The thin membrane, a slice of metallic foil shaved so finely as to be almost transparent, quivered almost violently.
It was suspended from a clamp attached to the slender armature of a “protective restraint device.” Fine words for a cage, but they sounded far better to some of the unenlightened who could not understand the importance of the work conducted in the laboratory. Below, a form thrashed as violently as it could. Small and malformed, the candidate strained against the various straps and bands that secured it to the dark platform. What it was, or had been, was, at best, questionable. It followed a generally humanoid figure, with four appendages and a single head arranged about a central trunk-like form in star-like formation. Unfortunately, that is where simple classification failed. The subject’s body was covered a collection of epidermal coverings – bare skin, fur, and scale-like growths warred with one another over the surface of its body. It’s eyes, alternately clenched shut and bulging open, were golden with vertical slit pupils; they were a solitary point of beauty in a mismatched tapestry of conflicting images. A mouth filled with almost shark-like fangs opened and closed in silent cries of one sort or another.
It was hard to guess, really. The heavy jar that rested over the top of both creature and device provided a blessed silence from the subject’s protestations. It was so difficult to do good work with such distractions.
A slender shaft of wood and bone moved in slow gestures over the top of the jar, tugging and weaving the slender lines of force that fed into it and turning them upon the subject within the jar. Gently, ever so gently, the skeins of power were manipulated. A twist here…. A gentle nudge there…. The Changing Arts dissected the very reality of the restrained being, working new characteristics into its being. Any ham-fisted fool could cause explosions and violent discharges of energy, but this … this was akin to music. The rise and fall of the sections…harmony and chorus… Now strings! Now horns! Percussion…oh so softly….
And then, a single note of discord. An unseen tone, hidden within the form below him. It echoed out into the symphony, breaking the working in the smallest of ways.
But it had been heard, and there was no way to unhear it.
The subject shuddered violently, throwing its body against the bindings one last time, and then collapsed softly back to the platform. The sliver of foil flexed once more and then settled into a downward arc, motionless.
Zane sighed and lowered his wand. Alas. Another setback, but he had been much closer. The merger of the essences had almost taken. He would study the results and modify his trial to address the issue.
“Wir werden beim nächsten Mal besser.”
He nodded and stood, gesturing his assistant toward the remains of the subject. “Burn it, wholly, if you please. The workings may not be stable even in death. It would not do to have any of them survive.” The hooded man nodded his head and set about tearing the apparatus down.
Another voice, smooth like a dark whiskey, spoke. “You have the most adorable hobbies, love. Most people feel sorry about torturing puppies. You call it ‘discovery,’ and it takes on a wholly new aspect.” A woman, young and beautiful by almost any standard, leaned against one of the tables nearby, filing at her fingernails carelessly. Only her cat-like green eyes and delicate horns belied her humanity….
“Ah, Chelise, my dear, one must always seek to improve the nature of things. It is a calling,” Zane said in reply, sliding his wand into a sheath at his side.
“Besides…. That wasn’t a puppy.”