Lucian adjusts her bag. “Come on, let’s go. If we can figure out where this town is and it’s close enough, maybe we can get there soon enough before nightfall to find a good place for camp.”
“Wait!” Isla protests. “What about the festival?”
“What about the festival? Isla, we have to find your memories.”
“I mean…” Isla bites her lip, then says, “Lucian, come on. We’ve had a really rough time for the last month. We’ve been on edge since we left the palace. Would it be so bad to dress up and join in the parade or something?”
“Yes,” Lucian says. “We don’t have time, and I don’t want to hang around in a town with an admitted demon problem. Now come on, let’s go.” She starts walking again.
Isla speeds up to get around in front of Lucian. “But it’ll be fun,” she presses. “Don’t we deserve that much, to take a break for a little while? Don’t you want that?”
“No, I want my soul back!” Lucian snaps. “Do you think I’m having fun the way I am? I don’t feel anything, Isla. I can’t feel heat, I can’t feel pain, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, and the palace is just another thing in a very long chain of bullshit I’ve had to go through to get your memories back. Maybe you don’t remember, but it’s been five years for me and I do not want it to be six. We’ve already lost an entire month. I don’t even know how we’ll be able to make it now.” She takes a deep breath. “So no, I do not want to go to some festival about killing a demon.”
Isla blinks, at a loss for words. “Oh,” she says. “I’m…I’m sorry.”
Lucian shoots her a venomous look, then leaves.
“Lucian!” Isla shouts, going after her. “Lucian, I’m sorry. I didn’t know–”
“Drop it,” Lucian says. “It’s not that important and I don’t want to talk about it. Right now, we need to figure out where this town is.”
“Right, yeah, of course,” Isla says, looking down.
They go back out into the street and it’s quieter now. The procession seems to have passed, at least for the moment. In a town this small, they’ll probably be back again soon enough.
Lucian doesn’t comment on it. She goes up to some people who are in the middle of a conversation and breaks in, asking a few questions. Isla doesn’t really hear the answers or the questions, but she catches a few snippets like ‘down the road’ and ‘east side of the river’, so it’s probably safe to assume they’re talking about the town. The exchange ends less than five minutes later, when Lucian comes back and says, “I’ve got a general idea where it is. We’ll need to buy a map, and then we can go.”
Isla nods. They’ve traveled a very long way in Aurel’s flying vessel, so they probably don’t have any maps that are useful anymore. “I think I saw a market over that way?” she says, pointing east towards a busier part of town.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
The marketplace is, unsurprisingly, crowded. It’s noisy with voices and music and filled with people in festival clothes and banners and stalls selling food and little cute toys that–
“We’re here to buy a map, Isla,” Lucian says firmly.
“Right, yeah, I know,” Isla says, even as she makes a mental tally of the money in her purse and how much she can carry in her bag.
“And remember that once our food runs out, we have to buy more,” Lucian continues as she looks around the stalls. “So you can’t spend all your money.”
“I’m only looking,” Isla says, leaning over to look at a stall selling brightly colored, hand-painted headscarves. “There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”
Lucian sighs. “And this is why I carry eighty percent of our money.”
Lucian tries to go through the market as quickly as she can while Isla tries to go as slowly as she can, and between them they manage a middling pace that has Isla feeling like she can’t look around fast enough. There’s so much color, so much energy and so many pretty things that she wants to get.
“I want to get something to eat,” Isla says. “I’m going to grab something from one of the stalls really fast, okay?”
Lucian grabs her by the back of the collar before she can run off. “You already ate, and we both know you’re going to sneak off to buy as many useless souvenirs as you can stuff in your bag.”
“No, I’m hungry again!” Isla lies through her teeth. “I’m gonna get the, uh…”
Lucian sighs. “Give me your wallet.”
Lucian holds her hand out. “Thirty minutes. You can have thirty minutes to do whatever you want while I go find and buy that map, but I’m not letting you spend all your money.”
“I’d never spend all my money on something like this!”
“You can and you have,” Lucian says flatly. “Now give me your purse.”
Isla pouts, but fishes it out of her bag and hands it over. Lucian opens it, carefully takes out a number of coins, and gives them to Isla.
“Here,” she says, tucking Isla’s purse into the side pocket of her own bag. “Spend that however you want, as long as you’re fine with carrying it. Remember: thirty minutes.”
Isla looks at the coins. It’s not too many, but it’s enough to buy a few nice things. “Okay,” she says.
Lucian shoos her off. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Isla does not do anything stupid.
She and Lucian go off in separate directions, with agreements that they will meet up again on the east side of the square, by the water pump, in half an hour. Isla gets some hot pastries with jam that are flaky and sweet, then goes searching through the stalls for something pretty.
She goes through them fairly quickly–she’s only got half an hour, after all, and she doesn’t want to upset Lucian if she’s late. She finds herself at the headscarves stall once again soon enough, and buys a silky scarf with intricate hand-painted flowers in red, black, and gold. The saleswoman helps her tie it over her hair and Isla thinks it’s definitely worth the money.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” the saleswoman asks. “Most girls your age already have one of these.”
“I’m traveling,” Isla says.
“Oh, that’s wonderful. I wish I were still young enough to travel. Have you been around these parts before?”
Isla shakes her head. “I don’t think so.”
“Will you be safe?” the saleswoman asks. “There are many demons in the area. Very dangerous, no matter how small they are.”
“I think I’ll be okay. I’m, um…” Isla trails off, trying to think of something to say that doesn’t involve being cursed or having illegal magic.
The saleswoman laughs and claps Isla on the back. “You don’t need to try and impress me.” She rummages in a drawer and pulls out a few amulets, then puts them into Isla’s hands. “These will help you stay safe from demons. This way they can’t possess you the way the Great Demon possessed the witch many hundreds of years ago.”
Isla looks at the amulets. They’re simple pendants, a pewter disc not larger than the palm of the hand with a simple flame pattern engraved on one side, hung on a short length of rough cord. Aesthetically, they’re quite handsome despite the cheap materials, and as Isla rotates one and it catches the light, she can see inscriptions etched along the outer edge. She recognizes enough of the symbols to tell it’s carrying a protective enchantment. “I thought demons don’t possess people,” she says.
“Most of them don’t, but accidents happen. And you don’t know what a witch might try to do, if you run into one,” the saleswoman says. She taps the amulets with a long finger. “It is better to be safe than sorry.”
She takes an amulet and puts it around Isla’s neck, then tightens the cord slightly so it won’t fall off. The pewter feels warm against her skin.
“Ah, that’s lovely,” the saleswoman says. “You look like you could take center stage in the Lighting and steal the entire show. You’d just need a proper dress, and I think scarlet would look wonderful on you, especially with that scarf. I think I have just the thing…”
The saleswoman starts rummaging through some more boxes, and Isla smiles, then remembers that she hasn’t got much money left. “Oh,” she says. “I don’t think I can afford that.”
The saleswoman looks at her, then frowns. “Ah, well that’s how it is sometimes,” she says, putting away an embroidered red dress. “Maybe you would still like a set of gloves?”
Isla nods, and when she leaves the stall, she’s got a new pair of soft red and gold patterned gloves that matches wonderfully with her new scarf, and significantly less money.
She thinks it’s worth it, though.
By that time, there’s only about five more minutes before she needs to meet up with Lucian again, so she goes through a few other stalls on her way back. There’s more headscarves and shawls and earrings that she really wants, but doesn’t have enough money for. There’s also flowers and carved wooden toys and intricately designed masks and torches and powders and potions she’s not entirely sure of the use of. She sees a face painting kit that she very, very much wants to buy, but she’s a coin short.
She ends up using the last of her money to buy a braided leather bracelet with round white stones on it. It looks very stark against the embroidered golden feathers on her new gloves, and she thinks she rather likes it.
She heads to the meeting place, here Lucian is already waiting.
Lucian waves. “Hey. I see you…got some new stuff.” She makes a gesture to Isla’s neck. “What’s with the necklace?”
“A lady gave it to me,” Isla says. “She sold me the scarf and gloves.”
“Yeah, she gave it to you so you’d buy more stuff.” Lucian picks up the pewter disc hanging around Isla’s neck. “Looks cheap.”
Isla takes the amulet back. “Don’t be rude! It’s a protection amulet! It’s supposed to help with the demons around here.”
“You put on a magic amulet given to you by some random lady? Are you serious?”
Isla sighs. “I’m not that stupid, Lucian. It’s got real inscriptions on it, and it’s actually a protection amulet. And it’s nice. She gave me a couple extras, so you can have one, too.” She fishes one out of her bag and holds it out to Lucian.
Lucian squints at it. “Artifice again? How’s this supposed to help with demons? Artifice isn’t going to stop you from getting stabbed or set on fire. Especially not by a demon.”
“It’s supposed to stop you from getting possessed.”
Lucian gives Isla a skeptical look. “Seriously? You think an amulet can do that?”
Isla shrugs. “It can’t hurt, right? Try it on. I think it’ll look good on you.”
With a long-suffering sigh, Lucian puts it on. “I don’t feel very protected.”
“Most protective amulets don’t do anything until something happens to you,” Isla says. “But it looks good, so that’s great.”
“It looks tacky,” Lucian says. “Whatever. I got our map. Let’s go. We’ve got a destroyed town to find.”