7. BLAME THE HEART
Fracture on the left forearm, that was Belgina’s prognosis. Ironically, the usual advantage of their armor’s flexibility turned out to be a hindrance to her. Nevertheless, her mother didn’t seem surprised to see her in a cast and a sling.
“I used to do gymnastics when I was little, so I spent half the time with broken bones. But I had to quit in order to focus on school,” she explained.
All those amazing acrobatic acts she had performed suddenly made sense. Marianne used to think it was an acquired skill as an Angel Warrior, but having now that precedent, she didn’t feel so bad for not being able to do it too. It reminded her that they should definitely return to their training plans that now included another teammate.
“I was thinking that we should worry about our physical condition,” proposed Marianne. “To give a good fight next time.”
“Do you mean training or something?” Belgina asked, and she nodded. “I can’t do much with my arm like this. I’ll have the cast for about three weeks.”
“Well, I thought we could maybe join a club.”
“Sounds good,” Lilith agreed. That was the most she had said that morning.
“By the way, I took the liberty to get our research done ahead of time,” added Belgina, taking out some prints with her free arm.
“I forgot! I’m so sorry, we’ll make it up for you next time,” Marianne said while Lilith looked at the door and they followed her example. Kristania came in, carrying a big package wrapped like a gift. Her friends surrounded her, anxious to know what was under the wrapping, so she ripped the paper without further ado.
“It’s from Renzo, can you believe it? He keeps thinking I’ll go out with him.” She tore the paper lining and uncovered a painting, the same one Lilith had modeled for, but instead of her, it had Kristania’s face. She burst out laughing at the sight of it. “So ridiculous!”
Marianne and Belgina looked at Lilith, thinking their efforts to cheer her up had been ruined, but she got up, walked towards Kristania and purposefully bumped against her, making her drop the painting while stepping over it.
“Oops, let me help you with that,” she said, bending to pick it up and breaking the canvas in the process, then dropping it again until the frame got smashed, all before the girls’ astonished faces. “Ohhh, that’s not good. I’m sorry. I have butter fingers.” She just shrugged and returned to her seat like nothing had happened. “Much better! Where were we? What club are we going to join?”
The girls were agape at first and then tried to keep from laughing after absorbing what she had just done. Lilith was definitively unpredictable and never ceased to amaze them. They were getting along so well despite being so opposite.
Meanwhile, Angie kept looking at them in a strange way from her seat.
When it was time for club hunting, they were given a schedule so they could freely choose which one to visit next. Both Marianne and Lilith agreed to spend some time going to sports clubs to decide which one to join and Belgina was more interested in going back to the laboratories, but still she followed them.
The gymnastics team seemed the most diverse, it had both girls and boys as members, and across the room were all kinds of equipment they used for their activities. There was a group gathered at the bars while others practiced on the vault, the balance beam or the still rings.
“Did you do all of that, Belgina?” Marianne asked, feeling in pain just to watch them bend their bodies at will.
“I had two fractures at least from each device, but that was so many years ago that I think it would be hard for me to get back.”
“You’re supposed to start at a very young age. Starting this late would get us right in that position,” Lilith pointed at a group of students constantly falling from the balance beam, and others trying to jump the vault just to end up face down against the mattress. “Pffft, I think I’ll pass.”
“Even if you’ve only practiced as a child, I think you could retake it, Belgina. All the moves you’ve previously shown were outstanding.”
“I would prefer a closed practice among us three, like no one else has to be involved in this.”
“Well, we still have more clubs to consider, we don’t have to rule out the possibilities,” Lilith intervened, taking out the schedule while Kristania and her friends were coming into the facility. They looked at them haughtily and murmured something to each other, sitting as far away as possible. “If you’re going to say something about us, say it to our faces!”
“Lilith, please don’t,” Belgina muttered to avoid further conflict.
“Gladly I will!” Kristania said, getting up again with an uppity air. “Destroying somebody else’s property is an uncivilized act, but I don’t blame you, it’s clear you’re unstable. After all, what else could be expected from those who hang out with a bitter girl who tries to turn everyone against each other?” Her gaze focused on Marianne. “That’s right, I did some research. I know you didn’t have any friends at your old school, so you’re trying to divide us all here. You made the most of Belgina’s lack of character and the other one’s mental instability, but it won’t work with anyone else. We can clearly see through your intentions.”
Marianne’s face clenched, perplexed at what she was hearing. Her jaw tensed, but when she was about to answer back, Lilith took the lead.
“Who are you calling mentally unstable?” she yelled, her face flushed with rage.
Belgina tried to act as a mediator to stop her with her free arm, but Lilith was so rough she ended up pushing her with a shake of her shoulders. Her glasses fell off and Belgina plunged to the floor. Marianne leaned over to help her and Lilith seemed appalled, realizing what she had done.
“Sorry! I didn’t . . . I didn’t mean to!”
The glasses were crushed under Belgina’s free arm and pieces of glass pierced her skin.
“Now you see, Belgina?” Kristania said, crossing her arms with a smirk on her face. “That’s what happens when you hang out with the wrong people.”
Her entourage seconded with a laugh that permeated Marianne’s patience. She glowered at them, a glare full of rage, and suddenly the three of them lost their footing as if the floor had moved below them.
Kristania was the first one to fall, followed by the other two on top of her. It took Marianne a few seconds to realize she had done it, and despite being caught off guard at first, she couldn’t help feeling a little satisfaction to see them on the floor, whining in pain.
“Come on, we have to take her to the infirmary,” Marianne said, holding Belgina with Lilith’s help. She needed some stitches in her right forearm, incapacitating her for the moment. She was calm despite everything, but Lilith couldn’t look her in the eyes knowing she was responsible for it. “Will someone come for you?”
“Yes, my mother will send one of her assistants to take me home. Apparently, I can’t use my arm for the rest of the day and I’ll have to replace my glasses again.”
Lilith began to blow her nose, turning away from them.
“Don’t worry, Lilith. It wasn’t serious, I’ll come back to school tomorrow.”
“I’m really sorry! She’s right, I’m unstable!” she bawled with tearful eyes and a red nose.
“Listen to me, don’t let anything she says get to you. She’ll look for ways to upset you and harp on, it’s like a sick hobby for her,” Marianne advised her while she whimpered. “Don’t let her get to you because that’s what she wants. Don’t let her win.”
Lilith dried her tears and shook her head affirmatively while Belgina looked at her watch.
“You better get back to schedule. Someone’s coming to get me, anyway.”
“We’ll stay with you until they come to pick you up!” Lilith cried, hugging her tight without measuring her strength. Belgina just tightened her mouth so as not to complain.
When her mother’s assistant came for her, both girls were left alone and checked on their schedule again to find out what other clubs they could go to next. They chose to return to the gym where the wrestling team was practicing and stayed in the stands, taking the time to meditate.
There they were, sitting with their legs folded and blank stares. Lilith seemed blue and Marianne didn’t know how to make her stop thinking about the incident, so the only thing she could think of was to distract her with something inconsequential that had been hovering in her mind since the day before.
“Hey, remember yesterday when you were asleep in that seat? I tried to wake you up and make you change to another one, but you kept coming back to it.”
“Really? I’m a heavy sleeper. I don’t remember anything that happens.”
“Well, when you woke up the first time, you looked at me and said something I didn’t understand and then you just started to laugh. It was very weird.”
“It was you then! I thought I was still in the middle of a dream!” She suddenly chuckled at Marianne’s look of confusion. “You do look like her!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Nutella! From the Power-Pie Girls! You do look alike!” she blurted with increasing fits of contagious laughter.
“That’s not true!” Marianne refuted once she understood the reference. It was from the cartoon her brother watched on TV, but Lilith seemed quite amused by that discovery, so she decided to leave it that way. At least she had achieved her goal of distracting her.
“Oh, look! It’s almost basketball time. We should consider it,” Lilith noted, pointing at the schedule and Marianne grimaced at the thought of who would be there.
“We better not, we saw the team the other day, it’s all boys. There’ll be no room for us.” She used it as an excuse, but Lilith already looked determined.
“Well, we could form a female team then. Come on, I’ve always wanted to play basketball,” Lilith insisted, pulling her by the wrist.
When they reached the auditorium, the team was just arriving and they were among the few people in the stands.
“Isn’t it great? Maybe we should really suggest putting together a girls’ team,” said Lilith very excited at the prospect.
“If you say so.”
“Hey! Why didn’t you tell me Demian was part of the team?” Lilith asked when he rushed through the doors and Marianne snorted.
“Didn’t think it was important.”
“Hi, Demian!” Lilith waved at him. He turned, startled, but once he realized it was just the two of them and not his personal stalker, he relaxed and returned the greeting, focusing on the practice next. “Poor thing. He must live in constant fear that the gargoyle might appear at any moment.”
“There are mistakes you have to live with,” Marianne said, resting her chin on her hands and taking a quick look underneath them. She then noticed Angie sitting at the front of the stands.
“She’s in our classroom, right?” asked Lilith.
“Yes, her name is Angie. Although she’s a little bit of a mystery, she’s always disappearing.” The raspberry-haired girl watched the practice intently.
“Uh, I know that look,” said Lilith after a brief analysis.
“What do you mean?”
“See those dreamy eyes? The girl is in love!”
“You really think so?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m sure,” she said matter-of-factly, and they both watched her for a few minutes.
“Who do you think it is?” Marianne wondered, feeling curious.
“Do I give you my guess or do we ask her directly?”
“I think it would be too intrusive, asking her something that doesn’t concern us.”
“Well, then here’s my theory,” the blonde began to expose. “It goes without saying that it’s someone from the team so let’s analyze. According to the direction of her gaze, the guy in question must be positioned on the left side and judging by those who are in there, I’d say it must be Demian.”
“And you deduced it solely by the direction of her gaze?”
“You can’t argue with the eyes, they tell you everything you need to know,” Lilith said, shrugging as if it were law.
“Well, if what you say is true, it must’ve been very difficult for her after finding out about him and Kristania,” Marianne guessed and at that moment Lilith made a weird face, an idea crossing her mind.
“Can you imagine how the gargoyle would feel if Angie started dating him?”
“I don’t want to think the harassment she would put the poor girl through, but it would certainly leave a mark on her. A big one.”
They both looked at each other as if they were thinking the same thing, and suddenly smiled. They went down the stands and sat at both sides of the raspberry-haired girl. Angie barely came out of her reverie, realizing she had company.
“Hi,” she said, taken aback.
“I think we haven’t been officially introduced. My name is Lilith. Nice to meet you!”
“Likewise,” she replied, shaking hands and trying to figure out what was behind that sudden introduction.
“I was a bit surprised to see you here all by yourself. I thought you would be dragged everywhere by . . . you know who,” Marianne said, raising her eyebrows to state the obvious.
“Sometimes I need to be alone,” Angie explained, showing a shy smile and returning her gaze to the court.
“You should venture,” Lilith openly said and she looked back at her, confused. “You know, tell him what you feel. Or just talk to him, strike a conversation. It’s just a matter of knowing how to behave according to the situation. Not like that obnoxious stalker . . . ”
Marianne immediately covered her mouth to stop her from talking too much and Angie got caught between the two.
“What she’s trying to say is: don’t miss an opportunity to have a real talk with him.”
The raspberry-haired girl remained with the same expression, a mix of surprise and confusion, until she finally looked away, her cheeks flushing.
“Am I that obvious?”
“Not really! But I never miss a bullet. I have some kind of sixth sense for these sort of things,” Lilith said as soon as she managed to free herself.
“It’s true then. Well, I won’t discuss your taste, that’s very subjective, but I imagine how difficult it must be for you, especially to admit it to a couple of snooping girls like us. I’m really sorry if we’ve crossed a line,” Marianne said, feeling ashamed for playing along with Lilith from the start.
“No problem. It’s . . . in a way a relief to finally talk to someone about it.”
“We’re all ears,” Lilith said while getting comfortable in front of her.
Angie glanced to the floor again and bit her lip.
“Well, I guess it’s normal to admire someone from afar. Sometimes it’s better to keep it that way, completely platonic.”
“But he’s so close! Why stay in the fantasy realm when you can take action?” Lilith insisted, taking her shoulders and fighting her urge to shake her up.
“You can’t disappoint a fantasy,” Angie maintained.
“You don’t have to be as direct as Lilith expects everyone to be,” Marianne said, stopping Lilith before another one of her impulsive outbursts, dismembering Angie in the process. “You could be his friend. I don’t think he would reject your friendship.”
Angie reflected deep in thought at the suggestion.
“I have an idea! We’d like to propose a girls’ team. What about joining us? You’d have something in common with him,” Lilith suggested once more.
“ . . . Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t,” Angie said with a hint of bitterness, rubbing her arm. The two girls didn’t seem to understand her reason to refuse.
“Look! Practice is done! Seize the moment and go talk to him,” Lilith jumped, pointing at the boys who were already dispersing.
“B-But . . . what should I say?” she stammered, starting to get nervous.
“Talk about the idea of the girls’ team. Mention it casually, it’s a good excuse to get into a conversation with him, go!” Lilith softly pushed her to the front and she started walking with hesitation.
“He better not be rude to her or make one of his acts of escapism,” Marianne muttered with a watchful eye over Demian, already approaching the nearest bench in the same trajectory as Angie.
He reached for his sports bag, took out a bottle of water and a towel. She smiled at him and he did the same, but she ultimately walked past him to both girls’ surprise, and stood in front of another boy who had his belongings at the opposite side of the court.
“Well, isn’t your sixth sense flawless?”
“But I was right that it was someone from the team, wasn’t I?” Lilith said, still considering it a triumph.
Marianne only shook her head, still feeling something was missing there, and it wasn’t necessarily Belgina. She turned to the door, wondering what could it be, and then it dawned on her that Kristania had not appeared despite knowing Demian would be there. On one hand, she told herself she shouldn’t care, but on the other she couldn’t help feeling a hint of curiosity about her absence. What could have happened as to keep her from her daily stalking routine? Had the fall taken a toll on her?
“Didn’t you say you wouldn’t see me again? I thought you’d keep your word,” Demian said after taking a sip of water, breaking her concentration.
“Don’t think so highly of yourself. I’m here because she wanted to come,” she replied, pointing at Lilith. “If I had my way, I would avoid the clubs you’re in like the plague.”
“And how are you planning to do that when we join the club?” Lilith asked.
“I haven’t agreed to join!” she snapped and Demian started to laugh.
“A girls’ team? I’d like to see that. Good luck.”
“Are you making fun of us? Do you think we won’t be able to form the team even if we try?” Marianne rebuked.
“I’m just saying I’d like to see if you can make it. So far there hasn’t been any girl interested in the team,” he replied without erasing his smile, which she couldn’t place as either genuine or taunting.
“Well, maybe we do!” she responded firmly, feeling she had now something to prove.
“Are we forming the team then?” Lilith asked with a longing gaze. Marianne sighed, realizing she might have dug her own grave.
“Hey, everyone! I have rehearsal this afternoon at my house! You’re invited to come!” interrupted the boy whom Angie had been talking to, raising his voice so everybody could hear him. The response of his teammates was immediate and they went out giving him high fives as they walked towards the exit. “Will you come, Demian?”
“Thanks, but I have things to do,” Demian excused himself, adjusting his sports bag.
“No problem, see you later,” the boy said while winking at Angie and then he left the building.
She returned to the stands wearing a radiant smile and excitement she tried to contain.
“So . . . ?” Lilith said with a mischievous smile, wiggling her eyebrows.
“He has a band and plays the guitar. He invited me to attend to his rehearsal today,” she said in the most measured way she could. “Should I go? Would you come with me?”
“Well, if it doesn’t take us long . . . ”
“Of course we’ll go!” Lilith accepted without much thought, but Angie quickly changed her expression.
“Oh, I forgot to ask for his address!” she said with disappointment.
“Don’t worry, you got a pen and paper?” Demian intervened, approaching with his bag on his back and writing down something on a piece of paper. “Here, I’ve included a sketch so you can find it easily.”
“Thank you so much, Demian!” she said with a grateful smile.
“You’re welcome. See you later,” he replied, patting her head as if they knew each other, and while he was leaving, the two girls looked inquiringly at her.
“I used to play with his sister when we were little until she was sent to study abroad,” Angie explained, noticing their expressions.
“Oh, of course. It all makes sense now,” Marianne murmured. No wonder Kristania was always trying to keep Angie on her side since she was somewhat close to Demian. It was so convenient, and if Demian’s own sister were there, surely she would stick to her like glue.
“I know how to get there. It’s not that far from my house,” Lilith said, looking at the address and the sketch. “Are we going or what?” Angie nodded with excitement.
When they reached their destination, the garden was occupied by a large number of kids who came and went eating everything in a table set up front, while the boy and his band mates adjusted their instruments on the porch.
“It’s a lot of people,” Marianne remarked, feeling repelled by the crowd. She was starting to think of leaving the place while she had the chance.
“Don’t do it, you have to stay,” Samael told her and she understood that danger was lurking around someone present in the throng. They entered the garden and even though she wanted to stay away from the mass, they eventually installed themselves near the snack table that Lilith was taking care of . . . by emptying it.
“Let’s hope they start to play soon. It won’t take long until the others riot when they find out they’ve run out of snacks,” Marianne said, careful not to leave her hands on the table fearing Lilith would confuse her fingers with cocktail sausages.
“Aldric has plugged his guitar. That means they’re about to start,” Angie said without taking her eyes off the porch. She looked so happy that Marianne chose not to ruin the moment with some snarky comment as she used to, until it was Angie herself who spoke again. “Thank you for coming with me. Your support means a lot.”
“Have you really never talked to anyone about it? I thought you were friends with Kristania . . . ”
“You have no idea what it would be, revealing something personal to her.”
“Well, you can rest assured that nothing will come out of our mouths,” she promised, and then remembered the pills she had dropped the day before, but didn’t know how to talk about it. She checked her pocket and realized she’d kept the strip. She twirled it in her fingers hesitantly until deciding to just give it to her. “By the way . . . I think this is yours. You dropped it yesterday.”
Angie looked at the strip with surprise and took it quietly, hoping no one had seen it.
“ . . . Thanks. Did you show it to someone else?”
Marianne shook her head and that seemed to soothe her, but still didn’t seem to have the intention to explain their function, so she considered asking, but the amplifier turned on.
“Hello, everyone! Thank you for coming to our rehearsal. Our band is called ‘Ripperton’ and we hope you like our music,” the vocalist announced as everyone gathered in front of the porch to listen, even Lilith put the snacks aside to pay attention to the band.
“Did I miss something?” she asked, licking her fingers while the drummer gave the beat with the sticks and started playing.
“Are you sure something will happen? I don’t understand how your hunches work.”
“Have I ever failed?”
She couldn’t refute it, so she only had to wait while taking refuge near the table covering her ears. Who would be the victim this time? It could also be a massive attack, like in the Court.
“Do you think they’re looking for a female lead? Get me an audition, Angie!” Lilith shouted to be heard, but Angie was contemplating the band, not wanting to miss any detail, especially when Aldric, the boy she liked, had a guitar solo. Marianne decided to take the moment to tell something to Lilith’s ear.
“You better be ready just in case something happens, and by that, I mean something like yesterday,” she said and the girl nodded, behaving more prudently once she learned something could happen.
Thus, there were two set of watchful eyes monitoring the place for any eventuality. Any suspicious movement alerted them, but they returned to their position once the disturbances proved to be nothing. The situation was starting to get on their nerves until rehearsal ended and the boys thanked everyone, starting to unplug their instruments. Nothing had happened.
“False alarm, huh?” Lilith commented, patting Marianne on the back while taking some more snacks from the table. The latter, on the other hand, seemed disappointed.
“Do you think I should go congratulate him?” Angie asked, rubbing her arm nervously.
“Go on! You could regret not doing it,” Lilith advised, with a chip on her mouth. Angie walked determined to the porch where the boys were packing up their instruments. “Well, there was no attack like you said, but you can’t deny that at least for her it was worthy.”
Marianne still had that look of frustration, wondering how Samael could have been wrong, and then they saw Angie coming to a sudden stop.
The boy she liked was a few feet from her . . . kissing some other girl.
“Oh, no. That’s not good.”
She turned and started to walk away, but at each step she kept crumbling until she got to the corner of the house and went around it. The two girls followed her and found her curled up in a ball, against the wall with her hand on her chest. The strip of pills was on the floor. Half empty.
“Angie! What did you do? You shouldn’t, it’s not worth it!” Marianne yelled, shaking her with concern after seeing the empty strip, thinking the worst. Lilith glanced at it and then tried to stop her. “What are you doing? Can’t you see she just . . . ?”
“It’s Lanoxin,” Lilith whispered, although Marianne didn’t know what she meant. “It’s for the heart. People who take these have a heart condition.”
Marianne remained paused for a moment until it became clear to her the several details: Angie’s secrecy, her constant disappearances, her refusal to enter the basketball team and especially her visit to the hospital. It was cardiology after all. She had done everything to keep everyone from knowing. Marianne watched her huddled, her hand on her chest and gasping, struggling to breathe. She bent over to take her shoulder, but the girl stopped her wrist, staring with red eyes and sweaty face. Her hand was cold.
“I’ll be fine,” Angie said, rattling. A shudder ran through Marianne’s skin starting from her wrist, where she was holding her.
“Cordis,” Samael delivered. “You need to tell her. She is . . . ”
Marianne reacted, disturbed at those words. She released her hand and looked at Angie with rigid limbs and her chest fluctuating hectically.
“Don’t you notice her condition? Her heart won’t stand it!”
“I don’t decide who are chosen. I told you before, it’s fate.”
“But if she is . . . if it is so . . . she won’t be able anyway . . . ”
Screams took her out of her reverie and Lilith leaned on the corner of the house. Umber had attacked the whole band and the guys who attended the rehearsal ran away in all directions to avoid Ashelow’s onslaught.
“Those demons again! They’re attacking them all!” Lilith said, waiting for instructions.
“Who . . . are they . . . attacking?” Angie stuttered, trying to stand up, but Marianne held her immediately, fearing she could get hurt.
“Why won’t you go ahead? I’ll follow you,” she asked Lilith and she nodded with resolution, her armor covering her before Angie’s amazed eyes. She then bolted to the front of the house.
“So, she is . . . ” Angie muttered, but another spasm in her chest silenced her.
“Quiet, Angie, please,” Marianne pleaded helplessly. “How do you expect her to do anything? She’s barely able to stand by herself!”
“Trust me, once she unleashes her true self, her problem will be left in the background,” Samael insisted, but Marianne was still unconvinced.
“What are you waiting for? You’re also one of them, right?” Angie said, taking her by surprise.
She stood against the wall, leaning forward, and shook her head affirmatively.
“I started to suspect . . . since the attack to the Fencing club . . . but I kept it secret . . . that’s what I do best,” Angie confessed, letting the words slip at every gasp, and then lifted her face looking for her eyes. “ . . . Do it.”
Marianne stood, bemused before her. Without pronouncing any word, she let the armor cover her up and Angie smiled faintly.
“It’s true then. Is Belgina also . . . ?
“Yes, but she couldn’t come under her current circumstances,” she admitted, even though she was still struggling with her dilemma. The desperate cries for help at the front forced her to make a decision. “Listen, Angie. You may think this is crazy, but apparently you’re one of us too!” The girl’s eyebrows twitched with skepticism, her chest still tightening. “I know! It must be hard to believe it, but beyond the pain you’re feeling right now, there’s something inside you that overcomes it! You just have to find it out! Do it and the pain will go away!”
She didn’t know why she had said that, it pricked her conscience to promise something she wasn’t fully convinced would happen and Angie’s hopeful look did nothing but increase that feeling.
“I want it . . . There’s nothing I want more,” she said, clutching her chest tightly. But despite what she had just said, the pain seemed to increase along with her palpitations, up to the point that she could only hear her heartbeats now.
She must have hit the ground next, because she only saw Marianne’s mouth moving, but couldn’t hear any sound from her and slowly her vision began to close. The pain was so intense she thought it was all over. And then, amidst her strong beats, a familiar feeling flowed through her, anesthetic, and nothing mattered any longer. All of her senses and metabolism sped up until she started to feel lighter. Her sight cleared again and got a glimpse of Marianne in front of her, her mouth was still moving with no sound to go with it, until she finally managed to hear what she was saying.
“Angie, please! Talk!” Marianne begged, and she finally started to get up to her relief. “That’s it! Now look at you! You did it!”
“I did it?” she repeated, not understanding what that meant, but once she looked down, she noticed a retractable armor all over her body, with a marbled pink tone.
She put her hands over her head with a sense of urgency and felt it covered with that same coated material. Then led her hand to her chest and felt her palpitations through the armor. Under normal conditions she knew it could be dangerous for her, but at that moment it was like her body had disconnected from its vital signs, leaving the basic ones untouched. She could move and think clearly, that was all that mattered.
Lilith wasn’t able to handle Ashelow while Umber wrenched out the bandmates’ gifts one by one. As much as she was fighting back with fire, Ashelow’s fibers would grow back and cover him again while she ended up exhausted. She didn’t know how long she could take it.
“Cover me!” Marianne showed up, grasping her sword with her eyes fixed on Umber.
Lilith had to make an effort to deflect the attention from the other demon while Marianne arrived at the place where Umber was taking the gift from the last boy of the band: Aldric.
She brandished the sword, intending to cut off one of his limbs even if they grew back, but he stopped the blade with a single stroke and pushed her to the ground, immobilizing her with his foot.
“I see you have a new teammate, but she’ll need more than a few incendiary tricks to defeat us.”
Marianne tried to sit up, but the weight of Umber’s foot restrained her.
He attempted to introduce the orb into the container, but soon it was rejected and the gift fell off along with the others.
“ . . . Useless. I’ll have to start taking drastic measures.” He turned to Marianne, and after briefly lifting his foot to gain momentum, he kicked her up towards Lilith, crashing into her while Ashelow moved over. “Make sure they die this time or else . . . !”
He disappeared, leaving Ashelow in charge, who turned to the girls about to pick up what his master had left, but Marianne was ahead of him.
Ashelow couldn’t react in time when someone tackled him from behind. The girls then surrounded him and Marianne threatened him with the sword a few inches from his neck.
“Did I do it right?” Angie asked, joining them.
“You couldn’t have done it any better!” Marianne said, maintaining the blade rigid.
“Is that you? Awesome!” Lilith exclaimed, patting Angie.
“Another Angel Warrior,” Ashelow mumbled. The muscles of his whole body tensed and his face twitched. “I can’t allow it. Not another one!”
His sudden breakdown caught them off guard when he pushed them away, growing claws in his hands and clutching Marianne’s arms. Her sword had cut his cheek, though he didn’t seem to mind. He clasped her so tight that her armor began to dent and splinter, his claws going through the armor’s cracks.
“I can’t allow any more of you swarming around! I won’t be punished for that!”
Marianne was rattled by his deranged look. And the weirdest thing was that the cut in his face didn’t seem to close, even when Umber was regenerating all the time.
“Let go of her!”
Lilith was doing everything to provoke him, throwing fireballs at his back, but he didn’t let her go, and part of the flames even reached Marianne. The fibers covering the demon’s back came to life then and held Lilith down. Only Angie was left now.
She didn’t know what to do. There was a strong fluttering in her chest, which normally would mean agony for her, and yet it kept her adrenaline up. And suddenly she felt an urge that forced her to jump over him, despite those filaments trying to stop her, until she managed to reach his face and hold it firmly.
He abruptly stopped. The tension in his body began to decrease while his claws retracted. His eyes opened to its full extent with dilated pupils, allowing Marianne to move away from him, wielding her sword despite the pain in her arms.
Sirens could be heard approaching. She had to finish him off so they could leave before authorities arrived.
It was certainly a struggle to lift the sword in her condition, but when she was about to thrust it in his chest, she noticed his eyes were filled with black tears in a lost stare, his tortured expression made evident that something was happening inside of him, something Angie had triggered with her touch. That realization made her stop dead in her tracks.
“Quick! The police should be here at any minute now!” Lilith prompted her, but she lowered the sword and pulled Angie away from him.
As soon as he was released, Ashelow fell on his knees, digging his hands into the ground and panting. He looked like he’d seen something frightful. Marianne stood before him, who lifted his silver eyes and saw the tip of the sword pointing at his face.
“Go away before I change my mind,” she warned him gravely.
He looked at her with bewilderment, and even though he seemed about to say something, he just ended up vanishing in the air. Marianne then fell exhausted to the grass, with sore arms, the sword absorbed by her right hand. Lilith looked upset, but the sirens sounded even closer, so the only thing she could think of was to lift her up.
“Quick, we have to bring her to the boys so she can give them back the gifts,” Lilith said, beckoning Angie to help her out.
Marianne rushed and put the orbs back into their bodies and they barely managed to leave the place right when the cops made their entrance, and finally took refuge in an alley a few blocks away, sitting on the ground to catch their breath.
“May I ask you why you didn’t do it? You had him right in front of you! You could have killed him!” Lilith claimed, but Marianne just shook her head.
“I don’t know, I just . . . felt bad for him. He seemed to be suffering,” she replied, and Lilith clicked her tongue in disapproval, but said no more and just snorted.
“We have to do something with your arms, can you move?”
Marianne made a careful move. It was excruciating, but at least she didn’t seem to have muscle damage.
“I can help you out with that, no one has to know.”
“Time to give up armors then. Remember to focus on the thought that there’s no danger. You understand, Angie? You just have to relax,” explained Marianne and she nodded. As soon as their armors retracted, Marianne watched her arms with the marks of the claws and a minor bleeding, even when the wounds looked deep.
“Hopefully some stitches will suffice,” Lilith expressed when they heard Angie gasping.
The palpitations had returned from the moment she got rid of the armor. She was bending over with pain. The two girls helped her take her pills and remained to her side, until her signs would normalize.
Back home, after the painful healing Lilith had put her through, Marianne leaned carefully on the bed, resting her arms.
“Does it hurt?” Samael asked.
“What do you think?” she replied, pulling up her sleeves to look at the bandages.
“You know I can help you with that. Place both hands on the wounds.” She sighed and put her hands crosswise on her injuries.
She felt the heat emanating from them, and after a few seconds she took the bandages off to verify that the wounds had closed. She still had some slight marks and the stitches, but at least she no longer felt pain and could move her arms freely again.
“Is there any way you can do the same with Belgina?”
“I’m sorry, it only works on you for now,” he replied, though her mind seemed away already. “Why do you keep thinking about that demon’s reaction?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know what Angie did. It was as if something . . . tormented him. Even his expression seemed . . . ” she shook her head, trying to pull that idea out of her mind. “Demons don’t have feelings. They don’t have them . . . right?”
“That’s the general conception we have from them.”
“That’s not a concrete answer.”
“That’s because I don’t have one. I would like to have all the answers to your questions, but it’s not like that. My knowledge is limited to anything related to the Angel Warriors and an overview of the Legion of Darkness. Beyond that I can’t be sure.”
“Let’s leave it that way, then. I can’t keep thinking about it,” she decided, ensconcing herself and closing her eyes.
She must have fallen asleep immediately, because when she opened them again, it was morning already. She rubbed her eyes and started to get ready for school automatically.
Going down the stairs, she heard her mother saying something from the kitchen, but she paid no attention. Someone was knocking at the door and since there was no one else around she decided to open.
But that was a mistake, because once she realized who was in front of her, she knew it was all over.
. . . She had been discovered.