Set in Stone

 

Chapter One

 

The mingled warm scents from cooking were still lingering in the still air of Yata’s apartment when he stumbled in, muttering curses to himself and kicking the door shut recklessly behind him. It smelled strongly of caraway with the usual traces of cinnamon, remnants of a dinner thrown together with the goal of the evening strongly in his mind.

“Hah!” The sharp exclamation about summed up how well that had gone. Yata resisted the urge to punch the wall, scowling to himself. His odds weren’t improving a fucking bit, even with spells behind him. He didn’t know what the hell was wrong. He’d never failed a cast in the kitchen; that was his specialty. But for some reason, when it came to this…

When it came to his goddamn love life – or in this case, his sex life – nothing seemed to stick.

Yeah, like I’m gonna get a good love life anyway. The bitterness of that thought seeped in even through the haze left by the alcohol he’d plugged himself with all night – spending more of his already tight budget than he really should’ve. Yata let out a soft ‘ch’, carelessly shucking his coat and stepping out of the entryway. Without bothering to turn on a light, he pulled up a chair at his overflowing table and flopped into it with an aggrieved huff.

Fuck this. Why the hell do I bother? He didn’t even like clubs. But he kept going back, like a dumbass.

Despite his situation, he still should’ve been able to manage something casual – hell, a one night stand would’ve been fine with him at this point; he could count the number of times he’d hooked up with anyone over the past year on one hand and still have fingers left. It was lame. He wasn’t huge on no-strings-attached, but strings were probably a bad idea anyway given who and what he was.

And he hadn’t gotten laid in months. It fucking sucked.

Yata scowled, frustrated with that thought. It wasn’t the biggest of his problems, but it was one that nagged at him. He’d had just enough sex to know what he liked, and just enough partners who didn't stick around long enough to become anything special to know that he was going to have trouble finding it with someone who mattered. Today was supposed to be the first step in moving towards separating “satisfying sex” from “people who mattered”, but...

As it turned out, it still fucking mattered who the “satisfying sex” was with. It mattered a lot. Even lowering his standards down to “someone who doesn't piss me the fuck off” hadn’t gotten him anywhere.

What's it take, huh? Yata tipped his head back to aim his frown at the ceiling. A one-night stand wouldn't solve his main problem, but it would’ve been a moment of something nice, assuming he found someone he liked at least enough to make it fun.

Outside of the frustration, though, he was still painfully aware of a hollow feeling at his core. It was something that had been growing since he’d gained a full awareness of his particular situation, nearly five years ago. Time hadn't seemed to do much to soften the blow.

Ironically, time was something he had a hell of a lot of...

Either way, that was how it was. Yata raised his head again, taking in his small living space and the dim outline of its contents in the light of the moon streaming through the window. The apartment was plain but comfortable, and he'd spent some time making it his in terms of personal touches. The kitchen, arranged as something of a nook against the rest of the apartment, was full of his tools and favorite herbs, everything arranged the way he liked it. The table was a hand-me-down, but it was small and sturdy, and it filled up the space in the room that had felt bare due to his lack of furniture and TV and other things. From his line of sight, he could even see into the bedroom where his worn but comfortable bed and his portable games and non-cooking spell components were stowed.

It was as good a place as he could make it, and he did like it. So at least if he was gonna be alone, he’d be alone somewhere that made him happy.

Technically, with the promise made to him by Homra, he wouldn't be totally alone, but he couldn’t really wrap his head around that yet. He was only twenty-five. It was gonna be a long time before he had to worry about it. At least right now he had friends.

Even if getting too attached to them would only hurt him in the end.

The buzz of the alcohol was still fogging his thoughts. Yata made another soft ‘ch’, pulling his mind out of the spiral it was heading for. He’d been there and done that already with the moping around over this crap, so there wasn't anything left to do about it. For now, he could just enjoy what he had.

He couldn’t deny the reality, though... and that reality was that he was lonely. Desperately so. In a way his closest friends and family couldn't ever fully understand.

Fighting against the ache that had risen at the back of his throat in response to that line of thought, Yata turned his head for a distraction. His eyes caught on a large, dark lump on the table beside him, and he reached out without even thinking, pulling the object toward him.

It was a book – Yata remembered now where it had come from. He’d been running errands and collecting materials for the supplier his coven got some of their rare components from – an employer that Kusanagi had vetted for him and who made use of his specific talents in service of earning a comfortable living. This had been a bonus that his boss had thrown in for “going above and beyond”, whatever that meant. Yata didn’t really trust the guy. He smiled a lot and always looked like he knew something nobody else did. It was hard to deal with him, honestly, but whatever, the money was good and he had a working relationship with Homra, so it was worth putting up with. The book had come along with one of those suspicious smiles and a really fucking vague, “I think you'll find something of value in these pages.”

That guy is always so damn annoying...

The book was bound in something like hard black leather and had a kind of ominous look to it that Yata wouldn't normally trust. He was planning to take it to Homra. Tomorrow. Tonight he’d had plans, so he’d just thrown it on the table and forgotten about it in his haste to get going with his own shit. Now, though, he felt a little rush of something like anticipation as he lifted it in both hands to examine it more closely.

Sometimes his instincts did that to him – and usually they weren’t wrong.

Fully interested now, Yata brought the book up to eye level, turning so the pale light streaming in from the window would give him a clearer view. He probably could’ve turned the lights on, but it was the next night after a full moon and despite the fact that his personal affinity was with the sun, he did have a natural soft spot for moonlight.

Considering what he was... Yeah. Anyway.

When he opened the cover, the first brown-edged page had an elaborate summoning circle printed on it and nothing else. No words at all for any kind of direction or explanation.

Weird. Frowning, Yata turned the page.

Once again, there was just a summoning circle. This one was a bit different from the first, but it still didn't have any words or anything. Flipping through a few more pages, Yata found that the rest of the book was just that: circles. Pictures. Nothing else.

The hell am I supposed to do with this? That guy was nuts. Yata scowled at the book in his hands, still turning pages with a certain amount of agitated energy. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to find, but somehow the anticipation from earlier was mounting. But if there weren't any directions, then...

His thoughts came to a halt as he turned one more page. The circle in front of him wasn't any different from the others – well, other than the subtle changes they all had in the runes and markings – but that feeling seemed to spike as he looked at it. When he reached out to idly brush his fingers over it, somehow it felt like a little jolt of energy extended from the page to travel up from his fingertips to the core of his body, spreading through him like water pouring into an overflowing cup.

Shit... What the hell was that? Yata blinked, sliding his finger up along the curve of the circle as he narrowed his eyes and furrowed his brow in confusion. Something about this really drew him in, but he wasn't sure why.

Just... he had a sense. Like this circle held something amazing – seriously amazing – and he wanted more than anything to find out what.

It had been a while since he'd felt like this. It was intoxicating.

Well, maybe that was the alcohol, but who cared? Yata pushed himself up, setting the book open on his kitchen counter as he shoved the table off to the back of the room. The kitchen faced east – he knew that from practice – so he positioned the table directly opposite and the chairs off to the sides, and then hurried into his bedroom to grab some candles and chalk.

Flames to the north, south, east and west – open space in the middle – and small earthenware jars between the candle points, stocked with the herbs he’d grown himself in the planter by the kitchen window. With that arranged and chalk in hand, he was set to sketch out that compelling design.

Yata had never done a summoning before on his own. Well, technically, if he’d been a normal person, he probably wouldn’t have been able to without help. Homra did them from time to time as a group, what with their focus being on fae magic, but apart from supplying some of his energy for the cast, he hadn't really been a part of the complicated stuff. But from what Kusanagi had told him about what he might be capable of… well… He definitely could. Raw power could compensate for a hell of a lot.

If he stopped to think about it, this was kinda stupid and might even get him killed – you didn’t just fuck around with this stuff, and he didn’t even know what the book was for – but the mix of alcohol and that stark anticipation from earlier were making him bold and impatient.

His instincts almost never failed him. This would be good.

It was slow going, sketching out that circle. The amount of detail was stupid. Why’s it gotta be so complicated, huh? Yata was used to action and instinct with his magic – intuiting the right amount of herbs and spices rarely failed him, and he got the satisfaction of smelling the blend as it brewed or baked or stewed to perfection. He had a knack for it, Kusanagi had told him, and it didn’t hurt that his innate energy was so high. This kinda work was not his thing at all, drawing out little details on a rough surface on his knees with his head feeling foggy and impatience and frustrating welling within him as he struggled with it.

Somehow, his hands were pretty steady, though. And he still felt that confident urge pulling at him. Instinct, right. Usually follow those paid off. He could do this.

The better part of a half hour later, he was shaking out his aching hand and pushing himself up off his sore knees to study his work with some measure of satisfaction.

Got it! The circle looked pretty damn close to the book. Maybe a few smudges here and there. Whatever. He hadn’t got any of the details wrong. Maybe. Probably. He had a feeling it was right.

Good enough, anyway. Yata retrieved his matches and lit the candles, interrupting the calm domination of the moonlight in the room with flickering shadowed flame. It gave the whole setup an eerie edge, but it was kinda exciting in a way, too. He found a grin building on his face, the anticipation rolling in his belly in response.

“Let's fucking do this!”

Saying it out loud raised his spirits, too. Yata bent to crouch at the edge of the circle, the kitchen candle directly facing his back and the leather-bound book on the floor behind him.

When Homra did a summoning, Kusanagi was the one who laid out the terms. You couldn’t just summon aimlessly – there had to be a purpose, a condition, and... some other stuff. Incantations? He was pretty sure, but… Yata was having trouble thinking of it. He shrugged a little.

It’ll probably be okay. He could just rely on his natural power to cover that other stuff. No harm if it didn’t work, right?

When he set his fingertips down against the chalk line at the outer edge of the circle, he felt that energy course through his body, and the excitement from before rushed in. Yata shut his eyes, letting that feeling soak into his bones, and only opened them again when he had a clear and unyielding goal in his mind.

“Hey. Keep me company, huh?”

As soon as those words were out of his mouth, he felt the room go still – as if all of the latent energy in it had been sucked out. Yata felt a moment of sudden disorientation, his surroundings seeming to spin out from beneath him despite the fact that he was perfectly stationary, and then something rose up from the circle with great force – like a gust of wind, but without the air moving at all. He felt the force of it so strongly that he fell back on his ass, flailing a bit to catch himself with his hands.

The candles in the room snuffed out instantly, the lingering remains of their scent hanging in the air like a persistent memory.

A shadow seemed to grow out from the center of the circle, and Yata barely had space to process that when he felt energy drain from his body in a rush, leaving him gasping and his vision swimming. His arms trembled behind him before giving out, and he could only blink to clear the haze from his eyes as the shadow began to take shape in front of him.

Take... human shape. More or less.

The man in the center of the circle looked as if he'd been carved from that shadow, even as the darkness receded around him. His hair was dark and wild, and his skin was as pale as the moonlight in contrast. His frame was slender, and he wore dark, fitted pants, sleek boots, and thick-framed glasses. Nothing else.

More striking were the solid, smoothly curved brown horns that rose up from that stylish mess of hair – and the wide batwings that extended from his back. Behind him, a whiplike forked tail lashed sharply, dispelling what remained of the shadows.

Yata's befuddled mind was still struggling to process the new development, weighed down by the way his strength seemed to have left him, when the fuzzy image of the man lifted his head so their gazes met, pushing up his glasses with slender fingers as he did.

His eyes were pale blue, almost grey; Yata could see that clearly, despite his inability to make out many other details. They were striking, and not because of their appearance. Somehow, just… Even in the midst of this crazy situation, there was something in those eyes that felt hauntingly familiar to him.

What…? It felt like his heart leaped up into his throat for a moment; it was difficult to breathe. Why?

That feeling only held for an instant – barely long enough for his befuddled brain to acknowledge it – and then the reality of the situation struck all at once. Along with the sudden draining of what remained of his energy.

Fuck... It was a struggle to even keep his eyes open, but this wasn’t good... It wasn’t good at all...

The demon he’d just inadvertently summoned clicked his tongue sharply, mouth abruptly turning down in what looked like baffled irritation, and spoke in a low, flat tone. “Are you some kind of idiot or what?”

That was the last thing that registered before his brain gave up and sank into unconsciousness.

 

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