9. LONELY LIGHT
The school halls were open, first thing in the morning. The sign Lilith had left on the bulletin board was still there with no names added besides Marianne and hers. Students stopped to watch out of curiosity, but once they read the first sentence they just walked past it. At least all but one, who stopped in front of the list and read the names, then stripped it off the board and took it.
When Marianne arrived at school and went past that point, she didn’t even notice the sign was gone. She was too immersed in her own thoughts.
She kept wondering what kind of salvation Ashelow was talking about and her mind kept coming back to the time Angie had touched him and got that reaction from him, as if she had given rise to emotions which either didn’t exist or had been buried inside him. Perhaps Angie was the key, depending on what she intended with that action, she just had to ask her about it.
She had hardly reached her seat and taken out her notepad when someone stamped a piece of paper on her desk. The acrylic nails and swanky middle finger ring could only belong to one person. She lifted her gaze and wasn’t at all surprised to see Kristania leaning against her desk, scowling and looking at her with those little gray eyes, keeping her neck stiff because of the collar —decorated now with flowers and pastel colors, which completely clashed with her lousy attitude.
“Can I help you?” she asked, sighing with annoyance.
“What does this mean?” she said, pointing at the piece of paper, and Marianne realized it was the sign Lilith had made.
“It’s an ad to find members for a team, it says it quite clearly. I thought you knew how to read.”
“Don’t try to be sassy!” she retorted sullenly. “I meant why basketball!”
“Hmmm . . . I’m sorry, but I didn’t know we had to ask for your permission to form a team and join a club. I thought that was something the school administration had to do.”
The sour-faced girl seemed about to explode.
“Don’t keep pulling my strings! I don’t think you’ve decided to casually join that club given who’s in there!”
Marianne was amused by her outrageous assumptions, and although she wasn’t excited to join the club either, Lilith’s eagerness imbued her, prompting a response.
“I can’t believe how obsessively disturbed you must be to think that’s the only reason anyone would want to join that club. News flash! We’re not as equally deranged as you! Plus, you’re creating drama over milk that’s not even spilled.” She took the page from her hands and pointed at the names. “We’re the only ones on the list, and to propose the team we need to be at least five! Since today is the last day of registration, we most likely won’t make it at the end. So why don’t you go to your desk and take care of other things like planning what fruit to poison or which of your lackeys you will sew the wings first? I guess that would be most fitting for you.”
Kristania gritted her teeth, her nose and forehead wrinkled, but instead of retorting, she stomped back to her seat. Marianne felt satisfied with her counterattack, but knew she had to be wary now for any retaliation.
A couple of minutes later, Lilith showed up with a wretched and desperate face.
“My ad is gone! Now we can no longer form the team on time!”
“Uhm . . . no, look, it’s here,” she said, showing the piece of crumpled paper.
“My ad!” she exclaimed, pressing it to her chest like it was a precious thing to her. “But why did you take it off? No one even got to sign it!”
“It wasn’t me, but still . . . I don’t think there are many girls at school who are really interested. Why don’t you leave it for good and think of other possibilities? We still have time.”
“It wouldn’t be the same! I want a female basketball team!” the blonde fiercely insisted. “I’d be willing to do anything just to form it before the day is over!”
Kristania appeared once again, now flanked by her two minions and snatched the page from her hands, proceeding to write something down.
“Hey! Give it back! What are you doing?”
The gray-eyed girl ignored her completely until she turned the paper and placed it in front of them. She had written her name and also her friends’, Sela and Tanis.
“We’re five now, so it depends on us if the team gets created.”
Both girls looked baffled at each other and Kristania smiled, feeling that she now had the upper hand.
“I thought it better, and if I join the club I’ll be able to be closer to Demian, so after class we’re going directly to the main office to deliver this paper proposing the female team. You better be ready by then.”
She then turned around, imitated by her friends, and they went back to their seats with flying colors, leaving Marianne and Lilith stunned.
“Are you happy now? You wanted the team at all cost, there you have it. Can you take it with them included?”
Lilith closed her eyes and pressed her forehead, as if that would help her to think better, until she finally opened up her eyes and gave a pessimistic breath.
“Maybe if we get more members, we can start some kind of riot later to get rid of them,” Lilith suggested, thinking seriously to accept the condition they were imposing.
“Even if we have to wait an entire term to open up the enrollment again?”
“Better than nothing,” Lilith finished with a defeated gesture, taking the paper in her hands. The idea of being in a team with the trio led by the despicable girl wasn’t appealing to her, but she was also so resolved to form it that she was prepared to be as professional as possible and put aside their problems, even if she felt about to explode inside. She would have to settle with using Kristania’s head as the ball in her mind.
“As you wish, then,” Marianne said, leaving the decision to her.
As soon as Belgina and Angie arrived, the warnings were immediate.
“They know a lot of people, you see?” Angie informed. “They could get more girls to join the team and then make you two quit.”
Exactly what Lilith was thinking, only the other way around.
“No! If we refuse, they’ll surely find other girls to fill our spots and sign up anyway! It’s my idea and I won’t let them walk all over us! We will let them join us, BUT they better not think we’ll let them take the reins,” Lilith decided, feeling completely confident about it. Marianne huffed, realizing there was no way she would change her mind, so she preferred to divert her attention to Angie and address the issue that had been roaming her thoughts before someone else distracted her.
“Angie, there’s something I’ve wanted to ask you since the day . . . you know. What did you mean to do when . . . you touched Ashelow?”
Angie looked thoughtful for a moment, trying to recall the impulse that had driven her to perform that action.
“I’m sorry, I’m blank when I think about it,” Angie replied, so Marianne was back at the start. She didn’t have the time to think that much about it though, since once it was 10 o’clock, Kristania and company stood in their way out.
“Well? Are we going to register the team or what?” she asked, with arms folded and her friends at the sides to guard her flanks.
The three girls surpassed them in height, so Marianne glanced at Lilith, waiting for her decision, and the hot-headed blonde breathed deeply until her shoulders lifted, squeezing the paper between her fingers.
“. . . Okay! BUT I’ll be the one proposing the team and I’ll be the captain too!” she demanded. The three girls exchanged glances, smirking, and then stepped aside to let them pass.
Lilith straightened up, lifted her chin to show dignity and went through them just to end up tripping over a foot, falling face first into the ground. The trio began to laugh while she glared at them, reddened with rage.
“Why don’t you watch your step? And that’s how you pretend to be captain?” Kristania said, hands on her hips. Marianne had to come forward and prevent Lilith from jumping on her, seizing her by the shoulders.
On their way to the school offices, they preferred to keep their distance since Lilith was still hitting the roof. Payback was in Marianne’s mind, but she rather held back since Kristania still wore a collar from the last time.
Once they arrived at the main office, their odyssey began. They were sent from one department to another, making them wait a good amount of time. Marianne looked constantly at her watch, dreading the moment she would have to reunite with her cousin. The running around to different offices and many steps to registration started to wear them out, until they finally ended up with the basketball coach. At first, he was skeptical about it, but after all the trouble they had been through to form the team he seemed really pleased that they were interested in a sport with no female representation at school, so he agreed on forming the team, but still had to present the idea to the principal and that would take them a while. Marianne looked at her watch again. She had fifteen minutes left. Her cousin was about to arrive and she wouldn’t be at the place they had agreed on. Lilith noticed how eagerly she was looking at her watch.
“Go. The only thing left to do here is to make it official,” she said to stop her worrying, but Marianne wasn’t sure of leaving her with the three stooges, so Lilith raised a hand and took the other to her heart. “I solemnly promise to behave and not throw any punch at the Gorgon and her snakes as much as they deserve it. Is that good enough? Besides, we’ll be surrounded by teachers, so I don’t think they would dare to do anything.”
At least she had a point. Whenever Kristania performed one of her vile deeds, there were no teachers at sight, or she was in deep excitement caused by Demian’s presence.
“Okay, will you come later?”
“I’ll try,” she replied, winking at her. Marianne left the place under Kristania’s watchful eye. She didn’t like the idea of leaving her with those girls, but she could finally relax away from their vexing faces.
Marianne entered the coffee shop stealthily, cautious of any sign of a pompadour around, and headed to the nearest table beside the door.
“How weird to see you here all by yourself,” Demian commented after seeing her sitting at the first booth.
“Shhh! I don’t want a certain annoying guy to know I’m here! Although, that would also include you, but you can’t always get what you want.”
He just pursed his mouth and forced a smile.
“What would you want me to poison . . . I mean, bring you today?” he muttered while tapping the notepad with his pencil.
Marianne imitated his expression and rested her arms on the table, lacing her fingers.
“Nothing for now, thanks. I’ll let you know,” she replied with feigned solemnity and he turned away, walking into the kitchen.
She checked her watch again, it was already three in the afternoon. Her cousin would be there any minute now, she thought. She began fiddling with her fingers and looked out the window, waiting for her arrival. Even if she’d seemed friendly for the few seconds they’d exchanged little to no words, she couldn’t know for sure how she really was. The movement of the seat in front of her took her out of her reverie. She turned her face, thinking it could be Lilith, but what she saw was a pair of blue-grayish eyes peering over a pair of sunglasses, and a grin from ear to ear.
“Hi, babe, excited to see me again?” the pompadour boy said, taking off his glasses and hanging them on the collar of his orange polo shirt beneath his uniform. He definitely seemed to love being the focus of attention.
“You again? What do you want from me?” Marianne twitched at the sight of him.
“Hmm, interesting question that could be answer in so many ways, if you know what I mean,” he replied, wiggling his eyebrows with a salacious smile that disgusted her.
She looked around and saw some sort of button above the dispenser where the menu cards hung, and she hit it insistently.
Demian came to the table at the repetitive sound of the bell.
“Yes, your majesty? Are you going to order?”
“Yes, I order you to take this guy away from me,” she snapped, pointing at the pompadour boy who remained undaunted despite the clear rejection.
“Oh, come on! All I want to know is your name. I’m not asking for your cup size . . . at least not yet, we could start with a cup of coffee and see where it takes us.”
“Seriously, make him disappear or I’ll do it myself!” she demanded, losing patience.
“That sounds oddly arousing. I might be willing to allow it just to see what happens,” the orange polo boy said, leaning on the table with an amused smile. She was bristled and unceremoniously kicked the boy under the table right in the shin. The boy’s face contorted, choking a gasp and clenching his hands as his body twisted in a wince of pain. Demian shut his mouth to keep from laughing.
“Do you think it’s funny? Maybe you wanna try it too,” Marianne threatened to also kick him, but he moved ahead.
“Well, that’s enough for today. Get back to the counter and I promise you a burger . . . and some ice for that leg.” Demian patted the boy’s shoulder and helped him up while he showed his thumbs up to indicate he was fine, and limped his way toward the counter.
“Seriously! Where did you find that moron?” Marianne asked as soon as he was out of her sight.
“I can’t say exactly. I just know that his name is Mitchell, he showed up at school yesterday and has been following me around saying he’s going to be my best friend now. It’s a little weird, but seems harmless.”
“Speak for yourself,” she replied, looking askance at the counter.
“Don’t worry, think of him as a part of the set, you won’t be charged for him,” he said jokingly and turned around to get back to work, passing by Mitchell who was rubbing below his knee with an aching face.
Marianne didn’t get to reply, she just let out a snort and looked back at the window. A police car was parking in front of the coffee shop. On the driver’s side, she saw Officer Perry coming out and quickly running up to the passenger’s door, helping someone to get out. Her cousin had finally arrived.
With a nod, she seemed to thank Officer Perry, who made a small bow, as if she were royalty, and immediately got in the car again, but instead of turning it on and leaving, he stayed in there like a driver waiting for his boss.
Marianne twisted her eyebrows with an odd look as the doorbell announced her entrance. Lucianne stood in the doorway, taking a brief look at the tables until she saw Marianne sitting at the nearest one, waving to get her attention.
She immediately smiled, lighting up her already radiant look. She seemed to wear the minimum amount of makeup, which gave her a fresh appearance, or it could also be the opposite, and maybe she just had such a good hand at making it look natural.
She took some steps to sit in front of Marianne, and let out a sigh.
“Sorry for the delay. I hope you haven’t had to wait that long,” she spoke, maintaining her sweet smile.
“Don’t worry, fifteen minutes is nothing,” she said, although those fifteen minutes were enough for that outlandish and obnoxious boy to show up.
They remained silent for a while, wondering what to say next, until it was Lucianne who decided to speak.
“Well, I must first apologize for the awkward situation yesterday. As I said, I’m in some sort of war with my father. It’s been days since I last spoke to him.”
“And how did it start? Why are you mad at him?”
“His job has always been more important. He could spend several weeks without even having lunch with me,” Lucianne explained.
Marianne knew the story about the absent parent due to work very well, after all her own father used to go on long trips. Maybe they had more in common than she’d thought.
“But it all reached its peak last week. He had told me, rather promised me, that he would be home for dinner, so I made his favorite food: teriyaki pork chops.”
“That’s what mom prepared for dinner yesterday,” Marianne added.
“Exactly, he loves those pork chops more than anything in this world. But time passed and he didn’t come home, so I called him, but his cell phone was off. Then I called the headquarters, but he wasn’t near. Finally, I called Perry, who tried to hand the phone to him, but he didn’t even take it, instead asked him to tell me he would call later, that’s what I heard over the phone . . . only that he didn’t. Well, that was the last straw. I haven’t spoken to him since then.”
Marianne didn’t find it difficult to recall the events from last week. It was the day of the interrogation. In a certain way she had Lucianne to thank for her timing even though she couldn’t tell her directly.
“I see. What about your mom?”
“She died seven years ago,” she answered, her natural radiance suddenly turning off. Marianne immediately regretted the question, though a moment later Lucianne was smiling again. “But hey, enough of me! Tell me a little more about yourself!”
They both fell silent and turned to the voice that had interrupted them. Lucianne’s face went from confusion to amazement.
“Demian?” she said with a mixture of surprise and joy. Within seconds she got up and hugged him tightly. “I can’t believe it! What are you doing here?”
“I’m working part-time.”
“Really?” she said cheerfully before remembering her cousin. “Oh, sorry! Let me introduce you . . . ”
“There’s no need,” they both said simultaneously.
“Oh, you already know each other then.”
“Unfortunately,” they chorused again and scowled at each other.
“Well, turns out we’re cousins. We just found out, what do you think?” Lucianne explained, trying to lighten the mood.
“Really? I would’ve never thought it.”
Marianne gave him another withering look.
“Well, I can.” Mitchell suddenly appeared beside them and focused now on Lucianne with gallant attitude. “Both of you are equally beautiful. Good afternoon, my name is Mitchell and I haven’t had the pleasure to meet such a lovely lady yet. Introduce us, Demian, please. Share, don’t be selfish.”
“I thought your leg was hurting.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I feel perfectly fine,” Mitchell said without erasing his all teeth-smile, winking at both girls until he felt a kick in the other leg and his entire body clenched.
“See? You’re still in pain. Go and sit,” Demian said after the kick, bringing him back to the counter, but not before turning to Lucianne with an expression that seemed to say more than words. “It’s good to see you again. I’ll be back for your orders.”
“Thanks, I’m glad too,” she replied with a big smile and sat down again.
“Well?” Marianne said, expecting some explanation. Lucianne looked distracted for a moment, but then seemed to get back on track.
“Oh, right! I’ve known Demian since we were children. We went to elementary school together,” she explained as soon as she got to focus again. “We were best friends and went everywhere together, until I had to change schools.”
“Why? What happened?”
“It was right after my mother died. I was ten and my father was so devastated that he decided to send me to a boarding school outside the city.” Marianne saw her face darken again, so she chose not to comment about it. “We share the same pain, you know? I was at his mother’s funeral and he was at mine. The service was at my house . . . I wasn’t even allowed to approach her coffin.”
“Uhm . . . have you been at the boarding school since then?” Marianne asked, trying to change the subject.
“Not since a couple of months ago,” she replied, getting out of that absent state. “I came home for the holidays as I usually do, but I found it a mess. The kitchen even had cobwebs. Dad was never good at housework, let alone cooking. I couldn’t let him live that way, so I decided to stay and take charge of the house.”
“Have you thought of a transfer? I think there’s still time, that way you could go to school here and stay at home,” Marianne suggested.
“Perhaps,” she pondered, looking out the window across the avenue, an idea forming in her mind at the sight of the Saint Pearl Institute.
“Okay now, what are you going to order?” Demian asked as he came back with pencil and note pad in hand, but when he looked out the window, his expression changed once again. “No way.”
“Oh, my God, it’s true!” a surprised Kristania exclaimed as soon as she came through the door, and at the sight of Marianne at the table she put on a face while the latter just rolled her eyes with annoyance.
“Who’s that?” Lucianne asked quietly and Marianne just shook her head.
“I just found out you’re working here! Leave it to me and this place will be a success. I’ll come every day from now on,” Kristania said as though she was doing him a great favor.
“How did you know?” Demian asked, discouraged now that she knew where to find him daily. He even turned to Marianne thinking she could have said something just to spite him, but she responded with another glare. She wasn’t so sure about Lilith though, having to put up with Kristania for so long could have made her slip some information. But the answer Kristania gave next was totally unexpected.
“My brother told me,” she said very calmly.
“Brother?” Demian repeated, and she drew a huge smile on her face as her finger pointed to the pompadour boy, who was on the counter pressing a bag of ice on his other leg now. Both Demian and Marianne felt their stomachs twisting.
“Mitchell!” Kristania called him. He turned his face, still in pain, and hobbled towards them.
“What’s up?” he asked, lifting his ankle again to rub the ice. Demian immediately pulled him away.
“Is she . . . your sister?”
“Well yes, who do you think told me about you?” Mitchell replied lightly. He didn’t seem aware of his sister’s unhealthy obsession with him. “What? Is there a problem?”
Demian just took a hand to his forehead, aware that there was nothing he could do about it. He wasn’t going to quit because of her, anyway.
Lilith came in right then, so agitated she seemed to have run several blocks, even though the school was only across the avenue. As soon as she saw Kristania in the middle of the dining room, she made a defeated gesture followed by a ‘Damn!’ and went to sit dejectedly next to Marianne.
“I didn’t make it on time!” Lilith reproached herself. “The little . . . witch and her chimeras left me there all by myself filling all the paperwork! Ugh, I hate them, they should turn to stone and remain forever as the gargoyles they are!” By then she noticed the girl in front of them, so she tried to regain her composure. “Oops! Sorry for my manners! You must be Marianne’s cousin. Nice to meet you, my name is Lilith.”
Lucianne shook her hand with a smile, and even if they didn’t stay any longer —especially since Officer Perry was outside waiting for Lucianne— the quick and enjoyable way that Lilith changed conversation was enough to make them completely forget about Kristania’s annoying presence.
Time in the coffee shop wasn’t quite enough for them, so Lucianne invited Marianne over for dinner, and even though she still felt awkward, she ended up accepting.
“Thanks for driving us home, Perry. I hope you don’t have any problems for this.”
“Not at all. It’s my pleasure,” the young officer said with an almost worshiping tone. “What would the boss say if I don’t take care of you? Whatever you need, you just call me and I’ll be there.”
After saying goodbye, both girls came into the house and Lucianne set to cook dinner while Marianne wandered around, looking at the portraits hanging on the walls. Lucianne appeared in many of them as a child alongside her mother, but it was the woman who caught the eye.
Lucianne looked a lot like her, though the woman’s hair was longer with an auburn tone, hazel eyes and a skin that seemed to glow on camera. In all of the pictures her gaze was fixed at the camera’s lens, so intense it produced a strange feeling to look at, as if she were able to pierce through the frame with her eyes.
“Dinner is ready!” Lucianne announced, causing her to jump. She shook her head to clear up her mind and headed to the kitchen.
“It smells so good,” she said, while Lucianne served the plates. Omelettes with sautéed vegetables in pumpkin cream. She acknowledged the compliment with a smile. There was a sudden noise at the front door and soon the commissioner walked into the kitchen, stopping in his tracks, surprised to see them.
“Didn’t know you were going to be here . . . Is everything all right?”
“Uh . . . yeah, we were talking all afternoon and now we’re having dinner,” replied Marianne, since Lucianne had taken her silent stance.
“Oh, very good. Will you invite me?” he said, hoping to get some response from his daughter, but she just got up and served another dish, placing it across the table without saying a word.
Marianne looked uncomfortable and Commissioner Fillian forced himself to sit down. The following minutes passed in complete silence, with occasional exchange of glances between Marianne and him, looking for ways to break that silence, until the chief began to clear his throat.
“Today we received the pictures of the guys who have been terrorizing the city. Their faces were isolated from the videos of the court and starting tomorrow they will be circulating everywhere. We will catch them soon.”
“Just the two of them or also . . . ?” Marianne intervened with a sense of foreboding.
“Oh, no. The so-called Angel Warrior is also included. Although we don’t have an exact plane of the face, some specialists rebuilt it using mathematical vectors according to her proportions,” he explained, taking some papers from his briefcase and handing them.
In the first two images, Umber and Ashelow’s faces were enlarged from the videos that were already circulating. But it was the last one that she worried could cause her more problems. Once she saw it, though, all her fears vanished. Rather than a representation of her, it looked more like a humanization of that cartoon character her brother used to watch on TV: Nutella from the Power-Pie girls. Once again, she didn’t know whether or not to feel offended.
“And what will happen once the portraits start circulating around the city?”
“We’ll hold a series of conferences for the media and eventually announce a reward for those who deliver more information. I’ve arranged several meetings for the next few weeks to plan their capture, considering the strange techniques they use. That will possibly take me the whole day, but as long as we catch those . . . ”
Lucianne sat bolt upright and left the kitchen without saying a word. Marianne looked at her uncle, unsure of what to do, and with a motion of her head indicated she would go after her. She found Lucianne out of the kitchen, sitting in the middle of the stairs.
“Nice way of telling me I won’t see him for several weeks from now.”
“I don’t think that was his intention,” Marianne surmised.
“Maybe I should ask your mom to help me with the transfer. You think she’ll do it?”
“I don’t doubt it, but . . . I think your dad should know it first,” she advised and Lucianne remained thoughtful for a moment, which was enough for Marianne to detect a strange feeling inside.
“Marianne, the kitchen!” Samael said for the first time all day, and they heard a noise from the kitchen. She ran back and saw Umber in front of the commissioner, who had already pulled out his gun.
“Why didn’t I think of it before? The police chief, the perfect victim,” Umber said, approaching slowly while the man kept pointing the gun at him.
“Stay away or I’ll shoot!” the commissioner warned him, but the demon continued walking steadily. He shot once, twice, three times, but the bullets did nothing to him. “What in the hell are you?”
Umber smiled, showing his fangs and coming closer at high speed, knocking him down and pinning him to the ground.
“ . . . Dad!” Lucianne yelled at the scene, and Marianne tried to stop her.
“Get out of here! Quick!” her father shouted, right at the moment Umber introduced his hands on his chest.
Lucianne’s scream boomed throughout the room.
“Lumen,” Samael said, and Marianne didn’t even have to ask a thing. She took Lucianne by her wrist and pulled her up the stairs, locking themselves in the first room she found.
“Lucianne, listen to me! You have to help me save your father!”
“What do you mean?” Lucianne said, shocked by what she had just witnessed.
“Just follow me and watch from afar, okay? You’ll understand eventually,” said Marianne, opening the door and leaving the room, letting the armor fully cover her to Lucianne’s astonishment.
“You . . . you’re the . . . ” she stammered, recognizing her. Marianne just smiled at her and hurried down, grabbing her sword tightly. She was confident that Lucianne would end up following her, but she barely reached halfway down the stairs when a pair of hands seeped through the steps, holding her feet and making her fall deafeningly. Ashelow materialized right among the stairs.
“Don’t make me waste my time! I won’t be so merciful to spare your life again!”
“I saw you,” Ashelow said with a strange look in his eyes, and she didn’t understand at first, until she finally got it. Her mouth opened as she tried to speak, but couldn’t think of anything. Then she caught sight of Lucianne upstairs, throwing several objects to distract the demon. She took the chance to get inside the kitchen, but Ashelow followed her, ignoring Lucianne’s attempts to stop him.
“I found the second one,” Umber said with a victorious smile as soon as she entered.
There was no gift in sight, as he had already introduced it to its vessel successfully. It had the word ‘Moral’ carved in it.
Marianne knew what that meant. Without the gift, the commissioner wouldn’t be the same. She had seen it with Lester and wouldn’t let it happen to him. She grasped her sword with all her might and tried to lunge at him, but she was pushed back by Ashelow, who held her against the floor as the other demon laughed.
“Good thing your friends are not here. It will be easier to kill them one by one, starting with you.”
Lucianne quietly peered through the door and saw her father’s body on the floor, so she covered her mouth and tried to hold back her tears while paying attention to Marianne. Umber had turned his arm into a giant blade and brushed it across her face.
“Where do I start? The throat? No, too simple . . . How about some equivalence between you and me?” His blade-hand dropped to settle at the middle of her arm and she immediately understood what he intended. “The only difference is that you won’t grow it back.”
When he raised the sharp tip fixed on Marianne’s arm, a flash of light pierced his shoulder, making him totter, his arm going back to normal.
“What was that?”
On the other side of the door, Lucianne looked at her hand, astounded after her unexpected action, and her surprise did nothing but increase when she saw a strange marbling copper coating beginning to wrap around her hand, much like the one covering Marianne. Panic began to creep over her and she shook her arms, thinking it would drop off, but the coating didn’t stop, and once the armor had completely covered her, the door flew open with such strength it came detached. Umber stormed through it.
“Did you do this to me?” he claimed, showing the hole in his shoulder —already starting to regenerate— and Lucianne stepped back, frightened. “You must be new, and what did I say about more Angel Warriors showing up, Ashelow? You know you’ll have to pay for it!”
He shivered to hear that, but still didn’t let go of Marianne, who saw her cousin in that coppery armor and didn’t hesitate to encourage her.
“Do it again!” she shouted and Lucianne initially looked terrified at her, but ultimately pulled herself together and made a quick motion with her hand, pointing at the demon, and a new spark of light went through his other shoulder.
“Dammit, stop that!” he yelled, waiting for his tissues to regenerate, and she took advantage of that pause to direct her hand at the demon restraining her cousin. Her aim wasn’t the best, given how she had targeted Umber’s heart the two previous times —or where it was supposed to be— so she had to be more careful not to hurt Marianne.
She quickly sought the body part the demon had more exposed and ended up pointing to his ribs. When the light beam went through him, he let go of Marianne and clutched his stomach. Marianne grasped her sword again, having no intentions to let him live this time. She kicked him down and put a foot over his chest to immobilize him while wielding the sword with the tip down and the firm intention to pierce his heart with it, but then she noticed the wound. A thick substance very similar to blood, only darker, was flowing from it, just not like the black fluid Umber oozed every time one of his limbs was cut off, the same substance that seemed to take shape in his own coating. But most important of all, he wasn’t regenerating.
A brief revelation crossed her mind, something that made her recoil and stopped brandishing the sword. She backed off without taking her eyes off Ashelow while Lucianne stood back to back with her, pointing to the other demon, who kept regenerating every time. Her hand was starting to shake and she clung to Marianne.
“Go away or I won’t stop shooting!” she said, trying to hide her trembling. Umber grunted before disappearing. Ashelow got up in turn, pressing down his wound and keeping his eyes fixed on Marianne.
“Now I know,” he said, while crumbling into ashes.
She stood, befuddled, and as she dropped the sword, it was instantly absorbed by her hand. Lucianne reacted quickly and went running to her father, her armor retreating by itself.
Marianne was still standing in the same place, staring into nothingness and her armor retreating out of habit, until she heard Lucianne’s pleas, getting her back to reality.
She immediately got close to them and looked at the commissioner’s body, realizing he no longer had the moral gift. She didn’t know how it would affect him from now on, but couldn’t waste any more time, so she proceeded the same way she had with Lester. As soon as his body seemed to regain his basic functions, she moved away to give him time to recover and leaned back against the wall, sliding down to the floor. She felt like she was losing track again until Lucianne shook her shoulder.
“I called Perry to come and take you home. Dad’s not feeling well so he went to bed,” said Lucianne, staring at her to see if she understood.
“Okay,” she replied, getting up off the floor.
“Tomorrow . . . I would like to talk about what happened today, but now is not the time,” she added with some reservations.
Marianne nodded, aware that she would have to inform the others, but had no mind for that at the moment. All she could think of was that Ashelow knew her identity now, but what took the front page of her thoughts was a fleeting idea that had crossed her mind: the possibility that he wasn’t entirely a demon after all.