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It was more than a little irritating that he couldn’t tell if he was doing it right when it came to the homebond enchantment. He had to rely on his notes and their accuracy, and while he trusted his ability to transcribe architecture that wasn’t the same as understanding it all. Barring years of study he was stuck with blind copying, and he didn’t like it.

He especially didn’t like that he couldn’t practice with brass. After spending all the time imprinting the proper magical structure into the brass with spatial vis, when he went to have it cut, it turned out it didn’t work. The magic didn’t stick well enough, pulling away and dissipating as the saw cut the brass in half.

Since he was absolutely forced to use his tiny stocks of magical material, he went all the way and put in another CNC order. Stripped of all the extraneous enchantments and compacted down to a single plane rather than a ring, it actually ended up being less than a quarter-inch in each dimension, and even that was only so he could cut it once it was done.

Or rather, pay to have it cut. He was handy enough, but the workshop he was paying didn’t let other people touch their machines. Callum sympathized, and just watched as a young man with safety glasses very carefully cut along the marked line. With his senses it was fine that he was stuck waiting outside the shop, since he could watch the process straight through the wall.

It was fascinating and strange to see the enchantment get cut in half. After letting it fully sinter and harden, the enchanting paste held onto the spatial magic with an unbreakable grip, so the mere act of physical separation didn’t really disrupt it. As the two halves separated there was a little bit of a ripple, some sort of complicated magical effect he couldn’t quite grasp.

It seemed to be trying to absorb energy from the surroundings, so he hastily fed it with his vis, letting some kind of resonance build up between the two severed halves until it flashed over and settled. The worker jerked in surprise, and Callum winced, hoping that whatever visible manifestation had occurred wasn’t too dramatic.

Judging by the look on the guy’s face as he brought the two halves back out, packed individually in small foam blocks, it was something weird but not alarming. There was enough doubt there that hopefully he’d forget about it and pass it off to imagination. Callum would have to use a different shop for the next time, though. No need to risk confirming something.

He paid in cash and took the boxes with thanks before walking out and grabbing his motorcycle. For a while he rode away as normal, until he was confident he was out of sight, then began teleporting in order to speed up the trip. His fingers drummed on the handles of the bike, his mind more on the pair of boxes than the road as he blipped out of the city and drove toward the campgrounds. It seemed to be working, the enchantments were in place and full of energy, and he couldn’t wait to test it.

Unfortunately he couldn’t just shove vis into it. The split resonance was only part of things and he didn’t want to ruin either himself or the experiment by trying an unfinished product. He’d duplicated Gayle’s receiving pad, and he slid the receiver half into it, fixing it in place with screws.

Callum really wanted to figure out how to cut mundane materials with his spatial magic. If he could shear rock or metal, he could have almost impossibly hidden caches. Or, if he wanted to think larger, bunkers. For the moment, though, he had to do everything the normal way, not that he could complain. It was a lot easier when he could just send his files off to a shop, rather than needing to carve metal himself.

He carried the pad outside and put it in a clear area, standing right next to it so he could watch as things happened. Holding the little metallic chip of a transmitter, he pushed vis into it and watched as the teleport field started to form on the receiver pad, but slowly. While the transmitter could be filled with his vis quickly and easily, the receiver had to pull on and convert mana. It seemed it was hardly going to be a rapid getaway, unless he could get his hands on a good way to store mana.

Commercial mana crystals were not in his immediate future.

It took a good five minutes of channeling vis into the chip for the receiver to form, but once it did, his part of the enchantment flashed over to fully active in an instant. The feeling of the focus resonating with his own vis was profoundly unpleasant, almost painful. Also intimate, and not something he wanted to deal with for long. No wonder they weren’t popular.

He studied the two sets of magic with his senses, but couldn’t see the connection between them. On the other hand, they both looked like normal teleport frameworks. They weren’t exactly like his, since they just sort of blindly projected things out and he tended to alter his to suit, so they would definitely leave more residue. Still, there was nothing actually wrong that he could see.

Callum braced himself, then mentally pushed on the focus.

The teleport was awful, feeling much like being jerked around by gravitykinesis. He bent double, gagging as he nearly toppled off the receiver plate. His vision swam and his guts protested, but it had worked. It worked! Despite the fact that he was tasting bile and feeling like he had all-over muscle cramps, it worked.

Then he realized he’d have to test it at different distances, and groaned. Just because it worked when he was right next to it didn’t mean that it would work at any distance. Considering there was no actual connection between the two pieces of enchantment, it probably would, but he needed to make sure before trusting himself to it.

Spitting a few times to rid his mouth of the taste of nausea, he took advantage of his break to drive into town and get something for his stomach and his head. He was going to need it. While he probably didn’t need to push forward on it, now that he had an actual emergency option within his grasp, he didn’t feel like putting it off.

By the end of the next few hours, he’d established that he could use the teleporter from at the very least two hundred miles away, but that it was extremely unpleasant every time. It all added up until he was buried in his bed with a churning stomach, no matter how much pepto-bismol he poured down his throat. He also had a pounding headache, and his muscles kept twitching as if he’d run a marathon.

That wasn’t to mention the vertigo.

He’d obviously messed something up with the enchantments, since he doubted that the original homebond caused such issues. The GAR teleports certainly didn’t. It was probably his relatively poor control over vis threads, making problems he didn’t even know to look for.

But, working was working. Sure, it took longer to charge up the further away he was, though it was more an asymptotic change than a linear one, and it took a lot out of him even before the inevitable side effects of the teleport, but it was working. He had maybe enough enchantment stuff left over to make a second one, but if this one was working it was probably better not to tempt fate. Which meant that as soon as he was recovered, he needed to proceed with the next idea.

He owed Gayle a shield focus, considering what she’d gotten for him.

A day or so later his stomach finally stopped rebelling at every little thing and he dragged himself outside. There were a number of machine shops that were willing to do some quick work, even when it was something odd like titanium. It helped that he could travel hundreds of miles to a specialty location without issue, and it helped more that he had large amounts of cash to rush things along.

Fortunately, his requirement was just a very small sealed container of medical grade titanium foil, properly polished. It had to be smooth, too, given what he wanted it for, so he had to pad the corners a bit since he didn’t dare shave off any of the actual transmitter. That made the final dimensions just about a millimeter bigger all around, but still plenty small for his purposes.

He kept a very close eye, or at least, sensory focus on the machinist as he covered the chip in the foil and very carefully welded and abraded. Maybe Callum had been a bit overly aggressive in how important it was that the enchantment stayed intact, since the machinist seemed to be treating it like glass, but better that than damage it.

In its final dimensions it looked like a polished lozenge, not that he intended to swallow it. He took it with thanks and added a tip to the payment, above and beyond the rush surcharge. It was exactly what he needed.

Once again Callum returned to his motorhome, pulling up the diagrams he’d saved on his computer. An emergency measure that could be confiscated, or was obvious, was no emergency measure at all. Especially since he very much doubted that he’d be allowed any personal effects on the off chance he was captured.

He knew he wouldn’t let a mage keep even a spare pen.

The human body had a lot of spaces where a little capsule could sit and not really do any harm. Flesh was fairly squishy, after all, and many internal bits and pieces were cordoned off from each other. That didn’t mean he could be at all careless, but it did mean he could, in theory, implant the teleporter chip inside himself without needing to visit a surgeon.

As unpleasant as it was, he focused his perceptions inside his body, which was full of messy biology, especially since according to his research the best place for what he wanted was the abdominal cavity. Pushing his senses through regular muscle wasn’t too bad, but actually being able to perceive all the various gastronomical processes was just disturbing. Nonetheless, he focused on finding a likely spot before reaching out to grasp the little titanium-coated capsule with his senses.

He’d sterilized the heck out of it, of course, but he wasn’t too worried. He didn’t have to actually make a wound to implant it, and if something really bad did start because of it, he knew a healer. Callum intended to monitor things very closely, after testing to make sure it worked.

Finding a likely spot, he braced himself and teleported the chip in as gently as he could manage. The flesh bent out of the way as the teleport field displaced it, the titanium capsule settling into place. It felt very, very weird, but not really painful. It was just slightly uncomfortable, a little bit of extra pressure in his guts.

It was also immediately immersed in the vis that saturated his body, which made him glad that the input he’d copied didn’t actively draw on energy like his siphons. It was useful for the little ball bearings, but for something sitting inside of him, it’d charge up almost immediately and then he’d be walking around with the disconcerting sensation of a primed teleport field.

Once he was sure it wasn’t charging up on his own, he went ahead and did it anyway because he needed to test it. Pushing vis into something inside his body was easy enough, though weird. There was nothing any different about it; the location was simply disconcerting. It certainly felt the same when it was fully ready, the full-body strain of his vis in tune with the teleporter, and the nausea was the same when he transferred.

“Ha!” He muttered to himself. “Now this is how you make a contingency.” Despite the fact that he still had to make the shield focus for Gayle, he decided to finish his preparations for the emergency escape. It wouldn’t take more than a day or so.

While he was really relying on his implanted teleport, he didn’t want to use it if he didn’t have to, and not every threat would require immediately bailing to the wilderness. He picked up two more fake identities for his go-bag, to start, with different sets of clothing for each. For one he even got some colored contacts, though they were hideously uncomfortable.

The last thing he did before embarking on a trip was to make a new fast-travel chair. It was actually quite similar to the old one, just less rickety, and with an actual space for luggage. He stuffed a bunch of MREs in there, because if he had to fly off to nowhere he was probably going to be completely out of energy. Once that was finished, he packed up his supplies and headed off to make the best bolt-hole he could.

He drove his motorhome off to the nearest likely national forest, which took up most of the time he’d allotted. There just weren’t any near the Mississippi River. He had a big pack made up that combined some survival supplies, like food and camping equipment, and emergency backups, like his extra gold and cash, a thumbdrive with all his work, and a bunch of guns and ammunition. It was weighty, but he didn’t need to carry it around until after he’d found his target.

It wasn’t long until he was out of sight of anyone, and began teleporting up into the wilderness of the Rockies, wanting to put more than a few miles between himself and civilization. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to get out into the middle of nowhere, and start planning out his stash.

Most of it could go in duct-taped trashbags, buried under the ground, but the receiver plate had to be out in the open. Some incidental debris would be fine, since the teleport would shove aside anything that wasn’t too massy, but he didn’t want to get rock or mud or fallen branches on top of it. Nor did he want it carried off by animals or accidentally turned upside-down or the like.

His solution was a kit for a small shed. Having four walls and a roof would keep out the weather and the animals, and he could just board up the door since he didn’t need it. It was exceedingly unlikely that anyone would run across it by accident, considering the terrain and his chosen spot being so sheltered, so he was fairly well satisfied. He almost would have preferred a cave, but such things had their own issues, like animal habitation or bad air, so that would have to wait until he was more prepared.

Once he found his preferred area, he shifted himself back to the motorhome and hefted the shed kit. Callum was extremely glad he’d figured out gravitykinesis, since it made setting up the actual shed far easier than it might have been otherwise, working by himself as he was. Having a bunch of effective extra hands meant that he was done in less than an hour, including piling a bunch of undergrowth around the shed to make it even less conspicuous.

After that, he got all his supplies from the motorhome and stashed them nearby. Some he just put in the shed, like the extra clothes and blankets, but other stuff he wanted more secure so he did a bit of digging. In the end it actually didn’t take all that long to cache everything, and even if he was a bit tired and sweaty when he got back to the motorhome, he was satisfied.

Just having such a bolthole was an incredible weight off his mind, but he wished that he had more available to him. If his enchantments were less terrible and if he had more materials, it would be incredibly useful to start building his own teleportation network. Even if he could just teleport back to his motorhome on demand, it would be so convenient.

He mostly daydreamed about that on his drive back, imagining being able to move all over the country, or maybe even the world, at a moment’s notice. Which GAR could already do, so all the ideas he was entertaining had already been thought of by people long ago, and were nothing new. That made him brood on all the ways GAR could use it to get ahead of him, and he spent more time than was useful trying to come up with some way to spike whatever plans they might be making. When he finally got home he deliberately purged that train of thought and set up everything for the work on the shield focus the next day, before finally falling into bed.

***

The telekinesis focus had been bad enough, but the shield focus was murder. Gayle couldn’t really fault Professor Brown, since shield were one of the most difficult and least explained foci, and most of them used specific vis aspects rather than mana. Hargraves usually had a force Aspect, which would have meant she could whip out a shield manually, but with only healing she was forced to rely on enchantment.

Once she was a full mage she could get a far better focus, probably directly from Uncle Caston, one that did use force aspect. Stuff like that was restricted, and while she doubted anyone would care if she had it normally, it definitely wouldn’t work for her opt-out. Only commercial glamour enchants were allowed, mostly because they were required.

“Got it!” She said, holding up the brass plate. She noticed that Brown hadn’t been working as hard as he usually did, though since he’d brought two working versions for her to reference, she didn’t much blame him. If he’d already gone through all that twice, she’d be fed up with it too.

“Fantastic, let’s see it.” He focused on her plate, nodding to himself. It was obvious enough that he had more enchanting experience than he let on, considering he could spot problems so easily. Not that she was going to complain! Without his help it would have taken absolute ages to get anywhere, and of course this way her family wasn’t involved at all.

A faint, icy haze appeared in front of Professor Brown, and he studied it thoughtfully before returning the plate to her. She took it and invested her own vis, feeling the weird sensation of the enchantment interacting with her personal bubble to manifest in front of her. It was actually not that dissimilar to how healing felt, though more on the unpleasant side.

“I know it’s only one side, but that should be enough, I hope?” Professor Brown sounded almost apologetic. “Making an all-around shield, top and bottom and everything, was a lot more complicated and I didn’t understand it all.”

“No, this is great!” She patted the brass. “With this I can go take the test!”

“Then I guess this is our last meeting.” Professor Brown seemed a little wistful, but offered her his hand. “Good luck.” She had to wonder exactly what was going through his head. Of course he’d been paid well, some way or another, but he’d been genuinely nice about it. It made her wish that all her teachers had been so friendly, rather than operating solely on the basis of her House. She wanted to ask, but she didn’t, restricting herself to normal politeness.

“Oh, thank you!” She took his hand briefly, smiling. “But I’ll come by next week to tell you how it went. If they want something more I might still need your help!”

“Won’t they shove you into the draft, though?” Brown raised his eyebrows at her.

“What? No, of course not. Even if I test through now I doubt my duty would start before the beginning of the year.”

“I see.” The Professor seemed thoughtful. He also seemed to have bags under his eyes, and she had foregone mentioning them, but she decided it’d be rude not to at least offer to help. She wasn’t really supposed to do anything significant before getting her full mage status, but it wasn’t like Professor Brown was exactly playing by strict rules either.

“Are you feeling okay?” She asked him. “I could help if you’re not.” He looked surprised at that, but nodded.

“I had a pretty rough week,” he said. “I didn’t want to ask, but if you’re offering, I’ll definitely take some magical healing.”

“Give me your hand,” she told him, and he extended his left hand across the table. She put two fingers on his wrist like she’d seen other healers do, and focused on synchronizing her vis to his. In theory she could do this at range, and eventually without even needing the feedback, but she hadn’t gotten that far yet.

Her mana sight was iffy, as healers tended toward perceiving things other than the complexities of mana and vis constructs, so the only thing she’d seen of his bubble was that it existed. Actually touching it, she could feel that it was not nearly as dense and stable as it should have been, nothing like what a proper mage should be making. Which made her think he was a lot worse off than he had claimed, but aside from the weakness and wobbliness, there didn’t feel to be much wrong with him.

In fact, the vis inside his body was considerably more complex and strange than anyone else she’d healed, and there was a lot of it. He shouldn’t have had any issues with his bubble, but maybe it was just a question of concentration. She sent her vis in to fix everything that was wrong, and he visibly straightened up as some of the tiredness around his eyes went away. Not all of it, of course, healing vis couldn’t substitute for actual sleep, but it had a definite effect. Which was exactly what she wanted.

It would have been faster to be apprenticed to the Archmage, but since she was a Hargrave, Archmage Fane would stretch out her apprenticeship as long as she could. It would be years before she could really use her magic! Obviously Gayle wasn’t about to go out and start healing people at random but she wasn’t going to be closeted away due to some House feud either.

“Thank you,” he told her, smiling.

“You’re welcome!” Gayle beamed. “I think I’ll take this and go call up the proctor right away, if you don’t mind,” she added. “I don’t want this to fade while I’m waiting.”

“Do you have all the rest of the focuses we made?”

“I’ve had to refresh them every day or so, but I have them,” Gayle confirmed. Since they weren’t permanent enchantments and they were made with her own control over mana and vis, they didn’t violate any of the rules about external help or about the availability of portal world materials. She doubted she was the first to think of the loophole, but since it hadn’t been closed she was going to take advantage of it.

“Then once again, good luck. Don’t let them get you down, huh?”

“I won’t,” she said, though she wasn’t sure who exactly he meant.

He gave her a wave as she departed, getting in the car her House had provided her and driving back to the link station. She was actually a little excited, breezing through the GAR station and back home. Jameson welcomed her as usual, but she was more focused on contacting a proctor.

They were supposed to be completely independent and objective, but they were still members of one House or another. The name her father had given her was one Richard Elroe, of House Elroe, one of their closest allies. While he certainly wouldn’t help her cheat, she could trust him to give her a proper examination.

“Lord Elroe,” the man answered, voice crisp over the line. House Hargrave still used landlines for the most part, though she understand that mundane mobile phones intended to supplant them. She didn’t see them as all that useful, but enchanted communicators were another matter entirely, and she couldn’t wait to get her hands on one of those. But like most enchanted items, they were for full mages only.

“Hello, Lord Elroe. This is Gayle Hargrave.” They’d been introduced ages ago, but neither of them were really familiar with each other. Only their names. “I’m calling to request proctoring to test out of apprenticeship.”

“Oh?” Richard sounded very interested. “You have everything on the checklist?”

“I do!” She confirmed, running her hands over the stack of brass plates. “I’m ready to take the test at any time.”

“Well, normally it takes a while to set these up since they’re not regular, but I can probably have something ready tomorrow. What do you think?”

“That’s perfect!” She told him, half-glad and half-anxious that it was so soon. “When and where?”

“I’ll meet you at GAR East at noon,” he told her.

“See you then!” She hung up, calling for her head maid and relaying the time and place to make sure that she didn’t miss it. Not that she thought she could possibly forget. After all the work she put in, she’d finally be able to make it to full mage and get out from under the looming figure of Archmage Fane.

Once her staff had changed her back to something appropriate for wearing about House Hargrave, she went to tell her parents. Well, her mom, anyway, since dad would still be at work. She was a little nervous about it, because while they supported her desire, actually testing out of apprenticeship was pretty much unheard of.

“Mother?” Gayle said, standing outside her mother’s study. It was more out of safety than respect, because Lady Glenda Hargrave had a habit of working on weaponized force spellforms that could make the interior of her study hazardous.

“Come on in, sweetie,” her mother’s voice floated back, and Gayle stepped through the door. The study fairly hummed with protective wards, especially at the back where targets were lit up showing damage patterns. It looked like her mother was working on something splashy, considering the webwork of orange and red coating the blue backstop.

“So…” Gayle said, then decided to just blurt it out. “I’m taking the test tomorrow with Lord Elroe. I have everything on the checklist so I should be able to get my draft and full mage papers!”

“That’s wonderful!” Glenda beamed. “Your study group figured out all the enchantments?”

“We did,” she said, suppressing a smile at the fiction that there was ever a study group and not someone hand-picked to give her the opportunity.

“I’m so proud of you!” Glenda crossed over to her to give her a hug, mindful of the house dress. Glenda herself had a protective suit on, to augment her shields when she was being creative, but she wouldn’t wear that outside the private wing. “I can’t believe House Hargrave is going to have our first healer and it’s my little girl.”

“Mom!” She protested, but not strongly. Gayle was a little bit giddy too.

The next day came both too slowly and too quickly, but she was at the eastern GAR office at noon. Lord Elroe was easy to pick out, what with the House Elroe uniform and the heavy chain of a master mage around his neck and the meritorious service emblems across his chest. He gave her a broad smile and offered his hand, palm up first to show his fire and water pips along with Master Mage of the House tattoo.

“Gayle Hargrave?” He asked, as if it weren’t obvious since she was in full House Hargrave colors for the occasion.

“Yes, that’s me,” she admitted, offering her hand in return. “Thank you for setting this up so quickly.”

“Not a problem, Miss Hargrave,” Elroe told her. “It’s my pleasure.” He gestured for her to follow him. “It was quite amusing to get the testing range open. It hasn’t been used in years.”

“Oh?” Gayle glanced sideways at him, a little surprised the decorated war hero would delight in stirring trouble for the staff at GAR.

“It’s amazing how many people think they know better than an actual mage,” Elroe confirmed. The place he led her was inside the true sanctum of GAR East, since the door they went through needed his tattoo to unlock, but it looked ordinary enough. In fact, it looked a lot like her mom’s study, complete with warded backstop. Elroe waved her to the table in the corner and watched as she got out the brass plates that held the temporary focuses she’d made with Professor Brown.

“I’ll just need you to sign here to attest that everything you brought was made by you, not using any restricted focus designs to the best of your knowledge.” He looked at the brass plates curiously, and Gayle simply smiled brightly and signed.

“Well then, we’ll start with the checklist. Your school records demonstrate your capacity for healing, so we can waive that. I have no desire to slice myself open just to challenge Greyson University’s integrity.” He checked that off, and Gayle was a little disappointed, since it wasn’t like she had too many opportunities to show off.

“Next on the list, light.” Elroe looked up at her and she picked up the proper temporary focus, pushing her vis into it. The ball of light that appeared was not that impressive, but it could move around which was as much as the test demanded.

The rest of the tests went well enough until it got to the offensive weapon test. It was obvious that he was expecting her to use a focus for that too, but she actually had something different for that. She shaped together a ball meant to disrupt the clotting cascade and hurled it at the wall. Considering it wasn’t a physical element she wasn’t sure how the wards would register it, but the black splotch that appeared showed they recognized it at least.

“What was that?” Elroe asked frowning.

“A healing attack!” She smiled proudly. “It’s designed to cause instant onset of clotting. I admit it wouldn’t get past a good shield but that wasn’t part of the test requirements.”

“Hm,” Elroe said noncommittally.

“Is something wrong?” Gayle asked, suddenly nervous. “I know it’s not like a fireball but I thought it would count.”

“No, I just have to check something about that. Might as well finish up and then I’ll go make inquiries.”

“Okay,” Gayle said, somewhat crestfallen, but gamely continued working through the checklist. When she was done, Elroe signed off at the bottom but had her stay while he went to check on her healing ball attack.

It took longer than she’d thought. It was nearly half an hour later that Elroe returned, along with a grey-haired man with hard grey eyes in a black uniform of no House. He simply stood there while Elroe looked at her curiously.

“This healing attack, did you come up with it yourself? Please answer fully and honestly.”

“Well, it wasn’t my idea initially. My study partner told me about how easy it was to destabilize a body and gave me recommendations of what mundane biology to investigate. After that I developed it using crickets and rats.”

“Who was your study partner?” Elroe inquired.

“Why, his name is Professor Brown. Are we in trouble?”

“You may be,” the man in black said, speaking for the first time. “Tell me everything you can about Professor Brown.”

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