Isla lays down on the floor and stares at the darkened ceiling.
Is Lucian right? Are Liam and Caelan really that untrustworthy? Can they really be witches?
The two of them are cursed, there’s no denying that, and maybe they’re doing magic from the books left in the house. But doing magic doesn’t make someone a witch, right? After all, Isla’s used magic and she hasn’t cursed anyone.
Isla can’t even imagine what would bring someone who got cursed to become a witch and inflict that kind of pain on others. She certainly can’t imagine doing it herself–illegality aside, it’s about the worst thing she could imagine doing to anyone.
Isla closes her eyes, but she can’t bring herself to sleep. Lucian still hasn’t come back in, and Isla’s not sure if she’s okay. She knows Lucian can take care of herself, but there’s a demon out there, and Lucian said herself that she didn’t want to have to fight it.
She hopes Lucian isn’t too angry. She hadn’t meant anything by what she said, but…she’s not about to take it back. Lucian doesn’t have to be so cold. Surely there’s some way for them to get her memories back without ignoring everyone else’s well-being on the way.
Her memories are such small things. She doesn’t want to think getting them back means other people have to get hurt. That’s not what she wants.
Eventually, she falls asleep to troubled thoughts and dreams of haunting purple silhouettes skulking between the trees.
Isla wakes to the sound of rain and the sight of pale green eyes leaning over her in the darkness.
She recoils with a scream that Lucian quickly stifles.
“Please don’t scream, people are sleeping,” Lucian says in a low voice. “It’s just me.”
“W-Why were you leaning over me?” Isla asks. She looks out the window. It’s still dark. “What time is it?”
“Sometime around dawn,” Lucian says. “It’s hard to tell with the storm.”
Lucian pulls Isla up, then quickly rolls her blanket back up and stuffs it in Isla’s bag. She’s not wearing Solanus around her wrist anymore.
“Where’s Solanus?” Isla asks.
“I put her in a book over there,” Lucian says, pointing at the bookshelf. “She’s going to listen for anything suspicious while we’re out searching for your memories. Hopefully one of your new friends will say something useful.”
“She’s going to spy on them? Lucian, we’re their guests! We can’t do that!”
“We wouldn’t if one or both of them weren’t witches,” Lucian says. “Something here is fishy, and I want to know what it is sooner rather than later.”
“We don’t know they’re witches,” Isla says.
Lucian makes a face. “We kind of do, Isla. Witchcraft was done here recently. It’s not like witchcraft happens on its own.”
“I don’t feel any kind of witchcraft.”
“Yeah, well, you do magic. It kind of drowns it out,” Lucian says. “That’s not the point. We’re going to find your memories, so let’s go.”
Isla frowns. “Can I eat something first?”
It’s raining outside. It’s coming down hard enough that it’s hard to see and the sound of the rain on the stones drowns everything else out.
Isla wears an oilskin to keep the rain off, but her face and boots are soaked through quickly enough. “We really have to go out in this weather?” she asks.
“We have to find your memories,” Lucian says. She’s not wearing any kind of rain gear, but Isla supposes she doesn’t need it.
“Not everything is about my memories,” Isla says. “I’m going to get sick from this weather.”
“You’ll be fine,” Lucian says, walking ahead. “As long as we don’t run into the demon, because there is a demon, and it’s not a happy demon.”
“You saw it?”
Lucian nods. “I saw it in the forest while I was outside last night. It’s the biggest demon I’ve ever seen, must be at least eight feet tall. There’s no way it came through on accident, even with your memories involved. Someone had to have summoned it.”
“Who would do that?” Isla asks.
Lucian scowls at her. “A witch, obviously.”
Isla sighs. Not this again. “Liam and Caelan are perfectly nice people, Lucian. They wouldn’t summon demons, and why would they even want to? They’re the only ones who live here! They’d be endangering themselves.”
“Yeah, well. I never said it was a good idea,” Lucian says. “We know at least one of them is a witch, and nobody else lives around here. They’re the only ones who could have summoned that demon.”
“You don’t know that! Maybe there’s…another witch. Or something,” Isla says lamely. The argument sounds weak even to her.
Lucian takes a deep breath. “Isla. Why are you so determined to believe your lovebirds are good people?”
Isla crosses her arms. “You saw them. They’re…they’re not bad people. They let us stay at their house, and they were nice to us. You saw how much they love each other, and…”
“This might be news to you, but bad people can love each other just fine,” Lucian says. “You don’t get a free pass to being a good person by loving someone, Isla. You know what good people don’t do? Summon demons.”
Isla purses her lips. “I don’t think they summoned the demon.”
“Fine,” Lucian says. “They didn’t summon the demon. So what? The summoner isn’t really the problem right now, because there’s a big fuck-off demon in these mountains and we need to find your memories before that thing does.”
Isla adjusts her bag and tries to wipe the rain out of her eyes. It doesn’t do much. “So what do we do about the demon?”
“Nothing,” Lucian says. “If we don’t run into it, we don’t have to deal with it and we can leave once we find your memories. It’s not our problem.”
“But Liam and Caelan are stuck here,” Isla presses. “They’ll be in danger if we don’t do anything about the demon.”
“They’ve lived this long,” Lucian says. “I’m not going to get myself killed to help some witches.”
Isla doesn’t have a good answer to that. “They’re cursed,” she says instead. “They can’t be witches. That would be horrible.”
“Yeah? Well, it turns out some people suck.”
They’re silent for a while after that. The rain keeps pouring down as they walk, pounding down on the leaves and gravel and water. It makes everything gray and washed-out, nothing like the idyllic scenery they’d seen yesterday.
Going on an adventure sounded a lot more fun when it didn’t mean walking around in the rain looking at nothing.
“Is there a spell to make walking through rain less annoying?” Isla asks. “That seems like a good use of magic.”
“You’re the magic expert, not me,” Lucian says.
“I would be, if I could remember,” Isla replies a bit testily.
“Well, I’ve got news for you,” Lucian says. “We’re doing something about that right now. Believe me, I’m just as excited for you to remember to do things as you are.”
She doesn’t sound bitter, but Isla hears it regardless. She stares down at the rocks and keeps walking.
Isla wonders what Lucian’s thinking. It’s so hard to remember sometimes that Lucian knows her better than she knows Lucian–or maybe not. Maybe losing her memories did something, and maybe last year she was better at magic, smarter, more cynical, more…useful?
She can’t do anything about that now except find her memories. It all sounds so simple, but here she is in the rain, finding nothing at all.
“I’m sorry I can’t do magic,” Isla says after a while. “And I’m sorry if I said something insensitive last night.”
“What?” Lucian asks. “You don’t have to apologize. It’s not your fault you’re cursed.”
Isla’s mouth twists. “Solanus said–”
“Sol says a lot of shit,” Lucian says. “I talked to her last night, and she said she’d try to be on her best behavior. Best behavior for her, anyways.” She kicks a rock. “She’s been pretty stressed out for the last couple of weeks, and she’s not used to you losing your memories.”
“What do you mean?” Isla asks.
“You’re different at the start of a year, that’s all,” Lucian says. “It’s rough sometimes. For all of us.”
Isla looks down at the ground. There’s a lot she can’t imagine, and one of them is who she even is, or if she’s even the same person she was a month ago. It’s enough to make anyone feel uneasy, whether it’s her or Lucian or anyone else. “I’m sorry.”
Lucian shrugs. “We’ll find your memories, that’s all there is to it.”
“I hope so,” Isla says. She looks out into the gray expanse of rain and fog, and wonders where in the world her memories could be, and what they’ll have to do to get them. If the ghosts were any indication, it’s not going to be easy, and never was. Maybe it was meant to be impossible. She takes a breath and asks, “…was I good at magic?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Lucian says. “You can do a lot of stuff. You used magic a lot.”
“Does that make me a witch?” A terrible thought occurs to her. “Wait, have I ever…cursed anyone?”
“You’re not a witch,” Lucian replies. “Witchcraft has a really specific feel, and you don’t have it. And you’d probably have a stroke if you thought about cursing someone, so don’t worry about that. I don’t know what you are, but you’ve got magic and that’s fine. I’m not a fan of it, but it’s useful.”
“Oh. That’s…a relief,” Isla says. She’s not sure what she would do if she knew she’d cursed someone.
“There’s different types of magic out there,” Lucian says. “So don’t worry about it. Some people use witchcraft, some people do apothecary. Some people do weird old traditional stuff, some people do artifice.”
“Some of those are illegal,” Isla says. “The imperial guard can execute you for performing magic.”
“And that’s why people don’t use magic in imperial cities,” Lucian says. “The imperial guard can’t be everywhere and the empire’s a real big place. Out here in the middle of nowhere, you’ve got witches living like nobody’s business.” She ducks to check something between a couple of reeds and pulls out a purple stone. “Didn’t you and Sol find another one of these yesterday?”
Isla steps closer to take a look, and yes, the stone is purple with red flecks just like the one she’d found yesterday. It’s broken differently, but it’s more likely than not part of the same stone. “Yeah. Is that one magic, too?”
“Feels like it,” Lucian says. “What do we want to do with it?”
“I kept the other one,” Isla says. “I might as well keep this one, too.”
“If that makes you happy, sure.”
Isla puts the rock in with the other one and they continue searching. It really is barren except for the plants and Isla can’t hear anything except for the patter of rains on the stones beneath their feet.
They take a break sometime around midday, though it’s hard to tell with the cloud cover, and Isla eats some fruit and jerky under the dubious protection of a tree.
“Is it just me, or is the rain getting harder?” Lucian asks. “It’s been raining non-stop for hours now.”
Isla looks out. It’s raining so hard that she can hardly see anything but gray fog and rain. The rain that was tolerable in the morning is torrential now. Even with the oilskin her clothes are soaked with rain.
“It’s definitely raining harder now,” Isla says. “No lightning, though.”
“I figured that one out myself, thanks,” Lucian says. She sits down on a rock next to Isla and rainwater streams down her face. She doesn’t so much as blink at it.
“Is there something wrong with the rain?” Isla asks.
Lucian makes a face. “It makes me nervous, that’s all. It doesn’t feel natural.”
“You mean it’s magic?”
“I don’t know,” Lucian says. “Witchcraft can make the weather change, but that’s incidental. Unless magic is directly making it rain, I can’t tell the difference.” She looks up into the sky. “I think we should head back. It’s going to be a long walk at the rain won’t let up anytime soon.”
Isla agrees. She’s had enough of this–the sooner she’s out of this rain, the happier she’ll be. They head back without fanfare.
They walk in silence more because the rain is so loud than anything else. They trudge through muddy puddles and rain-slick stones and Isla feels pretty thoroughly disillusioned with adventure from it all. After about an hour of uneventful rain, Isla starts feeling nervous. She doesn’t know why–she hasn’t seen anything all day, but she rubs the back of her neck to ward it off and can’t help the uneasy feeling building in her stomach. Rain sheets down with no end in sight and the cloud cover is so heavy it almost looks like night.
Lucian grabs her wrist and gently pulls her along faster.
“What?” Isla asks.
“Don’t look now,” Lucian says, “but the demon’s behind us.”