“If a man cannot buy his freedom, then all the world’s wealth shall be as a grain of sand by the sea”
-Istan Triant, after the great slave revolt of 1540 AC
Caden assessed his options. He admitted that without any mana to work with they were more limited that he would like, other than spending AP. There were two skills that he had seen after some research that he really did want to buy. The problem was that he was fairly certain that the man had some idea of his skills from analysis spells. That made everything harder and, for now, he decided to hold off on buying anything. However, that did not mean he couldn’t approach the situation as intelligently as possible. The first thing he tried to do was stop everything that he was doing by instinct. He stopped the flow of mana towards him after a few minutes of trying. It felt very strange, almost akin to stopping in the middle of going pee. It felt natural to draw in mana continuously.
The mage definitely noticed when he did this. Caden decided that since he could not understand the man he needed to give him a name. He was fairly certain he was going to call the man That Annoying Mage, or Tam for short.
Tam looked surprised, excited, and cast more spells into the air and examined Caden even closer. His dungeon half was even more agitated than before, if that was possible. He tried to start and stop the mana flow over and over the next few minutes. It was one of the few things that he was capable of doing, so he was going to learn to do it on command. Eventually, after an hour or two of practice, he could do it with a thought; it didn’t even feel all that uncomfortable anymore.
Now that he could turn it on and off reliably, he wanted to see if he could direct it and make it more efficient. The skills he could purchase had suggested that it was possible to resist mana drain, as well as harvest mana more efficiently. If he wanted to have any mana at all to work with then he would need one or both of those to happen. He decided that he would practice harvesting mana for as long as the man was in the room. Any time he wasn’t he was going to see if he could resist the mana drain.
Not much had changed since he started work on controlling the mana flow. Tam had left a few times and come back. The lights on the ceiling would dim, presumably for night, and then they would brighten a few minutes before he came back in the morning. The most exciting thing that had happened was Tam appearing with a chair and a book, actually more of a tome. It was thick, heavy, and handwritten with drawings that made zero sense to him. Shortly after sitting to read, as Tam was mumbling to himself and occasionally glancing up at Caden, he cast a spell.
From then on, this summed up all of Tam’s daily activity. He quickly grew used to the stiff sound of the pages rustling as they turned in Tam’s fingers. Tam’s breath, softly in and out, filled the room with a faint sound. The sound of Tam’s feet on the stone heralded his arrival, and followed his exit. Even the sound of his clothes softly swishing and sliding over skin made a noticeable sound. For without Tam in the room Caden found himself consigned to silence. Humans are never fully silent. The pulsing rush of blood in their veins, the high pitched sound the eardrums manufacture to fill the silence of a room; these were gone. Caden had no breath, he had no pulse, no stomach gurgling, or muscles tensing. In their absence he could hear the faintest of sounds, but the silence of isolation was almost maddening. So he had turned inward, focusing as much as possible on working.
When Tam was present Caden continued trying to pull mana from Tam’s direction. Tam constantly leaked mana into the air around him, though he had no idea why. Was it because Tam was a spell-caster, or did all living things do this? Since Tam was the only living thing around, it was impossible for him to say. Every time Tam cast a spell at him, he could see the structure. It was somewhat like looking at layered glowing glass, a translucent indefinite mess. These spells wrapped around Caden and delved into his crystal. He tried to see what Tam was doing, even as he tried to pull the mana from them apart. The spells leaked some mana as they functioned, and dissolved into an even larger amount when they finally collapsed. By the end of the day when Tam went off, presumably to sleep, Caden had improved slightly. He could now exclude a tiny portion of the area around him from drawing mana. He had a long way to go before he could actually focus his mana feeding, but the fact that he had made any progress was encouraging.
He didn’t seem to need any sleep, an ability he would have found immensely useful in his old life, especially in college. He was no longer tired physically or mentally. Caden was not sure if he could even feel that way any more. He was sad about losing dreaming though, but at least he could stay awake and keep working. The constant pull of the mana draining down and out actually felt a lot like his own mana absorption, just in reverse. He knew how to turn that on and off so he tried doing that to the mana draining out of him. It didn’t seem to change anything, but he would need to practice a lot before he knew if he was going about it in the right way. This, he knew, could take some time.
It did. Caden spent days just focusing on this routine. Tam continued to show up and do… whatever it was he was doing. He considered trying to contact Tam by turning his mana absorption on and off in sequence, like doing the numbers, 1, 2, 3, etc… However, he decided that was a bad idea for the moment for two reasons. One, he didn’t speak the language, so even if he made Tam realize he was intelligent they would not be able to communicate. Two, Tam might get even more fascinated or paranoid about Caden and change up his routine, which would make his escape even harder.
His skill with mana absorption kept getting better. After a few days he had finally gotten to the point where he could exclusively draw from one half of the room and not the other. As soon as he got to that point he got a pop-up.
Your skill Mana Absorption I has changed and improved through your efforts. It is now:
Directed Mana Absorption I
Raw mana within your aura can be drawn into your core to increase your available mana. You can choose and focus on the most mana rich areas to draw from to be more efficient.
You have been given a new title!
You have increased a skill’s capabilities beyond normal through concerted effort. Use it to acquire your dreams, or just richer mana.
+100 Ability Points
Slightly easier to acquire merged or improved skills
Huh, that was not actually what Caden was expecting. He had expected to simply level up in his Mana Absorption skill. This meant that there was a different way to level it up. Actually… now that he thought about it, it was probably simply speed. He had tried to be more efficient in where he got the mana from, but drawing in mana faster would probably have worked just as well, if not better. Oh well. For the moment, his ignorance appeared to have worked out in his favor.
Now that he had this skill he decided he would try again, but only when Tam took one of his breaks. For now he did not try to change anything about his focus and just kept absorbing from Tam’s side of the room. he needed to work on his speed anyway.
As Tam continued about his routine he tried pulling the mana into himself faster. Caden felt it improve slightly almost immediately, apparently he had not been using his maximum speed this entire time, either that or the new skill he got improved his speed. However, since his speed did not improve until he focused on it, Caden guessed that it was just his own fault for overlooking it.
Caden endured Tam as he poked and prodded at the crystal with magic in reaction to his sudden increased performance. Since Tam already knew that something had changed he decided to go for broke and started focusing his mana drain more.
The difference the skill made was amazing. He had pretty much just been teaching himself, fumbling about trying to master a skill on his own. Now directing his focus was so much simpler. It was like techniques and practice had been downloaded into his head, or well… crystal. It still was not perfect, but he could focus his entire drain onto a sphere no more than a foot wide.
Tam smiled in excitement as he put the book on the ground and stood up. He focused his entire attention on Caden and cast more spells. This time as he focused all his skill onto the spell something new happened. All seemed to be as normal, but when the spell ended he could feel the sudden influx of mana. He called up his status and was shocked. He had two mana.
The dungeon part of Caden shouted about summoning a monster, but Caden immediately tried expanding his aura. Since he had mana to power it, it felt effortless, easy. It could even expand in any direction selectively. He didn’t know how much he would be able to expand so he tried to work quickly, pouring the power in as fast as he could. He really did not want the man to notice what he was doing this time, so he expanded down around the stand, trying to keep his aura as thin in diameter as possible. He quickly covered the entire stand, including the white crystal at the bottom, and then proceeded into the floor.
He could expand into the stone almost as easily as the air, but he could feel a distinct difference. The mana in the stone felt sluggish and thick. Caden decided he would focus on that later, and kept expanding his aura. He was actually pleasantly surprised with how far his aura was stretching with the mana. He supposed it made sense since dungeons are often massive constructions in fantasy, but it was nice to be getting so much for relatively little. Eventually he expanded a small foot wide section of his aura through the stone of the floor to the back wall. There he expanded his influence as much as he could without actually touching the surface of the wall. His mana ran out shortly after he expanded to the wall, but he did manage to cover an area behind the wall about three feet across.
As far as he could tell, Tam had not noticed anything. Caden felt slightly different. He could feel that the stream of mana entering him was slightly more than before, even when he was focusing his absorption elsewhere. It looked like there was some passive element to the absorption so long as he was letting mana in at all.
Tam looked like he was going to continue his routine, so he decided he would keep expanding his aura. He briefly considered trying to save up mana to level up but decided it was a bad idea. His mana was still being absorbed, after all, and even if it wasn’t he was reasonably sure that the diagnostic spells Tam was casting on him would notice if he had any mana. As Tam continued he was able to keep expanding his aura whenever Tam cast a spell on him. He was trying really hard to look at the spells that Tam was casting, and then when it burst he frantically expanded his aura with the spent mana. By the end of the day Caden had covered the entire back wall. It had started getting difficult to expand his aura farther up though. He thought that perhaps his aura was becoming too stretched out to be efficient, so he decided that tomorrow he was going to expand his aura under the floor instead.
Tam went off to bed, and the lights in the room faded to a dull glow. Caden’s attempts to halt the mana flowing out of him had so far had no results, so he decided he needed to try a different approach. This time he decided to just watch for a while. He could actually see the outside of the white crystal very well now that it was in his aura, but he still had a hard time seeing inside. He knew that his mana was trapped inside, but that was it. He studied the runes on the stand. They still didn’t mean anything to him, but he could see his mana flowing through the metal towards the crystal. Actually Caden could see his mana flowing around something inside the metal. It was like invisible hands were guiding the mana down and away from him.
Caden couldn’t see whatever this was, but he was fairly certain he could learn more. There was mana passively moving towards him from his aura conduit through the floor. He tried to condense the mana flow around the stand and he could suddenly see gaps. The mana swirled like fog flowing around glass. He could not get very good detail, but the shapes of the mana were gradually becoming clearer as he focused on them.
He traced the invisible shapes upward until he reached the top of the stand. There he could see that they actually reached into his crystal and pulled power right out of where his mana was stored. Caden’s other half was outraged at this violation, but Caden ignored it as usual. He didn’t know how much this knowledge would help, but at least now he knew right where to start.
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There are what I am always most interested in hearing:
1. What promises have I made to the reader?
2. What do you think is going to happen?
3. What confuses you?
4. What do you like, so that I can be sure not to edit it out?
5. Misc issues in grammar, spelling, etc…
And of course, general discussion about everything else.
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