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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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Callum spent a few hours driving around Miami to get the last of the materials he needed to deal with the GAR office. A big plastic office jug that he filled with seawater, some shears, and inflatable mattresses to fill the back of the U-Haul. The last was mostly to make sure the Connors didn’t land on anything hard when he pulled them out, as they weren’t likely to be braced and ready for a teleport or portal.

Plus, it was pretty likely they wouldn’t be up to moving around much, considering how traumatizing his teleports were for others. He clearly wouldn’t have time to make the clumsy and clunky tube version of his magic, even if it would be more comfortable for them. Unfortunately for their comfort, the back was also fairly well fumigated with patchouli oil, for two good reasons.

The primary one was that Lucy had suggested it to him as a way to sabotage shifter or even vampire scent abilities. It would smell very strongly and so be very obvious to such superior senses, but at the same time would be almost impossible for a shifter to pick out a particular person’s scent, making identification difficult. Besides that, if the Connors got sick from the teleportation, well, it’d help cover that up too. Not that it would fool skilled trackers like the ones Chester had sent after him, but it’d drown out human scents in a casual survey.

The rest of the back of the van was mostly taken up by the chair, with all his enchanting stuff and weaponry packed into it, along with less important bags with clothes and toiletries and snacks. He’d originally intended to turn in the U-Haul after hours and teleport the keys back out, since it was paid for up through the next day and he wouldn’t feel too bad about a couple extra hours. But the lot was absolutely covered with cameras and he could think of no way to sneak the van out without causing even more issues for himself.

In the end he had to fall back on anonymity, because there was no reason for people to try and check random moving vans multiple miles away from the target location. Trying to finesse the van thing would probably just draw attention to it, if people noticed it disappearing and reappearing. In the end he’d just have to drive it in and drop it off normally.

It would have been amazing and perfect if the drop-off was within range of the GAR building, but such was not to be. Instead, his staging point would be a gas station, and then he’d proceed past the fae-owned bank and drop off the Connors before disposing of the moving van. He was hoping he could just hide out until normal business hours and rent a new van, from a different place, but if he needed to use the flight chair to escape, he would.

With that, he was prepared for a few bits of inspired sabotage. He hoped that taking out the central nexus of the wards and the portal that supplied the extra mana would crash the ward-lines, but if not, he could physically disconnect them. While he couldn’t take down any wards that weren’t connected to the box, he could just thread his way through them so all they could do was inconvenience him.

The actual teleport network he waffled over a bit, because he could target just the physical component holding the spatial enchant. The teleportation circles were incredibly complex, but ultimately, that was the lynchpin that made it all work. If he did that, it would reveal he knew how the teleportation networks worked, whereas if he just destroyed everything, it would reveal nothing.

On the other hand, it risked a lot of collateral damage, which was something Callum wanted to minimize. Someone would be cleaning up after him, after all. There was a difference between doing a job, and making a mess. He decided to compromise by targeting a number of important-looking spots, rather than just the single one. That would imply a degree of knowledge, but perhaps not a precise ability to target the most glaring weakness.

It was good to hold some cards in reserve.

What made it far easier for him was that the teleportation enchantments had built-in maintenance access. It was magically protected, true, but there was a lot of stuff to make it run, and he’d had proof himself that enchantments didn’t last forever. The pure materials lasted far longer, but he didn’t think everything was made out of pure bane metal, so there was still degradation.

Beneath the teleportation setup there was a maintenance room, or really, a maintenance closet, which had plenty of access to the enchanted portions from below. There seemed to be clever mechanical things to slide them out and probably replace things piecemeal, but all he needed was a place from which to do some damage.

Callum didn’t exactly have a ten-step plan, but he did run through the action items in his head half a dozen times before he shifted the moving van into gear and started to maneuver through the late-night traffic. Even in Miami, the witching hour wasn’t exactly bumper-to-bumper, so it was a bit of a worry that a U-Haul moving around at that time would stand out.

Nevertheless he made his way along streets, stopping at the lights and stretching his perceptions to try and make sure there was nothing untoward going on. Not that he knew what the usual patterns were and there were far too many people within his sphere of perception, normal and not, to pay attention to anyone in particular, but he was still wary of being ambushed. Callum was already regretting dealing with Ferrochar, even if it was necessary. He felt like he had a target painted on his back.

It was best to be done quickly, then. His path brought the GAR office into the extreme edge of his range, some six hundred yards away, something like three blocks between him and his target. It took him a few minutes to work his perceptions back through the ward and shield walls, if not as long as the first time, but a quick sweep assured him there was nothing too amiss. The Connors were still in their cell, people were still at desks, and while there was a large group of shifters hanging out in the lobby, they didn’t seem to armed or armored. If anything, they seemed to be janitorial, but he wasn’t sure why there were so many.

He left that worry to another day and focused on the ward nexus, his first target. The central connection was a box with a bunch of trays inside it with enchantments. It reminded him a bit of very old analog computers, or maybe electrical junctions, more than electronics. There was someone in the next room monitoring it, a vis link going to one of the enchantment sections of the box, but so far as Callum could tell the guy wasn’t paying much attention.

Apparently Ferrochar hadn’t passed along a memo.

Very carefully, Callum slipped his vis in, threading it all the way to the interior of the ward box, and then reached back for some of the water from his jug. Not to drink, of course; it was his latest trick. As with every trick he’d figured out, it was something he preferred to keep in reserve, though he was pretty sure that any investigators would have issues figuring out exactly what had gone on given the scanty evidence.

Or maybe they wouldn’t, since they would have the whole knowledge base of magedom to draw on and he doubted any of his tricks were completely unknown. The only thing that might well be novel was his perception, and the size of his vis threads. Which he figured were connected, since if the ward he’d tapped into once before was any guide, mages had a much lower resolution and they’d have to use larger vis structures. Either way, he suspected they would have to strain themselves to understand what he was doing.

First he made a little box of flattened threads inside the jug of water, maybe half an inch on each edge, and stuffed it full of vis to expand the space inside. The volume of seawater in the jug dropped as it filled the suddenly-larger interior of his vis box, and he held the construct in place as he layered on two more pieces of spellwork. One was a bit of gravity, drawing the water in toward the center of the box rather than letting it fall down through the vis construct, and the other was a teleportation framework.

After all, it was all his own vis, so if he was careful none of it really interfered with itself.

That teleport went into one of the pieces of equipment he’d brought with him, a small but robust steel casing. The water just about filled the space inside, and with that he made a teleport framework on the end of his vis thread and shoved the makeshift grenade through. He let both constructs drop immediately, the magic holding them in place dissipating, and there was suddenly too much water for too little a space.

The ward box exploded.

So far he didn’t have much of an expansion or compression ratio, however it was termed, but really any amount of too much inside to outside was an explosive proposition. Of all the things he’d tried, liquid was the best. Gas just compressed itself or, at most, sprang a leak, while solids were somewhat tricky. Metals actually held onto the compression framework a little bit, so the expansion was slow. It destroyed the capsule, alright, but it didn’t really pack the punch he had hoped for.

Wood was slightly better but it had a tendency to crunch and, once again, not pack the punch he’d hoped for. Besides, cutting blocks of wood or metal to size was tedious, when he could just use any old bucket of water and let the teleport take care of the portioning.

In the grand scale of things it wasn’t even that good a weapon, at least not until he could scale things larger. Frankly a bullet was more lethal in general, especially since if he could put a teleport somewhere, he could generally put a bullet there too. But some way to improvise explosives was extremely useful, especially when all that was left was water and a bit of random metal scrap. Scrap he could always add a vis cleanup enchantment to.

The detonation crumpled and distorted the various trays in the ward box, thoroughly trashing the actual enchantments and immediately sending ripples along the ward-lines. Unlike an electrical wire, the failure cascade happened slowly, far too slowly for him to sit and watch. The portal enchantment was anchored on the top of the ward box, and its collapse was rapid, vanishing in a burst of mana.

The mage that was supposed to be monitoring it reeled backward, scrambling to his feet as a shield and other conjurations spun up out his vis, but Callum was already moving on. He deposited another three spatial bombs into the maintenance closet, one directly below the plate that held the actual teleport pairing and the other two at some complicated-looking nexuses of enchanted material. The impromptu bombs weren’t powerful enough to actually break any of the material, but it scored, bent, and distorted, and that was sufficient. He knew from experience that even minor deviations from the required geometry would make an enchantment unusable.

In the few seconds it took for him to lob his follow-up grenades, the ward-mage had triggered some kind of alarm, to judge from the way everyone inside the office jolted and swiveled around. The shifter janitors grew into their warforms, becoming ten-foot-tall monstrosities, but there were two rows of buildings between Callum and the office, so they had nothing to attack. If they did manage to target him, that amount of space was less reassuring than it might seem. He’d seen how fast they moved.

The difference between normal human reaction time and that of other supernaturals was on clear display. While the mages were still fumbling with phones and things, the vamps were already out surrounding the building, while pairs moved at absurd speeds to sweep through the building. They blurred through the offices, the front desk, the storage areas, and of course the ward and teleport rooms.

It was a clear they were executing some pre-planned emergency drill, which focused on the sensitive areas of the offices, the personnel and the magical infrastructure. The cells in the basement were an afterthought at best, which was good for him. That gave him the time to wrap his teleport framework around the Connors and pull them into the back of the van, letting them drop onto the patchouli-smelling air mattress.

His last act was to drop a small pin with the cleanup enchantment inside the Connors’ old cell. While it wasn’t like he could hide his involvement in the jailbreak, removing evidence where he could made him feel more secure. The metal scrap from the grenades had a few intact cleanup enchantments, since he’d put several on them ahead of time, and with all the magery going on over there they’d probably be enough to reduce his component down to barely detectible levels. Then the light changed, and he drove on, headed directly away from the office.

It was as well he did, because a set of vamps and shifters, followed very belatedly by mages, began searching the surrounding area. Just before it slipped out of his range of perceptions, he caught the teleport area surge with mana before the nascent threads of spellwork collapsed. They wouldn’t be getting any reinforcements that way.

“What— urgh.” Leo Connors’ nauseated voice came from behind him, from the darkness of the van’s rear. “Man, what is this, who, I mean—”

“I’m moving you to a friendlier place,” Callum replied, glancing at the forms of the two through the rearview mirror. He almost ran a red light as he kept a survey with his perceptions, having a hard time focusing on everything going on, including the pair he’d stuffed in the back of his van. Supernaturals were swarming out into the open as the ward-lines faded, including flying fae zipping around overhead. Some were pixies, but there were larger and less humanoid things as well, even a mounted noble flashing through the upper part of his perception sphere on some amorphous mass of fae magic.

“Wait, you! I thought you— urgh.” Callum could guess at what Leo was saying, though all Danika could manage was a pained moan in what Callum guessed was agreement with Leo’s questions. “What the fuck is all this?” Leo continued, trying to prop himself upright on the mattress. “Why are these things after us all the time?”

“Unfortunately, you got caught up in my problems,” he explained. It really did need some comment after he’d told them he couldn’t help them anymore.

“Why? What did you do?” Leo managed to get out as Callum continued driving as casually as he could toward the financial district.

“That’s not important,” Callum said. It’d take too long to explain, and besides, he wasn’t sure how much they’d believe or empathize. Sure, they’d encountered the supernatural, but there was no telling exactly how much they knew or how well they were dealing with it. “What matters is I made a deal and you can go back to your normal lives.”

“That’s,” Leo wheezed. “That’s not good enough, man. The hell am I supposed to do when something jumps out of the wall and⁠—”

“Dear,” Danika interrupted, faint but firm. “Please don’t yell at the guy who’s saved us twice now.”

Callum sympathized with Leo. He’d been pretty indignant when the supernatural world had come knocking at his door, and if that had happened when he’d still been married, he would have been even less sanguine. That didn’t make it any less tiresome to deal with though.

Callum drove on, and had gotten to the next stoplight when a big wall of twisty fae magic flared behind him and some sort of barrier went up over the block or so surrounding the GAR building. A glance in his side mirror showed nothing visible, but then, they probably wouldn’t want it to be. Undoubtedly there was all kinds of magic visible to mages and possibly other supernaturals, but not to normal people and not to him.

“There’s too much to tell you and not enough time,” Callum said distractedly. “I’m taking you to the people that should protect you from everyone else. You’ve already seen there’s supernatural out there, and most of it doesn’t care about normal people.”

“Yeah you’re not kidding me! Man, this can’t be legal or whatever, we didn’t do anything!”

“I know,” Callum said. “But—”

“And why the hell does it smell like weed in here? Are we tripping or something?”

“No,” Callum said firmly. “It’s to hide your scent in case shifters come around.”

“Hide our what? You’re fucking kidding me⁠—”

As far as Callum could tell he hadn’t done anything suspicious, but maybe just driving around in van late at night was enough, because a police strobe lit up behind him. He almost stomped the gas, but instead managed keep control and not immediately rear-end the car in front of him. A thousand thoughts flickered through his head, but he couldn’t really act on any of them because there were still supernaturals within his perceptions, and he didn’t dare teleport or activate his glamor.

He had hoped that the police car would pass him, but no such luck, and Callum grimaced and pulled off to the nearest parking lot. Of his options, that seemed the best considering the supernatural presence about. The man in the police car wasn’t supernatural, so Callum wasn’t that worried about him as such, but if he had to teleport out things might get sticky. He’d have to see if he could bluff his way through or not.

“We’ve got cops,” Callum interrupted.

“Can’t you just magic us away?” Danika asked.

“Not without attracting attention,” Callum said, keeping his senses focused on the police car. “But I will if I have to.”

He scanned everything nearby, looking for the faintest hint of supernatural suspicion, but none of the fae or even mage figures overhead seemed to concern themselves with a mundane traffic stop. In fact, Callum realized, if the cop wasn’t looking for anything supernatural, that would be fantastic cover because no mage would bother with what they considered mundane authorities.

“I guess we can’t tell the cops we were kidnapped,” Leo said with disgust.

“Maybe just pretend you’re high or something?” Callum suggested.

“Haven’t done that since college,” Danika said, a little wistfully. Callum suppressed a shake of his head. College was so long ago for him that he could scarcely imagine it.

The minute or two it took the cop to get out of the car stretched to an eternity, as Callum was afraid of searchers coming up behind them, but the greatest concentration of activity was happening closer to the office, several blocks away. How long that would be the case, he didn’t know, but he could feel time ticking away as the officer leisurely got out of the car and came up to the side of the van.

“Late night moving?” The officer inquired in exactly the tone of voice that set Callum’s teeth most on edge. In a previous life he probably would have been mildly obstreperous, if not outright curmudgeonly, but this wasn’t West Virginia and he really needed to get this over with as fast as possible.

“Just bringing these two home,” Callum said, hiking a thumb toward the back. He still hadn’t gotten a good look at the Connors, despite being able to survey them with his spatial senses. It was hard to discern how disheveled they looked just from a sense that was closer to touch than sight.

The policeman clicked his flashlight and leaned into to shine it on the rear of the van. In the rearview mirror he caught the pinched and squinting faces of the Connors. They really did look like they’d had a couple rough nights, but more of the drunk and hungover type than the kidnapped by supernatural forces brand of rumpled. Danika, particularly, was a bit red-faced and baggy-eyed.

“What’s going on, man?” Leo said, and Callum’s jaw almost dropped at the way Leo suddenly sounded about one quarter as intelligent as he had before. He had abruptly become a stereotypical stoner or hippie or other late-night druggie. Danika added to the illusion by giggling, which made Callum wonder whether they’d actually done this sort of thing before.

“You people know you’re not supposed to drive around without seatbelts, right?” The officer said mildly.

“But it’s so comfortable back here!” Danika complained, almost hitting a valley girl type accent. Callum kept his mouth firmly shut and let his passengers play the bluff. Part of him was surprised they had the presence of mind to come up with a cover story themselves, but they couldn’t be that far out of college. Perhaps their hard-partying days were still fresh in their minds.

“Right,” the officer drawled. Callum could see him weighing the merits of dealing with a pair of stoners versus getting back to whatever else he was doing at that time of night. Eventually, laziness won. “Look, you need to wear a seatbelt. Don’t fuck in the back of a moving van. Get out of there and take a proper seat.”

The Connors glanced at each other and Danika squeezed herself forward to sit in the passenger seat, while Leo sat down in the flying chair where it was crammed against the other side of the van. There wasn’t a seatbelt, and the thing wasn’t even properly secured to the floor, but that seemed to be good enough.

“I’ll give you a warning now, but don’t do this again.”

“Sure, man,” Leo said.

“And you,” the officer said, looking at Callum. “Make sure you clean this damn thing out before you return it.”

“Yessir,” Callum told him, doing his best to look put-upon. The officer thumped the side of the van and returned to his car, and Callum checked the traffic before starting off again.

“Huh. You’re shorter than I expected,” Danika said after a moment. Callum glanced sideways for a moment before returning his eyes to the road. Of all things to say, that was one he didn’t have any ready reply for, so he elected to ignore it.

“We can’t really talk here, wait for a bit,” he said. Although if someone was really supernaturally surveilling all the conversations, Leo would have already made that theoretical listener suspicious. Callum wasn’t going to compound that risk, though.

Surprisingly, the Connors did keep their silence through the next few red lights. The fae and mages zipping around in the air seemed to mostly converge on the GAR office, which they were steadily leaving behind, though thinking of it as a crowded sky was not actually correct. There had been a dozen or two pixie things, but he’d only spotted four or five mounted fae and an equal number of flying mages. Which was still quite a lot, but he was sure an assault on a GAR office was an all-hands-on-deck situation, and the aerial forces he’d seen probably represented everyone in the city.

Another block, and something big rushed through Callum’s perceptions. It was clearly fae magic, all liquid and twisty, a massive wall of it rushing at him from somewhere ahead. He barely had enough to tense up instinctively before it was over and past, receding into the distance. It didn’t interact with him at all, so far as he could tell, but that was enough to start him charging his emergency teleport. He’d stirred up something really big.

Of course he had; he’d stolen prisoners from a government building. There was a difference between knowing that and seeing some grand working coming from the fae. Considering his deal with Ferrochar, Callum had no idea whether that huge chunk of magic was meant to prevent mischief or cause it, and either way he didn’t want to be around to find out.

“What is it?” Leo asked, and Callum glanced in the mirror again. He wasn’t aware that he’d betrayed anything, but then, under the circumstances it wasn’t surprising Leo was watching him like a hawk.

“Supernaturals reacting,” Callum replied, not really wanting to tell the guy that he didn’t actually know. “It’s not trouble yet.”

“Yet?”

“It’s going to be trouble for someone, somewhere, somewhen,” Callum replied. “Just not us right now. I’m taking you to a bank the fae own, a different set from the ones who hunted you. They agreed to keep you safe from any supernatural shenanigans.”

“Why?” Danika asked.

“Supernatural politics,” Callum replied absently, changing lanes to avoid some idiot who was trying to speed on the late-night city streets. Why the cops went after Callum rather than someone in an overly loud muscle car was beyond him. “You got brought in because of my mess, so I’m fixing it.”

“Oh.”

Acting as some professional supernatural agent felt rather surreal, especially since he was barely a mage to begin with. He’d been doing well so far, but escapades like rescuing people from GAR’s grasp were something that would catch up with him real quick. At the same time, he had to do such things. If he stayed completely cowed by what GAR could do, and let them do as they wanted, there was no point in staying free. Scratching out a living in a cave wasn’t freedom.

The difficult thing was balancing that freedom with caution. From what he could tell they wouldn’t be able to harden their wards against him sneaking in his vis, but they might well trap the wards in some way if they knew how to bait him. Even now they might be tracing the Connors, so he wanted to get them off his hands as soon as possible.

“When I drop you off, just tell them your name and that the Ghost brought you.”

“The Ghost?” Leo repeated incredulously.

“Not my idea, I assure you,” Callum told him.

“Are you going to do it, the, ah…” Danika asked hesitantly. “I mean, I feel kinda awful.”

“I know, I’ll use portals,” he told them, taking pity on the pair. “I’ll be sending you off in a minute here.” Callum wasn’t about to get any deeper into the financial district than he needed to, and the target building was almost within his perceptions.

A number of the big banks had some degree of magic within them, though it wasn’t all mage warding. Some of it was flowy, floaty fae stuff that probably served the same purpose, or maybe some of the gold or jewels there were fairy fakes. Or maybe actual fairy valuables, for all he knew.

The actual target was pretty easy to spot because it had a lot of protections he could see, and maybe more he couldn’t. While it was pretty easy for Callum to discern the general gist of human magic structures, fae ones were completely alien. He could only guess at the difference between protection and utility magic by whether the swirling stuff formed more of a wall or suffused the interior in crossing currents.

Even with the differences he could still thread his vis in past the protections, though he suspected that it’d be a lot easier for the fae to notice his intrusion than a mage. Or to stop it, because there were definitely places where the magical current was so strong it’d snap his vis thread pretty instantly.

“Ready?” He asked.

“Not really,” Danika said. “Can’t you come with us?”

“The deal was about you two, not me. Fae are tricky.” He actually didn’t know if Ferrochar would try and accost him or not, considering what he understood of supernatural politics, but it was best not to find out.

“Is there any way we can contact you?” Leo asked.

“Or repay you?” Danika added.

Callum considered. He wasn’t going to give them his phone number, or Lucy’s either, but he could see about having her contact Ferrochar and set them up with something like what she used to talk to him. It would be nice if there was some way to keep tabs on them other than through police reports or something. Just to make sure the fae were playing nice.

“I’ll have an agent contact you if it’s safe,” he told them. For a brief moment the thought that it’d be great to have someone help him with his knee crossed his mind, but he threw it away. There was no way that would do anything but expose him unnecessarily. “Time to go, now. Remember, tell them who you are and that the Ghost sent you.”

“The Ghost sent us,” Leo confirmed, getting out of the chair. Callum selected a room up in what were probably executive territory without anyone in it and teleported the mattress there, followed by a portal linking the van to just above it.

“Hurry,” Callum urged, and Leo stepped through his side of the portal. Danika glanced at Callum.

“Thank you, again,” she said, and hurried through her side, even as fae started to converge on the room. Callum tossed a vis cleaning pin through just for the heck of it and dropped the portal, signaling a left turn as he stopped at a light. He kept his senses focused on them to make sure that the fae didn’t treat them badly, circling the bank building at a three-block remove.

The first set of fae entered the room and stopped as the Connors’ said something, hopefully what Callum had told them to. Then suddenly and without any fanfare, there was suddenly a fae with a lot of magic swirling about him in the room with them. He bowed very flamboyantly, head turning as he seemed to look around the room. More of the fae magic spilled outward from the bank, running through the streets, and Callum took that as his cue to leave.

He had no idea what the magic was meant to accomplish, but since it seemed that Ferrochar was going to keep his word, Callum wasn’t needed there anymore. While he couldn’t speed through the streets or teleport himself across under the circumstances, he still made his way to the drop-off with all due haste. It helped that the U-Haul lot was far enough from the center of activity that he wouldn’t have supernaturals around. Or if there were, he’d know they were up to no good.

It was a tense fifteen or twenty minutes to get to the lot, but the supernatural presence faded as he went, even if there was some lingering magic about. It was like a faint mist curling about the ground, blowing here and there in unseen breezes. A demonstration that fae kings were not something to be taken lightly, indeed, and while they might not be all-powerful, they did have a long reach.

With the magic blanketing the ground, Callum was a little careful when he did finally reach the lot. He kept it completely mundane as he dropped the keys in the deposit envelope for the after-hours lot, then the envelope itself went back in the deposit bin. With his own flashlight he made sure everything was packed up into the trays he’d put under the flying chair, enchanted some vis cleanup into the walls of the van, and then teleported both himself and the chair onto the roof of a nearby building to keep out of the magical mist.

Learning from the last time, when Callum settled himself in the chair and pulled it into the air with inverted gravity, he aimed himself at a point on the ground in the distance, rather than just the horizon. The world blurred, then seemed to twist oddly, and he stopped pulling with a stab of unease. When things resolved, he was indeed near the ground, but not where he had aimed. Instead of miles and miles away from the city center, he was maybe two miles from where he’d started, next to a huge, dense-flowing wall of fae magic.

Since it was fae and not human, he had no idea where to even start with puzzling out what it was and how it worked, but he could sense some sort of spatial twist to it. Nothing that he could analyze; it was more of a different flavor, the same way that the portal worlds were. Considering that he’d gotten stopped at the wall, it didn’t take much imagination to figure out it was some kind of barrier, and one that had stopped even his bootleg Alcubierre drive.

“Ah, dammit.” There was a reason he had his implant, but he had hoped he could avoid using it so soon, if for no other reason than he couldn’t bring his flying chair through. While he could push out his vis and take some things with him, the receiving pad in the shed wasn’t big enough for the chair.

The implant was nearly charged anyway, so that wasn’t a problem, but he didn’t trust that he hadn’t tripped something by running into the wall. Callum lifted himself up again and dragged himself in the opposite direction, toward the ocean, in a bid to dispose of his chair properly. There was another blur and twist, and Callum dropped his field.

Seawater rushed in, catching him by surprise and making him choke as he clamped his lips together. He scrabbled with his senses, lungs burning, and grabbed his drawers from the chair as it sank down toward the seafloor. Something big and heavy with magic moved on the edges of his perception, and he pushed out his vis to encompass his supplies before he pushed, not wanting to meet whatever that was.

The world shifted around him and he was suddenly in a dark, close, freezing cold shed somewhere in northern Montana. He was dripping seawater, his phones, guns and cash were soaked through, and he’d lost the latest flying chair. On the up side, he’d rescued the Connors and negotiated with a fae king without losing his shirt.

It could have gone worse.

***

“Why the hell wasn’t this better guarded?” Ray Danforth asked, mostly rhetorically. Miami was a bit far out of his jurisdiction, or Felicia’s either. No matter how cute she was when she was angry, he didn’t like Felicia having to go pay homage to the local fae king. Nor was he happy about having to deal with more aftermath of the Wells fellow when they’d very specifically discussed him possibly coming after people of interest in the case.

“With respect, sir, we had double crew for shifters and vampires, and we had full wards up.” The mage that had been manning the wards looked somewhat worse for the wear, more from realizing how deep a hole he’d gotten himself in than actual injuries. For how deadly Wells could be, it was interesting that the body count for this incident was zero. Even if the actual damage was fairly significant.

“You were told that they have ways to bypass said wards, right?” Ray asked in exasperation, then shook his head. “Never mind. Just make sure nobody else comes in.”

“Yessir.”

Ray prowled through the evacuated office, lightly brushing his senses around. Even if he knew it was silly, the first thing he checked for were ball bearings, but there were none, only bits of metal scrap. He frowned at the floor in the maintenance room where water pooled, not certain what to think of it.

“It is merely the blood of the sea,” a leathery, whispery voice sounded in his ear, and he couldn’t help but jump. Ray wheeled around to see a tanned, round-faced man with a nose like a squashed pepper in jeans and an old white shirt, with the badge of an Archmage pinned to it.

He should have felt another mage’s sphere of authority intersect his. In fact, an Archmage’s should have displaced his, but the man had no shell of vis at all. Despite that, and despite his casual air and relaxed posture, he fairly radiated danger.

Then there was the shadow. It wasn’t just a regular shadow; it was dark as pitch despite the illumination in the room, and two diamond-pinpoint eyes stared at Ray. Working with Felicia, he’d seen a lot of odd fae stuff, but the shadow held a certain edge that was more disturbing than fae magic.

Especially since it was attached to a mage.

“Archmage,” Ray greeted him cautiously, not even sure what House the man belonged to.

“One suspects you chase something greater than you,” the Archmage said, not exactly returning the greeting. “The cycle turns as it will, and cares not for that which is trampled in its wake.”

“Uh. Yessir?” Archmages could be eccentric, but usually they weren’t this weird. The response he got was a sigh.

“You will want to get Archmage Duvall,” the man said to him. “She may be able to understand what happened here.”

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InadvisablyCompelled

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