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Literature / Paranoid Mage

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Nope, you'll never see his face
Paranoid Mage is an urban fantasy Web Serial Novel, by the author of Blue Core, available on RoyalRoad, and ScribbleHub.

Callum Wells is a successful architecture consultant who is perfectly happy with his almost entirely mundane life. Sure, he can see werewolves, dragonkin and various other odd individuals that no one else seems to notice, but as long as they don't bother him he's happy to pretend along with everyone else.

Until one day he's caught up in a magical conflict in his home town and isn't given the option of ignoring it any more. The magical governments put the "force" into "enforcement" and Callum really doesn't like the sound of a mandatory draft into humanity's supernatural wars. Now he's on the run, trying to stay hidden while learning as much as he can about the magical world.

Oh, and a lot of what he does learn...upsets him.

Don't let the Guild of Arcane Regulation know about these trope examples:

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  • Ancient Conspiracy: GAR has been controlling mundane perceptions to hide the existence of the supernatural for at least 500 years.
  • Anti-Magic: Callum's portal experiments lead him to discover a realm of "anti-mana" that rapidly strips magic from whatever it touches. Fortunately the process is not self-sustaining after he closes the portal. It later becomes his go-to countermeasure for opponents too powerful to fight directly, from arch-mages to fae royalty; just open an anti-mana portal and wreck their everything.
  • Arrested for Heroism: Repeatedly.
    • Callum first got on GAR's radar when he tried to pull mundanes out of a fire, sparked when armed goons stormed Mr. Shahey's gym and he retaliated by breathing Dragon Fire back at them. Callum gets magically handcuffed and brought in because he's a mage without a tattoo.
    • Then when Callum is trying to help Gayle Hargrave pass her tests, so she doesn't need to apprentice under the head of her house's rival, the Fane house, Gayle gets used as bait to nab him, and then poor Gayle is called a "heretic" and shoved into BSE to apprentice under Fane's goons. Archmage Hargrave is less than thrilled when Callum breaks her out and then hands her over, for free.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Because GAR treated Callum West like a criminal slave, dragging him into a "test" that was just shy of torture, tattooing him against his will when he was unconscious, and pushing him around like a moron, demanding he end his civilian life or be declared Rogue and face execution, Callum West went rogue. He bolts at the first opportunity, destroying GAR infrastructure to punish them every time they try to get a handle on him, and when GAR decides to mess with someone he likes or turn a blind eye to mundanes suffering thanks to supernatural shenanigans, that's when he gets mad.
  • Beardness Protection Program: Multiple times Callum grows or alters his facial hair, along with wigs, fake tattoos and other props to try and pass undetected.
  • Classified Information: Callum's initial investigation finds that almost all information about magic beyond the bare basics is locked away and requires apprenticeships, House status, etc. So he has to experiment and learn almost from scratch. On the other hand, that leads to him discovering applications that Archmage Duvall would never have considered or taught him, like his space-warping "gravitykinesis" high-speed travel.
  • Conscription: As far as GAR is concerned, every mage owes them several years of service, primarily fighting off threats that come via the portal worlds. Callum is unimpressed to be picked up off the street and told he has no choice but to abandon his job and fight in their war, but he might have played along — if he hadn't discovered that there is an excessively high casualty rate among conscripts who don't join an established House or Guild.
  • Covert Distress Code: Callum and Lucy are aware that she could be discovered and used against him, so they settle on her talking about her House (which she's estranged from due to not being magical, and thus doesn't normally talk about) as a signal that she's speaking under duress. Even under a fae geas that forces her to conceal its own existence and try to work against him, she's still able to use the phrase, and visibly relaxes as soon as she does.
  • Create Your Own Hero: While GAR sees Callum Wells as a villain, in truth, if they hadn't made it abundantly clear with their overbearing arrogance that he faced the very real possibility of slavery unless he bolted first chance he got, he wouldn't have known how utterly corrupt they are, and many, many victims would have arisen from GAR's tyranny.
    • The peaceful town of Winut would have been destroyed by a vampire armed invasion under the auspices of Levigne, for starters.
    • The rocky mountains would be the hunting ground of arrogant fae nobles, countless innocent hikers caught up in their Wild Hunts.
    • The Fane house always had the town of Tanner in their cross-hairs, and it was only a matter of time before all the people there were exterminated, either in an open attack or in Archmage Fane's lab.
  • Create Your Own Villain: If GAR had been polite, friendly, and reasonable, Callum would have been thrilled at the opportunity to learn about magic. But since they were overbearing, arrogant, and controlling, he decides he'll have to make his own path. As things escalate, he starts racking up a body count of the people who have tried to put him down, and becomes an existential threat to the department due to his rare spatial magic affinity. They still have no comprehension that it's their own fault, except that they think they should have cracked down even harder when they first encountered him, to make sure he couldn't get away.
  • Crime of Self-Defense:
    • Callum has been deemed a criminal by GAR because he dared to fight off an armed invasion by vampires, under the sway of Levigne, Master of Minneapolis, into the city of Winut. Said vampires were breaking into people's homes, kidnapping and killing them for a laugh, with Callum himself being targeted, and Callum only attacked after one of these vampire nests tried to provoke a war by kidnapping the great-niece of Alpha Chester and the locals came to him for help. At which point he did his best impression of John Wick, destroying that entire nest, no survivors, and went after the remaining 5 nests when he saw a GAR mage actively aid the vampires in hiding the bodies of their victims. He utterly annihilated 4 of them and backed off only because Levigne himself threw in the towel and begged Chester to back off.
    • Then GAR does it again when Callum stumbles upon Fae attacking a couple of innocent hikers, hunting them for fun, and Callum fights them off. The fae kings are furious, and GAR is much more interested in appeasing them with Callum's head on a platter than getting justice for a couple of mundane humans.
  • Culture Clash: As is revealed in volume 3, the biggest reason for conflict between Callum Wells and GAR, and its sub-branches, is a fundamental and irreconcilable difference in mindsets. Callum Wells was born and raised as a mundane American citizen in a free and open society that lives under the motto "your rights end at the point your fist reaches my nose." As such, he visibly chafes every time GAR comes after him or utterly refuses to treat mundanes as people. GAR culture is a totalitarian society where everything is kept stable through copious amounts of secrecy and force, with BSE being a bureau that actively enforces secrecy, and everybody is usually expected to kowtow to whoever can provide more of either. GAR sees Callum as a complete anathema to their existence and is absolutely determined to either bring him to heel or eliminate him, and the top brass doesn't really care which.
  • The Dark Side Will Make You Forget: According to GAR's own charter, which Callum read to avoid having to listen to Fane Sen brag about his unimpressive front-line military service, GAR was founded to defend the Earth against supernatural threats coming from the portal worlds. While it's understandable that doing so requires a certain amount of Command and Control, whatever noble intentions GAR may have had are long gone, as the entire organization is now all about Command and Control, whatever it takes. Protecting the Earth is far more often than not just an excuse.
    • As is revealed by both Alpha Chester and Mr. Shahey in volume 3, there was a time when GAR had absolute need for secrecy, to defend against Van Helsing Hate Crimes, if nothing else. Over the years, they've become addicted to the secrecy and now protect The Masquerade at all costs; who cares about a little thing like human life?
  • David Versus Goliath: The story features Callum Wells, alone, squaring off against GAR, an organization that isn't just international, but interdimensional, with at least 4 worlds in their sway. And he also has to keep an eye out for mundane authorities that buy into GAR's lies, either out of convenience, greed, or sheer helplessness to resist.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: For the better part of a year, GAR is convinced that Callum Wells is just the front man for a larger unknown organization, and once that has been debunked, various factions are utterly convinced he's a secret pet project for some unstated Archmage house that slipped his leash — because the alternative, that he is precisely what his dossier says he is, is far, far more terrifying. Even Lucy Harper, who likes Callum West, has that mindset, until she meets him in person.
  • The Fair Folk: Interbreeding between humans and occupants of one of the portal worlds has produced the Fae. Slightly monstrous or animalistic looking humanoids with abilities that work outside the normal magical rules. The Fae are one of the four known powers in the supernatural world, organized into traditional courts.
  • Fantastic Racism: All the supernatural factions, in general, view mundanes and "duds" with nothing but contempt. And they don't like each other much either...
  • For the Evulz: Vampires don't actually need to kill humans and drink their blood. They have their own "Moon Water" from their home world easily accessible. In fact, they don't like the taste of human blood, at all. The reason they desire to drink human blood is that they actively enjoy seeing humans die and get a sick rush out of watching humans lose their vitality as the blood is drained from their bodies.
  • Harmful Healing: Healing mages are rare, and almost all the good ones are controlled by House Fane, because they can be exceptionally lethal. All it takes is to boost the process of blood clotting, or the production of neurochemicals... Archmage Fane is known to be able to kill someone instantly if he can just make contact with their vis.
  • Hate Crimes Are a Special Kind of Evil: One of the things guaranteed to get Callum West on the war path is when supernaturals treat mundanes like livestock or wild game, to hunt for sport. He considers GAR an evil organization because they either turn a blind eye to it, citing unstated "quotas" before it becomes a crime, or actively participate as was the case in Winut.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Callum West has no qualms about using his enemies' weapons, tactics, or strategies against them.
    • In chapter 6, he utterly annihilates a vampire nest in Winut by swiping and using their own guns.
    • In volume three, he goes after an archmage using the guy's own personal GAR authorized portal device. He allows himself a brief cackle at the idea.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Callum is greatly saddened by the violent results of closing the main portal to the Night Lands, which prompts the remaining vampires on Earth to go on a rampage, but he ultimately concludes that it just demonstrates how necessary his action was; waiting would only have made it worse.
  • I Gave My Word: Oaths are Serious Business among the fae. It's why Alpha Langley, a sub-alpha under Chester and the Winut sheriff, first thought Callum was a fae, as Callum was willing to completely ignore GAR laws and his own safety, to come to the rescue of his daughter and Alpha Chester's great-niece from a vampire nest, because, being neighborly, Callum had promised that if there was something he could do to help, he would.
  • Invisible to Normals: Standard "glamours" exist to keep magic invisible both to natural perception and from electronic surveillance.
  • Join or Die: As explained to Callum West by Agent Jahn, when a mage awakens among the mundanes and is brought before GAR, they either bow and scrape, complying with GAR's policy, to the letter, and obey every order given by their Master, which has a 30% mortality rate, or be declared a rogue and face certain death. Callum, not looking forward to conscription at best, outright slavery as a distinct possibility, and clearly not happy with the prospect of the 30% mortality rate, bolts first chance he gets and has been a thorn in GAR's side ever since.
  • Kryptonite Factor: Supernaturals are much harder to kill than regular humans, but each one is vulnerable to a different magical material from the portal worlds; fae are harmed by Cold Iron (not to be confused with regular iron), vampires by mordite, etc. Callum rarely used those materials as weapons, though, since he has limited stocks of them and they are needed for building enchanted items.
  • Lawful Stupid: The GAR's Department of Acquisition has standard operating procedure to put mundanes who are exposed to the supernatural under the care and responsibility of the group who thus exposed them.
    • Out of sheer laziness, they turn over some kidnapped teens to the very same vampire faction that kidnapped them, to kill and eat, after Callum rescued them. Callum went apoplectic, unable to do anything about it, and is still looking to make the one who authorized it pay.
    • Callum does indeed retaliate when the DOA does it again after Callum rescued a couple of hikers from a Fae "Wild Hunt." This time, he breaks them out of GAR confinement and hands them over to the Fae King of Miami, who agreed just to spite King Ravaeb, the Fae King of the clan involved in the hunt.

  • Magic Land: All magic and supernatural races come from one of the many portal worlds that are connected to Earth.
  • The Men in Black: Callum refers to the Bureau of Secret Enforcement agents as the "Mages in Black" in an explicit reference to this trope.
  • Mage Born of Muggles: Seemingly Callum Wells, though his "parents'" ages imply they're probably his grandparents, so might not be technically true. Turns out they are his grandparents, and his mother was very sexually loose, coming home as a single mom, going through so many guys, she couldn't identify the father. After a heated fight, she abandoned her son with her parents, and was thrown out of the house, disowned.
  • Magical Sensory Effect: Both mana and "vis" (a mage's personal magical power) are visible to other supernaturals, and the different types of magical effect are fairly easily distinguished.
  • Magical Society: On the far end of the controlling versus helpful scale, the GAR give Callum a literal "join or die" choice.
  • Masquerade: In full effect, and maintained by the use of glamour magics which interfere with both mundane perceptions and technological surveillance.
  • Mercy Kill: According to Alpha Chester, humans who manage to survive being fed on by vampires lose that "special something" that allows them to operate as independent self-sufficient people, and thus become enslaved body and soul to the vampire that turned them, unable to defy any order and immensely "loyal." The only way to grant them freedom and peace is to kill them.
  • Military Mage: All mages are required to be this, being forcibly drafted to fight on the various portal worlds, ostensibly to stop Earth from being overrun by the other supernatural races.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: GAR treats their "dud" employees (non-magical children of mages) as sub-human, and they're forced into the job by the figurative or literal use of the magical equivalent of a gun to the head. So, when Lucy Harper gets the chance to give them the middle finger by helping Callum under the purview of Alpha Chester, who has a legit beef, she takes it, the huge retainer she's paid being a welcome bonus. When GAR gets the "brilliant" idea to have Agent Black and vampires use their Compelling Voice to march all the "duds" into interrogation rooms, and question them, she stops playing and goes full-tilt traitor, considering GAR the root of all evil. Then when Duvall forces the issue, and uses her as bait for Callum, up to and including having a Fae put her under a Geas, she signs on with Callum completely, looking to tear the place apart.
  • Moral Myopia: GAR has some serious chutzpah to see themselves as the good guys in this story.
    • Using selective enforcement of their own laws, they actively back a vampire armed invasion into the quiet town of Winut, up to and including helping the vampires in question hide the bodies of their victims.
    • GAR used a mana bomb to KO every last man, woman, and child in a city in France and one of their agents even blew up a restaurant, just because Callum happened to be there.
    • They kidnap a couple of innocent hikers just because they dared to survive a Wild Hunt, thanks to Callum coming to their aid.
    • They treat their own "dud" employees like they're sub-human, seeing nothing wrong with mind controlling or mind raping them to keep them in line.
    • They call Callum "evil" because he dares to reject having them boss him around, starting the story by actively stopping him from rescuing the victims caught in the crossfire between some armed antagonists and Mr, Shahey. When he's arrested after the Winut case, he actively points out how his actions are entirely self-defense because the "victim" vampires were killed in the very act of kidnapping and murdering people. The arresting agent's response? "It's not a crime if they don't exceed their quota, wait a minute, I don't need to justify myself to you!"
  • Muggle–Mage Romance: Defied by Sen, who completely ignores a waitress flirting with him despite being single, and when questioned about it, replies that, "arcanes and mundanes don't work well together." Callum, who was happily married for several years until his wife suddenly passed away, figures Sen's just prejudiced.
  • Muggles: Most of the supernatural world barely considers mundane humanity to be people, and pay very little attention to things like technology or modern media. Magical laptops and the like do exist, but most of these things come from non-magical humans who are aware of the supernatural world.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: When Callum gets a look into Archmage Fane's secret basement, he goes and downs some expensive liquor to keep from gagging at the sheer level of gore. Lucy asks "Do I want to see that, Big Man" and Callum's answer is a solid "NO." Then she sees it as she's filming a recording to expose the Fane House's nastiness and has to go get passed out drunk to cope with it.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse:
    • Callum's introduction to mage society is pretty much this. He's told bluntly that GAR military service is mandatory and that GAR hunts down rogue mages, often executing them.
    • Archmage Fane offers to recruit Callum as a hitman, making it clear that refusal will mean death. Callum responds by teleporting Fane to a lethal depth of the World 5 ocean.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons themselves cannot come to Earth, and apparently this is a very, very good thing. Dragonkin, however, do exist on Earth, and it's a rare mage who's willing to annoy even one of these lesser beings.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: An entirely non-native supernatural lifeform that has changed to look mostly humanoid due to their proximity to earth. Sunlight simply makes them sleepy and slow, rather than being directly harmful.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Shifters are formed by a symbiotic relationship between a human and a lifeform from one of the portal worlds. They have a glamour effect that makes mundanes see them as ordinary cats or dogs. There's no special association with the moon; they can shift back and forth at will, including a hybrid form.
  • Outside-Context Problem: GAR is accustomed to having mages "awaken" as helpless children, or brought into the fold by their respective arch-mage houses, and thus sufficiently controlled. Callum Wells awoke as a very successful, independent, and Properly Paranoid 30-year-old man who was handled very, very roughly by agents Black and Hardcombe. Naturally, he plays dumb and bolts first chance he gets and continues to blindside GAR because he's a quick study, and they constantly underestimate him and his raw determination.
  • Paper Tiger: GAR's influence depends entirely on being able to project the image that they're more powerful than anything they come across. True, they are powerful, but they've got only a handful of arch-mage houses that don't exactly get along. So the fact that Callum Wells, one man, is able to flaunt their authority on a repeated basis has many of the cowed supernatural groups becoming restless...
  • Playful Hacker: Lucy seems to be both remarkably effective at penetrating electronic security and incredibly upbeat in personality.
  • Playing with Syringes: The GAR "Department of Acquisitions" has sent thousands of people to Archmage Fane, who is an expert in uses and misuses of magical healing, and when there is any official reason for the transfer recorded at all, it's some variation on "medical purposes"... Naturally, those people aren't seen again.
  • Portal Crossroad World: Possibly Earth. There are at least six portals to other worlds on Earth, and each of those worlds connects to more.
  • Portal Network: There is one of these covering the entire world, with exits hidden inside fake office buildings and the like. It's crucial to GAR's operations, but it can only be created and maintained by spatial mages, which are rare and essentially boil down to Archmage Duvall and her few apprentices. And then Callum's activities start making people wonder just how safe that network is, and what Duvall could have hidden inside it...
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • Rather unsurprisingly given the title, Callum's efforts to cover his tracks are often barely enough to avoid being caught.
    • Lucy eventually finds herself following suit and suspecting conspiracies everywhere. Callum approves.
      “Now you’re being properly suspicious,” Callum told her, and she stuck her tongue out at him.
      “You’re infecting my thought processes,” she accused him.
      “Probably so, but I’m not wrong.”
  • Protection Racket: All mages are obligated to join the GAR draft and spend time protecting Earth from threats on the portal worlds, which has an alarming 30% mortality rate. But when Callum does some research, he finds that the threats in question don't sound all that dangerous. Turns out that the casualties overwhelmingly occur among mages who don't sign up with an established House or Guild. That pushes him over the edge to deciding that he can't play along.
    He’d still been considering spending time as a human packmule, moving people from here to there. It didn’t sound interesting, but it would give him plenty of time to practice magic and he could probably even keep up with his career, though he’d have to be careful. Or maybe just work for people on the arcane side of things; mages built buildings too.
    Knowing that he’d have to deal with politics and probably sign his life away to someone else for protection or else face an 'accident' made that idea intolerable.
  • Space Master: Turns out Callum is actually a spatial mage, which explains why he was so good at architecture.
  • Super Senses: Callum's spatial magic gives him a full, unrestricted view of everything in a sphere around him. Shapes only, no colour, but it's still incredibly useful when combined with his ability to shoot anything he can see.
  • Thinking Up Portals: One of the early applications of his spatial magic that Callum masters.
  • Urban Fantasy: All the usual elements, though each with a slight twist, set in modern day America.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: Inverted. Turns out these vampires are not only unattractive to humans, but completely asexual.
  • Weakened by the Light: Vampires become slower and sleepy in sunlight, so they ensure that they have human thralls to guard them during the day.
  • Weaponized Teleportation:
    • Turns out that combining mundane weaponry with magical portals is incredibly effective. Callum's combat debut is firing guns through tiny portals to headshot an entire nest of vampires and their supporting mage, without them seeing him coming despite their Super Speed. He only gets more dangerous from there.
    • If he can manage to directly teleport the target, he has even more options. He assassinates Archmage Fane by subverting GAR's portal network and sending Fane into the depths of a bottomless ocean, crushing Fane with the pressure.
  • The Wild Hunt: Some Fae (along with the occasional shifter) feel hunting mundanes as part as one of these is a wonderful way to pass the time. Callum disagrees.