Boone and Carson left me alone in the interrogation room for at least twenty minutes, but whoever argued in my favor won. After another ten minutes, I sat in the backseat of their SUV again, this time on the way to the crime scene. The silence between the agents seethed the entire drive. I considered breaking the tension but didn’t want to risk them turning around. At a guess, I’d say that Boone wanted to let me look things over with a magical eye. Which meant Agent Carson argued against me. It was easy to imagine him holding a grudge against me after knocking him out back at Peter’s apartment. His manner during their questioning had more edge to it than Boone’s did. I made a mental note to keep an eye on Agent Carson as long as I was with the DPI men.
We pulled up to a three-story house with crime scene tape crossed in front of the door. The owner maintained the place well despite not being local. Someone cut the lawn and trimmed the bushes recently. The for-sale sign stood as the only imperfection in the front yard. Nothing about it screamed haunted house by the light of day. Given the right ambiance, though, I got why Peter picked this place. Three stories meant plenty of rooms for the seance group to explore leading up to the event. Moving furniture in a couple of rooms, strange noises and flickering lights in a few others, and the mundanes ate right out of Peter’s hands.
Agent Carson confirmed my suspicions that he didn’t want me here when he left me in the backseat. Agent Boone came around from the driver’s side to let me out. I couldn’t feel Peter’s magic here, either. It shouldn’t have been surprising after visiting his apartment. A tiny piece of hope died in me. The closer I got to the front door, the less I wanted to go inside. I noticed a small swath of grass close to the porch was dead. When I stepped over the line of that grass towards the front door, an icy chill ran through me. I wanted to run but forced myself not to. A quick shudder escaped before I stilled my whole body.
“You okay?” Agent Boone asked.
“There’s something wrong with this place,” I said. I’d never felt anything like this place. Empty. Broken. Lost. Dead. I grasped at words, but none of them fully described what my magic was trying to tell me.
“Because someone died here?” he pressed for more detail.
“No, I’ve seen death before. People die in hospitals every day, and they don’t feel like this,” I said. Death was part of life; it actually pulled in more magic. That was the problem, though. This place completely lacked magic. A potted plant to the right of the front door was dead, too. “Are all the plants inside dead?”
“No,” Agent Carson dismissed my question.
“Not all of them,” Agent Boone amended.
I followed them inside against my instincts. Other than more dead plants, nothing looked out of place on the way to the room where Peter died. Someone taped an outline that looked roughly human-shaped on the floor. The limbs stretched out away from the torso like they’d been pinned to the ground. I grew more tired and depressed as I looked the room over. It seemed hopeless. Peter’s magic vanished from the world and took any evidence of what happened here with it. I didn’t know what could do this.
“You don’t look so good, Casper. Do you want to go?” Agent Boone asked.
“No,” I lied. I wanted to leave and never come back. That wouldn’t help figure out what happened to Peter, though. “You said not all the plants. Where are the ones that are still alive?”
“This way.” Agent Boone waved for me to follow him.
I felt a little better as I got a few steps into the kitchen. There was a collection of succulents on the counter. All but the two closest to the murder scene were still alive. Whatever drained the magic here had a limited range. I touched one of the living succulents and felt the danger being so near the death posed to it. I went from room to room, figuring out the range of this anomaly. After a few more times in and out of the dead zone, I didn’t need the plants to signify where it started anymore. The feeling didn’t get any easier to deal with the longer I was exposed to it. Whatever caused the dead zone had a sphere of influence. It crept up through the floor on the second story, and I was willing to bet that it went down into the earth, too.
“All right, we’ve let you look around plenty. Are you going to tell us anything useful?” Agent Carson said as they followed me back downstairs.
“Someone tore away all the magic in a fifty-foot radius of where they killed Peter,” I said. It would surprise me if that helped them in the least.
“How would they do that?” Agent Boone asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never felt anything like this before. My best guess would be some kind of ritual,” I said.
“We should arrest this guy,” Agent Carson said.
“For what?” I objected.
“You’ve wasted our time. I’d call that obstruction of justice. Not to mention we caught you looting from the victim’s apartment. For all we know, you’re the one who did this.” He was shouting by the end of his accusations.
“I went with you willingly. Is that what a guilty person would do?” I pulled my magic to the surface to ready a spell, but as it came to the surface, so did my reason. The dead zone grated on my nerves, and I’d bet it was doing the same to Agent Carson.
“You’d still be asleep or worse if he was our killer, Carson. Go wait by the car,” Agent Boone said.
“Can you feel anything when your bracelet protects you from a magical assault?” I asked once Carson walked out the front door.
“It heats up a bit.” Agent Boone shook his arm so that the bracelet fell out of his sleeve.
“It’s not doing that now, is it?” I asked.
“No. Do you have a theory about what’s going on here?” he asked.
“Not yet. I’m still collecting data. I don’t think this house will sell any time soon. It might not be permanent, but the lack of ambient magic wears on us in different ways,” I said.
“Is that why Carson freaked out? He’s not the most cool-headed agent, but I’ve never seen him lose it out of nowhere like that,” Agent Boone said.
“I think so. I’ve felt my fuse shortening since we approached the house. If my magic didn’t snap me out of it, I’d have hit him with a spell. Are you feeling any different?” I asked.
“Sadder, I think. No, that’s not quite right. It’s more like hopelessness. It’s like the longer we’ve been here, the less I believed we would actually find whoever did this,” he said.
“We should leave,” I said. “Is there anything the DPI can do to keep people away from this place? I don’t think it’s a good idea to have realtor and prospective buyers walking around here until you can be sure the dead zone isn’t here to stay.”
“I’ll see what I can do back at the office. I know you’re probably eager to leave this mess behind, but I’d actually like your opinion on one more thing before I let you go if that’s okay? We don’t have enough consulting witches to go around just yet,” Agent Boone said.
“What do you need?” I didn’t have all the answers I wanted yet either and hoped whatever else he wanted might give me a few more puzzle pieces.
“Would you be willing to examine the body? You said he’s your friend, and if it’s too uncomfortable, I understand, but I don’t know that a normal autopsy is enough in this case,” he explained.
“I’ll do my best,” I said. I hoped I’d find some answers to my growing list of questions. Whoever did this to Peter needed to be stopped before they did it to another witch.