12 Chapter 11: Captured Souls and Blood Rites
Diana groaned as she opened her eyes to see a dim, vacant room. Carefully tilting her head, she found Kira watching her, completely still. The [Knight] croaked, "What's going on? Did I fall unconscious again?"
She suddenly felt that her arms were remarkably numb. Had she slept on them? Looking down, she realized that she had been stripped of her armor and tied up. While it was definitely not the right time for it, a slight blush appeared on her face. Had someone undressed her while she had been unconscious?
Kira warily peered into the darker shadows of the room. "Careful. I don't think we're alone."
Blinking her eyes, Diana realized that both Kira and herself were completely bound by thick ropes. She yanked her arms but found the knots to be professional, lacking any give at all. She winced as she felt the blood rush toward her limbs. She hurriedly continued to struggle in an attempt to re-circulate her blood and prepare her condition for escaping. After all, even if she managed to escape now, it would take several minutes for her to even be able to stand up.
Eventually giving up, she noticed that Kira's collar was still on. Diana paused; she hadn't noticed before that Kira had one as it was usually partially covered up by her shirt. While there were more pressing concerns in this situation, she felt a bit of disgust well up in her. Hadn't James said that Kira was completely free? Why would he have put a suppression collar on her then? She shuddered. Those things were put on only the most unruly or dangerous slaves, usually [Berserkers], in order to make them more obedient and prevent them from entering their [Berserk] form. Wait, that didn't quite fit with what she knew either. Why had Kira suggested she'd avoided using her [Berserker] form when she ought to not have been able to do it?
Still, it made sense why their captors had wisely left it untouched. Taking off a suppression collar was one of the fastest ways to end up with a claw through your throat. Diana wet her throat with her tongue, swallowing to spread her saliva. It was the only way she could strengthen her voice enough to speak.
Kira glanced at Diana. "There were three figures in black that hit us with tranquilizer darts. I lasted a bit longer than you due to my Resistances, but that's all I know."
Diana whispered, "Has anything happened since you woke up?"
Kira shrugged, jerking the ropes around her. "I think someone's watching us to make sure we don't try to escape." Her voice raised, and she spoke with fury lacing her voice. "When I woke up the first time and started struggling, they tranquilized me before I could reach for my collar. I've kind of kept still and tried to figure out what's going on after I woke up the second time."
Diana guessed that they'd been captured for at least a few hours and at most a day, judging by the fact that she wasn't quite yet suffering a loss of health due to starvation, not to mention that even the best tranquilizers couldn't put down a [Berserker]'s natural Resistances for more than half a day. Wait, why had Kira mentioned her collar? There was something there… Could it be that her collar was fake? That would explain how Kira could be free even with one on, and it would make sense that she'd wear one to appease the townspeople.
Diana's eyes widened. Her guess truly would neatly fit all the clues. Kira managed to catch Diana's expression and subtly nodded her head. Hershan Racial Skills were truly useful in situations like these. Diana racked her brains, trying to determine their next steps. First, they had to figure out why they were here. After a scan around the dim room revealed nothing of interest, she thought back to who she had made enemies with. Only one person came to mind, [Lady] Lloyd. Her motive was also simple to guess, making the pair miss the court trial in a few days' time. While Diana and Kira would probably escape mostly unscathed, they'd be considered guilty, which would probably negatively affect the reputation of both Diana's Howderwhit Dukedom and James's standing in the town. While she didn't have enough to build a case off her current assumptions, Diana immediately considered the [Lady] her first suspect. Now, she just had to escape from here and prove it. Unfortunately, Lloyd was far too clever to leave behind any tracks leading back to herself. In fact, Diana had little doubt that even if they managed to take down their guardians, they'd find them relatively useless and completely lacking any clues. With a small sigh, Diana went back to try to wriggle through the ropes chafing her wrists.
James hummed as he walked through the secret passageway to his basement labs. He guessed that Kira had had to go shopping in the city or something this morning. It was to be expected though as it happened a few times every month. Despite that he'd had to make breakfast today and eat it alone, he could hardly contain his good mood because today was the day that he would finally finish his experiments on liquefied flame crystals and Dragon's Blood. He winced. The latter had taken a huge donation to the Kingdom as well as several personal audiences with the Queen herself before she had agreed to seek his behalf for a small vial of one of the most valuable substances in the world, not because there wasn't a lot of it, but because collecting it was a Quest no Adventurer dared take. Luckily, the Red Dragon Marximus had been rather interested in his experiments into the fire element, agreeing to donate a vial in exchange for a summary of his results. James gulped nervously. What would happen if his hypothesis failed had been left unsaid?
Carefully using a pair of forceps to grip the liquefied fire crystal essence that had been thoroughly cleansed by boiling away any impurities, he felt the waves of heat radiating toward him. At the bottom was a bit of grey dust from the remaining impurities he'd have to remove. He considered the bubbling red fluid that he'd set up a few days ago, a combination of dragon's blood and a few stimulants known to increase the strength of magical creatures. He sighed. Just this was worth his entire fortune. The sheer amount of investments he'd sought from both the Queen and Marximus had been astounding. He went over his hypothesis and procedure one last time: a dragon's vitality ought to be enough to spawn a fire elemental when it was tainted with pure fire mana.
He carefully poured the liquefied fire crystal into an enchanted glass vial, meant to be nearly indestructible. Setting it into a hand centrifuge, one of the first things he had made on this world, he spun the vial around at almost 4,000 RPM, forcing any solid impurities to settle on the bottom as a hard pellet. Decanting the boiling vial, he examined it critically, finding no impurities to his naked eye. Still unsatisfied, he pulled out a mana scanner to test for any ambient mana radiation. According to his calculations, purified fire essence ought to cause the ambient mana readings at the edges of the room to report an almost complete lack of fire attributed mana because it was all attracted by the mana gravity of the dense fire mana within the vial, almost like a black hole. On the other hand, the mana sensor ought to be unable to read any type of mana besides fire-attributed mana within one step of the vial due to the massive concentration of fire-attributed mana. Three minutes later, the mana reader beeped for the last test, confirming his hypothesis.
Satisfied that everything was going to plan, he tossed the vial with the pellet of impurities into his wastebasket, which already contained a murky mixture of extraneous solutions and powders, while he quickly wrote down the results of his mana reading tests. It was a bit repetitive, but such was science.
Taking a last proud look around the room, he set up a separatory funnel attached to a gas collector over holy water, one of the most elementally inert substances in existence. If a layman were to see it, they'd see a tube pipe ending in an upside tube down vial that was opening down in a pool of water. He carefully mixed his two solutions within the funnel, immediately creating a hiss as gasses explosively formed from the reaction. He felt the excitement rise within him.
Watching two distinct layers of resulting products settle within the funnel, he knew that the time of real excitement had come. He expectantly gazed at the small bubbles emerging from the tube, rising through the water's surface and seemingly disappearing into empty space within the tube. Of course, these bubbles of evaporated dragon essence, something which was said to be impossible to form as the essence of dragon blood supposedly never boiled, were actually trapped with the gas collector because the density of the holy water prevented it from escaping.
Carefully stoppering the tube, he removed it from the holy water bath and carried it over to his electrical current setup. Leaving it on the counter to cool, he looked at the smaller boons of this little experiment: the two liquids remaining in the separatory funnel. He opened the valve, letting the bottom aqueous layer flow into a separate vial. This was the remains inherent to organic fire crystals, the beast component as it were. He had predicted that the dragon blood would rigorously reject it, making it accumulate at the bottom. While extraordinarily valuable for [Noble]s and others who wished to gain Bloodlines, he himself found little use for it and would probably find himself hunted down if he started selling purified Bloodlines. The few [Archmages] specializing in their creation jealousy monopolized the market, and Kingdoms would declare war for such secrets. Overall, it was far too valuable to be sold like a common appliance. He considered donating it to the Queen and claiming it could only be created with dragon blood. No, that wouldn't work. She'd force him to spend the rest of his time researching and synthesizing this secret; he'd probably even lose his independence. Besides, introducing modern scientific ideas would quickly lead to his greatest fear, the creation of weapons that could upset the balance of the world. He sighed, wondering whether he could dilute it and then market it but shook his head.
That would be a waste of time as impure or diluted Bloodlines were readily available from simply hunting down these monsters. Besides, only very pure and concentrated blood could be used as a true and guaranteed safe Bloodline. Lamenting the loss of a fortune, he poured the mixture of Monster Bloodlines into the waste bin.
Then, he rather curiously examined the remaining layer after pouring it into its own vial. He had not predicted for there to be a third product. Well, he supposed that he was overstepping himself. It was possible this was just the dragon blood impurities. He swirled the vial, the red liquid inside sloshing about, glinting in the bright light of his lab. He grabbed a cork for the vial and decided that he might as well take his time before approaching the grand finale. Using the mana reader from before, he tested this unknown sample.
BEEP! James tilted his head. That had been… fast. He'd only had such a sudden reading when working in the presence of very pure and concentrated attributed mana, rivaling that of the liquified fire essence he had purified. Aha! Could this be the remnant fire essence?
James slapped his forehead. Of course, he'd been so stupid! The liquified fire essence had merely boiled the dragon blood and had its attributed mana interact with the dragon blood's vitality. The actual two physical compounds hadn't reacted at all: merely the mana they contained had. The fire essence was still very much existent. James felt a bit of curiosity rise in him. Would this new liquid have the same properties as normal purified fire essence? Perhaps, just as he had tainted dragon vitality with fire essence, he had done the opposite to the fire essence? Setting it onto his storage rack, he promised to himself that he'd work on that next.
Finally, James confidently strode toward the electrical current setup. Much like the Miller-Urey experiment from his own dimension that had inspired this experiment, he had taken the building block to life, magical vitality, concentrated it and optimized it by using dragon blood, and was now preparing to expose it to electricity. Nevertheless, unlike the science of his homeland, this time, he employed magic, electric-type mana. Flipping a lever, he carefully observed as sparks flashed through the gas, forming arcs of lightning. Slowly, the mana reader on the side detected greater concentrations of vitality mana, coalescing into wisps of almost solid unattributed nature mana. He jotted down his notes. Remarkably, he'd converted vitality, also known as blood magic, into nature magic, a close cousin but still distinct flavor of mana! Now, the fire elemental ought to begin forming from the ambient nature mana, building blocks of vitality, and the veneer of fire attributed mana imbued throughout the whole system. The glass slowly heated up, and the pressure gauge he'd set up connected to the system gradually rose.
Nevertheless, he wasn't worried as this was merely the signs that an elemental was coalescing a physical form. The motes of mana drifted toward the center, inexorably growing larger to form a sphere. James watched in excitement when the whole thing exploded.