Chapter 4: [DEW] Makin' (Some) Progress
I woke with a start to the sound of Star dropping something in the kitchen. I suppressed a groan as my body jumped in reflex; it was way too early in the morning for this right now. My entire being still felt like lead as I struggled to comprehend the world as Star sent an apology towards me.
"What time is it…?" I managed to mumble, sleep still heavy in my voice as I pulled the covers over my eyes. Robin had popped by on our third day in the valley to fix the shutters of my window, but there was still a little crack that the sun dared to peek on me through.
"It's… it's about 5:30," my sister responded after double checking the time. "Sorry to wake you… I dropped the frying pan."
I think I murmured in response – it was actually really hard to issue a reply. My eyelids felt heavy as my head spun from lack of sleep. I felt muscles I never knew existed ache every second in painful throes. I curled in on myself to try to ease my pulsating body with intentions to block out the world and go back to sleep, but I felt something gently shake my shoulder.
"Time to get up, Dew. We have work to do."
"Mmm… no… I'm tired…"
"I am too. But this is the life we chose, so we've got to deal with it."
It was exhausting to hear Star repeat that everyday. I didn't voice it, but I knew that (she reminded me enough, so I couldn't forget). I knew that it was our choice to move out here from our boring desk job, but she kept grating me with it every time I didn't immediately move to do something in the name of the farm.
Without another word, I slowly sat up, the light blanket falling off my body as I did. I was hit with a rush of cool, stagnant air with a shiver. I brought a hand to my eyes, rubbing the sleep out of them while easing the burning sensation. Star walked back to the kitchen, where she was concocting who-knows-what for breakfast.
My warm feet hit the cold wooden floor as I sat at the edge of the bed. A hand found my tangled hair, brushing it out gently as I stood up. With Star in the kitchen, already dressed now that I notice, I went to change in the bathroom and freshen up before I shoveled whatever she was making into my mouth as a form of sustenance. Star notice me finally moving like a functional person of society, sending a smile towards my grumpy face as I shuffled towards the tiny shared bathroom.
When I finally walked out of the bathroom – fully dressed, teeth brushed and hair… well, somewhat decent – Star was plating our breakfast. It didn't look all too appetizing as I sat at the table to get a closer look. Something that looked like porridge (more like lumpy goop) topped with some wild berries next to a plate of a single egg and a glass of fresh milk was what I was supposed to eat. While I have had worse, it wasn't what I really wanted. But thinking back to last night when I was struggling to make supper from our slowly diminishing stock of food, it made sense.
Our food supplies were starting to become worrisome. Star was spending all of our money on seeds – not that I don't trust her – but we haven't really bought groceries since we arrived. We have bought a few essentials – eggs, milk, cooking oil, etc. – but even that was becoming a rare occurrence as more and more seeds got planted.
"Breakfast any good?" my twin asked, drawing me away from my thoughts.
I took a breath as I shoveled another mouthful of lumpy goop into my mouth. "Yeah… it's edible." Maybe that was a little harsh (or maybe it's not), but Star just nodded her head sleepily in agreement.
"So…" I filled the air after she fell silent. "What did you want me to do today?"
I've been pretty much banned from tending to the plants of the farm, after a few mishaps involving overwatering, harvesting them wrong (apparently grabbing parsnips by the greens and yanking them out of the ground is considered "wrong"), while also including the seed-fiasco on our first day. While I didn't see it as much of a problem, Star was worried that I would accidentally kill them one way or another (something that I silently took offence to), but it's Star, and I don't usually argue with her... she usually knows what she's talking about.
"Well…" Star mumbled, sipping from her milk quickly before diving into her apron pocket. She pulled out her notepad that she's been using since we moved out here, flipping through the already worn pages.
It's something that she refers to often. While Star has a very structured life (in comparison to my own, live-by-the-moment strategy), she relied on her list far too often. In school, she always had a day planner to make sure she focused on what she needed to – making sure she was studying the right courses at the right time, getting her homework done, practicing the harp that she was learning for some reason, writing her stories, and so on. Even now, she relied on the list too much, as if our life was nothing but tasks we had to complete to unlock the next one.
A hum from Star broke me from my thoughts as she put the top of her pen to her chin, her eyes rereading her notes as she contemplated.
"Okay… So, Marnie mentioned that there were some old structures on the farm, remember? And Abigail mentioned it being near a "lake", which we agreed wasn't that small one near the entrance of the farm…"
"So, you want me to go find it?"
She nodded, the action causing her bangs to fall in front of her eyes, which she quickly brushed away. "If you don't mind… I think it would be beneficial if we're able to get an early start on raising animals too, but we'd have to finish clearing the farm first before we move onto that. And while you're out there, keep an eye out for some wild berries and stuff. They're good for breakfast and salads."
I nearly sighed at the idea of running out of food, but the thought of raising animals improved my mood, the achiness of my body lessoning just a little. Having little chicks and cows running around the farm would be awesome, and would give me something better to do with my time. Animals always seemed to like me more than Star (I was a big fan of the petting zoo because of it), although Star was always better with plants in turn.
"Alrighty! I'll get a start on the grand search when we go! Imagine us having animals on the farm, Star! It would be so awesome and cute as they run around, mooing and clucking in their happy little world as I take care of them. Of course, we'd have to fence them in so they don't run away or trample your crops because I don't think you'd appreciate that or anything but –"
There was a knock on the door in the middle of my sentence, reminding me to breathe as my words ceased. Star had gotten up and taking our empty dishes to the kitchen as I ranted, so it wasn't her who knocked.
"Who's that?" I asked, obviously confused. It was weird for someone to knock on our door. While the valley was much friendlier than the city – there was a real sense of community here – there shouldn't really be any reason why someone was at our door this early in the morning… although, the more I think about it, there was no real reason why were up so early…
Star slowly dried her hands as she walked to the door, taking the hand towel with her. I stayed seated, seeing no real urge to get up. Whoever it was probably wanted Star anyway, and if not, Star would be the better one to talk to.
Something small rushed in through the opened door, meowing as it did. My eyes immediately widened as the kitten took residence on my bed, despite being in a weird place that it wasn't familiar with. I jumped up, approaching the calico kitten with caution as to not disturb it.
"Well, good morning Marnie!" Star greeted with a laugh after watching where the cat ran off too.
I heard the woman respond, but I was more distracted with the creature.
As the young cat snuggled into the white sheets, it suddenly rolled over and I caught its gaze – feline hazel ones that were flecked with multiple colours just as its coat was. The base creamy orange colour had white around the muzzle, chest, and bottom of its legs. The kitten's ears and tail were black, a colour which covered half of its face (which, when covering one half, possibly looked like two different cats) and then seemed to drip down its back. It was as if someone had spilled black paint on an orange and white kitten – making it incredibly unique and unmistakably cute!
I picked up the kitten after it allowed me to pet it. It didn't seem to mind me much as it mewled once, before settling into my arms. Holding the tiny creature reminded me of Miso and when we first got her. I felt waves of nostalgia overwhelm me as I slowly walked to the door, only slightly curious what Marnie was talking about as my hand found the automatic motion of petting.
I stood next to Star, giving Marnie a shy smile when she noticed me.
"Well! Doesn't someone feel right at home," the woman laughed, gesturing to the kitten who purred gently in my arms.
"Marnie was just saying how she found this little thing hanging around. While she's not against having a cat, she's worried that it would go after her chickens. So, she was asking if we wanted to take care of him," Star filled me in, giving me a knowing look when she mentioned about keeping him.
Once again, my eyes widened as my smile grew. I was careful not to squeeze the kitten too hard as I stared at Star excitedly, hoping that she would give in without too much effort. "Can we Star? Can we keep him? Please?"
I could tell she was hesitant. The look in her eyes told me that she was thinking about our old cat, and how we had to leave her with Mom and Dad where she was so old. If it wasn't for that, we would've had her with us: something that Star knew.
With a sigh, I watched as my sister crumble under my doggy-eyed stare. She nodded without any words, and I felt a rush of triumph as I grinned. I kissed the top of the kitten's head, which bothered him. His claws dug into my arms (something I was used to from Miso, and probably had a few scars to show for), so I let him down again. He ran back into the house, exploring everything as he sniffed around cautiously.
"Thank you, girls. It would have been sad if he didn't have a home. I think I might have an extra food and water bowl at the ranch, and Pierre might sell cat food at his shop. If not, I'm sure he'd be more than happy to order some in for you."
"Oh," Star exclaimed, taken back by her hospitality. To be fair, growing up in a cold-hearted city prepared you for a world that didn't care. Being in such a close-knit community certainly had its perks, but it was a huge transition for us that even almost two weeks in, we weren't used to it in comparison to our twenty-two years in the big city.
"Thank you, Marnie… You really don't have to."
"Don't worry about it, dears. It's the least I can do as you're adopting the little guy. Speaking of, what are you going to name him?"
"I want something similar to Miso!" I said without warning. I turned to look back into our dark cottage, since the only light source was the lit fireplace (the window by our table had the shutters drawn.) I quickly spotted the new member of our family crawling out of the bathroom, nose perked into the air as he took another curious sniff.
"Well, how about Tofu?"
"Ooh! I like that name Star. Tofu fits him perfectly," I sang, running after him as he decided to duck under the table.
"Haha!" the older woman at our door laughed as she watched me chase after the cat. "Tofu is a cute name for him," she complimented. "Anyway, I'll drop by later with the bowls, and I'll see what I can do about food for him for now, since I'm dumping him on you out of nowhere."
"No, we – "
Marnie put her hand up, shaking her head at Star's protests, "Don't worry about it, honey. If I'm by later and don't see you around, just check your mailbox – I'll leave the stuff in there for you girls."
"Thank you very much, Marnie," Star smiled earnestly. "We really appreciate this… And thank you for the new pet. I think Dew will enjoy having him around."
With that, the woman sent her goodbyes to use as she left us to our own devices, which was Star putting her red rubber boots on, while I messed around with Tofu.
"Alright Dew. Playtime's over. You have a barn and coop to find. Tofu will be here when we get back later on."
I pouted at my sister as she chastised me. I left Tofu alone as I shuffled over to the door, dreading having to put on my heavy steel-toed boots. I did it without complaint though, as Star disappeared back into our kitchen to grab a plastic baggy for any berries I were to find. By the time she returned, I had both of my boots on and laced.
She handed me the baggy, something that I added to my tiny rucksack. We left the house and into the early morning of the valley – but not before I filled a small, temporary bowl of water for Tofu.
Star hurried towards her crops, ignoring me while I decided to check our mailbox. Star was usually on top of it, but she was beginning to become obsessed with her patch of soil. My eyebrow rose as I noticed the little red flag poking up.
"Whoa, hey. Star, look at this."
She seemed confused as I called her over, holding the envelope that was in our mailbox. It was a letter from Joja Corp., making my stomach drop. I didn't want to think it was somehow related to our old job, that for some reason they were looking and that they managed to find us. I held the unopened envelope to Star, watching her face fall just as mine did.
"Why is it from Joja?" she questioned, taking it from my fingers.
I shook my head, shrugging my shoulders. I watched her as she made quick work of the envelope, taking whatever was inside out so we could read it. I could have sworn I saw her hands shake, but I wasn't sure… although, I couldn't blame her if they were. After years of working with them, we try to get away, but we are never truly far enough away from such a monstrous beast.
She unfolded the tri-folded letter, reading it over once before aloud to me.
"To our valued JojaMart customers:" she began, if not a little snarky.
"Our team members have removed the landslide caused by our drilling operations near the mountain lake. I'd like to remind you that our drilling operation is entirely legal –" she paused, "– under some law that we don't care about…" I narrowed my eyes. Something that has to remind you it's legal, doesn't exactly sound good. "Responsible stewardship of the local environment is our top priority."
"Since when was that a thing? We definitely wasted tons of paper at work…"
Star ignored my comment, "We apologize for any inconvenience this accident may have caused. As always, we value year continued support and patronage… Signed by someone named Morris."
"Well… that could have been worse…"
Star hummed, seemingly sharing the same fear I did. "I think I remember Clint saying something about this… He bid for the contract to remove it, so I guess Joja wasn't really worried about it at first until he went to go do it himself."
"Wait, so the town paid Joja to fix something that they messed up…?"
My sister made a face, also trying to figure it out. It shouldn't surprise us though; despite what they say, Joja Corp. is purely about making money. They want you to believe they are there for the consumer, but behind the scenes have the same consumers slaving away behind jails of paperclips and metal desks.
"Well… I guess we have the mines available now… Clint also mentioned that we could get cheaper upgrades if we supply the materials for him so – "
"So that means we can go spelunking?"
"Well… it's not that simple, Dew. I mean, we still need to work on the farm first – that's our top priority. Then we have to go over some safety precautions which I'll have to check out at the library… Then there's an issue with monsters that Clint mentioned that now run the mine. We have no weapons to protect ourselves at all, either… which costs more money if we get Clint to make us one each."
"What a way to put a damper on my mood," I pouted, narrowing my eyes accusingly at her.
My sister just smiled in return, pocketing the letter in her apron. "Come on, we'll discuss this later. We have work to be done."
With that, we went our separate ways. She went towards her crops, which were quite sizable by now. I trekked further south of our barely functioning farm, away from what could be considered civilized. We started to clear out the forest that was growing, but we weren't exactly sure how big our plot was. The locals weren't able to give us an accurate description of the farm, nor did we have a map for it. We were lucky enough that we received an old map from Lewis in the mail within the next day of Star asking. While it wasn't the most updated thing, it was certainly helpful getting around town and getting used to the layout.
Taking my sickle out of my pack, I stared into the sea of green. It was denser than I would have liked it to be, as I thought about how tiring it was, going through all the bushes and shrubs. While it was much easier, and quicker, than chopping every individual tree down, but after days of the same monotonous chopping, rolling and clearing of the debris, I've been feeling more drained than I ever have before. There was definitely a different kind of exhaustion sitting behind a desk all day long – more of a mental exhaustion – but working day-in-day-out on a farm produced that, as well as a physical exhaustion that seemed to be felt right to the bones.
With a sigh, I gave up my mental torture and waded into the brush. I used my sickle to kill some of the grass, so I could maneuver much easier. I heard birds squawk in the trees above me, watching butterflies flutter about. The rising sun poked between the swaying leaves from above me as I took a large breath of the fresh valley air. As a gentle breeze caused the budding leaves to rustle softly against one another, I couldn't help but feel the physical stress on my body lesson.
My eyes fell from the sky and landed on a bush of bright red berries. I grinned widely as I waded over to it, quickly taking my rucksack off my bag so I could grab the plastic baggy that Star gave me earlier. While it was a little early for them to be ripen, sometimes you just get lucky. It was going to be nice to have these for supper tonight – maybe I'll make a Salmonberry salad, or something like that for when Star comes in later that evening.
Star tended to come in way after I did. While she was usually up before me with breakfast cooked or still on the stove (sometimes making me want to wake up before her just so I could be in charge), I was always the one to cook supper as she continued to care for her plants or clear more of the farm. It was worrying how much time she actually spent here, I honestly don't think she needed to be hanging around 24/7. I know we're still new to this life, and Star is still grasping the change from her old structured life to this new harrowing one, but the amount of effort she was putting into this was starting to make me worry about her health. If I was feeling this tired just from chopping a few trees and breaking a few stones, I could only imagine how Star was feeling as she as she continued in her work while I headed inside, calling it a day… this has been like it since the start.
As I closed the baggy, full of berries for tonight's supper, I made a note to talk with Star about my concerns for her. I wasn't sure if she would listen to me, but it couldn't hurt to try.
The splooshing of water broke me from my thoughts as I placed the baggy back where I got it from. I stood up straight, listening carefully for any other sounds. It sounded like it came from my left, so I headed in that direction, even further south of where I was standing.
Pushing past a spiny pine tree, I came across a shadowed lake, where the sun peered through the trees which caused a twinkling reflection across the surface. I stood in silence for a second as I watched a wild rabbit take a drink from the opposite shore before scampering off into the thicket.
I felt proud of myself for coming so far, looking back from where I came. I couldn't see exactly where I came from, but I doubted I would really get lost. So, with that in mind, I circled the lake, careful I didn't fall into it. If I did, there was no Star to grab a hold of to steady myself.
Coming to the west side of the lake, I decided that's where I would start my search. If I keep the body of water behind me, I shouldn't get too lost as my hands found the rough bark of another tree – I think it was supposed to be oak. I kept my eyes peeled for anything that looked like a structure of sorts, while occasionally swinging my scythe to kill some weeds.
Without warning, my scythe hit something hard, triggering me to call out in surprise. I nearly dropped it as it stuck into some piece of wood, causing me some confusion as there was no tree in front of me. After freeing my tool, I cleared the tall grass with my hand, revealing an old post of rotting wood.
It was standing crooked, although I was certain it wasn't because of me. There was, however, a sickle-shaped wedge in the side of it. The wood was dry, but it was obvious that it was carefully cut to size with two, smaller pieces of wood sticking out horizontally on either side.
A closer look revealed that the horizontal logs were connected to similar posts to the one I found, although very decrepit. It wasn't connected correctly, with places the wood being snapped in two. It didn't take much for me to realize that it was supposed to be an old fence.
I cleared the fence, figuring that my destination was just beyond it. The fence was probably used to separate the animals from the rest of the farm, so they wouldn't wander off or anything. It was surprising that it was still standing, twenty years later and all, but there were other testaments of time that were more impressive.
I sucked in a breath as I gazed upon the old building before me. It was smaller than I expected – the coop I assumed. It actually didn't seem to be in bad shape, after all these years. I felt the overwhelming urge to explore it myself, but I didn't actually know how stable the building was. I don't think Star would appreciate it if I entered the structure without her anyway, so I decided to look for the barn that was said to be nearby.
I reluctantly passed the coop, making sure I get a better look of the old shack as I passed it. It still didn't look that bad – perhaps missing a few tiles from the roof, and in need of a new door, among other things.
Not even ten feet away from the coop, I found another building, but this one I did not want to enter. It was much larger than the coop, so I assumed this was the barn, but it was in a much worse state than it. A tree had fallen onto the top, caving in half of the roof. Panels were missing from the sides while it looked like one of the sides was on the verge of collapsing. Just standing near the barn felt like I was going to knock it over with a single breath.
Even so, it felt weird looking at both of the buildings. These were where our grandpa and dad used to work in everyday. This used to be their livelihood, Poppy Droppy more so. I got a real sense of time, thinking how long these structures were standing here, void of any life for nearly two decades. While the cottage we lived in now had the same story, there was an eerie sentiment with staring at the wooden shacks, reclaimed by the forest once more.
I didn't stay there much longer, figuring that I should probably grab Star to show her what I found. It was significantly easier whacking my way out of the brush – I just followed my previous path of destruction. When I emerged, my eyes immediately found Star hunched over by her crops, meticulously watering her plants.
"Yo, Star!" I yelled out, pushing back the thoughts of calling her out on working too much on her crops.
She stood up with her watering can in her arms, looking over to me with a nod in affirmation that she was listening. Instead of yelling out, I just gestured for her to come over to show her my findings. She seemed hesitant, but I couldn't exactly see her expression. Finally, she started to work her way over to me, keeping emotion off her face as she dumped the rest of her water onto the dry dirt so she could put it away, wiping her wet hands into her apron.
"I found the barn and coop!" I explain, feeling energy beginning to bubble in me once again.
Star looked surprised, but pleased about my proclamation. Wordlessly, she followed me back into the thicket where I showed her where the lake was, where she took notes on the location (which I don't know why, it wasn't that hard to find it – just head south!). Star kept looking around, noting the surroundings as if trying to commit everything to memory as we hopped the fence, approaching the coop.
"It looks to be in okay condition," I explain as we stopped in front of it. Star had her nose in her notebook again, diligently taking notes about the state of the coop. "I didn't go inside just in case it was worse off than I imagined."
"Hmm… Yeah, that's good, Dew. It might look safe, but we don't know how rotten the wood is… Did you locate the barn?"
"Yeah," I nodded, turning to walk towards the barn. "But, it doesn't look too good… considering there's a tree crashing down on it."
I waited for Star's assessment as I kicked a small pebble before digging my boot into the dirt. The area immediately surrounding both buildings were void of trees, but they were encircled with the forest that tried to encompass them.
"Okay… So I already spoke with Robin about repairs," Star began, flipping through her pages. "It's significantly cheaper for a repair, as long as we supply the materials. That shouldn't be too hard, as we're clearing our farm anyway and there's tons of resources on it…"
I nodded slowly, taking in her words.
"… I think the coop would be good enough for a repair, but we'll have to ask Robin about that before we set our hearts on it. The barn on the other hand… well, it looks like we'll just have to ignore it for now. There's no way that's safe enough for a repair job. It looks structurally unstable, and getting that tree off the roof without collapsing the entire building would be very difficult… Not to mention the falling wall or the cracking foundation…"
"Aw… I really wanted some cute cows and sheep."
"Eventually, Dew. We'll have to cross that bridge when we get to it, but for now we'll focus on the coop. And, in order to do that, we need to clear out this part of the farm, so we can get Robin in to actually assess it first."
I felt the scythe in my hand weigh ten times more at the mention of clearing more of the farm. While I really want a coop to finally feel like I'm doing something productive with the farm, I don't think I have the strength to clear any more trees today… or the next week. I could barely swing my scythe with my noodle-y arms as it was, let alone the repetitive action of chopping wood and smashing stone.
"I don't really want to clear any more farm right now, Star…" I sighed, hunching over with my arms dangling in front of me.
"Dew… We must though. It's not going to work itself, you know."
"I know that… I'm just…" Tired? Exhausted? Mentally unable to psych myself into doing it at the moment? "I just want to do something else for a change. I'm getting tired of doing the same thing everyday."
Star wanted to say something, I could tell. The excuse I gave her wasn't well thought out, but it was all I had that wasn't complaining that I was just exhausted. I knew this was going to be a hard job getting into it; I don't want Star to turn around and say that this was a terrible idea and that I wasn't mature enough to live this through. The last thing I wanted was for her to regret this on-the-fly decision about coming here.
"… Alright… What is it you wanted to do?" she asked skeptically, eyeing me as I fidgeted under her stare.
"Um… how about checking out the mine? I mean, um, it'd be good to get off the farm for a change of scenery and all and uh, it'd be cool to check out the mine and all. You, um, mentioned that we could get some ores for Clint to uh, upgrade our equipment and all… Maybe I could just, um, check out the mine to see what it's like and all, and uh, you're welcomed to come too, because I haven't really uh, seen you off the farm since we, um, got here so it could be cool if we, just, um, check it out together and all…"
Star took a long time to respond as she took in my words. She played with her pen – clicking it repeatedly as she chewed the inside of her cheek as she thought. She was debating with herself on whether or not to let me go but eventually she flipped through her notepad.
"Well… I do need a better watering can… The one I have is leaking, and it's pretty small… And Clint said he'd work with our stuff for a cheaper price if it was any good, so I'd have to look into how to make proper ingots… which would require a lot of ores just as tests, let alone good ones he can work with… then there's the issue about not having a furnace so we'd have to look into getting one of those…" she muttered to herself, adding a few notes to her ever expanding list.
I stood there, waiting for her to decipher her thoughts written on paper. It was something that she did often, and made me wonder if she ever noticed that she tended to talk out loud to herself in such situations. It was similar to my rants that I know I did, but sort of did without realizing.
"But there's also monsters we have to worry about," she spoke up, directing it to me.
Right… That was something we weren't really familiar with. The city was pretty much void of any monsters. They were just things we learned in textbooks alongside exotic animals; just something we'd never really had to worry about. It was just another thing we'd never have the (mis)fortune to see.
"Well… We just won't go near them… and when we scrape money together, we can buy a weapon?"
"Without training though? We should at least – "
I sighed, "Star… it's not like it's an unknown cave we'd be trekking into. The locals know about it, and maybe it's not as bad as it seems. Maybe the monsters live deeper in it, so we can just mine the stuff on top without having to disturb them."
My sister still didn't want to agree with me, so I flashed her my puppy-dog look. She gave an annoyed face the second she saw it, but my charms never ceased to fail me as I watched her crumble yet again.
"… Go pack a lunch for us while I finish watering and weeding. And make sure you leave behind most of your equipment with the exception of your pickaxe and hoe."
I might've accidentally left Star standing in the middle of our forest (and totally not almost falling into the lake because I forgot about it) as I rushed towards the house. It took me no time in making some tuna sandwiches for us to take, with the berries I picked this morning washed and divided into two separate baggies. I looked for our new kitten, finding him chilling in the bathtub for some reason, throwing him a piece of tuna to tie him over until we get back from our excursion.
When I excitedly exited the house after leaving my tools at the edge of my bed, Star was still on her hands and knees, doing who-knows-what to her plants. Plant-y things, I suppose.
"You ready to go?" I asked, rolling from the balls of my feet to my heels in an impatient manner. While my body still ached, the idea of exploring a dark cave infested with monsters was, while scary, too epic to pass up. If it goes well, then I'd have awesome stories to tell Mom and Dad the next time I talk to them (although it would probably give Mom a heart attack).
"No… Not yet. You can go on ahead, I shouldn't be too long. I just need to make sure that these new seeds are taking well… I'm worried that they got washed out in the storm we had…"
Pursing my lips, I nodded silently as I stood watching her sift through the dirt gently, looking for any signs of life… whatever those were.
Seeing that she wasn't moving anytime soon, I started to work my way from the farm and down to town. I passed the bus stop, noting the broken-down bus sitting alone, just chilling on the shoulder of the road. I still wondered where it came from, but haven't really had the nerve to ask anyone about it. Instead, I've been ignoring it for now as I slowly weeded my way into the ranks of a regular local, although I was having a much more difficult time with it then Star was… when she actually left the farm.
While having Star with me when I was around others made it much easier, I usually walked around with my head down, only saying "hi" if they were to initiate the conversation first. I felt more comfortable with some of the villagers more than others – people like Sam and Robin made it really easy to want to be friends with them, but people like Shane or Haley made it a lot more… complicated.
I passed Pierre's store, something I was becoming well acquainted with as Star and I made it a point to avoid the JojaMart at all costs. We worked there for far too many years; we came here to escape that life, not just to feed back into it.
As I climbed the stairs, watching as the old community centre come into sight as I crested the top. It was an eyesore – the decrepit building falling into shambles at the seams. Mayor Lewis already explained the origins of the centre, where it used to be one of the centrepieces of the town, but after our grandfather's passing, fell into disrepair. There wasn't any money in the town's budget after a few seasons of bad storms which caused it to be left forgotten.
I got a sad aura radiating off of the quiet building. I could imagine how it could be the highlight of the town, bustling with people in and out. There seemed to be a real sense of community that still penetrates the walls, but now is a neglected relic of the town's history.
As I went to move up the mountain towards the mine, something caught my attention. I swore I saw something flash from within the abandoned building – the left window to be exact, causing me to stop in my tracks. Well, I thought it was abandoned, but it wasn't too dangerous to enter so I wouldn't be surprised if some of the kids around town use it as somewhere to play.
Looking around, not seeing Star coming along and figuring she was going to be a little longer, I decided to go inside. It couldn't hurt to see what was going on in there – if anything it would suffice my curiosity. My hands found the heavy door, opening it with a large squeak. If Jas or Vincent were in here playing, it certainly alerted them of my presence.
The inside of the centre didn't look any different from the last time I was here with Star and Lewis. There was a weird little hut in the opposite corner of the busted fish tank, next to the fireplace. Wooden floorboards were missing in places where the exposed dirt allowed weeds to grow. I shuffled forward, rubbing my exposed arm as a weird crackle of energy filled the air.
"Hello?" I called out, feeling like it was the only thing I could do.
I got no response, something that didn't sit well with me. I swore I saw something from the outside, but there didn't seem to be anyone here. I decided to check it out anyway, being careful to step on boards that looked like it was safe to walk on, so my feet didn't get stuck in the floor.
I walked to the west wing, studying the chipping paint of the wooden panels. I came across an old room on my right, which looked like an old empty pantry. On my left, there was a light pouring out from a different room. Curious, I approached it, thinking it couldn't be the sun by the way it was casting onto the floor. I hesitantly poked my head around the corner, catching the glimpse of something in front of a golden box in the center of the blue room.
I blinked twice, my mind thinking I saw an apple-like creature vanishing before my eyes, but I shook it off, turning my attention to the only light source in the room. The golden box in the middle was literally the only thing in it as I approached it. There were weird scribbles written on the lid, in a language I couldn't quite understand with the shape of a tree on it. My hands moved to open it, to find it empty, but quite spacious. Although it seemed that the box was stuck steadfast to the ground, it was weird that it was here to begin with.
Movement behind me alerted me to turn around, the box lid still in hand. Again, I saw a glimpse of that apple thing as it dashed back into the hallway towards the main door.
I quickly returned the lid of the box back, following after the strange creature I wasn't sure was real. I was only catching quick glances at it before it disappeared from my sight, causing me to wonder if I was just losing my mind in this weird place.
It seemed, however, that I wasn't losing my mind as next to the weird hut thing in the main room bounced my little round friend. It squeaked at me as it flailed its little noodle arms, staring up at me with big eyes.
Kindred noodle-y armed creature… I feel a connection.
I had to control myself before I bounced on it because it was so adorable. It was green and looked very apple-like, complete with a single green leaf on its stem. It bounced towards the fireplace where on top of the mantle was six empty slots for stars, something I didn't notice the first time I entered. It continued to squeak before I heard something behind me open the door, causing the little creature to vanish before my eyes.
"Dew? You in there?"
My sister pushed open the door with a scowl on her face. She didn't look too impressed that I was in here without permission, as well as wasting her time for no apparent reason. She was pretty calm in her scolding, however.
"What are you even doing in here?" she settled on.
"Well I saw something flash in here while I was going to the mine and omigosh Star. I saw the cutest little creature ever! I swear, it looked like a little green apple with noodle arms and the cutest little eyes and it was bouncing all over the place. I found it in one of the rooms where there's this weird golden box with strange lettering on it and I don't know what it says but I think it lives here or something."
"… A little green apple creature? Dew, are you all right?"
"Yes," I exasperated, offended that she would even ask that. "Why, you don't believe me?"
I suppose she had no real reason to believe me, except for my word that something exists here. To be honest, I don't even know what I saw, despite being pretty sure that I did see something. Maybe it wasn't anything, but with the weird energy still radiating through the air, I couldn't help but believe it does.
"No, not really…" she admitted.
"Well, I'm pretty sure it lives in that hut thingy over there," I explained, pointing to it. "I'm going to check it out the next time I get a chance."
"I wouldn't bother with that, Dew. One of the kids probably made it to play in. And you probably just saw a rat carrying a fruit or something. I doubt there's a noodle-y armed apple roaming this place."
"But what about the box – "
She waved a hand dismissively. "Come on. Let's go – you were the one who wanted to visit the mines after all," Star urged with a smile.
I sighed in defeat, nodding to her as she led the way outside. I took a look over my shoulder, straining to catch one more glimpse of whatever made this community centre it's home. Unfortunately, I didn't see anything except an old building collecting dust. I frowned, but I didn't say anything as I closed the door behind me, the image of the little thing and the box burned deep into my mind.
Star pretty much dragged me to the mine now, the complete turn of events in comparison to earlier. While I was still excited about exploring the depths of the cave, the community centre wouldn't stray too far from my mind. We passed Robin's cabin in silence as my mind tried to rationalize what I saw. I wanted to believe Star and that I was imagining it, but I was certain I know what I saw. Very rarely did I doubt Star with things like these – my imagination was very wild at times, but this was something I'm too certain about.
We stopped at the bridge that we were told led to the mines. When we first came here, the path was blocked off by a huge landslide. There was no way to get over it without the risk of falling into the lake. There were no signs that there was ever a landslide now, cleaned almost too perfectly by the company that caused it originally.
"Welp!" I exclaimed, popping the "p". "You ready to go in?"
"Yeah… I guess. But we must be careful, Dew. We don't know anything about this mine; it could be really unstable for all we know, let alone the monsters inside. We have to stay close together, it's probably really dark and we didn't think to bring a flashlight…" she trailed off, putting the palm of her hand to her forehead the second she realized that we didn't exactly plan this very well.
"Okay, okay… I won't wander too far away from you, and we're only checking it out first, right? So, we won't be going too far in. We'll just explore it a little, take it all in, before leaving and planning a proper descent next time!"
That seemed to ease Star's stress a little as she nodded, taking out her notepad and flipping to a fresh page, making a separate list for what I assumed was what we'd need for the mine. I looked over her shoulder, straining to see as she wrote a new list.
O Pickaxe (upgrade?)
O Sword (Clint?)
O Lights (flashlight or torches)
O Head to library to research mining techniques and safety
She tapped her notepad with the tip of her pen, creating a pool of ink on her paper. With a nod, she put it away, looking directly at me with a touch of uncertainty, but she seemed ready otherwise. Leading the way, I crossed the bridge without further discussion as we approached the destination of our possible demise. I felt my energy levels spike as we stood in front of the mine's entrance. I could still feel Star's hesitance, but I took her hand with a smile, leading her inside.
It wasn't actually that dark inside, with torches lining the wall. In front of us was an old rickety elevator, and to our left was a minecart. Near the bottom right corner was a ladder where we heard something climbing up it. We shared a looked between one another before I carefully crept over to the hole. I was careful with my footing against the rich brown rock as to not make too much noise as Star was close behind me.
An old man hobbled up the ladder, grunting with the effort. He laid a gleaming silver sword on the ground in front of him as he pulled himself up from the floor below. A red cape billowed behind him as he brushed his green tunic free of dust. He looked up at us, finally noticing we were staring at him. His hair and beard were silver with age, and a black eyepatch covered one of his eyes.
He gave us a gruff nod, "Mornin' ladies."
I gave a forced smile, wishing that it was Star who was in front and not me. We haven't met this man before, and he radiated an aura of strength and experience. Even Star remained silent, which was odd for her. Perhaps she was trying to figure out what his deal was, and whether or not he was okay to talk to.
He leaned down to grab his sword, sheathing it into its scabbard which was hidden under his cape before replacing it with a cane that he leaned against. "Was just checking out the mines… They've been abandoned for years now." He looked back down the hole, seemingly unaware of our uneasiness. "There's good ores down there, if you're lookin' for 'em."
"That's… good," Star spoke up. "That's actually what we came here for. We were going to grab some ores in hopes for Clint to upgrade some stuff for us."
The odd man nodded at Clint's name, his one blue eye not leaving the hole where he came from. There was an eerie silence emanating from the depths below, as if something was down there, just waiting for us to go descend unprepared, and unsuspecting.
"Well, you girls best be careful… Ores aren't the only things down there. Bein' left undisturbed there for years made those critters territorial."
Star gave an uneasy sigh as she committed the information to memory. She started clicking her pen from within her pocket as she mentally went over her checklist so that we could properly do this.
"So, we can't exactly check out the mine's right now… as it's too dangerous with monsters running about… since we don't have any weapons."
My sister quickly glanced up to me, her eyes filled with uncertainty as her face said it all: we weren't doing any spelunking today.
The man coughed, bringing our attention back to him. "Apologies, ladies. I forgot we weren't acquainted yet. Name's Marlon. I run the Adventurer's Guild nearby."
"Oh, uh, I'm Star. And this is my sister, Dew. We're restoring our grandfather's old farm."
His one eye lit up with recognition, "Ah. Pete's little granddaughter's, eh? Great adventurer, he was. He and his son were. Used to be some of the best in our guild."
"Wait, Dad used to be in a guild? A guild for killing monsters?" I spoke up, my eyebrows rising in surprise. I always thought that Dad was joking when he used to tell us stories about monster slaying, but maybe there was some truths to it.
"Aye. So, you girls were lookin' t' head into the mines but don't have any weapons? Hmm… Just stay here for a second, I'll be back shortly."
Marlon brushed passed us with no more discussion, leaving us alone in the mine entrance. Star fell silent as I began to explore the opening cavern. I took a closer look at the elevator, noting that it didn't seem operable, which sucked. The minecart looked busted too as I tried to push it, so it'd start rolling, but it was pretty much rusted into the ground.
"I wonder where this goes," I murmured, trying to look past the cart and deeper down the narrow opening the tracks disappeared into. I could probably crawl over the cart if I really wanted to, and see where they led but I don't think Star would be too impressed with that.
"I'm not sure… But I'm pretty sure there's a few other tracks around town. I thought I saw one near Clint's blacksmith, as well as one by the bus stop… but they could be independent of one another."
"Well, if that's the case, where do the all head to, then? Further up the mountain?"
"Not sure, but that's possible. It could lead to another section of the mountain entirely, which could be something we explore later…"
"You aren't going to put that on your list, are you?" I asked skeptically. She relied on it too much, and it wasn't like it was something that was important right now. Sure, it would suffice my curiosity, but I don't think it was really worthy of being written down in her pages upon pages of tasks.
My sister gave a small laugh at my accusation, "No, no. It's not something that we really need to focus on. It's just something we could explore at a much later date, when we're much better situated in town and all."
I agreed with her statement, pushing myself off of the minecart I was leaning against. Behind me between the opposing wall was an opening that looked to be blocked by another cave in. My thoughts immediately went to the Joja drilling operation, but I thought I saw something flickering behind the very top of the pile of rubble where it didn't touch the roof. It looked to be a fire of some sort, as it flickered shadows that danced along the ceiling.
Before I could bring it up with Star, Marlon hobbled back into the mine with a rucksack over his shoulder. He still had his cane as he used it to stable himself as he used his other arm to take the sack off his shoulder. The older man huffed as he dug into it.
"Here… This should get you two on your feet. Sorry I don't have two swords… but daggers can be just as good, if not better… if you know how to use 'em, that is."
Marlon held out an old sword, as well as a small dull dagger. He gestured towards them with his head when he noticed that we weren't moving to grab them right away, his eye twinkling encouragingly.
"You… really don't have to, Marlon. We can probably get a sword or two from Clint when we're able to…"
The old adventurer shrugged, "These were just kickin' around anyway. 'Sides, it's the least I can do for Jack's kids. He was a great kid himself. Was sad to see him go."
I slowly approached Marlon, thanking him as I took the cutting knife from his hand. He extended his reach to Star for her to take the sword, which she did with reluctance as she gave him an unsure smile.
"Now, give it a few practice swings. I want to see your stances," Marlon commanded gruffly, hoisting the sack onto his back as he stood up straighter.
My twin and I shared a look as we both held out our weapons. My dagger was incredibly short, similar to what you'd use in the kitchen, but had a sharp, pointed tip. It probably needed to be sharpened, but it would to it's justice for now.
As for Star, she held a much longer weapon than me, but there was a chip missing from the blade. It was rusting near the handle where the blade was connected to it, but it still looked decently sharp and usable.
We gave our new (old) weapons a few swings in the air, feeling Marlon's watchful eye as he studied us. The older man mumbled something to himself before he nodded his head. "… There's definitely somethin' I can work with here… You two should be seasoned adventurers by the time I'm done with you, but you'll have t' prove your worth, first."
"What do you mean?" Star questioned, putting down her sword arm. Marlon didn't give us scabbards to sheath our new weapons in, so I just placed my dagger behind my belt and prayed that it wasn't going to accidentally cut my belt… or me.
"If you're able to prove to me that you're worth the guild's time, I'm willin' to offer my services t' you and your sister. We have weapons, quests, and even offer additional trainin' if you feel like you're lackin'."
"And how do we do that?"
"Just collect ten slimes each. Now, I don't want you t' strain yourselves and jump into this without any direction. The offer will be open indefinitely, so don't worry about havin' to do it right away. Take your time in doin' so, and don't over do it."
"Okay…" Star immediately took out her notepad and wrote the quest down. "Is there anything else you can tell us about the mines before we go down?"
"Well…" the adventurer began, scratching his beard. "Monster's are a nuisance down there… but you already know that… It's pretty deep too, with different areas the miners dug down. Pretty sure they found some ruins of some old culture of some sort, dwarven or so, maybe elven. It was pretty common to find artifacts from those eras down there…"
"Oooh. That's cool! Do you think we'd be able to get down that far to explore them?" I piped in, a wonderous grin stretching across my face.
Marlon shrugged his shoulders, "The mines stretch down over a hundred floors, how many to be exact, I'm not sure. There is an elevator you can use to go places but… well, since it's been abandoned for so long, the elevator deactivated itself. It has a stop every five floors if I'm rememberin' correctly, but you'll have to manually reactivate them if you're looking to use 'em."
I watched my sister as she committed every clue to paper with her pen, "Sounds good… Anything else?"
"Well, dress appropriately, I s'pose. Almost like there's different biomes down there, all with different types of critters crawling around them. A jungle-like one is closer to the top while it gets pretty cold pretty fast. I'm sure the boy's ended up hittin' lava too, farther down which warranted them to stop… so you best be careful."
"Okay… We'll be on the lookout for that…"
"Other than that, I'm sure you ladies will be fine. Findin' the way down to the next floor might be tedious after years of inactivity, rockfalls and all, but these mines are pretty stable. Just might get exhaustin', diggin' through all that rubble so you'd best be careful. You can also find some cracks in the ground to crawl through… just best you know your limit before you start doin' darin' things like that."
"Thank you very much for all this information, Marlon. You've been incredibly helpful," Star beamed as she finally pocketed her silly notepad.
I also smiled towards the old man, who just nodded in affirmation. "You best get going down now while the sun's still high if you want to get anywhere. Easy to lose yourself, walking along crypts of monsters with treasure just around the corner."
With his cane tapping along the rocky ground as he left, I was filled with a sense of adventure as adrenaline began to pump through my veins. My sister frowned the second she saw my face as I squeezed my hands into fists and a large smile crossed my lips.
"Well? What are we waiting for? Let's get going!"
If Star said anything, I didn't hear her as I darted down the ladder. It wasn't a long climb, but I quickly found myself in a large cavern with rocks strewn about. It wasn't actually that dark as I took a few steps away from the ladder. There were a few lights already pre-hung, lighting the room, and there seemed to be an ambient light source already.
Star followed me down, keeping any thoughts she had away from her face as she accessed the first floor of the mine. It didn't seem too difficult, and there didn't seem to be any immediate signs of life (not that I knew exactly what I was looking for). All the rocks looked the same as I examined the closest one to me, not seeing anything sparkle in the stone that (I would hope) would give it away as valuable ore or minerals.
"Soooo… how do we start?"
"By breaking stones, I suppose. Marlon said that the ladders down were probably hidden, so that'd be a good start."
That didn't sound fun. I knew what we were getting into when I mentioned I wanted to go to the mines, but my body made me forget how sore it was until now. With a sigh, I took my pickaxe from my pack, arming myself with it as Star did the same. We quickly went to work – the monotonous task of breaking stones not-so-unfamiliar to that of breaking them on the farm (although the change of scenery was nice, despite now being underground in a cool damp cavern).
"We should've brought some music or something with us… I thought this was going to be so much cooler than breaking stones all day…" I complained as I brought my pickaxe down on a rock, successfully smashing it to bits.
Nope. No ladder here.
"And potentially attract monsters to our location? … Dew, what did you think we were getting into while going mining?"
"Well… I don't know…" Smash! No ladder. "I thought it was going to be cooler than this… Slaying monsters like the ones in story books and all that… You know? Like an epic hero and stuff? And finding cool gems like diamonds and emeralds."
"We probably won't be finding any of that stuff anytime soon… Not so close to the surface. And who's to say there's even diamonds in this mine? It would probably still be operational if there was."
"Yeah…" I sighed, bringing my noodle-y arms up to smash another rock. "I guess you're right. Well, at least I got you off the farm!"
An eerie tension followed my words as we smashed rocks together. I stole a look over to Star who had a troubled expression on her face. I wondered what she was thinking about to warrant it, but I decided to leave it alone for now as the silence embraced us during our search for the next ladder down.
The rock I cracked open revealed an opening beneath it that looked big enough for someone to squeeze through. While it wasn't the ladder, I noticed as I cleared away the small debris, we could certainly go down it to the next floor.
"What did you find?" Star asked, weeding between the rocks that separated us.
"A way down! Well, not the way down but a way down… Wanna come?"
"You are not going down there. You could get hurt trying to go this way!"
"But Staaaar… It's not that bad. It doesn't seem like a huge drop, look!" I exclaimed, as I pointed a finger down.
To be fair, it was probably farther than I was seeing, maybe seven feet down or so, but I could tell that it was the next floor. I could hear something squishing around in there, only adding to my curiosity. "I'm slipping through this way. At least I can help you find the ladder faster from below."
"Dew, no – "
I ignored her (something that I really probably shouldn't do but I do anyway) as I allowed my body to slide down the human-sized hole. I landed on the next floor with ease, my pickaxe tight in my fist as I looked around.
"For the love of Yoba, Dew! Are you alright? Stay right there, I'm finding a way down right now."
"I'm fine, Star… You don't need to worry about me so much. I can take care of myself."
I looked back up to find my sister glaring down at me. It was hard to make out defining features of her face, but I could only imagine what the shadows hid from me. It wasn't too difficult considering I look at her face everyday… not to mention that we look exactly alike.
"Just, please… for the love of Yoba and my sake, just stay there – and don't move. I'll be right there!"
I watched her quickly disappear as I puffed my cheeks. Her concern was nice, but felt a little more than needed. Sure, I fell into pretty much a ten-foot hole (the floor was about three feet thick, while the next floor down and the ceiling was about a drop of seven feet), but it wasn't like I was hurt or anything… then again, I suppose I could've ended up with a broken ankle or something, which probably would warrant such a worried response.
I shrugged my shoulders, thinking that what's done was done, and decided to look around while I waited for Star to meet up with me. Floor Two wasn't much different than Floor One, I noticed. It had similar rocks and all that, with water dripping somewhere in the distance. I was almost certain I heard squishing coming from somewhere, which caused me to uneasily draw my dagger as I put my pickaxe back in my bag.
Something green plopped around the corner of a rock, bouncing up and down like jelly as it did. I recognized it as a slime – perhaps the most abundant of monsters out there. The little green guy was popular for slime farms as slime was used in all sorts of products, including medicinal stuff and food (although, how tasty the slime of a goopy monster could be was up for debate). It seemed to notice me right away, it's beady eyes turning red as it immediately began to charge towards me.
"Whoa! Wait! I don't want to hurt you!"
It ignored my protests as the green blob spat slime on me, coating my boots in goop. The sticky slime made it significantly harder to walk as my heavy shoes stuck to the rocky floor, which caused me to frown. Whilst gripping my dagger with vigour, I lashed out at the slime, unhappy with the idea that it was making a mess of me.
"Take that you little butthole!"
It didn't seem to gather quick enough that I was attacking back as I wildly slashed out at the slime. It took the attack before trying to charge towards me again, but my flailing kept it locked in a corner between some rocks. It kept trying to slime me, as well as bruising my shins as it kept charging. With one last swipe, I sliced the slime with my dagger with a well aimed hit, which ended with it evaporating into a cloud if smoke from existence as it's body disappeared.
My breath was heavy as I discarded my knife back onto my belt, feeling the wind knocked out of me. I looked down at my legs, finding gooey slime sticking to my pants. With a grunt, I tried to wipe as much of it as I could, thinking back to school where we were taught this happens. While we didn't know exactly where they poofed to when they died, often times it was theorized that it had something to do with their magical essence… or something like that.
Looking up from my pants, I noticed there was a small glob of slime still hanging around. It didn't seem like it was alive anymore, and thinking back to what Marlon said about collecting them, I picked it up, feeling the cool, gelatinous blob roll around my fingers. It was weird that it wasn't sticky, but I didn't think too much of it as I discarded it into my bag.
I heard something cracking as another light appeared from the ceiling of the cave. I watched as something scurried down the wooden ladder and after a moment I realized it was just Star.
"Star! You made it!"
She looked dustier – if not sweatier than when I saw her a few minutes ago – but she seemed all right as she gave me a look between fear, disappointment, and anger. "Dew… that was a very stupid thing to do. There are monsters down here, Dew! Not to you could have gotten hurt!"
"I can defend myself, you know. I just killed a slime!" I countered, a large smile of accomplishment crossing my face.
Her mood shifted from annoyance to worry in one second flat as she closed the space between us, even hopping over a rock in the process. "Are you all right? You're not hurt, are you? Let me see."
"No… Bruised shins and I think I cut myself as I flailed around blindly… but it was pretty fun actually! Although I probably could've done it a little better… I got a slime out it though, for Marlon's quest!"
My sister ignored me, instead taking an arm into her hands roughly as she twisted it, straining to see if there were any injuries. There were minor scratches from exploring the forest on our farm this morning. There was a deeper scratch I have myself on my left forearm from where I managed to hit myself somehow (I really managed to amaze myself sometimes. I always hurt myself in the oddest ways, maybe causing Star to worry more than needed.) Some of the scratches I could feel stinging my legs were definitely because of the mine, as tiny pebbles hit them every time I put my pickaxe to a rock. But I knew I'd end up feeling the bruises from the slime tomorrow as well.
I swear Star was about to hit me over the head or something with her sword as she stared darkly at me, clearly not impressed with what happened when she deemed me okay, and not too injured. I was thankful that she seemed to be a little less energetic than usual (which in itself should have been worrying if I wasn't focused on the fact she didn't actually hit me), so she merely brushed it off with a mild scolding and turned back to the cave.
This floor, now that the slime wasn't harassing me, was laid out differently from the first floor we were on. Where we were standing was a smaller cavern than where we came from, but the dim lanterns that hugged the rugged walls followed a narrow hallway to the south. The loose rocks were plentiful around us, accompanied by large boulders that we had no way of breaking with our weak pickaxes.
I started to grin, wanting to explore the deeper part of the floor where the lights lead but my eyes caught glimmers of bronze in one of the rocks nearest to me. I turned my attention to it as I studied the slivers of the bronze mineral protruding from the neatly layered rock.
"Hey, Star. What's this?" I asked, poking it with my pickaxe that I had taken back out.
"I believe it's a copper node. We should harvest it if we want to get a start on making ingots."
"So, we just smash the rock in hopes that it works?"
"I…" Star paused, brushing her brown bangs away from her face (while also effectively getting dirt on her forehead). "I guess so. We don't really know an efficient way… Just be careful."
Taking that as consent to start hammering, I brought my pickaxe down onto the ore-filled stone. It didn't bust right away, much to my dismay. Not giving up, I hit it harder with the tip of my pickaxe with earnest, finding that it still didn't give.
"It's cracking… Hit it one more time."
"Well, I don't see you helping…" I grumbled, feeling my arms giving out as I struggled to lift the axe one more time. I stole a look at Star who nodded encouragingly before I laid waste to the node. I heard it crumble under my efforts, bringing a gleeful smile to my face. I dropped to my knees along with Star, sifting through the dusty debris. We uncovered some copper ores, and we shared a smile with one another.
"Are… they usable?" I asked hopefully. "Can we use them as an upgrade?"
"I'm not sure…" my sister admitted softly, collecting more nuggets of copper ore. She had three ores that she deemed "good", as the others from the rocks looked too dirty (as in they were either too small, or was stuck too much into the rocks that would destroy the ore if we tried to break it any further). "We'd have to ask Clint about that but… well, it's getting pretty late in the day."
"Wait, what time is it?"
After placing the ores in her rucksack, Star checked her wristwatch that was hidden underneath work gloves. "It's just about 2:30."
"Oh wow… Maybe we should eat our lunches now while we're stopped here. I don't think there's any other monsters nearby that we have to worry about right now."
"Mm… You're right. What did you make?"
"Tuna sandwiches!" I replied happily, planting my butt on the ground as I leaned against one of the boulders. I reached into my rucksack, taking out the twin sandwiches and the baggies full of fresh berries. "Here."
The brunette sat next to me, thanking me as she took her food. We ate in silence, enjoying each other's company as we munched on our warm sandwiches. I had scoffed mine down fast, so I moved onto my berries before Star even had gotten halfway through hers. The berries were sweet and juicy as I popped them into my mouth. It was a pleasant difference in comparison to the salty fish sandwiches I just scarfed down.
My eyes drifted from the berries I was eating and back to the cavern. It was darker than the first level, but my eyes had already adjusted. Dust occasionally fell from the ceiling as it came loose as I saw the dim light of a lantern hung on an opposing wall, trying to light the entire room with it's dull light. I didn't see any signs of an elevator, but Marlon did mention that there was only an entrance to the elevator every five floors.
It was overwhelming to think that this place was over a hundred floors deep. We struggled to find the second floor, let alone find hundreds of floors beneath us. It was going to be time consuming to do, but I'd like to think this wouldn't be so tedious if I wasn't so tired.
I noticed something sitting next to a rock about ten feet in front of me. It was hard to tell what it was – it looked spikey, peaking my curiosity. I quickly zipped the rest of my berries back up, laying them in Stars lap which earned me a questioning look. I ignored her, instead deciding that it was worth crawling the entire way towards the object (which now that I think about it, was a bad idea as I was crawling on the hard, rocky ground with little protection).
I wasn't sure what it was as I picked it up in my hands as I sat back on my knees. It looked like a series of clear crystals coming out from a central source (which looked epic, to be honest).
"Hey, what's this?" I asked Star, as she usually had all the answers.
"Let me see it."
I shuffled back on my knees (which wasn't very fast and actually took a long time) and handed it to her. It took only a few seconds to come to her conclusion. "It's quartz. They're pretty common actually."
"Well, I'm gunna keep it. Looks cool," I say as I place it into my bag. "Anyway, are you ready to get going?"
My sister nodded, putting the rest of our uneaten berries back into her bag. We both stood up, wiping the dirt from ourselves. "Let's see if we can find more of these coppers so we can take it to Clint. If we're lucky, he might show us how to make ingots."
We separated so we could cover more ground, looking out for any more coppers along the way. I found a few just by smashing some rocks while looking for a way down as Star managed to find another node to crack open. I eventually came across another crack that I slipped down before Star had the chance to stop me. Below, I found more slimes to fight; they weren't too difficult as they were separated, but I managed to get three slimes from them (one per monster). I was already making my way down to the fourth floor before Star managed to find the entrance to the third one.
"Dew, maybe you should slow down a little. We still don't have much training. Not to mention we're not very prepared to go too deep."
I paused from climbing down, giving Star a once-over. She was significantly dirtier than she was before, with sweat dripping down her brow and dirt caked onto her face. Her clothes were crooked on her as she held her pickaxe low in her hands, her sword sticking out of her rucksack like a sore thumb. Her eyes watched me tiredly as I shared in her fatigue, my adrenaline slowly wearing off and leaving a heavy exhaustion in its wake.
"… Maybe you're right. We have like what, a dozen copper now? I think it's good enough… Just let me go down one more level so I can activate the elevator for use some other time. That way we don't waste time trying to come down these levels again."
"… Fine. Just be careful. Call up to me when you have it activated."
As I leaned down to jump down to the next level, I heard Star's voice, "Wait!"
I looked back up to see her hurriedly walking up to me, a grimace on her face as she eyed the hole. "If… you're going to go down those things that way, at least let me help you. A thousand things could happen to you down there, and I won't be able to do a thing about it. You could end up breaking your ankle by dropping so far, so let me help lower you down."
I blinked at her once before nodding. She stood over me as I sat at the edge of the hole, inching my body over to drop down. I felt her hands under my arms as we both eased my body through the sliver in the floor, my clothes scraping against the rock. While it was much slower than before, it was definitely a lot easier. My hands found the edge of the opening before they let go, my body falling only about five feet instead of the full ten feet in one go. It also helped that I could properly see where I was landing this time, as her concerns about my poor ankles were real and very much possible.
I stood up slowly, careful not to run into anymore slimes as I was just getting too tired to really deal with them now (not to mention my latest battle left me with more scratches than I'd like to admit where the slime managed to knock me off balance and send me into the wall). I thought I saw something big buzzing around, but I was able to avoid it as it flew in a linear path away from my final destination – the elevator.
The door looked very similar to that of the main floor, with a dusty panel full of buttons next to it. I gave the panel a good gust of wind in attempts to clear it off, but I instead resorted to just using my hand when I found it didn't do much. The numbers reached to 120, with each button representing every five intervals. It matched up to what Marlon said, but it was still hard to imagine something could stretch so far down. The button that marked "0" was currently lit up with a golden yellow light, acting as the location of the elevator cart.
Underneath the panel was two big buttons. One was green, which I assumed was the one I had to press in order to reactivate it, while the other was red, which was to stop it.
Making sure the elevator shaft was clear of rubble and debris by leaning over the waist-high metal gate (as it would suck a lot if I somehow broke it without even getting to use it), I pressed the big green button, hoping there was still power flowing through the system.
It took a second for it to sink in that I pressed the button, but the little light above the door finally flickered to life after a few tries, and the elevator came down to greet me. It was loud, and sounded somewhat rickety, but it wasn't anything to the old elevator we had in the city. This one actually sounded a lot healthier than the one we had, even if this one was probably a lot older and rusty.
I quickly found my way back to the hole I came through, seeing Star's face light up when our eyes connected.
"I got it working, so I'm going to take that up. See you on the topside?"
"Alright. Just be careful… We don't know how well it works."
"Hey. It can't be any worse than what we had in the apartment."
The smile on my sister's face showed that she agreed with me, but she didn't say anything to verbally confirm it. Instead, her face disappeared from the small crack I was looking up into, presumably to start making the manual ascent up.
I opened the squeaky metal gate that prevented me from climbing into the cart as I boarded the elevator, making sure it was closed shut behind me. Inside was another panel, although this was for the destination instead. I hit the "0" button, feeling my body jostle as it roared to life, slowly rising back up to where it just was.
My eyes burned slightly as the brighter light of the top floor hit my face, causing me to shield it with my hands. The ride slowed to a stop, dinging when it was ready to be un-boarded. I unclasped the metal gate, making sure it shut securely behind me, so no one could fall into the shaft by accident, as I waited for Star to make her way up the ladder.
She didn't take too long, but it looked like she was struggling to get up the last few rungs as her energy escaped her. I gave her a tired smile as I walked over to her, offering a hand to help her to her feet properly so we could get a move on back home.
"Well! That was certainly productive," I sighed happily, although my body didn't feel so happy. My hands burned with blisters worse than this entire week, and I'm pretty sure my arms were about to fall off. Small scratches made their presence known as sweat dripped into them, causing an unpleasant burning, but was easily ignorable. All I really wanted to do was go home, take a nice hot bath, then curl up for the rest of the week and not get up.
"Yeah… It could've went better, but we did find some ores that we might be able to use…"
"And I got a start on collecting those slimes!"
We exited the cavern, and we found the sun hanging low in the sky. It was just about to hide behind the mountains as Star checked her watch. "Wow, it's already passed 7."
"Time really flies while you're down there… and we didn't really make it that far! How will we ever get to the bottom of that place?"
We crossed the bridge as Star gave a half-hearted shrug, "With time, I suppose. And proper tools and training. Our pickaxes aren't exactly strong, so we can probably upgrade them with our copper to make them smash rocks more efficiently."
"Yeah, and once we kill enough slimes, Marlon said he'd train us to be even better monster hunters!"
"True… but that isn't exactly our goal, Dew. Remember: we're farmers first, adventurers second."
"Oh… You're no fun…"
The brunette laughed as I pouted, shooting an innocent smile my way as I looked away from her, and over to the mountain lake. It was pretty calm as water licked at the lakefront, with very little wind left to disturb it. On the southern shore, I noticed a tall, dark figure standing near the edge, casting their gaze to the serene water.
I immediately recognized him as Sebastian by his black clothes (although, when I first met him, he was definitely not wearing black), pulling on Star's arm as I grasped it.
"That's Sebastian! Robin's son! Have you met him yet?"
"Hm? You mean that person you really want to be "friends" with?" Star smirked in a teasing tone.
My heart leapt at her words, my face turning bright red. "N-no! Star! Stop that!"
It wasn't like that at all! I mean, sure, I might've met him in an awkward predicament, and he was actually decently attractive, but he seemed like someone I could be friends with if he was willing enough. Star didn't understand that, mainly because I never really hung out with guys my age back in the city because I was too busy drawing in the corner with my thoughts to myself.
"Hah… I'm kidding, I swear. But no, I haven't met him yet. He was in his room every time I visited Robin."
"Well come on, I'll introduce you to him!"
That was a weird sentence to say as I dragged my sister towards the reclusive guy. Usually it was her introducing me to people, as my awful anxiety tended to keep me from comprehending coherent sentences without looking like a blubbering mess. The valley, however, made it much easier to come out of my shell. Everyone was pretty much family here and were really nice and welcoming. They all spoke of our grandfather with a kind fondness, and reflected that kindness onto us. While I never had many conversations with Sebastian himself, he seemed like a decent guy after we got over our initial meeting. We'd greet each other whenever he came out of his room when I was chatting with Robin (usually on an errand for Star when she was too busy looking after her crops). He seemed to have a set schedule, I noticed as that every time I was there around three-ish, he'd come slinking out of his room for food (which, by the way, I don't blame him because food is a fantastic motivator to leave one's room.)
"Hey Sebastian!" I greeted with a smile when we got close enough, so it didn't seem too weird.
The dark-haired male looked over his shoulder, thick eyebrows furrowed in confusion until he recognized me. He nodded his head in greeting, turning around to properly address us. "'Sup."
He had one hand in the large pocket of his pull-over sweater, while between his fingers was a freshly lit cigarette that billowed smoke from its tip. It kind of surprised me to find that he smoked, but I didn't want to chastise him for something that wasn't exactly my concern (especially since we were still strangers.)
"I just wanted to introduce my sister, Star. She said that she hasn't met you yet…" I started trailing off as my cheeks turned red. I averted my gaze as he nodded, looking between me and my sister.
Star, who remained quiet up until now, decided to greet him in the worst, sisterly-way possible, "I heard a lot about you, considering your first meeting with Dew and all. Robin certainly had a blast retelling it to me."
I sucked in a breath harshly as my head shot up, my ears burning as the blush in my cheeks spread rapidly across my face. Sebastian's face was just as red as mine as he took a large puff of his cigarette as a way to recompose himself.
"Uh… yeah… It couldn't have been more awkward if I tried…" he said in a low voice as smoke blew from his lips.
I played with the strap of my bag as I felt Star chuckle next to me. Damn that woman… teasing me in every way possible.
"Well, I'm Star either way. It's nice to finally meet you, Sebastian," she said (very) smoothly, extending her hand to give him a proper introduction.
The action caused her to jostle against me as I was standing too close to her. I lost my balance slightly, especially with the heavy rucksack lagging me down overflowing with materials. Some of the stuff spilled out as the male took my sister's hand, both of their eyes on me as my stuff spilled to the ground.
"Dew…" my sister sighed. "You didn't need to take all that stone."
"… but they were all so cool!"
"Oh, you two went mining…? I thought you were both like that from working on the farm…"
I fell to my knees, feeling my blush fade slightly, but still very present. "No… working on the farm isn't that bad… It's those bloody slimes that are a pain in the butt though."
Star knelt next to me, taking some of the stones I collected and putting them in her lighter pack, rather than mine. I thought I heard Sebastian mumbled in some sort of agreement before I watched his hand find the white quartz that had also spilled from my sack.
"Huh… You found one of these, eh? They're pretty cool even if they're so common… I'd like to think they're a gateway into an alternate reality where life is full of magic and isn't so… dull. Like they're pockets of crystalized portals that can bridge these two worlds together…" he said slowly, with a hint of a smirk on his face. I couldn't tell if he was being serious or not, but I wanted to believe that he was (because in no way did I not find that cool at all… nope.)
Before I could stop myself (and before Star could stop me), I blurted out, "Do… you want it?"
The male's dark violet eyes widen with my words, thumbing the quartz fondly. "I… are you sure? I mean, you look pretty beat up and all after the mines…" his quiet voice trailed off softly as his eyes avoided either of our gazes.
I felt a smile return to my face as my embarrassment faded away. Star did nothing to stop me as I stood up (after putting all the spilled stone and ore back in my bag), grinning earnestly at him. "Don't worry about it! There's probably a lot more in the mine where that came from!"
His eyes found mine once more, looking for any trace of deceit in my face before giving a small smile when he found none. "Thanks, Dew. I really appreciate it."
I beamed ear from ear as I turned to Star, who gave me a playful "did-you-really-just-do-that" look with a single eyebrow raised.
"Anyway, it was nice meeting you, Sebastian, but me and my sister should go now. It's getting late and we have to get up early tomorrow."
"Yeah… I'm pretty pooped after exploring the mines all day."
The raven-haired male gave a nod of affirmation, throwing his quartz into the air fondly before catching it. "Later."
We turned to go back towards town, with myself feeling a little lighter by giving Sebastian the quartz and making him happy, when he called out to us before we made it too far. "You know, there's a path behind my place that leads to the farm."
We stopped in our tracks, watching as Sebastian walked over to us while putting the quartz in his pocket. With one last puff of his cigarette, he threw it into the dirt, stomping on it with one of his leather biker boots (which were unlaced, and probably a tripping hazard) before approaching us. "It's just up the stairs next to the house," he explained further as he brushed passed me, seemingly expecting us to follow him. I caught a whiff of whatever he was smoking still clinging to the fabric of his sweater. "I used to play up there when I was a kid."
"Oh… Well, that makes this trek into the mountains a whole lot quicker. Thanks for letting us know," my sister smiled at him.
The male hummed in response, stopping at the front door of his house while lazily jabbing a thumb in the general direction of the stairs. "It's just up there. Should still be cleared… trees always had a hard time taking root in the rocks..."
"Thanks for telling us. It'll save us a lot of time and energy trying to get up this way all the time," she repeated.
Again, he nodded before turning to grab the doorknob of his house, "See you later, Dew," he said softly, meeting my gaze before looking towards my sister and giving her a small nod, "Star."
Me and Star said our goodbyes as Sebastian disappeared into the warm interior of his home. We followed the directions that Sebastian gave us, seeing that his words were true as we found a carved cliff head right to our farm. It crossed over the tunnel that we drove through when we first entered the valley, which was cool to look down over as the road sat deserted far below. I didn't linger too much as Star went on ahead, as yawns were slipping through my lips the closer we got to the farm.
Snowdrop Farm was just as vacant and quiet as we left it, with our small outlet of crops growing in the corner closest to the main entrance. Star quickly climbed the steps to go inside, to start on supper I assumed, while I headed over to the mailbox to find the pet supplies Marnie promised us. As I was climbing the stairs back up, Star was on her way out with her watering can and hoe in hand.
"Wait, what are you doing?" I blurted out.
Star paused before blinking once as if it was obvious what she was about to do. "I'm… making room for more. I'm making a few more rows for more seeds, and I want to make sure no animals got at the ones we've already planted."
I couldn't help but frown at my sister, causing her eyebrows to raise in confusion. She acted as if everything was perfectly normal even though I could see the exhaustion she held in her eyes, even if she tried her hardest to conceal it. She didn't hold her posture as stiff as she normally would (either out of weariness or soreness, I wasn't sure) and she didn't eat as much as she usually did (another sign of the fatigue that she was battling).
"You're… worrying too much about the farm…" I finally admitted to her in a small voice after a period of emptiness.
"Wha… No, Dew. I'm not worrying too much about the farm. If anything, I'm making sure the farm doesn't fail so we aren't left lost and wondering where we messed up."
The hostility in her voice hurt, but she was just being protective of her actions. She was right; this was a Star-thing to do: putting everything she got into a project that she was worried about failing.
Even so, I couldn't help but let all my worries slip as the sheer exhaustion of non-stop work the past two weeks overwhelmed me.
"I… know that, Star. Trust me, I know you better than anyone here in the valley but I… I'm just tired. I'm tired, Star, tired of these early mornings with few tasks but having to get up early anyway because that's what we're supposed to do. I'm tired of constantly clearing out the farm so fast even though there's no way we could use any of it so far. I'm tired of having to forage for berries even though we've had harvests that were more than successful already, but all the money went back into buying more seeds when I'm pretty sure there was more than enough to save a little for some fresh food. I'm… just tired, Star. And if I'm tired, I can only imagine how you're feeling since you're doing all of this, plus dealing with the crops, which includes watering and weeding them which is exhausting in its own right."
When Star's eyes couldn't meet my own, and no words formed from her mouth, I continued. "I'm… worried about you, Star. I know this is you, and that this is just a part of you, but I'm really worried about your health… I… I don't want you keeling over one day because you worked yourself to the bone without taking a break."
My sister refused to answer me as she listened to my concerns, although showing no signs of responding. Her eyes remained plastered to the ground as I closed mine with a sigh, climbing up the rest of the stairs when I realized this conversation was going nowhere.
"I'm… going to get supper started."
I opened the door, watching as Star made her decision about continuing to her plants to work on them. I didn't stop her, merely calling out to her gently, "Star?"
She stopped dead in her tracks, unable to turn around and look me in the eye.
With the light of the house pouring to the outside as the day grew shorter, I sighed again, "Just… please. Don't stay out too late, all right?"
She didn't respond as I closed the door, dropping my rucksack by my bed with intentions of giving Tofu a proper food and water dishes, as well as to make supper tonight: white rice with a small side of salmonberry salad, complemented with a glass of water.