“If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Of course, nothing was ever that simple. Caden soon learned he did indeed have a limit to how much he could split his attention. He could only focus on a few things simultaneously. Only. He laughed to himself, if he could do that as a human he would be beyond a genius. However, he assumed that at some point this ability would improve drastically. He was only level two, was it related to that? Or would he be able to do more later with some skill at a level up? For now, he had no idea; he was just going to keep trying to add an extra perspective every now and then and see if he could make progress. For now he focused on what he could do.
Before the lights announced the next morning’s arrival, he could tell that he was making progress in a couple different areas. Caden’s aura had expanded slightly by using the mana that was constantly flowing into himself before it could drain away. He was not getting nearly all of it yet, but having a tiny flow of mana accessible was better than having none at all. If he let it sit in his mana pool it would just drain away.
Caden had not had any luck breaking the threads of enchantment down, but he had been able to move them a bit. This might eventually let him keep a portion of the room from being analyzed by the beam runes, which would let him grow some stone in the room.
He had also been able to get the hooks of his aura to embed themselves in stone. He had not seen any sign that the stone had been weakened, strengthened, or affected in any way, but he fully expected progress to be slow, so he was not discouraged.
The greatest success by far, however, was in moving around the mana in the air. Compared to holding mana in one place, moving loose currents of mana around the room was trivially easy. Shortly after practicing this Caleb got a couple pop-ups.
You have gained a new skill!
Ambient Mana Manipulation I
You can manipulate and make use of any ambient mana within your aura.
You have been given a new title!
Mana Specialist I
You have acquired multiple skills that direct, generate, and perceive mana. Your skills with mana are well above average, so go out and get even better.
+50 Ability Points
All skills dealing with mana are slightly more powerful
Caleb looked at his status and his mana generation had gone up to 21 per day. Only an increase of five percent, but every bit helped, even if he could not really use it at the moment. Also the fact that the title had a one in it implied it could get better.
On the other hand messing around with mana was much easier now. He had been focusing so much on simply holding mana in place and had done himself a disservice. He could hold a decent sized area of mana completely still, even in air, while swirling mana around it. The skill was obviously for doing general manipulation of mana, and he had been trying to accomplish only one specific task. However, even if he had not approached it in the best possible way, he now had one of the key elements he needed to enact his escape plan.
The largest obstacle to his escape was his inability to store and then use mana when Tam was not around. Now, he could work on storing mana. With his ability to move mana, he started to gather the free mana towards his practice cave. By morning the mana density was significantly higher there, though still minimal compared to any spell. Still, the proof of concept was working. Caden was able create a manual mana storage outside of himself.
Tam began his usual process later that morning. He did not hide his new ability at all, and Tam obviously detected that mana was swirling around more strongly than before. He cast his analysis spell and seemed happy enough for the moment. He reactivated the feeder and Caden practiced his significantly more vigorous itinerary. He also shunted some of the mana he was getting off it towards his hidden cave. As he poured more mana into it, it became harder to prevent it from leaking out, so he spent some mana to enlarge his practice area backwards. He practiced making a sculpture there, and it was ridiculously easy, the stone would perfectly replicate his imagination.
Tam perked up when he used some of the energy he was given to create sculptures in the walls. Caden tried to keep his creations rather crude. He also amused himself by replicating patterns that were in the room. A helix mimicking his stand here, faceted stones like himself, he even did some sculptures that looked like Tam. He also decided he was going to hide his studies of Tam’s spells in plain sight. He made copies of the analysis spells, some even interacted with the sculptures that resembled Tam. He also trapped everything that he possibly could, after all he was supposed to be a dungeon.
Some sculptures would tip over if touched. Corners on his art were hardened and razor sharp. Caden hid a large portion of marble sized stones behind part of a wall, they would spill if someone got too close. He had blades that would protrude from other pieces of art. He created guillotines in the ceiling, etc… Other than the overly sharp bits, he carefully arranged the traps so the beam array would disable anything that actually went off before Tam was injured. He could probably have actually injured Tam if he had tried to make traps that stayed only in the boundaries that the beam array did not mess with, but he did not actually want to injure Tam.
As it was, Tam was utterly fascinated by the various pieces of art. He was startled by a few of the traps, but utterly unharmed in the end. Some of the art was damaged by the beam array, but Caden considered that worthwhile, and he just repaired it later. It let him study the deconstruction process better anyway. After a while he was able to determine that there was definitely something very different about the way it deconstructed stone from the way he did it. There was a tiny flicker of something when Caden destroyed stone that was absent when the beam array did the same. For now he had no idea if it meant anything important, so he just kept an eye on things as best he could.
Several days passed like this and Caden’s manipulate earth ability finally moved to level II. Creation and destruction both got much easier, and moving stone became very easy. It barely cost anything now. He could not move very much stone when he tried to use just what was regenerating, but he could move enough that the next piece of his plan was in place. When he finally got out of the damn mana drain he would be able to at least move enough stone to push himself through the walls on regeneration alone, especially since he was using only a fraction of what he was generating before it was siphoned off.
By now there were various full sized statues of Tam in various poses along the walls. There were ones of him casting the various enchantments. There were ones where he sat with his omnipresent tome and chair. Caden had done his best to capture his face in the different emotional states he had seen Tam use. And since Tam really seemed to like examining his art, he had even included a stature of Tam examining a smaller version of himself. It was the first time he heard Tam really laugh. He immediately made a statue to capture the laughing man.
Tam had actually started bringing in various objects for Caden to examine. A carved wooden tree, a rug, a cup carved from bone, and more. He thought Tam liked the idea that he would replicate them around the room. He was glad, because it was nice to have some other things to look at besides the same stone, day after day. Besides, replicating the rug was an interesting challenge. In the end he had needed to twist together strands of stone like string and then arrange them in a lattice to replicate the warp and weft of the plush cloth. It was still stone though, so not exactly a comfortable place to sit down.
Caden had made more progress in other skills too. He could move the threads of enchantment around. He had a hard time grabbing enough to prevent the enchantment from eventually scanning what he was doing, but he could keep it from noticing things for a little while. More exciting was his progress in breaking down spells. He examined the analysis spell that Tam cast on him every day. He was eventually able to see that there were little bits of the spell that were just excess mana hanging off, because they changed every time the spell was cast. With some work over the course of the day he had been able to gradually break these pieces of the spell off. The mana would promptly dissolve and he would vacuum it in. The mana was negligible, but the ability to damage a spell was potentially a powerful tool.
Caden’s attempts to damage the enchantments, however, were so far utter failures. Either they regenerated, were simply much tougher than normal spells, or both.
He also ended up getting a skill that he should have been expecting and had utterly neglected to consider. Caden did not meditate every night, but he did so when he felt a little off. He kept seeing or feeling a flicker of something inside himself when he did it, too. Still, he was mainly just meditating for his sanity. One night he got the appropriate pop-up.
You have gained a new skill!
You can enter a state of internal self awareness. Enhances mana regeneration while you focus inwards.
If it had not been for the fact that it enhanced his mana regeneration Caden would have panicked. Tam was seeing what he expected to see, but a dungeon meditating seemed a little too much for him to ignore. He seemed very surprised the next morning, but while he seemed a little suspicious he still did not change any spells. Tam probably thought he instinctively did it to enhance his mana regen. In the end even if it had not helped him with his mana, he would have needed to meditate in order to stay sane. The irony was that because of the constant mana drain he had not even been aware that meditation helped him with his mana.
Nervous as he was from his close call, Caden was tempted to delay his plan, but he knew that he needed to start as soon as possible. He would always want to be more prepared for something this important, but at some point he just had to take the plunge. That night as he continued his practice he made a slight change. He used the tiny amount of mana he was able to use to move the stone inside the room instead, projecting a tiny spike out of the wall. The moment of truth came when the beam reacted and disintegrated it.
Now things could go two separate ways. Either Tam would detect it, or he wouldn’t. Caden was prepared for either eventuality. If Tam didn’t detect it, that was the easiest route, but if he did he had a plan.
Turned out it was good he had a plan because Tam came rushing in. Caden had never seen him like this before. Tam had glimmering rings on his fingers and a silvery metal staff held in both hands. He had spells wrapped around him in gleaming lines and swirls. He was prepared to do battle. Of course what he found was simply the room, and Caden sitting as normal on the stand. He cast a spell of analysis on him, and frowned when he saw the results. Obviously nothing had changed since the last time Tam saw him. He started using his trickle of mana to create another depression in the wall. It was slow but Tam noticed him making the change after a moment.
Tam’s alarm became slightly less pronounced when after several minutes it became obvious Caden was making another statue. This one showed Tam with his staff and rings. After it was done he started making another spike into the room and it was vaporized shortly thereafter.
Now was the moment of truth. Caden had some ability to redirect the threads of the beam enchantment, but he had no doubt that he was going to set it off at least once during his escape. He needed Tam to ignore it when it went off, but he was also certain Tam was going to make some additional precautions. If he could work around the precautions then he was set and could escape. If not, then he would need to find a way around them. Tam walked out of the room with a determined stride and Caden remained behind, waiting.