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There was no point in questioning himself now.
He’d already decided on a plan of action: meet with Joanne now if he could and Antoine later. And as interesting as the option with the vampires were, it wasn’t compelling enough to risk lowering his chances of getting something useful from two people tonight. Besides, Joanne, at least, would probably have a personal stake in this. Some vampire definitely wouldn’t.
And Antoine, too, was clearly invested in this in some way. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have kept answering Tam’s messages, or at least, wouldn’t have been so cagey about things. It was hard to say why this witch boy might have some investment in it, but even if he was Istem’s son, maybe he had some reason to act against her.
Besides, Antoine was his only real link to what might have happened to Ash recently. Tam would be a real fool to give up on that chance just to try to harness some power.
He replied at once to the email, not wanting to leave Jared waiting—especially if his contact was also waiting on it. No point in burning his bridges through carelessness. Jared, you’re incredible. Thank you. I can’t thank you enough! That said, I’m in the middle of chasing down a lead right now and I can’t risk letting it go. Tomorrow would be great if you can arrange it. Let me know what you need from me. Again, thanks just so, so much.
After he’d fired it back off, he headed up the steps, pushing his way in through one of the theatre doors. He was surprised to find them unlocked, but he supposed enough crew might be coming and going to make it worthwhile.
As the door swung shut behind him, he found himself briefly overcome by the presence of the place. The outside wasn’t much—the name of the theatre was outlined in bright lights over the glass doors, but it was set into the facade of what had once been an old apartment building and was otherwise unremarkable.
Inside, he found himself in front of the ticket booth and bar, with steps leading both up and down. The ones going up lead to the lounge rooms that people could head to during intermissions. Downstairs, he knew, was a small black-painted stage that people gave talks and amateur performances on.
But through the double doors straight ahead was the Theatre of Dreams itself, all gold gilt and red velvet. The doors were closed now, but Tam remembered it with a deep nostalgia. A huge painting in a neoclassical style filled the ceiling leading down to the proscenium stage, showing nymphs bestowing a smiling youth with gifts, his arms spread wide in beatific pleasure to receive them. When waiting here for shows to start, Tam would always gaze at it, wondering at the story behind it.
A dryad scurried past and he snapped out of his momentary sense of awe, grabbing at her arm. She turned to glare at him, scowl etched into her green face, her flute clutched in one hand. A member of the orchestra, it seemed.
“S-sorry,” he stammered. “I’m looking for Joanne Cooper? Something bad’s happened to a friend of hers, Ashton Lynes. Please, if she’s here, can you tell her his brother Tam needs to talk to her?”
“Whatever,” the dryad snapped, but she changed direction as she hurried on, so he could only hope that she was going to find Joanne.
He put a hand over his chest, waiting for his heart to slow. People had been so helpful recently that her reaction had made his anxiety flare up more in shock than anything else. Matthias had been friendly, Jared had been sympathetic, and Sahil had been incredible in pretty much every way. Tam had to admit that Sahil especially had taken a huge weight off by being willing to act as research man for him. He’s a real good guy. Tam hadn’t really talked to him too much before this, but he’d have to change that.
The dryad came back a moment later, gesturing. “This way. Follow me.”
She took off again before he could react, and he hurried after, trying not to fall behind as she lead him into a plain corridor, with several doors off it. She shoved a door open, gesturing him into a large props workshop.
Joanne Cooper was shoulder deep in a prop wood stove that had apparently fallen apart. “So you’re Tam, huh. What happened to Ash?” she asked, tone rough.
Tam swallowed, mouth gone dry; he’d barely had a chance to enter the room before she’d begun to question him, and he couldn’t bring himself to come closer, hovering by the door. He forced himself to recall Sahil’s warning: don’t take it personally.
As quickly as he could—she didn’t seem like someone who wanted her time wasted—he stammered out an explanation.
“I don’t know a thing about witches,” Joanne said when he was done. She sounded mollified by the explanation, and more than a bit unhappy. “Most of them keep our folk out.”
“No, I… I know,” he said. “I’m… looking for strong allies. I want to get Ash back, and… I mean, I thought, Lithway is such a mythic figure in this town, and maybe, since you and the other crew here know Ash, maybe you could introduce me.”
The door behind him slammed open, making a thunderous crack as it hit the wall. Tam jumped, whirling to face it, but a thick dark fog was filling it, rolling in ominously. He backed up, trying to escape it, but it encroached on him regardless, billowing up to engulf him—
And then, abruptly, it changed shape, reforming in front of him into a humanoid figure made of shadow, tall and beautiful, arms open like the youth in the painting over the stage.
“Who’s getting introduced to Lithway, then?” Lithway asked. Despite their bombastic entrance, their voice was the same as Tam remembered—a soft, yearning tone. “Well? Speak up, boy.”
Tam stared, mind going blank. He hadn’t had time to get briefed, to be given any guide to how best to speak to Branwin Valley’s most well-known celebrity.
Yet here they were, in the flesh—or, well, what they had instead of flesh.
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[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]