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Em looks from Isla to Lucian, then back to Isla again. Something akin to realization crosses their face, and they point at Isla. “You still remember me.”
“Yeah, of course I do,” Isla says. “We talked to you yesterday. My memory might suck, but it’s not that bad.”
Em’s eyes narrow. “Are you a witch?”
“She is not a witch, thank you,” Lucian says. “And I’m still lost. What’s going on? Why do you two know each other?”
“I told you, we met yesterday,” Isla replies in a low voice. “You were there.”
“And I’m telling you, that didn’t happen.”
Em clears their throat. “No, it’s normal. People don’t…remember me. You might call it a curse, I suppose.”
Isla looks back at Em. “You’re cursed?” They don’t exactly look cursed, but she supposes that most people don’t.
Em shrugs. “I got what I asked for. Why can you remember me? Nobody’s ever been able to do that, except the witch who…” They trail off. “Never mind. That was a long time ago. You can’t be the witch.”
“Right,” Isla says, less than confidently. Obviously, she’s never met Em in her life that she can remember, but she also can’t remember an overwhelming majority of her life, and she doesn’t know if she’s ever done witchcraft. Lucian and Solanus say she hasn’t, but…she was doing a lot of strange things before she got cursed. Maybe one of those things is why she doesn’t forget Em like everyone else seems to.
“Okay, ignoring the weird shit and the curse and all that,” Lucian says. “Do you know anything about this town?”
“I’ve been here my whole life,” Em says.
“Great,” Lucian says. “Why’s today yesterday?”
Em shrugs. “It’s been like this for a while. I’m not sure what caused it.”
Lucian crosses her arms. “How long is a while?”
“A bit over a month, maybe. It’s hard to keep track of time when it’s the same day over and over again,” Em replies. “Why do you want to know? You don’t mean to stay, do you?”
Lucian shoots Isla a look, then says, “We’re going to stay until we figure out the source of this thing.”
That makes Em look a bit nervous. “Really? The town…isn’t safe, though. And you’re not going to get anything from going through the same day over and over. I certainly haven’t.”
“We can handle ourselves, thanks, but we appreciate the concern,” Lucian says. “Come on, Isla. Let’s go.” She takes Isla’s wrist and pulls her away.
“Bye!” Isla shouts as she’s dragged through the door. “We’ll see you later, Em!”
Em waves back unenthusiastically, and the door shuts between them.
It’s bright and clear outside, with birds chirping and people already starting to get busy setting up the town with preparations for the night’s festival.
“What a character,” Lucian says as they head down towards the town center again. “Seems like we can’t go anywhere without finding someone cursed.”
“Don’t be mean,” Isla says. “Nobody can remember them! That’s a horrible curse! Why would anyone do that to someone?”
Lucian adjusts her bag and shrugs. “They said they asked for it. Maybe they did something really, really bad.”
“That’s not true,” Isla protests. “I mean, you had to ask the witch to sell your soul, but that doesn’t mean you really wanted to sell your soul, right? Maybe it’s the same thing for Em.”
“There’s a pretty big difference between selling your soul and not realizing it turns you into a horrible rock monster and asking a witch to make it so everyone forgets you, then getting upset that everyone forgets you,” Lucian says. “They probably murdered a bunch of people or something.”
“That can’t be it. They’re so nice!”
Lucian shoots a look back at her. “Yeah, well I’m sure that the m–the automaton was nice enough to you, and we all know how that turned out. You don’t have to be a complete dick all the time to also be a terrible person.”
Isla, unfortunately, doesn’t have a rebuttal to that. She knows well enough how far Aurel’s hospitality went, towards both her and Lucian. And while she still doesn’t trust Em, she doesn’t want to think that they’re some horrible person, though. They certainly don’t seem like someone who would kill people or do the kind of horrible crime that would warrant asking a witch to make everyone forget them.
“Anyways,” Lucian says, breaking the awkward silence, “why is it that Em’s the only one who realizes the town’s repeating itself? I mean, besides us. What’s so special about them?”
“I…don’t know. Em said they lived here all their life, and everything in town seems to reset every day. That should include Em, too, right? But it doesn’t, and the only thing we know is that they’re cursed and live at the edge of town.”
“I’m not even sure they do. Live there, I mean. That place isn’t fit to live in for any sort of extended period of time–there’s no food, no fuel, and the furniture all sucks. They’re probably hiding out there, same as us. I mean, do we really know they’ve been in town all their life? We’ve only got their word to go on, and if everyone forgets them, it’s not like we can confirm their story.” Lucian shakes her head. “I guess it doesn’t matter. Whatever is going on in this town, Em’s probably in the center of it. Problem is, it’s going to be hard to ask people about them if nobody remembers they exist.”
That’s a good point. “I…I guess we could ask about the house,” Isla says. “Someone must have lived there before, right?”
Lucian hums. “Yeah, maybe we have to do that. It’s not the most straightforward way, but it’s all we’ve got.”
They go to the town square again. It’s bustling with activity–people are carting materials back and forth, building displays, and hanging up banners wherever they go. There’s no stalls, not like in the previous town, but there does seem to be a lot of people shouting and pointing at each other to go places.
Lucian and Isla try asking around a couple of times, get brushed off, and decide to go somewhere a little quieter to ask their questions.
They end up a few blocks over, out by what looks like a clothing store that Isla leans over to get a better look at, but Lucian drags her past before she can break off and see any of the dresses inside.
“Remember, we’re trying to find out about the house,” Lucian says. “We don’t have time to buy clothes.”
Isla almost starts arguing, but then a girl runs headlong into them, and all three of them tumble to the ground in a heap, along with all the things that were formerly in the girl’s hands.
“Oh, no! I’m so sorry!” the girl says as she gets to her feet. “I was in a hurry, and…are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Lucian says, sitting up and dusting herself off.
Isla takes a little longer to get her bearings, and looks at the girl. She’s got her hair tied up in reddish-brown ringlets, and she’s wearing a turnic that’s been heavily embroidered with a dark swirling pattern. She can’t be more than seventeen years old. Isla thinks there might be something familiar about her.
“I’m so sorry,” the girl says again. “It’s just that there’s so much I have to do before the ceremony tonight, I’ve been running everywhere all day, and now…”
“You’re one of the performers, aren’t you?” Isla asks. “At the Lighting. You wore gray face paint.”
The girl looks at her with wide green eyes. “Shh, don’t say that out loud. You’re not supposed to know that, it’s a secret. If anyone hears you, they’ll think I told you, and I didn’t. I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“You can get in trouble for that?” Lucian asks as she stands up. “That’s weird.”
“You won’t say anything, will you?” the girl asks, frantic. “Please, don’t tell anyone. It’s really unlucky if anyone knows who isn’t supposed to. I don’t want the Lighting to go wrong.”
“We won’t tell anyone,” Isla promises. “Do you need help picking up your things?”
It’s only then that the girl seems to realize she’s dropped everything on the ground. “Oh, no!” she shouts. “I don’t have time for all this–” the rest of her statement is incomprehensible as she mutters things to herself and ducks down to gather everything into her arms again.
Isla and Lucian help her pick them up. It’s a wide array of mismatched things like herbs, phials, pewter discs, and cordage. They hand them back to the girl, who thanks them profusely.
“Thank you so much!” the girl says, sounding like she’s on the verge of tears. “You’re so nice, and I don’t even know who you are! I’m, my name is Rebecca, and, uh, I’m really busy right now. But if you come over to the shop, I’d love to have you join us for dinner or something as thanks.” She points over to the dress shop. “It’s that one. My family owns it and I help with the clothes. It’s just that today’s the festival, and–”
A loud bell tolls through the air from the clock tower in the town square.
“And I’m late!” Rebecca says. “Sorry! Come see me later!”
And she runs off.
“Huh,” Lucian says. “She’s going to get into trouble, running around like that.”
“I think she’s cute,” Isla says.
Lucian dusts her shirt off. “You think all girls are cute.”
“That’s not true,” Isla protests. “I mean, you’re a girl, and–wow, okay. That sounded a lot better in my head.”
Lucian stretches, then says, “We still haven’t found anyone who can tell us about the house at the edge of town.”
“Right,” Isla says. “Who are we going to ask about that?”
“I don’t know,” Lucian says, opening the door of a random shop. “I guess we’ll pick someone.”