m/m urban fantasy
Chapter 1: Confrontation
“Taylor,” Ms. Salazar said, and he snapped to attention. She was a teacher from last semester and not one of his favorites. What had she asked?
“Um, demonborn children are often raised by multiple mothers in a community,” he responded, hoping he was right. He loved psychology but hadn’t done the reading as closely as usual last night because he was so distracted by Gabriel, his demon.
Ms. Salazar studied him, then nodded. “Correct. Natalie, why is that important?”
His best friend began explaining the significance of his answer, and tension bled from his body. Class always put him on edge, even before he himself was a demon.
He tried to ignore the looks of the other students, but it was hard. This was the last class before their final next week, and soon it would be summer where he wouldn’t be surrounded by the curious students, but he dreaded leaving campus. The past semester was difficult, but he was used to it. As soon as he went home, he would have to start all over with the people there in order to fit in. Ten days, and his relatively comfortable life would be over.
Ever since Taylor sacrificed his soul to save his demon Gabriel from certain death shortly before the Christmas break, his life had dramatically altered. He glanced over at the door. Gabriel waited outside, a throwback to the days when Gabriel was an incubus and Taylor just an ordinary student. Now, after Gabriel’s father, the demon king, had gifted Taylor his body and abilities, Taylor was the demon and Gabriel more similar to a human, though with powers reserved for the strongest of demons. No one had ever seen a demon as strong as Gabriel, and Taylor suspected he had the same strengths, though he had only used them once.
He still remembered the fateful day when a demon hunter trapped them and shot him in order to catch Gabriel off guard. That was when Taylor sacrificed his soul, and because of that, Gabriel dodged her bullet and survived. In retaliation not just for the attack but for the trauma she had inflicted on Taylor during his childhood, Gabriel held out his hand and a stream of pure hellfire spat forth to engulf her. No normal demon could achieve such a thing.
Ms. Salazar asked another review question to the student next to him, and Taylor pulled himself together. Normally demons in human form weren’t allowed in classrooms, but he wasn’t a demon, not really, and he still needed to attend college. Now that he was bonded to Gabriel, he could read his demon’s thoughts and learn knowledge that way, but it was a poor substitute for learning it himself. At least that’s what all the teachers said.
One of the other students eyed him. Taylor could sense her demon tethered to her mind. The demon didn’t have physical form—most demons didn’t—and Taylor found that he could sense nearby demons quite easily. Some where willing to talk to him, but others, like this one, treated him with an icy silence. Ms. Salazar’s demon refused to talk to him too. He asked Gabriel about it once, and he said it was for the better.
Six months ago, Gabriel warned of the start of a revolution, the same kind of war that had devastated the world two thousand years ago. Demon turned against demon, and many of the demonborn were killed as a result. They almost seemed targeted to some degree.
Yet in the six months since Gabriel’s proclamation, there was no sign of conflict other than the silence of some demons. It was clear they were on the other side in this civil war, but there was no violence. He hoped that continued.
He reached out to Gabriel and felt a bored contentment. He couldn’t read his demon’s thoughts clearly this far away, only when they were touching, but he had discovered blank spaces in Gabriel’s mind that he couldn’t penetrate. Information about the war was in one of those places. When he tentatively brought up those blank spaces with Gabriel, the demon shrugged and said his mind might be too complex for a human to understand, even if that human was now a demon. A little insulting, but probably true. Gabriel had been alive for nearly a thousand years. That many memories would overwhelm Taylor, so it made sense that he couldn’t access all of them. Still, he got the feeling that Gabriel deliberately hid things from him, and the thought rankled through him. Gabriel shouldn’t keep anything back, let alone something this important.
Natalie volunteered to answer another question, then glanced at him with a smile. He returned the gesture, and soon Ms. Salazar wrapped up her lecture and ended class. He made his way to his friend as she packed up her bags. A large ginger cat lying under her desk stood and stretched. Ariel was Natalie’s demon, and while she frequently talked to Taylor now that he was a demon and could understand her, she never did during class. None of the demons did. They knew he needed to learn. In some ways, he was the king of demons now, though that title really belonged to Gabriel. He was a close second and needed to learn as much as he could to live up to that role.
Natalie hoisted her bookbag over her shoulder. “Lunch in the apartments or cafeteria?”
When he first bonded with Gabriel, students swarmed him everywhere he went, and lunch in public was out of the question. He and Natalie both stayed on campus over winter break and started eating at the cafeteria again in the relative solitude of the vacation. Now, they felt comfortable there. Students crowded him, but it wasn’t bad. To be honest, before break, they were entranced by Gabriel and wanted to get closer to the prince of demons. Now they were put off by Gabriel’s black eyes, a sign that he was no longer a linked demon, and Taylor’s red ones, which clearly marked him as a demon.
“Apartments,” he said as they headed to join Gabriel. “I’m not up to it today.”
As they left the room, Gabriel stood and greeted him with a kiss on the cheek. Taylor fed on the gesture, feeling Gabriel’s love as it filled him. Demonic hunger wasn’t the same as human hunger and didn’t cause the same physical pain when denied. It didn’t fill his belly; it filled his soul. He grew weak when he didn’t have enough, but that had only happened a couple of times. He fed on Gabriel’s love whenever he touched the man, and there were plenty of opportunities for that.
And for some reason, he could still eat human food. No one understood that. Demons had no interest in or ability to digest human food. While Taylor didn’t require it, he still ate it regularly with Natalie. At Gabriel’s request, he went a week without food just to make sure it was really optional, and while he craved the flavor of food, he didn’t need the nutrients themselves. That was good, as being tied down to a second form of food would be taxing. Feeding from Gabriel was enough of a burden.
Gabriel took his hand, and he drew lightly on the gesture. Not that this was a burden exactly. It was just that if a demon and their bonded human were separated, the demon could go insane from hunger. It happened sometimes, and demon hunters took out those demons first. The demonborn didn’t complain when those demons were killed because there was no saving them. He didn’t ever plan on being separated from Gabriel for long enough for that to be a problem, but Gabriel worried about it sometimes.
Gabriel had a lot of fears developed from a thousand years watching other demons destroyed, and Taylor tried to reassure him that he would be careful so none of those fates befell him. It usually reassured him, and a little manipulation was enough to cement that reassurance, but he didn’t like messing with his demon’s head. Because Gabriel still was a demon, despite everything else, and he was partially human, but not fully, it meant Taylor was wary of pulling too many demonic tricks on him.
Natalie glanced over at him. “Dead day tomorrow, then finals start. Are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
“You haven’t been paying as much attention lately.”
He winced. Had she noted? Was it that obvious?”
“It’s just hard,” he said. “Sometimes this all feels so meaningless.”
“Education is never meaningless.”
He caught the hard tone under her words and immediately apologized. Education was the purpose of Natalie’s life, and she hated anyone who implied it wasn’t the most important thing in the world. Her demon even fed on education, or rather on her mind when she learned new things. A perfect demon for her. He couldn’t imagine anyone better and was just glad he and Ariel got along so well. He would hate to have a best friend whose demon was against him. So far, it seemed like the students he was friendly with before becoming a demon all had demons who liked him, and students who hadn’t liked him before had partners who treated him with silence. Sometimes he didn’t even mind.
As they approached the cafeteria, ice enveloped him, and he stopped. What was this? He’d never felt anything like it before, but something chilled against his demonic senses.
“What is it?” Gabriel’ voice was soft. Now that Gabriel was mostly human, he couldn’t sense things as clearly. He could still talk to all of the demons the same way Taylor could, but there were limitations.
“It feels cold,” Taylor said slowly as Ariel hissed and came closer to him.
Gabriel drew in a sharp breath. “We should leave. Now.”
What did that mean? But he wasn’t going to question it. They turned towards the apartments, and three large shapes on all fours approached, cutting them off. He sensed two more behind him. They were surrounded, and he recognized the wolves. They had faced Gabriel once, last semester, and seemed to threaten violence. Now they appeared to be doing the same.
Gabriel moved in front of him, and Ariel went behind him to protect him, though there was little they could do if the wolves attacked. Surely they wouldn’t.
You’re not wanted, the pack leader snarled at Taylor. Give up your powers before you do something you regret.
His brow creased. Give up his powers? Was that even possible? Gabriel lifted a hand, and Taylor hoped he could understand the wolves as well. He suspected now that Gabriel was partially human, the other demons could choose to prevent him from hearing them.
“I’m sure there’s no need for a confrontation like this,” Gabriel said. “Why don’t we discuss it in private.”
In private? With wolves? That sounded like a horrible idea, but he wasn’t about to question Gabriel. Maybe he meant in private with him. That had to be it, because surely Gabriel didn’t want to be somewhere alone with these wolves. The presence of humans was the only thing that stopped the wolves last semester, and it had to work to their advantage that Natalie was here, and other people were starting to notice and come over. They were still right outside the building, after all.
You aren’t wanted either, prince.
Gabriel’s eyes narrowed. You have no say in the matter.
It appeared he could still talk to demons when he wanted, and Taylor was relieved. The wolf snarled.
If you break the seal, you will unleash chaos. You will destroy the demonborn and wipe us out.
Taylor drew in a sharp breath. A seal? He thought back to the war when demons had seemed to target the demonborn. So it would happen again if this seal were broken, but he had no idea what seal they were talking about, or how he would break it. Once, when Gabriel talked about finding the one who would unlock his potential, he said that many things would happen when he found that person. Taylor was that person and many things had happened; it appeared there were even more things waiting.
Ariel hissed. The seal will not be broken. We will defend our demonborn, as we did before, and you will fail again if you turn against us.
Embrace the change, Gabriel urged, and Taylor wondered what he meant. As long as the seal isn’t broken, you will be as free as the rest of us.
It isn’t natural, and we won’t allow it. The wolf sounded set, and the other wolves crouched aggressively. And you know he’ll break the seal. Who knows what will be unleashed?
More people were gathering, and he caught sight of Mr. Hill, the professor from last semester who was so interested in Gabriel. He still was. Mr. Hill had caught the confrontation last semester as well, and while he never brought it up with Taylor, he had to be curious. He was the person Gabriel told about the coming revolution. Gabriel warned him to be careful choosing sides. Mr. Hill’s demon never spoke to Taylor, but it wasn’t the same icy retreat of other demons. It seemed more like his demon just had nothing to say. Mr. Hill was undecided which side to take, and his demon reflected that uncertainty. What would he think about this conversation? Did he know anything about a seal?
He felt another presence approaching, and turned to see a fiery red-head in a skimpy crimson outfit seemingly drawn from a lustful boy’s imagination. Her rosy face was calm, but he could sense her tension. She was a succubus linked to Jordan, his former roommate, and Taylor had only seen her a few times over the past semester. Gabriel wanted her to stay away, and she did. In the past, before he was bonded to Taylor, Gabriel had turned to Callan for comfort and sexual favors, and Taylor suspected she still had designs on him. She had caused what was essentially the only fight in their relationship. Even the fact that she bonded with Jordan indicated ulterior motives, since Jordan had a crush on Taylor.
Last time the wolves confronted Gabriel, Callan defused the situation. Would she have the same effect this time?
“This isn’t the time nor place,” Callan said, coming to Gabriel’ side and staring down the pack leader without a hint of fear. “I’ll make sure your concerns are conveyed.”
You lost control of him, the wolf growled. We no longer listen to you.
Callan paled, and Taylor wondered what he meant. This whole conversation was far too confusing. If Gabriel just talked to him about things, he would understand exactly what was going on. But Gabriel kept his secrets, and now they were surrounded by wolves who showed every intention of attacking. Callan persuaded them to leave last time, but they weren’t listening to her anymore. Would the wolves really resort to violence in the middle of campus like this?
“I have more control than you imagine.” Callan’s voice was as cold as the ice on his senses, and he couldn’t help but shiver. What kind of control were they talking about? Control over him, or over Gabriel?
The wolf growled, but looked around at the people gathered. They wouldn’t be able to understand the wolf, he didn’t think, though he might be wrong about that. He would have to ask Natalie how much of this made sense to her, or if Gabriel and Callan’s verbal comments were her only indication of the conflict. Well, the physical aggression was obvious to anyone, but the other comments, especially about the seal, were probably unheard.
We will speak in private, the wolf said reluctantly. But you will not avoid us.
Another shiver slid down his spine as the wolf turned, and the rest of the pack retreated. He could feel Gabriel’s tension lower a notch. But not too much.
Gabriel wrapped his hand around Taylor’s waist and pulled him towards the apartments without a word. Callan stepped in front of him.
“You’re avoiding me, too,” she said. “You know that’s why they’re angry.”
Gabriel bristled, and Taylor could feel the resentment pouring from him. Impossible to feed on, and Taylor felt weak and scared from the confrontation.
Callan just looked at his demon, and finally Gabriel sighed. “Perhaps you and Jordan could join us for dinner tonight.”
The succubus grinned. “We would be delighted. What time?”
They arranged the meetup as the tension continued to bleed from Gabriel. Soon, Callan left, and he and Natalie finally reached the apartment. She slid next to him and eyed him as the two demons retreated to the kitchen.
“What exactly just happened?”