chapter 128
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Alice felt her knuckles tighten into fists, before she forced herself to unclench her hands. Then, she laid a finger on the dying man’s stomach. As she did, she tried her best to think of the man as a patient, rather than a real, living person.

Alice felt something prod at her emotions, and then clamp down on them like a steel vice. It took her a moment to realize what was happening. Ethan had activated his Perk, the same one he had used when they had rescued Samantha. It was slowly deadening her emotions, allowing her to focus on the task at hand. It also helped her divorce her emotions from the dying person in front of her. Right now her emotions would distract her, even though she would usually remove any Perk that influenced her emotions immediately. She turned towards Ethan.

“Tell me if you want me to turn it off,” he said. “But I think this would be helpful for you.”

Alice hesitated for a moment. “Keep it on,” she said.

Then, she turned back towards the patient.

The patient was something that she was trying to save, and she couldn’t let her shaky hands and her nerves get in the way of her treatment. So for now, she needed to think of the patient as a collection of things, instead of a person. The patient was a collection of moving organs, muscles, and mana. Not a breathing person with thoughts and feelings. In fact, a person was almost like a machine. Alice couldn’t help but think of her time spent working on robots, back when she had lived on Earth, and found a sort of comforting numbness in the thought.

The person in front of her was just a machine. A collection of moving parts. Right now, some of those parts were broken. She had to figure out what was wrong and fix it before the machine finished breaking down.

Just parts she needed to fix and nothing else.

Her mana tendrils drilled into the patient.

Then, Alice realized something.

Something that she should have realized earlier.

She thought about the way Mage Cores and mana inside of a body interacted with each other, and then about something else she had heard in the past.

Mages who have their mage cores cut out will lose the ability to use magic, but can survive, and even have their mage cores regrown in the future, fixing their magic abilities.

“Ethan, can you slice out the mage core behind his heart without accidentally nicking his heart?” asked Alice.

Ethan immediately took a decorative iron ornament from the corner of the room, and turned towards the [Organic Mage] who was originally in charge of healing the patients. “Do you mind if I break this?”

“Go ahead, Honored Immortal,” said the [Organic Mage].

Ethan immediately used kinetic magic to shave down the sides of the metal ornament, before it quickly turned into a knife. Then, Ethan quickly cut out the patient’s mage core.

The mage core, which contained the patient’s magic seeds, was immediately pulled out of the patient’s chest, thus removing any connection the patient had to magic.

It wasn’t perfect, but it should be good enough to at least save his life. Alice felt a mixture of guilt and hope start to build up in her chest, although Ethan’s Perk tamped the emotions down to nearly nothing.

Alice frowned.

Something was wrong.

Alice wasn’t sure whether the System did anything ‘extra’ to stabilize someone’s body if they lost a Mage core.

At the same time, Alice’s mind flashed back to the first successful Mana Baptism she had observed after getting all of her relevant sight-related Perks built.

As each chunk of muscle fiber, nerves, and flesh were linked up with the new Mage core, they lit up, glowing with mana as Tavi’s body started to adjust to its new change and finalize its shape and abilities. The Mage core flashed several times with rainbow and pure mana, before its near-blinding glow started to fade away, replaced with the ordinary, dull light of a Mage core with no seeds in it. Another few strings of mana-flesh and nerves linked the system up with Tavi’s brain, creating a few different clusters of nerves, before Tavi’s brain also flashed with rainbow mana a few times. Finally, the rainbow and pure mana surrounding Tavi started to disappear. Alice grinned.

Despite her worst fears, Tavi’s mana baptism had been successful.

Alice suddenly got a very bad feeling.

Did the Mage core do more than just regulate magic seeds? What if the way it linked up to all of the strange muscle fibers and mana-flesh was important?

True to Alice’s worst fears, several chunks of mana-flesh inside of the man’s body started to grow brighter and dimmer, seemingly at random.

Alice froze, wondering if something catastrophic was about to happen. She waited tensely, hoping that nothing went wrong, and at the same time, started jamming her magic tendrils into the patient’s body.

She had to control whatever was happening. She had no idea how, but she needed to stop this man from dying. Whatever was happening felt dangerous to her.

The patient’s eyes flicked open. He gasped in pain, and Alice started trying to use a mixture of organic mana and pure mana to soothe the trembling mana-flesh in the man’s arms, legs, and the rest of his body.

She noticed that only some patches of mana-flesh were reacting, and others weren’t. She couldn’t distinguish between the two types of mana flesh at all, but it was obvious there was a critical difference between then. The mana flesh that was going haywire was vomiting out huge amounts of mana, and then randomly sucking in mana a few seconds later – almost like it was expanding and contracting. It was almost like a horrific heartbeat, although it was far more terrifying because Alice had no idea what was going on.

Alice tried to use her mana tendrils to control the strange mana reactions of the man’s mana flesh, and noticed that, with some work, a few chunks of the mana flesh stopped reacting after a few moments.

Unfortunately, Alice had nowhere near enough magic tendrils or mana to fix every chunk of mana flesh in the man’s body.

Alice started to get desperate.

Clearly, there was some sort of System interaction that made the body counterbalance whatever happened when a mage core was cut out of the body. She had no idea whether it was a quick fix or a complicated solution: she had never noticed anything happen in the Society of Starry Eyes if their mage cores were cut out, which made the current issue all the more baffling. Was it something she had simply never noticed, or was it something incredibly tiny that happened inside of their body with System help? Was it a different issue entirely?

Alice desperately searched for a way to replicate whatever the System did when people lost their magic cores, but there was just too little she knew about the way the System handled issues like this, and too little time to experiment.

The man’s body spasmed again, and something inside of him broke.

Several of the chunks of reacting mana flesh stopped working, sending his body into a catastrophic string of failures. Blood started to clot in every chunk of mana flesh, and at the same time, the man’s entire body began to try to absorb huge amounts of mana for no discernible reason.

“Ethan! Help me stabilize the mana and mana-flesh in his body!” yelled Alice.

“Got it,” he said, and immediately plunged his mana tendrils into the patient’s body.

A moment later, Ethan turned a brilliant rainbow color for a moment, as he activated a Perk. And then, another 100 mana tendrils appeared and joined the previous forty.

Alice sent her own mana tendrils into the patient’s body, and began pumping small amounts of pure and organic mana into the problematic chunks of flesh. It was incredibly difficult, because the patient’s body actively resisted every ounce of external mana Alice tried to push inside of it. She had {Improved Organic Manipulation} to help her control her organic mana while she was healing a patient and avoid making errors when healing people. However, it wasn’t the same as a Perk like {Patient’s Consent}, which reduced how much mana resistance she encountered. Alice was paying a huge amount of mana for every Marium of mana that made its way into the right area.

While Alice had nowhere near enough mana tendrils and mana to stabilize the man’s mana flesh, Ethan had far more than he needed. Unfortunately, Ethan didn’t have a pure mana seed, meaning that Alice was still the one doing a huge chunk of the work. She began frantically running around with her pure mana seed, trying to help fix each chunk of flesh. However, even though Ethan was lacking one of the two critical kinds of mana to fix the problem, he at least managed to hold the man’s body together long enough for Alice to address several of the more important-looking chunks of mana flesh. Specifically, the ones near his heart, lungs, and brain. Alice quickly went from one chunk of mana flesh to the next, and began stabilizing it. She didn’t quite know what she was doing as she tried to heal him, so for now, every chunk of mana flesh was treated by putting some amount of ‘pressure’ on it, trying to stop each contraction from doing… anything. She wasn’t sure if that was the best idea, but it was her best guess about how to proceed.

Luckily, in conjunction with Ethan’s organic mana keeping the man’s body together it seemed to work.

The two of them quickly managed to stabilize the situation. It wasn’t perfect – even after each chunk of mana flesh ‘settled down’ it would still occasionally pulse erratically. And the man’s arms and legs were almost completely unaddressed, and still looked like they were violently collapsing. Alice had no idea whether the man would need his limbs regrown after this.

However, even after Alice ran out of mana and Ethan stopped desperately pumping Organic mana into the man’s body, his organs didn’t collapse. His arms and legs looked horrific, and there was obviously something wrong with his health. But he was alive.

Alice breathed a sigh of relief.

There were remaining problems in his body that Alice and Ethan had completely failed to address, because Alice had no idea what the System usually did when someone lost a Mage Core.

But despite all of the errors, the man was alive.

However, Alice was now almost completely out of pure mana.

She looked at the second patient, and felt panic start to build up.

She now knew that without exposure to the System, some sort of horrific reaction would take place in the rest of the body.

And she did not have enough mana to calm down all of the woman’s mana-flesh. She didn’t even have enough remaining mana to address the more important bits of mana flesh, like the woman’s heart, lungs, and brain.

She took a deep breath, and felt Ethan’s Perk start to kick in more strongly, tamping down her emotional response to possibly losing the second patient.

She wasn’t sure whether or not she could heal the second patient and keep her alive, but she needed to at least try her best. If she failed, the other patient in the room would die, and Alice wanted to at least try to save her.

Alice started using her mana sight to more carefully analyze what was going on inside of the woman’s body. She would need to try something different to heal the woman, because there was no way the woman would survive if Alice just patched up whatever mana-flesh she had the remaining mana for. Either her heart, brain, or lungs would fail, and unless the third patient had some rather special Perks or Achievements, those were very important organs that the body couldn’t do without for even a minute. {Intuitive Magic Modelling} was feeding Alice very basic information, helping her understand more and more of what was happening inside of the woman’s magic seed. However, Alice also hadn’t studied the flawed seeds she had produced inside of her own body in very much detail. After all, she usually destroyed them immediately. She wasn’t suicidal, and flawed magic seeds were dangerous. But even if she didn’t have as much experience as she wished she did, she was the only person here who could potentially treat the problem now.

She gritted her teeth, and tried to focus on what her Perk, {Broken Seed} had done to the first patient. She needed to do the same thing, but without the System helping her. And she barely had any pure mana left, meaning she needed to somehow fix the problems with the woman’s body using only her organic mana

She knew that it was possible to recreate what System mana did.

She took a deep breath, and tried to focus. She just needed to do it.

She plunged her mana tendrils into the final patient’s body.

She tried to poke at the malformed magic seed with her pure mana. If she could touch the malformed magic seed with her mana tendrils, her plan was to try to ‘unwind’ it using what little remained of her pure mana.

She didn’t really know what she was doing, but she felt that with pure mana, it might be possible to try to unravel a magic seed as if it were a knotted-up thread. Or at least, that was what she was hoping was the case, because she didn’t have any better ideas.

Her magic tendrils made their way towards the magic core, getting ready to start activating Alice’s pure mana.

And then they bounced off of the Mage Core, accomplishing absolutely nothing.

When she stuck her mana tendril into the woman’s mage core, it felt like she had hit a brick wall. The rest of the woman’s flesh had felt like very thick mud when she tried to push her mana tendrils through it: it was resisting her, but didn’t totally shut down the movement of her mana.

However, the mage core felt like a major barrier.

Alice resisted the urge to curse.

She didn’t have the mana to mess around and try to figure out a solution to this problem. In total, she had a maximum of 121 Mariums of organic mana and 72 Mariums of pure mana to work with. But that was her mana maximum: she had probably spent over fifty Mariums of pure mana trying to heal the first patient.

And just now, Alice had lost a big chunk of her organic mana just to push her mana tendrils close to the patient’s heart.

Alice grimaced, and then started probing the outside of the mana core again. She searched for a weak point in the barrier around the woman’s Mage Core, but couldn’t find one no matter how much she probed the outside. The woman’s mage core was like a hard plastic shell that wrapped itself tightly around her magic seeds. Alice couldn’t find a way in unless she just cracked the whole thing open. But doing that might have unintended consequences.

Alice knew that unravelling the mana shell around the mage core might be a bad idea. But she also didn’t know what else to do. If she couldn’t get into the mage core, she couldn’t fix the problem. So, after hesitating for a moment, Alice pushed her mana tendrils inside of the woman’s mage core, punching through the strange barrier around the mage core.

Around ten Mariums of pure mana vanished into thin air as she ripped apart the mana barrier. More Mariums drained away every single second she pushed her mana tendrils inside of the woman’s body. Mana leaked out of Alice like air rushing out of a punctured spaceship.

Alice felt her heart leap into her throat. This might kill the woman on the spot, or make the problem worse, but it was her best idea for what to do. She moved quickly, trying to take advantage of the moment the wrap around the woman’s mage core collapsed.

She immediately plunged her mana tendrils deeper into the mage core, preparing to rip apart the problematic magic seed and then try to use organic mana to repair… whatever she had just removed.

However, before she could even touch the magic seed, something strange happened. All of the mana in the woman’s body dimmed for a moment.

And then, the woman’s mage core started absorbing mana nonstop. Alice’s eyes widened as it started to look like the woman was going through another mana baptism.

Bad, bad, this is bad, thought Alice, starting to panic as she watched the woman’s body start randomly absorbing mana for reasons she didn’t understand. She used several mana tendrils to force the mana near the patient’s body away, in order to stop her from absorbing more mana. Even if Alice didn’t know why the patient was absorbing mana, she felt that it would be very dangerous if it continued.

One of Alice’s seven mana tendrils finally made contact with the magic seed she needed to remove. If she destroyed the magic seed, she could hopefully fix whatever else was happening with the help of her organic magic seed and pure magic seed. It was a slim hope, but Alice already felt woefully unprepared for the task of saving the final patient’s life. Maybe the reason the mage core was acting weird was because of the messed up magic seed?

At this point, Alice could only pray that was the case.

However, something… crunched when Alice tried to pull apart the magic seed. Alice wasn’t quite sure what she had messed up, but it was obvious something had gone wrong while trying to unravel the magic seed. Worse, the magic seed itself hadn’t wholly disappeared: instead, it now looked brittle, as if it were made of glass. Alice’s attempt to replicate her Perk had gone very wrong.

The woman’s body stopped trying to absorb mana. Then, all of her magic seeds suddenly went haywire. They started tossing around mana left and right, as if they were oceans in the middle of a storm.

Ethan immediately used a kinetic tendril to drag Alice out of the way, and then grabbed every single bulky object in the area and stuffed them into the air around the woman.

Alice’s eyes widened.

And then the woman’s body detonated like a bomb, sending her organs and limbs flying into Ethan’s hastily made barrier.

Alice gasped in shock, and after the sound ended, pried away Ethan’s shield using some kinetic mana.

Inside of Ethan’s shield were the remains of a corpse. There was absolutely no way to save the woman anymore. There was barely anything left of the woman. Just splattered blood and fragments of bone and flesh that had been sent flying in random directions.

Alice felt her hands start to shake.

Even though Alice had been trying to heal the woman, even though she had done what she felt was best, the woman had died. And it was undeniable that Alice’s attempted intervention had killed the woman faster, instead of healing her. She would have died in less than a day either way, but Alice still felt sick.

Alice felt numb horror start to wash over her. She felt Ethan’s Perk start to grow in intensity, but it wasn’t enough to fully remove her emotions.

“Process your emotions later,” said Ethan. “Remember, these two were dead if you didn’t help them. You were trying to resuscitate a corpse. There is no shame in failing. And you succeeded in saving one patient. Look back at the patient and try to see if there are any remaining problems, and try to devise a treatment plan for him. There are still a lot of things weird about his situation, and now that it’s impossible to stabilize the final patient, focus on the first two.” Alice nodded, and moved numbly back towards the patient she had healed by stitching together mana flesh.

She shuddered, and turned towards the man who was somewhat stable. His malformed kinetic seed was no longer jostling his bones and organs around, and he looked… at least sort of like a healthy person. There were still splotches of pale and damaged skin and tissue inside and outside of his body, but at the very least, he no longer appeared to be on the verge of death.

She started carefully inspecting the man using her Perks, before she sighed.

“I think that his muscles are going to be in a lot of pain, and it might be impossible for him to walk around. Keeping him unconscious is probably the best thing to do – I imagine he’s going to be in horrific pain if he’s awake.” She turned towards Ethan. “Can we come back tomorrow?”

Ethan nodded. “I was planning on it. We can try to stabilize him more and see if any other complications come up once you’re rested and have a little more mana to work with.”

Alice felt a small seed of horror as she looked at the woman’s body. She just… hadn’t had enough mana to stabilize her.

One of the two patients had died because she had had enough mana and hadn’t managed to find a better solution.

Alice felt a hint of bile rise up in her throat, before Ethan gently patted her head once.

 “Take a deep breath and calm down,” said Ethan. “You kept one alive. You didn’t kill a person today – you saved a person’s life when they should have died, and you tried your hardest to save the other one. Take pride in that.”

Alice nodded, and felt a breath escape her lungs.

She still felt awful, but she had done what she could.

And a few moments later, mana began to swarm towards her body.




This is the first time I’ve tried something like this, but I copy-pasted the relevant paragraph from a previous chapter that Alice observed into this one, so that it was easier to compare what happened from one mana baptism to the next. I figured that would probably make it easier to observe what happens and compare it from one chapter to the next.

Not sure how ya’ll feel about that, but I thought it was an interesting idea. If people like it, maybe I’ll do it in the future, as long as I can easily find the original chapter and don’t just rely on my world notes to simulate interactions.

I was also originally thinking of doing Perk and Achievement assignment in this chapter, but, I realized on Thursday that I still needed to rebalance a few things. Now that the System is down, Perk assignment still kind of works, but it’s… different. And the way I had written the Perk assignment didn’t really reflect that, and it should have. So I took it out of the draft I sent to my beta reader. By next week I should be done rebalancing how some things work in volume 3.

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