Chapter 1: Spectral Protection
“Dr. Hauser is picking his assistant tomorrow,” Evelyn said, pushing her drink back and forth with her fingers and looking glum. “I don’t think my grades are nearly high enough and you know he doesn’t like me ever since I was late that day.”
“You can’t give up,” I said, patting her on the shoulder sympathetically. I secretly agreed with her, but didn’t want her to despair. Still, I had a much better chance of getting the spot than she did, and we both knew it. I was always prepared and on time, and Dr. Hauser had even asked me for help sorting papers after class a couple of times. But the person who would probably get it was Ricky, who was sitting just down the bar laughing loudly with his posse. I couldn’t stand him, or the three guys who were constantly surrounding him and flattering him. My main hope in getting the assistantship was that Dr. Hauser wouldn’t like Ricky on a personal level, because Ricky had the best grades in the class by far and constantly schmoozed the professor. Still, maybe he could see past that.
“Here’s to it being someone other than him,” I said, raising my shot and clicking it against hers before knocking it back. This round had been on Dr. Hauser, a kind gesture to his interns who were almost done with a good semester. This bar was a regular spot for medical students, though to be honest, I rarely went out because I was so exhausted. Becoming a pathologist wasn’t the easiest career choice, but it was the only one I was interested in. I wasn’t entirely sure why anyone else was studying it, but I had a vested interest in the field.
Dr. Hauser specialized in autopsies and we had spent the last semester learning to understand death. It was a fascinating subject for me, but did have some drawbacks. Occasionally, inspectors would come to examine the bodies and occasionally, those inspectors would be angels. I always managed to sneak to the back and avoid notice on those visits. So far I hadn’t recognized any of the angels, but I was always on the alert for them, because there was one who kept a close eye on me. It had been almost a year since he had sent someone after me, and I was starting to get nervous. My powers were just starting to rebuild and that was usually when they appeared.
“Ooh, look at that hottie,” Evelyn said, leaning forward. “Who do you think that is?”
A man had entered and scanned the room. I instinctively slid down. It was an angel, and I knew him. There could only be one reason why he was here. Apparently my year was up.
“Excuse me,” I said to Evelyn, and rushed to the bathroom. I darted inside and slammed the door, locking it quickly. Then I realized there might be others in there and looked around. It was empty and I sighed in relief. Maybe Michael would leave without checking here. Maybe there was some way around this. I went to the mirror and stared at myself.
My ebony hair hung down over my forehead and my black eyes were dilated with fear. The red in my pupils was clearly showing. I couldn’t go around humans like this; I needed to calm down. But I couldn’t, until I was sure Michael was gone. What options did I have? I squeezed my hand in a fist, trying to measure my strength. Could I transport back to my room? I could just tell Evelyn I had left. But my strength wasn’t quite there yet. The angels didn’t let me regain it that much if they could help it. Sometimes they slipped, and once I had managed to regain quite a bit of my powers, but they always hunted me down. I could at least work a warding, I considered. I drew the small dagger that I always kept on me and held it against my palm. A blood sacrifice was necessary, but I didn’t want too much blood or it would be hard to clean up. Was this a good idea?
There was a click as the door unlocked, and my eyes widened as Michael walked in. Michael was my opposite in appearance, with white-blonde hair and clear blue eyes. Not all angels were as obvious as him, but it was very hard to see him and mistake him for anything other than what he was.
“Here you are, Daemon,” Michael said, and I flinched. That was my true name, the one I obviously couldn’t use as a human. “Did you really think you could hide from me?”
“Don’t touch me,” I warned, though there was nothing I could do especially.
“It’s not my intent to harm you,” Michael said, raising his hands as if to prove his sincerity. “You know what has to happen if you want to stay free.”
I glared. I had technically agreed to this, after all. Every year or so, the angels would bind my demonic power and in exchange, they let me live a normal life. At first, I had thought the sacrifice worth it. I wanted to live as a human, after all, so why would being bound matter? But it did matter, and I was tired of it.
“No,” I said, and Michael laughed, a cruel sound that reminded me of exactly how much I hated angels.
“Either you let me bind you, or you come with me,” Michael said. “You know those are your only options.”
“I’m staying, and you’re not touching me,” I said firmly, though I knew I wasn’t strong enough to make that a reality. I flexed my hand again, feeling the dark sigil of power on my palm that was usually hidden from human eyes. I wasn’t strong enough by a long shot. Michael was an archangel and I wouldn’t last a minute in a fight. Plus, my cover as a human would be blown. It wasn’t uncommon for angels and demons to fight when they encountered each other, but I didn’t want anyone knowing I was a demon.
“Excuse me,” a voice said, and Michael and I stared in shock at the corner, where Dr. Hauser was standing. He hadn’t been there a moment before, I was positive. Even if I hadn’t noticed the professor, Michael would have. Michael would never speak this freely with anyone else around.
Michael stared at Dr. Hauser, clearly uncertain how to handle the situation now that they were being observed.
“If you’re planning on binding that demon, you can forget it,” Dr. Hauser said. “He works for me, and I need his powers intact.”
I blinked in surprise. Did Dr. Hauser know I was a demon? Part of the reason I thrived at this job was because I fed on the remnants of the souls in the bodies I worked with, and could often sense the cause of death from the fragments, but did he know that?
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Michael asked.
“His professor,” Dr. Hauser said.
“I don’t see how this is any of your business-”
“I’m a spectre,” Dr. Hauser said calmly, and I drew in a sharp breath. He couldn’t possibly be a real spectre. They were incredibly rare, but they outranked both demons and angels. They had a pact with Death itself. Demons and angels worked with Death, but only obliquely. Spectres were the creatures hired by Death to collect souls and bring them to the afterlife. I had never met a spectre before in my life and I was stunned. Michael clearly was, too, and didn’t know what to do or say.
“This demon is my student,” Dr. Hauser said, coming up to me and putting his hand on my shoulder. “There’s no need for you to harass him or bind him.”
“Do you even know what he is?” Michael asked, and I flinched. But my true identity was a tightly kept secret. Michael wouldn’t give it away, not even to a spectre, not even to persuade him to let me be bound.
Dr. Hauser looked at me and smiled. “He’s one of my most promising students. Now if you’ll excuse us, I believe you don’t have any more business here.”
Michael was obviously at a loss. As an archangel, he was very rarely opposed. And the few times it happened, he still got his way, as he would have with me despite my protests. Spectres were quite possibly the only people who could force him to obey. I wondered if he would have to obey a spectre. He had sent Michael here and now he would know where I was. Would he send someone else to bind me when the spectre wasn’t here, or would he want to avoid angering someone as deadly as a spectre?
“I’ll see you soon,” Michael finally said to me, but Dr. Hauser slashed his hand through the air.
“Unless you have business with me, you won’t speak to him.”
I looked at Dr. Hauser, never more grateful to anyone in my life. But the professor ignored me, staring straight at the archangel.
“Do you know who I am?” Michael asked, and my stomach flipped. I had assumed spectres outranked archangels. Maybe that assumption was false, and I would end up getting bound anyway. After all, Michael was the highest archangel. Maybe that mattered.
“One of the archangels,” Dr. Hauser said carelessly. “Does it matter which?”
“I’m Michael,” he said, and Dr. Hauser’s eyes widened and he glanced at me. I flushed, not sure what to say.
“As I said, it hardly matters, though it is of course a pleasure to meet you,” Dr. Hauser said, extending his hand to the archangel. Michael looked like he wanted to strangle him, but instead they shook hands politely. Then Dr. Hauser took my arm and led me forward, past Michael. I glanced back at Michael right before we left the restroom and was shocked by the hate on his face. It was rare for angels to show such negative emotions so openly, where people might see. They preferred humans to think of them as perfect, good, and kind-hearted. They wanted humans to see them as representing the good, and demons as representing evil. They didn’t like to acknowledge that there was very little difference between them except the source of their power.
Dr. Hauser didn’t say a word as he led me back to the others. Evelyn looked at us oddly as Dr. Hauser gestured for me to sit in my spot again, then he ordered us another drink. Just the two of us, though, not everyone. He winked at me and then headed to where he was mingling with the other teachers. I wondered if any of them were spectres. Unlikely. I saw Michael slink out a few minutes later, but by then I was occupied explaining to Evelyn how I had happened to run into Dr. Hauser on the way back from the restroom and no, it didn’t mean anything. I sighed as I drank again. I had some protection for a while, it seemed. But eventually he would come for me personally, and there was nothing that could prevent me from being bound then. It was only a matter of time.