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 new spartan training—it might have been by mistake, it might have not, it didn’t matter because in the end, it happened.
"When are you going to teach me how to use guns?" Zoe asked one afternoon during training.
Her arms and legs were scratched and she lost weight due to having a personal diet created by Rowan. If only he wouldn't ate all those greasy foods, she might have been fine with it but even the demons seemed to love eating snacks in front of her.
"Never. That is dangerous."
He was being a hypocrite but Zoe chose not to utter a word that could backfire.
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 and so were Zoe's parents.
"Mum, I'm not able to take the luxury of a vacation. I'm working." Zoe explained on the phone, rolling her chair around the room.
"Are you sure? Your aunt invited us to her house in Los Angeles. We rarely go to America,"
It sounded like Mrs. Lestrange pouted, which would be in her character.
"I know but I have patients that I need to keep a close eye on," Zoe replied, her eyes moving on the blond demon watching telly in her living room, "They can act recklessly and destroy all the hard work I have done. I need to be near."
"Fine. But you have to come and visit us for Christmas. We miss you."
Zoe scoffed, which might have been louder than intended, and she hung up, throwing the phone on her bed. It was amusing how missing someone in her mother's mind meant checking if her odd daughter was staining the family name.
"You should have agreed to go. We may need you to leave the house for a while." Eneizar commented from the couch.
"I'm not. Even if I leave, what plans do you have?"
Eneizar opened his mouth, visibly thinking how to avoid the truth since he cannot straight up lie.
"Stuff," Eneizar trailed, his mind swirling with reasons, "A lot of stuff that you shouldn't be here to witness. Because it's demon stuff."
"You really can't lie, can you?" Zoe asked, walking towards him.
It turned out that he didn't have to lie anyway because the universe was working in his favor. A few hours after their fruitless conversation, Ezekiel dropped by with incredible news.
“I'm done with exams and I'm ready for the fun part of university.” He said as soon as Zoe let him in.
"Getting drunk in pubs with new found mates?" Zoe asked, having most of her view points on the world taken from movies and series.
"Not exactly, no. You should go out more." Ezekiel replied, watching the woman suspiciously, "Why are you in a towel when you know Eneizar is here?"
"I had a bath and Eneizar's a demon not a pervert."
Ezekiel opened his mouth to throw a comment or two about how demons could be everything, including perverts but Eneizar found it important to underline one of his values as a demon.
"Zoe's too common for my tastes. I'd be more concerned of you, Ezekiel, since you're a healthy young man."
It didn't seem to offend the woman but then Ezekiel blushed profoundly and followed Zoe into her room without thinking twice how it looked.
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.
“Where the heck did I put my red bra?”
Ezekiel froze, the situation dawning on him. He was a man, in a woman's room with the said woman in nothing but a towel covering her naked body. He wasn’t a child anymore, so he didn’t have to act so innocently but he couldn't hep blushing even more.
“Why did you enter the room if you were going to act like such a prude?" she asked, dropping the towel and automatically making Ezekiel close his eyes.
He coughed, trying to hide his embarrassment. Ezekiel didn’t realize when they first met, but Zoe was very blunt.
“It seemed like a good idea at that time. Eneizar is awkward to be around."
"That's because he says whatever comes to his mind, offending most people around him. Probably Lucifer is the same," she mumbled, reaching for her undergarments and pants.
"I hope we never get to meet the Devil. That would be interesting but deadly. We'd probably be haunted by his image for the rest of our lives."
"What makes you believe he has a face?" Zoe asked, patting his back as a sign she was dressed.
The brown haired boy shrugged and sat on her bed, crossing his legs under his bottom while Zoe sat on her chair.
"Eneizar has a face. I suppose they all have one but not everyone can see it. You can because you're special."
"No. Demons are not ghosts, they don't have a face. Demons look exactly how you want them to look most of the time because they're darkness not matter."
"Then why do I see Eneizar, Mehrdir and Iaosur?"
"Because demons can create shells for themselves. Sometimes the shells are dead bodies, burnt bodies or bodies created from scratch like Frankenstein's Creature. These shells, I don't know how they work or what happens to them when the demons go back to Hell so don't ask." Zoe explained, stretching her legs out.
"How do you know about the shells?"
Zoe looked down at her hands and bit her lip before answering.
"Someone told me once before. I can't remember their face or voice but this person felt safe."
Seeing how awkward silence filled the space between the two humans, Ezekiel decided it was time to share his 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.” Was her simple reply.
"My whole department is going. Andy seemed really excited by it last night. Chen is already planning schemes and I wanted to ask if you want to come with us.” Ezekiel added, hoping she'd react quickly.
“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 got on his feet, feeling disappointed that she didn't look as excited as he was.
“The teacher said we can invite someone. You're my plus one!"
Zoe didn't seem convinced so Ezekiel took it up a notch.
“Come on, Zoe. Aren’t I your best friend?”
“I’m starting to doubt that,” she mumbled. “Why do you want me to come so badly? Is it because 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 mother called again. Mrs. Lestrade had too many family members around the world and each one seemed eager to accommodate them. Luckily, Zoe had plans of her own now which seemed to make everyone happy, including Eneizar.
“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 the brunette.
“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 search for images. When she finished, she showed them to Rowan.
“What am I looking at?”
“How people think Japanese ghosts look like,” she replied.
“Have you seen one?” he asked in return.“Maybe they’re right. Maybe they look like that.”
"There is a high possibility that they don't. People have created this image and for centuries now, they have seen what they wanted to see. The only grain of truth is that bad spirits do have a tendency to stay out of loyalty for their nation.”
“So, is that theory right? Islands are more haunted than places on the continent?”
“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 said rubbing 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 indeed 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?”
“That’s not going to happen. I’m going to ignore every single ghost I see and act like a normal girl.” She answered with a content and maybe naive smile.
Rowan chuckled and turned on the TV. It was almost time for his drama.
“Good luck with that.”
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 tried punching her, but Eneizar appeared before he had the chance. He pushed her against the wall and almost threw her out 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.
“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.
“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. That was right in the pride.” Iaosur commented, smirking, "That’s what you get if you let your guard down. You get mad and worried, like a worthless 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 come and scold her. 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 wouldn’t come around if there wasn’t something bad happening or some kind of fight, be it verbal or physical.
“So now you are the commander.”
Zoe glared at the bulky fairy over her shoulder. She didn’t need another annoying factor in her apartment and Rubin was death's advocate.
“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 if they approach you,” the fairy continued in a serious tone.
“I admit I do feel watched at times, in a way that doesn't involve demons, but I believe I can manage.”
Rubin frowned. He was the one who knew best how the Holy Brotherhood worked since he had seen it before, in action.
"It's not a matter that you can easily shrug off. They are blinded by superstiton."
“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. 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 but there was a 50% chance it would actually work.
“How old are you again?” She asked yet from her tone alone, the fairies knew she gave in.
The two troublemakers 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 instruction, 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. 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? 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.
“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 dragging innocent souls into your lair.”
She stopped reminiscing and turned to Rubin.
“Excuse me, my lair? There is no lair and what about my soul, huh? Am I not a victim in this whole mess? I don't remember signing up for any of it.” Zoe hissed, growing angry.
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 excited to have the place for themselves.
“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.