Year 1, Spring, Second Month, Second Week.
At night, Karl was restless. No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t sleep. Through the straws, he could feel the cold ground and even the little stones that were hurting his back. The villagers’ sleeping conditions were far from ideal. They could only use the spare harvested straw to make something close to a bed. Fortunately, they were always too tired to notice or care.
Karl was finally going to learn some magic, but the situation of the village had become even worse. Although the villagers suffered a lot, they were used to starving and working until exhaustion. But when they couldn’t meet the minimum tribute quota, they would have to offer children to slavery as compensation. For them, this was the bottom line, a slave would lose any resemblance of freedom and humanity.
In fact, the Serion Kingdom would regularly need slaves to serve at the Mages’ Houses or for war. However, they learn from experience that taking slaves on a whim would lead to rebellions. So they had to fabricate a justifiable reason and give the commoners the false impression that they could escape this fate by working more. Of course, sometimes they took too many slaves and the village would rebel.
‘Master AI, Can I became powerful enough to protect the village from the Kingdom?’
‘-- In time, yes. But would not be better to make the village powerful enough so it does not need your protection? --’ Unhesitang Karl replied:
‘Can we teach magic to everyone?’
‘-- One does not need to know how to manipulate magic energy to use it. The true power of Alchemy lies on given power to the most powerless person. Also, you need to broaden your view of power. There is more to Alchemy than the power to fight --’
Karl seemed to understand what Master AI was implying.
‘So how can I help the village? Should I teach them Alchemy? I still don’t know much...’
‘-- Whether you teach them, it is your choice. However, you can not talk about me. Your predicament is a perfect chance to exercise some Alchemist abilities. Creativity and meticulous analysis are very important for Alchemists. First, think about the problem at hand, start from something small, do not jump to something like fighting against the Kingdom --’
‘-- But keep in mind that Alchemy can do anything, not only weapons. And also remember that the bigger the task, the more materials and ability you will need to complete it --’
“Mommy, I’m hungry!”
“I know darling, but we don’t have more.... sob... sob...”
“Mom, don’t cry! I’m not hungry anymore, I’m not hungry! When daddy was here mommy didn’t cry...”
“Come here, my little girl. Your daddy went to a better place, he’s resting there... Go to the Chief’s hut, he said that you could go there to eat with young Diana...”
The girl cleaned the tears with her small hands and left running.
‘I can’t take it anymore. When Don got sick and couldn’t work, our food wasn’t enough. And now that he died... Why did they do it? That monster! If I could kill that Captain, I would die in peace... What am I thinking? I still have to take care of my little girl’
“Now take it! Do you need more help?”
Toni smiled while he passed the water bucket to the blushing girl. He often helped other kids drawing water from the well.
Although he too suffered from lack of food, he was born with a better constitution than most kids. His father and grandpa were also like this, they weren’t very tall but had sturdy bodies. Toni was stronger than most but he didn’t use his body to bully others, on the contrary, he was very kind and helped everyone. Chief had even relieved him from the work at the public fields so he could help Old Bill fixing huts and tools.
It was around noon and Toni had finished watering the newly sowed seeds in his family’s field. Now, he would use the afternoon to help Old Bill gather stones.
On the way to Bill’s hut, he saw Karl picking herbs at the border of the fields. Usually, they would only concern about cleaning the weeds in the fields, not out of them. He got curious and went to ask.
“Hey, Karl. I’m sorry about your registration ceremony... I know you wanted to be a Mage… What’re you picking?”
“Ahn... Hi Toni, sorry, I was focus on selecting the white grass... I don’t care about Mages anymore, I’m training to be an Alchemist”
Karl wasn’t that open with everyone, but Toni was one of his closest friends. His family’s fields were next to his, so they usually talked every day. Toni had his registration ceremony two years ago, and next year he would be moving to work with the adults in the magic fields.
Toni didn’t like to overthink things, he preferred to focus on what he could do. Of course, sometimes he would feel sad and angry, like when his parents told him about the tribute increasing, but he could only work more and be more dependable. So how could he think too much about what Karl was saying? He was only curious about what Alchemy was.
Surprisingly, he got very interested in what Karl was doing. He left to help Old Bill, but promise to come back and help. His interest was triggered when Karl told him that they could help the village with Alchemy.
A couple of hours before the evening, he was back, but Karl was nowhere near the fields. After some time, he found him near his hut pressing the herbs with a stone. Karl explained that he needed a good amount of the sap from the grass, so he offered to help with the pressing.
‘-- Good, now that you have some ink and we can start training. --’
‘-- First, we need to make some considerations. Magic energy is everywhere, some places have more energy, some have less. To access magic energy, you need to use your spiritual energy. Everyone has spiritual energy but with different quantities and characteristics. --’
‘-- We can make an analogy with a farming tool. Think of magic energy as a tool, for example, a hoe. In this case, your hands are your spiritual energy. You can use it to handle the hoe, and what you will do with it depends on your intent, ability and the technique you use. If your hands/arms are stronger, if the hoe is of better quality and if you are better at using it, the hole you dig will also be deeper. --’
‘-- Without straying too far from our objective, we can talk a little about two of the most common types of Mages. Elemental Mages have spiritual energy affinity with one of the elements and can use it to manipulate the elemental energy. Spellcasters use their spiritual energy to manipulate the magic energy directly. To cast a spell, or in other words, to give a specific command to magic energy, the spellcaster needs to match the intent, magic symbolism, and spiritual energy. Only by perfectly aligning these three, can a spell be cast. --’
‘-- The key to understanding Alchemy, lies in symbolism. Symbolism is like the language that magic energy comprehends. Another name for it is Key, if you have the right key a specific door can be unlocked. With Alchemy, we preset the Keys, to execute magic commands in the future. The simplest way to use Alchemy is imprinting a magic Key on an object. When the magic energy touches the Key, the magic command will be executed. Of course, you always have to mind if the energy available is enough to execute the command. --’
‘--To imprint, you have to draw on the object using the magic ink while connecting the physical drawing with the conceptual magic Key, using spiritual energy. At the same time, you have to draw the Key physically with ink and conceptually with spiritual energy --’
Karl frowned deeply, Master AI explanation was very clear, but he couldn’t figure out how he would do it.
‘-- Just close your eyes. Can you imagine snow? With your mind, you can think of the appearance of it, but if you try, you can also feel the snow. Does it not bring you a specific feeling? Cold? Smoothness? The texture, the smell, everything is a concept. Now, if you had to imprint the snow, you would draw it with ink while pushing your spiritual energy into the drawing, making the energy form a concept of snow, like cold. --’
‘-- Now, we can do some exercises to help you push your spiritual energy and form concepts with it. --’
Caiset couldn’t afford to produce something to trade, so the village wasn’t on any Merchant’s route. However, because they were much closer to the main Eastern Path than the post villages, occasionally, a Merchant would pass by. When that happened, the families that somehow save some flour would trade it for oil or other cheap goods.
A long time ago, one lucky villager found an energy crystal on the Path to the magic fields and exchanged it for some good things. The LQ energy crystals wouldn’t be worth much, but for the miserable villagers, not much was quite a lot.
To work at the magic fields, the villagers need to walk for about an hour. Spring had the best climate for these workers. The ground is neither too cold nor too hot, even the sun at noon is pleasant enough.
Today, as usual, hundreds of villagers were quickly moving through the Path to get to the magic fields. Everyone was concerned about the increase of tributes, but there was nothing they could do about it apart from working harder.
When they were close enough to see the magic fields, a man strayed from the group and moved dangerously closed to the Path border.
‘It’s so close. If I get it, I could exchange for more food. Or I could save it to bargain with them if they try to take Diane as a slave... There’s not a lot of trees here, so the beasts should be far. I can run fast enough... For Diane I...’
The villager ran out of the Path in the direction of the shining crystal. Besides the screams of protests from his fellow villagers that one by one started to realize what he was doing, nothing seemed out of place.
When he pulled the crystal from the ground, he didn’t waste time and ran back to the Path. But something was amiss, everyone started to panic and scream, he felt that something was chasing him.
Hiding on a bush, the feline beast stalked the group of villagers. It didn’t dare to approach because something among them caused it to wary, like infringing upon the territory of a powerful beast. But after waiting for a long time, one of the prey came forward. Since the prey was gifting himself to it, it shouldn’t refuse it.
When the villager started to head back to the Path, the feline beast moved. Its pace was at least three times faster than the villager. When it got near enough, the beast jumped with its fangs aiming for the exposed neck. Upon contact, the prey’s body fell, the skin didn’t offer resistance, soon the sweet taste of blood was savored by the beast
“Damn.” Karl cursed and finally went to sleep.
‘-- Patience is very important for an Alchemist. It takes time to master the ability to draw Keys. Also, you chose to start from Runes and they are much more difficult than Arrays. Your spiritual energy is on its limit, rest now, tomorrow you will fare better. --’