I’m not sure who was more surprised, Lenore or myself, when the Centaur nodded his acceptance when I proposed that, if he didn’t struggle, I wouldn’t sever his spine. But then, maybe I shouldn’t have been, he was in an untenable situation and going along with my demands kept him whole, at least for now.
“A wise choice. Now, you might have noticed with your companion, I’m attempting to create a permanent shield against hostile magic, mostly by obscuring you from magical scrying and divinations. I know, that is hardly a problem for you at this point, not with your meagre power, but once you are stronger, such a shield is quite useful, even if you have to keep it active at all times. Which is where my research comes in, sadly, research needs experimentation. And experimentation needs subjects, which is where you and your friends come in.” I explained, casually chatting while I cut off his clothes, allowing me access to his upper body and arms.
Stopping myself from monologuing like a third-rate villain, I got to work, carving the same formation I had used on the female centaur into his left arm, watching as he ground his teeth into the icy gag in his mouth, sweat beading on his face despite his frozen shackles. I knew that Blood Magic was a pain like no other and I doubted that getting runes carved into your arm was pleasant either. But he managed to keep his arm mostly still, which was quite the achievement, in my eyes.
Once the formation was set up, I stood back and repeated my observations from earlier, only this time, Lenore spoke up.
“I think ,if you use your Athame and trace a thin line, nothing more than a scratch, over his body, feeling into it with your Blood Magic, you should be able to detect the influence of the Runic Formation. That way, you might be able to find out how far the influence stretches, without exploding another test-subject.” she suggested and I considered it for a moment before conceding that she had a point. It might just work and if not, well, nothing major would be lost.
“Let’s find out.” I agreed, straddling the centaur’s horse body and starting to carve a line, starting near his left shoulder towards the other shoulder, carefully drawing a tiny amount of power out of him. Watching with Lenore’s sight allowed me to see the disturbance in the power that I drew out, at least if I was looking very closely. Not wanting my experiment to fail, and the centaur to explode, I gently nudged the power back into the wound, using it to close it up, even as I continued to carve.
Short glances, using Observe, told me that while his health was slowly going down, I would be able to carve someone in that manner for hours, maybe even days, without them perishing and the whole time, they’d be in horrendous pain. And once I was done, the only trace would be an elevated level of Miasma in their body, nothing on the outside. It was such an obvious and effective method of torture that I wondered if it had helped with the bad reputation of those who used Blood Magic.
When I got to the middle of his back, the disturbances had faded, making me unable to detect any further problems. Something about that made my gamer-instincts tingle in the back of my mind, suggesting that it was possible to place on formation on each limb, maybe even one on the back that linked all four together, in a sort of slot-system. It wouldn’t be the first time that Game-Developers had deployed something like that, I just needed to know if different types of formation could be used on the same person.
“This seems like a success.” I muttered, hopping off the centaurs back and walking to his right side. There, I looked at the arm and tried to come up with a good second formation, something either using Ice- or Blood-Runes.
After a moment of contemplation, I decided on a spell that I’d have to get used to anyway, a combination of mist and cold, allowing me to create a ward around me against heat, or I would seriously suffer once we got further south. But that was the price I had to pay for my ability with Ice-Magic, whether I wanted it or not.
Curious, I started to carve the formation into the Centaurs arm, watching him desperately trying to suppress the pain. It was quite impressive, even if he had to hate me, he mastered himself in the hope of getting out of this alive.
Sadly, it was not to be.
Once I finished the formation, I took a step back and watched as the formation began to work, a thin mist clinging around the centaur, making him look like he was sweating it out. And that was the moment things started to go wrong, somehow, through Lenore’s sight, I watched the two formations form a tiny disturbance in the middle of the centaur’s back, making me wonder if it was just because I had carved the formations too close to the shoulders, it didn’t seem like a big problem. At least at first, it didn’t look like a big problem, as I watched, the different types of magic became more and more distinct in the disturbance, causing a reaction, almost like a resonance, between them.
“Uhoh…” Lenore muttered, when a shrill scream shattered the silence of the night. The centaur, obviously in tremendous pain, had bit though the gag and was giving voice to his pain. I stepped behind my wall, continuously observing the process until the reaction between the two formations reached a crescendo, ripping the centaur apart in a violent burst of power, throwing blood and gore all around the clearing.
“I think we can mark that down as a failure.” I told Lenore as I looked at the corpse, fascinated at the result. Somehow, the head of the centaur was still attached to his spine, even as the torso was destroyed, the rips shattered and most of the flesh simply gone. Looking around, I saw one of the arms in a nearby tree, blood dripping into the foliage.
“Unless we want to cause a spectacularly gory scene, yes.” Lenore agreed, causing me to nod.
“But I think if we either use a linking formation in the middle, something that connects the two formations and prevents the build-up or if we use the same type of formation, we might be able to have more than one formation on a person.” I reasoned, still looking at the gory scene in front of me.
Behind me, I heard rapidly approaching footsteps and, when I turned, saw that both Sigmir and Rai had come running. When they saw me behind the Ice-Wall, obviously unharmed, they slowed down, walking normally.
“What happened, Master?” Rai asked, sounding worried, while Sigmir simply approached me and gently caressed my cheek, as if making sure that I was still there.
“A small set-back in an experiment. There’s a reason I wanted to use these guys for it, not myself.” I shuddered. “Thank you for worrying, love, but I’m alright.” I added, to assure Sigmir, before giving her a soft kiss.
“Do you need help?” she asked, looking at the remains of the dead centaurs.
“No, I don’t think so. I think I have some of the problems worked out, I’ll have to see what happens with attempt number four.. I explained and she nodded, taking position behind my Ice-Wall, together with Rai. .
“.Let’s see how our next subject fares.” Lenore proposed and I walked to our last complete test-subject.
“We don’t even have to paralyse this one, unless he wakes up.” I mused, curious if my idea would work.
Repeating the steps I had used earlier, I carved the concealment-formation into the left arm before repeating it on the right arm. I considered using the forearms first, but decided against it, I hoped to use shoulders, as that would make it easier to hide the formation beneath clothes.
“There’s a build-up.” Lenore muttered, slightly annoyed. I looked through her vision and saw it, too, but it was small, almost insignificant. Much more important was that, with two formations, it seemed that Lenore’s sight was quite strongly impacted, making it hard to see the power inside the Centaur. If we weren’t right next to him, I wasn’t sure we would notice him, it was quite effective.
“Let’s try something.” I said, hopping onto the centaur’s back and visualising the two formations as if I had created them in the air, trying to come up with a good way to connect them. They both had three runes, so I’d have to use seven at the very least. Somehow, I doubted that trying to create a formation with nine runes, three times the same set, would work, but a seventh rune, that might just work.
With more haste than maybe advisable, I carved two channels from the existing formations, linking them together, placing a Magic-Rune in the center before taking a few steps back.
Thanks to Lenore’s sight, I could see it working, the disturbance was quickly fading and the centaur difficult to see in her sight, as if a cloud of dense smoke was between us.
“Success?” I asked Lenore, who simply sent back her agreement.
“I don’t think we want to empower a random coward, what do you think?” she asked, her suggestion clear.
“No, I agree, it would be a waste on him.” I nodded, walking up and pricking his skin to gain a little more information on his condition. It wasn’t bad but the formation was obviously drawing a lot of power, there was no Astral Power in his body and I was quite sure his health was affected as well, the power drained by the powerful spell-formation.
“Hopefully, that’s because he’s got no affinity for Darkness-Magic. Or because of his low level.” I muttered, drawing one of my blades and plunging it into his heart, instantly killing him.
As I turned around, walking back to the others, Rai’s eyes turned wide and I looked behind me and muttered a soft curse. The centaur I had just killed was turning into black particles, quickly fading into the wind, in an effect I had seen before. I had just killed a Traveller, who wouldn’t have the courtesy to stay dead. No, he would return and tell everyone in earshot about the person who had murdered him, namely me.
“I think we should travel through the night.” I told the others, feeling the sudden onset of a headache.