Using the cases from several pillows he had found in bed, Loui made a tourniquet and a makeshift bandage to stop his leg from bleeding. It was painful, but he was coping quite well for a twelve-year-old. Settling the leg on the floor felt like a fakir nailing his collection of swords in the same spot, so he tried not to move and just sat on the bed, waiting for his sister to return, but he wasn’t counting on his father coming home earlier.

He heard his voice downstairs and a nervous tingle ran through him. The room door wasn’t even closed. If his father went up and found everything messed up, his leg wounded and blood stains everywhere, he wouldn’t be able to explain it. He took a deep breath and used all of his willpower to stand up, leaning on the good leg and limping towards the door to close it. If no one answered and saw the doors closed, his father would assume they both had gone out and wouldn’t dare to go check into their rooms.

He walked the first step, and while not fully resting his wounded foot, the mere movement was enough to make his nerve terminals transmit a terrible sharp pain to his brain, biting his fist to muffle a scream. To make things even worse, the floor was like a rocky terrain, full of obstacles between the broken boards and splinters after Marianne’s attempt to work her way through the planks, finding an empty space where he could step on was a more proper challenge of an extreme chess for survival. But he had to focus on reaching the door as soon as possible, because he had started to hear his father’s footsteps up the stairs.

One step, drag, pain, step, drag, pain. He was closer to the door and still so far away. His pain threshold had apparently decreased and the minimal movement of one of his toes made him sweat in agony. His father was close to the top of the stairs, if he got to see the open door through the corridor, they were lost, so the next few seconds became a race against the clock as he tried to keep his mind blank, not to think about the pain, and rushed towards the door knob to push it with his weight.

He was achieving his goal, the hinges of the door moved and it started its journey quietly, after all, the pain was worth it, he would get to lock the door before his father stepped on the floor and could handle his bleeding wound later. He was just expecting to hear the click of the latch when an opposite force stopped it just a few inches away and pushed it to the other side, opening it again. Noah entered the room and saw him clutching the knob with a strapped-up leg the same pattern as the curtains tied to his legs, stained with blood, plus a mess on the floor with part of it shattered.

“What happened here? What’s wrong with your leg? And where’s your sister?”

Loui just looked at him with wide eyes, babbling but unable to make sense. His father lifted him into a sitting position on the bed.

“Listen, Loui, I’m not upset. Just explain to me what happened here and where is your sister,” Noah insisted, but the kid remained silent and looking down.

He scanned the room once more: the sheets covered in blood, the broken boards, in search of something that could explain what happened, and then noticed a piece of paper that stood out from everything on the floor. He reached out to pick it up and saw what it said. It was an address. He slightly frowned and stood up, keeping the note in his pocket.

“Come on, I’ll take you to the hospital. I’ll try not to move you so much.”

Loui kept silent and gritted his teeth to avoid a scream as his father lifted him and took him out of there.

Marianne watched everyone while trying to catch her breath after the race to get there and then having to climb all those stairs in such a bad condition. Every breath burnt her lungs, and she was afraid to end up flat on the floor at any moment.

“You shouldn’t be here! I left you in your room where you could be out of danger!” Samael claimed, realizing that she had a blood stain on her shoulder. “Are you injured? How did it happen?”

“I had an unexpected visitor thanks to whom I’m here,” Marianne said, panting and glaring at Ende.

Wasting no time, Samael placed his hands on her shoulder, intending to heal her, but just when his palms began to glow, an invisible force winnowed him down several feet over the remains of what used to be a cubicle.

“You finally decided to come.” Demian’s voice sounded hoarse as he released Lucianne and took a few steps towards her, his cold eyes glinting. “I thought you decided to abandon your friends to their fate and let them die.”

“I wasn’t late because I wanted to,” she said, trying to stand firm before him. “ . . . And I’m not scared of you.”

“Really?” he replied with a smile. “Well, you should. Because none of you will get out of here alive.”

Marianne gulped, distraught by the note of cruelty she could detect in his voice. She ran her gaze behind him. Lucianne was shaking off her armor, unfazed. Lilith was glowing red with arms hanging to her sides, both injured. Franktick was leaning on his knees, gasping exhausted. Mankee was on the floor next to Angie, who wore the pallor of death and was covered in blood.


“She’s okay, it’s just . . . she can no longer react,” Samael explained, pushing away a pair of skeleton chairs that had fallen over him, and sitting up.

“It won’t matter anyway, when this is all over,” Demian added, but she didn’t flinch.

“Spare the demon talk, it doesn’t suit you well,” she spat and Demian’s smile became a grimace of rage. He made a quick motion, like holding something in his hand, and she was suddenly lifted in the air.

The others tried to come to her aid, but a dark aura rose from Demian like an expanding wave that threw them all to the floor.

“Why are you doing this?! Is it because we didn’t tell you from the beginning? Just get over it already!” Marianne snapped, struggling to move in the air without success.

“Do you think it’s just about that?” he muttered, clenching his jaw, feeling another surge of rage invading him and driving him to close his hand on the air. Marianne felt something squeezing her throat, shortening her breath.

She tried to inhale through her mouth, but the pressure she felt on her neck was such that she thought it would break at any moment. Demian suddenly hesitated and relaxed his hand a little, pulling it away, so she ended up falling to the floor, taking deep and desperate breaths to refill her lungs.

“Marianne!” Samael ran to her while she twisted her neck.

“That was my power, wasn’t it?”

“Bolstered up to the extreme, but yes, it was,” he confirmed.

 “Up,” Demian ordered, making another motion and she was driven up to her feet again. Samael stood in front of her, even when Demian didn’t seem to pay any attention to him. “It’s time to repeat the rules for you: everyone has to transform. So, do it now.”


“Because I say so. Now do it.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Do it if you don’t want me to kill you right now,” he repeated in the same contemptuous and intimidating tone. Samael stepped back closer to Marianne, but she softly pulled him away, standing right in front of Demian.

“And what keeps you from doing it?”

Samael gave her a worried look.

“Don’t provoke me.”

Marianne took another look at the others. All of them had their full armor on, including helmets, and suddenly a thought crossed her mind, looking back at Demian with a bewildered expression.

“You don’t want to see our faces, do you? If you don’t see us, it’s easier for you to imagine we’re other people . . . People whose deaths you wouldn’t mind.”

The rest seemed surprised, but Demian remained unfazed. It was only a split second between watching him firm and steady at one point, and suddenly he was holding Marianne against the back wall, not even Samael got to stop him.

“You think you’re so clever. Well, let me repeat what I already told the others since the beginning: Nobody gets to come out of here unless either you or I are dead.”

Marianne held his gaze despite his tight grip.

“I won’t transform just because you say so. If you want to kill me, you’ll have to do it like this: looking at my face.”

Demian’s mouth tightened into a grimace and his hands squeezed her arms again.

“You’ve always been so stubborn,” he said, finally releasing her and stepping back.

She sighed with relief, thinking she had somehow managed to dissuade him, but once she was starting to relax, dark oil fibers rose from the ground and surrounded her like ropes tying her up.

“You’ll be staying there to watch your friends die until you’re the last one, begging me to end your suffering once and for all.” He then pointed at Mankee as he walked away, going back to the other side. “You’re next. Come on.”

Mankee jolted, opening his eyes wider and feeling out of breath. He looked at the others for support, but they only gave him serious and languid glances. Marianne vainly tried to stir between the fibers, but they were too tight, and all she could do was grunt in frustration.

“Are you okay?” Samael asked at a certain distance.

“What do you think? Untie me, quick!” she demanded, but to her surprise he hesitated, and despite his distraught, he didn’t move an inch towards her. “Samael?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t like the method, but it’s really for the better that you stay here, away from the danger,” he admitted, even if it upset him turning his back on her for the second time in the same day, and she frowned in disbelief. “I’ll come back to release you once it’s over. Just hang in there.”

And just like that, he ran to the other end, leaving Marianne perplexed by his action.

“Come back here! You can’t be serious!” she yelled, shaking desperately.

“Look who they left at my mercy,” Lucianne interrupted her outburst and Marianne saw her approaching with slow cat-like steps. “If it isn’t my little self-important cousin.” She stopped before her, looking her up and down with a voracious expression. “I wonder what would happen if I suddenly decide to test my power on those fibers holding you . . . I may end up losing control and one of my beams would accidentally pierce through your heart or your brain.”

“You can’t kill me. Demian wouldn’t allow it,” Marianne rebuked, trying to keep herself gathered.

“Well, he’s not here to prevent it, is he?” she replied with a smile, raising her finger, the tip glowing.

“I won’t let you hurt her. I’m still here,” Lilith spoke with a wheeze, standing in front of Marianne, breathing heavily and sweaty skin. Lucianne laughed at her.

“Are you serious? Have you even seen yourself? You can’t even move your arms.”

“No . . . But I still can do this.” Her body tensed and burst out in flames again, though they were considerably weaker than before, and the mere effort forced her to set a foot behind her to keep her balance.

“Of course. I’m sure it will keep me from drilling a hole through your chest,” Lucianne replied, unable to hold her laughter and aiming at her, but a hand pulled away hers, deflecting the shot. “What the . . . ?”

“Careful, Angel Warrior. You’re not allowed to kill any of your teammates.” Ende grabbed her wrist, giving her a murderous look. Both Marianne and Lilith gaped. Had that demon just protected them?

“You don’t have the authority to forbid anything! You’re nothing but a lackey!” Lucianne protested, trying to break free, but the demon pushed her against the wall in response, making her cry out in pain.

As though he had an integrated antenna to perceive Lucianne exclusively, Frank quickly turned his head in that direction. Demian was waiting for Mankee to make a move, but he remained standing before him with a shaken face.

“What are you waiting for? Come on. I give you the advantage,” Demian said, beckoning him to start, but when he refused to make a move, Frank ended up pushing him forward to begin at once.

“Do something useful and keep him distracted!” Franktick muttered, while he staggered forward and Demian responded his first movement by also going after him. Frank took the moment to rush back to the other side, ignoring Samael’s calling. The result was as expected, one punch was enough to send Mankee to the floor.

“Remember our training!” Samael said, trying to encourage him.

“Get up, or is that all you’ve got?” Demian ordered, motioning him again to continue.

“ . . . Sorry, I don’t think I have the strength to fight off,” Mankee replied, sitting up. “There’s only one thing I can do, and it will probably be a suicidal move, but . . . here we go!”

He gained momentum and started to run towards him. Demian just waited unmoving, with a condescending look. As the boy drew closer, he raised his hand, glowing with a dark aura, but to his surprise, Mankee leaned forward to evade him and straightened up again just a few inches from him, holding his face still. Demian didn’t understand what he meant to do until a blinding light enveloped him for a few seconds and then everything returned to normal. He looked at Mankee, confused, and gave him a shove.

“What the hell was that?!”

“It didn’t work,” Mankee said, disappointed.

“That won’t work with him. He’s not being controlled nor invaded by darkness as it is in his blood,” Samael explained, earning him an enraged look by Demian.

“Did you really believe you could just ‘purify’ my soul?” Demian asked with a frown, and before Mankee could say anything, he clasped his neck, leaving the boy out of breath.

In a desperate attempt, Mankee stretched his arms with clasped fingers and a bright light flashed in front of him. Demian released him and covered his face.

When he rubbed his eyes and opened them again, he was baffled to discover that he couldn’t see a thing. He ran his eyes around, trying to make at least some silhouette, but it was pointless, everything was dark.

“What did you do to me?” Mankee backed off, nonplussed to see Demian stretching out his arms, trying to grab anything in front of him, his unfocused eyes going from one point to another without actually landing on anything in particular. “What did you do?!”

“You’ve blinded him,” Samael said with surprise.

“This is your chance to knock him out!” Mitchell shouted, knelt down beside Belgina, but Mankee didn’t move, he couldn’t believe what he had done.

“I—I don’t want to keep doing this . . . Let someone else take my place,” Mankee said, finally stepping back. In a split second Demian slid to him, guided by the sound of his voice, and left him on the floor with a headbutt.

“So, who’s next?” he snapped, trying to concentrate on his hearing now that he couldn’t count on his eyes.

Samael glanced behind in search for Frank, but he knew it couldn’t wait, so he took a few steady steps forward.

“I’m next.”

Demian didn’t flinch or even gestured after recognizing the voice, he just took a defensive stance and motioned him to start.

“Go ahead. Throw your best shot.”

The deteriorated concrete wall rumbled at Lucianne’s impact, and both dust and stone fragments fell on her.

“You bastard! How dare you?”

“I warned you, Angel Warrior. I may not be allowed to kill you, but I can cause a lot of pain,” Ende threatened her, moving his fingers upright, forming between them some kind of carved bone spearhead. A spear out of his own bones.

Lucianne stood up against the wall and the demon jumped on her, digging that spear in her shoulder. She screamed in agony as he removed the bone spear, and now pointed it at the other shoulder.

“No matter what kind of deal you made with my master, you’re still going to die at the end. Like all Angel Warriors.”

“You really are stupid . . . Do you seriously think he’ll be able to carry out his threat? Just look around you, all wounded but not dead yet.”

The demon glanced at Angie’s body lying on the floor, Lilith doddering to remain standing, Marianne tied up and Lucianne herself panting in front of him. She was right, until then his master hadn’t killed any of them despite having said he would.

“Now you see? Will you keep thinking that he’ll be able to hurt her when he’s in front of her? REALLY hurt her?”

Ende remained in the same position, menacing and yet pensive, so he didn’t foresee the moment Frank fell over his back, making a tourniquet on his neck with his arms. The demon stirred, trying to shake him off and burying his bone spear in Frank’s arms.

Lucianne took the moment to pull away from the wall and watched everything with a wicked smirk, holding her wounded shoulder. Then she turned back and headed towards the two girls with slower and uncertain steps. Lilith tried to stand still in front of Marianne, but the flames were already extinguishing and her wheezing was pronounced.

“Marianne . . . I’m really sorry . . . I don’t think I can take it anymore . . . ”

“Come on, Lilith, hang on!”

“Maybe . . . one last . . . try.” Lilith could hardly speak, but took the deepest breath she could and then tensed her entire body until turning red like a volcano about to burst. When when Lucianne was already at a short distance, she exploded with an intense flare that threw her down and forced Marianne to close her eyes and turn her face. When she opened them again, there were traces of flames around Lilith, but she seemed an extinct bonfire. Her body swayed so slightly, the least gust of wind could push her down.

“ . . . Lilith?”

“I’m out of . . . fuel,” she muttered with a faint voice. Her knees bent to the ground and her body could no longer stand upright, falling aside as a dead weight.

Marianne’s chin trembled and she tried to focus around her. The fibers holding her had also caught fire in some parts, but instead of burning, they seemed to keep the flames alive.

She looked forward and saw Lucianne getting up with faltering legs and burns on her exposed skin.

“It’s just you and me now,” she hissed, gasping for air, but nevertheless she began to limp towards her, releasing her shoulder and aiming at her, trying to keep her arm steady. “One shot . . . Just one shot is enough.”

She continued advancing with increasingly unstable steps until a heavy lump fell right in front of her, blocking her way. Both their eyes rested on it and realized it was Frank, his arms pierced with holes, struggling to stand up again. Lucianne suddenly started laughing, with silent sobs at first that quickly escalated into a hysterical fit of laughter, mingling with her increasingly pronounced gasps until her eyes widened and blurred, her body bent like rag, instantly falling back on the ground.

“Lucianne!” Frank crawled towards her and tried to take her in his arms despite his sharp ache.

“You’re lucky I can’t kill you or I would’ve already done it,” Ende interrupted, approaching with a wrathful gesture while reattaching his neck with the thunderous sound of splitting bones. Frank glared at him with fierce eyes and forced himself up.

“Go ahead, you demon. I’ll send you back to hell and your master will join you soon to keep each other company,” Frank mumbled, ready to go after him.

Ende responded to his challenge, narrowing his eyes and stretching forward, keeping his arm horizontally. Frank assumed he was going to attack him with that bone spear again, but all he did was lowering it down with one quick motion, and suddenly Frank’s body fell to the ground, face down and raising dust as if the gravitational force was weighing on him, making him impossible to get up.

The demon then looked at Marianne. He was taking seriously what Lucianne had said. The longer she stayed safe, she would have more chances to use some of her tricks, and the likelihood of his master deciding to kill her would be reduced. That was, of course, if he didn’t take action first. A weak and wounded Angel Warrior would be unable to buy time with his master. So that was it, he had decided what he had to do. He approached Marianne, keeping one hand down and steady so Frank wouldn’t move while the other pointed at her.

“What? Have you changed your mind and now you’ve decided to kill me?” Marianne asked, sneaking a look at Frank, trying to think of something quick to get free.

“I won’t kill you. I’ll just leave you a little . . . out of the game,” he replied, twisting his fingers and giving rise to a new bone spear from his palm.

Seeing that movement, Marianne remembered her own sword, and her gaze fell on the flame that was still burning in the bottom fibers. If she managed to pull it out, and the blade came in contact with the flame, she might be able not only to cut her ties, but also to defend herself against that demon, perhaps even kill him. The only downside was that she could barely move her hand, so if she carried out her plan, it was possible she would end up injured, but at this point a few cuts on her hand meant nothing at the prospect of letting that demon get his way. He was already inches away from her, pointing menacingly between her clavicles.

“Don’t worry, you won’t die . . . yet. But it will hurt a lot.”

The floor beneath them began to vibrate. They looked down and saw the ground was shaking like an earthquake.

“Frank, no!”

Frank was rigid, with his hands glued to the floor, as if trying to push himself up, the vibration started right at that point, forming mounds of stone around his hands as if trying to create a concrete wave. The floor then began to crack, forming a groove that made its way towards them.

“We’re on a top floor!”

But the warning came too late, the floor began to collapse under Frank, opening a hole that swallowed him, as much as he tried to hold from the edge. Ende kept his gaze in his direction and Marianne decided to use that moment to her advantage. She let her sword slip from her fingers, cutting through skin and the fibers that bound her, reaching the resilient flame. As the tip of the blade touched the fire and turned red, she knew it was now or never. With a swift motion, the sword began to cut the fibers like butter, making its way up and taking the demon’s whole arm and half his face. He immediately let out a deafening shriek and began to squirm in a desperate attempt to make them grow again, but the wounds were already cauterized. Outraged, he turned to her with half his face off, like a victim of some flesh-eating bacteria.

“You!” he delivered with a shrilling voice, his eyes ablaze with anger. With the hand he had left, he aimed the bone spear at her. Marianne had just broken free, but even then she had no time to react. The demon lunged at her.

Samael had begun to fight Demian. Despite considering it deceitful to exploit his temporary blindness, everyone’s life was at stake and couldn’t stop to think whether it was fair or not. None of it was fair. He possessed gifts that didn’t belong to him, stealing their life expectancies. He couldn’t pity him like the others, he was a demon, after all. It was a matter of life and death. If he was to take advantage of his drawbacks, then he would. With this in mind, he kept lunging at his back, destabilizing him, but Demian soon regained his balance and immediately turned to his right, trying to predict his next move, getting to stop his hand before another punch, mowing him down with his increasing dark aura. But the angel was prepared not to be taken off guard again and fell standing in his feet a few yards away, after which they remained at their respective sides with bated breath.

Samael stood upright and thought about his dream of the thirteenth gift, wondering if there might be some chance that it was the union of the gifts, just like Marianne suggested. If so, would it be possible to take it out of his chest the same way the rest of the gifts had arisen? Not that he suddenly had started to commune with the idea of letting him live, but there had to be a reason for that dream, and if he ought to keep him alive to find out, then he would have no choice.

He looked at his chest, and made some mental calculations of the time it would take him to make a test before he realized his intentions and restrained him. Once decided, he hunched forward to gather impulse.

Demian’s eyes were starting to slowly discern silhouettes, so once he saw a blurred form changing position, he knew that he had to be alert at the least movement. The silhouette then transformed into a stain, increasing its size while it drew closer. He quickly placed his arms upfront, stopping Samael just in time, but the angel took impulse once again as his feet touched the floor and lashed out from below, taking him unaware when he placed his hands firmly on his chest. Samael tried to invoke the same effect when repairing a gift, assuming that perhaps he could also attract the one he now possessed. His palms began to glow and Demian managed to feel not only a burning sensation in his chest, but a gleam and a faint outline in front of him. His muscles tightened and Demian grabbed his neck so hard that the angel’s armor began to crack at that point.

“What was that? What were you trying to do?” Demian asked, trying to focus his eyes at that fuzzy blur in front of him.

Samael clutched his neck trying to release his grip, but unable to do so, he tried to concentrate until transporting away from him. He then touched the cracks of his armor while giving long, deep breaths. Demian pulled out his hands once he realized he was just squeezing the air, and rubbed his eyes, looking back upfront. He still saw what looked like a layer over the cornea, but the silhouettes were taking shapes and details. He moved his hand to his chest and checked that it was intact.

“Don’t ever touch me again.”

Samael leaned once again to gather momentum, but suddenly stopped after hearing a scream he immediately recognized.

“ . . . Marianne,” Samael muttered. She was in danger.

Demian’s face slightly flinched, and when the angel disappeared, he did the same, vanishing in smoke.

Marianne had raised her arm, intending to cut another part of the demon, but her forearm stood in the way of the bone spear, which pierced through it. She still had managed to stab him on one side, though the blade had cooled down again. Ende squirmed in such a way that, even without half of his face, he seemed to grimace. Samael appeared right between them and pushed the demon away to then seize his protégée’s wounds.

“Are you alright?” There was a hole in her forearm, piercing from side to side and the spear had also reached an inch between her clavicles. “I’m sorry . . . I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have left you here.”

Marianne didn’t answer, just gave him a look as she tried to keep her breathing steady not to lose consciousness. He put his hands on the wound to close it while Demian appeared a few feet away, watching the scene with misty eyes, running them on the floor where Lucianne and Lilith lay unconscious, and finally on Ende, who kept panting furious breaths, trying to hold his butchered side with the hand he had left.

“I told you not to interfere,” he said with an eerie calm in his voice. “But you disobeyed.”

“I just wanted to make things easier for you, master!” he justified with a raging tone. “I don’t understand this wait! Is it because you’re not planning to fulfill your mission after all? They’re now injured and unconscious, you should kill them! Do it now!”

“Are you giving me an order?” Demian asked, starting to step towards him.

“I’m just trying to make sure you have your priorities on check!” the demon replied, starting to lose patience and temper. “I’m not stupid, master, you could’ve killed them from the moment they set foot in this place! No rules, no unnecessary extensions, no help of a wayward Angel Warrior! Just kill them once and for all! Why is all of this necessary? Why keep them alive when most of them are practically hopeless anyway? Look at them, they don’t have gifts, they will die soon if you don’t do it on your own hand! Why don’t you stop acting like a bratty human child and start to behave as the heir of the Legion of Darkness you are!”

Demian stopped in front of the demon, looking directly at him with glacial eyes, undisturbed. Ende stared back, wheezing after spitting out his nonconformity, and he suddenly began to feel unnerved at his silence. Nobody said a word, and the place had fallen into a dead quiet, so it was even clearer to everyone the sound made by Demian’s hand going through the demon’s chest and pressing his heart.

“Ma-Master . . . ”

Demian didn’t flinch, just pressed even harder, with the disruptive noise of squeezed flesh as Ende’s body slowly began to melt, becoming ashes once it touched the floor. He kept on squeezing, until there was no more than dust in his hand, which he shook off, undeterred, and then turned away. Samael and Marianne looked incredulous at him. He had killed his servant without any remorse.

“Does that mean . . . you’re not going to kill us?” Marianne ventured to ask after what they had just witnessed, the wound in her forearm still half-closed. Demian gave her a severe look, devoid of any emotion.

“It means that I don’t need to be told what I have to do.”

As he said this, he made a swift motion with his hand and Belgina’s body came through the air from the other end, resting on the floor behind him. He did the same with Angie, Lilith and Lucianne next, placing them in a row. Mitchell and Mankee came running from the back, wondering what was happening now.

“One’s missing. Where is it?”

“What are you planning to do?”

“It’s simple. I need to kill whoever doesn’t make sense to keep alive,” he said, pointing towards the bodies placed in line behind him.

“No!” Mitchell yelled, making a motion around to form an opaque barrier, instantly neutralizing any power inside it. Demian looked at his hand, realizing his power had been contained.

“This isn’t going to stop me,” Demian said, approaching the first body, stretching his open hand and pointing towards Lilith’s chest.

“Immobilize him!” Samael urged the others, and the three boys leapt on him, grabbing him with as strong a hold as they could. Mitchell and Mankee gripped one arm each, and Samael held his back, putting pressure on his neck and forcing him to his knees so he couldn’t move. “Marianne, use the sword!”

She blinked as if just waking up from a dream and looked down at the sword she was still holding with her injured arm. Did he mean her to kill Demian with it? She gripped the handle with both hands and began to approach, dubious, until stopping in front of Demian, who only stared at her with ferocious eyes. Marianne lifted her sword and pointed at his chest, slightly grazing him with the tip. He remained impassive, as if he were sure she wouldn’t dare to do it, or perhaps even expecting her to do so. He was too quiet, not even putting up any resistance, he seemed . . .

Marianne’s eyes widened at the sudden clarity of her thoughts and started to lower the sword before her friend’s confused looks.

“You had it planned, right?” she said with her wounded arm slightly trembling. “Nobody leaves until either you or we die . . . It was because you weren’t planning on getting out alive, isn’t it?” The guys exchanged glances, but Demian remained unflappable, staring at Marianne without showing any reaction to her words. “You wanted to be sure that in the end we would kill you without remorse . . . That’s why you killed that demon, so no one else would interfere on your behalf! Is it?”

“ . . . You give yourself too much importance,” Demian mumbled, and with a quick sudden move, he managed to free himself, throwing Mitchell and Mankee so violently they ended up crashing against opposite walls and were instantly knocked out, thereby vanishing the neutral barrier.

Wasting no time, he grabbed Samael, who was still clinging to his back and impelled him forward, slamming him to the ground and then placing his foot on him, making sure first that the material of his sole formed in several sharp peaks, so when he settled the boot on his chest, it got through the armor and his skin, making him scream out loud.

“No!” Marianne pressed the handle, but still didn’t dare to wield the sword against Demian. She just stood there motionless, watching him stomping on the angel, as if digging into his chest with the sole. Threads of blood began to run down his armor. “Leave him alone! Stop it!”

Demian stopped and kicked Samael away, turning to Marianne. She made the attempt to raise her sword, but couldn’t help her hand from shaking. It didn’t even take him two seconds to move in front of her, snatch the sword and threaten her with it.

“Transform now,” he repeated the same order than before, with a relentless tone. “Do as I say!”

“No! I’m not going to please you!” she refused despite all, giving him a more driven look and stopping her injured arm from shaking. “If you really want to kill us, why don’t you just do it? I’m in front of you and I’m unarmed!”

Demian’s fingers squeezed the sword’s hilt and his eyes glowed with anger. It was then that the foundation of the building began to vibrate, quickly gaining intensity. Marianne stuck to the wall, thinking it was an earthquake, and although Demian didn’t let go of the sword, he also stepped back, looking carefully around. Suddenly some sort of concrete geyser came up from the open breach, rising to the ceiling and taking them off-guard. Before they could even react to it, the geyser went down again and an unexpected figure jumped from it, grabbing Demian from the back. Demian began to whisk, trying to get loose, but Frank clung to him with all his might, as if willing to break his back with that powerful grip.

The floor beneath them began to stir and then to cover Demian’s feet, gluing to him like a crust of roughcast that kept him still, expanding and creeping on his legs. He ended up dropping the sword, and focused his energy to break free from Frank, but he seemed welded to him. Within seconds he was entirely covered by concrete and the floor stopped shaking and rumbling. Frank finally pulled away, taking off his arms with ease and brushing off the dust. In front of him, a cement tower rose and he watched it as if he had carved it himself.

Marianne picked up her sword and looked bewildered at that mass of concrete that had trapped Demian. Samael also approached, hands on his chest, trying to close his wounds. Frank took a few steps towards them, with trembling legs, his breathing was becoming heavier and he struggled to keep his eyes open.

“You should kill him now,” he muttered with a tired voice. “That won’t stop him for long.” When he reached them, his legs buckled and stumbled, going headlong to the floor. Samael and Marianne leaned towards him and the angel did his best to close all of his wounds under the cracks of his armor, but he still had that weak and worn-looking appearance of an upcoming gift crisis. “Someone’s coming.”

“What? What do you mean?” Marianne asked nervously, thinking about cases with dying people seeing death coming for them, which inevitably reminded her of the obits. Were they already coming for them? “Don’t try to scare us with that! We won’t die, you hear me?!”

“No . . . Someone IS coming,” Frank insisted, almost in a whisper. Under his helmet his eyes were no more than slits. “Up the stairs . . . It’s coming here.”

Samael and Marianne exchanged a confused look. Who could be climbing the stairs of that abandoned building? But they didn’t have time to formulate their questions, the mass of concrete exploded right then, pitching out stone rubble and dust, forcing them to duck for cover. Demian emerged from the cement formation and turned his attention to them, still on their knees in front of Frank, whose body now lay motionless on the floor.

“One less,” he said, hurling his body with a wave of his hand towards the pile he had formed with the others.

Samael helped Marianne up and kept her at his back. She held her sword, but couldn’t stop thinking there was someone going up the building at that very moment, so she glanced at the stairs.

“You’re the only ones standing,” Demian said, taking a few steps towards them. Samael stepped back, forcing her to do the same. “Transform.”

Marianne’s face contorted, noticing he was staring at her and ignoring Samael, so she stopped their retreat and decided to face him despite the angel’s efforts to hold her back.

“I already told you! If you’re going to kill me, you’ll have to do it like this! If you’ve really embraced your role as a demon, then how important it is to kill us all with armor or without it? Or maybe you really try to disassociate us from your friends! Admit it!” she replied defiantly. Demian’s jaw clenched and made a gesture to walk forward when they heard the echo of a distant voice.

“ . . . Marianne?” She stopped short, recognizing her father’s voice. Footsteps echoed from downstairs in the distance and Marianne turned to Samael with an alarmed expression. What should she do? He couldn’t see her there, not in that condition. “Hello?”

“You’ll have to do it,” Samael murmured and she looked at Demian in a desperate gesture. His face didn’t seem to show any emotion, he just stood there expectantly, looking from her to the stairs. She finally gave a snort of resignation and let the armor and helmet cover her, right in the moment her father appeared at the end of the steps. He stopped, looking astounded at the bodies, the floor full of holes, shattered walls and farther on, those three armored figures standing and looking in his direction.

He stepped forward again, trying to balance on that floor full of debris, careful not to trip, and at the same time staring at the only three beings that were still standing, while also eyeing the bodies lying on the floor.

«Get him out of here. I’ll take care of Demian.»

Marianne looked at Samael after hearing his voice like he was still a presence in her mind and just nodded. Then she turned on her heels and started running towards her father as Samael did the same with Demian. The latter, on the other hand, kept looking at the man with a strange expression on his stony face. When Samael got to him, he tried to smack him away, but the angel disappeared in a flash and reappeared on his back, holding him with both arms in an effort to restrain him while Marianne reached her father. She took his arm without uttering a word and pulled him back to the stairs. He resisted for a moment, but then let her lead him, glancing in all directions as if he had entered in another dimension.

“This is all wrong,” he said and although she agreed with him, she ought to keep silence and not give herself away. Her only goal at the moment was to guide her father out of the building and away from the danger.

Demian seemed to have other plans though.

Slightly stooping, as if preparing to get a running start, he suddenly straightened with a quick motion, expelling his aura at once to throw Samael away so he could focus on Marianne and her father getting near the stairs. His face recovered the blank and cold gesture, aiming firmly at them. He set his target and then shot a dark beam that crossed the distance, soundless and faster than the speed of light, with a precision that took Marianne off guard when she suddenly saw a dark spot out of his father’s chest and his body automatically collapsed on the floor.

She stopped, still holding his arm, and remained standing to one side, watching him perplexed, unable to comprehend what was going on.

“Da—Dad?” Her hand squeezed his arm that remained motionless and flaccid. She pulled again in another attempt to make him react and then noticed the hole in his back. She felt a knot in her stomach and automatically let go of him, his arm falling limp to the side of his body. She held her breath for several seconds, staring at his body with her brain still trying to connect what was in front of her to what was happening. When she finally seemed to react, she leaned over and turned him face up, looking at the hole in his chest, crossing from side to side. “Samael . . . Samael, come quickly!”

He sat up, shaking his head and then transported straight to her. He looked at the hole in the man’s chest and gave Marianne a gloomy look.

“Quick! Close the wound before he bleeds out!” she asked with an urgent tone, pressing the wound with both hands and seeing that Samael wasn’t moving, she pulled his arm, leaving a hand-blood stain. “Don’t just stand there! Do something!”

Samael swallowed and leaned next to her, placing his hands over the wound and closing it as she asked, proceeding to do the same on the back. The hole closed, but his body remained cold, and as much as Marianne tried to feel his vital signs, didn’t find them.

“What’s going on? His wound is closed, why doesn’t he react?!”

“It was too late,” he tried to explain. “The beam pierced his heart. It was instantaneous.”

“But . . . you closed it . . . The hole is no longer . . . ”

“Even if I closed the wound, it doesn’t restore his life . . . I’m sorry.”

Marianne remained silent for several seconds, as if still processing the meaning of that. Her hands began to tremble and closed them into fists, eventually standing up and walking away. Samael tried to hold her, but she quickly pulled away, stopping a few feet from Demian.

“Why?” she blurted with a strangled voice, clenching her fists. Demian stood stoic, apparently indifferent to his action. “Why did you do it? You murdered my father in cold blood! WHY?”

“Why, you ask?” he finally said, his eyes narrowing and lifting his chin in a dismissive pose. “Because I could. And it seemed just fair.”

“ . . . Fair?” Marianne muttered, not believing what she was hearing. “How can you say that? My father had nothing to do with all of this!”

“Neither did mine,” he added, moving up to face her. His voice was cold, with a vindictive tone. “And yet you let him die.”

Marianne looked befuddled at him.

“Stay away from her,” Samael warned him, taking Marianne’s sword and pointing at him behind his back.

Demian showed a hint of a smile, his eyes still fixed on her, and from one second to another he burst into a smoke screen, reappearing a few feet away.

“I think it’s time to end this. You’ve given everything you could and I won’t extend your time anymore,” he decided and Marianne walked forward again.

“Repeat what you just said,” she approached, shaking. “Your father died because his gift was taken away.”

“The gift you decided not to give him back,” he snapped with a slight grin, reflecting his resentment, and Marianne recalled the moment she had to hide the container with the gift behind her back. He must have noticed it then and now she understood the meaning of his words. “Oh, I see you’re starting to remember. Perfect. Now we can move forward . . . Time to die then.”

He raised his arm with an open hand and Samael hastily stepped in, dropping the sword and crossing his arms to form an invisible shield to protect both of them from his attack. Marianne didn’t move from her place, recalling over and over that instant when she had concealed the gift under Demian’s sight, and the times he had given her that look full of hatred. She slowly turned her head towards her father’s lifeless body, a few steps away from the stairs. Steps that could have made a difference. Her eyes then went to the floor and rested on her sword, the blade flashing a glow that seemed to call her. As if it were alive.

Infused with a sudden surge of adrenaline, she picked up her sword and started running past Samael’s barrier straight to Demian, who suddenly stopped and watched her approaching, brandishing her sword.

“Marianne, stop! What are you doing?” Samael yelled, lowering his arms and going after her. Demian smiled and raised his hand, stopping the blade between his fingers, the smirk fixed on his face.

“So, you’ve finally decided to fight back.”

Marianne didn’t answer, just flexed her fingers and the sword was absorbed by her hand, cutting through Demian’s palm, and while he watched his wound, she didn’t waste any time and the sword came out again, as she placed it under his neck and held it still, with not one of them making a single move.

“You killed my father . . . as a personal vendetta?”

“An eye for an eye,” he replied calmly and she restrained herself from pressing the sword harder against his neck.

“The gift was inside the vessel,” she replied, breathing heavily. “Once inside it couldn’t be taken out unless all the gifts were reunited . . . There was nothing we could do for your father, we tried everything!” Demian’s eyes lit up as if she had suddenly opened a deep wound. He stared at her with a mixture of conflicting emotions, but ultimately one prevailed and his eyes darkened again.

“Well, you didn’t do enough,” he muttered in a glacial toneless voice, pressing his own neck against the blade and sliding along before Marianne’s horrified look. She immediately moved away and watched the dark blood dripping from his neck, but within seconds the wound closed by itself, and so did the cut from his hand. “You’ll have to think of something more effective than that.”

Samael appeared behind and latched onto him, struggling with Demian to hold him still. “Aim for the chest!” Marianne hesitated, realizing that Samael’s instruction was to stab Demian with the sword. To kill him. “Do it quickly!”

She stared at Demian, who despite resisting, wouldn’t take his eyes off her either, sharp and intense, almost as if he were challenging her to do it. She began to squeeze the handle of the sword. He had killed her father. But he also held them responsible for his father’s death. He wouldn’t let them out until either he or they died. And up until now he hadn’t killed them. But she couldn’t ignore the fact that, whether he killed them or not, they were practically condemned due to their lack of gifts. And that made her more nervous and indecisive: with every minute he was still alive, the true gift owners were closer to their demises. She was actually the last one standing, and she didn’t know for how much longer. Was Samael right and it was for the best to kill him? Best but not right. The lives of others were at stake, she couldn’t stop and think about what she believed or not.

“Do it now!”

She winced at Samael’s words and decided to leave all thoughts aside. She gripped the sword with both hands and aimed at him, but after a few steps, everything began to blur. She blinked several times to clear her vision, but a tremor in her hands forced her to stop and focus on keeping the sword steady.  Her head spun and she staggered a little, deviating from her trajectory, burying the tip of her sword into the floor to hold onto it.

“ . . . Marianne?”

Demian took that moment of distraction to relax his muscles and stop resisting, he then dissolved into smoke and reappeared behind Samael striking a blow to his back and making him crash on the floor. Then he lunged back with a closed fist, but Samael applied the same trick on him, transporting to the other end while Demian’s fist crashed on the floor. The foundation shuddered and started to fall apart, leaving a hole big enough for anyone to fall through it.

Demian stepped away before it collapsed and placed his feet on firm ground to then charge back against Samael, but when he was virtually in front of him, the angel disappeared. Assuming he had transported again, Demian scanned around the place in search for him, so it took him by surprise when something punched him in the gut with no one around. He thought it had been a matter of speed, but when he felt another blow to the face, he realized it was more than that. The angel had become invisible, but Demian knew he was still there. A new strike came from behind and he got on guard, trying to track him down through his energy. With each new unseen punch, he was starting to at least get a better sense of his location and respond to his attacks.

Marianne still leaned on her sword and closed her eyes, hoping the dizziness would subside. When she opened them again, her vision was stable, though her hands still held a little tremor and cold sweat was running down her skin. She focused straight ahead and saw Demian apparently fighting alone, which meant Samael had become invisible. She waited a few more seconds to check if she could stand up without leaning on the sword and then looked around for something that could be helpful. She noticed then that the dark filaments that had tied her up remained in the same place where she had cut them and more importantly, a spark of Lilith’s flames continued to burn in them. She immediately headed to that point, dodging holes and part of the floor that looked frail, only stopping once she was in front of the wavering flame about to extinguish at any given minute.

What was her intention by doing that? Was she finally accepting that Demian’s death was necessary and she would help to facilitate it? After all, she knew very well what her blade imbued with Lilith’s fire did to a demon’s skin at first touch: it made regeneration impossible. Maybe if she hurt him enough he would return the gifts . . . At least that was what she hoped, but would she really be able to do it? Her gaze then fell on her father’s body a few feet away and felt a new surge that ran along her nerves, throbbing in her head. Her hands gripped the hilt of her sword and approached the blade to the flame, allowing it to join with its last breath before dying out. Once the blade was hot red, she started back, giving her father one last glance before forcing herself to avert her gaze and keep her way while she still had the strength.

Even though Demian had managed to fight Samael, invisible and all, he looked increasingly exhausted. Aware that this couldn’t continue like that, he decided to close his eyes to allow his other senses to sharpen, resisting the following round of beating. He closed his perception to everything around, and after a few seconds, a slight vibration on the right alerted him. His arm moved in a blink, catching something solid in the air, then slamming it to his feet, so hard that the floor splintered, forming an outline where Samael eventually appeared, stunned. Without giving him time to react, Demian lunged at him with his elbow, breaking his ribs. Samael screamed and made an attempt to create a barrier with a motion, but Demian stood on top of him, leaving him unable to move.

“I know what you are,” Demian said with a tinge of contempt in his voice. “And for all I know, angels and demons have something in common, which is that neither of us have a soul. So, we’re not that different after all.”

Samael merely watched him with a grim expression, struggling to loosen his grip, but Demian applied more weight and leaned towards him, his face closer to his.

“And still you think so high of yourself, that you’re better just because you’re an angel, but you know what? You’re not. And I’m going to prove it to you.” With a quick motion, he pierced through his chest and Samael opened his eyes wide, running out of breath. “Let’s see if it’s true that without a soul you just dissolve into nothing.”

He began to squeeze and Samael’s screams echoed throughout the walls. Marianne watched horrified how Demian’s hand twisted inside his chest and remembered what Samael once told her. If he died, he would cease to exist altogether, there would be no essence of his own, he would vanish into the void.

“Samael!” With panic fueling her senses and adrenaline pumping through her veins, she launched forward with her sword upfront.

Demian was still pressing inside the angel’s chest when he suddenly felt some sort of tingling in his hand that began to run through his arm’s nerves, and to his confusion, discovered that the armor from his forearm was starting to ‘rust’, as if it were made of metal, although more than corrosion it seemed like stone eroding.

“What the . . . ?” He couldn’t finish his sentence. Suddenly a sharp pain on his side forced him to pull out his hand —his armor going back to normal— and turned to his left, looking perplexed at Marianne who had thrust her sword beneath his ribs.

She backed off, distraught, realizing what she had done, while Demian got up stumbling, holding the wound that kept pouring black blood. Startled, he looked at her as if not expecting she would do that. Marianne stepped back until her feet rested on the cracked floor near the hole, which ended up collapsing under her weight.

“ . . . Marianne!” Samael screamed, unable to move, with his hands clutching his chest.

She was falling in slow motion, desperately trying to hold on to anything, but the floor was too fragile and just shattered at her touch. When she was beyond the floor level, aware that the only thing left for her was to face the freefall, a hand pulled her up. Once again on solid floor, she looked up and was surprised to see Demian holding her while covering his side with his free hand.

“You . . . saved me?” she asked, baffled. Demian immediately released her and stepped back with a disturbed expression.

“You’d better not get any weird idea. I did it because it’s useless for me if you die by accident. I said it from the beginning, you need to die by my own hand,” Demian immediately cleared out, pressing his wound even harder. She shivered and looked at Samael.

“Are you okay?” she asked, rushing to help him.

“Forget about me, I’m worried about you and the others,” he said, trying to stabilize his breathing. “I must end this before it’s too late.”

“What did he do to you?” she asked, noticing there was no visible injury in his chest even though she had clearly seen Demian piercing through it with his bare hand.

“Tried to destroy my life support . . . I don’t know . . . I won’t let him do it again . . . Listen,” he added, taking her hands with a serious look, noticing they were cold and shaky. “I know you still have problems with the idea of killing him, but if no one does it soon . . . it will cost more lives besides your father. I’m not asking you to do it, just not to judge me because I wasn’t able to find another solution.”

Marianne gave him a distorted glance and squeezed his hands in response.

Demian watched that exchange with growing rage until he stretched his arm with a swift motion, triggering an invisible force that drew them apart, lifting Samael several feet above the floor and keeping him in the air while Demian flexed his fingers. The angel could feel something pressing his body, slowly breaking his bones.

“Stop it, let him go!” Marianne yelled, trying to approach with the sword forward, but Demian just waved the other hand and tossed her away, immediately returning it to his side to cover his wound with a pained expression.

“Want your angel back? Fine, I’ll make a ribbon out of him and wrap it as a present,” Demian spat with all the viciousness he could stamp in his words, increasing the pressure on his stiffened fingers.

Samael’s screams increased Marianne’s despair, her head throbbed deeply, feeling it would explode at any minute. She drew her sword tighter and hurtled towards Demian once again, ready to endure another onslaught if he ever whisked her away, she would just stand up as often as necessary until getting to him.

Demian caught a glimpse of Marianne approaching and raised his other arm, intending to shove her away once again, but then he felt something grabbing his foot. He looked down and saw Mitchell had dragged himself towards him.

“I’m sorry . . . You don’t leave us any other choice,” Mitchell said and once he pressed his foot, an opaque aura covered Demian from head to toe.

“What was that?” Demian asked and suddenly Samael fell to the floor. Demian analyzed his hands, realizing he couldn’t invoke any power. Mitchell had neutralized him. “You . . . ”

He gave him a wrathful glare, but before he could lean towards him, the tip of a sword stopped right in front of his chest and saw Marianne at the end of it, her breathing increasingly heavy and her pulse shaking.

“Don’t move,” she said, leaning the tip against his chest to let him know she could thrust it at any time. Demian stood still, watching her warily. He could feel the tip of the blade through his armor fibers. “It’s getting harder to find a reason not to thrust the sword right now.”

“Then do it,” he said defiantly, his eyes sparkling with a flash of arrogance. “Do it now while you still can, otherwise you’ll be the first one I’ll kill with that same sword.”

Marianne grimaced a little and swallowed. The idea was still unpleasant, but there was no other way. She had to do it. Her hands tightened around the grip, her knees flexed to get a running start . . . and the world around her began to spin and fade. The pounding in her head eventually became explosions that ended up disconnecting her joint system, loosening all her ligaments and muscles as if her body had just shut out. The sword slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor, her arms hanging limp to her sides.

“My time . . . is over,” she whispered just before her legs buckled under her weight, unable to keep holding her anymore, hitting the floor amidst loud gasps.

Demian and Mitchell watched her, unable to react, until the first decided to use the moment to get rid of Mitchell by kicking him over rickety desks and then picking up the sword from the floor.

“Marianne!” Samael yelled, unable to move. He had broken bones throughout his body, fractures boosted with the fall, and his healing process was taking a little more time than he thought.

Marianne struggled to stay awake, but even though her brain was sending the order to move her limbs, it was like she wasn’t in her body anymore, and just a small part of her mind remained aware. Her eyes looked misty, though she could recognize Demian’s outline stopping in front of her with her sword in hand.

“You’re dying for the lack of gift.”

“If you think I’ll beg for my life . . . you’re wrong,” she replied with rattles and Demian frowned. He leaned over her, maneuvering the sword up onto her chest, and held it there with a poised expression.

“I said you’d be the first one to die by your own sword, didn’t I?” She didn’t answer. Demian’s blurred image was mixed with lapses of darkness, like a TV screen with poor signal and low power. “Well, don’t talk, then. Better that way.”

He held the handle with both hands and prepared to apply pressure on it while Marianne took the last of her breaths.

“I’m sorry . . . I failed you all,” she whispered with what little was left of her voice. And then closed her eyes, just hearing Samael calling her in the background.

She could hear her heartbeats slowing down and her mind wanting to escape into unconsciousness. Samael’s screams ceased and she came to the conclusion that it was all over, perhaps she was about to discover what was on the other side . . . and suddenly she heard a breath nearby that was definitely not hers. She opened her eyes slowly, surprised to still be able to do it, and despite being all blurry, she saw Demian’s clenched face before her, holding the sword with hands so strained that he seemed to be struggling with it.

“ . . . Why? Why can’t I do it?” he mumbled with a shaken expression, gritting his teeth and forcing himself to wield the sword again, but each and every time, he stopped just before piercing her chest. He repeated the movement multiple times, visibly upset, until he finally stopped, panting and pushing the sword aside in frustration. “You should have killed me when you had the chance . . . How difficult was it to just stab me with the sword? You have no idea . . . what it is to feel this need to kill . . . I can’t control it . . . Not for long.”

Marianne didn’t respond. Her breathing became heavier and didn’t seem to understand either what was going on, until he suddenly raised the sword again, the blade pointed at himself.

“ . . . It will have to be this way, then.”

“What . . . are you doing?” she mumbled, trying to keep her eyes open.

Demian’s arms tensed and when he began to flex them in order to stick the sword in his own heart, a darting pain in his chest made him stop and dropped it, taking his hands to it. With a gasp, he moved away from Marianne and his body hunched forward, feeling every beat like a stab to his heart.

He didn’t understand what was happening, the blade hadn’t even pierced through him, but that was exactly how he felt. His pants increased as the pangs became unbearable, making him writhe from side to side. He had never experienced anything like it, and thought he was going to die, when suddenly something inside him collapsed. His body arched back and stopped breathing for several seconds until he felt an explosion inside. A dark sphere burst out of his chest and remained suspended above him, expelling a bright orb after another, each one flying off and heading to different points, some finally finding their targets, entering their bodies.

Samael stood up with some difficulties, looking confused at those bright orbs coming and going, some even through walls and flying away from the building until the last one out ended up going into Marianne’s chest, injecting a sudden wave of vitality that brought her motion back and urged her to jump up with a spasm, dragging a deep breath. She looked dumbfounded at her hands, opening and closing them to confirm she had indeed recovered her movement. Her sight was clear and limpid again, and could even feel that special fuzziness caused by her power. But how was that possible? Had she really recovered her gift? Her gaze rested on Demian and saw the dark sphere returning to his body, getting a more relaxed posture, his breathing normalizing and puzzled expression. Before him, a solitary glowing sphere stood floating.

“Demian?” she said with some reserves and he stared at her, his face filled with confusion, probably because he had just realized what had happened, or perhaps because he recognized the gift in front of him. His father’s gift. “You gave our gifts back.”

“ . . . I didn’t do anything,” he replied, not an ounce of malice in his words. His appearance was still that of a demon, but his expression seemed to have softened, looking frazzled and exhausted. He was still holding his wound and didn’t dare to move.

Marianne looked down and picked up her sword. Murmurs around announced that the others were gradually getting up, as if just awakening from a long slumber.

 “Marianne!” Samael finally managed to get up and ran with his still aching and unstable legs, trying to stay in front of her in case Demian tried something else, but he remained in the same spot, unmoving. She placed a hand over the angel’s shoulder and pulled him slightly away, shaking her head.

“Is it too deep?” Marianne asked and Demian just moved his hand away to show the cut through his side, several inches long.

“It doesn’t matter anymore. I guess it’s my turn now. You’re going to kill me, right?” he said, contemplating the sword she was holding.

She raised the blade for an instant, taking a good look at it, and then let her hand absorb it, confusing him even more.

“Do you still feel like killing us?” she asked and Demian dithered for a moment, searching inside him for the drive that had pushed him to go after them and the hunger for chaos. The urge was still there, dormant but meager, almost as if it had dissipated.

“ . . . Not for now.”

“Fine. That’s enough for me,” she said, turning then to Samael. “Close his wound.” He gave her a nonplussed look, as if she had gone insane. “Don’t look at me like that. We got our gifts back, that’s what matters, right?”

“But that doesn’t mean that later he won’t try to . . . ”

“If that moment arrives, we’ll see how to handle it,” she interrupted with a resolute expression while her armor retreated, and he knew that once she had come to a decision there was no one who could change her mind.

Samael turned to Demian, who also looked incredulous, and approached him to carry out her request. The angel leaned forward to place his hands over the wound and Demian made a slight wince, as if about to refuse his help, but after a few seconds, allowed him to do so, trying to turn away not to watch him doing it. The light that poured out from his palms covered the wounded area and his flesh slowly closed, until it was just a small scar.

Samael stepped away and Demian didn’t say anything nor made any attempt to thank him, just avoided his gaze as he checked the mark he had left.

Frank appeared all of a sudden, his eyes fixed on Demian like a raging bull.

“This time I’ll kill you for good!” Marianne immediately stood in his way before he could get to Demian. “What do you think you’re doing? Stay back!”

“No! What do YOU think you’re doing? It’s over, Frank. The fight ended.”

“What do you mean it’s over? He’s still alive!”

“Yes. And so are we. We got our gifts back, that’s what matters. Leave it that way.”

Frank gritted his teeth and scowled, looking for some retort, but Lucianne’s sobs distracted him.

“I’m sorry . . . I’m really sorry,” Lucianne whimpered with her hands covering her face as Lilith and Angie tried to comfort her, the blonde with her arms still injured.

“ . . . Lucianne,” he muttered, quickly changing priorities and running towards her.

Demian and Marianne exchanged glances for a moment, and he eventually chose to look back to the orb still floating before him, taking it in his hands while his armor began to recede, leaving him in his human form. He could hear the voices of the others in the background, regaining consciousness and catching up on what had happened, but ignored them. He thought about what would happen if he returned that gift to his father, despite the time he had been dead, after all, it belonged to him. Then he turned his face again and saw Marianne was already on the other end, kneeling beside her father’s body. He looked at the orb between his hands again and his face contorted.

“Need anything?” Samael asked, approaching Marianne after making a round to heal the others’ wounds. By now, no one was wearing their armors anymore and just waited to fully recover to leave the place.

“I’m trying to think . . . but I can’t even react properly,” she answered with her eyes fixed on her father while Samael decided not to say anything, just stand by her. Marianne continued sitting there, taking deep breaths, when suddenly her view was blocked by a flash of light. Focusing her sight, she realized it was a glowing sphere that Demian was holding in front of her. “What . . . ?”

“Use it,” he said, gesturing her to take it.

“But . . . it’s your father’s gift.”

“And he’s been dead for weeks.” Marianne looked startled, unable to believe his action. “I know there’s no excuse for what I did . . . but at least this should do something.”

She took the gift with trembling hands and gave a questioning look to Samael.

“Is it possible . . . that a body could accept another person’s gift?”

Samael responded with another glance, but this was more ambiguous.

“ . . . I guess there’s only one way to know.”

Marianne breathed hard and it took her a couple of seconds to calm down. Then she slowly placed the sphere over her father’s body, almost afraid that it wouldn’t work, that the gift would just stay there, hovering above it, but when she pressed it against his chest, it went through without resistance. The body shook for several seconds and then stopped. Noah then opened his eyes wide and his back arched violently, sucking for air.

“Ma—Marianne? What . . . ?” he mouthed, feeling stunned, trying to focus his gaze.

“It’s okay. Everything’s fine . . . It really is now,” she said to keep him quiet, but it was her who felt relieved after seeing the gift had worked, so she couldn’t help a smile showing up in her face. Demian decided it was best to step away and give her some space.

They took Noah out before he could grasp what was happening around, and once back at home, Marianne made sure he was okay before leaving him to rest. She went out of the room and joined Samael, who was leaning against the opposite wall in a thoughtful posture.

“Mom is still at the hospital while they run these tests on her after her ‘miraculous’ recovery. And Loui will also stay there for the night. He will surely use his ‘war wound’ to throw it to my face whenever he can.”

Samael said nothing, just kept brooding with a lost stare.

“Are you worried about what Demian might do?”

“He’s free from the gifts now. But he’s not free from his blood. The hardest part for him comes now, when he’s got to deal with his own nature and fight against it, to keep his acquired humanity.”

Marianne merely nodded with her gaze on the floor. When they had reunited to leave the building, Demian had already vanished. He was probably still confused about everything, tormented by his actions. He just needed some time out.

“What will be of my father now? He looks disoriented and weary. He even fell immediately asleep as his head touched the pillow.”

“There’s another person’s gift inside him. We can’t be sure of how his body is going to react to it. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Another nod and a sigh. They kept silent for a couple more minutes until Marianne pulled away from the wall.

“Well, I think I’m gonna take a bath. I feel like I’m made of dust.” Before walking away, she looked back at Samael and smiled. “You should relax now. It’s over.”

Samael smiled back at her, but once she was out of sight, his expression became grim again. He approached the door and opened it slightly to have a look inside. Noah was sound asleep and the angel watched him for a few more minutes with a disquiet expression.

It wasn’t the effect of a foreign gift in another body what unnerved him. No. It was a detail he had omitted a while ago, something he hadn’t understood back then until they found out what Demian really was. Because just as he couldn’t read Demian’s mind, Noah’s seemed to be blocked to him too. But Marianne couldn’t know. After all . . . how could he tell her that her father might be a demon?