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“So, we took care of the demon,” Isla says.
Lucian collapses against a post on the dock, looking worse for wear. Her shirt’s been sliced and torn across the torso and sleeves, and she’s drenched besides. “Yeah, I’ll say. Fucking demons. No wonder it was so huge, it had your memories the whole time.”
Isla opens her mouth to respond, when–
“–AAAAAAAA, LUCIAN, ISLA, WHERE ARE YOU, WHY CAN’T YOU HEAR ME, THIS SUCKS, AAAAAA–“
Isla looks at the screaming purple rock in her hand.
“Solanus,” she says, relieved. “We’re back. Everything is okay now.”
“Hey, Sol, you sack of shit,” Lucian says. “You had us worried.”
“Yeah, sorry about that! Turns out that Liam was a witch!” Solanus says. “Thought you might want to know!”
“Thanks, Sol, but we kind of figured that out for ourselves.” Lucian shakes her arms out, then says, “Come on. Let’s get out of this goddamn rain.”
Isla nods and gets up. The rain seems to be lightening up now, but it probably won’t stop for a while. After her dip in the lake, Isla thinks she’s had enough water for a lifetime.
It’s warm and dry inside the house, and Isla grabs a change of clothes from Lucian’s bag so she can be warm and dry, too. She goes to the bedroom to change while Solanus and Lucian have a chat she doesn’t really pay attention to. Her head feels a bit ungrounded, like all the thoughts in it are still there, but they’re jumbled and floating away so she can’t grab ahold of any of them.
She doesn’t want to think about what just happened. She wants to rest–forever, if possible. But it wouldn’t be right to fall asleep on the bed of someone she–well, someone who recently died. She sits there for a while in silence for a few minutes, then, sighing, she goes back out into the main room of the house.
“How are you feeling?” Lucian asks. “Did you get hurt?”
“I’m fine,” Isla says. She drowned a little bit, but it’s nothing she or Lucian can do anything for.
“You got your memories, right? We can stay here for the night while you do your thing,” Lucian says.
Isla grimaces. “I, um. I don’t have my jar. My bag got shredded and everything fell into the lake.”
“What, seriously?” Lucian asks. “Okay, fine. I’ll go find it. It’s out by the dock?”
“I’ll see what I can fish up,” Lucian says. “Stay with Sol and make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.”
“How am I supposed to do something stupid when I can’t even move?” Solanus asks.
“I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” Lucian says as she heads back out into the rain.
The door shuts behind her, and Isla takes a long, deep breath. Her throat feels like it’s been raked raw. “Are you okay, Solanus?”
“Yeah, I’m feeling peachy,” Solanus says. “Witch boy stuffed me in this rock and it’s a real tight fit. I’m having a lot of fun in here.”
Isla wasn’t aware that Solanus could only fit in objects of a certain size, but it makes about as much sense as anything else that’s happened in the last week.
“Okay, but are you…hurt?”
“Well, I had to listen to him monologue about demons for a while, which definitely hurt me in my soul. I don’t know how that Caelan person could stand him if that’s all he talks about, honestly, but you know what they say about idiots in love.”
Isla doesn’t, but it’s probably not worth saying so.
“Oh, but then I couldn’t hear anything at all. That sucked.”
“We couldn’t hear you, either. I guess he did some magic,” Isla says. She doesn’t know much about souls in objects, but that sounds like something that could be done. After all, it wasn’t like Solanus was always listening–Lucian had to knock on the lamp sometimes to get Solanus’s attention.
“Yeah, which is a dick thing to do. I mean, I already can’t move or see. Taking away my hearing on top of it is sheer inhumanity.”
“He was trying to use your soul to amplify his spell so he could regain control over his demon,” Isla says. “He could have killed you.”
“What? Oh, oh. So that’s what that was? I thought he was, like, metaphysically stabbing me for witch funsies. Yeah, that hurt like a motherfuck, but I’m better now! Mostly. I’ll sleep it off eventually, and actually I was trying to do that right now, but this rock is so small, and–“
“Maybe you should get out of the rock, then,” Isla says.
“Yeah! Great idea! Put me in a knife.”
“You said it! I almost died! I should be allowed in a knife!”
Isla sighs. She’s probably going to regret this. “Okay, fine.”
“Oh, no fair, that’s just– Wait, really? I didn’t think that would actually work,” Solanus says. “Nice.”
Isla takes her knife from her belt and puts it on the rock. “If you start screaming, I’m going to throw you back into the lake,” she says.
“Don’t worry, I’m the most responsible and courteous person ever!” Solanus says. There’s a pause, then a blue flash as she moves into the knife, then, “Ah, that’s much better. Not cramped at all anymore. I’m feeling real stabby right now.”
“We’re not stabbing anything,” Isla says. “Hopefully we won’t do any stabbing in the near future, either.”
“Let me dream, Isla!”
Just then, Lucian comes back in, dripping wet with a armful of assorted objects. She dumps them all on the table in a disorganized pile. “I found most of your stuff,” she says. “Your papers and ink are gone, but I got your jar and your herb phials and some other magic stuff.” She looks at the knife on the table and sighs. “You put Sol in the knife, didn’t you?”
“Um,” Isla says. “She almost died?”
Lucian rolls her eyes, but says, “Fine, whatever. She’ll move to something new in a few days anyway.”
“Fuck yeah!” Solanus shouts. “Knife time! Knife time! Knife time!”
“Sol, for the love of whatever god you answer to, please shut up,” Lucian says. She fishes Isla’s jar out of the pile of junk and holds it out. “Here. Do what you need to. I need to take care of some stuff, so give me your sheath so I can shut Sol up.”
Isla unclips the knife sheath from her belt and Lucian takes it before heading into the bedroom with Solanus. Isla can still hear Solanus chanting through the door.
Isla looks at her jar. The pink ribbon’s been thoroughly ruined, but everything else is pristine, untouched by water and grime. Maybe that’s part of the jar’s magic.
She opens the jar and drops her memories in.
“Isla. You have to stop. You have to let it go.”
Isla grits her teeth and picks up another etching tool. The oil lamp beside her workbench has been running so long that it’s almost empty and her work lenses are speckled with wood dust. “I’m going to fix it,” she says. “I’ll make her better.”
“Like this? Isla, I know how artifice works. You know how artifice works. You can’t use it to fight magic like this, nothing you do will change anything.”
“Then what will?” Isla demands. “I’m trying everything. Something has to save her.”
“No. There’s nothing you can do, and you have to stop trying.”
Isla snarls and yanks her lenses off to face them. “What, so you’re going to give up? I thought you cared! I thought she meant something to you!”
A long pause. That hit home.
“…You know that’s not true. You know I care just as much as you do.”
Isla jabs her awl at them. “Then do something!”
“There’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing you can do, Isla. I’m sorry.”
“You’re wrong. There’s always a way.”
A sigh. “Maybe, but you can’t afford it.”
Isla turns back to her work and continues scrawling artifice across the wood of her contraption. “That’s not for you to decide.”
Isla wakes to sunlight and the sound of birds chirping. She’s exhausted and her back hurts.
“Hey, are you awake?” Solanus asks somewhere from her left. “Hey! Lucy! Isla’s awake!”
Isla sits up and rubs her temples while Lucian comes in from the adjoining room. “Hey,” Lucian says. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” Isla says. She’s got an enormous headache, but that seems par for the course, these days. “I guess.”
She looks around and sees that she’s been put on some blankets on the ground again. No wonder her back is sore.
“I figured you’d object to using the bed,” Lucian says. “Considering we murdered them.”
Isla grimaces. “You don’t have to say it like that.”
Lucian swings around and sits on the table. “How would you put it? We killed them, Isla. They were trying to kill us, and we killed them first.”
Isla looks down at her hands. “I know, I just…I don’t want to think about it.”
“Yeah?” Lucian asks. “So what, you’re going to pretend it didn’t happen? Because it did. Liam and Caelan are dead now.”
“Don’t name the dead,” Isla says softly. “That’s bad luck.”
“You know what’s even worse luck? Murder,” Lucian says. “Look, I’m not saying you were wrong. If we hadn’t killed them, we’d be dead now, and I’ll be honest, I don’t feel that cut-up about killing a witch and his boyfriend. But you have to face the fact that you did it.”
“There had to have been a different way,” Isla says. “They didn’t have to die, did they?”
“I don’t know, but that’s not what happened,” Lucian says. “Make your peace with it, or don’t. But don’t pretend it didn’t happen.”
Isla winds her fingers together in silence. Despite the sunlight, the atmosphere feels so much heavier with only her and Lucian in the house.
She remembers the sound of Caelan’s bones cracking against the ground. She wishes she didn’t.
“Does it have to be that way?” she asks.
Lucian sighs. “We’re going to do a lot of bad things on the way to getting all your memories, Isla. These aren’t the first people we’ve killed, and they won’t be the last, either. I don’t like it, but if we don’t get your memories, even more people are going to get hurt or die. I’m sorry you had to kill someone, but it’s going to happen again, and not everyone who gets it is going to deserve it.”
That’s what really gets her, Isla thinks. She thinks she could justify it to herself if she could promise to only hurt a certain type of human monster, but the truth is, not everyone who ends up with her memories will be horrible, unrepentant people. Liam and Caelan weren’t. The facts are, her memories are dangerous and people want the kind of magical power they can give. They won’t give them up without a fight, and some of them…some of them will die.
But she doesn’t want to say it.
The silence stretches on for a bit, then Lucian says, “I made some food. There were some vegetables left over in the pantry and some cured meat, so I went ahead and used it. Don’t want it to go to waste.”
“That’s theft!” Isla protests.
“They’re dead,” Lucian says. “And all the food in your pack is at the bottom of the lake. You need to eat.”
“I know, but…can’t we find something? Anything that involves not stealing from dead people?” Isla asks.
“There’s a fishing rod if you want to try your luck,” Lucian says. “But all of their food is going to rot if someone doesn’t eat it, and there’s nobody else in the area. That someone is you.”
Isla struggles with the decision. She doesn’t want to waste food, but she doesn’t want to steal from people, either, even if they did summon a demon and try to kill them. Eventually her hunger wins out, and she goes to sit at the table and eats sullenly. It’s a little bland and overcooked, but she doesn’t bother to comment on it. It’s not like Lucian can test the things she cooks.
“Anyways, I looked through the house while you were sleeping,” Lucian says as Isla eats. “It turns out your spontaneously combusting friend kept a journal.”
Isla stops mid-bite. “You read their journal? Lucian, you can’t do that!”
“You guys already killed them. I don’t know why you’re getting all upset about it now,” Solanus says.
“I didn’t want to kill them! They were very nice people!” Isla argues.
“Yeah, very nice people who summoned a demon and tried to kill all three of us. Isla, good manners don’t actually make people good people. I, for example, am extremely rude, but I haven’t summoned any demons or murdered anyone.”
“That’s not my point–”
“Hey,” Lucian cuts in. She holds up a thin book which must be the aforementioned journal. “Shut up for a second. The point I was getting to is that, if you ignore all the gross mushy stuff, there’s a lot of interesting info in here. As in, the two of them really did come by about a year ago and get cursed by a witch.”
“That’s what they said,” Isla says. “You didn’t have to snoop through their stuff.”
“Right, but you know what they didn’t say? Ghosty boy was the only one who got cursed.”
“What? But they– Caelan catches on fire when they go outside. Went outside.”
“Don’t name the dead, that’s bad luck,” Lucian says. “As I was saying, that’s the interesting part. The witch only cursed ghosty boy before disappearing. Ghosty boy’s the one who cursed his boyfriend.”
Isla nearly chokes on her food. “What? But that’s– Lucian, they loved each other! He would never do that!”
“Yeah? You said he’d never summon a demon, but look where we are. Looks like he got interested in witchcraft after being trapped in a house with all this witchcraft stuff. Maybe he thought that witchcraft would be a way to overcome the witch’s curse and let him leave this house.”
“But…to curse his own boyfriend? That curse was horrible! You heard Caelan screaming!”
“Isla, if you keep saying their name, they’re going to come back as a ghost. I know I said them earlier, but I was trying to make a point,” Lucian says. “Our resident witch probably realized there’s no way to overcome a curse except with another curse, so he cursed the only person around–his boyfriend–so they couldn’t go out in the sun.”
“But they could. They…caught on fire, that’s all.”
Lucian leans back and opens the journal to somewhere in the middle. “Right, well, the curse didn’t end up as strong as he probably wanted it to be. Maybe he did the curse wrong, or he pulled back because he was casting it on his boyfriend.” Lucian flips the page. “The point is, it didn’t work. Cursing his boyfriend made him strong enough to leave the house, but only a little bit, and only in certain weather. It wasn’t enough for him to leave entirely.”
“That’s horrible,” Isla says.
“Yeah, and then he saw your memories go down in the lake. He thought he could fix himself with that, so he summoned a demon to get them for him. Of course, once the demon grabbed the memories, it got strong enough to break control,” Lucian says. “I don’t think he knew that would happen. He didn’t know what he was dealing with.”
“Why would Li–I mean, why would he do…all of that?”
“Because he wanted to get uncursed, obviously,” Lucian says.
“But he summoned demons! He cursed his boyfriend!” Isla says. “Nobody could be that desperate!”
“That’s not for you to say,” Lucian says. “If it makes you feel better, it looks like your late on-fire friend offered to take the curse because they didn’t seem too upset or surprised about it.” She snaps the journal closed. “It’s a bad situation all around, if you ask me. Your ghosty friend didn’t even make a deal with a witch–he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s all. He didn’t handle it very well, but what was he supposed to do? Being stuck in one place and not being able to touch anything is enough to make anyone a bit desperate. Curses do that. Just look at us.”
“We don’t do…that, though,” Isla says. “That would be like if I’d cursed you or Solanus after everything we’ve been through.”
“Sure, we haven’t done that, but it doesn’t mean we haven’t done anything bad at all,” Lucian says. “It’s been a long five years, Isla.”
Isla’s silent for a long time, chewing on some tasteless potato. Yesterday, she commanded a demon and it killed Caelan. There’s blood on her hands now, and there’s more from the that she can’t remember.
It hadn’t been difficult. She could do it again, and that’s something she doesn’t want to think about.
“Would it have worked?” she asks.
“Would what have worked?”
“I mean, my memories,” Isla says. “Could he have fixed his curse with my memories?”
“No,” Lucian says. “Curses don’t break that easily. Maybe if he’d made enough deals and cursed enough people he could collect enough forfeits to overcome his curse, and your memories would have made him stronger, but they can’t undo a curse. Not like that.”
“Oh,” Isla says. She pushes some vegetables around her plate, not feeling very hungry anymore. “He didn’t deserve that,” she says. “Getting cursed, and being stuck here without a body and everything.”
“I don’t think anyone does,” Lucian says.
Isla stands up, leaving her plate unfinished. “I need some air.”
“Fine,” Lucian says. “Watch out out front. The body’s still there, and it’s not pretty.”
Isla grimaces. She doesn’t want to think about that. Not now, not ever. It’d be easy to stay inside and pretend everything is okay out there.
She goes out.