they would have to give their all.”

Both boys looked at one another, not believing what they had just heard.

“That’s music to my ears.” Frank smiled at the prospect of having a couple of punching bags for himself. He snapped his fingers, eager to start. The two boys exchanged alarmed glances, aware that they wouldn’t be able to escape.

The next few hours they were devoted to their training and practicing to enhance their skills. Samael had spent some time with the girls until leaving them on their own and focused on Marianne, who was having a rough time, feeling she couldn’t keep up with them, having no powers at all. The only thing she had left was her sword. He had convinced her that practicing with it would be just as useful, and even more now, given how she was the only one with a weapon. So, armed with the sword, she spent the rest of her time delivering stroke after stroke towards Samael, who used a small invisible layer as a shield. The goal was to increase her response time rate, but after an hour or so, she was fatigued and asked for a little time out to rest. She sat on a rock as she watched the others unleash their powers without refrain. Seeing them like that made her feel frustrated.

“I can’t even create a substitute gift again,” she bemoaned. “I tried at the hospital. The night I lost my gift, my mother, my uncle and Lester suddenly stopped having vital signs. I panicked and it occurred to me to create another surrogate gift as I did before . . . and it worked, their organs started on again, their signs were stabilized, still in coma, but at least alive . . . I thought maybe if I tried it with Belgina, she could be conscious again, but when I did . . . nothing happened. I couldn’t form a single sphere, that ability disappeared with my powers.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get them back,” Samael said, taking her shoulder with an appeasing attitude, but instead of calming her, it made her feel uneasy, taking this statement as an omen for things to come.

Demian possessed the gifts now, and the only way to recover them would be defeating him. That was the reason for all this preparation in the woods, right? To face him. And defeating him meant . . . killing him? The thought made her shiver. Wasn’t there any other solution that wouldn’t involve death?

Frank had left Mitchell and Mankee practically collapsed on the floor, completely exhausted after the intense session he had made them undergo, between direct attacks hand to hand and soil traps specifically aimed at them —Mitchell was banned from using his neutral barrier or his cousin would beat the hell out of him. He looked proudly at his work, at the pair of boys crawling on the floor, unable to get up, and his gaze then went to Marianne and Samael. She was resting on a big rock with a dejected expression. Frank grimaced. There was still something else to do. He swelled his chest and approached.

“I think those two need a little help, wings. Maybe I was too rough and left them some bruising and possible brain damage,” Frank said, approaching with that overbearing attitude he used to give off.

“We’ll continue later,” Samael said before coming to the assistance of the two fallen in simulated combat.

Marianne stayed on the rock, watching Lilith generating fireballs and throwing one after another while Angie dodged them quickly, trying to touch any exposed part of her skin to then control her movements like a puppeteer. Frank stopped next to Marianne’s side, leaning on the nearest tree, and remained in silence for several seconds, after which he ended up lighting up a cigarette.

“Great, just what I needed to crown my day,” Marianne grumbled without even turning around. He huffed and threw the cigar to the ground, putting it out with a stomp.

“If it upsets you so much, just say it.”

“Sure, like you give a damn of what any of us say or think, anyway.”

Frank snorted once again and clicked his tongue to suppress a retort. Then he pressed his mouth, trying to let out what he wanted to say.

“I guess you’re already informed of what I did and how it ended up affecting you . . . ”

“You mean the way you sold me to Hollow on the remote possibility of retrieving Lucianne’s gift?” Marianne spat reproachfully. “And who was talking yesterday about naïve people?”

“I know that this is already pointless by now, but I’m really sorry, I . . . when it comes to Lucianne I just lose common sense,” he justified, as if it were too hard for him to formulate an apology. “If it’s worth it . . . after that, I set out to follow you around behind your back in case he tried to attack you . . . but in the end the only time I lost track of you was right when it happened.”

“So, it was you after all,” she said, recalling all the times she felt she was being watched.

“I’m not trying to justify or excuse myself. I know what I did was wrong and I was also well aware of it when I was doing it. I don’t expect you to forgive me . . . I just wanted to tell you that I’m truly sorry . . . and from now on I’ll back you up, no matter if you hate me even more than before. Consider me something like your prosthetic power, okay?”

Marianne gave him an incredulous look, raising an eyebrow to show how ridiculous it sounded, but he remained serious and stared straight forward, as if unwilling to repeat his words or even admit he just said them, so she ended up huffing a laugh.

“Well, you can do whatever you want, after all we all hate you, don’t we? You have nothing to lose,” she retorted, standing up and shaking herself off to walk away.

Although it seemed like a rejection, Frank realized she was actually giving him permission to ‘cover her back’, just like he put it. Anything to make amends.

Finally, the practice of the day ended and they all went back home. While Marianne was preparing for bed, she couldn’t help but look out the window, wondering when they would see Demian again.

As the lights went off and the room was submerged in darkness and silence, a static figure standing on the neighboring roof looked directly at her window.

Ende recognized his next target. She had been easy to locate. With a grim smile, he disappeared in the middle of a smoke curtain.

All furniture, paintings and decorative objects in the house had been moved out from their place, so it looked like someone was barely moving in. Demian was carefully analyzing the bare walls as if searching for a hollow portion, a secret compartment where something could be hidden, even though he had no idea what he was looking for. Each room was already upside down, but he hadn’t found anything that caught his attention. He was starting to lose patience.

“You’re still here, master,” Ende said, following his trajectory along the floor, knocking with his knuckles.

“And you’re still spying on me,” Demian replied with a warning glare. The demon stirred in his place and tried to overlook it.

“If you tell me what you’re looking for, I could help you find it to end this at once and go back to the Legion of Darkness.”

“It doesn’t concern you. I don’t need your help.”

“Do you even know what you’re looking for?”

Demian didn’t answer and kept going from the floor to the wall again, and then drew his attention to the couches. He hesitated for a moment, but still went for them and began tearing out the pads and the linings, taking the filling out of them and dropping it to the floor. “Seriously, master, I can save you a lot of time if you let me help you.”

“I told you I don’t need or want your help! I don’t even know why you’re here. I ordered you to come only when it’s important, otherwise I don’t even want to see you, got it?” Demian spat, trying to continue his task.

“In fact, it is, master, I’m not here just to babysit you,” the demon snapped and Demian struck him down with a glare, but before he could say anything, Ende kept continued. “I’m here to let you know your father wants to see you.”

Demian’s face instantly froze and he dropped a half-torn cushion. His expression was a mixture of surprise and distraught, keeping him quiet for several seconds until he finally straightened and regained control over himself.

“Let’s go, then,” he said, trying to sound firm. The black coating covered him and his skin lost its color. Once he took his demon form, they both disappeared.

Back in the Legion of Darkness, Ende began to lead him through those cavernous tunnels, while Demian followed him without even flinching. His expression didn’t give his thoughts away, though anxiety was hitting his chest so hard it threatened to come out. They reached a huge portal several feet in both width and height, guarded by a pair of demons that looked like they were made of stone, the same that formed the labyrinthine catacombs. They squared off as they saw them coming and crossed two huge spears in front of the door to prevent them from entering.

“Step aside. The Master wants to see his son,” Ende announced, and both demons watched Demian wordlessly and got back to their initial position, allowing him to come in. The door opened heavily and nothing could be seen inside but darkness. Demian stepped forward and noticed Ende wasn’t following him. “I can’t go, master. It’s you he wants to see.” At that moment, another demon, just like the ones guarding, the entrance appeared before Demian and stopped, immersed in the same silence as the others, turning his back as if waiting for him to follow. “Go on. He will lead you.”

Demian didn’t answer, but did as he was told. He walked behind the stone demon as the door closed again in front of Ende, who immediately smiled at the opportunity he had ahead. Since his master would be busy, he could pay a visit to the human girl he seemed so fixated with.

After the intense weekend they had, going back to school was a return to the tedious routine, and although Marianne was constantly looking at the eleventh-grade hall and at the basketball guys in the auditorium, she didn’t see Demian anywhere. It definitely seemed to be another week without him showing up in class and the coffee shop, so she decided to go back home.

Once in her room, she opened her closet and pulled out Demian’s jacket, watching it for a second with some sort of longing. Then she checked the pockets and found some folded papers in one of them, exactly the documents he was looking for. Confirming this, she thought it was time to return both the jacket and the papers, so she seized the garment in her arms and walked out of there, without even stopping to explain where she was going.

She walked steadily, having again the feeling of being followed. She shook her head, imagining Frank trying to go unnoticed, determined to become her ‘prosthetic power’ or whatever he called it. She needed no bodyguard, but was willing to ignore his presence and play along just so he would focus on something.

Arriving at Demian’s house, she first glanced at the complete picture. The place looked exactly the same, though lifeless, like a stamp. She was about to ring the bell when suddenly the gate opened automatically.

She looked around, hoping to get a glimpse of Demian going out to receive her, but nothing happened, so she took a deep breath and went inside, walking up to the door, which was ajar. She was starting to have a bad feeling about this. She squeezed the jacket against her body and decided to come in. Her eyes settled, confused, on the torn and misplaced furniture. It was as if the place had been destroyed by an indoor tornado. She walked cautiously through the damage, trying to find a reason for the house to be like that. Was Demian the cause? She couldn’t be sure, but needed answers. She stood in the middle of the living room, staring at that chaos, when suddenly she heard a noise behind her. She turned quickly, but saw no one. She stayed there, looking carefully around until hearing movement on the opposite end.

“Hello?” she said, wondering if Demian was skulking around, but received no answer for at least a few more seconds until she heard another loud sound from the entrance. “Stop it, Frank! I know you’re the one who’s been following me! Playing the ninja guardian won’t fix anything!”

Silence. It couldn’t be Frank, and she was also beginning to doubt it was Demian. She started to consider her options and decided it was best to get out of there as soon as possible, but she had just taken a few steps towards the door when it slammed shut, as if a strong gust of wind had pushed it, except that there was no wind.

“Damn it,” Marianne murmured, aware that she had fallen into a trap.

Lucianne’s neighborhood was usually quiet and not so active during the day. There were no people on the street other than a few neighbors going or coming from work, and the guys took advantage of it each time they came to the house and scurried furtively towards the back. But they didn’t count on an elderly neighbor watching with curiosity while they suspiciously disappeared around the house, one after another at intervals of several minutes. At first, she had witnessed it from her kitchen window while making tea, later she had seen them getting out late at night when she went for a glass of water before bed.  It didn’t take her long to consider sharing her discovery with someone better suited to handle it, and that was how Officer Perry ended that day parking his car about two blocks away and heading stealthily towards the house, checking he had his gun at hand.

He looked sideways as he came near the house, and with a quick movement rounded it to get to the back. Since he had been taking care of Lucianne’s father during the time she was in camp, he still had a set of keys, which he used to open the kitchen door. It was quiet inside, as it was supposed to be in a temporarily empty house, but he still wanted to make sure, so he checked the rooms with extreme caution, his hand on his belt to take his gun out upon any eventuality. His search didn’t throw any results or found anything unusual, but still decided to call Lucianne to let her know he was checking her house. Suddenly he heard her ringtone coming from the basement. His hand tensed around the phone, and slowly approached the door. He was dreading what he might find down there, his mind already stressing while going down the stairs with the ringtone in the background, increasingly louder. He found the cellphone stuck between the steps of the staircase and when he bent over to pick it up, he stopped and looked at the bottom. A single bulb lighted up a circled area, and his eyes bulged at what he saw in there.

“Lucianne?” he said with a tremor in his voice, unable to believe his eyes.

Lucianne lifted her gaze with an indifferent gesture, but once recognizing him, she knew it was her chance. Her face softened and then contorted in an anguished wince.

“Perry! Thank God you’re here! You have to get me out!”

The officer stared at her, motionless for several seconds, too shocked to react. She didn’t seem tied up or locked in anyway and yet didn’t move from where she was. Perhaps she had been disabled somehow.

“I . . . I thought you were back to your boarding school . . . Who . . . who did this?”

“It was Frank! He went mad and said he wouldn’t allow me to leave and locked me up! Please, you have to get me out of here before he comes back!” she cried with fake desperation. He finally snapped out of his initial stupor and went down, almost jumping the rest of the steps, running towards her and bumping into a barrier.

“What is this? Is it some kind of reinforced glass?” he asked, hitting the dome as hard as he could, but failing to make a single scratch to it, even his attempts to push it through the floor —assuming it was a piece of glass— were fruitless. Exhausted, he rested on the same barrier to think of a solution.

“Quick! He’ll be here soon!” she pleaded, even shedding tears.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of here even if it’s the last thing I do,” Perry said, stepping away from the dome and drawing out his gun, aiming at it. “Get down!”

Lucianne did as he asked in her best damsel in distress performance. He closed one eye, trying to keep the gun steady, given the level of stress he was under at the time, and then the door opened. Frank appeared on the stairs, stopping dead on his tracks, baffled.

“What the . . . ?”

Officer Perry reacted quickly, pointing the gun at him.

“Don’t move! Lucianne told me everything and you can be sure I won’t make the mistake of letting you go again!” he shouted, his hand trembling with rage.

Frank slowly raised his hands while Lucianne watched, waiting for something to happen, for one of them to lash out at the other, but since it wasn’t happening, she decided to try again with her acting skills. She suddenly hunched forward, clasping her body with a pained expression and started screaming as if suffering the worst torture possible. Both guys turned to her. Franktick made the attempt to go down, but the young officer quickly aimed at him again.

“Stop! Stay where you are, don’t get any closer!”

Lucianne stirred even more, making sure to sound as if she were in total agony, making both guys more anxious, thinking that there was really something wrong with her. Even if the officer still pointed at Frank, he couldn’t resist it anymore and rushed down the stairs to help Lucianne.

“Stop, I said! I told you no to come closer! . . . Stop now!”

Perry ended up pulling the trigger and the shot boomed thunderous through the house, shaking its foundations. The rest of the guys were already coming through the kitchen door when they heard the gunshot and stopped short, exchanging alarmed glances.

It took them a split second to react. They bolted to the basement and saw Frank holding the handrail at the bottom of the stairs, his hand covering his stomach. Officer Perry was at the other end, still holding the gun and looking flustered. Frank then stumbled and rested on the wall to keep from falling, watching them with a pale, baffled face. That was when they noticed the blood stain forming in his stomach.

“All of you . . . Were you also involved in this?” Perry asked, pointing now at them with his increasingly shaky pulse.

Samael glanced at the others and then made a move to the front, running down hastily as the officer shot again, but the bullets clashed against an invisible barrier until he ran out of ammo and Samael stopped in front of him, taking his head and knocking him unconscious while the others helped Frank.

While all of this was happening, Marianne struggled to open the main door at Demian’s house without success. She tried to bang it, to kick her way out of there, but it seemed completely sealed. Then she heard footsteps behind her. She turned slowly, trying to keep a cool head. Ende was coming down the stairs with an intimidating smile. There was no need to say anything, she could see his intentions in his eyes.

“Don’t worry,” the demon hissed, approaching with steady steps. “I promise you won’t feel anything . . . At least after a few seconds of agony.”

Marianne gritted her teeth and tightened her grip on the jacket, still in her hands. She waited a few seconds to have him closer and then acted as fast as she could, threw the garment at him, covering his face, and slipped away, but not before taking the coat rack in the corner and hitting the demon’s back to then jump up the stairs. She pushed open every door in her way to the balcony room, thinking that at least there she would have a way out despite the height. Once inside, she stopped, facing the door and panting with exhaustion, wondering how much longer she would have to wait for someone to help her, glancing over the balcony door.

“Marianne,” Samael whispered just after leaving Officer Perry unconscious, feeling she was in danger. He quickly turned to the others, trying to explain what was happening, but saw a huge puddle of blood already forming under Frank, as much as they were trying to stop the bleeding.

“Quick, you have to do something! He’s losing a lot of blood!” Lilith yelled, applying pressure against his stomach, and Samael suddenly felt divided, but since Frank’s eyes began to blur into a lost stare, he decided to act and close that wound immediately.

Meanwhile, Marianne started to consider facing the demon herself. She let out several breaths and finally motioned her right hand while staring at the door.

No, she couldn’t wait any longer for that demon to appear. She took the deepest breath to fill her lungs and let the armor cover her, while her sword emerged from her hand. She grasped it hard and after giving a final exhalation to gather courage, she got out of the room with resolution, wielding the sword ahead in case she ran into him. She went past every room she came across earlier until reaching the main stairs, and as she descended, her gaze was focused at the bottom where Demian’s jacket lay on the floor, but there was no trace of Ende. She went downstairs, watchful, expecting the demon to attack at any moment, and after sensing a presence behind her, she didn’t hesitate a second to turn around, ready to strike a blow with her sword, only to realize it was Samael.

“I came as soon as I could. Frank was seriously injured, I had to help,” he explained, well shielded behind his armor, and then his eyes ran over the place with curiosity, noticing the damaged furniture around. “What happened? And why are you here?”

“I’ll explain later! Let’s get the hell out of here!” Marianne yelled, relieved to see him and immediately taking his arm, both disappearing with a flash.

Not even ten seconds passed and Ende emerged very close, with a blend of surprise and thrill on his face.

Things had changed in seconds, and if he would have acted sooner, it would have ruined everything, and with good reason, after seeing that girl transforming into an Angel Warrior when he was about to attack her from behind. That meant he couldn’t kill her after all, that was his master’s job. He couldn’t help but smile at how he would react when he learned about that discovery. It was something he wanted to witness . . . and he would definitely not leave it on hold. With this new idea in mind, he disappeared, a cunning smile tattooed in his face.