The early spring wind still held onto its winter bite as it rustled through the branches of the trees, green buds barely visible in the sea of browns and greys.
The road had been silent of vehicular activity for quite some time now, the only sound other than the wind was her own breath and footfalls against the pavement. Valhalla knew that she had left major roadways and cities behind long ago, but the last town she had passed through was that morning, and she was sure that it was getting close to evening considering how dark the sky was turning behind the curtain of clouds.
A visible puff of air left her lips, the fog curling and dissipating before her. She wondered if it was going to snow, purple eyes lifting up to gaze at the thick cover above her. Valhalla had heard such a phenomena, but never seen it herself. It would be nice to see before it became too dark to, even if the cold was damper than she was used to.
The Ferngill Republic, by large, was a strange, foreign land full of strange, foreign things. The city she had ended up in when she first set foot onto the territory was a far cry to the war-torn landscape of the Gotoro Empire. Her own homeland was a small sliver in the massive gears that turned the construct that was the Empire, and while the land itself had been consumed and forgotten by the main populace who bumbled about like sheep, Valhalla’s people certainly did not. And they were not people to put their head in the sand.
Yet, regardless of what she had done against the Empire, what she had done to assist the Republic, the people of the Republic eyed her with suspicion and treated her in league as the Empire’s main forces did of her people. She may not have a firm grasp of the language spoken here, but she could read their expressions and body language loud and clear.
The city was a dangerous place for a Gotoroan servant, even if they had defected. They took one look at her and immediately brought her to scorn.
Valhalla endured it with a smile, for she had already made one friend and that was enough for her.
That friend had given her a chance when no one else would- after all, who would hire on someone from the Empire or even let them rent the sleaziest of motels for just one evening? She was the enemy in their eyes, but her dear, small friend had found her a place before he had to leave to study abroad once again. It was how they met- both traveling to the Republic, she away from the war and he from his trip to another far away land to study up on their local history in person.
It was he who let her live in his flat, hidden away like some dark secret in fear of his landlord finding out about her presence. He had been shy and anxious and very bad with people, but Valhalla was good to him and he had warmed up to her tenacity. Yet she couldn’t live in his flat forever, especially when he would be away.
It was a simple, old letter hidden away inside a lockbox for safe keeping that sealed the deal, waking her up in the middle of the night to excited rambling. He had inherited a farm from his great uncle or grandfather of a sort from his mother’s side, and he had the deed to the land and all of its inheritance.
Long story cut short, she owned the land in all but name. Her friend still legally owned it, yes, but he was “loaning” the land out to her to do as she pleased. She couldn’t own the land herself, not with her current status as an undocumented refugee of a sort. But under the table personal deals didn’t need a lawyer or citizenship status, and Valhalla checked every hour to make sure that the letter he had written for her to deliver to a Mr. Lewis Holt to help clear up any misunderstandings.
Virgil, bless his heart, didn’t have time to take her across the country before his own departure, but he had given her enough money and hopefully enough verbal instructions to get to Stardew Valley by bus. He knew that any written instructions would be pointless for her, and so he had done all he could to make sure she understood where she needed to go and what direction she needed to take in order to get there.
He couldn’t have predicted that the bus would kick her off in Zuzu City, leaving her with a single bag that held all her belongings and a basic direction of where she was supposed to go that she remembered from his explanation.
She had been walking since then, leaving the city far behind. Valhalla fervently wished that she had picked up reading the Republic’s main language at any length, as she passed by a few road signs whose letters were entirely illegible to her. She had been too focused in learning how to speak, that things like reading and writing fell at the wayside, and she highly doubted anyone this far east would know a lick of her dialect.
A rumbling of an engine in the distance drew Valhalla out of her musings, head lifting as she rubbed her hands over her bare, uncovered arms as the damp, slightly bitter wind nipped at her skin. She was used to dry cold and heat, not this wet air. But if there was a car coming, perhaps she could be able to flag them down and ask if she was even heading in the right direction.
How horrible it would be if she had to turn around.
A set of headlights popped over the crest of a hill she had past minutes ago, the old truck rumbling into view as she turned her head to look behind her. It slowed in passing her- its bed full of boxes and creates- before stopping a little ways ahead of her, pulling over to the side.
Hopeful, Valhalla curled her fingers around the strap of her bag and trotted over to the window, leaning down so that she could see properly in through the opening from her 6’7’’ height.
A man with glasses rolled the glass down, his brows pinched together in a mixture of concern and something else that Valhalla hadn’t had time to read, as a mass of dark purple pushed its way between the man and the steering wheel.
“Holy shit, your eyes glow!” the girl said, gawking up at Valhalla. She was on the younger side, her face shaped nicely. She was pretty- but Valhalla knew that she was far too old for her. Still, her comment made her face warm as she lifted a hand to scratch at the back of her neck while the older scolded her with an “Abigail!”.
“They... pick up light. Like… cats.” Valhalla tried to explain, slightly amused and relieved that the girl at least seemed intrigued and not scared of her features. They were an old trait that retained within her people- some tales deriving its source from powerful magics or races of people from long ago, and the truth remained in speculation. Out here, it was clear that it was something as foreign as she was.
“That is so cool,” Abigail leaned back into her own seat while the driver let out a sigh and ran a hand through his chestnut locks.
“Regardless of how “cool” it may be, it is rude to stare,” the man admonished- not that the girl particularly seemed to care. “In any case, where were you going at this hour? It is another ten miles to Pelican Town and the next nearest town is miles back in the other direction.”
“I… walk to Pelican Town,” Valhalla admitted. “It is a long journey, but ten more is not so bad.”
The man looked almost horrified at the thought of her walking so far into the middle of no where and was planning on going even further. Even Abigail was staring, her head turning to stare at the older man instead.
“Oh no, no, no. You are not walking ten miles in the dark- not when there’s a spring storm on its way.” The man grumbled something else, his head turned away as he moved things out of the middle seat. “Abigail, move over. Miss, please, get in.”
Valhalla opened her mouth to argue, but caught Abigail’s eye, who shook her head while remaining eye contact while she unbuckled herself to slide to the middle seat. She gave Valhalla a bright smile as she patted the empty seat, leaving her with both silent and verbal invitation to join them inside the truck.
She hesitated for just a moment, the strap of her bag sliding from her shoulder as she ventured around the back, gently tucking the bag between some crates for safe keeping before opening the cab door.
It was a tight fit with three people in the vehicle. It was obvious that it wasn’t made for someone of Valhalla’s size, her broad shoulders encroaching onto Abigail’s territory in the middle while she curled her legs up to fit them in without putting too much pressure onto the dashboard in front of her. She put herself as close as she could to the door to give Abigail some breathing space while the man finished rolling up the window, the gears churning as he pulled back onto the road.
“Your arms are bigger than my entire body,” Abigail whispered in slight exaggeration, her eyes flickering up and down her form in unveiled awe. “You’d put Alex to shame! Wait, are those sandals?”
Valhalla blinked, glancing down at her feet. The sandals were old leather, straps rising high under the torn, tattered jeans that she had scrounged up from a dumpster.
“Yes…?” She wiggled her toes, frowning at the dirt that ground between them under the movement. She didn’t have any other footwear other than what got her across the Empire and now across Ferngill. They were strong despite their age, and served her well. But it was a bit too cold here. The weather was much warmer on the other side of the country, but here the wind was bitter as winter tried to cling onto its slipping reign.
Abigail leaned forward and turned a knob or two on the dash without another word. The warm air suddenly blowing on her toes made Valhalla almost jerk her knee into the door’s side panel in shock, which caused a stifled snort to escape the purple-haired girl, a hand over her mouth.
“How long have you been walking?” the man finally spoke, sparing a glance in her direction before keeping his eyes on the road. “It’s a good twenty-five minute drive back to Redwood from where we picked you up.”
Valhalla hummed, settling her feet back down on the floor and into the warm air. She hadn’t realized how cold her toes were until they had some sort of warmth on them.
“Since Zuzu City,” she replied, eyes on her toes as she flexed them a little under the heat. “Bus wouldn’t let me stay, so I went without it.”
She was too busy admiring her toes to notice the wide-eyed look Abigail gave the man beside her, mouthing out the name of the city in shock or the response of a shake of his head to keep her from asking.
“Well, that is… a bit of a trip,” he supplied instead with a slight clearing of his throat.
“Yes! Not as long as some journeys I have gone on, but it was long enough! At least most paths are in straight lines here.”
“Where are you from?” Abigail decided to pipe in. “You got a nice accent! And can I touch your muscles?”
A small laugh escaped Valhalla before she could help herself, eyes crinkling as she smiled and loosened her arm closest to Abigail to hold out to her in silent invitation.
“I am from Klo. It is… ah… in Empire territory now.” Her smile faded at the thought, even as warm fingers traced over her bicep with curiosity.
“You are a long way from home, then,” the man mused softly. There was no suspicion or anger from learning where she was from, just a mild glance of sympathy. It was far contrast to the sneers from the city folks, watching her as if she was some sort of explosive ready to go off and take them out. “What brings you all the way out to Pelican Town?”
“Farm!” Valhalla perked back up again, excitement radiating through her pores as her fingers absently turned up to snag Abigail’s hand, clinging to her as she beamed. “I got letter for… “Lewis Holt” that says everything!”
“Oh! You’re going to be taking over the old farm on the hill!” It was Abigail’s turn to vibrate with excitement, giving Valhalla’s hand a squeeze as she grinned up at her. “Someone called Lewis awhile ago asking about the place, but hung up as soon as Lewis told them it was still there! Didn’t think anything would come out of it!”
“That was Virgil! He had a letter from his… great grandfather? Great uncle? Some relation! Gave him land! He’s letting me use it!”
“That is very nice of him,” the man smiled, turning his head enough to keep one eye on the road but sparing Valhalla a glance. “Lewis will be ecstatic to see Erwan’s old farm to be put back to use. It is going to need a ton of work, though. I own the general store in town, so if you ever need any seed or fertilizers, I’m the person to call!”
“Dad just wants a profit,” Abigail whispered conspiringly behind a hand, her grin too wide to be anything maleficent.
“Building a loyal customer base never hurts!” the man huffed, although there was a slight twitch in the corner of his mouth to hint that he wasn’t upset by his daughter’s words. “Speaking of which, I don’t believe we have properly introduced. I am Pierre. This troublemaker is my daughter, Abigail.”
“Call me Valhalla!” she returned the introduction, beaming at them both. “Thank you for the ride!”
“We couldn’t just leave you out to wander around in the dark,” Abigail grinned, a bony elbow digging into Valhalla’s side in a teasing gesture. “Besides, it’s not my first stray I brought home! Mom won’t flip like she did the last time!”
“People aren’t strays, Abigail. And your mother only got upset because you brought home a rock crab.”
“It was cute!”
“It ate through our living room wall!”
Valhalla leaned back against the door as she laughed, the sound deep and rich as she brought a hand to her face. The sound caused the bickering to stop as both stared at their passenger until Pierre remembered he was supposed to be driving and brought his eyes back onto the road.
It was very dark by the time the first signs of life flickered through the trees. Pierre had gone off the paved roadway and onto a dirt road, taking a back route towards their home.
“There is Joja out here?” Valhalla asked with a furrow of her brow in confusion as she spotted the familiar glare and concrete of its lights. It was closest to the main road, the building blocking out the lights from the tiny parking lot before it was consumed by trees.
“Yes,” Pierre replied, his tone curt as his knuckles whitened on the steering wheel. Valhalla blinked at him, frowning at his reaction before remembering that Pierre ran a store in town. It was, perhaps, a rivalry, then.
“I do not like the Joja,” she added on, a serious nod of her head as she turned her eyes towards the darkness outside. “They are the wrong blue.”
A snort escaped Abigail, followed by a muffled giggling as she tried to hide behind her hands.
“’The wrong blue’,” she wheezed out, lowering her hands enough to give Valhalla a pat on the arm. “You are the best, Val.”
Even Pierre had a softer look on his face again, a hint of a smile on the corners of his lips. Valhalla couldn’t help but beam at them, even though she wasn’t sure why they found her words to be funny. Joja was the wrong blue- it was too starch and glaring and sad. It made her eyes hurt looking at it.
The truck eventually rumbled over a crest of a hill, and a tiny town blinked into view. Valhalla pressed her close against the glass, a soft sound of awe escaping her throat.
“Pretty,” she whispered, admiring the lights of the quaint town. There wasn’t very many buildings, but it had such a welcoming feel even in the dark that it made her feel entirely relaxed for the first time since stepping first into the Republic.
“It is even better in the daylight,” Pierre mused with a smile, pulling up beside a building. The headlights flicked off while the door to the store opened, a woman with hair as green as the future leaves on the trees stepping out onto the lit porch.
“Hi mom!” Abigail called as soon as Pierre stepped out of the car, barreling out through the driver’s side. “Look what I brought home!”
Valhalla could see Pierre roll his eyes behind his glasses before she focused on getting out herself, sandals hitting soft soil and cobblestone as she rounded around the truck and into the light of the street.
“Oh! Well, hello.” The woman’s eyes turned upward, her voice soft and surprise written on her face. She was most likely expecting a dog or another critter- not a person. Valhalla smiled down at her in any case.
“This is Valhalla, mom!” Abigail popped up beside Valhalla, her head barely reaching her shoulder. “Dad ran her over with the truck and is now trying to bribe her into not suing him before she keels over with mortal injuries!”
“Abigail!” Pierre groaned, pushing his glasses up to pinch the bridge of his nose while Abigail laughed “I did not run anyone over!”
“You have a very good family,” Valhalla murmured to the green-haired woman while Abigail continued to banter over the prospect of her actually being a zombie and would only buy things from Pierre with money from questionable origins- while Pierre denied it all and tried to tell her to stop being so morbid.
The woman smile was gentle when she turned to watch the two.
“Yoba has blessed me,” she replied, before her gaze lifted up to Valhalla. “My name is Caroline. It is a pleasure to meet a new face. Are you planning on staying long?”
Valhalla looked on at the father and daughter pair, gazing beyond at the little lights in the cobblestone square and cute little houses that loomed out in the darkness. The entire town permeated a sense of tranquility that settled somewhere within her chest, smoothing aches and pains that she had carried since the war first started in the Gotoro Empire.
“Yes,” she replied with a growing smile. “I think I will stay for a long time.”