They leave town. It’s a bit of a hassle to get through all of the crowds and find the right way out through the circuitous streets, but eventually they manage to get out, passing the line of protection stones around the town, and head north.
When they’re a little ways off, Lucian opens the lantern on her belt again.
“Oh, what’s this? You’re finally letting me talk again?” Solanus asks. “Wow, thanks so much! I thought we were all friends here, and you keep me closed for a hundred years. I thought I would forget all about you, my best friends who used to help me out by carrying me around and talking to me.”
“We were in the middle of town,” Lucian says. “And it’s literally been about an hour since I shut you off. You can stand to be quiet for that long.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to,” Solanus says petulantly.
“Well, we all want things we can’t have, Sol,” Lucian says. She unfolds her map, then continues, “The town we’re looking for isn’t too far away. If we move fast, we can get there a little after nightfall. Hopefully it’s not as destroyed as everyone says it is and we can find a roof to sleep under.”
“Wait, wait. We’re leaving? We’re going somewhere? What’s going on? Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me anything?”
“That’s because we were getting there,” Lucian says. “Keep your shirt on.”
“That’s rude, Lucy! You know I can’t wear a shirt, and even if I could, you know for a goddamn fact I wouldn’t–“
“There’s a city that got destroyed a while ago,” Isla cuts in before Solanus says something really unnecessary. “Like over a hundred years ago.”
“Two hundred years ago,” Lucian corrects.
“Yeah, two hundred years ago. It got torn up by demons or something and it’s the only thing north of here where some weird magic stuff might be happening, so we’re going to check it out.”
“So we’re going to check out some demon-infested ruins? This is our great amazing plan?”
Lucian grunts. “We don’t know that there’s demons. We don’t even know it’s ruined–we just know nobody lives there. They never rebuilt the town because of bad luck or something, and they must have really thought it was true, because they’re by the river and apparently had really good farmland. So either people around here are very, very superstitious, or maybe something else is going on.”
“Yeah, like a demon infestation.”
“Yes, possibly a demon infestation. We’ll burn that bridge when we get there,” Lucian says.
“I don’t think that’s the phrase,” Isla says.
“Not my problem,” Lucian says as she puts her map away. “Come on. It’s this way.”
They head out on a dirt path that’s been used so infrequently that Isla can barely make out the borders of it, much less any carriage wheel or oxen tracks. It’s hilly terrain, cutting through sparse forests and grasslands. If Isla squints out into the distance, she thinks she might see a couple of scattered buildings, but it’s largely uncivilized land.
“Like I said, we’re close to the border. The imperial guard doesn’t reach this far, so most of the people who live out here are part of older settlements or witches. They don’t really move between villages a lot,” Lucian says when Isla brings it up. “Makes it a pain in the ass for us.”
“Uh, right,” Isla says. “So, um, Lucian.”
“What are the chances that the ‘demon problem’ around here is caused by my memories?”
“Pretty much nonexistent,” Lucian says.
“How are you sure?”
“Well, the demons have been a problem around here for something hundred years, and you weren’t alive then, so I think that puts you out as a suspect,” Lucian says. “There’s a lot of rifts near the border. Too many witches running around and messing with shit they shouldn’t. You shouldn’t worry about it.”
“I shouldn’t worry about the demons?”
Lucian grimaces. “I mean, you shouldn’t worry about being the reason why there’s demons here.”
“You should definitely worry about the demons!” Solanus unhelpfully adds.
“I don’t think your memories can even do stuff like opening enough rifts to cause a ‘demon problem’–that’s just too big of a thing. That said, your memories can make existing rifts worse,” Lucian says. “So we’ll probably have to deal with some demons.”
Isla grimaces. She doesn’t like the sound of that at all. “I don’t want to deal with demons. That sounds terrible.”
“That’s because it is,” Lucian replies. “But from what I heard, most of the demons around are small, so we should be okay. You can use magic to banish them, or hit them a few times with the magic knife.”
“Oh,” Isla says. She doesn’t exactly want to tell Lucian that she can’t use magic right now on account of her heart. She’s not ready to explain that, especially when she’s not sure it’s a problem to begin with. Instead, she says, “We have magic knives?”
“Yes, Isla,” Lucian says. “You know, the knife I gave you that had magic on it? The knife with the artifice? The magic knife? The knife with magic that we use specifically to deal with demons without dying?”
“I don’t remember that,” Isla says.
“Color me surprised,” Solanus says. “Isla forgot something.”
Isla makes a face at the lantern, not that Solanus can see it. So her memory isn’t the best, even ignoring her yearly amnesia. She’s doing fine, and she opens her mouth to say so when Lucian points out a large tree further down and suggests they take a break.
“Do demons only come out at night?” Isla asks through a mouthful of bread and cheese.
They’re under the tree Lucian had pointed out, a gnarled and wide-canopied thing that nicely shades enough ground for Isla to sit down and have something to eat. It’s nice to get out of the sun, though the heat isn’t so bad–or at least, Isla doesn’t feel it so much. She’s not sure if she’s tolerating it well or if Aurel had done something to her to make that happen. She remembers the palace being warmer in the last few days, when perhaps she’d gotten colder. She certainly can’t run that warm now, now that her heart is made of titanium and doesn’t even beat.
She tries not to think about it.
“Lucian? Did you hear me?” she prompts.
Lucian looks up. “Huh?”
“Do demons only come out at night, I said.”
“Oh, no. But rifts usually open at night, and small demons don’t last long in this plane,” Lucian says. “So they’re usually gone by morning. If they have enough energy to survive longer, they’re fine in the sun. I thought you already knew this stuff.”
“What? Why would I know that already?”
“Weird,” Lucian says. “The last time we had to do things with demons last year, you seemed to know a lot. I guess if you get your memories back you’ll remember it again.”
Isla makes a face and tries to think if there’s anything she knows about demons. If she thinks hard, she can definitely remember how to summon demons, but not that much about demons themselves. The fact that she knows what she does is already pretty concerning. She can’t imagine why she’d ever need to know how to summon a demon, or when she’d learned that.
Maybe Lucian’s right. She might remember more when she gets more memories. But…that’s not exactly a good thing, is it?
“Lucian, how many memories are there for me to collect? We’ve only found three so far, and my jar…isn’t very full.”
Lucian shrugs, disgruntled. “I don’t know. It seems to change from year to year. You get them all when you get them all.”
“Will a year be enough time?” Isla asks.
“It has to be,” Lucian says. “Or we’ll be stuck doing this forever. I want my soul back and I want to punch that witch in its stupid face.”
Isla slices another piece of bread for herself. “You really hate the witch, don’t you?”
“What in the world would make you say that? Is it because it cursed us and now we’re stuck looking around for weird magic bullshit, except the magic bullshit is also on a timer and we keep having to start over?” Solanus asks. “Or is it because it runs around and stealing important stuff like people’s bodies and sends demons to maul us to death just for fun?”
Isla blinks. “It what?”
“It’s not like I wanted my body or anything. Not like I was using it. Stupid lying witch.”
“Wait, what was that about a demon?” Isla asks.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Lucian says. “Sol’s just saying things. You know how she is. Overdramatic.”
“You know damn fucking well I’m not making shit up, Lucy! That demon was the goddamn murder mayor of murdertown! It was–“
“Sol, did you ever tell Isla about how you lost your body? You were drowning or something, weren’t you?”
“No! That’s not what happened, you dickhead, and you know it! I told you, I was in the mountains and that giant fuck-off rock fell on me!”
“What?” Isla asks. “Wait, did you drown or did you get crushed by a rock?”
“The rock! I literally just told you! I got crushed by a rock! And it was the fucking worst! I was bleeding out and doing all that kind of stuff you do when you’re about to die from getting crushed by a giant rock, like praying and screaming and hoping that you get uncrushed by a giant rock!”
“I…see,” Isla says.
“And then the witch shows up and goes, ‘Hey, you wanna live? I can help you with that!’ and I’m like, ‘Wow, that sounds great, I love living and being alive!’ and the next thing you know I don’t have a friggin’ body anymore. And then you picked me up, and now we’re here.” Solanus makes a grumbling noise. “So yeah, I’m alive, I guess. Even being stuck in here and talking to Lucy is better than being dead, probably. Most of the time.”
“Wow, so you just…made a deal with the witch like that?”
“Look, I didn’t know it was a witch! It didn’t look like any witch I’d ever seen! It didn’t even have evil eyes or anything, it looked like a normal goddamn person and I was literally bleeding to death! What do you want from me?”
“The witch didn’t have red eyes?” Isla asks.
“What? No, but why does it matter? Witches can use magic to make themselves look different,” Solanus says. “But since you bring it up, I guess the witch’s eyes were red. You know, right before it cursed me.”
“Huh,” Isla says.
“And now we’re stuck with each other,” Lucian says. “Sometimes that’s how it is. Are you done eating? We should get going soon.”
Isla stuffs a last piece of bread in her mouth and nods. She doesn’t need to worry about the witch right now–there’s more immediate matters to take care of.
They continue down the path.