“What’s going on?” Lee asked after helping me down from the handrail.
“It’s kind of complicated,” I said, caught between wanting to tell the truth and not wanting to scare Lee away. I’d planned to ask for his help, but I’d imagined coming at the request more subtly. “The short version is Cal and I are trying to find a killer.”
“And if I’m not mistaken, our next lead is waiting for his turn to fight in the ring,” Cal added.
“Not that it’s not a worthy goal, but why are you trying to find this killer?” Lee asked.
“He killed my friend,” I said. “He did it with a knife, enchanted to drain all the magic out of witches. Whoever he is, he’s a threat to all of us. I get it if it freaks you out, but I need to see this through. If you want to reschedule or cancel, I understand.”
“It’s not the first date I imagined, but it’s not one I’ll forget,” Lee said. He smirked at me, and I could have kissed him. “So what’s the plan?”
“Oh, I like this one,” Cal said.
“It’s pretty simple for now. We watch the fight and see what happens,” I answered Lee’s question, ignoring Cal’s comment.
“Let’s get a closer look then,” Lee said. He took my hand, and we waded into the crowd around the arena.
Lee pushed through people easily. Cal and I stuck close behind him, moving forward before the gaps could close again. I hadn’t watched a fight from the audience in over two years. Once I won my amateur night, I got to stand in the contestant’s circle. The platform only stood four inches higher than the standing room around the arena but gave the fighters some breathing room. Lee angled us closer and closer to the elevated wood deck. We couldn’t step up on it, but if he could get us near enough, I’d be grateful for a closer examination of our suspect.
“How long has it been since you got in the ring?” Lee asked over his shoulder.
“You used to fight?” Cal asked.
“It’s been a while,” I answered them both.
“He was one of the best they had for a while,” Lee said.
“You used to watch me?” I asked.
“Yeah, every other week,” he said. I thought I saw him blushing before he turned away and continued toward the contestant’s circle.
“I would have never guessed,” Cal said. “You’re so skinny.”
“That doesn’t matter too much in these fights,” I said.
“It’s more important to be fast and smart,” Lee added.
“Hopefully, you’re not too rusty. If this guy’s any good, you might need to brush those skills off to get him to talk,” Cal said.
“I’ll be fine,” I told him.
The last match wrapped up by the time we settled on a spot next to the contestant’s circle. The losing witch hit the floor, enveloped in vines growing too quickly for him to cut through. The flora twisted tighter until the referee called the match. As soon as he whistled, the plants unwound. The loser looked panicked as he panted. Another fighter helped him to his feet and out of the ring. The winner held her hand above her head, thriving on the audience’s cheers.
The next match pitted two pyromancers against each other. Their mastery of fire magic seemed evenly matched. At first, catching each other’s attacks and redirecting them excited the audience. The longer they went without either taking a hit, the less enthused the crowd got. Things picked up when the smaller witch split the incoming fireball, using the force of its blast to propel him toward his opponent. The larger pyromancer’s eyes went wide. The airborne witch cast a push spell that knocked his opponent to the ground. He threw two more push spells as soon as he landed. The fallen witch deflected the first, but the second sent him rolling. He tried to stop but couldn’t find anything to hold on to. The momentum flung him from the ring, and the referee whistled.
Our potential killer stepped into the ring next. His opponent’s magic shone and twisted around her like oil gliding over water. The man’s first spell confirmed his guilt. I smelled the cinnamon scent of Peter’s magic as he threw raw magic at his opponent. She summoned light barriers to block his assault. He didn’t ease up. Her shields cracked under the onslaught. She wouldn’t let him win that easily, though. She vanished. I filtered magic through my vision until I could see her oil-slick aura. She sneaked around to his right. He looked around the ring but apparently didn’t know enough about his stolen power to use it to find her.
When she got close enough, she blasted him with a concentrated flash of light. He covered his eyes with one hand and lashed out with his other, throwing magic wildly. The photomancer caught his hand and directed it at one of the lights above the ring. The blast of magic flowed into the light and came streaming out of one of the other light fixtures. It slammed into him so hard that it launched him from the ring. He hit the ground hard.
Healers rushed toward him as the referee called the match. I grabbed Lee’s and Cal’s hands and pulled them away from the ring. The healers would take him to their tent, given how hard he hit the ground. I wanted to be there before they let him go. We had an easier time getting out of the crowd. People eagerly shifted to fill the space we once occupied.
“Is he our guy?” Lee asked once we cleared the audience.
“Definitely,” I said, picking up speed as I headed for the healers’ tent.
“Casper, shouldn’t we have a plan?” Cal asked.
“I’ve got one,” I said.
“Care to share?” he asked.
“Kill him,” I said.
“What?” Lee asked.
“No specifics?” Cal asked.
“Make it hurt. Is that specific enough?”
“I get that this guy is dangerous, but is killing him really the best plan?” Lee asked.
“We at least need to question him first. We don’t know that he worked alone,” Cal argued. That brought me up short. “I mean, he just lost on an amateur night. That doesn’t scream evil mastermind.”
“Fine,” I relented. Lee sighed, and Cal nodded. “We still need to be there before they fix him up. I’m taking that power from him now.”
Two healers stood over the man, casting spells. The security guard stationed at the tent stepped into my path. I didn’t break stride as I cast an imprisonment spell. The guard stepped toward me and hit an invisible wall. I walked around him and stopped at the healers’ table. They stopped chanting until I waved for them to continue. I needed him awake to answer questions. My vision shifted through different magical lenses as I searched the unconscious man for whatever he’d used to contain Peter’s spirit. A green glow came from under his shirt. I pulled the necklace out and took it off him. I felt Peter’s presence as if he stood in the tent with us.
We’d found his spirit. I hoped that between Cal and me, we could release him and put him to rest. The ghost of the broken man at the funeral home flashed through my mind, and I had to hold myself back from hurting the man on the healers’ table. If they’d broken Peter’s mind like that, I’d make this man and anyone he worked with suffer.