Chapter 9


The bathroom door opened, and Mitchell got inside, still stunned after getting slapped by Belgina’s mother. He headed to the sink to wash his face and clean the little scratch on his cheek. He was starting to feel a knot in his stomach that he attributed to the incident. But when he raised his wet face to look in the mirror, he noticed his skin was pale and his eyes, dilated. He leaned on the sink and closed his eyes, followed by several breaths. The knot was now seated on the pit of his stomach, like a bag of compressed air, turning into a sharp pain whenever he tried to touch it with his fingertip. The periphery of his skin was tingling and the cold sweat flowing from his pores started to worry him. His attempt to calm down was clearly not working at all, so he opened his eyes again and saw a strange movement under the skin of his face, like small bubbles forming underneath.

He quickly took his hands to his face and noticed they were also suffering the same distortion. Disturbed by it, he looked in the mirror and discovered a foreign pigmentation spreading in his eyes, a different color from his, one he knew very well: violet, like Belgina’s eyes. In fact, it was much more than that; not only Belgina’s eyes were looking back at him in the mirror, but her entire face.

Startled, he automatically covered his mouth to prevent the scream that was formed in his throat, and then touched his face again, thinking it could be a hallucination projected on the mirror, but he could feel under his fingers that it wasn’t his face anymore. Out of desperation, he closed his eyes and shook his head, feeling dizzy. He waited a few seconds to clear up and opened them again. His own face was there, watching from the reflection. He let out a big sigh of relief before starting to wonder what that meant.

A preasure in his chest announced an attack from the Legion of Darkness. He was still covered in cold sweat and pale as paper, but he decided to attend the calling, even though he couldn’t take two steps without stumbling.

Little by little, he regained his motor skills until walking more fluidly, but upon arriving at the tennis court, he only found the others heatedly discussing over something. He tried not to look ill, but it was impossible to hide his pale and sweaty face. Belgina was there, watching him worriedly, and for a moment he remembered her face in the mirror. He wanted to talk to her, but she just excused herself and left before anyone could stop her. Shortly after, he learned what had been really bothering her.

Back home, he decided he had to fix it somehow; the problem was that Belgina seemed unwilling to listen and was constantly running away if he came even near her. He had to find a way to approach her without making her recoil; maybe with a costume, something she wouldn’t suspect…

He then stopped in front of his door’s built-in mirror. He used to stand there to make sure of his looks everyday and now he looked distraught and sick. Usually, he would use that to his advantage and stay in bed all day, but he had other plans now. He moved closer to the mirror and stared at his reflection.

Had it been just a hallucination? Or had his face really changed? He looked around, made sure the door was locked, and then leaned on the sides with both hands as he brought his face closer to the mirror, his forehead almost touching the surface while he looked intently at his reflection, eyes narrowed with a tense jaw. Nothing happened for the first five minutes, but then he felt that knot in the pit of his stomach again, and small bubbles began to stir under his skin, distorting his face until it subsided and saw Belgina’s face again, looking from the reflection.

He tried to stay calm this time; stood firm against the mirror, closed his eyes, and tried to clear his mind. When he looked again, his face was back to normal. While he was pleased with the result, he couldn’t afford to be overconfident about it; it was barely the first test, he needed at least one more. He looked around for some other model he could take as a reference and his eyes fell on the family portrait resting on his bookshelf. The idea didn’t appeal to him, but he had to experiment with something.

Next, he turned back to his reflection, his face transfiguring, stomach compressing inside. By the time the process had finished, it was now his sister’s face staring back at him in the mirror. He stifled a laugh that came out with Kristania’s voice and immediately concentrated to regain his form. By the time he opened his eyes it was him again, and finally allowed himself to smile at the success, despite the dizziness and nausea.

If he managed to control that strange new power, he could talk to Belgina. There was supposed to be a party at Demian’s house next day; perhaps he could test it there.

Once he got there on Saturday, he moved away from his sister; it wasn’t very difficult since she seemed more focused on kissing up to Vicky, and the first thing he did was secretly check who had arrived. Once he spotted Belgina, Angie and Lucianne standing in one of the corridors, he began to concoct his plan.

He went quickly to the first bathroom he found and stood in front of the mirror, focusing on his reflection until the process of transfiguration began within minutes. When it was over, it was Marianne who stared back at him.

Luckily, he had good memory when it came to fashion and could remember in detail what people wore, and after several tests during last night, he had even managed to transmute his clothes, so he decided to go for what she was wearing the day before at the parents’ meeting. He knew he would only get one chance and would have to be fast at the risk of losing his transformation and exposing himself to Belgina, and there was also the danger of Marianne herself showing up at the wrong time. So, ignoring the dizziness, he went straight to the corridor where he had seen the girls.

“…Hey, Belgina, can we talk?”

The three girls exchanged glances and for a moment he thought perhaps they suspected something; maybe they knew it couldn’t be Marianne, and he got nervous wondering how he could dissipate their doubts.

“…Okay,” she finally said, and despite his relief, he tried not to show it in his face. They walked far enough from everyone until they were virtually alone. “Are you hurt?


Belgina reached for his face (or Marianne’s face) and touched his cheek, causing a shudder he struggled to hide.

“It’s like a tiny bruise,” she continued, narrowing her eyes to see more closely while her fingers followed the contour of that small line. Mitchell recalled the scratch; it could probably still be seen despite the transformation he had undergone.

“Maybe… it was one of the bushes at the entrance,” he replied nervously, averting his face so he wouldn’t be distracted. “…You know I’m a little clumsy sometimes.”

“Well, what did you want to talk about?” she asked, lowering her hand.

“…Listen, I think it’s time to end this whole situation with Mitchell,” he decided to speak at once to avoid more rambling and lose any more of the time he could bear that transformation. Belgina seemed befuddled at the mention. “This is only… hurting our team dynamics. You should talk directly to him and work it out together; avoiding the issue will only make it grow and grow until it no longer affects just the two of you, but it will extend to all of us until we end up choosing sides, breaking our unity. It would destroy the team. It’s tearing us apart!”

He finished with an overly dramatic tone and panted after letting out his speech in one breath, starting to feel a tingling in his stomach telling him he was getting short of time. Belgina looked at him with huge, glazed eyes and a forlorn expression.

“I’m… I’m sorry… I…” she stammered, choking with emotion, but Mitchell felt about to double over in pain anytime soon.

“It’s pointless to regret it now. It’s better to take some courage, stop running away from him and talk about it before our situation gets worse. Clearly, he wouldn’t have any problem doing it, so it’s finally up to you; don’t be so hard on him. Face him,” he let out in one go, hoping the agony wouldn’t show in his voice; he was already feeling his stomach churning and his skin stinging as if preparing to mould him once more. “…If you’ll excuse me… I think I’m having an allergic reaction to these cocktails. I must find… a bathroom.”

Some bubbles were starting to boil over his face, as if swelling with an allergy, and before giving Belgina a chance to say anything or even react, he decided to leave in a haste, pushing through everyone, looking for a way out. When he reached the pool area, he was tempted for a moment to jump into the water to prevent anyone to see his ‘de-transformation’, but when he saw the large windows leading out to the garden, he quickly opened one of them and virtually jumped out of it to escape as fast as his body, now suffering from tremors and contractions, allowed him to.

He almost bumped into the real Marianne and Samael at the entrance, but he dropped behind some bushes and waited for a while until they entered the house, and the road was cleared. Until then he made the attempt to painfully get up on his feet; he was Mitchell again, pale and sweaty, panting and struggling to stand. He tried to take a few steps and had to stop several times to retch, but aware that he couldn’t stay any longer, he had to call home to pick him up.

What followed next was an agony that lasted for the rest of the weekend; the fever and nausea were constant at his stubbornness to control this newfound power. Although he felt a little better by Monday, he was determined to keep experimenting until the nausea would stop or make it more tolerable as he got accustomed to the transformation. He had mostly succeeded, except that he couldn’t get past the ten-minute mark with someone else’s appearance without his own body started to collapse and turned back to its original shape. At least he wasn’t feeling nauseous any longer… just a monumental headache instead.

“…What the hell was that?” Frank remained standing there, watching Mitchell wide-eyed while his cousin was slowly sitting up, dazed and in pain. “…What the hell, Mitchell?!”

“Could you keep it down? My head is about to explode, and your screams aren’t helping at all,” Mitchell said with his back against the tree trunk and lifting his head to relax, but Frank wasn’t going to let it go after what he had seen; he immediately squatted beside him and gripped his arm to shake him up.

“Don’t you even think I’m letting you sit at ease after what I just saw. How the hell did you do it?” the boy insisted, not releasing him. “Or maybe I should rather ask when you discovered that you could do that.”

Mitchell snorted without opening his eyes, squeezing them while feeling a hammer bashing his head, aware that he wouldn’t have a moment to rest with Frank there.

“…A few days ago, during the parents’ meeting,” he replied tersely, raising his hands to his temples to massage them. He told Frank what happened at the bathroom as briefly as possible and the subsequent tests at home. Frank was so surprised that he finally dropped to the grass beside him.

“Do you have any idea what you have in your hands?” he said while shaking his head in awe. “…That means you could become anyone you want.”

“Not more than ten minutes,” he said, not daring to open his eyes at the risk of worsening his headache. “…And with a terrible migraine afterwards.”

“But think of what you could do with this newfound power,” Frank continued, already projecting the perks and benefits that could derive from it. “You could impersonate a bank manager and take all the money you want without anyone telling you off, or being a movie star and have all the girls you want at your feet. You can impersonate your own father and punish your sister for any nonsense!” Mitchell just laughed reluctantly, each laugh like a stab in the head. “…Wait, why would you impersonate wings? What were you trying to do? Were you the one talking to me earlier?”

“Don’t worry. Any secret you have with him is safe; that was the real one.”

“But then, why…?”

“I’m just trying to get to Belgina by all means, and right now she hasn’t allowed it while I’m myself, so…”

“Well, I’ll be damned if you’re not turning into a sneaky trickster. You make me proud!” said Frank, ruffling his hair even though he kept pushing his hand away to stop.

“Don’t tell anyone, okay? If they find out what I’ve done they’ll be mad and Belgina would never forgive me.”

“The problem, my little con apprentice, is not that I open my mouth,” Frank said, taking his pack of cigarettes out and offering one to Mitchell, but he just refused with a hand gesture. “The problem is the loose ends you have left all along.”

“Loose ends?” Mitchell repeated, opening one eye, and lifting an eyebrow.

“That’s right, play-doh boy. Your original models. Those are your loose ends,” he said lighting a new cigarette. “How do you think they will react when they are asked about something they never said or did? And since you used them for your own benefit, they will soon relate it to you.”

Mitchell threw his head back against the trunk, letting out a cry of pain as he felt it hit the tree.

“…They have no way of knowing it was me,” he tried to convince himself. “…I’ll be careful next time or… maybe I won’t need it anymore, after all. Belgina has agreed to allow me near her, even though I have to go slower this time around.”

“No, you won’t stop!” Frank let out with a guffaw. “You just discovered a new power; you won’t cast it aside when you know you can take advantage of it. Besides… you’ll have to refine it if you don’t want to change in public and being accused of witchcraft. You don’t want to end up in a government facility as a lab experiment, do you?” Mitchell just shook his head as the migraine receded. “…And by the way, now that I know your secret, I may need some favors in exchange for keeping it.”

He finally opened his eyes and gave him an incredulous glance. His cousin grinned and patted him on the shoulder while taking the cigarette to his lips. Mitchell sighed, resigned to his fate. How timely of his body to change back right in front of his cousin, who always found a way to benefit on everything.

After visiting clubs over the course of the day, they had returned to the gym for the Tae kwon do exhibition. Demian was already with his fellow club mates, listening at their coach’s instructions and wearing his dobok while waiting for the practice to start.

“I’m starting to feel cramps,” Lilith said, suddenly appearing behind Marianne as if she had slipped stealthily now that Vicky was on the stands below, too busy talking to Samael to notice her.

“Well, then… how considerate of you to let me know,” Marianne replied, wincing and throwing her a questioning look.

“Don’t you feel nervous about our exhibition? It’s gonna be tomorrow! I don’t think I’ll be able to eat anything until it’s all over or I’ll puke on the court.”

“…Damn, you’re right; now I’m gonna feel nervous too,” Marianne said, also feeling her stomach turning just to think about it.

“We all should! Or they’ll catch us unaware. I’ll go remind Kri.”

And just as abrupt as she had appeared, she slipped away, crawling between the stands as if playing hide and seek. Marianne shook her head and turned back to the front, only to find that she had a new seatmate on her left.

“What is this club about?” Dreyson asked, causing her a start.

“Don’t do that! Do you want to give me a heart attack?” she said, taking her hand to her chest. The boy didn’t reply, he remained fixed to the court without losing detail while she expelled her breath to calm down. “…It’s Tae kwon do, a type of martial art. A lot of boys love it because they have an excuse to fight.”

“Including him?” he added, his eyes pointing at Demian, who was starting to stretch while standing in position for the first match.

Marianne was quiet for a moment and then tried to say something to sound uninterested.

“…He’s a different case. The more he keeps himself distracted, the better.” Realizing she had said something unnecessary, she tried to find a way to fix it. “I mean… He likes to be busy, that’s all.”

The boy looked around in the stands and noticed many watchful eyes on Demian’s movements, including Addalynn two rows below. Marianne lifted her eyebrows with annoyance.

“…Seriously, will you keep looking at her like an obsessed psycho?”

The boy averted his gaze to the front, and she did the same as the display began.

With forceful movements that didn’t seem to require too much effort, Demian was clearly superior to his opponent. There were screams of support all around. Even Kristania in her imposed restraint seemed to struggle to keep control; she looked tense, and her limbs were stuck to her body to keep herself from bursting into cheers and she just clapped in the same spirit as the others to blend in. Soon, Demian was declared the winner of the match and while the place was filled with applause, Marianne glanced at the stands below and noticed Lester sitting there, with the crutches resting beside him and a sour face. She immediately crouched into the front row and patted Samael to then point quietly at the boy. Samael nodded, understanding what she meant.

“…Wait a few minutes outside the door when everyone’s out the gym. Don’t let anyone stay behind with you,” Marianne whispered before sitting back straight.

She saw Demian already heading for a bench near the locker room to take his towel and a bottle of water while glancing towards Lester and then looking at her, as if they were silently coming to an agreement. Marianne nodded discreetly, and he seemed more relax at the confirmation, although he kept rubbing his wrist.

“I don’t understand,” Dreyson suddenly said, attracting her attention once again. “You say I shouldn’t stare at anyone and yet that’s what you’re doing.”

“It’s… It’s different!” she replied, feeling her cheeks burning. “It’s different when it’s two people who know each other in advance, or they’re watching an event, just like we’re doing right now.”

The boy narrowed his deep brown eyes, warily.

“That sounds like a lame excuse.”

“Oh, all right! Since you’re an expert now, I challenge you to keep staring at anyone all day long as a creeper just to see how long it takes for them to grow tired and pull out a restraining order against you,” Marianne snapped with a challenging tone and Dreyson looked towards Addalynn and then back to her.

“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t,” he replied with a shrug and then to Marianne’s surprise, he cracked a smile in a teasing way. “Maybe I’ll decide to join all the clubs just for the attention.”

“Well, good luck with that, you’re gonna need it… because you can only join 3 clubs!” she replied, looking back at the front for the next match while Dreyson was already going down the stands with that awkward gait and tense shoulders that made him look like he was hunching a little, and before leaving the gym, he approached the registration table and wrote something in the list. “…He’s got to be insane; he won’t last, not even three seconds.”

While the next match went on, Frank and Mitchell entered the gym and approached the stands with an aura of eerie calm, taking a seat next to Marianne and greeting everyone with simple nods as if they had not gone for long. Mitchell stopped a few seconds to look at Belgina with a cautious expression, as if afraid to make any move that could make her flee like a frightened fawn, but she met his gaze instead, dubious for a moment, until she also responded with another nod, thus giving him approval to stay.

“Frank! Where have you been?” Lucianne muttered, leaning to Marianne’s side.

“Everything’s all right as you can see; there’s nothing to worry about,” he said, gripping Mitchell’s shoulder as if sharing a secret.

“How can you say that after storming out of class?” she insisted reproachfully, trying to keep her volume down.

“Because it’s true. Ask wings if you want; he already talked to me as you asked him to,” he replied with a hint of resentment but with a smile that seemed to hide something.

“And what’s your excuse to show up so nonchalant after three days?” Marianne asked Mitchell, and he could feel Frank’s claw squeezing his shoulder to remind him to be careful with his answers.

“…Stomach flu. Terrible pain. You could say I wasn’t being myself.”

“Yeah, right,” Marianne huffed, but stopped questioning him, and Frank patted him on the back after releasing him.

Mitchell glanced at Belgina to see her reaction, and even though she looked sideways at him, she made no attempt to hide or get up and leave, so he considered it a progress.

When the exhibition ended, and everyone started to leave in droves, Marianne excused herself with her friends and hurried up towards Lester, who was struggling to settle on his crutches with a moody and impatient expression.

“…Hi there!” she greeted him with an eagerness that seemed perhaps too suspicious as the boy squinted at her while supporting his weight on the crutches and she got momentarily blank. “Uh… maybe you don’t remember me, but…”

“I do remember you. You’re Donovan’s friend. The one who thinks fencing is like playing the three musketeers,” he said without changing his sour expression. “What do you want?”

“I just… wanted…” Marianne racked her brains, trying to think of a way to keep distracting him until there was no one left in the gym. “…advice.”

“You want some advice from me,” Lester repeated, giving emphasis to his words to make her notice it didn’t sound credible enough. She took a quick look around to figure out how many more people were left and finally realized it was practically just the Tae kwon do team, so she thought it shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes.

“Yeah, you see… I’ve joined the Fencing club despite your kind warning the last time, so I thought I might as well take the chance to learn a little more about the history to start with the right foot next Monday… and what better way than hearing it from the best fencer at school?” she said, trying to appeal to his ego.

“Ask Donovan; I’m sure he’ll gladly explain it to you. Haven’t you heard? He’s the best fencer on the team now,” the boy replied bitterly, pointing at his crutches while making an attempt to move, but she quickly stood in front of him, blocking his way.

“…But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re the most prepared about the subject!” she intercepted him again, noticing from the corner of her eye that Demian had finally come out of the locker in his uniform and his sports bag over his shoulder. “…What’s better than listening to someone who feels so passionate about it? Come on! You’re still a cornerstone of the team, even if you’re temporarily disabled. Encourage me!”

Lester’s eyes narrowed, analyzing if her words were honest.

“…Alright, but this will take a while, so you better sit down and don’t even try to interrupt me once I start, okay?” he finally agreed, limping a few steps back into the stands and Marianne sighed with relief.

“…Is no one else nearby?” Demian asked, opening the door ajar and seeing Samael standing in the corner.

“No. Everyone’s already heading to the next club.”

“Okay. She’s distracting him; don’t let him see you.”

“He won’t remember it anyway,” Samael guaranteed while Demian held the door for him to stealthily get inside while invisible. Demian shut the door and headed for the stands where Marianne was doing her best to look interested and attentive to whatever Lester said.

“What’s going on here? Everybody’s already left, you shouldn’t have stayed behind,” Demian interrupted, eyeing a transparent edge approaching behind Lester.

“Relax, Donovan. I’m just trying to explain your girlfriend the importance of fencing.”

“She’s not my…!” he tried to protest while Marianne also jumped, ready to do the same, but it wasn’t necessary in the end. Lester’s body bent forward at that very moment after losing consciousness. They both watched him from their positions, not knowing what to do next, until Samael became visible to them, right behind the boy.

“Are we doing this or not?” Samael said, trying to seat Lester as straight as he could. Marianne and Demian were forced to react and help him lie him down, leaning on the bench. “I can apply the healing waves through the cast, but we’ll have to ask him to stand on his foot to confirm it worked.” The two of them agreed and merely watched as he placed his hands over the plaster, emitting a glow that enveloped the point of contact until it waned. “…Well, we have to test it now. Sit him up again, I’ll wake him.”

While they did what he asked, Samael became invisible again, placing himself behind Lester, who snapped his eyes open within seconds with a confused expression.

“…What happened? Did I faint?”

“You just closed your eyes a couple of seconds, if you fainted, we didn’t even notice. Do me a favor, would you stand up?” Demian said and the boy took his crutches and started to rise, still disoriented. “No crutches, do it yourself and lean on your injured foot.”

“What are you saying? How do you expect me to…? Hey!” Demian snatched his crutches without warning and took a few steps away from him so he couldn’t take them back. “…What the hell is wrong with you?! Have you gone insane?!”

“Stand up,” Demian said authoritatively, provoking him to rise on his feet. “Will you stay sitting there all the time cursing your luck and the fact that you can no longer attend to the interstate games?”

“What’s your damn problem?! It isn’t enough for you to see me like this, but you also have to gloat?! I have a broken ankle! How do you expect me to stand on it?! You psychopath! Just because you’re now the best on the team you think you can tell others what to do!”

Marianne didn’t dare to intervene this time; Lester seemed completely hysterical and Demian’s expression hardened even more. She just hoped that he knew what he was doing.

“Could you stop whining for once in your life? Maybe if you weren’t so pessimistic, you would start to feel better. Now do as I say and stand up.”

The boy gained momentum in a fit of fury and pushed himself up, leaning on his plastered foot, immediately letting out a cry of pain as he staggered forward.

“Is this what you wanted?! Now I’ve probably made it worse, but what do you care?! You’re not the one with a broken ankle!” Lester exploded, trying to stand on his foot despite the obvious pain his face conveyed.

“…It didn’t work,” Demian said, staring puzzled at his leg. “…Nothing happened, try again.”

“Try again?! You want me to lose my leg, you sick bastard?!” Lester yelled, his face reddening with anger and then losing consciousness again, while Samael held him up before he dropped to the floor.

“Help me placing him down again,” the angel asked and they both came to help setting him back on the bench.

“What happened? Why does his leg remain the same? The bone should have been healed by now,” Marianne asked, though Samael looked even more confused than her.

“I don’t know, maybe… I have to be in a more direct contact with the injure.”

Wasting no time, Demian leaned over Lester’s leg and pointed his finger down, the cast opened with a fine and precise cut through it, leaving his bare ankle.

“Go ahead. Try again.”

Samael seemed disgruntled to have failed the first time, but he was ready to repeat the process. This time, he placed his hands directly on the boy’s ankle and as soon as the glow diminished, he looked at it, but didn’t like what he saw; there had been no change.

“What is it?” Marianne asked, noticing his expression.

“Something’s not right. Usually, I can perceive during the healing when a wound is closing, whether external or internal. But I can’t feel any change in him.”

“What do you mean? You couldn’t heal him?”

“I don’t… I don’t know,” Samael replied without taking his eyes from the boy’s ankle.

“There’s only one way to find out. Wake him up,” Demian said, trying to stay calm in those circumstances. Samael made him react with one single touch and once Lester opened his eyes with a spasm, he watched them increasingly suspicious.

“…What’s going on here?” he asked, then finding out that the cast of his foot had been cut off. “…Is this a nightmare?! What is happening?!”

“Stand up,” Demian ordered with such coldness in his voice that Marianne could almost hear the demon they had fought against.

“Haven’t we gone through this already?! What the hell do you want from me?!” Lester asked loudly, and when they realized, Demian was already in front of him, forcing him to get on his feet.

“Just stand up and lean on your foot or I’ll break the other, okay?” Demian said with a menacing calm that disturbed them.

Lester also seemed to sense it because he immediately stopped complaining and looked so scared at him that he decided to do what he asked for. He looked down at the ground with his foot collected as he was leaning on the other. He was apparently measuring the intensity of the pain according to the weight, steeling himself to do it, as long as this would be over.

“Do it now! What are you waiting for?” Demian ordered again, and at the boom of his voice, Lester decided to do it quickly, applying all his weight on the injured foot just before falling to the ground, suffering from bursts of acute pain on the breaking point.

“Are you happy now?! I did what you asked, can you leave me alone now?! You damn psycho!” he yelled, holding his foot almost on the verge of tears.

Demian seemed distraught, but not more than Samael when he became visible again after left Lester unconscious once more. Bewilderment and disbelief at his own failure.

“It didn’t work,” Marianne said at both boys’ silence. “What… what does it mean? Why…?”

Demian leaned over Lester, lifting him up and placing him back on the stands; he then bit his finger until it bled and focused on the plaster, placing it right at the cutoff point and following the line; the red trace turned black, and it joined the two cuts through weaving threads until the plaster mold was closed again, with only one imperceptible line where original cut had been.

“Now what?” Marianne asked. “…Could it be that you’ve run out of reserves and that’s why you couldn’t heal him? It’s happened before, you just… would have to wait to recover and then…”

“How could I run out of reserves if I haven’t used my power for a while?”

“Well… becoming invisible used to wear you out.”

“It’s been barely a few minutes; I don’t feel tired. This has nothing to do with my energy reserves. I don’t know what it is, but it must be something else,” Samael said, trying to think of some explanation.

“Maybe… it’s been too long since the last time and you’ve lost practice.”

Samael refused to believe it, so he went to Lester and woke him up, but as soon as he was about to let out a cry of protest, he forced him to look into his eyes while holding his temples. He let go of him seconds later and stepped away from the boy, who seemed disoriented, looking around in confusion.

“Can someone tell me what am I doing here? The last thing I remember… is having arrived at school this morning.”

“You fell asleep during the display,” Marianne said, resorting to her database of excuses on the spot to get out of it. “We tried to wake you up for a long time; everyone has left already.”

Lester turned around, trying to place himself there, and after a moment without remembering anything, he decided just to accept her words as truth, and took his crutches. They offered to help him, but he refused, so they simply watched him limp away until he was out.

“…If I’ve lost practice, I wouldn’t have been able to erase his memory; after all, I haven’t doing it for long,” Samael said as Lester was out of the gym and only the tree of them were left.

“When was the last time you used your healing power?”

The angel glanced at Demian, who kept staring at the door.

“…It was when I closed his wounds,” Samael said, pointing at Demian.

He immediately turned to them and smiled bitterly to himself, thinking that he would manage to somehow blame him for that, too, but once he looked again at the exit, he felt overwhelmed by a real feeling of guilt. Now there was no doubt that he had made an unfixable mistake. Just to save him a few minutes of humiliation.

“I think there’s nothing to do here anymore. You should go with the others or they might suspect,” Demian finally said, taking his gym bag again and heading for the door.

“Go ahead. I’ll catch up with you in a few minutes,” Marianne gestured Samael while she ran, trying to reach Demian and blocking his way. “Don’t feel bad, okay? I know I said we would fix it, but if he couldn’t do it, you can’t torment yourself with it. At least we tried.”

“Tell me, how did you feel when you couldn’t prevent my father to be attacked, and then unable to give him back his gift?” Demian said after a few seconds of silence. Marianne’s face tensed as she remembered it, though he smiled to show her it was okay. “…Don’t worry, we’ve been through this already; the thing is that you couldn’t have done anything about it and yet you felt guilty anyway. Imagine then how I felt after what I did to your father,” Marianne tried to protest, but he made a sign to let him continue, “even when he could be brought back in the end. And now Lester.”

“…We all make mistakes,” Marianne said, trying to cheer him up. “Besides, it’s not like you crippled him for life; in a month or so he will be able to return to his normal activities.”

“Yes, I know. Just like I know it’s in my nature to do things like that and I shouldn’t torture myself for it, but I MUST worry about not being able to control it.”

“But you can! It’s all in your mind!”

Demian smiled again at her firm conviction.

“…You know what? You have sort of become my personal motivator; maybe I should start paying you.”

Marianne’s face flushed red and made a quick look around, making sure no one would see her react like that.

“…Nonsense! I just worry the same way I would about any of my friends. It’s because of things like that the others may think…”

Realizing she was about to slip something else, she stopped. Demian looked confused at her, which only accentuated the redness in her face.

“I… I should go. It’s almost time, so… excuse me,” she said in a hurry, almost running away from him. “And don’t think about it anymore, okay?! Look for a distraction! Read or do something!”

“Maybe I’ll have the perfect excuse for a distraction tomorrow on your exhibition,” Demian quipped.

“If you’re trying to mock me, I’ll make you swallow your words! You’ll see; you may be surprised!” Marianne replied, inflating her cheeks in a challenging pout while Demian smiled, watching her away.

Suddenly, he felt more relaxed; though he didn’t realize he was scratching his wrist once again.

“Foget it already. You couldn’t heal it, get over it. He’ll recover in a month anyway,” Marianne said at Samael’s distraught expression.

“You don’t understand. I’m not supposed to lose any of my skills out of nowhere,” Samael said, looking frustrated at his hands.

“At least it wasn’t a matter of life or death.”

“But what if it was? What if any of you end up with a mortal wound? What if I couldn’t heal it and therefore…?”

“Stop it; we’re okay right now. Don’t torture yourself with that, too. If the time comes when your power is really needed, then we may worry and even pray to your superior realm to make it work.”

He hadn’t thought about it. The superior realm surely would have answers, but they only sent them during sleep, and it had been already over a month since he last received information. Would it be any way to force communication? Or was there some external power blocking all contact? The first and only time he tried to force communication was through induced sleep and it left him unconscious for over a day. He had received the information required, but he wasn’t able to sleep for two days in a row, and the small doses of knowledge he received night after night became less frequent until they simply stopped. Was it perhaps the unexpected consequence of his acts motivated by desperation? After all, not only he had closed Demian’s wounds despite being a demon, but also the ones from Marianne’s father. Could it be a punishment for going against the rules? Maybe it was. In that case, he wondered if it would be permanent or only temporary.

“I suggest you to shake that expression off your face or you’re gonna caught my mother’s attention, and it’s better if she doesn’t try to figure out why is it.”

Marianne interrupted his thoughts when they arrived at the door, but before she would even put the key in the lock, it swung open and Loui ran off, pushing them away.

“Loui! Come back here! Don’t act like that, you’re just making it more difficult!” Enid yelled, but Loui had already crossed the street and ran half a block.

Marianne and Samael peered through the door, fearing what they might find inside, but they only saw Enid standing in the middle of the entrance, her hands on her hips and her breathing already slowing down. More than angry, she seemed disappointed; resignation darkening her face.

“Did you see that? And I thought I wouldn’t have to worry he would be rebellious when he hit puberty.”

“What happened? Another stupid thing he did at school?” Marianne asked, and her mother took a deep breath, as if getting ready to speak.

“…Samuel, would you be so kind to set the table for lunch? We’ll go in a minute.”

Samael just nodded and gave a look at Marianne before heading to the kitchen, perhaps trying to encourage her for whatever her mother was about to tell her. She frowned in confusion and crossed her arms.

“…What’s going on? Why the secrecy?”

“It’s not secrecy, I just… thought we should talk this in private,” her mother said, unusually understanding, driving her even more exasperated.

“Tell me what it is already; don’t try to soften it or be condescending like I’m a little girl because I’m not,” Marianne demanded to know, starting to feel her stomach boiling.

“Well, you’re right. You’re not a little girl and so I hope you won’t react as impulsively as Loui. I guess you remember last week I said your father and I were getting a divorce,” Enid said as calmly as possible, but Marianne could already imagine where it was heading, given Loui’s reaction. “Well… it’s happening. We’ll sign the papers tomorrow.”

Marianne said nothing, she didn’t even react. She just looked at her with a straight face, like when they had recently moved in and the subject of her father came to light.

“…What time?” was all she could manage to say.

“We have to be in court at 11 am. It will be quick, at 11:30 we should have signed and no one else has to be present, so you can go to school as usual. Nothing has to change.”

But it would change; her parents would officially be divorced right at the time she would be at her basketball exhibition. It was like a cruel joke orchestrated by Kristania just to ruin her day.

“Did you hear what I said?” her mother asked, worried by her silence and lack of reaction, but she quickly nodded.

“…Got it. Do you mind if I skip lunch? We ate something back at the coffee shop and I’m not hungry.”

“…Sure, go ahead. I’ll let you know when dinner is ready,” her mother replied, understanding that she needed more time to absorb the news.

“The table is set,” Samael announced, peeking from the kitchen. Marianne said nothing, just ran up the stairs as Enid sighed.

Later that night, when she walked by her mother’s room in an insomniac fit, she heard someone sobbing inside. She stopped for a moment and looked at the door. She felt a pang on her chest and chose to go back to her room. She lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, struggling to sleep, still hearing her mother’s sobs booming in her ears. While late, sleep finally came, however ridden with nightmares of her father departing, leaving them all alone, and a blinding light surrounded her, burning her skin, while the cry of a little child could be heard nearby.

It was impossible for her to concentrate the next day before their display. They were already dressed in their uniforms when the door opened and the boys from the club also entered, laughing and being loud. Their display wasn’t until Friday, but they had to be present to support the girls.

“As if we weren’t stressed enough,” Lilith said at all the fuss.

Marianne just looked at them, noticing that Demian was the last one in. Just like the rest of the boys, he was wearing the school uniform, and though he nodded with his peers in response to their jokes or comments, he remained aloof; only when his gaze met Marianne’s eyes, he drew half a smile on his face, and while the coach was trying to bring order, he approached the benches where the girls were sitting.

“Anxious?” he asked, sitting in the free corner of the bench.

“Can’t you tell?” Lilith said while biting her nails.

“Calm down; it’s just a practice. Nothing will happen if the other team wins.”

“But it will! If they win, no one else would want to join our team as they’ll think we’re losers!” Lilith rebuked with panic already creeping on her.

“Whoever really wants to join the team will do it whether you lose or not,” Demian continued, trying to encourage them.

“Could you give us some advice, Demian?” Kristania meddled, leaning beside Lilith and acting as nervous and vulnerable as she was. “You of all people should know how it is, since you’re the team’s captain.”

“Just don’t fear the ball,” he said curtly, but as he turned his attention to Marianne and Lilith, his face softened and a smile showed up on his lips. “…I think it’s needless to say that if you go to the court all pessimistic, it will be reflected in the outcome.”

“You’re right! Winner mentality, that’s it!” Lilith agreed, shaking hands and trying to stay positive, hitting her legs at a steady pace and repeating a phrase as if invoking a higher force to fullfil it. “We will win! We will win! We will win!”

As she continued with that mantra, Demian looked at Marianne, who seemed lost in her own thoughts.

“Don’t obsess so much over the game. Just keep in mind what you learned in practice and everything will be fine,” Demian advised and she finally seemed to realize he was talking to her.

“Oh, no, I wasn’t…” she tried to clear it up, but then stopped, aware that she would have to say what was really on her mind. “…You’re right, I shouldn’t worry. We’ll be fine.”

However, Demian noticed the flash of doubt in her eyes and knew right away it wasn’t the game she was worried about, but any attempt to find out about it would have to wait as the door opened again and a throng of students from all levels slowly began to enter.

“…It’s almost time. I wish you luck,” he said, heading for the stands. “Just focus on the ball, don’t lose sight of it.”

He was talking to them, but his eyes were set on Marianne. She showed a faint grateful smile and as he continued to the stands, she felt Lilith nudging her ribs.

“…Ouch, what’s got into you now?!”

“Oops, sorry! It must have been a reflex!” Lilith said with a giggle and a look that seemed to convey something else, but she wasn’t in the mood to even argue her wild assumptions. Soon the auditorium was completely full; apparently there was a keen interest in the girls’ performance, which did nothing but increase their already growing anxiety.

“Looks like they’re all here now,” Lilith said, looking at the stands and Marianne did the same just to divert her attention. Their friends had taken seats close to the benches and quickly gestured them in support. “…Oh, god. I feel a revolution in my tummy. I might throw up at any time. If you see me bend over during the game, stay away as much as you can, because it will get messy.”

Marianne said nothing; she had seen the coach going through the door, followed by several girls in red uniform. The opposite team. They weren’t much taller than them, but their eyes showed a conviction they lacked at the time.

“And the moment of truth is here,” Lilith said with a long exhalation while Marianne glanced at the huge clock at the back of the auditorium. It was already past 11 am. Within half an hour her parents would be divorced.

“…Almost,” she said quietly, biting her lips and feeling a lump in her throat.

“Go team! You can do it!” Vicky shouted, standing up and starting a series of claps and cheers in support.

“The other team has eight members, they have the advantage,” Lucianne commented.

“Just five get to play on the court, otherwise it would be totally unfair,” Frank corrected, and she gave him an offended look.

“I know. I only say it because they have more chances to switch, or did you think I don’t know about basketball? I used to play as a child.”

“Really? I’d like to see that one day.”

“Well… maybe you will,” she said, raising an eyebrow in challenge.

“Oh, yes, I remember you used to play with my brother all the time; you even stayed to watch all the games of the season. I couldn’t understand why you were so interested in a bunch of people throwing the ball to each other, so I ended up in the studio, reading some faiy tales,” Vicky said and Frank seemed upset upon learning this detail.

“…Oh, really? Well, who’d have thought it!” Frank mumbled, squinting at Lucianne. She just rolled her eyes, knowing what that meant.

“Oh, hi there!” Vicky waved at Loui after seeing him entering with a group of middle school kids, and by the look of his face, he seemed afraid of something.

As soon as he saw the arm waving at him, he dithered nervously when he discovered who that arm belonged to. But after one last look behind his back, he ran towards them, dodging students both standing and sitting.

“Did you come to see your sister play? It’s so sweet of you!” Vicky said, leaving him a very short space between her and Lucianne to sit on.

The kid blushed and remained speechless, just shook his head frantically and preferred to crouch between the rows, tugging his legs and looking alert towards the door where middle school students kept pouring in. Vicky looked at the guys with a shrug while Samael seemed puzzled by the boy’s behavior.

A whistle sounded, and the exhibition began. As expected, the girls were so nervous at the beginning that they failed several passes, getting paralyzed when any girl from the opposing team approached them, and the first score against them came quickly, while the audience seemed disappointed. Their friends tried to keep the mood up with several shouts of support, although soon enough the second and third baskets landed. And then a fourth. The girls looked increasingly exhausted and defeated until the end of the first of two quarters.

“We’ve got to do something! If we continue like this, no one else would want to join the team!” Lilith said between gasps, her face so red it looked like a tomato, and then she pointed at the amazons. “You two, stay near our hoop to prevent more points! We have to snap out of it and leave our nerves aside! We need at least one basket to prove that we can do it! You hear me, Marianne?”

“…Huh?” Marianne looked distracted at her. She had been watching the background clock; it was already past the 11:15 mark and her head was elsewhere during the first quarter.

“Wake up! They’re beating the hell out of us! We shouldn’t let them score more points and we must get at least one! At least for our pride! Or no one’s going to take our team seriously!

“Pull yourself together! I even broke a nail fighting for the ball!” Kristania chided, showing her little finger with a broken nail.

“I’m… I’m sorry. I’ll pay more attention,” Marianne replied, shaking her head to try to take her concerns out of her mind.

The whistle sounded again, and they returned to the court. Marianne glanced into the audience and saw disappointed faces, even though her friends continued to support them. Lilith was right, they had to dunk at least one basket to prove themselves as a team, but each time she looked around the court she couldn’t avoid catching a glimpse of the background clock out the corner of her eye. It was less than five minutes left to 11:30, the time her parents would be officially divorced. She looked away quickly, trying not to think about it. They were in the middle of a game that would prove how good of an idea had been to create the girls’ team and so far, they hadn’t made a good impression. If only she could focus one hundred percent on the game…

People began to scream as the opposing team approached the hoop they should be defending; they were about to score their fifth basket and even though the amazons were trying to block the ball as they were told, it ended up in the ring, teetering on the edge; it just had to lose momentum and slide into the hoop. Marianne stared at the ball while listening to Lilith bemoaning their luck, until it suddenly seemed to bounce out of the hoop to the team’s relief.

“Oh, god, that was maddening! Our luck must be changing! The amazons have the ball, don’t leave them alone, come on!” Lilith shouted while running back to the center of the court. Marianne stood in the same place, unable to avert her gaze from the hoop.

She had done it; she had used her power to prevent another score. She looked to the stands to see if any of her friends had noticed it and by Samael and Demian’s look, she knew that at least they had.

“Come on! Don’t just stand there!” Lilith yelled to get her attention, and even if remorseful, she tried to put it aside and help their teammates. The amazons threw the ball to Kristania after their excessive marking and returned to the other end to protect the hoop while Kristania looked frightened at the opposing team approaching her, so she ended up throwing the ball away. “…We’re losing the ball!”

Marianne tried to reach it, but it was clearly heading outside the court, which would mean the advantage for the other team. She stretched as much as she could, and the ball suddenly drew an arc falling into her hands, but it wasn’t until she caught it that she realized she had used her power once again.

“That’s it! Throw it to me!” Lilith shouted again with higher spirits, stopping at an appropriate distance from the hoop to throw the ball once she had it in her hands.

Marianne tried not to think about the ethical implications of using her powers in a game; after all, she had showed Lilith her disagreement during camp. But the difference was that, instead of the chance to win right before the end, it was the chance to avoid complete humiliation and defeat. So, she threw the ball to Lilith.

The blonde gathered momentum before the other girls reached her and threw the ball towards the hoop. The shot was too strong, and it would bounce off on the board, but Marianne concentrated in the ball’s path, decreasing its speed, but after seeing the background clock, that it was already past 11:30, she lost control. The ball hit the backboard, but not as hard as it seemed; it started spinning in the ring in a way that it would definitely fall out.

“No, no, no! Come on, get in, GET IN!” Lilith pleaded, but the ball was virtually out.

Marianne looked disappointed for her failure, when all of a sudden, the ball paused right outside the ring, and as if receiving a push, it went back into the hoop, taking the score for good. Lilith exploded in cheers as if she had won the world tournament and the audience erupted in applauses.

The final whistle was heard soon enough and even though they didn’t win, the last plays had changed their spirits.

“At least we fought until the end,” Lilith said, feeling satisfied and patting Marianne on the shoulder while she stood still in the same spot. “And we finally got to score a basket at the last second! That counts as awesome in my book! Come on, the others are waiting.”

Marianne nodded, trying to smile, but before following her, she glanced to the hoop where the ball had entered in an impossible way, especially considering that she hadn’t even used her power.

Everyone in the audience was already leaving the stands while Loui still looked around, alert.

“Come on! Aren’t you going to congratulate your sister? She did a great job nonetheless!” Vicky said, motioning him to follow them, but the kid just hunched embarrassedly and nodded, as if unable to speak in her presence. He turned to the door and his face tensed.

“Is everything all right?” Samael asked.

The boy turned around to nod with an absent expression and then stood up to follow them while still glancing towards the door, where the three boys that usually bullied him beckoned him with the same mocking and intimidating gestures, which usually would make no difference if not because until a few hours earlier he thought them dead.

When Loui ran away from home, he had no idea where to go, just needed to be away for a while after the news his mother had just broke to him, that she and his father would be divorced in a few hours. It was like his whole life was falling apart since entering middle school. All he wished for was to go back to elementary school, even if things weren’t going that well there either, but at least his parents still seemed to have a solution and his classmates only avoided him; he didn’t have to be constantly watching his back for a trio of thugs who had taken the habit of torturing him at every chance they had.

When he got tired of running, he had reached a lonely park, enclosed by three walls. There were no kids playing and no neighbors nearby, but it was just what he needed at the time. A place where he could be alone.

Behind the park there was a building that looked abandoned, a dark and gloomy atmosphere surrounding it even when there was still sunlight. He peeked inside and once he saw there was no one around, he sat on one of the swings and stayed there for several minutes; his legs dangling without reaching the ground and his head hanging low. He tried to put his feet on the ground so he could rock himself, but the only way to reach it was by getting off the swing, so he finally remained sitting with resignation. He cursed his short height. If not for that, maybe the others wouldn’t bother him.

At least he was alone now, nobody would laugh at him if, for example, he fell while trying to swing. And there was a way to do it, come to think of it. He held from the hangers and placed his feet on the seat, standing on it, with his hands gripping the chains.

He started to gain momentum now that he had a foothold; the swing was slowly moving until drawing wide arcs, ready to fly out of there if he decided to let go. He was almost about to give a full turn when he saw shadows down the corner. Someone was approaching the park so he slowed down.

And then he saw them; the mixed shadows gave way to the three boys, laughing and jostling against each other like little wildings all day long. The swing stopped short and one of the boys noticed him. Loui stood still, like a cornered animal whose only hope was to play dead to go unnoticed. But they had already laid eyes on him and drew ravenous smiles on their faces, anticipating the fun that was ahead. Fun for them at least.

He couldn’t just stay like that while they watched their prey before deciding to attack. He had to be faster than them, escape before their few neurons forced them to move. He looked behind them and shouted “Dad!”

As the three kids turned around, he jumped from the swing, landing firmly on the ground and bolting out to the only available point to leave the park, which was unfortunately closer to them; he had to be fast enough to dodge them; however, the three boys also took off after finding out he was bluffing the first time, and ended up catching him before he could turn around the corner, taking him to the back of the park, right behind the swings.

“Look what we found!” the boy with the brush-like head said. “Are you trying to run away from us, cupcake?”

“What are you keeping there? Any other game we could sell?” said the boy with the crooked teeth, checking his pockets, while he writhed helplessly as the fat kid held him tightly.

“Let go of me!” Loui demanded. “Let me go or…!”

“Or what?” said the brush head kid with a sneer. “…Are you going to tell your mom or hide behind your sister’s skirt? Or better yet, confront us. I’d like to see that!” He beckoned the fat kid to release him and then indicated his friends to step aside, staring defiantly at Loui as he stood up from the ground. “…Well, go ahead! Do something! They’re not going to intervene.”

Loui stared cautiously at them. He didn’t dare to make any move knowing they would immobilize him again anyway, but he would love to react to their taunting. His blood was boiling.

“…Go on, what are you waiting for? You’re nothing but a little chicken. And chickens like you should learn how to fly. Don’t you think, guys?” the brush-head kid commented, pointing at the swings and the three of them chuckled in cahoots.

Loui gripped his hands tightly; he didn’t care anymore what they’d do to him, but as the three bullies kept laughing in that annoying way, and he was starting to tighten his arm to try and take the first punch, suddenly a shadow passed swiftly before him, taking the three boys with it and disappearing past the dark entrance of the abandoned building.

Loui stood in the same spot, blinking in confusion and heavy breathing. His choked voice refused to come out of his throat. What was that? He could still hear muffled cries and struggles in the darkness, but his body wasn’t responding, and his limbs were rigid.

When he finally seemed to regain mobility after the first impression, his body shivered and he had to lean on the wall, so his legs wouldn’t fail. Finally, he slowly began to approach the opening, still holding from the wall. The screams had stopped, but he could still hear noises coming from there. All his senses warned him to leave, to flee and get to safety, but a part of him needed to see it, to find out what was happening.

He shuddered while gripping his fingers into the concrete corner and peered cautiously inside. It was dark like the dead of night, but he could make out a hunched figure on the ground, practically on top of the three kids, keeping them stuck to the floor with pale gestures and frozen expressions of horror, as if their entire bodies, including their vocal cords, were paralyzed.

The figure then turned to him; he was encased in a hood that hid his face, but got to see a pair of amber eyes glowing in the dark, like wolf’s eyes. Loui shivered in such a way that he thought his knees would bend; but then he saw a smile forming under those eyes. That was the moment he felt terrified enough to step away from the wall with a shove and run away as fast as his legs allowed him, not even stopping to look back. All he could think of at the time was to put distance between the creature and him.

He ran like the wind, leaving the park behind, getting near the next block when he ended up colliding with someone else, falling to the ground. He looked up disturbed, afraid of what he would find, but only encountered Samael’s usual kind face, watching him with concern.

“…Are you okay?” he asked, offering his hand to get him up.

Loui stayed a few seconds on the floor, trying to regulate his breathing, looking back as if expecting to see that figure chasing him, but there was nothing else. His pulse began to decrease and finally took a deep breath, hoping to calm down.

“Yes… Everything’s fine,” he said, accepting his help and standing up.

He could tell him about what he had seen and get some help for those three kids, but…

“Let’s go home. Now,” was the only thing he said before taking a last look behind and heading back home with Samael.