“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”
-George Washington Carver
With most of the night still ahead, Caden focused on controlling his mana. Turning the flow on and off had produced no progress in halting the mana drain, but he thought he might actually get some help from his new and improved Directed Mana Absorption. It appeared he had actually tried to improve his skill backwards. Now he was going to try to hold onto the mana in a small area and stop it from moving while draining actively from everywhere else in his aura.
He started with a section of stone in the back wall. The mana was more sluggish in the stone anyway, so he figured it might be easier to keep it from moving. At first he did not notice any improvement, but by morning the mana he was concentrating on was moving incrementally slower than the mana around it. He was essentially a captive, so any success in getting better was a step towards freedom, even if it was minor. He was not practically rabid over being trapped like his dungeon instincts, but freedom was his first and most important goal.
When Tam came in the room, Caden was surprised to see him carrying something alive in a cage. He had never seen anything like it. It had an insect-like exoskeleton, all black and prismatic reflections, but was shaped more like a mouse. When Tam held it near him, he focused his senses and mana drain on the creature, trying to figure it out. He didn’t feel any particular mana coming off of the creature, but that could be because of the mana flowing from Tam, which overwhelmed the background mana by far. The man nodded in seeming satisfaction, though Caden had no idea what Tam was thinking about.
Tam proceeded to cast some spells. These ones were different from what he had seen before. They hovered at various places within the room. Then Tam cast another spell at him, but this one seemed to have more power than normal and stayed in place. His heart sank. Did Tam notice when his aura expanded? Hopefully not, more monitoring would make his life even harder. After casting all these spells Tam picked up the cage and held it near Caden again. He didn’t bother to focus on it again, instead trying to focus on Tam’s mana as much as possible.
Tam frowned and moved the cage around the crystal. Maybe he wanted Caden to focus on it? He decided he might as well, maybe he would learn something. Nothing about the creature seemed particularly remarkable. A moment later Tam smiled again when he was focused on the creature again. Tam spoke a word and gestured with his other hand. A bolt of fire flew from his hand and incinerated the creature.
Mana. The creature’s death released a burst of raw mana greater than he had ever experienced. After a mere moment he had slightly more than five mana. He almost started to expand his aura under the floor, as he was used to doing, but stopped when he realized Tam knew he had mana and was expecting to see or feel Caden do something with it. So he did.
Caden expanded his aura out in a sphere from his core. He pushed it out as swiftly as possible, not wanting to waste any of the precious mana due to mana drain. His world expanded; by the time he was done he had covered most of the room and connected to the floor, ceiling, and the middle of all the walls. He had been seeing the room every day for weeks, but now he felt everything. He could feel the grain of the wood in the chair Tam sat in so often, the roughness of the unpolished stone, the slight heat given off by the light globes on the ceiling. This sense wasn’t exactly like touch, but it was close, and he had had no idea how much he needed it. He would have cried if he could. He had been feeling the same things for days; being able to feel new sensations was beyond blissful.
Tam seemed to be happy about it too, and stared off into space as he dismissed each spell in turn. Caden missed noticing the first few, though he still got a tiny bit of mana from them. Once he realized that the spells were being dismissed, he decided to hold off focusing on the fading spells. The spell directly attached to him had not yet been dismissed and was likely still monitoring his mana levels. Instead he just waited and focused on that spell, so that when Tam dismissed it he could get as much mana out of it as possible.
That spell was dismissed last, but it was worth it. Tam had made this spell with more mana than usual, so when it was dismissed there was, by Caden’s standards, a ton of mana. He drained it eagerly and ended up with almost seven mana. He quickly started using it to expand into the ceiling, walls, and floor now that he was connected to each of them openly, though he took great pains not to expand into the open space where Tam might notice,
Caden had never felt anything quite like his aura when he was human. As he expanded into the stone he was aware of so much information. His senses did not extend down into the microscopic world, at least for now, but he could feel the overall stresses in the stone. The pressure of literal tons of stone pressing down from above. He felt the slight imperfections in the structure of the stone, the places different types of stone met, how each bowed under the pressure differently. He could even feel the faint temperature gradient in the stone caused by meeting the air in the room. And the more stone he expanded into the more he could understand over all. Really, if Caden had needed any proof that he was not human any more, this was it. No human could process this much information, this awareness. Hell, human brains already cheated to give them the amount of sensory detail they thought they had.
Caden was so caught up in the sheer joy of sensation that he almost neglected to notice Tam leaving. He wondered absently what Tam was doing, but simply enjoyed himself for a bit. After a few minutes he calmed down again and got back to focusing on keeping mana immobile in one spot even while he pulled mana from everywhere else within his reach.
He didn’t get in much practice before Tam returned and continued his examination of his tome. The only difference was that now Tam also cast spells at Caden’s aura border near the front of the room. He was fairly sure Tam was testing if his aura was still expanding. Taking advantage of this, he focused on each of the spells and drained the dregs that remained afterwards. Using this he continued expanding his aura in the walls and tried to reach as far away as he could. As he did, he discovered that as long as he kept his aura at least a couple feet wide he didn’t seem to run into any problems expanding.
There was a certain irony in using the power of the spells Tam was using to check on him to power his own expansion. Tam only seemed to be able to tell where he was draining when he was really close to him, so as long as he was careful he might actually be able to escape… eventually. Between spells, he focused on his practice and by the end of the day the mana he was focusing on holding in the stone was barely moving. He continued through the night, until finally he got the mana to not move at all.
Now it was time for a switch. He focused on the air at the back of the room and started the same process. The mana in the air was much harder to hold onto and it barely slowed at all as he held onto it. Oh well, at least he could see that he was making some progress.
Not much had changed by the time Tam came back in the morning. Instead of doing his normal routine with the tome he first cast an analytic spell on Caden. After he got the results he simply leaned forward in his chair and stared at him. If he had been capable of sweating, the floor under his crystal would have been puddled with it. Why was he staring at him like that? Did he discover how much area he had gained control of? Did he know everything he was doing and was just humoring him before?
After a while Tam started muttering to himself. He seemed to be arguing with himself. He was really hoping Tam was not thinking about destroying him. He really, really wished there had been language skills in the AP store. His mind was quite capable of coming up with worse ideas than anything Tam might actually be saying. Tam seemed to come to decision after a while and he left the room.
When he came back he was carrying the same chalk he had used on the ritual that bound him into the core. This time he could sense that the chalk was packed with mana. Tam didn’t walk toward him though. He walked toward one of the walls and started drawing on it. He drew a large diamond, then a smaller circle inside it that did not touch the diamond. He then started drawing out runes in precise strokes. Tam was finished after only a few minutes. He inspected each rune carefully and then nodded in satisfaction when he was done. With a gesture the chalk burned with light and when he was finished the chalk was gone, but where it had been was burned half an inch into the wall. Tam pulled out a small hunk of the same silvery metal that made up the stand.
Oh please don’t let this be a larger and more powerful version of the mana drain enchantment. He was barely managing to do anything with the one he was dealing with already.
Tam made a couple of small gestures accompanied by mana and a stream of metal flew and filled in the entire diagram. When he was done, he put what little remained of the metal into a pocket and then began to gather mana together. The mana first glimmered faintly, and then grew brighter and brighter until it was blindingly bright. Caden guessed it was hundreds of times more mana than he had ever seen him use for any spell. He fed the gathered mana into the metal and the metal began to glow with the mana it held. With a flash the runes glowed intensely bright and then faded down to a slight shimmer.
As far as Caden’s senses could tell, the mana had simply disappeared. He was fairly sure that like the runes on the stand, it had simply become invisible. Mana was moving faintly toward the rune structure on the wall, but it was barely noticeable and certainly was not pulled directly from him. He was not entirely sure what the rune was for, but at least it wasn’t for that. He thickened the mana around himself to see if he could feel anything. He thought he felt a flicker of something, but then it was gone. And then it happened again. It felt like, maybe, threads? Little strands of magic drifting through the room. Caden feared the worst and immediately concentrated magic in his aura as deep into the stone as he had reached. He waited and felt for far longer than before, but he felt no flicker of the invisible threads passing through it.
Okay, now he really had no idea what it was for. It didn’t seem to be measuring the places where his aura was or draining his mana. And it wasn’t just focused on him, it was constantly passing over the entire room. Tam had meanwhile cast a few spells on the runes on the wall. After a few minutes he nodded and left the room again. He might have no idea what it was for, but apparently it was working.
Tam returned with a cage. This time there were three of the strange creature inside. For his own convenience he decided to call them mice-bugs. He considered the mice-bugs. Each was worth a little more than five mana to him when it died. Did Tam plan to sacrifice them too? That would give him over fifteen mana. Wait, he remembered that number being important. Caden opened up his status. If he got fifteen mana, he could level up!
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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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