Chapter 138
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Alice woke up from her nap with an excited grin, and checked her class fractals.

Just as she had hoped, there were several chunks of mana stuck to her enchanting-related Class fractals, and her Class fractals had also grown by more than they normally would after several hours of testing ingredients.

Clearly, she could not only level up in her dreams as usual, but if Alice wasn’t mistaken, she was getting somewhere between a 50% and 100% boost to the XP for her enchanting Classes while asleep. While not exactly massive, it was certainly a nice boost, especially since she had much weaker multipliers for her enchanting classes compared to her research Classes. A 50%-100% increase in her levelling speed to whatever she worked on while asleep wasn’t bad at all, especially now that Alice was trying to bring her enchanting up to speed with the rest of her build.

It had even been enough to tip [Careful Enchanter] up to the next level, despite the fact that she had only put in one night of work.

You have leveled up!

Careful Enchanter: 29 -> 30

Alice briefly considered grabbing a new Perk immediately, before she decided to wait a while. She had a few different ideas on what functions she might want from her next [Careful Enchanter] Perk, and she would need to talk with Cecilia and Ethan before she finalized her decision. After all, Alice might need her new Perk to help her compensate for lack of enchanting materials, or boost her speed, or do something completely different depending on the situation.

Apart from boosting her levelling speed, {Delve Memories} had a lot of interesting effects that Alice had noticed during her testing.

Apart from the obvious new ability to test enchanting materials in her dreams, Alice had also noticed that she now understood things better when trying to remember them as opposed to the first time she saw them. For example, if she tried to think over the text of a particularly dry study written several centuries ago, she would now have a much easier time understanding the text if she read it and then tried to remember it afterwards, instead of simply reading it once. Of course, that in itself wasn’t particularly strange: humans usually tended to understand things better if they spent more time thinking about it and analyzing it, after all. However, if Alice simply memorized the ‘picture’ of a page in a book and then ‘read’ it in her memories, she would get a much better understanding of it than if she simply read it normally. In addition, while thinking about experiments that she had recently done, she would get certain instincts and flashes of insight that she wouldn’t normally have about what the ‘answer’ was. Which had proven exceptionally useful when trying to figure out which enchanting materials she wanted to pay more attention to.

Unfortunately, her newly improved understanding and instincts still couldn’t help her figure out what the heck was up with dimensional mana, but Alice figured she would understand it sooner or later.

The new Perk was a small, but useful boost to Alice’s comprehension and levelling speed, as long as she used it well. Alice was certainly happy to have the Perk in her toolkit.

Alice’s material testing in her dreams had mixed results. Alice hadn’t found any materials that synergized with filtration mana during her dream-testing, unfortunately. However, Alice HAD found that a few miscellaneous chunks of tree bark that accepted instructions from Display mana, even if it didn’t seem like it was a perfect fit. The material clearly wasn’t the optimal material for handling display mana, but it worked.

The material in question was a type of gray colored tree bark that Cecilia had stored in her old shop in Cyra, before the two had moved to Metsel.

Alice hadn’t originally been as focused on display mana. However, for people to choose new Perks, it was obvious that they needed to be able to see what their new Perks did. Since the System’s Perk selection screens were bugged out unless someone manually fixed them using display mana, it was obvious that people needed some way to fix that problem as well. Right now, all of Cecilia’s Mages that she was training were personally assisted during their Perk selection by Alice (while Ethan stuck around to make sure an [Assassin] or Society Member didn’t sneak in and attack her while her guard was down). This was workable for now, but wasn’t really a good long-term solution.

Making a ring out of the tree bark that let people read their Perk choices normally would fix this logistical issue. Which meant that Alice needed some way to get access to large quantities of that tree bark. That meant that she needed to ask Cecilia where the bark came from.

She quickly left her room and moved to Cecilia’s room, where she found Cecilia sitting at her desk, buried in paperwork.

Alice tried not to chuckle at the sight. Ever since the collapse of the System and the start of the pure mana Mage project, Cecilia had nearly as much paperwork to manage per day as Ethan. [Mathematicians] and [Data Analysts] could only work their way through so much of the information, since Alice and Cecilia were the only two with direct familiarity with the System and its mana. Some information simply needed to be handled by the three of them to properly make sense of everything. And since Alice’s time tended to be spent dealing with experiments and working through information, the paperwork tended to fall to Cecilia right now.

“Cecilia, do you have a moment?” asked Alice.

Cecilia quickly put down the document she had been messing with and looked at Alice.

“I can certainly spare a few moments,” said Cecilia, quietly shoving her paperwork as far away from her as possible.

Alice looked at the document Cecilia was so eager to avoid, and tried not to wince as she read through a few of the questions. One in particular brought back a few bad memories.

It was a letter that had obviously come from one of the Mages Cecilia was training. In it were outlined several variations on odd questions about pure mana, System mana, and the way the two interacted with each other. Several of the questions were actually kind of interesting – for example, the man who had written the letter Cecilia was currently looking at had asked whether it was possible to manually tear apart a failed magic seed using pure mana. Which was something Alice had already seen firsthand and was eager to never repeat.

Of course, if people could figure out how to do it, Alice’s {Broken Seed} Perk would no longer be the first and only line of defense against Mages screwing up their magic seeds and dying horrific deaths. Which would be amazing: after all, Alice could only use the Perk once every four days, and she was also only present in one place at a time. She had no idea how many Mages had died across Illvaria before Ethan’s messengers hit new cities, but she was sure that the three she had seen die or nearly die in Metsel weren’t the only ones that had been hurt.

Unfortunately, Alice couldn’t think of a single way to ethically test breaking down seeds using Pure mana. She hadn’t even figured out how to heal away the aftereffects of the way she and Ethan had accidentally given to the sick Mage she had treated recently – all they had managed to do was minimize the pain the man dealt with on a daily basis and let him return to mostly normal life.

Several of the man’s questions were in the same vein of thought as that initial question – interesting ideas that Alice had either already tried out and found problematic, or questions that couldn’t be ethically tested in any way that Alice could think of. Unless the Mage did the testing by using himself as a test subject, of course, but Alice understood that most people weren’t quite as willing to use themselves as a test subject as she was. And even suggesting he do so would be inherently unethical.

Alice finished scanning the letter, and then shook her head. Even though the Mage who had written the letter had a decent mind, their current thoughts didn’t provide very much useful insight. Though Alice appreciated that the man was asking questions. Perhaps with a bit more information he would have more useful ideas in the future?

“How are you planning on responding?” asked Alice, curious enough to get distracted from her original goal.

“The Mage who wrote the letter evidently has some decent ideas, so I’m planning on feeding him more information and seeing if he comes up with any good ideas that are actually useful. But sifting through all of his ideas is kind of a headache. His handwriting, and the way he expresses ideas, are both somewhat scatterbrained and chaotic, making everything very difficult to parse,” said Cecilia, sighing. “And reading through some of these questions and comparing it to some of the stories you’ve told me make me feel a bit depressed. Whatever. That’s a problem on my end. I know that trying to lead even a small part of all of this is bound to have a lot of issues. It’s just… frustrating to deal with all of the minor issues and annoyances that I find on a daily basis now. Not to mention getting stuck trawling through paperwork and running classes instead of enchanting.” Cecilia sighed. “I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed enchanting and running my shop until now.”

Alice nodded. There wasn’t much that she could do to help Cecilia, unless she wanted to weaken the Achievement Cecilia was likely to gain from doing all of this. Alice understood that Cecilia’s odds of reaching Immortality weren’t great, but she wanted her odds to be as good as possible. And Cecilia getting a good Achievement would go a long way towards giving her even a small chance at reaching Immortality. That meant leaving Cecilia to deal with her own problems, as bad as that felt.

Alice decided to get to the point.

“Hey Cecilia, do you remember a certain kind of enchanting material that you had in your shop in Cyra? It was a kind of bark that was gray color, and was a bit heavy and hard to the touch. You had them laying around in the section for items that had poorly understood properties. Do you know where you got those pieces of tree bark? They have a pretty useful interaction with System mana I want to use.”

Cecilia frowned. “Can you describe them a little more? There are a lot of enchanting materials I’ve bought that fit that description.”

“I have a better idea,” said Alice. “Can I just share the memory of the item I want?”

“Ah, yes, that would be much easier.” Cecilia nodded.

Alice quickly grabbed Cecilia’s wrist and shoved the memory of the item she wanted into Cecilia’s mind.

Cecilia frowned in thought for a few moments, before she sighed. “I bought it from a few [Adventurers] who were scavenging in an area near the outskirts of Cyra. They asked me if I wanted more, but I didn’t end up buying more than a few samples. I mostly bought them because they were interesting and cheap. My Perks claimed that the materials were good with informational mana. I wasn’t really sure what ‘informational mana’ was, but I decided I might as well test it and see if anything interesting came up. I couldn’t figure out any types of mana I had that were compatible with it, though, so I never found a use for it. I was thinking of eventually selling it to someone for a markup when I moved to Metsel, but never got around to it. I can get the bark to you pretty easily, but I can’t get more unless we can find those [Adventurers]. And they live all the way in Cyra. Or at least they did. Who knows if they moved or got eaten since we left.”

Alice frowned. The fact that Cecilia still had a little bit of the bark laying around was good news. However, the fact that there was no easily renewable source of more was bad news.

“It was from near Cyra, you say?” said Alice, frowning. Shipments from Cyra to Metsel usually took somewhere between a week and a week and a half to arrive. However, that was only during normal times. Now that the System was collapsing, there may very well be a huge variety of logistical issues that would start to crop up in the near future.

And it didn’t sound like Cyra even had a stable source of the bark she wanted. It would take a lot of effort to get a proper supply line going, and Alice wasn’t sure how long that would take or what unexpected problems would crop up while securing the bark she wanted.

Still, Alice desperately needed access to enchanting materials. Even if a display mana ring was a lower priority than filtration mana enchantments, it was also much simpler to set up and could help people mitigate the immediate aftershocks of the System collapse. As long as people could choose Perks again, Alice suspected that all sorts of people would start to invent their own solutions to at least some of the problems Illvaria would soon experience.

She sighed. Since it seemed unlikely that she would have access to renewable quantities of that particular bark in the near future, she would need to ask Ethan if he had any solutions. If he had way to copy the properties of the bark or a different material she could use, that would work out. If he didn’t, Alice might instead need to see if her new Perk choices from [Careful Enchanter] offered some sort of solution.

“Help me get those few chunks of bark, please. I need them,” said Alice.

Cecilia looked at her pile of paperwork, and shoved it to the corner of her desk before she grinned. “Right away!” she said, before grabbing a few [Guards] and heading towards the door of the mansion.

Meanwhile, Alice started heading towards Ethan’s study.

* * *

“Illa Weissaurus?” asked Ethan with a frown. “You mean the retired [Warmage] that taught Alice before she moved to Metsel?”

Naturally, Ethan had done an in-depth investigation of Illa’s recent past after he had taken in Alice as an apprentice. Ethan had initially been rather familiar with Illa, since he had hoped that she would become another Immortal, but had stopped paying much attention to her after she stopped racing towards Immortality and decided to go into politics instead. Everyone’s choices were their own to make, but Ethan had always felt it was a shame the woman wasn’t pushing towards Immortality anymore.

What he had not expected was for one of his [Spies] to let him know that Illa was now approaching his manor. What was Illa doing in Metsel? Given the collapse of the System that Alice had talked about, as well as the various issues that were more evident even to people like him who couldn’t see System mana, Ethan had assumed that Illa would be busy putting out fires in her own territory. What would be the point of wasting so much of her potential to try to found a barony if the woman didn’t even look after the land she was in charge of?

Ethan frowned, and then realized that perhaps he was thinking about it incorrectly. The woman might have heard that there was more information in the capital about the current crisis, and come here to collect data. Illa might even know that Alice was one of the bigger sources of information about the current crisis, and might have come to get information firsthand.

Although if that was the case, the timeline for Illa’s arrival would be quite strange. The System had collapsed a little over a week ago, so Illa would have needed to start moving towards Metsel almost immediately after the System’s collapse. Either Illa had a way to speed up her movement, or she was very good at figuring out who had information that she needed to deal with the current crisis.

Ethan thought about it for a few moments, trying to figure out if Illa had ever had a reason to pick up a powerful movement-based Perk, and then shrugged. Ultimately, it didn’t really matter much. If Illa was making her way towards the manor, she probably wanted to see her old apprentice. Ethan didn’t see anything wrong with that, as long as Alice was willing to see Illa again. Illa might also want to see him, which was also fine. Ethan normally wouldn’t make time to see a minor potential Baron from southern Illvaria – but he was perfectly willing to make time for the former mentor of his current apprentice. Especially now that the System had collapsed, and Illa’s influence in the south might help quell some of the chaos there.

“If Illa stops by the manor, make sure she’s who she claims she is. Have several people with lie-detection Perks verify it, just in case she’s a [Spy] or [Organic Magic] impersonating Illa,” said Ethan, giving his spy a nod. “If she is who she claims she is, I’m willing to see her.”

“Understood, Honored Immortal,” said the [Spy], before she left the room. A few moments later, the [Spy] moved around a corner and Ethan lost track of her.

Ethan quickly got back to his paperwork, until a few minutes later, there were several knocks on the door.

He quickly activated {Pervasive Perception}, allowing him to see past most lower-level disguise Perks and get an excellent grasp of the properties and existence of nearby physical objects, and quickly confirmed that Alice was on the other side of the door.

“Come in,” said Ethan.

Alice quickly opened the door and gave Ethan a quick nod, before she started speaking. “Ethan, do you have a few minutes? I had an idea for how to start the System-enchanting rings project I mentioned yesterday, but I ran into a few issues.”

“What do you need?” asked Ethan, trying not to feel a little burst of excitement when Alice mentioned that she already had an idea for how to start.

When Alice had mentioned that she wanted to get rings enchanted with filtration mana, Ethan had thought it was a good idea. However, he hadn’t expected her to find a way to implement the idea for quite a while: after all, doing tests and making new enchantments could take months if led by a team of lower level researchers, and weeks even if led by higher level [Scholars] and [Scientists] with good Perks and Achievements to boost their progress along. And Alice wasn’t working with a known kind of mana or readily available kind of enchanting material – instead, she had to develop everything almost completely from scratch, and almost entirely alone, because there was nobody else in Illvaria that Ethan knew of who could interact with System mana. This made her job several times harder.

For Alice to have made any progress at all in just a day was rather impressive.

When Alice had talked about her origins, Ethan had found it ludicrous that somebody could reach level 75 in less than a year. Now that he knew Alice better, he felt it would be ludicrous if she didn’t reach Immortality in a decade.

“I found an enchanting material that can work with display mana. It isn’t quite the filtration mana ring that I wanted to make, at least not yet. However, I did realize that there is another major area of concern that we need to address, which is letting people actually see what new Perks they can take. This can allow people to at least reshape a little bit of their build even while the System is down – which is critical for allowing people to adapt to the collapse of the System and allow the workforce of Illvaria to start managing the crisis on its own,” said Alice. “The problem is acquiring more of the material – it’s a type of tree bark that Cecilia had laying around in her shop, which was acquired from Cyra…”

Alice quickly began detailing the conversation she had just had with Cecilia, especially regarding the details of where the tree bark had come from, while Ethan nodded along in thought.

“I’m still assembling my own samples of enchanting materials. They should be ready in another day or two,” said Ethan. “In the meantime… you say that the enchanting material comes from Southern Illvaria? Specifically Cyra, the town run by Illa Weissarus?”

Alice nodded.

Ethan felt a grin tugging at his lips.

Illa just so happened to be in town right now. And Cecilia was apparently going to get a sample of the material that Alice needed, which would make it very easy for Illa to see what was needed and possibly help work out a supply route of some sort.

Ethan felt that all of the puzzle pieces for how to start solving the enchantment problem were assembling themselves for his apprentice, right in front of his eyes.

 

 

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