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For a moment, Tam had fantasies of chasing the witch down with Lithway at his back, perhaps in the form of a great shadowy beast.
And maybe it would come to that… but he had to be practical, too.
“I… I would really like some advice,” Tam admitted. “I’m not at all familiar with this. My parents kept me in the dark—I could have had years to figure something out, but instead it’s just happening now. I don’t know where she is; it’s only been a few hours since I even found out. I’m thinking maybe… something legal? If you run a theatre, you probably have Valley lawyers at hand, right? Ones who handle at least some kind of contract law…”
Lithway had moved when Tam blinked; they were now sitting almost knee to knee, the actor so close that Tam was nearly breathing in the smoke trailing off them. Lithway leaned forward and patted one of Tam’s legs, leaving their hand there and gazing up at Tam.
“My poor dear boy,” Lithway murmured. “What a shock this must have been! As dull as that is, I can certainly talk to some of my lawyers, get a recommendation of who would be best. They do exist; demons in particular employ very strict contract lawyers—so their own contracts don’t get violated. But my worry is that a legal battle will take a long time.”
This close, Tam could see every one of Lithway’s eyelashes, faint wisps of smoke around their eyes, winding softly away. “I mean, maybe, but would it be likely to get him back?”
“Unless her own contract is found to be binding. But even so, most witches only spend a few days in the Valley getting their conquests acclimatized to the gate, and after that, they whisk them away to our world. It’s not impossible to get a legal matter dealt with across those metaphorical state lines, but your brother may not be the same when he returns.”
Tam stared at them.
“Oh, you look ghastly, my dear,” Lithway said. They let go of Tam’s leg, but only to touch his face, a soft, sympathetic gesture. “You didn’t know. I’m so sorry. I suppose that’s the sort of thing only those who work closely with witches would know—I’ve worked with all sorts for special effects, and I’ve heard a bit of chatter around that. How long it takes will depend on how easily your brother acclimatizes, or if she has pressing business that keeps her here. It won’t be less than three days; I hope that helps in some way to know.”
It did—a little. At least he didn’t have to worry that the time he’d taken here had prevented him from finding his brother. He leaned into the touch, eating up the comfort Lithway was offering. “No, I… I didn’t know.”
“Get a copy made of the contract, and I’ll ask around with it,” Lithway said gently. “It can’t hurt to try that side of things along with whatever else you’re doing. We’ve got a scanner in the theatre office, if you need it. Make sure you hold onto the original—don’t give it to anyone who asks for it. It’s the only proof you’ll have.”
Tam nodded. “I’ll… I’ll do that.” He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing himself to focus. “You said you know some local witches. Do you know the one in question? Bella Istem?”
“Oh, not personally,” Lithway said at once. “But I’ve heard of her in my social circles, and I know she’s bad news. She specializes in maleficia—what you’d consider to be the dark arts. She makes plenty of these contracts. Turns those with the power into her apprentices, to try to pass off the workload, and those without it into her batteries. I haven’t heard her name in years, though!” They patted Tam’s cheek, then leaned back in their ‘chair’. “She’s not what I’d call one of the local witches, is what I mean.”
He swallowed, trying not to dwell on the thought of his brother being turned into a battery. “Okay. And I’m meeting someone today who has my brother’s phone, and I was told he’s a witch. I don’t know his last name, but… Antoine. I’ve been wondering if he’s her son? Because there was a man who came to get my brother. He had a picture of her with the contract. I don’t know if it’s the same person, though.”
“That’s interesting,” Lithway said thoughtfully. They snaked a smoke-wisp tongue out to lick their lips; Tam stared in fascination. The smoke of their tongue did somehow look wetter than the rest. “No, as far as I’ve heard, she doesn’t have a son, but as I said, I haven’t heard her name in years. I don’t know an Antoine, and without more details I’d be hard pressed to say if I’ve heard of him around the place. I mean, that does imply he’s not a very remarkable witch, or one who gets involved in anything that’d draw attention. I’d guess he’s small fry, whatever he is.”
“But don’t get depressed!” Lithway announced. They’d moved again, and now was right beside Tam instead of facing him, throwing an arm around him and squeezing his shoulder. “That someone else picked your brother up might be something the lawyer would like to hear about. If she used the standard phrasing, ‘to collect as my own’, sending someone else might be a loophole, or perhaps sloppy practice. I can’t guarantee that, though—I’m no lawyer myself. If he worked for her, it might be a false lead.”
“Thank you,” Tam mumbled, a little shy, heart pounding, anxious and uncertain over the entire situation. “I… I’ll see what this Antoine has to say tonight, and if you can follow up with the lawyer, that’d be great. And… I mean, if I do find where she is, I’ll need to confront her…”
“Interesting, interesting,” Lithway said. “I certainly wouldn’t mind helping you, especially if you keep me in the loop, as it were. And as long as it doesn’t happen at the same time of one of my performances, of course. I owe it to my fans—I feel for you, my dear, I really do, but I’ve only ever cancelled shows for unavoidable emergencies.”
He tried not to feel disappointed. “No, of course! I understand that.”
“Oh, sweetheart, I hate to see that look on your face! It’s only a few hours to avoid,” Lithway coaxed. “The play is only an hour long, and I’ll just need the time before and a short time after to keep aside.”
Tam nodded, a little more heartened despite himself. Lithway really did seem invested, despite the lack of personal involvement in it. “Thank you,” he said, earnest. “Your willingness to help is so, so appreciated. I’m… so new to all of this, and I didn’t know where to turn…”
“Well, I’m always happy to be someone’s first experience with getting up close and personal with the uncanny, darling,” Lithway said. They smiled, the expression merry. “When’s your meeting with this Antoine?”
“Aha! Well, feel free to come by after, if you wish,” Lithway said. “Don’t feel obliged, darling, especially if you need to run away home to rest up for another busy night, but I’ll be here, waiting, if you wish to, hm, tell me more about what you’ve learned. Perhaps I can make your birthday a little better.”
Lithway winked, and Tam wiped away any remaining doubts that he was being hit on by one of the most attractive, renowned actors the city had to offer.
“Oh,” Tam said. “I mean, yes, I’ll have to see how things are! Do you, I mean, a phone, so I can let you know even if I don’t come by—”
“I’ve got a landline, darling; there’s no point in me having a cell, everything physical passes right through when I lower my density.” Lithway dissolved a hand with a gesture to demonstrate, then reformed it and tapped Tam’s nose. “I do have email, though, and I can keep my computer on for you.”
“Thanks,” Tam stammered, tempted but confused by what appeal he possibly held. He took down Lithway’s address, then got up. “I should go photocopy that contract. Should I bring it back to you—?”
“Ah, pass it off to any of the cast,” Lithway said. “I have to start getting ready for rehearsal, sweetheart, or they’ll all get impatient and walk out on me!”
Tam sincerely doubted that, but nodded anyway. He smiled; that, at least, came naturally. Lithway had already offered to help much more than he’d had reason to expect from any stranger. “Thank you again,” he said.
“Please don’t mention it. You’ve got me curious now, dear, and you know what they say.”
“Curiosity, uh, killed—”
“But satisfaction brought it back. Go on, now!”
Tam showed himself out, and spent a moment in the hallway outside trying to recover from the Experience that was Lithway. Then, he headed down to copy off his contract, and found Joanne specifically again to pass it off; he wanted to be sure it’d make its way back to Lithway.
After, he checked his phone; it was somehow already five. The library would close at six, but he wasn’t sure if he needed to get back over there or not; Sahil had promised to email him the information. He imagined it’d be coming soon, since the sun would be setting around eight, and he presumed Sahil would be unavailable a short time before that regardless. He also needed come up with how to spend his time until ten tonight.
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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]