Isla dreams of eyes glowing in the darkness, glowing green, glowing gold, glowing red. There’s a person standing there, shadows shifting over the outlines of their form, growing into something larger, something monstrous.
The monster lumbers towards her, and its footfalls make the very ground shake under its weight and force. She can feel the magical power burning off of its ink-black skin and it feels like standing in an open flame, like standing in a sandstorm with her skin exposed to the buffeting winds. It eats ad eats and eats away at her, and she can’t move away, or won’t.
“Go back to where you came,” a spidery voice says, filtering down through the darkness.
The monster–the demon–roars, its gray skin cracked with glowing power pulsing gold.
“Leave,” the voice says, and Isla moves. There’s light in her hand, a blade of shining white light, and then–
The blade pierces the demon through the heart, and it bursts in a flash of light, screaming out in a cacophony of otherworldly pain. It staggers, darkness shrinking from its form. The blade breaks off in Isla’s hands, and the demon collapses into her arms, human-shaped again. She holds them abreast and sees fading green eyes that–
Isla snaps awake in cold sweat.
“Lucian,” she chokes.
She stumbles out of bed, nearly tripping herself in the process. “Lucian!” she shouts, throwing her door open. “Lucian, where are you?”
Isla slams into Lucian, wrapping her arms tightly around her. “Oh gods, Lucian, you’re okay. You’re okay.”
Lucian pats her on the back awkwardly. “Isla, what’s going on? Are you okay?”
Isla squeezes Lucian tighter. “I had… I had a nightmare. And I…Lucian, I think I killed you.”
Lucian’s silent for a bit, then–with some difficulty–pulls Isla off of her. “Isla, look at me. I’m fine. I’m not hurt or anything. I’m perfectly fine.”
Isla looks at Lucian, up and down. It’s hard to see her properly in the darkness, but there are her eyes, glowing bright green and strong.
“Take a few deep breaths, Isla,” Lucian says. “It’s just a nightmare, okay? They happen.”
Isla swallows and nods, and tries to take a deep breath. It gets easier after a few tries. “Sorry, I just…”
“It’s okay. I’m fine, all right?” Lucian says. “You had a nightmare. You didn’t hurt me. Everything’s okay.”
“Yeah, I’m just…” Isla hiccups. “I’m sorry. I’m being silly. I got all worked up over a nightmare, and–”
Lucian sighs and pulls Isla into a hug. “Don’t worry about it, okay? Nobody’s hurt.”
Isla takes a deep breath and hugs Lucian back. “I…I don’t know if I can go back to sleep.”
“That’s fine, I can’t either,” Lucian says. “Can you try, at least? You need to get some rest for tomorrow. It’s still not another…three hours until sunrise.”
Isla pulls back. She doesn’t want to sleep. She’s scared of having that dream again, of feeling Lucian limp in her arms and seeing her–
But she’s right. Isla’s still exhausted and she needs sleep.
“I…maybe.” She swallows, then asks, “Can you, um. Can you stay with me? Just, you know. In the room.”
Lucian makes an expression that Isla can’t quite make out in the darkness, but might be a smile. “Yeah, of course. If you think it’ll help.”
They go back into the room and Isla lays down again on the cot. Lucian sits over by the door, keeping an eye out.
“I’ll be fine,” Lucian says. “Can’t really be killed, you know?”
Isla smiles a bit, then tries to get comfortable on the bed. The cot is stiff and she ends up tossing and turning a lot before giving up and staring at the ceiling in darkness. She’s exhausted, but she just…can’t sleep. The thought of hurting–or even killing–Lucian is one that haunts her, and she’s not sure what she’d ever do if something really did happen to her.
She doesn’t remember very much, even with the memories she’s collected. Only a little bit of before, but nothing of Lucian and Solanus, or the time they’ve been together. She’s not sure if she ever will remember all that. She’s not even sure who she is.
“Lucian?” she asks.
“What was I like? You know, before I lost my memory.”
There’s a long pause. For a little bit, Isla thinks that Lucian might tell her something awful that she doesn’t want to hear.
Lucian sighs. “It’s hard to describe,” she says. “You were…I don’t know. Less naive, I guess. You hurt people sometimes, especially towards the end of the year. And you…I don’t know. You seemed to have a lot on your mind all the time. I think you were keeping secrets from us, but obviously I don’t know for sure.”
Isla hesitates. “Are you mad at me? For keeping something important from you?”
Lucian shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m used to it. It’d be nice to not get blindsided, though.”
Isla thinks about her heart and the witch’s voice, echoing in her nightmares. “Um, Lucian?”
She should tell Lucian. She really should. It would be so easy, just, ‘my heart might fail if I keep using magic’. Just ‘I think I might die soon’. But there in the darkness, the words feel so heavy, and there’s nothing Lucian can do except worry–and worrying won’t fix the problem.
“Isla?” Lucian prompts.
Isla swallows her words. She can’t do it. She can’t say it. Instead, she says, “Thanks. You know, for being with me all this time. Even with everything that’s happened.”
“Oh,” Lucian says. “You don’t have to thank me for that. We’re in this together. That’s just what friends do.”
“Yeah,” Isla says. “But still. I…I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t with me. So thanks.”
Isla closes her eyes. She manages to sleep, eventually. This time, she doesn’t dream, or if she does, she doesn’t remember it.
Isla wakes up some time after sunrise to Lucian shaking her awake.
“Huh?” Isla says blearily.
“There’s someone in the house,” Lucian says. “I think they’re in the kitchen.”
“Someone in the house? Did”–Isla yawns–“Did Em come back?”
Lucian gives her a look. “Okay, I know you keep mentioning Em, but clearly I’m missing something here. Who the hell is Em?”
Isla sits up slowly. “What do you mean, ‘who’s Em?’ They’re the person who lives here. They showed us here and let us stay yesterday, remember?”
“Isla, that…didn’t happen,” Lucian says. “We couldn’t find an inn and we looked around for a place to stay and this place was unlocked so we went in. There’s no…Em doesn’t exist, Isla.”
“But…” Isla trails off. “They’re the one who told us the festival never ended. You know what I’m talking about, right? We asked them about weird things happening in town. That’s why we went to the square to see the Lighting.”
Lucian looks at her like she’s lost her mind. “We went to the festival because you wanted to see it, Isla.”
“I…” Isla blinks slowly. She remembers Em and talking to them. Maybe her memory isn’t the best, but she definitely remembers doing all that yesterday. So why doesn’t Lucian remember?
“Look, we can talk about your imaginary Em later, but we should figure out who’s in the house right now.”
Isla purses her lips, then pushes past Lucian and opens the door despite Lucian gesturing at her to stop.
“Em?” she asks as she goes out into the hallway. “Em? Are you there?”
Lucian grabs Isla by the arm. “What the hell are you doing?” she hisses.
Isla shakes Lucian off and goes into the front room. “Em?”
There’s a rustling sound from the kitchen, then Em walks out into the doorway. “Oh,” they say. “You actually stayed the night. Most people don’t take me up on that offer. How did you sleep?”
“Fine,” Isla says. “Where did you–”
“Excuse me,” Lucian says, pushing Isla out of the way. “But what the fuck is going on?”