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In the end he ended up opening portals end-to-end to get the couple back to the campsite.

Not only did he not want to hang around in case he’d missed something, but the couple had already seen magic. He’d even teleported them, so if they were inclined to spill the whole story it’d be obvious to whoever was in charge that a spatial mage was involved. Given that, there wasn’t any extra harm in using magic to get them back to a place they could rest a little earlier.

“I advise you not to talk of this to anyone, ever,” Callum cautioned them through his portal-phone. It would have been compounding foolishness to meet them in person. Hopefully they would think he was also some kind of fae. “I can’t stop you, but if you do that, I can’t protect you, either. Not a second time.”

“We understand,” the man said. Callum hadn’t introduced himself nor had he asked for their names. The best thing he could do for them was bring them back to civilization and ensure they pretended it had all never happened. He was pretty sure they were never going to hike there again, that was certain.

“Do we owe you anything, for…?” He added uncertainly.

“No,” Callum said curtly. “It’s safest for everyone if we forget all this happened.” He wasn’t entirely speaking to them, either. While he had committed great and terrible violence upon a number of people, it wasn’t something he enjoyed or really took that much satisfaction from. The sensation of watching the fae suffocate still haunted him, no matter how deserved it was.

Callum’s sense of direction, something he assumed was related to his spatially-enhanced ability to grasp relations and dimensions, meant that it didn’t take them all that long to get back. It was a further drain on his already-depleted vis reserves, but so long as he only teleported himself and kept the portals merely person-sized, it was manageable.

“The campsite is just ahead,” he told them. “Good luck.” With that he teleported himself back to his tent, flopping down and suppressing a groan. He really, really wanted to go back to sleep, but he even more wanted to be away from scene of a crime as quickly as possible.

He forced himself to finish packing his bedding, crawl out of the tent, and fold it up. By then the couple had made it to the shop at the middle of the campsite and were on the phone. Hopefully they were calling someone to come pick them up, because he really couldn’t do anything else to help them.

With one last look around he headed off onto the trails, popping away from the mountain the moment he was out of sight. He’d have to take a good couple days off after making his escape, because he was already feeling the all-over fatigue that came of overstraining his vis, but he really wanted to get far away. It was a shame he didn’t have any reasonable way to gravitykinesis himself about, but at the same time, he wasn’t sure he could manage something that difficult at the moment.

Once he got out to a highway, he started walking, taking out one of his burner phones. Since he was limited to one big backpack, he didn’t have too many burners available, both for space reasons and because he couldn’t just spend the money for them all the time. This kind of demanded it, though.

“Hey, big man!” Lucy’s voice came, cheerful as always, which did lift Callum’s mood a little. Not much, because he was still a bundle of nerves and nausea, but it helped.

“Hey, Lucy,” he said, and his voice must have carried something.

“What’s wrong?” She asked, dropping the playful tone.

“I ran into some issues. Can you put me in contact with Chester? You can join in too, I suppose, I’ve got something important that it’d be dumb to keep from you.”

“Yeah, can do,” Lucy said seriously. “Hang on.” There was a silence as Callum hiked down the road. He was hoping to hitch a ride in eventually, but he had some questions to ask first. After a few minutes there were assorted clicking noises from his phone, and Chester’s deep burr came on.

“Chester here.”

“It’s me,” Callum said. He wasn’t sure if his name had gotten to Alpha Chester or not, though he wouldn’t have been surprised. That didn’t mean he was going to say his name over an open call. “I’m out near the Creede fae enclave, and I ran across a group of fae and shifters hunting humans.”

“I see,” Chester said, but that was all.

“And you’re okay with that?” Callum said, maybe sharper than he intended, his nerves still on edge.

“You do not get to speak to me that way,” Chester said coldly, and Callum could feel Chester’s power from the other end of the phone. It wasn’t magic, it was just the sheer authority of someone used to wielding it, and it shocked him out of his dark introspection.

“Right, sorry,” Callum apologized. He didn’t respect Chester’s authority as such, but he had been rude without cause. “Given the shifters, I had to wonder if it was something you condoned.”

“I had heard of that kind of thing,” Chester admitted after a moment of silence. “Believe me, none of my pack would be allowed to indulge in such idiocy. I don’t think King Ravaeb would either, but the Creede area is out of either of our jurisdictions.”

Callum grunted. He wasn’t really happy with that denial of responsibility, but it wasn’t like Chester could be responsible for the whole wide world. If anything, it was probably for the best that Chester wasn’t involved. The man was one of the few supernaturals outside of Winut who seemed a reasonable and responsible guy.

“So what would happen if such a group simply vanished?” He could have been more direct, but he was feeling a little twitchy and defaulted to deniability.

“The entire hunt? Describe who was involved.”

“Well, I don’t know what the official names are, but I’ll do my best. Seventeen pixies, nine shifters. Five treefolk, and nine elf types? Riding fae horse things, with claws and teeth.”

“You need to leave right away,” Chester told him bluntly. “Those are fae nobles. The local monarch will know if they’ve been killed, no matter how well you covered your tracks, and you might end up with a fae king or queen looking over the area themselves. If they can’t find anything, they’ll bring in others. I don’t care how well you hid things, fae magic is likely to turn it up eventually.”

“Oh,” Callum said. “Is anyone else in danger? There are other people nearby, too.”

“I doubt it,” Chester said. “They’re going to be after you.”

“I see.” Callum considered it. He was already on the run from GAR, so he didn’t see how having a bunch of fae out for his blood would be any worse. Then again, more people was more people and the fae might have resources that GAR lacked. He understood that fae magic worked oddly and could do stuff that human magic could not.

“I have an offer,” Chester said abruptly. “You come work for me, I’ll keep those types off your back. I’ve got experience protecting people from the rest of the supernatural word.”

Callum had to stomp on a rude reply. Not that he thought Chester was trying to trap him, but Callum had already seen what happened when he trusted someone enough to be a physical point of contact. The best Chester could do would be to stash him in a safehouse where he didn’t go out, and Callum was capable of that much himself.

There were a lot of things that having a backer could get him, but he’d be beholden to what Chester wanted done, which was something he was not willing to do. The entire reason he’d struck off on his own and was willing to flaunt GAR was to keep from being put under someone’s thumb. Being shackled for his own good was not much better.

“No,” he said. “I appreciate it, but no. I’ll just make myself scarce for a bit.”

“Hard to make yourself scarce from fae lords,” Chester said dryly.

“That makes your offer kind of silly,” Callum replied. “Where would you put me? The Deep Wilds?” There was a moment of silence from the other end and Callum realized it wasn’t really a terrible idea. He wasn’t sure if other supernaturals could even enter any portal world not their own.

“I do not advise you go there on your own,” Chester warned him, as if reading his mind. “Not only are both sides controlled by GAR, it’s very dangerous in the wilds for anyone who is not a shifter.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t. But thank you for the information. And, I’m glad you weren’t involved.”

“What are you going to do?” Chester asked.

“Goodbye, Chester,” Callum said, and hung up. He frowned at the phone for a little bit, mulling over whether he was being too hasty. Or at least, ungrateful, since Chester had actually been trying to help, rather than being controlling or obtuse. Unfortunately, it was better if he didn’t know what Callum was up to.

His phone ringing startled him so much he nearly dropped it, because he only ever used it to call out, and usually powered it down when not in use. He simply hadn’t gotten around to turning it off due to his navel-gazing. It was pretty obvious who the caller was, though, without even looking at the number.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey, big man. You okay? You seem kind of, ah, on edge.”

“I am,” he admitted, sticking out his thumb as the sound of a car came from behind. It passed by him without slowing.

“If you don’t mind my asking, why’d you go and rile up the fae?”

“They were hunting people. People, Lucy. That can’t be allowed to happen,” Callum said, voice coming out harder than he told it to. “I couldn’t live with myself if I let it happen.”

“That’s,” Lucy said, and he couldn’t exactly tell what emotion was in her voice. “That’s a lot to shoulder, big man.” Whatever she was feeling, she didn’t try to dissuade him. Or encourage him.

“I know,” he said. “So I’m going to have to make some preparations. I’ll talk to you later, Lucy.”

“Alright, big man,” she said, pausing a moment. “Stay safe,” she told him, just before he hung up once again. This time he did turn off the phone, sticking it in his pocket and holding out his thumb for the next car coming along the road.

Portal World 2, the shifter’s Deep Wilds, was probably off-limits. So was Portal World 1, Faerie, for obvious reasons. Portal World 6 had him deeply suspicious, and he was not confident enough to brave something that was probably above top secret. But he needed to get enchanting materials and the other Portal Worlds should have some. He just needed to decide exactly where to go.

***

Alpha Chester looked grimly at his phone. He wasn’t used to being dismissed so suddenly, especially by other supernaturals. Even mundanes gave him the proper respect. But that wasn’t really what was bothering him.

“What the hell is he thinking, Lucy?”

“I can’t tell you much of anything, boss man,” Lucy replied, still on the line. “Not that I know myself. He hasn’t said much since the, uh, incident.”

“I’m somewhat worried,” Chester said frankly. “He seems to be getting more unstable.”

In truth Chester had not expected that the man would ever be caught. That he was, and by happenstance, was actually something not well known. But Alpha Chester had enough pull and connections that he’d gotten the identity of Callum Wells and the fact that Callum had somehow vanished from BSE custody.

Mister Wells presented a very strange puzzle. He’d had some of his other contacts dig into the man’s public records, but they’d presented the same thing. Up until the previous year he was fully documented, with school and college records, credit cards, car loans, tax returns. But there were holes.

His parents didn’t match at all. They were too old, and yet the archival photos next to Callum’s made it absolutely clear they were related. They’d died of old age, which had been actually verified by GAR, so they weren’t mages, but only mages would have a son that late in life. Not to mention, there were no indications of what mage family the Wells might be related to. He had to be related to someone, since mundane families hadn’t been allowed near the portals for hundreds of years.

Then, his records with GAR. No mage tattoo, an absolutely bizarre test which was actually redacted from normal access and had required him pulling a few strings to get, and vanishing in the night. It was hard to square his sedate history with the nonsensical magical background and an absolutely terrifying killer that felt confident in taking out fae nobility. Or, alternately, was able to but ignorant of what that meant.

“Yeah, he seemed to be doing okay after he broke out, but he’s definitely a bit shaken right now. He might be going a little crazy out by himself, but I hope not,” Lucy said.

“Someone like that going crazy is not something anyone can afford,” Chester pointed out. “It’s a shame he didn’t take my offer. I really think he needs a safe place to bunker down for a while.”

“You don’t think he’s part of some big renegade group, then?” Lucy asked him idly.

“No. I wish I knew why they think that, but I’m almost certain he’s by himself. He doesn’t seem the type to take orders, anyway.”

“You gave him an offer,” Lucy said.

“I had to make some kind of effort.” Chester sighed. “I wish I knew what he wanted. It’s hard to even articulate a deal when all I know is that he’s capable of incredible violence, and is extremely slippery. I know he claims he’s not looking to be a mercenary but it seems he’s really good at it.”

“You know what,” Lucy said, “I’ll talk to him. If there’s anything I can tell you in good conscience, I will.”

***

Callum was headed overseas. Specifically, to Europe, where a good half of the portal worlds were located. Keeping Chester’s warning in mind, he decided he didn’t have any time to spare. He’d move first and dicker over details on the way.

He put his mouth on autopilot as someone picked him up, someone who was willing to bring him into nearest town, being polite while he considered how he was going to do it. The problem with air travel was that it wasn’t like hitchhiking. Deadheading without an ID was only really possible for small private planes, not big international jets. There were probably private jets making the trip, but he didn’t know anyone with one. Aside from Chester, maybe, and he’d already decided against putting himself in Chester’s care.

Callum would have to stow away, and spent some time dwelling on the logistics. He could probably fit in the baggage section easily enough, but that was unpressurized and unheated. Trying to figure out the best way to deal with that, up to and including maybe opening and maintaining a tiny portal into the cabin, took up most of his trip into town until he realized he was being stupid. If he had the time to rig together some sort of airtight suit or insulated tent or whatever, he had the time to remake his glamour focus.

With a glamour to make him invisible or at least ignorable, all the ridiculous security requirements that were heaped onto passengers would only help him. There’d be fewer people, more places to sit that nobody would have claimed, and nobody would think that someone who was already on the plane had gotten there in any way but through security.

Having to actually steal a place rather than paying for one properly did rankle, but there was no way he could do it the normal way. At least, not in time. If he weren’t worrying about powerful fae on his trail he’d probably wait to get a proper passport ID or something, maybe even take a boat rather than a plane. Admittedly, he had paid for a ticket and never used it before, so maybe he could view this as balancing the scales, but that was a slippery slope. Justifying things just made them easier every time, so he had to make sure this was the last time.

The closest international airport was in Denver, which was quite a ways away, so he just had his ride drop him in the nearest town and he went around getting things together as quickly as he could. The backpack was exchanged for a giant rolling luggage duffel with much more capacity. He kept the camping equipment, since he didn’t think there’d be any friendly place to stay inside any of the portal worlds, and added new clothes, finishing with his electronics, money, guns and ammunition. One nice thing about not flying legally was that he didn’t have to worry about his baggage getting stolen or held up. Best of all, he could actually carry things that would normally be impossible to bring on a plane.

The long hair got cut, the moustache removed, and the beard trimmed into a goatee. He stopped to get a bunch of brass and then called a taxi service to take him to Denver. Or at least partway there; over two hundred miles was a long drive, after all. All that took less than an hour, which Callum mostly spent with his senses fully extended and looking for anything suspicious.

It was only twenty minutes after he’d left the town behind that Callum relaxed at all, taking out his laptop and one of the brass plates to try and reproduce the glamour enchantment. Thankfully, while he was pretty tapped out in terms of vis, enchanting didn’t need much in the way of capacity. Not that he was particularly good at the process to begin with, but the car bumping around was more of an issue than his low battery.

Even cruising along on the highway, Callum felt it was way too slow. Partly because he could go faster, at least when he hadn’t run himself out of vis, and partly because he was painfully aware of the GAR teleport network. If he could have used it, getting to London or Paris would probably be less than an hour’s trip, and that mostly to wherever the nearest teleport was.

The up side of that network was that it was extremely unlikely there were many supernaturals, or at least mages, at the airports. If he could use the teleporters, he sure wouldn’t fly. At least not on a plane. Being able to soar around on the basis of his own magic was pretty appealing, though. Eventually he’d fix the problems with his gravitykinesis and be able to do it himself.

He changed taxis a couple times on the way to the airport, and went through four brass plates until he finally got a working glamour enchantment. Even with a reference, even having done it before, the process was incredibly tedious and involved. A failure to keep up his practice over the past few months certainly didn’t help, either.

Callum paid the taxi driver when he was dropped off at the parking lot of the airport, and took ahold of his glamour focus as he walked toward the entrance. Sweeping his perceptions over the place, he could see there actually were wards up in addition to the mundane security. They weren’t everywhere, and he had no idea what they were tied to, but it seemed at least some areas were protected. There was one faint one across the entrance back of the security checkpoint, which would catch anyone who arrived, and a stronger one at the entrance to a private area deeper in the airport.

That was a little bit curious, but it might well be something like what he was thinking earlier, a place for someone like Chester to get on a private plane. He surely didn’t run everything through GAR, even if the teleporters were incredibly handy. No matter who it belonged to, though, he didn’t need to mess with it.

Instead he ducked into a bathroom and activated the glamour focus. At some point someone might realize he never left the building again, but he was pretty sure people weren’t watching that closely. He threaded through the weave of the ward and popped himself to the other side of security, making sure to appear in a secluded area even with the glamour active.

From there he parked himself at a nearby table and referenced flight numbers and destinations. While it was more important to get going as fast as possible as reach a specific destination, his chosen portal world had its entrance near Matterhorn, so he’d prefer to be closer than further away. Actually looking at the numbers, he was astounded by just how many aircraft were actually going overseas on that day alone, so it wasn’t hard to find one. It wasn’t direct, but at least the layover was short.

He drifted off toward the departure gate, waiting for the plane and keeping his senses extended. It still felt weird to be around so many people, especially since he couldn’t sense any supernaturals. Though in the end, supernaturals were apparently less than a tenth of a percent of the population, and spreading to the portal worlds cut down their presence further.

When he found the appropriate plane, the numbers on the side matching the flight records he’d found, he popped himself aboard back in the stewardess area. There he wedged himself out of the way with the glamour tight around him. He really wished he could hurry the plane up, but all he could do was wait. Eventually, though, it went through the slogging process of boarding and the interminable wait at the runway.

The entire time he’d been waiting for some supernatural to appear on the edge of his perceptions, but nobody did. Only when they were in the air did he relax. It’d be a few hours until they touched down, and he didn’t think anyone would be able to catch an airplane traveling at speed. Finding several empty seats near the back of the plane, he teleported there and settled in for a nap. He really needed one.

***

King Jissarrell of the Moiral Enclave scowled as he walked deliberately through the valley. Lingering remnants of a fight were everywhere, the mana disturbed with the aftereffects of protective spells and treestepping. Yet for all the evidence of a terrible battle there were no bodies, no pieces of bodies, and not even any blood.

He had no great love for any of the noble fae that had met their ends, useless chattering hangers-on that they were, but he did have an obligation to them and their families. The crunch of leaves and grass underfoot was interrupted as his boot kicked a steel fork, and his hand clenched briefly as he turned the offending item into a flitting butterfly in a fit of pique. The useless mundanes and their slovenly habit of leaving detritus everywhere offended him, but there was little he could do about it at the moment.

It didn’t take much of an eye to see the course of the fight. Trampled grass, disturbed stone, the damage to the ridge. Branches broken from saporlings, hair from shifters, even traces of pixie dust here and there. Anyone with eyes could trace the battle, just as anyone with eyes could see there was no record of who they were fighting.

“Remember,” Jissarrell said quietly, and the earth shuddered as it obeyed. The ghostly forms of Anandell and his hunt sprang into being, laughing and chattering away as they followed their shifter guides. Jissarrell observed silently, pacing alongside the cabylls as the hunt found the point where their quarry had turned. They rode forward with only a little caution, not noticing when the pixies all disappeared in the space of a few breaths.

Jissarrel froze the memory with an effort of will, studying the black disks that swallowed the pixies. It wasn’t clear exactly what magic it was, but it certainly wasn’t fae. He would have felt that. Perhaps the human magic, but their clumsy fumblings were usually smeared across the landscape, and they announced themselves with beacons wrought of their own power. There was none of that here.

He let time flow onward, and watched as those same black disks pulled shifters and cabylls underground, though he could sense no disturbance in the ground at all. One of the nobles shot at something on a far ridge, which he would get to in time, and was dropped in turn.

Time once again froze as he inspected the distortion made by cold iron. Its very presence disrupted the magic that reconstructed the scene, but it implied that the black disks could be used to conjure the stuff. Though after seeing certain nobles only partly swallowed by them, and emerging none the worse for the wear, perhaps it was better to think of them as holes.

He turned widdershins and appeared on the ridge above. There was nothing there where the damage from the arrow had been wrought, so he had to turn back time to find the target. It was a scruffy human, barely more than an ape, with overgrown beard and hair and tatty clothing, crouching behind the rock and his right hand fuzzed with the presence of cold iron. When the bow was drawn, he vanished.

Jissarrel raised his eyebrows. That was unusual. There was no bright beacon-smear of power emanating from the man so he didn’t seem to be a mage, but that was clearly the work of magic. He strolled to the point where, later, a saporoling had attacked something, and found the man there instead, still sheltering, but apparently doing nothing else.

The scruffy man vanished once again, just before ghostly vines climbed out from the rocks. Jissarrel surveyed the area, but the only other humans he saw were the prey. He watched them, and saw them eventually vanish through the same holes that had taken his subjects.

That was somewhat interesting; perhaps the pair were important to someone, despite being obviously mundane humans. He would have some of his servants track them down and see who they were connected to. Whatever organization was responsible for this would have be made example of.

In the meantime, he would find the man with the cold iron. That one was involved, personally, and Jissarrel wanted to question him, personally. He would be sure to teach everyone that he would not stand for anyone interfering with his subjects in any way.

Jissarrel returned to the ghostly memory of the scruffy man, scowling down at the hazy outline. Then he reached down, fingers plunging through the surface as he gripped the beating heart within the memory, and tore it out. The outline of the man collapsed as Jissarel held the essence in his hand, an echo of the life it represented.

Good. The memory was fresh enough, and Faerie’s touch close enough, that it had worked.

He wove a cord out of sunlight and strung the heart on it, letting it float behind him as he turned to the nearest tree. Circling it thrice, he was back in the heart of his enclave, the light and airy palace glowing above him. Jissarrel brushed past the bowing and scraping attendants as he crossed to the stables, eyeing his beasts.

“Saddle the windmare,” he commanded. “I may have to cover a great deal of ground.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the sprightling groom said, bowing and withdrawing to do just that. A windmare could cover a hundred miles in an hour, but the mundanes’ infernal contraptions could go almost that fast and the man already had several hours of lead time.

Jissarrel swung onto the windmare the moment she was saddled, wheeling her around in the direction the heart showed and letting her have her head. They were a stiff breeze racing along the ground, blowing through the nearby town and snatching hats from heads as they circled before heading off in a new direction. He followed the heart as they raced along the mundane roadway, leaving a path of frost behind them.

The trail led a surprisingly long distance before it reached its end. Or, not an end, but an annoyance that made Jissarrel snarl. It was one of those damnable mundane airports, where they unnaturally hurled themselves through the air faster and higher than birds. The heart still beat, and he could almost scent the trail going up into the air, but it would be a further journey than he had planned.

He was going to have to resort to something other than a windmare.

***

Aside from a brief bout of heartburn the plane ride was fairly relaxing. He didn’t quite drift off, but came close. The jolt of landing brought him to full wakefulness, and he reached out to the airport itself to get himself off the plane. Like Denver, it had some warding around it but nothing like what he saw around GAR offices. Unlike Denver, O’Hare seemed to have a few shifters hanging around, though whether they were staff or passengers he couldn’t tell.

It did mean he had to be a bit circumspect about his movement. He popped over to inside a bathroom, and fished around for a bit of something he could enchant to cover his tracks. It took him a moment of staring right at the door lock while he cast about to realize that it was metal too, and he could just add a little vortex enchant to it directly.

Once he started thinking about it, he really didn’t need to use any sort of metal scrap in most places. The modern world was practically made of the stuff, so there’d be something handy in most places. Screws, brackets, locks, a car chassis, all that was a potential bit of metal to use because it wasn’t like it had to be loose. Just nearby.

That didn’t mean he could completely ditch his scrap metal collection, because there would always be places without something appropriate, but it did mean that he’d be far better served by choosing his teleportation points with care. The vortex enchantment didn’t fix the residue left by glamours, though, so he turned his off for the moment to prevent the shifters from sniffing him out and wheeled his suitcase out into the terminal.

He had to exchange a bunch of cash for the appropriate currency at absolutely ruinous rates, but that was expected. It was rather unpleasant how fast the money went, even if the vampires had supplied him with a truly absurd amount. Of course, it would have been nice if he could bring his entire cache with him, but he was still lacking in the skills for that.

Then, while he waited, he had a surprisingly good but vastly overpriced meal and figured out his later connections. One of the shifters gave him a bit of a scare while he was eating by heading his way, but when the person came into view it was just a harried-looking manager in deep discussion with an off-duty pilot. The pair strode past the restaurant without even a glance.

The layover wasn’t very long, only an hour and a half, so the connecting flight arrived shortly thereafter. Since it was a triple-seven it was actually extraordinarily easy for him to stow on board by just popping into the crew rest compartment. It was a little room with bunks and not much else, and suited Callum’s purposes perfectly.

He couldn’t stay there the whole flight unless he was willing to keep the glamour up the whole time, and considering that he wanted to get some actual sleep that wasn’t the case. While the plane was loading, though, it was a nice place to hide out. Once they were in the air and the empty seats were obvious, he found a likely place to rest and settled in.

While he did so, he reflected on how absurdly easy it was to abuse magic. At least his magic. Someone with the ability to control fire probably wouldn’t get very far trying to bluff their way onto a plane, but his talents meant that he could bypass almost any barrier in the modern world. He could be the absolute best thief anyone had ever heard of, if he was of a mind to.

Considering he felt guilty simply deadheading on a jumbo jet, costing the airline tens of dollars at most, that was not really in the cards. He wasn’t the only one with such talents, though, and considering the attitude of the supernatural world toward the normal one, there was going to be someone who’d do that kind of thing. The protections of GAR just weren’t enough, since it seemed they mostly only stepped in when it was supernatural interests at issue.

He had no illusions that he’d be able to change any of that. All he could do was deal with people who were obviously preying on normal folks and keep himself safe. To do any of that, though, he needed tools, and that was what he hoped to get on his trip.

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