77.2. No Rest for the Damned II - The Arcane Soul (2023)

My voice, almost a whisper, exploded with confusion incarnate.

“What do you mean that my Arcane affinity lowered?”

“What I have just fucking said!” Novela’s removed her hands from my tunic’s collar, raising them onto the air. “How in all of fucking existence did you lower your affinity?”

I had never seen Novela swear and as their swearing fell down as a downpour, I could tell she was being serious.

“Are you sure about it?” I looked at the crystal shining with purple light with a mix of confusion and dread.

“Hundred percent certain about it,” Novela replied. “Edrie, I have been measuring elemental affinities for decades before you were even born. And that damned light shows high-superb affinity instead of the superb affinity I diagnosed you with when you were a child!”

“Oh.” The sound left my mouth by reflex.

I wasn’t sure how to react to that information. I knew there was something wrong with the arcane inside of my soul, and also my arcane magic, but I didn’t even think of the possibility that my affinity had decreased.

“Is it even possible for elemental affinities to lower?” I asked in negation.

“I… I don’t know.” Novela brought her hands to her temples. “But that’s certainly the case. This is no flaw, Edrie. The artifact works perfectly, there are no flaws or errors. Your affinity has downgraded.”

The shop was filled with dreadful silence. A lot of things had happened these later days, but this felt as if all the rules of magic I knew of had shattered into a thousand pieces. Novela was the first one to break the silence.

“Do you have any idea of how this could happen?” I could see fear in her eyes.

Her soul was terrified of my affinity as a person would from a plague. She feared this could happen to other mages. And while I could understand where that terror came from, I knew she was overestimating the magnitude of the damage, or so I was inclined to believe.

“I… I think I do.” She looked at me, trying to scoop out any details. “A few days ago, I had to dive into a leyline—”

“You did what?” The shopkeeper shouted, her hands slamming the counter.

“Yeah, it sounds bad and foolish but there was a good reason for that.” I tried to soothe her.

“Sure, of course. There was a good reason to be even NEARBY a damned LEYLINE.” Irony exuded from her body.

“Yes, there was,” I told in perfect calmness, devoid of any emotion. The dominion-affected display cowed Novela into silence. “But that doesn’t matter now. What matters is what the mana of the leylines did to my body.”

I lifted the left arm’s sleeve and removed the clean bandages. Novela’s eyes shot wide open as she saw the colossal burn. The entirety of my arm was scorched.

“The overwhelming mana on the leyline busted the mana pool at my arm.” Slowly, I caressed my left arm with my right hand. “This has reduced my effective mana pool by a wide margin, and also it pains me a lot when I conjure high-starred spells with my physical mana pool.”

Novela inspected my arm with great scrutiny. She still was surprised, yes, but the leyline burns and the state of affinity interested her more than my well-being.

“What you say makes no sense.” She told me after a couple of minutes. “Your mana pool has, indeed, become smaller as you have lost a lot of manites, but it shouldn’t affect your affinity in any case.”

“But isn’t affinity affected by genetics?” I counterattacked.

“I’m very aware of what they teach at school, yes.” The shopkeeper added. “Affinity is indeed affected by genetics, besides one’s soul and the magical development factor. But listen to me carefully right here, genetics only affect affinity during conception. People can’t change their physical bodies to augment their affinity once they have been born. Only the soul and magical development of the mage can affect affinity being that point. But let’s be honest, no one’s going around modifying their very soul.”

“The soul, you say?” I wondered, deep in ponderation.

I recalled the intensity of the mana of the leyline, far superior to anything I had seen, a singularity so dense that it could permeate between the three planes with ease.

“And what if the leyline attacked my soul?” I asked her.

Novela looked at me with a weirded-out gaze. But soon I could see the grinds of her mind starting to turn. She wasn't a powerful mage by ellari standards, but I knew she was more knowledgeable in this field than most.

“I’m oblivious to how the leyline could have affected your soul, but if that’s the case, then… yes, it makes sense.” Novela half-nodded. “Leylines are pure arcane mana, so if that mana shot across your soul and interacted with your own arcane mana, it could have induced a reaction of some sort as both arcane mana of different frequencies fought, maybe trying to overwrite one another. But I’m only speculating right here.”

I looked inside my soulspace and observed the arcane tumors, they weren’t new, I had lived with them since I was a child. Tendrils of purple energies thrashed around, threatening to destroy anything on their way. They were aggressive, more so than usual. I had talked about this with Marissa and Alatea yesterday, but now I felt as if I was wrong.

Back then I had told them that my affinity had gotten stronger because of this aggressiveness, but what if it was the opposite? Suddenly, this aggression didn’t look like overgrown vegetation, but expansion. My gaze moved toward the shining lights of the artifact, two bright colors, but one shone far more than the other.

“The equilibrium is broken…” I whispered in realization.

“What?” Novela asked as she hadn’t heard me.

“My affinities are no longer in equilibrium,” I answered. “Novela, look at my Soul affinity. What degree is?”

“It’s superb-true.” The witch replied as a matter of fact.

In a way, I was disappointed by the lack of her emotions. As for myself, I was pretty enthusiastic about this incredible feat. I was only a single step off the elemental ladder to true affinity!

A level of affinity only four beings in the whole world had ever achieved!

Those beings were the True Elementals, leaders of the Elemental Council. Immortal beings of great power who ruled one of the most powerful nations in Tilean. And I was very close to achieving that milestone.

Novela’s soul told me that she wasn’t surprised by my unheard-of affinity, because she had been expecting it. Since she saw that I had superb affinity as a child, she had known I would reach this point. It was a question of when for her, not of if.

Either way, she could have at least congratulated me!

“An affinity has become lower, whilst the other has become greater.” I clarified.

“What are you implying?” Novela asked. “That your Arcane affinity has transferred to Soul affinity? That seems even more improbable than losing an established affinity.”

“No, I wasn’t thinking about that. Though it’s a guess as good as any other.” I explained. “I truly believe that the leyline has hurt my Arcane affinity and downgraded it… somehow. But what matters here is the equilibrium.”

“Equilibrium?” She repeated.

“Yes.” I nodded. “Mystics usually have one affinity higher than the others, that’s Soul. But because I had two superb affinities, they fought one against the other. To counterattack this clash of elements, I had to keep my soul in check. In equilibrium.”

“Let me get this straight,” Novela interjected. “Because your Arcane affinity downgraded, your Soul affinity won this ‘clash’, therefore becoming stronger. Isn’t this what I have theorized about your affinities transferring?”

“Not exactly, if I’m right,” I added. “Yes, the end result is the same, but I think it happened differently. Because my Arcane affinity was weaker than my Soul, the balance broke. The clash was no more, therefore, my Soul affinity could expand. It isn’t that the Soul absorbed the Arcane affinity but the Arcane retreated from ‘battle’,” I made quotation marks with my fingers, “therefore the Soul affinity was free to gain terrain and become stronger. And just so happened that I did something that forced my soul to push beyond its limits.”

“Could I know what you did with your soul?” Novela asked after a few seconds of silence.

“I… rather not,” I responded. “You will be better off without that knowledge.”

The shopkeeper gave me a reluctant look. “I’ll trust your judgment then.” She pried no further.

We stood there in silence for a few more moments, at some point, the lights of the levitating crystal daggers faded. Our conversation had stretched further than I had expected.

“Is that all?” Novela said with a hint of incommodity.

“I guess?” I wasn’t sure myself. “I came here to ask you about what was wrong with my magic, but it would seem that question answered by itself. I would have never expected it would be due to my affinity becoming weaker.”

“Yeah, this is certainly one kind of a case. Perhaps even the first case of an ellari losing part of their affinities.” Then she chuckled out of nowhere. “I don’t know how you do it, but you keep surprising me, kid.”

“I’m technically an adult, Novela,” I added. “I’m thirty-two, you know?”

“Yeah, but I’m still more than a century older than you, you know?” Novela added the last part with a smug.

Seeing the woman being so expressive and smiling so much, I could feel as if I finally understood her after so many years. And that gave me a little warmth to my heart that I needed especially in these latter days.

“By the way, shouldn’t you be at the academy right now?” Novela commented in realization. “Today’s a workday.”

“Eh, a day or two doesn’t hurt anyone.” Or a week.

I shrugged and she gave me a dead look.

“Whatever.” She sighed. “Just pay me what you owe me.”

“Oh, right. I totally forgot about it after these many revelations.” I took two blue manites out of my coin pouch. Was it technically a coin pouch if ellari didn’t have coins? It was still called coinage, though...

“Thanks for your patronage,” Novela said with a deadbeat tone, unbeknownst and unbothered by my internal ramblings.

I liked the expressive Novela with colorful language, but the emotionless and lazy Novela was more familiar to me.

“See you later, Novela.” I bid my goodbyes as I went to the door.

“See you later, Edrie.” She replied.

Even though I had my back to her, I could still feel her warm smile. That in return, also made me smile.

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