I ran ten blocks to Peter’s apartment building. I never told him I knew where he lived or that my affinity for tracking magic helped me find this place. A warning ward waited at the top of the stoop, but Peter hadn’t set it up. I hadn’t noticed this witch’s energy the last time I’d been here. A crafty witch put this ward in place; as I walked through it, my magic reached out, but the energy vanished like a popped bubble. It made me pause. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d failed to catch a thread of magic to track back to its caster. I wouldn’t have wanted to find them, given my need to get my jacket back, but someone that good at covering traces of themselves was worth consideration.
I didn’t detect any other magic in the building as I let myself in with an unlock spell and took the elevator up to the fourth floor. Something very odd was going on here. Faint traces of magic should have lingered in this building. And the apartment door definitely should have had some sort of protection on it. I couldn’t smell any of the warm cinnamon that I associated with Peter’s magic. His door wasn’t even locked. Panic rolled through me as I walked into the apartment. Someone cleansed any trace of magical energy from this place. I pulled out my phone and dialed Peter’s cell, only to remember I didn’t have any service. I needed the job he was going to offer me to reactivate it.
The failed call pushed me into pacing back and forth in the living room. I didn’t know how much time I spent in that loop before I made myself stop. The pacing only increased my anxiety. I needed to act. Other than the void left by Peter’s magic, nothing else was out of place. I went to the kitchen and methodically opened cabinets one at a time. I found a few useful spices, but Peter clearly wasn’t much of a kitchen witch. That surprised me, considering his magic always smelled like baked goods. I went to his bedroom, hoping to find an altar or other supplies. I opened every drawer, checked under the bed, and went through his closet and found nothing. There wasn’t so much as a single crystal or amulet.
The bathroom didn’t seem like a good place to keep spell supplies, but I checked it anyway. As I thought, there was nothing out of the ordinary other than an impressive stock of toiletries. Peter was apparently the type of person who bought extra of his favorite products in case they got discontinued. I went back to the living room; it was very plain at first sight. But I hadn’t looked close enough. A long but shallow tray hid underneath the coffee table. I slid it out and found everything I needed. Nothing there was magical in itself; these supplies were the means, but they couldn’t unveil secrets or reshape the world without the will and intention.
I sped through the ritual to summon my jacket. My skin tingled as soon as it appeared in the apartment. Holly put a magical trace on it. I dispelled it as fast as I could, but chances were she already knew where I was. I’d planned to do a locator spell on Peter, but I wouldn’t be much help to him if Holly got to me. Instead, I went back to Peter’s bedroom, found a bag, and filled it with the supplies I’d need for the locator spell. As I was zipping the bag up, I heard someone knock on the front door. I froze. Holly and her pack of mundanes wouldn’t knock, and I’d have felt her coming. Before I could decide what to do, the door handle twisted.
Two men in suits came through the door with guns at the ready. Holly had used mundanes at the market, but I didn’t think that she’d let them kill me. She wanted to do that herself. It wouldn’t have the same impact as carrying out her threat to bury me alive in its literal, exact horror. Did that mean these men were here for Peter? I didn’t want to stick around to find out. I grabbed a hand full of blessed sand. Every witch had their shortcuts, and this was one of Peter’s. If I pushed the right will and intention into the sand and spread it properly, it could act as a shorthand for a spell that took more preparation. The sand’s effects wouldn’t be as strong as doing the actual spell, but I wasn’t dealing with other witches, so I wasn’t worried about that.
“Don’t move,” the first man said, a young blond man with no shortage of confidence. He didn’t doubt I’d follow his orders for a second.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” the second man asked. His voice was softer than his partner’s and a bit more cautious.
“That’s not really your business,” I said.
“Actually, it is. DPI,” the rookie said, showing off his badge. I didn’t need to see it to know it read Department of Paranormal Investigations on it. Word about the DPI got around the magical community. I wasn’t sure they were on our side, but I hadn’t heard as many horror stories as I’d expected about them. A government agency created in response to supernaturals coming out to the public was a lot of witches’ worst nightmare. I didn’t know what business they had at Peter’s apartment, but I knew I didn’t want them digging into my life.
“I haven’t done anything illegal,” I said. It was a lie, but I doubted these two agents could prove it.
“How about trespassing?” the rookie said. He stepped close. His partner kept his distance, though. He wasn’t that much older by the look of him, but the experience gap was evident.
“That’s presumptuous. I happen to be friends with the man who lives here,” I said, keeping things as vague as possible while still trying to get more out of them.
“Lived. Peter Brooks is dead,” the blond DPI agent said. I nearly dropped all the sand in surprise, only saving about half of it by tightening my grip again. I hadn’t considered it for a moment the whole time I’d been going through his things. Now I probably looked like I was here to ransack his place after his murder. They wouldn’t be investigating a natural death after all. But Peter’s death didn’t explain what I felt. Killing him wouldn’t erase every trace of his magic from the world.
“How well did you know Mr. Brooks?” the dark-haired agent asked in a sympathetic tone.
“I don’t really have time to stay and play twenty questions with you guys,” I said.
“You don’t get a say in the matter,” the rookie agent said.
He lowered his gun and reached for handcuffs. It wasn’t a great opportunity, but it felt like the best chance I would get. I focused my will and intention on sleep and threw the sand in an arch to hit both agents. I called up a shield spell as soon as the sand left my hands. The blond agent collapsed without any grace, instantly asleep. The other agent kept his gun trained on me as if nothing had happened. He didn’t even spare his partner a glance. It didn’t make sense; I saw the sand hit them both. A bracelet half-hidden up the remaining agent’s right sleeve glowed with power. He wasn’t a witch, but I knew an enchantment when I saw it. I wouldn’t be rid of this DPI agent so easily.