His bunker really wasn’t going to look anything like what the word usually implied. There was no way that he could actually protect himself against a group of mages, and really all he needed to deal with vamps or shifters was some kind of panic room because all they could bring to the table was physical force. Though if they found the bunker, there was probably no point in fighting to begin with. Instead, he was relying on obscurity. It had worked well enough before, until his cover had been blown, and it was always the first and best way to stay hidden.
What he was actually building was a normal house out in deeply rural Oaxaca. Two bedrooms, two baths, though he wasn’t actually expecting to have company there. It was just absolutely bizarre to build a house of any size without at least two, and he could always use the extra room for something else. A large kitchen combined with dining room, a living room that would probably be a gym, an attached garage.
The basement was probably where most of his magic stuff would go. He was leaving it unfinished for the moment since he didn’t know exactly how his various tests would go, but a giant concrete room was good enough. He’d also put a separate workshop off to the side since he would be doing metalworking, and having a place for his own crucible and molds and things like wire-drawing equipment would be great, but also not in an enclosed basement.
For the moment he had solar panels planned to power the place, but he was optimistic about using a pair of portals to generate energy. Oaxaca had a lot more mana than the States, and it was pretty obvious that permanent portal enchantments made perpetual motion machines pretty straightforward. In fact, it was so straightforward that he had to imagine GAR and BSE used it themselves.
Just the thought of it really irked him. It was infinite electricity. Sure, there were limitations, but if they’d wanted to, the supernatural community could have provided the world with free and unlimited power. Among other things. He could do that, if it weren’t for the impositions of GAR authority and the fact that the grid wasn’t really cut out for some random person pumping huge wattages into it.
Instead, he was stuck using it for his own little house.
It was a damned travesty. If the various governments of the world were in bed with the supernatural, as seemed to be the case, it seemed pretty weird that they hadn’t asked for infinite portal energy. Of course, explaining that away without revealing the existence of magic would be difficult, but it could just be presented as a classified technology and just have wires run from a black site.
In the end it wasn’t his problem, but it was a bit of a personal peeve seeing potential wasted like that. Though it wasn’t like he was really living up to his full potential either, tromping around in the wilds of Mexico, so maybe it was a bit hypocritical. The forests were rather nice, though.
Callum had found a hundred-acre slice out near some township somewhere, mostly completely wooded, and with a few systems of caves that he could sense. His house wasn’t going to go directly atop any of them, but it would still be near enough that he could use one as a panic room. Once he’d freshened up the air in it and maybe furnished it a little.
It was just a matter of purchasing it. Callum drove his pickup to the outskirts of the nearby township, really hoping there was someone who could speak English. He had a translator program loaded on his phone, but that would just show he was ripe for ripping off.
In order to offset that, Callum was dressed in a nice set of slacks and a polo, and had gotten himself a nice silver cane to lean on. The pickup being somewhat beat-up undercut the image a bit, but he wasn’t planning to be seen driving it up to city hall. Instead he just teleported himself nearby and walked the rest of the way, even if that was not that great for his knee. He’d been doing the exercises, but it still was a point of weakness.
His attire and cane drew eyes as he approached what passed as the municipal building. That was fine; he’d made sure to turn his hair completely grey and was wearing glasses, so if for some reason it ever mattered, nobody would guess he was only thirty-one. The only thing he couldn’t do anything about was that he clearly wasn’t from Mexico.
The man inside the municipal building blinked at him when he walked inside, taking in Callum’s garb and straightening up. There was a certain amount of suspicion in those eyes, which Callum didn’t blame him for, but what Callum wanted was straightforward enough. So far as he could tell the land he’d picked wasn’t even being used for crops, and besides which, he had plenty of money to pay for it. Or rather gold, in the briefcase he carried in his other hand.
“I need someone who can speak English,” he told the man. “I need to buy some land.”
“Si, señor,” was the reply, along with a motion for Callum to follow him inside. He was led to someone’s office, given a chair, and the man vanished back out to the front. Callum followed with his senses, and when the man took out a phone, he formed a tiny portal to listen in. Considering there was no sign of supernatural presence, that didn’t seem like much of a risk.
Not that eavesdropping did very much when Callum didn’t speak the language. The translation application didn’t really do a good job either but he seemed to be calling someone else with more authority and who had actual English skills. That was all to the good, but Callum felt that was a bit too easy. Then again, it was probably the easiest thing for them to just see what the man with money wanted.
“Thirty minutes,” the receptionist or whatever he was told Callum in fairly broken English, coming back into the room after finishing the conversation. Callum nodded in return, and was left alone. The wait wasn’t unexpected, but he did worry about a possible ambush or attempted strong-arming by whomever was coming.
While he waited he surveyed everything around with his senses, locating the best places to teleport if he needed to make an exit. He had his glamor focus ready, and if people had guns he’d pre-emptively make sure they weren’t going to function. Most mages probably thought they had nothing to fear from normal folks, him included, but Callum was very aware that nobody was actually invulnerable.
The wait was closer to forty minutes than thirty, but he knew the local leader had arrived when a truck with a half-dozen people rumbled to a stop in front of the building. That was too many individuals to be comfortable, but only one of them actually headed toward the door. The rest spread out to simply hang around just outside.
There was a brief discussion between the man who’d arrived and the receptionist, before they approached the office. Callum stood as they entered, leaning on his cane, and studied the fellow they’d brought to talk with him. He looked weather-beaten and wrinkled, but his eyes were sharp as he took Callum’s offered hand and introduced himself as Miguel.
“I was told you wanted to buy land?” Miguel asked, moving to take the seat behind the office desk while the receptionist left to give them privacy.
“Yes, and build a house there. I have the plans for it, and I was hoping that you might be able to suggest local companies.” He opened the briefcase and took out a printout of a plat of the land he’d picked out that showed the boundaries, along with a copy of the schematics and items list. He arranged them on the desk, but Miguel focused on the land.
“The price for the land, Señor, it is quite a significant expense…” Miguel began. Callum silenced him by taking out one of the gold plates.
“I will be paying with these. If you could arrange for the construction companies and other such details, I would be grateful.”
He was pretty sure that Miguel thought he was with the cartels after that, which was not an implication Callum actually minded. At any rate, Miguel easily agreed to take care of all the details that a local would know after Callum displayed the gold. There was some discussion, and Callum didn’t push too hard, but he wanted to make sure that Miguel knew he wouldn’t stand for any ideas of just taking his money.
For some reason, that wasn’t very hard.
“One more thing,” Callum said, sliding across several of the hundred-gram gold plates. “What are the men outside for?” Miguel twitched, half-glancing around to check if there were some place Callum could have observed them from. There wasn’t.
“Ah, it was in case of any trouble, Señor. Men with money sometimes bring trouble, you see.”
“There won’t be any trouble.”
“Of course not,” Miguel assured him, taking the gold plates. Callum was sure he would siphon off some of that money for himself, but really, that was not a problem. He just wanted to make sure that the house was built to standards. “If there is no trouble, there is no trouble.”
“We will start clearing land tomorrow,” Miguel said, and offered his hand again. Callum took it.
“I’ll be by on occasion to check your progress. And see to expenses.”
“Of course. My door is always open to you,” Miguel said, offering to Callum an honest-to-goodness business card, which he accepted. Hopefully Callum wouldn’t have to spend too much time overseeing things. It’d be tedious enough running back and forth with some of the stuff he was going to source State-side, like the solar panels, but he did want to get the bunker done.
At least he didn’t have to drive the whole way each time. Being able to teleport sped things up immensely, and he was planning on making another set of teleport plates. Their placement was going to be a bit of an issue, but he figured it might be good to make use of the caves he was sensing. Probably even buy a local pickup, and use that in order to disguise how he was bringing things in.
The next few weeks promised to be extraordinarily busy. He was going to be making enchantments, ferrying equipment back and forth, and even learning some amateur metalwork stuff. Figure out some new transportation, too, since he wanted a van of his own. All the stuff he needed to do in order to harden himself against anything GAR might try.
“According to Duvall, he’s probably using a finesse tool to get past the wards.” Agent Danforth reported, breaking Jahn out of his contemplation.
“Enchanter’s Guild is going to love that,” Jahn sighed. A focus for working at smaller scales than that of standard vis was not exactly a common piece of equipment, since only certain kinds of enchantments actually needed them. “Either them or BSE, if he’s using a picker instead.”
“I don’t think so,” Danforth disagreed. “Again according to Duvall, everything was at the same scale, which isn’t how any of our pickers operate. What I don’t get is how he got the range on it. No matter what tool you use, those little strands can’t go all that far.”
“Another thing to figure out when we catch up with him. Or them, I suppose.” Jahn tapped the desk thoughtfully. “We can’t harden every ward, but there are some measures we can take for some place we expect him to be.” At that scale, vis threads were so fragile that they’d break just from the passage of someone’s field of authority, so making wards that way was no good.
Jamming did work, breaking those fragile threads, but it was mana-intensive and made normal spellcasting difficult, not to mention, once again, tripping wards constantly. But it could be done. Just not everywhere all at once, and if the wards kept going off they’d be useless against everyone and not just Wells.
“We definitely need to give him a target,” Jahn said at last. “We have to entice him to attack a place of our choosing. We had that chance with the mundane pair, but we weren’t careful enough.” That still rankled. Wells’ group was so devoid of handles that it should have been obvious the pair were more than just witnesses.
The Department of Acquisitions hadn’t done nearly enough. Though they’d had the pair in custody for over a week and nothing had happened, Jahn would have still preferred if they’d been moved to a BSE safehouse. Of course, all that was hindsight. When they’d first acquired the couple, everyone had been focused on Europe and reinforcing the landings to the Portal Worlds. Wrestling with the Department of Acquisition over a pair of mundanes had not been on anyone’s mind.
That was not a mistake they’d make again.
“What about Ferrochar?” Jahn asked, turning to Agent Black. He’d tried applying some pressure to the fae in order to get ahold of the mundanes once again, but it was exceedingly difficult when he couldn’t even name the people in question. Such a powerful working meant that it had to be part of a bargain. A fae couldn’t summon that kind of thing of their own accord.
“He’s all but saying he had contact with Wells. As the Ghost, of course.” Black typed the words, displaying them on a portable monitor. While Jahn knew how to protect himself from Felicia’s talents, he appreciated the habitual caution.
“That idiot is going to get someone killed,” Jahn said bluntly, and Black nodded agreement. He wasn’t sure how exactly she’d wound up on the outs from the various fae enclaves, but she was loyal to GAR rather than any of the fae kings. For the fae version of loyal, of course, so it wasn’t like he trusted her implicitly.
“Well, if Ferrochar is determined not to support GAR, then we need not support Ferrochar,” Jahn decided. “I’m going to ban his fae from the Miami offices until he decides to start cooperating. Or rather, the Archmages are.” He tapped his breast pocket where the Archmage seals sat.
“You’re not worried about loading up BSE, under the circumstances?” Danforth asked doubtfully. “I mean, fae go kind of weird when they can’t do their thing.” He gave Black a look when he said that, something with a bit more feeling than that of an assigned partner. It wasn’t any of Jahn’s business, but he was pretty sure there was something there. They were just a little too much in tune, stayed a little too close to each other, for just coworkers.
They actually reminded him a bit of a pair from one of his favorite shows, but for a fae, that was probably intentional.
“There’s a number we can cycle off the fronts if it’s an issue,” Jahn reassured them, though it was a worry. All the races needed GAR in one way or another. Vampires needed blood and lairs, shifters needed jobs and land, and fae needed to pursue whatever story they’d decided to embody. But that’s exactly why it was a credible threat. “Anyway, it’s not more people we need to deal with Wells, it’s better planning.”
“No argument here,” Black wrote.
“We still have not recovered,” Antoine Lavigne, the Master of Minneapolis, didn’t shout, but his voice was cold and hard. “Almost sixty years worth of recruiting from the Night Lands wasted, all because GAR failed to locate a rogue mage.”
“I fail to see why you are complaining to me,” Archmage Janry said, maybe a touch impatiently. “I’m not in charge of the Night Lands. Or rogue mages.”
“Because GAR has not reached out at all to offset the results of their error. You haven’t punished Chester, you haven’t found more newcomers for me, you haven’t even found and punished the mage!” Lavigne eyed Janry. “So what is going to be done?”
“All that can be done, already is. If you mean on your account, as I said, I don’t control the Night Lands. Nothing is stopping you from heading there on your own.” Janry waved dismissively. Lavigne glared.
“I see,” he said icily. “Thank you for your time.” Lavigne didn’t bother to wait for the dismissal before he blurred out the door. Moving at his speed rather than the laggard humans, who for all their power never achieved the sort of physical mastery that a vampire could.
He was fed up waiting. GAR was supposed to support them, not hang them out to dry. A mass murderer was out there, and nobody seemed to care at all. The only answer was to do something himself.
Lavigne pressed his thumb against his passkey, a drop of blood linking it to him so the teleportation network could move him from place to place. He could have done as Janry suggested, and gone to visit with the Master of Weltentor in the Night Lands. There, he could have supped on fine moon-water and tried to negotiate for some lesser spawn to come over to earth.
That wasn’t him, though. That wasn’t why he was on Earth. His was to take whatever he could seize, hold it and drink his fill. That was what made him the Master of Minneapolis, and why he had come so near to crushing the pretensions of that cur Chester. If it weren’t for the murderer.
Instead he took the network back to his own nest, standing proud in the Minneapolis skyline, and strode into the main room. The thralls seemed to sense his mood, melting away into the corners or side rooms as Lavigne stalked up to an underling. It was one of the youngest of his recruits, newly arrived through the portal and too clumsy in his new body to be sent out on missions.
“Bring me a meal,” he ordered. “And Zegrev.”
The underling bowed and moved off, barely faster than a human, and Lavigne looked out the window at his city, lit up for the night. It was all his, but it just wasn’t enough. It was right and meet that everything he could see, he could claim, by whatever means. He’d tried playing nice, and it had become obvious how ineffective that was.
Zegrev appeared with a squirming mundane, and Lavigne took the meal, holding the food with the implacable strength of a vampire and sinking his fangs into its neck. Blood itself did not taste very good, but the essence of life he pulled from the mundane was oh so sweet. When he was sated he cast the thing aside for the thralls to clean up and patted his lips with his kerchief.
“We need to take our own action to lure out the murderer,” Lavigne told his second. “We only have access to one target we know matters. Clara Langley.”
“Yes, sir,” Zagrev said. “What is it you wish?”
“I want you to take three — no, four of the eldest and take her. Or all the Langleys, I don’t care. I want them here, where he has no advantages.”
“Of course, sir,” Zagrev said. “Under what auspice?”
“Power, of course. Chester reminded me that the only true power that exists is force. GAR didn’t do anything about Chester’s crimes, so they’re hardly going to object to anything I do.” They’d already shown that, being too weak to actually enforce any of the laws they proclaimed to have.
“It will be done,” Zagrev said, and withdrew.
Lavigne went back to contemplating the skyline. If nothing else, the murderer had shown what a weak and feckless organization GAR really was. They couldn’t rein in shifters, they couldn’t rein in fae, and they couldn’t even fulfill their obligations to him.
If it was like that, he would simply do as he wished.
Callum realized he really should have cribbed some of the building protections the last time he’d stopped by a GAR office. While he had a glamour that was good enough for him, he didn’t have anything that would cover an entire property, or at least a house. He’d have to go shopping.
The main worry was whether or not he’d be able to reproduce some of what he’d seen. It wasn’t so much the complexity that was the issue, since he was pretty confident he was able to trace the geometry of enchantments fairly well. The problem was that he only had access to mana and spatial vis. Just like spatial enchantments required spatial vis, a glamour or protection might require light or wind vis, or a reinforcement shield might need earth vis. Anywhere there was a converter, rather than it just using raw mana, he couldn’t make his own.
He figured the reason the glamour enchantment only used mana was because they had to make so many. If it were gated behind a specific vis there’d be a situation like with the teleports, where there was a waiting list. In fact, there probably were other glamour enchants, ones that used different principles, for people who had the appropriate vis types and could fuel them directly.
Either way he needed to do more surveillance, but fortunately he didn’t need to do anything to actually intrude on the operations of the office in question. For that, he just went to nearest one over in Dallas and snooped a bit from six hundred yards away, transcribing things into his CAD program.
Frankly, he felt he was understanding more about enchantments by cribbing from the existing ones than trying to muddle through the theory. He could at least recognize certain common patterns, like the bits for conversion or defining areas, and slot them in properly. It wasn’t exactly a thing of great finesse, but he was confident that he could make a glamour that would hide his entire house.
If it were in the States he’d probably need to make a feeder portal first. Considering that Portal World Six was in Mexico, it was a little bit of a surprise that the total mana was so relatively low, but when he’d been driving through he’d noticed that it dropped off very quickly as he went north. It might just be that Europe was so mana rich because it had three portals in close proximity.
To compound the issues with enchanting, Callum was going through the mordite startlingly quickly. He was still fairly certain that most of the stuff that was used was alloyed somehow, but Lucy couldn’t get him any of the enchanter’s guild records, so he didn’t know what it was alloyed with. Considering how little he had and how it was already processed, he had to put off experimentation and just focus on minimizing the use of the stuff.
He archived the sketches of the various warding and shielding reinforcements the GAR office had, and just worked on figuring out the building-size glamour. Or rather, glamours, because when he started analyzing it he could see there were three different converters feeding it. In the end there was only one part he could really use, and it was the actual part that projected it to the size of a building. The core of the enchantment, the part that defined what the magic actually did, required things he couldn’t duplicate.
It was a good thing he’d gotten a look at how GAR did it, because it was a different design than the personal glamour focus. Designing the new enchantment, running it over to a fabrication shop to get the blank cut, then enchanting with his mordite wire took a couple days. Especially since he had to use the tubes instead of his normal threads. The end result was the personal glamour core, but with a building-size projection.
He tested it on his own trailer house, to his satisfaction. People could still stumble across it, but it was uninteresting enough that nobody would even look twice. A supernatural would probably notice, though, so he shut it down. It barely functioned anyway; the mana levels in Texas were just too low.
The other thing he did was make a second set of teleporter plates. One he just kept in the trailer house, but the other he took down to the bunker site in Mexico. It was a long drive, even with the way he cheated, and he was glad that it was the last time he’d be making it in a pickup. By the time he got out at the bunker site, he was aching all over from the poor seat padding.
There was already construction equipment where he’d wanted the house put, and even though he didn’t enter their sight, the workers seemed to be actually doing things instead of just hanging out to get paid. The latter was, sadly, surprisingly common among the contractors he had talked to in his former life. For now there was just a bunch of muddy dirt as trees were cleared, but it was a start.
Callum formed a portal between the fair-sized cave he’d picked out and a random patch of open air under the trees, sweeping it back and forth to make sure there was real oxygen there. The memory of what he’d done to the fae was still fresh in his mind, and he shook away the nauseous feeling that accompanied it. Only then did he transport himself and his equipment inside.
It was pitch black, of course, but when he clicked on the light there wasn’t anything interesting to look at anyway. It was exactly what he had sensed: a big empty pocket in the rock, irregular and unadorned. There wasn’t even a properly flat patch for him to put the teleportation pad on, but he moved a few pieces of deadwood down from the surface to wedge under it so it was mostly level.
He placed a few long-life LED lanterns about, and piled up camping equipment in a corner. While he could have made a second homebond, he wanted to be able to go both ways, and with the plates he could move both ends around. Once he finished and was ready to go check in with Miguel, he pursed his lips at the teleport plate.
There was no reason he couldn’t make one large enough to transport vehicles.
Of course, it would take a lot more time to charge, and it was a lot harder to find a safe place to stash something that size, but actual cargo transport might be really useful. So long as he didn’t have to make the physical receiver that large, anyway. Thus far he’d been copying GAR and using a fairly rigid framework embedded in a plate, but the magic wasn’t restricted to the physical location of a focus.
It was obvious in retrospect, but it made him wonder what the actual limits were. He had a six-hundred yard range; if his enchantments could have that range as well then he could think of all kinds of applications. Even being able to displace things a few feet would be useful.
He considered options as he drove over to meet Miguel, who still had toughs hanging about his place of business. Callum didn’t like it, but as long as they didn’t try to intimidate him it wasn’t really his problem. Especially since everything seemed to be going well on the construction side.
Callum supplied a few more gold plates before leaving. He had weighed the merits of paying in cash versus gold, and while the gold was more traceable due to the marks, that was only if it wasn’t melted down and recast. Which it probably would be. Besides which, it went a lot farther than trying to convert it in the US by relying on people willing to do things off the books. Building a house was an expensive proposition, and Callum needed to be smart about it.
Especially since the solar panels and HVAC equipment was coming from the States. He’d arranged for deliveries at a self-storage, which had pretty much destroyed all the free cash he had left. While Callum wasn’t exactly impoverished, it wasn’t like he could casually buy new vehicles. Or even burner phones. The expenses added up.
He had a few guilty thoughts about robbing a GAR office, but if he really needed a cash infusion it would be better to make another enchantment to sell. Maybe just a glamour instead of something as ridiculous as a homebond. So far he hadn’t even heard back from Chester about how well they were working, or if they were at all useful.
On the way home he chewed over how to connect things so he had at least some protection against one of the endpoints being compromised. There was no value in a network that was just unconnected pairs, but he had to assume that anyone, or at least another space mage, could use his if they found them.
So a big room full of teleporters was out, but maybe some kind of dispersed network was possible, with endpoints a mile away from each other or something. He’d have to rethink his emergency location, or at least re-site the teleport plates. Or make more plates. The last seemed the best solution, since the core spatial part that made it all work could always be slotted into something else.
When Callum got back to Texas, he’d have to do a lot of enchanting.