m/m urban fantasy
Chapter 1: Demon Season
Taylor skidded into the classroom and got into his seat just before the teacher turned around to face the students. Good; Mr. Hill didn’t notice that he had come in a few minutes late. Taylor tried to look nonchalant and hide the fact that he was out of breath, instead pretending that he had been here the whole time. Mr. Hill’s eyes paused on him, but then they continued their sweep of the classroom as the teacher mentally took role. Taylor let out a sigh of relief. Mr. Hill was known for yelling at students for being even a minute or two late to class, and this was not a good day to get yelled at. Today, after all, was the start of demon season and this was the first year Taylor was old enough to participate.
He fingered the black birthmark on his wrist nervously. Starting tonight, when he went to sleep, demons would visit him and if he was very lucky, one of those demons would bond with him for the rest of his life. For the next three days while the moon was the darkest, demons would visit all of the students with the same birthmark on their wrists – the demonborn – and everyone would be competing for the demons’ attention. If he didn’t bond with a demon this year, though, he would have three more seasons to try. Demons only appeared to humans between their eighteenth and twenty-second years, for reasons no one quite understood.
Mr. Hill ought to know that he and the other students were nervous and give them a break, but the ornery teacher lectured as usual about mathematical principles they were unlikely to ever use in real life and ignored the occasional hand that went up when he once again started going too fast and left the class behind. Taylor hadn’t learned anything in this class except that his GPA was going to be a lot lower than he had hoped when he entered the college. He would have switched out of the class, but for some reason it was required and it wasn’t taught by anyone else. It seemed that everyone in the university was stuck with Mr. Hill and his frustrating math that seemed to have no relation to anything in the real world.
Taylor glanced over at his best friend Natalie, who was frantically taking notes with an expression of doomed determination. Even though she wrote down everything Mr. Hill said every day, she was still getting a bad grade in the class, like everyone else, because she couldn’t make sense of his lectures and figure out what anything meant. She caught his eye and shook her head slightly. Sometimes they passed each other notes, but today it looked like she was really focusing on Mr. Hill and might actually be making some progress. He didn’t want to disrupt her if that was the case.
Which meant that he had to stew in his worries alone. He glanced at one of the older boys in the class who had put off the class until his senior year. A cat lay curled up at the boy’s feet. The cat was a demon, of course, who had a strong enough bond with the boy to have taken on a physical form. It was what they all dreamed of: a demon powerful enough to take on a form in the real world, not just the dream world. But for a demon to take on a physical form, the demon had to be extremely powerful and the relationship between the demon and the human had to be exceptionally close. Demons fed off the emotions of the human, so the match between human and demon was very important. If the demon chose a human who didn’t express the kind of emotion that fed the demon, then the pairing would be surface-level at best and the demon would only exist in dreams.
That was how most pairs were, because it was rare to get a good match between human and demon. Most humans didn’t produce enough emotional output to fully feed their demons to the extent necessary for a physical body. The main exception to that rule, of course, were the succubi. Taylor blushed and thought of the beautiful, half-naked women sometimes seen drifting behind their humans. Only their blood red eyes gave them away as demons, though to be honest their beauty did as well. He had never met a human half as beautiful as a succubus. They fed on human pleasure, and rarely had any trouble taking on a physical form. Occasionally there were male pleasure demons, too, called incubi, but they were far rarer. Only one incubus was currently alive, and he was paired with an older woman halfway around the world.
The bell rang suddenly, unexpectedly, and Taylor glanced over to see Natalie groan. Apparently it had not been a productive class for her after all. He headed over to her desk as all of the other girls in the room began squealing and gathering together, talking excitedly about something as they hurried out and were met by more noisy girls in the hallway. Natalie didn’t join them, naturally. She was an outcast, like Taylor himself, and the few times she attempted to be nice to the other girls had led to all sorts of hurt for her. Now she tried to observe them from a distance and avoid direct contact. Taylor felt bad for her, since she was such a wonderful person and a loyal friend, but he knew how it felt to be betrayed by others.
He himself had attempted to befriend some of the other students at the college and been met with cold glares. He didn’t understand, since college was supposed to be a welcoming environment, but he had backed away quickly. He suspected it had something to do with his unusual birthmark, but he never knew for sure. He was just glad he had found Natalie when he did, because he had rapidly been sinking into depression with no friends in this strange place.
“What’s up with them?” he asked, jerking his thumb back at the squealing girls.
“There’s a rumor that the prince of demons is looking for a partner this year,” she said.
“Aren’t there royal demons nearly every year?”
“Princesses,” Natalie said. “But there’s only one prince, and he hasn’t been seen in years. Plus, they say he’s an incubus.”
A delicious thrill ran up Taylor’s spine. If he were a girl, he would have been squealing too. As it was, he had to try to look nonchalant once again, as if the thought of a prince incubus meant nothing to him when in fact his heart was beating quickly and the thought of a handsome young demon pressing him into a bed and kissing him tenderly was the only thing his poor brain could focus on. But no one at the school knew he was gay, not even Natalie, and he was determined to keep it that way. Then he would really be an outcast.
“Well, I’m still hoping for a succubus,” he said with as much conviction as he could muster, and to be fair the image of a beautiful woman dressed in one of the succubi’s sheer outfits with those exotic eyes was enough to make his mouth dry, but he couldn’t help his mind from straying to the potential prince and what that would be like.
“Any demon will do for me,” Natalie said. “I’d kind of like a cat at my feet, like John has, or a hawk like Nadia. But I suppose a demon controlling my dreams would work too. I just don’t want to get left out.”
Taylor nodded. Natalie got left out of so much, and it wasn’t fair. She deserved the incubus prince more than anyone else, and he hoped she got him. Surely a prince would be able to see how deserving she was, how intelligent and loyal and worthy. He still didn’t know why the other girls had chosen her as their target, but he suspected it was because she played too fair, and refused to gossip or hurt feelings or talk behind others’ backs. Those seemed to be the only things the other girls did, and refusing to participate would alienate her to some degree.
“I guess I just want one too,” Taylor said. “You’re right, it doesn’t matter who or what I get as long as I’m chosen. I don’t want to be one of those students who has to wait year after year, and then find out I’ve been passed over completely and have to live with the regular humans. But I’m worried that I will be, with my birthmark and all.”
“It’s not that unusual,” Natalie said, reaching out to take his hand and examine the birthmark on his wrist.
All demonborn children were born with birthmarks in the shape of a demon on their wrist. They were the only people that demons were able to bond with, and their willingness to bond and be fed on by the demons was the only way that demons survived. Everyone’s birthmark was exactly the same, except for Taylor’s. His was crooked, and had a hole in the center so small it was almost unnoticeable, but clearly visible if you knew to look for it. His mother had worried about it constantly, but Taylor had always pushed it aside. It was likely the reason no one on campus really accepted him; he had an incomplete birthmark, therefore he had no real right to be on this campus full of demonborn students.
His mother’s demon – his father – had said that the birthmark was a joyous sign and indicated that his future would be blessed, but neither his mother nor his father could save him from the bullying at school when people found out he was different. He had never met his father in person, since he only existed in Taylor’s mother’s dreams, but Taylor’s mother continued to report that he looked on the birthmark as a blessing. Taylor didn’t know if his father actually said this or if his mother made it up to make him feel better.
He pulled his hand away from Natalie and rubbed the birthmark nervously.
“I guess we’ll find out tonight, won’t we? If any demons come, even just to examine me, we’ll know it doesn’t matter. But if they don’t even bother with me, then we’ll know I’m really cursed and don’t belong here.”
“If you don’t belong here, then I don’t belong here,” Natalie said. “And I believe that we do. You just need more confidence.”
“Unless I bond with a demon that feeds on insecurity,” Taylor muttered, but Natalie heard him and burst out laughing.
“That’s the spirit. Now come on, we’re going to be late to our next class.”
They rushed to the next class, a far better class than Mr. Hill’s. The teacher, Ms. Winde, nodded at them as they came in a little late. She never yelled at students and never pointed out their tardiness, even though she always made a mental note of it and recorded it. If they had too many late arrivals, she would talk to them in private, but Taylor had only been late once before when Mr. Hill held them for too long. Natalie settled down in her chair and began taking notes, but Taylor couldn’t relax. Thoughts of an incubus demon prince kept flitting about his mind.
He wondered what his mother would say if he came home with an incubus in tow. His father, being a demon, would have no qualms about any demon Taylor bonded with, but his mother would probably be shocked to her core. It was known that incubi and succubi had sex with their humans, and if Taylor was paired with an incubus… he shivered. Could he actually go through with it?
The thought of sex with a man was pleasant enough, but he had never had sex with anyone, not really, not since the time he tried not to remember. He was far too shy, and the only person he had ever been close to was Natalie. He had never thought of her in a sexual way, however. The thought was amusing, and he glanced over at Natalie. She was pretty enough, with dark skin and short hair with severe bangs dyed a reddish black. Her face was beautiful, in his opinion, with an upturned nose and wide, dark eyes. But she was like a sister, and he couldn’t even imagine having sexual feelings towards her.
He thought briefly of the time when he was six and met his first demon hunter, a woman who had befriended his mother for some reason and then spent time alone with him. She had touched him, then, and done things to him that he shivered to remember. He didn’t want to repeat any of that and he was sure it had something to do with his fears of sex, even though he didn’t like to think of it. But ever since then, he had been more afraid of women than attracted to them.
He looked at the other girls in the classroom. None of them sparked his attention, but neither did any of the men. Maybe he was just broken, and he couldn’t love anyone. Or maybe, he thought, maybe he was just holding out for someone special, someone like a demon prince. But he wouldn’t be able to just jump into bed with anyone, he knew that. Not after what had happened to him as a child. Even if he paired with a succubus, who were notorious for having sex with their humans at the first possible chance, he would need to be wooed first. He had no intention of giving up his heart or his first time easily, no matter how hot the person was. He wanted romance and love, not just sex. But if he partnered with a demon, would that demon understand what he needed or would the demon just take what it needed to feed? Demons were not known for their ability to compromise.
He shivered. Partnering with a demon was beginning to sound dangerous. He knew that humans who weren’t demonborn often thought of the demonborn as slaves to their demons, but he had never thought of it like that before. He had always assumed that the human would be in control of the relationship, because the human controlled the food source. But now he realized that once the bond was formed, the demons could essentially do anything they wanted. After all, they could use magic and they could play tricks on their humans’ minds to cause them to do whatever the demon wanted. It was a little different than slavery, but the demons were in control, weren’t they? Taylor gulped. The idea of an incubus prince seemed a little less desirable all of a sudden.
Let the girls have their prince, he decided. He would, like Natalie, be happy with a cat or a hawk, or even a demon that didn’t have a physical form at all. But even though it was beginning to sound more and more like slavery, he still wanted a demon. It was what he was born to do, what he had trained all his life to do, it was his destiny. But please, he added silently, let it be a good destiny.