Devin Mercure felt a little chill for the umpteenth time today. He had felt like he was being watched quite frequently for the past several days, but today was the worst yet, and he thought he might go mad if it went on any longer. Currently, he was sitting alone at a small table at a busy sidewalk bistro, enjoying his espresso and watching people walk by, talking and laughing together. His dark glasses hid the darting of his eyes as he searched for the source of his discomfort, scanning the crowded sidewalks.
The flash of a smile caught his eye as his gaze slipped past the little tables across the street. He looked up into a pair of pale, amused eyes that saw through his sunglasses and read the bewilderment there. As the stranger's smile grew wider, Devin realized with a shudder that his watcher was not human. The supernatural aura grew stronger as he turned his attention fully to it. The "man" -- creatures of that type didn't have true gender -- had chin-length, rather straight but messily layered black hair, and looked to be in his mid-twenties. He was still regarding Devin steadily as he stood and strode to the curb, apparently coming to the mage.
Devin relaxed slightly as he realized that the creature's aura held no taint of the darkness that would mark a demon. An angel, then, he thought, slightly perplexed, but like none I've ever seen. The aura is both stronger and more subtle. He watched the thing cross the street, reluctantly admiring the tall, well-built form the creature had decided to take. The slightly faded khakis and dark blue turtleneck sweater it wore only made it look even taller as it walked gracefully around and between pedestrians that Devin knew could not see the spirit being at all.
After a few moments, the creature approached Devin's table, its smile still in place as it pulled out the chair across from the young man and sat down. Before Devin could tell it (him, his mind kept prodding him) to go away, the angel spoke in a baritone smooth as glass.
"Do take off those glasses, Devin, so I can see your eyes." His smile faded slightly to show that he wasn't speaking in jest.
"...." Wordlessly, Devin removed his sunglasses, folding them and slipping them into his jacket pocket. He looked up at the angel, if that was what he was, and put up a forcible effort not to flinch away. The creature's eyes, which he had thought were light blue or grey, were so bright as to be silver. His pupils were more dilated than a human's would be in broad daylight, and between that and the silver irises, he looked rather mad.
"Much better." The angel smiled broadly again, looking altogether too charming for Devin's comfort.
"Look, just who the hell are you?" the mage finally snapped, irritated at the creature's over-familiarity. He belatedly looked around, aware again of the other diners around him.
"It's quite all right, Devin, they aren't aware of us." The angel wiggled his fingers in a gesture suggesting magic and grinned. "And to answer your question," he said quickly to forestall another irate comment, "you can call me Luciel."
"An angel, then," Devin grunted, taking the last sip of his coffee.
"If you wish. I suppose in this culture," the creature said, looking around, "I'd be an 'angel', as opposed to...oh, a bodhisattva or something." He shrugged expressively. "You should know," he said somewhat accusingly, "exactly what I am."
The mage tapped his fingers on the table, revealing his annoyance. "It's not every day I encounter one from the higher Choirs," he growled.
"Oh yes, Choirs." Luciel looked thoughtful for a moment. "I suppose that most of those you would have met would have been considered watcher-angels, or maybe archangels. I would be one of the demon-fighters -- the Powers, if you will."
The angel's velvety voice and strange eyes were having an almost hypnotic effect on Devin, but they also tugged at his memory. "A Power? ... I assume that has something to do with why you're here, then?"
Luciel nodded, as if Devin were a student who had just provided a correct answer. "That's close enough, at least. Hmm..." he paused and looked around. "Perhaps we can continue this conversation elsewhere? Keeping this spell up is diverting my attention -- and I would rather save my attention for you." He waggled his eyebrows mock-suggestively, which shocked Devin, though he didn't let it show. He hadn't thought angels were even capable of flirting, let alone the subtleties of pretending to flirt.
As Luciel continued to look at him expectantly, the young man realized that the angel was waiting for his answer. He shook his head sharply to clear it. "Hmm..." he scowled slightly. "My apartment's a bit distant. If you can be quiet, we can go to the top floor of the Tremont House."
The house was actually a library, hidden among the old homes in the historic district; it was a private collection of obscure literature and books of magic that Devin and his master before him had free access to. There was seldom anyone there in the morning, and the top floor contained old, leatherbound collections of odd sheet music; they would have as much privacy as they could want.
"Perfect," Luciel said with another brilliant smile, standing up. "Shall we go, then?"
Devin gave the angel an annoyed glare and fished the money for his espresso out of his pocket, leaving it on the table before rising and following Luciel down the crowded sidewalk.
As soon as they had seated themselves on two richly upholstered chairs in the upper floor of the library, Devin opened his mouth to demand to know what the angel wanted with him, but Luciel forestalled him with a raised hand. "Yes, yes, Devin, I'll try to answer your questions now." He looked at the young man quite seriously. "But first, a bit of background information. I expect that you know how your magic works?"
Devin nodded guardedly, then spoke when it seemed that Luciel was waiting for an actual answer. "It's a form of supplication to the spirits, such as...yourself." He trailed off.
Luciel nodded cheerfully. "Yes, as you've just realized, I myself am your particular..." he paused to look for a word, "benefactor. I am your weapon against the demons you hunt."
The mage just stared at Luciel for a moment, uncharacteristically speechless. He had always known, abstractly, that his spells were little more than prayers to the higher spirits; he had never thought that his requests were being answered by one particular individual. He opened his mouth and then closed it again without saying a word. Again, something tickled at his memory, but he couldn't catch hold of it.
Meanwhile, the angel seemed to be enjoying his astonishment. "My, my, you, speechless?" He grinned mischievously. "Come, it can't be that shocking."
Devin held his hand to his forehead. "Shocking... no... of course not. Look, can you leave?" He didn't look up at Luciel's slightly hurt expression.
"Please. Just... leave." The young man stood up abruptly and walked to the window, his back to Luciel. Unseen by Devin, the angel, his face downcast, heaved a silent sigh and disappeared.
As soon as the unnatural aura had faded, Devin walked back to his chair and fell into it heavily. Nothing that the angel said was particularly surprising, so why did he feel so... overwhelmed? He brushed his hand over his face. Between the strange sensation of familiarity and the uncomfortable attraction elicited by Luciel's form, the angel's presence had totally disoriented him, and he hated that helpless feeling.
"Damn it!" He suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to ask the angel what had brought him out into the open in the first place. Well, he would probably be back. Devin felt a small twinge of guilt for sending Luciel away like a scolded dog, but the angel's presence made him remarkably uneasy. He closed his eyes and sighed. It seemed that his affairs were going to rise to a new level of complication.
And why did Luciel seem so familiar?
Devin slowly opened his eyes, coming out of his self-imposed trance. Echoes of the past flitted around in his head as he slowly brought his mind back to the proper time and place. In the past few days, he had figured that if he only vaguely remembered Luciel, he might have well encountered the angel during the period he called the Blackout, the eight months after his master was killed. That time was still a dark hole in his memory; it worried him sometimes what he may have done or experienced in that time. He had always intended to delve into his own mind and try to find out, and Luciel's appearance was just greater incentive.
The memories he had been able to dredge up only worried him more. Only the fact that the spirit beings known as angels were totally benign kept him from fearing the worst, but what he had seen was disturbing enough, even taken innocently.
A thirteen-year-old boy lay broken, bloody and bruised on the floor of a dark, cold room. There was a sound of soft weeping coming from somewhere nearby, the crying of someone too tired for hysterics and wailing. At first, the boy thought, beyond all hope, that his master might still be alive. "Master?"
The crying stopped with a stifled gasp. "You're awake!" an unfamiliar male voice said in an odd, reverberating tone.
Devin squinted, peering into the darkness, but he couldn't see anyone. "Who's there?!"
"My name is Luciel," the voice said hesitantly.
"Luciel?" Devin repeated, too weary to be afraid. As soon as the sound of the name had left his lips, there were footsteps moving towards him. A tall man, seemingly appearing from nowhere, fell down to his knees next to Devin, pulling him up with gentle hands and clutching him tightly against his broad chest. The boy tried feebly to push the stranger away, although he didn't feel particularly threatened.
"Where's my master? Master?!" He squirmed around until he caught sight of the pitiful remains of the old man, then froze, staring and beginning to tremble.
"Don't look, don't look!" Luciel's voice sounded much more normal, if distressed, as he pulled the boy's face around, and Devin suddenly was looking into silvery eyes rimmed with tears. Like the flipping of a switch, he suddenly realized that this was no demon, and furthermore, it seemed to be almost as distraught as he was. This time he did not resist as Luciel pulled him close and stroked his hair, trying to console him (or perhaps the creature was trying to console himself). Devin leaned into the stranger's arms, but he did not cry. There were not enough tears for the death of the man who had been virtually his father.
The boy woke up with a start. He lay in his narrow bed, both hands and arms bandaged to the elbows. It was some three months after his master's death, and under Luciel's guidance, he was trying desperately to strengthen his magic, to avenge his teacher. He looked with chagrin at his hands, realizing that he wouldn't be able to work until his burns had healed.
The door opened slightly, and Luciel peered in. "Devin?"
"I'm awake," the boy said shortly. He knew he was in for a scolding.
Luciel came in and pulled up a chair beside the bed. He sighed and looked at his protégé in a mixture of consternation and amused resignation. "Devin... I know what it's like to strive for greater strength, and how you want to constantly test yourself, to see your progress." He held up a hand as the boy began to splutter something. "I know you defeated the flammeille, Devin, but the cost was too high." Gently, he took Devin's right hand, and the boy couldn't keep from wincing in pain. The angel raised one eyebrow. "You won't be able to do much of anything until your skin heals."
"I know that!" Devin snapped, pulling his hand back. "Were you waiting for me to regain consciousness so you could lecture me? Christ." The last was added in an undertone of disgust.
Luciel's lips pressed into a thin line. "I'm just worried about you. You're too impulsive by far. If you get soul-sucked by some ghoul before you get to avenge your master, what then?"
Devin could only glare, having no good answer to the angel's pointed question. It stung that Luciel was always right, but without his help and guidance, he would have gotten himself killed a long time ago -- if he hadn't saved time by simply committing suicide. He looked down at the bedspread sullenly.
The stern expression on Luciel's face melted away, and he leaned forward to kiss Devin's forehead. "Bothersome kid. I'm going to have to feed you like a baby."
The boy looked at his hands again, almost accusingly. "Christ, Luciel, that's stupid!" he groaned, rolling his eyes.
"Oh? I could just make you a nice steak milkshake," Luciel said mockingly. "What will it be?"
Devin couldn't meet the silver gaze that was leveled at him. "Fine," he mumbled, looking off to the side. Luciel slipped from the room without another word, leaving Devin to regret his latest stupidity in privacy.
Devin sighed heavily. He hadn't learned much about what Luciel's real purpose was, but it seemed that the angel had been the one taking care of him during the Blackout. His question was now why -- why did Luciel take care of him, and why had he, Devin, forgotten entirely about Luciel and everything else that happened in that eight-month period? He knew thinking about it would just drive him crazy; the quickest way to find the answers would be to ask Luciel directly.
He also had one other burning question for the angel, which he brooded over as he wrote Luciel's name on one of his spell-tags. A little magic jolt sent through the slip of paper would get the angel's attention.
A few moments later, there was a knock at the chamber door. It opened before Devin could answer it, and Luciel stepped in, looking politely curious. "You rang?" he said with a slight grin.
"Why didn't you save my master?" Devin asked without preamble, his voice cold.
The angel gave a slight start, then looked at Devin searchingly. "Ah," was all he said for a moment. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, his expression was one of misery.
"I was not strong enough to fight the clan that came here that night," he said quietly, his eyes burning into the young mage's. "There were a good dozen demons in the attack, and it was all concentrated on him. I tried, Devin, I tried... but..." he trailed off.
"But what?" Devin said acidly.
"But..." the angel sighed. "Devin. When your master took you in, I already knew him and had been working with him occasionally. When... when he began to teach you, he bound me to you, to provide your power and to protect you."
Devin sucked in a breath. "I... suspected something like that. But--"
"But, I couldn't save your master because I was trying to save you! I used my last power to put the Redemption spell over you..."
"A lot of good that did," Devin said bitterly, but he knew the spell had probably saved his life. If the demons had tried to kill him, instead of torturing him as they had, his death would have released an explosion of power that would have obliterated them, and likely destroyed Luciel himself by draining all of his energy. If Luciel had done that, it was no wonder he was unable to help the old sorcerer. If the angel had been destroyed or even simply banished in the process, Devin's life would have been forfeit. Still, it didn't make the mage feel any better.
"Why did you save me? I was only five years' trained! If you had saved him..." He threw his hands up in the air, frustrated. "His knowledge was lost, and I... I'm expendable," he snorted.
"You are not," Luciel said sharply, his voice as severe as Devin had ever heard it. "I don't think so, and obviously your master didn't, either. The demons, finding that they could not kill you, sought to break you instead. It was through your own strength of will that they did not."
"Bullshit!" Devin pounded his fist hard on the polished surface of the desk. "It was you who kept me from breaking, and now I know why!" He glared at the angel furiously, the frustration of not knowing for the past several days reaching a boiling point. "And I want to know why I couldn't remember before! What happened in those eight months? What did you do to me?"
"I trained you, you ungrateful wretch," the angel said in a soft, cold voice. "I taught you how to tap my power directly; I taught you runes and glyphs that no human has written in a thousand years. And then I veiled your memory and sent you out into the world to define yourself. It was not my task -- or my right -- to determine what kind of man you would make of yourself." His silvery eyes burned with the heat of resentment. "And this is my reward! If my veil has torn, and you have seen through, why do you question my actions? Everything I've done was for you!"
Luciel stopped speaking, taking a couple of deep breaths and looking at Devin indignantly. The mage turned away, shamed but unwilling to admit it.
"Why are you so angry about this?" the angel finally asked, his voice returning to its normal velvety softness. "You know I did you no harm."
"I don't like being manipulated," Devin said tightly, still not looking at Luciel. "Throw off this 'veil' of yours and let me remember, and dissolve the chain between us. I'm not a child anymore, and I don't need your constant guidance."
"The first I can easily do, but the second is ill-advised, Devin. I cannot break the spell, and I will not tell you how to do it yourself."
"What do you mean?" the young man demanded. "You can't want to continue being tied to some misfit paper-mage."
"First of all, I do, in fact, wish to stay by you. Your master bade that I do so; I endured it first out of respect for him, and later of my own free will. Secondly, if you remove the bond between us, you will diminish your power to perhaps a mere fifth of what it is now. If you wish to continue to grow, and to seek the demons who killed your master, you need me at your side."
"If you refuse to tell me the spell, I can seek it out for myself," Devin said uncertainly, taken aback by the angel's earnestness.
"You will not find it. It is part of a very ancient magic that few understand, and writing it down would be meaningless." Luciel walked around the desk and knelt at the young man's side. "Please, Devin, do not act hastily. You need my assistance, and if you do not accept it, you'll only be handicapping yourself."
"But I don't--"
"And besides," the angel continued, overriding Devin's interruption, "it was what your master wanted. He didn't mean for the binding to be some temporary crutch; the spell is, as I said, virtually unbreakable. Trust in his judgment, if not in mine."
Devin looked at his hands uncomfortably, knowing that he could not refute Luciel's arguments. He couldn't think of a reply before the angel rose to his feet again and gently held Devin's face between his hands.
"I will remove the veil," he said quietly, accepting the mage's silence. After a moment, Devin felt an itchy tingling in his head, and suddenly, a door opened. The missing memories came back all in a flash, and he suddenly knew, just as he had known before, nine years ago, that Luciel would never mean him harm, and would support him as long as he was able.
The angel withdrew his hands, ruffling Devin's hair, and looked down at him, silently asking a question. The young mage sighed, but he was no longer able to stay angry at Luciel. He met the silver gaze with a resigned, slightly sour smile. "I have another question, then."
"When... when I first met you, what happened? Why didn't I see you until I said your name?"
"Ah..." Luciel pulled up another chair and sat on the other side of the desk. "I always thought it a little odd, myself. Here's my thought on it. It's a fact that we angels -- or whatever name you call us -- do not have a real form of our own. What you see is cast on us by your own mind, from the first time you see us."
"Wait -- so everyone sees you differently?"
The angel nodded. "We don't appear to many humans anyway, so it never really causes any problems."
"But... why would I decide that you look like that? You don't look like anyone I know, and I saw what you looked like before I even knew what you were," Devin asked, puzzled.
"It's a theory of mine that those with the ability to perceive angels can feel them with an extra sense, if you know what I mean, Devin," Luciel explained. "You sense that something is there, and it is clearly not human. You can tell whether it means good or ill, as well. These things influence your subconscious creation of an image."
"But why that exact form?" the mage persisted.
Luciel gave him a little smile. "Because, Devin, it was what you most wanted to see. My guess is that your mind took any preconceptions you had about angels and patched them in with your imagination to create this form." He gestured at himself. "Even my voice -- your memory probably remembers it as masculine, but when you first heard it, it would have had no such definition. Your image of me distorted your memory somewhat for consistency."
"What I most wanted to see? What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Devin demanded irritably. He had to fight to keep from blushing at the look the angel shot him.
"You tell me, Devin," he said simply with an eloquent shrug.
The mage let that pass, unable to form a proper retort. "So could I imagine you a new form?"
Luciel smiled again and waved a hand dismissively. "You could try, but it won't work. You've already built this conception of me in your mind; it can't be erased, and you can't simply paint over it. First impressions are lasting, as they say." He shrugged again. "But to get back to your original question: I think that you were not really strong enough back then to see angels, but your... distress... made you temporarily sensitive. You heard me, and once you confirmed my existence by saying my name -- names are ancient magic, you know that -- you were able to see me. After that, you had a lock on me, so to speak, so you continued to see me. When I placed the veil on you, I erased that lock, and you forgot how to see."
Devin nodded throughout this explanation; it did make sense. "And when I saw you a few days ago?"
"You're finally strong enough to see me on your own now, even when I'm trying to mask my presence from humans. I honestly never meant for you to see me, but you noticed my presence, so I figured I'd might as well make myself known to you."
"You didn't come for some specific reason?" Devin asked suspiciously.
"Not at all. I'm always around you, Devin," the angel said, his expression serious. "I've kept my distance the past few days, to let you... get adjusted to the idea. But you shan't be rid of me." His bright smile held a hint of a challenge.
"I'll make your ethereal life a living hell if you irritate me," Devin growled. "What works for demons should work just as well for you."
"But who will make the spells work, against me?" Luciel asked sweetly. "Check and mate, my dear boy."
The mage gave him an ugly look before rising from his chair and stalking out of the small office, muttering disgustedly.
Back to the Office
Hmm... I honestly can't remember anymore why I created Luciel, but he's certainly a lot of fun to work with, since Devin's so damn serious all the time. ^_^ Maybe some day I'll go back and expand this story to be a proper introduction to Devin and his world, but... I don't really take to re-writes well, especially a year later. ^^;