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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

This is kind of a big chapter in terms of whether you know you'll like the story or not.

“What.” Callum blinked at her. He was fuzzy from lack of sleep, but he was pretty sure that wasn’t why he was confused. “Who took Clara now?”

“The vampires! They got her to walk into the nest and now they have her and⁠—” Jessica took a shuddering breath. “You said you’d help.”

“I don’t⁠—” he said, and stopped. Jessica was one of the two people who’d actually been around when he’d slipped up and allowed some magic leakage, so it wasn’t like he could convince her he wasn’t a mage. Besides, as much as he’d prefer not to get involved there was no way in hell he could live with himself if he walked away and left Clara in the clutches of vampires. Not that he knew anything about vampires other than what he read in fiction, which was apparently wrong, but they were clearly bad news.

“You said they have her,” he continued after a moment. “Not that they killed her?” Jessica nodded mutely.

“Okay, give me a minute.” He was not equipped for a magical slugfest with supernaturals, but he could teleport. While he had no idea if he could manage to smuggle someone out past anything magically complicated, he was confident enough that he could spirit away someone even if they were tied to a chair or cuffed. Though the thought made him add teleporting handcuffs on and off people to his list of exercises.

Callum left the door open so as not to be impolite and got his hat and coat from the rack to ward off the early autumn chill. When he stuck his hands in the pockets he teleported his ad-hoc vis storage ball bearings into the left, and a number of ball bearing siphons to the right. They were practically the same thing, just that his batteries had the vortex bit erased, leaving only the accumulated vis behind, paltry though it was. It made him aware of just how woefully undergeared he was. Not that he had any idea how to make casting implements, but it would have been nice to have something.

“So what⁠—” he began, and almost stumbled as Jessica grabbed his arm and started hauling him toward her car. He couldn’t even use his cane like he normally would. She definitely had abnormal strength. He weighed something around one-seventy with his muscle, not a huge guy, but Jessica had a grip like iron.

“Hey,” he protested, making preparations for a teleport just in case. “Where are we going?”

“To Arthur and Jeff and Gerry,” Jessica said. “Before they do something drastic.”

“Fair enough,” he allowed, vaguely recalling that Jeff was Clara’s father, and got in the car when Jessica let go of his arm. The drive into town wasn’t long, but long enough for him to consider his approach. Barring magical interference, getting Clara back was going to be quite possible, but it wouldn’t stop there. Criminals and murderers wouldn’t give up just because a kidnap victim escaped.

He had pondered long on how to weaponize the amount of magic he could wield, despite being obviously rather terrible at it, and had some approaches that might work. Though it was impossible to plan in advance. He just didn’t know enough.

Callum had to force himself to relax to keep from fidgeting nervously. He didn’t have any particular experience with any real trouble or action, so he was absolutely out of his depth. But it wasn’t like he was going into combat. In fact, if he had his way, he’d stay at the limit of his range and do everything from there. At least, that was what he told himself.

He picked up a wall of magic as they drove into town, coming from the motel across from the café. It was clearly the work of a real mage, but he had no idea what the complex construct was for. Callum studied it closely nonetheless, wishing he had his notepad with him so he could sketch it down, and part of him figured that was where Arthur and Gerry were. Except that he sensed them down under the café, in the safe room, so he had no idea what the other mage was doing.

He took off his hat by habit when they stepped into the café, and it was only then that he realized he’d forgotten his hairpiece. Which was long past irrelevant at that point, but it just went to show how rattled he was. Unfortunately his house was far too far away to find and teleport it.

The café sign read closed but the lights were on and Jessica breezed in without a worry, heading to the back with Callum following. He wasn’t even slightly surprised when Jessica led him to the basement, but at least he got to see it with his own eyes rather than spatial sense. The couches and chairs were all soft blues and greens, and at the moment they were all filled with shifters.

Two of them were in some sort of weird half-form, eight-foot tall beast-men that looked not quite like wolves. He didn’t know what the base species was for a shifter, but it had some feline and lizard shape in it as well as canine. All of them stared at him as he came down the stairs.

“What are you doing?” One of the shifted ones demanded of Jessica. It took Callum a moment to realize it was Arthur Langley, by the accent. “GAR won’t get involved. Not yet.” Callum debated what to say for a moment, and settled on a line he was pretty sure was cribbed from a movie.

“I’m not here,” he said, and Arthur tilted his head at him. “You don’t know me, and I was never here, understand?” Arthur’s muzzle slowly peeled back to show his teeth, and then threw back his head and barked a laugh.

“I understand,” Arthur said. “You hear that everyone?” They all nodded, save for two shifters off to one side who were built like linebackers, almost as tall as the shifted Arthur and as solid as a steel bar. “What can you do?”

“I’m not going to answer any questions,” Callum said slowly, stepping forward, skin prickling a bit from the sheer focus of all the predators in the room. Part of his hindbrain really did not like the beast-men, though he wasn’t panicking as much as he might have if he hadn’t already seen them with his spatial sense. “But I would appreciate being read in.”

“A chair for Mister Hall,” Arthur said, and one of the shifters that Callum recognized only vaguely as being a café regular stood and brought his chair over for Callum. Jessica squeezed his arm and went to sit with her husband.

“The vampires took over the motel across the way,” Arthur started, and Callum frowned.

“So the mage is with them?”

“Yes.” Arthur blinked at Callum, possibly not expecting that question. “They’re glamouring things so people don’t notice all the guns, and warding so we can’t sneak in.” Callum stretched out his senses again, trying to figure out the structures and patterns from knowing they were a glamour and a ward, but couldn’t make heads or tails of it. He didn’t want to poke his magic in and alert whoever was responsible, but there were big gaping holes to run his threads through so it wasn’t like it was an impediment to teleporting.

“Okay,” Callum said, and Arthur continued.

“They arrived five days ago. Three days ago they killed Henry, and we sent for enforcers from the Midwest Alpha,” Arthur said, nodding in the direction of the linebackers.

“You know they killed Henry? Why haven’t you done anything about it? They killed Joan too, didn’t they?” It was obvious in hindsight. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t known that instantly the moment Jessica mentioned vampires. Arthur gave him an odd look at the questions.

“How could we do anything about it? We’re not strong enough to challenge them ourselves, and under the agreements⁠ nobody else can do anything unless we can prove it to GAR or they get caught.” Callum held up a hand to stop Arthur’s explanation, rage making the shifter’s voice seem to come from far away. There were vampires here killing people and they couldn’t do anything because of politics.

“What’s the situation now?” He asked, when he got himself under control. The rage cooled into something else in his gut, and he laced his fingers together to keep his hands from trembling.

“We’re not sure how they got at Clara, but she’s not old enough to have much resistance against their mental influence. They claim she’s there of her own free will but she’s not.”

“Then, what happens when you get her back?” Callum reached out again, carefully going through every figure in the motel opposite until he found Clara. It took more concentration to tell people apart, but Clara was pretty obvious, because she was the only one who was crouched down against a wall. He almost reached out to teleport her then, but if he did that, it might set off all the alarms before he was ready.

“Well…” Arthur paced along the carpet, his claws flexing. “Once she’s free of any magic we can contact Alpha Chester and he’ll have an excuse to send down the rest of the Wolfpack. Then we can challenge them and drive them out of Winut.”

“I see.” Callum said, amazed that his voice came out level. “You won’t kill them?”

“I’d like to,” Arthur growled. “But they’re fast and tough and we’d have to do it outside town, where we won’t be spotted. There are twelve of them, and twenty thralls, and we don’t have the people to deal with that without casualties.”

“What kills a vampire?” That was definitely not part of the forums, and it wasn’t exactly something he could ask anyone else. Arthur gave him another look, but answered the question.

“Enough bodily harm. Mordite weaponry stops their regeneration, if you have any, but if you don’t, you need to destroy the brain or the heart. It takes a mature shifter to actually do enough damage, given how fast the bastards are.”

“What about firearms?” Callum asked. Arthur shrugged.

“If you can hit them, it takes something serious to do damage. It’s usually not worth trying, but a high powered rifle or shotgun at close range can work.”

“Very well.” Callum leaned back and closed his eyes, partly to think, partly to sense what was nearby. He had a burgeoning plan, not a very complicated one, but the simpler the better. There was a gas station on the corner with the motel and the café, so that was at least half of it.

“All right, I think I can do this,” he said, feeling out the guns and ammunition stored in the motel across the way. Much of it was equipped by the exactly twenty individuals that were patrolling the outer part of the motel, but there was a room further in with a goodly amount of weaponry still packed away. “But I’m going to need a few things.”

“What do you have in mind?” Arthur asked.

“No questions,” Callum reminded him. “I will need earplugs, a large trunk, and the cooperation of your fire department. I assume you have control of it.”

“We do,” Arthur said. One of the other shifters simply dug into his pocket and came out with a pair of orange earplugs. For some reason that wasn’t surprising; the man looked like he worked construction for living or something equally blue collar.

“Great,” Callum said. “The last thing is I’m going to need to use one of those rooms.” He hiked his thumb at the safehouse cells off to the side, each of which was heavily reinforced. They probably weren’t soundproof, especially if shifters had heightened senses, but it was close enough.

“Of course,” Arthur said, looking a little confused, but he paced over to the first cell and grabbed the key that hung there to unlock it. Callum took the earplugs and walked over, while Gerry got up and dug in a storage closet, upending a big plastic tub full of clothes and packaged toiletries.

“Will this work?” Gerry asked, and Callum nodded. He would have to steal some duffles so it wouldn’t be obvious what was inside the container, but that was fine. There was a lot of stuff he was going to be stealing in the next few minutes.

“You’re going to get Clara back?” Jessica asked, and Callum smiled at her.

“Absolutely. I can guarantee it.” He could, too. It was pretty damn easy to find her, since she was chained to a pipe in the motel basement, completely naked. It was all Callum could do to keep himself from grabbing her right then and there, but there were two guards with batons guarding her and that would only alert the whole place.

Gerry shoved the tub inside and Callum followed, waving them out and having Arthur shut the door. He took a few deep breaths, feeling things out with his spatial sense, because he was going to have to do everything very quickly when he started. Mostly because they had a magic user on their side.

The mage was actually the one he was most worried about, since it was likely she could sense his magic, and definitely his first target. She was obvious enough, since the wards had threads that led back to her, and every once in a while a pulse of vis would come out to refresh them. The ambient energy throughout the whole motel was disturbed from all the activity, so if there were any other mages he couldn’t tell. He hoped not.

He started by groping his way through the stock of the gas station and teleporting some road flares in front of him. He checked the price and teleported some cash onto the counter to make up for it, then he located the shotguns he wanted in the store room at the motel, and the ammunition for them.

Some were older, but fortunately for him, there were some newer magazine-fed types with loaded magazines. There was boxed ammo too, but things would have been a lot more difficult if he had needed to reload manually. Seconds counted, or at least he had to guess they did.

Callum felt his heart hammering in his chest, and took another breath. As soon as he started, he was committed. The vampires had to die, that much was clear. They preyed on humans, and that was that. But all the thralls were as human as he was, and he’d have to kill them, too. But all it took was to look at Clara to decide she deserved a future way more than anybody working for monsters did.

He wrapped a tight net around his chosen shotguns and a rack of filled magazines and pulled them into the safehouse cell, grabbing the first magazine and loading it while flipping off the safety. Without pausing even slightly he conjured two pairs of portals. One was inside the end of the shotgun barrel, with the exit right at the mage’s temple, fractions of an inch away. The other was larger, on the other side of the mage’s head, and had its exit in the half-full dumpster of the motel.

Callum pulled the trigger.

Before the mage even finished crumpling, he jumped the positions of the portals to bracket one of Clara’s guards, firing a second shot. Then a third shot, to take out the other guard. He paused long enough to wrap his spatial threads around Clara, sliding them under the chains, and pulled. It was a lot harder than when he was dealing with objects, the teleportation framework trying to just slide off of Clara rather than take her along, but when he gave it enough juice it worked and she popped into the safehouse cell next to his.

Then he resumed. Each pull of the trigger was incredibly loud in the enclosed space, even if a lot of the noise was on the other end. Still, he was fast enough that just alerting them didn’t mean much. He could move his portals so quickly that he barely had to pause in shooting, targeting the vampires next. There were twelve of them in the basement, stretched out on beds rather than in coffins, but their inhuman features made it obvious what they were. Instead of aiming at their temples, he went from under the chin, hoping that by maximizing brain destruction he stood the best chance of killing them, or at least stunning them for a while.

He got five before he had to change magazines, fumbling and nearly dropping it while watching and waiting for one of the others to get up. One of them started to stir just as he lifted the shotgun to his shoulder, so he bracketed that one with his portals and pulled the trigger again. It went still. Rapid-fire, he executed the remainder, or at least rendered them insensate. There were bits of bone and brain coming through the exit portals sometimes, but not all the time, and he had no idea how fast they could regenerate, or from what.

The remainder of the guards were a bit tougher, since they’d had time to react to the muffled sounds of gunshots. They were moving around, some starting to sweep the building, others heading down toward the vampires, and he had to focus to match what he was doing with moving bodies. It felt like forever, but it was probably no more than five seconds later that he started jumping his portals again, dropping one thrall after another. He had to change magazines twice more, but that was the only delay.

Then it was over. His heart was pounding, his finger and shoulder were sore, and he felt sick, but it probably hadn’t been more than a minute between the start and the end. Not that he could rest yet. It was one thing to kill them, it was another to make sure everything was dead, would stay dead, and there was nothing that would lead back to him.

Callum teleported a bunch of his siphon ball bearings throughout the motel. He didn’t have enough for one per room, but he did the best he could. Then he began looting the place.

He pulled stuff from the storeroom to him, including empty luggage that had clearly been used to transport the guard’s guns. In addition to weapons and ammunition, there was also cash, laptops, jewelry, phones, and from the mage’s quarters, stuff that was clearly magical. He separated out the electronics, hastily cracking them open and yanking out memory cards and hard drives. The remains went back to the motel. While Callum didn’t have time to count it, looting the vampires looked to have at least doubled his cash on hand, not to mention the value of everything else he’d taken.

While part of him wanted to leave all the guard’s equipment with them, he was planning to burn the motel down and ammo cooking off would do nobody any good. So he swept it all up and stuffed it into anything that was still empty, having freed up a lot of space by ditching the computers. He felt a few pangs of guilt at stealing everything, but that hesitation was almost funny considering how deep he already was.

Once again he opened up a small portal, but it led from the underground tank of gasoline at the station into the hotel. Callum jumped it from room to room, letting a couple gallons spill here and there and making sure to douse the vampires before he lit one of the road flares. The first one he actually teleported into the vampire’s room, but for the second he used a portal to jab the lit end into a number of the rooms before finally tossing it where the mage had been. The actual packaging followed, just so there wouldn’t be anything left to indicate what he’d done.

Then he was finished. The duffles and suitcases, filled with guns and ammunition and everything else he’d taken, got teleported into a utility crawlspace under the gas station, and he looked around to make sure there was nothing different in the saferoom. The plastic tub had turned out to be useless, but that was fine, he could barely remember what he’d wanted it for in the first place.

His hands were definitely shaking, and he shoved them in his pockets, filling himself up from his makeshift batteries while waiting for his siphon bearings to clean up the lingering spatial magic inside the room. While he hadn’t really expended that much, aside from teleporting Clara, it felt like he’d run a marathon. He knocked on the door, and Arthur opened it.

Unsurprisingly, Clara was already out. He’d missed it while he was concentrating on getting the job done, but there was nobody else the half-sized not-a-wolf curled up in her father’s lap could be. Arthur, still in beast form, sniffed at Callum and sneezed.

“Gunpowder, but no magic,” he noted. “How did you get her?”

“No questions,” Callum reminded him. “And I was never here.”

“The vampires?” Arthur questioned, but he was answered by someone thumping down the stairs.

“The motel is on fire!” He shouted, and Arthur looked from him to Callum. Callum shrugged.

“Can I get a ride home?” Callum asked.

***

Arthur Langley watched the maybe-mage but definitely-dangerous man who had singlehandedly wiped a vampire nest in under five minutes exchange some surprisingly heartfelt words with Clara’s parents and Jessica, and even awkwardly address the still-shifted Clara, before following Gerry up the stairs. He stood there for a moment, ears canted and teeth bared before he forced himself to shift back to human and take out his phone. He dialed a number, and tapped his foot as he waited for the man on the other end to pick up.

“Alpha?”

“Ron,” Arthur said. “I want a fire containment on the Flats Motel.”

“You don’t want it put out?” Ron sounded surprised.

“No. Let it burn, just don’t let it spread.”

“Yes, Alpha.” He asked no questions, and Arthur hung up, then dialed another number.

“Chester here.” His Alpha’s bass voice made his phone vibrate.

“Arthur Langley again. That issue with the vampires I reported a few hours ago? It’s resolved.” There was a long silence, then a heavy sigh came from the other end.

“What did you do?” Chester asked ominously.

“I didn’t do anything,” Arthur told him. “In fact, I can swear that no member of the pack was involved, or even crossed into the land that the vampires had claimed for themselves.” There was another silence.

“Let me rephase. Tell me what happened,” Chester ordered, and Arthur winced. Just because he was glad to see the bastards burn didn’t mean he should be flip with his Alpha.

“A man offered to help. He told us that he was not there, that he was never there, and we didn’t know him.” Arthur considered how to put it. “The name I know him by is obviously not his real name, but I wouldn’t want to even say that one out loud on the phone.”

“A man.” Chester said, less oppressively. He understood how delicate Arthur was trying to be. “A shifter? A mage?”

“I’m not actually certain. He clearly wears makeup on his wrist where a mage mark could be, but there’s no magic scent near him. Jessica said she smelled magic there once, but not since the one time and of course I never have.”

“It wasn’t even that strong that time,” Jessica said from the side, her hand on Clara’s head to soothe her. With shifter hearing, any phone conversation included the entire room. “But I know I didn’t imagine it.”

“He asked for earplugs, went into one of our panic cells, and shut the door. We heard gunshots, and two minutes later Clara walked out of one of the other panic cells. Maybe five minutes after that, he walks out, smelling like gunpowder but not like magic, and the motel is on fire. Not to mention, the room’s completely empty, no guns or casings or the like.”

“The individual in question was afraid the whole time he was here,” John rumbled. He was one of the Wolfpack, Chester’s enforcers, and they’d eventually report everything in their own way. For the moment, they were polite enough to respect Arthur’s boundaries and not mention Chase Hall’s name. “But not of us. It seemed to be just general anxiety. He got angry too, but at the vampires and GAR, in my estimation.”

“I could smell it too,” Arthur agreed. “In fact, every time I’ve met him he’s seemed severely stressed. I’m not sure what to make of it.”

“He did say he moved here for health reasons,” Jessica pointed out.

“That is quite odd,” Chester said thoughtfully. “I know mages can hide their presence, but they rarely do. There’s no point, and I understand it weakens them. Perhaps he is fae, instead?”

“I hadn’t considered that,” Arthur said thoughtfully. “He didn’t seem the type, and usually I can smell them anyway.”

“In a sense, it doesn’t matter. The vampires will scream bloody murder, but if all you know is a man who doesn’t exist stayed in your basement and then all the vampires died of extreme incompetence, there’s little they can do.”

“They’re going to want to know who he is,” Arthur warned.

“Oh, they’ll probably even pull strings to get a GAR investigator out there. I expect they won’t find anything.” The tone of voice made it obvious Chester was making it an order, not a hope.

“As I said, the motel is on fire. I suppose we’ll have to save the bodies, but I doubt any other traces of whatever he did will remain.”

“Good. Now, how did he find out about it? You only called me an hour ago.”

“I went and got him,” Jessica volunteered. “I saw him in town earlier, and he told me if he could help, he would. When they took Clara, I just thought⁠—” She paused, then continued. “If he was a mage, he could do something.”

“Hmm.” The sound of Chester’s fingers tapping something glass came over the phone. “That’s a point for fae, actually. Breaking all the GAR laws to keep his word.”

“Either way, Alpha, we owe him.”

“Yes,” Chester agreed. “The question is: who, exactly, do we owe? We want to make sure we’re not getting into something worse than what the vampires were up to.”

“One more point,” John put in. “The number of gunshots was exactly the same as the number of vampires and thralls. Plus their mage.” That pronouncement was met with a thoughtful silence.

“So, investigate, but discreetly,” Arthur concluded.

“Very discreetly.”

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