Jake hated to admit it… but Eron was a genius. And no, not the hyperbole version of a genius, but an actual genius. Even before the system, he had been a damn monster in human skin. Jake even had suspicions he was doing things that could be considered magical before mana and magic was even a thing.

He was awfully open about his bloodline too, not hiding many details. He explained how he saw sparks and how he believed these sparks were the representation of life and existence itself. He told Jake about how he had forged his path entirely around these sparks… entirely around his bloodline.

In some ways, it wasn’t that much different from Jake. The main difference was that while Jake had grown up and lived in the old world suppressing his bloodline, Eron has explored and embraced his. This was also why Jake reckoned the guy had a far higher understanding of his bloodline than Jake did. Or maybe they were just vastly different bloodlines?

Another interesting point of discussion was arcane-affinities. Eron’s affinity was interesting if a bit odd. Jake was pretty damn sure his own was better. Eron’s was far more limited, and the man confessed he didn’t acquire his arcane-affinity before he was already D-grade. Another point for Jake.

There was one thing that still bothered him, though. An ultimate question of sorts.

“So, if it gets down to it… could I kill you based on what you’ve seen?” Jake asked Eron. He thought, hey, the guy had been truthful so far, so no harm in asking.

Eron looked at Jake a bit before nodding. “Yes. As I said, I am not invincible, at least not quite yet. If we continued our battle, I do believe I would eventually be withered down. To regenerate my body takes mental energy and concentration. Differently from yours or most other’s vital energies, mine does not simply reform my body passively… it requires active input.”

“So if you get knocked out and then your body is destroyed, you die for good?” Jake asked.

“Astute observation. This was the first weakness I worked to alleviate, so no, not quite. I do have fail-safes in place for most scenarios I have come up with, but not all work as well as others, and some I cannot test out as doing so means risking true death,” Eron kept explaining.

Jake nodded, a few plans already forming in his head. Eron easily took damage, so what if he made a poison specifically engineered to make it harder to regenerate? He already had experience with poison working not only on the body but in the metaphysical plane of existence. Some type of hemotoxin, perhaps, considering that poison already made healing harder.

“So… what’s the drawback?” Jake finally asked.

Such power had to come with significant drawbacks. Jake did not believe a D-grade could achieve immortality or near-invincibility without it having severe consequences. He was already aware that Eron’s physical abilities were pretty damn bad, and his offensive prowess with his magic was also bottom-tier. The only reason he held some fear towards the magic was due to his lack of understanding of it. But if they were to fight? Jake would just summon an arcane barrier around his body to block the white flame as it sucked against mana-based shields.

“Hm… that I believe would be unwise to disclose. But I guess I can share the simplest one. I have no mana or stamina, and any task requiring either forces me to manually convert my health points to either. This includes a constant conversion of health to stamina for me to simply be walking and talking right now,” Eron divulged, making Jake stare at him for a bit.

“That just sounds fucking exhausting,” Jake noted, shaking his head.

He was aware that the transformation of energy from one type to another was possible. He did this in part when making potions. But it was not one-to-one, and if he tried to make his health into stamina as an example, it would take concentration and time, and he would spend way more health than he would get stamina. In other words? It was practically never worth it.

Yet apparently, that was how Eron now lived. What the fuck?

“Oh hey, what does your endurance and wisdom stat even do now?” Jake asked curiously.

“Add to health instead of their respective resources,” Eron answered.

“Let me guess, you also put all free points in vitality?”

“A significant amount, yes, but I also invest in willpower. As I said, abilities that take away my autonomy in any way, or any attacks that hamper my mental faculties could prove potentially deadly,” Eron reiterated. “In fact, the soul attack you used earlier was a great example. While incapacitated, I was unable to heal myself even if I wanted to, allowing you to trap me.”

Jake nodded. “Got it; I’ll have a special vat of toxins ready to trap you next time.”

Eron didn’t answer but just smiled as Jake began asking him more about the control of vital energy. The man gladly explained his insights, with Jake listening and learning. He even did some basic testing as the two of them casually strolled down the tower and into the plains.

The man had a level of insight into vital energy that was quite frankly insane, only matched by his willingness to teach Jake. Of course, Jake also taught him in kind. He talked about how mana shaping and manipulation worked and how Eron could possibly try and better stabilize some of his magic or possibly even control his arcane-affinity more. His white flames were crude, and Jake believed that their corrosive properties could be significantly improved.

There was truthfully no bad blood between them. Jake learned that the reason Eron helped the Holy Church was because they offered him a certain treasure, as well as the ability to study those who had died and become Holy Spirits.

Holy Spirits were apparently what happened when someone with a blessing or even just a baptism died. While regular folk would just die when they were killed, the Holy Church somehow saved people in their ranks. At least partly. Their souls would be extracted and taken to an artifact in the closest Holy City, and from there, be sent to the Holy Land, the realm of the Holy Mother.

Jake had to admit it all sounded kinda shady, but Eron explained his own Patron god had assured him it truly did work like that. This was probably why the Holy Church was the most prominent religious organization in the multiverse. Who didn’t like the thought of a life after death?

Well, Jake. Jake didn’t like the thought of that.

Eron admitted he would also just prefer to avoid death altogether, but how a soul could exist without becoming undead was still of interest to him. Jake also tried to get Eron to spill the name of his Patron god but got no answer. Just a long tirade about how the god had the most beautiful spark he had ever seen, besides Eron’s own.

On that note, Jake also learned that Eron was well and truly a narcissist who believed himself superior to everyone else around him. Well, nearly everyone else, as he didn’t seem that obnoxious when he talked with Jake, even if there was a hint of superiority. Eron liked to be the one teaching Jake and was standoffish when Jake gave him tips in return, even if he did ultimately acknowledge them. Perhaps because Jake was the only other person with a bloodline and at least publicly recognized as possibly the most powerful person on Earth.

Jake was totally fine with being on the receiving end, as he learned more about vital energy and even how to control it than ever before. Eron even enthusiastically placed a hand on Jake’s shoulder and showed him how he could direct his vital energy to heal a wound faster. Of course, to be like Eron and just pop in and out of existence wasn’t possible for Jake… but to learn to regrow an arm within a minute or two if he used a healing potion? It should be possible.

He even got some ideas about his own arcane-affinity and vital energy, but nothing worth testing quite yet. It also became more and more evident that Eron truly didn’t have any bad intentions towards Jake or Haven or pretty much anyone. Instead, he seemed apathetic and openly stated that he believed killing others was such a waste, and he believed all life should be preserved if possible and sparks not snuffed out.

Finally, as they walked through the plains and Jake saw that they were closing in on the Mistless Plains – Eron didn’t as his perception sucked – the healer asked Jake a favor, clearly a bit uncomfortable doing so.

“Would it be possible for me to see your mask for a moment?”

Jake stopped up as he looked suspiciously at Eron. “Why?”

“I believe you know why,” Eron said, giving Jake a knowing smile. “The spark is faint, but most certainly there. It burns in a way and glows in fashions I have never seen before. I merely wish to observe and inspect it, nothing more, nothing less.”

“What once was inside this mask has died, notification, experience, even a title and everything confirming that,” Jake rebutted. He did know there was something about the King slumbering, but he didn’t truly believe it was the King of the Forest.

Perhaps it would be a vision of the King or some fragment of it, but the Unique Lifeform itself? Villy had told him that one doesn’t simply circumvent true death. It wasn’t like Jacob and his skill to avoid it… the King had truly died, just like William. William had only returned to life due to some special and incredibly valuable item. Jake didn’t think the King of the Forest could do the same.

“You are only making me more curious when you say that… and you killed this being at least before the World Congress, yet the spark grows only brighter,” Eron said, his eyes practically shining.

Jake looked over Eron once more, seeing his unabashed curiosity. “Got anything to trade? Also, you can only look at it with me right here and not for that long.”

He didn’t fear Eron stealing it. The item was Soulbound, so Jake could always feel its location, and no one else could bind it. So letting Eron see it wouldn’t even be a risk as Jake knew the guy couldn’t put the mask in his inventory or anything like that either. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to get something in return. Sure, they were friendly, but this entire interaction was ultimately an exchange of knowledge.

Eron looked even more reluctant as he sighed. Finally, he took out a small notebook. It didn’t look to be larger than a few dozen pages, but the man held tightly onto it. “This notebook contains some insights I have into the metaphysical existence of the living. It may seem inadequate in your eyes, but these are things I’ve discovered through the sparks of existence. Do with it as you wish… but do be aware this knowledge may not be useful to you, as it deals with concepts I have only theorized and not proven. But… do keep it safe.”

This was the most serious Eron had been since they met, as he looked Jake dead in the eye. Jake was confused for a moment before he took the notebook and began reading through it. He saw odd diagrams and runes, drawings with lines that messed with his head as they seemed straight yet curved, and everything on the pages seemed to move as he looked at it. What the hell is this?

Yet a part of him understood soon after… Eron was a researcher. Did he fear that what he had learned and discovered would disappear if he died and chose to pass it onto someone he believed could keep it safe? Was that maybe why he wanted to become unkillable in the first place? Was Jake just theorizing based on little to no information and deciding this entirely on gut feeling?

Probably yes to all these, definitely yes to the last one.

Having been shown sincerity, Jake relented as he took off his mask for the first time in he didn’t know how long. He usually just made it invisible, and as he could eat and drink potions through it, there was no reason to ever take it off.

It did feel a little weird to have it off as he held it out to Eron, the man staring intently down at the mask. “You got a few minutes, okay?” Jake asked, not really asking.

“Of course,” the healer said as he took hold of the mask and looked at it curiously. He examined it all around and even took out a tool and tried to pierce it, all to no avail. Finally, Jake saw the guy enter the final stage as he poured his weird energy into the mask and peering deeply down into it, as Jake felt like he saw two faint sparks in the man’s eyes, and then…

Then Jake lost connection to the mask

His mana fell by 25%.

He reached out towards Eron to grasp it back as the man stood in a daze… and then everything returned to normal. The connection was back, the mana enchantment back, and Jake hurridly identified the mask and saw the description was exactly the same. The only trace of it ever happening was that he truly had lost the mana as the increases to his maximum had temporarily disappeared.

Eron still stood there in a daze for a moment before he handed the mask back to Jake, his hand shaking slightly.

Jake glared at him suspiciously as he took the mask from the man’s shaking hand. “What did you just do?”

“Nothing…” Eron answered. “I couldn’t scour any information… I apologize.”

Looking down at the unchanged mask again, Jake seriously couldn’t find anything different, and his danger sense was utterly silent when he went to put it on. Once he did so… still nothing.

“I… I believe we should separate from there. It would not be good if the Holy Church believes we are in collusion after I allied with them temporarily… I shall take my leave,” Eron muttered out as he turned around, not even giving Jake time to respond or keep asking him what had happened.

Jake could only stare confused after the man. Then, after Eron had gone into a building in the distance, Jake took off his mask again and looked at it inquisitively. “What happened back there?”

It was not quite certain if he was asking himself or the mask.

Eron walked inside a small secluded building. He appeared relatively normal except for his one shaking hand, not showing anything outwardly.

But once inside and away from any prying eyes, he fell to his knees as his body started quivering. He balled his fists as blood began dripping down from his fingernails digging into his skin, and he took long, heaving breaths as he stared at the floor, trying to make himself stop uncontrollably shaking.

His eyes were bloodshot as the image kept replaying in his mind. He felt a genuine fear he had not felt since the tutorial. The horror he had seen was not one he wished to ever lay eyes upon again. Yet, at the same time, he felt an equal level of excitement and relief from the encounter. Relief that he was alive.

For he had just gazed upon death and escaped.

A note from Zogarth

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