Chapter 13

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Chapter 13

 

Chapter 13

 

ZEN

– Tiphereth. - The King’s Chamber.
The Vision of the holy Guardian Angel.
The Instruction concerning the Obtaining of the Vision and the Voice of the Thirty Aethyrs.
The Preparation of the Candidate.1

 

“And so, slowly, something dies inside me every night, and something new is born every morning.
And although I remain the same, everything changes.
Just like an intense scent that fills the air but, as one gets use to it, becomes undetectable.
And yet, the scent that in the beginning wasn’t there, now clearly fills the air ...”

 

 

 

 

 

In the following days a new routine was established, one that managed to make my life considerably more hellish than it had been before, if that could even be possible.

Stephanie’s cold shoulder and Joanne’s silent treatment went on till the end of the week, making classes even more boring than they used to be.

The critical comments about Michael and me kept following me everywhere I went, and I tried as hard as I could to ignore them, in hopes they’d be gone during the weekend.

Steph and Gabriel hung out together every recess, talking in secret and laughing together as if they existed in a world of their own. It was hard to believe that, for him, all those smiles were nothing but a well-performed act, and seeing them together annoyed me deeply.

The only relaxing moments I enjoyed were during lunchtime when I sat with Joe and the others in the cafeteria. When I was with them, there were no critical expressions or under the breath muttered insults, and, since Gabriel wasn’t present, no tensions or fears. Even so, those moments were too short. The other half of my lunchtime was reserved for Michael.

With increasing sadness, I noticed that the happiness I’d felt in his presence was now practically gone. Besides the dark, ugly stain that was the secret of the Contract I’d accepted, now there was this new agreement that forced me to weave lie after lie. It was as if, somehow, I was betraying his trust, and the constant excuses and plots to escape him were beginning to wear me out. His understanding smile, even when it was obvious he knew I was lying, made me feel even guiltier. My constant refusals to go out, or even spend any amount of time alone with him, made me feel like I was the worst girl on the face of the Earth. It was as if I had wanted him and, now that he was almost mine, had changed my mind. Above all, I didn’t want to hurt him; not Michael, who had already been through so much and, in an act of trust, had allowed me inside his defenses.

My emotions were in constant conflict, as I frequently had to choose between what I really wanted and what had to be done. Quickly enough Lea became my only sanctuary and, when I finally became aware of that, I couldn’t help laugh at myself like a deranged woman. Surely I was going insane, if my only safe port keeping me from completely losing my mind was a demon.

By Friday I was faced with another of those decisions — what to do during the weekend. Going once more against my will, I’d told Gabriel we’d spend it together, which suspiciously enough had left a pleased smile on his perfect face.

That night I hardly got any sleep, even though Lea was peaceful sleeping beside me. I ransacked my brain in search of something that might keep him busy for two whole days, knowing that failing to do so would mean him leaving in search of other ... diversions.

Lea, beside me, turned in his sleep and wrapped his small arms around my arm, snuggling happily, and then I recalled what he’d told me. My world was full of things they didn’t know. If that was the case, maybe I didn’t need to try and come up with anything too amazing. Lea had been fascinated with our neighbor’s everyday activities. And so I decided I wouldn’t kill my mind over it any longer, and that when morning came I’d simply put together a small tour around London.

That morning, when I shared my plans for the trip with Gabriel he didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about it, which left me apprehensive. But then Lea was jumping excitedly up and down on his chair, since he’d obviously been included in my tour day, and he finally ended up agreeing.

We left after breakfast and I guided them towards the bus stop, aware that I was the only one who actually needed that kind of transport. Gabriel kept his distance all the way, his white hands tucked inside his jacket. Lea wore a pair of small sunglasses with colorful fishes designed on the frames to hide his silver eyes. He walked beside me, holding my hand, his curious head turning here and there as he watched everything with exaggerated wonder and interest.

When our bus finally arrived, I had to explain to him everything his eyes gawked upon, be it inside or outside the bus, and soon enough people around us were eyeing him with amused expressions, as he constantly pointed his little finger, excitedly asking ‘What’s that?’ or ‘What does it do?’

I practically thanked the heavens when we finally reached North Greenwich. His never ending curiosity had embarrassed me more than once, especially when his small finger shot straight up at someone’s face, asking out loud about the things people wore. However, my peace was short lived since next was the subway. More than once I saw Gabriel muffle a laugh or listen attentively to one of my explanations, and I painfully started to wonder if that tour had really been such a good idea.

Lea kept me successfully occupied during the whole trip and when we finally arrived at Trafalgar Square I was already dead tired, even though my day had hardly begun.

“What now? Where are we going?” Lea asked, anxiously looking around, and I smiled at his sunglasses that reflected my own image.

“Now we walk,” I answered. “We’ll go to St. James’s Park and then down towards the river, so we can see Big Ben.” I dared to look at Gabriel, who kept his distance from us. His face showed neither displeasure nor boredom, which made me feel more confident about my plan as I guided them through downtown’s old streets.

Lately I’d been noticing that my ability to control and ignore my physical reactions to his presence had slightly improved. I still remembered quite painfully that, in the beginning, I could hardly even talk to him. Now, as long as I kept a safe distance, I could easily strike up what could be considered a normal conversation. Even so, and although I persistently tried every night, I still hadn’t been able to take more than four steps in his direction, I recalled bitterly. With a great deal of disgust, I saw myself having to consider the probability he might be right, and that I’d probably never be able to do it, unless he imposed his will over mine.

My idea of crossing St James’s Park seemed right on the mark. Lea was absolutely ecstatic, running in front of us, smelling flowers, trees and grass alike. Maybe it was because we were surrounded by green, and the air was cold and clean, but I noticed I was feeling more at ease as part of the anxiety that constantly left me in a grueling state of alert started to dwindle.

Gabriel kept his wide, slow pace, hands tucked inside his pockets. Sometimes Lea would run up to him, pulling him towards a tree or plant that, incomprehensibly, he’d considered worthy of a special attention. Gabriel always followed him, smiling patiently, gladly listening to what the boy had to say. Almost like father and son, I thought, and shuddered at the notion that suddenly, amongst all that green, he looked almost Human.

When we reached the other side of the park I turned east down Great George Street. We took a small detour north and, after a few more steps, were standing before the stunning architecture of the Westminster Cathedral.

Lea stopped with his mouth wide open as he tilted his head backwards to look up at the tall tower, and I couldn’t help laugh, running a hand through his soft hair.

“You’ve never been here?” I wondered, as it was kind of hard to believe, and he shook his head, still staring upward.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been to this city and I still hadn’t left Lewisham,” he confessed and I peaked at Gabriel sideways. He too seemed to be captivated by the imposing neo-Byzantine construction.

“Want to go inside?” I asked, smiling, and Lea finally straightened his head to look up at me through his mirrored sunglasses.

“Inside? I’d like to, but can’t,” he answered and I stared back at him, unable to understand until it suddenly hit me.

“Because it’s a church?” I inquired in bewilderment. Things like that, that reminded me of his true nature, always left a bitter taste in my mouth.

“Not quite.” It was Gabriel’s deep, velvet-like voice that responded, launching a shiver down my spine, and I raised my head to face him. He was still contemplating the cathedral, his dark gaze carefully going over every detail of the intricate stone patterns around the doors and windows. “At least not because of any of the reasons crossing your mind. It’s not because it’s the House of God, or because we fear some kind of divine punishment. If forces like that were really present in this world, and if things were as you think they are, we’d all been extinct by now,” he had with a sarcastic smile and slowly turned his gaze towards me. “When Lea says he can’t go inside, it only means that it’s best if he doesn’t. Even though God isn’t actually living inside those walls, it’s not without reason that you Humans consider these kinds of places as places inhabited by good. And that’s because many of these temples and churches of yours are actually meeting places for the beings you like to call angels.”

I couldn’t help staring at him in disbelief. He’d actually taken the time to try and explain something, instead of telling me it didn’t concern me. More importantly, I’d just heard him say the word angels! And the existence of those celestial beings was something that I'd just recently had come to terms with. Thus, the possibility of an angel actually being somewhere inside that huge church was simply staggering. And then I was suddenly aghast at myself! Amid everything that had happened lately I’d practically forgotten my main objective — getting rid of him! And I couldn't avoid thinking that an angel would probably be able to defeat him and send him away for good!

He smiled all-knowingly, as if he’d just listen to my thoughts, and turned towards the arched entrance.

“Going inside and meeting one of them would probably turn out rather messy,” he added, now almost threateningly, and I recalled what Lea had told me about him belonging to the most powerful caste among the Deiwos. “But you may go if you wish. And who knows? Maybe one of them might actually listen to your prayers and decide to help you.” His voice was now dark and cold, and Lea looked up at me, apprehensively.

Hot, molting anger flowed through my veins and I held Lea’s hand, raising my head to face Gabriel.

“That’s not why I came here!” I declared. “I can do that when and wherever I want to! There are plenty of churches lying around!” I declared, wanting him to understand that I didn’t need his permission to do as I pleased, not knowing why his cold remark had bothered me so, and I deliberately walked away with a thundering step from what might had been my salvation, taking Lea by his hand.

I noticed has he followed us with his deep stare, first surprised, then obviously amused, and I felt even more annoyed at the knowledge he was having fun at my expense.

We turned towards Millbank and Lea was once again awestruck, this time by the imposing vision of the Houses of Parliament. His interminable questions were far from being compatible with my sulking, and so I tried to answer him to the best of my knowledge.

Big Ben, on the other hand, gave way to a much more uncommon discussion, due to the never-ending chain of ‘whys’ that came from the need of planting such a huge clock in the middle of the city. As I’d come to understand over the last few days, time, and the implicit need to abide by it, was a concept that stood all too far from Lea’s grasp. And, once more, I caught Gabriel smiling at my frustrating attempts to explain it to him.

To my relief, as soon as we reached Westminster Bridge, Lea’s attention strayed from all those ‘whys’ and set itself on the Eye of London, proudly standing on the South Bank of the River Thames.

“Let’s go there! Please, let’s go there!” he begged, pulling my arm as he jumped up and down excitedly, and his sunglasses ended up jumping from his face, sliding across the pavement.

“Fine! Just stop that!” I hurriedly replied, hugging him and trying to hide his face against my legs, worried that someone might be staring at us. But no one had even noticed Lea’s excited dance. Everywhere tourists crossed the bridge back and forth, taking pictures of Big Ben and the view of the river from the bridge.

Gabriel silently held out Lea’s glasses and, although the length of his arm marked the distance between us, my hand was still shaking when I reached for them. I squatted down, taking that chance to escape his gaze, and returned Lea’s sunglasses to his face.

“Try not to lose them,” I advised and he gave me a mischievous smile.

“Can we really go?” he pleaded and I sighed once more, trying not to think too hard about what that would mean.

“Um, I guess. But aren’t you hungry?” I asked, hoping that would lead his thoughts in other, safer directions, and to my relieve it was as if I’d just uttered a magical spell.

We didn’t sit or eat in the conventional way. From the moment I reminded Lea of that other matter, every time we passed by a supermarket, pastry or coffee shop, he’d run inside, searching with an eager expression for snacks he hadn’t yet tried. I felt bad by how much all those expenses would weigh on my mother’s credit card and guiltily promised myself to restrain my personal expenses till the end of the month. Besides, Lea looked so happy gulping down cakes, ice cream and sandwiches made of the strangest things that I could hardly bring myself to thwart his pleading expression as he pointed out yet another piece of cake.

Gabriel never asked for anything, although I ended up getting something to eat in one of our stops. But Lea never asked for something that he wouldn’t immediately share with him, making him bite here and there, his evaluative expression every time he tried something new almost making me laugh more than once.

Those were all things quite out of character for him, I thought, just like the tender expression he showed on his face every time he caressed the kitten’s fur. Those little acts stood on the completely opposite of his usually cold, cruel and distant personality. Above all, those were all expressions only that child could call upon. And I couldn’t help wonder how different things would have been if he'd always act like that.

When we finally reached the London Eye, many stops and dozens of questions later, it was almost four in the afternoon.

I took a deep breath and sat down on some nearby stairs, smiling while Lea ran and jumped all over the place.

“It’s so big!” he exclaimed, opening his arms wide as if he wanted to compare measurements. Gabriel leaned against a wall and crossed his arms while watching the giant Ferris wheel.

My feet hurt and I was exhausted. We’d walked nonstop since morning and the lack of any signs of fatigue from either of my two companions only made me more resentful.

“Can we go on one of those?” Lea insisted, pointing his small finger towards the passenger capsules that looked almost insignificant from where we stood, and I made myself smile at his request, not wanting to ruin his enthusiasm. Not that it wasn’t something I hadn’t already expected and, for that reason, had enough time to consider and picture. But still, just imagining Gabriel and myself inside one of those small compartments, with nowhere to run to, made me shiver.

“Why go on one of those things when you can simply appear up there?” Gabriel asked and Lea pouted.

“But it’s not the same!” he protested. “Because Mari won’t be with me!”

His justification caught me completely off guard and, by his lack of response, Gabriel as well. I felt my cheeks heat up and stood up not wanting either one of them to notice.

“Let’s go, then!” I decided, feeling awkward by my own embarrassment, and turned towards the ticket booth. “Coming, Lea?” I asked, knowing how he enjoyed taking part in those small things, but the hand I’d stretched in his direction remained empty. I looked back, inquisitively, and saw him standing, suddenly too quiet, all excitement and happiness drained from his face. “Lea?” I called, worried, taking a step towards him, but the sudden weight that surrounded us made me freeze in place. My head instinctively turned towards Gabriel, and I saw him raise his head, as if to smell the air, his dark eyes coming ablaze with that frightening crimson glow, making me take two steps back.

“Lea, take her home,” he simply commanded in that indifferent tone that, in reality, could not be disobeyed.

I felt confused, fighting the effects of his sudden intense presence, and looked at Lea in search of answers. Suddenly everything had changed.

“But Master,” Lea protested, sounding worried and unwilling to obey his request, but Gabriel’s burning gaze made him lower his head, as if he felt sorry for having questioned his command.

“I’ll meet you there,” he promised, this time in a softer, more reassuring tone and, before my still puzzled look, he turned his back on us and walked away. The speed of his movements left me utterly stunned and too aware of just how much he usually restrained himself around me. Before I could even sort out my thoughts, he was already gone, disappearing among the people walking by us. I stood there completely lost, until Lea’s small hand on mine brought me back to reality.

“Come. We have to go,” he told me with a serious tone, towing me in the opposite direction, and I focused on following his footsteps that, for someone as small as him, almost made me run.

“Where are we going?” I asked, noticing we were going back towards the bridge.

“Home, like Master said,” he replied without even turning to look at me. I couldn’t help shiver, noticing he'd put away his childish manner, simply concentrating on obeying Gabriel’s command.

“What happened?” Where did he go?” This time he didn’t answer, zigzagging between the heedless mass of tourists filling the streets. “Lea!” I called out in frustration, pulling his hand and making him stop for a moment, and he finally looked at me over his shoulder.

“Don’t worry.”

“How’s that possible!” I objected. “Everything was fine just a minute ago and then, suddenly, what happened?” He held my hand between his small ones, lowering his head enough to peer at me over his sunglasses.

“Please, Mari. The important thing, right now, is leaving this place, okay? And fast! We’ll talk latter, okay?” he replied, obviously trying to reassure me, but his urgent tone betrayed the concern he was trying to cover up.

“Fine,” I conceded and decided I might as well help him. “Come. There’s a passageway leading to the subway on the other side of the bridge.” It was my turn to pull him by his hand.

“And we can take that subway?”

“It doesn’t really matter, right? If all you want is to get out of here. We’ll change lines later on.”

He nodded, agreeing, and we tried to cross the bridge as fast as we could. We were almost all the way across, the subway sign already visible marking the Westminster station, when Lea suddenly stopped, making me stop as well. I looked down at him, a question bubbling in my lips, but his stiff, hard expression made my heart jump.

“Lea! Talk to me!” I ordered urgently, squatting before him to hold him by his small shoulders, and he draped his little arms around my neck.

“Pick me up.”

“What?”

“Pick me up!” he repeated and I obeyed, raising him from the ground. “There! Turn towards there,” he went on, pointing towards the river, and I did as he asked.

“What ...” I stopped myself when his light body began to glow and I immediately tried to hide him under my coat. “Lea! What are you doing!” I demanded but it didn’t stop that inhuman glowing.

“I’ll have to leave you for a bit. Just keep going towards the subway.”

“But ...”

“I’ll meet you there, I promise.”

It was the last thing he told me. Next his body was shrinking, and folding, until all that was left in my arms was a bundle of clothes. A small shape stirred from under the empty shirt and a black, swift shadow jumped from my arms, nimbly landing on the ground. The small cat didn’t even stop to look back, quickly dashing towards where we’d come from, his small bell tinkling over all the other noises, until I couldn’t hear it anymore ... and I was left alone.

I hurriedly folded his clothes so it would be easier to carry them, and picked up his empty shoes and socks that had fallen at my feet. I looked around for a second, worried that someone might had seen something, but, just as before, the people crowding the bridge only had eyes for the more eminent tourism attractions.

Not knowing what was really going on, I decided I should probably do as I’d been told. Something had clearly gone wrong and, suddenly, I didn’t feel safe anymore, and all I wanted was to go back home, as Gabriel had initially instructed.

I came down from the bridge to Parliament Street and anxiously waited for the traffic lights to change. A cold wind tousled my hair and I looked up at the sky. The practically non-existent clouds from that morning had tripled and now ran too fast, as if they too were trying to run away from something. My stomach knotted and I squeezed my hands together. I had to remain calm, I told myself, especially since I was mainly imagining things. I still didn’t know what had happened, which meant the bad feeling coursing through my veins was nothing but the fruits of my vivid imagination. Maybe they’d just left to do something, who knew? After all, I knew nothing about their strange world or about what drove them to take this or that action, nor did I want to know! Anxiously waiting, I cursed at the red traffic light that seemed to take forever to change.

And then, suddenly everything was silent. I only noticed something was really, really wrong when the car that should have sped past me seconds ago remained in the same place.

I held my breath as I slowly looked around and concluded I could only be hallucinating. I’d finally gone mad, I thought, since there was no other possible explanation. The world, all around me, had stopped, as if frozen in time, from the cars before me to the smallest of leaves falling from a tree!

An arm grabbed me by the waist, easily raising me from the ground, and a cold hand covered my lips, silencing my unthinking scream. The image of the frozen world blurred away, leaving me dizzy and sick to my stomach, and I desperately fought with all my strength against whatever it was that had grabbed me. Darkness enveloped me, making me unable to think coherently, and although I could hear other sounds, which meant that the illusion of that frozen world had disappeared, a much deeper, much darker madness took over my mind.

“Mariane! Breathe!” That voice. Not knowing how, my body immediately obeyed it and the burning in my chest, which I only now had noticed, started to slowly dissipate. “That’s it. Easy,” he whispered in my ear and I could feel his warm breath against my skin. The arm wrapped around my waist held me firmly against his body, and the cold hand over my lips trembled slightly. “Hush ... calm down ... I am not going to hurt you,” he added, but his words didn’t make any sense, my head pounding painfully. My wild eyes kept searching the darkness around me, panic drowning me in raving waves of fear, and then it was as if something deep inside me had simply broken, and the world around me became silent. Something wet and warm trickled down my cheeks, but my mind remained completely blank, as if I were no more than a windup doll that had finally come to a stop. All that was left were far away sensations, like his trembling hand over my lips and the sound of his deep voice. I heard him groan under his breath and his arm crushed me against his body even harder, almost as if he wanted to make sure he wouldn’t unwillingly let go of me. Time and space escaped me and, what most probably were just a few minutes, seemed like an eternity. His soft sigh and the warmth of his breath broke the muteness in my ears and his cold, trembling hand finally released me. Even so, I only noticed he’d let me go when he carefully dropped me on the ground, since I obviously couldn’t stand on my own. The sound of a small bell told me we weren’t alone, but, even though I commanded it with all my might, my opened eyes saw only darkness.

“Thank you, Lea. I’ll take care of the rest. Watch over her and take her home.” I heard his velvet voice instruct and then silence, once again.

I wondered if the world had stopped once more, and, when I tried to pinpoint exactly when that had happened, I simply couldn’t find an answer.

A small, warm hand was gently placed over my head, but for a moment I couldn’t even tell if it really was my head he was touching.

“Mari? Mari! Can you hear me?”

His voice came to me from very far away and my mind couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or wide awake. Part of me insisted I was responsible for the concern in that child’s voice, and my heart stirred telling me that I didn’t want to be the cause of his pain. In what felt like an inhuman effort, I blinked, trying to make sure my eyes were really opened and, bit by bit, light started returning to my sight. The first thing I was able to see were his silver eyes, filled with unshed tears, and then his smile of relief as he realized I could see him.

I looked around to see we were in what looked like a dark, narrow alley. And the surface under me was cold and hard. I raised a hand, unsure I could do it, and stared at it, doubting that it really belonged to me. I understood my brain had completely shut down, leaving me deaf, blind, mute and unfeeling, except to him, and ran a hand down my face, strangely wet by tears I didn’t remember crying.

As my mind became more aware, I was finally able to sort out my thoughts and recall the latest events, which led me to sit up too fast, making me dangerously dizzy.

“Take it easy,” Lea admonished me, holding me with his gentle but surprisingly strong hands. “You can’t just stand up like that.”

“What happened? What’s going on?”

“If you think you can stand, we better get going. We can talk on the way,” he told me and I looked around once more, feeling confused. The last thing I clearly remembered was standing by the sidewalk, waiting to cross a street, wishing the traffic light would change, and then ... then the world had stopped!

“We’re near a church and a subway station. Master brought you here because it’s safer,” he clarified, answering my silent question, and I leaned against the cold, damp wall to push my stiff body up until I could stand on my two legs. “Come, this way,” he encouraged me, and I tried to follow him as fast as I could, taking into account my knees kept buckling with every step I gave.

I could still feel the cold touch of his skin against mine, which made my stomach fold into a dozen knots. My chest hurt from the effort of having to breathe, and the evening light that poured all over the main street temporarily blinded me again.

Lea walked ahead to guide me, constantly turning back to make sure I followed. His head looked like a wind vane, turning and peering in every direction, suspicious of everyone and everything, his quick small steps tense and alert. And, when we finally went down to the subway, he stood beside me, trying his best to support me.

The dim lights of the underground brought some measure of relief to my throbbing head. I convinced myself as best as I could that I was feeling better and wasn’t, in any way, going to attract any unwanted attention by falling or fainting in front of all those people.

As soon as the subway car doors closed, Lea sighed in relief, releasing part of the tension he’d accumulated, looking visibly tired. However, we didn’t talk. The subway cars ran packed at that time of day, masses of people entering and exiting at every station, and all I could do was pull Lea into a corner, holding him against my legs so that he wouldn’t be stepped on or dragged away by the human torrents.

When we finally reached our destination and went back to the surface, the sun had already begun setting, the cool air making me shiver, but I was practically back to my usual self.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long for the bus. I gave Lea his ticket and watched as he passed it through the machine; and couldn’t help feeling sad as I recalled the curious happiness that had beamed on his face when he’d done the same exact thing just that morning. Once more, in just a few hours, everything had changed. And now Lea wasn’t smiling anymore, nor did he look like an excited child, and Gabriel wasn’t with us.

Lea took a seat near the window, just like before, and turned his attention to the progressively darker world outside. I immediately recognized his attempt to avoid my questions for what it was. But right then I just couldn’t spare him. I needed answers, bad! And the time we’d spent in silence up until then had only granted me enough time to calmly review all that had happened, giving me the chance to picture half a dozen or so worst case scenarios.

“Lea?” I called him and he clearly hesitated before turning to face me. “What happened back there?” I asked, going straight to the subject, and my question was so predictable that he didn’t even think twice before replying.

“What do you think happened?”

It was almost as if we’d practiced those lines for some kind of performance. I, too, had expected his answer and had decided to, from all the possible explanations, offer him the one that frightened me the most.

“We were attacked ... something attacked us.” I speculated. He watched me over his sunglasses, his silver eyes too serious and observant, and I knew he was trying to ascertain up to which point I’d be able to handle the truth. “One of you, a Deiwos, attacked us,” I clearly put it into words and was glad to hear how firm my voice had sounded.

He seemed bothered by my ability to frankly say it, which was on its own a dreadful confirmation.

“That’s right,” he confirmed it, releasing me from his evaluating gaze, and my heart jumped into a frantic run. Another one. Sure I didn’t expect them to be the only two Deiwos walking the Earth, but did they all have to cross my path?

“Why? Why did he attack?” I questioned and Lea sighed.

“Because that’s how it works. I can’t really talk about that,” he added and I couldn’t help feel frustrated for having reached his can’t-talk-about-it limit so soon. So I looked for another question.

“What did he want?”

“He came for my Master,” he whispered heavily, looking outside apprehensively, as bright lights ran across his window. I didn’t need to see his face to know that Lea was worried about him.

“From which caste?”

Mazzikin. But his magic was really strong.” A former angel, I thought. I still couldn’t understand. What could make an angel do something so terrible that would end up turning him into something like that?

“Did he went to kill him?”

“There’s no other way. If he didn’t, he’d follow us home,” he explained and his defensive tone didn’t go unnoticed.

“I could ask if there are more, but I’m sure there are,” I guessed and he kept silent. “Are they going to attack us, too?”

“No! No,” he reassured me, looking at me with an urgent expression, his small hands now cold, firmly holding mine. “You don’t need to worry, Mari. No one will hurt you! You’ll be safe in Lewisham.” He was trying too hard to make me believe that, and I frowned. He’d also said something like, hadn’t he? That leaving that area wasn’t safe.

“What do you mean? Why am I safe back at home?” I asked and Lea released me, averting his gaze once more.

“Master raised a barrier around the whole area of Lewisham. Nothing comes in or goes out without us knowing.”

“Barrier?” What was he talking about?

“Yes. It forms a kind of border around the areas you frequently go to and the closest areas surrounding them. It couldn’t be a real barrier, because if it were not even Human Beings would be able to cross it. So it just keeps out all ... non-Human beings. It basically serves to conceal that piece of land, making it so that other Deiwos won’t even be able to perceive its existence.” Although all that information had the clear intent to appease me, not knowing why, it only irked me even more.

“And since when has that barrier been there?”

“When I got here Master had already raised it. I suppose it was one of the first things he did.”

“I really … dislike that idea!” I confessed, frowning, and Lea looked up at me unable to understand.

“Why? It keeps us all safe, including your friends,” he argued and with reason, I had to admit.

Recognizing the street we were turning to, I stood up and pressed the request-stop button. Lea followed my lead and we waited for the bus to come to a stop so we could get off.

The night's silence surrounded us as soon as the bus disappeared up the road, and the cold air made me stick my hands in my pockets. My chest still hurt whenever I took a deep breath, but everything else had gone back to normal. The cold wind lashing at my face seemed to make my thoughts clearer and I knew exactly why the idea of that barrier displeased me so much. After all, it was as if, once more, he'd been protecting me, doing something for me, making me feel as if I owed him something in return!

As soon as I opened the front door, Lea rushed inside, rubbing his hands together and breathing on his small frozen fingers.

I didn’t waste time looking for him. I knew he still hadn’t return. The house was silent and, as usual, I couldn’t help notice the extreme difference his absence made. I could hardly believe I’d lived my whole life immersed in such a calm environment!

I went upstairs trying to silence the small and annoying voice inside my head that kept wondering if he’d be able to defeat that fallen angel, and opened the door, stopping to look back at the small boy who, as always, had silently trailed behind me.

“I need some time alone, Lea,” I told him and he stared up at me, his silver eyes now released from the sunglasses that had hidden them all day.

“Why? Are you angry at me? Did I say something wrong?” he fretted in a single breath and I smiled for his benefit, caressing his soft, black hair.

“No. Nothing like that. I just need some time to think ... to put my thoughts in order, to go back to my own world for a few moments. I can’t ... I don’t want to get used to yours,” I told him and Lea lowered his head, looking dejected, but didn’t say anything else.

I closed the door behind me, feeling bad for his sad expression, but knowing I had done the right thing. Sometimes, more so of late, I’d find myself thinking that all the craziness around me was normal; forgetting that, not very long ago, none of those things or strange creatures had existed in my life, the life that I wished to recover. Above all I couldn’t allow myself to be dragged into other problems, straying from my own objectives.

I took a deep breath and dropped like dead on my bed.

Besides, what good would it do worrying about those kinds of things? This creature that attacked us was his problem, not mine. That barrier, too. I would put them both in the same bag, together with all the possible demons that might show up from then forth with the intent to kill him. And maybe he’d really die, I thought, and I would be free from that Contract. And the problem with Steph would simply go away.

Feeling too tired to even change, I told myself I should get some sleep. But my eyes refused to obey, my brain too agitated and alert. Annoyingly, I found my attention wandering towards the other rooms, looking for a sound, anything that would tell me he was back. I severely reprimanded myself for behaving as if I were expecting his return, and turned to the other side.

Before I knew it my mind was once again deeply engrossed in conjectures and hypotheses, which annoyingly left me too anxious to sleep. Defeated, I decided to get up and occupy myself with other things. I turned on the computer and went about replying to my mother’s e-mails.

Everything was fine in Paris and she missed me beyond words. She wanted news about Gabriel and me. She insistently asked if I hadn’t forgotten to pay the bills and if the money she regularly transferred to my bank account was enough. She still didn’t know exactly when her flight back to London, for the Easter holidays, would be, but she was anxious to see me soon. As an attachment there was a photo of her, sitting in a sunny, bright terrace of a coffee shop. Her smile was radiant and I was happy to see she was really doing okay. The name of the photo was ‘Saturday’s Breakfast’ and I downloaded it to my computer's archive, where I kept the photos she’d started sending with every e-mail.

On a new window I described our tour day in London. I risked confessing that Gabriel knew very little of the city, not knowing exactly what kind of memories she had of a cousin that never existed to begin with. In the end it was a little like writing an essay for English Literature and I made sure to put in a little bit of everything, especially lots of fun and amazing things, to wrap it all up with a happy ending, where we’d supposedly sat somewhere nice to have something to drink. I didn’t add any photos, but shared my plans for the next day, which included going to the supermarket. I could easily compile all those e-mails and write a fiction novel about the life of a girl that had never existed, I thought. And so, my attempt to keep my mind otherwise engaged was quickly frustrated.

The sudden change in the air made me jump from the chair. The intensity and pressure were so strong that, unwillingly, I even forgot to breathe for a split second, before darting out the door. I almost collided with Lea, standing in the corridor, as if he’d stayed there since I’d practically closed the door on his face. His wide silver eyes looked up at me in a mix of surprise and fear, but I didn’t even gave him the chance to speak.

“Mari! Wait!” I heard him call after me as I flew down the stairs followed by the urgent sound of his bell.

I stopped abruptly by the door, my uneven breath filling the room, and only then was able to question my poor judgment. What in the hell was I doing? But there he was, standing with his back towards me, his dark, silky hair falling like black shiny water below his waist line. He slightly raised his head and, in slow movements, turned to look at me over his shoulder. His violet eyes, still glowing with that red, menacing light, made my whole body tremble, and I squeezed my hands together trying to get a grip on myself.

Lea pushed me and squeezed his small body between me and the door, tripping forward and immediately froze in place, right in front of me. I saw him look up at Gabriel and knew that even he felt unsure about how to proceed.

Gabriel took a deep breath, as if the apprehension in that child’s face had somehow alerted him to how truly menacing he looked, and when he opened his eyes again the red glow was gone. All that was left was the cold, sad violet that immediately regained Lea’s smile and trust.

“Master! Welcome back!” he hollered, happily skipping across the room towards him, and Gabriel placed a pale hand over his head.

“Thank you, Lea,” he answered in a low voice and, somehow, the air around us became lighter.

“Are you hurt?” Lea went on, sounding worried, and he peered at his right shoulder. And I noticed, for the first time, the thin tears on his dark-blue shirt that, drenched in blood, stuck to his skin, covering up the wounds.

“Oh, it’s nothing. It’ll be fine in a few minutes,” he replied as if it were unimportant, but Lea didn’t seem convinced, pulling him by his pants towards his usual armchair. Gabriel sighed, allowing that small hand to drag him, and sat down unbuttoning his shirt, while Lea perched himself on top of his legs. His perfect face winced in pain, which seemed to catch him by surprise, and his violet eyes stared down at his own hand, which was marked by deep red marks, even visible from where I stood.

“Are those burns?” Lea inquired, his tone sounding even more worried, and he went back to unbuttoning his shirt.

“It’s nothing,” he reassured him, but Lea held his hand on his, observing his burnt skin with a painful expression.

“They’re so deep.”

“They’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

“And the shoulder?”

Gabriel allowed him to pull the sleeve of his shirt down and his gaze fell on mine for a brief moment, leaving me suffering from the pain of a virtual punch in the stomach.

Lea carefully uncovered his bloodied shoulder, and I drew in a sharp breath, not knowing what had shocked me the most, if the four deep gashes that cut across his otherwise perfect skin or the bright red color of his blood that contrasted heavily with his paleness. Red blood like mine, like any other Human’s blood. Somehow it bothered me, as if I had never admitted the possibility that what ran in his veins could be similar to what ran in mine.

Lea sighed, finally sounding more relaxed, and he gave him a gentle smile.

“Didn’t I tell you there was no need to worry?”

The boy nodded and I felt lost. No need to worry? His open wounds were still bleeding!

“Oh, there’s more here,” Lea noted, seeming committed to examine his entire body in search of more injuries, but his voice sounded unworried and light, almost amused.

“Mere scratches.”

I squeezed my hands together even harder. Those scratches, although small and superficial, were clearly visible, reminding me of what had happened that afternoon, after the world had stopped. He’d grabbed me and took me to that dark alley where my rational mind had been completely devoured by the horror of his proximity. Those scratches had been made by me, in my uncontrollable panic that, if not for his unmovable strength, had most certainly sent me running down the street, screaming like a mad woman, unaware of the danger I might have been in. And that pale hand, that beautiful, elegant hand now cruelly burned, was the same I’d felt, cold, damp and trembling, over my lips. Strangely trembling, I recalled, because in that alley I hadn’t been the only one shivering.

And then his violet eyes were looking at me again, and I could almost swear, once more, that he’d just read my thoughts.

“I’m sorry,” his low voice echoed through the room, making me avert my gaze. Suddenly I wished I could just run away.

“It’s not like ... it was your fault,” I said, my voice almost inaudible, although I knew he could hear it perfectly. “Well, of course it’s your fault!” I immediately corrected. “It was because of you that all those things happened. But ... what I mean is, it’s not like it was your fault directly, right? You didn’t wish for any of that to happen.” I ordered myself to shut up. I had the feeling I’d been babbling, trying to explain something I hadn’t been able to explain. Worse! That I had no obligation to explain! On other hand I should thank him, I thought. After all, he’d saved my life ... again. And kept me safe on a daily basis. I clenched my teeth, now deeply angry at myself! I couldn’t allow for things like this to change the way I saw him! “If everything’s fine, I’m going to bed,” I simply announced and, at the lack of a response, and with the clear feeling I’d already said too much, I turned around and almost ran upstairs, yearning for the fictitious sense of security I always had once hidden away behind my bedroom door.

[DISPLAY_ULTIMATE_SOCIAL_ICONS]

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