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It did seem like a good idea to meet up with this Mystery Texter, but not without some backup. Before he went, he decided, he’d tell someone where he was going and arrange to have them call him shortly after the meetup time to check in. After all, he still didn’t know who this was—it still might be the witch herself, or even her rumored son.
It shouldn’t be a problem, though. Finding a friend who’d give you a safety call was way easier than finding a friend who knew the Valley inside out.
He texted back: Sure. Beanheadings at 10 or 10:15 then? Who should I look for?
Tam could only hope it’d be safe to hang out in Beanheadings that late at night. It was still a good half hour away from the gate, but that far in was mostly occupied by monsters, and he’d never been in that part of town after dark.
Almost as soon as he hit send, a hand tapped his shoulder. “Tam?”
Even expecting Sahil’s usual quiet approach, he still nearly jumped out of his skin. It had been a rough day, he reminded himself over the panicked racing of his heart. “Sahil! Hi.”
Sahil Kumar was as gorgeous as always. He looked refined and untouchable, a perfect statue of a youth, still soft around the edges. Black curls fell to fine cheekbones, angled to draw attention to his ice gray eyes in a warm, light brown face. His full lips carried the hint of a nervous smile at pretty much all times. The tension and anxiety that always seemed to hang about him only helped the impression somehow, like the mystery in the Mona Lisa’s smile.
Ash had laughed for an hour when Tam had tried to explain that, once. But Sahil and Ash had dated for a few months not long after that, so presumably Ash had seen the point once Tam had explained it.
Of course, Sahil also dressed like a tweedy uncle, or somebody’s absent-minded professor, in woolen sweaters with patches on the elbows, and loose slacks. He hugged his arms now, head tilted as if he was trying to figure something out. “Is everything okay? Sceana said you smelled miserable.”
That was, at least, a quick way to lead into things. “Last night… Ash got taken by a witch.”
The small smile fell off Sahil’s face at once, eyes widening. “What? No, that’s not possible. He was out with us last night—”
“I know, after he got back.” Tam swallowed. “It was my parents. They gave him to her…”
Sahil led him into one of the private study rooms and dragged him to sit down at the table there. He looked pretty miserable himself now, lips drawn off a little from his teeth in a grimace. “Tell me.”
So Tam did, stammering out his explanation until the words poured from him like a waterfall. Sahil got up about halfway through, pacing around the small room and hugging his arms, agitated, but Tam kept going until he’d explained everything he knew so far, everything he’d thought. He even passed the contract across the table so Sahil could read it.
“I was wondering if there was any way to get him back,” Tam finished finally. “I don’t know much about witches, or anything else down here either. I know they can cast spells, and if they write up a contract they’ll stick to it, but otherwise… I don’t know how different it is from old fantasy novels.”
“Not that much different,” Sahil said. He read over the contract for the fifth time, then pushed it back. “They don’t have unlimited power, but they can draw their own life energy, or that of those bound to them like familiars or apprentice or slaves, and convert it to power through the use of verbal and physical components. Gestures, materials, and words, basically. A spell has to be carefully designed to not use too much energy up or they’ll drain themselves before they’ll finish it, which is why they can’t just, I don’t know. Make a spell to become King of the World.”
“Sort of a relief,” Tam said. “So it’s like, if she pulls something out, or starts saying magic words, I know she’s going to try something?”
“Some spell incantations are short or subtle, but yes,” Sahil said. He sank back into the chair, scrubbing at his cheek with one over-sized sleeve. “If you want him back, you’ll need to get her to give him back. Or kill her,” he added, but looked unhappy about the idea. “Basically, you’ll have to remove her claim on him, which means either getting her to nullify the legal contract, or removing her from the equation.”
Tam didn’t much like the idea of killing either. “Convincing her by myself seems like it’d be pretty tough.”
“Getting allies would be good,” Sahil admitted. “A show of force of some kind would definitely make most weaker witches think twice.”
“Is she weak? Have you heard of her?”
“No, but if she hasn’t been active in town for some years, that’s no surprise,” Sahil said. “But…” He gestured around himself. “I’m in a pretty perfect place to do some research. Do you want me to try to dig something up on this Miss Istem?”
“I was going to do it myself,” Tam said, “but I mean, we could do it together. Or I could leave it to you and look into other options… I hadn’t thought about it. I wasn’t sure what you’d be willing or able to do—”
“He’s our coworker,” Sahil said. “No, you know? He’s our friend.” He smiled again, tense and unhappy. “Everyone here’s going to be willing to help you learn anything you need to know. So what will it be?”
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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]