When Tam appeared again the next morning he gave Caden the usual cursory check. Caden had expected Tam to notice his increase in skill but there was no reaction. Huh, maybe Tam only sees the name of the skill but not how advanced it is? Caden moved some earth and stone around with the mana, but still did not see how he did it. Tam, meanwhile, had started to draw with more chalk on the walls. Caden tried not to worry about it too much. The last few times Tam had done something Caden had gotten too worked up about it. Other than the rune array on the wall he had drawn last time, everything had been a pleasant surprise. Not like there was much choice about doing nothing anyway.
The areas Tam was drawing on were all outside of Caden’s aura. Each of the new designs was much smaller than the beam array. By the time Tam was done he had drawn four arrays, each of which was identical as far as Caden could tell. Caden tried his best to memorize them, but he suspected that a large portion of what went into them was in the spell Tam cast on them at the end. After making sure each one was perfect Tam burned them into the walls. He then repeated the process he had done before, filling them with silvery metal and ridiculous amounts of mana. Caden did not notice any immediate difference.
Tam walked off again, but returned carrying something before Caden had even started to practice again. Tam set it on the floor nearby . It actually looked remarkably like the stand Caden was currently sitting on. It had a large white crystal on the bottom, and runes leading up to a small metal button with a rune on it. Above that was a clear and egg shaped crystal held firmly in three prongs. Caden examined it. The white crystal seemed more or less identical to the one on his stand, and he could find nothing remarkable about the crystal on top at all. Ta\m cast one of his longer lasting diagnostic spells on Caden and then pressed the button.
Mana flowed up through the enchantment and into the crystal on top. The crystal gradually began to turn white and glow. It also began to turn opaque to Caden’s vision, which was fascinating. He watched closely, trying to figure out how it filled the crystal. Caden tried to pull the mana that was in the crystal out, but had no more luck with that than he had with the crystal under him. It took quite some time, and Tam waited in his chair reading, but the crystal on top started to flash. Tam’s focus shifted to Caden and his vision gained the far away look he had when was studying the input from a spell.
With a last flash the mana dissipated its held mana into the air. Caden stopped in shock for a moment before sucking it all up. Was Tam feeding him? Caden was not sure what Tam was expecting, but Tam seemed to think everything was going well. With a mental shrug Caden proceeded on the plan he had decided earlier. Tam expected Caden to do something with the mana, so he started to work with it. Caden sent stone of out various parts of the walls, carefully studying the effects of the beam and what he was doing.
By the time Caden ran out of mana he could tell that the beam was doing the same thing he was when he destroyed stone. It was not disintegrating it so much as unmaking it into air, where the extra mass was going was a mystery. There was only the tiniest ripple of displaced air as it worked. The feeder slowly filled up and Caden continued he mana practice while keeping an eye on it. This time when it flashed he was ready and consumed the mana as swiftly as he could. He wanted to see if he could figure out what the new runes on the wall were for so Caden expanded his aura towards one. At least he tried to. The runes all flashed and Caden’s aura would not move towards it. Caden tried from different points he had control of in the room, but he could not expand his aura. Caden tried expanding an area of aura far back in the wall and that worked just fine, so he heaved a mental sigh of relief.
With further testing it was determined that Caden could not expand aura anywhere within a decent sized sphere of himself. It covered all the sphere that Caden had shown Tam within the room and then continued on several feet. If Tam had erected these when Caden first came here he would have had practically no hope. Caden supposed he had to be grateful that Tam was doing more than just trying to keep him captive. If that had been Tam’s goal from the beginning Caden had no doubt that Tam would have succeeded. No, Tam was doing research, and for that Caden actually had to be able to do certain things. It was hard to research the growth of a new type of dungeon if it never grew.
Attempting to expand the aura, even with no results, had still burned up most of Caden’s mana as he verified exactly what his new limits were. With what little mana he had left Caden worked with small tendrils of stone and also expanded the farthest part of his aura in the wall even farther. If Caden had access to his mana regeneration he was fairly certain he could escape this moment, but it would be painfully slow. Caden’s best hope was to continue what he had already been doing.
The next time the device fed him, he simply held onto the mana to see what would happen. It fed Caden about ten mana each time. Caden slowly counted out the seconds to see how long it would take to drain a point of mana. He concluded that it was draining about a point of mana every five minutes. That was with Caden’s soul generating twenty points of mana a day. It was harder to determine how much mana was pulling in from everywhere else, but it felt like about half that. A couple of rough calculations showed that it was draining at a rate of a little more than 300 mana per day. There was no way Caden was going to be generating mana at that rate any time soon.
The feeder released mana slow enough that Caden would be completely drained by the time it fed him again. So Caden started making stone in places that would be harder for the disintegration ray to reach. It came as no particular surprise when the beam curved to hit the manufactured stone. It would have been too much to assume that Tam had failed to take that into account. The beam curved to avoid everything in the room as needed. After that Caden condensed the stone on the walls, making it as hard as he possibly could. The array left these alone. It seemed as long as Caden did not try to protrude into the room it left what he was doing alone.
Caden tried one last thing, since he doubted there was nothing in place to prevent it. Caden tried as slowly as possible to lower the stand he was on into the stone below. This was done with extreme caution since Caden did not want to tip over. When made of crystal a minor distance to the floor suddenly seems like a major hazard. After Caden had moved only the tiniest bit down, the beam started up again and regrew the floor he had been sinking into. Great. He had not expected that to work, but it would have been nice and made his eventual escape much easier.
Caden contemplated simply doing nothing to see what Tam would do about it, but for now getting practice shaping stone and using the mana to expand his aura farther and farther away was good for his chances of escaping. If at some point Caden stopped being able to make progress then he would consider boycotting Tam’s experiment. Tam seemed to have some degree of impatience anyway, so if Caden practiced and eventually seemed to run out of new things to do it was likely Tam would try to test something else. Caden’s only real concern was that Tam’s experiment might end with destruction. If that seemed likely Caden would communicate for all he was worth; now Caden could probably even get something across in pictograms on the walls.
By the end of the day Caden had gotten a decent amount of practice in working with stone in various ways. He had tried to use as little mana as possible when doing the various tasks he assigned himself and actually seemed to be getting slightly more efficient at the creation of stone. All his attempts to make expanding the aura cheaper failed. Tam turned in for the night after dismissing the spell on Caden and turning off the feeder. Tam had watched Caden a lot more than usual today, though admittedly he had mana to work with.
Since the feeder was off Caden went back to his nightly routine. He practiced holding mana in place as tightly as possible. Caden was trying harder to really see what was happening with the mana, but did not seem to be making any progress. It was hard to tell if it was just really difficult, or nothing was happening. Caden’s mana sight may not be getting better, but he was gradually getting a good grip on hold onto it.
The next day saw a continuation of the feeding sessions. Caden tried to see if he could overwhelm the runes on the wall by projecting stone from many locations at once, but it simply produced multiple beams. Even turning part of the ceiling into sand didn’t phase it. It produced a multitude of tiny beams and swept the cascading sand out of the air. Caden thought that the runes on the wall looked slightly fainter for a moment, but it might have been imagination.
After that Caden tried protruding different kinds of stone to see if denser stone was harder to destroy. No noticable difference. He crudely smoothed some of the walls where he could reach, giving them a slightly polished look. When Caden tried to do that to the floor the beam rebuilt them as they were. He supposed that made sense; Tam didn’t want Caden to build traps into the floor, or even polish it so much that it became slippery. Caden did not want to harm Tan anyway, but he didn’t know that. And Exsan was, well, less sanguine about the situation, judging by his blood-thirsty attitude.
Near the end of the day Caden thought he caught a glimpse of something a few times when the beam was working. He still did not see anything when he manipulated stone, but Caden was happy to make any progress. Caden saw more flashes the next day, and started to see something that looked vaguely like fog when he was holding mana stagnant the next night. The day after he caught his first decent glimpses of what was happening as the beam destroyed or created stone. When it destroyed the stone it formed a fine lattice of mana that then got finer and more intricate until it looked like fog. The creation process was the reverse, an ultra fine assembly gradually got coarser as the stone was assembled. Caden had no idea how this process worked, but was glad to at least be seeing something.
The fog he saw as he held onto mana grew more pronounced and Caden started to see fine wisps of that fog everywhere in his aura. Other aspects of mana sight seemed to gradually be getting better as well. The enchantments on the feeder and the stand Caden was on were no longer completely invisible. They were still like looking at perfect glass, but Caden could definitely see them. The threads that ran through his aura from the beam runes on the wall were more elusive, but he was starting to get a hint of them here and there. The actual enchantments on the walls that were outside of Caden’s aura were as invisible as ever, so it looked like he was using my aura to “see” the mana more clearly.
After a few more days Caden received a pop-up in the middle of the day while he was examining the beam repairing the floor.
You have gained a new skill!
Enhanced Aura Perception I
You can see your aura, and mana within your aura, more clearly.
Hope you enjoyed!