Epione Felidae pinched the mind crystal fragment in her hand as she stared at it pensively. The sapphire shard glittered under the noon sun and the supine form of a cat made of solid light – her Doppelganger – was clearly visible within its depths.
'What is a bloodline exactly?' she mused as she tried to go over all the information she had available.
First off, possessing a bloodline gave her certain bestial characteristics. The physical parts of which were clearly evidenced by her possession of feline ears and a tail. Now, the behavioural aspect of it was where things got iffy.
She had heard Mars claiming that he could identify animalistic traits within the different Bestia corresponding to their bloodline origin. Initially, she had been dismissive of the idea, attributing it to the overactive imagination of a child.
But over the years, she had subconsciously started paying more attention and she had come to realize that the observation did hold some measure of truth.
Still, personalities were quite difficult to objectively define and the problem compounded itself in the cases where magic was involved.
As she had expounded to Mars not so long ago, each of the elements and their corresponding Aspects affected the mage's personalities during their cultivation. For example, fire mages being generally emotional and excitable while water mages were quite strategic in their actions.
So, attributing the change in a mage's personality to their bloodline was something she was quite skeptical about when there was the more widely accepted explanation of magic present.
That is, until she managed to extract and detach her bloodline from herself for the first time a little more than a week ago.
It had been like a huge burden had been lifted from her mind. Even though her body had suffered from the extraction, her mind had become extraordinarily clear. She felt positively liberated.
So, of course she had searched for the reason for the sudden change in her mindset.
The result had surprised her. It was her bloodline's fault.
As a woman, she was very familiar with the concept of insidious whispers in her head. Vita's deranged mutterings that came upon her every time she went too long without her husband's touch had familiarized her with identifying which thoughts were her own – a difficult task when the mutterings resembled her own inner voice.
With all the personality altering magical cultivation going on and the constant threat of evil whispers in their head, the women of the world were extremely diligent in their search for their true selves. A good few hours every day was spent by almost every female mage introspecting upon who exactly they were. Only when they knew who they were perfectly could they ensure that they didn't stray too far from the beaten path.
The rules were flexible for children as they had yet to grow into their own personalities. Parental supervision became increasingly important in this case and it was the reason why any military personnel who became a parent was sent back to the interior to take care of their progeny.
If magic affected the personalities of mages in the initial stage then, later, when their understanding of the Aspects grew more profound, their personalities began to affect how they displayed magic instead. That was why when Ceres had informed them about the system of Realms and Tiers followed in the Shogunate and how the methods of Mastery were different from mage to mage, Epione hadn't really been surprised. She had had an inkling that it would be that way for a long time as had Veer.
Much to Epione's surprise, once she was free of her bloodline, she began to realize that her behaviour thus far hadn't really conformed to her true personality.
Epione was a pragmatic woman and she was – to put it bluntly – a control freak. She had always been the spoilt clan princess at her core. Everything had to go her way or no way at all. Anyone who had worked under her in the clan or the military medical division could attest to that… provided their anonymity could be guaranteed of course. Otherwise they wouldn't dare.
Healing to her was just a tool to be used to reach whatever goals she might have at that point of time. If that wasn't the case, she would never have been able to come up with a method to turn her Healing spell into a harbinger of Pestilence.
Epione's eyes narrowed and her fingers glowed with a sickly pale light that she directed into the mind crystal aimed towards the sleeping cat. The cat immediately woke up and arched its back, hissing at her. She sneered and intensified her efforts, easily suppressing it causing it to mewl piteously.
Really, it was just as she had suspected. Her Doppelganger without her consciousness controlling it gained its own measure of sentience. If she wasn't reading it wrong, then it was the doing of her bloodline.
Was everyone's bloodline like this? Or was hers special because it had come from a Sacred beast?
She favoured the latter possibility more. She'd have heard more about this if it was a common phenomenon for there to exist another nascent consciousness within everyone's body.
Letting up on her offensive, she observed the cat that was currently lying exhausted within the crystal appearing decidedly depressed. She couldn't help but sneer again. It might be acting like the victim now but it was the reason she hadn't been able to promote to Tier 5.
The bloodline had given her a special compound affinity and a very high talent. An enviable starting point for any mage. But while it had boosted her onto the path of magic, giving her a running start, it had also become the final hurdle on her road.
She had no idea how it worked or even what it was but the bloodline had a very specific idea of what Healing magic entailed and it would accept no other view. To enforce this, it had subtly influenced her, giving positive feedback of pleasure whenever she healed someone and engendering an aversion to her use of the Pestilence spell.
But to someone as stubborn as her, it had turned into a point of contention. Even though she couldn't exactly detect that it was her bloodline's doing, she knew something was off and just to spite the feeling, she had poured more effort into researching the Pestilence spell causing the contradiction to intensify.
That was why out of all her Aspects, the two Aspects she used most often – Healing and Erosion – hadn't reached Mastery.
Her Aspect of Light, the one she used the least, had reached Mastery first instead.
Her affinity was a compound of Light and Water elements. The six Aspects she had to choose from were: Radiance, Healing and Time subordinate to the element of light and Hydration, Erosion and Absorption subordinate to the water element.
Due to her bloodline, she had to choose both Healing and Erosion giving her the special ability of Alchemical Healing. Ordinary healing was often hindered by the patient's mana rejecting the healing light mana and a lot of steps had to be taken to circumvent the rejection. Alchemical Healing combined the two Aspects of Healing and Erosion to solve this problem.
The possessor of this special affinity could easily erode the blockade of the patient's mana and then heal them. Not only that, they could use mana extracted from magical ingredients to speed up the healing process. This made them the best healers.
For her final Aspect, Epione had chosen Light.
Even though she couldn't be a hundred percent sure, Epione was reasonably confident that the reason she couldn't promote to Tier 5 lay in her contradiction with her bloodline. Although she had mastered Light and should be able to attack the bottleneck, she couldn't do it since she hadn't mastered both Healing and Erosion that were closely linked to her bloodline.
This belief had been strengthened by her short separation from it and its subsequent return. The contrast between its presence and absence had been like day and night.
Apart from her sense of helplessness at seeing Mars getting injured again and again under her watch; the uncomfortable sensation of something subtly influencing her thought processes was a major part of why she was so eager to rush her breakthrough.
Idly she wondered what relation the bloodlines and Vita's divine will had. They both seemed to affect the same things – resulting in mental influence and bestial transformations.
Taking a deep breath, she cleared her mind of all distracting thoughts and tossed the crystal to a surprised Lieutenant Neera and said, "I won't be needing that anymore."
Turning her gaze to the noon sun, her eyes glowing white as her mana protected them from the glare.
The world around her seemed to darken and lose its colour as the light bent towards her making her presence extremely conspicuous in the clearing.
What exactly was light to her?
It was presence, attention, fame – it was what got people to notice things. Without light, nothing would be visible. No one would be able confirm the presence of an object.
An actor, when he was backstage, had no significance to the play. But when he entered the stage and was shone upon by the limelight – then he was the hero. The focal point of all attention.
That to her was the true meaning of light.
The radiance surrounding her grew brighter and brighter until all present had to shut their eyes against the dazzling brilliance. Then as suddenly as it came, it disappeared leaving them blinking the tears out of their eyes.
When they finally fixed their gaze on the centre of the clearing, they saw Epione standing there without any change in her posture. Yet they found it increasingly difficult to distinguish her form from the surroundings as she blended into the surroundings like a chameleon.
Just as an actor could play many roles, people in real life were rarely simple. They were all driven by a convoluted network of motives and were impossible to classify as black or white – or even grey. People came in many colours that twined together to give their final shade.
Epione had learnt to manipulate hers. Now she could use the Aspect to alter the colours of herself or her surroundings and camouflage herself.
Finally, even that final bit of colour drained out of her and her form turned transparent.
Once your sense of presence grew to the extreme, then you would become like the Sun. Omnipresent. Because of how conspicuous it was, we took it for granted. Rarely did anyone look up at the sun, ignoring it most of the time. Omnipresence was a kind of invisibility and that was the culmination of her Mastery over light.
Despite stealth being considered more of a Shadow mage thing, with this spell, Epione was right up there with the best of them.
Under the glare of the noon sun, letting its rays pass unhindered through her, Epione felt something in her mindscape shift with a subtle clink.
Then her semi-solid Tier 4 mana began to rapidly crystallize starting at her mindscape walls.
In the end, despite the sleepless nights spent by her and her loved ones, her breakthrough was exceedingly simple.
By the time the sun had passed the zenith, she had promoted to Tier 5.
End of Volume.
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