“What?” Harry sounded just as tired as he always did, and not exactly pleased to answer Callum’s call, but Callum decided to ignore that. If Harry couldn’t sound enthusiastic when Alpha Chester introduced them, that was probably just the normal state of affairs.
“I’ve got some questions about instinctual magic use. I’ve got a good handle on how spells are normally done, but obviously that isn’t the only way it works.” He was lying, a bit. He had a basic understanding, but compared to people like Gayle it was not a good handle. What he did have was a completely different way of going about things, and a vis aspect that was rare enough there wasn’t any easily accessible literature on it.
“Yeah?” Harry said, after far too long a pause.
“Well, young mages can obviously manifest things like fire, or light, or the like, without needing to make frames and twine vis together and all that. Spontaneous manifestations. What’s the mechanism behind them?”
“Huh. That’s a weird question.” Harry sounded ever so slightly interested, but when Callum didn’t explain himself any further, his voice dropped back to its normal tired cadence. “For the most part it’s just agitation of a person’s normal vis field.”
“Explain, please,” Callum said, when Harry didn’t elaborate. He swore talking to the man was like pulling teeth.
“Well, for any mage, their body is suffused with vis, and one of the first things they learn how to do is how to project it out so they have full magical control over their immediate surroundings. But even before then they’ll often shove it out unconsciously, putting enough vis into it that things start happening.” It was the most Harry had ever said at a time.
“Interesting. I think I understand. Why would a young mage fail to manifest any of this spontaneous magic?”
“I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. Maybe if they were vis-blocked or mana-starved somehow, but any kid growing up near other mages is going to be topped up just from the elevated ambient around.”
“Huh. Right, well, thanks for the information.”
“Yeah, sure,” Harry said. “Kind of sounds creepy though. Those questions together.”
“I’m sure it does,” Callum said noncommittally, having to forcibly restrain himself from explaining that he was asking for himself and he didn’t have some mage’s kid locked away somewhere. Even though he didn’t actually care what Harry thought of him, it was still his first impulse to keep anyone from thinking he was a bad guy.
After a few more deflections, Callum hung up and started to chew on what Harry had said. His memories of that first teleport weren’t exactly clear, what with the panic and the fire and all, but it was the first time he’d managed any magic at all, instinctive or otherwise. Callum still wasn’t sure exactly why he’d never done any before, but his guess was that he just didn’t have the vis. If most or all of it was going to reinforcing his senses, he never would have had enough to do anything with.
Not to mention, he’d never really been in fear of his life before. When Shahey had done whatever it was that set the building on fire, it would have spiked the local mana high enough that he could actually metabolize some and for once had enough vis to work with. At least, that was Callum’s best guess.
The bubble thing, from the way Harry had put it, was actually pretty smart. At least, for anyone who didn’t mind being labeled as a mage. Unfortunately, Callum did not want to be known as such outside of his interactions with Gayle, even if that did limit him. There was a certain amount of magical exercise that holding up a bubble took, which he was missing out on, so he’d have to consider adding that to his rotation when he went out into the middle of nowhere to practice his portals and teleports.
Normally, he just took his motorcycle out into the endless farmlands. It was easy enough to find a place with nobody around for a few hours in any given direction, though finding a place that wasn’t a big open field in the Midwest was a little bit harder. He tried not to use the same place more than once, either.
Based on what he read from his books, his best bet for increasing his magical ability was constant use. It wasn’t a physical muscle, and it wasn’t clear if it was a magical muscle, but the end result was the same. The more he practiced the better he’d get, and only through constant repetition would he get to be any good.
He wasn’t sure how much he could improve from his starting ability, but there was a certain aspect of mastering the basics where he absolutely hadn’t put in the time yet. Out in the middle of the woods, he formed portals over and over, worrying less about the residue they left as the crispness of the outlines and the smoothness of the field between.
Whether or not he was getting better, he couldn’t say. Not having a mentor to look over his shoulder and give advice was really unfortunate, but the best he could do was keep plugging away. Until and unless he met a mage that was classically trained and wasn’t going to turn him in to GAR he’d have to do it on his own.
Testing his intrinsic, instinctive teleport was rather weird. He’d already built up his ideas of having to frame everything with vis threads, so trying to work without them was a little backward. Probably, he’d learned wrong. A lot of education targeted at younger kids was actually wrong, but useful for that level of expertise. Which made picking up advanced expertise that much harder.
If he strained, he could push his bubble out fifteen or twenty feet, about the length that he’d teleported before, but trying to teleport within that bubble without forming his usual outlines and fields proved problematic. He couldn’t really get into the proper perspective to do things ad-hoc, even if theoretically he couldn’t really hurt himself.
The idea that people couldn’t hurt themselves with instinctive magic use, and the immediate practice to curb it, was completely contradictory. Somehow he wasn’t surprised. It didn’t seem education in the world of mages was any better organized than on the mundane side.
The first couple days he gave up after half an hour or so at the beginning of each practice session where he didn’t manage to do anything at all with his bubble. Instead of beating his metaphorical head against it he just moved onto forming, dispersing, and reforming his magical threads. It was monotonous work, but it also gave his mind a rest from trying to worry about GAR and the tyranny of bureaucracy.
At some point he realized the isolation was getting to him. Even though it had already been months, he still had the occasional reflex to try and bounce an idea off some of his online acquaintances, which of course he couldn’t do. It wasn’t like when he was in Winut, where there were people around and he could head to the café and chat. He definitely didn’t want to unburden himself on Gayle, so there was only one person he could really talk to.
“What’s up, big man?” Lucy asked cheerfully.
“Hey, Lucy,” Callum said, feeling his own mood lift by osmosis. “Mostly just beating my head against the wall here, trying to figure stuff out. You said you worked with GAR before; do you know much about how human magic stuff works?”
“Aww, not just calling to hear my lovely voice?”
“Well, that too,” he admitted. Which was closer to the truth than he would have liked. “But if I called without having a specific question you might start making assumptions.”
“And we all know what they say about asses and umptions,” Lucy replied. “Yeah, the rest of my family is mages actually, whatcha want to know?”
“Oof, you’re the only non-mage? That’s rough.” He’d seen how Sen, for example, had treated normal people, and he couldn’t imagine it was any better among family. Probably worse, considering how highly those people thought of themselves.
“Yeah, that’s why my day job is gruntwork for GAR,” Lucy said, though she didn’t sound too broken up about it. “They can’t exactly boot me out since I’m just slightly magic sensitive and know all about the supernatural world anyway. So they stuck me down in magical IT.”
“Well, their loss,” he said. “So what I want to know is instinctual magic. The stuff without all the threads and fields and so on. I’m reading up on it and getting a lot of mixed messages. Just wondered if you had any input.”
“Oh, right, baby magic! What about it?”
“I mean, how does it even work if it doesn’t use any structure? From what I’m reading nothing should happen, but it obviously does.”
“Well, I’m not completely sure since I’m not a mage, obviously.” He could practically hear her shrug. “Let me think. I’m sure dad mentioned something about it at some point.” There came the sound of fingers drumming on a desk, and Callum waited patiently.
“So, I think he likened it to, and don’t laugh, how toddlers would just go wherever they were, whenever they needed to. It’s only when they’re older that they learn how to control their bowels and didn’t need diapers. And by the time they’re adults, well, most people would have to go through some serious mental exercises to just let go in public.”
“So it’s basically a discipline thing that mages don’t do spontaneous magic?” Callum frowned. That didn’t exactly square with any of the other explanations, but he could at least see where it was coming from.
“I guess so? Like I said, I’m not a mage. I do know it’s all about your vis field though. It takes a lot of practice to construct things so they exist independently of your own personal bubble.”
“Hmm.” Callum was thinking through some of the implications of that, combined with the enchantments he’d seen in his books. “So, switching topics kind of, with the personal vis bubble being the real meat of a caster’s, uh, casting — can you make a focus that just targets that vis bubble?”
“Oh sure, super newbie glamour enchants do that. You feed it the mana, it resonates with the vis. Not very flexible though.”
“Any idea where I could get one of those?” He had a strong idea of what he wanted to do. While Callum had been hoping that figuring out unformed magic would set him on the path to unlinked teleportation, being able to target his personal vis with enchantments was far more valuable.
“Through the Guild of Enchantment, but it’s for full mages only,” Lucy told him. Callum nodded, considering that his tattoo would probably keep him from acquiring them anyway. Still, they’d be useful.
“Thanks, Lucy,” he told her.
Even if he didn’t use bubbles, he could keep a glamour right over his skin without needing to project any vis at all, or so he understood. Despite the admonition against using vis inside the body, there had to be self-empowerment spells, like strength or speed. If he could get his hands on one of those, he might be a little less of a squishy human.
It might even make it easier for him to figure out a way to make his gravitykinesis a proper flying focus. There were a lot of variables to figure out, like making it so it only moved him, and not making it so large it was impossible to power, but he might possibly be able to manage that. Then he could focus on not making it accelerate so hilariously fast.
While he could see why a lot of foci wouldn’t want to be constrained that way, to Callum it was a massive quality of life improvement, and if it were newbie magic he might even be able to find something about it. Especially since it was only useful for a limited range of focus types. But there had to be some market for it, thanks to how it was difficult to impossible to sense magic inside a person.
It seemed contradictory that he could see through people’s bubbles, or rather, sense through them, but not their physical forms. The best he could figure was that mages had magic bonded to their whole body, and density mattered. Magic wasn’t completely disconnected from normal physics, as it was harder to push his senses into a solid wall than it was through air. So, rather like enchantments and metals from the portal worlds, magical people were hard to read.
The exception was, of course, his own magic. He could see his own body just fine if he concentrated on it, which was a very weird sensation for certain. There was something intensely disconcerting about being able to sense his own beating heart, not to mention the other biological processes necessary for life. If he tried really hard he could manage the same with non-magical people, but it wasn’t something he really found worthwhile.
He mused on such topics, writing his own notes, because there were a lot of things just plain missing from the reference books. Mana-sight was covered, but it was something different from what Callum had. Instead of being a specific technique, it seemed to be a side effect of using magic, like having an extra set of cones in the eye.
Nothing Callum found in any of the books mentioned anything like his spatial sense. There was some mention of being able to sense through magic for things like wind or light, but Callum’s all-around passive bubble was unique. Or more likely, it was unique to spatial mages and given how rare they were it wouldn’t show up in anything but specialized literature.
Which, considering the nature of the supernatural world, he wasn’t likely to find. There might not even be any as such, just instruction from master to apprentice. He still found it hard to reconcile an internet-driven magic culture with one that held a lot of secrets close to its breast, but considering the magical internet was basically owned and operated by the magical government it wasn’t too far out of line. It wasn’t like the mundane world didn’t have secrets.
All he could do was make his notes, test, and think. He wasn’t sure if he was getting any better in any practical way. There was nothing to test against but his own invented exercises, and the bearing those had to practical spellcraft was probably tangential at best.
When the time for the weekly meeting with Gayle rolled around he had to consciously pull himself out of a sour mood and put on a more professional face. Especially since he needed to ask her a favor when he didn’t have much to show. True, he’d helped her a lot in the past, but he knew people had a tendency to discount such things.
“Ugh, shields,” Gayle complained, scowling at the notes he’d brought with him.
“I’m right there with you,” Callum agreed. Of all the magical constructs, shields were the most closely tied to vis. Mana shields were possible, but were hideously expensive and inefficient. Not to mention dumb; a proper shield was reactive and mostly passive, and usually a mage constructed the majority of their shielding manually. Foci helped, but foci had limitations to how flexible they could be.
Since Callum wasn’t anywhere near an expert in spellcraft, let alone enchanting, trying to come up with something useful was basically a short road to nowhere. His stack of brass plates was likely to run out before they actually got anything running, but given a day or two the magic would dissipate and they could be reused. Though he’d definitely suggest she take some and do some work on her own. He certainly planned to chew at it in the interim.
“So, I have a favor to ask, if it’s something you can do,” Callum said, and Gayle immediately looked at him with suspicion. It seemed more than he deserved, but he tried not to let it show. “I’ve been looking at more movement options, and I was wondering if you had access to some sort of portable teleportation option. The GAR system is so complicated, but if it was just a small focus it’d be easier to check out.”
“Oh!” Gayle looked relieved, then thoughtful. “I think dad might have a homebond. I can check. But you know I can’t give it to you. They’re expensive! And restricted.”
“No, no, I just want to look at it,” he assured her. “I know duplicating one is out of the question but I have some thoughts I’d like to confirm.”
“Your friend that you’re getting this stuff from isn’t a space mage by chance, is he?” Gayle gave him an inquisitive look. “You could get him in big trouble if he’s passing on this information without permission from his master.”
“No, it’s nothing like that,” he assured her. “And I understand if it’s not something I’m allowed to see, I was just hoping to get a look.”
“Well, maybe.” Gayle looked thoughtful. “I can try and bring it next time.”
“I’d appreciate it,” Callum said, trying not to show his exultation at the thought. Finally, finally he could get a look at how the heck people managed long-distance teleportation.
Gayle energized the transport pad, waiting patiently as it verified her wrist ident. As a Hargrave she had access to most transports, in or out of the GAR network. Judging by Professor Brown’s very plain ident, he barely had any access at all so he probably lived near where they met.
The transport pad blinked and she walked out into the regional GAR office, giving the secretary a nod as she stepped out of the arrival area, and headed for the private network in the back. It was a little tiresome presenting her wrist at every door along the way, but since the teleports there went straight to various mage Houses it was understandable. She could just imagine the hell an archmage would raise if someone teleported into their home unannounced.
The Hargrave House pad was right in the middle of the row, reflecting its importance, and she smiled at the blackberry bramble livery decorating the transport circle before the pad brought her back home. The entry chime rang as she stepped off, and Jameson appeared at the vestibule gates. He opened them for her and bowed as she stepped into the house proper.
“Welcome home, young mistress,” he murmured. While he looked like an unassuming middle-aged gentleman, he was a shifter with a fairly terrifying war-form. His fully shifted form would probably have been terrifying too, but he’d let her ride his back as a “doggie” too often as a child for her to really appreciate that.
“Thank you, Jameson,” she said, beaming at him. Despite the lack of progress with shields, she was still in a good mood because it was practically the only thing left to crack for her to sidestep Archmage Fane.
She did have to wonder where her dad found Professor Brown. Not that either of them would admit it, since Brown was skirting several laws and, more importantly, violating several confidences with what he was helping her with. That much was clear, since there were some obvious bits of enchanting signature that he’d mostly removed, but he hadn’t caught all of it.
Jameson escorted her further into the house, summoning her maids by some ancient butler technique to ply her with drinks and fuss over her hair. Two of them showed up with dress options for her, and she gave the one on the left a nod before glancing at Jameson. The fussing was normal, but the clothing choice wasn’t.
“Formal dinner tonight, young mistress,” Jameson said with just the right intonations to tell her what and whom to expect. Family. Or rather, the head of the House, Archmage Glen Hargrave, back from whatever wild obsession he was pursuing this time. Some of the elders found it tiresome, but he’d always been her favorite granddad. Or really, great-great-something granddad.
She was pretty sure he was the one who was the most supportive of her attempts to get out of being apprenticed to Fane. The Hargraves and the Fanes had been on poor terms for forever, and Archmage Hargrave had just given her a conspiratorial wink when apprenticeship with Fane was mentioned. While he wouldn’t criticize her if she didn’t dress up, he’d appreciate it a lot considering the attitudes of some of the rest of the family.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she told the butler, shaking her head. “All right, Jameson, I’ll go get dressed.”
“Very good, young mistress,” he said, and withdrew. She passed by photographs of the portal worlds and curios from the same, from her dad’s time in the draft, and went into her wing of the big, sprawling mansion. The windows looked out on a picturesque view of the Catskills, House Hargrave being surrounded by thousands of acres of wild land.
She allowed her maids to peel her out of her town clothes and fit her into a more formal dress, her senior maid using the focus that Grandmother had given Gayle years ago to restyle her mistress’ hair in a few moments. Another one washed her face and then together maids applied subtle cosmetics with the ease of long practice. In no time at all she was fit for a formal dinner with Archmage Hargrave.
When she entered the central part of the mansion there were already a number of her relatives about, ranging in age from her two-year-old uncle to her eighty-year-old niece, thanks to the long lives of mages. Surprisingly, her dad was there, rather than stuck at GAR like usual.
“Father,” she said, inclining her head politely rather than hugging him, considering the extended family still about. “I’m glad to see that you were able to get time off from your duties.”
“Daughter,” he replied, his lips quirking up into a smile behind his bushy moustache and beard. “Our whole department got sent home to avoid the displeasure of certain archmages. Someone is still making trouble over the whole vampire hunter ghost thing, so we’re letting archmages bicker with archmages while the rest of us hide out.” Even if grand mages like her father were only one step below archmages, they were still below.
“Do you need to bring it up with Archmage Hargrave?” She was only vaguely familiar with what her father was talking about, since vampire politics were not her concern, but if archmages had gotten into a spat over it, it might be important.
“No, no. Someone’s apprentice’s friend was involved and now it’s personal and so on.” He rolled his eyes. “Nothing to do with us.”
“Oh, good,” she said with relief. “Do you know why the Archmage is here though, father?
“He’s got some wild hair about Portal World Four.” He rolled his eyes. “As if the dragonblooded are going to let him poke around. It’ll probably amount to nothing, but you know how he gets.”
“I’ve heard stories,” Gayle agreed. She pressed her lips together, then decided she might as well ask while he was here. “Father, I have a favor to ask.”
“Oho? And what might that be, darling daughter of mine,” he teased. It took all of her self-control not to pout at him.
“You have a homebond, right? Can I borrow it for a few hours for my study group?”
He sobered at the request, looking at her carefully. Gayle knew homebonds were incredibly expensive, issued personally by Archmage Duvall, and really weren’t supposed to be used except by people with the right licenses. She probably couldn’t even activate it, not without getting more added to her tattoo.
“You know you can’t use it for your travel spell,” he said, more a statement than a question, and she nodded.
“I know. I won’t even activate it, we just have some ideas and a homebond is the right sort of enchantment to study. We’ll just take a look next week and I’ll bring it right back, I promise.”
“I’m not sure what you could find out from a homebond, but if you’re sure…” He peered at her a moment longer, then shrugged. “I suppose so. It’s not like I’m using it these days.”
“Thank you, father!” She actually did give him a hug that time, though a brief one, straightening her dress afterward. “I’m very close to being able to pass and fulfill my duties without help.”
“I’m proud of you, Gayle,” he beamed at her. “I wish I could help more, but…” She nodded. The Hargraves were a bloodline of primarily force and air, though her mother was water. How that ended up giving her healing, nobody really knew, but it meant there was nobody in the family who qualified to take her as an apprentice.
“I’ll get there,” she assured him. “No Hargrave is going to be under the thumb of a Fane.”
“That’s my girl,” he said. “Now, we’ve been ignoring everyone else long enough.” Gayle nodded, and turned to greet the rest of her family.
“So I had to promise Father I’d only bring it over for a few hours,” Gayle said. “I know it’s not much time but he’s not supposed to let it out of the House.”
“No, it’s fine,” Callum assured her, focusing his senses on the paired teleport – the homebond – and clicking through the modeling program on his laptop. “I really just wanted to study it.”
“We can’t even use it,” Gayle said, a trifle grumpily. “It’s coded to dad’s ident.” She rubbed her wrist absently and Callum stifled a grimace. It seemed the only reason he hadn’t run into that issue more was that he’d been buying used laptops, and that was the only magical technology he was interacting with. Everything else tied into the damn wrist tattoos, or at least, all the mage-specific stuff did.
If he hadn’t already seen the official GAR teleporters in action, that would have killed his ability to study the homebond, but after spending hours poring over the various bits and pieces, it was easy to locate the parts of the enchantment that were specifically spatial magic. They were surprisingly small, but then, the homebond itself was a lot smaller than he was expecting. The GAR teleporters were big bulky things, but the homebond was just a plate about a foot in diameter and an ordinary-looking, if rather thick, ring.
It was a headache to push his senses through the mundane metals that covered up the wire tracery of the actual enchantment, but this was the only chance he was likely to get so he persevered. The ring actually had one of the things he was looking for, the enchantment that shaped the output to match a mage’s personal vis. At least, that’s what he guessed it was, since it wasn’t familiar but it was in the place where there was normally a control for a mage to alter size and shape.
The more important thing to locate was the way the pair were linked so that they worked over an arbitrary distance. The actual structure wasn’t particularly special. While he’d never be able to derive it himself, he could kind-of-sort-of see that it was a simple teleport, but it didn’t seem to be pointed anywhere. Or rather, it seemed to point back toward itself, which made no sense.
Callum frowned, looking closer, and comparing the receiver plate with the ring. Without his spatial senses he would have completely missed the key to understanding it, because the evidence was hidden inside the metal that covered the enchantments. The ring that was meant to be worn was matched by a ring on the plate, where the spatial structures were identical, and when he looked closer he saw toolmarks inside both the transmitter and the receiver. Matching toolmarks.
The location portion was the only part that pressed up against the toolmarks, but it painted a clear picture to him. The enchantment was created, and then physically separated. That’s why it directed back to itself, because it was its own target. He didn’t really understand how it all worked, but it frankly didn’t matter. If he was right, he could make his own homebond.
“Hello? Earth to Professor Brown?”
“Hmm? Sorry.” Callum blinked as Gayle’s voice intruded in his concentration and he looked up at her. “This is fascinating.” He glanced at his watch and saw that he’d been at it for three hours somehow. It had been a long time since he’d gotten so involved in something.
“Sure, but unless you know a spatial mage you can’t make a new one.” Gayle said regretfully. Callum almost, almost offered to make her one, but curbed himself just in time. Not only did he not have the resources for that, it would surely out him. If not as being a spatial mage himself, as knowing one, and there weren’t too many around.
“Mm, no, but the enchants give me an idea.” She had the terrible telekinesis version of movement anyway. What she was lacking was a shield, and with mage bubbles he might be able to figure out something that floated on the edge. He would have loved if the paired enchantment could be used somehow, but if mana or vis could be wirelessly transmitted with ease everyone would be doing so.
“I know we’re cutting things short today, but I think I’ve learned what I could from this and you said it was only for a couple hours.” He pushed the homebond over toward her. “I’m going to do some experimenting on my own and hopefully I’ll have something shield-ish ready for next time.”
“Sure!” Gayle seemed happy enough with that, though he didn’t know whether it was about having an excuse to cut the frustrating struggle with shielding short or the idea of him bringing something for her. While Gayle was far better with her control of vis, Callum still had the advantage of his spatial talent letting him grasp the geometries of enchantments. Plus, frankly, more practice at actually working at something.
He saved and double-saved the render he’d made of the enchantments, and followed Gayle outside the bookstore. She went to her car and he went to his bicycle, the two of them heading in opposite directions. He mused on the fact that both of them were headed off to a place they could teleport elsewhere, though his home was at least in the area. There was no telling where Gayle was coming from.
Callum disciplined himself enough to keep from teleporting immediately, and instead waited until he was a sufficient distance away in a side alley before beginning to transport himself back to his motorhome. He had some experimentation to do, and the sooner he could get it done, the better.