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Even if he’d just been trying to keep his spirits up, it wasn’t necessarily a completely absurd idea; apparently witches did answer ads. Their family’s case had been twenty-one years ago, so Tam imagined this particular witch must have been looking in the newspaper’s classifieds, but that didn’t mean that she, or others like her, hadn’t kept up with the times.
He went to google her directly, then hesitated, pinky finger just slightly depressing the enter key—not enough to send the query through, not yet. It might be stupid of him not to just try to find her name and address directly; for all he knew, she had a storefront somewhere and he could be there within half an hour.
But he didn’t know anywhere near enough about how witches did magic, and if she had some sort of alert set up for searches on her name, maybe he should make sure he wasn’t at his home computer when he did that. If nothing else, if she saw that someone in the family was trying to look her up, she might move his brother somewhere else.
If she hadn’t already.
Tam shook himself, trying to focus. He could at least do some research on witches in general, and protection spells, and that sort of thing.
The next hour went by in an increasingly frustrated haze. It became apparent very quickly that he didn’t have enough grounding in the subject to sort through what was real and what was just rumor. Given how monsters had been popular before anyone had known they were real—presumably some old human memory twisted and confused over the centuries their gates had been closed—there was a huge wealth of misinformation, and narrowing down the truth might take a while.
At least three times, he found blogs claiming to belong to witches, only to find (in the comments, or on trying to verify through secondary searches) that they were wannabes instead. The other blogs he’d found might be real, but the false results threw the rest into doubt.
What he was pretty sure of, after some time on Wikipedia, was that witches were humans who had some sort of monster bloodline that left them capable of doing real magic—if properly trained. Some had trained under demons or other magical monsters; others, under previous witches. Their bloodline allowed them to call the Valley home, if they wished to, or even enter the Otherworld. A source even lead to an article about a few witches who had become famous in the Otherworld itself; the journalist’s bio listed her as a faun, so presumably, that much was reliable.
Other articles, written by humans, he had to doubt more. From everything he’d heard, and everything he was reading, normal humans, those untouched by the Other, just didn’t enter the Otherworld. The Valley, sure—anyone could go there. But not through the gates itself.
He wondered if being laid claim to by a witch was enough to let one pass through. If so, his brother might already be fully out of his reach.
No. He couldn’t let himself despair. He researched protection spells next, again with mixed results—but in the process of reading the offers people were putting on Craigslist, found a link to what he hoped was a major lead and not some stupid human imitation: Witch Yelp.
“I can’t believe this,” he muttered. They’d even branded it as Welp.
Following that thread got him information on several highly rated witches, whose websites occasionally had bits of depressing information: Don’t make a binding contract if you’re not prepared to have to deal with the outcome, because witches keep their promises, for good or ill. He learned that witches traded for other people’s freedom for all kinds of reasons: because they wanted a servant, because they wanted an apprentice, because they needed a person of this or that description for spell materials.
The only bit of good news he got was how the protection on his family probably worked: a common sort of protection spell was to essentially mark the targets as belonging to one of the denizens of the Otherworld. Most monsters would take that as reason enough to stay hands off, though if antagonized, might still attack. A good practitioner would combine the mark with some sort of alert with auto-triggered spells to deal with attackers, or even to draw the caster’s attention remotely through a far-sight spell.
Tam couldn’t help but notice that his parents’ own contract didn’t specify any of that. Maybe it didn’t need to. Maybe it did, and his parents had gotten the bare minimum without realizing, too soon after the Valley’d shown up to know what to bargain for.
And what he didn’t find during any of his research was the name Istem. Not for Bella, not for anyone who might be her son. Even when he googled it by itself—that at least surely couldn’t let off any alarms—the results were buried under STEM programmes.
Frustrated, he closed Chrome and rubbed his face, breathing into his hands. He felt overwhelmed with information, dizzy with it, but didn’t actually feel any more informed.
And he missed his brother.
He picked up his phone, opening up Ash’s last texts to read them. It’s good! Coming home in about half an hour though. Tam had replied, then Ash again: Of course I’m not driving, Sahil’s the dd. See you soon.
Suddenly, his hands were trembling. He tried to keep them steady as he wrote: Ash, if you get this, please write back to me. I’m scared.
He hit send, even believing that his brother would never see it. Probably he hadn’t been allowed to bring his phone. Probably, even if he had taken it with him, it was confiscated.
Don’t think about that, Tam pleaded with himself.
So the last person to see Ash, minus their parents, was Sahil. Sahil was one of Ash’s coworkers; maybe Tam should talk to him. He could go down to the library in person, or head into Ash’s room and see if he could find an email address on his computer or something.
He didn’t want to go to Ash’s room. He wasn’t sure he could handle seeing it and knowing Ash wasn’t coming back.
“I have to keep moving.” He said it aloud to try to convince himself, but hated how much his voice was trembling. He needed information direct from the Valley; Sahil might be able to help, or might be a dead end. He considered contacting some of the monsters he’d been classmates with in high school, but they’d never been close; he sent a message to Jared instead. Jared had been a pretty good friend of his, although he’d gotten a little awkward after Tam had come out. Still, Jared never said anything about it, just didn’t seem to know how to react, and he had done some interviews with one of the vampire clans for the student paper. Jared had sent him birthday wishes on Facebook too, so it wasn’t like the contact would be out of nowhere.
Jared, can I run some stuff past you about the Valley? It’s sort of urgent. Let me know. He sent his number along with the email.
His phone vibrated almost as soon as he’d sent the email on his computer, and he jumped, fumbling to switch between them and turn the screen on with numb hands. There, in the text thread with Ash, was a reply:
Sorry, who is this?
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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]