Blood, Bone, Breath, Bile

By William Phillips

Aswen had never gotten along with the Surgery.

They catered largely to academics, theoretical thinkers, those seeking to advance Vitamancy as a science. For those more practical practitioners, those who sought a vocation from their education, the Surgery was… Disdainful.

Aswen could admit to himself, he wasn’t a particularly talented Osteomancer. He had no natural affinity for the subject, merely a passing interest that had put him within the Surgery’s yearly quota of interested students. The gimmicks he’d picked up from his father had let him pass the entrance exam, and he had entered the Surgery as a first year Bone Mage.

Indeed, at first he’d been… Looked-down upon by even his fellow Bone Mages, who – by and large – were members of the nobility, brought up by the ruling class and trained from a young age. Whilst he’d proven himself for the most part in the eyes of his fellow Osteomancers, the other disciplines were not so keen. Hemomancers and Cholomancers, Blood and Bile Mages respectively, were disdainful, but Pneumomancers, Breath Mages, were openly hostile.

Now though, four years later, he could happily say he was well-trained enough to get a job from his studies.

He’d always planned to take over the family shop in his hometown, convert it more fully into an Osteomancer’s clinic, a place where he could study and experiment and help the locals in peace.

Now, it seemed, that plan had been well and truly scuppered.

Or, at least, so the bag wrapped around his head suggested.

Aswen’s first instinct was to go to the mouse skeleton he kept compressed in the breast pocket of his shirt for emergencies. He’d been treating and preparing the thing since the incident in first year, when a group of Pneumomancers had thought it amusing to trap him in a psychedelic haze that lasted four hours.

Now, it seemed, the thing would finally come in handy.

He managed to twist out of the grasp of whoever was holding him – he could feel muscular, hairy arms, twisted tight around his neck, but the ones holding his arms were more dainty – and slapped his hand to his chest.

The skeleton responded to the impact exactly as he’d constructed it to- it pulsed into a rough grouping of bone, hardly recognizable as an animal, and scrambled out of his pocket.

It met the flesh of the arm about his neck first, and a dozen sharpened, strengthened mouse bones dug into it like the fangs of a bear, tearing and scraping and stripping the flesh desperately.

The arm’s owner let out a strangled yell of pain and released Aswen, allowing him to tear away from the other… kidnapper was the only word that seemed appropriate.

Immediately his hands went to the bag around his head, but they seemed to have cinched it tight about his neck somehow.

Aswen’s breath was coming fast now, and sweat poured down his face in panic. He felt almost on the verge of tears, but recognised that his fight and flight response had engaged.

Thank you to that one Cholomancy class I dropped, he thought to himself, hands scrabbling desperately at the rough material about his face.

Something tackled him about his midriff, sending them both clattering to the ground.

Aswen’s head smacked against the ground and for a moment he saw stars, before his consciousness cleared to the sound of rattling glass and a cursing, guttural voice.

The glass cleared his mind momentarily, however, even as he thanked the bone-strengthening processes he’d performed on himself for preventing serious damage.

These two would-be kidnappers had made one mistake – they’d confronted an Osteomancer on his home turf.

“Fracture!” He yelled out. “Snap! Grind!”

The callsigns were the designated activation codes of the three hound skeletons he’d cultivated this past year. Fracture was the only one that was fully done – indeed, Grind was little more than a ribcage and legs – but what other choice did he have?

The tell-tale crack of bones snapping together granted him momentary peace, before a fist slammed into his nose and sent him reeling back.

His head hit the floorboards of his room, once again momentarily robbing him of his senses. His reinforced skull kept him from permanent damage, like a broken nose or a fractured skull, but whoever it was who had tackled him now had his arms in a grip of iron – far from the dainty hands that had ensnared him before.

He heard loud snaps, either from the broken bones of his hounds, or their jaws closing with force.

“Fuck!” Came a guttural voice, and a thud as something heavy hit the floor. Beside Aswen’s head, something made of glass shattered with dangerous force.

The noise had one advantage, however; the grip on his wrist weakened briefly.

Aswen tore one hand free and scrabbled up beside his head for a shard of glass. The pieces tore and gashed his hands, but finally closed on a thin, lengthy piece- which he used to saw at the fabric around his face.

The glass nicked his cheek, but tore a hole wide enough for him to work his fingers into and tear open.

He opened his eyes to the wider view just in time to see a woman’s hand strike him in the face once more, slamming his head into the floor with even greater force.

The pain stunned him even further this time, and he barely managed to croak out, “Snap! Here!”

He didn’t know if the larger man had been incapacitated, but he had to hope Fracture and Grind could take care of it.

Aswen’s vision cleared of bright spots in time to see a white blur tackle the woman off of him, finally freeing him to leap up. Blood painted the hound skeleton’s white muzzle, as it tore into the woman’s shoulder with reinforced abandon, exhibiting the same savagery in death that it had in life.

Aswen tore the rest of the bag from around his head, surveying the scene. Fracture and Grind were still tearing into the now clearly-dead body of the male attacker, blood coating them both and pooling across the floor.

A thick, low crunch snapped him out of his observation, and he turned to see that the woman had crushed Snap’s skull between her ribcage and bicep, and she tossed the now-limp skeleton across the room, catching Grind in the side and sending it to the floor.

Fracture turned in response to the new threat and charged.

Aswen turned away, staggering across the room and rubbing at his bruised stomach. His workbench lay against the far wall, bones strewn haphazardly across the surface, their labels illegible to any except him.

He cast his eyes desperately across the thing, searching for the most weapon-like tool he had at his disposal.

There.

He lunged across the table, sending his various experiments and projects skittering across the floor. He seized the horn with both shaking hands, fingers desperately finding the bored holes he needed to cover.

Turning, he saw the women had forced her hands around Fracture’s upper and lower jaw, ignoring its claws scrabbling at her chest. With a yell, she tore them apart, and let the hounds’ limp skeleton drop lifelessly to the floor.

Aswen could now see the blood pouring out of her eyes and nostrils, thick and, in the muted light of his lanterns, almost black.

Hemomancer, he thought to himself. That explains the strength…

The woman turned to face him, murder in her streaming eyes, her bloody hair matted close to her skull.

Grind had finally recovered, however, and charged at the woman, his first two ribs pointed outwards in an effort to stab her in place of a jaw to bite.

She caught him with one hand, lifting up the hound skeleton effortlessly, staring at it with distaste. She raised her other hand, presumably to break the spine and kill the construct.

Before she could, Aswen pointed the blunt end of the horn towards her, hands contorted to cover specific holes, and blew through the other end.

No sounds emerged, but the arm holding up Grind snapped. Violently.

The woman let out a strangled scream, and dropped the construct, her other hand smacking it away.

Aswen switched his finger positions hurriedly, the sweat on his hands making him nearly drop the implement.

When he found the new holes, he blew once again, and this time the woman’s left leg twisted savagely, the break aiming to cause as much pain as possible.

Both her legs buckled under her, and this time her scream must have been audible throughout his entire dorm.

Aswen lowered the horn from his lips warily, but didn’t put it down.

“Who are you?” He asked instead, voice shaky and cracking. He swallowed thickly.

Instead of responding, the woman spat blood.

Her unbroken arm went down into her shirt, before pulling out a glass tube on a string. The blood inside roiled and crashed against the walls constraining it, and Aswen’s eyes widened.

Suicide vial-!

“This isn’t over,” the woman snarled, her voice thick and guttural. Her teeth were stained with blood. “You won’t escape us. We’ll hunt you down to the ends of the-!”

A blood-coated rib was poking through her throat.

Grind stepped back, tearing his weapon from her with an uncomfortable crunching sound. The woman remained upright where she sat for a moment longer, then slumped to the side.

Dead.

Grind trotted over to Aswen, blood-coated skeleton largely intact. It rubbed the side of one rib against his leg, and Aswen crouched down to pet its foremost vertebra.

“You did good, Grind…” He whispered, too shell-shocked to think what else to say. His eyes were glued to the corpse that lay on his dorm-room floor, blood slowly pouring from it. “You did good.”

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