“You useless piece of filth!”
A stream of liquid fire materialized at the edge of Kiro’s vision, arcing downwards with a trail of brilliant orange light. On instinct, he brought his hands up to defend himself, but the whip tore through his rough-sewn shirt, scorching thin, painful lines on his forearms.
Not this again.
“You dare arrive tardy to the harvests? You are a disgrace to the clan!” A gray-haired woman stepped out in front of him, scorn staining her wrinkled expression as she leveled the conjured weapon for another strike. Supervisor Ba.
Hong Tang Kiro bowed low to the ground, gritting his teeth as another searing blow struck his shoulder. Of course it had to be her. He should have known to wear his alchemical robes today — they would have protected him far better than these flimsy farmer’s clothes.
The acrid smell of burnt fabric assaulted his nostrils, and he gingerly put a finger to his new burns. At least they didn’t feel too bad.
“Well? Have you nothing to say, Sun-ranked scum?” The supervisor spat at him, and he looked up, wishing for the thousandth time that he had any other mark etched onto the back of his hand.
"I shame you with my presence, honored Torch. I will make amends for my insolent oversight." This was the fourth day in a row that she had found some trivial excuse to flay him, and despite the application of his best salves, yesterday’s wounds still flared an angry red. He put on his most apologetic expression, praying to the heavens that she would leave him be.
It looked as if the heavens weren't listening.
The woman’s eyes flashed with greed, and a cruel grin crossed her face as she raised the flaming whip once more. “Yes, you will! To make up for your constant disregard for order, I expect you to contribute with your earnings. Ten spirit stones each time!”
There was an audible gasp amongst the other Suns, but none of his fellow farmers stepped forwards to aid him. They knew their place in the clan. They were the lowest of the low, forbidden from even practicing the mystic arts, meaning that even a lowly Torch had absolute control over their lives.
He let out a frustrated sigh, reaching into his bag and dropping the shimmering blue shards to the ground. To think — he could have been getting one step closer to an alchemical breakthrough, but instead he had to deal with this. At least she would have to stoop down to get them herself.
Supervisor Ba growled. “Blatant disrespect!”
The whip came down on him once more, and this time he couldn’t get his arms up fast enough. He winced, and the flames lashed his chest, leaving a trail of inflamed skin and charred cloth across his torso.
“You dare show anything but regret for your despicable actions? Every second that you waste, you cost the clan, and yet you still have the audacity to spit in the face of my mercy.”
She harrumphed, and another Sun rushed over to collect the stones, avoiding Kiro’s gaze as he carefully handed them to the supervisor.
“I expect a bare minimum of a thousand more spirit stones, deposited at my doorstep by sunset. And you’d best supply much more if you wish to save face.”
He clenched his jaw, caution warring with rage as he tried to keep silent despite the pain. He didn’t even have a thousand spirit stones to give.
The hot rays of the rising sun beat upon his skin, further exasperating his burns and making it harder to think straight. The reasonable choice was to just accept the loss, to throw away all of his life’s savings and beg for mercy. If he didn’t, who knew how much damage she would do to him. He had grown up hearing tales of Suns being beat to death for the slightest offense, and with Supervisor Ba, maybe they wouldn’t remain rumors.
But if he gave up those spirit stones, where would that leave him? A servant among servants, working himself to the bone just to pay off his supposed ‘debt’? Alchemy was expensive, and if she got her way, she would make sure that he would never have enough funds to ever concoct again. Sure, letting her do so was the honorable choice, the choice that would save him face. But as a Sun, he didn’t have any face to lose.
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