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Tam curled his fingers into fists; even as short and blunt as he kept his nails, he could feel them biting into his palms.
The initial shock was making way for waves of helpless anger, and he tried to breathe evenly. He had to keep in control—not because they didn’t deserve his anger. Right now, they probably deserved it more than anything in the world. How many of his and Ash’s lovely shared birthdays had been because of some sort of guilt from his parents? As if they were paying off a debt to their children, who foolishly thought it was love instead, for a full twenty-one years?
But if he lost his temper, he wouldn’t be able to get more information.
And he needed information if he was going to be able to save his brother.
So he focused all his anger on those slices of pain in his palms, like he could push it all down into his hands and keep the rest of him clear and calm. Envisioning it helped, a glowing red aura around his two clenched fists, focused there and leaving his body a soft blue.
“Okay,” Tam said, and was amazed at how evenly it came out. “I don’t understand, though. Did the witch show up last night? If it’s the night of his twenty-first birthday, that’s tonight, right? Not tomorrow?”
“I’d hoped so,” his mother said. “But… I think it was like Christmas Eve, you know? The night before the day itself?”
What a horrible comparison, Tam thought.
“At any rate, her servant showed up at exactly midnight.” Eric sounded grim now that he no longer had to be quite so defensive. “We were waiting up, in case that was how it was going to be.”
Tam couldn’t look at them, not and remain calm. He cast his gaze around the room instead, noting the empty wine bottle and stained glasses on the counter. He wasn’t sure if it made him feel better or worse that they’d needed some liquid courage to go through with this. “Her servant?” he asked.
“Maybe her son? He didn’t exactly look like her,” Eric said. “Human, though.”
“Or human-looking,” Alice muttered. “He had a picture of the contract on his phone, held up by the witch? As proof.”
“He didn’t even bring the real contract?!” Tam’s voice was rising, and he forced it down. It was true that if this man was the witch’s servant, then he’d be acting in her stead. Even so, it seemed so… careless. Losing their son was one thing, but not even insisting the witch come herself?
His head was whirling with their betrayal. He had no way to assess whether or not giving Ash up to a witch’s servant would have been breaking the terms at all. He drew a breath. Let it out. “Okay,” he said. “Do you know the witch’s name?”
“Miss Bella Istem,” Eric said sourly. “That’s how she signed the contract.”
Tam had never heard the name before, but didn’t expect to. He’d spent a little time in the Valley, of course—it was unreasonable to avoid it entirely if you lived this close, and besides, his brother worked down there. But visits to the shops there, going to meet his brother at work, and having a few monsters attend his old high school… that was about the extent of his personal involvement in the Valley. It was a huge district, and the vast majority of people who lived there were from the Otherworld, or tied closely to it. He wondered if he’d be able to find her with a name alone.
He wished he knew more about how these things worked. Of course, he’d watched TV shows about Otherworldly crime bosses duking it out in Valleys in the big cities, and remembered one storyline about a witch making herself a child army, but he doubted that TV was going to give him an honest view of the sale of family members to the supernatural.
But he had to work with what little he had. Something else occurred to him, then. “Do you still have your copy of the contract?”
“Yes,” Alice said. “It’s too late now, though, for it to do any good—”
“I just—” His voice cracked as he forced it back down from a shout. “I don’t have a brother, right now, so I’d like that instead. For my birthday.”
Alice and Eric shared another one of those hard looks, but Alice got up. Tam followed her upstairs to her office, where she pulled down the bin of important papers—the house’s deed, tax forms, old receipts—and dug through it until she found a single piece of old printer paper and held it out to him.
In return for a blessing on the household and a promise to mark to the denizens of the Otherworld that Eric Lynes, his wife Alice Lynes, and their immediate descendants, will be recognized as under my protection, I, Bella Istem, lay claim to Alice and Eric’s firstborn child on the eve of said child’s twenty-first birthday, to collect as my own.
It was signed, as noted, by a Miss Bella Istem, as well as Tam’s parents. Tam forced himself to hold it carefully, straightening up. “Did you seek her out or did she come to you asking for the child?”
“We… we put out an ad,” Alice said.
“An ad?” He could hardly contain himself anymore. “Wanted, one witch to protect human household, will sell child for it?”
“Just—just the first part!”
“I’m taking this,” he said hoarsely, turning away with the contract. “Thanks.”
He had to get out or he was going to explode. “That’s it,” he said. “I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
It was the nicest way he could put it, under the circumstances, but he was amazed he hadn’t said anything worse. He headed back to his room, pulling out one of the folders he’d bought for university, and sliding the paper inside.
There, Tam sat on his bed, holding the folder, head throbbing, throat aching. He felt desperate to get up and do something.
But what? Beyond greeting Ashton’s coworkers when he saw them around, and maybe seeking out any old schoolmates who hadn’t left town, he didn’t know anyone from the Valley. He could always just go down there himself and start asking around, but would that be enough? Should he risk getting any of his human friends involved, or should he go it alone?
Maybe I should put out an ad, he thought with an edge of hysteria, a warm knot sitting in the center of his chest.
[Please suggest an action in the Comments.
As a reminder, it can be thoughts, words, or deeds!]
[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]