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Isla heads west along the lake shore. She still isn’t entirely sure what she’s looking for, but she hopes she’ll know it when she sees it.
It’s not long before she finds another streak of black and purple residue. It’s next to a set of some very large footprints–much larger than any animal that would probably live up here. Does that mean there’s really a demon?
Isla doesn’t want to think about that. Even with her magic, even if she knew how to use it, she doesn’t think she could fight a demon. They’re monsters that kill indiscriminately with their claws or fire or magic. They’re not intelligent and they can’t be reasoned with, not the way a witch could be. Outside of the witches, nobody knows much about demons because they can’t exist for very long in this world, but everyone agrees that they’re monstrously powerful–oftentimes even too powerful for the witches who summon them.
A story comes to mind. A long time ago, an evil witch messed with forces they shouldn’t have and opened a rift to summon the first demon. The demon made that witch very powerful, and the witch taught all of their students how to open rifts and summon demons of their own. But then too many demons came through and they became too powerful and killed the witches. Without the witches to keep the rifts open, the demons eventually lost power and disappeared, but from then on there were small rifts all over where demons could come through.
Demons aren’t something to take lightly. Isla doesn’t want to think about the fact that there could be a rift somewhere around here, and there might be even more than one demon.
She keeps searching, but doesn’t see much more than a few more spots of magic residue on rocks and trees. After about an hour of searching, she sits down on a rock to take a quick drink.
“So Solanus,” she says after splashing some water on her face, “have you felt anything?”
“Oh, you’re talking to me now? How magnanimous of you! Good of you to remember me after all this time!”
“Solanus,” Isla says.
“What? What do you want? You only want to talk to me when I can be useful to you? Is that it?”
Isla takes a deep breath. She probably should have seen this coming. “Solanus, I get that you don’t like me, but can you work with me a little?”
“Wow, putting words in my mouth now. I never said I didn’t like you. Where did you get that idea?”
“Because you’re an asshole to me,” Isla says. “Look, I’m sorry if I stepped on you or something last year, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
“You’re right, there’s nothing you can do anymore. You lose your memories every year, so there’s nothing you can do. Must be hard, having Lucy pick up your slack every year while you yell at her for being a terrible person because she’s trying to keep you alive.”
Isla sputters. “This is about what I said to Lucian yesterday? Look, we talked about it, we got things sorted out. It’s none of your business.”
“What, just because I can’t walk I don’t get a say in this? Lucy’s my best friend. She would probably eat me if she was able to eat and she thought it would shut me up, but she talks to me and doesn’t try to pretend I don’t exist, which makes her better than you. If you’re going to be a dick to her when she’s trying her best, I’m not gonna chum up with you. Buttmunch.”
Isla frowns. “I thought we were friends. We’ve been traveling together for three years, and all that.”
“Yeah, but you can’t remember any of it, can you? We’ve been traveling together for one week, jackass.”
“That’s not fair, I didn’t lose all my memories on purpose–”
“Right, you’re cursed. Boo hoo. Well, you lost all your memories and you’re not the same person you were a month ago. I’m not Lucy. She’s happy you’re okay and want to talk to us again, but I know you’re just going to get your memories back and turn into an asshole again.”
Isla blinks. “What?”
“Oh, what?” Solanus asks. “You care now? Doesn’t matter. You lost all your memories, so it doesn’t matter. But whatever. Don’t listen to me. I’m just a stupid talking bracelet.”
There’s a story there, a long, long story that Isla’s not sure she wants to hear.
“I’m sorry, okay?” Isla says. “I don’t know what I did, but I’m sorry. I’ll try and be better.”
“That’s what you always say.”
Isla takes a deep breath. “Well, we’re here now. Can we try and start over?”
“Easy for you to say,” Solanus says. “But fine. Sure. We’ll start over. I’m Solanus, the best person you’ll ever meet. I don’t have a body so I’m trapped in this bracelet because nobody will put me in a knife.”
“I’m Isla,” Isla says. It doesn’t feel like much of a reconciliation at all. More of a truce than anything else, and Isla doesn’t even know what the conflict was. “Did you feel anything while we were walking?”
“Nope, nothing but the usual,” Solanus says. “But it’s kind of hard to tell, for obvious reasons.”
“Obvious reasons?” Isla asks.
“Yeah, the fact that you’re magic,” Solanus replies. “It kind of drowns everything else out. What, you thought Lucy always carried me because she loved my conversation?”
“I thought it was because you don’t like me,” Isla says.
“Oh, well, that too.”
Isla thinks she can feel a headache coming on. “Thanks.”
“Well, you know what that means! Keep searching!”
Isla shoots a dirty look at the bangle around her wrist. It’s not like Solanus can see it. “Yeah. Thanks.”
Isla keeps searching for a while. Without Lucian around, Solanus doesn’t seem to want to talk much. Isla’s fine with that. It’s not like there’s much to say between the two of them.
She keeps searching into the afternoon, feeling nervous all the while. It’s eerily quiet around the lake, and she’s sure she hasn’t seen any animals all day except the fish. Maybe they know something she doesn’t.
She’s decided she’s just about searched far enough when Solanus says, “Hey. I’m feeling a thing.”
Isla stops walking. “What?”
“You were getting closer to it,” Solanus says.
Isla walks slowly in the direction she was going.
“Yeah, you’re getting closer, closer, no, now you’re getting farther away.”
It takes some navigating until Isla finds a small, purple…thing. She picks it up to take a better look, and it buzzes faintly with magic. “What is this?”
“You’re the one with eyes, smartass,” Solanus says. “What’s it look like?”
Isla turns it over in her hand. It’s some kind of glossy purple stone with red flecks on the inside. The edges are jagged where it broke off of something–maybe some kind of medallion or small disc. She describes it to Solanus.
“Hm. Well, beats the fuck out of me,” Solanus says. “Feels witchy as shit, though. Maybe it’s a broken protection amulet or something. Witches love shiny rocks, right?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Isla says. She turns the stone over in her fingers. It’s warm to the touch and seems to vibrate if she squeezes it. It’s not very large at all–hardly larger than her thumbnail. “You think it’s witchcraft?”
“Could be, though now that I’m closer to it, it might have some demony magic in there, but honestly, demon magic and witch magic aren’t that different and I don’t spend a whole lot of time around demons to know the nuances,” Solanus says. “Hold onto it, I guess.”
“You want me to hold onto a piece of witch or demon magic when we don’t know what it does?” Isla asks.
“Well, you said it was broken. What’s the worst that can happen? You’re already cursed,” Solanus replies. “You’re supposed to be the magic expert. Do some magic expertise and make it safe to carry.”
Isla scowls. “I would if I could remember how.”
“Tough shit, wish I could help!”
Isla closes her eyes and counts to five. “Thanks.”
She turns the stone over in her hand. It is broken, so the spell that was on it probably isn’t working anymore, or at least not well enough to actually do anything on its own. She doesn’t feel great about carrying mystery magic around, but it’s the only lead they’ve gotten so far.
Isla taps the stone. “I guess Lucian should look at this before we get rid of it.”
“Glad to hear you’re finally taking my very good advice,” Solanus replies.
For the sake of her sanity, Isla chooses not to respond. She digs an empty phial out of her bag and puts the stone inside. She’s pretty sure the stone can’t do anything, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
She’s not going to find anything else today. She heads back to find Lucian.
They catch up with each other sometime around sunset.
“Oh, there you are,” Lucian says, looking up from a handful of rocks. She’s ankle deep in the lake, and doesn’t look happy about it. “Did you find anything? I’m guessing you didn’t find your memories, since you’re still conscious.”
Isla shakes her head. “I didn’t. I, uh, found a rock.”
“Well, shit. I found tons of those,” Lucian says, tossing her handful of rocks back into the water.
“Don’t be mean. I meant I found a magic rock,” Isla says.
“A magic rock?” Lucian wades her way back to shore. “What’s it do?”
Isla fishes the phial with the stone in it out of her bag. “I don’t know. I thought you should look at it.”
Lucian takes the phial from her and turns it over a few times, then holds it up to the light. “Hm. Sparkly.”
There’s a bit more silence until Isla clears her throat and asks, “Well? Do you know what it is?”
“If I did, I would have said something,” Lucian says, handing the phial back. “I’m not the magic expert here. All I can tell is that it’s purple and shiny. It could be part of some kind of spell, since some witches really like shiny rocks, but it’s broken. From past experience, breaking the magic rock breaks the magic spell.”
“But there’s still magic in it,” Isla says.
“Well no shit,” Solanus says. “If you smash a table, it doesn’t work anymore, but the pieces are still there.”
“Thanks for the insight, Sol,” Lucian says. “I don’t know if the rock has anything to do with your memories, but there’s no way to tell now. Do whatever you want with it.”
“It’s safe to keep?” Isla asks.
Lucian shrugs. “Probably.”
“Okay, then I’ll keep it,” Isla says. “It looks pretty.”
“If that makes you happy,” Lucian says. She stretches, then continues, “We should find somewhere to stay for the night. We can check that cabin by the waterfall.”
“The cabin by the…didn’t you say a witch lived there?” Isla asks. “Why would we want to stay there?”
“We don’t know a witch lives there,” Lucian says. “But I heard noises last night and I’ve seen claw marks around. There’s definitely a demon somewhere up in these mountains, and if I have to choose between being nice to a witch so I can stay somewhere with walls or being out in the open at night with a demon on the loose, I’m going to do the first one.”
“But what if the witch tries to curse us?” Isla asks.
“It won’t work,” Lucian says. “A witch can’t curse you if you already have a stronger curse on you, and we’ve hit rock bottom as far as curses go. There’s no way some small-time witch out in the middle of nowhere like this is going to be more powerful than the witch who cursed us. Believe me, people have tried.”
That’s not as comforting as Lucian seems to think it is. Why would they have been cursed by such a powerful witch to begin with?
“But…the witch can still try to kill us, right?” Isla asks.
“Yeah, but the choice is between fighting a witch or fighting a demon. One of those two things can actually kill me and it’s not the witch,” Lucian says. “The claw marks I saw were pretty big, and claws that big don’t come on small demons.”
“Yeah, like that time last year when Lucy got her legs exploded by a bunch of demons!” Solanus supplies. “Remember, Lucy? I almost got eaten!”
“I do, even though I’d rather not, thanks,” Lucian says. “It looks like this time it’s only the one demon, which means there probably isn’t a rift up here, but also means that someone definitely summoned it.”
“We’re not going to have to…kill the demon, right?” Isla asks.
“I hope not,” Lucian says. “I also hope to not meet it at all, so let’s check out that cabin and see if we can stay the night. If there’s a witch living there, be nice and hopefully they won’t try to kill us.”
Isla makes a face. “I don’t think you should be telling me to be nice.”
Lucian shrugs. “I don’t know. Sometimes you could use the reminder.”