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6 Saru

 "Move along!"

"Time waits for no one brats!"

"You there, stop talking and start moving! Even a cow moves better than you lot!"

"Argh!"

With a groan, Taku woke up from his sleep, the loud shouts outside making his ears feel like they were being bombarded by supersonic sound-waves.

When he came to, Taku realized that he was in a small hut with a bed made out of straw on the floor and a table with a pot.

Where the heck am I? What time is it?

Taku had completely lost his bearings and couldn't even remember the last thing he did. Whenever he tried all he got were flashes of the bloody nightmare he just had. Just thinking about it gave him shivers.

I've never had a dream like that before, it felt so real.

Taku shook his head and slapped his cheeks to focus. He quickly got up from the haystack and left the hut. Outside was quite the sight. Many huts were placed adjacent to his, forming a neat line of huts. Taku looked back and saw that multiple rows of huts were behind him.

Ahead of his hut was a booth, and multiple children were being herded to it like cattle, by brawny men barking orders to and fro. One of them looked toward Taku and pointed.

"You! What the heck are you-"

When the man noticed who Taku was, he swallowed his words and took a step back, almost tripping in the process. The unfinished sentence made others follow his line of sight. Once the children and the men saw Taku, gasps and screams started spreading among the crowd like wildfire.

Taku noticed that most of the eyes looking at him were showing signs of fear, some showed awe and some had mixed emotions. Whispers quickly followed the screams, and many pointed at Taku the same way one would point to a dangerous beast...with caution.

"Silence! We are not a bunch of women who gossip."

The cool and calm voice belonged to an old man wearing robes. No one could tell where he came from, as if he had come from nowhere, but there was a boundless pressure emanating from him that made everyone quiet. It was so quiet one could even hear the sound of a pin drop.

Taku was even more flabbergasted because he knew who this old man was. It was the Envoy who came to his village!

"Honourable Envoy!"

Taku immediately went on one knee and started clapping his hands, each hand forming a concave shape resulting in a muffled clap like sound. This was the ultimate form of respect one could show to a human in the Gutu Empire except kneeling and pressing your head on the ground. It was only used on Elders or those far higher than you in status.

The moment Taku saluted the Envoy the crowd mimicked him. "Honourable Envoy!" They also saluted him the same way Taku did. What was an Envoy? A highly respected being with the permission to roam wherever he wanted whenever he wanted! It was one of the most respected positions in society. Even District Chiefs, beings who were in charge of hundreds of cities, towns and villages had to show a certain amount of respect to an Envoy, let alone mere children.

No one doubted that Taku was telling the truth about the Envoy's identity. Doing so surrounded by members of the Elephant Foot Guard was foolhardy. It would lead to serious punishments, with death being a possibility.

"Come to the booth and register, be quick about it!"

The Envoy's body exuded an aura that left no room for negotiation. Thus even though Taku was still confused, he ran as fast as he could to the booth. Even though there was a queue in front of him, no one dared stand in his way in fear of angering the Envoy, and Taku did not refuse their gesture of kindness.

When Taku arrived at the booth he did not see what he was somewhat expecting. After hearing the word 'register', Taku was shocked. As far as he knew there was no alphabet or method of writing. Back in his village, everything was communicated via word of mouth. Thus before he arrived at Madhara Taku had no idea that scrolls were used. When he saw General Shaya, the wind manipulator who transported him and the other children to the savage battlefield, use a scroll, he was somewhat shocked, but too much was happening at that time for him to dwell on such a matter. Nevertheless, Taku was no different from a frog in a well, looking up and thinking it can see the entire sky, when really it only saw a small portion. He underestimated the Gutu Empire, both in terms of strength and social development. Thus he was expecting to see some more scrolls, yet he met something else entirely.

A rectangular stone tablet with markings on it was all that was in the man's hand at the booth. The man himself was dressed in casual robes that seemed to be made from linen and had a scholarly feel to him. Even though an Envoy had arrived, the scholarly man behind the booth was far from being flustered.

"What's your first name, house name, age, place of origin, totem, ability grade and ability?"

Taku was somewhat annoyed, because he still had no idea what ability he had, not to mention he had no idea what his grade was let alone what a grade is.

"His grade is red, his ability is a unique body transformation." The Envoy had soundlessly arrived next to Taku and answered for him. Taku's eyes went round from surprise because he never suspected he would have the ability to transform his body into something. At this moment he remembered something odd. In his dream he saw a child turn into a stone giant and squash others with a single fist.

Wait that wasn't a dream? Then that means I...

Before he could finish his thoughts, the Envoy grunted, "Boy answer the rest. Quickly!" His fear of the Envoy made him forget his thoughts and instantly comply.

"My name is Takunda. I have no house name, I am ten years old, I come from Gumbo Village and my totem is the Elephant Foot."

House names were surnames, and people from a small village would not have such usually, especially orphans.

Totems were still a mystery to Taku. He had no idea what they represented, all he knew was that everyone in Gumbo village had that totem. As far as he was concerned it could have a relation to the Elephant Foot Guard.

The scholarly man swiped his hand over the board, making the markings disappear. Then he used his finger to make knew markings into the stone. He used no pen or pencil, but markings were still left by his finger. Taku was confident that nothing was underneath the man's fingers. With no knowledge of this world's alphabet, Taku had no idea what was being written down.

Before Taku could contemplate further, his vision suddenly blurred. This sensation was akin to being pulled by a car moving at hundreds of miles an hour. Taku was too shocked to even scream. He could barely even breathe because they were moving too fast. Just like that, he disappeared from everyone's sight.

"That is absurd."

Someone finally broke the silence with a gulp.

"So that's what an Envoy is like. Truly frightening."

"One day I will be an Envoy."

"Pah! In your dreams."

The children entered into a clutter of noises once the Envoy had disappeared with Taku. The presence of an Envoy was just too much of a stimulus for them.

"Oi, Simba." One of the burly men beckoned his companion. "Hmm?" Simba was still in daze when his friend called out to him. "Was that really him? The Retainer of Death? The one responsible for slaughtering a quarter of the participants single-handedly?" Simba was still thinking about the Envoy, after all, it's not often that they show up in the camp. But the moment he heard the phrase 'Retainer of Death' Simba nearly choked on his own saliva. The Envoy had truly taken the limelight from Taku, but Simba and his partner knew; the Retainer of Death would have a bright future. He would be a blessing for the Guard, and a nightmare for his foes.

...

Swoosh!

As suddenly as he had been taken, Taku stopped moving. His journey lasted little more than ten seconds, but to him it felt like hours. When the Envoy let go Taku instantly vomited on the ground, unfortunately he had not had a chance to eat recently thus barely anything could come out.

Once he gained his strength, Taku observed his surroundings. It was a small pond with a bit of greenery around it. In front of the pond was a middle aged man wearing old robes, fishing in the pond. They seemed to be in the middle of some sort of valley with grass surrounding them. The Envoy stood still like a statue. Taku took this as a cue and did the same, despite the fact that he was still feeling sick.

The middle aged man was sitting on a simple stool and got up after a while, shaking his head.

"You know, back in my days, this was a lot simpler. Or maybe I'm just getting old haha!"

He started laughing the moment he stopped talking, as if he had just said the funniest joke in the world.

"Bhure greats Lord Saru."

The Envoy immediately knelt and saluted Saru the same way Taku and the others had saluted him. Taku's brain almost stopped functioning. Although Taku did not know much about the empire outside his village, he did know that Envoys had respect almost everywhere they went. All Taku knew was that he was part of a prefecture, and that even the chief of the prefecture had to show respect to Envoys. Yet here, an Envoy was kneeling and greeting a poorly dressed middle aged man in the middle of nowhere. Taku realized that there must be a huge gap in status between him and this 'Lord Saru' thus he immediately decided to kneel and know-tow, the highest form of respect.

"Child, no need to do anything. Just stand there as you are." Saru's soothing voice made Taku halt his movements. He did not dare disobey an order from a man that even an Envoy called Lord.

"Bhure, you are dismissed. Thank you for your service." Saru waved his hand and smiled. "Understood!" The Envoy's silhouette flashed, seemingly disappearing into nothingness. Taku was having a hard time seeing Saru's face, as if he was looking at the man through a foggy glass. At first it was not clear but it became more obvious as time went on.

"Don't bother concentrating on my face young man it won't do a thing. If I wanted you to see me then you would see me." said Saru with a snicker. "Y-yes Lord."

"Relax, no need for the titles and honorifics. Just call me Saru, not Lord Saru, not Sir Saru, just Saru."

"Yes...Saru." Taku's reply surprised him. The Gutu were very respectful to their elders and superiors. Through their rigorous upbringing many found it difficult to drop titles and be informal. But Taku, a ten year old child no less, was able to do it instantly. Little did Saru know that he was talking to a man from modern day earth as well ...

He must have quite the pair on him haha.

Saru was pleased by Taku's actions and started clapping. "Very good. I like you even more now. Good, good, good!"

Hearing Saru say good three times in a row made Taku somewhat uncomfortable, but at least he made the man happy.

Saru turned around and sat. "Come Taku, take a seat next to me." A stool suddenly appeared from who knows where right next to Saru. Taku gulped and briskly walked to the pond. Feeling somewhat intimidated he sat right next to Saru. At least Saru didn't exude a frightening aura like the Envoy, making being in his presence easier. Nevertheless, his indistinguishable face still made Taku uneasy.

Saru continued fishing. His rod was as simple as could be. A long stick with a wire tied to the end of it. The stick itself looked so ordinary Taku wondered if there was something wrong with his eyes.

"Takunda Gumbo. Taku for short. Am I correct?"