20 Chapter 20 – The Tribute

Year 1, Fall, Third Month, First Week.

“This is not what I demanded!”

“But sir... “

“Don’t make me lose my patience... I'm not a dumb Merchant or a Stewart. You should think better before trying to push second quality goods to me! Quickly, bring me your best specimens “

“Ahhh... Yes, sir!”

The slave trader motioned to his slave guards to take away the chain bonded slaves and bring back something else.

“Mage Howland, I beg the Great Mage for discretion because the next slaves might even draw the interest of the City Lord. Don’t let their current appearance confuse you, they had to be drugged because our chains aren’t strong enough to bind them.”

Mage Howland dismissed the slave trader’s remarks. He knew better than paying attention to a trader trying to overvalue his goods.

Soon, the slave guards came back. In chains, they dragged two leopard-like men. Their heads resembled a leopard’s head with a smaller jaw and their bodies were covered in yellow hair. Their hands looked like a human hand but with sharper and longer nails.

They walked in two legs, but their feet look like paws and their leg muscles looked very developed, like a leopard’s leg.

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“These are my two strongest Beastmen. They are from the Leopard Tribe if it matters...”

“I'll take younger one...”

.........

Karl spent the second month of Fall improving the weapons and magic tools. Besides redrawing the Arrays, he also enhanced other tools in the village using the Runes and Arrays he knew.

The job of creating new tools and maintaining the old ones was becoming too much for him. Fortunately, his improvements and spiritual energy increasements were helping him keep up.

Once he realized the benefits of seeking other’s help and ideas, he tried to increase his contact with the villagers. Observing their work also helped to come up with ideas, he even made regular meetups to discuss new tools and improvements.

Currently, the majority defended the creation of a tool to help in the harvesting process. Since the villagers worked endlessly, they would be limited to think only about their current problems. This could help Karl prioritizing, but he couldn’t be bound to pressing matters only or he would risk being unprepared for future situations.

Anyway, the improved knives with Sharpness would already help a lot in cutting the stalks. So, they thought about improving the wheat harvesting process.

Besides the roots and vegetables harvested all year round, the village mostly planted wheat. The wheat would be processed into flour that would last for the whole year and keep them from starving.

The harvesting was done with knives and the villagers would let the collected wheat dry for some days in the ground. The next part of the process was very time-demanding. To separate the grain from stems they would hit the stalk of wheat with stones.

After roughly separating the grains and stems, they would let the strong winds of late Fall blow the stems away. Then, they would only need to collect the grains from the ground. To transform the grain into flour they smashed the grains between two stones, grinding it into a rough and whole flour.

They decided to create a magic tool to help either the threshing or the grinding processes because they were the most demanding processes. Starting with the threshing, Karl couldn’t think of a way to improve the process, so he asked Master Al’s help.

‘-- Your thinking needs to be guided by a process that you already know. What is the goal and steps of the regular threshing? The goal is to separate a part of the stalk, specifically, the grain. And the steps are beating it so that the grain loses the connection with the stem and took away the stem, naturally, by the action of the wind. Therefore, you just need to replicate one or both of the steps with an Alchemic process. Remember the True Alchemy essence. --'

‘-- Keep in mind, to improve a process done to multiple targets, first reflect on how should it be done to a singular target, then expand it to the group. Finally, when creating a new process, always try to make an analogy with what you know. --’

Karl reflected on what Master Al told him. First, he needed to consider the thrashing for just a singular stalk of wheat. The best way of separating the grain and stems was to just take out the grain. This wasn’t done because it would take an eternity to extract all the grains manually from all the stalks. Even so, as hinted by his Master, he needed to start by thinking on the singular process.

With his current knowledge, Karl couldn’t think of a way to separate the grain. However, he remembered the other tip, to make an analogy with other processes he knew. Currently, besides changing properties of objects with Runes he only knew how to move and stimulate elements.

When moving the elements, he was, in a way, separating them from their surroundings. So, he could use the Direction Array to separate the grains.

When moving an element, he would use Affinity to attract it.

First, he thought about using the plant crystal. But the plant Affinity would attract the whole plant, theoretically. Then, Master AI barged in and taught him two new Arrays that would be helpful.

The Signature Extraction Array was used to extract the unique energy composition of something. It could be used in everything, living beings, objects, energies. The Array was an evolution of the Properties Extraction Array, which could now be used in things other than elemental energies.

***Image in the comments***

The complete pentagram’s concept is Singularity. It has the aspect of composition that reveals the energy composition of everything.

The second Array is the Manipulation Array, an evolution of the Direction Array that could be used to manipulate a target outside the Array.

***Image in the comments***

The Array’s concept is Path. It has the aspect of the trajectory which invisibly connects the intent and its target.

Karl took three weeks to learn to draw the Arrays. They were similar to their previous versions but much more complicated. When he finished drawing it, harvesting was already upon them.

***Image in the comments***

The final design worked by extracting the grain’s signature and using it as a reference for the Manipulation Array to draw other grains out of the stalk.

After drawing the Arrays in a wood plate tied to a bamboo stick, Karl went to the fields to test it in the wheat. First, he cut a stalk, took a grain out of it, and placed it inside the Signature Extraction Array. Then, he pointed it at a stalk filled with grains.

The energy passed through the Arrays until the grain inside the Array glowed. The grains were drawn out of the stalk and floated in front of the Array. Karl then pointed the tool to other stalks. The scene of grains floating above the plants was amazing.

Before leaving. he made several tests. It worked better by moving the tool upwards to draw the grain out, then retracting it fast to release the grain from the Array’s grasp.

Of course, it was best to do it once the stalks were cut and brought to a clean place rather than end up picking fallen grains in the middle of the fields.

.........

The sound of swords clashing, cutting flesh, and the cry of fallen soldiers filled the air for kilometers. The dry sand and heat made the scene even more hellish. The only distinct colorful sight was brought by the lines of different races of Beastmen.

The stronger and taller beast-like men struck fiercely at the troupes of Human soldiers. Most of the Beastmen were using inferior quality swords while others were fighting barehanded.

Because of their strength and ferocity, it might look like they were winning the battle. But this was only the first clash when the Serion Commanders would send the army slaves first to drain the strength of the enemy.

As soon as the Beastmen thinned the layer of doomed slaves, the commander sent forward the Fighters’ troop. Once that happened, the Beastmen advance would halt and start receding.

If the Fighters failed to push back in any part of the battle line, probably because of the presence of a High ranked Beastman, the Mage unit would attack that part to eliminate the threat.

Akino was one of the Fighters clashing swords against a Jackal Beastmen group. He was one of the youngest Fighters in the army.

Before being accepted into the Fighters´ group, he was an army slave that shown a natural ability to use magic energy to enforce his body. Fortunately, his Captian noticed his proficiency and brought him into the team.

His teammates gave him a hard time but he didn’t blame them. That’s how the Kingdom works, everyone would abuse the ones of lower status. Akino took this opportunity and tried to become stronger every day.

The Jackal Beastmen weren’t in the strongest group but they sure moved fast. Akino was having a hard time blocking all the attacks. His comrades were also having difficulty and choose to engage each Jackal Beastman in pairs.

But Akino strived for improvement and wanted to become stronger in the fight. He was directing energy to his legs non-stop, trying to keep up with the enemy’s pace.

A slash came from a higher position trying to cut his throat, he brought his sword up, and powering his two hands, he blocked the attack. But the enemy didn’t play nice and kicked him down.

He rolled to escape the sword coming down on him and paid it back with a slash at his enemy’s ankle. The Beastman hissed and continue to attack him in anger. Fortunately, the attacks’ speed decreased allowing him to match it more easily.

Instead of pressing this advantage, Akino chose to wait for a better opening to finish his enemy for good. His patience paid off when the Beastman misstepped and trembled to his left.

Akino didn’t waste this chance and moved to slash the enemy on his chest. Instead of saving energy for the follow-up attack, he decided to go all-out pushing everything into his attack.

The slash cut through the Beastman’s chest leaving a fountain of blood and a deadly wound. His enemy died and he could finally look for another one.

Something Akino failed to realize, was that aside from his empowered arms, his sword also glowed when he attacked.

.........

The end of the month quickly came and it was time to deliver the last batch of the annual tributes. As usual, the guards from the Second Eastern Post came to the magic fields to supervise the work. But this time, the village Chief and an Official Supervisor were also present.

In the last batch, the Chief would have to account for any quantity missing from the tribute’s harvest.

The tribute’s counting was done by an Official Supervisor that came from Wind Castle to collect the tribute. Usually, Omero would have to plead for forgiveness before agreeing to send some villagers to be slaves. The exact number would depend on how much is missing from the tribute quota.

Of course, if the village achieved the annual tribute quota they wouldn’t need to send slaves. Sadly, the tribute quote was set to be unachievable, as to gather slaves for the nobles and war.

However, for the first time, Chief Omero was gladly following the guards to do the counting. He knew that this year’s result was going to be different.

While half of the villagers were loading the transport carts, the other half were harvesting the last crops in the fields. The supervisor from Wind Castle was a middle-aged slightly overweight man.

Although he didn’t look like a noble, he had the superior attitude normally displayed by all guards and merchants from Wind Castle.

The supervising job was usually handled by a trusted servant of the City Lord. This job was very important because if someone schemed the tributes, the City Lord would have problems with the nobles from the Elemental Capitals.

Since they were responsible for the tributes, the best approach would be for them to supervise it themselves, but a noble would never come to a border village, they thought it was beneath them.

While the villagers stocked the carts with the magic vegetables, the supervisor would dutifully take note of the volume being placed.

In the afternoon, the last stock of vegetables placed inside the cart, and the supervisor started to do the count.

“This can’t be right... I’ll count again... It seems that you exceed the annual tributes in about ten sacks of vegetables. This is very unusual... How did you do it?”

It took a lot from Omero to hide his mocking expression. Fortunately, he kept his head down to show respect.

“This lowly servant just tried his best to attend to the noble’s needs. To achieve the quota, this lowly one allocated more youths to work at the magic fields... The hands that were moved to help here compromised the village’s food stock but this lowly one didn’t dare to not do his best to achieve the quota.”

Chief Omero tried his best to provide a credible answer while emphasizing that they would suffer anyway.

“Indeed, as servants of the great Serion Kingdom, you should put the needs of your Lords above your own. Since you paid the due tribute, we shall take our leave. You can return to your village, the guards will come to you when the snow melts.”

The supervisor left without wasting more time with the villagers.

Chief Omero bowed like his position demanded. But in his lowered face there wasn’t any sign of respect, only a mocking smile.

And thus came Winter.

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