Flynn darted off between the trees when I nodded, confirming Agent Boone headed up the party of DPI agents walking toward me. Boone might reprimand me for not keeping him around for an interview. I’d rather the agents get mad at me than let them near my friends. I remembered the way some of them looked at me at the office. Not all of them wanted to work with us. Even though Cal sent him to report back on me, I found Cormac’s presence comforting. The mundanes outnumbered me, but I had at least one supernatural. Better still, I didn’t have to worry about the agents finding an excuse to detain him. We agreed ahead of time that it wouldn’t be a good idea for the DPI agents to see me talking to him.
“Was that your werewolf that just took off?” Agent Boone asked as he came to a stop in front of me.
“Yes. He’s not ready to trust you all just yet,” I answered.
“Something tells me you didn’t help that issue. Would he at least be willing to be interviewed remotely? We might have questions,” he said.
“I’ll ask, but don’t count on it,” I lied. I saw no reason they’d need to talk to him.
“Is this the spot?” Boone asked.
“No, it’s just over here,” I indicated with a hand over my shoulder before turning and heading towards the dead zone. Agent Boone walked beside me, and his entourage followed close behind. “Are they all level-headed people?”
“Why? What’s up?”
“The dagger created another dead zone up ahead. If you’ve got any hot heads in the bunch, it might affect them the same way it did Agent Carson,” I explained.
“This is the same team that examined the murder scene,” he said. It didn’t answer my question directly. I resolved to be as watchful as possible. If nothing else, I’d see how the dead zones affected more people.
“There it is.” I pointed at the lifeless tree and stopped before stepping into the radius of the affected area.
“All right,” Agent Boone turned to face the rest of the team. “Casper informs me that the dagger’s magic has affected this area. We don’t know what that means in full. What we know is that all the ambient magic is missing here. It can cause heightened tension, so come back here if you feel it getting to you. Everyone clear?”
The team agreed with varying degrees of excitement.
“Good, get to it,” Boone said. “Jaime, I want you to walk with Casper and mark off the perimeter of the dead zone.”
“Sure thing,” a tan man said. He smiled at me and stepped closer.
“It’s basically a circle around that tree,” I said.
“Sounds good. Ready when you are,” Jaime said.
“Put your markers down to my left. I’ll walk along the edge,” I told him and started walking along the edge of the dead zone. Cormac wondered about observing the other agents. I walked close enough that I felt the wrongness gripping at my right side as if it wanted to pull me in and drag me down under the desiccated tree.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” Jaime said. He stuck a thin metal stick with a red flag on top into the ground and then looked up at me.
“What? Oh, thanks,” I said awkwardly. I’d never really known what to say to strangers when they talked to me about loss.
“Were the two in a coven together or anything?” he asked. Apparently, we couldn’t just walk the circle in silence. He looked away when I turned and made eye contact with him.
“No, we were both solitary practitioners,” I said, some irritation slipping into my tone. Jaime seemed nice enough, but the pressure of the dead zone grated at me.
“Oh,” he said. He sounded disappointed. I inspected him and noticed a faint green aura around him. I didn’t notice it at first, with the way it blended into the surrounding nature.
“You’re a witch,” I said quietly so that none of the other agents overheard.
“I mean, I picked up that book, you know, the starter spell book. I thought it would just be a bit of silliness between me and my friends. But some of them worked for me,” he said, keeping his voice low. “None of my friends could get any of them to work. I’m still not sure it’s something I want to pursue.”
“So you’re not practicing?” I asked.
“No. I don’t have much power. I couldn’t even get all the beginner spells to work.” Jaime looked sad for a moment but quickly blinked it away and knelt to place another marker.
In the year since The Coven released their official spell book for baby witches, the internet swarmed with stories like Jaime’s. People gathered with some friends “as a joke” and tried out some spells. If it didn’t work, they could laugh it off and go back to their normal lives. But plenty of people discovered a latent talent. And after Storm Ryder came out and became a household name, it became a fad. It seemed like everyone who didn’t succeed wanted to talk about their friend who did. I didn’t believe that every story; some were so full of misinformation that it made me question the validity of anyone who couldn’t give something specific.
“You shouldn’t let that stop you. If you don’t want to practice magic, that’s okay. Not everyone throws themselves into the witch life without looking back. But power isn’t set in stone. Magic is a bit like a muscle. You might not be able to do every spell in that book yet. That’s the key word, though, ‘yet.’ You can’t compare yourself to people like Peter and me. We’ve been practicing all our lives. It’s not that we are inherently stronger. We just had a head start,” I said.
“So family line witches aren’t any more powerful?” he asked.
“It’s not a given, no. It will definitely come more easily to some people than others, but so does math or any other subject. My grandpa used to say there wasn’t a spell in the world he didn’t mess up the first time he tried to cast it,” I assured him.
By the time we came full circle to the first marker he’d set down, Jaime’s smile had returned. I wondered if he took this job to feel closer to magic despite his lack of confidence using it. I liked knowing that not everyone here thought of magic as something to catalog, contain, or control. Agent Boone gave me a knowing look when I rejoined him. He couldn’t have overheard us, but I got the feeling he’d sent Jaime with me on purpose. Had he known Jaime’s secret and wanted to help him out? Or did he just send me with the most pleasant agent he could to get on my good side? Either way, I had to give him credit. I thought that conversation did both Jaime and me some good.