“What?” Isla whirls around and catches a glimpse of purple shadows and claws and–
A dark figure crashes down on them, and Lucian barely manages to yank her out of the way. Rocks and water spray out as the creature slams down and Isla’s mouth goes completely dry.
It’s huge. It shimmers black and purple and colors in between, like iridescence on oil, and it towers over her. Her eyes can’t get any purchase on its depth or shape except for a dark silhouette that looms over her. It snarls, and Isla can barely catch the shape of razor-sharp teeth stretching back, back, back. It steps forward and its claws, as long as knives, slice through stones like butter. Its head lowers just enough for Isla to see three sets of deep red eyes that–
Lucian yanks Isla to her feet and away. “Don’t look at it, idiot!”
Isla runs blindly as Lucian drags her along. Her vision can’t focus, can’t get the phantom of black shadows and demonic eyes out of her mind. Her mind feels like white noise, all buzz and no words, no thoughts except for the crash of stones and claws.
There’s screaming in her ears and cold breath on the back of her neck, claws swiping at her as she stumbles on the wet gravel and mud. She runs and runs until she loses her footing and falls to her hands and knees, skidding across the gravel. She scrambles to stand again, her heart thudding in her throat–
“–Isla. Isla, it’s me, it’s okay.”
Isla blinks slowly. She can barely see anything, there’s water in her face and it’s so dark. There’s noise everywhere, crashing all around her.
Someone grips her shoulder and shakes her. “Isla. Look at me. Take a deep breath.”
Isla slowly turns towards the voice. There’s two green eyes in the dark, glowing softly. “L-Lucian?”
“Yeah, it’s me,” Lucian says. “It’s okay now, the demon’s gone. Come on, deep breath now. You’ll be fine.”
It takes a few tries, but with some help, Isla manages a deep breath. She’s shaking. “What–The demon didn’t kill me?”
“No,” Lucian says. “It warped away. It must be looking for something, and thankfully it’s not us.”
“Demons don’t…look for things,” Isla says shakily. She wipes her eyes and her palms sting from falling. “They’re not…intelligent.”
“No. Someone’s got that demon on a leash,” Lucian says. “I don’t like that, but it means we’re not dead now.”
“So we got lucky?”
Lucian grimaces. “Maybe. There’s just as good a chance it’s doing something worse now. I’ve never seen a demon that big.”
Isla curls in on herself. Rain is pounding on her back and she can’t seem to stop shaking. “Wh-what do we do?”
“We need to get back,” Lucian says.
Yeah, Isla thinks. That sounds like a good idea.
They hurry back. By the time they get back to the house, the rain is absolutely torrential to the point that Isla can barely hear or see anything else. She practically collapses when she gets back inside, relieved to be somewhere bright and warm and dry.
“Woah, are you guys okay?” Caelan asks, getting up from the table. “Were you out all day? It’s been raining like crazy out there!”
“It–It wasn’t so bad when we left,” Isla says, still feeling shaky on her feet. She strips off the dripping outer layer of her clothes, not that the inner layers have fared much better. She tries not to think too hard about everything else that’s happened that day. “How–How was your day?”
“I stayed with Liam!” Caelan says. “I had to get some stuff before the rain got really bad, but then I stayed here with the best person in the whole world.”
“That’s wonderful,” Isla says. “Have you two been together long?”
Caelan smiles. “Five years! Or more? I don’t remember the exact number, but that’s not important when we’ll be together for the rest of our lives. We’re gonna be–”
“Hey, I hate to break this moment up,” Lucian cuts in. “Caelan, do you know anything about the demon that’s running around?”
“A demon?” Caelan thinks about it for a second. “No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a demon.”
“Really?” Lucian asks. “It’s a giant shadowy purple thing with claws. You don’t know anything about that?”
“Uh…Sorry, I don’t really know anything about demons. You could ask Liam, though. He knows more about this kind of magic stuff. He reads about it,” Caelan says.
“Does he, now?” Lucian asks. “I think I’ll do that. Where is he?”
“Oh, he’s in our room, but you shouldn’t bother him. He’s been really nervous for the last few weeks. He needs some time alone.”
“Oh, I bet he does,” Lucian says.
Caelan stands up and says, “But don’t worry! I can make some potatoes for dinner if you’re hungry! We still have some wild onions and a ton of berries.”
Isla glances up. “You don’t have to trouble yourself to–”
“That sounds great, thank you,” Lucian says over her. “We can handle ourselves fine out here.”
“Great! I’ll make something real fast, okay?” Caelan says just before darting off into the kitchen to prepare something or another.
Isla shoots Lucian a look. “What was that all about? You don’t even eat.”
“It got them out of the room,” Lucian says. She goes to the bookcase at the back and starts flipping through them.
“What could you possibly need them out of the room for? You’re being rude again,” Isla says.
Lucian takes a book off of the shelf and stares at it for a couple of seconds. “Sol isn’t here.”
“What?” Isla goes over to where Lucian is standing. “How is she not there? That’s where you put her. She can’t move, can she?”
“She can switch objects, but she’s not on the bookshelf at all.” Lucian forcefully shoves the book back onto the shelf. “Something happened to her.”
“Like what? Someone moved her?” Isla asks.
“Or a witch found her,” Lucian says. “Sol? Where are you? Answer if you hear me, we can’t find you.”
There’s no answer.
Isla looks around the room. She’s starting to have a bad feeling. “Solanus wouldn’t…stay quiet as a joke, right?”
“No, she’s a piece of shit, but she knows when things are serious,” Lucian says as she starts pulling out drawers. “If she’s not responding, she either can’t hear us or can’t speak, and since there’s a witch in here it’s a real toss-up which one it’ll be.”
“But she…she can’t be dead,” Isla says. “She can’t be dead!”
“I didn’t say she was,” Lucian says. “Start looking around for spells. Whoever took her did magic–even Sol isn’t enough of an idiot to go into some random item when she doesn’t know who gave it to her.”
Isla starts searching. There’s no marks on the floor, no smell of smoke or herbs, nothing that might indicate magic was used anytime recently.
She pulls a few drawers open. Pens, paper, ink. A journal. A lockbox. She moves to close it when Lucian stops her.
“The lockbox,” Lucian says.
“Wh–that’s private!” Isla says.
“Do you seriously care about that right now? Sol might be in danger!” Lucian snarls. She takes the lockbox out of the drawer and puts it on the table. It’s an old box with a lot of wear and a tarnished brass latch with a lock that has no keyhole.
Lucian checks the lock. “It’s got magic on it. This is probably what we’re looking for.”
“I can’t open a magic lock,” Isla says.
“Doesn’t matter. We don’t have to.” Lucian pulls a knife out of her bag and levers it into the latch. With a firm yank, she snaps the latch clean off of the box.
She opens the box. It’s full of shiny, colorful stones. One of them is a purple shard with red flecks.
Lucian takes it out. “It’s another one of those rocks.”
Isla looks at it. It’s clearly a match with the other two pieces they’d found.
“Why is it here?” she asks.
“Because a witch lives here, obviously!” Lucian says. She yanks a book off of the shelf and cracks it open. “Magical rocks, magical rocks…here.” She sets the book on the table. “The purple one’s used for control or restraint spells. But you can’t do a spell with a broken rock.”
Something flashes in Isla’s memory, of books and studying and practice, and–
“You can’t put a spell on a broken stone,” Isla says slowly. “But if you cast it when it’s intact and the spell breaks, you can still use it.”
“What? No, you can’t,” Lucian says. “You break the rock, you break the spell.”
“It weakens the spell so much that it doesn’t work properly,” Isla says. “But the spell is still there, and…” She trails off as she remembers something horrible.
“So what? Broken or weakened, what’s the fucking difference?” Lucian asks.
“Lucian,” Isla says urgently, “you can strengthen spells by burning a soul. That would probably be enough to make the spell work even with a broken stone–”
“You what?” Lucian snaps. “We are not letting Sol get turned into witch fuel! How do we stop it?”
“I, uh, I’m not sure,” Isla says. “I can’t remember anything, just little pieces, and–”
“Then figure something out,” Lucian growls. She goes to the bedroom door and tries to open it, but it’s locked. She tries the door handle again for about two more seconds, then backs up and and full-body slams the door. It crashes open with a sound of splitting wood.
“Woah!” Caelan says, peeking out of the kitchen. “I heard something, is everything okay?”
Isla pushes them back into the kitchen. “Lucian’s just a little upset, don’t worry about it.”
“Are you sure? I mean, I–”
“Yes, everything is fine,” Isla says. “So don’t worry about it.”
“Isla,” Lucian calls out. “Get in here. Now.”
Isla gives Caelan a shaky smile, then goes to the bedroom.
“You didn’t have to break down the door,” she says. “I know you’re upset, but you can’t break things just because it makes you feel better.”
“I didn’t break the door because I thought it’d be a laugh, I broke it because I was trying to get in,” Lucian says. She points at the floor. “I had a good fucking reason, too.”
Burnt into the wooden floor, almost six feet in diameter with intricate sigils all the way around, is a pentacle.
Isla stares. “That’s…a summoning array.”