Chapter 3: Blood Rites

Standing in the tent that would contain at least dozens of wounded soldiers by the end of the fight, Rhodovus looked over the small gathering of hedge mages preparing their magics. There was one fancy pure mage who thought like the rest of her kind that the world revolved around her. At most, the woman was capable of minorly sensing and, thus, influencing the threads of fate with her power as a rank three pure-mage.

He eyed the rune mages around him. They looked liked dropouts or people who had never been professionally trained: second or third ranks at best. They crowded over a few sergeants, writing non-personal-attributed runes on slips of paper before passing the paper to the sergeants for them to activate the runes themselves.

A couple of priests in the back blessed soldiers and dressed the few wounds soldiers had received from wild beasts while on the march. Based on the dim light surrounding the blessed, these priests were at most rank four. Pah, false mages who slave for the Gods!

Leaning against the tent pole, he watched the four mages prepare runes for the sergeants every few minutes. One out of three papers remained inert when used while nearly every fifth functional one glowed red, draining a bit of “somethingness” from the soldiers. Rhodovus imagined he could see the ki flowing out in little wisps with each crimson glow. Sighing, he ordered a pair, “Go prepare some basic dyes, imbeciles.” He trusted that even these novices couldn’t mess that up.

The lead mage growled, “Who are you?”

Rhodovus scanned the man, giving him a cool look over. He looked like a late second-rank papermage at best. “Perhaps, it should be me who asks that question. What is this sorry excuse for papercraft?”

The man walked forward, encroaching on Rhodovus’s space. Rhodovus frowned, reaching into his pocket. Then, one of the mages who had been drawing an enhancement rune sensed the tension and glanced up. She gasped, her runes alighting her paper. Screaming, she backed away from the flames, and all the mages in the room turned toward the fire.

Rhodovus chuckled, his fingers grasping something within his pocket. Taking it out, he revealed that it was a small bound booklet. He flicked through a little bound booklet and counted the twentieth page. Written on violet paper, it was a quick reacting, long duration vacuum spell. It was a fairly simple combination of second and fourth rank magics that he had made tens of copies of in order to practice for his fourth rank qualifications. He hadn’t quite passed the fourth rank test, but he was planning to do it once he returned. After all, one of the prerequisites for the test was completing the graduate test mission.

He quickly pushed his mana through the rune paper, gathering the meager ambient mana into the packet. A grimace flashed across his face as he had to focus in order to force the mana through because the thinner mana atmosphere left less mana to push along the rune lines. There was a dull fwoomp! The flames disappeared, and Rhodovus smirked. The other mages gaped.

The lead mage hesitated before gathering his courage. “Was that a wind magic rune? You expect to impress us with some mutated second rank elemental magic?”

A thin man pulled the lead’s clothes, whispering something in his ears. Hmph. Look at the dirt on their robes. What type of self-respecting mage would allow for that travesty?

Rhodovus flicked his robes, which were as clean as the day he had bought them. They were enchanted to stay unblemished and last a thousand years, although Rhodovus did not plan to stick with these paltry robes for even close to that long. Within a few years, he planned to upgrade his gear as he progressed in his career as a great mage.

Rhodovus’s ears flicked. People always forgot about elves’ natural talents. He caught the whispers. “That was some type of rank four vacuum kinetic magic. Only directed impulses could do something like that,” said the young woman from before.

The other mages paled. The previously confident leader stuttered. “Y-you’re hi-im!”

His voice rose into a shriek. “Elvish! Fourth-rank paper mage! Arrog…”

Stumbling back, he begged, “Lord Thossolorian! Please forgive me! I didn’t recognize you.”

Rhodovus strode forward, taking one of the supplied papers within the tent; he wasn’t about to waste one of his own. He pulled his stylus out of his miniature bag of holding, a modified upper rank five spatial storage containing 2 cubic feet. It had been one of many presents from his family after he had been accepted by the mainline. It had also cost a good portion of their funds, once again reminding him how much his whole family relied on his efforts.

He fought off his painful reminiscing with a grin and scrawled a rather simple red and blue rune. He implemented a few fake parts that, if copied with improper mana force, would cause a nasty surprise. It was a waste of time, but the extra mental exertion and expenditure of personally stored mana were negligible. It was at times like these that he appreciated his bloodline, changing the colors of liquids. It let him more efficiently control the correctly attributed mana through the rune with his willpower by changing the color of the ink to best match the purpose of the mana. Mana tended to flow more continuously and faster with colors toward the violets, while the reds tended to be slightly less efficient but were less likely to unweave themselves throughout the spell. Note by Clayton: At this point, Rhodovus had yet to learn that rune magic was actually heavily influenced by the light spectrum…

Ten seconds later, he finished and handed the newly minted rune to a waiting sergeant. “This should provide a 10% regeneration boost and a 10% strength boost.”

For the second time, the other mages were stupefied. The female paper mage asked incredulously, “A twenty percent total increase? That’s incredible. We could only get…” She blushed.

“Eight to ten percent? I could tell based on the glow from the runes.”

“You can determine a rune’s strength just by looking at it? How?”

Waving his hands, he said, “It’s a secret taught at the Academy.”

The other four mages looked suitably impressed. Rhodovus pointed toward the other waiting sergeants. “You handle the rest. I’ll take care of myself and the captain.”

With a sigh, he flourished his stylus. While a bit dramatic, he had decided that if he was going to have to help these fools, he would at least be properly flamboyant.

He scribbled a bit on a blank page, producing colors that sparkled with the glow of excess mana. Now that a basic personal link to himself had been created through a personalized rune, which would make the rune spell more efficient, he needed to actually build the spell module. His assistant mage gazed in awe at the magician’s powerful tool. Only he knew that inside his “enchanted stylus” was mere blessed water. Pausing, Rhodovus decided on which runes to employ. At least for this one, he would put an ounce of effort into it in order to properly protect himself. He would use better paper than the standard army stuff, but which paper to use…

He settled on paper created from mana-infused bark harvested from the naturally sustained younger branches of trees found in the elven forests. This would cost even him a bit of a pinch, a page made of Igrarian wood was worth two gold even with his elvish discounts, so he only had 3 pages. He shrugged. If he was going to use this paper, he might as well use the little vial he had brought from his collection back at the Academy.

A few months ago, the mainline family had discreetly sent him a disguised ink pot that his sensitive nose had immediately determined was blood essence. Based on the mana he had perceived around it at the time, it had been taken from an at least late sixth rank, perhaps early seventh rank beast.

That small bottle had contained a full tenth of the purified blood essence from the beast, worth anywhere between five hundred and a thousand gold. It had been a reward for his advancement to the fourth rank as a rune mage, nothing much to the Second-Tier Summer Court Main Lineage that made a couple tens of millions of gold a year.

They had viewed it as protecting their investments in one of their most talented adoptees. It was left unsaid that they wanted him to practice his blood magic to become more efficient in using their expensive gift. He sighed, it had been difficult secretly practicing the Blood Arts at the Academy. He’d barely increased his efficiency to twenty percent and had only learned a smattering more theory even after nearly a decade.

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Upon completing a few rituals to prepare the ink and conceal its nature, he had allocated it into a dozen vials, three of which he had brought on this trip. With the current Concealment enchantments embedded on the bottle as well as the various secret herbs he’d mixed in with the ink, it’d take a mage with vastly more power than himself to figure out the secrets. After all, the Summer Elves had successfully concealed their secrets from the world for millennia.

Now, even the most observant interlopers would assume it was just a vial of beast blood, a highly taxed and frowned upon ink, but a far cry from the ritualistic torture and sacrifice required for Blood Essence inks used in Blood Magics. While Blood Magic presented several moral quandaries, it also provided rank surpassing power to spells, making it a useful boost for complex spellwork.

He filled an empty ink cartridge from his bag of holding with the contents of this small vial before switching the ink cartridges in his “enchanted” stylus while silently snickering to himself.

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With a complacent smile, he flicked the paper, straightening any hidden creases. Then, he walked over to the clear wooden table and prepared his craft.

From his pen flowed a dozen runes, intricate designs and swirling patterns that seemed to fog the mind. As the other mages noticed what he was performing, they quickly finished their handful of runes and observed him.

Ten minutes later, Rhodovus stopped his furiously dancing pen and examined his work, a dense mesh of mysterious runes on a paper twice the size of his hand.

He marveled it for a second; the other mages whispered in awe. The female mage asked, “Lord Thossolorian, is that sixth tier rune magic?”

Rhodovus nearly laughed. “No, for all my brilliance, even I am not that advanced yet. It is merely approaching the fifth rank as a general physical buffing rune that provides resistance to mana attacks as well as metallic objects in motion.”

As he turned around to examine the captain in order to determine a proper runespell for the man, he almost missed the look one of the few half-elves in the room gave him. There was a mixture of disgust and glee in the man’s eyes. Rhodovus noted the uniform marking the half-elf as a sergeant.

Damn it, I should’ve hidden the mana traces of the Blood Magic better. How did he figure it out though? I only used activated the Blood Magic within the ink for a portion of a second in between two strokes of the stylus!

Thinking quickly, Rhodovus looked at the half page left. Neatly splitting it in half, he jotted down a few quick runes. It would have to suffice. Blowing on the paper so as to dry it faster, he stored his ink cartridge, noting that he had already used two-thirds of the original vial’s volume.

He turned toward the observing mages and commented, “Now then, I’ll go prepare the captain’s runes.” The other mages nodded. Rhodovus desperately hoped that the sergeant would be stupid enough to try to extort him rather than being a good soldier and reporting it to his commander in the room.

Right on cue, the half-elf sergeant interrupted, “Before you do that, Lord Thossolarian… Could I request your expert advice on this rune I once saw in a cave as a child.”

So the half-elf couldn’t wait, could he?

Rhodovus raised an eyebrow. “Intriguing… Well, I can always spare time for research. Shall we step out of the tent to discuss it?”

Smirking as if he knew that he’d won, the half-elf said, “Of course. I mean, of course, my lord! I’ll even compensate you for your advice.”

Folding up the rune paper he had just finished and placing it in his bag of holding, Rhodovus turned and asked, “May I guide you to a suitable spot?”

The half-elf backed away, smiling pleasantly. “No, no! It’s fine. Your lordship doesn’t have to bother sullying yourself with acting as a mere guide. Why don’t we meet outside beneath the tree by the mess hall? There’ll be a lot of people watching, so your lordship doesn’t have to worry about any of the seedier members of the army.” The sergeant chuckled, trying to make it seem like a joke. To the rest of the tent observing their exchange, it seemed like the sergeant was concerned for the elvish lord’s safety. To Rhodovus, the sergeant’s last sentence served as a warning that witnesses would be about. Rhodovus had to admit that while the sergeant would soon discover that he had made a terrible mistake, the half-elf had nearly succeeded in mucking the smooth gears of his plans.

Mentally adjusting his schedule, Rhodovus regretted storing his sword in his bag of holding earlier in order to seem less threatening to the human soldiers. Then, he smiled. “As you wish.”

- my thoughts:
The amount of money the family makes took me soooo long... and I forgot all the economics... Need to recalculate the numbers.
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