The prom ended in disaster. Police, paramedics and firefighters attended the call to assist the wounded, gather information and count damages. Practically everybody, students and teachers, injured or not, were taken to the hospital, and their parents arrived in hordes worried and looking for their children. Marianne would have rather gone home on her own, but her father also went to pick her up.

She kept silent all the way back home, staring out the window while her father drove. Loui sat up and turned to her from the front seat.

“Did anyone die?” he asked with interest.

“Loui, I don’t think it’s the time to ask such questions to your sister.”

“But it’s all over the news! It must have been serious for so much coverage. It was because of those demons that have been terrorizing the city, right? They must be looking for some device to bring the end of the world upon us, like in the comics. Or maybe the chosen one to kill it! Did they go after someone specifically? Perhaps there’s a superhero among you sent from another galaxy to fight them.”

“Well, enough talk about demons, the end of the world and superheroes. Your sister must be tired, so stop questioning her,” Noah ordered and Loui sat down with folded arms. Marianne, however, didn’t avert her gaze from the window at any time, nor seemed to pay attention to anything they said. She could only think that Demian knew their identity now and what that would entail.

When she got to her room after taking a bath, Samael was sitting in his makeshift pillow bed.

“I know that look. You’re about to scold me. Go ahead, say it.”

“I don’t think I have the authority to scold you. I just worry about you.”

Marianne huffed and walked to her bed, rounding the area where he was sitting to then jump up onto the mattress.

“You said you would avoid what happened in the dream, then why were you on the dance floor with him? Did it ever occur to you that he could be the shadow?” Samael finally blurted out and she opened her eyes, giving a heavy sigh.

“And here we go. No, I honestly wasn’t thinking at the time. I didn’t even want to dance. The circumstances forced us to do so,” she said and Samael gave her a wary look. “What? I’m serious! I agreed just to keep him from losing his temper with Kristania. It wasn’t planned at all, besides . . . ” She remembered then what he had said. ‘I want to show you something’, and then the talk about his father being a monster and showing his hand with the closed wound . . . and the red blood eventually becoming black. “ . . . I think he wanted to reveal the truth about himself . . . that is, before he found out who I am. When he still thought I was normal.”

“Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know! He said something like . . . he wanted to do it before the person I knew was gone forever or something like that.”

“Maybe he was bidding farewell to his life as a human,” Samael guessed. “Perhaps that would be his last appearance with his human identity and he sought some kind of closure before his final transition to the Legion of Darkness.”

That was exactly what she was thinking, but hearing it from someone else somehow made it more difficult to accept.

“ . . . His blood was red. You saw it. When the windows exploded, he was wounded by one of the shards and his blood sprayed my face. And he possessed one of the original gifts . . . That has to mean something, right? Only humans have gifts . . . ”

“But we later saw his blood blackening. It’s camouflage. In human form he has to look as human as possible, and that includes the blood. And that gift was specifically created for him, as a brand to identify him. It’s not a natural gift like the rest.”

She kept quiet. Didn’t have any arguments left to refute him. She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling while Samael stood with his back against the bed.

“You understand that now that he knows who we are, we’ve become walking targets, right? We must be prepared for any surprise attack . . . and to respond.”

That meant they would have to fight back. That was why they had been training all this time in the woods. To fight against Demian at the slightest attack.

“ . . . There’s no hope for him, is it?” Marianne inquired glumly. “There’s no hope for a demon.”

“Get some rest. We have a lot to plan tomorrow,” Samael said after several seconds of silence and stayed awake for a couple more hours until sleep finally overcame him and he fell among the jumble of blankets.

That night he had his first dream. Normally, sleep was like closing and opening his eyes in a blink, but this time he found himself in an empty space, very similar to the time he was still inside Marianne’s mind, self-conscious but unable to discern anything around him, with the difference that now he was aware of himself, his hands, his feet, and the body he had gained after he plunged into the Earthly realm. He stepped forward, and despite the emptiness surrounding him, he could hear the thud of his footsteps. He had no idea where to go, though didn’t seem to matter, because there was nothing around. At least until he finally caught a glimpse of a figure in the background.

“Hello?” his voice resounded with an echo that seemed to fill the entire space. The figure didn’t move and he tried to reach it, but even if he kept going forward, the distance between them didn’t seem to shorten. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” The figure extended a stylized arm, pointing at him, and let out a whisper carried out by the wind. “What? I don’t . . . I don’t understand.”

The whisper went through the distance until reaching his ears. Like an ethereal voice right next to him, with a pair of arms gently resting on his shoulders and down to his chest, like someone hugging him.

«The thirteenth gift. »

Samael shivered at the light weight of those arms around him, and then woke up as though he were being thrown back to the ground, sitting bolt upright and looking around, panting with cold sweat. It was morning already and Marianne wasn’t in her bed. Worried, he stood up and walked across the room, finding a note in the desk. She had gone to the hospital with her family and that she’d be back soon. With a sigh, he loosened the hand holding the note.

Any precaution they had been taking lately no longer mattered to her after what happened at the prom. Well, then he’d have to act as the guardian he was and follow her closely even if she got angry. Time was running out, he could feel it. And according to how things were developing, and how attached the rest of them were to Demian despite everything, he had assumed the responsibility to end the threat. Marianne might not forgive him, but it was for the greater good. That was his mission, after all . . . Though the dream still haunted his mind even with its tricky nature. Why had he started to dream just now? Could it be a new way of receiving messages from the Superior realm? However, that didn’t explain anything, only left a doubt that now hovered over him like a dark cloud threatening to rain. Were dreams always so confusing? Unable to find any explanation for now, he decided to leave the note on the desk and get out.

The room was dark, with airtight windows and closed curtains. Sitting on the floor, next to the unmade bed, with objects thrown throughout the place, Demian stayed in his demon form with legs unfolded and his back against the wall, staring at a point at the opposite end. Among his colorless hands, he was flipping the medallion, keeping his unexpressive eyes fixed on his reflection in the closet door’s mirror, which now lay disengaged with a broken surface. The room looked like a whole scene out of a violent robbery, with broken furniture and holes running through the walls.

“Master, I see no reason why you’re still here.” Ende appeared in the middle of the room. “If you are to plan the final strike, you could do it in the Legion of Darkness.”

“No. If I do it, I would let too much time pass in here . . . and I don’t want to give them any more time than they already had,” he replied, unshaken.

Ende remained standing there, waiting patiently for instructions while Demian returned to that absorbed state, pressing the medal harder and staring at his own fragmented reflection.

“Find a place where we can gather everyone without any external intervention. Big and dangerous. Once inside they cannot escape.”

“I know just the right place,” the demon replied with a shifty smile. “I will check that everything is where is supposed to be and come back.”

“Do it,” Demian agreed, and once he was alone again, he stood up and walked to the broken mirror, stopping just inches away without taking his eyes from his reflection.

His face slowly began to build up tension until it broke down, his breathing even heavier when he finally loaded a fist on the glass in an impulsive fit of rage, smashing it to pieces. The shards embedded in his hand began to fall in seconds, like they were being pushed out by his own skin. The surge of anger didn’t seem to diminish though, so he closed his eyes and tried to regain control over himself. That was the moment he began to see it.

First it was a flash that lasted a fraction of a second, like looking through a night-shot view of some person lying on a bed, with cables coming out of it. It was so fast he didn’t even recognize it. He immediately opened his eyes and his face had gone from anger to bewilderment. What was that? It couldn’t be some random thing given his current circumstances, he was sure it would repeat, so he closed his eyes again and other flashes of different faces began to pass before them, like cut scenes from a film, juggling randomly on a screen in front of him. The difference was that he could finally recognize those faces, the one at the beginning was Lester, lying in a vegetative state. He also recognized Commissioner Fillian and Kristania, he saw Angie having breakfast on her own with an apathetic expression and then Marianne’s mother and Belgina, both in their hospital beds.

He quickly opened his eyes, finally knowing what that meant. He was watching the owners of the gifts he now possessed. Somehow, he was connected to them through these. He made a brief grimace. His father was also one of the owners, the last thing he wanted was to see his corpse one more time, although he supposed his connection with him no longer existed since his death, so he closed his eyes again. More scenes kept coming in front of him: Frank walking pensively down a street, Lilith sitting on a table in front of a little girl, and the scene changed again to Marianne’s mother, only now she was there too, by her bed, looking distracted. He stopped at her for a few seconds before the scene changed to Lucianne, twirling around as a caged lion in a small area he could identified as some sort of invisible wall. She was locked and couldn’t get out. He opened his eyes after the last sight and without thinking much about it, he disappeared and reappeared in the blink of an eye in the middle of Lucianne’s hallway, looking around to confirm he was really there. Then he walked steadily to the basement’s door and opened it, the interior was dimly lit by a lone bulb hanging from the ceiling. He cautiously walked down a few steps, anticipating what he would find there. The barrier that kept Lucianne locked up was at the bottom of the basement, and when she discovered his presence, she first looked puzzled, until she gradually seemed to realize who he was, and a smile curled her lips.

“Well, well. It’s true, then. You’re a demon.”

Demian squinted and stopped at the bottom of the stairs as she let out a laugh.

“What a huge coincidence! Of all the people in the world you could end up being involved with, it had to be us. The Angel Warriors.” Demian’s mouth tightened into a line to hear that. “What? Are you surprised to learn that I’m also one of them?”

“After what I saw yesterday, nothing surprises me anymore. It makes sense, actually. Now I understand a lot of things,” he replied with incredible ease.

“It’s funny, if you think about it,” she continued, smiling, not minding that he was there and could kill her easily. “We’re supposed to be enemies now, and yet knowing what you are, it does nothing but increase my sympathy for you.”

“Why are you locked?”

“My so-called friends did it,” she explained, leaning on the barrier and drawing shapes on it with her finger. “Apparently, if you don’t agree with their way of thinking, you’re automatically a danger to society . . . but who am I to tell you? You probably already know it from your own experience at this point, am I right?”

Demian didn’t answer, but continued staring at her skeptically.

“If you give it a thought, we both were somehow betrayed by them, so it would be the most natural thing to join forces, don’t you think? Get me out of here and I’ll help you with anything. I’ll do whatever you tell me to.”

“Do you know my mission is to kill the Angel Warriors? Therefore, that includes you.”

“I know,” she replied, drawing circles on the invisible wall with an innocent expression to then outline an insidious smile. “But you won’t. We have too much history together. You know me better than the rest as I know you. Our goal is the same right now: revenge. Why don’t we take advantage of that? We can reach an agreement. I promise not to betray you. Also, I can be useful, I know plenty of things about them that you maybe don’t.”

Demian seemed undecided for a moment. He looked at her, as if trying to remember something, until he finally approached her.

“Okay. You weren’t there after all.”

“Huh?” she huffed, but he was already in front of the dome, putting his hands over it, feeling a shock at first touch, and then leaving them settled.

“Whatever you do, don’t touch or come near the wall,” he warned and Lucianne moved away, crouching right in the middle of the dome.

Demian’s body tensed and his eyes went flashed as a dark energy poured out of his hands, covering the layer and causing small electrical bouts around, until it finally shattered like glass. Once she was free, Lucianne threw her head back and raised her arms, stretching out in a burst of euphoria.

“Finally! I’d been locked there for weeks!” She then turned her attention on Demian and approached, sliding her arms around his shoulders “You know? This whole thing of you being a demon makes you more interesting. Perhaps it means something that you found me here.”

She stood on her tiptoes and lifted her face to his as she spoke, trying to lure him with her hands, but he stopped her, and pulled away with a cold and expressionless stare. Lucianne rolled her eyes in annoyance and turned around.

“Or maybe not. And here I thought that being a demon would make you bolder.”

Demian made a motion with his hand and an invisible force pulled Lucianne, turning her around and sliding a chair to make her sit, facing him.

“I have a few rules if we’ll be working together,” he said with a dispassionated voice, leaning slightly towards her to look straight into her eyes. “I don’t want any trick or deceiving, no betrayals, and whatever you do . . . you can NOT kill the Angel Warriors. That privilege belongs to me. Understood?”

“There you are. The demon I was expecting to see in you, finally taking over control. I have to admit you look so sexy that way,” she said with a smirk, trying to touch his face, but he immediately stepped away.

“And I don’t want you to touch me. You’re still an Angel Warrior, after all,” he replied with a near disgusted gesture.

“Okay! I hereby promise not to touch you, not even with a wet noodle! Happy?” Lucianne snorted, raising her hands to indicate she wouldn’t do it.

“Stand up,” Demian ordered and she obeyed like it was all a game to her. “You need some extra power if you want to at least keep up with me. I don’t know if this hurts, but you’ll feel different.”

“I thought you said you didn’t want anything to do with me, how contradicting you are,” Lucianne said, raising an eyebrow with a smirk, but Demian remained unfazed and she ended up rolling her eyes again. “And so little sense of humor.”

“I’m not playing around. So, either you take this seriously or I’ll lock you up again.”

“Go ahead, ‘master’, do what you have to do then,” she said, standing straight. Demian’s eyes narrowed at the word, but he kept quiet and put his hands over her head.

A bath of dark energy fell on her, as if she were being exposed to gamma rays. Her eyes opened and an iridescent ring glowed around them. Soon, her laugh welled up, ending in a hysterical fit of laughter, her eyes glistening like a pair of solar eclipses.

Marianne was in her way out of the hospital after her round with the giftless patients. She was concerned that their bodies looked more haggard, and feared that the organic ‘shutdown’ would happen much earlier this time. Passing through the administrative area, she suddenly felt lightheaded and leaned on one of the glass doors. She then saw her reflection and noticed she was also starting to look gaunt. How she had managed to react without the gift anyway? How was it possible that she hadn’t thought about it since she had lost it? Samael told her they would talk about that later, but they didn’t really bring it up again with everything that happened and she hadn’t requested it, either. Whatever it was that made her wake, apparently was losing its effect on her and if it continued that way . . .

“Marianne.” She looked up and saw Samael approaching her, taking her arm to help her up. “Are you feeling okay?”

“What are you doing here? I told you I’d get back home soon. My father or Loui could see you here,” she said, standing upright and watching over her shoulder to check that none of them were around.

“We agreed I wouldn’t leave you alone. Besides . . . I need to talk to you.”

“That’s funny, because I was just thinking the same.”

“I had a dream,” he continued and Marianne looked at him, not understanding how that was important, but then remembered that he didn’t usually dream, and given the nature of his revelations every time he woke up, it meant that it had to be something related to their current situation.

“What did you dream of?”

Samael opened his mouth to answer, but a siren interrupted. It wasn’t even a minute when a couple of practitioners ran to the door to keep it open while the paramedics came in, wheeling a stretcher hastily in their direction. They quickly moved away so it could go through, allowing Marianne to see Kristania on that stretcher.

The mother ran behind it, and a few seconds later, Mitchell came in, pretty controlled in comparison. Noticing their presence, he made a slight nod and approached. No need to say a word about what they had just witnessed.

“I’m really sorry, even if it sounds weird coming from me,” Marianne said and he shook his head.

“It was expected, that’s how the owners of the gifts end up after all.” Marianne winced and Mitchell realized it also affected her in a more direct way. “I’m sorry. You know that sometimes I forget the tact.”

“We don’t have much time left. I’m also starting to feel the effects,” she replied, watching her hands, her veins were more visible with each passing day.

“I have a feeling that this will end sooner than we expect,” Samael said with a serious tone. Suddenly, an explosion in their ears and a sense of detachment put them on alert. They were taken aback for a moment, until it was Samael who understood what that meant. “ . . . The dome.”

They transported to Lucianne’s place and ran down the basement, finding both the dome and Lucianne gone.

“What happened here? Did she manage to break the wall?” Mitchell asked while Samael examined the place and Marianne walked down the empty space where the dome used to be, finding just a few marks left, like burns on the floor.

“No. She couldn’t have broken it without help from outside. This was someone else’s work,” he said as he ran his hand around the seared line in the wooden floor. “I detect an evil energy. Demian was here.”

Marianne bit her lip and avoided making any comment. Not even five seconds had passed when they heard heavy footsteps heading to the basement. Franktick suddenly burst in, going down the stairs as a hot rod.

“Where is Lucianne? What happened?” he asked, his breathing battered as he set a foot on the floor with a leap. “I was coming here when my ears just exploded and I felt that something was going on . . . Did Lucianne escape?”

“She was released,” Samael replied, standing up after touching the seared line. “Demian was here, he must have done it.”

Frank tightened his hands so hard his knuckles became white.

“That means he’s holding her prisoner somewhere . . . probably to provoke us,” he muttered with his jaw so tense that his muscles bulged in his face. He kicked the stool he used to sit on, and it crashed against some boxes in the background, which in turn fell down like in a rockslide. The others merely covered their ears at the noise, knowing it would be useless to try to calm him. “I’ll kill him! I swear I’ll kill him!”

“Yet we can’t be sure what he really did to her, she could be fine,” Mitchell supposed, with his hands ready to cover his ears again if he continued his angry outburst.

“Do you seriously think so?! Despite everything you still think that at the end of the day we’ll just meet, solve our differences and shake hands as if nothing had happened? You’re forgetting he’s a demon!” Frank shouted, raising his voice so loud that he seemed about to spit his trachea out.

“Well, if we’re at that, let me remind you—”

“No! Don’t bring up that bullshit that I was about to be one of them because it’s not the same! I was manipulated, he carries it in his blood!” Frank kept going with his verbosity while the others stayed in silence, leaving him to rant and vent all he needed. “You all know this will end in death, right? And if we want to recover what belongs to us, it would be best for all of us that he’s the one who dies!”

Marianne’s features contorted and opened her mouth without really knowing what to say, but Samael went ahead.

“We know it,” he stated and Marianne gave him a bemused look. “And you’re right. He must die.”

“ . . . At least someone agrees with me,” Frank said, unable to keep his surprise that it was precisely Samael who supported him. “You should listen to him, after all, he knows better than anyone, isn’t that what you always tell me?”

Marianne couldn’t listen anymore, she just made her way through them and out of the basement in silence

“Inform the others we’ll meet here in two hours. We must trace a plan, because I don’t think it will take past this night without hearing from him. I’m sure he will appear soon,” Samael said to then follow Marianne, reaching her out of the house. “Marianne, wait, we need to talk.”

“You had already decided, right?” she reproached him. “The next time Demian appeared, you would carry out your plan to kill him without first discussing it with us. Just because Frank thinks the same, you decided to talk.”

“I don’t know how many times I must repeat he’s dangerous.”

“I’m sure there must be some other way that doesn’t include someone’s death just because his blood is ‘evil’!” she insisted, coming to a sudden stop and turning with a swift motion, but once she did, everything around her began to spin and she felt something pressing inside her, like a ghost hand squeezing her heart. Samael stopped her from falling and she tried to focus her gaze and regain balance.

“How long have you been like this?” Samael asked.

“It started today . . . I don’t have much time left, right? I could only hold on for two weeks . . . why?”

“Perhaps I’m part to blame,” Samael confessed, disgruntled. “When I saw this guy leaning on you, I thought he was trying to hurt you and I chased him. But when you reacted, I knew then that he was the cause . . . and I interrupted him. If I hadn’t, perhaps he would’ve completed the process properly . . . ”

“Wait! What are you talking about? What guy?”

“The gray hooded guy you mentioned. He was the one who made you react despite having lost your gift. I don’t know where he came from or where he went, he just . . . vanished.”

Marianne looked at the floor, trying to remember that day, but it was impossible, and the mention of the gray hooded guy disoriented her.

“That’s why I have to do it, okay?” he continued. “I know most of you are close to him, so I decided to take the responsibility to finish him up so you can recover your gifts and keep on living. With Frank’s help we might have a better chance.”

“Why is it that only with his death we can get our gifts back? Isn’t there any other way?” she asked, feeling sick just to think about it, but given her circumstances it was probably just her body struggling not to get into crisis.

“There was something in my dream,” he replied with a thoughtful expression. “There was a silhouette in the distance. But didn’t say anything . . . it just whispered something about a thirteenth gift.”

“A thirteenth gift? But you never talked about one, not even those demons. They were searching for twelve, isn’t right? That’s what we focused on.”

“I know. That’s why it doesn’t make any sense to me. The gifts are complete, and had served their purpose already, I don’t know what the inclusion of a thirteenth gift would change in the equation.”

“Unless . . . ” she started, feeling a slight spur of hope, “at the moment when all the gifts joined, they formed one that now belongs to him, maybe that’s the thirteenth gift. If we get it, we may recover the rest, and his gift may return to him without having to kill him.”

Samael looked at her for a moment, squinting with an inquiring expression.

“What’s that feeling you get every time you talk about him?”

“Huh? W-What do you mean?” she asked, suddenly getting nervous.

“I don’t know. That’s why I ask. Whenever you talk about him I suddenly detect a change of mood in you, but it’s always different, so I still don’t get why that is.”

“It’s nothing! And it doesn’t matter, either! So just forget about it and let’s focus on what really matters!” she snapped with a sense of urgency.

“It’s important because it depends on it if you’ll be able to face him. Your reaction to him is unpredictable and might be dangerous when the time comes . . . Not only for yourself but also for the others.”

Marianne looked incredulously at him, understanding what he was implying, that she was so stubborn, she could endanger the lives of others.

His distrust hurt her. She took a breath and looked away.

“Take me home.”

“I’m not trying to hurt you, you know very well that the only thing I care is your wellbeing and the others.”

“Take. Me. Home,” she repeated, remarking every word. Samael sighed, knowing she would stick to that stance for a while. He took her shoulder and both disappeared in a flash. When Marianne got home, her family was already there, but her father was on her way out again. “What’s going on?”

“I’ve got a call from the hospital, there was a problem, apparently.”

“Mom again?” she asked, feeling her stomach revolting.

“No, but they said a person stormed in and took someone from the same area where she is. One of your friends in coma, I’m afraid,” her father explained, taking his keys and his coat again to get out of there.

“Belgina?” she asked, feeling now her legs turning to jelly, understanding where all of that was heading to.

“I think so. Anyway, they fear they would come back for someone else so they have doubled the security, but still I’m going to check on her,” he answered, going through the door and Marianne stopped him before closing.

“Did they describe the intruder?” She could hear her heartbeat pounding in her ears, but still tried to focus on her father’s voice, attentive to his response.

“I heard something about the resemblance he had to the ones the police were looking for recently, but I’m not sure how to take that.”

Marianne didn’t know either. It could be Demian or the other demon, but one thing was for sure: they were being hunted. First Lucianne’s disappearance, now Belgina, there was no other explanation. An acid sensation went down her throat in an attempt to get the words out.

“I want to go with you. To the hospital.”

“No,” he said with a surprisingly firm and steady tone. It seemed that he was finally finding his fatherly voice. “You’ll stay here with your brother. After what happened yesterday I don’t want you to be exposed to any other danger.”

Marianne wanted to protest, but her father was already closing the door behind him, so she could only give a stomp of frustration on the floor.

“If you plan to go out despite what dad said, go ahead, let me just remind you that I’m watching everything and could rat you out when he comes back,” Loui said from the living room, the TV on and a bowl of popcorn in front of him. She just grumbled and ran up to her room. Samael was already there.

“Did you hear?” He nodded scarcely. “We can’t stay here then, let’s go back to the hospital.”

“It’s pointless. His target was Belgina, and now he’s got her. He won’t be back for the rest of the gift owners, they’re not useful to him. Only those who are Angel Warriors.”

“So, what do we do?”

“We have to gather everyone,” he said, trying to keep a cool head when an electric disturbance began to form in front of them. Samael stepped in front of Marianne to protect her, but the only thing that went out was a piece of paper that dropped to their feet, and then the disruption disintegrated in the air the same way it had started.

They exchanged confused looks and set their eyes on that piece of paper lying at their feet. Samael picked it up with some caution and Marianne looked over his shoulder to see what it was. It just had an address on it.

“Is that what I think it means?” Marianne said and Samael nodded.

“It’s telling us the place he wants to face us.”

“I know where it is. It’s the abandoned building where Frank was attacked.”

“Good. I know how to get there.”

“Why does it sound to me like I’m not even included in that action?” she asked, scowling, and Samael heaved a sigh, turning to her with an expression she could read pretty well, it was the same from her father whenever he had to deny her something.

“You don’t have your power, Marianne. You’re particularly vulnerable in this situation.”

“No, don’t you say that now! You said yourself that I didn’t need my power to fight! I have my sword, remember? I’ve been training all this time!”

“The thing is whether you’ll be able to use it against him,” Samael replied, leaving her livid. “Don’t misunderstand me, I trust your ability, but the reality is that . . . without a power you can hardly do anything to help, it just makes you an easy target. I can’t allow you to risk yourself that way, I must protect you first and foremost.”

“ . . . You had already decided, right? From the moment I lost my powers, you knew I wouldn’t fight in the end, you just made me believe I could still be useful.”

“I’m really sorry,” as he said this, he stretched his hand forward, drawing an outline around her. She reached out and felt her hand hitting something solid and transparent as glass. She gave him a disappointed look. He had locked her inside a barrier, just like Lucianne.

“You can’t leave me locked in here.”

“I’m doing it to protect you,” he replied, stepping back from the wall and then disappearing, leaving her lashing out against the barrier with frustration. She couldn’t believe it. And the worst thing was that she couldn’t do anything.

“You can’t do this to me! You can’t! Come back right now and get me out of here!” she yelled, hitting the wall with all her might, even ramming against it with her own body, but it only got her hurt, so she ended up letting out an impotent scream that almost tore up her throat.

“Are you done?” Marianne turned around and saw Loui leaning on the doorframe, holding something in his hand. “You’re so noisy, and then you complain that I’m curious enough to investigate.”

“Loui, what . . . ?”

“Let’s see if you stop underestimating me after this. The cavalry has arrived,” he said lifting the object in his hand and holding it up. It was a metal lever.

Ende appeared in the middle of a big area from the top floor of that old building, arranged to be their meeting point. Remains of what once may have been cubicles and office’s items were scattered across the floor, among accumulated dirt and dust from years of neglect. Right at the back, Demian had found a rickety couch on which he sat and waited with a mix of anxiety and patience, like his own throne.

“Mission accomplished, master. The ‘invitations’ were correctly received.”

“Good. Now we’ll just have to wait,” he replied in a toneless voice, devoid of emotion.

“I know you couldn’t care less about what I think of your methods, master, which is fine, as long as you do it, I’m satisfied,” Ende added while Demian kept his back against the couch in a straight posture, almost imitating his father. “But I’d be lying if I said I’m not worried that you’re keeping an Angel Warrior as an ally. They’re all supposed to die.”

“Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing. Now go make sure everyone comes. Not a single one of them must miss it,” he finished, not moving nor showing any alteration in his face. Ende pressed his nonexistent lips and merely made a slight bow, backing away with a black smoke swirl. Demian remained in the same position, with glowering eyes and a thirst for destruction. Suddenly a smile crossed his so far inexpressive face. “They’re here.”

Outside the building, Frank and Mitchell came running and found that the others had already arrived and were staring at the top of the building.

“I guess you also received the memo,” Franktick saidd, short of breath. The others nodded with the same somber expressions, knowing that perhaps it would be the last fight they would ever have. “Where’s grumpy?”

“I left her at home,” Samael replied without averting his gaze. “As I said I would.”

Frank nodded in a prior agreement and looked up like them.

“Has there been any movement?”

“No, but he’s in there, I can feel it,” Samael said, after which they all looked at each other. Angie was very pale and haggard, and Mankee looked terrified, Lilith was beginning to lose color in her face and Frank seemed too hectic. Mitchell couldn’t hide the anxiety he felt either, but they all had attended. They were in it together.

“It’s time, then. Let’s finish with this at once,” said Frank, snapping his fingers and neck, entering the building followed by the others. He knew the place better than anyone.

“Where to go now?” Mitchell asked once inside, seeing the space that must have been a reception once. Frank was about to take the path to the stairs when they heard the sound of the elevator opening as an invitation to enter.

“I think the message is clear. Let’s go,” Frank motioned with his head to follow him, and as soon as they set foot on the elevator, it closed and started the soft rise to the top. All of them remained silent, tension weighing on them as they were reaching the last floor.

“Any idea of what we will do when we’re in front of him?” Mankee asked, trying to hold his voice steady.

“Pray? Any god you want to entrust yourself with?” Lilith said, with folded arms to keep them from trembling. They were all extremely nervous, but still determined to not back off.

The elevator stopped and the door opened to a dark outlook, in contrast to the light inside the elevator. They stood there for a moment, gathering the courage to move forward until Samael took the first step and the others followed suit. They walked almost in the dark until their sight began to adjust to the natural light filtering through some cracks from the broken windows and ceiling.

“You finally appeared.”

Their bodies tensed at the sound of that voice and they looked around, discovering a figure in the back. A few lamps began to light up throughout the place and remained flickering, casting shadows on the already intimidating posture Demian had taken, sitting on that couch, his back hunching forward, hands clasped on the armrests and a cold gaze fixed on them. There was nothing in him that looked like the boy they used to know.

Demian swept them with his gaze, one by one, analytically, and when he got to the last one, ran his eyes through them again as if looking for something.

“She’s not here and won’t come either,” Samael said, knowing he was looking for Marianne. Demian gave him a stern look as if to shush him.

“We’ll see about that,” he said with that contained tone that seemed to suppress his desire to end it all at once. Then he stood up with his head held high, looking down at them, like somebody watching ants. He could easily and painlessly crush them or extend their agony with a magnifying glass to expose them to the sun. He had chosen the magnifier. “I guess you should know by now you’re not leaving until either you or I are dead, and I don’t intend to die.”

“Funny, because neither do we, so there’s a problem with your prediction given how we’re here to kill you and stuff,” Frank said with his usual confrontational attitude and Demian let out a laugh so unlike him, at least not like he used to be.

He then moved towards Frank unexpectedly fast and gut punched him, taking all of his breath, forcing him to bend on his knees. Before they could react, he had already returned to the same position in front of the couch.

“That was just a small sample of what I can and WILL do, so you better save your witty remarks if you don’t want to make it worse.”

“Are you okay?” Lilith asked as she helped Franktick to his feet.

“It was nothing. I’ve had it worse,” he assured with his hands on his stomach and a pained but furious expression at the same time.

“Why are you doing this?” Mitchell asked, finally deciding to speak up, giving a step to the front. “We were supposed to be friends! This shouldn’t have to change just because one day you found out that your father is like the dark lord of evil . . . or something like that.”

“Friends?” Demian’s shadowed eyes rested on him. “You were never my friends.”

One second he was in front of them and at the other he was beside Mitchell. With his forearm he threw a jab to his face, sending him to the floor and then kicked him in his ribs, making him roll on himself until he got to Mankee’s feet, who was too frightened to react. Demian raised his hand in a fist, ready to lash out again, but Samael intervened, stopping his hand and offering his fiercest glare. Demian’s eyes narrowed and the muscles on his face clenched, but then his lips curled to one side in a half smirk and pulled back, returning to his same spot while Lilith and Mankee now helped Mitchell up.

“Let me set the rules. From this moment on we’ll fight to death. If you don’t kill me, I’ll kill you, so I suggest you take this more seriously, because I won’t have any consideration. I’ll fight with all my strength so I don’t expect any less of you . . . And I have prepared something special for the girls.” Angie and Lilith looked confused at each other, wondering if that meant he wouldn’t kill them, but he immediately made a gesture with his hand to indicate he wasn’t over yet. “That, however, doesn’t mean I’ll let you live. You’ll also die at the end, that’s part of the rules . . . but just as I said, I made some special arrangements for you.”

As he said this, a figure began to advance from the shadows with a cadence they all seemed to know very well. Frank stepped forward, feeling a twinge inside as the figure approached to the lit-up part of the place, and when it finally came to light, there was such a silence that seemed like the entire oxygen had been sucked out the room.

“Lucianne,” Frank muttered with a raspy voice, his throat closed. She smiled with an evil expression that made their skin crawl. No doubt she was there by choice and not by imposition. How could they react to that?

“What are you doing? You’re going to destroy the floor!” Marianne protested while Loui tried to force the floorboards right at the point where the wall was delimited.

“I’m trying to get you out! Got a better idea?” he retorted, inserting the end of the lever between the spaces of the wood to lift it. She decided to keep quiet and let him continue. “Seriously, I can’t wait for the explanation you’re going to give after this, you can get very clever under pressure.”

“I don’t think I can explain or justify this situation at all . . . ”

“Try some more of the stories about your illusionist ghost friend, they’re the most creative. Maybe about how he’s the Holy Spirit or something like that.” Marianne looked cautiously at him, wondering how much he actually knew by now. The floorboards began to give in by then. “Ah, good, seems that I could after all!” He lifted one of the boards with the lever and checked that the barrier didn’t pass through the floor. “It’s only superficial, if we were on the ground level, we could dig a hole to breakthrough, but I think the thickness won’t allow it here.”

“Why not? Just remove some boards, maybe we can lift the barrier with the same lever.” Loui did what she said, but when they tried to lift the edge of the wall, they saw it was impossible to move, as much effort as they put into it. “Now what, genius?”

“If I remove more boards, the only thing we’ll get is that you’ll fall to the first floor still inside the thing you’re locked in . . . However, if the hole was made from the inside, you could maybe escape.”

“How do you expect me to make a hole from here? With my nails?” she asked, feeling exhausted, but then remembered her sword. The problem was that if Loui saw it emerging from her hand, she would be exposing herself, and she still wanted to keep some things hidden from him, despite the exceptional circumstances. “I have an idea . . . Could you turn around?”

“Oh, come on. Do you think at this point it is still important to hide it from me?”

“Probably not, but I prefer to keep some things in control,” she snapped, starting to twist her hand. Loui rolled his eyes and decided to please her by turning his back to her. The sword came out of her hand until she was holding the handle between her fingers. “Ok, let’s see if it works.”

The kid turned around again and watched carefully how she brandished her sword and stabbed the wooden floor with it, getting easily through it.

“Cool!” Loui said awe-struck.

“Good. This will be easy. I just need to make a hole big enough for me to go through it,” she said, more likely to cheer herself.

She wielded the sword again and made the necessary cuts without realizing that a disturbance was forming at the other end of the room.

“Marianne . . . ” Loui pointed behind her and she turned around, discovering Ende watching the scene curiously.

“Seems that we have a little situation here,” the demon expressed with a strangely amused voice. “My master expects all of you to appear before him without any exception and it’s my job to see that his instructions are fulfilled . . . yet he said nothing about everyone getting there unharmed.”

The smile he flashed next was enough for Marianne to understand his intentions. She opened her eyes wider and was quick to drop to the floor, warning Loui at the same time.

“Run! Get out of here!”

Then she heard a blast followed by a glass explosion. The noise and the smoke cloud caused by it began to dissipate and when she turned, she noticed Ende was gone. She stood up and felt a sharp pain in her shoulder. She had been wounded, but at least the layer had disappeared. She hated to think about it, but that demon had made her a great favor that she wouldn’t give back in any way despite her philosophy of balance and not owing anything to anyone.

She heard Loui’s cries then. She tried to clear the smoke with her hand and followed the sound of his voice and coughs.

“Loui! Where are you?”

She finally managed to see his silhouette in the floor through the smoke. She leaned forward, and as the smoke cleared, she realized his leg was injured. A huge hole went through his calf, possibly from the ray Ende had shot, and the boy writhed in pain. She quickly helped him up and made him sit on the bed to check his wound.

“It doesn’t look good. Wait here, I’ll go get the first aid kit.”

“Forget about it and go now wherever you need to go!” Loui said, beckoning her to leave. “I’ll stay here bleeding on your bed to remind you what I’ve done so you start trusting me a little more.”

“Are you kidding?”

Loui smiled despite the pain and stopped covering his calf.

“This is my war wound and after this, you won’t be able to keep treating me like a child you have to keep out. Stop wasting time, I’ll be fine here. I know how to make a tourniquet. Now go over there and kick some demons’ ass!”

Marianne looked surprised at him. This was a clear indication of how much he knew after all and what he had been pretending all this time around. But there was no time to stop and ask questions, she just nodded at his words and also gave him a grateful smile to then absorb her sword and run out of there.

“What does this mean, Lucianne? Are you on their side?” Lilith asked.

“And you expected me to be on yours after what you did to me?” she replied with a mischievous smile, placing her hands on her waist.

“Didn’t you hear what he said? He’s intending to kill us all, that includes you!”

“I’m an exception. You wouldn’t understand, you don’t share our kind of connection,” Lucianne said, still smiling. Even though Frank remained silent and motionless, he noticed her eyes glowed with a halo around the iris.

“She has evil energy . . . He’s controlling her with evil energy!” he suddenly pointed at Demian in an enraged gesture.

“He’s right, I can feel an outbreak of demonic energy coming from her, but I don’t think that has to do with her acting,” Samael said, but that didn’t stop Frank from running towards Demian in a fit of anger. He directed his fist right to his face and he stopped him with just one hand, unflinching. A smirk crossed Demian’s face as he pressed his fist harder and harder, while Frank tried to withstand the pressure, clenching his teeth and keeping his arm stiff. If his intention was to crush his hand, he wouldn’t give him the pleasure of cowering or leaning back, and despite the extreme effort, he also smiled, showing his teeth.

“I’m left-handed!” As soon as Frank said this, his left fist struck a blunt blow to the jaw, forcing Demian to let go and back off a few steps.

He took a hand to his cheek in confusion, and after running it through his mouth, he noticed the trace of blood that stained his fingers, a dark substance. Frank was ready to receive any kind of retaliation, but all Demian did was laugh and, with a flick of the hand, sent him back to where the others were.

“Well . . . Apparently you’re already motivated to start, so let’s not postpone this anymore,” Demian said after wiping the blood from his mouth. “Just one last thing . . . I want you all to transform.”

“Why? You already know who we are.”

“I’d rather fight with you as Angel Warriors than to attack you as vulnerable humans. I may be a demon, but I have a code,” he said, though his answer seemed not entirely convincing. But he was right about one thing, at least if they transformed, their armor would be extra protection, so they ended up doing what he asked for: the armor covered their bodies, leaving only their bare faces. “Your full suits. That includes the helmet.”

They didn’ understand his insistence, but still did as he asked. Demian kept his cold smile while they did it.

“You know what to do,” he said, beckoning Lucianne. “But remember, you can’t kill them for any reason, just leave them out of action.”

“I understood perfectly the first time,” she replied, stretching her arms so her armor also began to cover her. It was dark now. Angie and Lilith looked at each other, aware that she would go after them now.

“Whatever you do, don’t hurt her! Remember she’s not being herself!” Frank yelled from his spot.

“Who do you think we are?” Lilith said right when Lucianne dashed in front of them and pushed them to the opposite end, crashing into one of the concrete walls, the whole place echoing along.

Frank made a gesture to follow them, but Demian blocked him and pushed him back with the others.

“Don’t even try. Your fight is with me, here and now,” he said, walking in front of them and looking right into their eyes. “The only thing left to decide is whether you’ll do it all at once or one by one.”

“I don’t need anyone’s help to finish you!” Frank said, snapping his fingers and moving a few steps forward, but Samael raised an arm in front to stop him. “What are you doing?”

“We’ll fight one by one. I think that’s just fair,” Samael announced.

“Fine. You decide then who goes first,” Demian granted indifferently. Samael pulled the guys to the back and made a circle with them.

“What are you doing? We’ve already settled to fight one by one, now just let me go and kick his ass,” Franktick insisted, eager to begin.

“No, you have to wait. Out of the four of us, you and I are the only ones who are determined to get rid of him, we should be the last.”

“A-Are you saying that Mitchell or I will be first?” Mankee sounded as if he were being strangled.

“I get it, you need him to waste energy since the start to wear him out, that’s your strategy?” Mitchell asked and at Samael’s nod he gave a sigh. “Well . . . I guess I can try.”

“Have you decided?” Demian was waiting with folded arms and bored expression, so Mitchell finally stepped forward.

“I’ll be first.”

“Ah, my self-proclaimed best friend,” Demian said with a note of grace in his voice while Mitchell looked tense. “I’d wish you luck, but it would be useless.”

After saying this, he went right towards him, took him by the shoulders and threw him to the side wall. Mitchell didn’t even have time to sit up when Demian lifted him again to hurl him down towards the opposite end.

“Fight back, you idiot! Remember our training!” Frank shouted, resisting the urge to go and defend him.

“Mitchell, focus,” Samael muttered just as attentive to the fight.

“Your teammates are right. Why don’t you fight back? Throw a punch, do something!” Demian claimed, grabbing him by the neck and lifting him off the ground.

“As much as I try I can’t find a reason to fight someone I considered my friend,” Mitchell said and a furious grin formed on Demian’s face, who dropped him to the ground and turned away, moving towards the couch he had been sitting on when they had arrived.

“Having to put up with those human feelings can be a real pain. One of the advantages of finding out I’m a demon is that I don’t have to worry anymore about what others think. I can do anything without remorse,” he continued, going behind the couch and leaning to lift something. “Need some motivation? I’ll give you one then.” When he straightened again, he was carrying a motionless body. Mitchell paled as he realized it was Belgina. “It would be easy for me just to kill her right now. After all it’s just a lump of flesh without consciousness. I would be doing her a favor, don’t you think? She will be the first Angel Warrior to die.”

Mitchell seemed unable to speak or respond at Belgina’s sight. Demian dropped her body to the floor without any regard and proceeded to shoot a dark beam through her shoulder. It started bleeding profusely and the skin around the wound seemed gnawed, as if he had thrown acid to her.

“Stop!” Mitchell rose to his feet and ran towards Demian, who seemed pleased that his tactic had worked. The boy rushed directly over him, throwing desperate punches without getting any real damage on Demian, who simply pushed him with a taunting smile, and then raised his fingertip, shining again with a black halo, pointing back to Belgina.

“Need a little extra motivation?” he repeated, shooting another dark beam and Mitchell threw himself unthinkingly in the middle, his hands upfront and the beam was reflected by the neutral shield he had rose, ricocheting back at Demian, wounding his face after being unable to dodge it. Samael took the chance to get Belgina while Mitchell came back on the attack.

“Are you sure about this? That bastard doesn’t seem to get tired, but Mitchell . . . ” Frank said while he and Mankee helped the angel move Belgina’s body away from the fight.

“He must have a limit and we’ll find it,” Samael answered and then they heard the girls’ screams in the distance. “We must stop Lucianne.”

Frank stood up and turned to the back of the room, where he could barely glimpse a silhouette constantly moving.

“She has demonic energy in her, you said it yourself, it’s like when I was controlled by Hollow. That’s why she must be stronger than before . . . That power is like a drug. It makes you feel beyond your own capabilities, out of yourself. We have to release her from its control,” Frank said, trying to locate who was who from the respective silhouettes he saw in the distance. “And you’re gonna do that.”

“What? Me?” Mankee asked, realizing he was talking to him.

“You released me the last time, you have to do the same for her. And yes, I know that I forced you to try before, but it’s different now, she really needs it this time. You have to try at least.”

Mankee swallowed hard and looked at the bottom, where another type of fierce fight was taking place.

Lucianne had dug her nails into Lilith’s arms, breaking through her armor, and watched amused how she screamed whenever she dug even deeper. Angie had been knocked out, but as she was regaining consciousness, she tried to stand up and approached her as quietly as possible.

“How does it feel? Huh? This is just a small revenge for locking me up,” Lucianne spat the words while applying more pressure to her claws, pinning her against the wall and ignoring Lilith’s cries, but also unaware of Angie sneaking behind her, staggering. “And you know what? I’m thinking that maybe I’ll find it a bit difficult to obey the order not to kill you . . . After all, accidents happen all the time.”

A wry smile formed in her face and took one of her hands out of Lilith’s arm, which fell limp to her side. She aimed at her head and the tip of her finger began to glow.

“Let’s see if I can get through that hard helmet and then through that hard head of yours.”

Angie jumped over her back, forcing her to deflect her shot and release Lilith, who tried to stand with both arms hanging at her sides. Lucianne shook off, but Angie got to touch her face before falling to the ground.

“What were you trying to do? If you want me to kill you first, then I’ll gladly do it!” She stepped up, pointing at her with a firm hand, but her arms immediately performed a rough motion sideways, horizontal to her body, the same position Angie had adopted at that very moment. She slowly began to get up with trembling limbs, as if she couldn’t hold up or even keep her arms extended in that position for any longer while Lucianne struggled to regain control of her body.

“Lilith, you better think of something soon, I can’t stand this for long,” said Angie under her breath just as Lucianne repeated it, not only imitating her moves. Lilith gave them a puzzled look, but Angie had no reaction, despite the unexpected turn.

“You . . . won’t . . . control . . . me.” Lucianne’s body began to tremble in an effort to resist and so Angie’s did too. She wasn’t only losing the connection, but her body was also getting cold and her vision clouding. “I won’t let you control me!”

Angie’s sight completely shut down and her senses suffered an immediate blackout. Her body lost all tension and her arms fell limp to her sides, while Lucianne regained control of hers and pointed them now at her.

“Angie, quick, move away!” Lilith warned her, but she wasn’t listening. She was a lifeless body standing on her feet by inertia.

Lucianne was still shaking when she shot a dark beam at Angie, right through her stomach, sending her to the floor. Lilith screamed, unable to move her arms, until she was lit on fire and rammed against Lucianne from behind. When she felt the flames all over her back, she had to roll on the floor to turn them off and then got up again, furious.

“You’re gonna pay for this!” she said, pointing at a strand of burnt hair and then back at Lilith, who still looked like a human torch, but before she could even decide what part of her to shoot, someone grabbed her from behind, immobilizing her. She then caught a glimpse of Frank’s profile. “What the hell are you doing?!”

Before she could react, Mankee appeared in front of her and placed his hands firmly on her face. The light wrapped her and she let out a deafening shriek that endured until the light diminished. Her armor returned to its original marbling tone and her eyes were like honey again, but she continued stirring, they could do nothing about the lost gift.

Demian heard the scream. He had been dodging Mitchell’s punches one after the other, but once that intense shriek reached them, he couldn’t help but averting his gaze towards the bottom and Mitchell managed to strike a blow to his face, forcing him back a few steps and resting on the couch for support. His eyes narrowed and looked down at him.

“That was for Belgina!” Mitchell snapped, panting deeply and giving a slight wobble before propelling forward again. But before he could lash out at him, another pair of hands came between them, emerging from a smoke screen and throwing him across the floor, making way to Ende.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m just keeping him from taking advantage, master.”

“It’s my fight, don’t intervene!” Demian said with a resounding voice. “I don’t need your help and don’t want you to interfere for any reason, is that clear?”

“And what am I supposed to do then?” the demon asked.

“If you want to watch or distract yourself somewhere else, go ahead. I just hope you’ve accomplished the task I entrusted you.” Ende grimaced, feeling relegated to the role of messenger, but eventually followed orders and nodded with a bow. Demian then decided to move to the point where the cry came from, followed closely by his servant and Samael also decided to run in that direction. “What the hell is going on here?”

Frank was holding Lucianne so she wouldn’t try using some trick with her beams, behind them was Lilith in flames, slowly extinguishing, and on the floor laid Angie’s wounded body while Mankee checked her vital signs. Demian squinted and with a swift motion pulled Frank away from Lucianne, taking her by the shoulders and holding her against the wall.

“I told you loud and clear not to kill anyone!”

“Well, I’m sorry, it was an accident!” she cried out with a whimper, his grip hurting.

“Let go of her!” Franktick was already standing on his feet and lunged at him, but Demian just stretched an arm without even turning his face and a dark barrier prevented him to get any closer. “I swear I’ll kill you if you hurt her!”

“Wasn’t that your intention in the first place anyway?” Demian replied, raising an eyebrow while holding Lucianne against the wall with his right arm.

“She’s still alive!” Mankee reported after finding a faint pulse in Angie and Samael approached to heal her wounds. “She just won’t react.”

“ . . . Good,” Demian said, relaxing. “In that case, I’d better kill her at once.”

The others stood in a defensive posture once he made a gesture to pull away from Lucianne.

“What is this? What are you doing?”

There was total silence. The guys turned to the point where the voice came from and Demian’s grip around Lucianne intensified.

It took him a few more seconds than the others to turn around and meet Marianne’s baffled eyes, holding from the wall leading to the stairs, pale and sweaty, her shoulders going up and down to the rhythm of her breathing.

His eyes narrowed and he could feel an excitement running through his veins.

She had finally arrived.