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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

After escaping from the Guild of Arcane Regulation and the Bureau of Secret Enforcement, Callum has lost his greatest protection: his obscurity.  Now the powers that be know who he is, and hiding is harder than ever.  Nor is hiding a plan, just a reaction.

Now Callum is forced to decide how he wants to approach the supernatural world, and how he’s going to keep himself secure when the apparatus of government is arrayed against him.  Even if he wanted to live as a mage, that bridge has been thoroughly burned, and even if he wanted to live as a normal person, he is far too deep to close his eyes to what he’s seen.

He has to make his own terms.

 

“Man, so, yeah, there’s all kinds of ghost stories down there. Dogs baying and horns in the night, all kinds of creepy stuff.”

“Dude.”

“What?”

“There’s a ren faire there.”

“Oh.”

“I keep telling you, that stuff isn’t real!”

“Ghosts are totally real!”

Callum finished paying for his bottled water at the supply outpost, wishing he could say something to the group of teens chattering behind him. He’d like to tell them that while perhaps ghosts weren’t real, other things were. Real and dangerous things, that he’d just escaped from. But it wouldn’t do any good, and if anything might endanger both himself and them. Instead he just sighed and packed away his supplies before heading back out onto the trail.

Callum really felt his age. For all that mages were supposed to have some unreasonable longevity, he hadn’t gotten any younger since he started using vis. Maybe a bit healthier, but that might just have been down to magical healing fixing things he hadn’t been aware of. The healing didn’t help his back be any less sore when he woke up from sleeping on a cot out the wilderness.

He’d been practically incapacitated for a couple days after his emergency teleport, nauseous and achy and bleary-eyed. Something he hadn’t known about the paste-and-powder method of enchantment was that the stuff degraded. Callum wasn’t sure if it was time or use or a combination of the two, but the already nauseating transfer had become something truly hellish, and he could sense some wobbles in the enchantments that just trying to refresh it didn’t fix. He wasn’t sure he trusted it, but he didn’t have a way to replace it just yet.

His emergency cache had a lot in it. Clothes, weapons, cash, backups of all the literature he’d gotten and CAD drawings he’d made, everything he needed to start over. What it didn’t have was any enchantable material. That was gone, along with his motorhome, a good chunk of his resources, and all the focuses he’d made, both temporary and permanent.

Pleased as he was to have successfully gotten away from the Mages In Black, he was keenly aware of how damn badly he’d screwed up. His greatest protection had been obscurity, and now all the scary magical people knew who he was, what he looked like, and that he was a threat. They knew his type of magic, and they knew what he was capable of.

In hindsight he really should have waited to escape, maybe built on the bluff about the secret organization they assumed he was part of. If he could have made it look like he was being rescued by someone outside the BSE compound, it may have disguised his ability to teleport out of custody at least a little bit. Now, of course, he didn’t even have that, since he really didn’t trust his homebond after forty-plus hours of semiconscious suffering.

For the moment, his only goal was to let the excitement die down. The MIB were probably still on high alert, but they couldn’t remain so for weeks and months. He just had to lay low, be careful, and avoid any place with concentrations of supernaturals. If he did use magic, he needed to make sure that he was nowhere near anyone and that he cleaned up after himself. In a less obvious way than random ball bearings, at that.

Callum could probably have laired out in the mountain wilderness for a while. Possibly for a very long time, just hiding away from the world, if he was willing to. But that wasn’t living, that wasn’t even properly surviving, that was cowering like a beaten dog. Someday, he wanted to go back to Tanner, which he still thought of as his real home. He wanted to walk around without fearing a black ops team ambushing him from the shadows. Even with his newfound abilities as a mage, he still wanted to keep his hand in with architecture, since he genuinely found it interesting.

All of that required that he do something other than vanish to some desert island somewhere, though he didn’t have an actual plan just yet. He just knew he had to do more than hide. For the moment there was an easy cover nearby and something to do while he was thinking: the Continental Divide Trail. Walking it was only natural since it passed not too far from his cache, and nobody would question a random, disheveled hiker who was traveling it. He had no idea what evidence had been left in his motorhome, so he had to write off everything except the cache, and maybe Lucy’s phone number.

He wouldn’t really need magic to just hike, and the places nearby would be used to scruffy strangers wandering in to rest and resupply. While he’d lost a lot of his stuff, he still had a lot of cash and enough changes of clothes to start. The problem was what else could fit into a backpack, since he couldn’t take everything he’d cached and with the homebond on the fritz he couldn’t casually return once he started off.

He had the normal backpacking essentials, which added up to be heavier than he expected, and he couldn’t lighten his load with a little bit of surreptitious gravitykinesis. Or rather, he didn’t feel comfortable doing so. What he really wanted was a spatial container. Callum had only found references to them, so he had no idea how common they were, though his guess was not very. Aside from the teleportation network, it seemed that spatial stuff was very rare. He wasn’t sure if it was a materials or labor issue, or both.

The extra guns and gold had needed to stay. He had zipped up his coat and settled his backpack into place. Considering the time of year, he was heading south. He didn’t want to deal with heavy snow, though he intended to stop well before Mexico on the southerly route.

According to the maps he’d gotten from Lucy, there was only a light supernatural presence in the areas he was traveling. Certainly no vampires or mages, but there was one area that was a distinct fae region, and he’d have to skirt around that. The normal glamours to keep people out wouldn’t apply to him, so he might walk into a place he didn’t want to. There were some places that went through the outskirts of shifter regions, but nobody really wanted to live in a desert.

He felt a little out of place waving to people who were enjoying an autumn hike along the trails, both because he wasn’t doing it for fun and because he’d spent so much time avoiding people. Even when he went into towns he kept to himself. Out on the trail, though, people were friendly, reminding Callum of his hometown but at the same time making him a little uncomfortable. Intellectually, he knew that people would forget him the moment he was around the next bend but any attention made him a bit twitchy.

The up side was that there was absolutely nothing magical in his perceptions. There were just trees, bushes, rocks, and occasionally people. That was quite relaxing, but it also reminded him that he needed to drastically increase the range of his spatial sense. Slightly over five hundred yards was impressive, but if he wanted to be able to catch mages before they noticed him, he needed more like five thousand yards. Which probably wasn’t possible, but he could still do better than he was.

Setting up the tent at night, he realized how much he’d been spoiled by the shed. It might have been small and uninsulated, but it was more shelter than just the tent’s walls, even if it was a pretty good tent. For some reason it seemed absurd that he was able to use magic but he couldn’t use it to make himself more comfortable, even if he dared use as much as he liked.

After a few days on the trail to distance himself, he followed the signs and asked a few hikers, and made his way to the nearest bastion of civilization. There he had his first hot meal in days, and after a shower groped habitually for a razor before reminding himself that he needed to keep his facial hair. The bed and breakfast even let him use their phone in privacy, which he did. Lucy’s number was one he’d memorized.

“Big man!” Lucy sounded absolutely gleeful as she answered the phone. “I’d say you started a firestorm when you broke out but it’s been dead fucking quiet which is more impressive. Nobody’s admitting anything, so you must’ve pushed someone’s nose in.”

“All I did was leave,” Callum said, somewhat amused by her enthusiasm. “Though I’m sure that they weren’t happy about my doing so.”

“Well they got you labeled a terrorist now, so yeah, very unhappy.”

“Terrorist, huh?” Callum grimaced. That wasn’t all that surprising, but for some reason it still hurt. Maybe he wasn’t exactly a hero, but he’d taken care of murderers and monsters. “Sure you want to be associated with me?”

“Bah, they’re just mad you pushed their noses in, big man. Now spill! What was it all about?”

“Maybe I can tell you someday, but at the moment I don’t think it’d be that good an idea. I’m pretty much hiding out for now⁠—”

“Even more than before?” Lucy said. “What are you going to do, live in a cave?”

“I thought about it,” Callum told her.

“Wait, you’re serious? What do you—”

“Hang on,” he told her. “I’m just borrowing a phone for the moment so we can’t chat overlong, but I wanted to make sure that none of you had any troubles after they found me? Pretty sure they took my stuff, and I don’t think any of it implicated any of you.”

“Nah. Well, someone got kind of bothered about the magic books they found but I made sure those were scrubbed before they got to you.”

“Great,” he said. “Next time I call I hope I’ll have rebuilt some of my resources, but I have some requests for research.”

“Hit me, big man.”

“Since the cat’s out of the bag, I want everything you can find on spatial magic and enchanting. Also some way to buy enchanting supplies. Blanks? Material for permanent enchants.”

“I’ll start working on the first, but I already know the second. It all comes from the portal worlds so it’s all highly regulated by the Guild of Enchanting. They decide who gets it.”

“Of course they do.” He considered that and put it off for another day. “Then can you get me all the information you can on portal worlds? And the text of whatever agreements GAR has with vamps, shifters, and fae. Maybe some common knowledge type stuff for dealing with them.”

“That’s a bit of a list,” Lucy said, and he could hear fingers hitting keys on the other end of the call. “Some of it might be harder than others.”

“That’s fine. I have time. Not like I can do anything while GAR is still on edge anyway.”

“You probably could, but point taken.” More tapping at keys. “Give me a few days, and the next time you call me I’ll set you up with a document download.”

“Works for me,” Callum said. “Any advice before I go?”

“Yeah, Archmage Duvall is pissed. She’s a right harridan so, uh, don’t let her get near you.”

“I’ve seen her name online, but I don’t really know who she is,” Callum told her.

“Oh! She is the spatial Archmage. Came up with all the techniques, is in charge of all the spatial stuff. There aren’t any other spatial mages at her level and they’re rare enough that she mentors them all. More like owns them all, if you ask me. You barely hear anything from any of them but Duvall!”

“I see,” he said. That was exactly the kind of person whose brain Callum would like to pick, but if Lucy was warning him off, she was also exactly the kind of person he couldn’t afford to. Besides, even if he didn’t know what exactly being an Archmage entailed, they were clearly bad news. “Well, thanks for the warning. I’ll make sure we never meet. Can you send me information on the mage Houses, while you’re at it?”

He wished that he’d remembered to cache the book he’d gotten on the mage Houses, but no, that was gone. Loading Lucy up with a bunch of stupid simple information requests felt bad, but he wasn’t about to go visit a bookstore anytime soon. Or any supernatural business, for that matter.

“I won’t charge you extra for just throwing you digital copies of books I’ve got anyway,” Lucy said. “Fifty bucks a night, same as usual.” Callum laughed once again, despite himself, then shook his head.

“That works for me, Lucy. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Hope to hear from you soon, big man!”

“Yep, I’ll call you in a few days,” he told her, and hung up. Though he felt a little guilty about cutting her off, he quashed that reaction pretty ruthlessly. Acting like a normal human being against his own judgement was what had gotten him in trouble before. He didn’t want to slip back into the same habits. Lucy was nothing like Gayle, and he didn’t think she’d slip and give him away somehow, but it would be stupid to be too incautious.

He paid the owners of the bed and breakfast with cash peeled from the supply he kept accessible. The excess, something around fifty thousand dollars, was sorted and packed at the bottom of his backpack and took up a surprising amount of space. It was one of the major reasons he really wanted spatial bags. If he was going to have to carry around his stuff all the time, he would have to make hard choices about how much to carry and how much to cache, and where.

Then it was back out on the trail. In spite of his worries and woes, it was actually a gorgeous hike, even if the autumn was maybe a little too crisp for his tastes. With his self-imposed ban on using magic, he had little more to do all day than stretch out his spatial sense and try to go further. It was already clear he had a finer resolution than most, and it was really difficult to focus on range and finesse.

Partly, he used his perceptions to study himself. The nausea from the teleportation had lingered longer than he thought was appropriate, and he’d still not been able to crack his glamour blindness, so a bit of self-reflection was in order. Gayle hadn’t given him any reason to think internal vis was complicated, but she’d also been someone who hadn’t even had their apprenticeship yet.

From what he could tell, vis saturated his entire body, even flowing along with his blood, but there didn’t seem to be anything like a specific core within him. When he extended a strand of vis it just seemed to be from the nearest point, although if there was some generative structure inside him, it was lost among the rest of it. The only major feature seemed to be that the vis concentration in his brain was significantly higher than the rest of his body, and he shuddered away from inspecting that organ too closely.

The best Callum could guess was that his brain, eyes, and ears were so saturated with spatial vis that it overrode whatever magic was coming in with the glamour. Though even that didn’t really make sense, since supposedly he should have developed magical sight as he used magic. What he did conclude was that there was nothing he could do to change himself, at least not without the help of a specialist, so he’d have to let it go for the moment.

Instead, he turned his regard outward. He’d never used his extra senses to just appreciate nature before, though it did lose something since he couldn’t exactly see colors. On the other hand, if he was just relying on eyesight he couldn’t have spotted rabbits, deer, and even a bobcat stalking its prey a couple hundred yards away from the trail.

It was a welcome bit of fresh air, both figuratively and literally, and a reminder that his problems weren’t all-consuming. That his magic wasn’t just for causing trouble and getting from place to place without having to travel the intervening space. It made him wonder if other mages used their talents to just enjoy themselves, like air mages flying around for the heck of it.

By the time he reached the next stop, some three days later, he was in a better mood than before. Less grumpy, anyway, thought he still kept caution well in mind. Instead of just shopping around the small rest stop, he consulted his GPS on a phone he’d never used to call anyone and went to another, nearby town with an electronics store. He needed at least one burner phone to call Lucy, and some wifi to get the documents.

“Hey, big man,” Lucy said cheerfully. “Got your stuff here. Maybe less than you want, some of it is under lock and key, and I mean that literally. No digital copies of most actual magic stuff beyond the basics anyone can find online.”

“You mean the GAR network?”

“Yeah, though I guess you don’t have a login for that? I could make you one, though you’ll need to obfuscate your IP if you use it. Someone might notice an active account belonging to a fake identity.”

Callum could have kicked himself. Lucy had said that she was IT for GAR, so of course she could have gotten him an anonymized account. But he’d never asked or even implied that he needed access to the GAR sites. He should have, but he’d already mentally filed it away as out of bounds by the time he’d met Lucy.

“Yes, please do that. I hope I still have credit with you.”

“Oh, you’re fine,” Lucy said dismissively. “Most of what you want is easy enough, just a little tedious. I’ll let you know if you’re getting low.”

“Thanks, Lucy. I’d be flailing around in the dark without you.”

“It’s nice for a girl to feel appreciated,” Lucy replied.

“Believe me, I always appreciate you,” he told her. “Speaking of, any news on the hunt for me?”

“They’re keeping mum. I haven’t wanted to pry too much because it involves the Bureau of Secret Enforcement, and they don’t joke around.”

“Yeah, they seemed pretty serious folks.”

“You’ve no idea. They’re the ones who go around putting down renegade mages or supernaturals that have started getting too big for their britches.”

“So their name means they enforce secrets, not that they’re secret enforcers?”

“Ehh. I mean, you know about them, I know about them, but I bet the average mage has never heard of ‘em. Or if they have, it’s very vague. One of those things that those who need to know, know. Those who don’t, never will.”

“Kind of wish I’d never known,” Callum said wistfully, but the fact of the matter was that it was inevitable the moment he decided he didn’t want to bow and scrape under some supernatural bootheel.

“Well you’re in it now, big man. Gotta suck it up.” Her tone made him laugh.

“Yeah, yeah. In the process. I’ve gotta sit back and rethink my approach anyway.”

“Ooh, now that sounds ominous. Ready to tackle the big bad secret police by yourself?”

“Hardly!” Callum snorted at the idea. “That’s a good way to get dead. That said I don’t know how I’m going to approach things yet.”

“Well, let me know when you do! I want to know where to look for the fireworks. Maybe win a few rounds of the office pool, laugh up my sleeve at the bosses falling over themselves.” Lucy was rather more sanguine about potential mayhem than he expected, but if she was practically mundane he could see her nursing a grudge toward those who thought themselves her superiors.

“If I can, I will,” he promised her.

He ended up chatting for a while longer. After cooling down a bit more, he’d realized that he needed to have someone he could talk to or else he’d go crazy. Besides, Lucy already knew everything that could compromise so he didn’t have to watch himself or put on some kind of act. She was a small bit of sanity.

That said, when he hung up he made sure to vacate the area quickly. Not that he thought Lucy didn’t cover her tracks, but she was the only connection anyone had to him. Magic could be capable of many things, even things Lucy didn’t know about, and it was faintly possible that someone was headed his way. The GAR teleport network didn’t have any public terminals nearby, but who knew what the spatial Archmage was capable of.

After going through the rigmarole to get the supplied documents and transfer them to his tablet, because it was less battery-hungry than his laptop, he studied them while he ate lunch. Or a small subset, because he had a lot of material to go through. It was good that he wasn’t really planning to do anything else for months.

The technical stuff was too dense to get into over a burger, but he did skim the common information on the Fae since he was going to be near a fae area when he got further south. Callum was dead set against vampires and tentatively on good terms with shifters, but he didn’t know much about fae, aside from them looking fairly inhuman at times.

It was interesting to find out that the whole thing about fae not being able to lie had some truth to it, though it was mostly restricted to fae royalty. The humans that had settled in Faerie had been changed by the environment, but the actual royalty came from interbreeding from other beings that had arrived in the portal world. None of the portal worlds had any intelligent native inhabitants, so far as anyone knew, but they did have portals to further places with varying degrees of stability. Everything that wasn’t completely human ultimately traced back to one of those far distant shores, rather than the portal worlds themselves.

Aside from that, the most interesting bit was that their magic didn’t work like vis, even if the literature claimed all supernaturals had it. Fae could do things completely impossible under magical theory, though for the most part they were not particularly powerful. Not a threat to a competent mage with proper shields and standard foci, Callum translated, but considering he wasn’t that and didn’t have those things, he was definitely going to have to swing very wide indeed.

Once he was fully fortified, he finished his shopping and laundry and headed back to the trail. He couldn’t read the notes while he was walking around, so he stopped a little earlier at night, letting the solar charger top up his tablet during the day. While he got used to sleeping in a tent, it took longer for his new beard and moustache to stop itching. Though, checking himself in his phone camera, he had to admit that he didn’t recognize himself.

His practice with his range did bear some fruit. Though he wasn’t improving as quickly as when he’d first started, he managed to bump his maximum perception from about five hundred yards in all directions to about six hundred, which wasn’t much in terms of range but was huge in terms of volume. Not that volume was all that useful. He couldn’t actually pay attention to everything in that sphere, and most of it was either air or ground so it didn’t really account for much in the end.

It did show that he’d been pretty halfhearted about it back when he was driving around in his motorhome, but then he’d had other demands on his attention. Out hiking there was literally nothing to do but look. It didn’t seem like he’d get the range to spot distant snipers any time soon at the rate he was improving, but even a little bit of extra distance was welcome.

From what he could find in some of the less common literature, even that much range was abnormal. Passive magic sensing was limited to sight, with all the restrictions thereof, and direct contact with vis. People could sense their own magic just fine even without any sensory methods, but that’s because it was basically connected to them and acted like proprioception.

It explained why Gayle’s sensory range seemed so myopic. She was basically limited to her bubble. In fact, most people were without active sensing, so he was really damn glad he’d never revealed how much he could see to anyone. Being able to just sense everywhere was definitely not usual, at least not without pushing out vis and making it active.

When mages did that, their senses could have an enormous range, if one restricted to the appropriate aspect. An air mage could only sense through air, and an earth mage through the ground. That implied to Callum that there ought to be some trick to turning his passive space sense into an active one, pushing vis out to massively extend his range, but he had no idea how to go about it.

Nothing in the pile of documents helped either, because it seemed that almost all spatial magic was in what Callum tagged as House Duvall secrets. Once again, he’d run into the fact that everything advanced was considered restricted, only available to a master’s apprentice or a ward of the House. There was probably a lot of spying and digging going on somewhere, but none of it revealed any tricks to the public.

Callum wasn’t really one to resort to criminal activity if he could help it, but he was probably uniquely suited to stealing that kind of thing. Assuming it was kept in papers and books and not just in the mind. Going after a House’s valuables seemed a really stupid thing to do, though, so it’d remain a fantasy.

Sorting through some of the common instruction that Lucy had sent him, he did notice a rather glaring omission. One that he wasn’t too surprised by, considering his experiences with Gayle. There didn’t seem to be any attention paid to normal science and history at all.

“Well yeah,” Lucy told him when he asked her about it, several days later and some miles down the trail. “Mage Houses kind of live apart, some of them in or near the portal worlds, where the mana’s thickest.”

“Then what about the magical internet? And all the other obviously modern conveniences I’ve seen.” The magical community obviously wasn’t stuck decades or centuries in the past.

“That’s mostly from people like me,” Lucy told him. “House family members who don’t have the gift don’t get magical schooling, so we go out and get a normal education. Plus the shifters mostly grow up here. Some fae can manage it, others can’t. Vamps usually have their thralls deal with anything related to mundane matters, but none of them are stupid. They like guns and phones because they’re handy.”

“All that, but they don’t seem to instruct mages on the sciences,” Callum observed.

“Well, why would they? Magic takes instruction enough, and none of them are going to grow up to be engineers or rocket scientists.”

“…huh.” It seemed obvious to Callum that any standard education should include the basics, but he’d never considered it from the mage point of view. Of course they didn’t care; it wasn’t their world. It was likely that a fire mage would learn about thermodynamics at some juncture, but it might come well into their lives when they were only ready to start making their own spells or something.

“A lot of mages never interact with mundanes at all,” Lucy told him. “I mean, a bunch of GAR people work in offices they only enter and leave by transport network. Houses have servants to supply them. Something I’ve learned working here; lot of people, mundane or supernatural, don’t ever go outside their little circles.”

“They don’t even go on the normal internet?” Callum asked skeptically.

“Some of them do, but a lot of them don’t. There’s no internet access in the portal worlds, after all, plus you can’t talk about anything magic-related on mundane channels unless you want GAR on your case.”

It still seemed unlikely to Callum, but it wasn’t like people had nothing to do prior to the advent of the internet. Besides, the point about the portal worlds was very well taken. Mages only lived half on earth, and the other half was some weird magical realm that might have different rules entirely.

Between his discussions with Lucy and the literature she provided he felt like he was starting to get a bit of a handle on what mages were like. A bit late, but he’d been trying to come to terms with basic magic before. Unfortunately for him, he had an entire society that he needed to learn about, made worse by the secrecy surrounding it all.

The official reason for which was some generic line about how the mundanes couldn’t handle or be trusted with the intricacies of magic. Which didn’t satisfy Callum at all. He had the feeling it was more that they didn’t want to give up all the unsupervised power they had, all their little fiefs and feudal kingdoms.

He spent the next few weeks heading south, reading up enough that he wouldn’t totally embarrass himself when he interacted with people in the supernatural world, and taking out his tattoo. It was not pleasant, but his finesse was good enough to pull out little tiny bits of flesh. He targeted the magic in the mage mark, which he still didn’t understand but could at least sense, and tore out pinpricks to toss into the fire at night. That meant some truly lurid bruising, and it was extremely tedious, but he was able to do eight or ten at a time if he spaced them out well enough.

The double band with its braided motif was essentially gone by the time he reached the pit stop just north of where he’d have to start his detour to stay out of the fae areas. There were a few spots of ink left, and he was still working on those, but he’d compromised the magic enough that it had all dissipated. That was a major relief, even if it meant he absolutely did not fit in as a mage anymore.

The pit stop wasn’t a town so much as a little outpost with showers, water, and a specialty store selling equipment and supplies. For the most part he’d been carrying only a few days’ worth of supplies, but to skirt the fae he’d need a bit more than that. He availed himself of the facilities, looking at himself in the mirror to trim the brown beard that he’d grown. That combined with the moustache and long hair made him look like some weathered mountain-man, not an architectural consultant, which was all to the good. Though he’d probably get some strange looks when he finally strayed away from the trails.

Though he’d become used to sleeping in the tent, things still woke him up at night. Usually it was just rustling from some animal, which he’d quickly see with his spatial senses and go back to sleep. When something roused him just before dawn, it was more than just an animal. It was a whole troop of people, and they weren’t human.

He quite nearly took off then and there, freezing in his bedroll, but all they did was settle into the equestrian area of the outpost, some of the members heading over to the store or the facilities. Callum didn’t know why they were there, but they didn’t seem to be interested in the few humans who were sharing the camping area.

Most of the fae he’d seen in cities were basically oversized or undersized humans, often in different colors, and there were four in the group that looked human enough but had something off about them, making them more disturbing than the ogre types. They all rode fanged and clawed horses, which rather underscored their inhuman nature. They were joined by tiny flying things that made him think of pixies, and a set of five ambulatory trees, with only vaguely noticeable faces set high up.

Then there were the shifters. He probably would have marked them as fae hounds if he hadn’t had a chance to closely examine beast-form shifters back in Winut, because they were all prowling around on four legs. So far as he could tell they seemed pretty happy, and it wasn’t like the fae were holding leashes, so they were probably cooperating with the fae. That didn’t bode well.

He started hastily packing his things, nerves on edge as the fae milled around, watering their unusual horses and eating rations. Callum studied them carefully, alert for any danger, but his exploration with his senses became more and more grisly the longer he looked. Even the most human things among them had too-sharp teeth and claws instead of nails, and the ones riding the fanged horses had something proud and terrible about them even through his spatial sense. They wore ornaments of bone, carved bracelets and rings, the decorations savage and snarling.

He was on the verge of teleporting out of the tent, quite willing to leave it behind and get another one, when he noticed the necklaces. Rather than bone, they were ears. Fresh, and human.

Callum closed his eyes for a moment, then conjured his pistol into his hand, along with the magazines of ironite and silverite. He didn’t have enough bullets to take care of all the supernaturals, or the firepower to deal with them in other ways, but he had enough to make the ones in charge think twice about hunting humans. Or rather, never think again.

He was considering whether he would be best served by teleporting out first, to find a location such as the bathrooms to ambush the lead fae, when a horn blew in the distance. The entire gaggle of fae and shifters jumped to attention and started off again, back into the woods.

Callum cursed to himself. It was one thing to deal with them then and there, and it was another to follow them. If he went after them and whoever they joined up with, he was taking more risks, and asking for more trouble. All he had to do was stay in his tent, and they wouldn’t even notice him. But he’d know that they were out hunting people.

He shrugged his backpack on and followed.

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