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A rush of relief hit Tam hard enough that he had to step off the sidewalk, leaning on the pole of a street light. The texter had said are, not were. Ash was alive—or had been since the texter had last seen him, at any rate.
Tam couldn’t see any point in dissembling further about this, not when he finally had something even vaguely like a lead. He typed furiously: He’s my twin brother. We’re super close, and I’m worried. His throat was aching again and he swallowed roughly a couple of times, quick. It wouldn’t do to get teary out in public, let alone in the Valley, where weakness could mark you as prey.
The feelings leaked into his writing instead. He added, Please. If you know about anything to do with him, I need to know. He’s been taken, and my parents let it happen, and I don’t know what to do.
He stared at the text for a long moment; it might be too much, too raw and too open, but at this point, holding things back might do more harm than good. The texter had been cagey, but not outright shutting him down. If the texter knew anything about Ash, Tam needed to know. Maybe, if the texter realized what he was going through, they’d be more on his side.
He hit send before he could question himself further, and drew a few quick, thick breaths of the strange air. Again, there was nothing he could do with that until he heard more. All he could really do was hope.
Putting his phone on silent, he headed into the library.
Ash had got the job in the library as a student four years earlier. They had put out an ad for library pages, and since Ash already knew he wanted to head into the field of Library and Information Science when he was older, he applied for it. It was apparently a pretty common position for high schoolers to hold, and Ash had done a good job talking about his interest in old tomes and grimoires particularly.
That had always been the slightly weird part to Tam. Ash liked books, and Ash liked libraries, and Ash particularly liked being around magical books. They fascinated him; he was constantly amazed that so much power could be held on ink and paper alone. That even if he himself couldn’t cast spells, other people could simply read them and cause something incredible to happen.
He’d been hired right after his interview, and had worked there part time ever since, sorting, shelving, photocopying, and doing everything else that was needed to free the librarians up to do their jobs more easily. Tam tried not to bother him too much when he was working, but sometimes picked him up after to walk together, and sometimes had gone to the library while Ash was working, to just sit there reading and keeping him company.
There were plenty of normal books outside of the magical sections, after all.
Walking into the building was such a familiar sensation that it felt like he’d see Ash already there, sorting through the cart of returns, looking up with that immediate grin. He wasn’t, of course, and Tam felt embarrassed by his own disappointment.
“Afternoon, Tam,” Sceana said. She tilted her head at him, light catching her amber eyes and the scattering of green scales over her cheeks. “Ash isn’t working today…”
As if he didn’t know it. He forced a smile. Sceana was nice enough, but she made him uncomfortable regardless. “I know. I’m here to see Sahil. Is he in today?”
“He is,” she breathed. “Let me get him for you.”
She slithered out from behind circulations, serpentine body crawling in waves across the floor as she vanished towards the rare tomes collection door.
Tam let out a breath, leaning on the circulations desk. He didn’t want them to think that Ash was just blowing work off when he didn’t show up next week—his years of dedication deserved that discussion, however hard it would be to have. He’d tell Sahil, and Sahil could tell the others that Ash wouldn’t be back. He had to explain something of it to get any useful information and, anyway, Sahil was cute and easy to talk to.
As he waited, he pulled out his phone to check it. It was starting to become an anxious tic, but one that kept being rewarded with new answers.
We should meet, the mystery texter had replied. I can’t get away until 10 pm tonight. Beanheadings is open until midnight. Do you know it?
He did; it was a coffee shop about a fifteen minute walk deeper into the Valley. He hesitated, mind running a mile a minute on what to reply, what to tell and ask Sahil, what research he could do here.
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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]