Lucian snaps to attention. “What?”
Isla shushes her with a gesture and leans forward to watch.
The kid’s alone, coming down the road with a mostly-empty basket. Nothing’s changed about them since earlier, except that they’ve changed clothes into something more colorful and festival-appropriate. The kid takes their time going down the road and through the grass to where the Demon’s Thistle grows. It’s clear they know what they’re looking for.
But before the kid gets there, they trip on something hidden in the grass and goes sprawling, scattering the contents of their basket. Isla winces. That can’t be fun.
Lucian taps her arm and points to the side. “Isla, look.”
Isla glances up to where Lucian’s pointing. It’s the witch from earlier, walking over to the kid. “That’s a witch. What’s she doing here?”
“What?” Lucian asks, voice low. “Do we…stop her?”
Isla doesn’t know how to answer that. The witch was clear enough about hating the town and Isla has no doubt that she’d murder an innocent child just because. But also, she and Lucian are so far away that Isla’s not sure they could intervene, even if they tried.
“The kid didn’t mention a witch yesterday,” Isla says. “And they didn’t look injured when I saw them. I think they’ll be fine. Probably.”
She hopes that her conversation with the witch didn’t spark any sort of extra animosity. Even if the day resets and any damage gets undone, she doesn’t want people to get hurt because of her.
Slowly, the kid gets up with a wince and recollects their things. After a while, they get up and continue…for about ten seconds before they stop, realizing something. They turn back and start searching through the grass more urgently.
“Did they miss something?” Lucian asks.
Whatever the kid dropped, it must have been important, because the search only gets more and more frantic. Just as the kid seems about to give up, the witch approaches them and says a few words that Isla can’t quite make out. The kid looks up, replies, and Isla barely catches the word ‘medallion’–maybe something about those amulets they wear during the festival. She doesn’t remember the kid wearing one earlier, but she hadn’t looked that closely, either.
The witch and the kid scrounge around in the grass a little more until the witch picks something up and holds it out for the kid to see. The kid grabs it, thanks the witch enthusiastically, then heads off towards the river. The witch watches them go for a bit, then makes her own way back towards the road.
“That’s it?” Lucian asks.
“Uh,” Isla says. She’s not sure what just happened, if anything happened at all. “I guess so.”
Isla glances back towards the witch, but there’s no indication that she’ll come back to burn down the town or do anything particularly evil with the kid. Isla bites her lip. It’s not like the witch just wants to murder people, right? They had a perfectly civil conversation earlier, after all. Maybe the witch isn’t so bad.
“Maybe…the kid is a witch?” Isla suggests. “So the witch wanted to help them?”
“I…maybe,” Lucian allows. “They’ve got your memories, so I can’t tell if they feel like a witch or not.”
The kid picks Demon’s Thistle from under the willow tree, carefully examining each plant before collecting it. It takes almost an hour to collect enough to fill the basket, and Lucian makes an unhappy sound in the back of her throat.
“That’s a lot,” she says. “Whatever they’re doing can’t possibly need that much demonic energy.”
Isla makes a face. “Well, the kid said the first batch went bad. Maybe they’re collecting extra just in case.”
“It doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t have that much together all at once. It’s not safe.”
“What do you mean, it’s not safe? It’s just a plant–”
Lucian shushes Isla as the kid walks past their tree. She waits a bit, then carefully–very carefully, with her one hand–swings down to the ground. “Come on. Time to follow that kid again.”
Isla climbs down the tree and they follow the kid back to town.
The kid takes the basket of plants to the town center, where a group of very rushed people in festival clothing take it and run into a building. The kid sticks around to talk to some people and help move torches and barrels for an incredibly boring ten minutes.
“Lucian, I don’t think there’s anything suspicious about this kid,” Isla says.
“You’re the one who said they might be a witch,” Lucian says. “And they’ve got your memories, so clearly something is going on with them and this town.”
Isla remembers what the witch said, that magic on the kind of scale to loop an entire town into one day shouldn’t be possible.
“Are my memories really that strong?” Isla asks. “To make this kind of thing happen? It shouldn’t be possible, right?”
“Obviously it’s possible because it’s happening,” Lucian says. She cranes over to get another look at the kid, who is now helping to hang more lanterns in the square. “Honestly, I don’t care how it’s doing it as long as we stop it and get your memories back.”
“That’s not very nice,” Isla says under her breath.
They wait even longer without anything interesting happening. As far as Isla can tell, this kid is perfectly normal and reasonable and utterly non-magical. “Is this really the best way to do this?” Isla asks. “Like no offense, but I don’t think this is working.”
“Believe me, I’m as happy about this as you are,” Lucian says. “If you’ve got any better ideas, I’d love to hear them.”
Isla crosses her arms. “I mean, no, but…I don’t think we’re making progress.”
“Tough. The answers aren’t always going to land in your lap, Isla,” Lucian snipes back.
“Hey, uh, are you guys lost?”
Isla glances up, and the kid is right there, talking to them.
The kid makes a vague gesture. “Um, I’ve been seeing you guys a lot around town today and I guess you’re probably from out of town. I didn’t know if you were trying to find someone, or…?”
“We were looking around town. Because of the festival,” Lucian says. “You’re one of the performers, right? Can you tell us what’s going on?”
The kid looks at Lucian with saucer-wide eyes and says, “How did you hear that? Nobody’s supposed to know that.”
Lucian exchanges a look with Isla, then gestures to the medallion hanging around the kid’s neck. “They, uh, wear those in the ceremony, don’t they?”
The kid glances down at the pewter medallion hanging against their chest and hastily tucks it into their shirt. “You’re not supposed to see that,” they say, eyes shifty. They lean in and say, “I’m not supposed to wear this before it’s used in the ceremony, but I might lose it or forget it if I don’t. I already almost lost it today, you know? You won’t tell anyone, right?”
If it was such a big deal, Isla thinks, maybe they ought to not tell random people about it.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Lucian says. “Why isn’t anyone supposed to know who the performers are?”
“It’s bad luck,” the kid says. “They say if people know you’re a performer, a witch might come and curse you.”
“A witch would curse you over something like that?” Isla asks.
The kid shrugs. “It’s a witch, right? They curse people all the time. I don’t think they’d like a ceremony about killing a witch very much.”
Isla thinks of the witch with scales and fangs. “That’s…probably a safe assumption.”
“We’re not exactly fans of witches, either,” Lucian says. “So people aren’t supposed to know you’re performing?”
The kid shakes their head. “I don’t even know who the other performers are, except for my partner. And half of us wear masks during the ceremony, so we don’t find out.”
“Only half?” Isla asks.
“Well, you know the story, right?” the kid asks. “The hero who killed the demon wore a mask and covered their entire body so nobody knows what they looked like. We have to wear masks, too, and we can’t tell anyone who we are.”
“Weird that nobody knows anything about this great hero,” Lucian says, crossing her arms. “You’d think someone would write down their name or what they looked like. Or make something up.”
Isla elbows her in the side. “That’s part of the mystery. Maybe they didn’t want credit.”
Lucian hums, then tells the kid, “You can go. Thanks for talking, I guess.”
“But didn’t you want to know something about the festival?” the kid asks. “I thought you said–”
“I changed my mind,” Lucian says. “We can figure it out ourselves.” She shoos the kid off, and with some hesitation, the kid leaves.
Isla frowns. “That wasn’t very nice of you.”
“Wasn’t very nice of them to sneak up on us like that, either,” Lucian says. “But if they’re a witch, they’re doing a hell of a job covering it up.”
“Maybe…they aren’t a witch,” Isla says. “It’s not like they have to be a witch to have my memories.”
“You have to have some kind of magic to make all this happen,” Lucian says, gesturing to the town. “Maybe not witchcraft, sure, but something. This sort of bullshit doesn’t happen on its own, even with your memories. It’s too specific. There’s a cause, and that someone is the kid.”
“Why would they want their town and everyone to be trapped in the same day over and over? Them included?” Isla asks.
“I don’t know. Maybe they’re an idiot. Or a masochist.”
“That’s not very nice.”
“Well, I’m not feeling very nice today.” Lucian looks over at the construction going on in the town square, then says, “We’re going to see that ceremony tonight. It’s important. I’m sure of it.”
“It sounds kind of scary, really,” Isla says. “People fighting each other all night?”
“I’m more concerned about whatever they’re drinking with that demon energy,” Lucian says.
Isla crosses her arms and looks out at the town square. There’s still tons of people going through it, helping to build the stage in preparation for the ceremony, and there’s still almost an hour until sundown.
“So what do we do now?” Isla asks.
“We wait,” Lucian says. “Get something to eat, come back, see the ceremony. Hopefully something weird happens and then we’ll know what to do after that.”
“But what if nothing happens and we don’t know what to do after that?”
“Don’t worry about that. We’ll burn that bridge when we get there.”
Isla grimaces. “I don’t think that’s how that saying goes.”