None of the gold lights came into Saphina’s booth, as if her wares scared off the warmer lighting. She embraced the gothic aesthetic, wearing a flowing black dress with a corseted waist. Her dark hair framed her face with loose curls. It worked for her. I didn’t have to be attracted to women to acknowledge her dangerous beauty. The whole booth smelled sickeningly sweet. And her magic coiled around her and her merchandise in tight navy cords. It wasn’t as bad as walking into a dead zone, but this energy made me want to turn around all the same.
Her magic slid over Agent Boone and me in shameless exploration. I had to fight not to shiver or recoil at the touch of it. Saphina’s gaze tracked to Boone’s wrist, then my right earring and left hand. She’d clocked our enchantments. It wouldn’t surprise me if she could sense what each of them did. Neither of mine was any threat; the earring translated foreign languages for me, and my ring protected me from sunburn. I saw the dismissal in her eyes.
“Hello, gentlemen. Are you looking for anything specific?” she asked.
“I’m hoping to find something that can help with my job,” Agent Boone answered, vague but not a lie.
“What is it you do?” Saphina asked, giving him her full attention. I didn’t mind one bit.
“I’m in law enforcement,” he told her.
“Afraid of the things that go bump in the night, officer?” she smirked.
“The world’s changing, and we must change with it if we want to survive,” he answered. I admired his skill of giving just enough truth in his responses without showing his entire hand.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Saphina said. “I noticed you already have some protection from magic being used against you. What else would make your job easier?”
“Can you tell me about these weapons?” He steered her towards her collection of blades.
“I’m afraid none of them would be appropriate for a respectable police officer to carry,” she said. She was testing him. She didn’t mind selling something to a dirty cop. First, though, she needed him to admit he didn’t mind breaking the law.
“I wouldn’t say I fall under that category,” he said.
“The law isn’t keeping up, and I will not let some hot shot get the best of me when there are supplies out there that could have kept me safe.”
“Well, what do you think about being able to petrify someone with the smallest cut? They can’t attack you if they can’t move, right?” Saphina offered.
“Interesting, but not exactly what I had in mind,” Boone said. “Do you have anything that can absorb energy?”
“Not as such.” She glanced away from Agent Boone, looking at the knives to the left of the table. I focused my gift on those weapons. Boone’s and Saphina’s conversation faded away. The enchantments whispered to me in dissonant voices. I did my best to single out one at a time, dismissing them until I honed in on the right one. The knife would transfer years of life from the victim to the assailant.
“What about this one?” I pointed to the youth-sucking knife.
“That one wouldn’t be a good fit,” she said, trying to sound casual.
“What does it do?” Agent Boone asked.
“Oh, nothing of interest,” she said.
“It steals youth,” I said.
Saphina grabbed a knife and lunged at me. I flung myself backward without caring for anything but avoiding the blade. I knocked the table over on my way down, scattering the knives on the ground between us. Agent Boone drew his gun and pointed it at Saphina. She cast a spell, and her navy blue energy sprang toward Boone. His bracelet glowed with Sal’s golden enchantment. Saphina’s magic battered against the protective charm, unable to reach Boone. I snatched one of the knives from the ground and swiped at Saphina. She swung her knife at me while trying to dodge, but my blade cut a thin line across her arm. Her posture went rigid, and she froze in place.
I broke out in a sweat, and the knife slipped from my hand. I looked down and saw that she’d cut me, too. A slice in my shirt turned red blood trickled onto the fabric. My legs went weak. Such a small cut shouldn’t affect me this much. Agent Boone caught me as my knees buckled. He couldn’t keep me upright; instead, he gently got us down on our knees. I leaned into him, unable to support my own weight, growing hotter and hotter.
“You’re burning up. What can I do?” Agent Boone asked. I focused on the knife clutched in Saphina’s stone-like grip. The enchantment sounded mocking as it whispered its purpose. “Casper?”
“It’s going to boil me,” I said, my voice fainter than I expected.
I tried to cast a cooling spell, but my magic didn’t come to my call. Sweat drenched my clothes and soaked into Agent Boone’s shirt. His voice sounded too far away when he spoke. I saw a crowd gathering at the mouth of Saphina’s booth before my vision blurred. The curse moved too quickly. I’d be dead in a few minutes at most.
A soothing cool hand rested on my forehead. I didn’t expect the relief to last. It spread slowly at first, inching over my face and down my neck. The cooling sensation sped up as it shot down my torso and into my legs. I could feel the curse fighting to heat my body up, but the icy magic fought it back. They couldn’t resist it forever, though.
The relief of the cooling hand let me concentrate a little more at a time. I kept my eyes closed and turned my focus inward. My magic woke inside me and started gathering the spreading curse. With each breath, I pushed to contain and shrink its influence. I lost track of time. It might have taken a few minutes or an hour, but I eventually pushed the curse out. Coughs racked my body, and I saw navy blue smoke flow out of my mouth.
I reached for the hand on my forehead after expelling the curse. A petite black witch looked at me with relief on her face. Her icy blue aura flowed around both of us. She’d used aquamancy to counteract my rising temperature. I shivered, and she pulled her magic back. It took a minute before the surrounding air lost the chill. I tried to sit up, unsure when I’d gotten all the way to the floor, but fell back down.
“Thank you,” Agent Boone said. “Thank you so much.”
“Of course,” the aquamancer said as if she saved people from boiling from the inside every day. “You might want to get him to a healer just to be safe, but I think he’s through the worse of it.”
“Thank you,” Agent Boone repeated. The aquamancer nodded and stood to leave. “Casper, are you all right? Can you speak?”
“All right, feels like a long-term goal right now,” I said.
I tried to sit up again. This time, Boone got his arm under me and helped me up. I leaned unintentionally into him. I looked down and saw his bracelet on my wrist. He’d risked going unprotected, surrounded by supernaturals, on the off chance it would help me. I closed my eyes and let his support comfort me. I might never grow to like this job with the DPI, but as long as I had Agent Boone on my side, I would be okay.