04.33 – The Last Dance

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Isla and Lucian get off the stage–Lucian is more carried off than anything, but that’s not the point. Isla kneels at Lucian’s side. “Lucian,” she murmurs. “Lucian, are you okay?”

Lucian grimaces in pain, but doesn’t respond otherwise.

“We’re going to be fine,” Isla says, more trying to convince herself than anyone else. “We’re going to be okay.”

Lucian makes no response.

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04.32 – Performance

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They stash their belongings in the alleyway. It’s not the safest place to put them, but with the festival and the whole time thing, it’s unlikely anyone will come by and swipe it. That’s the hope, at least.

In any case, they go out to the square. It’s nearly sunset and the stage has been laid out with the torches lit. Other performers are already gathered along the outer edge of the stage, and Isla and Lucian take their places among them.

Nobody comments on their presence or calls them out for the pretenders they are, and Isla takes a deep breath to calm herself.

First step complete. All they have to worry about now is the rest of it.

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04.31 – Prep Time

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It’s good that the book is so extensively detailed about the anti-possession procedures, Isla thinks, because while she’s decent at artifice, she doesn’t know a damn thing about soul magic–and for a very good reason, she would think. That’s the kind of stuff that artificers aren’t supposed to mess with. Otherwise, things like Aurel happen.

She stops that train of thought before it can go any farther.

Still, it brings up the question of whether this ceremony is really safe, if they need a charm this…potent to do it. She doesn’t really know anything about imbibing demonic energy, except that it sounds like a terrible idea, but it shouldn’t call for measures this drastic, should it? She thumbs through the diagrams and symbols and can tease out the sense that they’re meant to keep souls from contaminating each other, and to keep the ‘proper soul’ connected to its body. It’s frankly alarming that these are concerns at all.

She kind of wishes she knew more about demons and demonic possession so she could better gauge what she’s about to throw herself into, but then again, what kind of person would she have had to been to know that kind of thing? She wouldn’t like that at all.

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04.30 – Histories and Tall Tales

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Nobody sees them or tries to stop them on their way out. It all goes remarkably smoothly, considering how the last couple of days have gone. Isla doesn’t say so out loud, of course. She’s not superstitious, but there’s something to be said about tempting fate.

She’s had enough of that already, thanks.

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04.29 – Trespassing

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The two of them, plus Solanus, go out into the street again. There’s a few people out and about, but nobody seems to notice them slipping out of a shop that should be closed, multiple ‘borrowed’ items in tow. That’s good, Isla supposes. Better than the alternative, anyways.

“So,” Isla says when they make their way to a safe spot away from prying eyes, “I guess the next step here is to figure out how to join the ceremony.”

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04.28 – Pasts Forgotten

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Isla looks over the clothes. She doesn’t really want to steal anything, but if they return it afterwards, then it’s just borrowing, right? That should be okay. And also, if they do everything right, then the town won’t be stuck anymore, and everyone will be free again. A dress is a low price to pay for that, she’s pretty sure.

There’s a long line of dresses in all sorts of colors and patterns, and she knows there’s some kind of symbolism to them all, but she can’t for the life of her remember any of them. She’s not really sure what she’s looking for.

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04.26 – Firelight

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The two of them get a spot about as close to the stage as they can get without actually standing on it and have to wait for somewhere around half an hour as the sun goes down and the torches around the stage are lit. Even with the torches, it’s quite dark. Several people in black clothes stand around the edges of the stage, with weapons visible on their belts. Isla hopes those are just a precaution and not a part of the actual ceremony.

Soon enough, the sun dips below the horizon and the last of the torches are lit, and silence falls over the crowd like a heavy blanket.

Then the drums start.

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04.25 – Festival Preparations

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Lucian snaps to attention. “What?”

Isla shushes her with a gesture and leans forward to watch.

The kid’s alone, coming down the road with a mostly-empty basket. Nothing’s changed about them since earlier, except that they’ve changed clothes into something more colorful and festival-appropriate. The kid takes their time going down the road and through the grass to where the Demon’s Thistle grows. It’s clear they know what they’re looking for.

But before the kid gets there, they trip on something hidden in the grass and goes sprawling, scattering the contents of their basket. Isla winces. That can’t be fun.

Lucian taps her arm and points to the side. “Isla, look.”

Isla glances up to where Lucian’s pointing. It’s the witch from earlier, walking over to the kid. “That’s a witch. What’s she doing here?”

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