At the airport, Zoe realised something.
“Hey, Zek. Why am I the only outsider?”
Chen heard it loud and clear and started to laugh. Ezekiel blushed and stuttered. She understood quickly what was going on.
“How were you allowed to bring me? You said that everyone could bring someone along.”
“He begged the teacher to take his girlfriend with him because she has never been abroad before,” Chen responded in his place.
Her head snapped to Ezekiel in an instant. Her eyes were venomous.
“But this way you don’t have to go abroad with your parents or go visit your grandparents.” He smiled nervously. She seemed to ponder on his response.
“Yeah, you’re right. You’re forgiven.”
Ezekiel sighed in relief. He preferred a happy and enthusiastic Zoe.
“Ezekiel Addams, Kim Chen, and who’s this young woman?”
She was older than the professor was expecting and really wanted to tell him that, but she couldn’t. Ezekiel grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly.
“This is Zoe Lestrade. I told you about her, professor Yun.”
His eyes widened and nodded. Well, she looked different than how he pictured her. Ezekiel forced her to smile since she looked very stuck up standing there.
“Well, nice to meet you Zoe. I hope you’ll have fun on this trip. But not too much.” The professor moved his eyebrows up and down.
Both culprits felt like puking. The professor left laughing while Chen was watching everything amusedly.
“You should stop being so obvious and save me from embarrassment,” Ezekiel addressed his friend. Chen shrugged innocently.
“You’re not the victim here. She is.” Chen wrapped a hand around her shoulders and pulled her away from Ezekiel. “Let’s go create some fun rumours!” the excited human exclaimed before he pulled her away.
Chen was reminding her of Iaosur, and she wasn’t sure if that was good or not since Iaosur wasn’t exactly a person she could trust.
On the plane, she met the rest of the Music Majors. They weren’t many. Besides Ezekiel and Chen, there was a guy whose name was Lau. He was Chinese and was the oldest. He was giving off a nice feeling, was a nice and mannered guy. Hans was another, a little weird but she wasn’t bothered. He was playing some game on his phone. Jeremy was another member and he was surprisingly talkative.
The girls were standing in front. Hayley and Sonia were childhood friends. They were both pretty tall girls and had lean figures. Zoe couldn’t help but notice that Ezekiel and Chen were surrounded by good looking, rich people. Lucy was probably from a prestigious family too. She was silently reading a book next to Clarice, who was texting.
Only nine students were going on the trip. They were the best in their university and were going to represent the United Kingdom in the festival.
“Why am I here?”
She was the outsider, the one who wasn’t good at singing and who had no connection whatsoever to music. Zoe only knew how to draw and felt bad for taking psychology instead of doing something she actually liked. But her mother didn’t want to hear it.
“You met everyone and they’re all happy that you will go all fangirl for them.” Chen’s statement was odd.
“I will not go all fangirl for them. I won’t embarrass myself in front of strangers.” She scowled, aware of how cold she sounded. Chen raised an eyebrow and smirked.
“Then what about Ezekiel? Or me? You can cheer for us, right?”
Zoe glanced at Ezekiel only to see him already sleeping. She felt guilty for getting him involved into demon matters and even get possessed once. And Chen, well, he didn’t even remember her.
“I guess.” Chen winked and turned on his phone. She took a peek at the desktop. It was a picture of a cute girl. “So that’s your girlfriend?”
“It’s complicated. She came and visited me when I was in coma. She was the one who told Mum not to disconnect me from machines. A week later, I woke up.”
Zoe stared at him blankly, listening to him speak so gratefully about that girl.
“Keep telling yourself that,” she mumbled under her breath.
Zoe was being rude, but she was the one who actually saved his life. Being an anonymous well-doer wasn’t as fulfilling as she had imagined.
“So, did you catch a glimpse of Heaven while you were unconscious?” she changed the subject quickly.
“No. I don’t know. I don’t remember seeing any light.”
“Maybe there’s no Heaven, no afterlife,” Zoe started, her mind immediately going to her own issues. Chen licked his lips and turned to look at her. “Don’t you think we’re fighting for nothing?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. It felt more like she was asking herself that question, not him.
“You don’t look like a person who would give up easily.”
She glanced at Ezekiel, guilt engulfing her heart.
“But what if what you’re meant to be is hurting or endangering the people you care about?”
“You have to do what you have to do. I’m alive because I was meant to live, right?”
Zoe suddenly felt like something heavy wrapped around her neck. She helped him and saved his life. He was her responsibility.
“You almost died. Aren’t you scared of what might happen now?” He shook his head and smiled contently.
“I almost died. Having a second chance means a lot to me. I’m going to enjoy every second of my life, be it in pain or happiness.”
She frowned. Was that applying to her as well?
For the rest of the plane ride, she didn’t speak to Chen. She started to feel ambiguous. From a person whom almost died, life was very precious. But from a person who took everything for granted, life was something everyone had, something common that he could never imagine losing. Then what about her? Where was her place? Life wasn’t something she wanted to lose, but she was going to lose it anyway.
“What are you thinking about?” She jumped in surprise when someone tapped her head. She turned around and sighed in relief when she saw Hans. “I called you three times and you didn’t respond. You must have lost yourself in your thoughts.” That was suspiciously on point.
“I was just thinking about things. I have a lot of work to do when I get home.” She lied through her teeth.
“We just left and you’re already homesick? We’re going to spend only one week in Japan. You’ll return home soon.”
But Zoe didn’t want to get home soon. She wanted to keep the distance but at the same time, she wanted to get her home everywhere she was going. It was her first home, her first time being independent and that was very precious to her.
“Yeah. I guess I’ll just have to do something to get my mind off things.”
“The festival is really fun. Each one of us will take the stage at least once and it’s more about fun than getting first place in a contest.” She raised an eyebrow. At how competitive he was while playing a game on his phone—and he was swearing and moving around loudly—he wasn’t very believable at saying everything was for fun. He chuckled after he noticed her doubtful look. “Okay, not really. That’s what Yun said, but let’s be serious, we have to impress the audience.“
When they landed on Japanese soil, she started to feel nauseous. The landings were always a problem for her. Everyone thought she was going to throw up but she didn’t. It would have been embarrassing to do that in front of so many new people.
The airport was full of people. She gulped and froze. The number of ghosts and familiars in that airport was twice as big as in London.
“Are you all right?” Professor Yun was really kind. He helped her when she started to feel sick on the plane and stopped when he noticed how scared she looked. “Do you want to sit?”
She shook her head. Her whole body was trembling and she needed some tea. Yes, tea was the only beverage that could help her calm down.
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” Hayley’s statement sent a chill down her spine. She shook her head quickly.
“No. No, it’s fine. It’s jetlag. I’ll be fine later.”
Ezekiel watched her warily. He was the only one who didn’t seem touched.
“Is she going to be fine?” Jeremy asked Ezekiel. “She’s your guest. You should take care of her.”
Ezekiel stared at her. Her eyes were moving from one side to the other and she was slowly regaining her breath.
“She’ll be fine.”
He wasn’t sure of that. She seemed genuinely jet-lagged but with her, he could never be sure.
By the time they got to the hotel, Zoe was feeling better. Having the girls talk to her and making her laugh was good. She really missed having a group of girls she could talk to. Alice was the only girl that would call and meet Zoe; meeting more girls was doing her good.
“I already made the arrangements so you don’t get to stay with whoever you want.” Yun smiled at his student and showed them the keys. “Ezekiel and Jeremy; Kyung Jae and Hans; Lau and me; Hayley and Lucy; Clarice, Sonia and Zoe. Anything you want to say will be completely ignored. Any questions?” They shook their heads slowly. “Good. Go to your rooms and relax. Tomorrow morning come in my and Lau’s room and we’ll talk about the schedule.” Everyone nodded and the roommates grabbed their keys.
In the elevator, Zoe felt really small. She didn’t talk much to Sonia but she seemed nice.
“We’re the only group of three. We can have a sleep over without the other girls.” Clarice was joking, but it made the atmosphere better.
After they left their luggage in their rooms, everyone met in the lobby to discuss what they should do that night. The boys wanted to pay a visit to the arcades but the girls wanted to go out and take a walk in the city.
“You can’t all go to the arcades. One guy has to be there for at least two girls. You’ll have to make amends.” Yun wasn’t exactly a strict teacher but Zoe was surprised just how much the students were respecting and obeying his rules.
After Yun left to make a call, Chen turned to the others with a smirk.
“Let’s use rock paper scissors to make the pairs.”
The girls glanced at each other before they nodded.
“It must have been fate.” Zoe glared at Ezekiel’s perky face. “We got to have a romantic walk in the park,” he continued jokingly.
“I would have preferred you going to the arcades and leaving me alone with the girls,” Zoe mumbled, disappointed with the outcome.
Ezekiel threw a knowing glance over his shoulder.
She didn’t know if everyone cheated at the game but she ended up being paired with Ezekiel. Only Ezekiel. Sonia and Hayley went with Hans and Jeremy to the arcades while Lucy went with Lau and Chen to shop.
“Andy, why don’t you stop hiding in the shadows? I know you helped your friend!” she shouted in the middle of the street.
Ezekiel rolled his eyes and pulled her aside since everyone was glancing at the weird couple. They walked for a few more minutes when she heard a low whistle. She turned around and surveyed the street. Andrew wasn’t there, but someone else was.
“He didn’t help me. I can cheat on my own, thank you very much,” Ezekiel started out of nowhere. She scoffed.
“Is that something you should be proud of?”
He raised an eyebrow and put his hands in his jeans pockets.
“You talk, commander?” She bit her tongue and looked to the side. “That’s what I thought.”
“I miss having Andy appear when I least need someone around. It was a nice feeling,” she whined.
Ezekiel chuckled and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
“Admit it. You’ve been acting like a selfish, evil little demon instead of talking with your friend.”
“If that’s about Jake, I think I understood why Andy got so mad when I got in touch with him.”
“Maybe because it’s something personal?” the human tried to reason with her. She shook her head and shrugged at the idea.
“No. Andy talked about him with admiration and high respect. He liked Jake. On the other hand, Jake seems a little oblivious to what happened. He didn’t know about Andy’s one-sided crush.”
The evil human puppy sighed heavily. He didn’t want to ask but he felt like he had to since he was her confidant.
“Then what is it about?”
She crossed her arms in front of her chest and stopped in front of a store.
“I think Andy haunted Jake secretly.”
Ezekiel stared at Zoe blankly. He blinked a few times before he rubbed the back of his head in annoyance.
“Are you beating yourself up for that? Andy is free to haunt whoever he wants to.”
“But they’re hiding something. Both of them. And I think it’s the same thing.” She kicked an imaginary stone with her foot and her shoulders dropped.
“But that’s not your business, is it?” Ezekiel muttered, putting his hands in his pockets.
She narrowed her eyes at him and pouted like a child. She found something interesting but she already pried too much into it. Besides, she really missed Andy’s nagging.
The walk ended when she saw something she liked in a store. Her eyes were fixed on a music box. It was an antique store and Ezekiel wandered around curiously while she purchased it.
“Hey!” She was trying to ask for more music boxes but the clerk didn’t know English and she wasn’t good with Japanese. She noticed Ezekiel bending over a round table and making a sign for her to come over. “I found this!” He caressed the table softly. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It’s for spirits, isn’t it?” she asked, already knowing the answer. He nodded eagerly.
“I want it.” He raised his head and looked at her with shining, innocent eyes.
“You can buy it from home, too. I bet it’s cheaper.” She looked around better and realised they had quite a lot of residual energy on the antiques. But it was only one distinctive energy, and it was over all of them. “These came from the same house.”
“I noticed that, too.” He sighed and placed his hands on his waist. “It’s the same model and same colour. It’s like they—” He licked his lips and glanced at the clerk.
“They bought it from the black market. Someone stole the furniture to sell it at a good price,” she continued his idea. The two sighed.
“Can we do something about this? We know that whoever buys these things will never be able to sleep peacefully.” She shook her head.
“We can’t buy it.” She touched the table and the lights flickered. “See? It’s dangerous when people who have abilities touch things that have such intense energy in them.”
He pouted but gave up on his plan to buy them with her card that he stole when she was busy sulking over Andy.
On the way back, Ezekiel started to play with her music box. He liked to open and close the lid quickly. He seemed to genuinely have fun.
Zoe wasn’t happy with it, though. The box was broken and Ezekiel was only going to break it even more.
“Can you stop damaging my things?” She turned around when she didn’t hear any smartass response.
Ezekiel stopped a few feet behind. His body was facing Zoe but his head was turned to the left. His eyes were narrowed in concentration. It looked like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
She tilted her head to the side and called for him. He didn’t react and it only worried her. She walked to him and leaned in, noticing that his hands were shaking.
“Zek?” She followed his line of sight and saw something interesting. It was dark, but she could make out a figure there—one with long black hair and a mask over her mouth. “Oh.”
“It’s the girl with the creepy smile.”
She glanced at him sceptically. That was crazy. He was amazed by it.
“I never thought I’d get the chance to see her.”
Zoe turned her attention back on the girl. She had an idea how to prove whether the ghost was a ghost or not. With every step she took towards her, the girl seemed more real.
Once Zoe got in front of her, she reached out to touch her face. Ezekiel ran behind her and grabbed her arm.
“Are you crazy? She’s going to kill us!” Ezekiel hissed but Zoe only raised an eyebrow. Was she? “Let’s retreat slowly.”
“No.” She pushed his hand away and straightened. She was waiting for the question.
The girl took a step closer to Zoe and leaned in.
“Am I pretty?”
Zoe blinked, hearing Ezekiel gulping behind her.
“You are real.”
The girl frowned as Zoe touched her head. She actually touched it, which meant the girl wasn’t a ghost. Ezekiel blinked in confusion. Weren’t ghosts supposed to be air, even for her?
“You are real,” she repeated with an authoritarian tone.
The ‘ghost’ narrowed her eyes and attacked Zoe with a dagger. Thanks to her training, her reflexes were a little bit better and she could jump out of the way, but that didn’t mean she didn’t get a scratch. The dagger cut through the front of her shirt and scratched her skin.
The girl attacked once again and Zoe ducked. Ezekiel was frozen and couldn’t believe what was happening. The ghost was fighting against his friend.
The next attack was dangerously close. Zoe tried to remember everything Rowan taught her but it was harder when she was put in front of a real attack. Ezekiel remembered the music box in his hands and threw it at the attacker. That gave them enough time to run out of the alley. The girl glared at Ezekiel before she ran the opposite way.
“Did she stop because we came out of the alley?” Zoe could hardly regain her breath. She got scared back there, really scared and perplexed.
“I think—” She touched her chest and leaned against the wall for a moment. “I think I was the only one she wanted to hurt.”
“You look fi—” He noticed the cut on her shirt and pulled it up, enough to see if there was any cut along her stomach. Thankfully, it only scratched her skin. “You’re fine,” Ezekiel reassured her, though it came suspiciously fast since he said she was all right. He let her shirt down and sighed.
Ezekiel gasped when she suddenly hugged him. She was trembling and gasping for air. Without much thought, she started to cry.
“I’m sorry,” he heard her say through sobs.
“It’s all right. You were in danger, not me.”
She nodded, but the stress was so big that she poured it all out.
The human didn’t know how to react since he had never been placed in a situation like that. He wasn’t good at comforting people. He surveyed the place before he wrapped his arms around her; he was moving very, very slow.
When they met the rest in the lobby, Zoe was back to normal. She was still shaken and she didn’t let go of Ezekiel’s hand until she got to her room, but she was fine.
“You’re safe. She won’t come here,” he reassured her one last time. She nodded and closed the door.
When Ezekiel got to his room, Jeremy was nowhere in sight. Instead, he had a person whom he hadn’t seen in a day; no, even less than a day.
“You do realise she’s going to make a scene if she finds out you’re here,” Ezekiel commented, getting his pyjamas from the luggage. Mehrdir glared at the human.
“I’m a level F greed demon. I don’t take orders from a petty human.”
Ezekiel raised an eyebrow and opened the door to the bathroom. He wanted to change and get in bed. He’d been through enough for one day.
“But she’s the commander,” continued the puppy human. Mehrdir glared at the bathroom door. Ezekiel was already inside by the time the demon reacted.
He returned a few minutes later in pyjamas, rubbed his head and got in bed. Mehrdir was still there.
“I know what happened today. Whoever attacked Zoe was human,” the demon started while watching Ezekiel sigh and roll on his side.
“Tomorrow is another day. Let’s talk then.” He turned off the light and closed his eyes.
“Tomorrow she might be dead,” Mehrdir spoke before he left Ezekiel with a knot in his stomach.
The brunette man couldn’t help but feel useless. He was only human.