Never in a million years, Marianne thought to find him right in front of the door. It could only mean one thing: her secret was out.

She restrained a grimace with her eyes fixed straight ahead. Any move, any word could be used against her.

“What are you doing here? How did you find me?” she finally asked.

“I must admit I wasn’t expecting this,” remarked a surprised Commissioner Fillian once he recognized her. She was still holding the door, one foot in the frame, blocking the entrance to prevent him from getting inside. “Is Enid home?”

“What do you want with my mother?” she asked him suspiciously.

“Who is it?” her mother asked, leaving the kitchen, but once she looked through the angle of the door, she stifled a scream as if she had just seen a ghost.

Marianne turned worriedly to her, unsure of whether to go to her or to stay at the door, blocking the Commissioner’s way, until he took that moment of hesitation to enter and approached the woman. What happened next was the last thing Marianne expected to see.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw you on TV!” her mother said, hugging Commissioner Fillian, much to Marianne’s astonishment. “I thought you wouldn’t come!”

“As soon as I got your call, I looked for some free time. It’s been a long time.”

“Excuse me! What is going on here? Did I miss something?” Marianne asked while Loui peered with curiosity from the kitchen.

“Oh, sorry! You guys never got to meet him because I left before you two were born. He’s Red, my brother.”

Marianne felt like a bucket of cold water fell on her. The police chief, who had been trying to arrest her and had considered her a suspect once, was her uncle. Not even in her craziest theories would she have thought of something like that.

“Awesome! I have a police uncle!” Loui stepped out of the kitchen, full of curiosity. Their mother made the proper introductions, but Marianne wasn’t paying any attention, thinking it was all a really bad joke.

As she later found out, commissioner Fillian was against her parents’ relationship, so he’d cut off all contact when they left town. Over the years he longed to see her again, but his pride stopped him from seeking her. Eventually, his anger subsided as time passed, though he never found the right moment to get in touch with his sister again, and it wasn’t until receiving her call a couple of days ago that he gathered the courage to do it.

“Come to dine with us tonight. Will you? There’s so much we have to catch up on.”

“I’ll do what I can. I’ll bring my daughter, is it okay?” the commissioner said.

“Of course! I remember her when she was just a baby.”

Marianne had heard enough. She took her backpack to her shoulder and got out.

“I’m off to school, don’t wait for me for lunch.” She left the house, without even waiting for an answer. She couldn’t just accept Commissioner Fillian as her uncle. Did he seriously think he could get into their lives when he had never been a part of it by his own choice? She already had enough with her own constantly absent father.

“Well? What was that extraordinary thing that happened?” Belgina asked as soon as Marianne arrived at school and she gestured to lower her voice.

“First of all, do you feel okay?”

“Yes, I can move my arm a little better today. I can use my hand too,” Belgina said, her arm still bandaged below the elbow.

Marianne proceeded to tell her the events from the day before and Lilith confirmed it once she arrived.

“She’s got to be with us now, right? I want to see the gargoyle’s face when she finds out!” Lilith said, rubbing her hands in anticipation.

“It’s not a competition, Lilith,” Marianne retorted, although deep down she didn’t dislike the idea at all.

The room was almost full when Kristania made her entrance, fuming and, to everyone’s surprise, wearing a collar just like Marianne after her accident. The fall had ultimately affected her after all.

She should have been remorseful, but the truth was that Marianne felt no guilt at all. It was actually kind of ironic after Kristania had mocked her for using a collar the previous week, so it would have been very easy to give her a taste of her own syrup, but she didn’t want to stoop to her level. She just looked straight-faced at her, which seemed to upset her even more. A single gesture was enough to indicate her classmates to keep their mouths shut. The only one who didn’t hide how much she was relishing the moment was Lilith.

“Wipe that face, Lilith,” Marianne whispered.

“Why? She deserves it! This is nothing but karma finding its way.”

“It’s possible, but mocking her isn’t gonna get you anything.”

“Gosh, okay, ‘mom’,” she reluctantly agreed, crossing her arms and looking away.

Angie came a few minutes later and stopped to see those two polarized groups: the trio led by Kristania in the middle room and the other three girls in the back. Both groups looked at the raspberry-haired girl, waiting for her to sit with them.

For a moment she stood frozen, until she took a breath and walked undeterred to the back of the room, taking a seat in front of Marianne before Kristania’s perplexed face.

“Good choice,” Lilith murmured quietly, but not enough to hide her excitement. Angie responded with a knowing smile.

“You know this will include you in her hate campaign, right?” Marianne warned her.

“I don’t think it matters anymore, does it?” Angie said with a shrug.

“Is it true then, Angie? Are you also . . . ?” Belgina asked and she nodded with a big smile on her face.

Maybe she’d had a rough time the day before, but at least Angie knew she could count on them from now on. The problem was how they would manage to match the same kind of training for the four of them. Angie was unable to do any extreme physical effort, at least in normal conditions, and Belgina didn’t seem invested in sports either, despite her past in gymnastics. She looked more interested in science now, so they couldn’t prevent her from returning to the laboratories once the club hunting began while the rest opted to go to the sports complex outside the building. It was split up into four zones: a swimming dome, a football and baseball field, running tracks and a tennis court.

“Well, think of it this way: not all of us have to do exactly the same in order to contribute to the team in some way,” Lilith commented.

“I know, but I was hoping the four of us would be together in one of the clubs.”

“Are you going to help me then to form the basketball female team?”

“I thought you’d already moved one from the idea.”

“No! I really want the team to happen!” she pouted stubbornly.

“I would like to give it a try, but as you know, it could be risky for me,” Angie intervened, pointing at her chest.

“Have the doctors told you what you can and cannot do? Isn’t there some kind of physical activity you’re allowed to?”

“Well, as long as I stay under control I can try exercises with frequent repetition like swimming or running.”

They instantly turned towards the tracks where a display of sprinting was about to start. The timing was perfect.

A group of students were gathered at the starting point, receiving instructions for a little speed test to measure their conditions and possibilities within the team. Angie joined them after a quick change of outfit while Marianne and Lilith watched from the stands.

“I hope everything goes well and smoothly.”

“Relax! I’m sure she can do it. Come on, Angie!” Lilith shouted in support and she waved back while waiting for her turn.

The two girls were focused on the track, watching the other candidates do the test, when Marianne suddenly had a strange feeling. She looked around, but they were the only ones in the stands besides someone else at the back. It was a boy with sunglasses and the uniform jacket open, showing off a colorful purple woolen shirt beneath. His pose was aloof, taking three rows of seats for himself, his arms resting on the bench back and legs stretched out to reach the seat below. His hair looked like out of a fashion magazine, soaked in so much gel and spray that the wind didn’t move the slightest curl escaping from his well combed pompadour. His natural hair was noticeably wavy with a dark brown shade, but the amount of grease he had on it made it impossible to pay attention with the sunlight reflected on it.

The boy suddenly pulled off his sunglasses and laid eyes on her after realizing she was looking at him. He then smiled and wagged his eyebrows, so she quickly turned her face upfront, feeling a chill run down her spines.

“Look! She’s next!” Lilith said and they both paid attention to Angie. She stood in line and once given the signal, she sprinted like the wind.

She was so petite that she could pass for fragile, but that only helped making her steps as lights as feathers. As soon as she hit the 100 meters the timer stopped for a total of 12 seconds. Not bad for someone who had never trained in her life.

Both girls celebrated Angie’s achievement, but were concerned when she started panting hard, leaning with one hand on her knee and the other on her chest. She sought for them in the stands and waved with her thumbs up, so they both sighed with relief.

“I suppose that solves it for Angie, but we’re still on the fence. Hey, speaking of the devil, look, fencing is starting right now. Shall we go?” Lilith said, showing her the schedule, and Marianne was about to refuse when she felt shivers on the back of her neck again and noticed out the corner of her eye that the guy from the back of the stands was getting up and was already heading towards them.

“Okay, let’s go, hurry!” Marianne sped her down there, pushing Lilith before the guy came any closer. She wouldn’t even turn back to see if he was still there.

Demian was standing by the gym door, watching anxiously inwards. Lester was in there, preparing earnestly for the practice and putting on his mask.

“Hi! I didn’t know we were going to find you here!” Lilith greeted him and he turned a little distracted.

“I’m sorry, didn’t see you coming. What were you saying?”

Marianne knew exactly what was distressing him, or at least she could sense it. Since Lester’s attack, he had not been quite the same, and unless she could return the athletic gift to him, he would never be, not to mention its absence would shorten his life.

“How is he?” she asked, following his gaze.

“He still seems scatterbrained. He’s acting like a stranger impersonating him,” Demian answered, keeping an eye on the weird clumsy movements Lester was doing while spinning around and waiting for the exhibition. As soon as he stopped, he said something to his coach and the latter gestured at Demian. He just grimaced with discomfort. “Not again.”

“He’s calling you. Is it for the display?” said Lilith, while Demian gave a sigh.

“I don’t want to face him again,” he said, more to himself, and walked towards the center of the gym unenthusiastically.

“He’s the one who was attacked,” commented Angie and Marianne nodded. “Did they succeed then? They managed to take one of the spheres they’re looking for?”

“Hey, what are you talking about? Did I miss something?” Lilith asked blankly, and at that moment Kristania arrived with her friends, stopping at the door, opposite to them.

The collar held her neck so stiff, it made her look even more snotty than usual. She looked at Angie with a jaundiced eye and then looked down at Marianne.

“Is this how it works now? Do Angie and Belgina take turns? Aren’t they enough to be full time with you?”

“You’re so poisonous!” Lilith spat, rolling up her sleeves, but Marianne pushed her quickly inside the gym, followed by Angie, who chose to ignore the comment.

The three girls went to sit in the unusual large crowd, while the other trio decided to go to the opposite side. At the center of the gym, Demian seemed to argue with the coach while Lester went around in circles, waiting for the exhibition to start. Finally, Demian had to put on the mask begrudgingly, taking his position with his heels together and foil toward his opponent. Lester imitated him with an impatient temper.

“Why do you think so many people came?” Marianne asked, confused, given that the other clubs with repeating days no longer had the same attendance as the first time.

“Word has spread about the attack and there are also rumors about the guy’s strange behavior,” Angie explained. “They say it’s like he’s been lobotomized and being stripped off everything he knew best.”

“It must be very difficult for him.”

“And for Demian too. There are a lot of malicious rumors circulating about how convenient it is for him that Lester’s no longer the best at Fencing,” Angie added. “And given that there hasn’t been any arrest, some are saying everything was planned by him.”

“That’s just ridiculous,” Marianne snapped.

“You know schools, gossips never stop running.”

The exhibition started with an offensive attack by Lester, but it seemed more of a desperate action than a strategic movement. This time it was Demian who looked poised while dodging and stopping his constant attempts to touch him with his foil. Lester seemed to still remember the movements and attacks, but his body didn’t respond properly, making him stumble and lose concentration, which granted his opponent more points. His desperation grew, making him commit several penalties until Demian decided to end it all with a lunge, forcing him to surpass the limit of the track where the boy tangled with his own feet and fell on his back. Demian was declared winner of the match. Kristania’s shouts and cheers overshadowed the crowd’s applause, but he didn’t look happy at all after removing his mask. He didn’t even wait for the final salute and went straight to the locker room.

While most wondered about Demian’s reaction, Marianne had again the strange feeling that someone was watching her. She cautiously turned her face and got to see the guy from the tracks in the crowd. He had taken off his sunglasses and was smiling with the same playful expression. Was he following her? As soon as he made a move to get up, she quickly took Angie and Lilith outside the building.

“What is it? Why the rush?”

“Don’t ask! Let’s just get the hell out of here!”

The boy stopped with a confused look on his face at the sight of her bolting out of there, then scratched his temple so as not to mess up his hairdo.

When Demian came out of the locker room, most of the students had already gone, to his relief. He sat on a bench and began to accommodate his belongings inside his bag when someone approached him.

“Are you Demian?” asked the pompadour guy with an openly confident attitude.

“Do I know you?” he asked, puzzled.

“I don’t think so. Today’s my first day at school. We’re in the same class.”

“Oh, that’s right. I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.”

“No problem. The thing is I’ve been asking around and I was told you’re the most popular in school, so from now on I decided you’re going to be my best friend,” said the boy nonchalantly.

“Excuse me?” Demian asked, unable to believe his audacity, but the pompadour boy seemed pretty serious about it, and that took him completely off guard.

“Did you decide to join the Science club, then?” Marianne asked once they reunited with Belgina.

“Yes, I was interested before, but hadn’t decided yet.”

“With Angie in Athletics we’re the only ones left. How many would be needed to form a basketball team?” Lilith said doing mental calculations.

“Geez, you won’t leave that out, won’t you?”

“There are five members who play. I guess you’ll just need to complete the minimum to propose it,” Belgina replied.

“Don’t encourage her!” Marianne begged while the blonde wrote something on a piece of paper and then headed to the bulletin board at the entrance hall. There, she pinned it up and went back to them.

“Done! Now we just have to wait and see if someone is interested.”

“It’ll be sheer luck if you manage to put the team together by tomorrow. It’s the last day for registration,” Angie pointed out while coming out of school.

“I don’t feel like going home yet. Do you guys have something to do? Would you keep me company?”

“Why don’t you wanna go home? Did something happen?” Belgina asked and Marianne sighed, knowing she would have to tell them, but a black armored van parking right in front of them interrupted. The passenger’s window came down and Belgina moved closer as if she knew who it was, getting back to them after a few seconds. “It’s my mother’s assistant, she sent him to take me home. She wants to have lunch with me.”

Apparently, Belgina’s recent mishaps had woken her mother’s accumulated remorse and now she was trying to make it up for them. Belgina was definitely making the best of it, so they chose not to stop her. They watched her leaving in the armored van —probably provided by the Justice Department— and exchanged glances.

“So, you’re saying the police chief turned out to be your uncle,” Lilith said once they were at the coffee shop.

“Yes, and he’s supposed to come dine at my house tonight. I don’t know how to take it, if he mentions something about the interrogation to my mother . . . ”

She preferred to keep quiet and not jinx it by the sole mention.

“You could wait for the perfect moment to ask him not to say anything about it,” Angie advised, sipping from her iced tea.

“Or better yet, threaten him!” Lilith suggested with her eyes lit. “With all the remorse he must be feeling after all these years of not talking to your mother, I don’t think he’d want to take the risk driving her away again after treating you as a criminal. Make the most of it, use the guilt, that’s the best weapon.”

“I’ll take that in consideration, thank you,” Marianne replied after taking a few seconds to think of how to answer to such a suggestion. But even if the idea of threatening a lawman wasn’t in her plans, part of what Lilith said made sense in her own twisted kind of way. Maybe the commissioner could have considered those arguments on his own. At least that was what she hoped.

“Here you go, grilled brochettes, crepes and triple cheese pizza,” Demian announced, leaving their orders on the table.

“Thanks! I’m starving!” said Lilith, taking the whole pizza to herself while Marianne toyed with her crepes, contemplating her options.

“I don’t want to freak you out,” Angie suddenly said, taking her out of her musing. “But there’s a boy sitting at the counter watching you.”

She peeked at the counter where the pompadour guy sat, staring at her with a can of soda in his hand. His witty smile seemed engraved on his face.

“Oh, no! Not him again!” she muttered, turning around and trying to hide.

“Do you know him?” asked Angie.

Lilith seemed too busy devouring her pizza to notice.

“I have no idea who he is, but I think he’s been following me since the tracks!”

“Maybe he’s a stalker,” Angie whispered ominously, and the idea made Marianne shudder. Suddenly, the guy appeared beside the table, causing her to jolt.

“Hi, babe.”

Her arm stretched out as a reflex and elbowed him right in the face. The boy clutched it and began to squirm and spin around in front of the table before their horrified gazes.

“What’s going on here?” Demian returned after the commotion.

“I don’t know! He suddenly appeared out of nowhere and I hit him! He took me by surprise!” Marianne shouted, with her arms folded, fearing they could impulsively stir again and cause another mess or hit someone else.

The boy stopped moving spasmodically all at once, adjusted his clothes and raised his hands to his hair to check if it was still in place. He then took a chair from the left booth and placed it at the head of the table with the back upfront, sitting on it smoothly, like nothing happened.

“I’m okay, don’t worry,” he said, putting his arms on the back of the seat with a pimping attitude. The blow beneath his right eye was reddish, but he didn’t seem to care. He had a small piece of purple rhinestone on his left ear and his sunglasses hung from the collar of his shirt. His roguish smile shone again. “I like tough women.”

Marianne squinted in disgust and felt a huge desire to hit him again now by choice.

“Don’t listen to him, he’s joking. If he bothers you just tell me and I’ll get him out of here,” Demian said, before she slaughtered him again.

“I should’ve known he was a friend of yours!” she spat out.

“I wouldn’t exactly say he’s a friend . . . ” he tried to explain, but the boy interrupted.

“I’m Mitchell. Great pleasure to meet you —take it the way you want,” he introduced himself, wiggling his eyebrows up and down repeatedly.

Marianne instantly disliked him and his attitude, she just couldn’t help it. She had no idea where he came from nor why he was following her, but the last thing she wanted was to give rise to conversation.

“Now’s the moment you say your names, your class, your hobbies, then we exchange phone numbers, emails, and set a date with each one of you, starting with the green-eyed one,” he went on, pointing to Marianne and winking at her.

She was already starting to reach her breaking point by then.

“Get this jerk out of my sight. Right now,” she muttered with restraint, as if she were about to breathe fire at each word.

“Sorry, Romeo, you heard it. Walk,” Demian said, taking the pompadour boy away.

“But I haven’t finished! I’m just trying to make conversation. She looked at me first!” the boy insisted as Demian dragged him away.

Marianne held her stiff hands on the table and stared straight ahead.

“That was odd,” Angie said, lifting her eyebrows.

“Done, I’m stuffed!” Lilith finally said after emptying her side of the table, blinking blissfully. “ . . . What did I miss?”

Marianne knew she couldn’t just postpone returning home forever, so after the lunatic’s intervention, she decided to go back and face whatever may happen. Upon her arrival, her brother was already lying on the couch, watching TV as usual.

“Oh, you’re home. Mom went out shopping for dinner.”

“Is . . . he coming?”

The word ‘uncle’ couldn’t leave her mouth.

“Well, that’s what they settled,” the kid answered without taking his eyes off the screen and she sighed before heading upstairs. “Hey, look! You’re on TV!”

“What?” she immediately paused and looked at the screen in alarm.

“Yes, there you are with your friends Nougat and Nutmeg beating up the mushmuffins created by Ursa the mad baker! See?”

The so-called Power-Pie girls were on screen. He burst out laughing and rolled on the sofa while she threw him eye-daggers and decided to just go upstairs.

“I hope you’re not seriously considering to threaten him,” Samael said.

“Of course not! Though I may try any other tactic so he keeps in mind not to disappoint my mom,” she admitted, still undecided, flopping on the bed.

The next thing she knew, her mother was calling her to dinner. She glanced at her watch and realized it was already 8:00 p.m. She had fallen asleep once again. She forced herself up, tempted to feign sickness and save herself from the awkward evening ahead. When she came down, the commissioner had already arrived, bringing a few packages with him.

“Look! He brought gifts!” her mother pointed out, handing her one of the boxes.

It contained a trio of country style pleated skirts below the knee. Not her style. He would’ve known if he had bothered to know her beforehand, but chose to keep it to herself and pronounced a dry ‘thank you’.

They sat at the table in the middle of a lively chatter between the two adults while Marianne simply decided to keep quiet throughout the evening. She hoped that way he would understand how uncomfortable it was for her and maybe decided not to say a word about the interrogation.

“I thought you’d bring your daughter,” her mother said while dinner was served.

“I tried, but she didn’t want to. She’s been upset with me for several days,” the commissioner replied, while Marianne spent her time stirring her potatoes.

“It must be a teenage thing, they’re always upset about something,” Enid said, glancing at her daughter as if dropping a hint.

Coming from her, who could act really immature sometimes, made Marianne roll her eyes and put her elbows on the table. Her mother’s glare of disapproval didn’t take long. However, she quickly found the perfect way to balance the scales.

“Maybe she and Marianne should meet,” she suggested cunningly, and Marianne looked at her like she had thrown a low blow. “I’m sure they’ll soon find something in common to talk about . . . even if it’s only to complain about us.”

“Lucianne could use a friend right now,” the commissioner seconded, focusing on Marianne, who felt cornered. That was the last thing she needed: them to decide who she should befriend.

“You could take her after dinner so they get to know each other. I’ll give you an excuse: I’ll wrap up the leftovers so Marianne will help you carry them.”

“Sounds perfect,” the chief accepted while Marianne wished to refuse, but no words came out of her mouth.

She found herself seated in the car later, carrying several containers and remaining stiff during the journey. The silence between them was almost unbearable. It was obvious the commissioner wanted to say something —probably about the interrogation—, but every time he opened his mouth, he closed it again or didn’t find the words to address the subject. She just wanted everything to end so she could go home, but soon they had reached their destination. The house was like a chalet with a small garden at the entrance. The chief opened the door and led her inside, calling his daughter right away. Marianne was prepared to get snubbed if the girl refused to appear or, in the worst-case scenario, if she ended up throwing the containers to the walls.

A few minutes passed, and finally a girl went down the straight-angled stairs. Her skin had a light tan and her long carrot-shade hair fell to her waist. Marianne expected to see a rebel poured out in make-up, but she had washed her face and her honey eyes granted her an innocent look. The fact that she was wearing a long-pleated skirt with ocher tones didn’t escape her either, just like the ones the commissioner had given her. So that was where the inspiration had come from.

“Lucianne, this is Marianne, your cousin,” he introduced her and the girl bowed her head slightly, as did Marianne. “I brought food, have you eaten?” She didn’t answer nor deigned to look at him, so he just swayed his head. “I get it, you’re still not talking. I’ll go keep the food.”

He took the containers and headed to the kitchen, leaving them alone. The silence that prevailed the following seconds exceeded by far the discomfort Marianne had experienced all the way in the car. At least until the girl finally smiled and approached her to say something quietly.

“Sorry for the welcoming, but you haven’t come at the best moment,” the honey-eyed girl murmured, watching for her father’s return. “In fact, I was thrilled to know I had a cousin, but I can’t show it right now, I’m in some sort of silent war with my father as you may have noticed.”

“Yes, I see,” Marianne responded.

“Maybe we could meet tomorrow and . . . talk, is that okay?”

Marianne looked at her for a moment. Definitely not what she’d expected.

“If that’s not a problem for you, of course,” the girl added.

“That’s fine. I still don’t know the whole city, but . . . if you agree we could meet at a coffee shop across the Saint Pearl Institute.”

“I know where it is, I’ll be there.”

“Is it okay at three o’clock? That’s about the time I’m out of school.”

“Of course, I’ll see you then,” the honey-eyed girl finished right before stepping back and going mute again as her father returned from the kitchen.

“Is everything alright? Are you girls getting along?”

“Uhm. . .we’re okay, but . . . I must go back home. I still have homework to do,” Marianne lied so she could leave and let them continue with their ‘silent war’.

The commissioner had no choice but to agree and take her back to her house while Lucianne waved her good bye with a gesture of complicity. On their way back, they fell silent again for several minutes until he finally decided to speak.

“I guess your mother never knew about the interrogation, then.”

“It’s better for her not to know it.”

“You should tell her. These things always come up sooner or later. I wouldn’t want to lie to her,” advised the commissioner, and she grimaced. Things weren’t going how she wanted. She was even starting to reconsider the plan to threaten him when suddenly a man walked past the car and the chief had to brake sharply. “Stay here!”

He pulled a gun from the glove box and placed it in his belt, closed the door behind him and approached the man, who was now crouched on the ground. Marianne stuck to the window to see what was happening.

“He’s killing them! Tearing their chest without leaving a mark! It’s witchcraft!” the man exclaimed with his eyes popping, after which, he got up again and ran away, staggering. She had no doubt what he was talking about.

“I’ll go see what’s happening, don’t leave the car!” the chief said through the window and then headed towards the alley the man had pointed.

Once he was out of sight, she knew what she had to do.

The back street where Commissioner Fillian had gone led to a nightclub’s emergency exit. Ashelow was there among several motionless bodies on the floor with their respective dimming orbs while he was leaning and examining the last gift.

“Hold it! Release the man and put your hands where I can see them!” shouted the commissioner, pointing at him with his gun. Ashelow raised his gaze after the last sphere turned off and slowly rose with a menacing posture. “Don’t move or else I’ll shoot!”

Ashelow began twisting his fingers, ready for his next move. When his fingers elongated as blades towards the commissioner, Marianne suddenly stood in front of him, deflecting them with her sword.

“You!” the chief said, looking astonished at her.

“Not now, I’m trying to save your life!” she yelled with her eyes fixed on Ashelow.

“I’m sure you two must be in cahoots somehow! What are you? Some kind of cult?”

“This is seriously not the time!” she replied and the demon took the opportunity to try and attack them again with his finger-blades. “Get down!”

She shoved the commissioner to the ground and approached Ashelow to knock him down, now that he wasn’t guarding his front. She tried to keep her sword near his neck. His eyes reflected a bigger weariness than usual.

“Why are you doing this? I know it’s not what you want. I can see it in your eyes! What is tormenting you so much?”

“You don’t get it! I have to do it . . . I need it for my salvation!”

“Salvation?” she repeated, perplexed.

Those words were like noise in her head, especially coming from him. And despite the pity she felt after the state he had been reduced to the day before, she couldn’t forget he was still a demon.

However, she didn’t have much time to think about it because at that moment Commissioner Fillian appeared with his gun pointed at them.

“Drop your weapons and surrender! You’re under arrest!”

Marianne hesitated and Ashelow seized the moment to throw her away along with the man. He then looked at her, extremely distraught, panting and aiming at her, but suddenly stumbled forward as if something had hit him in the back. He looked around, but found nothing, so he finally chose to leave, directing one last look to Mariane before dissolving into the shadows.

“Wait!” she called out to him, but he was already gone.

With a sigh of disappointment, she turned to the man. He was lying against a huge dumpster and had been knocked unconscious. She took the moment to delve back into the passage where she briefly glimpsed a gray silhouette disappearing in the background. She rubbed her eyes, thinking it was an effect from the light, and went on to do her job, returning the gifts before he regained consciousness.

As far as the commissioner was concerned, she was still locked inside his car, so she immediately went back after finishing, and called the police from inside. The place was soon filled with patrols, and she kept her story about remaining in the car as she was told and this time no one suspected her now that she turned out to be the chief’s niece.

But of course, the flip side was that she couldn’t keep that information from her mother, which meant having to stay for one hour of her mother scolding her brand-new uncle, forcing him to promise he wouldn’t expose her to that kind of danger again, and by the look he gave Marianne before leaving, she knew she wouldn’t have to worry about her mother learning about the interrogation in the near future. At least for a while.

She was supposed to feel calmer now, but the truth was that she couldn’t stop thinking about what Ashelow had said.

“I understand you may feel confused with his words, but remember he’s a demon. He’ll try to make you doubt, that’s his nature,” Samael interrupted her thoughts.

“I know, you don’t have to tell me that,” she said, but the idea kept hovering around her head. A demon speaking of redemption wasn’t something she was prepared to hear. But maybe Samael was right and he was just trying to appeal to her humanity to confuse her, but still she couldn’t help thinking there was something else behind it. Maybe Ashelow wasn’t all what he seemed at first sight.