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For some reason, there was one of them at the funeral.

Ever since Callum Wells was young he’d seen things. People. Things that were people, or people that were things. The not-quite-human. They were not very common, but not so vanishingly rare that he could write it off as imagination. He’d mentioned it, once, as a child, and the doctors had prescribed pills. Callum Sr., paranoid soul that he was, had stopped his son from taking them after a week when they did no more than make him fuzzy and stupid.

Callum didn’t mention what he saw again. But that didn’t mean he stopped seeing them. Mostly, it was people with the wrong color skin, the wrong ears, the wrong eyes. The wrong proportions. Sometimes it was just people that nobody else seemed to notice, walking as if they were invisible.

It was one of the invisible people who had come by, walking around the edges of the small crowd. The person in question was a short man, looking entirely human but dressed in bright blue and wearing a beret, which was one reason Callum knew he was neither a mourner nor even visible. At least some people should have glanced at the flamboyant man but nobody did. Nor did the man really seem to pay attention to the mourners, instead wandering between them and the coffins and kneeling down to inspect something on one of the nearby gravestones. He glanced up and made eye contact with Callum. Immediately Callum relaxed his gaze, looking past the not-person.

It was a skill he’d had to learn in lieu of the drugs. People stared off into space a lot, but they didn’t focus on things that weren’t there. The invisible man frowned at Callum, leaned to one side, and when Callum’s eyes didn’t track him, shrugged and continued onward. Irrational anger kindled in Callum’s gut at the man’s disrespect. Even if he was invisible to everyone else, he could have at least waited half an hour for the funeral to be over. He was lucky Callum was not in as dark a mood as he might have been at his parent’s graves.

In a way the funeral was a mere formality. There was pain, yes, but it was a dull ache rather than anything sharp. His parents had been pushing ninety and he’d visited them in hospice for years before they’d finally passed away. It hadn’t been a surprise, and he’d done most of his mourning before medical science caught up with what was already certain.

He was aware, and had been since he was young enough to count, that their relative ages meant that his parents had either flouted biological law or were taking care of a grandchild. Considering how much he looked like Callum, Sr., adoption was not a possibility. His birth certificate claimed Callum Sr. and Mary as his parents, and he’d decided he was fine with that.

In the end, it wasn’t important. He didn’t feel the need to muse on such unweighty matters, especially not during the funeral. Especially when he was distracted by carefully not looking at the invisible man snooping around the graveyard.

“Callum?” He blinked, and looked at Miss Mosley, one of his parent’s friends who was practically an aunt and an octogenarian herself. She reached out to take his hand and patted it soothingly. “It’s okay, dear.”

“Thank you, Miss Mosley,” Callum said, properly going back to ignoring the man crashing the funeral. “We all knew it was coming, but now that it’s here…”

“Yes, I know. When you get to my age, you go to so many funerals.” Miss Mosely said, a little sadly.

“Don’t be maudlin,” Callum said. “I know they’re better off now.” He wasn’t sure how devout he really was, but at the very least he was a consistent churchgoer. The wisdom of the faith was at least some comfort. “Come on, we’ll go to that breakfast place you like.”

“Oh, you spoil me, dearie,” Miss Mosley said, but didn’t turn down the invitation. She did, however, stand respectfully and quietly to one side as he set one of the flower arrangements on a different grave. It was one somewhat older, grave and grief both worn and weathered by time.

Selene Wells had died when they’d been married just three years, of one of those terrible incidents of fate. A brain aneurysm, completely undetectable before the event, had dropped her in her tracks at a restaurant one day. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, there was nobody to blame, not even himself, but even half a decade later he still felt rather hollow when he thought about her.

Standing there staring at the gravestone, he realized he was out of family. Selene had moved down to be with him, and her family hadn’t been thrilled. When she died, they’d cut contact completely. He didn’t have any brothers or sisters, and whatever cousins were around were scattered across the country.

After the breakfast, after the mourners had dispersed, Callum set his jaw and went back to work. It might not have been the best reaction, but at least he had a current client and could lose himself in the process for a while. As an architectural consultant, he could more or less make his own hours, but more and more often he found those hours were pretty long. Longer than most self-made thirty-year-olds might choose.

Despite his preoccupation, he made the time in the following weeks to go to the gym or go biking or shooting on a regular basis. Not that he much felt like it, but in addition to the general caution he’d inherited from Callum, Sr., Selene’s death had made Callum paranoid about his health. Considering the complaints of some of his clients, who were no older than he was, at the very least staying in shape was doing him favors.

“Hey!” The owner of the gym waved as Callum headed toward the equipment. Though he’d introduced himself as Shahey, Callum was pretty sure that wasn’t his name. Shahey was maybe five feet tall, but completely covered in red-orange scales and had a reptilian head rather than a humanoid one. Despite that, his ability to pronounce English was fairly good, though if he listened clearly he could hear the oddness of the different mouth shape creeping in.

“Mister Shahey,” Callum greeted him, extending his hand and pretending the massive claws the not-human had didn’t bother him, no matter how delicately they were used.

“Haven’t been in for a while,” Shahey observed, not quite asking a question.

“Been doing some stuff,” he said, not quite answering.

“It happens,” Shahey agreed. “So, could you do me a favor?”

“Maybe,” Callum answered cautiously.

“Marie there just started coming in,” Shahey said, tilting his head in the direction of a young woman who wasn’t out of shape but clearly didn’t have much muscle tone. “Thought maybe you could help her out.”

Callum gave him a look, but he couldn’t read whatever expression was on the reptilian face. It was probably something appropriately innocent on whatever human face most people saw, but that was just a guess. He wasn’t sure if Shahey really needed help, or was trying to set him up with a prospective gym bunny, but it wasn’t that great an imposition. He headed over to where Marie was fiddling with a hammer lift machine and lifted his hand in greeting.

“Hey, the gym owner said you could use a bit of orientation?”

“I could!” Marie flashed him a smile, which he took with good grace. He still wasn’t entirely comfortable with flirting, even so many years later. Maybe someday he would be, but it wouldn’t be that day.

He was actually a little surprised by the attention Marie paid him, since he considered himself solidly average, though fit. Callum certainly didn’t have the muscles of some of the regulars. It was more than a little flattering, and he had to admit it buoyed his mood, at least until Marie crumpled in the middle of a set.

“Marie!” He grabbed her on the way down, wincing as he banged himself on the side of the machine, and looked around to ask for help when three people burst through the front door of the gym. West Virginia was, for all the jokes, a quiet state, and he lived in a quiet town, one that had shifted from mining to biotechnology without much changing size. Gyms were not generally considered prime targets for robberies and city violence was not something he worried about, so he was completely baffled and blindsided when the three lifted guns and started shooting.

He hurled himself behind the equipment, dimly registering that the gunmen weren’t entirely human. Nor was their target. Their pistols cracked as they aimed at Shahey, but the bullets just seemed to bounce off his scales. The lizard-man rounded to face them and opened his jaws, and an instant migraine slammed Callum backward, stars dancing in front of his eyes as there was a sudden thunder.

Heat scorched his face and when he blinked his vision clear, Shahey was gone. So were the gunmen. There was only a curtain of fire on that side of the gym, hot enough that the glass slumped and ran in little puddles. Callum stared for a moment, then coughed as acrid smoke rolled in. The sprinklers went off, to no effect, and he realized that everyone had to get out. He had to get everyone out. A quick glance around found that everyone was unconscious save for him, and for no apparent reason. The fire was hot, but not that hot.

Since there were no more gunmen or guns, Callum dashed to the free weights and simply threw a barbell through the front window. Despite hurling the thing as hard as he could, the safety glass didn’t shatter dramatically, but it was good enough. He used a smaller one to sweep the shards before starting to haul bodies, starting with Marie.

The fire was clearly not a normal blaze, since it spread faster and was far hotter than any normal fire should be. By the time he got the second person out he was having to crawl under the smoke. It had only been a few seconds, and the wall of fire was licking along the ceiling and the floor both.

Callum knew he should call it in, but there were only five other people in the gym. Four of them were close enough to the windows that he could pull them outside easily, it was just the last one who was slumped on an elliptical machine in the back. But the air was hot, too hot, searing his lungs and making him lightheaded as he crawled toward the unconscious woman, but he thought he could handle it.

Until the too-fast fire brought down the roof. Or rather, the massive fans and rows of televisions and electrical wiring, plummeting down with a horrendous noise. The collapse sent a shower of liquid sparks over the ground. And over him.

Callum screamed and then swore as a drop seared through his bicep, adrenaline damping the pain enough to keep him moving, coughing and crawling away from the mess. The woman toppled off the elliptical after a single pull, but he had no idea what to do with her. He could barely breathe, the smoke filling the air and obscuring the tangle of junk in the way. If that wasn’t bad enough, his headache was back, migraine lights flashing over his visual field.

Darkness closed in from the sides but Callum kept crawling. He could almost see the opening to the outside despite the detritus in the way, and lights flashed across his eyes as he reached out in that direction, envisioning himself there as if by hope alone he could get there. His vision flashed, and suddenly he was, sucking in fresh air and dropping the poor suffocating woman on the ground next to the other victims.

The rough concrete dug into his hands as he tried to lever himself upright, wheezing as he dug for his phone. Part of him found it strange there were no sirens already, but it wasn’t a movie set. In the real world emergency services took time to arrive. He was dialing when a voice startled him.

“What are you doing?

Callum twisted around to see the same man who had crashed the funeral, still wearing blue, though a different blue. He just stared blankly for a moment, his brain still not functioning properly, and the man rolled his eyes and plucked the phone from Callum’s hand.

“Hey!” He scrambled to his feet, but a sudden blast of air knocked him over again.

“Wait there,” the man instructed, and turned to the burning building. He waved his hands at it and the fire simply went out. The smoke remained, pouring upward into the air, but the flames themselves were gone. Callum stared.

He wasn’t stupid. Callum was an avid reader of fiction, and he could use the internet just as well as anyone else. The guess he had never really articulated was that he was seeing the supernatural, but only crazy people claimed that. Plus, nothing he’d ever seen was doing anything particularly noteworthy. Sure, there were weird-looking people and sometimes they tramped through public places, but that was the extent of it, at least in his town. Why bother confronting a person about having scales instead of skin if all they were doing was getting groceries?

This was the first time he’d seen anything really impossible. The instant fire, the subsequent extinguishing. Maybe even the miraculous transportation from one side of the building to another, though at the moment he wasn’t entirely willing to rule out divine intervention. When impossible things were happening, anything might be true.

“So what are you?” The man in blue asked again, reaching out to take Callum’s right hand. He instinctively jerked back, but the man just frowned. “No classification?”

“I⁠—” Callum coughed, and wheezed, his lungs burning. “I have no idea what you mean.” It absolutely shattered the rule he’d made to pretend that the things he saw didn’t happen, but it didn’t seem like an important rule at the moment.

“Really.” The man was skeptical, leaning over him. Callum levered himself to his feet, eyeing the stranger warily. His wits were catching up to him a little bit now that he had oxygen back, and he had some idea of how much trouble he was in. Whoever and whatever these people were and whatever they were doing, he’d never heard of them or seen any supernatural stuff on the news, so it was all supposed to be secret. There were at the very least state-level actors involved.

“Phone?” Callum said, holding out his hand. It wasn’t the most important thing, but he did not like other people having his property. Besides, it was easier to deal with than everything else.

“Hmm?” The man glanced down at where he still had Callum’s phone in his hand, and handed it back. “Don’t go anywhere or call anyone,” he warned, then turned back to the smoking building. Another gesture sucked out all the smoke, turning it into a solid ball above the man’s palm. Whereupon he just dropped it on the ground. Finally, he took out his own phone and dialed someone – not emergency services – giving Callum a skeptical eye before rattling off a report.

“Dragonfire at Shahey’s Fitness Center, I have a witness and five victims, but it looks like the perp sidestepped. Witness is unregistered. Yeah, I know. No, I’ll wait, but hurry it up. I don’t have the right focus to glamour something this big.” The man hung up and frowned at Callum. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re in?”

Callum decided he’d either gone full on bonkers, or his suspicions were right and he’d somehow gotten involved in a supernatural crime scene. The weirdness of literally nobody from any of the neighboring buildings coming out to see why the gym was on fire, or now wasn’t on fire, drove it home more than seeing special effects happening in front of his face. Despite the tautness in his gut and the tremble in his hands, he still had enough brains to recognize he needed to decide on his approach and stick to it.

“Are you an officer?” He asked. “Where’s your badge?” Callum figured that playing up the ignorance angle not only wouldn’t be hard, but it’d also make them suspect him less. Or at least tell him more. The man frowned at him and held up his right hand, exposing a tattoo around his wrist, one that looked like a chain with three colored dots on the inside of the wrist.

“That isn’t a badge,” Callum said, though he had to guess the tattoo was supposed to mean something. He could act less disingenuous, but the nervousness helped him sell it. Callum had no idea what was going on, save that it was not something he was supposed to be involved in.

“Hmph,” the man said. “Who are your parents?” Callum blinked at the non-sequitor. He was very clearly old enough to speak for himself.

“Look, unless you have a badge or identification or something, I don’t see any reason I should answer any questions without a lawyer.” For the most part, he was simply channeling cop shows, though anyone knew that the best thing to do was to clam up. At least, when it came to US authorities. When it came to magical authorities, he sure didn’t know, but an ignorant American would certainly assume the same applied.

“Oh, for⁠—” The man took what looked like watchband from inside his pocket and slapped it against Callum’s wrist. It writhed for a moment and wrapped around his wrist of its own accord, and he yelped and jerked backward, pulling at it for a moment before realizing his enormous headache had suddenly cleared up. Judging by the intent look the man in blue was giving him, that wasn’t supposed to happen.

“The hell is this?” Callum demanded, pulling fruitlessly at the wristband. It was getting easier to play the outraged citizen, mostly because he only had to act a little. He really was outraged, though mostly it was fear coiling in his gut. The best way to keep yourself safe was your own attention to safety and you couldn’t rely on anyone else. However, Callum had no idea how to keep himself safe from the, presumably, mage.

“I suspect nothing you’ve seen before,” the man in blue said, eyebrows raised. “Interesting.” His phone chirped, and he glanced at it. “You’ll have to come with me, mister…?”

“Callum Wells,” he said. “But like I said, without a badge or something I’m leaving.” The mage snorted and waved a finger, and the air rushed in to form glowing blue handcuffs around his wrists.

“How’s that for ‘or something?’”

Callum just stared. He lifted his wrists and tugged, staring at the obvious magic. It really was fascinating, even as he struggled to keep his eyes on it wonderingly and not to ask all the questions he wanted. If the man thought he wasn’t very bright, it’d make things easier. What exactly it would make easier he didn’t know, but better to be underestimated than taken seriously.

“Okay,” he said at last. “That’s pretty good.”

“Come on,” the man in blue said. “We’ll get things explained to you.”

For a moment Callum was tempted to slug the guy, handcuffs or no, and make a run for it, but there was no telling what magic could do. The man didn’t look physically impressive, but maybe touching him would set Callum on fire. He had to play it smart.

“How long is this going to take?” He asked, relaxing slightly and noticing that the man in blue did too. “I have work to get back to.”

“I have no idea, it depends on what we find out about you,” the man said, steering Callum out and away from the gym and toward a very ordinary-looking blue car. Apparently mages drove hatchbacks. Though there was something about it that seemed a little off, when he drew closer. It clearly was no police vehicle, true, but something definitely set his teeth on edge.

“What do you mean, what you find out about me?” Callum obediently got in the passenger seat of the hatchback, which was actually encouraging. He was clearly some equivalent of under arrest, but it wasn’t so serious he was being handled with any great care.

“I can’t say more without checking with my boss,” the man in blue said, though Callum was pretty sure that was a lie. The man in blue didn’t strike Callum as having a boss he was worried about.

The car jerked into motion and after turning onto the next street the odd midafternoon stillness faded. Traffic became normal, people were out walking on the sidewalks. But the man in blue refused any other of Callum’s attempts at conversational gambits.

After a while, Callum gave up, trying instead to figure out where they were going and finding his fear turning to excitement. After thirty years, what he was seeing was finally justified. He was going to find out something about magic, and even if it was just some mystical nondisclosure agreement, he knew. He knew! So what if he was a bit old to be indulging in flights of fancy? Any man ought to be able to enjoy wonder if he found it.

Unfortunately, wonder seemed to come in the guise of a bland one-story office building in the laughably small downtown area. The sign claimed it belonged to some traffic escort company, and there were two trucks with safety lights to prove it. It gave Callum the same odd feeling as the car, though, and when the man in blue opened the front door, it was obvious it was just a front.

The reception area was empty, and when they went past the front desk and around the corner, there was a large glowing circle on the ground. More glowing lines split off in some complicated pattern, swirling and looping about the circle. Callum whistled at the sight and the man looked from him to the circle and laughed.

“I suppose it does look unusual, at that. We’ll just step inside.” He guided Callum in and extended his hand toward one side of the circle, what vaguely could be described as the back to judge by the density of the decorative lines, and held it there. A moment later there was a flash and they were suddenly elsewhere. Teleportation. It was obvious in hindsight, but he hadn’t had any reason to suspect it before. The sudden clatter of a busy room washed over them, and Callum looked out past a sort of enclosed booth to something that seemed remarkably like a train station, or an airport.

Except for things levitating about and lights flashing here and there.

“This way,” the man said, ushering Callum out of the booth and immediately off to one side, giving him only the slightest glimpse of a long row of teleporters adjacent to the big waiting room. Halls went this way and that, and dozens of what seemed like offices were spaced around the area.

His guide brought him out of the public space and put him in an obvious interrogation room. It had a single table and two chairs, and it looked so normal that it was reassuring and disappointing at the same time. He was expecting more fancy magical stuff, but it looked pretty unadorned. Which was probably the point.

The man in blue just left him there, Callum meditated on how to deal with the situation. Whatever was going on, they were acting like they had legal authority. But they weren’t public, so it was still, effectively, a black project. A parallel or hidden authority, hopefully working with the official government but he couldn’t be certain.

He’d have to go along with things for the moment, but not forever. Callum didn’t trust shadowy secret agencies worth a damn, whether they were magical or mundane, and even if they were a portal to magic and mystery he was going to disentangle himself as soon as possible. Not something he could do from inside their headquarters, but provided he was unimportant enough, maybe once they released him. Assuming they did.

Of course, that also assumed they weren’t reading his mind, or they weren’t going to put some kind of magical tracking device on him, or any of a number of other things. Pragmatically, he was at their mercy but it hopefully wouldn’t be that bad. Practically speaking, unless there was something very strange going on, they wouldn’t waste resources on him. Probably. Especially if they styled themselves civilized with official questioning and so on.

A variety of options occurred to him, ranging from the prosaic to the extreme, but he didn’t know enough to seriously consider any of them. Instead he took out his phone, which had no signal, of course, and started listing questions to ask whoever came by to talk to him. Safe questions. He certainly wasn’t going to ask why he’d been able to see supernatural things since he was a kid, not without knowing the repercussions of such a thing. It would be wonderful to know, but handing information to secret organizations was not a smart move.

⁠***

“Carrie is going to have your hide for leaving a magic-blocker on a suspect like that,” Supervisor Tharin observed. Agent Jahn was one of the more useful agents for the Guild of Arcane Regulation, and he’d been absolutely right about the trouble a dragon-blooded would get into, but sometimes his judgement was odd. “I’m surprised he’s still conscious.”

“He didn’t even notice it. If anything, it seemed to make him feel better,” Jahn replied.

“But you’re sure he’s not a mundane?”

“Oh, completely. The security system knocked out every mundane around, which is one reason I doubt old Scaletooth started things. He’s pretty good about keeping things quiet. Mister Wells there not only stayed awake, but I felt him use some kind of magic while evacuating the mundanes.”

“Laudable. But he’s not registered.” Therin pulled up the entry on his computer. “Callum Wells, Jr., age thirty. Parents, Callum and Mary Wells, deceased. No notes or records in our system at all.”

“He professed complete ignorance, too. I’m actually inclined to believe him.” Jahn looked at the scrying window, which showed the suspect entering questions about magic and the supernatural into his phone. “It’s not just the ignorant act, because I suspect he does have suspicions. Maybe he saw someone’s glamour slip in the past or something. But he really didn’t have any idea what this was.”

Jahn tapped the wrist tattoo that every magic-using or even magic-sensitive human was required to get. His had pips for wind and fire inside the open circle of a GAR agent, while Therin’s had pips for illusion and kinesis. The magical tattoos integrated themselves into any major glamour and resisted any minor one, serving to mark everyone inside their world to each other. Their skills, power level, and authority.

“So how the hell did an actual mage, however weak, make it to thirty without coming to our attention? In fact, how did a mage appear from a completely mundane bloodline in the first place?” Therin frowned at the illusion of Callum sitting in the chair.

“I’m glad that’s not my worry.” Jahn shrugged. “I just bring ‘em in. I don’t solve mysteries.”

“Well, he’s also a witness to what went down with Scaletooth, so we’ll start there,” Therin decided.

“Good luck,” Jahn said dryly. Therin rolled his eyes and cloaked himself in a subtle glamour that made him look older and more heavyset, grizzled and out of shape rather than young and lethal. The arcane portal opened itself for him as he stepped into the room, seeming to appear out of nowhere, and Callum jumped.

“Good afternoon, Mister Wells,” Therin said. “There are a number of items to go over with you, but I’d like to start with the incident at Shahey’s Fitness Center.”

“Okay,” Callum said, studying Therin. There was something a little odd about that look, and Therin understood what Jahn had meant. It was a touch too knowing, without actually holding the proper understanding someone who had been immersed in the magical world would have. “There isn’t much to tell, though.”

“That’s fine,” Therin assured him, taking a seat across from Callum.

“Well, three men burst in the front door and started shooting. I dived behind the arm press, and I saw they were shooting at a short man with scales. They hit him a couple times, and then everything vanished in fire. I started getting people out, but the shooters and the scaled man were just completely gone.”

Therin pursed his lips. That was straightforward, and actually a relief. Someone attacking the dragonblooded meant that he didn’t have to worry about bringing Scaletooth in. Or trying to hold him accountable for the cleanup. The bullets must have had magic disruptors if Scaletooth’s glamour dropped, which meant the attackers didn’t really know what they were dealing with. Or it wasn’t really meant to hurt him.

Either way, just knowing that it was an attack using firearms was enough to make a lot of people’s lives much easier. And a number of agents would have to start work, but that was what agents were for.

“Anything you can add?” Therin prompted. “I’m sure you’ve realized the attackers probably weren’t human. Can you describe them?”

“Not really,” Callum said, shaking his head slowly. “They seemed off, but I didn’t get a good look.”

“I see,” Therin said. “Well, that seems straightforward enough.” Plus, the runes in the table hadn’t triggered. Detecting lies as such was a tricky business, but it was often possible to establish when someone was putting forth a blatant falsehood. “Now, the next item of business. Agent Jahn tells me you profess ignorance of the arcane and the need for mages to register?”

“Well, yes,” Callum replied. “I have no idea what’s going on here.” The runes stayed quiet. A sufficiently skilled mage or just a very clever person could circumvent them easily enough, but the first was impossible with the suppression bracelet on and the second was unlikely. Callum hadn’t asked the right questions to be that clever.

“Mister Wells, I’m sure you’ve at least gleaned the basics. Magic is real, and so are at least some of the magical creatures you’ve seen in fiction. Not all of them, heaven knows, but enough. I’m not going to give you the whole orientation now. If you were a mundane, you wouldn’t be involved. I’m sure you noticed that all the other people at the incident were unconscious.” He waited for Callum to nod before going on.

“It’s a very simple magical ward most arcane businesses use, but it’s weak enough that anyone with their own magic is unaffected. Agent Jahn also said he noticed you using a spell – correction, using magic – so it’s clear you’re a mage.”

“I mean…” Callum shifted uncomfortably. “Okay, but I’ve never done anything magical in my life. I’d think I would know.”

“Instinctive magic use might not be obvious. We don’t have any record of you or your family having any sort of contact with the supernatural, so for the moment I’m willing to believe that you’re not some kind of rogue, just a late bloomer. Very late. It’s a good question how you managed to get to this age without something bringing you to our attention.” Callum just shrugged.

“What kind of magic do I have?” He asked instead. A very good question.

“It will require testing. Possibly extensive testing. Unfortunately, we don’t have some magic stone that tells us the full extent of a person’s magical affinities.”

“Hmm,” said Callum, taking notes on his phone. “I have a lot of questions, but I guess the first is, what happens now?”

“We get you registered and tested,” Therin told him. “Once we know what your magic is and the basic statistics for your magic use, you’ll be in our system and we can figure out what you’ll be doing for your draft.”

“Excuse me, my what now?” Callum said, a bit of a flash in his eyes. Therin was taken aback, but of course, he wouldn’t know.

“Every mage serves the GAR ⁠— that is to say, the Guild of Arcane Regulation, the organization that runs supernatural affairs worldwide ⁠— for a period of time determined by their particular power and specialty,” Therin explained. “Normally it’s when they’re quite a bit younger, but you started late.”

“But I have a job and clients,” Callum protested.

“Mundane ones,” Therin waved it away. “By the time you’re done with your service you’ll have the skills for a better job anyway.” Callum was silent for a moment, clearly unhappy, but Therin wasn’t worried. The man would change his mind once he got into the GAR curriculum.

“What does this service entail, anyway?” Callum asked after a bit.

“Oh, education and training, then enforcement like Agent Jahn.” Therin paused. “Well, Agent Jahn is employed, not drafted, but it’s kind of the same. You’ll probably be deployed near one of the portal realms. That’s where we need personnel the most, anyway.”

“I see,” said Callum. “I don’t suppose I have a choice? Can I just not bother with all this?”

“Rogue mages are hunted down by the GAR,” Therin told him matter-of-factly. “Generally executed, too. Can’t have rogues making trouble now, can we?”

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