Isla takes a long, shuddering breath in the silence.
“What–what even happened?” she says.
“Sounds like they stabbed a performer. That’s when everything went back again,” Lucian says, sounding much too calm for the situation.
“So…so what, does that mean they’ve been killing someone every night? Is that how this works?” Isla asks. “But that would mean that the magic is bringing someone back to life or something, right? That’s not possible, or at least it’s not supposed to be.”
Lucian makes a face and helps Isla up to her feet again. “I don’t know,” she says. “I can’t exactly ask, you know? And what was up with them anyways? Nobody saw them, they had magic, and–”
“They’re not human,” Isla says. “When you, uh, you don’t remember this but when you stabbed them earlier they kind of exploded into a bunch of light. I think they…might be a ghost?”
“A ghost. As if we didn’t have enough problems.”
Isla rubs her face, thinking about Em and what, exactly, they’re doing. She doesn’t know nearly enough, but she knows Em knows this town is stuck, and somehow their killing a performer caused the day to reset. But it’s not like Em had killed anyone the day before, or if they had, Isla hadn’t seen it. So…why? Why was Em so adamant about her and Lucian staying away from that house and the kid who has her memories and this town? What curse is making everyone forget them, or making it so nobody can see them, or their house that isn’t even supposed to exist?
The connections are all there–Isla can feel it, but she can’t see what they are.
“Em is in the center of all this,” Isla says. “But I can’t figure out how.”
Lucian hums. “Then we’ve only really got one option,” she says. “If they’re making time reset, then we have to stop them.”
“How? They just walked up onto the stage and murdered someone while we can’t even get through the barrier,” Isla says. “The only way we could get up there is if we’re up there the whole time, and it doesn’t look like they let anyone go up except the performers.”
“Then we’re going to have to be performers,” Lucian says.
Isla blinks. “What?”
“I know you heard me,” Lucian says. “If we have to get on that stage to be close enough to stop that person from murdering people, and the only way to get on the stage is to be a performer, then we have to be performers.
Isla protests, “That’s never going to work, we don’t even know what we’d have to do, and they’d spot us right away–”
“That kid told us they don’t even know who the other performers are, and half of them wear masks. The whole point is that you can’t tell who’s in the costume,” Lucian says.
“Your eyes glow, Lucian! You’re missing a hand!” Isla says. “You don’t think someone’s going to notice that?”
Lucian shrugs. “Doesn’t seem like anyone’s cared so far. And it doesn’t matter if they notice–all we care about is getting on the stage. If we can get that far we’re golden.”
“Em will know,” Isla says. “They know this town’s trapped in this one day. They’ve probably seen this festival at least thirty times.”
“Who cares about Em?” Lucian asks. “They can’t stop us from getting on stage, and if they try, we can stab them. Isla. I know this isn’t a great plan, even for me, but this is what we have to work with.”
Isla takes a deep breath. There’s so many ways this can go wrong–not least of which is that they haven’t got a clue what festival performers are supposed to do. “How are we even going to pull this off?” she asks. “We don’t have clothes. We don’t know any of the festival proceedings. I’m pretty sure it’s more complicated than running up there and beating the snot out of each other.”
“Well, we’ll get the clothes first,” Lucian says. “Then we’ll bluff long enough to stop Em.”
“Lucian! We’re going to have to fight each other!” Isla says.
Lucian grimaces. “Like I said. There’ll be some bluffing involved.”
Isla pauses, looking around the silent town square. In less than twenty-four hours, the stage will be set again for the ceremony, and she, if this horrible plan is to be believed, will have to be on it.
She doesn’t like this plan. She doesn’t know what Em is gaining from any of this, but it’s probably Em who’s trapped this town in the same day, and short of running into them at random again, the festival is the only way they can get close enough to stop them before another murder happens.
What happens if the ceremony isn’t stopped?
Isla feels some sort of deep-seated dread when she thinks about it. Whatever is at the end of the ceremony, is that what Em is trying to avoid?
Well, if they stop Em, they’re going to find out.
“We don’t have festival clothes,” Isla says.
“We’ll need to steal them,” Lucian says.
“What? We can’t just steal things–”
“The entire town gets reset at the end of the day, Isla,” Lucian says. “Are you really that worried about stealing two sets of clothes?”
“But–but that’s theft!”
Lucian sighs as if it’s so bad that Isla doesn’t want to commit crimes left and right. “We can return them after we’re done if it makes you feel better. Come on, let’s go pay that dress shop a visit again.”
They head down the street towards the market district, Isla a bit more reluctantly than Lucian. There’s lights in the windows and lanterns strung up between the buildings, but there isn’t a soul in sight in the streets. Isla can’t help but feel nervous, like she’s being watched.
Lucian breaks into the dress shop just as easily as Solanus did the previous night. They go in and Lucian turns the lantern on.
“Oh, hey,” Solanus says. “I felt a big thing happen. What’s going on now?”
“We’re stealing clothes from the dress shop,” Lucian says. “We’re going to perform in the ceremony tomorrow.”
“Huh. That sounds like a pretty dumb plan, but I guess that’s not my problem,” Solanus says.
Lucian scowls. “What’s wrong with the plan?”
“I mean, I assume you know something about the festival that I don’t because I’ve been locked in a lantern and have no idea what’s going on. But also, like, isn’t the dress maker one of the performers? Won’t she notice you stole one of her dresses?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care either,” Lucian says. “It’s not like she can stop us once we’re on stage.”
“Ah, right. Well, I guess you can accomplish a lot when you completely stop giving a shit,” Solanus says. “Carry on, then.”
Lucian rolls her eyes and pushes Isla into the back room. “Go find a dress, Isla. Anything that fits should work.”
Isla stumbles and barely manages to recover by grabbing a chair. “What? Wait, you want me to be the hero?”
“I’m not wearing a mask,” Lucian says. “And it’s probably better for both of us if you don’t drink that demon elixir. We don’t know how long the effects last, and you’re the one who’s going to have to grab your memories if and when they show up.”
“But then you’ll have to drink it,” Isla says. “And we’ll have to fight each other.”
“I’ll be fine. I won’t drink the whole thing. It’s pretty far from the crowd, and they won’t be able to see if I only take a little, and my eyes are already glowing anyways,” Lucian says.
“Are you sure?” Isla asks. “And you–” She glances at Lucian’s chest, but the amulet they’d gotten from the last city is gone. “Where did your amulet go? Weren’t you wearing it?”
Lucian glances down, then back up. “Huh. I don’t know. I had it when I went to the house yesterday.” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter–I can use the one you’re wearing, or you can make a new one. We have time. Just pick a dress, please. It doesn’t have to be pretty.”
“But I want it to be pretty,” Isla says.
Lucian looks skywards and seems to mutter something unflattering under her breath, then looks at Isla and says, “Fine. Just don’t take too long.”