They keep walking, and the remainder of the walk is only noteworthy because Lucian appears to be happy. Considering recent events, it’s not exactly surprising.
Wherever they’ve landed, it’s hilly country, far enough out of the mountains to be mostly grasslands, but not far enough out of the mountains to actually be flat. If Isla looks out into the distance, she can see more of them, towering up into the sky.
It’s not an easy walk. The path isn’t well-used and Isla has to duck to avoid low branches here and there and the way is more uphill than downhill. More striking than the difficulty of their walk is the sheer life around them. There’s crickets and birds and rustling in the green plants and starbursts of flowers scattered among rough stones and dirt. It’s such a strange shift from the utter silence and lifelessness of the palace.
Around sunset they see lights of a town in the distance, about a kilometer off. Isla can’t tell much from this distance, but it doesn’t seem like too large of a town. Hopefully, someone there can help them find her memories–or at least rent them a room to stay the night in so she can cast her wayfinding spell.
They reach the town as the sun dips below the horizon. There’s no giant walls or gates this time around, which makes Isla optimistic for their immediate future. She notices, though, there are large stones laid around the town with sigil markings on them. From a cursory glance, they look like protective markings, though Isla can’t tell what they’re meant to protect from. The three of them cross the threshold of the city without incident.
The town is more of a village, and spread out. The buildings are built from lumber and stone, with small stone lamps dotting the trodden dirt path, lit with oil and not magic–there’s no way a town this small and far out would have magic lamps. There’s also a lot of water barrels and buckets scattered around, and Isla wonders if this town has a history with fires.
It’s not exactly a bustling city, but there’s still foot traffic even as the sun falls. People shuttle from building to building with baskets or canvas bags full of colorful items, even at this hour. Most of the businesses have their lights out, which Isla takes to mean they’re closed for the night. They find an inn, what is probably the only inn in the town, without much trouble. They stop in and get a single room. The innkeeper gives them a bit of an odd look, but doesn’t comment on Lucian’s appearance or the fact that they are apparently going to share a bed for one.
The room is comfortable enough. There’s a bed with a straw mattress and a writing desk to the side and the floors are clean. There’s enough space for the two of them to stretch out a bit–that’s really all they can ask for in a room for the night.
Isla sits on the bed. It’s lumpy and not nearly as soft as the one back in the palace, but then, very few things would be. Her feet are happy for the rest regardless.
“I’ll be honest,” Lucian says as she pulls her bag off and tosses it aside. “That went really well. After the last town, I was expecting this to be more of a disaster.”
“Don’t say that,” Isla says. “Now something bad is going to happen.”
Lucian shrugs. “We’re already cursed. I’m not sure what other bad things can happen after that.”
Isla refrains from bringing up the obvious, recent example. They’ve had enough of that for one lifetime, both of them. Instead she says, “We’ll need to keep looking in the morning.”
“Yeah,” Lucian says. “I think I’ll go out and see if there are any pubs or anything open late. Someone might be willing to talk to me.”
“Are…are you sure you want to go out alone?” Isla asks.
“No, not really, but we’ve already lost enough time and I don’t want to wait until the morning.”
Isla blinks. “I mean…I could go with you.”
Lucian opens her mouth to respond, then closes it. “Okay, you know what? You’re right. Let me go take care of something, then I’ll be back.” She leaves the room.
Isla sighs. Lucian’s great and all, but maybe it would be better if she didn’t always try to do everything on her own. After all, Isla’s amnesiac, not incompetent.
Slowly, she takes her injured arm out of the sling and unwraps it. She’s still a little numb but the swelling is all gone. She’s got mixed feelings about that. Hopefully, Lucian doesn’t notice or ask too many questions about it–even a sprain shouldn’t heal that fast.
She pulls a few things out of her bag to cast her wayfinding spell, and when she tries to pull on her magic, it feels slippery and hard to find. It leaves a burning feeling down her arms, and she’s not sure what that means.
After some difficulty, though, the spell works. It points them north. Wherever her memories are, they’re not in this town.
Lucian comes back about five minutes later, saying, “So we’re not going out tonight.”
“The innkeeper told us there’s a, in her words, ‘demon problem’ in the area,” Solanus says. “She didn’t seem super worried about it, though, if you ask me.”
“A demon problem?” Isla squawks.
Lucian unhooks Solanus from her belt and sets her aside. “Yeah, a demon problem. It’s been a thing for two hundred years or so, according to the innkeeper. I’m not sure how she’d know about it since she wasn’t alive then, but apparently there’s been a lot of minor demons popping up in this part of the country at night. I guess I shouldn’t surprised–we’re pretty close to the Empire border. Weird stuff can happen here.”
“Weird stuff like demonic rifts?”
Lucian nods. “Don’t you know? Witches like to hang out closer to the border. The imperial guard almost never comes out here; they’d be spread too thin if they tried. All that witchcraft messes with things, and demons come through.”
“Uh…should we be worried?” Isla asks.
“I don’t know,” Lucian says. “The stones around the town are supposed to keep them out but I’m not sure how much I trust them.”
“The town is doing fine now, isn’t it?” Isla asks. “So they probably work, right?”
“Sure, they work,” Lucian says. “But a barrier only stops demons from crossing it. If something gets summoned inside the barrier or a random rift opens up, it’s not going to do shit. I don’t want to risk it, so we’re staying inside tonight.”
“Get some sleep, Isla. You’re probably tired.” She looks down at her clothes–pale palace clothes that are covered in splashes of dirt and other stains–and grimaces. “I’m going to talk to the innkeeper and see if I can swap these for something that doesn’t make me want to hurt someone.”
She goes, leaving Isla and Solanus alone in the room.
“Lucian’s really worried about those demons, isn’t she?” Isla asks.
“I mean, demons are the fucking worst,” Solanus says. “But also they can probably actually kill Lucy, unlike everything else, and also-also she only has one hand right now, so if she runs into anything she’s kind of screwed.”
“And also like, do you really want to go out at night in a town with a demon problem? That sounds like negative fun to me, and I’m not even the one who got dismembered that–“ Solanus cuts herself off. “Wait. Fuck. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“What?” Isla asks. “Dismembered? What do you mean–”
“Nothing! I didn’t say anything! Lucy thinks demons are great! Nothing bad ever happened to her! Fuck, shit, that’s not a good cover story. Uh, Lucy’s reaction to demons is exactly the normal amount you’d expect, because demons are the worst.”
“You know what? I’m tired! I’m going to sleep right now! Good night! Talk to me never! Or when Lucy comes back!”
Isla blinks. “Solanus?”
Solanus stays silent–a surprise to everyone everywhere.
Isla frowns. She can’t say what that outburst was about, except that Lucian must have had some very bad encounter with a demon before. Well, she’s not going to argue. She’s not keen on running into demons, either.
She turns out the lamp. “Good night, Solanus.”
“I’m asleep!” Solanus says.
Isla lays down and sleeps.