The lack of natural light made walking into the market feel like stepping out of time. At a glance, nothing changed between leaving in the afternoon and returning in the evening. The same guard who walked me to the healer’s tent earlier waited for me at the bottom of the stairs. They hadn’t given me a time to show up, but Summer and Kenneth always knew when someone of interest arrived. I’d never gotten an escort upon entry in previous visits. I guess they were eager to see me. The guard stepped forward, and I nodded that I understood his purpose. Without a word, he turned and led the way through the market.
People stepped out of our way as we went. It could have been paranoia, but I thought I caught many of them watching me. Rumors have always traveled fast in magical markets. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that they all knew more about my visit than I did. It only took one person seeing Summer following me into the healer’s tent for a private chat to get the ball rolling. She kept things vague when she told me to come back. So it wouldn’t surprise me to hear a wide variety of theories, either.
“Do you have a plan?” Cormac asked.
“No. If you want to wait out of sight, I’d understand,” I told him. Summer agreed not to use the same spell on him again. She’d have a few others in her repertoire.
“Nah, I’ll be all right,” he said.
“All right. I don’t know what to expect, so I won’t hold it against you if you change your mind.”
We stopped at the door behind the bar left of the arena. The guard held it open for me and gestured for me to enter. He didn’t come past that point. A short hallway led to another door. With nowhere else to go, Cormac and I walked toward it. The heat of Summer’s magic blended with the pins and needles feeling of Kenneth’s magic to form protective charms all along the wall. It gave me the odd sensation that my body temperature shifted with each step. They’d upgraded the spells since the last time I’d been here. I noted as many weak points in the overlapping magic as I could on my way. The door opened on its own when I reached it. I passed through a ward that kept Cormac on the other side of the threshold. At least I didn’t have to worry about them messing with him.
“Welcome back, Casper,” Summer greeted me.
“I like what you’ve done with the place,” I lied. Their office could’ve fit at least half my apartment in it. They’d repainted it cream with a burgundy accent wall behind me. To the right, Kenneth’s installed bookshelves painted to match the wall they covered and an oversized wood desk. Summer’s side had a smaller desk in matching style. She’d covered the wall behind it with rows of blades of varying sizes.
“It’s important to keep things fresh,” Kenneth said. He sat behind his desk while Summer leaned in front of it.
“Speaking of which, you’ve changed things up going to work for DPI,” Summer added. “I wouldn’t have figured you for a government man.”
“I didn’t go looking for the job. It just sort of happened,” I said, hoping they wouldn’t ask for specifics.
“Hmm,” Kenneth hummed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought you went to them for protection.”
“I don’t need their protection. I’d have dealt with Holly on my own if I had to,” I said.
“That’s actually part of what we wanted to talk to you about,” he said.
“I’ve had a word with her. She won’t bother you again,” Summer said. I didn’t want to know anything more than that. Holly should know better than to argue with them, but things could’ve gotten ugly if her anger got the better.
“No one will come to you for recompense anymore,” Kenneth continued.
“I take it this wasn’t a charitable act on your part,” I said.
“Think of it as a debt consolidation program,” he replied.
“What are the terms of repayment?” I asked.
“You’re going to be warning us whenever DPI decides to visit us again,” Summer said.
“And passing along information from time to time,” Kenneth added.
“What if I’d rather not play double agent for you?” I asked.
“You could always pay us back traditionally. But wouldn’t you rather put that money toward making your life more comfortable?” he asked.
“You handled things just fine today without advance notice,” I deflected.
“We lost a vender because of DPI’s interference. I might not have liked Saphina, but I liked that she always paid for her spot on time,” he said.
“So you just want to keep things from getting hostile?” I asked.
“Things would go smoother for everyone involved if we knew when to expect a visit,” he answered without tipping his hand.
“You’d really rather side with a bunch of mundanes than your own kind?” Summer asked, impatient with us tiptoeing around each other.
“I’d rather stay out of jail,” I countered.
“They’ll never find out. Lee’s protections on your phone won’t fail you,” Kenneth said. It shouldn’t have surprised me they knew about my stop at the technomancer’s booth. It worried me a little what he could have done to my phone at their request.
“I can’t watch every agent and keep track of every case,” I argued.
“No, but you’re a clever witch. I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” he said.
“Even if I can find a way, how long do you expect me to do this?” I asked.
“As long as you’re able,” he answered.
“It’s not like we’re asking you to help us bring down the organization. Our community had taken care of itself long before the DPI came around. We just want to maintain the status quo,” Summer said. “Do you truly believe they can handle our community’s problems better than we can?”
“Fine,” I said. I knew they weren’t telling me everything. But I didn’t think it would be as simple as just paying them back in my own time if I told them no. Honestly, I didn’t disagree with that last point. I’d still be hunting Peter’s killer on my own terms if not for Agent Boone’s interference. “But I won’t do anything that endangers them. If I’m giving you warnings, you can’t use it to set traps.”
“Of course not,” Kenneth said. “We have no intention of inciting confrontations.”
“The less we need to deal with DPI, the better,” Summer added.
“In the interest of avoiding trouble, what exactly brought your agent sniffing around Saphina’s booth?” Kenneth asked. “Summer said you weren’t looking for a witch.”
“We’re not. I hoped Saphina could point us toward something much worse than her little shop of horrors,” I said. “She’s the one that caused a scene.”
“Be more specific, worse than her, how?” he asked. I didn’t trust them, but what if they had a lead?
“We found a knife capable of draining the magic and spirit of a witch from their body. It sends the ambient magic to hell in the process,” I said.
“To what end?” Kenneth asked, stiffer than he’d been seconds before.
“I don’t know for sure. But we need to find whoever made that blade before they make another one.”
“Keep us updated on that. If someone is targeting witches, it is as much our business as yours,” Kenneth said.
“What else?” I asked.
“Hmm?” He’d lost interest in me, already considering the threat of another enchanted blade.
“Did you have any other terms?” I asked.
“No,” he answered. “You’re free to go. Contact us with any information of interest.”
They gave me both their numbers. I looked up and down the hall but didn’t see Cormac anywhere. Things kept getting more complicated, and I didn’t feel any closer to finding Peter’s killer. Extracting myself from DPI might be more challenging if Kenneth and Summer found my information as useful as they hoped. They’d want me to stick with the consultant job just as much as Agent Boone. Flynn’s offer to run away sounded better and better.