Holding her breath her mind went over her diagram once more, her minds eye like nervous fingers on a desk. Despite the repeated attempts to hammer proper breathing technique into her skull, she still held her breath as she attempted to finish the tethering. Seconds trickled by as her mind formed complex patterns and slotted them into the diagrams inscribed upon her left breast. If she was able to pull this off, she would be able to go under the needle again for the next set of diagrams. That was a very big if though.

She was not the first to attempt to circumvent standard progression; like her predecessors she shared a quiet desperation and teeth-gritted luck that led to brilliance. At last, the final section of the tethering connected to her blood, and the tattoo bloomed into violet life. That was unsettling, and her muscles seized the terror of movement combating her fear of that strange violet light. Slowly the diagram began to bend, each rune twisting out of shape. Her heart stuttered as she tried and failed to prepare herself to become an inscribed monster. Suddenly each rune wrenched from her carefully curated position in her diagram. She mentally wailed, preparing for the diagrams rejection to turn her blood putrid. Then the runes stopped, hovering in the position the rune next to them had occupied. Her blood did not curdle. Her blood vessels did not burst. Her diagram did not shatter. Then she felt the diagram click again. No. Tick. Her diagram, it ticked.

She had never had the privilege of observing a true inscribed diagram, teachers had been a tattered sad thing. Tick. Was the diagram supposed to move like this? The book implied her diagram would link to her heart, her heart was not linked yet. Why was it moving now? Still the violet markings continued to twist. Tick.

The standard procedure had at least two other inscribed standing over the student as they tethered the second set of diagrams to their blood. As each rune was slotted into place one would check it against a complex mathematical formula to ensure stability of the final diagram; while the second would hold the runes steady. This was so the student would not break from the stress of holding the entire diagram in the mind for those long minutes. Tick. She could almost feel teachers gnarled fingers grasping her ear and twisting. She almost heard teacher call her a genius fool, just one more time.

What she had attempted was, if she was being honest with herself, near suicidal. She had held a diagram fully formed in her mind while simultaneously constructing it. The prerequisite teachings, supplemented by inscribed magics were years and piles of money away the normal path. Tick. A sliver of ice wormed into her heart as the fear that she had ruined her chances of ever progressing further. She did not know much but she knew enough to be fearful of the danger presented by the inclusion of magics into her system. If she had done it improperly, she would not be able to use it to bridge other systems to more advanced diagrams.

Quashing her doubts, she took a deep calming breath and remembered where she was. Tick. The rain pattered softly on the roof, quiet dripping sounding from tins scattered around the loft. Her ears strained for any indication of another detecting her machinations. The barn below her was silent as it should be. The only light from the faint glow of exposed diagram. It was mesmerizing to watch, four interlocking rings of violet runes twisted with five lines of forming a knot containing them, ready to be extended to the next diagram. Tick. With a silent prayer to teacher she delved into her heartbeat and mentally traced the movement of veins and arteries.

Most students learned anatomy as an afterthought, a necessary evil on the path to knowledge and power. Teacher had drilled it into her head first thing; she could recite each bone and muscle like the names of brothers and sisters. She could trace the pathways of blood and air like the paths through the woods to teachers hovel. The blood that flowed through her veins now carried a faint buzzing sensation under her skin, not unpleasant but distracting none the less. Pulling a tattered book from the sack besides her she attempted to read the relevant passages by the faint light of her diagram. She had long since memorized the relevant parts, still… Better to be safe than sorry. Tick. The next portion was the most likely to kill her.

Now that the diagram was connected to her blood, she needed to intertwine it with the inner workings of her heart. Normally an experienced inscriber would be on hand to make sure her heart did not fail during the process, or at the very least keep her blood flowing until the it finished binding and the heart was released from strain. Tick. The strain of this possibility stressing her overworked body. She needed to account for the moving diagram. She began to frantically scribble calculations onto the floor, attempting to account for the strangeness of her diagram. Adjusting the calculations for the inclusion of a discrete time-based variable made her feel as though she were going a bit mad. A breakthrough and a quarter hour of frantic scribbling later produced a workable extension of her diagram. Tick

She looked at the calculations bracketing her body one last time, committing the exact location of the key rune she needed to memory. Breathing deeply and regulating her heart beat as she had been taught years ago, she began. No, synchronizing her breath to the diagrams movement would keep her timing. Tick. If she were in a better situation, she would have rested and recovered from her first stage before beginning. The instability of the diagram alongside the looming fear of discovery pushed her beyond any reasonable recourse. Too long bound to only blood would lead to it leaching into all sorts of strange places. Already she could detect small fragments flaking off her supports.

She began by flooding her diagram with its first spell, oxygenate. A simple spell to churn out particles that would release oxygen, developed for this purpose and used to breath underwater. Tick. She kept producing them until she felt a little air drunk; if her heart stopped it would buy her precious minutes. Now began the true challenge, she visualized the pieces of her heart and began to stretch the diagram into a third dimension, stitching in the new runes as they twined about her heart. All in time. Tick. Rune. Tick. Rune. Tick. Rune. Unfolding the diagram on her heart to create the three dimensional cage, tick by tick.

She mentally grasped two strands of the knot to wrap around the superior and inferior vena cava and then twisted it though the interior of the right atrium forming a complex series of pathways. Tedious but important work, these pathways allowed for rapid construction of intricate spell forms on the fly. She had to race so they did not deform. Tick. Waiting for the opening in the diagram to push the lines into her ventricle she pulled the third thread into her pulmonary trunk. As she wrapped the lines together into a delicate latticework that would later allow her access to her lungs diagrams her heart stuttered. Ice crept down her spine, the latticework was the most important part of all of this. If she failed to connect to her breath in her next diagram, she would never be able to pull significant strength for grand castings. She refused to be trapped as teacher had been, forever relegated to murmuring pale imitations of their godlike power. Ever so carefully she contracted and pulsed her network in the rhythm of her heartbeat. It felt like holding a hundred-pound weight in her outstretched arms while calculating the strain on each individual muscle. Tick. She fought the mental fatigue until she felt it beat. Turning her attention to her network she immediately despaired, the glittering latticework had collapsed and even as she fought to rethread it, she knew there was not enough time. Still she carefully restructured her lattice, keeping her breath steady to enforce her temporal anchor. Her heartbeat stuttered as the ticking of the diagram fought the natural rhythm of her life.

Branching as much as she could she dove back into the left atrium and gathering the fourth strand. She attempted to find the malfunction in her heart, the reason why teacher had taken her in all those years ago. The source of all that rejection, of all that pity. She saw it spread throughout a corner of her heart, a night black sheet studded with stars. As if by her very noticing the firmament of light began to unravel. She felt it then, the piece that was breaking. At that moment her heart stopped. Tick.

Panic seized her, the right side of her heart had taken near fifteen minutes to complete and she would die before then. Oxygenate was not perfect; she could feel the building of carbon dioxide in her blood, it terrified her. She allowed the fear to tumble through her, the memories of her life trying to distract her as they fought to be her last. Desperately her mind cast through everything she knew, everything she could guess. Tick. The theory of clockwork bodies, a defunct idea by philosopher Jean Aparte. He had thought every body ran off clockwork internally. He had created interesting diagrams, but most were useless. One notable exception was the diagram used by inscribes to stabilize a student. Tick. Her mind began to grow hazy. What did it target? How did it target? Desperately her mind tore through her hearts structure looking for the clockwork.

She saw it then, a tiny constellation of energy that she had never heard of set across her heart. She saw it desperately pulse, attempting to force her heart to move against the diagram. Tick. Last chance. Dragging her knots into the network she twined the constellation and her diagram together. It was a wild gamble, an attempt to use the strange ticking to force her own heart to beat. Slowly her heart seemed to dye that strange violet. Slowly her minds eye grew narrow. Beat. They felt lurching and violent. Beat. But her heart moved once more. Beat.

Taking a deep shuddering breath, she refocused on her knots, unable and unwilling to think of how she saved herself. There was no precedent she had seen. No pattern to follow after this. Beat. It was easier to thread the right ventricle and atrium as her heartbeat and diagram were synchronized. She hoped the increased complexity of her knots would help make up for her woeful lung lattice. Beat. Finally wrapping her final line into the aorta, she tied it off into itself creating the feedback loop that sealed her diagram into permanence. Beat. Falling backwards she almost immediately passed out. Her last thought of how her heart looked like a dusky sky filled with stars before darkness consumed her. Beat.