Chapter 126
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“Immortal Ethan, I would like to talk about my research,” said Alice, after stepping into the hallway and making sure there were no nearby [Servants]. “I feel that it will be extremely relevant in the coming days, which is why I am willing to talk about it. However, I would also like to keep it a secret – if the Society of Starry Eyes learns about my studies, I feel that they would stop at nothing to hunt me down. And honestly, while I’m not sure what the Church of the System’s stance on this is, I think it would be best to avoid treading on their toes. Just in case.”

Ethan paused for a moment, giving Alice a curious look. Then, he solemnly nodded. “I understand. I’ll respect your wish to keep this secret.” After saying that, a shield of rainbow mana flickered into existence around the two, preventing any eavesdropping that might otherwise happen. “I’ve set up my anti-eavesdropping Perk, so you can speak freely now.”

At the back of her mind, Alice noted how easily Ethan activated his Perk. Alice also hadn’t had any real issues running her Perks, despite the fact that the System had shut down. The System collapsing clearly hadn’t stopped people from using their Perks, or looking at their Status Screen, or given everyone some sort of obvious sign that something was terribly wrong. This was both a relief and concerning. If the entire framework of the System collapsed overnight, there would probably be nothing left that ANYONE could do to save this world. Everyone would rapidly lose control of the mana inside of their class seeds, get controlled by their class-related mana, and then go nuts.

Fortunately, things like Status Screens, Classes, and Perks didn’t seem to need any ‘connection’ to the System to keep working. Of course, there might be problems with Status Screens and Perks that Alice simply hadn’t noticed yet. She hadn’t had enough time to level up or get any new Perks or Achievements since the System had shut off, and while Alice suspected that levelling up would still be fine, she had no idea how Perk selection worked behind the scenes. It was certainly something that she needed to watch out for. Of course, Alice really hoped that levelling up and gaining new Perks still worked: if it was still possible to get new Perks and levels frequently, it would make figuring out how and why the System had collapsed, and how to fix it, much easier. However, if the System as a whole shutting down caused selecting new Perks to be problematic, or made it completely impossible to select new Perks, Alice would have a much harder time finding new tools to pick apart the System and how it worked.

However, while it was a good thing that not everything had collapsed, it also made it much harder for Alice to prove that something was horribly wrong. Alice really hoped that Ethan was willing to trust her, because if he wasn’t, this might quickly become a massive headache.

“As you already know, I’m fairly oriented towards research. Most of my Perks are related to research, I have quite a number of research classes, and most of my notable Achievements are related to research.”

“Indeed,” said Ethan, giving her a simple word of acknowledgement. He didn’t seem to feel a need to expand on Alice’s statement.

“Well, the biggest thing I’ve focused most of my time on is researching the System itself.”

“Why are you researching the System?” Ethan seemed baffled. “I never took you as an aspiring [Priest of the System]. I always figured you were most interested in being a Mage, and all of your research and actions so far seem to support this idea. Or is there some sort of connection I’m not seeing here?” Then, his eyes seemed to light up. “Wait, is this about that Boris boy? Now that I think about it, you often claimed to be researching mana itself, but you seemed oddly focused on Boris and his odd case of unlocking his Status Screen early. You also mentioned at the time that you had been looking into how mana and status screens interacted with each other… “ Ethan gave Alice a quizzical look. “So is your real focus of research the System itself, as in, its connection to mana? I see...” Ethan trailed off, looking a lot more thoughtful now. “If that’s the case… are mana and the System really intertwined enough to make it into an entire focus of research? Hmm…” Ethan seemed to enter a daze, before he nodded to himself. “Perhaps there’s even more to Boris’s unusual case than I was thinking at the time.  What exactly is the connection between mana and the System?”

Alice shrugged. “Honestly, they’re way more intertwined than most people think. Do you recall what I mentioned about my previous world? The kind of environment that existed there?”

 “You mentioned that there was no magic, and no System as well, yes? I… I seem to recall thinking that the people on your world must have been really fragile, although afterwards, we ended up talking about machinery and how they were similar to and different from enchantments.”

Alice nodded. “My point is, when I came to this world, I found magic and the System very interesting. So I spent a lot of my time researching both. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what magic was, how it worked, how it could possibly exist, and rules it operated off of…”

Ethan seemed to realize what she was going to say, even before Alice finished speaking.

“And the other half of your time was devoted to figuring out what the System was, how it worked, how it could exist, and what rules it operated off of?” His face grew a little bit more troubled.

“I see. I’ve… never heard of anyone researching the System itself. I don’t think the church has an official stance on people researching the System itself. After all, nobody has really done it before. Sure, plenty of people have studied things like faster ways to level up, or how to optimize Perks more effectively, or what the exact trigger conditions are for some kinds of Achievements. There are dozens of things people have poured their time and effort into researching within the System. The church doesn’t frown upon that kind of research at all: in fact, they seem to regard it as a method of researching the divine will of the System, and actively encourage it. But as far as I know, the System itself has always just been assumed to be there…” Ethan frowned. “No, now that I think about it, the church holy text does mention that there was a time when the System didn’t exist in this world. They talk about how bad life was before the System came into being, to help the humans of the time. I just… never thought much about it before.” He nodded.

“Even if the Church of the System does still acknowledge there were times when the System wasn’t present, I believe it’s probably a good idea not to mention your research to the Church of the System. But why bring this up now, specifically?”

“I’m getting to why I’m bringing this up. First, I’d like to note that through my research, I got a bunch of Perks and Achievements that ended up being quite helpful. They let me see a lot more than other people. Then, those Perks let me make more discoveries, leading to getting MORE Achievements… and after a few rounds of this, I got the ability to see System mana itself.”

“System mana?” Ethan gave Alice a blank look. “The System has mana?” Ethan glanced at the space in front of him for a moment, seeming as if he was looking at his Status Screen, and then glanced at Alice again, with a confused and intrigued expression.

Alice nodded. “System mana. In all parts of the world, there is rainbow colored mana that exists. It seems to be the way that the System does everything, such as allowing us to get Classes, survive mana baptisms, et cetera. In short, System mana is the mana that this world’s humans are reliant on in order to survive.”

Ethan gave Alice a slightly more blank look. “So the church of the System is… a church worshipping a bunch of mana?” He paused, his expression simply growing more vacant as he looked at Alice, and then he shook his head.

“Does that mean that, at the end of the day, the Church of Mana and the Church of the System are both worshipping different forms of the same thing? What a strange idea.” The corners of Ethan’s lips rose, and Alice realized that he was actually grinning in amusement. “I wonder what would happen if they realized that, for all their centuries of arguing and conflicting with each other, both ultimately worship the same thing.” Then, Ethan sighed. “Well, I imagine they would probably just keep arguing. Once different groups of people dislike each other enough, even reality isn’t enough to stop them from believing the other side is comprised of people who are either crazy and irrational, or evil. Still, the idea that both churches are ultimately the same, and yet spent so much time defining a bunch of arbitrary distinctions between the two of them just to argue with each other, is quite amusing.”

“That’s not the important part either,” said Alice, swallowing nervously as she finally reached the main topic of conversation. “Yesterday, while I was investigating that artifact, the System mana that’s always present just… disappeared.”

“Disappeared? You mean to say that the mana of the System is gone now?” Ethan’s amused grin disappeared faster than an asteroid getting dragged into a black hole. “What does that mean?”

“A lot of problems,” said Alice. “At least, if my understanding of what the System is and what it does is correct. Do you mind if I use {Shared Memory} on you? It’s the Perk that I used before, when I was showing you memories of my home world. It lets me share memories of my past with people, as long as they’re willing to see it. In this case, I want to show you a few observations I’ve made about what System mana is and what it does. I think it’ll help provide some context on why I’m so worried.”

Ethan didn’t even hesitate before stretching out his arm towards Alice. “Go ahead.”

Alice quickly stretched out her hand towards Ethan’s wrist, and then activated the Perk {Shared Memory}.

Immediately, Alice brought to mind a few specific memories that she felt were worth sharing.

First, she showed Ethan an image of the System mana during a mana baptism. In the memory Alice showed, the System’s mana was trying to prevent the mana from destroying the nerves and arteries of a person, while a mana baptism formed a Mage Core behind the person’s heart. She had seen multiple people go through their mana baptism recently… and had even seen several people, such as the [Scout] that had led her classmates on their hunting mission, die horrible deaths while trying to survive their mana baptisms over the past few months. The scene of the System trying to help someone survive their mana baptism was one of the scenes Alice was the most familiar with, and one of the scenes she wished she had seen less of over the past few months.

After showing Ethan the image, Ethan pulled his arm back for a moment, giving the air around him an increasingly strange look.

“So the System is heavily involved in mana baptisms…” said Ethan. “I wasn’t aware there was so much happening behind the scenes of a mana baptism. Most attempts to nail down exactly what’s happening during a baptism, and why so many mana baptisms fail, haven’t been particularly successful.” Then, Ethan stopped scanning the air around him, and turned back towards Alice.

“In that case, I can see how studying the System and studying mana baptisms go hand in hand. I suppose the entire idea is to take what the System is doing and then… improve on it, I suppose?” He sounded interested in the idea. “I can also see why improving upon mana baptisms is so difficult. If even the System struggles with it, and most people can’t even see what the System is doing, then improving a mana baptism is incredibly difficult. Especially since most types of mana seem to get pulled into the mana baptism and become part of the problem, rather than helping the patient survive. I wonder why System mana doesn’t get dragged into the mana baptism…”

“Improving the System’s actions was my original idea, yes,” said Alice. “I feel that the System is very, very powerful – but it isn’t perfect. It makes mistakes from time to time, since it’s neither omniscient nor omnipotent. In fact, I’m not sure if the System is sentient or sapient at all. But the point is, I figured that maybe if I observed what the System was doing, I could improve and expand on what it was doing and maybe make the whole process easier.”

Ethan nodded. “I see. What else have you found?”

Alice quickly grabbed Ethan’s arm again, and began to take Ethan through another trip in her memories. She showed Ethan the way the System condensed a class seed, the way a class seed seemed to absorb problematic kinds of mana and convert it into levels and Perks, the way the System helped people for magic seeds, and the way the System helped filter mana for people who were increasing their stats. All of the strange but important functions of daily life that the System helped make possible. Along with those images, Alice also showed a few other more dangerous experiments she had performed on herself, such as the time she had tried forming a class seed incorrectly, and had nearly had her personality erased by mana before the System helped her get everything back under control.

Ethan remained quiet for most of the time Alice was using {Shared Memory}, only occasionally stopping to process what Alice had shown him. When he saw Alice’s memory of nearly having her personality erased, he winced and spent nearly a minute rubbing his temples before the two continued looking through Alice’s memories. Finally, Alice got to the most critical scene.

“This is what I saw while inspecting the Artifact in the palace yesterday,” said Alice, showing Ethan the image of the System mana disappearing like a lightbulb going out.

Ethan frowned.

“So, what does the System disappearing mean?”

“It means that, unless the System fixes itself, things are going to get very bad for the world. And very quickly. The System is responsible for a huge part of people’s survival rate in mana baptisms, for example, and without the System’s help, survival rates will plummet. I’m not sure what the odds of succeeding are without the help of the System, but they’re certainly lower. Creating new Magic seeds might also be dangerous now, since the System helps a lot with the formation of magic seeds.” Alice paused. “Actually, I have quite a bit of experience forming magic seeds without the help of the System, so it’s clearly possible to form them without the help of the System and without hurting yourself. But it’s very difficult, and very easy to mess up and hurt yourself. I experimented with it a lot before I got a magic seed correct. The only reason I was able to try out so many different things is because I had a few Perks to help me fix any problems that arose as a result of my testing.”

Ethan gave Alice a completely baffled look. “Why did you even try to form a magic seed without the System in the first place? I mean, it’s clearly useful now, but… I’m confused.”

“I want to create a magic seed based on System mana,” said Alice, grinning a bit. Despite how dire the circumstances were, she still felt a little bit of excitement when she thought about copying the System, creating a System magic seed, and getting to experience firsthand all of the incredibly intricate and important things the System did on a day to day basis. “The System is unwilling to let people make System magic seeds, and seems to actively block attempts to form that kind of seed. So I practiced forming seeds in areas without System mana a lot. At one point, I tried to form magic seeds and ended up nearly killing myself, so I ended up with a better understanding of how the System interacts with magic seeds.” Alice winced. Even now, the memory of nearly melting herself while trying to form magic seeds from earth remained a somewhat traumatic memory for her, even if time and continuous practice had blunted the edges of fear she felt when she recalled that memory.

Ethan sighed, and looked thoughtful. “So if the System itself is gone… I can see why you shared all of these memories with me. The System disappearing is catastrophic for the planet, in more ways than one. In that case, I have a few things I should start setting up now. When you treated Borris, you gave him an enchanted item that isolated him from the mana in his surroundings, right? Given what I just saw, I imagine it was to prevent him from obtaining more [Farmer] mana, thus crushing his personality. I should also let some people know that forming new magic seeds might be dangerous right now, and get them to spread this information. Would a copy of the enchanted item you gave Boris work for everyone, do you think?”

Alice paused, thinking about it. “I’m pretty sure that would help people in Boris’s situation, at least. It would be a good solution to children unlocking access to problematic mana types before they’re ready. Which, if I’m not mistaken, will probably start happening quite soon.” The System seemed to normally keep children from unlocking their status screens by maintaining a kind of ‘bubble’ around them. Now that the System was gone, children would probably be exposed to dangerous kinds of mana with no protection, meaning that a great deal of children would be in danger very soon, even if that danger would be rather slow-acting.

Ethan nodded. “I’ll have some of the [Enchanters] under me start mass-producing similar designs immediately, then. In the meantime, your research seems like it’ll be a vital aspect of figuring out how to untangle this mess. For now, don’t set foot outside of my manor without me – if the Society has any idea what you’ve been researching, they’ll probably up the level of offense against you by several notches. I always felt that the Society might be mildly interested in you, but I never thought that they would ever even consider throwing their entire Society at you to try to capture you. But if they saw your experiments…” Ethan shook his head. “I wouldn’t be surprised if every single living member of the Society moved to Illvaria and tried to siege down the capital just to get you, no matter how suicidal that might be. You’re now in greater danger of being kidnapped or assassinated than the royal family, possibly by several times. And while your combat abilities are above average, they’re definitely way behind what someone with dedicated combat classes would have. Do you understand?”

Alice nodded.

Ethan relaxed a little bit. “Good. I’m going to look into a few things as well. I’ll see if I can get any hints about whether the System collapsing is more nuanced in some regions of the world versus others. While it currently seems likely that the System has simply disappeared across the world, perhaps it only disappeared in some parts of the world, such as the capital city. If that’s the case, at least for now, we’ll have a solution to the System collapsing. Evacuating entire cities isn’t exactly cheap or easy, and if the System keeps getting worse, it’s far from a long term solution, but it might buy you some more time to research. We’ll figure out what other steps we need to take as necessary.” Ethan paused. “And if you need anything at all for your research, let me know immediately. If the System’s collapse is a worldwide event, your research might be the only thing that saves millions of lives, if things are as bad as you’re afraid they are. Actually, are there any other people that can assist you with your research?”

“Cecilia, my best friend. She’s the one that taught me enchanting, and she’s helped me with a lot of my experiments ever since I arrived in this world. She has some Achievements that help her see what’s going on, which makes her very helpful as well.”

Ethan nodded. “I’ll immediately send someone and get her to join us at the manor, then. It would be catastrophic if she were to be kidnapped or killed.”

Ethan dissolved the Perk isolating the two from their surroundings. After that, he seemed to hesitate for a moment, and turned back towards Alice, as if wondering if he should say something.

Before he could, however, a [Servant] moved into the hallway. Seeing Alice and Ethan talking, the [Servant] waited for a moment, but eventually frowned and moved closer to Ethan.

“Honored Immortal, an urgent report for you.”

He quickly handed Ethan a report, before scurrying away.

Ethan quickly opened the letter, before his frown deepened.

“It seems that your fears are correct,” he said, as he scanned the letter. “Five hours ago, a group of Mages appear to have injured themselves while forming their Magic seeds. It took a few hours for the symptoms to get bad enough to be noticeable, but the three of them are very sick now. And the [Organic Mages] they asked for help have absolutely no idea how to deal with it, so they passed the issue up to a more experienced group of [Organic Mages]. That group of [Organic Mages] also didn’t know how to deal with the problem, and so they passed the report up the chain of command until it reached me.”

He sighed, before turning towards Alice. “It might be a good idea to take a look. Since you’re the only one who can see System mana and investigate what’s going on, your presence would be… very helpful. Are you willing to come along?”

Alice nodded.

“Then let’s go.”

 

 

 

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