Days passed surprisingly fast. After Zoe was discharged from hospital, Rowan became really harsh when training her. He jumped straight into the hard exercises. Her being pushed onto the street had triggered this—it might have been by mistake, it might have not, it didn’t matter. Chris proved to be a good teacher, as well. Ezekiel was always there to inspect and help if he had to while Eneizar was sitting on a chair, bored most of the time.
A week became a month. One month passed quickly and so did two, three and eventually, four months. It was the beginning of summer. Mark and the rest were already planning their vacation. On the other hand, Zoe’s parents were planning a vacation too.
“I have good news!”
Ezekiel had finished his exams, too. He was excited for his break but he had something to be even happier about.
When he barged in her room, he didn’t expect to see her in a towel. He didn’t know if he should cover his eyes or turn around. On the other side, Zoe didn't really have a reaction with all the people invading her privacy.
“Have you seen my bra? The red one.” Ezekiel froze. She glanced at him and rolled her eyes. He wasn’t a child anymore, so he didn’t have to act so innocently. Ezekiel was anything but innocent. “Haven’t you seen women in towels before? What are you doing when you go over Alice’s?”
He blushed heavily and coughed, trying to hide his embarrassment. Ezekiel didn’t realise when they first met, but Zoe was very blunt.
“That’s none of your business.”
She chuckled and walked in front of him. He took a step back out of reflex.
“Come on, Zek. Are you playing doctor with her?” she joked, making his eyes widen in embarrassment.
“Wh— Are you even— Are you serious?” She stared at him amusedly before she leaned in a little.
“Do I look serious to you?” she asked in an amused tone.
Zoe was teasing him a lot lately and she had reasons to, but that didn’t mean Ezekiel liked that side of her. Her eyes would glint evilly and she would torture her victims slowly, enjoying their suffering.
“What have you become, Zoe?”
She stopped and blinked. Ezekiel noticed something thrown under her desk and rushed there. He grabbed it and threw it at her head.
“Here. Now, my news. We’re going to Japan for a festival!” The joy came back in his eyes and he started to jump up and down while clapping.
“Good for you. Now turn around. I really want to change now.”
Ezekiel turned instantly, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t continue with his happiness.
“Actually, my whole department is going. Andy seemed really excited by it last night. Chen is already planning and I wanted to ask if you want to come?” He didn’t hear any response so he glanced at her over his shoulder. It was weird how fast she changed.
“It’s your festival,” Zoe started, but Ezekiel didn’t seem to understand her point. “Yours. You go enjoy yourself. Drink saké for me, too.”
Ezekiel shook his head and jumped on her bed. The pillow was really soft and cuddly.
“The teacher said we can invite someone. One person per student. I can’t ask anyone except you.”
She sat at the desk. The break was over, and she had to work on Fallen. Alec was going crazy after she told him she had no idea how to continue it.
“Come on, Zoe. Aren’t I your best friend and vice versa?”
“I’m starting to doubt that,” she mumbled. “Ask Alice.” He shook his head, looking exactly like a bad and stubborn puppy. “Why do you want me to come so badly?” That was when an invisible light turned on above her head. “I see ghosts.”
“Well, I was more thinking that you could use a break, far away from everything that’s going on here. But now that you brought it up, you seeing ghosts is a plus.” He smiled widely and tilted his head to the side. “What do you say, best friend?”
She grabbed the pack of gum from the table and threw it at him.
“I say you’re a little manipulative shit.”
Ezekiel chuckled, that sounding like a yes to him. He could only imagine how much fun the festival was going to be.
Later that day her parents called. She had to come up with an excuse for every plan her mother had made. She couldn’t go to Europe with them because she had an important patient; she couldn’t go to the USA with them because she had to leave town for some business, and she couldn’t go visit her grandparents because she was going to Japan.
“Are you sure she’s not going to surprise you with a visit after you just lied to her?” Rowan asked, sitting on the couch behind her.
She knew her mother was going to visit, and she was going to appear at a bad moment. But that was far from present and she didn’t want to think about it.
“I am going to Japan next week. That wasn’t a lie.”
Rowan raised an eyebrow and leaned back against the couch. They had already finished their training and were enjoying the peace. It was rare for the house to be so quiet and empty.
“You better take care of this place.” She threw him a nasty look, making him nod.
“Of course! This is my home, too!” Rowan exclaimed in his defence.
Zoe would have preferred if it wasn’t like that. Her home became the headquarters of every suspicious guy that had a connection to the Underworld.
“You should take a few things with you, though. The Japanese are famous for their creepy spirits,” Rowan started, ruffling his own hair since he had nothing better to do.
Zoe stared at him blankly. She grabbed her laptop off the table and started to do something. When she finished, she showed it to Rowan.
“What am I looking at?”
“How people think Japanese ghosts look like,” she replied. Rowan was overwhelmed by the subject.
“Have you seen one?” he asked in return. She shook her head. “Then maybe they’re right. Maybe they look like that.”
“Japan is an island in the middle of the sea.” Rowan would argue that a little. It wasn’t exactly in the middle of the sea. “They think that the ghosts of the dead can’t leave the island. There’s nothing that connects the Japanese land to the continent. That’s why the bad spirits stay on the island.”
“So, is that right?”
“Spirits don’t care about land and water. They are spirits. They can’t drown, can they?”
“But it does make sense. Islands are the most haunted places on Earth.” Rowan rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“That’s not true. Like I said, spirits don’t need something to walk on. They appear and disappear as they see fit. I think Japanese spirits are very proud, but most of them are doing what they learned while being alive. Your personality doesn’t change after you die.” That made sense, too. But Rowan was one of the people who wanted to believe in legends, not reality.
“What if you find a bad ghost?”
She smiled cutely and placed her laptop on the table.
“That’s not going to happen.” Rowan looked genuinely curious. “I’m going to ignore every single ghost I see and act like a normal girl.” She sounded so innocent that he might have believed her.
Rowan chuckled and turned on the TV. It was almost time for his drama.
“Good luck with that.”
She stuck her tongue out at him before she went back to sketching.
Her plan for the next week was simple: do her work in advance so that she could do whatever she wanted afterwards. Alec was thrilled since he wanted to go out with his girlfriend, too. It was all good, except a little detail that she completely bypassed.
She was having an argument with Mehrdir. It started that morning and, despite the different interventions from both demons and humans, it was still going on.
“You’re not coming with me on my break. Let me repeat, in case you didn’t hear correctly. My break,” she snarled at her babysitter.
Mehrdir’s eyes were darker than usual. He was seriously annoyed and wanted to punch her badly.
He tried punching her, but Eneizar appeared before he had the chance. He pushed her against the wall and almost threw her at the window. Iaosur interfered when he saw how mad Mehrdir was.
“I gave you enough reasons to understand why it’s dangerous if you go without one of us.” He leaned in and blew air on her face. Her hand was twitching, having a huge desire to kick his ass.
“I’m going with Ezekiel and Chen. You were the one who sent Chen to me, remember? He’s going to be useful. In case you forgot, I have a higher title than you. If I am the commander, I command you to leave me alone.”
Mehrdir was going through an inner battle. He did send Chen because he was useful, but going to Japan all alone, without any protection, was stupid. Mehrdir was speechless.
“So now you enjoy being the commander, huh?” Iaosur was greatly amused by the human girl. A few months ago she hated to be called commander but now, she was using it in her favour.
“You shut up,” she snarled at him. Iaosur chuckled and raised his arms in surrender. “Mehrdir, I command you to stay out of my business. You don’t have the right to tell me what to do and what not when you’re only supposed to guard me. Now, excuse me. I’m going to pack.”
Iaosur started to laugh after Zoe left. He wrapped an arm around the greed demon and tilted his head.
“You’re only supposed to guard her. Ouch. That was right in the pride.” Mehrdir didn’t even blink. He was ready to blow up in anger. “That’s what you get if you let your guard down. You get mad and worried, like a worthless human.” Iaosur smirked when he got another idea. “Or more like a jealous human.”
Mehrdir pushed Iaosur away and disappeared.
“Ah, I’m really enjoying this job.” The angst demon sighed happily before jumping on the couch.
“You don’t have to be so mean to Mehrdir. He’s only taking care of you. Something you clearly can’t do by yourself.”
She closed her eyes and sighed. She didn’t need a fairy to tell her what was good and what was rude. More to the point, not a muscular one.
“Why are you here anyway? Have information to gather about the commander?”
The fairy changed quickly into his bigger version and chuckled.
Rubin, as she’d discovered his name was, wouldn’t come around if there wasn’t something bad happening.
“So now you are the commander.”
Zoe glared at the bulky fairy over her shoulder. She didn’t need another annoying little brat in her apartment.
“I’m here because I have bad news. Ghosts and familiars have been disappearing lately. We don’t know exactly what’s going on but we have a few ideas. The demons around you are powerful enough to fight it, but they’re not humans. You have to fight the Holy Brotherhood,” the fairy continued in a serious tone.
“I got pushed on the street a few months ago and lately, I feel like I’m being watched. It’s different than the demon guarding.”
Rubin nodded. He was the one who knew best how the Holy Brotherhood worked since he had seen it before, in action.
“Is Andy safe? He hasn’t appeared before me in a while.” Zoe was only a little worried since nothing could happen worse than death to her ghost friend.
“That’s because you’ve been bugging Jake lately.”
Zoe Lestrade was a curious person. Once she planned to do something, she was going to make it right. She wasn’t a person to give up; not after what she had been through. Andy was her friend; he was important. Therefore, she wanted to give that Jake a piece of her mind. Maybe going to his university wasn’t a good decision, but she got more than she expected.
“This is a bad idea. Bad, bad, bad.”
Ezekiel was right there, next to her. He was annoyed when she asked him to show her his university but he couldn’t exactly say no.
“Oh, Chen!” He ran to his friend happily and left Zoe in the hall. That was a bad move. When he glanced back, she was nowhere in sight. He sighed heavily and ruffled his hair.
“Ok, I have to find the Contemporary Dance Department. How hard can it be?”
Well, it was very hard. Every department looked pretty much the same. She had to stop and ask a few students where the dancing studio was. There had to be one, right?
She ended up in the theatre. Her patience was running low and she had only two fairies whose eyes glistened at the sight of the stage.
“We’re not playing here. If someone catches me sneaking around, they will throw me out,” Zoe whispered to the two perky fairies. The female fairy rolled her eyes.
“Only for a few minutes. It’s deserted anyway. If someone catches you in here, we’ll break something and you can run.” That idea was stupid and childish.
“How old are you again?”
The fairies chuckled and fled to the stage. Much to her displeasure, they actually changed into their bigger forms. Zoe had to agree that they did look really cute together.
“Let’s dance! Don’t they have some music here?”
Zoe rolled her eyes and walked closer to the stage. The male fairy snapped his fingers and the music turned on.
“I’ve seen humans dance like this.” The female fairy started to dance what looked to be burlesque.
“You need a hat and a stick. And try to be more feminine. Move your lower side easily.” The female fairy nodded and followed her instructions. “This genre is about cheeky seduction. Make each movement exaggerated and try using your facial expressions more. Wink or gasp or whatever.”
“That’s quite some instructions, isn’t it?”
Zoe was afraid to turn around since behind her could be anybody.
“It’s okay. It’s Jake.”
When he got next to her, he glanced on the stage. No one was there but the music was turned on.
“How did you get here?”
“I got lost while searching for you.” She was quite bold.
Jake raised an eyebrow, half impressed and half freaked out. He didn’t like how stubborn she was, but he was curious why she was so keen on it.
“Are you going to leave me alone if I tell you the truth?” She nodded. “I do know Andy. Or at least, I did. I saw and heard him sing a few times. I really liked his voice. He showed me a few demos he made for a future job.” She was waiting for him to continue but he didn’t.
“That’s all?” Jake nodded. “What about the crush?” Jake’s eyes narrowed slightly in confusion.
Andy appeared quickly behind Jake and made something on the stage fall. That was enough to get his attention on something else. Zoe blinked innocently when the ghost glared at her.
“Get out of here or I’m going to write with blood on the walls; literally,” the ghost threatened but it didn’t seem to affect her.
“You don’t have blood.”
Andy raised an eyebrow and pointed at her wrists. Her eyes widened when she saw the blood coming from her veins.
“I’m not joking Zoe. Don’t look for him again.” The ghost disappeared and so did the illusion of blood. She sighed in relief and sat down. Jake joined her a few minutes later.
“Are you all right? Do you need something else?”
She was ready to shake her head when she got another brilliant idea.
“Are you busy tomorrow?” She smiled cutely and tilted her head to the side. It was an evil plan, but she was turning out to be quite evil anyway. “Would you like to have dinner with me?”
Jake’s eyes widened. Was she inviting him on a date?
Zoe couldn’t help but chuckle at that memory. Andrew was fuming and didn’t appear around her afterwards.
“Maybe you should stop talking to that boy. It’s not good for your cause.”
She stopped reminiscing and turned to Rubin.
“You mean the end of the world? No, thank you.”
Rubin stared at her curiously.
“You will end up in Hell.” She sighed and took a seat, preparing mentally for the continuation. “You’re starting to awaken as the commander. That’s why you have enough courage to hit a demon. Your lies became better and you became quite mischievous. The old Zoe would have never gone on a date with Jake.”
She sighed and looked down at her hands. The fairy was right. She had slowly started to embrace the title and deep in her heart, she admitted that she was the commander.
“But this Zoe knows how to fight back and live as she wants to. This Zoe has friends.”
Rubin watched her with soft eyes before he chuckled and ruffled her hair. She was finally getting rid of the mask, wasn’t she?
“Are you ready to go, Zoe?”
She nodded furiously before she checked her luggage again and grabbed her purse.
Ezekiel and Zoe were getting in the taxi when the three demons appeared at the window. They watched her with worry. Well, one of them was worried, the rest were pretty much the same.
“She’s going to be fine. She learned how to fight well from Rowan. Besides, she doesn’t need us to wreak havoc. She can do it by herself. She doesn’t even need spells. I hope she’ll break something and understand how important she is,” Iaosur commented from his place on the love seat.
Mehrdir scoffed and left. Iaosur and Eneizar glanced at each other, completely aware of how overprotective and possessive the greed demon was.
“He’s making the same mistake as Hiset,” Eneizar mumbled, reaching out for the remote.
Iaosur hummed and swayed from one leg on the other.
“I think it’s a little different now.”
Eneizar raised an eyebrow and stared at his fellow demon in astonishment.
“No.” Eneizar's eyes widened when the angst demon nodded, “She loves him, doesn't she?” Eneizar asked, on the brink of having a laughing fit.
Iaosur shrugged innocently, "That's what happens when you let your guard down."
The two started to laugh and enjoy the empty apartment. The commander was more entertaining when it was a woman.