On the other side, though, life wasn't treating Ezekiel well; or at least not the way he wanted to. Ever since he got home for holidays, his parents have been asking him a lot of questions about college and personal life. Ever since his older brother married, his parents were waiting for little Ezekiel to introduce his girlfriend to them. That was a little hard since his brother already saw him with Zoe and his real girlfriend stabbed him; moreover, she was a host.
Now that he was thinking about it, Zoe stopped Ezekiel before he could get a favour from Mammon; however, since he was marked under her sign, he wanted to be able to do something, no matter how small or insignificant.
Beelzebub gave him that chance. One night, he appeared in Ezekiel’s dream and gave him a list of people who were considered dangerous for the cause. Practically, Ezekiel had to kill and with that, he was signing his entrance to Hell; if Zoe tried her hardest to keep him out, he jumped by himself right in it.
The human shook his head and planned to push those thoughts in the back of his mind. It was Christmas and he had to be in a good mood; besides, just because his girlfriend was a host, it didn't mean it wasn't real.
"Are we going to the store and get drunk?"
Another thing that Ezekiel couldn't understand was Elijah. Why was the low class demon tagging along everywhere he was going? It didn't make any sense. Moreover, he and Andy became some sort of friends; they were both ghosts that had some kind of darkness; well, Elijah's was more prominent. The idea was, Elijah was manipulating Andy.
"Nowhere. I don't feel like drinking." Ezekiel mumbled grumpily.
That was what he said then.
Now, he was in a karaoke lounge with Elijah and Iaosur, singing songs while drinking beer. That wasn't exactly how he wanted to spend his night but Iaosur dragged him out forcefully.
"This is awesome! How come we never came here before?"
Iaosur has been annoyed for the whole month so he was the one who needed fun the most. He has been pushed around Hell for different tasks that made more or less sense; he wanted to have fun and spill some blood, eventually.
"I sing all day long. I don't want to do that in my free time," Ezekiel mumbled grumpily, sinking deeper into the leather couch.
Iaosur scoffed and chose another song, one that was funny and really hard to sing since he was in high spirits. Ha! That was actually quite funny now that he thought about it; a demon playing with humans in a karaoke bar.
"What's happening here?"
Exactly what was needed, more demons. Ezekiel groaned and covered his head with his arms, already feeling like his energy was slipping out of his body.
"What is that?"
The newcomer entered through the door like any other human being. His name: Charlie Smith and his occupation was vague, even for the demons; one thing they knew for sure: he was Beelzebub’s host.
Ezekiel sighed and put his hands on his lap, already imagining how the night will continue. Charlie was a peculiar character who suspiciously knew a lot of history; that was everything he knew. When Zoe told him that he is used as a puppet by the glutton prince, he seemed fine with it, even boasted about it afterwards.
“Zoe!” Mrs Lestrade was more than happy when she saw her daughter on the porch, especially because she was with Terrance, “Enter, enter. You too, Terry!”
The boy shook his head quickly, “No, no. I have to go home. My mother is-um-wants me to do something. Yes, that’s it.”
Zoe moved aside, watching her former friend and classmate ramble about something random that his mother wanted. He was a bad liar and Zoe missed seeing how much trouble some humans had while lying.
The man smiled cutely and left before the older woman could call his mother and invite them for tea; that idea was dreadful. On the other side, as soon as he left, Mrs Lestrade grabbed her daughter and hugged her tightly.
“You can’t imagine how happy I am right now,” Louise Lestrade said while hugging her precious child tightly.
Zoe was like a statue in her mother's arms, not yet registering the difference between Louise's childhood cold hugs and this strange warmth.
Was her return such an amazing thing? Was Zoe wrong about her mother?
She wasn’t wrong and she realized that once she got inside. Zoe hoped that no one would be visiting while she was there but that didn’t happen. Her grandparents were there with her mother’s sister and her family.
Zoe froze when a little red head ran towards her and wrapped her arms around her legs. She looked down at the six years old girl and blinked, her arms hanging loosely along her body. The little girl was staring at her aunt with innocent blue eyes and Zoe was feeling like she was the sole pollution to a perfect rich family.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Zoe mumbled, pointing at the redhead as if the child was an alien.
Louise smiled and nudged her daughter towards the living room where the rest of the family was waiting. Her grandparents were probably the only relatives Zoe spoke to during her childhood and even had some sort of warm feelings for. They were also the only ones who rose and hugged her tightly, making her feel better.
“Our dear, Zoe. I’m so glad you decided to come and spend Christmas with your family,”
People were throwing that word in sentences without having a single thought of what it meant for her.
The family made a big fuss about Zoe’s visit; especially her aunt who was more talkative than Zoe remembered. It was the same woman from her childhood, the aunt she went to buy a cake with and the one who first felt Zoe's gift and labelled it as disastrous.
From her seat on the L shaped couch, Zoe could see everyone and judge them without having to turn her head. Her mother and aunt started to talk about her childhood aware that their subject was right there, listening. Zoe's ears were perked into their direction but her eyes were always returning to the little bundle of joy called Meredith. Zoe wished she had been like that when she was young; so joyful and carefree. Unfortunately, her childhood years have been filled with pressure from both parents and demons.
Hiset was probably a nicer demon than any she had met but she couldn't remember him well. He let her do whatever she wanted and live as she wanted but once Mehrdir appeared in her life –even as a mere side presence- everything became dark. That was probably when it begun; all those lonely night and doctors appointments.
“So, what are you doing now, Zoe?” Her aunt was a very curious person; maybe too curious for her own sake.
Mrs. Lestrade glanced at her daughter expectantly. Zoe looked at her aunt and forced a smile just so she could prove to them that she changed.
“I’m starting work as a teacher at K University in March,” She started, smirking when she saw the surprise on their faces, “I’m going to teach psychology and cooperate with the forensic branch for a while,” She continued.
But her aunt had so many curiosities, “What have you been doing until now? Louise never tells me anything,”
Mrs. Lestrade chuckled nervously under her hand. Her daughter was unemployed yet she was making money somehow; she wasn't particularly interested to know how, not with so many people in the room.
Zoe didn't find any problem saying the truth, “I've been working as a webtoon artist for a while,”
Her aunt scoffed, throwing Zoe a disapproving look. Louise raised an eyebrow, already feeling her blood pressure rising as she was finding more things about her daughter’s life.
“That makes close to nothing. You’re better as a professor.”
Zoe only nodded and kept her comments for herself; she didn’t want to make a fuss so early in her visit.
“And what about family?” The woman continued.
Zoe was startled, “What about it?”
Her aunt rolled her eyes and smirked at her sister knowingly, " In these times, you need a man to rely on in case something happens. Money don't fall from the sky and neither does a place in the society. How old are you again?”
Both mother and daughter chocked on their drinks, completely taken aback by the sudden turn of subjects. Social status hasn't even been a problem until that moment.
Her aunt shook her head disapprovingly and prepared to say something that could piss Zoe off when the elder woman interrupted.
“She has enough time to find someone. Besides, times have changed, right dear?” The older woman turned to her husband who nodded.
Zoe smiled gratefully at her grandmother before moving her attention on her grandfather. Unlike other times, he was acting a bit strange, being silent and glancing at Zoe’s back from time to time. She did notice it.
“I decided not to get married and have children.”
Everyone stopped talking and looked at Zoe. She could see some judging stares but she could also feel understanding coming from her father.
“What about the Christmas party, then? It’s Monday night!” Zoe blinked in confusion at her aunt's tone, “Don't you have someone to accompany you, dear?” That last word triggered bad memories in Zoe's memories and she had to grip the couch just to keep her eyes blue.
“Sorry to disappoint you but I don't need a partner in order to draw attention,” She smiled sarcastically and got up, ready to leave before she would do something regretable.
"We know that well," The woman added in what should have been a mockery whisper but everyone could hear it clearly.
On the way to the stairs Zoe had to refrain her smallest and frailest bit of control, especially after she heard what else her aunt said, “She hasn’t change at all, has she?”
Zoe closed her eyes and sighed. She had to cope up for a couple of days and then she could leave.
The next two days were horrible. Mrs. Lestrade was acting all motherly in front of her guests but once someone would say something about Zoe and her past issues, she would suddenly prefer to leave or pour a glass of wine.
At dinner, on Saturday, her aunt couldn’t contain her curiosity anymore and she started to ask different and uncomfortable questions.
“So, how is your personal life Zoe?”
“It’s fine.” Zoe's answer was short. For the past two days she only gave short and cold answers and the one understanding her the best was her father.
“Are you still seeing things?”
Zoe was expecting someone to take her side but no one spoke in her favour. Mrs. and Mr. Lestrade glanced at each other before they looked down at their food.
“No. I don’t.”
Her aunt sighed in relief. Her husband made her a sign to stop and change the subject but she ignored him.
“That’s quite a relief, isn’t it? You can’t even imagine how much trouble this family has gone through just for your sake,”
Zoe tried to keep her anger in but it was building up very fast and she was sure she was going to explode at some point; she only hoped her eyes won’t change colours.
“It’s in the past now,” Mrs. Lestrade mumbled.
“Even so, it’s time for her to realize how much trouble she caused. I’m sure she understands why you sent her to that Special School,” She emphasized the last two words.
Zoe took a deep breath and leaned back gripping her pants tightly in annoyance.
“You were such a handful. I can still remember when-“She got interrupted by the eldest man.
He glared at his daughter and left the room, surprising even Zoe.
After dinner, Zoe went straight into her room, getting into the shower with an incredible headache caused by her relatives.
Walking out in only a towel, she glanced over her shoulder a few times before she realized where she was. Usually, she was always anxious that a demon or ghost would invade her privacy but now, when she was all alone and had a peaceful time, it felt melancholic.
She was in pink Minnie Mouse pyjamas, drying her hair when someone knocked on the door. That was another thing that she forgot how it felt since most demons would just barge inside and scream at her.
“But this is not my apartment,” Zoe reminded herself.
She sighed and opened the door, revealing her grandfather holding a small vintage box.
“Can I enter and have a chat, Zoe?”
She nodded and let the door open for him while she walked and placed the towel on the drawer. He sat on her bed and waited for her to sit as well before pushing the vintage box towards her.
“This is your Christmas present. I’m going to give it to you now. You look like you need it.”
She blinked and glanced between the box and her grandpa, “What is it?”
Her grandfather raised an eyebrow bemusedly, “Since when are you questioning my presents?” He was only joking but granted to his low husky voice, she swore he offended him, “Look Zoe, I know a lot of things happened but you can tell me. Just like when you were a kid, you can tell me anything,”
Truthfully, every time she was having a nightmare or a problem, Zoe would call or visit her grandparents. That changed when her mother started to act like an overprotective beast and her freedom became theoretical.
"Thank you," She genuinely thanked her grandfather, getting a warm hug from him before he left.
"You're saying that Iaosur got Jasper drunk?"
Zoe didn't expect Chen to call her at such a late hour, especially not boasting about what they did.
"Ezekiel is in the bathroom now. I think he's vomiting. Wait, let me check-"
She heard the phone being placed somewhere on a table. Being still on, she could hear what was happening around the room.
"You didn't have to make them drink so much." She heard Elijah.
"They wanted to go out and have fun. Ezekiel was getting bored and the apartment is really silent without Zoe." That was definitely Eneizar's voice.
She tilted her head to the side and listened closely.
"You tried to kill her, man."
Eneizar clicked his tongue, probably placing his hands on his waist like an old lady.
"That was in the past," He responded, "If I wanted her dead, I wouldn't have come back."
That was right. He did have a change of heart which was pretty rare for demons.
She heard Chen scream something about Ezekiel fainting and she heard footsteps coming closer to the phone.
"Is this turned on? Hello?"
"You're a freaking prick, Eneizar." She could already see his eyes widen.
"I will deny everything." He scoffed,"By the way, your legacy just fainted in the bathroom. I think Elijah is trying to put him in the bathtub but-" She heard the demon scoff at a loud thud, "Stupid ghost. He literally can't touch anyone." He mumbled and put the phone back on the table.
Zoe hung up quickly and threw the phone on the bed. She missed home.
That night, she couldn't sleep at all, having weird dream after weird dream. She didn't know what was going on because there was nothing around her or the house while her demons were thrashing her apartment and were using Ezekiel and Jasper as pretexts.
One dream was especially weird. It was a man she hadn't seen before but somehow, he was familiar. Maybe that feeling was coming from her connection to Hell but she was sure she knew who he was in her subconscious.
"You know me, Zoe."
His voice sounded like the snake in Harry Potter but every last letter was articulated in some distinctive way. He raised an eyebrow and took a step towards her forcing her to lean back in fear.
"You're a demon." She stated obvious facts.
He wanted to talk to her about different things but she was proving to be stupidly innocent minded.
"I am the one demon you fear. The one who sees everything but doesn't act." He continued, watching her expressions change gradually from surprised to fear and ending with hatred.
"Belial," She spat his name with such hatred, "You finally show your face to me. It must be serious." She was ironic, of course, but so many demons were afraid of him that she just became annoyed with the so called big demon.
Besides, Hell wasn't exactly about him, it was about Lucifer and Satan; people weren't giving a shit about Belial in religion.
He tilted his head to the side, brown eyes widening when he started to speak, "There is a war coming between Beelzebub and Lucifer. You know what that means."
She raised an eyebrow and waited for him to tell her the answer.
"The commander and the inheritor will be affected. You have to choose what side you fight for." He finished.
Both stared at each other in silence until Zoe clicked her tongue and looked to the side, "No." Her response was short but it wasn't the one Belial wanted, "I'm not going to be involved in your war and I won't let Jasper be influenced into it either. It's not our fight."
Belial's pretty and sharp features morphed into a grotesque figure; he didn't have a nose anymore and his skin became black; his eyes were the same red colour but they got wider. He didn't have eyelids anymore and he became really skinny. It wasn't a great figure in a dream.
As he started to walk towards her, she walked backwards until she got on the edge of the cliff -which wasn't there before- and had no choice but stop. He tilted his head to the side and licked his lips, his tongue thin and long. It wasn't as scary as it was gross.
"It became your fight when you entered Hell." Belial hissed grabbing her chin and forcing her closer.
She was trying to keep her brave personality but it was getting hard. Staring into those red orbs was frightening; besides, she swore she saw the flames of Hell in his eyes and heard the cries and pleads of broken souls.
"Then what side are you going to root for?" She was still a smart ass even in such a threatening position.
Belial narrowed his eyes at her, "Do you really want to see Ezekiel's girlfriend die and get in Lucifer's hands?" He was changing the subject and was using her friends as leverage.
"You do that and I will rise so high only to make you pay for it."
Belial heard rumours about her loyalty to her friends but he didn't expect her to be so bold about it. Besides, he was who he was and she was nothing compared to him.
"I don't doubt that but it will take you decades. I can kill your entire family in just a blink of an eye." That was unfortunately right and they both knew she couldn't risk so much, "Think carefully who you're going to fight for, Zoe."
Zoe was ready to give another smart ass comment but he disappeared in a puff of smoke. She looked down at her hands and saw the commander sign glow, burning her palm. The commander groaned and grasped her hand when she noticed a figure coming closer. Zoe narrowed her eyes at him and took a step forward yet her legs didn't move.
Suddenly, she felt someone pull her from behind, causing her to fall over the cliff; instinctively she closed her eyes waiting for the impact.
It never came.
Zoe opened her eyes only to find someone holding her close, rocking her back and forth while rubbing her back softly. She looked up and saw Mehrdir. He narrowed his eyes at her before he vanished in thin air.
With him gone, she rubbed her eyes and took a moment to figure where she was; the empty walls and blank furniture was enough to make her understand she was still in Essex.
Sweating, she pushed the covers off and walked to the window, calming her heart beats by breathing slowly and massaging her chest. It was snowing and the whole view was peaceful yet she wondered if it was only a dream or her soul got pulled into Hell for real.