Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 15

[Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

Tam decided to head back to the library—sure, Sahil was going to send him the information, but this way he could ask a couple more questions. And it wouldn’t exactly do him any harm to see Sahil’s face again and remind himself how lucky he was to have good friends helping him out.

That, and Sahil was very easy on the eyes.

How had he fallen in among all these hotties, he wondered, with a spike of good humor. Had it just required spending more time on his own down in the Valley? If he’d known that, maybe he’d have come down here more often without his more attractive and gregarious twin.

He was directed to Sahil soon after arriving, finding him parked in one of the back rooms in front of a computer. Sahil seemed to perk up on seeing him, despite his faint air of confusion. Tam imagined that, in his dog form, he’d both have his head tilted and be wagging his tail.

“Tam! I was just about to email you.”

Tam smiled at him, pulling up a chair and dropping his bag a bit heavily next to him. “Thanks, I mean, that’ll be great for me to read over the next few hours. I was just leaving the theatre so I thought I’d stop by. You guys need anything?”

Sahil flushed faintly, but shook his head. “I’m fine, at least,” he said. “We’re all off soon anyway, and I think if we drank any more good coffee on top of the break room’s junk, we’re all going to climb the walls. Sceana’s already up there.”

Tam refused to look around. Whether it was a joke or not, it was an image he didn’t think he’d get out of his head. Why did snakes have to be such good climbers? “And you’ll be getting dinner on your way home?”

Pausing again, Sahil said, “Yes… I mean, normally I’d ask if you’d want to come along, but I imagine you’ll be reading this stuff and… well, besides, I try to get home early these nights. I was just gonna buy a manburger and take it with me.”

“Yeah, we can do that later, maybe?” Tam offered, earning a smile in return. “When things are more dealt with.”

“That sounds great.” Sahil hit send on his email; in his pocket, Tam felt his phone buzz. “Anything I can answer for you in person before you start digging into this?”

“A couple of things. I met Lithway in person.”

“Ah. They’re quite a character,” Sahil said dryly.

Tam could only nod. He felt his cheeks colour, but decided to avoid mentioning that Lithway had more or less invited him over tonight. He hadn’t decided how he felt about it yet, and just wasn’t ready to talk about the possibility. Besides, some things were better left private. “They’re very willing to help and didn’t seem to set terms, but.. I don’t really know anything about the shadowfolk. Lithway never answered anything about that in their interviews, and… pretty much the only thing I’m sure of is that they’re rare even among monsters, right?”

Sahil nodded, face growing serious. “They’re strange. It’s not just that they’re rare, but a lot of us aren’t sure they’re even monsters.”

“They’re definitely not human…”

“Right, I know,” Sahil said. “And they’re certainly like a lot of monsters. They can shape-shift, and pass through shadows, and are made of something other than normal material. But they’re like… the monster’s monster. There’s been no study done on them ever, that I know of. I can’t even direct you to any reliable information. Everything out there is pretty much just urban legend. Like, maybe they’re extra-dimensional beings or something. Some legends say they show themselves to portend doom, but I think Lithway appearing on stage for so long more or less guarantees that one’s false.”

“Lithway seems nice,” Tam offered.

“Maybe they are. They’re certainly friendly enough to all the librarians,” Sahil said. “A lot of people think the shadowfolk are curious about humans. Hungry to become more like them. Some of those myths are about them taking over lives. But, again, Lithway’s been on the stage for decades, which I think would be difficult if they did take anybody’s life over.”

“So basically a big nothing in terms of information.”

Sahil sighed. “Yeah. Even if some of those things are true generally, they may not apply to Lithway. Anyway, your gut instinct is often your best bet.”

“Thanks,” Tam said. “Did you send me anything on Dupré? I don’t know if I’ll ask for his help yet, or… even if it’ll depend on the time I’m able to go after the witch. I mean, they’re no good in the daytime. But the more informed I am, the better, right?”

“Definitely,” Sahil said. “Your friend might be a better source on him as a person, but I did send some stuff in there.”

“Thanks,” Tam said. He rose. “I’ll go give it a read now. I really appreciate it, Sahil.”

Flustered, Sahil said, “Please don’t mention it. He’s my friend too, you know?”

“Still,” Tam said gently. “…Take care of yourself tonight, okay?”

“Oh! It’ll be fine,” Sahil said, surprised. “It’s not like in werewolf movies. I can’t control the transformation but it’s not like I’m a berserk creature after. I mostly just spend the time playing with a tennis ball or licking peanut butter out of a Kong or something.”

Tam stared at him.

Sahil cringed at once. “No, I know that’s a little—”

“That’s too cute. I can’t handle you,” Tam told him, then laughed at the face Sahil made. “Let’s talk tomorrow. Have fun with your tennis ball!”

When Sahil mimed a kick at him, Tam scurried out.

As he left the library, he felt a helpless rush of gratitude. It was a terrible situation, but he was already further along than he would have thought possible this morning: he had some allies, and some possible leads, and the beginnings of a plan. All because of Sahil’s friendship, and the kindness of others.

Tam’s good mood raised his hunger, so he headed to a nearby restaurant, Mama Rosie’s, where he knew the food was both good and safe for human consumption. As he ate breakfast food for dinner, he kept his headphones in to listen to music, and read through the information that Sahil had sent.

He’d asked Sahil to check into lawyers, and, as such, there was a short list of reputable contract lawyers leading off the email. He felt a little guilty for doubling up on research for this, since he was fairly sure Lithway’s actual magic lawyers would be better equipped for handling this than if Tam contacted them himself. Still, in case Lithway for whatever reason had nothing, Tam now had a list and could move immediately if he had to.

Then there was the information on Dupré that Sahil had sent. It started with a summary of vampire traits—need blood, can’t handle the daylight, can’t cross running water, burn at the touch of silver. Garlic was not a deterrent, and crucifixes seemed to only work on vampires who thought they would—some sort of supernatural placebo. They gathered under local ‘princes’, their leaders, and kept strict territorial boundaries (ones that often overlapped with other types of monsters’ territories, as with Sahil’s organization). There were only two main vampire groups in Branwin, lead respectively by Ranier Dupré and Angelica Roth; Roth was paranoid about human intentions, and would likely only be a good source if for whatever reason Dupré was a wash, as the two hated each other.

Dupré, according to Sahil, was infamously lazy and a stay-at-home—practically a shut-in. He liked video games and old movies. Sahil did warn that the personality information came from his leader, though, who disliked Dupré due to their territorial disputes, and as such might not be entirely accurate.

He also asked Tam to please not mention to her that Sahil had said that.

Tam grinned.

Next up was a basic Magic 101, which Sahil said was probably important to read before the last section. It went over maleficia, or dark magic, and beneficia, the lighter magic. Beneficia was designed to aid and heal; maleficia to curse and harm. Things like the evil eye, cursing cows, curdling milk, and blighting crops were famous ‘classic’ maleficia, while well-known beneficia were things like healing the sick, helping people sleep better, love potions, charms to ease childbirth, and so on. Each of these could be further divided into specialties; for example, old midwives would focus on childbirth and healing female ailments. Other beneficia users would be things like kitchen witches who aided in speeding up the rising of bread, helping food go further so that a family without much could survive on less, food that kept you warm. Or they might be something like farming witches who would help with crops and weather and dealing with pests, healing ailments in animals, and the like. On the other side, maleficia users would focus on conjuration of demons, or subtle magic to harm others, or elemental attacks and weather-changing.  

That information was followed by the details the librarians had managed to dig up on Bella Istem herself. It was similar to what Lithway had told him—there were several records of people trying to get their friends or family back, only to find she’d spirited them out of the Valley and vanished with them before they could follow up on legal issues. It seemed she reappeared every so often, usually between three to eight years, and stole or bargained for a child in return for some apparently-helpful magic. Despite offering protection spells to convince people to trade others away, she was clearly a witch who worked maleficia, and she was known to be dangerous to cross. However, she never stayed in the Valley long.

Accompanying this was a list of the reported stolen children, with Sahil’s note that there may be additional ones not named. He had highlighted one of the names on the list:

Antoine Durand, taken 2007 at age 15.

[Please suggest an action in the Comments.]

[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]


  • Vikarmic

    Well, that would explain a lot, wouldn’t it? Not the witch’s son, but her unwilling apprentice, trying to prevent someone else from being caught the way he was — or an apprentice that sees his replacement being recruited. Either wouldn’t be bad for you, but the former’s more likely, since Matthias told you Antoine is into beneficia and Bella Istem is definitely not. Still, you’ll find out soon.

    (Does the 101 say if a witch can do both? It seems like Bella Istem can do some kind of blessings, but it’s pretty easy to imagine how maleficia might produce a protective effect — just scare away anything that might be malevolent.)

    Probably best to aim to get back to Beanheadings around ten, so budget time appropriately. You’re a lot better-informed than you used to be, at least, so you probably don’t have much urgent research to do. Might be a good idea to check out the local area and the area around Beanheadings on the site Sahil sent you, see if there’s anything interesting or useful there.

    Or, you know, look up pictures of dogs with tennis balls, because how cute is that mental image?

  • robonten

    The plot thickens! So Antoine almost definitely has a stake in this, one way or another. The real question is whether he’s still working with Bella, voluntarily or not (I mean, on the one hand, beneficia, on the other hand, how did he get the cellphone). Definitely stick to the plan of meeting with him before making any big decisions in other areas: no matter what, meeting Antoine is going to give you new and useful information.

    You’ve been through a lot today, so maybe just taking some time to sit down and process everything — or even rest a little — beforehand.

  • jsorcerer

    I like to elaborate more on one of the questions above. Are witches born with good/evil magic, or are they just born with magic, and the way they use it is what makes them good or evil? Because if the later, it could mean that both Bella and Antoine are capable of both beneficia and maleficia. Which would make both of them that much more dangerous.

    On a completely different note, googling dogs with a tennis ball sounds amazing. Wonder what breed he might be turning into. Is it something like a golden retriever? Or more of a poodle? Or a pug?!! Honestly, my heart would explode if it would be a pug.

    But anyways you have more things to google that might be interesting, because even if a witch can only be good OR evil, there sure would be a way to use beneficia offensively.

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