Caelan’s body is strewn out front on the shore, face down. It’s probably best that way, judging from the still wet blood flowing down the rocks and into the lake. They might not even be recognizable anymore.
Isla moves on and sits down at the end of the dock. It’s well into the day now, with the sun shining high in the sky, without a cloud to be seen in any direction. The lake is clear and calm and it’s quiet except for the distant crash of the waterfall. Other than the body on the shore, there’s no indication that there was a fight here last night. No claw marks, no scorching, no magical residue. If she pretends hard enough, she can pretend that last night was all a big, horrific nightmare.
She takes a deep breath.
Liam and Caelan let them into their home and spoke to them and were good, friendly people. Now they’re dead.
“So, we took care of the demon,” Isla says.
Lucian collapses against a post on the dock, looking worse for wear. Her shirt’s been sliced and torn across the torso and sleeves, and she’s drenched besides. “Yeah, I’ll say. Fucking demons. No wonder it was so huge, it had your memories the whole time.”
Isla opens her mouth to respond, when–
“–AAAAAAAA, LUCIAN, ISLA, WHERE ARE YOU, WHY CAN’T YOU HEAR ME, THIS SUCKS, AAAAAA–“
Isla looks at the screaming purple rock in her hand.
“Solanus,” she says, relieved. “We’re back. Everything is okay now.”
Isla takes a deep breath. Of all the things for Lucian to be right about, she really didn’t want it to be this. “It had to be Caelan,” she says softly. “Liam can’t touch anything.”
“We don’t know that,” Lucian says. “He only said he was cursed to stay in this house, and you don’t need to touch things to interact with them when you have magic. He’d hardly be the first witch to lose his body.”
Isla remembers Liam passing through the doorway, Caelan’s hand passing through his body. Was that all some elaborate ruse?
“But if he’s cursed to stay in the house, then where is he?” Isla asks. “He’s not in the main room, he’s not in the kitchen, he’s not here…”
Lucian looks up at Isla. “The dock. You remember what Caelan said, they go out onto the dock together, and–”
A loud keening screech breaks through the sound of pounding rain, sharp and otherworldy.
“What?” Isla whirls around and catches a glimpse of purple shadows and claws and–
A dark figure crashes down on them, and Lucian barely manages to yank her out of the way. Rocks and water spray out as the creature slams down and Isla’s mouth goes completely dry.
Isla lays down on the floor and stares at the darkened ceiling.
Is Lucian right? Are Liam and Caelan really that untrustworthy? Can they really be witches?
The two of them are cursed, there’s no denying that, and maybe they’re doing magic from the books left in the house. But doing magic doesn’t make someone a witch, right? After all, Isla’s used magic and she hasn’t cursed anyone.
Isla can’t even imagine what would bring someone who got cursed to become a witch and inflict that kind of pain on others. She certainly can’t imagine doing it herself–illegality aside, it’s about the worst thing she could imagine doing to anyone.
The cabin, when they get there, is barely large enough to be called a house. Looking at it from the outside, it might have two rooms–three, if they’re really small. It’s lofted off the shore and has a small dock jutting out into the lake, and it’s got white walls with dirt splash around the bottom and a blue roof.
“It’s not the best place I’ve ever seen,” Lucian says as they go up the wooden steps.
Isla heads west along the lake shore. She still isn’t entirely sure what she’s looking for, but she hopes she’ll know it when she sees it.
It’s not long before she finds another streak of black and purple residue. It’s next to a set of some very large footprints–much larger than any animal that would probably live up here. Does that mean there’s really a demon?
Isla doesn’t want to think about that. Even with her magic, even if she knew how to use it, she doesn’t think she could fight a demon. They’re monsters that kill indiscriminately with their claws or fire or magic. They’re not intelligent and they can’t be reasoned with, not the way a witch could be. Outside of the witches, nobody knows much about demons because they can’t exist for very long in this world, but everyone agrees that they’re monstrously powerful–oftentimes even too powerful for the witches who summon them.
It’s over an hour later when the person starts moving.
Isla rushes over to help them up. “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” she says. “Be careful, you were on fire.”
The person coughs and rasps, “W-water…”
Isla nods. “Of course, water. Okay, yeah, I can get that.” She helps the person sit up, then fishes her water canteen out of her bag. She gives it an experimental shake–there’s not a lot left, but hopefully it’s enough. She unfastens the cap and holds it out. “I have some water, this’ll make you feel better.”
The person reaches for it, but only gets about halfway there before collapsing again. If the sounds they’re making are any indication, they’re still in a lot of pain.
It takes them the better part of the day to get out of the forest, and the rest of it to hit the main roads again. Nothing exciting happens. Given what had happened yesterday, Isla is perfectly fine with that. It’s nice to have a leisurely walk and not be running for her life from a murderous ghost.
The second day, they continue down the road. The land goes from wet to dry, and the inclines only get steeper and rockier. They take frequent breaks and Isla looks around and takes it all in.
Land stretches out in all directions, with no settlements anywhere in sight. There’s trees to the west and mountains to the north, climbing up to the clouds. The road beneath them is wide and paved with smooth blue stones, with wild grasses poking out between the gaps, and for a moment the world feels so, so big.
She wonders how they’ll ever be able to find all of her memories in only a year.