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Caelan’s body is strewn out front on the shore, face down. It’s probably best that way, judging from the still wet blood flowing down the rocks and into the lake. They might not even be recognizable anymore.
Isla moves on and sits down at the end of the dock. It’s well into the day now, with the sun shining high in the sky, without a cloud to be seen in any direction. The lake is clear and calm and it’s quiet except for the distant crash of the waterfall. Other than the body on the shore, there’s no indication that there was a fight here last night. No claw marks, no scorching, no magical residue. If she pretends hard enough, she can pretend that last night was all a big, horrific nightmare.
She takes a deep breath.
Liam and Caelan let them into their home and spoke to them and were good, friendly people. Now they’re dead.
Liam wasn’t a bad person. He summoned a demon and cursed his boyfriend, but he wasn’t a bad person. Isla wants to believe it so badly because it has to be true. A bad person doesn’t love someone as much as he did, no matter what Lucian says. He wasn’t a bad person, but getting cursed drove him to do…all this.
What about her? What is she willing to do to get rid of her curse? She’s already killed someone. Lucian says that she’s never cursed anyone, but would she ever get desperate enough to do it? She wants her memories back, but she doesn’t want to hurt people, doesn’t want to break into buildings and steal things and leave a path of destruction where her memories lay.
She thinks that if it meant she’d never have to hurt anyone, she would be okay losing her memories every year.
But it’s not just her, is it? It’s Lucian. It’s Solanus. It’s everyone who might get hurt because of the power contained in her scattered memories. There’s more curses than just hers on the line, and she has to help them, just as they’re helping her.
They need to find her memories and kill the witch, maybe even more than she does, and she can’t back out. After everything they’ve been through, she’s their only hope, the only path to fixing everything at the root of it all.
Isla takes a deep breath in, holds it, then lets it out. She stares at her hands for a long while. She used to do artifice, before everything went sour. She remembers that now. She wasn’t stellar at it, not nearly as good as whoever it was who taught her, but she was better than most. She remembers scrawling symbols over wood constructs, etching metal discs, putting all of her artifice knowledge together into devices and spells so she could fix…something.
She was desperate, but she can’t remember why. What happened? Who was it? Why did they matter so much to her?
Maybe it doesn’t matter. In the end, she failed. She must have, or she wouldn’t be here now, cursed.
She hears footsteps behind her.
“Hey, you’re still out here?” Lucian asks. “Are you okay? I can talk, if you want. I mean, I don’t know if I can help, but I’ll try.”
Isla clasps her hands together. A heavy silence hangs between them. “I…didn’t mean to kill them,” she says softly. “I wanted them to stop attacking you. That’s all I told the demon to do.”
“And believe me, I appreciate it,” Lucian says, sitting down next to her. “I don’t think you should blame yourself for that. They would have killed us if we let them.”
“I know,” Isla says, and she does. “I still think they didn’t have to die. There must have been some other way to get my memories back. One where they didn’t have to get hurt.”
“That would have been better, but there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Lucian says.
That’s the truth of it, whether Isla likes it or not.
“Do you even care?” Isla asks. “Do you feel anything, now that they’re dead? Or is it all fine because I got my memories?”
Lucian exhales. “Why do you want to know?”
“Because you’re my friend, or we’re supposed to be friends,” Isla says. “And I know you’re a good person. When you killed Liam, you…you didn’t hesitate at all. You stabbed him in the heart and that was that. I just…I need to know. I need to know you care.”
Lucian’s silent for a long time, then says, “I try not to. It’s easier if I don’t care, I’ve had to cross lines I never wanted to cross and chances are I’ll have to do it again. It’s easy to think that there must have been a better way, or some solution that would have turned out peacefully for everyone involved, but in the end, we’ve decided to get your memories, and we’re only three people. We don’t get a lot of choices on how we can accomplish that.”
“It shouldn’t be like that,” Isla says.
“It shouldn’t. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be cursed, and we wouldn’t be on this journey in the first place,” Lucian says, not unkindly. “In an ideal world, we could all afford to be good, kind people. But that’s not the world we live in, and some of the things we want are more important than being kind.”
“…I’m sorry you think that.”
“So am I,” Lucian says.
The two of them sit there on the dock for a while in silence. There’s not a lot to say, or maybe there’s too much. It’s been nine days since she woke up in a cave–exactly one and a half weeks–and she already feels like she’s been thrown into so much. Ghosts and curses and demons, and there’s no telling what will come next.
“Lucian, why did you make a deal with the witch? What did you want?” Isla asks.
Lucian looks at her. “That’s…not an easy thing to answer.”
“Sorry,” Isla says. “If you don’t want to talk about it…”
“No, it’s fine. Just give me a moment.”
Lucian’s silent for a while longer, then says, “I…I used to be an apothecary. Back before I was cursed. Making potions and medicines and all that. Apothecary is an important job, you know? I know how to set broken bones and treat burns and clean wounds. But…everyone in my town hated me. They destroyed my shop and everything in it. They were ready to kill me, too.”
“What? How could they do something like that?”
“I don’t know,” Lucian says. “I don’t remember. I don’t remember dealing with the witch, or what I promised to it, but I probably just wanted everything to be better. To stop hurting, you know? And you know what, it took my soul. I don’t hurt anymore. I don’t feel anything else, either, and well…it was stupid. I shouldn’t have dealt with the witch. They always get the better deal.”
“I’m sorry,” Isla says. “But we’re going to fix it, right? We’ll get my memories and fix you, and Solanus, and me.”
“That’s the hope,” Lucian says. “It feels like a long shot sometimes. We only have a year, and this is my sixth try. It’s hard to stay hopeful after five failures.”
There’s another long pause between them.
Lucian clears her throat. “We should go back inside. Get ready to move on.”
“Wait,” Isla says.
“Um, we should…can we bury the body? You know, give them a proper send-off.”
Lucian gives her a long look, then sighs and says, “Okay. I guess that’s fair. We’ll bury them, then we can leave tomorrow. The soil shouldn’t be too hard if we go a little bit into the forest.”
Isla lets out a relieved breath. “Thanks, Lucian. It means a lot to me.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Lucian says. “And for the record, I didn’t want to kill them, either.”
The house doesn’t have a proper shovel, but Lucian finds a garden trowel that Isla uses to dig a decent-sized hole just outside the tree line where the soil isn’t too rocky. Lucian digs with her hands, and it seems about as effective. Between the two of them it takes a couple of hours to dig a hole big enough to put Caelan’s body.
Caelan was tall. In death, they look smaller and broken, though it makes their body no easier to carry. It takes both Lucian and Isla to move and lower it into the newly dug grave. Isla sets a handkerchief over Caelan’s ruined face.
“I’m sorry,” she says. She tosses Liam’s purple rocks in after them. Obviously, there’s no physical body to bury for him, but she thinks it’s appropriate for them to be buried together, at least in spirit.
She and Lucian fill in the grave, and Isla sets a large flat stone at the head. She doesn’t have any proper engraving tools, but Lucian finds another rock that Isla uses to clumsily scratch out Caelan and Liam’s names. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever find the grave out here in the mountains, so far away from any civilization, but if anyone does, they’ll know someone lived here, once.
She sets a bunch of wildflowers on the freshly covered grave and murmurs a short prayer. She doesn’t know what gods–if any–they answered to, but it’s the least she can do to ask for safe passage into whatever lies beyond. Lucian stands by in silence, her hands clasped.
“Okay,” Lucian says once the sun starts to set. “I think it’s time to go. You need rest so we can leave tomorrow.”
Isla wipes her eyes and says, “Yeah. Sounds good.”
They head back to the house and Isla takes a proper look at her belongings. Her phials of spell ingredients are unharmed, and her jar, of course, is fine except for the ruined ribbon, which she’ll need to fix. Her writing tools are all destroyed, along with her inks. Her journal is intact, but almost all of the writing has been washed out.
Only the last entry is even remotely legible.
“Kill the witch,” it says. “Keep Lucian and Solanus close.”
She collects a few items around the house. Candles, stones, papers and pens, a stick of chalk. Liam can’t use them anymore, and she needs them if she wants to find the rest of her memories and still be alive at the end of it all.
She casts her wayfinding spell again, and it points her eastwards, down past the waterfall.
Tomorrow, they set out again.