Agent Boone convinced the security guard, who came to check on things, to walk me to the market’s healer. He couldn’t take me and risk someone helping Saphina while we were gone. Not many people liked her, thanks to her propensity for dark magic. That didn’t matter when helping her out meant a powerful witch owing you a favor. I got Boone to take back his bracelet, at least. He needed it more than I did. I didn’t want to bother with a healer—my inability to walk without someone to lean on invalidated my arguments. I felt my strength returning a little at a time, but Boone refused to bend. I might have fought harder if not for him giving me a company card to pay the healer. It surprised me that DPI had the funding to give out cards to the agents. Maybe Boone was a special case.
The security guard didn’t leave when we got to the healer’s tent. That worried me. Agent Boone didn’t ask him to walk me back, and I knew security usually had better things to do than babysit me. My anxiety increased when I noticed there weren’t any healers around. I didn’t recognize the security guard, so I didn’t think he’d have a personal grudge against me. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t isolate me for someone else’s benefit. I reached for my magic to ready myself for whatever was coming. My reserves burned up, getting rid of the curse, and I only felt a trickle of power come to my call.
“Casper, it’s been too long,” Summer Benton said before stepping into view. She and her husband ran this market. They approved every vendor, scheduled every competition, restocked the bars, hired the staff, and did hundreds of other little things to keep things going smoothly.
“It’s taken me some time to get back on my feet,” I said. I owed Summer and Ethan more than anyone else.
“I heard Holly Nyberg’s been looking for you,” she said casually.
“Yeah, we keep missing each other,” I said, keeping my voice light. Summer or Kenneth could have easily stopped Holly’s plans if they’d wanted. The fact that they hadn’t meant they tacitly or even explicitly approved of her pound of flesh methods.
“How disappointing for her. I know how eager she is to find you,” she said. I hated this game, but I knew better than to say so. If Summer wanted to play games, maybe I could find a way to win. Or at least not die.
“Who is this lady?” Cormac asked. I continued to ignore him.
“You may call me Summer,” she answered, surprising me by looking right at Cormac.
“You can see me?”
“Of course. What’s your business here, ghost?” she asked.
“I’m his lookout,” Cormac answered.
“That’s very clever,” Summer said. Without warning, a rush of hot magic leaped from her. The red light wrapped around Cormac until he looked like a glowing, blood-soaked mummy. “I’d like some privacy.”
The security guard left the healer’s tent.
“Will that hurt him?” I asked. I didn’t recognize the spell she’d used, and being a ghost didn’t make Cormac invulnerable.
“No, just contain him while we talk,” she said. “You came here with a DPI agent today. What is he looking for?”
“A being capable of dark enchantments,” I said.
“A being, not a witch?” she asked.
“Not a witch,” I clarified.
“Why are you helping him?”
“It’s my job. I’m a consultant with the DPI,” I told her, resisting the urge to ask any of the questions bubbling up in my head.
“Interesting,” she said thoughtfully. “Come back tonight without the agent, and we’ll discuss your debt.”
“Can I bring Cormac without him being mummified again?” I asked.
She considered it for a moment before saying, “Fine. But Casper, if you miss this meeting, Holly will be the least of your worries.”
“Understood,” I said. Summer didn’t make idle threats.
She walked out of the tent. A healer I didn’t recognize came in. He got to work quickly without saying a word. Summer must make him nervous, too. His magic felt like sinking into a warm bath. First, it flowed over me, closing the cut that delivered the curse. Then it permeated into my muscles and organs. I needed this more than I thought. I couldn’t feel specific wounds within me. Still, it got easier to breathe, and my body felt lighter. My magic didn’t replenish completely, but I felt it grow stronger as his spells repaired my body. It only took a few minutes. When he finished, he left before I could offer any payment. That probably Summer had already added it to my tab in her ledger.
I’d hoped that the spell surrounding Cormac would fade. It didn’t seem to be going anywhere, though. Despite being unfamiliar with the spell, it didn’t take much effort for me to free him from it. Like a lot of Summer’s castings, it required more power than skill to cast. I thought I could replicate and improve it if I invested time. Like her name implied, Summer Benton burned hot with magic. Her raw power could overwhelm any unprepared witch, no matter how practiced they were. Despite her preference for fast and flashy spells, she wasn’t all strength and no technique. I’d seen what happened to someone who underestimated the complexity of her abilities, and it haunted me.
Since I didn’t use the DPI card to pay for my healing session, I tracked down a technomancer. I liked the idea of making them pay for magic that would protect me against their spying. I didn’t know for certain that they would check up on my phone, but I couldn’t risk it if I wanted Cal’s help to track Peter’s spirit. The technomancer’s booth didn’t glow with the floating lights that lit the rest of the market. Instead, a tricked-out storm lantern that definitely did more than light up hung from the center of her tent’s ceiling. The tables held magically enhanced phones, tablets, and laptops more than anything else. Many technomancer’s only sold devices they’d enabled to reach the specternet. This one had a bit more variation to his wares. I noticed a selection of wireless headphones, portable game consoles, and digital watches.
“Looking for anything specific?” the technomancer asked. He smirked like he had a secret. It looked good on him. He’d gone for a cyberpunk aesthetic with a mohawk that went from purple to neon pink, and matching LED lights tracked over the seams of his jacket.
“I need protections against hacking and spyware on my phone,” I said.
“Easy-peasy, gimme,” he said, holding his hand up for my phone.
I handed it over and watched as neon pink magic mimicked circuitry flowing from his hand over the phone. Seeing technomancy made me think that our subconscious shaped how our magics manifest. Depending on the person casting it, I’d seen it appear as binary code, interlocking gears, and sci-fi laser beams. I enjoyed watching the ever-shifting pink and purple ombré of his magic. He winked at me when I looked back up at his face. I added his confidence and pale blue eyes to the quickly forming list of qualities I liked about this witch.
He handed back my phone and accepted payment for the spell work. As I walked away, my phone vibrated. I looked down and saw a new message. “My name is Lee, btw ;)” I looked over my shoulder, and he winked at me as a new customer walked into his booth. For a moment, I forgot about my near-death experience and my meeting with Summer. I texted him back and savored the flirtation for the rest of my walk back to Saphina’s booth.