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“No, I think everything you suggested is fine,” Viv agreed. “We could ask the other neighbours some things too, if they’re around. We don’t have to give specifics or anything, just say you got jumped and see if they have heard anything. We could ask about the janitor too. He was… weird. Creepy.”
“I’d say he’s more than creepy,” Thys said, a little confused.
Viv’s brows raised. “Wait, you know him?”
“Not really. I’m sorry if it sounds rude, but I haven’t really talked to the janitor, just…” Thys shrugged. “You said he was there right after the incident. And then the garbage room was cleaned out. So what happened to the body of whoever was attacked?”
Suddenly nervous, Viv bit her thumbnail. “Are you sure that person died? You interrupted the attack and the attacker chased you. I know you asked the flies, but could they be wrong? There was a lot of rotting this-and-that in the garbage room when I went down.”
“It’s possible,” Thys admitted, though they didn’t seem convinced. “But even so, the garbage all being taken out overnight? Even if the janitor worked in the evening, most garbage pickup is early in the morning. Unless the janitor called it in especially to happen then, or had a way of getting rid of it himself…?”
“Ugh, point,” Viv said. “So right now, he’s suspect number one. I guess we find out as much as we can about him.”
After Viv popped next door and changed quickly into a clean outfit of a knit halloween sweater and cozy leggings, the two of them headed upstairs to the fourth floor, where Thysania lead the way to one of the doors and knocked.
“A minute!!” It was Varsha’s voice, and she answered it shortly, peeking out, then blinking at them in surprise and opening the door wider. “Thyssania! You are all right? We were worried when you didn’t show up.”
“I got attacked,” Thys said, wide-eyed. “You should ask the bar. It was a huge thing last night.”
“Attacked?!” Varsha recoiled briefly, her hair puffing up behind her—was it actually part of a snake’s hood, or over top of one? “Are you okay? What happened?”
“It was here, in this building,” Viv said. “They didn’t see much of their attacker, so we’re asking around to see if anyone’s noticed anything weird.”
“Ah—the new girl from the bar,” Varsha said, a little surprised to notice her by Thysania. “You’re friendsss?”
“We are now,” Viv said wryly. “I was there when they burst into the pub in a panic.”
Thys bobbed their head. “She’s helping me, Varsha. She’s a witch, and giving me medical help.”
“Wild,” Varsha said. Her hood was slowly flattening again. “When did thiss happen? I wass at work ssssince three, I don’t know how much good I can be.”
“Around six,” Thys said. “I saw something strange in the garbage room, I thought I saw someone getting attacked by a shadowy figure. It turned on me, and I ran, but it caught me. It did some harm, and I barely survived.” They seemed perfectly calm still, but turned their head up toward Varsha and said, in a lower voice, “I’m very shaken up.”
“Of coursse you are!” Varsha gestured wildly, almost smacking a hand into the doorframe. “Can I get anything for you? Tea? A drink? Do you need to sssit down??”
Thysania shook their head, yawning. “I’m okay. They got a medic in, and Viv is taking good care of me now. But we’re trying to get information.”
“Guessss that explainss why you’re out in the day. What do you need?”
Viv asked, “Have you seen anything weird lately? Any other kind of attacks?”
“Mm, no, not really,” Varsha said. “It’s a pretty ssafe area until you leave the resssidential block. There’ss a group of were-catss that hang out nearby, sso they run off the more unsssavory sortss who would normally hunt here.”
“The power outages, we talked about those,” Viv said. “Have you noticed anything weird during them? Some kind of… call? Are you drawn toward the lights when they flicker or anything? Thys said that happened to them.”
Varsha shook her head. “I really jussst thought it could be a power problem,” she said. “I wasssn’nt putting you off becausse I wass at work, I sssimply haven’t noticced anything weird.” She paused, considering. “The power sssurges are fairly reccent, though? They ssstarted a few weeksss ago. I thought it could be related to the weather.”
“Did anything happen a few weeks ago, around the same time?” Viv asked. It was hard not to feel like a completely amateur detective here; she was asking what she hoped were useful questions, but couldn’t figure out anything relevant from what Varsha had said so far. “Anything that might have triggered it?”
“I don’t think ssso. We got Thyss booked at work around then ssso I was mostly bussy getting thingss worked out there, helping with the possters and sstuff, and I don’t remember any problemsss printing or anything from home then,” Varsha said. “I’ve mosstly paid attention to the power outagess when they interfere with work I bring home.”
“That’s fair,” Thys said. “I didn’t realise you were printing at home.”
“I called you up to look at them!”
“Yes, but,” Thys said, and then sort of shrugged. “Yes, that was silly of me, wasn’t it? I assumed you brought them home, but you could have called me into work if that was the case.”
“You looked at them on my computer,” Varsha said, exasperated. She winked at Viv. “Don’t worry if thisss one iss a ssspace casse. They are like thiss with or without traumatic violencce.”
“That’s fair,” Thys said again.
Viv giggled a little without meaning to. This whole situation was so stressful that it was hard to take it seriously all the time; the tension had to break once in a while. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said. “One more question. Have you noticed anything weird about the janitor?”
“The janitor?” Varsha kind of shrugged. “I don’t ussually run into him, but ssometimess we bump into each other in the elevator if I go out for lunch, I think he’ss usually vacuuming the hallwayss around noon, if you want to get ahold of him. Why?”
Thys and Viv shared a glance; it seemed significant, if he usually worked during the day, that Viv had run into him apparently still working at night—though there was no way of knowing if that was or wasn’t normal. “Be careful around him,” Viv said. “We don’t know if it has anything to do with him, but he was acting suspicious last night, so better to be careful, yeah?”
“Sssure,” Varsha said, looking a little skittish. Maybe the thought of an evil janitor working for her apartment made it strike closer to home; she worked downtown, where plenty of vampires and likewise were on the hunt, and attacks couldn’t be that uncommon out there. But at home? “I’ll keep an eye out. Can I call if sssomething happenss?”
“Please do, Varsha,” Thys said. “You’re great. As always. Thanks.”
Viv traded her contact info with Varsha as well, a little flustered—this wasn’t the circumstances in which she had hoped to get a cute nagi’s number, but what could you do?—and then they said their goodbyes and began knocking on the other doors.
They didn’t get a whole lot of people answering. Either folks were out at work or, if they were usually out at night, they were sleeping at this hour. In some cases, they probably just didn’t want to answer to someone they didn’t know. Only three or four people in the entire building answered both their doors and Viv’s questions: in all cases, they hadn’t seen anything at the time of the attack, hadn’t noticed any other attacks, they hadn’t been drawn to lighted areas or affected by the power outages magically (though they did find them annoying), and nobody really knew the janitor. With the thought that she didn’t want to get him in trouble if she was just overreacting to a guy who had watched her try to jump into a dumpster, she was careful to not reveal too much of their suspicions about the janitor—just saying that since he worked all over the building, she was hoping to find him and ask him more questions herself.
She couldn’t help but notice that even though they were going around noon, she didn’t see him anywhere as they went door to door.
“No good,” Thysania said finally. “Nobody has seen anything; or if they have, they don’t want to talk.”
“I suppose not,” Viv said. She gave Thys a wry smile. “Shall we go get a coffee, then? Next step in the plan is Beanheadings.”
“I could use a coffee,” Thys said. “I want syrups in mine.”
“Oh, just.” Thysania waved a hand. “Syrups.”
“Right,” Viv agreed wryly.
They headed out into the dreary fall day. Thysania’s cloak had appeared sometime while Viv’s back was turned, and they huddled into it, looking pale. Viv spared a moment to worry for them—they hadn’t seemed noticeably more energetic yet, and her own energy was still being tangibly drained into Thys. She wondered if something might be wrong, and if it was supposed to take this long for Thys’s energy to stabilize.
Viv almost walked past the entrance into the coffeeshop, which was in the heart of the Valley’s downtown, but Thys nudged her and they headed inside. It was quiet during the day, five or six patrons sitting around, most of whom were nonhuman, tucked in with computers or books or chatting with each other over coffee and a sandwich. It was a lovely, large place with visible rafters and lacquered tables, but the namesake for the shop was obvious and incongruous: there was a head mounted over the menu board, a handsome but rough-looking freckled man with wild braids, a cup of coffee to its mouth.
“Shall we order?”
“Sure,” Viv said, getting into line. She studied the menu board, then looked at the barista, and startled at the sight of him.
He was absolutely not wearing a shirt under his uniform apron, a nipple peeking out from where it sat slightly askew. This place must have a lax uniform policy, Viv thought, blushing. The nametag pinned to the apron straps said he was Matthias, but Viv had to assume that wasn’t his real name.
She was pretty sure that wasn’t a traditional demonic name.
And the barista was definitely a demon—an incubus, with jet-black hair tumbling over his shoulders, light glinting off his horns, his tail turning off a switch behind him where a coffee machine had just started beeping. “What can I—oh, hey, new witch! I haven’t seen you around before.” His gaze swept Viv, assessing her with a glint of interest, a knowing look, as if he saw all her broken abilities and weird blockages at just a glance. “How can I help you?”
She was supposed to answer with her coffee order, she knew. Ask him questions, find allies, learn gossip. She wasn’t supposed to suddenly think about how demons could help weak witches, how they could unlock blocked potentials, how they could make them stronger than they could ever be on their own.
“I will have a coffee with syrups,” Thysania said.
“Sure! Which syrups, how many pumps?”
“Syrups,” Thysania said.
“Okay,” Matthias said affably. He turned those inhuman eyes on Viv and grinned again. “And what can I do for you?”
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