After making the fifteen minute trek through the forest, the Hart domain guards arrived in Clearlight Town and split up into four groups consisting of roughly six or seven members each.
Mia and Colson joined a group of guards led by Mack. Barnaby was off in another group and already planning his exploits, too busy planning the fun times he would have today to pay her any attention.
The groups separated as each took a different section of the town to begin tax collecting. Based on past experience, Mia knew that it should only take between half an hour to an hour, depending on how cooperative the residents were. The silver-haired girl kept her [Detection] spell constantly active and made sure that Dega and his group had indeed followed at a safe distance.
"Open up!" Mack began by banging on a residence's door. "It's time for you to pay your dues!"
The door opened up to reveal an elderly couple. "You're back again?" The old lady snarled. "It's only been two weeks since the last time we paid up! We're only supposed to pay taxes once a month!"
"Taxes will be paid whenever our esteemed Count Hart deems it necessary!" Mack sneered as he roughly pushed aside the old lady and entered the residence. "You should feel honored to be under our protection! It's thanks to us that you can live a carefree life here, safe from bandits! Bahaha!"
Colson was beginning to frown, starting from when Mack shoved the old lady. "Mack, there was no need to do that. Even if the Count ordered for additional tax collection, surely…"
Mack turned around and faced Colson with a glint in his eyes, interrupting the latter's words. "Oh? So you're an expert know-it-all, hmm? Why don't you try collecting the taxes, then? Without being a little forceful, none of these bastards will ever pay up. All they ever do is whine about how poor they are, but where do you think your paycheck is coming from, hmm?"
Mack walked over and jabbed the red-haired boy in the chest. "The law states that each household should pay a monthly tax of three hundred elemental coins. How about you make them pay up if you're so good at this, huh?"
Colson took a deep breath before answering. "Of course, leave it to me." He then turned around and faced the old lady. "I deeply apologize for my companion's rudeness," he said while bowing. "Please understand that we all have our duties to the lord of the land. Could I please ask you to pay up the fee of three hundred elemental coins?"
"Never! You'll have to pry my money out of my cold, dead hands! I don't have a single coin for the likes of you! Ptui!" The old lady spat directly at Colson.
The red-haired boy reflexively dodged the saliva projectile without thinking. Unfortunately, that meant that her spit landed directly on Mack's leather cuirass, as he was still standing behind Colson.
"You old hag!" Mack's face distorted in rage. "That's it! Men, search this residence for anything valuable! Wreck anything that isn't! You'll pay for that, you old bitch!"
Colson had a blank look on his face. All he had done was politely request the old couple to pay their taxes. Why was it that everything was suddenly turning chaotic?
Mia sighed as she glanced around at the other guards that were moving in threateningly on the old couple and the residence. Although she had been expecting something like this to happen, for it to already become like this on the very first house they visited was still…
"There's no need for violence." Mia spoke up despite the fact that she knew the guards wouldn't heed her words. It was still at least important to make a show of things.
"You don't understand, Milady. These bastards won't learn to respect us, or your father the Count, unless we show them that we mean business!"
Without any actual authority to speak of over the guards, what always happened was devolvement into violence and looting. But, this time…
"Aren't you just looking for money? I think I can find it and save everyone some trouble."
Ever since learning the [Ransack] skill, Mia had incorporated it into her mental minimap, making it easier to identify valuable items. Since violence and looting was otherwise unavoidable, this was all she could do to spare the elderly couple from any bodily harm or property destruction. Being weak and powerless wasn't easy…
Mia walked up to a dresser drawer and was instantly able to locate a stash of coins hidden away in a sock. She was aware, that for conveniences sake, the elemental church made coins with their values printed on them. As far as her teacher told her, the Elemental Church was the only one, possessing the knowledge how to create the coins, and the values ranged from 1-1000, with there being a coin depicting 1,5,10,50 and so on. From the stash, Mia counted out six 50-crystal denomination coins and tossed them over to Mack as everyone stared at her, dumbfounded.
"I've developed a treasure hunting talent," Mia explained nonchalantly. "See, doesn't this save everyone a lot of time? Let's just move on to the next house, shall we?"
"Hold on just a minute here! I'm afraid that ain't enough to cover our costs here." Mack roughly grabbed the sack of coins from Mia and withdrew another two coins before tossing the sack back to the old man. "I'm gonna charge an extra hundred coins for all this trouble I had to go through!"
Mia noted that Mack personally pocketed the two fifty-crystal coins rather than storing it with the other coins from earlier. This was… a kickback for himself and the other guards, while the main bulk of the collected taxes went to the Count?
"You bloodsucking nobles only know how to take from the hard work of others! What have you ever done for us besides bring ruin? You…" The old man launched into a tirade rallying against nobles.
"Bahaha! Think whatever you want. If you don't like things here, you're more than welcome to live outside in the wild, together with monsters! Okay men, we're done here, on to the next place!"
Colson was too numb at the scene to react, and Mia had to push him in order to get him to move. As they left, Mia heard Colson muttering to himself.
"Is this… what tax collecting is supposed to be like? Aren't the citizens… supposed to pay for the protection of the lord and to serve the country?"
"Maybe that's what it really should be like," Mia informed him calmly. "However, if the ruling noble in question doesn't actually provide any services, it will be seen as nothing as an unfair drain on the citizens instead. You heard them, didn't you? That tax collection was supposed to only happen once a month, yet here we are again, only two weeks after the last one?"
"What do you think should be done about all this? But let me tell you first, don't go around starting any fights. Or, do you think that you can take on all the other guards by yourself? Come observe the rest of the collection with me. Tell me if you have an answer by the end. If you still don't have an answer by then, I'll tell you mine."
Colson only numbly nodded as he allowed Mia to lead him, following the guards to the next residence.
Now that the guards knew that Mia had a "treasure hunting" talent, it was only natural that they made her take the lead. Mia discovered to her surprise that everywhere they went, the residents kept insisting that nothing to give the guards. Weren't they all warned beforehand?
Mia felt like she was now seeing it from the residents' perspective of what would happen if a video game character actually went around into people's homes and started taking their money right in front of them. That was a trait of quite a few RPG games she had played before in the past, where the main character simply waltzed right into an NPC's home and took items laying on the ground or in treasure chests, sometimes right in plain view of the NPC themselves.
"Dega, weren't all the citizens warned beforehand that the guards were coming? What's with this current situation where the resistance against tax collection seems even worse than usual?" The silver-haired girl contacted Dega on the wind with an inquiry. She had originally envisioned that the residents would maybe hide part of their valuables and try to get away with paying only some of the tax. But now, she was turning into the epitome of an evil noble who was uncovering their money personally!
"Yes, they already know. I told them exactly what you told me, to try and hide most of their money and to give the appearance of only being able to afford a small payment. I don't know what's going on!"
It could be said that humans were innately selfish. When having forewarning of the next unscheduled tax inspection, most people didn't react by thinking to sacrifice part of their savings to protect the whole. Instead, they reacted by hiding away as much of their wealth as possible, making it so that the guards were refused each and every time, which only inflamed the guards' tempers. Mia had to step in each time with [Ransack] as her "treasure hunting" skill to defuse the situations from getting violent… but this could only go on for so long.
Some time later, Mia, Colson and the guards arrived at a small restaurant. "Open up! Tax collection!" Mack banged on the restaurant's door. However, it appeared that nobody was coming to open the front door.
"Ha! Don't pretend that nobody's here! If you don't pay your taxes, we'll smash this place to pieces!" Another guard took out what appeared to be a club and tapped it on the ground threateningly.
Word quickly spread around town that as expected, the Hart army's "soldiers" had arrived for yet another unscheduled, premature tax collection. A small crowd soon gathered a distance away from the guards, making a ruckus that Mia could hear without even needing to use her [Eavesdrop] spell.
The silver-haired girl saw many in the crowd pointing in her direction. Was it just her imagination? Even Mia was feeling at a loss for what to do now. All she had wanted was to help the citizens in her own way, but had she actually made things worse? The atmosphere in Clearlight Town, despite the town's bright and sunny name, seemed like bubbling magma that was about to erupt with just a single push. Almost as if to coordinate with the atmosphere, dark clouds were beginning to appear on the horizon.
Naturally, the guards noticed this as well. "What are you staring at? Scram, unless you bastards would like to receive a beating!" Mack unsheathed his sword and waved it wildly around, causing it to shine with a glint under the illumination of what remained of the sunlight.
Rather than dispersing, the crowd merely backed off and the hubbub seemed to get even louder. Something seemed different today; usually the citizens would at most grumble while paying off the guards until the next tax collection day. The guards were like periodic bandit visits that everyone had gotten used to, and resistance was rare, as the general populace was mostly untrained.
Meanwhile, as Mia focused on what was going on with the crowd, Colson excused himself without her noticing. Even he could feel that the tension in the air was as thick as a tightly stretched string which could snap at any moment. Right now, he just wanted to get away from it all and clear his head to think on what he witnessed so far during the tax collection. Who was in the right, and who was in the wrong here? Could he really come up with an answer, as Mia asked him to? Or should he ask her what she thought of it all and continue listening to her orders?
Besides, he hadn't noticed it earlier, but he was now feeling an urge – one of the most common and natural biological needs of all, to use the restroom. Well, except that there were no public restrooms in this world. Luckily, for guys like Colson, it was a generally accepted convention that they could easily step away to some concealed alleyway or behind a tree to do their business. Colson decided to go for a little walk to clear his head.
Dega had been following Mia from a distance of ten meters as she suggested and spied that one of the guards had finally broken off from the others. "Alright men, it's just like Mia said, our opportunity is here! We attack him when his guard is at the lowest, right when he's taking a piss! Wait a moment… men?" Dega turned around to find that apart from Derek and one other bandit, the other four bandits had disappeared somewhere.
"Where the hell did they all run off to at such a time!" Dega cursed under his breath. "Luke, do you know?"
"I dunno, boss. I was just watching everything going on just now, same as you. Knowing them, they're probably trying to woo some beautiful girl that they just saw in the crowd." Luke was a tall, lanky young bandit with a black and spiky hairstyle. Right now, he had just as much a confused expression as Dega did. Meanwhile, Derek was casually performing some jumping jacks.
"Damn it! Those bastards can't even take a day like today seriously? Fine, I'll do this by myself! Luke, take Derek with you and find those lazy bastards for me. Although it would have been nice to have you all supporting me as extra insurance, it should be plenty for me alone to deal with one of these guards, especially with the element of surprise. These soldiers here put shame to the concept of swordsmanship! There's no need to honorably deal with them!"
More Privileged Chapters
Download the app and become a privileged reader today! Come take a sneak peek at our author's stockpiled chapters!Download
This's an experimental test for reading assistance in case.
We highly recommend you to enjoy the beauty of the original words.