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If Antoine said he could handle the spell’s backlash, all Tam could do was trust that he was right. “All right,” he said quietly. “I do have a few questions, then… let’s do it.”
Antoine spread his hands with a smile. “Fire away,” he said.
“Are there any other spells you suggest I get put on me?” Tam asked slowly. “Like… night-vision muffins?”
“Not that I can hook you up with before you head out tomorrow, and I’d suggest not asking other witches in case they owe her anything. I wish I could, but geases are… not easy,” Antoine said apologetically. “I’ve depleted a lot of my personal reservoir and I’m not the sort of person who keeps batteries tied up in my house.”
Tam felt a shiver of alarm. “Is that something I’m likely to come across in her house? Or… what else, actually? Does she have guardians or familiars, or other home defenses?”
“She’ll have guardians in her more permanent hideouts on the other side of the Gate, but probably not there,” Antoine said. “As for the others… I don’t know. She does have a turtle familiar she lives with, but she takes him with her, and didn’t have anything else when I was there. Didn’t need to; she stayed in, running all sorts of tests on me, and I wasn’t able to run.”
So it was still a possibility that she might leave something behind if he managed to lure her out. “Would she have put any spells on Ash? A geas?”
“Again, not likely, especially not if she’s saving up for the things she’s going to do to try to open his magical channels, not to mention trying to keep him ‘clean’ for that, but… not impossible either.”
Tam nodded. Antoine might know a lot about what happened with his own situation, but Istem stole plenty of people. It didn’t mean it’d be the same way every time. “Just… one more question. Will it hurt?”
“The geas?” Antoine smiled softly. “I tried to make sure it won’t, anyway. Have you ever had, you know. Executive dysfunction problems?”
He felt himself make a face. “…High school was rough.”
“I hear you,” Antoine said. “It’ll feel like that. You might have the full intention to say something but, bam, your voice isn’t going to obey. Like when you want to get up and do something but just keep refreshing Twitter instead.”
“At least it’s a familiar sensation,” Tam said dryly. “All right. I think I’m ready.”
Antoine lit the candle on the cake; doing so seemed to take something out of him, leaving him looking abruptly tired. Tam thought for a moment that he felt the spell, an expectation in the air, a tension wrapping around him. “I’m going into the back until you’re done,” Antoine said, perhaps to both keep the secret entirely secret and to hide the backlash.
Tam waited until he was gone, then leaned forward. “I will never talk about Lithway’s secrets with anybody but Lithway,” he murmured, and blew the candle out.
That sense of expectation grew tighter. He picked up the fork and began to eat.
It sank into him; he felt it spreading through him, a piece of pressure in the back of his mind. He imagined he would get used to it in time, but he did wonder how long it would take.
At least the cake was fucking delicious.
When he finished the piece, he cleared his throat and raised his voice. “Antoine? You okay?”
And then Antoine came out. He still looked tired, but he seemed otherwise just fine. “She’s gone and done it,” he said, tone amazed. “She must have withdrawn the protection on you to cut corners. I guess she thought you wouldn’t notice.”
Tam smiled tightly. “Good,” he said. “…Well, I’ve got a little time to kill before I have to run off and meet some vampires. I don’t suppose you can show me a little of how she casts spells so I know what to prepare for? I sure wouldn’t have guessed you cast with baked goods.”
“Sure.” Antoine still seemed flummoxed. “She mostly uses mineral items, so watch out for decorative stones she has lying around or for her to throw a handful of dust at you. I’ll show you some of her attack patterns—without any juice behind it, of course. C’mon to the back.”
“Thanks,” Tam said. More determined than ever, he followed Antoine.
The next few hours passed in a haze of stances, gestures, and methods of throwing that started to blur together very quickly, though they were repeated enough that he thought he’d more or less nailed down what was likely to be a defensive wall, what was fire, what was lightning, and what was going to be something Antoine described as ‘basically fucking neurotoxin’. By the time they were done, he actually had to hurry to get to the restaurant that he’d agreed to meet Jared at—an old English pub called The Boggart’s Bottom.
Despite being a little late, he arrived there before Jared did, and waited. He began to get nervous after another ten minutes, but it wasn’t long after that until he got a text: Held up. Eat on your own, I’ll grab something on the way.
It still wasn’t reassuring, but what could he do? He ordered himself a fish and chips, and was just finishing up when Jared entered, looking around a bit before spotting him and coming over.
Jared had changed more than Tam had in the last year. Gone was the artfully tousled bleach-blond hair; he’d gone back to his natural brunet, cut short and professional. Gone, too, were the band t-shirts that they’d both favored and Tam still did, in favor of a nice button-down over slacks.
Other than the style update, he wasn’t looking great—he was always pale, but he seemed paler now, with dark circles under his eyes. Tam thought he might be sick, but hesitated on asking. If he was, then he was pushing through it to help Tam now.
“Hey,” Tam said. “Long time no see. Everything okay?”
“It’s fine,” Jared said. He sat down across from Tam. “Really sorry about being late. I didn’t get any sleep last night and—look, I donated some blood in exchange for getting you in. I thought I was doing fine, but passed out for a nap and slept through my alarm.”
Tam flustered, finishing his coke. “Really sorry to ask you to do that—”
“Nah, man. Like I said, I have a sister. If anything happened to her I’d want everyone I knew to pull out the stops.” He glanced over his shoulder. “I grabbed McD’s on the way, so if you’re about done…? We can get going. He’s a capricious dude, and I don’t want to keep him waiting.”
“Yeah,” Tam said. He rose, heading to the stand at the front to pay. “I, uh, I’d love to catch up with you, but…”
“But maybe after your brother’s back? Sure. Let’s do… something.” Jared waved a hand, a little uncomfortable. “Sorry about the radio silence. I know things got a bit weird there for us.”
Tam winced a bit, waiting for his card to be handed back. “A bit. Yeah. I mean I didn’t contact you either.”
“Well, we’re both avoidant as shit until pushed,” Jared said. He reached over, squeezed Tam’s arm briefly, then let go.
Tam put his wallet back, then shrugged again, helplessly. “So what can you tell me about Dupré?”
Jared headed out, walking briskly. “First of all, he’ll definitely look differently than you’re expecting. Second, his mood swings on a dime. He likes to be entertained and he likes to not work for it. If he gives you his word on something, he’ll keep it—he wouldn’t stay in power this long otherwise—but he’s dangerous. He’s also really…”
It seemed like Jared was having trouble finding a word to use. “Really?”
“Charis…matic? He’s… I don’t want to say a flirt, because that implies he’s nice about it. Don’t forget you’re literally food to him, I guess is what I want to say.”
“Sorry I don’t have your natural defenses against a guy’s charisma,” Tam said, and heard it come out more sharply than he intended. Maybe he wasn’t as much over things as he’d thought he was, he realized, chagrined.
“Turns out I don’t have those after all,” Jared said. He rounded a corner. “Here, they’re meeting up with us—”
A man stepped out of an alley, and Tam realized, to his surprise, it was his would-be mugger.
They both stared at each other. Then the mugger vamp snorted, rolling his eyes. “Fucking figures,” he said. “Guess you’re reserved for the boss now.”
“You know each other, Jake?” Jared asked.
“He tried to attack me yesterday,” Tam said, still a bit stunned.
“It’s not personal, warmblood,” ‘Jake’ shot back. “You’re walking around smelling like someone’s peeled the outside off you, what do you expect to happen?”
“What does that mean?” Tam demanded.
Jake didn’t answer, trotting off down the alley. Jared took Tam’s arm, guiding him along after.
They traversed a winding maze of alleys until they came out in the old district. It had been the red light district back in the early days the town was settled, long before the Valley had opened up and dragged it downhill. Now it was just a series of old, red-brick buildings with their many windows boarded over.
“That’s as far as you go,” Jake told Jared. “Boss wants to see him alone.”
Jared didn’t look happy about this, but stopped walking. “Sorry,” he told Tam. “If I go with you, they’ll turn us both away.”
“It’s fine,” Tam said, with more bravery than he felt. “He promised to see me, and you said he keeps his promises.”
Jake turned and started walking again, leaving them no more time to say anything, and no chance to address the strangeness between them. Tam hurried after, a little worried despite his confident words that Jake had lied, and he was going to be attacked—but Jake didn’t turn back to him, and didn’t say a word to him, just led him past a group of people sitting around playing MarioKart in a big open room, and up the stairs to a closed door. He knocked twice. “Fresh meat’s here,” he called, unreassuringly, and pushed the door open.
Tam didn’t mean to hesitate, but did anyway. It didn’t matter; Jake gave him a hard shove in the back and he took three stumbling steps into the room, hearing the door shut behind him at once.
A young man—appearing to be a little younger than Tam, maybe still a teenager—tilted his head against the back of the couch to look at him upside down, tearing his gaze away from where he was playing the new Legend of Zelda game on the enormous TV in front of him.
The boy—who must be Rainier Dupré—was pretty, almost delicate. He couldn’t have been much more than five feet tall, with overgrown wavy pale blond hair framing a shockingly pale white face. His ice blue eyes were lit up with an intense curiosity.
“Oh, hello!” he said brightly. “You’re Jared’s high school friend, right?” He scooted aside to make room on the couch, patting the spot beside himself. “Come here and let me have a drink from you! You want help, right? So you’ll need to be my snack for a while.”
“That’s, uh,” Tam stammered. “This is really sudden? I mean, can you give me a rough guideline of what ‘a while’ means??”
Rainier rolled his eyes. “Ummm. If you just want to talk, I’ll just drink tonight,” he said, in a tone as if he was granting Tam a real favor. “If you want to make use of my place or my people, twice a week for a few months, depending on how much you need from me. If you want me, personally, to go out and do something for you? Twice a week for a year. Or whatever! We can work out the details when I hear what you want, I guess.”
Still, Tam hesitated. He opened his mouth to speak again.
But Rainier interrupted. “I promise it doesn’t hurt, and you have to know that I’m not letting you walk away without giving me blood at least tonight, so stop being such a big baby and come here.” He patted the couch again, a bit more pointedly.
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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]