Lucian steps back. “Oh, fuck–”
An ethereal green glow starts to rise from the plants and trees all around them.
“Who dares trespass?” a low voice rumbles through the mist.
Solanus is silent.
A hazy green figure rises from the creek in front of them, and Isla is only just able to make out the outline of a wide-brimmed hat. The figure shifts and shimmers until it resolves into something clearly person-shaped.
“More of you?” it, or he, asks. “How many times will it take for you to leave me alone!?”
Screams break out from all around them, and Lucian tackles Isla out of the way just as a glowing green rock smashes to the ground behind them.
“What do we do?” Isla asks.
Lucian scrambles to her feet and grabs Isla’s wrist. “Run, you idiot!”
They run, with Lucian leading and Isla stumbling after, nearly tripping over tree roots in the process.
“Is this what you meant by people trying to kill us?” she asks.
“This is pretty mild, actually!” Lucian shouts back. “As long as we’re only dealing with the one ghost, we should be–”
The fog shimmers green around them, and lights shoot up from the ground, resolving into humanoid figures.
“Fuck,” Lucian says.
With a screech, the ghosts fire green bolts at them and Lucian starts running again. “We have to find your memories, Isla, they’re raising all of these ghosts!”
“Thanks!” Isla shouts. “Where the fuck are they!?”
Her hands burst into cobalt flames, and she puts a hand through a ghost’s face. The ghost dissipates into a wisp of ethereal green, only for three more to take its place.
Isla makes the smart decision and starts running.
“I don’t know!” Lucian says, coming after her. “They’re your memories!”
“The big angry ghost might be a good place to start!” Solanus shouts.
“He wouldn’t be angry if you hadn’t told it to eat your entire ass!” Isla retorts as a ghost swoops at her and she ducks out of the way. “This is all your fault, Solanus!”
“Wow, that’s really unfair of you, and honestly–“
The rest is lost when a ghost grabs Isla by the collar and flings her back into a tree. The impact sends her ears ringing as she collapses to the ground, pain radiating all through her back.
She blinks slowly and looks up. There’s green figures all around her, and she gets the feeling they’re not friendly.
The ghosts lunge at her, all at once. They claw at her clothes, grab at her items and hair, and she flails out with flaming hands to disperse them, but it’s not enough. There’s too many of them.
“Get away from me!” she screeches, and there’s a pink flash of light, then silence. Slowly, with her heart hammering against her chest, she opens her eyes.
The ghosts are gone, leaving nothing but green mist. The fog is so thick that she can barely see the trees around her, much less–
Isla looks around. “Lucian?” she calls out. “Lucian, where are you?”
There’s no response, and Lucian is nowhere to be seen.
Isla takes a deep breath. In, out.
Lucian is gone, but that’s okay. Isla has magic and her hands are on fire. She can handle herself. She’ll be fine.
Lucian will be fine, too. It doesn’t matter that there’s a million and one ghosts out there, Lucian’s really hard to kill, she said so herself, and Solanus doesn’t even have a body to fight with, so it’s not like anything can really happen to her, either.
Deep breath. In, out.
Isla gets up and hisses in pain. There’s a long cut down her arm, and what feels like claw marks across her back. She has to get out of here, fast, but she doesn’t know which way to go.
She picks a direction and starts running. If she goes in any direction long enough, she’ll make it out of the forest, and if she makes it out of the forest, she’ll be away from the ghosts and safe. Surely that’s more important than her memories. Surely…
She staggers and stumbles to a stop, gasping for breath, and looks back. She has no idea of where she is, or where she came from, but those ghosts had killed people. If she escapes, then what? Will everyone in that town eventually die, just like everyone in that first town had died?
She doesn’t know what would happen if she left it like this. Maybe at the end of the year her memories would disappear and move on, or maybe these ghosts would stay the way they are, killing anyone who dares to enter until someone does something about it.
And…Lucian. Lucian doesn’t even have magic to fight ghosts with, there’s no way she’d survive that many at once. After everything Lucian has done, Isla can’t abandon her.
So that leaves one option. She has to find her memories, and fast.
“Hey, memories?” she calls out to the fog. “If you’re out there, can you tell me where you are? I really need to find you.”
She looks around for some kind of response, but there’s nothing.
Well. It was worth a shot.
She picks a direction and starts walking. Lucian said they’d look wispy, or there’d be something glowing, so–
“You’re not getting away from me,” she hears the ghost say from behind her. “You brought me back to this world, and I’ll drag you all back to mine.”
Isla whirls around and there’s another green flash. Suddenly, she’s sprawled in the mud, and there’s glowing green hands tightening around her throat.
She tries to pry the ghost off with her flaming hands, but the fire flickers and fades as she struggles to breathe, and desperately, she makes a final wild swipe at him.
The ghost recoils back with a screech, and Isla coughs, trying to regain her breath.
“You dare–” the ghost growls.
Isla looks up at the ghost, which is no longer looming over her. It’s hunched, grasping its eye in pain. She looks at her hand, and there’s a wispy green eyepatch in her fingers.
“I’m going to kill you,” the ghost growls. “I’m going to kill you!”
He rounds on Isla and slams her in the stomach. “Twenty-three years,” he says, glaring down at her. “Twenty-three years I’ve suffered, chained to this place because of you!“
Isla coughs and splutters. “That’s not–that’s not true!” she rasps. “I didn’t do anything to you!”
The ghost gathers a fistful of her shirt and throws her into another tree. “You wretched, vile witch!” he screams.
“I’m not a witch!” Isla shouts. “You’re confused, I got cursed, I’m looking for my memories, you’ve got the wrong person!”
“Don’t lie to me!” the ghost roars, shaking the ground and trees all around them. He draws a glowing green blade from a sheathe on his belt, almost as long as his forearm. Even ethereal, it looks wickedly sharp. He brandishes it with a snarl. “I’m ending this.”
He scoops up Isla by the throat and holds her against a tree, his other hand steady with the blade under her chin. Isla swallows and looks up at him. His exposed eye socket is hollow, with nothing but a golden wisp of fire that drips burning ichor.
Maybe she can still survive this.
“Die, witch,” the ghost says.
Isla lunges for the ghost’s golden eye. She feels the blade bite into her throat as her fingers close around the flame in ghost’s eye. It burns hot, and it presses against her grip, as if trying to escape.
She forces her fingers closed, against the force, against the burning pain, and the flame collapses under her hands and cools until there’s nothing in her fingers except a small, smooth stone.
The ghost dissipates, and Isla falls to the ground, with nothing to show from her struggle except for blood streaming from her wounds and a golden stone in the palm of her hand. The green light of the forest slowly fades into normal fog, and Isla takes a deep breath.
She looks at the stone. It’s glassy and small–smaller than a walnut. It’s completely untouched by blood and mud and it feels like it’s buzzing in her hand.
Slowly, she takes out her jar and unfastens the lid with her blood-and-mud-slick hands, and drops the stone in. The hollow sound echoes in her ears, and everything is black.