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The two of them, plus Solanus, go out into the street again. There’s a few people out and about, but nobody seems to notice them slipping out of a shop that should be closed, multiple ‘borrowed’ items in tow. That’s good, Isla supposes. Better than the alternative, anyways.
“So,” Isla says when they make their way to a safe spot away from prying eyes, “I guess the next step here is to figure out how to join the ceremony.”
Lucian nods. “Right. I’ll need a medallion, and we’ll have to…I don’t know. Read or something to find out what the ceremony is and if there’s things we need to remember for it. There’s…sound cues or something, it looked like.”
Isla bites her lip. “Yeah. I guess…um. I think that kid, when I checked their house, they had a book about the history of the ceremony and stuff. They must have been studying it, and we know they leave they house in a few hours, so if we can get in there and check it out, maybe…?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Lucian says, adjusting her bag. “Let’s check it out, then.”
“Hopefully, we won’t run into Em again.”
Lucian glances back at Isla. “Who’s Em?”
“Someone who won’t like us looking around the house,” Isla replies. “It’s fine. We’ll just…have to be careful.”
They do a few things around town first, like asking questions and trying to see what information they can glean about the ceremony that way, but there’s really nothing they hear that they don’t already know. Isla gets some breakfast, and they head east to the abandoned house.
“So we’re just waiting around again,” Isla says.
“Well, I’m not breaking and entering when we know someone’s still inside,” Lucian says.
They settle in to wait. About thirty minutes pass until Rebecca shows up like she did yesterday, carrying the bundle under her arm. She goes in, stays for a little while, then leaves. Not long after, the kid leaves, too.
“Okay,” Lucian says, getting up. “Let’s go steal a book.”
“I wish you wouldn’t say it like that,” Isla says.
“Yeah? How would you say it? Let’s go ‘borrow’ the book? I can say that if it’ll make you feel better, but we’re still definitely breaking and entering.” Lucian tries the door handle, only to find it’s locked. “Well, shit.”
“I’m…not sure what you thought would happen,” Isla says. “So what now?”
“Well, breaking the door down would be the next best option, except we can’t with the artifice marks,” Lucian says. “We can…try doing the thing with Sol again.”
“That didn’t go so great last time.”
“Right. But there was someone in the house last time,” Lucian replies. “And we…” She makes a face. “Something happened, didn’t it? I don’t…”
“Yeah,” Isla says. “This person tried to stop us from getting into the house. And succeeded, obviously.”
“I don’t remember that,” Lucian says, rubbing her forehead.
“Don’t…don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal,” Isla says. That’s probably a lie, but if Lucian can’t remember it, worrying about it won’t help. “But, uh, if we want to do the thing with Solanus again, maybe we should do it before anyone sees us.”
Lucian nods and flicks the lantern on. “Solanus, did you hear that?”
“No, I wasn’t listening because you turned me off. What was I supposed to hear?” Solanus asks.
Lucian explains it briefly while Isla takes the little toy bird out of her bag and checks it over. She’s not sure what she’s looking for, but she likes to think that if something were wrong, she’d be able to tell.
“You good?” Lucian asks.
“Yeah,” Isla says, holding the bird out. Lucian takes it.
“Okay,” Solanus says, “I guess we’re doing this a second time even though it super didn’t work the first time. It’s not like anything is different now because the same day keeps repeating, but sure! Let’s give this a shot! Nothing can possibly go wrong.”
“If you don’t want to do this, you can just say so,” Lucian says.
“No, I just like complaining,” Solanus says, much more cheerfully than is probably appropriate. “Give me the bird, I want to flap.”
Obligingly, Lucian presses the toy bird against the lantern, and Solanus goes into it. She shakes her tiny silver and brass wings.
“Okay, then,” Lucian says. “Up you go.”
She throws Solanus up towards the open second story window. Solanus flies in and out of sight.
“Do you think she’ll make it this time?” Isla asks.
“Well, I sure hope so, or we won’t be very good performers tonight.”
The two of them wait. It’s a tense and awkward silence for about seven minutes until the door clicks and swings open.
“I did it, you fuckers,” Solanus says, flopping onto the ground. “I only got lost once, so I’m basically the best.”
“Great, thanks,” Lucian says. She scoops Solanus up and opens the door all the way. “Now let’s get you back in the lamp before your soul burns out again.”
“What? That’s it? I just solved your entire ‘getting into the suspicious house’ problem!” Solanus says with an indignant peep.
“I said thanks, didn’t I?” Lucian asks. “Come on, get back in the lamp.”
The two of them argue a little more, and Isla enters the house, closing the door behind her. She looks around nervously, but there’s no sign of anyone being in the house right now. That’s encouraging, though not necessarily helpful, where a maybe-ghost is involved.
Last time, something happened to Lucian while she was here. Isla’s not sure what, and Lucian can’t remember. That’s…probably bad, but maybe if she hopes really hard, it won’t cause any more problems. After everything they’ve gone through, they probably deserve at least that much of a break.
“Okay,” Isla says. “We should make this quick. I don’t want to stick around.”
“Neither do I. This place is creepy,” Lucian says, heading up the stairs.
“I think this place is creepy, too!” Solanus says from the lantern on Lucian’s belt. “In fact, we probably shouldn’t be in here! But obviously, my opinion doesn’t matter because I don’t have legs anymore.”
“Shush,” Lucian says. “We’re just getting the book and getting out.”
They head up to the second floor, up the creaky stairs. The kid’s room is the first one in the hallway, and the second room…that’s the room she found Lucian in yesterday, but there’s otherwise nothing notable about it. They check the kid’s room.
It’s pretty much how Isla remembers it–obviously, it should be the same, since they’ve gone back in time or whatever. There’s a bunch of banners and sets of festival clothing and books and papers laid out. Isla flips open one of the books and it seems to be a fairly basic guide to artifice. Beside the book, there are some medallions like the ones she’s seen so far. A few of them are inscribed, but incorrectly. Clearly, the kid isn’t much of an artificer.
“We should probably take some of these,” Lucian says, holding up a blank medallion. “If we need to make our own. You know how to make them, right?”
Isla nods. She’s wearing one around her neck right now and it wouldn’t be too hard to copy. There’s no moving parts or other technical elements–it’s pretty much just an inscription, and she knows enough to do that.
“And here, it looks like–” Lucian flips through a few pages in a different book. “This looks like it’s talking about the festival. Looks shitty, though. Seems like the kid doesn’t take very good care of their books.”
Isla frowns. While the printing press is hardly novel anymore in the Empire, they’re not exactly widespread, either. Somewhere this far out from the main cities, any book would probably have to come a long way, or be written by hand. Either way, that’s an expensive item.
She glances over. The book has old yellowed pages and a cracked spine. The print is an older style with an uneven typeface, but the ink is still legible enough. Lucian flips through it very carefully.
“This looks really old. People don’t make books like this anymore–they probably haven’t in like, five centuries,” Isla says.
“It can’t be that old–the festival’s only been going for like three hundred years, remember?”
Isla does recall people in town saying that, but she’s sure that book is older than that. “Okay, well. Where would a kid get something like this?”
“Stole it, probably. Or maybe it came with the house. It’s creepy enough for it,” Lucian replies. “Looks like there’s a lot of old traditional stuff in here about the festival. Seems like this is what we’re looking for. You’d think people would take better care of it.”
She closes the book and wraps it up in some cloth to put into her bag. They leave the room pretty soon after that–there’s not much else to look at besides the blank medallions, and Lucian, for all that she keeps breaking into places she isn’t supposed to, doesn’t actually like trespassing in broad daylight. Isla’s happy to leave before Em or someone else comes back and…do whatever it is they did last time.
They briefly check the second bedroom, but the only things in there are some drawings.
“What are these?” Isla asks, picking one up. She can make out what might be a person, and some writing on the side which is in some truly indecipherable handwriting.
“Notes, it looks like,” Lucian says. “This one looks like stuff about the staff and stuff about the artifice they use around the stage to keep things from getting in or out. The kid is performing as a hero, aren’t they? They have to fight their friend tonight.”
“I don’t know if book learning can help much with that,” Isla replies, looking through the other pages. There some drafts of what appears to be protection artifice, meant to be applied to bracelets or belts or other small items. It’s not very complex, in Isla’s opinion, but the kid’s hardly an expert in the subject–most people aren’t. Most likely, the kid’s just trying to keep themselves protected throughout the ceremony with this kind of thing. Probably a good idea, considering the…intensity of it.
“We don’t need any of this, do we?” Lucian asks.
Isla shakes her head. If she needs that kind of protection, she already knows how to make it on her own. “Let’s just get out of here before someone comes back.”