[Please read the instructions before jumping in!]
It didn’t take long for Lena to finish ushering the kids off the ice, and chatting briefly with the occasional parent. When they’d left, she skated over, then hopped out of the door in the boards, clattering across to sit with them and put the guards on her skates.
“You must be Tam,” she said warmly. “Sahil’s told me so much about you.”
Tam was taken slightly aback by how friendly a greeting it was—let alone by the idea that Sahil had been talking about him beyond the situation with his brother. “Yeah,” he said. “He, uh, said he explained the situation?”
She nodded, leaning her arms on her thighs. “I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. I’ve heard so much about him from Sahil too, although I wish the breakup had been a little more—”
“Lena, please,” Sahil said in a tone of horror. “We’re both adults, it was a mutual decision.”
“I know, I know.” Lena sighed with a hint of irritation, then straightened again, spreading her empty palms to Tam. “So, how can I help you out?”
He nodded awkwardly. No need to throw in anything complex, he decided, just stick to the plan he’d already run past Sahil. “Mostly, I need to make sure I know where my brother is,” he said. “I’ve got a map that shows where his phone went, and I’ve got pictures he took along the way. If any of your group could use that to sniff around, narrow it down to an exact building, and maybe figure out if he were still in there, that’d be amazing. Other than that, the only thing I’d ask for is… if I end up rescuing him during the day, would it be possible to have a sentry around to bark and alert me if the witch who took him is coming back?” He was fidgeting, and tried to hold himself still. “I don’t want to put any of your friends in danger, but… any help you can offer would be immeasurable. And, of course, if there’s anything I can do for you in return, I’d be happy to.”
“I don’t mind being the sentry,” Sahil put in.
“I’ve only got his phone and computer cord with me,” Tam continued apologetically. “But I can go home and get something to get his scent—”
“I, uh, have one of Ash’s shirts,” Sahil said awkwardly. “So it’s fine, you don’t need to.”
Tam looked at Sahil askance; Sahil hadn’t told him that. He wasn’t able to make eye contact, though, not with Sahil staring at Lena instead of him.
She tapped the back end of her skate guard against the floor thoughtfully. “I can at least ask who’d be willing to go track this guy down,” she said. “That seems harmless enough. You ever dog-sat before?”
“Yeah, I’ve dog-sat for friends,” Tam said, confused. “I mean, I love dogs, so…”
Lena seemed to roll her eyes briefly. “Well, some of our newer members have problems sometimes where they get confused and scared to find themselves alone at home on their first few full moons. They wake up the next day to find they’ve torn the place up in a case of separation anxiety from themselves, pretty much. If you’re willing to meet up with them and won’t get weird at them about joining them for an overnight, they’ll have an easier time adjusting. It’s hard to find people to do that who know what they’re getting into but aren’t worried about getting bitten.”
“Oh, no, I don’t… particularly mind,” Tam said, flustered and pleased. “I’d be happy to help out.”
“It’s a trade, then. I’ll get back to you on that and I’ll talk to my folks. Sahil, do you mind being the point of contact if you’re going to go along on the search?”
“No, it makes sense,” Sahil said. “Be happy to.”
She grinned, then held out a hand to Tam. Tam shook it, startled and pleased.
“Then, if that’s all, my next class will be coming in fifteen and I’ve got to get a snack first or I’ll die. Text Sahil if you need anything from me.”
“I’ll do so,” Tam said, rising. “Thank you again.”
“Sure, don’t mention it. Hope we find him.”
They headed out together for the bus stop. Tam wrestled with the idea about asking about the shirt, but wasn’t sure how to bring it up, so he eventually decided against it.
Sahil dug around in his bag for a moment, then held his house keys out. “Here,” he said.
Tam looked at him in confusion, though he took them anyway. “Uh, sure. What’s this about?”
“I was thinking, um.” Sahil waved a hand. “You’re going to be out late with the vampires, and maybe you’ve got plans already, but if you need a place to crash tonight after, my bed’s going to be free anyway. You can give them back to me tomorrow if you end up not coming by.”
“Thanks,” Tam said, pleased and feeling a bit shy at the offer. Sahil really was too nice. He put the keys into his bag. “How’ll you get in, though?”
Sahil wrinkled his nose. “I got out the window one night,” he said dryly. “Woke up naked in the back yard. Ever since then I’ve kept spares buried in my yard.”
“Oh wow,” Tam said. The less said about that the better. “Okay, cool. If I don’t come by I’ll text you so you don’t worry in the morning.”
“Great,” Sahil said, fidgeting. “Do you mind handing Ash’s phone off, also? I’ll want to get together with folks to match the map up to the pictures before we take off to try to track him down.”
Tam dug it out. “No problem. I don’t think it’s going to be much more use to me right now, and if anyone texts him you can just let me know.” He showed Sahil how to unlock it.
Thus prepared, they headed their separate ways when they arrived back downtown in the Valley; Tam stayed on the bus another few stops to get that much closer to Loaf Portions. By the time he got off, he could see the writing on the sign, the painted steam over the rolls curling into hearts.
The door jingled as he went in, and Antoine came out of the back at once. “Hey, wel—Tam! Good to see you. How’s it going?”
“Pretty good, I hope,” Tam said. There weren’t any other customers in the shop, which made this easier. Trying not to eye the cakes in the display—he could feel the lurking depression over how the lack of cake the day before had been tied to his brother’s loss—he leaned on the counter. “A plan’s coming together, anyway.”
“Any way I can help, I will,” Antoine said. “All previous offers open. Hang on one moment.”
He vanished into the back room again, then emerged with two things—a bag with three cinnamon rolls inside, and a slice of cake on a plate, an unlit candle sticking out of it.
Tam blinked. He was pretty sure Antoine wasn’t reading his mind, but it was still a bit uncanny. “Uh…”
“The cinnamon rolls contain the anti-ward spells,” Antoine said, handing him the bag. “Don’t worry about them getting smushed in your bag, it’s all in the flavor, not the look. You and whoever you’re going with will want to eat some before heading in—it should make you invisible to her wards. You don’t have to eat a whole one if you need to split it between more than three people, but the more a single person eats, the longer it’ll last. I’d advise not eating them until you’re gonna head in, just in case.”
Hopefully Lithway could eat them, but then, Lithway might not even trigger wards. They were a shadow, the monster’s monster. “Thanks,” he said. “Does that mean the cake’s the, uh, geas?”
“Right,” Antoine said. “I’ll light the candle, you’ll say aloud what you want geased—in this case, that you can’t say that person’s secret. Then, you’ll blow the candle out and eat the cake. It’ll take effect once you’ve started eating.”
“Thanks. But Antoine,” Tam said, frowning down at the slice. “If she’s got that protection on me, will it backlash on you if you place the geas?”
Antoine sighed. The question didn’t seem to surprise him—rather, he seemed like he’d been hoping Tam wouldn’t ask. “It might,” he said. “I’m willing to take that risk. I’ve got enough counterspells on me that it won’t outright kill me and, seriously, I want to help you with this.”
Tam bit his lower lip. “So if it doesn’t hit you with backlash, will that mean I’m not protected by her magic?”
Antoine’s eyes widened. “Shit, do you think she cut corners? I mean, that’d be just like her, she’ll always save her own energy when she can, and I guess most people who fail to get protected in an attack out here aren’t usually alive to come back and complain that she didn’t hold up her end…”
“I think it’s possible,” Tam admitted. “If she’s got protections up, they’re ones nobody has been able to sense so far. Is that even possible?”
“Sure. Usually people make it a big Keep Your Hands Off mark because it’s easier to warn people off than spare the energy every time someone’s attacked. But that doesn’t mean they have to warn that someone’s protected. A real sadist might want to keep it subtle so they’d have to excuse to harm others.” Antoine gently pushed the plate of cake closer, then pulled out a box of matches. “Anyway, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. But if you have any other questions for me, you might want to ask them first because, if you are protected, I’m not gonna be in great shape after.”
[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]