Continued searching lands Isla at the northern edge of town, within eyeshot of the river for which the town is named, tired and with no hints as to where Lucian could have gone. She sits down on a crate, feeling thoroughly demotivated. It’s well into the afternoon now, and she can hear the clamor of people setting things up in the distance. Something for the Lighting tonight, and Isla wonders if she should even bother going if she can’t find Lucian.
“Hey,” someone says, and Isla looks up. It’s a kid, maybe sixteen years old. They’ve got wavy brown hair and a round face that seems somewhat familiar. “Are…are you okay?”
“I just lost my friend,” Isla says.
“Uh,” the kid says. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
It takes a second for Isla’s brain to catch up with what she just said. “Oh, no. I mean, I lost her in town, not that–” she trails off as it occurs to her that Lucian could be mad at her forever. That wouldn’t happen, right? She really hopes not.
“Oh. That’s not so bad, then,” the kid replies, adjusting a basket full of plants and small objects in their arms. “Do you need some help finding them? I need to bring some stuff to the town square for the Lighting tonight, but I’m free for maybe an hour or two if you need someone to help you look.”
Isla blinks and looks up at the kid. “If you’re busy…”
The kid smiles. “It’s no problem! I need to take care of this, but then I can help you find your friend. I’ve lived here my whole life, so I know my way around real good.”
“Thank you,” Isla says. “I really appreciate it. Do you need help taking any of that back?”
“This? No, it’s really light,” the kid says, lifting it higher for demonstration’s sake. “It’s mostly herbs and other things so they can make the demon’s elixir tonight. You have to pick the plants fresh from the riverside and make the potion right before the ceremony, or they don’t work.”
“I see.” Isla stands up. The kid is a little taller than she is. “I can still help you carry it, though.”
The kid shakes their head and starts walking towards the town center. “No need, I’m fine. That’s real nice of you, though. There’s a lot of nice people in town, you know? I tripped and fell out by the river and dropped all my medallions but this nice lady helped me pick everything back up.”
“That’s very kind of her.”
The kid grins. “It is! I asked if she was going to the festival tonight, but she said she couldn’t go. I think there might be someone in town who doesn’t like her so much, so she doesn’t want to go in, which sucks. She seems really nice. Are you going to the festival tonight?”
Isla thinks about it. She should, if she wants to get to the root of everything involving magic and her memories in this town, but she needs to find Lucian first. “If we find my friend, I’ll definitely be there.”
“That’s great!” the kid says. “I’ve never participated in it before, so I’m really excited, but I’m also kind of scared. It’s really hard work, you know? I’ve talked to some people about it, but they all tell me the same thing. Trust my partner and do my best, that kind of stuff. Doesn’t really help.”
“You’re performing?” Isla asks.
“Yeah, but, uh, shit. I wasn’t supposed to tell you that,” the kid says. “Pretend you didn’t hear that, okay? I’m not performing or anything tonight, I just have to take these herbs to the square so they can make demon’s elixir.”
Isla leans over to look into the kid’s basket. There’s a lot of stuff in there, including the plants. Isla’s not sure what any of it is. “What plants do you use for the, uh, demon’s elixir?” she asks.
The kid reaches into the basket and pulls out a slightly bluish, long-stemmed plant with broad leaves. “These things. I don’t remember what they’re called, but they have flowers at night. The flowers are poisonous, though, so we have to pick them around midday so they’re safe.”
“I see.” Isla’s never seen the plant before, but she’s sure this kid knows what they’re doing. “Are you helping to make the elixir?”
“No, I’m just collecting the ingredients because something happened to the first batch. I think someone picked these too early, so the elixir didn’t work, and now we have to try again.”
“How do you know it didn’t work?” Isla asks.
“Well, you try it, obviously,” the kid says. “It makes your eyes glow and stuff. It’s pretty freaky.”
The idea of making people’s eyes glow isn’t very appealing to Isla, but she doesn’t say so. It’s probably one of those cultural things.
“The trick part is making sure the elixir is just strong enough,” the kid continues. “There was this time when I was like, five, and one of the performers took the elixir and went completely out of control. They almost ripped someone’s throat out and everyone was screaming. It took like six people to stop them.”
“That sounds really scary,” Isla says. “Aren’t you scared of that happening again?”
The kid shrugs. “Well, that’s why we give people new amulets right before the ceremony now. That way the magic doesn’t run out and people don’t get hurt.” They adjust their grip on their basket. “And more people help make the elixir now so people don’t make mistakes. It’s pretty safe.”
It doesn’t sound that safe at all, to Isla’s reckoning. The whole thing sounds incredibly dangerous, actually, from the taking of magical potions to fighting all night.
The kid keeps talking about the festival as they walk, hardly leaving any space for Isla to speak. They talk about the clothes and the different stories about the hero, and Isla nods along, finding it difficult to pay full attention when all she really wants to do is find Lucian again.
Eventually, they reach the square and drop off the basket of goods, then start looking for Lucian. Isla describes her, though really, it shouldn’t be that hard to recognize someone with gray skin and glowing green eyes. Finding her is the problem, especially when Lucian’s so short.
Isla and the kid look around, asking people about anyone who looks like Lucian, but nobody seems to have seen her.
“Well, I guess it wouldn’t be that easy,” the kid says after about half an hour of searching. “We can keep looking, though. She wouldn’t leave town without you, right?”
Isla’s hit with a sudden bolt of panic. Lucian wouldn’t leave before they found her memories, right? “I…I don’t think she would.”
“Of course not!” the kid tells her. “If she’s a good friend, she’ll stick around. That’s what friends do.”
“Oh,” Isla says, taken aback by the kid’s sudden vehemence. “Yes, right. Of course.”
The two of them continue looking around for maybe another twenty minutes. They’re in a less crowded street a little ways off from the center of town when Isla hears a familiar voice.
“What are you doing?” Em asks.
Isla looks up to where Em’s standing, arms crossed. They, if anything, look even less happy about her now than they did back when she and Lucian were up at the house.
“I’m looking for Lucian,” Isla says. “She walked off in the middle of town and I haven’t been able to find her. Uh…have you seen her?”
“I mean,” Em growls, “what are you doing with that kid?” They jab an accusatory finger towards the kid in question, as if the point wasn’t clear enough already.
“They offered to help me,” Isla says. “Is something wrong?”
Em scowls, and the kid tugs on Isla’s sleeve. “Hey, uh, miss?” the kid asks. “Are you all right?”
Isla sighs and gestures to Em, saying, “Yeah, I just need to talk to Em for a second here–”
“Miss,” the kid says, looking somewhat more concerned now, “there’s nobody standing there.”
Isla looks at the kid, then back to Em, who’s clearly, definitely standing there. “Em’s standing right here, don’t you see them?” she asks. “About this tall, brown hair, big scar on their face?”
“Miss…I’m telling you, there’s nobody standing there,” the kid says. “And nobody in town looks like that. Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”
Isla stares at Em, and Em glowers back. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from that kid.”
“Why?” Isla demands. “What’s so special about them, Em? Why can’t anyone else see you? What are you trying to hide?”
The kid tugs on her sleeve again. “Uh, Miss, you’re…Do you need me to get someone for help?”
Isla shakes them off. “I’m not delusional,” Isla says. “I just–” she gestures back to Em, but they’re gone without a trace. “What the hell?”
“Are you okay? I can get you some water, or…”
“No, I’m fine,” Isla says sharply. “I just…I need to think about some things.”
Unsurprisingly, the kid doesn’t seem convinced at all. They say, “Hey, uh, all right, then. Maybe we should take a break looking for your friend? Just for a bit?”
Isla takes a deep breath.
“You can find your friend whenever you choose,” she hears. “You have the power to do so.”
Her hands tingle with burning power, and she knows she could just find Lucian. It’s been what, two hours? Four hours? A lot can happen in that time, and not all of it is good. She knows it’s dangerous, she knows it’s not good for her, but she’s got to do something. She’s got to make sure Lucian’s okay, and her heart can stand one or two spells, probably.
She just…needs to find Lucian. Tell her about everything going on. She needs to figure out how this kid and Em and the city and the festival are all connected to her memories, because they have to be. There’s no other way.
“I’ll be okay now,” Isla tells the kid. “Thank you for helping me look for my friend, but I don’t want to keep bothering you.”
“Uh, are you sure?” the kid asks. “You were talking to yourself just now, so, uh.”
“I’m fine,” Isla says, more forcefully. “You’ve got your duties for the festival, right? I shouldn’t keep you any longer, and I’m sure I’ll meet her at the Lighting. She’ll be fine.”
“Um,” the kid says.
“Go. Take care of your things. I’ll be fine.”
The kid gives her a long look, then nods. “I hope you find your friend, Miss. And I’ll see you at the festival?”
Isla nods. “I’ll be there. Don’t worry about it.”
The kid leaves, and Isla watches for a little while to see them go down the street and fade into the crowd.
The sun’s starting to dip in the sky. Sunset’s less than an hour away, and that’s when the Lighting will start. She needs to find Lucian, then see what’s going on with the festival, and stop all of this.
She makes her way into an alley, away from prying eyes. The people here don’t like magic–perhaps with good reason–but she can’t think of any way to find Lucian at this point except by using it. Her fingers are tingling with magic, or maybe just anticipation. She holds them aloft.
“Lead me,” she says.