[Please read the instructions before jumping in!]
Of course Ash would leave him messages if he had the chance. It wasn’t even a shock; the moment he heard it, everything about Antoine having the phone became clear.
Tam put a hand over the cell, pulling it over to himself. It felt warm under his hand, full of potential, but he didn’t open it just yet. Antoine seemed more than willing to help, but that didn’t mean that Miss Istem hadn’t laid any traps to get information. It was probably better to hold off on looking until he was in private.
That didn’t mean he couldn’t get some idea of what Ash might have done, and if he’d learn anything about Istem from this. “When did he hand it off to you?”
“Before I took him in to meet her,” Antoine said. “I don’t know how much or little he could have got in there since we were moving pretty fast, but hopefully whatever it is helps.”
Tam nodded, and slid it into his pocket. Antoine didn’t seem surprised, smiling a little wryly before taking a sip of his drink.
It felt heavy there, a good weight. Even just knowing that Ash had been leaving him messages felt like he’d almost won. If Ash had done that, it meant he was trying to rescue himself already, and had been even before he was taken.
Unless it was a don’t find me message, which was always a possibility with Ash, though Tam didn’t think it was likely. He was sure Ash would be in love with his own witch potential… but probably not enough to stay someone’s servant.
Which just brought things back to getting Ash back from her. From what Antoine had said, bringing pressure on her might work, but he’d have to do it carefully, maybe finding a way to block her route out. Otherwise, she might just cut her losses and take Ash with her.
He guessed he’d have to be sneaky somehow.
“I’ll take a look at that later,” Tam said. “Right now, honestly, what’d really help me is more of a reference on magic. I don’t know much at all! Would it be going against your geas to answer questions about magic? Like, what’s a magical battery? How long will it take her to determine that? If Ash isn’t able to learn, will he already be in danger?”
“Oh! It’s no problem at all for me to answer that sort of thing,” Antoine said, brows raising. He put his mug down, empty. “Ask me any time about magic in general. So, that’s going to be a worry once she gets him through the gate, not before. She can’t really assess either his capacity for power or his ability to learn until he’s in the thick of the power that’s down there and she sees how he connects to it. If he’s a slow learner, or someone who can’t connect to it well, she’ll… invert his magical potential, essentially, and drain him of his energy.”
“That’s completely fucking horrifying,” Tam said, his tone almost light. He was having a hard time even really comprehending how awful that would be. “But I guess something to put aside until later. Do normal witches not do what she does? I mean, take them across?”
Antoine hmmed. “As I understand it, having not been in that situation myself, I think they spend a lot of time getting acclimatised, and move them back and forth across the gate a lot. Sort of like, uh, strength training, you have to work up to it.”
“Well, I’m not sure I understand entirely,” Tam admitted. “But I’m interested. How long have you been away from her?”
Although Antoine hadn’t signalled for it, the glaistig barista came by and gave him another drink. He looked up in apparent surprise, but she waved it off. “Matt said you’d need it,” she said, gave him a rough smile, and drifted off again.
“They’re pretty nice here,” Antoine told Tam, sounding embarrassed. “I’ve been out three years now. She didn’t call in the geas until just now.”
“What’ve you been doing in the meantime?” Tam asked. He rested his chin on his hand, leaning forward to watch him, and thought he saw Antoine blush in response. “Other than becoming a popular regular here!”
“I live nearby, so I come a lot,” Antoine said, embarrassed.
“No, I’m serious,” Tam said. “I’ve been thinking about you all day—even if I didn’t know it was you. I want to know more about you.”
Antoine hid his face behind his mug, then peeked out with a flustered laugh. “I mean, sure, okay? I’m a kitchen witch. I own a small bakery a few blocks away. Miss Istem has always wanted to leave a legacy behind, and I absorbed entirely the wrong things for her tastes, but became strong enough quickly enough that she couldn’t make me a battery. I know a little of her style of things, but mostly I just… ” He shrugged. “I like good food, and I like seeing people enjoy the food I make. I was hoping she wouldn’t call on me so I could just keep working on growing my business. But here we are.”
“Here we are,” Tam repeated. “Is your shop, uh… Loaf Portions?”
“That’s the one! You’ve heard of us?”
“I saw it on the map,” Tam admitted. “But I think I may have even bought pastries there before with my brother. I remember Ash pointing out it was a play on words. I can’t remember if it you we talked to, but he asked the clerk if you actually made love potions.”
“I get asked that a lot,” Antoine admitted, smile softening. “Well, since you two are customers, I definitely have to help you however I can. …Hey, can I ask you something?”
Tam nodded. “Shoot. I can’t promise to answer, though.”
“What are you going to do after this?” Antoine asked. He held up a hand to forestall Tam’s protests. “I don’t mean your plan. I mean… tonight. When I picked your brother up, I saw you guys lived at home. I met your parents. Their attitude about it being necessary… you must be pretty hurt right now.”
Tam lowered his gaze. “Yeah.”
“I remember what it’s like,” Antoine said. “For me, it wasn’t my parents—they died in an accident when I was a lot younger. But my guardian got tired of having a teenager around. …Are you going back there tonight?”
Suddenly, Tam was incredibly tired. He sighed, finishing off his drink and gazing up at the rafters of the building. An old man was seated up there, and Tam watched him kick his leg in lieu of meeting Antoine’s eyes while talking about this. “I don’t know. I don’t want to. I mean, if I stay out, I’ll let them know I’m okay, of course. But I don’t know if I can face them just yet.”
Antoine nodded. “I’d understand if it was too strange, but I’ve got a comfy couch in my apartment if you need a place.”
Tam hesitated, trying to figure out how to respond. There was Antoine’s offer, and Lithway’s, or he could spend some of his savings on a hotel… if he could still get one at this hour. Or he could just go home, whether or not he avoided his parents while there.
[Please suggest an action in the Comments.]
[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]