“From the lips of Yamash, The Word was spoken unto the world. For behold, The Word governs and defines all things. And in balance was it given, for even as The Word grants order and makes manifest the system of the world, so to in chaos shall all things be permitted to grow. For few things are holier than that a man shall progress in the levels of the world, and bring a greater piece of it unto their dominion.”
-From the Holy Text of Higrath
Despite how excited Caden was at the thought of finally making some progress and gaining a level, Tam continued at a slow pace. Admittedly he had no way of showing his excitement, so it’s not like Tam knew. Showing his excitement would actually be a bad idea, because it would show that he understood what Tam was doing. Tam was obviously studying him, and as much as being a research subject sounded like so much fun; he would rather not. Tam cast a couple more of the longer lasting analytical spells that he was fairly certain measured his aura boundaries. It was a good thing he had left gaps in much of the room so Tam thought his aura was limited. For the moment, he was not going to try expanding his aura anywhere he thought Tam might sense it.
As Tam made his preparations, Caden made his own. He opened up both his status and the AP purchase menu. He was going to try to level up and buy a skill at almost exactly the same time. Hopefully Tam would think it came from his level up, not because he was actively planning how to get better. He thought Tam believed he should have done something special by now. Admittedly learning directional mana control might well be abnormal, but he thought Tam might have attributed that to his situation. Caden had nothing else to do but practice absorbing mana.
Or, who knows, maybe lots of dungeons eventually learned that kind of skill. He had no idea how long dungeons typically lived, but Caden would not be surprised if they essentially lived forever unless someone killed them. He was a being of crystal now, it’s not exactly like he would age the same way as flesh and blood. If many dungeons became as old as he thought they were, there was no limit to the number of skills they might have gained. He, however, assumed most dungeons were not particularly bright. It’s not like his other half had conversations with him; He simply felt its base knee jerk reactions.
Hmm, maybe he should give his other half a name. If he were still human naming a voice in his head that wanted to kill people would probably be a bad idea. As it was, Caden doubted it would make it any worse. Okay, so his other half is a blood-thirsty brute, what name goes with that? Blood, blood, he knew the Latin root for that right? It was on the tip of his metaphorical tongue. Sanguine, that was it. As in, exsanguinate, to remove all the blood from a body. Actually if he shortened that, it would make a decent name. Exsan, that’s the name he was giving to his other half.
Tam was still making preparations of some kind. Despite his impatience, he found it difficult to blame Tam for being cautious. If Exsan was a typical example of what a dungeon was like, that caution was more than fully justified. Caden just wanted to escape to get his freedom. Exsan wanted to murder or control everything nearby until he had a decent lair.
Tam finally seemed to be finishing up with his preparations. Tam cast a last spell on him, and he focused all his attention on the mice-bugs. Tam looked to the side and cast a ball of fire towards the cage. The cage vaporized, and he was flooded with mana. He had absorbed even more than he thought because of the dissipating fireball, and now had slightly more than eighteen mana. He immediately leveled and purchased the skill simultaneously.
Your status has changed!
Name: N/A / Exsan
Type: Dungeon Core – Soul Hybrid
Crystal Status: 100% – Undamaged
Status Effects: Mana Drain
Available Mana: 3/50
Passive Mana Generation: 20/Day
Next level: 30 Mana Cost
Subsections Available: 1
Ability Points: 850
Directed Mana Absorption I,
Limited Omniscience (Dungeon)
Soul Mana I
Dungeon Aura Expansion I
Manipulate Earth I
First of its Kind
A part of Caden worried that the name he had given his other half had shown up on his status screen. At least it didn’t put it as his whole name.
He pulled up his two new skills to see what they did.
Manipulate Earth I
Move, loosen, condense, generate, or destroy earth and stone within your aura using available mana.
All other skills are slightly easier to acquire and or learn. Slightly lowers the AP cost of all non-summon skills
Caden had bought Learning for 200 AP and it was everything that he was hoping for. He now had a leg up on all other skills, forever. It might only be a tiny bonus, but that kind of bonus would add up over time. And the lowering of the AP cost was probably going to more than pay itself off in the future. As for Manipulate Earth, he had assumed he would get a skill like this at some point. Dungeons were generally depicted as large labyrinths in the earth, they had to make tunnels and such somehow. He would admit that he had worried he would only be able to do expand by summoning monsters to dig, but he was glad to see he had an inherent ability instead.
Caden brought the AP menu up and looked for another skill like learning. There was one, but it only applied to summons. He debated grabbing it right now, but monsters and plants were not in his current plan to escape, and Tam might have already seen the status change. He really did not want Tam to be any more careful.
Caden still had some mana, so it was time to test out his new ability. If he could manage to manipulate stone well enough then he could grab himself and run. Admittedly his mana gen was still not high, but it was double what it was before. Telling the stone to move turned out to be like expanding his aura; it was easy. All the knowledge he needed was already there in his head. Admittedly, he did not have a head anymore, but that was beside the point. He was able to extend a tiny space on the wall by half an inch before the runes in the wall burst into action.
The entire array lit up with light. Then from the center a beam of light emerged and disintegrated the stone Caden had raised. He stopped for a moment. This, this was going to make things more difficult. For the moment he focused his attention farther away and destroyed a section of the earth hidden well behind the wall so he had somewhere to work with. When he ran out of mana he had an empty globe about three feet across and some hundred feet away from him behind the back of the wall. There was air in the pocket… it really ought to be vacuum. Of course he didn’t know why he was expecting anything different. He had, quite literally, dematerialized stone into nothing, or at least, air. Right, it’s magic, not like it has to make sense. He wanted to have his body back just so he could bang his head against the wall.
While Caden was commiserating with himself about physics and ridiculous magic, Tam seemed overjoyed with how things had gone. He seemed utterly unsurprised by the beam of light, and smiled as he dismissed the various spells. When he dismissed the last one, Caden once again got some mana to work with. For the moment he just moved stone around in his practice chamber. He could turn stone into dirt and back again without any trouble. Condensing the stone was slightly more intensive than turning stone into dirt or sand. Creating any material out of nothing proved to drain mana very quickly. Fortunately, he had plenty of stone to work with. Unfortunately, he ran out of mana fairly quickly.
Tam had walked out again while he was working. He went back to his normal mana absorption practice. It was slow, but he was gradually making progress. Night came and the lights dimmed without him seeing Tam again. He continued his practice and contemplated what he should do if Tam gave him mana again. Obviously if he gave him enough to level then that was first priority, but he wasn’t sure what to do with any other mana Tam knew about.
Caden did not want Tam finding out that his aura had expanded quite a bit behind the wall. That meant he really did not want to expand his aura near anywhere Tam could even potentially feel it. He had been hoping he would find an actual cavern somewhere that he could expand into, but he had not found any spaces bigger than tiny geodes. If he found something with life, he would be able to gather mana from the deaths of creatures living there. There might be any number of possibilities, but he would not know until he could experiment.
For the moment Caden decided that he would show Tam that he was “learning.” It’s what his skill said and what Tam would probably be expecting. He would just protrude stone from different locations and see what happened. Maybe he would make the room look nicer; something to show Tam he was experimenting, even while he was doing something else with any excess mana. Also, he wanted to study what the heck that beam was doing and what his own skill did when it moved the stone around. The more he could learn, the more options he would have. He still had no idea how his own aura worked; calling it magic and just leaving it alone was not going to cut it for him. It might take him a while, but he was going to learn how the hell everything actually worked.
Despite his determination, Caden had not made very much progress when morning came around. Tam came in, looked around and cast a spell at him and the disintegration enchantment. He absorbed the dregs of the spell cast on himself and practiced with his earth skill out of sight, trying to watch what was happening as carefully as he could. He could not see anything, but he simply added this to his list of things to practice. When he tried to hold mana in place in the future, he was also going to watch the place he was holding as carefully as possible. He was not going to accept that it just happened without something making it happen. Things needed to be acted upon in some manner for them to change. If that was no longer true, then figuring out the new rules might be truly impossible, so he was not going to accept that until he had proof.
Tam was gone the rest of that day and all of the next. Caden did not seem to be getting any closer to seeing what the heck he was doing, but he was getting better at holding the mana in place, even if his speed of absorption had not changed at all, despite all his practice. That night he got a pop-up, much to his relief.
Your skill Directed Mana Absorption has increased in level. It is now Directed Mana Absorption II
Caden looked at his skill to see if it gave more details, but its description was unchanged. That being the case, he started experimenting with what had changed. The area he could focus on was once again smaller, allowing him to focus slightly tighter on an area. His speed of absorption had drastically changed; it was twice as fast. When he tried to see if he could hold mana in place better, there was no difference. That made him stop for a moment and think.
Caden had been continuously trying to up his speed, but that had not changed until he gained a level in the skill. Freezing mana in place, however, had gradually improved. It did not seem to have changed as a result of his skill gain. He had been in a similar situation before when he gained Directed Mana Absorption the first time. He was now slowly developing a theory as to how skills and skill gain worked. In his world the theory would have been insane, but this world operated in a way similar to a game. If he gained a separate skill from his practice holding the mana in place then he would have good evidence for how some of it worked.