“He that is taken and put into prison or chains is not conquered, though overcome; for he is still an enemy.”
When Tam appeared again the next morning he gave Caden the usual cursory check. He had expected Tam to notice his increase in skill but there was no reaction. Huh, maybe he only sees the name of the skill but not how advanced it is? Caden used the mana from the spell and moved some earth and stone, but he still did not see how it worked. Tam, meanwhile, had started to draw with more chalk on the walls. He tried not to worry about it too much. The last few times Tam had done something he 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 he had much choice about doing nothing anyway, so he might as well not stress too much.
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 he could tell. He 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 same process he had done before, filling them with silvery metal and ridiculous amounts of mana. Caden could 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 he 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 egg shaped crystal held firmly in three prongs. He 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. Tam 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 turned white and glowed. It also began to turn opaque to his vision, which was fascinating. He watched closely, trying to figure out how it filled the crystal. Caden tried to pull the mana 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 away 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 into the air and the crystal egg turned clear once more. Caden stopped in shock for a moment before sucking it all up. Was Tam feeding him? He was not sure what Tam was expecting, but he seemed to think everything was going well. With a mental shrug he proceeded on the plan he had decided earlier. Tam expected him to do something with the mana, so he started to work with it. He sent stone of out various parts of the walls, carefully studying the effects of the beam and what his skill 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, though where the extra mass was going was a mystery. There was only the tiniest ripple of displaced air as it worked, ruling out a one-to-one mass conversion. The feeder slowly filled up and he continued his 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 he expanded his aura towards one. At least he tried to. The runes all flashed and his aura would not move towards it. He tried from different points he had control of in the room, but he could not expand his aura. He then tried expanding an area of aura far back in the wall and that worked just fine He heaved a mental sigh of relief, at least that still worked.
With further testing he determined that he could not expand his aura anywhere within a decent sized sphere of himself. It covered all the sphere that Caden had already shown Tam within the room and then continued on for several feet. If Tam had erected these when Caden first came here he would have had practically no hope. He supposed he had to be grateful that Tam was doing more than merely trying to keep him captive. If that had been Tam’s goal from the beginning he had no doubt that Tam would have succeeded. No, Tam was obviously doing research, and for that he 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 his mana as he verified exactly what his new limits were. With what little mana he had left he worked with small tendrils of stone and also expanded the farthest part of his aura in the wall even farther. If he had access to his mana regeneration he was fairly certain he could escape this moment, but it would be painfully slow. For now his 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. He 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 his 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 him at a rate of a little more than 300 mana per day. There was no way he was going to be generating mana at that rate any time soon.
The feeder released mana slow enough that he 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 anything and everything in the room as needed. After that he condensed the stone on the walls, making it as hard as he possibly could. The array left that alone. It seemed as long as he did not try to protrude into the room it ignored what he was doing.
He tried one last thing, since he doubted there was nothing in place to prevent it. He 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. Being made of crystal, the minor distance to the floor suddenly seemed like a major hazard. It would be stupid to be reborn into another world only to die by falling off his stand and shattering on the floor. After he 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 he stopped being able to make progress then he would consider boycotting Tam’s experiment. Tam seemed impatient to a certain degree anyway, so if he practiced and eventually seemed to run out of new things to do it was likely Tam would try to test something else. His only real concern was that Tam’s experiment might end with his destruction. If that seemed likely he would communicate for all he was worth; with earth manipulation he could probably even get something across in pictographs 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 him and turning off the feeder. Tam had watched him a lot more than usual today, though admittedly, he had mana to work with and was likely more interesting.
Since the feeder was off Caden went back to his nightly routine. He practiced holding mana in place as tightly as possible. He 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. His mana sight may not be getting better, but he was gradually getting a good grip on holding 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 his imagination.
After that Caden tried protruding different kinds of stone to see if denser stone was harder to destroy. No noticeable difference. He crudely smoothed some of the walls where he could reach, giving them a slightly polished look. When he tried to do that to the floor the beam rebuilt them as they were. He supposed that made sense; Tam didn’t want him to build traps into the floor, or even polish it so much that it became slippery. He did not want to harm Tam 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 he was happy to make any progress. He 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 he was on were no longer completely invisible. They were still like looking at perfect glass, but he 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 his aura were as invisible as ever, so it looked like he was using his 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!