I kept my perception-shifting spell going from the time I left the morgue until I walked through the front door of my next destination. Lugh and Flynn’s apartment building had a doorman, and I didn’t want to announce myself. I didn’t think anyone followed me, but I didn’t want to chance it. I’d never called on them for favors before, not wanting to mix business with pleasure, but I needed a werewolf’s sense. Just because I couldn’t track any magic at the house that the agents took me to didn’t mean there wasn’t a trail there to follow. It was a long shot that Flynn could differentiate the smell of the murderer. I had no idea how many people walked through that place from the DPI alone. I needed to do something while I waited for the coroner to contact me, though, and I didn’t want to take my focus off Peter.
The elevator opened on Lugh and Flynn’s floor. I nearly talked myself out of getting off of it. They weren’t expecting me; I hadn’t even checked if they were home. Lugh’s magic warmed the hall, but I would feel it whether or not he was home if he’d been using it recently. I took off my jacket as I stepped off the elevator. The closer I got to their apartment, the more the hallway felt like a greenhouse. Lugh’s affinity for floramancy shone stronger than anyone I’d ever met. I could tell at least that he was home and actively casting. His magic made me wish I had a fan as I knocked on the apartment door. Flynn answered the door in sweatpants and nothing else. Like most werewolves, he had well-defined muscles, and he wasn’t the least bit shy about showing them off.
“Casper, how are you?” he asked. He pulled me into a hug before I could answer. “Babe, you didn’t tell me Casper was coming over.”
“He didn’t know. I’m a surprise,” I said. He released me from the hug and stepped back to let me come inside.
“Did you say something about Casper?” Lugh said, his magic quelled as he stopped whatever spell he was working on and came in from the balcony. “Oh, hey! How are you?”
“Not well,” I said. “Someone killed my friend Peter.”
“Oh god. I’m so sorry,” Lugh said. “What happened? Wait. Do you want to talk about it, or are you looking for a distraction?”
“I don’t know what happened. That’s why I’m here. I know it was murder; the thing I don’t understand is how his killer erased all trace of his magic.”
“What?” Lugh asked.
“It shouldn’t be possible. I can’t sense his magic anywhere. At his apartment, it’s like he never set foot in there,” I said. “I went to the crime scene too, and it’s more than just his magic. The ambient magic is missing there like someone sucked it out of the area.”
“What could do that?” Flynn asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said.
“How can we help?” Lugh asked.
“Since I can’t track Peter’s magic, I hoped Flynn could check things out and see if he can catch anything normal sense can’t,” I explained.
“Of course,” Lugh said.
“Whatever we can do to help,” Flynn agreed.
“We just need a few minutes to change,” Lugh said.
Flynn was back in a few seconds, putting on a tank top and some easy slip-on sneakers. It wouldn’t take much for him to strip and shape-shift if he needed. Lugh traded his loungewear for brown cargo pants, a green polo, and a tan bomber jacket. He patted each set of pockets down before nodding that he was ready to go. I knew him well enough to know that he was carrying as many potions as he could fit on his person. His knack for plant-based magic meant that ingredients were never scarce for him and just as easy to use to their full potency. The two of them could afford their apartment and a rural cabin for weekends away, thanks to his business selling magical concoctions to private buyers. Unlike Peter and me, Lugh didn’t pull cons. Everything he sold worked exactly as he intended.
Flynn drove, and I directed on the way to the house where Peter died. I felt my metaphorical hackles rise as we turned onto the street, and I saw the house. I wondered if the residents of the surrounding homes were suffering any abnormal effects from the dead zone. It offended my senses even from a distance, and Agent Carson proved it got under mundanes’ skins too. I hoped for their sakes that the neighbors couldn’t feel anything in their own homes. Flynn didn’t need me to point out the right house, whether he felt the disturbance too or picked up some other detail. He pulled the car over on the street just past the house. I cast my perception shifting spell again, this time widening its radius to include my companions. We didn’t need a nosy neighbor calling the cops before Flynn got a good look around the place.
“This place is wrong,” Lugh said. “What could have done this?”
“Hopefully, we’re about to find out,” I said. “Or at least find a clue that gets me closer.”
Lugh stopped for when he crossed the threshold of the dead zone. I didn’t need to remember the icy chill I’d felt the first time because it swept over me again this time. When he got to the front door, Lugh touched the dead plant on the porch. I’d seen his magic bring rotting bouquets back to being fresh blooms before. Nothing happened this time. I could feel him trying to push his magic into the leaf where he held it, but it didn’t take hold. He gave up and followed Flynn into the house ahead of me. Once we were inside, the spell I’d cast strained my magic like it was a major working. I dropped it as soon as we closed the front door behind us. Flynn didn’t need me to lead him to the room where Peter died. Lugh didn’t stick with us, instead walking toward the kitchen where the sphere of influence dropped off.
“This place won’t heal,” Flynn said.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“The smell. It’s like somewhere between burnt and rotten. It’s so strong I can barely smell anything else. Whatever they did to your friend here, it burned up all the surrounding magic,” he said.
“So you’re not going to be able to pick up anyone specific?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I’ve never encountered anything like it. I don’t even think I’m describing it well. It’s covering your or Lugh’s magic, and you’re right here.”
“You can smell witches’ magic?” I asked. Even with their heightened senses, that was an uncommon talent for werewolves.
“Yours smells like fresh rain, and Lugh smells like nicotiana,” he told me. But it’s almost like this place is trying to burn up your magic, too. I’m going to shift and see if there’s any difference. Will you check on Lugh?”
“Of course,” I said. I left him to change privately, not that an audience would have bothered him. I walked into the kitchen to find Lugh packing the surviving house plants into a box. “You’re stealing?”
“I’m not sure if I can save them, but I want to try. If I learn anything from them, I’ll tell you right away.”
“Fair enough. It’s not like they’re doing any good here, anyway. No one’s going to buy this place, no matter how many plants they bring in,” I said.
Flynn came into the kitchen as a red wolf. He dropped the car keys at Lugh’s feet. “I guess I’m driving us home. Are you coming in the car, love?”
Flynn shook his head.
“Well then, we can head out whenever you’re ready,” I said. “Do you need help with the plants?”
“Yes, please. I want to get as many as we can fit in the car,” Lugh said.
Flynn followed us on our first trip to the car and then left us to our plant looting. I hoped he was following some sort of trail, but he could have just needed to let off some steam after standing in the dead zone. We got almost all the remaining plants into the car, only leaving behind a giant bird of paradise too big to fit unless one of us wanted to walk. I helped Lugh move it to the furthest corner of the house to give it the best chance to survive. We headed back to the apartment, no closer to figuring out what happened in that house.