Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 16
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The news should have been a shock, but somehow, it was a relief. Finally, some sort of answer, something to start filling in pieces of the puzzle.
Tam had to force himself to not feel too relieved—after all, knowing that Antoine had been a victim like his brother didn’t mean for sure that he would really be on Tam’s side. For one thing, Lithway had said that people who were taken through the gate came back different.
Besides, there was some evidence he was somehow in collusion with Miss Istem, willingly or not. There was the picture of Istem with the contract that the person who had taken Ash—presumably Antoine?—had with him, and Antoine had gotten hold of Ash’s cellphone somehow.
Yet Tam found himself wanting to believe the best of Antoine. He could only imagine that an apprentice of Istem’s, stolen away in the night when still a teenager, would want to prevent others from being her captive as well, especially if his area of magic was, as rumor said, different from hers. Or, if he did want to be at her side, he might resent seeing his replacement being recruited. Or, after years of it, he might be tired of her taking yet another victim who would become one of her ‘batteries’. Either way, he’d have some kind of stake in this.
Well, no point in making decisions about him, or anything else, until I’ve met him tonight.
And until then—
Tam tried to do a bit more research. He really did. He did a bit more googling based on the Magic 101 info Sahil had sent, and did learn a little more—witches weren’t ‘born evil’ or ‘born good’, but magic spells were like languages, detailed grammar and phrasing that needed to be learned. Learning multiple languages was tricky, but not impossible—and much easier if they were just dialectic differences, or languages based on a common root. Maleficia and beneficia were in many cases quite different in formation, which, along with personal preference, was why specialization appeared.
But Tam was getting frustrated. His head felt ready to burst with information, and the more he read, the less he felt like he was retaining at this point. The basic details, like the ‘languages’ point, made sense; the rest began to swim in an overwhelming muddle.
When he realized he was skimming, he closed the page and loaded up the urban explorers map again, trying to mark the area around Beanheadings to his own memory. He skimmed over the store names—many of them would closed at this hour—and confirmed the information he had already learned about Dupré and the weredogs’ territory overlapping around there, and then just—gave up on that too.
He closed it, rubbed his forehead, and loaded up Youtube.
Now that was refreshing. Dogs singing, dogs dancing, dogs catching balls and playing with toys. As he watched, he wondered again what kind of dog breed Sahil might turn into—a serious one, like his personality? An incongruously cute one? One of the weird-looking ones? Was he a pug or a greyhound, a borzoi or a chihuahua…?
“Chill,” he muttered to himself. He was probably being weird about this. He didn’t want to act in a way that Sahil would be embarrassed by, or make him feel objectified or anything like that. At the same time, it was probably, he figured, a normal response to knowing an old crush turned into a dog without knowing any more details. Would it be offensive to ask? If Sahil wanted to say, surely he’d have just told him…
While Tam was resting, Jared replied to just quickly note that tomorrow was fine, he was making sure he was pulling on his contacts tonight to get everything safely set up. Tam thanked him and also sent a link to a video of a dog chasing a butterfly due to an accidental copy-paste, but he figured Jared would probably appreciate it anyway.
At 9:15 he finally put everything away, refreshed by food, drink, and having just getting off his feet and zoning out on videos for a bit. He figured he’d get down to Beanheadings a little early, get situated in there to watch people come and go, and to touch base again with anything he could learn from Matthias or whatever other baristas might be on shift along with him.
He was still two blocks away from the coffee shop when a stranger stepped out of an alley and blocked his path.
“Look at the warmblood running around here,” the stranger crooned. He was a tall man with skin as pale white as it could get and still have some hint of pink, two spots high in his cheeks. His piercing blue eyes were fixed unblinkingly on Tam. “You smell so fresh. Hey, warmblood, think the Valley’s friendly to your sort after dark?”
That… was an unanticipated problem. Tam tried to make eye contact with the people scurrying past around them, stepping on the street to get out of the way of the conflict, but they avoided looking at him.
Shit. “I’m not carrying any cash,” Tam began, his voice more uncertain than he liked. It would have been better to broadcast confidence, but he couldn’t find any in him.
“Nah nah nah,” the mugger said. “Nah, it’s not your cash I want? You smell real good, warmblood. Like you’re new.”
Tam took a step back from him, glancing around again for a good chance to run, if he wasn’t going to get any help. This time, his eyes made contact with a passerby’s warm brown ones, which widened in surprise and a little anxiety.
The newcomer, a black man in his mid-twenties, looked between the mugger and the direction he’d been going, then squared himself up, stepping beside Tam, who almost sagged with relief. He moved closer to the newcomer in return. He was soft-faced, but was carrying a little weight on his arms and stomach that gave him more presence than Tam’s scrawny build, and though they were around the same height, his hair, shaved at the sides with the rest pulled up into a bun-like topknot, made him seem a little taller.
“Cut it out, buddy,” the newcomer said, sounding more annoyed than actually challenging. “I’ve got a silver ring on, you don’t want me to have to throw the first punch. You really want to make this two on one?”
The mugger made a face, then spat a reddish tinged mess to the side, turning to stalk back down the alley.
The newcomer relaxed just a little. “Jeez,” he muttered, apparently more anxious than he’d let on. He turned to Tam after taking a moment to just breathe. “You okay? I’m heading somewhere right now, but I’m a bit early. If you’re not going far I can walk with you.”
“I’m okay, just freaked out. I’m only going a couple of blocks,” Tam said, dry-mouthed. His legs were shaking with the rush of adrenaline churning through his veins. “Thanks, seriously, I didn’t think anyone would stop.”
“I wasn’t even paying attention until you looked right at me,” the man admitted wryly. He offered a hand. “Name’s Antoine. Where’re you off to?”
[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]
What even is this world? Out of all the people it must have ended up being him? Don’t panic first of all! You were going to meet him anyway so there is no need to split up now. And I can hardly imagine a better entré in this shady place. It is quite funny though.
I would say the best thing now would be introducing yourself and continuing to the caffé.
get his number. his actual number, not your brother’s number.
Well, Antoine makes a pretty good first impression. If he’s the kind of guy who’d step into a mugging for a passer-by’s sake, that speaks pretty well of him. Might as well be honest and let him know you’re the guy he’s meeting; that’s turned out pretty well for you so far. If he wants proof, ping Ash’s phone — there’s no mistaking that.
As for the meeting itself…obviously you’re going to want to know what kind of condition Ash is in, if he can tell you. Anything he can give you about Bella Istem would help: known allies, known enemies, what kind of approaches are good and what kind aren’t, whether a show of force will intimidate her or just make her more stubborn. Be sensitive, though — he’ll understand that you want to know more, most likely, but there might be limits on what he’s willing to say, or how far he’s willing to go. If he is still connected to her, you can’t be sure what might be risky for him to tell you, and having an ally in her camp will be valuable enough to respect that. Plus, you know, he did just save you.
(Also, get an idea of his motives if you can. If he’s willing to work with you, it’s common sense to figure out what he’s working towards.)
Maybe be careful about revealing how much you’ve accomplished, though. He might have the best intentions in the world, and evidence suggests that’s closer to the truth than not…but he can’t reveal what he doesn’t know, and a malificar might have unorthodox ways to get that information.