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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

Additional chapter Monday!

“You know, if anything I’m surprised it took this long for someone to give them a run for their money,” Shahey mused. “Five hundred years and there hasn’t been a serious threat to GAR. I’ve heard that some have tried before but didn’t get very far. Spatial, though. Kind of odd. If anything I would have bet on a force mage being the one to upset their apple carts.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m even doing that, sir,” Callum said, cautiously sipping at the odd fruity-spicy drink that Shahey had conjured. Literally conjured. The dragon had literally made it from nothing in a dizzyingly complex dance of more vis than any dozen mages could field.

It wasn’t something simple like temporarily summoning water or earth, like Callum had read mages could do. Shahey had created something with complex organic molecules inside of a decorated glass tumbler from absolutely nothing, and as far as Callum could tell it was completely real and solid. Shahey had also demonstrated that he could unmake matter, destroying the dais and pillars in flagrant violation of the laws of conservation.

He knew that each supernatural species had its own unique magics, but he hadn’t run across anything solid on what the dragons could do. The answer, it appeared, was that they could simply create and destroy matter at will. Combined with the immense amount of power Shahey demonstrated, he could disintegrate Callum at a whim.

Callum was being very polite.

“Mostly I’ve been running away from various things,” he continued. “Part of why I’m here, actually. I had to deal with some fae and I was told their king might be on my trail so I figured they wouldn’t follow me into the dragonlands.”

“More like can’t,” Shahey said. “No fae magic here.” He waved a clawed hand through the air. “You basically don’t exist to them now. Not that I want to encourage you to come here, either. It’s still forbidden. You’re just lucky it was me that came by to see who was hanging around the portal.”

“Yes, and I deeply appreciate your forbearance in the matter,” Callum said. He had silently thanked God that he’d known Shahey before becoming a mage, considering the circumstances. On the other hand, it did seem a bit suspect that it was exactly Shahey who showed up, and showed up after giving Callum plenty of time to incriminate himself. Not that he’d accuse Shahey of putting on an act. “I hope that the incident at the gym didn’t result in anything permanent.”

“Well, I had to remake an avatar,” Shahey said with a frown. On the scaled face it looked quite intimidating, though maybe Callum was just inferring that from the suppressing aura that made it impossible to forget exactly how powerful the dragonblooded was.

“Avatar, sir?” Callum asked. It wasn’t lost on him that the dragonblooded and dragons were referred to as distinctly different things. Shahey regarded Callum, looking less like a jovial gym owner and more like something old and alien and dangerous.

“This isn’t exactly a secret, but I would ask you not to speak of it too much,” Shahey said. “This is just a puppet.” He thumped his chest. “Used up the last one with that dragonfire. Which isn’t actually something we do, but I liked the lore so much I had to add it.” He smiled indulgently at the memory. “Anyway, the real me wouldn’t exactly fit through a portal, and just existing over on the other side would probably come with catastrophic consequences. So I have a few of these running around on Earth.”

When Callum had caught references to dragons, they’d just been described as powerful. He’d taken that in the same way that a tank was powerful, or a strong mage was powerful. Apparently he should have been taking it the way a god was powerful. He’d known that he was swimming around in deep waters, going to a portal world, but he hadn’t realized that they were abyssal.

“Ah,” he said faintly. “So those shadows in the distance are your people?”

“You can see those?” Shahey gave him a sharp look. Callum blinked at him and debated how to answer. So far he’d not informed anyone in the magical world of his glamour-blindness, and barring an exigent reason he’d rather keep it that way. Unless Shahey demanded answers, of course, because Callum was rather at his mercy.

“Just shadows, sir,” Callum said. “Nothing more than that.”

“Huh. That’s interesting, though it’s not like we get many mages here. I’m not sure why you can see even that much, though. Maybe it’s something you got from your father.”

“I assume you don’t mean Callum Senior?” Callum managed after a moment, struck completely sideways by the comment.

“No.” Shahey tilted his head at Callum. “Did you not know?”

“I had my suspicions,” Callum said. “Mom and dad were far too old for it to be the usual process. But I never asked for the story because it didn’t seem important. Now, it might. You knew my parents, then?”

“I know everybody in Tanner,” Shahey proclaimed. “It’s one of my project towns.”

Callum made an inquisitive noise. Shahey was more voluble than he expected a massively powerful individual to be, but at the same time Callum had already made it clear he didn’t know much about the supernatural. After seeing Shahey at the gym and as the enforcer of the dragonlands portal, he had a strong feeling that everything was an act.

“All the world’s a stage,” Shahey said. “Brilliant man. Anyway, dragons mostly just watch people. Earth isn’t our territory and we don’t want it anyway, so we’re, in a sense, tourists. We don’t interfere with local matters,” Shahey said, with a level look that made it very clear Callum couldn’t ask him for help “But we might give a nudge here or there to help one of our favorites on a purely mundane affair.”

“So you really were trying to set me up with that lady at the gym?” Callum asked, mind leaping to an absolutely irrelevant matter for some reason. At least he knew he hadn’t been imagining things; Shahey was acting. He wasn’t human and never had been, and all the expressions were put on solely for Callum’s benefit.

“I was!” Shahey laughed. “I didn’t know about your talents at the time. Maybe I should have suspected, though. Supernaturals tend to be more comfortable in each other’s company, so maybe your grandparents had a few drops of blood from somewhere. Fae or mage.”

Callum nodded, a little bit disturbed. Less at the implications for his heritage than at the concept that he was being influenced without his knowledge. Perhaps the reason he’d settled so quickly on Winut, without looking at other properties, was some subtle urging of his hindbrain he hadn’t noticed. Or he’d gone deeper into fae territory than he meant to, just because of that small nudge.

“So far as your actual parents go, really there’s not much to the story.” Shahey tapped a claw against the table, something he’d also conjured. “When Callum and Mary moved to Tanner, they had a daughter. I don’t know what went wrong with her, but she turned into a trollop pretty early on and wouldn’t clean up her behavior. They had a falling out, kicked her out, and disowned her. She vanished for a while, turned up pregnant, had you and left you with Callum and Mary.”

“…I see why they never told me themselves.” It was hard not to take it personally, that he was the bastard son of a woman of ill repute, but at the same time, that clearly hadn’t mattered in the end. He’d turned out just fine, and he owed all that to his real parents, not the biological ones. Though it did raise the question of who exactly the father was, and how much those genes were responsible for Callum’s magic, and glamour-blindness.

“You turned out well, there was no need to weigh you down with it,” Shahey agreed. “I never thought you had any particular supernatural talent myself, so it’s not surprising nobody else did. Though if they’d known, they’d have snapped you up immediately. The weirder aspects are in high demand. As it is, I’m surprised they let you slip away so easily.”

“I was careful they didn’t think much of me,” Callum told him. “It’s much easier to trick someone when they think you’re stupid.”

“Ha! I like it.” Shahey favored him with a toothy grin. “Just don’t be actually stupid, like wandering into our territory uninvited.”

“No, sir, I will not. You have my word I won’t return without an invitation,” Callum said. He meant it. Shahey had been fairly easygoing throughout the conversation, but at the same time, the mana had remained frozen as a reminder of the power the dragon held. At least on his side of the portal. He wasn’t sure if it was a threat or just a consequence of having the attention of Shahey’s real body.

“Good,” Shahey said. “Then it is time to go.”

“Do you have any advice you could offer me before I leave?” Even if Shahey, or dragons in general, wouldn’t help him or oppose him in any substantive way, he might be able to get some useful information. Politeness went a long way.

“If you’re looking for enchanting materials, you’ll want either the Night Lands or the Deep Wilds. Faerie is rather like here, and you won’t go unnoticed.” Shahey stood, waving his hand and creating a staircase down toward the portal out of thin air. “Of the two, I’d suggest the Night Lands. The Deep Wilds are more hostile, and it’s easier to get mordite anyway. You just need to root around at the bottoms of the cenotes there.”

“Surely enchanting material isn’t just limited to bane metals,” Callum said, following Shahey carefully. It was a very, very long way down.

“I suppose not, but I’ve only passing familiarity with the details.” It only made sense, since nobody but mages could make enchanted items. Or even use them, unless they were completely passive. “By the way, you should stop by Tanner again when you get the chance. Nobody there believes you’re some kind of murderous terrorist.”

“I’d love to,” Callum admitted. He still thought about the people he’d left behind on occasion, though he didn’t let himself dwell on it. It wasn’t like he could go back. “But if I did, GAR or the feds would pester them or worse.”

“That’s true,” Shahey said. “I suppose you’ll have to get far more terrifying, enough that nobody will dare to cross you.”

“That’s the dragon way?”

“It is.”

“I will keep that in mind, sir,” Callum said.

“If you want to talk to me again, stop by the gym,” Shahey said.

“Out of curiosity, why a gym? I mean, you’re a dragon, it seems a little ordinary.”

“Because it’s interesting,” Shahey said cheerfully. “I get to meet all kinds of people. I met you, for example.”

“I don’t think I was too interesting before I found out I was a mage.”

“Oh, you weren’t that bad. Admittedly, you’re much more entertaining now.”

That made Callum laugh. They stopped in front of the portal, everything that Shahey had summoned dissolving back into nothing. It was going to take a while to digest the conversation, since Shahey had given him a lot to think about along with a number of hints.

He was a little regretful Shahey hadn’t offered to help, but at the same time, he was glad. Although it wasn’t likely that dragons could exert their full power on Earth, if Shahey did make a move Callum would be beholden to the dragon’s interests, rather than his own man. Callum would far rather take the harder road and remain independent than rely on someone else’s strength to protect him.

“What about the people who attacked you? It seems like a terribly stupid idea.”

“It is,” Shahey said cheerfully. “But some people just can’t suffer wounded pride.” He rolled his eyes. “I might have to go remind someone of the foolishness of such an action. But it need not concern you.”

“Fair enough,” Callum said. “I suppose you’ll just fire-breath them like you did those trolls or whatever they were.”

“It’s kind of funny,” Shahey said musingly. “We don’t actually breathe fire, but in Earth lore dragons could, so why not? It’s a great idea, actually. Very imposing.”

“It is at that,” Callum said, wrestling his luggage around as they reached the bottom of the stairs. It was much harder to maneuver without gravitykinesis. The portal back looked just the same, its magical construction resisting the freezing effect of the dragon’s presence.

“If I may ask, did you make that portal? I’m pretty sure it’s artificial.”

“Alas, no,” Shahey chuckled. “I think we’d have more of them if we did.”

“Huh,” said Callum. That implied that it was a human mage that had made it. Somehow. He wanted to ask more, but there was a glint he didn’t like in Shahey’s eyes that reminded him the dragonblooded was only a tiny extension of a larger, vaster, and far more dangerous being. Especially when Shahey tilted his head toward the portal meaningfully, which was definitely his cue to go.

“I’ll stop by if and when I can,” Callum said instead, stepping toward the portal and pulling his luggage along behind him. “But it might not be for a while. Years, I guess. Any last thoughts before I go?”

“The strong do what they can, and the weak endure what they must,” Shahey quoted at him. “You’re taking the path of the strong. Think about it.”

“I will,” Callum promised, though he wasn’t entirely certain some quote from ancient Greece was entirely relevant. Though considering the architecture he’d used, Shahey clearly had a soft spot for the time period. He gave Shahey one last nod and stepped back through the portal.

***

“This is an official request from the Department of Arcane Investigation,” Ray Danforth said, trying to be patient.

“There’s nothing I can tell the DAI that I haven’t already told you,” Arthur Langley said mildly, but there was no give in his expression.

“There are not many people who had close contact with Mister Chase Hall.” Danforth clasped his hands together. “In turn, he is one of the few people we know has had contact with Callum Wells. We acquired information recently which suggests a new line of inquiry.”

“Oh? What might that be?” Arthur looked skeptical.

“We have confirmation that he has contacts in Europe.” Ray would have rather kept that detail private, but King Jissarrel, who’d supplied the information, had other ideas. To a fae, the idea of being involved in the story of some ghostly murderer was too good to pass up, so he’d been telling everyone who listened. It wouldn’t be long before it reached Callum himself, or whatever organization he had, so they needed to move quickly.

At least Jissarrel had been able to track the airports he used, so they had a number of feds and their image matching programs combing through footage to see if they could find a recent photo. The fae king had provided a ghostly image of his own, but that was hardly useful. Even if Callum hadn’t shaved off the mess on his face, the apparition was a hazy magical conjuration that’d be difficult to process into something the average Interpol agent could use.

“Europe is a long way away. I don’t think anyone here would know about it.”

“Perhaps not, but now that we know there’s something there, we can ask specific questions that might jog people’s memories. Whether Chase Hall mentioned anything about Europe, had an accent, talked to anyone with an accent, any of that.”

“He sounded purely American to me,” Arthur said. “Honestly he mostly kept to himself. Came here for mental health reasons, like I said last time. The only people who had much interaction with him were myself, Jessica, and Gerry.”

“Could you arrange for interviews with them? It won’t take long, I simply want to see if I can get them to recall anything.”

“Hm.” Arthur eyed Ray distrustfully, but eventually nodded. “I’ll have them come by.”

“Thank you,” Ray said, sitting back in his chair. It seemed like the Wells case was the only one he’d been working on recently. Or the Ghost case, as some still called it, since it wasn’t like escaping from BSE custody had made the name any less apt. For himself, he preferred not to romanticize someone as clearly dangerous as Callum Wells.

It took some time for the witnesses to arrive, since they all had jobs, and the results were mutually unsatisfactory. For him, nobody had any information that might hint at a link between Chase Hall and Callum Wells or Europe. He didn’t even think they were sandbagging like they had before, though at the same time nobody had yet admitted they knew anything about the hotel massacre. For them, it was just another round of annoying questions and having to take time out of their days.

When he stood up, he was not very hopeful. It seemed like it had just been a waste of a trip and a day, especially when this was mostly BSE’s case anyway. They probably wouldn’t even thank him for his trouble, and might blame him for the lack of information. He found Felicia waiting outside the office he’d appropriated for the interviews, and she reached out to grip his arm.

“We need to go,” she whispered in his ear, and he nodded, escorting her out the door. He wasn’t sure what she had for him, but it was not something for shifter ears. Ears that were far too sharp for them to speak freely.

They took the teleporter back to GAR, heading into the back to the secure areas that led to the DAI compound. The US branch adjoined the GAR headquarters, so it wasn’t necessary to go through another set of teleport pads. It wasn’t like the BSE black site, which didn’t have any other way in or out. He followed Felicia into their shared office, closing the door and waiting for whatever she obviously wanted to tell him.

“I got the story out of one of the young shifters,” Felicia said. “Clara.”

You did?” Ray stared at her. Her siren blood meant that Felicia didn’t talk too much around others, because when she did it was generally a compulsion. That could be blatant, or it could be subtle. Often she used the former, in her capacity as an agent, but sometimes it was the latter. “Alpha Langley will have our hides. Hell, Alpha Chester will demand them, and get them!”

“It’s fine, she doesn’t know,” Felicia said, waving it off. While sometimes they had to bend the law as DAI agents, fae also had odd ideas of morals. Normally it was fine, and Ray rather liked Felicia, but sometimes she took a line that struck him oddly. “The point is, the victims did kidnap a shifter. Clara. She’s too weak to fight compulsions properly.”

“Oh?” Ray leaned forward, objections forgotten. “I mean, we can’t possibly use the information officially, but what happened?”

“She was teleported out. That’s not what she said, but she described a sudden displacement with extreme nausea. I’m not sure why the nausea, but since we already know Hall was working with Wells, that seems relevant. Also, that Hall came out of a closed room smelling like gunpowder. It’s pretty clear that Wells was playing porter for him.”

“That is some excellent corroboration,” Ray admitted. “We can’t use it officially, but I can write up a report that still gets the necessary information up the line. It’ll be easier to look for two people than one.”

“I’ll make sure Interpol has Hall’s name and information, too.” Felicia said with a sigh. “He and Wells seem to have the mundane act down pretty well so they might have more luck than we do.”

“Time for paperwork, then,” said Ray, turning to his computer. He still missed the click-clack of a proper typewriter, but computers were just so much easier to work with.

“Oh boy,” Felicia said, without enthusiasm. Ray snorted and pulled up the email client, flashing as it was for his attention. There was some of the usual inane stuff, commentary about cases neither of them were involved in, but one of them was from BSE and it caught his attention.

Baiting Callum Wells

Agent Danforth;

I need your input on a proposal for potentially entrapping Wells using known associates. Duvall is pushing hard and the Europe lead is far too vague.

Zhen.

Ray groaned. The Wells case just seemed to generate work out of thin air. He couldn’t wait for it to be over.

***

Fane Sen was in a foul mood. He had not exactly covered himself in glory when he had allowed Callum Wells to escape, but it was in the end a minor matter. Some new and incompetent mage wouldn’t make it far before GAR picked him up again. Except they hadn’t.

Then it turned out Wells was somewhat more valuable than he’d thought. Not only was Archmage Duvall absolutely furious about losing a very rare spatial mage, but somehow the man was a dangerous renegade. He hadn’t impressed Sen as anything of the sort at the time, and even now he doubted it, but he’d read the reports and certainly something had happened.

If anything, learning that Wells was some kind of spatial magic mastermind should have excused the escape, but for some reason it just made Patriarch Fane more angry. Sen was suffering under a cloud from no fault of his own, and a displeasure that had resulted in him being assigned to support the Bureau of Secret Protection that was deploying to Europe. Not to head the team, no, just to play backup, despite his demonstrated prowess with wind and fire.

He knew that the Patriarch had leaned on someone to make sure he was included. Sen wasn’t stupid; he realized that the idea was that he’d be able to redeem himself by bringing down Wells, but he thought this was all rather much for one man. Though it was true he was looking forward to seeing that bastard brought appropriately low.

“It’s all hurry up and wait,” one of the other men grunted, some agent with a completely nonsensical European name, something Polish or the like. The relations between the Chinese mage clans and their European counterparts were not as strained as the mundane ones, but neither were they particularly warm.

“Why do we have to sit here all suited up if nobody knows anything about the guy?” Another complained, though he didn’t stop sorting through his combat foci.

“Because he’s a spatial mage and he’s not going to stay in the same place for long.” Sen explained the obvious, ignoring the answering glare. “The moment we get anything I bet you that Duvall herself comes to deploy us.”

“Possibly, but it’s unlikely.” Zarin, the BSE leader with a surprisingly pronounceable name, disagreed. “Archmage Duvall is incredibly busy with the portal worlds and has better things to do than our job. Besides, she has an aversion to violence. She might make an exception for a spatial mage, but we expect to find more than just a spatial mage.”

“I don’t like how little information we have,” the first agent complained.

“Neither do I,” Zarin said. “But considering what this group’s already done we can’t sit back and wait.”

“What worries me is the reports that he’s associating with the dragonblooded,” said the man with the annoying name. “That’s not something even we should be tangling with.”

“They’re not really that impressive,” Sen said. “My Patriarch has killed several.”

“Yeah? And how has that worked out for him?”

Sen scowled. The feud wasn’t active anymore, but there had been some rather vicious fighting between the dragonblooded and the Fanes around the turn of the eighteenth century. Some of the older members of the House still didn’t like leaving the bounds of the Middle Kingdom.

“That’s just a rumor,” Zarin chided them. “The dragonblooded don’t align themselves with any factions on this side of the portal. If there’s one around, we ignore it.”

“Yes, sir,” said the annoying man. Sen sighed, and went back to checking his foci.

***

Callum wasn’t really eager to go into the vampire world, for many and obvious reasons, but it was clear he had two choices. One was to take a few risks and get the materials he needed to set up infrastructure, or hide under a rock. Even if he chose the latter, all that meant was that it’d take longer for GAR to find him and he wouldn’t be prepared when they did. In the end, it wasn’t a choice at all.

Contrary to expectations, the vampire portal world, the Night Lands, didn’t have its entrance in Transylvania. In fact, the locations of the portal worlds seemed rather disconnected from their mythological sources, as the fae portal wasn’t in Ireland, but rather the Black Forest of Germany. Considering Shahey’s mention that the legends of dragons came before the dragons themselves, Callum had suspicions that supernaturals were not as old as they liked to style themselves.

From the official history he’d found, the fae portal was far and away the oldest, since it had been around long enough for people to actually colonize it, but it was in Germany, which wasn’t generally connected to Titania and Oberon in legends. The Alps didn’t really seem like the best place for dragons, and the Ardennes, in France, didn’t scream vampire.

Those three places were, however, nicely remote areas for someone to experiment without being disturbed while still being close to civilization. Or, alternately, they were areas where a portal could be moved to that were not in the path of common travel. The limited amount of literature he had access to didn’t hint anything about their origins, but there was no reason they’d always been where they were now. After all, he could move his own portals without dismissing them.

He was fresh and recharged after spending time in the dragonlands, so he wrapped himself and his luggage in his vis and started teleporting northward. The one ID he had was only good for the states, certainly not for Europe, and he wasn’t sure how well just paying cash or hitchhiking would be taken. They were used to American tourists, certainly, but he didn’t have a passport and he wasn’t sticking to the tourist traps.

That said, it was still two hundred miles from the Matterhorn to the Ardennes, which was a fairly long haul. If he could take what Shahey said at face value then the fae shouldn’t have been able to track him after he entered the dragonlands, and the same would be true in the Night Lands, but it was a tossup as to whether they could locate him in between.

Accordingly, he traveled quickly, with his senses spread wide, ready to head off in another direction if he caught a hint of anything supernatural. Even if the area was remote and so perfect for a fae enclave, the preponderance of dragonlands mana probably kept them away. Even so, he made sure to teleport to spots screened by trees or brush, because he’d learned his lesson about snipers.

An hour or so later, he’d slowed down on his teleports as there didn’t seem to be any pursuit happening. With a little bit of breathing room, he decided that he’d be perfectly capable of fleeing from a moving train if someone did catch up to him, so he made his way to a train station and bought a ticket to Basel. He found his nationality and complete inability to speak anything other than English was not a problem, though he was warned that crossing the Swiss border was a little more involved. Not that he had to worry much about that.

The train ride gave him a little bit of time to try and ponder the new insights he’d gotten from the portal worlds, but he didn’t have the ability to actually practice anything. He’d leave smears behind him in the mana field as the train moved, and he still felt that masquerading as an ordinary person was the easiest way to hide from supernatural attention. Instead he got out his laptop, reading up on the Night Lands while the back of his head marveled at how bizarre the encounter with Shahey was.

There was no telling how old the dragonblooded was, but by his own admission, Shahey had been in Tanner throughout Callum’s entire life. It was hard to believe the dragonblooded didn’t know more about his parents or even Callum’s talents, but at the same time he wasn’t someone Callum could push for answers. Although, Shahey had been remarkably forthcoming about the nature of dragons and Callum’s parents, which made Callum wonder what exactly Shahey was trying to manipulate him into doing.

Unfortunately, he didn’t know enough to figure out what Shahey’s angle was, or if he was just messing around. The uncertainly made him even more anxious, chewing his lip as he looked out the window at the landscape passing by. Eventually he wrestled his thoughts back around to being careful in the moment, rather than in the future.

Each time the train entered a major city, he got a little twitchy because there were obviously supernaturals around, and he ended up teleporting off the train before it actually arrived at the station. There were too many mage trails to be comfortable and some obvious fae, so he decided to circle around and pick up the train on the other side whenever there was such a stop. While he’d done it before, teleporting from a moving place to a stationary one or vice versa was a bit weird, the relative positions changing constantly.

He wasn’t sure what happened to the velocity difference, but he certainly felt no deceleration. It did imply that he ought to be able to fling stuff if he had a moving teleport anchor, though the logistics for that were somewhat fraught. It was one thing to have himself and a stable piece of land to reference, it was another thing to move the framework willy-nilly. Portals might be better, and he added that to his notebook as a topic of practice.

Callum got off the train for good just before he reached Basel, leaving behind a cleanup enchantment in the screws of the seat he’d been using, and made his way northward a few score miles until he found a French train station. There he purchased another ticket, one for his real destination of the Ardennes. Something he did note as he traveled was the shifting mana as he passed by the fae portal, somewhere over in Germany. Even though he couldn’t really tell the difference between the different types, there were definite currents.

With the precautions he was taking, there were only two times when he got really alarmed. Both times he saw mage bubbles moving in his direction and he popped himself orthogonally a few times and waited to see if he was followed. Fortunately he wasn’t, but that still was an unpleasant experience.

Callum wished to himself that he could afford to be less jumpy as he finally got off near his stop. Just like when he was near the Alps, he could sense a higher flow of mana coming from somewhere out in the Ardennes. Also like the Alps, it was quite picturesque despite the chilly weather and he wished he had the time to actually enjoy it, rather than blaze through as fast as possible.

He sighed and headed inward toward where the map marker placed the portal, though with somewhat more caution than he had approached the dragon’s portal. He expected one that was actually trafficked would have more infrastructure, and indeed it didn’t take him long to find the edges of a ward. Of course, it was made easier by how quickly he could move with teleports; as far as walking went it would have been quite a trip.

Unlike the dragon’s portal, the vampire portal was a full GAR installation, which was actually more worrisome than actual vampires. He had a number of advantages, but enough people and defenses could make any kind of infiltration impossible. No matter how much he needed materials, if it was too busy he wouldn’t even dare.

Upon actual surveillance, though, it wasn’t actually that large a compound. While he was intellectually aware of how much the teleport network changed things, it was weird to see a large building off in the woods and completely disconnected from anything else. At the very least it should have been a small town, if it was a staging point for the draft and a connection to one of the major supernatural races, but it wasn’t.

The building reminded him more of a courthouse than a castle, large and squat with a single oversized story, the walls all a single piece of smooth stone. There was only a single set of windows by the door, which was a heavily reinforced number facing north. It was pretty boring to look at, really.

The outer wards were probably actually glamours, designed to hide the place from prying eyes. They didn’t have the rotating connections that he’d seen in more advanced wards, and were just a loose screen that was easy to get past. Beyond those there was some heavier warding that seemed like actual security systems.

Even if there weren’t any windows he located a tree for cover before he teleported himself through the outer wards, so he could bring the entire building inside the range of his perceptions. It took him a while to see through the weave of vis that made up the security ward, but the interior wasn’t complex either. The actual portal was in the center, inside of a room that looked fairly fancy and even included a ramp going through the center of the portal to the other side. There was a guardpost set at the door leading into and out of the room, with some complex enchantments that he couldn’t even begin to puzzle out.

That guardpost had a pair of mages, but neither of them seemed to notice Callum. In fact, they were reading and not really paying attention at all. The rest of the building was given over to facilities for the guards and a set of GAR teleporters. One of the normal ones, and one that had a far, far larger pad, presumably for cargo. It did make sense that they didn’t need more than a set of observers and access control on the Earth side of the portal, but it still felt weird.

The portal itself was not the same as the one which led to the dragonlands. In a way that was obvious; it was some other weird dimension, of course it wouldn’t be the same. But it was also a massive tangled snarl of mana rather than the coherent and structured ring of the dragonlands. At a guess, it was actually natural, or mostly natural.

There were structured portions tacked onto the snarl, possibly so it could be moved, and the weird twists and turns of the rest of it were, after a closer look, not actually random. While it was still complex, he could see some familiar patterns. The actual portal anchor structures; the bits that pulled in mana to fuel it; all the usual features were there. They just looked messy and were probably very inefficient, but he could at least believe they’d been made by natural processes.

On the other side of the portal was another, larger room, which he assumed was likewise guarded or at least controlled. That could have been a serious issue, since he absolutely needed to get through unobserved. He was confident he could bypass the wards, but less confident he could bypass actual observers.

Fortunately for him, the vampire portal was positioned very similarly to the one in the dragonlands, where there was a definite front and back. Though the area around it was artificial rather than natural, there wasn’t a wall flat against the unused side of the portal. It made sense, since the actual rim was thicker than the flat plane of the hole it made, but the upshot was that there was a few feet of empty space that he could hide in.

Before he went in, he made sure to charge up his emergency escape. It wasn’t pleasant to deal with, but if he got caught sneaking in he’d need to use it right away. Once the focus was tingling unpleasantly, he sent a thread through the gaps in the warding and popped himself behind the portal.

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InadvisablyCompelled

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