m/m urban fantasy
Chapter 3: History Lesson
The next day, Gabriel went to the demon realm with a warning that he would be gone for several hours. To settle things down, he said, though Taylor wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. He didn’t complain, though, and as soon as his demon was gone, he set off for the academic buildings. Although he didn’t have classes today since it was the day before finals started, and students were supposed to spend the day studying, there was someone he wanted to see. Once, the thought of visiting this professor filled him with dread, but now he had hope that the man could give him some information.
He knocked on the office door, and it opened to a familiar face.
“Mr. Hill? Could we talk?”
The professor looked at him for a long moment and he could sense Mr. Hill communicating with his demon, though he couldn’t hear the words. So demons could speak privately. Or maybe it was just that this was communication between a demon and his demonborn. The demon must have decided to approve him, because he got a vague sense of welcoming as Mr. Hill invited him in.
He sat on the small chair across the desk from Mr. Hill. Books lined the shelves with many more scattered about on every surface except this chair. While he was a student, he had never ventured here. It was Mr. Hill’s personal space and he eyed the books curiously. He wasn’t surprised to see quite a few mention the demon prince, and the history of demons. Although Taylor had been in a math class with him trying to figure out the formula that gave humans some control over demons, Mr. Hill primarily taught history.
“Does your demon know you’re here?” Mr. Hill asked, and Taylor shook his head. “Interesting. Would he approve if he knew?”
Taylor gulped. “Probably not.”
“I suppose there are some benefits to you being the demon now.”
It was odd hearing that said aloud, especially by a human. The demons sometimes mentioned his new status, and Gabriel did frequently, but it was extremely rare that a human referred to him as a demon. They all seemed to want to avoid the subject.
“Um, I wanted to ask you about some myths about demons.”
“I’m sure Gabriel can tell you everything you need to know.” But Mr. Hill was eyeing him speculatively. “Or is there something he’s hiding from you?”
“He was hiding it, but I know now.”
“And he’s not answering your questions.”
“I’m not sure he knows the answers.”
Taylor definitely had his curiosity as Mr. Hill steepled his hands and leaned back. “Well, I have studied the older histories quite extensively. I’m probably the best person to ask if you’re looking for ancient myths. What do you want to know?”
“Have you heard anything about… what it was like before the demon king?”
Instantly, warning flashed through him from Mr. Hill’s demon. You shouldn’t ask about that.
It was the first time the demon had ever spoken to him, and he concentrated. He wasn’t very good at speaking to other demons with his mind yet, but he would try. Why not?
Humans shouldn’t be involved in our private affairs.
Mr. Hill studied him. “I suppose you’re speaking to my demon, who’s suddenly telling me not to answer your question. What doesn’t he want me to say?”
“Well,” Taylor began, feeling the pressure from the other demon. Would this alienate him? Right now, Mr. Hill was undecided. His demon was undecided. Would this push the demon away and lead him to join the other side and fight against Gabriel? Better not to risk it. “Never mind, I guess. Sorry for bothering you.”
He stood, but Mr. Hill leaned forward. “Wait, Taylor.”
Mr. Hill’s demon seemed to quiet to a simmer, then that simmer faded to annoyance. Fine, the demon said. But he knows very little. If you use this information against us, every demon in the world will turn against you.
I wouldn’t do that, Taylor thought angrily. I’m trying to help.
Again, Mr. Hill studied him. “Talking to my demon again? Your expression goes blank when you do. If you want to be able to speak privately, you’ll need to practice.”
Taylor flushed. “Sorry. Um, it’s okay for you to tell me now.”
“I know.” Mr. Hill’s lips twitched in the hint of a smile. “My demon talks to me as well. But you wanted to know about what came before the king. There obviously aren’t any histories. It was thousands upon thousands of years ago, long before humans were writing anything down. Humans were primitive, though they had the essentials that would make them who we are today. They had civilization.”
“You mean like the Egyptians and the Mayans?”
“Before that, but yes. Similar. Those were human civilizations. There were demonborn ones as well. The two worlds were fairly isolated. Still are to some degree, but now our world is so integrated, we have to live together. Back then, though, it was easy for the societies to evolve separately.”
“I haven’t read about any ancient demonborn societies,” Taylor said tentatively.
“Very few traces remain. They were destroyed, deliberately, by the demons.”
He supposed that would make sense. Demons were very private about their affairs. They hid the truth about the last war, and no one knew what really drove demon to turn against demon, with the demonborn being caught in the midst. Even though he was now a demon, he hadn’t known the full story until yesterday.
“Some traces do remain, though,” Taylor said. “Have you studied them?”
“Naturally.” Mr. Hill smiled. “For all that my demon prefers me not to share this, he feeds on my curiosity.”
That was a surprising confession. It was rare that someone shared what their demon fed on. Often, demons fed on more illicit emotions that people didn’t want to confess to. Natalie had told him about her demon, but no one else had ever mentioned theirs, and it was strictly embedded in society never to ask. Married couples didn’t know and didn’t ask, parents and children didn’t know, no one knew unless it was volunteered, and that was incredibly rare. Perhaps it was because Taylor was a demon now. But he had learned that not even demons could sense what the others fed on.
Mr. Hill must have sensed his surprise and chuckled. “Mine is a simple transaction, and one I’m not ashamed of. It helps me enormously and is the driving factor in my research. My demon would prefer if I studied things other than demonic history, but he’s happy with the results.”
“So you studied the ancient civilizations? What were they like?”
“Similar to the others at their time, I suppose, but the mythology was quite unique. There was no writing, but many vases have survived, and the paintings tell a fascinating story about their world. Images showed the demon king emerging into our world.”
“Emerging? You mean bonding with someone?”
“The first images show him with black eyes. That’s one reason we know unlinked demons have black eyes. And other images show another demon with black eyes. A shadowy figure that looms over everything, including the demon king.”
Taylor shivered. He knew who she was, but what did Mr. Hill know?
“Some theorize that this figure created the demon king. Nothing else seems to make sense. There are also shards that we think we’ve reassembled correctly that show an elaborate seal, with tendrils of ebony escaping. It’s thought that the seal locked away that shadowy figure.”
Mr. Hill shrugged. “That’s pretty much it.”
“Oh.” Taylor slumped down.
I told you, said Mr. Hill’s demon. He doesn’t know anything beyond what Gabriel would have told you.
How do you what Gabriel told me?
Mr. Hill narrowed his eyes. “I suspect you already knew all of that. Did you?”
“Yeah. I guess I was hoping you would know more.”
“I can look into it.” Mr. Hill rapped his fingers on the desk. “I haven’t kept up on the latest. My research has been on your demon recently.”
“Could you maybe look into it?”
He felt annoyance from the other demon, but also acceptance. The demon knew Mr. Hill would agree and while he didn’t like it, he would accept it. Mr. Hill smiled.
“It would help if I knew what to look for.”
What could he say? “Anything about the seal, I suppose. What did it look like in the art?”
“A golden crest with ruby symbols on it. Writing, it seems, though the language is long lost and we don’t have enough to guess the meaning. The writing is in a circle along the edge with a large symbol in the middle of a hand with lines extending from it. That’s why we suspect it’s preventing the shadowy figure from escaping. It looks like the gesture one makes to stop someone.”
Taylor nodded. At least that gave him some idea as he searched his mind for the ways he might be holding the seal.
“Thanks, Mr. Hill.”
“Are you going to tell Gabriel about this visit?”
“Probably not,” Taylor admitted. “I mean, he doesn’t need to know.”
Taylor focused his concentration. Will you tell him?
More annoyance. You didn’t learn anything, so why bother?
The demon drifted away. Demons weren’t always bound to their humans, and in fact many left their demonborn alone for long periods of time, returning only to feed. His father was frequently absent, or so his mother reported. He hoped he hadn’t annoyed Mr. Hill’s demon away like that. If someone had made Gabriel leave back when Gabriel was his demon, he wouldn’t have been pleased. But people with insubstantial demons had different relationships. Maybe Mr. Hill wouldn’t mind.
Mr. Hill stood and opened the door for him. “I’ll let you know what I find,” he said. “And I’ll keep this between us. Nothing has happened, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s been tension between the demons, but not outright war. I expected violence from the way Gabriel talked after you recovered.”
“He doesn’t want war. He’s trying to prevent it.”
“He seemed quite eager for it before.”
“No. But you will have to choose a side.”
Mr. Hill frowned. “It would help if I knew what my options were.”
“I’m not sure I can tell you,” Taylor admitted. If the other demon hadn’t told Mr. Hill, he certainly wasn’t going to. And whose choice was it, the demonborn’s or the demon’s? Who exactly did he have to persuade?
“I’m glad you haven’t lost your humanity.” Mr. Hill smiled. “Or your naïvety. But you’re learning. Secrecy can’t be coming easily for you.”
Taylor’s cheeks flamed. Was that an insult? Being naïve certainly was, but not keeping his humanity. Before he was a demon, Mr. Hill had tricked him into revealing information about Gabriel. This time, Taylor hadn’t shared anything. So why was he still naïve?
Mr. Hill chuckled. “Don’t worry, I won’t take advantage of you. And I’ll keep this between us.”
“Thanks, Mr. Hill. If your demon is around, he can tell me when you learn something. I don’t think he would mind too much.”
Mr. Hill agreed, and Taylor headed out of the building back to his apartment. He hadn’t learned anything about the demon mother, but at least now he knew what the seal looked like. That was something.