“There are definitely vampires headed for Winut,” Roy Wilton said.
Alpha Chester grunted. There was a reason that he’d had his people keeping an eye on the Minneapolis nest ever since their first play. It had been obvious that they were not intending to follow the accords, and that GAR wasn’t going to do anything about it. The only surprising thing about the vampire’s actions was that they had waited until now.
“No formal demands, no communication at all. Sounds familiar, really.” Chester shook his head. “Get Jasper,” he ordered, taking out his phone. “I suspect we’ll have the opportunity to use our new acquisition sooner than I thought.”
“Alpha,” Roy said, and left. Chester dialed up Arthur Langley, hearing the phone ring a few times before Arthur picked up.
“We’ve spotted more vampires coming your way,” Chester said without any preamble. “I suspect they’re a little bit piqued since our mutual friend remains evasive.”
“What do you have in mind?” Arthur asked. “Going to come here to camp out?”
“Just swap for a bit,” Chester agreed. “I’ll have Jasper ferry everyone around. You don’t have to worry; we’ll ensure they don’t do anything to Winut. I suspect they’re just after us. Or rather, you.” Chester knew vampires, and how vindictive they were. Winut and the Langleys were the closest things to the redoubtable Mister Brown that Lavigne could hurt.
Somehow the story about how Clara had been taken from the motel had leaked. Unofficially, of course, and figuring out the origin had driven Arthur up the wall, but Chester was pretty sure nobody had actually betrayed them. It was just hard to keep things from fae when they decided they really wanted to snoop.
That meant everyone knew, unofficially, that Mr. Brown – in addition to whatever compatriots he might have – had started their spree on Clara’s behalf. For better or worse, mostly worse, that meant there were a lot of people interested in Winut. Unofficially. Already several powerful fae had dropped by to visit their very, very distant relatives in hopes of getting some kind of line on the Ghost.
It really hadn’t taken much foresight to put the other half of the black-market teleport pad in the Winut compound. As he’d been warned, shifters couldn’t actually use them, not like the GAR ones, but a mage could. Or, a crippled mage and a number of mana batteries.
They did still need to use the tokens that temporarily suppressed their resistance to magic, which was annoying, but at least they were going from safehouse to safehouse. That forced vulnerability made using the GAR teleporters untenable for most Alphas except under the most dire of circumstances. Not that any shifter particularly liked that requirement.
“I’ll get everyone together,” Arthur assured him. “We’ll be ready in twenty minutes.”
“Expect me in twenty, then,” Chester said, and hung up. Roy returned with Jasper a few moments later, the tired-eyed mage blinking at Chester.
“Get the Wolfpack together,” he told Roy. “We’ll be leaving in twenty minutes.” Then Chester glanced at Jasper and hitched a thumb in the direction of one particular saferoom. “We’re going to need transportation for a few groups.”
“Yes, sir,” Jasper said, without any enthusiasm. Not that he ever showed any, though he had seemed slightly more alive controlling the teleportation platforms, even if he couldn’t fuel them.
Chester rose and went to find his mate to tell her what was going on. It wasn’t hard; he merely had to follow the scent of fresh-baked cookies. It was a good thing his mate liked baking, because he wasn’t sure how he’d satisfy the Wolfpack’s sweet tooth otherwise.
“Hey, love,” he said, poking his head into the kitchen. “Lavigne is making a move on the Langleys. We’ll be trading places with them for the next few hours, maybe a day. Did you want to come with, or stay here and play host?”
“Hmm.” Lisa pursed her lips. She was almost as deadly as Chester was, able to draw on the same amount of pack magic, but didn’t enjoy fighting all that much. “I’ll stay here. It’s always nice to see the Langleys. Shame it’s always when something awful is happening.”
“We’ll have to have a meetup when all this is done,” Chester said, leaning into the kitchen a little further to steal a kiss before heading back down to the basement. The six other members of the Wolfpack were there, half of them already shifted into their War Forms, with Jasper sitting by the teleport plate watching it charge.
He had Roy give them the briefing, though there wasn’t that much to it. They just knew that a number of vampires were being convoyed out of Minneapolis and they were headed in the direction of Winut. At this point it was obvious what the destination was; they hadn’t even tried to hide it. But then, they didn’t need to. It wasn’t like it was illegal for them to drive around.
When the time rolled around, the seven of them crowded onto the teleportation plate, only barely fitting, and used their tokens as Jasper sent them off to Winut. The experience was not as good as with the GAR gates — there was a definite jolt, a shock that took a tiny bit of shifter healing to deal with, but nothing that would really threaten even a mundane. As promised, Arthur Langley was waiting on the other side, with most of his immediate family.
“Alpha,” Arthur said, the pack bonds snapping and humming as the two Alphas met. After a moment, Arthur inclined his head, and the magic settled.
“Arthur,” Chester said. “My home is open to you.” Then he smiled. “Lisa’s baking cookies.”
“Well, we sure can’t miss those,” Arthur chuckled. “Come on, everyone.”
The Wolfpack handed off their tokens to the shifters heading the other way, and Chester texted Jasper to bring them through. It took three trips, with Jasper sending the tokens by themselves, but most of the Winut pack went through. The only exceptions were those who weren’t staying at the compound, and had other jobs or housing throughout Winut.
That did mean closing down a number of businesses for the day, but that wasn’t without precedent. The Langley clan was known to have big family gatherings on occasion. For those who knew their true nature, it was even less of a surprise.
The Langley compound had some defenses, mostly in the nature of reinforced walls and doors, since they had to deal with the occasional spats between supernaturals. Even outside of the allowed challenges, Chester and his pack didn’t really trust GAR to protect their interests. Under the circumstances, though, neither Chester nor the rest of his Wolfpack really needed them. They were planning to ambush rather than defend.
The evening turned on toward night as they settled themselves in and waited. All of them were in war-form, crouched and readied with the patience of the hunter. The stars had been out for several hours when a series of figures silently ghosted across the lawn and arranged themselves at windows and doors. Chester watched coldly from his post by the front door, waiting until the vampire suddenly wrenched the wood-veneer steel off its hinges.
Chester pulled on the magic of the pack bond, accelerating his strength and speed far beyond mortal limits. The wall cracked behind him, steel denting from the force of his leap as he tackled the vampire, three-inch claws punching through supernatural flesh. He recognized the face of Zagrev, contorted in pain and fury, but unable to struggle against the power of the Midwest Alpha.
“You!” Zagrev managed to get out, just before Chester’s jaws closed around his head. Shifter magic pushed against vampire magic as he tore off Zagrev’s head, spitting the foul thing out and tossing the rest of the corpse back through the door. There were other noises from the house, banging and splintering and the cries of vampire and shifter alike as combat was joined and subsequently finished.
Through the pack bonds he could tell that the only injury of note was from Tessa, who’d broken her hand on the skull of one of the vamps. She’d not hear the end of that one. Chester fed her extra magic to accelerate the healing process, looking around at the mess he’d made. It was going to take some fixing.
The entire ambush had lasted two seconds at the outside, and had deprived Lavigne of his right-hand man, at the very least. It had been so very simple, but only because they could get there without anyone knowing. Both GAR and Lavigne would have been alerted if Chester had left the compound, let alone gone to Winut, but with the black-market teleportation nobody was any the wiser. They wouldn’t know that Lavigne’s vampires had taken on a wolf rather than a puppy.
He'd have to see if he could get more.
When Callum actually made the portal enchantment, he found out why it took so much mana. Or rather, he found that he’d been massively underestimating how much mana teleports took. It was a matter of inefficiencies; it took a lot of ambient mana funneled through a converter into the spatial vis enchantments to mimic what vis normally did. A single teleport took five minutes to charge up in the States, but it only took a few seconds down at his Mexico place. Taking that instantaneous cost and turning it into a constant one meant that yes, indeed, large portals were hard to support.
Even small ones weren’t really possible if both sides were in the US. He’d need to either site them closer to a portal world, or have a feeder portal like GAR used. If he was handling them himself, he could hold both sides open regardless of the mana level, so it wasn’t like it was useless in other places. Just slower. It also let him push his perceptions through the portal, so he could teleport things or people, which was potentially better than making an enormous teleportation plate.
Little portal anchors would be easier to hide than a plate, but they would take longer to charge enough to open initially and he’d have to spend more vis to keep them open. Considering his limited amount of enchanting material, he’d have to decide on his approach sooner rather than later. For the moment he needed at least two pairs of portals, one for the generator and one for general testing, something that was a long and tedious process. Even if he didn’t have much else to do, it was an effort.
On the other hand, at least he didn’t have to reinvent the wheel when it came to his portal power device. People had done extensive hypothetical calculations online, for a variety of options. There were some crazy designs out there, but he really wanted something with essentially no maintenance.
Unfortunately, it required moving parts. It wasn’t like a solar panel where it could all be solid state. He was exploiting gravity, and that meant something, somewhere was falling. In the end he decided to just go with a water column and a small turbine generator. All that stuff he could buy practically off the shelf, which made putting together a perpetual motion machine that much easier.
All of that equipment came from metal shops and their associates, who were rapidly becoming his best friends. There was a lot of overlap among skilled tradesman and finding someone who could provide him a small generator and a storage bank was really not that hard. Of course, normally the setup for a hydro turbine involved a lot of engineering to deal with the water flow, but since Callum was cheating he could manage it fairly easily himself.
The only thing he really needed customized was a couple stands for the portal pair, some adjustable tripod kind of thing so he could lock the two sections of pipe together. He tested the final apparatus in the back yard of the trailer house, out of sight of the road. The pipe was tall enough to project over the top of the trailer anyway, but since there was nobody around he felt like a quick run-through wouldn’t hurt.
Despite the column being infinite, the water had only the length of the pipe as the head before passing through the turbine, so to some extent that was the total amount of energy he could extract from it. Except, of course, that the turbine didn’t stop the water completely dead, so there was some residual carryover until all the forces balanced. He was actually a little worried that the eternal water pipe might overspeed and break the apparatus, but when he finished testing it, he found he was worried for nothing. Water wasn’t frictionless and neither was the turbine, so while the energy was infinite it didn’t happen all at once.
He filled it by forming a portal between the pipe and the bottom of a barrel full of industrial-purified water, letting water in and air out at the same time. The goal was to have no air at all, just water, and he was pretty sure he could get very close. When he did it for real he’d have to be far more careful to ensure there weren’t air bubbles continually falling upward, but for the test it did well enough. Watching it charge the capacitor pack was surreal and quietly amazing, even if he had to hold the portal pair open himself rather than letting the ambient mana do it.
Then he had to disassemble it all because there was no need for it at the trailer. It’d have to come with him to the cave, to be set up once the bunker house was done. There were instructions for maintenance and lubrication that he’d have to deal with, but only eventually. Industrial equipment was pretty hardy.
Flush with success, he decided he’d call up Lucy and see how she was getting on. He’d been a little busy with shuttling things back and forth for the past few days and while the folks at the machine shop were nice enough, they were still strangers. Laboring in complete isolation, he found he tended to get a lot more stressed and twitchy than things really called for.
“Hey, big man!” Lucy said, picking up right away. That was a rarity of late, though it was the weekend, and wearing on toward Thanksgiving. “Anything shaking down there?”
“Actually a bit, yeah. Nothing exciting like the vacation trips I’ve been on, but a few personal projects are coming along.” He was never sure exactly how much he should tell her. Obviously she knew his real identity and some of his capabilities, but at the same time the more he told her the more she could give away. Likely not willingly, but two people couldn’t keep a secret.
“Ooh? Anything fun? Anything sexy?”
“Something fun, but probably not that sexy unless you’ve got a kink for power generation,” Callum told her. “It does make me wonder how much enchanting is used to make technology work better. I’ve seen some things that are super new, like the magical laptops and phones, but a lot of stuff seems kind of ancient.”
“Oh yeah, big man, ongoing process. Especially since you have to pry any super advanced stuff from the Enchanting Guild’s cold, dead hands. Probably literally.”
“I can just imagine,” Callum said, but he did wonder exactly how it kept a monopoly on the creation of enchantments. With his spatial perception he could trace out the circuits of most any enchantment he’d run into, but then, he hadn’t tried reproducing some of the really complex stuff. The security portions of the teleportation enchants, or the wards in GAR offices. Maybe there were flourishes that he hadn’t run into yet, because he'd mostly just been using the simplest and most straightforward things. Nothing that reacted or sensed, just an input and an output.
“Oh speaking of that! I have some good news, bad news, good news, related to your special project that just got bought.”
“That certainly isn’t ominous,” Callum said, shifting in the cab of his pickup and switching the phone from one ear to another. It had decided to be miserable outside, and he had to peer through murky rain as he drove. “At least there’s more good than bad?”
“That’s the way you gotta approach life, big man,” Lucy told him. “So good; everyone is fine. The bad; The Master of Minneapolis has been agitating about you and after that stunt in Florida got super peeved. He sent a bunch of vamps to go bother the Langleys, probably to get your attention. The good again; your merchandise was used to add reinforcements and ambush the vamps in question, so the boss man wants another. Just in case.”
“He did what?” The news was somewhat disarmed by the fact that it had turned out well in the end, but finding out that the vampires were still bothering Clara and the rest of the Langleys was a jolt. He’d thought he’d left that behind, but now it seemed not.
There was a type of person who could never let well enough be, and had to make sure everyone, everywhere conformed to their vision. To whom merely existing was an affront. The kind that would never, ever leave him alone. It seemed Lavigne was one of those types.
“Hey man, it’s fine. Like I said, they got caught out and taken care of.” Lucy seemed to catch something in his voice, and he shook his head to try and clear his mind.
“Yeah, I know,” Callum sighed. “It’s just that I am so tired of people trying to get at me by going after someone else. I want to stop people from doing that, but I don’t know how. Except plan to punish anyone that does, I guess. If someone goes after you, goes after anyone, I need to be able to deal with it.”
“Whoa there, big man. I know where you’re coming from but these people are big names. Not to mention GAR itself.”
“That only makes it worse,” Callum told her. “That just makes it more likely they’ll try, and that they think they can get away with it.” He rubbed at his eyes, feeling suddenly tired. “You know, it’s probably not the best idea to keep dealing with me. It’ll get you into trouble eventually.”
“Nah, big man,” Lucy replied. “I’m in it to win it. Besides, what would you do without me? Probably be off in a hole somewhere, yeah?”
“Probably,” Callum admitted. He needed someone that knew what was going on, that was certain. “I appreciate it, Lucy, even if maybe it’s not the wisest choice.”
“Hey, I like you a lot more than I like any of the people I work with. I mean, you get me, big man. All the others are stiff old twigs with no sense of humor. And I have to admit…” Lucy stopped to laugh. “You’ve been my biggest payday ever and even if it’s just money, it’s still a lot of it!”
“Hey, you’re worth it,” Callum said. “You said that he wanted another set of teleport plates?”
“Yeah, same deal. Guess they’re worth it.”
“Mmm.” Callum considered. “Not immediately? I have my own projects and I have limited resources to work with. Unless he can get me raw portal world materials?”
“I don’t think he can, big man. Especially since he’s kinda-sorta under a cloud because they know he did some dealings with you. Can’t get at him directly, but he’s no mage so trying to get that would be real rough.”
“In that case, I can’t say yes right now. I’ve got my own projects I’m still doing that take priority. But I’ll keep it in mind and figure out when I can get him another set.”
“Sure, big man. I’ll let him know.”
Callum didn’t press for too many details on the vampire attack over the rest of the conversation, since really he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. There was obviously a bunch of bad blood to begin with between the two factions, and need-to-know went both ways. If he didn’t know what went on, he couldn’t betray it by accident.
He did want to know a lot more about the Master of Minneapolis, because Callum was pretty sure that just losing once – or rather, twice – would not be enough to get him to stop. For the moment he wasn’t quite sure how he wanted to deal with it, or if he was even capable of doing so, but it was better to be forewarned and forearmed than write it off as someone else’s problem. That was a good way to get blindsided.
In his darker moments of anger he’d considered ways to wreak some real havoc with his magic. Or even without it. They were thoughts he hadn’t really followed through on because he didn’t want to become some sort of maniac. There was a big difference between punishing people who deserved it and wholesale destruction.
He’d considered and mostly rejected one of the simplest ways of weaponizing portals on a large scale: the infinite portal box. The idea was to take a box, put a portal at the top and bottom, teleport the air out, and then teleport in the ammunition. Let it fall for a week or two and it made for an extraordinarily high yield bomb. The trouble was, it was a bomb he couldn’t disarm and he had no idea when it’d go off.
Something like that could fail in a lot of ways, like hitting the side of the container, or whatever molecules of air remained in the box making enough friction heat to melt things, or just the portals not being able to handle high speeds. Add in that it needed a high mana environment or him keeping the portals open manually and it just wasn’t a viable weapon. Besides, all it did was explode.
If he wanted to do that, there were probably easier ways to go about it. Plenty of things exploded, from methane to dispersed flour, assuming he needed a larger detonation than his little water grenades. Which did an admirable job of damaging delicate equipment, but were probably fairly useless against any supernatural.
Now that he was facing having to potentially deal with some master vampire or some similar individual, he needed to think about how to really do a lot of damage. Thermite plates wouldn’t be enough. Pistols might not be enough, not after he’d seen the way that a fae could actually dodge such things.
So he was going to have to spend some time coming up with approaches to dealing with such people. He had some ideas, ranging from the simple to the insane, but each would require him to actually investigate and see how expensive they’d be. The problem was that any that required a permanent portal ate into his stocks of mordite, meaning if they were disposable they’d damn well better be worth it.
His personal notebook was starting to look pretty alarming. In addition to notes on infinite power, he had notes about how to collapse buildings and how to get ahold of large amounts of nitrogen or methane. If anyone else saw it, they’d think he was a total nutter, and they’d probably be at least half right.
In addition to thinking of ways enchantments could be weaponized, he started playing around with his gravity field more. He hadn’t forgotten how effective just a random boulder could be, and he could fling fairly large projectiles, so long as he didn’t have to do too many or anything absolutely enormous. Theoretically he could actually launch vehicles, though not very often, given the strain it was to encompass something of that size.
The great thing about the gravity launcher and the accompanying gravitykinesis was that mass didn’t matter. It was all about volume, and a boulder the size of a car was a lot of mass. Hurling something like that at a hundred miles an hour or more was more realistic than trying to make something relativistic with clever exploitation. Not that he could carry a boulder around in his back pocket, but he was a spatial mage.
He hadn’t cracked making a useful spatial compression enchantment. Or expansion. Or whatever it was called. While he could hold together the enchant manually, that took time, attention, and vis, and wasn’t particularly portable. On the other hand, he did have teeny tiny portals. There wasn’t much functional difference between compressed storage and a portal back to some cache somewhere full of useful things.
It'd have to be one of the caves on his bunker property, since the only way he could have a portal open in a reasonable timeframe was to put it in a high-mana area, but that was fine. It wasn’t ideal, since keeping everything as physically separated as possible was the best idea, but he’d need physical access to it anyway. Putting it in the same area meant he wouldn’t have to double-up access to his home, and he could move the teleport plates elsewhere. Or sell them to Chester.
With that thought he started making another portal set, but this one aimed for letting his spatial perceptions through rather than funneling mana or running pipes. So it only needed to be as wide as a finger, or really, even smaller than that if he could manage. He’d already found that he could send his perceptions through fairly small holes and while the sensation was weird, small apertures didn’t impair him at all, so he wanted the portal to be less noticeable.
What he had in mind was another implant. Two was probably the limit he was willing to risk, at least without getting an actual surgeon involved, but that would probably be good enough for now. One for his homebond, which he needed to redo with tubes so it wasn’t so awful, and one for this cache.
The main difference between a portal enchant and the homebond was that the portal had to physically exist somewhere as a discrete torus, rather than using the resonator that just grabbed everything inside the volume of his vis. The homebond’s input didn’t even make sense with the way a portal worked. He just used the enchantment he’d sourced the portal pairs, which had the portals appear just above the enchantment plate. Since he was making something very small, he could just enclose it.
That would make the implant a little larger than the homebond, but not much larger. After all, the portal itself was smaller than a dime. Since he could use threads instead of tubes, the physical space the spell matrix took up was that much smaller and meant it didn’t need to be all that much wider than a dime, either. The enchantment geometry required to define the portal didn’t need to be strictly three-dimensional, so he could stack sections together to make it thicker without making it wider. Doing so meant he spent slightly more mordite on the connections, but he could hardly begrudge the use of his portal materials for something so important.
Planning was one thing, doing was another, and he had to go visit his friendly metal-shop to get all the made and cut. The two portal anchors, which were identical so either of them could be implanted, and a new homebond to replace the old and terrible one. Even if he had some equipment, he really wanted professional help with these, especially since they couldn’t have sharp edges and they’d be getting medical-grade titanium coatings.
Then there was his own work with tapping the mordite into place, enchanting it, bonding it to the next piece of mordite, continuing the enchantment, and all that tedium. Though he supposed it was good that he was already to the point that it was tedious rather than worrying he’d mess up with every motion.
They didn’t look like much when they were finished, but he was damn proud of them. He wanted to break out some champagne, or call Lucy and brag, but he’d never liked champagne and no matter how he felt about Lucy it wasn’t a good idea to detail his hidden cards over the phone. So he just toasted himself with a bottled tea and let the moment pass.
Callum did test both of them before he took them off to get coated. The new homebond, using his new tube technique and benefitting from extra enchanting practice, was better than before even if it didn’t measure up to GAR teleports. There was a distinct feeling of disjunct and disorientation, but it wasn’t anything that lingered.
The mini-portal was pretty well perfect, though. The magical construct manifested in a tiny pocket inside the implant, with essentially no space on either side of it, connecting the two titanium discs. It was completely enclosed, but since most of it was just normal metal it didn’t block any of his perceptions. What was better, he could teleport himself through the portal, though that sort of dislocation tended to destabilize the portal structure.
What he ended up with was a twin pair of titanium discs, thin and flat but completely rounded. The homebond was nearly identical, only being slightly thinner the portal pair. Callum felt that he was being a little prosaic about shoving stuff into his abdominal cavity, but since he wasn’t breaking any skin or anything, all he had to do was make sure they were sterile. Which he did by washing them thoroughly before running them under a high-powered UV light at the machine shop, then teleporting them into a bottle of saline when nobody was looking.
The old homebond came out and the new implants went in, and Callum went on a brief jaunt as he used the old homebond to get to his cache and replace the receiver plate, then used the portal implant to return home. The reshuffling continued as he picked up the telepads he’d used to connect himself to Mexico and scouted around for another cave, one that he could use as a cache. With as large as his property was, he spent some time hunting to find the best possible cave, something large enough to fit everything, but still dry enough to be safe storage.
Strictly speaking, the portal was just as much an emergency button as the homebond, and maybe a better one. Even if they somehow got vis-blocker bracelets on him again, he wouldn’t be sending any power outside himself, so they shouldn’t have any real effect. Though he was pretty sure that if they caught him a second time that trick wouldn’t help him. Nor would having two separate implants. Unfortunately, he couldn’t think of a better way to hide it.
That said, two backups were better than one. The portal did far more for him, but part of him was a little concerned about others being able to sense through the portal. He knew the worry was probably groundless, but it was still in the back of his head, so he kept the homebond for an alternate emergency escape. If he had serious reservations about the portal, the homebond had nothing that gave away what was on the other side. He felt a little bit unsettled the rest of the day, though he wasn’t sure how much was psychosomatic and how much actually was the added pressure of another tiny implant. Callum knew people regularly had much larger implants put inside them, but under far different circumstances.
Once he had all the logistics checked and doublechecked, he moved some of his largesse of weaponry to the new and larger cave. Although, looking around, he’d have to renovate to some extent just to make things organized. At the very least bring in storage racks and some concrete to level out the floor. He’d already put air quality sensors out, though he’d already refreshed the atmosphere in the house-sized cave.
He wouldn’t exactly call himself prepared for every contingency, but the portal-cache massively simplified his logistics. It even made it possible for him to bring his pickup back and forth, already loaded up with materials. The problem of the Master of Minneapolis lingered in his mind, because he knew he’d have to address it somehow, but he let it stay in the back. So long as nothing happened, he could focus on bunkering down.