Chapter 7: The rising tension

To Hiatus, it was a normal morning like every other days, except for the fact that Aria was there before him. Usually, he would be the first of the three to finish the test, then Aria would  2 minutes later, and finally Wander. Hiatus suddenly realized he had not seen or heard from Wander for weeks. He wondered if Aria was being bothered by this fact. The girl was standing beneath the oak, staring into emptiness, her fingers curling her hair. Her usual stubborn cheerfulness was no more, replace by a silent graveness.

Hiatus greeter her first, and she smiled at him in return. Today they walked much slower than usual, weighed down by their own uneasiness.

 » Aria, you have to tell me what is going on. »

 » This again? Hiatus, my concern is nothing important. » Aria said, looking down.

« You expect me to buy that? It’s important enough to make you like this. You have had that dull face for days! »

 » Maybe it’s that time of the month, don’t you think? »

 » What? Ew, really, you go that far to make me shut up? » Hiatus winced.

 » Guys? »

The voice of their long-time-no-see friend startled them both, and they turned towards him immediately. Wander’s silver eyes glowed behind his hair curls.

Hiatus grinned, approaching Wander, punching his arm before putting on a serious face.

He cleared his throat. « Where have you been? »

 » At home. » said Wander, smiling. » How have you been? »

 » Well, aside from all that extra training and extra preparation work, we are doing quite well. Right, Aria? »

The girl did not greet Wander nor say anything to him. She just stood in silence observing him.

« Did you get taller? » she finally asked, much to the surprise of Hiatus and Wander.

« No, I.. don’t know. » Wander stuttered

Hiatus frowned. »I think she’s right, you did get taller. Weird ,I used to be 4 inches taller. Now, only 2, about that. How did you do that? »

« You have to ask? I’m a late bloomer. » Wander forced a smile.

 » Well, good for you. Just don’t catch up with me too quickly. »

« I think we should talk while walking. We do not want to be late, right? » Aria suggested

 » Yep. Wait, Wander, you passed the test with that little time? Wow, you really improved. »

« Ha-ha, I guess. » Wander scratched his head, glancing at Aria and noticed that she was glancing at him too. » Hey, after school, do you guys want to hang out? »

« Sure, it’s been so long. Aria? »

The girl stared at her friends for a while, then replied in the affirmative.

______________________________________________________________________________

Dry leaves had completely covered Hunter Hill. The oaks and the On the way to school, Hiatus informed Wander of all the changes and events that had taken place during his absence, deliberately leaving out the Mirilad incident. Wander attentively listened while Aria had no reaction. Hiatus was not oblivious, he could feel that there were invisible walls among the three of them, as their conversation now consisted of  one speaker, one listener and one person with a whatever attitude, contrary to before while all three of them would talk and listen simultaneously. He suspected that something had happened between Aria and Wander behind his back, but resisted the urge to ask them directly.

When they arrived at school, Wander seemed unfazed by all the grandiose banners, balloons, statues and other decorative ornaments meticulously set up by his peers. He just kept walking like nothing had changed, and ignored all the Hunters pointing at him, « introducing » him to the summoners. Hiatus glared at them, effectively shutting their mouths.

 » Monday, which classes do we have today again? » asked Wander.

 » Well, Historical Politics, and Sparring. Sparring for four period. »  said Hiatus.

 » What? Why? Oh yeah, that upcoming contest. I already hate today. » Wander weakly smiled.

 » Do not worry. The summoners will join us, so it will be much more fun. »

 » I hope so. I don’t want anything happen during the sparring lesson. »

When the trio entered their classrooms, the presence of Wander immediately made them stand out.

 » Look who’s back? » Jonathan said with a smug. « Want some more, little Wander? »

 » Leave him alone, Jonathan. Keep your mouth shut, also. Help the world a bit. » said Hiatus.

 » Ha, I forgot that he has the best bodyguards here. So scary, hiding behind your friends. Coward! »

Wander frowned, but did not bother to retort. He silently went back to his seat and waited for the class to start. Miss Hannah arrived a few minutes later, surprised by his return and expressed her joy. She also congratulated Wander on his timely presence and asked of his health. Realizing that she was putting the boy under the spotlight against his will, she quickly started the lesson.

Throughout the period, Hiatus observed his two friends. Wander was looking at the blackboard but his head was obviously up in the air. Aria was looking out of the window again. They just remained in that state for the rest of the period, isolating themselves from the atmosphere of the class. Hiatus let out a long sigh, feeling frustrated by the apathy of his two friends. At times, Miss Hannah looked at him, then glancing at his two friends. In return, Hiatus just shook his head.

When the bell rang, every student enthusiastically left the classroom and header for the Marsianos Building. Noticing Wander’s hesitance, Hiatus patted his back and nodded at him. Wander nodded back, and the two headed for Marsianos.

Upon arrival, they were overwhelmed by the shouting and the chatting. Most conversations involved praises for the stadium. This in-house structure on the 12th floor was  of 1.2 ha with one large arena at the center and could contain up to 5000 people. It was called Battleworld, and was the most exclusive area of the institution, only available for access when big-scale events took place.  Principal Xixin decided that he wanted the students to experience the arena firsthand before the big day, so Battleworld was opened a week before the contest.

It took the two a while to locate their friend.  Aria was standing with Jake, inquiring into the contraption she and Hiatus helped build the other day

« Aria, you will know it sooner or later. In fact, I think today you all will be introduced to it, just wait and see. Look, Hiatus is here. And … is that Wander? »

Wander was in the same state of confusion as Jake. He rarely saw his friends talking that intimately with anyone before.  Before long, the two was introduced to each other, and Jake shook Wander’s hand with much enthusiasm, saying he had been eager to meet Aria and Hiatus’s best friend.

« I am very glad too. So you are Jake Malton. »

 » Oh, you know me? Someone told me about you? »

 » Yes. »Wander smiled as he said.

 » May I ask the name of this person? »

 » Sorry, but I can’t tell. »

« Ah, what a shame. Now one more mystery to tire me out. »

The four continued their talk by discussing the upcoming contest, until the voice of Principal Xixin echoed throughout the stadium, forcing them to stop and return to their respective seats.

 » Welcome to Battleworld, Hunters and Summoners! I must say that I’m very thrilled of your presence at this place today, because as you have known, Battleworld is only accessible when events of the highest importance and publicity take place. Therefore, you must know how much I value the upcoming contest to have this prepared for it. Are you impressed with this place? »

The principal’s question was met with a loud cry from the audience, unanimously shouting yes.

 » Thank you, thank you. And now, to not waste our precious time any longer, let me present to you: The Shield! »

All the metal pillars surrounding the arena emitted waves of lustrous light- illuminating the whole place. From the bottoms of these pillars, indecipherable symbols ( to most of the Hunters only) emerged and covered them, gathering at their tops to conceive light beams that shot at the sky, enveloping the whole arena in a glass-like layer. The whole stadium burst into a round of applause, and Jake threw a satisfying and proud smile at his Hunter friends.

 » I can feel his smile hit my face. » Hiatus smiled, shaking his head.

 » This Shield, one of the most advanced and flamboyant area defensive spell, was developed by excellent students of the Hamilton School. It guarantees that all the destruction caused by battles will be contained in the layer, and instead of spreading to the audience, it will be consigned to the empty air above. Who knows, maybe after the contest, we will have a lot of free delicious fried birds, don’t you think?

Awkward laughter surfaced somewhere then quickly died down.

 » Ok, no Xixin Fried Bird for any of you then. Anyhow, as you all know, Principal Hamilton and I have a little talk, and we decided that today Summoners and Hunters would join this sparring class together. Let’s just think of it as a rehearsal before the real thing. Now can I hear some passionate battle cry? »

The principal’s request received overwhelming response, and the whole institution was drowned in earsplitting screams. The summoners even shoot fireballs in the sky for dramatic effects, and various hunters, eerily simultaneously, activated their demonic form, heating up, literally and figuratively, the air.

 » Oh my, this is beyond my expectation! Ok, so any volunteers? »

The commotion vanished in the blink of an eye. No student was enough of a fool to show off their power to their rivals before the big game. And lots of them also suffered from crowd anxiety.

 » Oh my, this is within my expectation! » Principal Xixin grinned devilishly. « Well, as a wise man once said, when democracy fails, tyranny prevails! »

The principal pushed a button, and the seats of the students emitted the « bip,bip » sound.

 » There will be two seats chosen. Two random lucky students will be testing the new system today. Brace yourself, my dear! »

The seats in the stadium started to stop bipping one by one, accompanied by a sigh of relief from their owners. Those who had been safe gleefully looked around searching for the unlucky.

 » Hiatus, I think I am going to puke. » said Wander, excessively sweating.

 » Wander, calm down. There are over  3000 students here. The chance of you being chosen is 1/3000. Do not panic. »

Despite Hiatus’ assurance, Wander began to hyperventilate and violently tremble. His heart beat so hard he feared others could hear the sound.

 » No, I cannot take this. I am leaving! »

 » Wait, Wander! »

The moment Wander stood up, all the bip sound in the stadium disappeared except for the one from his seat, and the spotlight was on him.

« Oh, my trap has— » Principal Xixin could not finish his sentence. He looked at Wander in horror, as every Hunter who knew Wander well enough in the stadium.

The stadium went silent. Wander fell back onto his seat, kicking it with his heels.

 » Stop bipping, you chair! Hiatus, I am really going to puke. »

« Calm down, Wander. Your opponent, let’s hope— »

The second spotlight appeared, and the chosen one was Jonathan Miller. He intentionally stood up. The crowd went wild.

« That son of a… Wander, puke! Right now! Puke till you pass out! » Hiatus said in a low voice.

 » I can’t, I lost the urge. Is it bad if I force my finger down my throat? »

 » Just.. don’t. Ahhh, go there, to the arena, and give your best shot. »

 » Hiatus, we cannot let him go there. » said Aria. » Use your finger, Hiatus! »

« Are you even serious, Aria? » Hiatus said, showing his teeth.

 » Wander, step up! To the arena, now! » Principal Xixin said. Even he looked like he wanted to make Wander puke. » Jonathan is not patient. »

Out of option, Wander reluctantly walked towards the arena as slowly as possible, trying to delay the inevitable. Everyone was watching. He looked back at his friends: Hiatus was giving him a thumb up. Wander nodded in reply with determination.

 » No, no, no, no. » Aria violently shook her head.

 » You are making me more nervous Aria. Just be calm. Jonathan will not dare to injure Wander that much again, and Wander can surrender if.. when things get nasty for him. »

Hiatus had no idea what Aria was truly worried about.

Jonathan and Wander stood on the arena, face to face. Their expression was contrary. While Jonathan was smirking with arrogance, Wander was frowning with anxiety. The former had his arms crossed confidently on chest, while the latter was fidgeting frantically.

The difference in body language, in power, and the history between the two enticed the audience. They were ready to see Wander beaten to a pulp.

 » Ok, so I guess, this is it. The battle that we have not been waiting for! » Principal Xixin shook his head. » Fight! »

Jonathan charged at Wander.

 » I surrender! » Wander yelled.  » I surrender! »

The stadium, just seconds ago full of shouting, went silent . Everybody just stared at Wander with mouths still open.  Hiatus could only murmured « what », while Aria sighed in relief.

The whole stadium then burst into a wave of brutal laughter. Hunters and Summoners alike pointed at Wander, disparaging him with the most vitriolic words they can think of. Principal Xixin still had his mouth open, failing to accept what just happened. Only after a few minutes could he agree to Wander’s plead.

 » Hey coward! Last time at least you did not run! » Jonathan shouted at Wander. » How much more of a loser can you get? »

The shield went down, allowing Wander to leave. He wasted not a second.

 » With no one to cower behind you show your true colour. Do not run, dog! Your wiggling tail is showing! »

The audience laughed in agreement with Jonathan. The booed at Wander. Loud voices from the audience could be heard.

 » See, I told you all! He is a total loser! No that would be an insult to all loser. »

 » What an embarrassment. Now the summoners see the our ugly side! »

Wander walked with his head down, his whole body shaking and his fist clenched. He did not look at his two friends and immediately left Batteworld, leaving behind a ruckus of never-before-seen proportion.

Hiatus was still speechless. He could not believe Wander could give up that soon.

 » How could he? Aria, do you… »

Aria was no longer in her seat. She left during the commotion.

______________________________________________________________________________

Wander dragged his body along the hall and down the stairs. He wanted to leave this place as soon as possible.

Aria was waiting for him on the first floor. She looked deeply concerned, but not condescending.

 » Wander, that decision you made back there, it required a lot of bravery. » She said, much to the surprise of Wander.

 » Really? You really think so? » Wander answered in relief. He was worried she would pity him, that she would say things like  » It’s ok, I understand ».

Aria nodded. She approached Wander and signaled him to join her for a walk.

The schoolyard was devoid of people, and Wander liked that. He only needed Aria. He was afraid because this morning she seemed so distant, but now she was truly being his friend again. He smiled at the idyllic falling leaves.

 » I’ve been worried about you. You’ve never been absent for this long.  »

 » I’m sorry for not being in touch. I just needed some time alone. » said Wander as he silently thanked Aria for not talking about what happened at Battleworld.

 » I know. I’m not guilt-tripping you. I just feel quite relieved right now, seeing you still in shape. »

 » Well, I worked out indoor. » Wander grinned.

 » And even got taller! Seriously, Wander, which brand of mild do you use? Talk, right now. » Aria playfully raise her tone.

 » No, not milk! I am a late bloomer! Soon, the world will know of my beauty. » said Wander as he spread his arms wide open.

Aria chuckled.

 » So, you really are doing well, huh? »

 » Yes, I am doing very well. »

« Schoolwork? »

 » I will catch up in no time. »

« Compensative treat for Hiatus and me? »

 » This evening! »

« The wound on your shoulder? »

 » It has already healed. »

Wander suddenly felt a chill sent down his spine. Something was wrong. He turned to look at Aria, and her cold eyes penetrated his soul. No more smiling, just an expressionless visage that frightened him more than the angry faces of anyone. Suddenly, at that moment, he understood. Aria had suspected everything from the very beginning.

 » What happened to your shoulder? » She knew, but still she asked.

Wander was at a loss for word. He was sweating profusely,  even more than before. He was on the verge of crying.

 » Aria, I… The wound… »

« Who stabbed you? »

Wander could feel his knees weakened, he felt like breaking down.

 » Who stabbed you, Wander? » she asked with an even colder voice.

Wander utilized every ounce of his strength to utter one of the names he had always liked to call out

 » Hiatus. » He looked down, shaken to the core, ready for the dead silence that followed his answer.

______________________________________________________________________________

At first, it was numb. True emptiness. But then, Aria could feel something broken, then that feeling invading her whole body. The world around her crumbled, and she let out an inner shout. Finally, emptiness again.

Her plans for the three of them to graduate together, all gone now. The past few days she had struggled to delete the worst scenario from her mind, and here it was, manifesting itself in front of her eyes, staring at her.

She stared at Wander, feeling repulsive, feeling hurt, feeling betrayed. She inhaled deeply, her eyes closed, unable to think of anything to say. She bit her lips, and cried.

Tears streamed down her face, and Wander noticed. He instinctively raised his hand in an attempt to comfort her, but rejected the idea, realizing he was the sourced of Aria’s anguish.  They just stood there for minutes, one crying, one not. Finally, Aria wiped her tears with her sleeve,  and raised her head.

 » Look at me, Wander. »

Wander of course could not deny the request.

 » You can die, right now. Do you know that? Just one test, and your head will fly off your neck. »

Wander could not reply.

 » My duty, and Hiatus’s too, as  hunters, is to kill you on the spot. You know that right? »

Wander nodded. Demonization equalled death, ever hunter knew.

 » Then why are you here? Why did you not run away? »

 » I was planning to, today, after I hang out with you guys. I… want to see you guys and be with you before I leave. »

Aria shook her head, her face twisted into a grimace. She could already saw all the bad endings that might befall Wander.

 » You, you.. messed up big time! No, no, this is an irreparable mistake. Wander, you,.. » Aria was seething. « You moron! »

« I’m sorry, I’m sorry. » Wander trembled.

 » Stop apologizing! I have to stay calm. »

Aria held her head with both hands. She felt like she could split her own head in two. It was always like this. People assumed she must be the most calm, level-headed of the three, while Wander was truly the one matching that description, too matching in fact. If anything, Aria knew her emotion outburst was not much behind Hiatus’s. She was just better at regaining composure. Wander, aware of that, just looked at her helplessly as she walked back and forth.

 » Hiatus needs to know this » She finally said.

 » No, he can’t! He will kill me, Aria! »

« This is not your decision to make Wander! You made one on your own and it was a terrible one! Hiatus will know of this, and let us pray he will only kill you when he knows! »

Wander trembled violently, thinking of his other friend’s reaction.

 » Look, I will not let him kill you, ok? But he needs to know, we need him to help you escape! »

Wander looked at Aria with eyes wide open.

 » Did you say you will help me escape? »

« Yes! Oh demon, what the hell am I saying? » Aria walked around with her hands on her head.

 » But your duty— »

« I sure as hell know my freaking duty! » Aria yelled. » But I don’t want you dead. »

Wander gazed at the upset countenance of Aria.

 » Thank you, Aria. » He said, looking down at his feet.

« Don’t mention it, Wander. » Aria said without looking at him. » No really. Don’t. Mention. It. »

______________________________________________________________________________

Wander and Aria did not return to the stadium much to the bewilderment of Hiatus. He asked himself if they were fighting outside.

 » That’s it. From today, no more hanging out, no more defending him. Yeah sure, he could give up, but not that soon! Urg, just imagining the conceited attitude of Jonathan tomorrow is enough to make me mad. Aria too and that cold face of her. What is up with these two, is it some kind of prank to find out who can make me madder? » He thought.

 » Hey, earth to Hiatus! » Jake popped up right next to him.

 » What the… Jake, how did you? You were sitting across the stadium! »

 » Do not mind that. Where are the other two? »

 » I don’t know. And I don’t care. »

 » Still mad at Wander? » Jake asked, chuckling.

 » You’re really good at making too obvious statements, do you know that? »

 » Obviously. Ok, enough with that, I’m here to tell you about Principal Hamilton. Interested? »

 » Well, not the right time, but I really need something to distract me from the two idiots. »

The two left the stadium before commencing their conversation. The hall was empty.

Jake looked around before speaking. » As you can see, my principal isn’t here today. Currently, he is, I think and hope, lying in his bed struggling with his worsening headache. He refused to let us use healing spell, or any kind of spell on him. He resorted to painkiller! »

 » Am I supposed to feel offended? » Hiatus frowned, glanced to the right.

 » Yes, you are. For a Summoner to use human’s medicine before using spells! But that’s not the matter here. The point is, I think he’s under the effect of mind-control spells. »

 » Proof? »

« Only one, but not concrete enough. The abnormal black marks he had above his ears. It isn’t a skin disease, believe me, I checked when he was sleeping. » Jake shivered. « It can be a direct-touch spell, running straight into the brain. When I asked him, he couldn’t account for the existence of the mark. He could certainly kick me out of his room for asking though. »

Hiatus rubbed his chin.  » So, if what you said is true, then what can we do? »

 » We can tell Principle Xixin. » Jake shrugged.

« Good idea. »

 » You were being sarcastic, weren’t you? »

Hiatus nodded.

« Who do you think cast this spell? If it truly exists. »

« Don’t know, but it must be someone extremely adept at magic. Mind-control, or other brain-related spells require significant skill and willpower. Even when one does succeed, the effects can fade away in minutes, even in seconds! The headache, I think it is a sign of Principal Hamilton fighting against the spell. He still cannot shake it off, so the caster must be really powerful. »

 » Can it be the same one that had struck me down in the forest? »

« Possible. It’s a good connection. Oh, and one more piece of news: The contraption- it is missing. »

« What? You are telling me all those guards and that thing still got missing? »

« Yes, as I mentioned, very powerful being. It wiped out the whole building. The elevator got destroyed. The guards had their memories erased. »

 » Wait a minute, how can it get into our school in the first place? The alarm did not even go off, right? I heard nothing. »

 » I suspect it has already been inside the school from the very beginning. »

« It is a summoner then? I mean, a Hunter cannot use magic to that extent . »

 » Not necessarily, but highly likely. It could not have been a demon, since the protection spells prevent demonic infiltration. I just cannot think of other life forms, humans are not magic users or physical superior, and I think they are the only humanoid organism that can show up on the school campus without causing a ruckus. There may be others, but it is most likely one of our own has done those things. »

« Then is it still…here? » Hiatus frowned.

 » I’m not sure. I think the chances are that it is. »

`            » The demon I chased then, what is its connection to the thing we are talking about? »

« I don’t know. And the demon, I’m afraid it is a turn. »

« So you have the same suspicion as me. I think it’s a turn too. It did not pass the spell, it was already inside! »

 » What we have here then: A turn and a summoner traitor. A couple. Do you think it’s Aria and Wander? »

 » That’s not funny, Jake. Aria is not a summoner. And need I remind you she was carrying you like a princess back to the institution when all that shenanigans were happening ?

« Ouch. Right, I forgot that. »

 » Besides, they aren’t a couple. » Hiatus rolled his eyes.

 » Ooh, how do you know? Or do you want to deny that possibility? »

 » We are talking about Demon and a traitor here, Jake. Remember? »

 » Sorry, just could not help it. Still, I really think we should tell principal Xixin. »

 » Let’s just keep it a secret first. For now we wait. »

« Just as you said then. So, end of my report. Let’s head back inside. »

 » Yeah, let’s. Sit next to me, it lessens the probability of us being chosen as opponents. »

Jake nodded, smiling. Hiatus felt he began to warm up to the summoner.

______________________________________________________________________________

The sparring class elapsed wearisomely for Hiatus that day. He did not volunteer nor get chosen, so he spent the entire class watching others fight. He looked over to Jake sometimes  and the summoner was always seen sleeping. Hiatus told himself to give Maria and Wander a piece of his mind this evening and was determined to find out whatever it was that had been on their mind.

After the class ended, he bid Jake goodbye and went straight to the school gate. That was the usual place of rendezvous of the three, and this time was no exception.

 » Ready for my fury, you two idiots »

Aria and Hiatus seemed quite nervous and unease when they saw him.

 » No sad face can save you today »

When Hiatus was close enough to see their faces, he dropped half of his anger. Aria was frowning , staring at the ground. Her eyes had regain their spirit, only this time it was a fierce kind of spirit, not the cheerful one. Wander was no better. He seemed confused and scared but still tried to smile, which made him look miserable.

 » Okay, what’s now? Where have you guys been?

 » Out here, talking, a lot. » Aria sighed

Wander still smiled.

« You guys, please, drop these faces and just tell me what is bothering you. I am dying to know here. And Aria, it isn’t that time of the month. »

 » Don’t worry. You will know. Right, Wander? » Aria glanced at Wander.

 » Yes, » said Wander smilingly.

 » You are creeping me out, Wander. Stop smiling. »

 » Let’s go, then. » Aria said in a tiring voice. » where do you guys want to go? »

 » I want to eat some ice-cream, drink some smoothies and go to the amusement park. » Wander suggested.

« Hold your horse! What is this? We aren’t your guardians. » said Hiatus.

 » Well, kind of. » said Wander.

« What does that even mean? »

 » Hiatus, just let Wander have this one. »

Hiatus stared at his friends and got a little freaked out by their unusual way of talking. He lost all of his anger.

The hangout was unusually silent, but to this point, Hiatus did not know what was usual and what was not anymore. They did what Wander wanted to. Ice cream and smoothies did help smooth Hiatus’s mood further, but the others, not so much. Hiatus tried to make them laugh dirtying his face with cream but they only gave awkward smiles. The amusement park was no better, Wander and Aria did not bother pretending to scream.

They left the park at 5.00 with moods not much lighter than before.

 » Worst hangout ever. Now, mind telling me what’s been going on? »

Aria and Wander glanced at each other. They signaled Hiatus to follow them.

The three ventured far from the amusement park. They arrived at an abandoned section of New York Halcyon- a narrow yard near Hunter Hill base, overgrown with vegetation.   This place led to their school, but it was a path no longer taken. The virtual test road had become the only legible road. Now, mushrooms  and grass had taken over; the only things left were a few eroded set of tables and chairs.

Hiatus looked around, then looked at his two friends. They were staring at him.

 » This is freaking me out, truly. Before you two get any funny idea, I assure you others can find my body within a day. »

« Your body may not be the one they find » Aria sighed. » Wander, I think it’s time. »

Hiatus looked at Wander and noticed his face ridden with anxiety and fright. He recalled the conversation he had with Jake.

 » Hiatus, I…actually…I am…. »

 » Stop! Don’t tell me! »

Aria and Wander were both startled by Hiatus’s unexpected remark.

 » Hiatus, no, I really need to tell you. »

 » You don’t have to. Now I know, I know what’s up. »

 » You do? » asked Aria and Wander instantly, their eyes wide open.

 » Yes, » Hiatus deeply inhaled. » Wander, how long has it been like this? »

 » More than a month » Wander fidgeted. « Shortly after my absence »

 » Wow, that long huh? Oh wow, you sure wasted no time. » Hiatus nodded his head.

None of them said anything for a while. Hiatus stared at the ground with a long face. Wander stared at him, sweating. Aria stared at both of them.

 » So, how do you feel about it? » asked Wander.

Hiatus did not reply. He quickly approached Wander, looked straight into his eyes.

 » How could you Wander? »  He shouted. » I can strangle you right now. »

 » I’m sorry. » Wander took a step back. » I.. I just.. »

Watching Wander’s nervous expression, Hiatus burst out laughing.

 » Just kidding. I’m not so intolerant as to be mad at something like that. »

 » Oh wow, you take this much better than I expected » said Aria, frowning.

 » Yeah,  » said Wander as he let out a sigh of relief. « I thought you were going to kill me. »

 » Come on, I am actually happy about it. »

 » You do? » asked Wander, grimacing.

 » What!? Hiatus, this is not something to be happy about! » Aria yelled

 » Nonsense, Aria. I guess things are going to be a little awkward among us from now on, but I am truly glad for you two.  »

 » What are you even thinking?  He is a freaking demon now! »

 » Now, Aria, I… Wait, what? »

The three of them stared at each other, none understood what was going on.

« The heck you just said? » asked Hiatus in a chilling voice

 » Wander, » repeated Aria with more hesitation. »He had turned, demonized. This is not something to be happy about, right? Last time I checked? In this world? »

Hiatus stared at Aria, then at Wander. He then burst out laughing.

 » Heck, you guys have a twisted sense of humor, do you know that? »

 » She is not joking, Hiatus. I have turned. » said Wander. He bit his thumb. Dark green blood leaked from the bite, reflecting moonlight, glowing like a gem of jade.

Hiatus stared at the blood while Wander stared at his face. Aria held her breath, trying not to make even the smallest sound.

Hiatus opened his mouth, then closed it. He did not blink nor talk, just stared. He felt not a wink of emotion. He took a few steps back staggeringly, face twisted into a grimace,before bursting into laughters to the horror of Aria and Wander.

« Dear god, you know what, Wander, I’m really happy about this! »

 » You..you..do? » Wander asked with a trembling voice.

Without answering, Hiatus charged at Wander, punching him in the face multiple times as hard as possible, making him fall to the ground stunned.

« You retarded pig! You imbecile! Fool! Do you even know what you have done? « Hiatus yelled, charging at Wander again, his hand demonized, his claw protruding.

 » Stop, Hiatus! He had enough! » Aria stood between him and Wander.

 » Enough? Enough?? He had committed the most despicable, repugnant and disgusting sin a Hunter can commit. He is even worse than that jerk Jonathan and that sadistic garbage Aidan now. Not enough, Aria! » Hiatus’s claw sank in Wander’s neck. He lifted his demonized friend up, ignoring the choking sound from his throat, his dangling and kicking legs.

Aria yelled as she tried to push her friends away from each other. » You’re hurting him. Look at your hands, Hiatus! Look! »

Hiatus did as Aria said. His face immediately twisted into a frown, clearly expressing his disgust. The demonic green blood splatter all over his hands. He gritted his teeth, letting go of Wander.

He looked at Wander. Under the streetlight, his friend’s broken nose and grazed lips were eerily visible. He did not bother covering the bleeding wound on his neck. His blood mingled with his tears. He was sobbing, eyes covered by hands.

 » I’m sorry. I really am sorry. »  said Wander in a brittle voice.

His apology echoed under the stars.

______________________________________________________________________________

Aria did not know how much time had passed, She did not care much. She stared at the broad back of Hiatus who would not look at her or Wander. She stared at Wander who was lying on the ground, eyeing the sky. She sighed, let her head down as she held it with her hands. They were in a world of their own.

 » I am not demon. » Wander finally said, with a clear voice. » Please trust me. I did not sell my soul to Samundo or to any demonic beings. I turned because I wanted to. »

Aria and Hiatus did not reply, waiting for him to keep telling.

 » I did not feel the hunger or the thirst for killing. I’m still myself, you guys. My body may have been that of a demon, but my soul, it is still the same. You can say that I am still a Demon Hunter, but in an interminable state of Demonic Form. »

Hiatus scoffed. Aria glanced at him, silently telling him to stop.

 » A demon hunter? Saying that equals to telling us that you will commit suicide right now. Will you, Wander? »

« For God’s sake, Hiatus. Stop! »

 » It’s ok. I deserve that.  »

« How did you turn, Wander? » asked Hiatus.

 » I.. » Wander said « I am sorry, I cannot disclose that. »

 » Are you serious? You still want to hide something from us? Even now? » Hiatus raised his voice.

 » I am sorry, but I cannot reveal that piece of information. For good reasons, trust me. »

 » Let’s stop pushing him. » Aria said, sighing.

Hiatus crossed his arms, still looking frustrated, but quickly gave in to Aria.

« I’m sorry. » said Wander as he stood up. » I completely understand your anger and your disappointment. You two have done a lot for me, and I am very grateful for being able to know you. I will leave, and will not trouble you guys any longer. Thank you, and sorry. »

Wander walked away from his friends with his fists clenched.

 » Where do you think you are going? » asked Hiatus

 » I will go home, prepare and leave New York tonight. »

 » With that face and all those green blood on it? While don’t you scream  » I am a demon » to everyone while you’re at it? »

Wander could not find an appropriate response.

 » You are going to get your butt back here, and find a way to hide all those green blood on the ground together with Aria. I will go buy some band-aid, bandage, alcohol and other stuffs. You hear? »

Wander stared at Hiatus, speechless.

 » You hear? »

« Yes, I hear. » Wander answered as he slightly nodded.

Aria watched the boys, smiling meekly.

______________________________________________________________________________

When Hiatus was back, all the blood had disappeared, but the ground became much messier than before. He walked towards his two friends, whose complexion had got more lively. He handed the medical instruments to Aria, and sat down next to them.

Aria carefully washed the wounds for Wander and cover them with band aids.

 » It will be alright, Wander. » She said.

Hiatus still did not look at Wander, but he slightly touch Wander’s shoulder with his.

 » You bought too many, Hiatus. » said Aria

 » I hit too much, too. Cannot risk not buying enough, right? We don’t want a certain someone to be found out. »

Wander smiled, eyes got teary.

« Thank you » He murmured.

The three sat silently in the night.

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