chapter one: we meet in shade
Thunder rolls dark and deep outside the workshop, and lightning sizzles through the air to follow it. The rain is a loud, rhythmic and unrelenting beat that has long since drowned out their electricity. Izumiyu is working instead by the shivering light of innumerable red candles, stacked haphazardly on the tops of leaning counters, old dusty books and stacks of paper written in foreign languages. The workshop is a mess, the candlelight gleaming off of patched concrete walls and cluttered glass bottles of liquids and herbs, and everything seems to be in complete disarray aside from one particularly peculiar thing.
Right in the center of the room, a spiral of old runes is written out in precise white lines of chalk, curling inwards upon itself.
❝I can't read this,❞ Izumiyu complains to herself, squinting at the next line in her spellbook. The text is archaic and small, and of course, her sister Lirsly has once again made off with her reading glasses to bury her nose in one of her fictional fairytales. Her antennae droop as she tries to make out the words. ❝Drat, I really can't read the last part of this. Karma, could you give me a hand?❞
From the floor, a small red Faellie chitters and flutters its wings, clambering up the counter to lean over the book with her. It points at the next line and then makes a series of complicated motions at her with its paws, combined with a series of little squeaks. Izumiyu's eyes brighten when she makes out the complex language -- simple enough, as her and Karma have been together for years.
❝Ah! A coat of crushed henbane over the top. Of course, why didn't I remember that?❞ Izumiyu immediately hurries to the other side of the workshop, carefully avoiding the spiral in the middle as she does. She swats aside the cobwebs strung between messy surfaces and uncaps one of the many glass bottles, surveying it carefully and a little suspiciously before she carries it to the center of the room. She sprinkles a dark clumpy mixture from the bottle over the runes as best she can without stepping into the circle, then caps and places the bottle back on the edge of the counter.
Inhaling and exhaling steadily, Izumiyu moves to stand in front of the spiral and clenches her hands tight into fists.
❝There, it should be done. Alright, Karma, are you ready? This is going to be a big one.❞
Karma chitters again in agreement, hopping down from the counter and running over to her. In an instant he's clawed up Izumiyu's clothes and is perched upon her shoulder, his wings twitching with excitement. She can't help but let a little bit of a smile twist up the corner of her mouth in response. Regardless of how tiring her work is and who comes and goes in the line of it, Karma is always with her to stay.
There is silence for a moment apart from the wind wailing across the walls outside, and the storm, brewing more dangerous every minute.
Izumiyu takes a deep breath and closes her eyes.
❝Aknuk el vira mismantos knitos eferma litos varom,❞ she chants, each syllable even and measured but full of power, her tongue curling around them like the name of a beloved. The runes on the floor begin to glow black, but she still does not open her eyes. ❝Aknuk el vira mismantos knitos eferma litos varom.❞ The runes glow brighter as though beckoned to action by her words, and she can feel Karma's tail start to swish as he quietly squeaks his own echo of the language.
❝Aknuk el vira mismantos knitos eferma litos varom,❞ Izumiyu says again, louder this time, and the room begins to fill with the energy of a presence that is not their own. It prickles along her skin and she feels Karma fall perfectly still in reaction to it. She can tell he feels it too. She breathes in deep, and lets the incantation spill from her mouth for one impassioned last repetition:
❝Aknuk el vira mismantos knitos eferma litos varom!❞
Immediately following her words there is a loud SNAP! that is not of lightning, but inside the room, echoing off the walls. When Izumiyu opens her eyes, it is to find a darkness pooling in the center of the spiral that is unlike any other, the blackest of black. It seems to suck all the light out of the room and into its pitch mass, and Izumiyu finds herself with a lingering sense of dread settling in her stomach as she watches the pillar of darkness rise higher and higher. This isn't what happened before when she performed this spell -- something isn't right.
Frantically outlining the spiral on the floor with her eyes, running through the spell in her mind and wondering what mistake she possibly could have made, Izumiyu spots it in an instant. Something she didn't catch before, something she feels absolutely ridiculous for not catching.
One of the runes is wrong.
What has she done?
Izumiyu steps back from the spiral, holding a hand to her mouth in paralyzed shock as she watches the darkness ascend to the ceiling. She feels suddenly cold, as though warmth has been drained from her, and Karma, still perched on her shoulder, is silent and stiff.
In the blink of an eye the building darkness rushes outwards with such force it billows out Izumiyu's lace cape and snuffs out some of the candles, leaving the room in a pathetic sort of half-glow. Izumiyu covers her eyes as fog overcomes her, coughing and breathing hard through her nose, but before it clears completely she hears Karma start to growl, and she feels it. The presence. The dreadful, horrible presence.
Steeling herself, she drops her hands to look.
Levitating in the middle of the spiral is a strange formless cloud comprised entirely of dark purple, intricately patterned shadow. It floats just for a moment before it draws itself into the semblance of a shape -- one that almost mimics her own, right down to the antennae and tail, except it's wrong somehow. It's tall, it's menacing, it's featureless; the shadow pours off of it like smoke and disappears into the air. There's just something off about it that makes Izumiyu's heart start to pound. Beside her, Karma is growling, his fur standing on end.
Izumiyu watches, horrified, as the shadows that encompass this thing start to shift into fabric too, forming a black hooded cloak that is pulled up over what seems to be the creature's head, leaving its antennae exposed. This is followed by the slow formation of a malicious, wicked grin, too large and too long for its face, and just looking at it starts to make Izumiyu's skin crawl. That, however, is nothing compared to the feeling that strikes her when it finally forms and opens its eyes.
They're green. Bright green, unearthly green, glowing green, too green. The slant to them is pure evil, terrifying, and they're just so blank.
Karma's growl grows louder in pitch.
❝You have summoned the demon Karinot,❞ the thing announces in a tone that, while slow and sly and almost quiet, still makes Izumiyu jump. She's summoned a lot of things, performed a lot of spells, but this is the first one to ever have a voice. A decidedly female voice, at that. ❝What is your reason for doing so?❞
It takes a moment for Izumiyu to respond as she tries to even her breathing, during which Karma only grows tenser as the demon -- Karinot -- twists its head inhumanely far to one side, giving her that positively unsettling grin.
❝We... Weren't trying to summon you,❞ Izumiyu replies, praising herself for how steady her voice manages to be. She thinks she sees a look of surprise and perhaps curiosity cross Karinot's face for just an instant, but she can't be certain. It's hard to tell in all the shadows. ❝We were just trying to perform a spell of darkness. I... Drew one of the runes incorrectly,❞ she finishes lamely.
Karinot laughs, and Izumiyu thinks that if she's ever heard anything more deserving of the word bone-chilling in her life she certainly can't place it. It's too high, almost broken, like an off-tune instrument.
❝That's certainly unfortunate for you, iiiisn't it?❞ Karinot draws out her words as she twists her head to the side even more, fixing that blank gaze upon Izumiyu. ❝What sort of foolish, amateur witch accidentally summons a demon?❞
Izumiyu stiffens up at that, her brow furrowing and her teeth clenching. ❝I am not an amateur,❞ she replies heatedly, her fear fueling her fury, and Karma lets out a small, indignant whep noise as an agreement. ❝I've been doing this for years. This is my first mistake. Now, if you'll excuse me, we'll be saying goodbye to that mistake right now.❞
She's already drawing herself up tall to start chanting the incantation for banishment when Karinot interrupts her.
❝Now wait a moment, miss... What was your name, now?❞ Karinot floats closer to the edge of the spiral as she asks, still grinning, and Izumiyu involuntarily takes a step back. Though she's never had reason to summon a demon, she is still well aware of the guidelines: Karinot cannot leave the spiral unless Izumiyu willingly makes contact with her. It's still an intimidating motion however, threatening somehow.
❝I don't see how that's any of your business,❞ Izumiyu says sharply, and Karinot laughs again. Though quieter this time, it's still quite the bizarre and unpleasant cacophony of sound.
❝Don't be so cold about it.❞ Karinot finally comes to land in the spiral, but it's still difficult to distinguish what are supposed to be her legs from the rest of her body. The detailed shadows that comprise her keep shifting, swirling, as though she's made of many galaxies turning all at once. Looking at her is like looking into an optical illusion. ❝You were performing a spell of darkness, yes? Obviously I wasn't what you were expecting, but I don't see how I can't still be of service. You needed something vile, and, well... Here I am.❞
Izumiyu eyes Karinot carefully, warily, but the tone of her voice has changed now. It still has a sly lilt to it but now it's almost coy, inviting, perhaps even a little playful. Her attitude seems to have changed entirely; she seems to be appealing to them. Karma keeps looking between the two of them as though he should be unsure of his reaction as well. ❝How do I know I can trust you?❞
❝You don't,❞ Karinot answers immediately, her huge smile seeming to stretch right off of her face. ❝The truth is, it's been quite a while since anyone summoned me. I'm a bit too... Tame for most black magicians' taste, if you can believe that.❞
Karinot shakes her head, but something about Izumiyu's statement seems to amuse her. Her eyes wander around the room as she speaks, surveying the various bits and bobs Izumiyu has amassed for her witchcraft.
❝You didn't let me finish. You see, it gets... Lonely in the underworld. Boring. Nothing to do, no one new to meet who isn't as detestable as I am -- or worse.❞ Izumiyu snorts in disbelief at that, but Karinot continues anyway. ❝I long for something interesting, something to give me purpose. Someone to give me purpose.❞ This time, Karinot aims her gaze right at Izumiyu, and Karma's tail curls around Izumiyu's neck as though to protect her. ❝We could make a deal. If you allow me to stay, I will be bound to you. I will listen perfectly. I will follow your wishes to the letter, however... Lackluster they may be.❞ Izumiyu opens her mouth to protest, but Karinot interrupts her again.
❝My only condition is that you allow me to deal with the matters I deal in best.❞
Izumiyu raises her eyebrows. ❝Which is?❞
❝Punishment, my dear one,❞ Karinot answers in a tone that almost purrs. ❝Punishment for those who have done you wrong.❞
The thunder rumbles in the distance once more as Izumiyu weighs her options. She prides herself on being perceptive, discerning, and while that lingering cold in her chest has not faded one bit, there is a blinding rush of intuition that tells her yes, that tells her say yes, learn about her, she's fascinating, that reasons you can banish her at any time, you have that power. She glances over at Karma, but his expression is, for once, unreadable, and he seems to be waiting for her to come to a decision on her own. Something tells her that this is, indeed, an answer she needs to provide herself.
Clearing her throat, Izumiyu answers slowly, as though she's uncertain of her words. ❝I believe we'll need to lay out some ground rules, but... For the time being,❞ she pauses, forcing herself to make eye contact with Karinot. ❝We have a deal.❞
❝Excellent.❞ Karinot steps -- levitates, rather -- to the edge of the spiral, so close to the magical barrier surrounding it that Izumiyu can see it push back the wisps of shadow that make her body whole. She's smiling still, always smiling, but as a peace offering she holds out a hand as far as she can extend it without pushing past the spiral. At least, Izumiyu assumes it's supposed to be a hand. ❝It's terribly bad manners to make a pact with a demon without introducing yourself, you know.❞
Swallowing hard, Izumiyu steps forward, feeling Karma quaver on her shoulder as he tries to keep his grip. The magic of the barrier stirs her clothes, but it doesn't harm her as she pushes her hand through it to take Karinot's. It's an odd feeling, clasping Karinot's hand, like holding something invisible. Solid, yet not. Strangely in-between. She can feel the ancient power from Karinot's body pushing up against her skin, and the barrier flickers and starts to fade.
She's made contact. No turning back now.
❝My name is Izumiyu.❞