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It’s over an hour later when the person starts moving.
Isla rushes over to help them up. “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” she says. “Be careful, you were on fire.”
The person coughs and rasps, “W-water…”
Isla nods. “Of course, water. Okay, yeah, I can get that.” She helps the person sit up, then fishes her water canteen out of her bag. She gives it an experimental shake–there’s not a lot left, but hopefully it’s enough. She unfastens the cap and holds it out. “I have some water, this’ll make you feel better.”
The person reaches for it, but only gets about halfway there before collapsing again. If the sounds they’re making are any indication, they’re still in a lot of pain.
“Okay. Okay,” Isla says. She takes a deep breath. She can handle this. She helps the person sit up again, or enough, and carefully tips the canteen into their mouth.
They manage to drink a few mouthfuls before sputtering and coughing, and Isla gives them a few forceful pats on the back until the fit clears up.
“Th-thanks,” the person says, wiping their mouth. “You, uh, where did you come from? Nobody lives around here.”
“We, um. I found you by the road,” Isla says. “Are you okay? Do you need help?”
The person grimaces. “I’m okay, or,”–they pause to cough again–“well, I’ll be okay later. Don’t worry about me, this happens all the time.”
Isla makes a face, because the only thing more worrying than being on fire is being on fire all the time. Compared to this, losing her memories once a year doesn’t sound so bad. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
The person nods. “I’m usually better in a few hours. I’m not supposed to go out this late in the day, but it was pretty close to sundown and it was cloudy, so I thought I’d be able to make it home in time…”
“Get home in time to not catch on fire?”
“Yeah,” the person says.
When there’s no further explanation forthcoming, Isla clears her throat and says, “Well, okay. I’m Isla. What’s your name?”
The person breaks out into another coughing fit, then says, “Caelan. My name’s Caelan.”
“Okay, Caelan,” Isla says. “Do you have somewhere safe? Do you have somewhere you should be in case you…catch on fire again?”
“I…I live out by the waterfall,” Caelan says. “It’s too far from here, though. You don’t need to take me there, I can walk.” In an attempt to demonstrate, Caelan makes a valiant effort to stand up, winces, then sits back down again.
“You’re sure you’re okay?” Isla asks.
Caelan nods. “Don’t worry about me, I don’t want to cause trouble.”
It’s a bit late for that, but Isla opts not to say so. “Where is the waterfall? Just so I know you’ll be okay. I can help you get home if you need it.”
Caelan gestures down a very rough dirt path headed north. “It’s up that way, but you don’t need to stick around. I’ll be fine.”
Isla’s less than convinced. She’s pretty sure that if she had just been on fire, she wouldn’t be so cagey about getting some help back to somewhere safe. “What were you doing when you caught on fire?”
“I was looking for some stuff,” Caelan says. “Down around the mountain pass. I’m not completely sure what the stuff looks like, but it’s supposed to be out there somewhere.”
“Some stuff?” Isla asks.
“Yeah,” Caelan says. “You know. Stuff.” With a grunt, they slowly stand up. They’re a bit unsteady on their feet, but they don’t look like they’ll actually fall over or collapse. “Um, thanks for helping and all, but I’ve got to look for my stuff, and it’s almost dark and everything.”
‘Almost’ is a bit generous. In the time it took for Caelan to wake up, it had gone from almost sunset to dusk. It’ll be night in less than half an hour.
Isla really doesn’t have time to stick around in the dark. She needs to find Lucian and a place to stay for the night, and besides, Caelan seems determined to not accept any help.
“Uh, okay. Be careful,” Isla says. “Try not to…catch on fire or anything.”
Caelan nods and wobbles off down the road. Isla can’t help but worry that they’ll get into more trouble on their own.
“Not the brightest lamp in the study, are they?” Lucian asks.
Isla jumps. “Holy shit Lucian, where did you come from?”
“I’ve been here for about five minutes,” Lucian says. “I told you they’d be fine on their own.”
Isla crosses her arms. “You still shouldn’t have run off. They could have been seriously injured!”
“Yeah?” Lucian asks. “So what? It’s not like we have medicine to fix someone who was on fire and we’re in the middle of nowhere. There’s no one to help nearby unless you count whatever witch lives in the area, which I don’t. So what would we do, Isla? Put them out of their misery? Wait next to them and watch them die? Because I don’t like either of those.”
Isla can’t even believe that she has to argue about this with someone she thought was her friend. “We would–we’d do something to make it better! We’d be decent human beings and help them somehow!” she insists.
“Okay, well, you can worry about that if that really makes you feel better,” Lucian says. “While you were being a good person, I had a look around. There’s scorch marks from curse fire scattered all over and there’s way too many magical plants around. Someone’s definitely planting them.”
Isla lets the subject change slide for now. This conversation isn’t over. “Fine. Does that mean there’s a witch?”
Lucian nods. “Witch for sure, demon I don’t know yet. Whatever it is, they might have gotten your memories already, but I don’t think so. There’s not enough weird stuff going on for someone to be actively using your memories.”
“For now,” Lucian says. “Best case scenario, we’ll find your memories without too much trouble.”
“We won’t have to talk to any witches?” Isla asks.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Lucian says. “We’ll probably still have to find the local witch to track down your memories. If we’re lucky, they’re the pleasant type, not the murder-first-ask-questions-later type.”
“A pleasant witch?”
Lucian shrugs. “We’d have to get really lucky, but it could happen.”
At that point, it’s too dark to do any searching. Lucian finds a rock outcropping that protects them from most of the wind and they settle down for the night.
“I’m still mad at you,” Isla says.
“Sorry,” Lucian says, not sounding very sorry at all.
“You shouldn’t be so cold to people who need help. I thought you were better,” Isla says.
“Then you thought wrong,” Lucian replies. “What do you want from me? I already explained myself. I’m not putting us at risk to help some person we can’t help anyways, and they would have been fine with or without you.”
Isla scowls. “I want you to be better. Don’t you even care? Don’t you feel anything?”
There’s a long pause.
“I don’t have a soul, Isla,” Lucian says.
“That’s not an answer.”
“Go to sleep, Isla.”
The next morning, after Isla eats some wild berries and leftover roast rabbit, they start searching.
“There’s a lake about two kilometers out that way,” Lucian says, pointing north. “I didn’t get too close but I saw a cabin a ways down the shore. If there’s a witch, that’s probably a good place to start looking.”
“We’re going to go up to a witch’s house and ask them to help?”
“No, we’re going to take a look around nearby,” Lucian says. “If there’s a witch living there, and they’re up to some fishy stuff, we’ll see signs of it around. If everything seems to be on the level, then we might check out the cabin. We’ll figure out the rest later.”
It’s not the most sophisticated plan, but unfortunately Isla doesn’t have any better ones.
It’s a smooth hike to the lake, down the dry dirt path between rock outcroppings and occasional trees and plants. The sky is clear with the sun shining brightly, and Isla has to put on a hat to keep the light out of her eyes. The further they head north, the more trees there seem to be, though they’re hardly the thick-trunked, wide-canopied trees they’d seen in the last forest they were in.
“Stay on the path,” Lucian says. “There’s a lot of magical plants in here. You don’t want to step on those.”
It takes another half an hour of walking before they reach the tree line and see the lake.
It’s not a huge lake, but it’s not small, either. They can see the entire edge of it, if only barely. It take more than a day to walk the entire way around. There’s plenty of grass and shrubs scattered around the shore amidst the rocky soil and the water is calm and clear.
“Wow,” Isla says. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s a nice picture,” Lucian says. “It looks like there’s a waterfall a bit out that way.” She points off towards the east end of the lake, where the lake narrows and dips off of a cliffside. If Isla strains, she can hear it.
Isla squints. “There’s a house.”
It’s a small house, maybe two or three rooms with a dock that goes over the lake. It’s too far away to make out anything else.
“Yeah,” Lucian says. “That’s the cabin I was talking about. We won’t worry about it for now.”
They walk up to the shore. Up close, Isla can see small fish darting through the grasses and around smooth stones in the shallow water. It’s scenic and quite a sight to look at, but Isla doesn’t see anything particularly like her memories around.
“Isla. Over here,” Lucian calls out, a few meters down the shore.
Isla walks over. Lucian is pointing at a set of blackish-purple marks in the stones.
“What is that?” Isla asks.
“Some kind of magic residue, probably,” Lucian says. She picks up a stained stone and rubs it with her sleeve. Black ashy material flakes off. “Not a curse, though. Curses don’t make gunk like this.”
Isla rubs off some of the marks herself. It’s coarse and dry, and the dust shimmers slightly in the light. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know enough to say where it could have come from. “Then where did this come from? A demon?”
“It definitely could be,” Lucian says. “There’s no way to tell when this happened, but since it was basically intact, it’s probably not that long ago.”
“Recent enough to be involved with my memories, you mean,” Isla says.
“Yeah,” Lucian drops the rock, then stands up and stretches. “Well, we better start looking for more clues.”
Isla nods. “Right. I guess I’ll look this way, and you can look the other way?”
“Whatever suits you,” Lucian says. “Keep an eye out and shout if you see anything important. Actually, here.” She takes Solanus off of her wrist and tosses her over. “Take Sol with you. She can help you look.”
Isla looks at the silver bangle. “Uh. Solanus can’t move. Or see.”
“Wow, way to rub it in! That’s hurtful. That hurts me in all of my feelings,” Solanus says.
“Sol’s sensitive to magic. If there’s some weird stuff going on, she can usually feel it before you see it. As long as she’s not too annoying, it’s pretty useful,” Lucian says.
“Lucy! I have never been annoying!” Solanus protests. “Why would you conspire against me like this? I thought we were friends! Why can’t I go with you? You’re my favorite, Lucy, my very favorite person in the world!”
“You can survive being with Isla for a little while,” Lucian says. “Behave yourself for once, Sol.”
“But Lucy! I don’t want to!”
With some reluctance, Isla puts Solanus around her wrist. She can foresee this being unpleasant. “What about you? How are you going to find my memories, then?”
“With my eyes,” Lucian says. “Isla, they’re your memories. At least nine times out of ten, you’re the one who finds them, not me. If I find anything, it’ll probably be about whatever the hell else is going on around here.” She makes a shooing gesture. “Go do your thing. Your memories won’t find themselves.”
With that, Lucian heads out along the shore.
“Well, then,” Isla says. “I guess we’ll look for my memories. Just, uh, tell me if you sense anything, Solanus.”
“Great, sure,” Solanus says. “I’ll let you know. I’m so ready to stab a witch in the–“
“Thanks, great,” Isla says. “Let’s look around, shall we?”