The random shop they walk into appears to sell knives. They sell other things, too, but mostly knives. Isla is never more glad that Solanus can’t see.
“Hey there,” the shopkeeper says. “You folks looking to buy something? I’ve got some premium blades here for you.”
“We’ll think about it,” Lucian says in a tone that means she will not think about it. “We’re actually new in town, and we were wondering about that house on the west edge of town.”
The shopkeeper leans on the counter. “The west edge of town’s pretty big, sonny,” they say. “What’s it look like?”
Lucian describes the house and its location, but the lines in the shopkeeper’s face just get deeper and deeper.
“You’ve got to be confused. There ain’t no house there. Stories say a witch cursed the spot ages ago, and no one here’s foolish enough to mess with that,” the shopkeeper says. “Maybe you got yourself turned around.”
“Oh,” Lucian says. “I see. That might be it. Well, thanks anyways. I guess we’ll go, then.”
“You’re not going to even look at the knives?” the shopkeeper asks, disappointed. “These are imported blades, best iron in the Empire. The best iron in the continent, this side of the wilds!”
Solanus starts making muffled sounds and Lucian talks over her, saying loudly, “No, we’ve already got knives. But we’ll keep you in mind if we need another.”
Isla gives the shopkeeper a polite nod, then starts to follow Lucian out.
“Wait!” the shopkeeper yells after them just as Isla opens the door. “If you’re looking for abandoned houses, there used to be one over on the east side of town.”
“Really?” Isla asks, pausing in the doorway. “What happened to it?”
“Some kids moved in a few years back. Plague orphans, most of them. They’re a good lot, but they get into trouble from time to time. Nobody wanted to live there because all the other folks who did died under mysterious circumstances.”
“You let kids live in a dangerous place like that?” Isla asks.
The shopkeeper chuckles. “Well, nobody knows if it’s really unlucky now. The stories are from a long time ago. The kids needed a place to live and nobody was going to stop them. They’re still alive now, so maybe they’re lucky.”
“Or something even worse might happen,” Lucian mutters under her breath.
“Thanks,” Isla says loudly. “We’ll keep it in mind.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Lucian says. “Come on, Isla. I’m not letting you buy any knives. We can’t afford these anyways.”
“Okay, so,” Isla says, looking vaguely off towards the east side of town. “The shopkeeper said there was some kind of abandoned house on the other side of town? Except it’s not abandoned anymore, because people moved in. But a lot of people died in that house, I guess.”
“The shopkeeper wasn’t super specific in that respect,” Lucian says. “So what, you want to check that house out?”
“I, uh, don’t know where else to look. Maybe the house is cursed or something.”
“You can’t curse a house,” Lucian says. “The whole point of it is that you do it on a person. Houses don’t have souls and shit.”
Isla sighs. “You know what I meant. Maybe there’s some weird magic going on there. We should check it out.”
They check out the house. It takes a lot of asking around to find out where exactly it is, but about two and a half hours later they’re at the gates of what looks like a fairly large two-story house. If it weren’t for the paint chipping off of the woodwork or the run-down state or the ruined roofing shingles or, well…everything, it would probably be a very nice house. It certainly looks abandoned.
“How charming,” Lucian says. “I’m not getting great vibes from this place.”
“What kind of not great vibes?” Isla asks.
“Besides the obvious ones? Well, it feels demony.”
Hanging on Lucian’s belt, Solanus makes a muffled sound. Lucian obligingly turn it on.
“Hey, where the hell are we?” Solanus asks. “What’s going on? I thought there were knives! What can’t you guys ever tell me anything?”
“We’re investigating some abandoned house,” Lucian says. “I’m getting some demony vibes. What about you?”
“Yeah, that too, but what I actually meant to say is I think Isla’s memories might be around here,” Solanus says.
Isla blinks. “You can feel my memories?”
“Uh…yeah, kind of. I mean they’re big weird magic, and it’s not like I can tell you where it is exactly, it’s like when you can smell something really tasty but you don’t know where it is but instead of smelling it’s sensing magic because that’s how this metaphor–“
“So you think Isla’s memories might be in the house?” Lucian asks.
“Maybe! I haven’t got a shit-damn clue! But it’s around here!”
“But we can’t go into the house, can we? What are we supposed to do, break in?” Isla asks.
“It’s not the worst thing we’ve ever done,” Lucian replies. “Besides, I doubt anyone will really get mad at us if we do.”
Isla looks up at the house. One of the windows on the upper floor is broken, and there’s overgrown tufts of grass peeking through the paving stones leading up to the actual house. The double doors at the front look like they’ve had better days. She can’t imagine anyone living here.
Lucian claps her hands once. “Well, let’s go see what’s inside.”
She pushes through the gate and goes up to the front door and wiggles the door handle. Nothing happens.
“Locked,” she says. She bangs the knocker, but there’s no response, even after multiple attempts.
“I guess nobody’s home?” Isla asks. “Maybe we should come back later.”
“It’s an abandoned house, Isla. Nobody’s going to be here later, either.”
“The shopkeeper said there’s kids living here. Maybe they’re out because of the festival.”
Lucian kicks the door, but it stays sturdy, flashing with light purple symbols that Isla recognizes as protection and defense. The fact that there’s artifice on the house probably explains why it’s still standing even though it’s clearly been abandoned for so long. The people who originally owned it were probably extremely rich.
Lucian frowns at the artifice. “Well, that’s annoying.”
“We could come back later,” Isla says again.
Lucian shakes her head. “Your memories could be in there. Do you really want to put this off? No, we’ll just have to break in another way.”
“Break a window!” Solanus shouts.
“Hopefully we don’t have to get to that point,” Lucian says.
Regardless, she goes around the building, checking each of the windows, only to find that they’re similarly inscribed. She scowls. “Who the hell uses artifice on all the entry points of the house? Who’s got that kind of time? Or money?”
“Someone who doesn’t want weird travelers breaking in, I guess,” Isla says. “So what do we do now?”
“I don’t know. Climb up to the second floor, maybe,” Lucian says, looking up. “Get into that broken window, or through a chimney.”
“We can’t fit in a chimney. Or a broken window. We can’t even climb up there–there’s nothing to climb on.”
“I didn’t say it was a perfect plan,” Lucian replies.
“Hey, hey! We’re trying to get into the house, right?” Solanus asks. “I have a great idea!”
“Oh, no,” Lucian says.
“No! No, wait! Seriously! This is a good idea, I swear!”
“You have literally never had a good idea,” Lucian replies.
Solanus barrels on, clearly unbothered by Lucian’s lack of enthusiasm. “So how about you put me in the bird and I fly in? There’s a broken window, right? I can go in and unlock the door!”
Lucian takes a deep breath, but doesn’t say anything.
“You’re not calling me dumb, so that means it’s a good idea, right? Right?” Solanus asks. “I cold you it’s a good idea!”
“It’s a terrible idea,” Lucian says. “We don’t even have the bird. We left it at the palace.”
“What? Why would you do that?! Lucy! I thought I could trust you! You can’t just–“
Lucian rolls her eyes. “Because it’s a toy and we don’t have enough space to carry around toys we’re not going to use, especially ones that you’re going to get yourself killed using–”
Isla clears her throat. “Actually, um. I have it in my bag.”
Slowly, Lucian turns towards her. “You brought the bird with you?”
Isla blushes. “I…I thought it was cute! And Aurel said I could take one when I left the palace!”
“Yes! See, Isla, I knew I could trust you. This is why you’re my best friend in the world, the best friend anyone could ever have in the world, definitely way better than that Lucy person who doesn’t appreciate me and the wonderful ideas and talents I can do, and–“
“This is why you’re not supposed to encourage her,” Lucian says. “SOl, you know you can only possess that thing for like ten minutes, right? Or you’ll die?”
“It doesn’t take ten minutes to go up then go back down and open a door,” Solanus says. “I can do it, trust me!”
Lucian mutters something under her breath that might be something extremely unflattering, then looks at Isla.
“Don’t look at me,” Isla says. “You’re the one who wanted to break into the house. I just have the bird.”
Lucian sighs. “Okay, fine. We can try using the bird.”
There’s some back-and-forthing, but eventually they get the metal bird out of Isla’s bag and up to the lantern so Solanus can jump to it. There’s a flash, and the toy starts moving in her hands.
“Oh, wow, being able to move is weird. I always forget,” Solanus says, wobbling around uncertainly with her wings outstretched. “How do you guys deal with this?”
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Lucian says, taking Solanus out of Isal’s hands. “Go open that door.” And then she flings Solanus at the second floor of the house. Isla’s just barely able to make out Solanus flapping her wings and narrowly avoiding the window, and then she’s gone.
“You didn’t have to be so aggressive,” Isla says.
Lucian crosses her arms. “If Sol stays in that thing for too long, she’ll burn her soul out. The master liked seeing how long it took, and she wouldn’t get better for days, sometimes. Multiple times, I thought she was dead.”
Isla glances at Lucian, then back up to the broken window. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know…”
Lucian waves her off. “I’m fine. Worried, that’s all. Sol’s a piece of shit, but we still need her.”
They wait for a few very long, very stressful minutes. There’s no way to tell where Solanus is, or if she’s lost in the house, or if something happened to her.
“What if there’s something…bad in the house?” Isla asks.
Lucian opens her mouth to say something when a voice speaks from behind them.
“If there is, it’s none of your business.”