• Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 22

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

    Closing his eyes, Tam thought through the offer carefully.

    Although Lithway did love their dramatics, this seemed to very genuinely be an incredibly serious issue to them. Tam believed that Lithway wouldn’t want to hunt him down, but that they would if he gave his word and then broke it. He couldn’t help but remember Sahil saying that nobody knew a thing about the shadowfolk—that he, a monster librarian who lived in the Valley, could find no reliable resources on them.

    That Lithway was offering up this secret was something beyond an honor.

    Could he do it? Without knowing what the secret was, could he promise that? If Ash wanted to know how he had been rescued, could Tam keep it from him?

    He’d have to. He’d not kept many secrets from Ash before, but maybe it was time to start. And if he didn’t accept this offer now, he might not get Ash back to have to keep it a secret from him.

    In some ways, his allies were a bigger issue. He couldn’t anticipate how it would affect his plans until he knew what the option even was. And what if the people he met tonight refused to go without knowing everything that was happening?

    —Well, he thought, that was an issue he might have to face anyway, with the weredogs vs vampires issue. If he did plan to make use of both of them in some capacity, even if he did his best to keep them apart, that might not matter if they insisted on knowing all details of the plan. He’d either have to lie to them anyway or lose their help.

    That said, the stories did have vampires be able to compel people. If he said that the information would kill him, and they still compelled him… well. Then he’d have made a very bad call, he supposed.

    He let out a slow breath, opening his eyes again. Lithway hadn’t moved at all, expression not changing in the slightest.

    “Lithway,” Tam said, hearing his voice come out a little rough. He was strangely moved by the offer, and was surprised he wasn’t actually feeling any fear. “I really, genuinely appreciate this. I know what a huge deal it must be, and I absolutely respect why you’d need to chase me down if I took that lightly.”

    Lithway let out an agreeable hum, not interrupting—waiting for Tam to come to his conclusion.

    “I would very much like to know how you can help,” Tam said. “I promise that I won’t tell, and if… if something makes me tell, I’ll understand when you come after me.” A thought occurred. “I’m—meeting with Antoine again sometime later today, and I’ll see if it’s possible to get geased to prevent me from saying anything about it. I won’t do it if I have to tell him the secret to get it to work, of course.”

    A distinct look of pleasure crossed Lithway’s face. “Now, are you sure about that?” they asked. “A geas is a very strong magic, and not a pleasant one. It robs you of your free will.”

    “I mean, so would death,” Tam said lightly. “And anyway, it’s not my secret to tell, so I don’t see why I’d need to make a big deal about losing the ability to do so.”

    Lithway nodded, then flickered out of sight. They reappeared sitting on the desk next to Tam’s food, then put their indistinct feet on Tam’s thighs, turning the chair to face them.  “I told you I wanted to experience you. You breathed me in; I became part of your body, you breathed me out.”

    Tam could feel himself blushing. “Yeah, it was good?”

    “And I’m very glad of that!” Lithway said, laughing.

    And then they changed—shadows firming up, changing shape, color bleeding into them all over like paint had been poured into water. They tossed their head and—Tam was sitting on the desk, feet on Tam’s legs.

    The real Tam stared. “You can—”

    “I can become anyone who I’ve experienced,” Lithway said, in Tam’s voice. Like this, they spoke with far more inflection than they usually had. “Not sex, per se—though that was lovely, darling, and I’d be delighted to do it again. But whatever body I have, in whatever way, understood enough to recreate.”

    They seemed to let out a breath and Tam’s form dissolved around Lithway, turning back into the black smoke that always trailed off them. “It’s not something we advertise being able to do. We’re already feared, and some people truly believe we’d kill them and take their place. Perhaps some of us have; that may be more reason to not let it be known. …And ugh, can you imagine what people would say if they didn’t think my acting skills were actual talent but something I absorbed from others?”

    “Did you?” Tam asked, a bit wide-eyed. “Absorb something from me, I mean.”

    “I wouldn’t do that without permission, darling, but I could. I could taste your memories and feelings also.” They paused, then added, in a lewd tone, “The only feelings I experienced from you were the ones you definitely wanted me to feel.”

    Tam laughed shakily. “Nice,” he said. “Okay, good, great. That’s… this might be super helpful, honestly, and that you’re willing to not just tell me but use it to help me, I’m. I’m really moved, Lithway. And I absolutely do believe you’ve worked for your skills, by the way.”

    “Well, now, don’t go making a big deal over it,” Lithway said, waving a hand in the air. They seemed abruptly embarrassed. “Kiss me and go on your adventure, now! But come back to me later and tell me what you’ll use me for, hm? I’m at your service; I can’t imagine anything nicer than seeing this through to the end.”

    As requested, Tam leaned up and gave them a quick kiss. “Break a leg this evening,” he said, a little shyly. “I don’t know if I’ll be back tonight, since I’m going to be doing things until really late, but would it be all right if I did?”

    “Of course. Let me be your safe haven,” Lithway said. The words were romantic but the tone, again, was somehow lewd.

    Tam grabbed his stuff and gave Lithway another kiss before wandering out of the apartment area, down into the theatre. His phone buzzed as he went, and he checked it to see that Sahil had texted Tam his address to meet up there before lunch.

    He wrote back a quick on my way, and then, while he had his cell out, phoned Antoine.

    It was answered after a ring and a half. “Tam?”

    “Yeah, it’s me,” Tam said. “I’ll probably swing by late afternoon, if that works for you for having the charms ready?”

    “No problem,” Antoine said. “Should be cool by then. Hope it’s going well since I saw you?”

    Tam blushed. “Yeah, it’s been great,” he said. “Can I ask another magic question?”

    “Go for it.”

    “Is it possible to be geased to be prevented from saying something, but not tell the spellcaster what it is when setting the spell up?”

    Antoine paused for a moment. When he answered, there was audible curiosity in his voice. “Sure, but the vaguer you get, the more you can get tied up in the spell. Can I ask the sort of thing you’re thinking of?”

    “Someone told me a secret. I promised not to tell on pain of death.”

    “Ah.” Antoine considered. “You can phrase it like, ‘I may never speak about so-and-so’s secret with anybody but so-and-so’, but if they tell you other secrets in the future, those’ll count too.”

    That didn’t seem like a problem. “I mean, sure. If someone tells me something’s a secret, I’m not gonna want to go telling anyone anyway.”

    “Right, but for example, if you needed to testify in a murder or whatever, you might get in trouble for colluding.”

    “That escalated quickly,” Tam complained with a laugh. “I’m sure it’s fine. And if something’s no longer a secret is it still under geas?”

    “Not if you phrased it that way, no. It’d only qualify while it was secret.”

    “Thanks,” Tam said. “What’ll I owe you for it?”

    “I kidnapped your brother; it’s on the house.” Antoine hesitated, then added, “I don’t usually do geasing work, so it might not be the nicest spell I’ve ever put together, but I do know how. Thanks for trusting me with your, uh, free will.”

    “Thanks for not charging me for doing so,” Tam said wryly. “I’ll see you later?”

    “Sure thing.”

    He hung up and slid his phone in his pocket, then headed off to Sahil’s address.

    It didn’t take him long to get there, and given how recently he’d texted he was on his way, he waited outside the small duplex’s door a few moments before losing patience and knocking. Hopefully Sahil wouldn’t be too rushed.

    Sahil opened the door pretty quickly despite Tam’s worries. He looked tired, with darker circles under his eyes and his hair all mussed up, but he was fully dressed.

    “Good morning,” Sahil said, a bit flustered. He stepped aside, holding the door. “Do you want to come in? It’s a little early for lunch, but we can go now if you’d rather go out right away, or… I mean, you can come in and I can give you a cup of coffee if you haven’t had one yet. I’m really interested to hear more of what happened, and that may be better in private than outside? Though, I mean… I don’t know all of what you’re going to want me to help you propose to Lena, and I know you’re tight on time.”

    Tam peeked past him; the living room beyond was pretty cute, with a couch facing a TV, linen curtains in front of a big bay window, and old radiator heating. A small dog bed was tucked between the radiator and the couch, with a little box of dog toys beside it.

    [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]

  • Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 21

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

    Tam needed to eat breakfast anyway, since today was going to be pretty busy. And it would be pretty rude to just run out on Lithway after the night they’d shared.

    “Sure,” he said. “If you’re ordering from a deli or diner, just…some kind of eggs and meat mix? I’ll probably need the protein. I’ll be out there in a minute, I just need to email some people about brother things.”

    Lithway blew him a kiss. “Certainly, dear,” they said, and vanished back around the bookshelf, just a shadow drifting between them.

    Tam dug his computer out of his bag and wrote some notes to himself as he tried to plan the day. It’d probably be good to have some idea of what he could ask from his potential allies, if he was going to start to pull an action plan together.

    At breakfast, he could discuss a little more what Lithway might be able or willing to help him with, he figured. They were close enough now that maybe Lithway had a way of getting him in and out—if nothing else, they could manipulate their own shadows pretty efficiently. Though, of course, that would require an infiltration plan sometime outside of the early evening hours of their performance.

    When he met with the weredogs, he’d have to assume that their keen noses might help him track his brother’s exact location. Their ability to transform at will might help there. Sahil had said the weredogs weren’t available at night since they couldn’t control the transformation then, but Tam wondered if needing them in dog form rather than human might help there. Then again, it was possible the full moon had other effects that might make them unavailable at night entirely.

    The building itself, when he found it, would probably be under some kind of magical warding, whether to keep people out, or to alert Istem when people entered. Maybe he could ask Antoine if there were any charms he could get to keep them from going off. He figured Antoine likely knew Istem’s spells better than anyone, and there was no reason to think that he’d be geased to keep from helping this way. They could probably be designed to get through anyone’s charms.

    Although he had yet to talk to the lawyer, ideally, some sort of legal summons could be a way to get her out of her house. Maybe the vampires could do something about that too, if he acted at night instead of the day—hard to say. Either way, he knew he had to look for opportunities to get her out of the house. Getting to his brother would be significantly easier if Istem herself wasn’t there. Though, on the other hand, he knew he couldn’t postpone a confrontation indefinitely, since she knew where his family lived. But anything that bought him more time would be good, too.

    Then there were the vampires… Tam wasn’t sure yet what to do with them, if anything, which sort of stalled out his planning. They sounded a little volatile, but he knew they were one of the most powerful forces in the area. If nothing else, they might have information, and at best, they could be an incredible power to bring to bear against her. But if he did decide to get the weredogs involved in the extraction, things might get unpleasant. Worst case scenario, his allies might start fighting when he needed them the most.

    Tam shook himself. He’d planned as much as he could this far in advance, he decided. He sent Sahil and Jared emails that he’d meet for lunch and dinner respectively and would like to arrange the meetings, and sent Antoine a message asking about the charms.

    As he got dressed, Antoine replied pretty much at once—it seemed like he’d been waiting for something like this. No problem, I should be able to whip something up. I can’t guarantee she’s not changed the specifics on me, but I know the generalities really well. I’ll be in my shop until 5 (though I can close up if you need me to) so stop by there any time today. I also live over it but I’ll need to know in advance if you wanna come to my place after hours!

    Tam finished dressing just as he heard Lithway at the room’s door, receiving the order. The lady running the delivery sounded starstruck, and Tam couldn’t blame her. He still couldn’t entirely believe he’d found himself in this situation.

    He waited behind the shelves until the door closed—no point in ending up in the tabloids for this—then headed out to join Lithway. They had cleared a spot at their desk for Tam and handed him the delivery bag as he approached.

    “It’s nothing fancy,” Lithway said with a false modesty, as though they’d cooked it themself. “But enjoy.”

    Tam did, digging into it with voracious hunger. In between bites, he ran his thoughts past Lithway, who was resting their chin on their hand and watching Tam with an intensely curious gaze.

    “Oh, certainly, like a spy? I think I could get you in and out if you wished,” Lithway said. “I could do more than that, even.”

    “You did mention fisticuffs,” Tam admitted. “But I’d rather not get into a confrontation with her if I can avoid it.”

    Lithway waved a hand dismissively, trailing smoke. “It’s something else. Can you keep a secret?”

    “Of course I—”

    “Because,” Lithway said, leaning in close, “it truly is one. I try to be very close to the chest about my abilities, you know. Many of the things I can do would, if it got out, make things more difficult for my kind, and also damage my reputation as an actor.”

    Tam blinked. “Damage your reputation? Listen, Lithway, I promise, that’s the last thing I want to do. And… if it can help my brother, I’ll swear on anything you want me to swear on.”

    “Swear on your life,” Lithway said. “If you’re not willing to do so, I understand, and won’t hold it against you in the slightest, because that’s a very deep oath to make. But I’m very serious about this. I care for you quite a bit already, dear boy, but if you told anyone, however close you think you are to that person, accidentally or deliberately, it would be the worst betrayal of my trust to you, and I would come for that life. So: will you swear on it?”

    Tam looked at Lithway, wide-eyed. Although they’d said something so dire, the warmer smoke of their eyes was churning with an apparent excitement, and a grin lingered around the corners of their lips.

    [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]

  • Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 20

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

    Tam hesitated. On the one hand, it felt like he might be doing something wrong—his brother was off somewhere, kidnapped by a witch, and he was thinking about just… indulging himself? Was this what Ash would want—?

    Thinking about that actually helped immediately.

    Ash, Tam had to admit, would kick his ass if he found out that Tam’d had the chance to bang Lithway and didn’t take it.

    He smiled back at Lithway, lifting a hand up a little daringly to touch their mass of smoky curls. “I don’t know anything about your folk,” he admitted. “Anything I should understand in terms of… cost? I mean, I keep meeting vampires and incubi, and I’m going to need to be alert and on my game in the next couple of days—”

    Lithway laughed, a soft, melodic chuckle. “Oh, nothing like that, my sweet boy,” they said. “No cost whatsoever, and nothing more than you’d give to any other person. Effort and attention! All I want from it is the experience. You’re on a grand adventure, aren’t you? Allow me to be part of it.”

    “Lithway,” Tam said with an embarrassed grin, “I’m so onboard with this plan.”

    With another laugh, Lithway closed the distance and kissed him.

    Their mouth was warm and soft, but without the same sense of solid pressure behind it in kisses that Tam had experienced before. Rather, there was something yielding about it—an impression that made sense a moment later as he felt smoke leak into his mouth through the small part in his lips. It stroked his tongue insubstantially, a flavor that he couldn’t quite identify in the lingering, teasing caress.

    Tam drew a heavy breath in against Lithway and, when he let it out, he saw smoke leak out of his own nostrils.  

    Somehow, that was absurdly exciting.

    “The bed?” Tam suggested a little unsteadily.

    Lithway smiled, rising as they took both of Tam’s hands to lead him over to it.

    [jump to an 18+ scene]

    The next morning, Tam woke from strange dreams—something about chasing his reflection in a mirror and continually finding the wrong faces there—but nevertheless woke surprisingly refreshed. His body felt not just good in the aftermath of the night before, but better than he would have expected after what must have, on a very technical level, been quite a workout.

    He yawned, stretching out and getting his bearings.

    Lithway wasn’t in the bed, which he’d expected; he doubted that they slept at all. But he could hear soft humming from elsewhere in the room, hidden by the bookcases, along with the occasional tak-tak of keys. They must be on the computer.

    Tam rolled over and fished around beside the bed—nearly falling out of it, it was so high—until he found his clothes, dragging them up on the bed with him. His phone and Ash’s were in both his pockets, and he took them out to catch up on things quickly.

    First, he checked Ash’s phone, reminding himself that there was still one thing he hadn’t checked—the location history. He loaded up google maps’ timeline—and was relieved to see that it had stored information. Ash usually had it turned off, but when he was told he was being taken, he must have turned it on. Tam let out a breath of relief. He couldn’t be sure when exactly the phone was handed over to Antoine and so which stop was Ash’s last—but he had a good guide of the walk path, and could compare that to the photos.

    He checked his own after that. No message from Lithway’s lawyer contact yet, but that wasn’t a surprise, given that it was only nine in the morning. He did have messages both from Sahil and Jared, however.

    Sahil’s said: So glad to hear you got some good information out of the meetup! I’m not working today but I’m happy to hit up the library if you need more research from me. The others there want to help too. I did talk to our leader and she’s willing to chat with you! I don’t know for sure if she’ll offer aid or not, so if you have more promising leads you can always just skip. But if you want to have lunch together we can have an early afternoon chat with her after?

    Jared’s said: Got everything set up, dude. You wanna do dinner? You can catch me up on things properly and we can go over after it’s full dark. If you wanna bow out lemme know in advance and I’ll make an excuse but the contact already talked to Dupré so if you do that, he probably won’t wanna work with you after. But do what you think is best to help your bro, okay? I’ll do what I can to make things work.

    Ash turned the phone off without replying to either message, thinking his options over as he began to dress. He wasn’t sure if there was anything else he’d want to do or other people he’d want to talk to that might interfere with either of those plans. Before he’d decided how to reply, the humming stopped, and Lithway—in a humanoid form again—leaned around and smiled at him.

    “Awake, my dear co-lead?” they asked cheerily. “I don’t have any food in here since I don’t eat, but it appears I could get delivery. Or are you going out to continue on your quest to save your brother?”

    [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]

  • Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 19

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!
    Although Antoine and Lithway both got two votes, one of
    the Antoine votes had leaned more toward another option….]

    “I think I’m good,” Tam said after considering it for a few moments, his tone almost apologetic.

    “I get it,” Antoine said, holding both his hands up. “I really do. I’m the guy who handed your brother off to a witch, after all.”

    Tam shook his head, not making direct eye contact. “It’s not that—I honestly do trust you. You didn’t know who I was when you stepped in to help me out when that vampire guy tried to mug me earlier, but…” He shrugged. “Even if you completely believe that Istem doesn’t have any way to spy on you, that doesn’t mean it’s true, right? Especially if she knows you weren’t too happy to be used to bring my brother to her.”

    “Fair enough,” Antoine said. “Do you have a place to stay, though?”

    Tam hesitated, then nodded. “Someone else already offered to help me out,” he said. “I don’t have to go home before I’m ready. Hopefully with Ash there with me.”

    He wasn’t sure exactly how much he’d offered Lithway in return, but then again, Lithway was a gorgeous celebrity, and Tam’s birthday had been pretty lousy so far. He hoped he could let himself have something nice—especially if the phone had good news.

    There wasn’t more he could do tonight anyway.

    “I’m glad,” Antoine said. He drained his drink in one smooth gesture, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Can I walk you there? I’d like to make sure you get wherever you’re going without getting kidnapped.”

    “That’s completely fine,” Tam said, embarrassed. “Honestly, I’m grateful.”

    They headed out of Beanheadings, making their way through the dark city streets. Antoine seemed bigger somehow, more secure. After they’d gone a few blocks, Tam tilted his head, looking aside at him. “Are you doing something?”

    “Just a little protective magic,” Antoine said. “To make sure we get left alone.”

    “I was supposed to have some on me from Istem,” Tam said after a moment, “in exchange for her taking my brother. My parents wanted to protect the family. But I still had that guy come up to me today…”

    “That’s weird,” Antoine said, after an equally thoughtful pause. “Maybe they’re the sort set to go off when attacked only? I don’t really remember meeting you before, so I can’t say if I noticed protections up then. Deterrents are usually more effective, I’d think. You weren’t attacked any other time you came down here?”

    “No. But who knows why,” Tam muttered. “I was usually with my brother when I came down here, so maybe both of us together were enough of a deterrent.”

    They walked in silence a bit further before Tam stopped; they were on the block with the library and the theatre, and he didn’t want Antoine to see where he went for sure in case Istem had some way of tracking that. “It’s just up here,” Tam said. “Thanks again for your help.”

    “No problem,” Antoine said. He lifted a hand as he turned to go. “You’ve got my number, and you know where my shop is. Let me know if you need any help, magical or otherwise.”

    “Will do,” Tam said. He watched until Antoine rounded the corner, then jogged to the theatre and up the steps.

    He stayed under the awning there for a few moments, quickly texting Sahil an update for when he could use phones again, and also dropping a line to the safety friend (who he’d told only that he was meeting up with a dubious date, giving date, time, location, and the usual stuff) that he was fine.

    Then he dug his brother’s phone out of his pocket, opening it up and looking through his apps and files.

    At first, he was disappointed. Nothing in the videos, no new points left on google maps, no notes. But Antoine had said Ash had gone along in a hurry, and that meant he wouldn’t have had too much time to do anything fancy. And, sure enough, when he checked Ash’s gallery, there were a series of photos: some shop names, some street corners, a fancily decorated post on the corner, an unusual store display, and similar.

    Landmarks. They weren’t ones that Tam recognized, but they were ones he could compare against the urban explorer’s guide, and talk to other locals about.

    His heart soared and he tucked the phone away again, turning to go meet Lithway.

    When he first rattled the handle, he thought the theatre door was locked, but a moment later, it opened under his touch. He slid through into a semi-darkened lobby, only one set of lights on, and looked around a bit uneasily.

    Some places were ones where you didn’t feel like you belonged when it was after hours; it had been odd enough earlier, when there was no show on, and downright eerie now.

    “Hello?” he called. “Lithway? I’m here…”

    Tam’s voice echoed out in the lobby, and he shook himself, heading for the door he’d gone through previously to enter the backstage area. A shadow flickered out of the corner of his eye, and he turned, abruptly remembering the vampire earlier—

    But Tam turned right into a crushing warm embrace, darkness flooding over him for a moment as his face was pressed into robes made of shadows.

    “There you are, my sweet boy,” Lithway murmured. “I thought perhaps I’d scared you away.”

    Lithway smelled like lavender, which even Tam thought was a very inane realization to make in the moment.

    The actor released him, and Tam drew a surprised, deep breath. “Uh, maybe you have now!” Tam said, but laughed, knees weak with relief. “I’m sorry I didn’t write or call, I didn’t want the person I was with to know who I’ve been working with, just in case…”

    “Now that sounds like a story,” Lithway said, smiling. Their dark eyes were a paler black in their face, as though they’d literally lit up somehow. “Why don’t you come tell it to me?”

    Lithway led the way back to their room, and poured Tam some wine as Tam explained what he’d been up to for the rest of the day—he kept some of the details back for succinctness’ sake, but he’d already told Lithway that he was meeting an Antoine who he’d then suspected to be the witch’s son, and was the person who had taken Ash. He didn’t see any harm in filling Lithway in on how the meeting went.

    Sipping their own wine, Lithway hmm’d their way through most of the story, interjecting appropriate gasps of shock (when the vampire appeared) and murmurs of sympathy (over the things Tam had learned about Istem).

    When Tam was finished, he was feeling more relaxed—nowhere near drunk, thankfully, but the wine had helped calm him down and the chance to talk the latest encounter over with someone seemed to take a weight off as well.

    “My dear,” Lithway said, leaning their chin on their hand at an angle that didn’t quite look comfortable to someone with bones, “it sounds like you’ve had quite a night at the end of quite a day! Before I say anything else, let me assure you: I’ve been in contact with our lawyer and impressed the urgency on him. He passed the request onto one of his acquaintances who works on cases like yours, and she’ll be in contact with you tomorrow, if you don’t mind leaving me some way to have her contact you?”

    “Oh! No, that’s great,” Tam said, flustered. “That’s perfect. I know legal proceedings are slow, but better to have everything on the go than nothing, right?”

    “The words of a clever man,” Lithway agreed. “Now, business aside…” They put their cup of wine down on the desk with a gentle click and leaned forward. Their cloak of shadows billowed in tatters around them to rest on the arms of Tam’s chair, almost wrapping around him, but not quite touching. “Would you like to spend some time just celebrating your twenty-first year? Or are you too tired?”

    Tam drew in a slow breath of that lavender-scented darkness. This part over the theatre was an old apartment building; more rooms than Lithway’s might still be available, if he wanted to just sleep. He could probably even stay in this room and do nothing more—if he wanted to.

    But he didn’t really want to be alone, and he was more than a little interested, heart beating fast, every one of his senses seeming more alert. Lithway’s face hovered a hand’s breadth from his own, smoky eyelids covering their eyes, a faint smile lingering on their lips.

    [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]

  • Halloween 2017 IF,  Interactive Fiction

    Halloween I.F – “Uncanny Valley” Day 18

    [Please read the instructions before jumping in!]

    Of course Ash would leave him messages if he had the chance. It wasn’t even a shock; the moment he heard it, everything about Antoine having the phone became clear.

    Tam put a hand over the cell, pulling it over to himself. It felt warm under his hand, full of potential, but he didn’t open it just yet. Antoine seemed more than willing to help, but that didn’t mean that Miss Istem hadn’t laid any traps to get information. It was probably better to hold off on looking until he was in private.

    That didn’t mean he couldn’t get some idea of what Ash might have done, and if he’d learn anything about Istem from this. “When did he hand it off to you?”

    “Before I took him in to meet her,” Antoine said. “I don’t know how much or little he could have got in there since we were moving pretty fast, but hopefully whatever it is helps.”

    Tam nodded, and slid it into his pocket. Antoine didn’t seem surprised, smiling a little wryly before taking a sip of his drink.

    It felt heavy there, a good weight. Even just knowing that Ash had been leaving him messages felt like he’d almost won. If Ash had done that, it meant he was trying to rescue himself already, and had been even before he was taken.

    Unless it was a don’t find me message, which was always a possibility with Ash, though Tam didn’t think it was likely. He was sure Ash would be in love with his own witch potential… but probably not enough to stay someone’s servant.

    Which just brought things back to getting Ash back from her. From what Antoine had said, bringing pressure on her might work, but he’d have to do it carefully, maybe finding a way to block her route out. Otherwise, she might just cut her losses and take Ash with her.

    He guessed he’d have to be sneaky somehow.

    “I’ll take a look at that later,” Tam said. “Right now, honestly, what’d really help me is more of a reference on magic. I don’t know much at all! Would it be going against your geas to answer questions about magic? Like, what’s a magical battery? How long will it take her to determine that? If Ash isn’t able to learn, will he already be in danger?”

    “Oh! It’s no problem at all for me to answer that sort of thing,” Antoine said, brows raising. He put his mug down, empty. “Ask me any time  about magic in general. So, that’s going to be a worry once she gets him through the gate, not before. She can’t really assess either his capacity for power or his ability to learn until he’s in the thick of the power that’s down there and she sees how he connects to it. If he’s a slow learner, or someone who can’t connect to it well, she’ll… invert his magical potential, essentially, and drain him of his energy.”

    “That’s completely fucking horrifying,” Tam said, his tone almost light. He was having a hard time even really comprehending how awful that would be. “But I guess something to put aside until later. Do normal witches not do what she does? I mean, take them across?”

    Antoine hmmed. “As I understand it, having not been in that situation myself, I think they spend a lot of time getting acclimatised, and move them back and forth across the gate a lot. Sort of like, uh, strength training, you have to work up to it.”

    “Well, I’m not sure I understand entirely,” Tam admitted. “But I’m interested. How long have you been away from her?”

    Although Antoine hadn’t signalled for it, the glaistig barista came by and gave him another drink. He looked up in apparent surprise, but she waved it off. “Matt said you’d need it,” she said, gave him a rough smile, and drifted off again.

    “They’re pretty nice here,” Antoine told Tam, sounding embarrassed. “I’ve been out three years now. She didn’t call in the geas until just now.”

    “What’ve you been doing in the meantime?” Tam asked. He rested his chin on his hand, leaning forward to watch him, and thought he saw Antoine blush in response. “Other than becoming a popular regular here!”

    “I live nearby, so I come a lot,” Antoine said, embarrassed.

    “No, I’m serious,” Tam said. “I’ve been thinking about you all day—even if I didn’t know it was you. I want to know more about you.”

    Antoine hid his face behind his mug, then peeked out with a flustered laugh. “I mean, sure, okay? I’m a kitchen witch. I own a small bakery a few blocks away. Miss Istem has always wanted to leave a legacy behind, and I absorbed entirely the wrong things for her tastes, but became strong enough quickly enough that she couldn’t make me a battery. I know a little of her style of things, but mostly I just… ” He shrugged. “I like good food, and I like seeing people enjoy the food I make. I was hoping she wouldn’t call on me so I could just keep working on growing my business. But here we are.”

    “Here we are,” Tam repeated. “Is your shop, uh… Loaf Portions?”

    “That’s the one! You’ve heard of us?”

    “I saw it on the map,” Tam admitted. “But I think I may have even bought pastries there before with my brother. I remember Ash pointing out it was a play on words. I can’t remember if it you we talked to, but he asked the clerk if you actually made love potions.”

    “I get asked that a lot,” Antoine admitted, smile softening. “Well, since you two are customers, I definitely have to help you however I can. …Hey, can I ask you something?”

    Tam nodded. “Shoot. I can’t promise to answer, though.”

    “What are you going to do after this?” Antoine asked. He held up a hand to forestall Tam’s protests. “I don’t mean your plan. I mean… tonight. When I picked your brother up, I saw you guys lived at home. I met your parents. Their attitude about it being necessary… you must be pretty hurt right now.”

    Tam lowered his gaze. “Yeah.”

    “I remember what it’s like,” Antoine said. “For me, it wasn’t my parents—they died in an accident when I was a lot younger. But my guardian got tired of having a teenager around. …Are you going back there tonight?”

    Suddenly, Tam was incredibly tired. He sighed, finishing off his drink and gazing up at the rafters of the building. An old man was seated up there, and Tam watched him kick his leg in lieu of meeting Antoine’s eyes while talking about this. “I don’t know. I don’t want to. I mean, if I stay out, I’ll let them know I’m okay, of course. But I don’t know if I can face them just yet.”

    Antoine nodded. “I’d understand if it was too strange, but I’ve got a comfy couch in my apartment if you need a place.”

    Tam hesitated, trying to figure out how to respond. There was Antoine’s offer, and Lithway’s, or he could spend some of his savings on a hotel… if he could still get one at this hour. Or he could just go home, whether or not he avoided his parents while there.

    [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]