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Jake looked at the man with his combed-back slick hair and casual demeanor. He wore a simple white robe that reminded Jake a bit of the coat doctors would wear based on its design, though it was clearly magical and enchanted. However, he wasn’t there to judge fashion but to kill a vampire.

“Move.”

Eron looked back at Jake as he shook his head. “I apologize; I’m unable to do that.”

“You’re gonna stop me?”

“Delay. I was contracted to delay your arrival in the Count’s chamber by one and a half hours. Ah, around an hour only now. In case you wonder, yes, it was the Augur and the Holy Church who contracted me,” Eron explained forthcomingly. “I shall be honest, I would prefer for this not to devolve into needless violence, so would it be too much to ask for us to simply sit down for a cup of coffee and wait? Or do you prefer tea?”

Jake looked a bit dumbfounded at the man who just stood there with a light smile on his face as he summoned a small coffee table and a pair of chairs. The issue was… Jake needed to go down this hallway. Like with the other Count chambers, the way there was linear. There was one way in and one way out.

Within his Sphere of Perception, he saw the other side of the metal door. A group of fifteen people stood close to the gate on the other side as they channeled mana into it. With them and Eron in front of him, the situation had suddenly gotten a lot more annoying.

Well played, Jacob.

Jake had to admit this wasn’t expected. Eron was one of the few unknowns of the planet that he couldn’t really understand. He was the one other person on Earth with a bloodline as far as Jake was aware, instantly making him a person of interest.

Sadly for Eron, Jake had no interest in being delayed.

“Yeah, no. Fuck off, or I’m gonna make you.”

Eron looked up at Jake. “Rude, but I guess your anger is understandable. Fine, I am looking forward to seeing your attempt at making me leave, as if violence becomes a necessity, let it at least have a purpose. I have heard much of you and your capabilities, so please show me your methods.”

Jake narrowed his eyes. He had already used Identify on the man, but the result had been disappointing.

[?]

No matter what he did, Jake couldn’t pierce it. It wasn’t that bad as Jake still got a feel for the madman’s strength… but all that told him was the same as during the World Congress. A feeling that fighting him would be a waste of time.

In the end, Jake sighed as he took a step. He appeared straight in front of Eron, who was still making his coffee. Drawing his blade, Jake placed it at the neck of Eron, who stood unfazed.

“Nothing?”

“My reaction would warrant a belief that decapitation would do me any harm. I would prefer to do without, though, as it would ruin my drink,” Eron answered as he twirled the spoon in the cup of hot coffee.

Frowning, Jake put his blade away and just ignored Eron as he went over to the gate. He had already inspected it with his sphere, and it was far from as well secured as all the others. While those took him twenty minutes to get off a door, he could easily do this one in five.

Just as he began burning at the hastily assembled hinges, Eron waved his hand as an odd flame appeared and formed into a bolt. Jake stopped what he was doing and looked back to see a pure white flaming bolt be fired his way.

He decided to block it primarily out of curiosity. The moment the flame hit his hand, it just sank into Jake’s body, and instantly he felt like a warm flow went through his body… before it began burning, and Jake had to grit his teeth from the pain. It was only for a moment before his own internal energies dispelled the foreign energy, but Jake saw and felt he had taken damage directly to his health points.

What the fuck was that? Jake asked himself as he backed away. He genuinely had no idea what the fuck that magic was, but he knew it was dangerous in large quantities.

“Once more, I am to delay you. So please, can just we just relax for the next hour or so? Or at least have it be you attacking me?” Eron asked before taking a sip of his coffee.

“No to the first one.”

This time Jake didn’t hold back. Eron struck him first, and he would respond in kind. Then, brandishing his Nanoblade, Jake attacked. He expected the other party to dodge, but the man just stood there as Jake effortlessly bisected him at the stomach.

“I expected more originality,” Eron said. A split second later, his severed lower body simply disappeared as they exploded into red mist, and Eron landed on his newly healed legs.

Now Jake really frowned… for he had seen the entire progress. This wasn’t nullification of damage. Eron had just taken some significant damage; Jake was sure of it. His Mark confirmed as much too. Yet the man seemed unaffected… he had just healed it instantly, without Jake even detecting any magic being used.

Natural extreme regeneration?

“What are you?” Jake asked, Eron having not even let go of his cup.

“A human, just like you. I do not mean to sound cliché, but we are not so different, you and I. We both seek the pinnacle of what is possible - to explore behind all the doors this new multiverse has opened up! We have just chosen to open different doors. While you aim for destruction and death, I seek preservation and life. Ah, but do not see this as me admonishing you. Both are necessary, even if I may personally dislike your path,” Eron monologed. Jake didn’t know if it was because the dude had time on his side or if he really was such a talker.

“Then let me see if I can destroy you,” Jake said as he attacked again. He infused his blade with arcane energy as he stabbed Eron, who just kept talking.

“Evolution is an interesting concept, is it not? To develop towards your own version of perfection… yet some things will forever be in common. I am not talking of the vain outward features but what is beneath the skin. The viscera- oh excuse me, internal organs will slowly disappear in the ranking of importance. The spleen, liver, large parts of the intestines. All of these are judged unimportant as we as humans stop needing them,” Eron said, Jake, having already cut him into many pieces, including half of his head and the brain. Yet the man kept talking as if unaffected.

“However, it is not these I find the most interesting. It is those that remain… or, more accurately, why they remain. Tell me, Mr. Thayne, why do you need lungs when you do not need to breathe? Why do you retain a stomach when you do not need to eat? Is it not fascinating how the reason why we keep those is not for their original purpose?”

“How you seem to not need any organs at all sure is fascinating,” Jake said as he repeatedly turned Eron’s insides to mush with Touch of the Malefic Viper, only to see his poison constantly be nullified by a flood of vital energy but not before corroding his entire chest away, everything within included.

“The lungs do not remain to inhale air, but mana. We breathe to regenerate ourselves; it's why meditation is so closely interlinked with breathing techniques. We keep our stomachs not to get nutrients but simply for pleasure. In fact, many things remain only for pleasure. Human vanity. Now, some things make sense that they remain. The sexual organs will forever serve the purpose of reproduction as we are biological creatures, but why retain the anus when it is no longer used for the excretion of waste? I surmise it’s only retained for se-“

“Dude, what the fuck, too much information,” Jake blurted out as he smashed Eron into the ground again, making half of his body explode, including the head. His entire body regenerated within a moment as the man kept speaking.

“Very well, let me just skip the details then and get to the point. Besides those vanity organs or features, do you know what the last organs to disappear are in all biological creatures of the system? What has been deemed essential, and that we, even in our pursuit of perfection, can never get rid of?” Eron asked, the question not rhetorical this time.

“I dunno, the dick?” Jake shot back, honestly starting to get annoyed. Touch did nothing, his arcane magic did nothing, and he even tried Gaze of the Apex Hunter, but all it did was freeze the guy for a bit. With his arcane energy, he stacked his Arcane Charge to the largest one possible… and yet it did nothing.

“Well, yes, that does remain… but besides that, what remains is the heart and the brain despite their presence being less and less relevant. I do believe that I myself am a great example of this. In fact, no organs are vital to continue existing.”

Jake decided to switch up his tactic as he wrapped up Eron in strings of arcane mana. His thought process was that if he couldn’t kill Eron, he would just displace him and toss him somewhere far enough away from the gate to get Jake enough time to burn the gate off.

Yet just when Jake was done wrapping up Eron, his danger sense reacted for the first time. Jake jumped back from the man just in time as Eron’s entire body burned with energy, and the madman exploded in a red explosion of pure vital energy and mist, a bit reminiscent of the Deepdwellers but far smaller and more localized.

Another difference was that the Deepdwellers did not instantly appear again before the mist had even subsided.

“Case in point, I believe. You see, we as living beings no longer exist solely dependent on our bodies. As long as our sparks remain alit, we remain alive. This spark does not exist within our bodies… no, it exists beyond that,” Eron said as he quickly summoned back the robe to cover himself.

Jake looked at him before asking: “Are you unkillable or what?” He had just seen him literally return his body to nothing. Not even a drop of blood remained, yet he regenerated.

Eron looked at Jake. “No. No, I don’t believe anything in this multiverse is truly unkillable. For every spark there is, a force that can blow it out must also exist. At least, I believe such a balance is necessary. I do not doubt for a second that any god could whisk me out of existence if they so pleased.”

The two men stood for a while as Jake considered what the fuck to do, while Eron wouldn’t stop talking.

“To return to the earlier topic… the brain and heart remain. The brain controls the body and speeds up reactions. It no longer houses who you are but is more like a complicated muscle that serves to amplify your body functions. Once more, I can see this making sense as anchoring physicality, and physical prowess outside of the metaphysical is sensical. But… this brings us to the heart.

“Why do we need the heart, and why is the heart the center of our beings? You hold a bloodline, so I am certain you know that the heart is linked to the core of your soul. It’s the point of contact between metaphysical existence and our tangible forms. When I heal, my heart is the first to appear,” he said, promptly ripping out his own heart to show. He then exploded the rest of his body as his entire person reformed around the heart.

“The heart still pumps blood and now even creates the blood itself. This naturally begs the question of why blood is even necessary. I believe this refers back to grounding the tangible. To transfer energy through a physical medium is simply far more effective than not. To have blood deliver vital energy to the body only makes sense, does it not?”

While Jake did find it more interesting than he dared to admit listening to the guy talk, he still knew his objective. The issue just was that he wasn’t certain how to actually do anything… because he was fairly certain that his theory was correct.

“You have limitless or at least near-limitless health points, don’t you?”

It was the only thing Jake could see make sense. Eron had learned to control his vital energy like Jake controlled his mana and could use it actively to instantly regenerate his body. Of course, the expenditure of vital energy – health points – to do this had to be ridiculous… but what if you had a near-limitless supply?

“That is correct if a bit oversimplified. I will not share how I have achieved this, however.”

“I see… what was the bright white flame before?” Jake also asked, now acting far more willing to talk.

Eron’s smile deepened. “As I am certain you can guess, then my ability to stay alive in most situations is great. However, this does have some drawbacks, including certain limitations to my options in combat. I needed a tool to defend myself. My thought process behind it was to take a part of my own spark and use it to displace a portion of my foes, effectively eliminating a portion of their health pool. This magic is by the system called an arcane-affinity.”

That one sure got Jake’s attention. An arcane-affinity? Sure, Jake was aware that arcane-affinities varied person by person and was unique to the creator… but to see that Eron had made one too? And one so substantially different than his own. While Jake’s was all about stability and destruction, and the dichotomy of those two, Eron’s seemed entirely vitality-based.

“You’re awfully open about your abilities,” Jake remarked. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to ponder more on the man’s abilities, as it was soon time.

“Naturally. I hope for you to find the chink in my armor and pierce through it. To expose my weaknesses and exploit them. My pinnacle is one of infallibility. So once more, please. The soul attack earlier was interesting, but I have recently learned counter-methods to that kind of attack. Your mana attacks are effective, but ultimately they are just regular attacks.”

“Yeah… I’m really not sure how to kill you… but can I try something anyway?” Jake asked.

“Please, go ahead,” Eron said, almost elated at Jake’s willingness.

Jake drew his Scimitar of Cursed Hunger and stabbed it into Eron’s body, right through his heart. Eron just looked down at it with obvious disappointment before his eyebrows raised, and he commented: “A vitality-absorbing curse? I have been battling vampires with similar abilities for days. Do you really think this will be enough?”

Jake looked at him. “Nah… but it will delay you.”

A cube of arcane barriers appeared around Eron at that moment, just as Jake used Gaze of the Apex Hunter to freeze the man. Jake didn’t let his eyes leave his opponent as gates he had stolen so far appeared on all four sides of the man, trapping him between the ceiling and floor, as Jake pressed down on Eron from above with the arcane barrier, intending to make him completely immobile.

The arcana mana barrier closed in and pressed the gates together, making Jake finally lose sight of Eron, resulting in his constant channeling of Gaze stopping as his eyes dripped with blood. Eron would still be frozen for a bit longer, and Jake pressed the barriers together even more as Eron got squished, the blade still in his heart. Jake made a final push as his entire construct stabilized.

“Let’s hope this works,” Jake muttered as he rushed towards the gate. He kept a part of his consciousness on the barrier to keep it active as he began channeling his flame.

Inside his makeshift prison, he saw Eron struggle as the man exploded into a mist of blood but only regenerated in the same spot, the blade still stuck in his heart. He felt the energy from the scimitar increase through his connection to it, as it consumed vital energy from Eron constantly, the absorption only increasing further the more it consumed. Jake felt Eron fight back as the white flames spread and began seeping through the imperfect gaps between the gates and into his arcane barrier… but Jake’s stable arcane-affinity won out in that duel as it became clear Eron wouldn’t be out any time soon. His barrier was being corroded, but slowly.

Behind the gate that Jake was attempting to open, he saw several people as they channeled mana into it to stop Jake… but they didn’t stop his burning of the gate; they only made a barrier behind it. Jake sadly couldn’t see what was happening further down the hallway towards the Count’s chamber, but he hoped he would make it in time.

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Zogarth

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