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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

Extra chapter Monday.

“Wherever did you find the enchantment for a light spell?” Gayle looked at him, almost suspiciously. “Professor Brown, are my parents paying you to help me figure this stuff out?”

“No, but maybe I should ask them,” Callum said with a laugh. “I just talked with a friend and he gave me some good leads.”

The enchantment and fire aspect books had actually had multiple ways to make light. The light and fire aspects were the simplest, by far, but those weren’t useful to either Callum or Gayle. Instead he’d taken the example of how not to make a light spell, due to it being inefficient, since it was the kind of brute-force method a beginner would use. There was a more efficient and clever way of doing it which was only described, and Callum couldn’t reproduce it or even understand the general principles, even though he really wished he did.

Callum was painfully aware he was behind on his magic theory. Years and years behind, and he probably wouldn’t be catching up anytime soon. Working with Gayle helped just by seeing how someone who was properly trained did things, but he had still been tempted to skip the meeting just to study. Though it wasn’t like he had gotten anything done for the past few days anyway, still recovering from his exertions.

“Well definitely thank your friend for me. And that telekinesis focus is working great!” Gayle held up the brass plate, which she’d obviously refreshed at some point during the past week. Steel had to be refreshed every eighteen or twenty hours or it would fade. Brass was more like four days, but it was far from permanent. Fortunately, repairing one was much easier than making it in the first place, given how much trouble Callum had making the glamour focus.

“Fantastic,” he said. “How’d your healing experiments go.”

“Ugh. You were right, but it’s weird.” Gayle said, half-complaining. “I got a box of crickets and gah. Having to actually touch them.” She shuddered. “But I can do damage with healing if I use an asymmetric framework with inversion circulation.” More jargon, but Callum could more or less guess at the meaning.

“Is that something you can do at range? Bundle it into a sphere or arrow type projectile?” Gayle gave him a look, but took his actual genuine question as a Socratic one and considered seriously before answering.

“Well, I’d have to keep control of it. So it wouldn’t have much range, you know, like thirty feet or so.”

“Thirty feet is better than needing to touch them,” Callum pointed out, but wondered at that range. He could essentially cast anywhere within his sensory range, but that was nigh-on five hundred yards. If the same was true for Gayle, she was practically blind. Then again, she had a healing aspect, not a spatial one.

“I guess so,” Gayle said. “I just kinda wish I could throw fireballs or something! Elementalists have it easy.” She looked at him. “What about gravity magic?”

“It’s a lot easier at close range, too,” Callum agreed. “Honestly, basically everything is. I agree that elementalists have it easy, but keep in mind they can’t heal. Even if you have to learn an offensive spell, you probably won’t ever need to see combat.”

“Oh, that’s a good point.” Gayle beamed at Callum. “When we finish figuring out these spells I’ll just breeze through my draft and be able to open my own practice!”

“I’m sure you will,” Callum said, a little amused by her naivete.

Making a new focus with a light spell didn’t take nearly as much time as figuring out the telekinesis focus had. Not only was it a far simpler manifestation of spellwork, because it just created a light directly above and in front of the focus, but they had a direct template to work from.

In fact, they went beyond the simple, static template and tried incorporating some of the dynamic parts of the enchanting patterns into the brass plates, since they had extras. The first attempt didn’t work at all, the second made a line of light, which was actually quite interesting, but it wasn’t dynamic, but with the third they found the right bit to make the light float. Callum still wasn’t nearly as conversant with mana as Gayle, but he had to admit it was pretty fun to be able to manifest something other than portals.

He felt ten years younger making a glowing ball of white light zip around the bookstore, like a kid playing with bubbles, but he could only let himself be distracted for so long. Also, it became clear he absolutely had a longer range than Gayle, whose magic sense seemed to not only be limited to about thirty feet, but was actually line-of-sight as well.

“So, movement is probably going to be the hardest one,” Callum said, looking at the list of requirements. Gayle made a face, still having fun playing with the light focus among the shelves, but returned to the table and flopped down opposite him.

“What even is there for a healer?”

“I mean, maybe you could scale up telekinesis,” Callum said thoughtfully. “It wouldn’t be great, but you could carry yourself by your own bootstraps.”

“I guess. Maybe your friend has other options?” Gayle asked hopefully. Callum snorted and shot her a look.

“Glutton,” he accused her. “But I’ll ask. No promises, though.”

She promised to meet him at the same time next week and Callum went back to his motorhome to dive into the books. He actually had one specific question that he wanted answered, but so far all his searching had turned up nothing. He had no idea how the teleportation enchantment worked at such long distances, and it was something he desperately wanted.

Instant travel was not nearly as impressive while it was fixed to his spatial senses. His range admittedly seemed on the high end, but GAR could teleport hundreds of miles, maybe even thousands, so it wasn’t as great as all that. In truth, he could move faster using his gravitykinesis, even as half-baked as it was, though of course not through walls and doors.

Ultimately he decided to call up Harry again. He was hoping that if he couched his questions as trying to inquire about the GAR network it wouldn’t imply that he was a spatial mage. Unfortunately, Harry’s reply wasn’t very useful.

“I have no idea how they work,” he said tiredly.

“You never studied their construction?” Callum pressed.

“I mean, I’ve looked, it’s not like they’re hidden. But you’d have to be a spatial mage to do anything like that.”

“Ah, a shame,” Callum said, controlling his reaction. That was perfect for him. If the linked teleports were not obfuscated in any way, because of the rarity of the magic needed to make them, then he could just copy them whole cloth. It wouldn’t be quite that simple, of course, but it was better than nothing.

He thanked Harry and went to dial Lucy, but paused, because he hadn’t set up a dead drop yet. That wouldn’t be difficult, but his mind went back to all the hard drives he’d pulled off the first set of vamps, still buried at his old house in Winut. Lucy actually could take advantage of whatever was on there, though maybe nothing was. Any intelligent operation would have made sure to change all their logins and so on, but a lot of times people were stupid.

For a while he debated whether or not he should go back. It had been a while, but they might have left watchers or alarms on the property. Ultimately, he thought it would be worth his time. Obviously he wouldn’t get anywhere near the property itself, but he was pretty sure he could at least spot wards. If there was anything there that might alert someone, he’d be able to see it, but even if he didn’t he’d be nowhere near. Besides, one of the other things he’d left behind was obviously enchanting supplies, which he definitely wanted.

Callum took his motorcycle and made his way north, not using gravitykinesis because he wanted to be as low-profile as possible. That meant no teleportation or glamour either, so it was a long trip, but he spent it mostly musing over what he actually had found in the books.

When Gayle had complained that elementalists had it easy, she was very much correct. Water, fire, air, and earth, along with things like ice, wood, and metal, all had very similar basic concepts among mages. Light and darkness weren’t far different either, all creating tangible effects from the same basic structures: balls, spears, fields, walls, and so on. They started to diverge with more advanced techniques, but they weren’t complete strangers like healing or spatial. Or temporal, though time magic was marked as simply theoretical.

The ultimate consequence of that was that most common mage knowledge was useless to him, even if he tried to adapt it to how magic worked. Not that Callum was going to ditch all the tomes on various forms of magical control, and in fact had doubts that the texts were right about how different the various vis aspects were, but he’d already tried some basic elemental exercises and gotten nowhere. Simple things like balls had no effect, and slightly more complex spellforms designed to conjure the appropriate element simply fell apart.

Besides, some of the ideas, like the instant shower-and-scrub spell from the water elemental handbook, were really neat. So were the spells for maintaining a mage’s personal conveyance, which any of the basic elements could manage without issue. Of course, air mages could fly and from what he read they seemed pretty smug about that.

Unfortunately for Gayle, it seemed that any enchantment using anything but mana had to be done by a mage with the proper aspect. So he could, in theory, make a gravitykinesis focus for her that used mana as input but filtered it through a spatially enchanted array. There was some trick to the conversion he didn’t understand, but it could still be done. Not that he would, even if he knew the details, since he was supposed to be a gravity mage.

When he arrived in Winut, Callum had to exercise iron control to keep from stopping by the café, even as late as it was, to see if there were still familiar faces there. True, he looked different, but if shifters could track by scent they’d know him instantly. Instead, he cruised slowly along an entirely different road where he could just barely get at the old property and the bags he had buried there.

There did seem to be something around the house, some thin pseudo-ward, which actually relaxed him a bit. If he had found nothing he probably would have been rather nervous about using his magic, but spotting what was probably an alarm that only covered the house didn’t seem too bad. Even so, he quickly teleported the hard drives into one saddlebag and the enchanting equipment into the other without slowing down.

For some time afterward he drove east, scanning with his senses to make sure no hint of magic clung to him or the items he’d taken, but apparently nobody had been tricky enough to try and attach trackers to stuff that was buried deep in his former back yard. An earth mage probably could have found it, if they’d cared to look, but he figured that it would at least look disturbed if that had been done.

After an hour or so he was pretty sure that there was nobody following him, so he pulled over near a handy road sign. Then he actually scanned the area with his spatial sense and realized that it didn’t have anything appropriate so he moved on until he crossed a culvert. There he got out the package with the gold and the one with the hard drives and taped them together then stuck the entire bundle to the underside of the culvert. He took a picture of it, copied the GPS coordinates, and texted both to Lucy before calling her.

“Hey, big man!” Lucy sounded cheerful, but that seemed to be her default state. “That’s quite the large package you’ve got for me,” she added in an overly sultry voice. “I hope I can handle it.” Callum laughed and shook his head at her opener.

“Don’t worry, my package always satisfies,” he said, before getting to the point. “The gold is in there, but I thought I’d give you a present, too. Some hard drives that I took off the vampires. Maybe they’ve got nothing, maybe they have valuable stuff on them, but either way you can have them.”

“And it’s not even my birthday! You really know how to treat a girl, big man.”

“I try,” Callum said with a smile. “I do have another request for you already, though.”

“Lay it on me!” Lucy said eagerly. “And as to your previous one, so far it’s all in administration limbo, so there’s no telling what’s going on.”

“Ah, bureaucracy. What I need from you is the locations of all the teleport points, gates, whatever you want to call them, that GAR has in the area.”

All all or just public all? ‘Cause a lot of the big families and archmages have their own private ones and finding out if the exist, let alone finding them, is pretty difficult.”

“Just the public ones,” Callum assured her. “Though I guess I’m a little surprised that there are any big families or the like around here.”

“Eh.” Lucy sounded distracted, the timbre of her voice changing as she obviously juggled the phone from one position to another. “There’s a couple, mostly outside the big cities, but not as many as other places.”

“That figures.” Callum decided not to worry about the local families. He had no desire to go traipsing around private mage property. Or shifter or vampire property, for that matter. “Yeah, just the normal public ones are fine.”

“I’m kind of surprised you don’t already know,” Lucy said. “We figured that’s how you were getting around.”

“Yes, well, a man has to have some secrets,” he replied. It was a shame he couldn’t convince GAR he was using their teleportation network, just for the sheer inconvenience and diversion factor. It wasn’t worth trying to connect the ghost assassin with anything concrete, though. That kind of fancy flourish was bound to get him in trouble.

“I thought that was a woman’s line,” Lucy accused him.

“Then you can keep it; it’s not like I know all your secrets either.”

“For all I know you might!”

“A little mystery will be good for you,” he told her.

“Easy for you to say! Okay, sending you the locations now.” His phone buzzed and he glanced at the text, which was another text-as-picture attachment.

“Great, you’re the best, Lucy.”

“You know it!”

Callum hung up after a few more comments and turned to head for home. By the time he made it he was absolutely exhausted by the simple fact that he’d been driving for practically the entire day, not to mention that he kept his spatial senses straining outward just in case someone had spotted him getting the supplies. Fortunately, it didn’t strain him as badly as his more magically intense efforts and he was off to find the nearest teleport the next day.

It seemed that using a false front for a teleport circle wasn’t common, because both the first and the second teleport circle he tracked down were inside supernatural-owned businesses. It was a wonder that there wasn’t one inside the bookshop he kept meeting Gayle at, but since there was one about five minutes’ drive away, that explained a lot.

She didn’t live in the area at all. In fact, she probably was one of those families that had a private teleportation enchantment in their property. The car she drove was actually parked with two others just like it in the back lot of an office building, which didn’t have any signs he could read. There was obviously some glamour there, but since he couldn’t actually read glamour it did him no good.

When he finally got eyes on his first circle, or at least his spatial senses, he knew that it was going to be a very long project. They were by far the most complicated structures he’d seen, though even at a glance he could see part of the reason for that was just the scale. Unlike the other enchantments, it existed in three dimensions, and he was going to need more than a pencil and paper to take things down.

It had been a while since he’d touched CAD software, but it seemed perfect for the job. A quick trip to the internet and a not so quick wait while it downloaded, and he had one of the programs he was familiar with installed on the laptop. Even with that it took more than an hour to transcribe what he saw, just because of the complexity.

He would have loved to see someone use it. In theory he could trigger it himself, but that was too risky. Instead he moved onto the next closest teleporter, hours away, so he’d have more than one reference. If they were all part of a network, some of the enchantments would refer to that network and he wouldn’t need to worry about them.

At least, that was his hope. After transcribing the second teleportation enchantment he was a little bit worried, because there were a lot of differences, but it wasn’t something he could just eyeball. He’d need to sit down with the enchanting reference books and grind away at it.

The good thing was that, in theory, he could actually completely reproduce it because he was a spatial mage. There was no way to tell which parts were specifically spatial and which were other aspects or completely lacking in aspects, aside from the intake which had to be mana if it was to be universally usable. That was fine though, because he should be able to energize it directly, without the conversion, if he understood it.

What he really, really wanted was to see the other side. It was incredibly tempting, but he knew he couldn’t. Even with the best excuse in the world, Callum didn’t think that being on GAR ground was a good or safe idea. He still didn’t know what that bit of the tattoo he’d removed from his wrist did, but it probably was something people would notice if they looked.

After getting both enchantments down, Callum parked his motorhome at the nearest stop and started chewing on the problem. It didn’t take long for him to get frustrated at comparing the drawings and the reference material using one small monitor. He really missed his big, multiple-monitor office back at his house, and after a few more minutes he gave up and realized he actually needed the visual space to get anything done. He could hold a lot in his head, but not that much.

Since the nearest place to buy a monitor was an unfortunate distance away, he shelved the study to take a look at the magical components he’d brought back. With the references, and a little bit more experience, the contents aren’t as mysterious as they had been previously.

The liquids and powders were magical materials, sourced from the portal worlds, for creating foci. Mixing the two created a sort of paste that could be enchanted, and over the course of a few hours it would dry and harden in place. It made doing complex enchants much easier and cheaper than would otherwise be the case, since the creator could do as much or as little at a time as they felt like.

Callum was impressed. He doubted it was as good as doing an enchantment on a single crystal or anything similarly difficult and expensive, since piecemeal work would have far more variation in the final spell form and many more inefficiencies its creation, but it was more than good enough for someone of his skills.

The various plates he’d retrieved were wards. Specifically, ward foci, meant to be usable by anyone. Which was actually really fascinating, and gave him the chance to see wards form and move close up. More importantly, it gave him the experience of what it was like to be on the receiving end of a ward.

There was an entire realm of feedback that he wasn’t aware was possible. It was a bit like his spatial senses, but different at the same time. In fact, if it weren’t for his spatial senses he probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with the sensory input from the ward at all. As it was it gave him an awful headache the first time around, and he had to ease into it.

The best comparison he could make was that a ward was an ancient, low resolution monitor, but one with alarms attached to it, while his spatial sense was a high-resolution, massive display that did nothing more than display. Of course, the ward in question was air based and could be shaped to fit a large building, nothing at all like the earth ward he’d also seen, so one ward couldn’t really be taken as indicative of all wards.

Actually using it let him figure out why the wind mage hadn’t noticed the thread of his spatial magic poking through the holes. The ward construct just didn’t have the sensitivity for something that fine. That might not be true of every ward so he couldn’t count on his trick working all the time, but for most of them it probably would.

He dropped the ward and scattered some vortex beads around to clean up whatever they could because, while it was interesting, it was the exact opposite of stealthy. Not that his beads did much for mana, but he wanted to scrub what could be scrubbed. Besides, he was pretty sure that he could make a better ward with vis once he got the theory down, though considering the complexity of the task that would be a while.

Once he was finished playing with the different shapes and sizes of the ward focus, he took his motorcycle and drove into town. Picking up a pair of monitors and the appropriate cabling was easy enough, but passing a little cluster of high-tech startups, which seemed to appear like mushrooms in every town these days, gave him an idea. There was a little single-room office advertising 3D printing and CNC etching, which sounded exactly like what Callum needed.

Both his manual and magical dexterity left something to be desired, at least when it came to enchantment, but the magic paste stuff meant that he didn’t have to be perfect. If he had some sort of existing guide, it’d be even easier and, more importantly, let him make something smaller.

The brass plate was fine, but it was large and unwieldy, whereas if he had a proper machine etch the patterns and then filled them with the paste, he could probably fit the entire enchantment on something the size of a postage stamp. Maybe even smaller, once he’d had more practice.

It was easier to conjecture than actually do, of course, and it ended up being several hours before he was able to submit a properly formatted file to the etching company. It would be more hours before it was done and he could go pick it up, so Callum figured he’d stay in the area. So far he’d been traveling elsewhere each day, only going back to discuss things with Gayle, but that was possibly a little overly cautious.

He spent those hours of waiting on the teleportation enchantment models he’d made, and the very little headway he made confirmed it was going to be a long term project. He needed more references, and at the very least he needed to see one in action. There were too many structures inside the enchantment that didn’t show up in the books he’d gotten.

Instead of trying to brute-force something that was obviously complex, Callum sighed and started studying enchantment theory from the beginning. It had been a long time since college and dry theory wasn’t nearly as fun as actually playing with magic, but it had to be done. Besides, he had some vague ideas about foci he wanted to make for himself.

***

Out of deference to the vampires, the meeting was held after dark. None of the other supernatural races, aside from a small number of fae, were so powerfully affected by the time of day, so most of the time important decisions were made sometime after sunset. Chester made it a point to make most of his decisions during the day, finding the pandering to the vampires to be quite tedious.

He knew why it happened, of course. Vampires were so very biddable, what with their blood dependence and addiction. GAR effectively controlled them through their allowance of mundane blood and, on rare occasion, magical blood. Hunting locations and targets were strictly controlled, and since the vampires were not about to do anything to imperil their food source they marched in firm lockstep with GAR.

At least, mostly. In reality there were plenty of dissenters on both sides and political machinations aplenty, but ultimately GAR had the vampire population firmly under control. There were fewer levers on shifters and fae, and none at all on dragonblooded, so the vampires were part of the mages’ power block.

He heard Lavigne coming long before the vampire entered the room. Mostly because he wasn’t using vampire speed, which was downright horrifying for anyone that wasn’t a powerful shifter or fae. Even Archmages couldn’t keep up that kind of speed, though with their shields they didn’t really need to.

“Oh good,” Chester drawled without looking around. “The person who wanted this meeting actually deigned to show up.”

Lavigne hissed, which was delightfully gauche, not to mention stereotypical, and blurred around to his chair. To most it would be as if he simply appeared in it, but to Chester it was a very weak play. A cornered animal baring its teeth.

“Keep a civil tongue in your head, cur,” Lavigne threatened. Like all vampires he was medium-tall and bulky, but thin-faced and sharp-featured. While Chester could tell them apart, it was more by smell than sight.

“Get on with it,” King Ravaeb said. Chester always figured that the fae was mostly frost giant, since he was blue-skinned, bald, and two sizes too large unless he used a fae art to alter himself. Unlike Lavigne, Chester would have to actually worry about Ravaeb in a fight. Vampires were just fast and strong, their mind magic too weak to work on shifters, but fae could do all sorts of things.

“Yes, let’s,” Lavigne said as if it were his idea and looked to the Archmage who was overseeing the meeting. Archmage Janry did not look excited to be there, but he was powerful enough both politically and personally that nobody would dare to complain. He was, fortunately, a fairly neutral party if only because he disdained all non-mages equally.

“This meeting is called to order,” Janry said in a bored tone. “Master Lavigne, you have the floor.”

“I want to know what GAR is going to do about the attack by the shifters!” Lavigne said immediately, glaring at Chester.

“What attack?” Chester said lazily, leaning back and smirking at Lavigne in the most infuriating way he could manage. “My people were nowhere nearby when your vampires decided to take up their incendiary hobbies. In fact, you might want to keep them close so nobody else decides to try.”

“That is a threat!” Lavigne snapped. “Archmage Janry, I demand you censure Alpha Chester! He is contributing nothing to the discussion!”

“What discussion?” Ravaeb was, at least for the moment, on Chester’s side. More because he didn’t care about the meeting but was compelled to come because of the political implications of two of the three supernatural heads of the Midwest being together. He’d cheerfully see Chester burn under other circumstances. “You’re just throwing wild accusations around.”

“Indeed, the incidents Master Lavigne is referring to are under investigation and shifter agency has been ruled out.” Janry still sounded bored. “It is all speculation at this point, even the speculation that the perpetrator was fae. Keep things responsive.”

“What is GAR doing to catch these murderers then? Alpha Chester obviously is responsible for it and there he sits!” Lavigne was quietly outraged, but Chester didn’t let the impotent fury fool him. Not only did Lavigne have enormous political clout, he was a master vampire and as dangerous as anyone in the room. He just couldn’t bring any of that to bear under the circumstances.

“You will retract that,” Chester said quietly, pulling on the pack bonds for power as he stared down Lavigne. Not that he really cared about the accusations, true or not, but he had to maintain appearances. Lavigne played the political game better than Chester, but he’d forgotten that – in the end – only force mattered.

“I will not.” Lavigne stared back, unimpressed with the weight of power gathering within Chester.

“Gentlemen,” Janry said, tone slightly less bored. “Cease your sniping. We are here to discuss the possibility of an extremely dangerous assassin in our midst. While it is true that the targets have been exclusively vampires and their hires, that doesn’t mean they will remain so.”

“Do you have any idea at all who it is?” Lavigne scowled and leaned back in his chair.

“The case file belongs to GAR, but I can tell you that so far the only evidence we have, if you can call it that, is the demonstrated abilities and the presence of ball bearings at every scene.”

“You could send your people around to look for someone with ball bearings in their pocket,” Chester said in amusement. Lavigne ignored him and looked to Ravaeb.

“What about your pixies and brownies? Couldn’t you have them find the rest of the ball bearings and track the killer down?”

“First,” Ravaeb said in a tone of exaggerated patience, “it does not work that way. Second, I will not order my subjects out of their enclave for something that doesn’t concern us.”

Chester sat back and let Lavigne squabble with Ravaeb for the moment. It seemed that Mister Brown was safe for the moment, since the only lead was laughable. Fae magic could do some truly bizarre things, but mass-produced and mixed metal was pretty much impossible to track by sympathetic magic. He had no idea what Brown used the ball bearings for or why they were there, but so long as he didn’t switch to something more unique, there was no way to track it back to him.

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