The astral realm is the place where magic in our world originates from. Priests of the Aztec empire can access that magical power for their own purposes through the use of spells and rituals. The amount of power they wield depends partly on their own abilities, but also on the amount of magic within the vicinity. In most locations, the level of mana is fairly limited, but there are certain areas in which the mana content is dramatically higher. Places of power are sites in which the veil between the mortal and astral realms are weakest, allowing for the most powerful magic to be performed. For centuries, users have gathered here to perform various rituals at certain times of the year. The power of a spell can increase tenfold in these areas, increasing its effectiveness and likelihood of success. However, the mana from the environment is not infinite, and does not replenish by itself after being used. This risks draining all the mana from this hotspot, rendering it a dead-zone where no magic can be conducted.
Priests of the empire subscribe to the law of equivalent exchange: In order to gain something of value, something of equal value must be lost. This rule transfers into reality regarding how they practice magic. Whenever a spell is performed, the mana used in that spell has to be manually replenished in order to preserve the place of power's resources for future use. They do this through ritual human sacrifice, in which the heart of the intended victim is carved out with a specially made dagger and destroyed. This releases the human soul contained within the heart and unravels it, releasing the mana within. The freed mana replenishes the mana that was just lost in the previous spell but deprives the victim of an afterlife. This method has worked for centuries, allowing the Aztecs to remain in power. However, the amount of mana being replenished after a human sacrifice has decreased, and continues to fall in the preceding years. This has led to a deficit in mana content within these places of power, forcing priests to sacrifice more victims after a ritual has been completed. The numbers of sacrifices that originally started with one increased to five, and has steadily increased as the years go by. The Aztecs have had to deplete more human resources at a faster rate just to maintain the same level of magical power they once enjoyed for cheap.
How can the law of equivalent exchange that has worked so well for decades not be returning the value it once did?