“And would you trust a dungeon?”
-Saying meaning “Are you a fool?”
Tam came back without his staff or rings, though the spells swirling about him remained. Caden tried to memorize the various spells, but they were intricate and he doubted he would remember them from this limited exposure. Tam entered his aura and he could sense the familiar chalk and metal. Tam turned to the beam array and twisted with his magic somehow. The threads lifted so they did not cover the floor anymore. He really wished he understood how that had worked. Tam knelt on the floor and started drawing on the ground with the chalk. He first created a circle that encompassed most of the room. Within he created a second circle around Caden. On the outside edge of this inner circle he drew runes, and then a second layer of runes farther out. The runes were still nonsense as far as he could tell, though he did notice a few of them were the same as in Tam’s other arrays.
Tam started the enchantment by burning the chalk into the stone. The empty symbols and the circles were soon filled with the familiar silver metal. Tam had brought a significantly larger chunk this time and he scowled at it as it shrank down to a tiny nugget. Maybe its expensive or hard to get? Caden certainly hoped so, then Tam would only use as much as was absolutely necessary. That would actually explain why Tam only applied his various precautions as needed, instead of having a whole series of them ready to go. This option was less safe, but had greater versatility and less cost. If Tam had planned out all the precautions he thought he would need in advance there would be no guarantee he would develop as Tam expected, and it would have taken far more material. He was really hoping that he would be able to work around this new precaution, but even if not immediately he would find a way eventually.
Tam began the ritual and infused the runes with his power. Afterwards, as the enchantments grew out of the runes, Caden tried to determine exactly what they did. The first discovery was that he simply could not manipulate the stone on the floor at all any more. He tried to make it grow, move, disappear … nothing. He could still manipulate the walls and the ceiling as far as he could tell. No, wait, the ceiling right above him could not be manipulated either. When he tried to extend a tiny tendril of stone into that area it stopped as though it hit a barrier, even when he grew the stone from the part not touching it. The beam array cleaned up the stone tendril a moment later.
Well, he might still be able to get out. It depended on whether or not it would let him out of the area. If it stopped him too then he would need to figure something out. For the moment he kept calm and just delayed by doing what Tam expected, and made small protrusions of stone to test the situation. Tam watched for hours, but his eyes drooped with his interrupted sleep. Tam cast a long lasting version of his analysis spell on Caden and then headed out of the room. At the doorway Tam cast another spell, a set of spiked and smooth bands embedded into the doorway on either side and stretched across in layers.
While Caden was not sure what these were for, he was guessing they were some type of defensive spell. He had no particular wish to test them out, and since they did not penetrate into the room he would just ignore them.
He had no idea if Tam planned on coming back again tonight. Tam had dimmed the lights, but he was not going to assume anything for now. So, he continued his practice with his various skills and kept extruding stone into the room at semi-regular intervals. Morning came and the magical lights brightened, casting pale shadows upon the stone. He still was not sure how the lights functioned. They were a spell, but they did not feel like any of the other other spells he had seen. Despite his progress, the gossamer wisps of the light spell had resolved very little; if they were not concentrated together he was not sure he would be able to see them at all. However, the light spell was still very low in his priorities for now.
In the morning Tam canceled the analysis spell before he cast another one. Anticipating this Caden had funneled the mana given off towards his mana storage to keep his absorption of the spell remnant secret. The largest impediment towards escaping was now the analysis spell that Tam would likely keep cast continually. This being the case he dedicated the entire day to learning as much as he possibly could about it. When he had mana available he concentrated some of it around the weave of the spell. He gradually examined different parts, trying to get a sense of how it worked. Much of it was focused on various aspects of himself. He could see strands connecting to various parts of his inner web, some to where his mana was stored, and to various other places. These strands connected in turn to a strand that connected back to Tam and the other half of the spell. After hours of study he was able to determine that the strands occasionally pulsed with mana, sending a signal back towards Tam. As far as he could tell, they only did this when his mana level changed. Presumably they could also see his skills and other characteristics, but those never changed while he watched so he could not tell for certain. He tried his hardest to observe but never detected any signals flowing towards himself from the spell.
That night when Tam cast his spell on Caden again, he examined it carefully. It appeared almost identical to the one used during the day. Taking a chance he worked the hooked portions of aura along the thread connecting back to Tam, trying to cut it. It took time but eventually he severed through the thread; the end drifted free. He waited, but there was no sign of Tam. Success.
He carefully moved the threads of the beam array away from his feeder with the hooks in his aura. Drawing on his storage he created stone out of the air, a skill he had carefully never shown Tam. The stone was attached to the feeder and he quickly pushed the activation button with a tendril of stone. He stopped keeping the threads away from it and let the beam array destroy the thin bit of stone. It had done its job; the feeder was on and he was not being monitored.
Caden was not expecting to escape tonight, but he was now able to do some tests that he would not have wanted Tam to see. When mana from the feeder dispersed into the air, He used part of it to create stone inside the circle with his core. When he tried pushing on the barrier from the inside the stone was still not able to move through it. After that he lifted himself with several tendrils of stone and tried to see if he could pass through the barrier. No luck.
Caden had expected this result, so he went on to his other tests. He expanded his aura from behind so that it would cover each of the aura anchors around the room. Seeing that he could cover them he then went and covered the beam anchor with his aura from the stone behind it. He extended his aura no farther than he had to. He did not want to discover that Tam had another alarm if he extended his aura farther into the complex. He could feel his own impatience and was very tempted to try to escape tonight, but wanted to have more mana in case he needed it, so he resolved to wait one more day. When the lights came on in the morning he quickly turned off the feeder and waited.
The day was torture. Caden kept expecting Tam to notice that something was wrong. If he had a body he would have been sweating from nervousness the entire time. Regardless of time’s perverse propensity to slow down when he was waiting, the day eventually, finally, managed to pass.
After a few minutes to make sure that Tam was gone, Caden started.
He first broke the strand on the spell reporting on him to Tam, and then reactivated the feeder; if all else failed, having more mana would be useful. Caden was still divided about what to do next. He had two equally viable options, to use the captured mana to effect his escape immediately or to level up and then escape.
Even without leveling up he was fairly confident that he could escape with his current capabilities. However, if he gained additional control over the earth, some kind of movement skill, etc… then he might significantly improve his chances of escape.
Caden eventually decided on a compromise. He was going to enact the first part of his escape plan. If it worked, then everything else should work. The first part of his plan would remove the greatest obstacles anyway.
Gingerly using his aura Caden guided one of the threads of the beam array until it touched one of the runes set into the floor. A beam lanced out and with a faint ping the metal rune pinged out of the floor as the stone beneath it regrew. The runic array on the floor still shimmered with light. He really hoped that was enough that it wasn’t working anymore. He carefully extended a tendril of stone out towards the barrier around him. It was still there.
Caden quickly tried to see if the other effect of the array on the floor was still working. The floor grew stone at his command. He said a few quick prayers of thanks. He knew there was no way Tam would fail to notice the missing rune. He lifted other runes gently out of the stone, testing each time to see if the barrier still remained. After three more runes the barrier finally fell and he sunk himself and the stand into the floor. Once the stone completely covered both, he finally detached himself from the damned stand. He was free from mana drain for the first time in his new life.
The feeder dispersed mana into the air and Caden consumed it. Then he began to drain mana out of his testing area. Mana flowed into him until he felt an unfamiliar feeling. He looked at his status in confusion; he was full.
His mana trap was still about half full. He had gained far less than he had stored into it, but the mana wastage was not his biggest concern at the moment. He could level and have mana to spare. He leveled.
Your status has changed!
Name: N/A / Exsan
Type: Dungeon Core – Soul Hybrid
Crystal Status: 100% – Undamaged
Status Effects: None
Available Mana: 20/100
Passive Mana Generation: 31.5/Day
Next level: 60 Mana Cost
Subsections Available: 1
Ability Points: 900
Skills: Directed Mana Absorption I,
Limited Omniscience (Dungeon)
Soul Mana I
Dungeon Aura Expansion I
Manipulate Earth II
Enhanced Aura Perception I
Ambient Mana Manipulation I
Interdimensional Repository I
Titles: Reborn Soul
First of its Kind
Mana Specialist I
He pulled up the skill.
Interdimensional Repository I
Store and retrieve objects within your aura using a personal storage space.
Huh, no ability points this time. Though it looked like his mana regen had gone up.
Caden’s disappointment was mostly covered by a surge of greed. There were a number of things that he wanted to take, now that he had the option. However, he held his greed off for a moment. He did not actually know what, if anything, it would cost to store things. Well… there was nothing to do but try it.
He extended his focus toward one the silvery runes on the ground. With the tiniest bit of focus it disappeared. He examined his mana levels. As far as he could tell it had not cost anything at all. He grabbed the three other loose runes on the ground, again no change.
With an inner grin Caden grabbed something larger, the stand. It disappeared and this time he felt a faint thrumming in the threads of his aura. He looked at his status once more, nope, no sign of mana loss. With glee, he grabbed the four arrays holding his aura in place, the beam array, and the remains of the damaged array on the floor. When he was done he had lost only one mana; it appeared that storage costs were minimal. With a mental shrug he grabbed Tam’s chair and he took all the statues too, leaving only the recursive statue of Tam examining himself, examining Caden. He couldn’t resist adding one small detail to the statue though, he created a copy of himself writ large above and behind Tam.
Caden drained what remained within his improvised mana storage, bringing his mana back up to forty-six. He tried to take the lights on the ceiling but nothing happened. Oh well. He stored his feeder. While he would have liked more mana, he needed to get started.
He moved away, rushing as far as possible into the stone. As he approached the current limit of his aura he extended more ahead. There was a slight feeling of strain as he expanded his aura, but he ignored it. Until he came to an abrupt halt.
Caden strained to move farther and was unable to do so. He quickly moved up and down, and found that, while it was possible, his limits curved backwards toward Tam’s room. He experimented a bit. When he extended the aura in Tam’s room farther back he was dragged backward. Looked like he could only go so far from the edge of his aura.
Caden tried to pull his aura back into himself. No luck. He also had no luck simply telling the aura to disperse, disconnect, bunch up towards him, or unhook. Some of these methods felt like something very slight started to happen, but he did not have time to learn a new skill right now.
Caden calmed down to see if there were other options for escape. He could think of one, but it would likely be terrible even if it worked perfectly. He checked for something he could buy to help. Everything was either useless or too expensive.
Caden considered the full range of options he had. He could always go back and try to put everything back in place, but there was no way to hide that he had gained a level from Tam. That meant communicating and hoping for the best, not what he wanted. The other… well, if it didn’t work hopefully he would still be in good enough shape to go back. He hoped he was not making a huge mistake.
Caden began to gather the stretched out threads of his aura a dozen feet behind him. He condensed them into a circle and then began twisting until they were a tight spiral. The strain vibrated through him, even as he pushed harder, feeling like he was overextending a muscle. His alter ego Exsan began to stir within, he could feel an instinctual response warning caution. He only stopped when the spiraling threads would not condense any further. He paused a moment, keeping the threads contained even as he retried pulling in his aura. Nothing. There was no hope for it, he had to proceed. He directed the hooks in the spiral to start grinding against the other threads.
Caden had not felt pain in weeks; it was shocking, brutal. Exsan howled in his head. The primal need to stop the pain fighting his control. A few times he was pushed to the edge, even as he pressed on. He felt like blood should be spraying as his aura sawed against itself. Snap! Threads ruptured under the continued pressure, the outer threads going first, lashing away like whips. Crack! Caden could feel cracking inside him. Crack! Finally, the last of the threads snapped apart. For a moment he could still feel this disconnected aura, slowly drifting down and away.
Warning – Negative Status Change!
Crystal Status: 62% – Structure Compromised
You have forcibly activated a new skill!
Aura Mobility I
You may freely move within your aura. You may direct areas of aura you control to dissipate. Moving outside your aura’s established boundaries will automatically dissipate your aura, except in a limited sphere which will follow you.
Well, he couldn’t say that it wasn’t worth it. His remaining aura had reshaped itself into a sphere, he guessed it was about fifteen feet across. Not exactly a huge space, but it should be more than sufficient for getting away. That being the case, Caden continued on, moving the raw stone around him like a ship parting the sea.
Shortly after that he ran into a problem.
A wall. Not of something as insubstantial as stone. He wouldn’t be that lucky. No it was a wall of mana threads, shimmering in the way he had come to recognize as a permanent enchantment. His aura extended far enough that he could sense the faint curvature of the wall. If he had to guess, it was a sphere. The threads of the wall crisscrossed each other in different directions. It was not precisely uniform, but he could not see any gap small enough for him to simply slip through.
Resigned, he followed the wall in different directions, looking to find the biggest gap he could. He eventually found a gap that was reasonably larger than average, but still too small. Well, he knew how to manipulate the threads at least. He gingerly hooked the threads and began to pull them apart. Unlike the threads of the beam enchantment, these threads were meant to stay in one place and he could feel the strain.
Gradually he moved the threads farther apart. Just a few more inches until he could slip through. A bright thread from an active spell passed no more than a few feet from him. Shit! Tam must be searching for him. Threads of spell work trailed along the interior of the wall. At first only a few then a multitude. Frantically he guided the many threads around him, still trying to open up the wall. The strain on him grew, and his crystal cracked further. A few interminable minutes amid the sound of cracking and Caden finally slipped through the barrier.