Chapter 17 - To Be Or Not To Be

Pulling from Shawn's grasp, I hopped over the counter and pulled open the door, expecting to see something, anything, but a stone wall. I pressed my hand against it, but nothing happened. Even pressing my full body weight against it and it still wouldn't budge. Confused, I turned back to Shawn, who still looked uncomfortable with me being back there.

"S-see, nothing," he said a little breathless.

"If it's nothing, why do you look so edgy?" I asked. "What are you hiding?"

"Nothing," he repeated, a little more confidently, walking behind the counter toward me.

"Mind if I take a crack at it?" We both turned to see Zenith coming toward us, Zan behind him seemingly uninterested in anything this place had to offer.

Shawn froze and moved slowly to stand behind me like a defensive wall. I found it slightly unnerving, but it would have been expected from him, he was always a coward.

Zenith came around the counter and ran his fingers along the underside of it. But he didn't seem to have found what he was looking for. He pursed his lips, his once black eyes now threateningly red as he turned to glare at Shawn. "Where's the switch?"

"T-there's no switch," Shawn stuttered fearfully, trying to fit his extra six inches behind me like he'd disappear if successful.

"There's always a switch," Zan stated, peering into the glass case at something that finally seemed to catch his attention. Zenith turned to him curiously, looking down the see some sort of object I'd never seen before. It was blue, from what I could decipher, and made of wood with four strings. It wasn't large, nearly a foot and a half long with a skinny neck that scrolled at the end. I found it pretty and eye-catching.

Zan seemed to know it though, coming around and sliding open the case and pulling it out carefully. He held it in both hands, staring at it like something important. His fingers ran along the strings and I could hear faint vibrations emanating from it. A faint smile crept at the corner of his mouth, holding a secret I wanted to know. Then, placing his left hand on the thin neck and pressing the strings down in certain places with skillful fingers, he strummed them with his thumb, making melodic notes sound like doom.

Shawn gripped my arm hard, but didn't reach out from behind me even to stop Zan. "No, don't!" But it was too late, the stone behind the door rumbled like there was going to be an earthquake. It wavered like water and dissolved into black smoke that swirled like an unwelcoming gate. Finally, I could smell something sour and distasteful that I'd never wanted to smell again. Sweet scents and fire mixed with the subtle tang of sex.

Zan sat the instrument down on top of the glass a little forlornly. "You should learn how to play sometime. Playing only a few notes shows on the strings."

Zenith smiled but it didn't reach his eyes. "Well then, shall we?"

I went to take a step forward before Shawn jumped in front of me to block any further advance. "Xeno you have to listen to me, please," he begged, grabbing my shoulders and shaking me as if it'd make me obey.

"Enough! Let me pass," I growled, shoving him to the side into the counter and angrily stomping toward the smokescreen doorway.

"If you pass through that door, Julius will catcher you faster than you can take a breath."

I stopped, fear gripping my insides like icy cold fingers with sharp nails that wanted to tear my being apart. Turning back to him I asked once more, "What is behind this door Shawn?"

He gulped and repositioned himself to lean against the counter in defeat. "It leads back to the House," he replied solemnly. I felt my body freeze even more than it already had. "When the world shifted and we were split up I was caught by a demon and taken to Julius. He said he'd grant me my freedom if I worked for him trafficking other runaways, but I knew it was you he was looking for especially. Thinking you might try to look for me, even though I knew you wouldn't to keep yourself and the others safe. That's why you have to leave now, Julius has demons coming to check me every few hours and the longer you're here that more dangerous it is for the both of us."

"What happened to Bliss and Honey? I know they were here, were they sold again?"

Shawn went still and looked at the ground. "They came in a few days ago and were taken back as soon as they walked through the door."

"And you didn't think to save them? To save Honey? For Hell's sake you have goddamn weapons here that you trade with the hunters, you could have gotten them out!" I yelled at him furiously.

"Don't you think I wanted to? But how could I stand up to demons that can't die by normal means? And fight with four to one odds against hunters?" he shot back with a quiver of sadness in his voice. Taking off his glasses and rubbing his hand against his face, he sighed. "Bliss told me if you showed up to get you away. That they were only a distraction slowing you down. They'd be alright."

"She said that?" I managed to whisper, feeling a sadness that she'd known what I had thought of them. But how could I really think that? If I came all this way just to rescue them?

"She said not to tell you they came here, but it doesn't seem to matter. You couldn't save them anyway." Shawn's words cut into me like knives, revealing only horrible truth. In silence I turned and began to walk vacantly toward the shop entrance.

"Where are you going?" Zan asked as little confused.

Grabbing a shorter pair of boots that only came to the middle of my shins instead of my knees and pulling them on, I turned back to look at him blankly. "I can't go back there. I'm not meant to save anyone. I have to keep running. I'll die if Julius finds me."

"He won't get you," Zenith stated firmly. "We'll protect you and save the others." Turning to Zan he said, "Get Xeno, Luido, and Cinna as far from here as you can. I'll get Bliss and Honey and meet up with you.

At that I scoffed with half a laugh that was so dry I could taste it in my mouth. "You can't be serious. Julius will kill you when he catches my scent around you. It's useless to even try playing hero," I stated, hearing the own heartlessness in my words while my chest pounded and hurt at the thought of Zenith facing off against Julius.

He smiled at me like it was no big deal. "Don't worry Fearless, you can reward me when I get back." Before I could even say another word in protest or even Zan could express his thoughts, Zenith was through the door and enveloped by the smoke before it turned back into stone.

Something inside me seemed to break as fear began to give rise to panic as soon as he was out of my sight. I couldn't understand it, but I ran toward the door, slamming against the stone with my fist as if it would break on contact. I felt an emptiness, like a glass without water.

"Don't worry about him," Zan said coming up behind me and setting a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "He's always done whatever he wants without much of a care for anything else, even though it's because he cares. He'll be alright."

"How do you know?" I asked, my voice emotionless and echoing in my ears.

Zan smirked. "Because he's an idiot. And idiots always survive in ridiculous ways."

I glanced at Zan trying to read his face. If he was worried at all about Zenith, he didn't show it. "Come on," he said. "We need to get out of here. We'll see the others soon enough. Zenith hasn't broken a promise yet."

Taking my hand gently in his, he pulled me away and toward the front door. Signaling Luido to follow, Cinna carrying the book he had been reading to her as she followed suit. Ushering both outside while I stood at the door for a moment, my hand still in Zan's as he waited for me to come.

Then I glanced back to see Shawn standing a few feet away by the book cases. "It may have been just a fling to you, or maybe it was sincere, but I think you should know. Honey loves your child." With that, I closed the door behind me along with the haunting shadows of the little shop. Now feeling only dread as we made footprints across a desert landscape.