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Oddly Prismatic 

Chapter 1: [STAR] Leaping, Falling, Landing. 

Sweat ran down my spine, and the pristine white dress shirt clung to the moisture as it trickled down my hidden skin. I wriggled in discomfort, pressing my back into the standard-issue desk chair that my position at Joja had awarded me. A standard-issue chair, a standard-issue desk, a standard-issue cubicle… and a standard-issue life. While my parents were proud that I had been presented with such a stable life, as they had come from much less, I couldn't help but feel my soul wear down at the monotony of it all. I sighed and looked away from the bright monitor on the desk that still had mind-numbing documents that needed to be looked over before the end of the day. 

The documents came in a never-ending stream that overflowed flawlessly whenever I finished just one document from the stack of twenty I received. I somehow doubted how they all could be so important, as they all dealt with putting numbers into pre-defined boxes by looking up a few company records… But the monotony helped me do more in less time, I guess. At the end of the day I woke up from the merciful daze I placed myself in to see most of my work finished, with only a few documents waiting for me at the start of my next day. 

My vision blurred slightly as I scanned heads of my co-workers, all diligently typing away at their monitors as I had just done: completely unaware of the world around them. I scoffed, shaking my head at the fact that I shared office space with all the other Joja employees. The incessant tapping of keyboards and the buzzing of portable fans irked me to no end, now that I wasn't off living more exciting fantasies in my head. From the many bodies in the warm room (the former the cause for the latter), I could easily pick out the figure of my twin, currently building a pyramid out of paperclips on her desk. Blue-grey eyes shot up towards the large window where the higher-ups could watch us as we worked our souls away. They were more preoccupied with the ongoing soccer game than us 'worker-ants' as they drank alcoholic beverages and chatted away. A pizza was left half-eaten on the large mahogany table that proved to be a centerpiece for the boss's large and lavish office. 

The large clock on the wall blared to life as the hour turned, and I saw my coworkers tilt their heads slightly, methodically taking in the numbers that registered on the electric clock with a lazy blink before their heads dipped again. There was one more hour to finish what I could do of my work, and then I would leave. My eyes drifted down to the top drawer on my desk, and my heart thundered in my ears as I thought about the weight that hidden letter had inside of it.  It had been sitting in that drawer for the better part of the week, and as the last hour of work dwindled away I would always slide open the compartment to stare at the white envelope. What was written in it would change the course of my entire future. My stable and foreseeable future could vanish as soon as I dropped it through the chute outside of the boss's office. The thought had stayed my hand more than once. Work was pretty hard to come by in the city, especially if you didn't have the exact experience that an employer was looking for. Even with that, there were others in such a big city which also met the criteria – and whoever got the job was simply… more. More charismatic, more relaxed, more focused or more willing… Getting a job at Joja had been easy. Easy, and stable. It's too bad that an easy job was never a wanted one. 

With my sister and I living together, we split the rent of the small two-bedroom apartment we lived in (which was on the eighteenth floor of some concrete and uncaring complex). Some months I worried that the landlord would start bearing down and kick us and Miso (who was breaking the building code anyway) out as we scraped together money to replace that which my impulsive sister spent. It was times like those that we were both incredibly happy I was such a penny-pinching individual... but it also meant that we wouldn't be able to afford rent if I stayed in-between jobs for too long. 

Doo-dee-dee-doo 

"The work day is over, Joja asks that you work even harder tomorrow." 

Dee-doo-doo-dee. 

People stood up and grabbed their things mechanically as the automated message sounded. I glared at the clock, cursing it for speeding up when I needed it to slow down the most. My coworkers had already started filing out, the whirr of fans being silenced as workstations were abandoned for the night. Jumping from my seat, I rushed to collect my things: my jacket, which I hastily threw across my shoulders, and my purse that was stuffed into the bottom drawer of the desk. After slinging it over one shoulder, I straightened my ponytail as my foot nudged the empty drawer shut. My hand hesitated on the top drawer, which had yet to be closed from an hour of pondering my decision. Said decision had yet to be decided. 

A row of lights flickered off, followed by another. The last row, the one above the two exits as well as my row of cubicles, was still on to help the stragglers see in the dark warehouse. I guided the strap of my purse to rest higher on my shoulder, fidgeting in my shoes as my hand hovered over the resignation letter. With an exasperated sigh, my fingers wrapped around the envelope. I slammed the drawer shut as I forced my arms through the sleeves of my jacket while I marched towards the stairs that would lead me to the head office. 

As I approached the door of his office, I could hear the loud laughter of the boss and his associates from inside. Walking passed the door I scanned the familiar metal plate that hung on it which read 'Do not disturb under any circumstances. If you have any concerns, inquiries, or other things to discuss, please see my secretary Brad to your right'. It was an eyesore, but almost everything at Joja was. 'Brad' the secretary greeted me a few steps away from the door: the name plate was screwed in above three shiny handles with the labels 'concerns', 'inquiries', and 'resignations' on similar metal plates. 

"Why, hello Brad. Another day doing very exciting work, huh? Yeah, me too." I greeted Brad politely as I pulled on the handle under 'resignations'. The grayscale wall opened up as a gleaming metal chute was revealed. A second of hesitation flashed through my being as I lifted the letter over the gaping orifice with the intention of dropping it into the metal coffin below. The ivory paper slipped through my fingers as I sealed my fate, and my breath caught in my throat at the finality of the letter's inescapable destination. The sound of the weight hitting against the metal and gliding further away from me conjured a stronger sense of dread as I thought about how I would explain my unemployment to my sibling. An icy hand ensnared my heart as a shiver wracked through my body, physically alerting me to my absolute need to snatch the letter back from the sneering metal jaws. My mind bent around the thought for merely a second before the sound of something landing on the other side of the thick wall shattered my instincts, and I realized I could no longer change my decision. The hand that held my heart bore down with a crushing grip. 

Joja was a huge corporation with no shortage of applicants looking for a stable income. Despite the absurd hours and having no room to advance to any likeable position in the business, it was still alluring to the young adults that milled around with no real plan for life other than to not turn out like their parents. I mean, even our own parents pushed us to get jobs at the company so that we wouldn't end up like them. For that reason, the second you quit (you never really heard stories about people getting fired) you were done with Joja: a replacement wasn't hard to find and in the morning a stranger would be working at what was once the standard cubicle of a former employee. 

This was it. Now that the letter was on the other side of the wall in front of me, I was out of a job. 

I felt a tiny tear rip its way through my heart as I thought about the look on my parents' faces when I eventually told them that I quit what they considered to be the 'dream job' they had wanted when they were searching for work. Slumping my shoulders, I walked back towards the staircase without even a nod to Brad the Nameplate Secretary. 

I paused as I passed the heavy mahogany door of the head office. The light that sprawled out from underneath the wood bathed the darkened hallway with an amber sheen. Muted voices trickled through the cracks and drew me closer and I couldn't help but press the side of my face against the cool wooden frame. 

"–letter, Mr. Joja. From an 'S. Drop'?" 

"Which chute did it come out of, Robert?" 

"The third one." 

"Hmph. That's the second one tonight! Make sure you deal with that, Janet." 

"Yes sir." 

Their attention turned away from my resignation, and so I removed my ear from the door and plodded down the smooth linoleum steps. The row of lights overhead had yet to be turned off, probably because the boss and his associates were still in – and planning to be for a while – and I took a moment to look over each and every cubicle that stretched out in front of me. Who else had decided that this monotonous work was too tiring to continue? 

It was then that I realized that out of the hundreds of cubicles on the floor I worked on, I could only remember a handful of names without glancing at the plastic name plates that sat atop each desk. And out of those I could only recognise the back of my sister's head when I looked up from my desk. Five years at this job. Five. And everyone else was simply a being in the crowd: a hazy figure I could recall was there, but nothing more. No face. No name. No story. Just mindless worker ants trying to provide for their monarch without getting any recognition for it. 

I only realized I had been walking down the row of cubicles when my own plastic nameplate caught my eye. The cheap sticker letters peeled off the material, refusing to stick to the plastic again after falling off so many times before. In the morning, a new name would be plastered over the old one. That thought would've made me a little melancholic about leaving the place I had worked at since I completed high school, but as I straightened the nameplate on the desk and the chain attached to the flimsy plastic clinked against the metal surface it shuffled across, the feeling vanished. 

Everything at Joja was chained down. The monitor, the stapler, the pencil, the small fans at every desk, the folder in the second drawer (which contained the essential Joja motto recited at the beginning of each day). Even the paperclips were chained to the desk (how my twin managed to get some freed from their imprisonment to build her tower was a mystery for another day), which is something that I realized would be completely ridiculous to say out loud. 

I let out another sigh, running my fingers down the sleek metal desk that I've finally been freed from for one last time. The heeled shoes I wore echoed loudly in the empty room as I left, closing the door firmly shut behind me as I stepped out into the warm wind of winter's end. 

 

.⭐.

 

The walk to the apartment complex was pleasant. Thoughts of the future and what it now holds had, for once, been far from my mind. They returned, however, the second my key slid into the lock on the worn wooden door. The decision to quit that stable job at Joja suddenly had real implications on not only my life, but my sister's as well. Not to mention poor Miso, the orange tabby that had my younger twin wrapped around her cute little paws since we were stressing out over exams and who we were sitting with at lunch. It was a world that seemed so far away right now: when it had been our parents stressing over how to provide for us. Now that we were the ones trying to make ends meet, there was nothing but headache after headache. Hardships always seemed to come in pairs, although maybe it only became a hardship when multiple things were failing. 

The lock suddenly clicked and the key twisted itself in the slot before the door swung open with a loud moan and my sister's blue-grey eyes peered out at me from inside our apartment. The confusion that scrunched up her face lifted as soon as her eyes met mine, and a wide smile spread itself across her face. 

"Hey sis! I thought it was you. You're home a little earlier than normal, so supper'll be a little while yet!"

  She bounced away, her black hair trailing after her wildly as she flicked the strands behind her shoulders. Her natural brown colour was starting to creep back in at the roots, and she would probably dye it black again tonight after supper – if the bottle I saw in the bathroom this morning was any indication. 

She had been saving up over the summer and dyed it at the beginning of our senior year, giving Mom and Dad quite the shock when she came down the stairs for the first day of school. I had known she was up to something over the summer – not spending her earnings from her summer job right away was always a dead giveaway – but when I walked in on her dyeing her hair in the bathroom after Mom and Dad had gone to bed, she gave me those puppy dog eyes of hers and I didn't say a word as I helped her get her roots. It was a little weird, and a little sudden, but that was Dew.

People didn't even recognize her as my twin the first day back (as she had gotten her way despite Mom's fervent demands to wash the colour out), and for the first couple of weeks it was nice finally not having Dew's name come up in conversation when I talked to anyone that knew her. The constant 'Are you guys twins?!' had been exhausting... especially after years of hearing the same thing. But the lack of the question kind of lost its novelty after a while – it was weird not being recognized as her twin the instant we stood beside each other. And sure, we still passed for sisters (who were in the same grade, so the question soon became 'who got pushed ahead?' or 'who was held back?'), but there was something special about being recognized as Dew's twin... some sort of connection my teenage-self thought I had lost because of it. It was foolish, now that I think back on it. And the relationships I got into because of that feeling of uncertainty were even more so. But those things were long in the past. 

"Did you even check to see who it was through the peephole? I've been telling you to check before you swing the door open, Dew!" She gave no indication of hearing me as I called after her, so I merely shook my head and muttered to myself as I slipped off my shoes and neatly lined them against the wall, "Well, at least she's locking the door now." 

Shrugging off my jacket and hanging it on the crooked coat hanger in the corner of the entryway, I felt the tension leave my body as the smell of Dew's cooking wafted through the apartment. I took a moment to close – and lock – the door before I ventured deeper into the home I shared with Dew. To be honest, we never really spent too much time at home. We usually left for work early and never came back until it was dark out, and holidays were few and far between. Whenever we did get some time off, we would either end up sleeping the entire day or doing some shopping at the nearby mall. I padded over to the couch, throwing my purse down and scratching Miso's head as it perked up at the shift in the cushions.  "Hey Miso. You been keeping an eye on things while we were gone?" 

"Mreeeow…" The orange tabby pressed her face against my fingers, and I chuckled as I crouched down to scratch her favourite spot – just underneath the jaw. Loud vibrations ran down my fingers as her purring intensified. 

"Awh, now that's a good kitty! I'll have Dew feed you a treat or two after supper." She merely blinked happily as a response to my voice before she untangled herself from my hand and curled up on top of my purse. 

"Hey Star, do you know where we put the can opener? Can you check the cabinet by the couch? One of the drawers?" My sister's voice called out from the kitchen, and I walked to the cabinet in question (where we kept some of the fancier dishes we had for when Mom and Dad came to visit) and started peering in the drawers that riddled the wooden furniture. 

"Isn't it in the drawer left of the stove? Third drawer to the left, in the middle?" I called back to her over my shoulder, and I could hear her opening and closing a few drawers before she found the one I meant. 

"Ah, right you are, sister!" 

"This is why I put away the dishes, Dew! You would put everything in weird places. I mean, why would it even be out here?" But, she had already turned her attention back to the task at hand and tuned out everything around her as she hummed a lively tune to herself (although it was loud enough for me to hear it a few doors down in the living room).  Shaking my head once more with a small smile tugging at the corners of my mouth as I bobbed my head along to her tune (as she frequently hummed it while she was cooking), I turned back to the drawers. The one I had opened squeaked loudly in resistance as I started closing it. But the squeaking stopped suddenly as I noticed a letter peeking up at me: the only thing that had been placed in the compartment. The elegant scrawl of ink that reminded me of the last time I had seen Grandpa. Picking it up from the darkness of the drawer, the light that burned in the corner of the living room illuminated the words on the envelope: 

Star and Dew, 

Open for a new start 

–Love, Poppy Drop 

'Poppy Drop' was the nickname Dew had given our grandpa when we were really young. Mom and Dad talked about how Grandpa's face always lit up jovially whenever it came from her mouth, his cheeks reddening as a wide smile spread itself across his face and refused to fall for the entire day. We didn't see him too often: Mom and Dad always had work and couldn't afford a vacation to Grandpa's house a few hours from the city – a small town that I always failed to remember the name of. The one time we did go was pretty much to see him before he passed, as he had been very sick for quite some time. We didn't stay for very long: all I could remember is the long drive there, and the long drive back… 

The letter I held in my hand had been given to me and Dew that day. Mom and Dad took it from us when we left Grandpa's room, and we didn't see it again until our high school graduation where they told us to follow Grandpa's instructions on the front when we needed to. We both had to agree to open it: that was what Dad made us promise. Dew wanted to open it right away, but I wanted to hold onto it for later. I ended up forgetting about the envelope, and it had probably been sitting in the same drawer for five years – when we moved the cabinet from home into the apartment with us.

Maybe now would be a good time to open it. 

A fresh start was something I sorely needed, and although I heard that Dew took after Grandpa a lot in impulsivity (among other things) I was sure that Grandpa wouldn't leave us anything too outrageous. 

"Hey, I've got something to tell you, Star."  Her voice startled me, and I quickly spun around to see Dew scratching Miso's ear absent-mindedly as she stared at me. Something told me that whatever she had to say would be something she thought I wouldn't approve of. The way her blue-grey gaze kept dropping to the floor before meeting mine again was enough to tell me something important was on her mind. 

"I've… got something to tell you as well." A moment of silence passed as we both waited for the other to speak. Figuring that whatever she had to say wouldn't be nearly as bad as the fact I had quit my job on a spur-of-the-moment decision, so I broke the silence by telling her to speak first. 

"Okay… Yeah, sure. Uh… So I know you like planning things and stuff… But I, uh…" She locked eyes with me, "I quit Joja today." 

Well, this wasn't what I expected. But, Dew had a way of always doing the unexpected. A part of me wanted to scold her for a rash decision like that, and that we should've discussed major events like these together – if not because we were roommates who paid rent, the fact that we were sisters should've been reason enough... but since I also made the same rash decision today, I was silenced quite efficiently. Almost too efficiently, as Dew started panicking at my lack of words. 

"I know, I know! I should've told you and I know that we might have it rough for a little while so uh, I'll try my best to not buy all of the cute plushies I've been seeing in stores lately – I've been saving up, really! So um... even though I think stuffed animals are making a comeback, which I'm more than happy about, I can still um... uh, pay at least another month's rent and um,–!" 

"So, you've quit, quit?" Dew sometimes meant different things than the words she uses when she's nervous, but the clarification was more to calm her down from her nervous rambling than anything. She didn't seem to mean anything else by 'I quit' judging by the look on her face. 

"Yeah… I passed in my resignation earlier today." She fidgeted, focusing her attention on Miso as she spoke, wiggling her finger at the aging cat so that she could lazily try and grab hold of them without moving too much from her seat atop my purse.

"That's… fine." I spoke slowly. Although I was still trying to process the next step we needed to take now. 

"That's… fine?" Dew still sounded wary about my easy acceptance of her news. 

Dew says she had a month's worth of rent saved up. I had about two months of rent money squirreled away, although I had initially hoped to use some of that for the leaky faucet in the bathroom… I suppose I could live with the soggy towels on the bathroom floor for a little longer while we found new jobs. Two months could be the maximum time we could spend looking for a job, the other months of rent saved up would have to go to food and other needs (as we would be spending a lot more time at home, being unemployed and all). But, this could work out okay. 

"Yeah. That's okay. I quit too." It was a simple admittance, as my mind had already declared the statement a non-issue, and already moved onto the next item on the agenda while Dew gaped at me, "Remember the letter we got from Grandpa before he passed? I want to open it." 

I waved the letter I still held in my hand at her before I turned and closed the squeaky drawer. When I turned back around, I could hear Miso mewling for Dew's attention before I saw that she was still frozen in place. With a shrug, I also moved onto the next topic: telling Mom and Dad. 

"Oh, and we should tell Mom and Dad about our new unemployment situation, sooner rather than later, although after getting another job would be best. We can stay unemployed for about two months with the amount we have saved up combined, so we should start searching right away to spare our reserves for–" 

"Oh thank god! There's the Star Drop I know and love! I was terrified for a moment then, because you normally give me months in advance to any life changes you're planning to go through, so I was shocked when you sprung this on me! I mean… You haven't talked about quitting, right? I don't think you have. Well, If you have, I don't remember you saying so, so that means that you've only mentioned it once or twice, and that means that this is far too spontaneous for you – I mean, not that that's a bad thing, I think it's a very good thin–" She was rambling again, so I cut her off by reminding her of her body's necessity for air. 

"Dew. Take a breath." She filled her lungs, and as she did so I reminded her about the letter from grandpa by waving it through the air once more. 

"Sure, let's open it." She stepped closer to me as I flipped over the envelope, and as she reached my side she spoke again when I started to open the letter by undoing the seal stamped on the back, "By the way, I call dibs on not telling Mom and Dad." 

With a roll of my eyes, I pulled out the folded letter Grandpa had wrote us and checked the corners of the empty envelope before passing it to Dew to hold onto as I unfolded the paper. Lines of Grandpa's flowery cursive bloomed on the page. Dew let out a frustrated sigh at the sight and walked away to place the empty envelope on the counter, "You know I'm terrible at reading cursive. Read out Poppy Drop's letter while I check on supper!" 

I nodded, even though she couldn't see it. 

"Dear Star and Dew, 

If you're reading this, you must be in dire need of a change. 

The same thing happened to me, a long time ago. I'd lost sight of what mattered most in life… real connections with other people and with nature. So I dropped everything and moved to the place I truly belonged. 

I've enclosed the deed to that place, my pride and joy: Snowdrop Farm. Named after your grandmother's favourite flower, if you can't remember. The fact that our family name, 'Drop', shared part of my farm's name has always tickled my friend Lewis's funny bone. It tickles mine, too. It's located in Stardew Valley, on the southern coast. If that name seems familiar to you, it's because your father named you after that very same valley! It's the perfect place to start your new life. 

This was my most precious gift of all, and now it's yours. I know you'll honour the family name, my darling girls. 

Good luck. 

Love, Poppy Drop" 

Folding the letter in half, just as it had been for about twenty years since it was placed in the envelope, I noticed a little note on the back of the letter. 

"P.S. If Lewis is still alive, say hi to the old guy for me, will ya?" 

The other papers folded with the letter were, like it claimed, the deed to a lot of land in Stardew Valley. Dew had walked out of the kitchen by this point, and a silence had come over both of us at our late grandpa's gift while Miso purred loudly, happily unaware of the looks we were exchanging. After a second, I was furiously shaking my head at the excitement that twinkled within Dew's eyes. 

"Star–!" 

"No." 

"But Star–!" 

"No way, Dew." 

"But Poppy Drop–!" 

"Our parents will disown us." 

"No they won't, c'mon Staaaaaaar!" She crept closer, flashing me those puppy dog eyes that she knew would make me give in eventually. 

"We wouldn't be any good at that kind of stuff. We've lived in the city our whole lives–" 

"But you're really good at making plants grow–" She gestured to all of the houseplants that decorated the otherwise barren apartment. 

"That's a completely different thing from–" 

"And animals really seem to like me!" 

"Mreooow." Miso's agreement with that statement was wholeheartedly not appreciated, and I rescinded my previous offer to get Dew to give her the treats we had hidden away with a heated glare sent to the fluff ball. 

"Animals?! Look, we're not going to just be able to jump right into that kind of lifestyle–!" 

"But Staaaaaaaaar!" I sighed, knowing that I was about to give into her wishes as she placed her hands on my shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze.

"We'd have to leave Miso behind." 

Our beloved (but traitorous) cat was getting on in her years, and she never did well with traveling to begin with. She's been with us for over six years, and we couldn't put her through another move. Not when the first – and last – one had ended up in her being sick for well over a month after. And while Dew looked crestfallen at the thought, she didn't back off of the idea like I thought she would. Instead, she pleaded with me, her eyes glossy and round as her lips pulled into a pout that would make a blind man's heart ache. I was immensely proud of myself that I withstood her for a full five seconds before I caved with a sigh. 

"Ugh… Fine. We can go live on Grandpa's farm and see how that turns out." Dew jumped with joy, but I held her down by her shoulders before she could zip around the apartment coming up with a new tune about working on a farm as well as starting to pack right away (while somehow also trying to keep cooking supper at the same time), "But if it doesn't look like we can make it at the end of the year, we're coming back to the city. So that means that we have to keep some of our savings un-spent, you got it?" 

"Deal!" 

She ran off, turning the corner and tripping over every plush she had in her room in her excitement to start packing for our move. 

Needless to say, the call I made to our parents that night was quite the long one. 

Chapter Text

Oddly Prismatic 

Chapter 2: [DEW] A Breath of Fresh Air 

I ran around the house aimlessly, unable to sit still. To be fair, I thought I had a really good reason for being so excited. I mean, how often do people get to leave the boring, dirty city for a cute little farm to start a new life with their sister? I was trying to focus, I swear. I knew I had to start packing while Star got our affairs in order – she was currently calling our parents to explain the situation. I was trying not to listen because I didn’t want to hear if they yelled at us… 

I ran past Star again, who was sitting on the couch, my grin large across my face. She rolled her eyes playfully as she listened to the phone, seemingly waiting for our parent’s response. She motioned for me to stop, gently placing a hand on the microphone of the receiver, “You know we can’t take everything with us right now, right? We can’t afford a moving truck so Mom and Dad are going to take the rest of our stuff when they come grab Miso.” 

“Omigosh, so this is really like starting a new life? We only have the essentials and the clothes on our backs! We’ll be living off the land as we struggle to meet end’s meet, battling against the elements! Some days we won’t be able to eat, but that’s okay I’m sure we’ll be fine, I mean we’re sort of used to that, right? At least now we won’t be waiting for a paycheck from some big organization and that we’ll be working for our own money now and – “ 

“Dew,” Star sighed. “You’re going to give Mom a heart attack. How about you go start packing… I’ll make sure you take only what’s needed after.” 

I nodded ecstatically, bolting to my room. Miso followed leisurely behind me, perhaps wondering why I was running around the house like she used to when she was younger. I bounced onto my bed, the springs creaking loudly under the weight of my body. 

My room was plain – minus the excessive number of plush toys I tend to impulsively buy. The walls were a dirty white. Accompanying the bed was a dresser where I stored most of my clothes. The top of the white dresser was blank, except for a small picture of Mom and Dad for whenever I got homesick. On the same wall as the door was my closet, which remained empty with the exception of storage for seasonal clothes and suitcases. 

Speaking of which, I bounded off the bed, a small “meow” coming from Miso as I did. I threw open the closet door, shifting through the assortment of jackets and sweaters I don’t really wear anymore. At the back was a ratty old suitcase I use when we first moved out of Mom and Dad’s. 

I dragged it out behind me, lifting the case up onto the bed, then following it up onto the mattress myself. I quickly found one of the zippers, then proceeded to drag it along the teeth to open it. It was empty inside (no surprise), but it wasn’t very big so I couldn’t exactly take a lot of things. I fought the urge to take an armful of my plush toys and stuff them in but that wasn’t very smart… 

“Got anything yet?” Star spoke up, leaning against my doorframe as I turned. 

“What’s essentials? I understand we need some clothes, and maybe a jacket for rainy weather or something, and like our toiletries but do we have to worry about food? Can we hold off on winter clothes until that comes around? I mean, it’s basically going to be spring by the time we get there anyway so we have almost an entire year before having to worry about that.” 

My sister paused, nodding to herself slowly, thinking about what she actually meant by her own words. 

“And will we have furniture? I mean, Poppy Droppy’s farm has been sitting there alone for I don’t know how long so is the house even going to be livable? Are we going to have to sleep on the floor with no blankets or pillows or even heating? What about books? I know you like to read and write and I draw so are we going to take anything for that? Will we even have time for that?” 

“Well…” Star began slowly, considering her words, “We should see if we can contact this “Mayor Lewis” to let him know we’re on the way… Maybe Grandpa Drop already has that in order, considering he gave us the deed… He seems like someone to think things through." 

“As for recreational things… Just the basics to keep us sustained for now I guess. If this really does work out, we could always buy more along the way… I hope. Just bring an empty book and new pencils that you have for now, Dew, for when you get bored and an itch to draw.” 

“Okay cool… Also: nose game!” 

Star groaned when I touched my nose as soon as I said it, but we both knew she’d end up being the one calling anyway. 

“Fine… Just finish packing your suitcase then see if you can find those old boxes we had stored away. You can start packing everything else for when our parents show up to take it all.” 

I nod once more and Star took that as her leave. Miso curiously sniffed the open suitcase before looking up at me with large green eyes. My expression fell soft as I gently leaned over to pet her, feeling her purring under my fingers the instant I began. 

“I’m really going to miss you, you crazy ol’ cat…” I murmured to her as I picked her up to lay in my lap. 

She didn’t mind too much – she was used to my weird advances by now anyway. She stepped off me in favour of curling up on the bed, back pressed against my thigh. I ruffled the fur behind her ear, the old tabby following my hand as much as she could. The only thing about this new life I would regret is having to leave Miso behind. As much as I wanted to say “no” to Star and take the cat with us, Star’s point did stand, and since it would be a much longer ride than before, who knows how badly she’d react to a ride outside the city. 

I sighed to myself, pushing all those thoughts away in favour for the excitement of moving. 

The city always seemed dark and dreary. It was full of zombies that shuffled to work in the same pattern every day whilst breathing in the smog we called air. As full of life the city was, the city was more dead than alive. I could only imagine what the simpler life of a farmer could be like, having fresh air to breathe, hearing the songbird’s voice early in the morning, to be able to see the sun on a clear day and not through the smoke. 

I grinned, my hands forming fists as I threw myself off the bed to dig through my dresser for anything I thought would be suitable for farm work. Turns out, there wasn’t much, mainly white dress shirts that were required for working with Joja. I found some shirts that I liked, quickly stuffing them in my suitcase before digging through my pants drawer. I had a lot of skirts from Joja, and few pants because of it. I found some I liked, along with a skirt or two that were wearable and put them in too. After diving through my undergarments and taking some, I stood back to see how much room I had left. 

I pursed my lips, realizing that my case was incredibly small and that I didn’t have much room left. Biting my lip now, I strode over to my closet to take a light jacket, as well as to dig through the shelf above the hangers. There were a few books that I had stored there, mainly drawing books I filled the last few years. I sifted through the books, looking for one that I hadn’t used yet. 

“Aha!” 

I smiled widely, pulling out a sketchbook from underneath the pile. It was a cheap one you could get from the art store, but Star gave me this for our birthday this year, although it was left forgotten up until now. I quickly flipped through the pages, grinning even wider. Next to the pile of books were a few kits of drawing pencils I collected over the years. One set was still in the original packaging – another gift from my lovely sister this year. 

I took the pencils, book, and jacket, laying it on top of my growing pile of stuff in the case. 

Miso blinked slowly at me as I stared at my bed, wondering what else I should take. It was hard to think of other things that I would definitely need and not be able to survive without, but my mind was drawing a blank – perhaps from the excitement of actually moving again. 

I went back over to my closet, putting a hand on my chin in wonder if I should take another book with me but then it hit me – I should totally take our photo album! Of course we should take it; like what if we feel homesick one of these days when living out of the city for the first time ever and we wanted to be reminded of home without actually having to go home? 

I stuck my nose back amongst my books, quickly deducing that it wasn’t in my closet like I thought it was. My eyebrows crossed as I tried to remember what we did with it – it’s been literally forever since I've seen the book, let alone thought about it. 

I walked out of my room, back to the small sitting area to ask Star if she knew where it was. 

“Haha, yeah… Me and my sister Dew have decided to follow our grandfather’s footsteps.” 

There was a pause as I came around the corner. Star was curled up on the couch, a pen and notepad under one hand on the arm rest, the receiver up to her ear in the other hand. She listened intently, nodding to herself. 

“Oh really? That’s perfect then!” A pause. “Yeah… He must have been. He thought of everything, didn’t he?” 

Star’s blue-grey eyes caught mine, and she gave a small smile of acknowledgment. She tore her attention back to the phone, presumably talking to Mayor Lewis about our living arrangements. I decided to just check her closet instead of interrupting, not that there were many places the album would be without me really knowing. 

Star’s room was at the other side of our apartment (it was pretty symmetrical; the kitchen and living area were at the centre of the apartment with the storage closet and my room leading down one hall and the bathroom and Star’s room down an opposite hall.) I walked into her room – it was laid out like mine, but even less comforting. Her room lacked the flare that my plushies added to mine, giving it a more sterile feel, although there was a blur of green from her home-grown houseplants that were placed meticulously around her room. I ignored everything but her closet, opening the sliding door with a sharp tug. 

Star used her closet just like I did – storing things we didn’t need for the season, although her shelf was filled more than mine. I recognized a few books she had stuffed up there as some she kept re-reading in the past but found little time to do so now. There were a few binders I knew were filled with my sister’s writings and drabbles whenever she felt the urge to express herself on paper in a different way than myself. 

I sorted through the binders, looking for anything that vaguely looked like our photo album. 

“Oh, there it is…” I murmured to myself when I noticed it underneath an old shoe box my sister had stored. 

I tried my best to take the album out without needing to move the shoe box but it proved much more difficult than I thought due to the height of the shelf and weight of the box. It started to slip without me being able to stop it, falling to the floor with a loud crash. 

I winced, slowly taking the freed album from the shelf before falling to my knees, as I needed to clean up the mess of papers that spilled out of the box. 

I didn’t pay much attention to the assortment of letters and documents that Star kept – it was her stuff, not mine. I merely cleared the mess I made until I was left with one last letter that had toppled out. I grabbed it, along with the box lid, prepared to store it away for Star to sort through later until the stamp on the front of the letter caught my eye 

Golden Coast University

I paused. I vaguely recognized the name of the university – Star used to talk about how prestigious it was to be accepted into it. The letter looked old, and despite being very well taken care of, it looked like it was held very often. Without warning, I felt my heart in my throat. I didn't remember my sister applying for university, especially not this one. She would have mentioned it… multiple times, wouldn’t she? Ever since we left high school, we worked for Joja Corporation, something our parents urged us to do. It was boring, but it was stable job with a reliant paycheck. We didn’t have to worry about ever going hungry ever again but… 

“Hey, Dew? You alright? I heard a bang.” 

My eyes widened as I quickly stuffed the letter into the album instead of the shoebox it used to call its home. 

“Uh, yeah! I was, uh, just looking for our old photo album because I uh thought it would be good for us to take and I might have accidentally knocked over your shoe box and things might have fallen out and um I just cleaned it all up so you don’t have to worry about it or anything so uh I’m just going to put it back now so don’t worry about it Star it’s all cleaned up now.” 

I quickly stood up, grabbing both the album and box to put the box back where it belonged before Star appeared in the doorway. My heart was thudding in my chest for some reason; I couldn’t tear my thoughts away from the letter. When did Star apply for university? 

“You okay?” My sister narrowed her eyes, analyzing me carefully. 

“Who? Me? Haha, of course I am, Star. I just… Uh, I just got spooked when the shoe box fell because I wasn’t expecting it or anything so uh I’m just going to pack this into my suit case and see what else I’ll need to take and you asked me to find some old boxes right so I’ll see if I can uh find them too…” 

Star looked unconvinced but brushed it off as she stepped to the side, allowing me to walk out of her room. 

“Anyway, I was just talking to Mayor Lewis,” she began, following me towards my room. She stopped at the storage closet, presumably to look for the boxes instead of packing right away. “Grandpa Drop really thought of everything. He left money with Lewis for if we decided to move to the farm. He's going to use it to hire the resident carpenter to fix up the farmhouse a little for when we get there. Apparently Grandpa left them quite a sum, as they’re also going to buy new furnishings for us, and we don’t have to worry about moving any dishes either because Grandpa's old dishes are still in pretty good shape.” 

“Oh sweet! Omigosh, I’m getting really excited about this again!” I grinned, my thoughts pushing the letter aside – it wasn’t of utmost importance right now, so I'd have to remember to bring it up some other time. 

Star stumbled back from the closet while gripping some old dusty boxes we kept around just in case. I came out to help her, grabbing some so we could open them up. They weren’t very big, but we didn’t have much stuff to worry about; the furniture came with the apartment so mainly it was the cosmetics and dishes we had to pack away for when Mom and Dad came to collect our stuff. 

“The mayor said that everything should be ready for us around the first of Spring, so that gives us about a week to pack and move.” 

“Well, that’s tons of time, right? Like I’m pretty much packed now and since we don’t have to worry about working at Joja tomorrow we can spend time packing, right?” 

Star nodded in response, moving her boxes into the living area as I followed behind her. We set them on the floor for us to deal with in a bit. 

“I should start packing as well. We can leave the toiletries for last, as we still have a week left, and we’ll just wear any clothes we don’t want to take with us for now. Leave out one outfit you want to wear the day we leave, that way you’ll have a little more room to pack something else.” 

I hummed happily in response, grinning wildly. “I want to do my hair before we go too – it’s starting to grow out and I’d hate to have to deal with it when we get there so I’ll probably do that sometime tomorrow or maybe the next day or something.” 

My sister nodded in acknowledgment, looking around her with a sigh. She seemed to be having trouble really accepting that we both just quit our jobs out of the blue without much discussion, and now we were going to just live on some random farm we inherited when we were little. 

As I placed my hand on her shoulder for some sort of reassurance, the alarm I had set for the oven went off and I couldn’t help but have a grin stretch across my face for its amazing timing. “Hey, let’s eat first to help comprehend the possibly best decision we made in our life. I made lasagna!” 

That seemed to help set her mood as she offered a gentle smile in return. We filed into the kitchen as Miso crawled out of my room to join us for supper. 

.

Chapter Text

Oddly Prismatic

Chapter 3: [Star] Twins of the Valley

A cool wind blew brown locks of hair out of my eyes, and I wiped the remaining strands plastered to the side of my face back as I stepped into the shade the trees provided. At least the overgrown farm had provided a decent escape from the sun, even if clearing the land to start any sort of farm work had been exhausting. Wiping the sweat off my reddened cheeks with the white handkerchief that hung around my neck, I took a moment to take in the sight of the beginnings of our new life.

I eyed the rich blue sky as I took a moment to relish the fresh air that greeted my lungs. For a second, I let the excitement of being in a new place filled with signs of life thriving everywhere flood my senses. The birds were singing in the forest of winding roots which delved deep into the rich soil of Snowdrop Farm, and sunlight filtered through the leaves above, casting shadows on the ground that flickered and swayed when a gentle breeze pushed against the thin green sheets. Dotted through the broadleaf trees – oak and maple, if I’m not mistaken – were tall pine trees, with darker needled leaves that withstood the previous winter. They stood proudly, the wind failing to pull at their posture.

I then turned to the results of the early morning’s work. We had taken the time to roll the trees that fell to our attachable axe heads to the side of the cleared land, and so now they lined the rooted trees and created a barrier that separated the wilderness to the farmland. Small and large pieces of rock had found their place among the uncut logs, and the shattered rubble from our pickaxes’ strikes also sat beneath the shade. My shoulders still ached from that task, among the numerous other muscles that I hadn’t been aware of before. The tilling and planting of the parsnip seeds only added to the list of muscles that had no names, and the muscles that had already notified me of their existence only seemed to burn and transform into heavy weights that left me wanting to curl up in bed and sleep the rest of the daylight away.

It had been hard work, but looking at the small patch of upturned soil – a testament to our hardships – I couldn’t help but feel the weight pressing down on my aching body lessen.

This small little garden in front of Grandpa’s old house was the beginning of something that was entirely different from a standard desk-job at Joja. While it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, it was exactly what I had wanted when I had handed in my resignation letter. This was the change of pace that I had hoped for when we opened Grandpa’s letter. While enormous doubts and fears still lingered at the edges of my mind, proudly looking over our little patch of parsnips had pushed them from my immediate thoughts for the first time since we arrived.

This was the start of something new, and that was a good thing.

It had to be a good thing. After all, in just one morning’s work, I felt like I had accomplished more than I had in the five years with that desk and plastic nameplate. Then, in four days*, all the work put into the small patch of cleared land would manifest as our first harvest: after the hidden seeds grew into ripe vegetables that waited to be plucked from the ground.

With the hint of a smile, I swapped the interchangeable pole for the old-looking watering can. It had a few dents in the metal, and could only take water up to a certain point due to a small hole near its handle. As we got the tools for free, I couldn’t complain too much. Making my way to the small pond we had discovered when we were clearing the land, I dipped the mouth of the watering can under the tranquil surface of the cool water. As I waited for the water to fill the metal container, I glanced over my shoulder at the overgrown forest that we’d have to deal with before we could do much else with Grandpa’s land.

The discovery of the small pond, which Dew would’ve fallen into if I hadn’t instinctively snatched her wrist the second she seemed to lose her balance (I had saved her from countless falls that way, after I learned a long time ago that steadying her myself was a lot better than having her flail widely and grasp onto my hair or whatever was closest and knock us both off-balance), had sparked my interest. If the overgrowth had hidden a small pond, it could be hiding any number of other landforms. Some might be beneficial, once I figure out the different soils and conditions that specific crops prefer, but if half of our land is made up of water or unsuitable land…

Shaking away the worrying thoughts, I pulled the watering can from the water and watched the clear liquid leak from the small hole. With an ingenious idea, I pressed a fingertip firmly against the hole and hurried to the planted seeds. Recalling the mountain of books and manuals I had worked through in the small library a few blocks from the apartment before we left, I braced the bottom of the watering can with one hand as I removed my fingertip from the hole and began pouring. With the water tilted away from the hole as the nozzle sprinkled the liquid gently over the soil, the water didn’t escape through the side of the metal. Before long, the soil of the square patches had darkened.

“Alright…” I placed the empty watering can into my rucksack, “Next I’ll…” I trailed off.

With the seeds now planted and watered, my mind tried to turn towards the next task. Only for it to realize that there was no other task to complete so far.

Unease crept into my heart once more, as even though my muscles ached and desired rest above all else, there had to be something that needed doing. For a work day to end so quickly… I’m sure if I took stock of our current situation, I could find something more to do. With a quick nod to myself, I left the little garden behind and turned towards the farmhouse: making a list of things that needed to get done would provide me and Dew with some direction for the season. A planned approach to this new life was much more reassuring than an unplanned one.

A pile of leafy twigs and branches collected at the base of the stairs leading up to the deck. While an eyesore, we didn’t exactly have a use for them at the moment – nor did we know how to use them effectively. Just like the uncut logs that separated the forest from the usable farmland, the pile of green had no other place to be for a while.

The creaking of the stairs as they supported my weight ushered a sigh from my lips, and my eyes traced every chip of the deck that had broken off during the years of disrepair. While the carpenter, Robin, did a good job of fixing up the place for us, there was still a lot left to be desired… She had said something about a house upgrade yesterday, so maybe I’ll spend the rest of the day in town greeting everyone (as per Dew’s challenge) and seeing what not only the carpenter could offer us and the new farm, but everyone else as well.

Nodding to myself in agreement, I wiggled open the door (which inconsistently stuck itself against the door frame and needed an extra shove to open due to a loose-fitting hinge) and stepped inside the darkened house. While morning’s light streamed in through the windows, the single-room house (not including the small bathroom) still felt dark to me. It was probably more to do with the fact that I was so used to things being over-illuminated in the city that relying solely on sunlight was a stark contrast. Or perhaps I just hadn’t noticed how bright it was outside compared to the shadowed interior of the farmhouse. Either way, my eyes adjusted quickly.

After carefully removing my dirtied red rubber boots at the door as I stepped in, I ran my fingers across the wooden planks on the wall as I walked directly to my bed which was squished into the corner of the house. It was a decently comfortable bed, despite its less-than-glamorous appearance. Kneeling down onto the wooden floor, the end of my ponytail brushing against the old groaning boards as I lowered myself further onto the ground. Peering underneath the bed frame, I spotted my suitcase and slid it out from the darkness. Since there was no space to hold some of our things, the dresser being the only storage we had so far, anything that wasn’t clothes would stay in our suitcases for the time being.

Quickly unzipping and opening the suitcase, I then slung my rucksack from my shoulders as I eyed my belongings. There were a few journals, several important documents of both mine and Dew’s, a framed photograph of our family, an array of pens and pencils, and a lone cartoon-styled stuffed rabbit that sat atop a blank notepad. Lifting up the frame, I flipped it over to inspect the picture held within it. It was rare to get a picture of the four of us together, usually Dad was the one left out of all the pictures since he was the one who took them all. This was the photo a waiter took of us when Mom and Dad treated us out to Dew’s favourite restaurant to celebrate graduating high school. With a smile spreading across my face at the sight of teenage Dew’s happy grin (which may or may not be covered with the restaurant’s signature sauce) I rose from the floor and placed the picture on the dining table before returning to the open suitcase.

The soft pink fabric of the rabbit plush brushed against my fingers as I picked it up off the notepad. With a fond pat on its head, I put it back into the suitcase and grabbed the unguarded notepad as well as a black-inked pen from the messy assortment of different colours and types. Placing both items in the middle pocket of the green apron that shielded some of my outfit from the dirt I had been working in, I then closed the suitcase and slid it back into place without another glance at its contents.

Standing up, I pulled the straps of the small rucksack onto my shoulders and began inspecting the inside of the farmhouse and everything within it: a task which I had decided to skip last night in favour of sleeping. After a few minutes of wandering across the wooden floor, prodding and fiddling with anything that could be prodded or fiddled, I concluded that there was nothing that really required immediate attention. The door sometimes stuck, the window beside the table had a crack in it that caused a bit of a draft, the lack of a calendar, the woodstove was a little tricky to light (which would become problematic since I would be cooking a lot more than I had in the past), and the remote for the old TV was missing. The last of which was even a smaller issue due to the fact that there was only four channels available with the ancient satellite sitting on the roof – the weather report, a weird fortune teller one, a channel about living off of the land (which was pretty convenient), and a cooking channel that sometimes crackled in if a cloud moved into just the right spot. Well, I wasn’t really sure how much sway a cloud could have over the satellite picking up a signal, but it really felt like the cooking channel only came through whenever the wind was blowing in the right direction.

And there was absolutely no way I was going to try and mess with the old satellite when it was a miracle already that it still managed to give us any channels at all.

My fingers brushed against the seed bag Dew had ripped open as I reached in the middle pouch to grab the notepad and pen. I took out the garbage with a sigh before throwing it into the small trash bin hidden underneath one of the kitchen counters. An apology was definitely needed: there was no reason to be so frustrated with Dew over an accident – we were both trying to do our best in our new life. Engraving that thought into my mind, I pulled out the notepad and started writing down some things to ask the villagers about. When I came back to the farmhouse later, I wanted to have enough information to come up with a reasonably ambitious plan for S pring.

Within a few minutes, a small list had been made:

O Calendar. (Lewis?)
O Seeds?
O Map? (Something to get us acquainted with the town’s layout… If possible, a map of the farm would     be useful as well.)
O Tips on how to work the woodstove/getting a new one?
O Washer and dryer?
O Robin – House upgrades and other farm buildings she could construct for us.
O Upgrading the tools?
O Blue curtains for Dew’s window/ fixing the shutters...
O Make sure Dew hasn’t left any bad impressions when dashing around trying – and probably failing – to greet everyone.

I looked the list over again, and considered crossing out the last point, but decided to keep it on the list for now. It was more of a side note, as Dew had a habit of overestimating her ability to meet new people… Which usually ended up in rather embarrassing situations for her that also had the potential to give the wrong impression. With such a small town, they might not be used to the shyness my sister usually portrayed around strangers.

With a nod to myself, I grabbed the 500G that I had set aside to buy more seeds with as well as a small snack from the decently-stocked refrigerator (I’ll have to thank Lewis for having that foresight) for lunch later in the day. Shrugging on my dirt encrusted boots, I shoved open the door and strode out into the bright Spring day. After making sure the door had closed completely behind me, I made my way into town. While I didn’t seem to notice it when we arrived, there was a small slope leading down from the farm to the bus stop. As I passed by the road, the old bus still parked on the dirt shoulder, a breeze pulled a few leaves from the towering trees to my right and carried them past me as I continued onwards. Protected from the sun’s rays on both sides as I took the other path from the bus stop, as trees arched far above my head, my legs braced me against the steep decline the path took as the bus stop was no longer visible. My pace slowed, as my body instinctually warned me to take measures against falling, and I noted the steep hill as a possible hazard when Winter came. Salting the dirt path would probably fall on the town’s responsibility… But if it didn’t, we needed to be prepared for that cost. All in all, Pelican Town seemed to be quite close to the farm and was fairly easy to traverse (not being as overgrown as the farm itself). But the thought of the journey back to the farmhouse would be a harsher climb than going downhill – one that my already tired body immediately protested.

The dirt road soon turned into a cobbled pathway that split into two different paths: the left path branched off and led to some stairs set in the cliffside and the other that led to the town square. Noticing a circle of a red bricks set into the cobblestone square, I walked over to the center and took in my surroundings. Two houses were south of me, one had blue siding, and the other had been painted in a nice tan colour. There were a few flower gardens that bloomed eagerly with the early spring, allowing them to brandish their petals to the cool air. A brick building with ivy crawling up the side of it was directly east of me, and further south was a house with pale siding. In the distance, a lone, light-blue house stood behind the ivy-covered building. Directly north of the brick building was another tan-coloured house with the sign ‘Pierre’s’ hanging over what looked like a bulletin board, and a separate light-blue building pressed up against the side of it. A red cross hung over the door, so I assumed it was the clinic while ‘Pierre’s’ was the general shop.

“Hello there!"

Turning to look down the path south of the square, I was greeted by a friendly middle-aged looking woman with a warm smile spreading across her face. She had thick brown unruly hair which she tried to restrain by pulling it into a loose braid that fell over her left shoulder coupled the orange long sleeved shirt and green apron-dress suited her nicely. As she approached, waving at me when she saw that I noticed her, I mirrored her friendly smile and sent her a wave of my own.

“Mayor Lewis told me that you arrived, everyone’s happy to have the Snowdrop Farm back up and running!” She held out a hand as she reached me, and I shook it firmly, “I’m Marnie, I sell livestock and animal care products at my ranch. After you two young ladies get set up on that farm, I’d say you’ll be seeing me a lot! But, if you’re in the area feel free to swing by – I’m just south of your farm, in Cindersap Forest!” She gestured in the direction of the blue sided house.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Marnie.” I smiled warmly at her, which only made her beam back in return, “My name’s Star, and if you haven’t met my sister yet, her name’s Dew. I’m sure you’ll see her running around eventually. I hope we get along!”

“I haven’t seen your sister yet, but I just know you two’ll fit in nicely here.” She smiled brightly, “I know it’s a small town, but do you need any help finding your way around?”

Sizing up the town square briefly, I noted that the commercial buildings were self-explanatory with their chosen signage. The only problem I could see was the residential buildings of Pelican Town – and I certainly didn’t want to make a bad impression by entering a building under the assumption of it being a shop of some sort… Plus, having a local show me around would make introductions a little easier, if nothing else.

So, I smiled sheepishly at her, “Actually, I would love some help finding my way around. I’m looking to check out the shops and businesses around here to see what we can do to get the farm in working order...” Marnie nodded along with my words, “Would you happen to be able to help me with that?”

“I’m glad you asked, Star! I know moving from the crowded city to come to such a small town is daunting at first, but I’m sure you’ll find that everyone here is happy to help – you just need to ask!” She paused for a second, her eyes leaving my face for the first time since our meeting, “Even if some of them don’t make it easy to see it that way.” The woman shook her head, returning her gaze to me with a new smile on her lips.

“As for what we have in Pelican Town to help your farm along… Well, there’s Pierre’s,” She pointed towards the nicely decorated general store I had picked out earlier, “the store where you can get all sorts of seeds for your farm. I was talking to him just yesterday: he said that he was gonna start putting that kind of stuff in his stock because the farm’s being worked on again.” Her smile fell slightly, “There’s also a JojaMart on the other side of town, over the river, where you could also buy seeds… But, well… They tend to be a little pricey. My nephew, Shane, works there. You’ll probably meet him at some point, but his work kind of sets him on edge, so please try to overlook his… irritability.”

So even this little town couldn’t escape the Joja Corporation, huh? I wasn’t sure whether I was surprised by that or not, but I would not step foot in another Joja-owned building for the rest of my life. The plague of monotony that mega corporation spread was something I would never subject myself or Dew to ever again. Not if I could help it, at least.

With Pierre’s being the only remaining store left in Pelican Town, it looked like we would be doing all of our shopping there.

Marnie cleared her throat, having been caught up in her own thoughts as I had been mine, “Anyway… Clint runs the blacksmith shop just past Lewis’s house,” she gestured to the pale-coloured house that sat a little further away and below the brick building, “and then you’ll spot it – the library that Gunther owns is also there.” She paused for a second, “Well, I might as well tell you that to get to the beach you also need to head over to Lewis’s house and keep heading south – you’ll smell the saltwater before you see it. Other than that, you should visit Robin up to the north. Just follow the path from Pierre’s, and see if you can work something out with her to fix up your grandpa’s old coop and barn to get you started.”

“Wait, what old coop and barn?”

Dew and I had not come across any sort of building when we cleared out our little patch of tillable land. Were there structures hidden in the overgrowth? If there was a coop or a barn left behind by Grandpa Drop’s time on the farm (which, now that I think about it, it would be strange if there wasn’t some remains of his old farm) then we wouldn’t have to commission a new building. Repairs typically costed less than a whole new building – if they hadn’t fallen into disrepair in the last decade or so.

“Have you not found them yet?” She brought her hand up to her chin as she thought, “I didn’t realize that the farm had gotten that overgrown… I haven’t been up since your grandfather’s funeral was held – but from what I remember, he had a small coop, barn, and silo somewhere on his land. Near the middle, if I’m remembering correctly. By that large lake?”

Pulling out my notepad, I quickly scribbled down Marnie’s vague location (as the large lake she mentioned remained hidden) but it was better than nothing – at least we now could try and unearth the structures as we continued clearing the land.

“I’m sorry I can’t be much more help, dear.” I glanced up to see Marnie looking apologetically at her own words written down on paper as a clue.

“Oh, no! You’ve been extremely helpful, Marnie. Thanks to you, at least we know Grandpa Drop had some structures on the farm we can hopefully reuse.” I smiled at her kindly.

“Hmm… Well, I might know someone who’d be of more help with this… Do you mind coming to Pierre’s with me?”

“That’s very kind of you, Marnie, but I wouldn’t want to be any trouble-”

“Oh, hush!” She wrapped an arm around my shoulder and started walking with me in tow, “It’s no trouble at all! It’s where I was heading before I bumped into you!”

My protests died on my tongue as before I could say anything else, we were already in front of the glass doors of the general store. After sending another kind smile my way, Marnie pushed open the doors and ushered me inside as a chime of a bell placed above the door sounded, alerting the occupants to our arrival.

“Welcome to Pierre’s! I’ll be with you in just a moment!” A voice rang out from the back of the shop, and as I looked to see where it was coming from, I saw a man crouched down in front of the cash register, sorting out the items on display. While I was hesitant to interrupt the man while he was busy, Marnie placed her hands on my back and herded me towards the back of the shop.

“Hey, Pierre! Is that any way to greet our new neighbour?” Marnie was very much like a tornado, I found: hard to stop, hard to argue with, and able to sweep you up in whatever she wanted. It’s a good thing Marnie seemed so sweet – that unstoppable power could wreak havoc otherwise.

At her words, Pierre looked up from his shelves, and upon noticing me, stood up with a kind smile on his face, “Oh, it’s Ms. Drop, the new farmer!” He slid his glasses back up the ridge of his nose as he ran his fingers through his brown slicked back hair before reaching out a hand, “I’m Pierre, owner of the local general store. If you’re looking for seeds, my shop is the place to go. Once you get started, I’ll also buy produce from you for a good price!”

Shaking his hand, I returned his smile, “Thank you for the warm welcome, Pierre. I’m Star, and you’ll probably see my sister – Dew – running around eventually.” I glanced around the shop, eyeing several products that I had seen in Zuzu, while also noting a few that those overcrowded shelves didn’t contain. The general store seemed to be run by very few people –  a stark contrast to the grocery stores Dew and I were used to. Seeing the owner was one thing, seeing him stock the shelves himself was another entirely.

Produce lined the left wall, seeming to all be of a fresher variety than the ones back home. If Pierre wanted to buy whatever we managed to grow on the farm, then perhaps that would be a better alternative to shipping it to another city (which would probably be Zuzu, now that I think on it). But, there was research to do before I aligned myself one way or another – a mix of both shipping produce and selling it locally could also work…

Now I’m getting ahead of myself – I had to grow something before I could sell it.

“Where might these seeds be?”

“Ah! Right over here…” Pierre gestured for me to follow him, and I moved in order to do so.

Before I could get very far, Marnie laid a hand on my shoulder, “I’ll be right back with someone who might be able to help you find those old buildings.”

With a nod to Marnie, I rounded the counter as Pierre waited for me to catch up and saw her disappear further into the shop out of the corner of my eyes. A simple wooden door had been obscured by the two relatively small shelves when we entered, and it wasn’t until Pierre led me around the second shelf (a journey which was a bit of an uneasy squeeze for fear of knocking anything over as the shelf and counter were only a singular person’s width apart) that it came into view.

For a second I thought it was the storage room, but seeing as Pierre was unfazed by Marnie disappearing through it, I considered its destination once again. Perhaps it was a washroom? A secondary room for the shop? In that case, knocking down the wall that separated the two would give the shop a little room to breathe… Maybe this was both the shop and the house of Pierre?

I shook my head. Marnie had just waltzed into the room without even knocking or checking with Pierre to see if she would be let in – it couldn’t be Pierre’s house.

…Or could it?

I’d heard that smaller communities were a lot friendlier than people living in the city, but walking in uninvited? Is that something people just did around here?

I hope not-

“-And each season, I’ll have a new set of seeds for sale so that they’re on display for their planting period… Miss Star?” Pierre’s voice brought me out of my thoughts, and he gestured towards the counter, which I could now see had an assortment of seed packets waiting to be tried out. Some were displayed on top of the counter, but most were placed on the shelves beneath it, arranged packet for packet with the pattern of seeds displayed on top – a quick guide to tell which packets were which instead of pulling every packet up an inch to see what their labels indicated. 

“Thank you, Pierre! And just ‘Star’ is fine!” I shot him a quick grin, “Sorry, I haven’t really been in such a… general store quite like this one before. Got a little distracted trying to take it all in.”

Pierre knew the seasons in which the seeds grew, something which I now added to the growing list of things I should’ve researched more before arriving. As a general store owner, it would make sense for him to know what fruits and vegetables are in and out of season… But even so, maybe I should’ve put more time into studying these kinds of things rather than taking a few ‘vacation’ days to hang out with Dew. There’d be lots of time for that later, once we had time to settle in and get our lives in working order…

Those hours could’ve been used a lot more efficiently…

“How long has the shop been running, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Making small talk with Pierre, I looked over the options for the season’s crops. Parsnips (the same packets that I had opened earlier in the day) were priced at 20G, Green Beans at 60G, Cauliflower at 80G, Potatoes at 50G, Kale at 70G, and then there were Tulips and Jazz flowers at 20G and 30G respectively. With only 500G set aside to buy seeds… choosing what to risk any kind of return on was an important decision – one that took time.

“Hmm… The shop’s been running for quite some time now – but I’ve only had ownership of it for about… twenty years or so. It’s a family shop, named after my grandfather, so it’s been around even longer than your grandfather and his farm!” Pierre laughed, memories probably flooding back to him.

I nodded along to Pierre’s story as I crouched down to inspect the packets further, the time taken to explain the shop’s history (which made it seem like Pierre wasn’t hovering) was just enough to make up my mind. Two Bean packets, and four Potato packets would bring us up to a total of 320G, which leaves us with 180G in case this first round of crops doesn’t make it to harvest. This leftover can then be used for more seeds or food, should our refrigerator run low (even with the 280G I put aside for food), we could always use this money to buy enough to last us until another (hopefully) successful harvest. With a nod to myself, I pulled out the packets I needed.

“Pelican Town had a hard run of it once your grandfather’s land was left unattended. A little agriculture could really inject new life into the local economy!”

His breathy laugh died out after a moment, an awkward silence ensued as I processed Pierre’s words.

Did the residents of Pelican Town expect Snowdrop Farm’s opening to cause a resurgence of the local economy? Did they expect me and Dew to do that in such a short time, when we were so inexperienced at working on a farm? Exactly how well did Grandpa Drop do with running his farm…? I hadn’t really stopped to think about it, or ask Dad any questions about the old Snowdrop Farm before we came. He mentioned it briefly – that it was a place he had fond memories of: the horse that took a liking to him, the view of the fields ripe with wheat, the smell of home baked bread that he swore Grandma Drop had a secret recipe for…

It was a far cry from that little patch of dirt we worked on today. And my hands still burned in places that would surely blister later in the day, even though the gloves I wore protected most of the soft skin – unworked skin.

A lifetime spent in the city prepared me for an eternity at a desk job, filing reports and typing up documents. The only sweat-worthy work I’ve ever done was when the AC broke in the Joja building (adding more heat to the already hot room), or when carrying groceries up the eighteen flights of stairs when one of the elevators malfunctioned, and the other was known for slowly jolting up the floors (something that everyone who’d lived there long enough recognized as a probable hazard, but it didn’t really matter until it was the only uneasy ride up to the top).

A rural life, filled with backbreaking work day in and day out… Was a city girl even capable of that?

Realizing that Pierre was still standing there, waiting for a response, I let out a well-disguised nervous laugh, “Hahaha… We’ll certainly try our best, Pierre.”

Before he could say anything else, a new voice cut in as the door Marnie disappeared into opened again, “Hello! You must be Star, the new farmer.” I stood up from my crouch to see who the unfamiliar voice belonged to as she approached the two of us, “I’m Caroline, Pierre’s my husband.”

A woman with green hair bundled into two loose ponytails greeted me with a soft gaze and wide smile. Returning her smile and miraculously juggling the six seed packets into one hand, I extended the other towards her, “It’s nice to meet you, Caroline,” after a beat of hesitation as my eyes glanced towards the wooden door before glancing between the two of them, “Do you two live here or do you commute from down the street?”

Gesturing to the town square as I said this, she gave a small chuckle and shook my hand as Pierre smoothly placed a hand on her shoulder and laughed along.

“No, no… Pierre and I live in the back of the shop. We also have a daughter, Abigail. Have you met her?”

“Ah, I see. No, I haven’t-” As soon as I started shaking my head in answer to her question, she released my hand and turned to call out over her shoulder – cutting me off quite effectively.

“Abigail! Come out here and say hello!”

Standing awkwardly in the aisle together, the three of us watched the door for signs of movement. After a moment or two, the door was slowly opened and the impatience that had been growing in Caroline’s body vanished. A girl with shoulder-length blue hair that shone purple in the lighting, and looked to be around my age walked into the shop. A plain black choker adorned her neck, and she wore a sleeveless blue jacket which flared down to her thighs with a grey buttoned shirt that had the top two buttons left undone underneath. A simple belt held the jacket close to her waist, and dark leggings with warm-looking boots completed the look.

It was stylish, and something I could see Dew throwing together.

Her eyes met mine, and I found that they shifted from green to blue depending on what way the light reflected from them. I offered a smile, and she gave a small one in return – one which bordered on a grimace when she looked towards her parents, who were still standing beside me.

“I’m Star, it’s very nice to meet you.” I held out a hand, “Me and my sister, Dew, will be living on the Snowdrop Farm from now on.” Marnie came back into the shop as Abigail shook my hand, and Caroline quietly excused herself from the situation – Pierre wasn’t too far behind as his daughter gave him a pointed look.

“That’s right… I heard someone new was moving onto that old farm… It’s kind of a shame – I always enjoyed exploring those overgrown fields by myself…” She trailed off, releasing my hand from her grasp while raising and eyebrow at me with a smirk, “Star and Dew, though? You’re lucky you guys didn’t grow up here, with those names.”

I grinned at her, “It was our dad’s idea… But yes, luckily enough, no one in Zuzu knew about the Valley, so we didn’t get called out on it often.” She chuckled along with me, “So, you’ve been exploring the farm?”

“Yeah. An overgrown forest has all sorts of cool secrets hidden inside, and it was the perfect place to get some alone time – you’d be surprised how hard that can be with everyone so… close.” Her face scrunched up at the mention of how small Pelican Town was, and it took all I could to not mirror her expression at the thought that I’d eventually find out exactly what that entailed.

“Have you come across a small coop, barn, or silo somewhere on your explorations? Marnie recalls the structures being somewhere near the middle, by a large lake of some sort?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen those…?” She looked off to the side, shoving her hands in the pockets of her long jacket, taking a good minute before responding, “Yeah! Those are all around the lake. From what I remember, the silo’s in the best condition. I don’t know which building was the barn and which was the coop… but one needs just to be patched up, the other… well, the other looked a little too unstable to enter. There was also another building a little further away from the lake that looked to be in decent condition… and there… there was also some sort of foundations nearby that as well?” She scrunched up her face again, “I’m not too sure how far away those were from the lake though. Sorry.”

Trading the seed packets for my notepad and pen, I scribbled down what she recounted on paper, and shook my head at her, “Don’t be sorry! Any information at all is useful. Besides, we’re not even close to being able to repair them or even finding them – just trying to take stock of what we have and figure out what we need from that.” I flipped the notebook shut and gave it a small shake as if to show her that the notepad was substituting as a planner for now, before I returned it to the pockets of the handy art apron.

With the seed packets in hand, I gestured towards the counter, “Well, unfortunately I need to get a move on: I’ve got a lot of stops planned for the day. If you see Dew around, please say hello to her – but, uh…” I lightly shook my head as yet again, I couldn’t keep the smile from my face as I thought of Dew trying to greet people, “She’s extremely shy when meeting new people. She’ll warm up once she stops overthinking it, I promise!”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you around.”

With a polite nod, I excused myself and found my way over to the counter Pierre was standing behind, seemingly waiting for me to come by. With some small talk that insinuated he had overheard most of the conversation between me and Abigail, I bought the packets and placed them in one of the empty pockets in the green apron. With a small wave, and a promise to be back again, the chime of a bell announced my departure.

But before I could step outside of the shop, I noticed someone standing by the door, hand outstretched to grab the handle that I had already pulled open. While my brain struggled to find out how I didn’t notice her standing there before, I stared blankly at her for a moment too long before I realized what I was doing. Opening the door further and standing to the side, I gestured for her to step inside before I exited.

“Sorry about that! I wasn’t expecting to see anyone standing there, so you kind of surprised me!” As another chuckle escaped me, I took the time to examine another resident (potentially in my age group) of Pelican Town.

Her long tawny hair was pulled away from her face and placed in a braid which fell onto her right shoulder. Brown suspenders found their place over her two layers of green – a light coloured t shirt and a darker coloured vest – and connected to the noticeable, yet simple, belt. Grey jeans flecked with numerous colours were rolled up at the ankles, showing off the tops of her shoes easily. Her lilac coloured eyes searched my face for a second before she shared in my friendly smile, and stepped inside the general store.

She stopped beside me, and held out a hand in greeting as she laughed heartily, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you!” I grasped her hand, shook it briefly, and released it as I introduced myself.

“Nice to meet you too! I’m Star, me and my sister will be living at the old farm from now on.”

She nodded quickly, and I got the feeling the news of us arriving had spread like wildfire, “I’m Leah. You picked a good time to move here… the spring is lovely.”

I took a moment to glance outside at the soft, warm, light that streamed into the store. Unmuffled by tall buildings, unappreciated until rainy days delayed the bustling of bodies moving along from one point to the next in the day-to-day rush of the city… Spring in the countryside looked like a completely different world than that in the city.

Which is exactly why we moved here in the first place.

I laughed a little, “After living in the city for so long, it’s like I’m experiencing the season as it was intended for the first time.”

“I can agree with you there – it’s a nice change of scenery.”

With a wave, she found her way between the aisles and I stepped out of the shop and made sure the door closed behind me. Taking a deep breath, I tried to shake off the sinking feeling in my chest – one that had been growing since I spoke with Pierre. While I wanted to hurry back and work on the farm, sowing the seeds I bought as soon as possible, I pushed the urge away and started walking towards the Mayor’s house. Along the way, I pulled out the notepad and crossed off one of the items on the list that made its home on the first page and added a few more tasks:

O Calendar. (Lewis?)
O Seeds?
O Map? (Something to get us acquainted with the town’s layout… If possible, a map of the farm would     be useful as well.)
O Tips on how to work the woodstove/getting a new one?
O Washer and dryer?
O Robin – House upgrades and other farm buildings she could construct for us.
O Upgrading the tools?
O Blue curtains for Dew’s window/ fixing the shutters...
O Make sure Dew hasn’t left any bad impressions when dashing around trying – and probably failing – to greet everyone.
O Blacksmith (Clint?)
O Library (Farming resources?)
O Finding Grandpa Drop’s buildings (by ‘lake’)
O Fixing up Grandpa’s farm buildings (Robin?)

As I finished up, the weight of the writing utensils against my legs as the pocket was filled once more, I found myself on the steps of Lewis’s house, and knocked on the dark wooden door.

After a moment, the door opened with a loud creak that made me believe the door was just as heavy as it looked, and Lewis stood before me. The confusion displayed on his face soon cleared as the flash of recognition showed in his eyes and he broke into a large smile.

“Ah! Star, it’s good to see you. How are you finding Pelican Town so far? Have you met many of your new neighbours? Would you like to come in for some tea?” He opened his door further, welcoming me into his home as he waited for me to answer his questions.

Laughing lightly, I shook my head, “Thank you for the offer, Mayor Lewis, but I’m afraid we’ll have to do so another time – I’m running a lot of errands today. I’ve met a few already, and so far it seems like Pelican Town is filled with very kind and friendly people…” He nodded along proudly, shifting his body against the frame and listening closely to what I was saying, “I was wondering if you had any sort of makeshift calendar we could use for the time being? Or have any sort of map in your possession of the town or of the farmland that we could borrow?”

“Hmm… I don’t really have a calendar on hand, but if you’re not looking for anything fancy, I could make one up quickly-”

“Oh, no! You don’t have to do that-”

“It’s not a problem, my dear! I’d be happy to help you out. I’ll be sure to put important dates on it as well, such as the numerous festivals Pelican Town puts on for it’s citizens! I’ll be sure to send you additional information when the festivals get closer, but having a rough idea of when to take some time off to participate in the festivities would be useful for you two.”

“Well, if it’s not a problem…”

“Nonsense. As for a map of the town… I might have an old map or two in the attic. I’m afraid getting a map of the land is out of my abilities, though. I believe Pete had one for planning out how he was going to use the farmland… But who knows what he did with it.”

Hearing Grandpa Drop’s first name was a rare occurrence in our house – Dad usually just called him ‘Grandpa Drop’ along with us (something that started so that we would learn to call him that when we were young, and stuck around), or just ‘Dad’. It was kind of refreshing. And a little melancholic. Having only seen him once or twice when we were little, the only memories I had of him were hazy and unfocused. And because of how young we were, most of the time I think I ‘tricked’ myself into remembering interacting with him because of the pictures that Mom and Dad kept around the house of him.

“Thank you very much for your help, Lewis!” He waved my thanks off, but before he could once again brush off his considerate actions, I continued, “And I would love to stay and chat, but I’m afraid that I do have a lot of things to get done today…”

“Not a problem, Star. It’s good to get a head start on a new life. I’m glad to see that you’re taking it seriously.” He shook his head, the wide grin never leaving his face, “Anyway, I’ll bring over whatever I can find some other time. If you’re not at home, I’ll just leave it in the mailbox.”

“Ah! You don’t have to come all the way out-!”

“Don’t worry about it! I’m looking forward to seeing Pete’s land turning from a forest back into a farm. It’ll remind me of the good ol’ times!”

Thoughts of Lewis continually inspecting the progress of our farm resurfaced the urge to return to the farm and start clearing and preparing the land immediately. The restlessness surged through my body, making a pit form in my stomach while the overwhelming need to do something to lessen the feeling forced my hands into the pockets of my apron to fiddle with the notepad and roll the pen around in my fingers. As I rapidly clicked the pen, I offered Lewis a grateful smile that didn’t quite reach my eyes, and removed myself from his doorstep.

Matching the wave he gave me as he closed his door, calling out another goodbye to me, I continued on the pathway towards the blacksmith and library. Both buildings were now in sight, and as I crossed over the stone bridge that separated the larger portion of the town from the one containing my next destination, I pulled out the notepad again. Crossing two more items off the list, I felt the coil my stomach had knotted itself into loosen slightly.

Slivers of blue JojaMart colouring peered through a grove of trees at the green painted building of what I assumed to be the library (with the plaque of a book above the door) and the grey brick building of what I assumed to be the blacksmith’s I stood before. A grimace instantly made its way across my face at the sight of the Joja Corporation, and I quickly walked up to the purple door of the library to distract myself.

As my fingers touched the doorknob, I came face-to-face with a sign hastily put up on the door: “Library is closed for the time being. Will reopen within the week!” written on it in big, bold, lettering.

With a curious shrug, I made my way towards the other building, letting myself in without knocking as I noticed the ‘Open’ sign on the door. Another chime sounded, and as I looked around at the storefront, I could hear someone rustling in the backroom.

There was a large furnace of some kind in the far corner of the room, and the basalt stone that contained it led from the structure to the surrounding ground. While the walls were made of a lighter coloured stone as well, the wooden siding that covered the bottom half of the walls were bare directly around the forge. An anvil also found its place on the area of stone floor, and I gingerly walked over to it (although I did not leave the wooden flooring to do so) to take a closer look.

I didn’t know too much about anvils, but with the slight discolouring of the metal on the surface, I’d assume it had been there for a while.

Turning around as I took another glance around the room, I found myself in front of a table and two chairs, as well as a small cabinet with some sheets of paper on it. Curious, I took a step towards the paper, but before I could inspect them further, a voice sounded as the creak of a door accompanied it.

“Lewis, you…” I turned around, and he looked severely confused as to what I was doing in his shop, “Er… hi…?”

A friendly smile spread itself across my face as I approached him, still skirting the stone-laid area, and held out a hand as I introduced myself, “Hello, I’m Star. My sister, Dew, and I will be taking over Snowdrop Farm for the time being. I heard that you were one of the people that could help us get the farm back in shape?”

His confusion cleared, and as he shook my hand, he introduced himself with a shy smile, “Ah, I see. I’m Clint, the town blacksmith. As for helping your farm out… Well, if you need to upgrade your tools, I’m your guy.”

Nodding, I pulled out my notepad once again, “And around what would that cost us?”

“Well, if you need to buy the metal here as well, it would take five bars. Depending on the metal… the price changes, but let’s say you were looking for a Copper Tool of some sorts. The copper required would cost you 375G, and then making the tool would cost you 2000G.”

Scribbling this down on a new page, I paused, “What if we could find you the metal you needed elsewhere?” If there was some cheaper way to get the material…

“Sure, if it’s quality material, I’ll work it. Without the cost of material involved, it’ll still cost 2000G.”

Nodding once again, I recorded the optional deal to the paper, “Is there any other services you can provide?”

Clint took a moment to think, scratching his beard as he did so, “Well, if you wind up getting horses, I can outfit some horseshoes for ‘em. 50G per horseshoe. And if you find any geodes or anything, I can break them open for you.” Noticing my confused expression, he continued, “Pelican Town started out as a mining town, the occupation sort of died out years ago, although, the mines got blocked only recently… so there might be a few lying around that had gotten loose beforehand and got washed out, or something. That Joja business has someone trying to clear out the rubble for us… They ended up outbidding me for the contract... Anyway, if you go down searching for ore, you’ll have to be careful. Monsters have taken the mines for themselves – I could forge a sword if you guys were interested in that sort of thing.”

I paused, giving Clint an incredulous look. I’d never heard Pelican Town mentioned as a mining town… but, having a blacksmith in the Valley without any real need for it (our Grandfather probably needed one, but it would be weird for a blacksmith to open up just for one farm) is stranger than Pelican Town starting as a mining town.

If we could get into those mines, we could try and get the ore Clint needs to upgrade our stuff… and with enough of it, we might be able to just trade a lot of ore for an upgrade… But, that’s hinging on the fact that Dew and I can, at the bare minimum, identify ores and then successfully free decent pieces from their veins.

And monsters? Living in Zuzu kept the city free of monsters inside the walls. The fact that monsters typically stayed away from humans (a few generations ago it was supposedly a difficulty, until we drove them away from human settlements) and didn’t usually travel outside of their homes, meant that any sort of interaction with them were few and far between. But, security measures were taken to keep monsters out, and the monsters that did come by Zuzu usually left it alone or were shooed along. Entering the homes of these monsters, though? They’d probably be less inclined to move along when asked nicely.

Some combat training might also be a good idea… If the mines ended up reopening, that is.

“Uh… is there anything else I can help you with?”

Clint’s voice drew me back from my thoughts, and after offering a smile, I politely shook my head and took a few steps towards the door, “No, I think that’s it for now. Thank you, Clint, you’ve been very helpful. Unfortunately, I still have to speak with Robin, so I’ll take my leave… But if I have any more questions, I’ll be back!”

“Alright then. I guess I’ll see you around.”

“I look forward to it.” With a wave, I spun around and left the blacksmith behind and stepped out into the noticeably cooler air.

I made my way north, seeing the second bridge further up the river, and steeled myself as the JojaMart came into view. Purposefully focusing my eyes solely on the bridge, I passed by the out-of-place blue building without even once allowing my eyes to drift over to its features out of spite.

Arriving at Pierre’s, I turned up the path that Marnie spoke of and continued up the steps. As I reached the top, I took in the view that unfolded before me. There was a large run-down building with a clock placed above the door and a fenced area adjacent to it that contained a dark-leafed tree and a… bench of some sort? After a few moments of keeping my eyes trained on the clock hands, I recognized that the clock seemed to be broken – without a second hand attached, I waited for a while (well after a minute) for the minute hand to move. It didn’t, leaving the clock stuck at 3:30 – which was around the time it was now.

There was another fenced area to the left of the building, which I couldn’t necessarily tell what it was supposed to be used for. A water fountain was to the left of that, with a few benches surrounding it, and then a small playground with more areas to sit was placed into the corner of this higher part of Pelican Town. The mountainous region beyond the cliff face – which towered above the playground – looked like it grew taller the further it stretched from the town’s boundaries.

The elaborate playgrounds in the city, padded with a hard rubber material which usually contained all sorts of monkey bars, slides, small rock climbing walls, swings, merry-go-rounds, pirate ships, and much more, made the small Pelican playground look even smaller. But the sand that lay beneath the small playground’s equipment showed the town’s superiority compared to the city: the inkling of nature existing in the world could never be found in the concrete jungle.

Although the rubber ground gave us scratches and bruises whenever we landed a little too hard, Dew and I spent a lot of time in the park a few blocks from our old house after school. Even when the summer made everything in that playground a dangerous, burning, hazard.

Looking over my shoulder, at the town below spread before me, I felt a spark of optimism course through my being. At the very least, I enjoyed being in Pelican Town far more than I enjoyed being in the expansive, yet restricting, city.

With a lighter heart, I followed the path – at a slower pace then what I had left Clint’s at.

After a few minutes of walking along the dirt path, I found myself in front of a beautiful looking home. Unlike most of the other houses in Pelican Town, this one looked like it had just been built, not a wooden plank out of place, and what looked to be a brand-new fence wrapped around the house and restricted access to the shed behind the house.

A telescope was planted in front of the shed, which reminded me that stargazing was hard to do in the city, and I wondered what a star-filled sky looked like. However, before I could inspect it further, a man standing outside of the house drew my attention away.

“Greetings! I’m Demetrius: local scientist and father.” The man left the potted plant, which he seemed to be inspecting, wiped his hands off on a handkerchief that was tucked in his dark coloured jeans.

“Good afternoon! I’m Star. My sister, Dew, and I will be living at the Snowdrop Farm…” Taking a glance down at the ring he wore on his left ring finger, and the fact that he was standing outside of what should be Robin’s house… “But, I’m sure Robin already told you that?”

We briefly shook hands, and a wide smile spread across his face, “Yeah, she told me you guys would fit in nicely around here. Thanks for coming up to introduce yourself! Did you want to come in for a bit?”

I hesitated, but an offer inside the house would allow me to speak with Robin, so I nodded enthusiastically and followed him as he gestured towards the door.

“I’m studying the local plants and animals from my laboratory – its in the house. I tend to lose track of time when I’m in there, so if you ever come by and I’m working on something, I’m not ignoring you!” He laughed at that, and opened the door, allowing me to step inside first as I laughed along with him.

“I know what you mean – sometimes I get so focused on something, that I don’t even realize someone’s calling out to me until they come right up next to me!”

“Haha! I’m glad to find someone who’s the same way!” He glanced around the foyer, which seemed to double as a shop based on the counter in the corner, “I don’t want to alarm you, but I’ve been outnumbered here for a long time.” Demetrius seemed like the kind of guy who was easy to talk to, as he tried to make you comfortable with every action he did. It was strange, but I found myself liking the easy air he brought with him.

“Now, what kinds of ideas are you putting into her head, Demetrius?”

Robin appeared, holding two plates and grinning playfully at the two of us as Demetrius walked up to her. With his hands raised in mock surrender, he approached.

“I’m not putting any ideas in anybody’s head, dear. Promise!”

She stared him down for another moment, before her grin grew as she rolled her eyes. She held out one of the plates to him, “Here. I was planning on bringing you out a plate, but it seems like you’re here now, soooo go eat in the kitchen before you head out!”

“Alright, alright,” He grabbed the plate from Robin while kissing her on the cheek before turning to me, “I’ll see you later, Star! Try not to get eaten alive!” He chuckled, quickly making his escape as Robin tried to hit him half-heartedly, heading down the hallway with a wide smile on his face.

Robin shook her head at his antics, placing the plate down on the counter before turning to me, “Don’t listen to him, Star. Anyway, your sister stopped by earlier!”

I paused, raising an eyebrow, “Oh? And… how well did that go?” She started laughing, and I grimaced. With that kind of reaction, Dew most certainly left an impression. One that could hopefully be rectified after Dew settles in.

“Hah! I don’t think I’ve ever SEEN anyone turn that red!”

Well, at least she didn’t break anything.

“Haha… She’s a little shy to begin with… but we decided to have a contest to see who could meet everyone first.”

“Oh really? That sounds exhausting… but I guess having a competition makes it easier to introduce yourself over and over again. Who have you met so far?” She grabbed her sandwich, taking a bite out of it as she waited for me to speak.

“It’s not so bad. I’m more worried about Dew overdoing it. I’ve met Marnie, Pierre, Caroline, Abigail, and Clint so far.”

 Robin nodded, “Making your way around town, huh? At least you’re faring better at greeting everyone than your sister – when she came by, my son Sebastian,” She gestured towards the hallway, and I noticed there were stairs that led down to a door, “came out of his room when she was speaking with my daughter, Maru. Let’s just say… he was less than decent. Your sister looked mortified.” She laughed, “But, Sebby was blushing up a storm as well – maybe that’ll teach him a lesson for next time!”

I chuckled a little at her story, determined to hear Dew’s rendition of it once we were both back at the farm.

“Anyway, I’m sure you’ll hear all about it later. Now, is there anything you came up here that I can help you out with?”

I nodded, pulling out my trusty notepad and pen, “I was wondering about a few things, actually, now that we’ve had a day to scope things out.” She nodded, finishing off her sandwich before giving me her full attention, “The woodstove’s a little old, and tricky to start… so some potential options for later on would be helpful. I’d also like to ask about ways to get a washer and dryer in the farmhouse and I’ve learned that Grandpa had a few farm buildings left on the farm, but we’re still looking for them, so if you could assess their condition and perhaps repair them once they’re found…? Are there any other farm buildings you could possibly construct for us?” I paused, quickly running down my list. “And, well, I don’t know if you’d be the one to ask about this… But the shutters in front of Dew’s window are stuck so if you have any sort of curtain to hang over window, that would be excellent. Or, if we could get you to potentially fix them, that would also work.”

“Wow. Okay…” She took a deep breath, and a moment to think through her answers, “The woodstove is pretty old, but it’ll last you for a while… If you wanted to replace it, that’s something that Pierre has to order in for you. If you wanted to exchange your woodstove for a stove, you’d have to get a house upgrade first, as Pete’s old farmhouse isn’t equipped to handle that. It’s the same for the washer and dryer – the hookup I can do, but it’ll cost more to install it in that house now, then it would be to set it up while I’m upgrading the house for you. The physical washer and dryer you’d also have to order in from Pierre’s.” She pulled out a book from beneath the counter, “The farm buildings left on your farm I could probably repair if they’re not in bad shape. For a repair job – although it will depend on how much needs to be repaired – will certainly cost less than a regular build job. But, if you want to have the buildings in a different place other than where Pete put ‘em, you’d have to make a new building – so make sure you look at where you want them before coming to me!”

She slid the book over to me, “As for other farm buildings, in this book, there are a few buildings I’ve constructed for the other farms a little further from the town… any other structure you want, you’ll have to come to me personally to hear what kind of thing you’re looking for.”

Flipping through the book and seeing some buildings that looked like they came straight out of a children’s book about farms, I wrote down the prices, sizes, and the information she listed as ‘required materials’ for each one – which had an alternative, and cheaper, price scribbled next to it.

“Required materials? So, if we supply the materials you need, the price goes down?”

“Yup!” She popped the ‘p’, “If you bring me the materials, you’re only paying for my services and the time needed to construct the building.” As I finished up writing my notes, and marking off a few items from my to-do list, she took the book back and returned it underneath the counter, “For the shutters, I’ll be happy to swing by and see what I can do.”

Nodding happily, I returned my writing utensils back to my apron, “How much would that cost us?”

She gave me an incredulous look, “Cost you? You’ve been living in the city far too long…” Shaking her head in what I took as mock-sadness, she quickly broke out into a grin, “It’s just fixing a shutter: it’s just being a good neighbour! I’ll swing by sometime tomorrow. The look on my son’s face earlier today is payment enough, anyway!” With a loud laugh, inciting me to laugh along with her, I quickly said my goodbyes and made my way out of the house after calling out my goodbye to Demetrius (to which I got a muffled response).

As I made my way back towards Pelican Town, with the intention of going home and planting the seeds before it got too late (I don’t even know where the time went). But, as I got to the town square, a strong breeze coming from the south brought with it the smell of the ocean. Marnie did mention that there was a beach nearby…

Perhaps I should stop by and take a quick look before heading back?

With a quick glance towards the sky, noting its darkening colour, I figured I had a little bit of time. Besides, I was used to working late – and since Dew had been on the same schedule as me, she wouldn’t be hungry for a few more hours…

Nodding, I made my way south, my eyes trained on Lewis’s house as I did so.

The last time Dew and I had been to a beach, was during a paid school trip just before Dew dyed her hair black. The sound of the sea had been relaxing, and the way the bright sunlight reflected off of the cresting waves made it all the more appealing to jump into the cooler-than-expected water. After a mouthful of saltwater accidentally entered Dew’s mouth (she had wanted to ‘surf’ the waves inward, but hadn’t expected the force of the waves crashing onto shore), we built the largest sand-village that beach would ever see.

It was well thought out, in accordance to my younger self’s understanding of the way villages were set up: a central well that was surrounded by a marketplace, roads that bore no resemblance to the blocks in the city, and houses haphazardly placed inside the wall that Dew constructed perfectly. But, the grand castle we built high above the village was the most spectacular feature of all.

It was a strong castle: it’s king undeterred by the relentless battering waves that threatened to consume his beloved village. The seaweed that covered the tallest spire of the castle was the only remnant of the sea having been there at all, and some said that the castle had been there long before the village had been constructed. That it had been created under the waves, standing tall and proud, but solemn as it reigned over no citizens of its own. Sculpted by the very same king that compelled the sea from his city, being tired of his lone castle walls…

Angered by his betrayal, the sea vowed to take the castle back, trying day after day, reaching far into the land to drag its creation back into itself… But, to this day, the King and his castle withstood the tide. And, they would continue to do so until the sea no longer tried to return him to its depths.

I let out a chuckle at the fantastical story created from two young minds. It had all started with Dew wanting to use the seaweed for some part of the castle, but she became disheartened when it didn’t quite line up with how she imagined it. She kept muttering under her breath, ‘It’s not right…’, ‘That’s not how it looks…’, or, ‘It’s missing something…’, among many others. After trying just about everything, the story of the King’s struggle against the tide flowed easily from me, and the seaweed became a banner: draped over the tallest spire as a symbol of the kingdom. One that inspired the King’s people – why they kept repairing the walls that the water softened… One that continually angered the sea, as it was a challenge: reclaim the banner, and you have reclaimed this castle.

… And since we never returned to that beach, I like to think that the kingdom still lives on. Perhaps it’s even grown larger since we left it.

“Ah, I’m assuming you’re Star? The one who moved onto the old farm?” Hearing my name, my head shot up – my eyes moving from the ground to meet the green eyes of the man standing on the bridge leading to the beach.

He had long, very well-cared for light brown hair and dark eyebrows. A green… tie? Cravat? Was tied around his white collared shirt, and a red jacket that had hopefully seen better days (the fabric looked thin and worn) was worn over it. Dark green pants that also looked well worn (and had patches of sand encrusted on the knees, although it seems a valiant effort to brush off the clinging particles was made) and equally worn (and sand covered) shoes completed the outfit. As I examined him, he straightened himself, no longer leaning over the edge of the bridge and turned towards me fully as a hand still rested on the smooth stone.

“Yes, I am. Pleased to meet you.” I walked up to him, offering my hand (the left one, as his opposite was hanging idly at his side), “I assume you’ve heard from the other villagers to know my name already?”

His warm hand easily covered my own as he let out a laugh, “Your arrival has sparked many a conversation,” his eye seemed to twinkle as he leaned in, as if he was telling me a secret, “but I actually got a few words out of your sister, Dew? She mentioned you by name in her… ranting.”

Laughing lightly, I rubbed my forehead out of endearment as I shook my head, able to clearly imagine my sister stumbling over her words, “I’m surprised you could get that much out of her! She rambles a lot when she’s nervous. And, well, meeting people makes her nervous. I hope she didn’t leave any bad impression?”

“No, no… Nothing of the sort! It’s quite refreshing actually… But never mind that…” He grinned at me, “I’m Elliott. I live in the little cabin by the beach,” He nodded his head towards the direction of said beach, “It’s a pleasure to meet you – and your sister. She ran off before I could tell her as such, so please be sure to let her know.”

Shaking my head at Dew’s shyness (something we really should’ve worked on in the city before we moved out here), and agreed to pass along the message.

As the sky noticeably got darker, I decided to head home instead of visiting the beach. After talking a little more with Elliott, I bid him goodnight (he seemed to speak a little ‘fancier’ than I normally did, but it was actually quite infectious, and by the constant twinkle in his eye which could only be called as ‘mirth’, I think he recognized this fact too).

The trip back to the farm was quick, helped by the hurried pace I set as my mind bent itself around the act of planting the seeds before calling it a day…

But as I returned to the farm we inherited and found it to be just as overrun with trees and their gnarled roots, the only piece of solace from the shadowed forest was the small barren patch we worked long and hard to clear this morning, I felt disheartened. While the upturned soil indicated that life was starting to take root in the open plot, my eyes instead found themselves locking onto the encroaching forest. The towering and twisting trees loomed over my heart, and ensnared my mind with the large shadows of doubt they cast.

It was such a small plot of land… And so much work had gone into providing us with just this. This haphazard patch of ground that supposedly granted us ‘farmer’ status as we played around in the dirt, hoping that we would get lucky.

The lightness of my heart quickly turned heavy once more, the worry pulling at my fingers as they found purchase on my pen, clicking it rapidly as my heart raced. The sound echoed in the darkening field, and my mind turned to the words of Pierre and Lewis. The former, mentioning that the farm opening once more would put some money into the economy (which infers that Grandpa’s farm had an economic impact when it was running) and the latter, saying that he would be coming up to see the unimpressive job we had done so far…

There was still so much work to do.

With the amount of money we had left over, we needed to do well on this – especially when people in this town seemed to be expecting so much from us, when we didn’t even have any sort of experience…

With that in mind, I got to work. I tilled the land, able to do so on my own as the patch we cleared earlier was just large enough to house the new seeds. Tucking the opened packets into my pockets, all the seeds now safely buried beneath the soft soil, I then watered them carefully. Giving up with the dying light, I headed inside only a half-hour after Dew called out to me for supper. But as I wiped the dirt from my hands and face in the small bathroom, I found that the shadows in my mind had followed me inside.

As I sat down to a nearly-cooled plate of food, I listened intently to Dew’s version of encountering Robin’s son:

“Omigosh, Star! I just met like, the cutest guy I’ve ever met, and he had black emo-y hair and he was so pale that he sorta reminded me of a vampire but vampires aren’t real, right?”

She leaned her elbows onto the table, seemingly waiting for a response in the brief pause after her question – but I knew better, and didn’t interrupt.

“Well at least I don’t think they’re real but if they are then I think this guy would make the perfect vampire with his pale skin and dark hair and – omigosh Star – he had the prettiest violet eyes! He’s Robin’s son which is so cool because we already met Robin, so we already know his mom and I met his dad and his sister and they seem like cool people too like his dad is a botanist, so I think you’d like him with the plants and stuff and his sister seems really nice as well like she had pretty glasses and I liked-”

“Breathe” A quick, but deep, inhale later and her pace hadn’t slowed.

“-her overalls. But Sebastian – that’s his name, isn’t it awesome – lives in the basement which is totally cool because he has his own apartment to himself basically and omigosh Star he was naked when I first saw him.” I raised an eyebrow at her, “Well, not naked naked but like he was shirtless and he was wearing the cutest boxers ever that were like white with a bunch of little red hearts on it like I didn’t think they really existed – only in cartoons – but he was wearing a pair and ugh, Star, he was so cute like omigosh.”

There was a lull in her rant as she stared off into the distance, and I had the time to think about Robin’s comment of Sebastian not being entirely ‘decent’, before she snapped out of her daze and picked up where her brain thought she left off.

“He was a little skinnier though, like he didn’t eat a lot or something because I could see his ribs but he did a have a bit of muscle – especially around his upper body but I’m not sure if he works out or not because Robin said he was shy and that he worked as a programmer most of the time and that he had weird schedules for coming out of his room so I think it was fate that he came out at the moment I was there because I got to meet him and I think I really want to be his friend. I think he got a really good impression of me too because I walked up to him like no one’s business and introduced myself as Dew and mentioned you as my sister and shook his hand and he said his name was Sebastian and omigosh Star his voice was so cute like it was low and quiet and his face was so red from embarrassment and gah I want to see him again and be his friend!”

“Oh really, now?” I picked up my plate, noticing the end to her rant as she sat back in her chair – the wood squeaking in protest, and brought it over to the sink.

“Yes? Why? Did you meet him too? What do you think of him? Do you think he’s-?” Dew was by my side immediately, earnestly trying to gauge how I felt about him as I gently washed the thin and ornate dish.

“Oh, I just think that you want to be a little more than just ‘friends’ with him, that’s all.”

I didn’t have to look at her to know that her face turned red again, and so my playful smirk came easily, “STAR!”

She shoved me out of embarrassment, but as I was prepared for it, the fragile plate had left my hands moments before impact as I laughed loudly.

“Ahaha! Alright, alright. I’ll stop teasing you.” She huffed adorably, “Elliott mentioned that you came across him when I spoke with him earlier, and told me to say that he enjoyed meeting you. Apparently, you ran off without letting him get a word out.” I through her another mischievous look, which earned me another shove – though this one, I noted, was lighter than the last.

“Dew?”

“I’m sorry.” The words were mumbled, and as I glanced over to her she seemed to be staring down at her toes and fiddling with her hands.

“For what?” Noticing the change in atmosphere, I walked over to comfort her, wrapping my arms around her shoulders and holding her tight.

“I wasn’t any help on the farm today. I couldn’t introduce myself properly. I-”

I shushed her, cutting her off, “Shh… I’m sorry too, Dew. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. And I’m sure that tomorrow we’ll both do better. We’re still settling in, so we’re going to make a few mistakes here and there. But, Pelican Town is shaping up to be a great place. We’ll try our best to make it here, so don’t worry, okay?”

She nodded, sniffling discretely before breaking from my grasp and emerging as the same old bubbly Dew as always, “Alright then, we need to go to sleep and rest up for tomorrow then!” She scurried off to the bathroom without another word, presumably to get ready for bed.

My brow furrowed, the thought of Dew worrying over anything always pulled my lips into a frown. With a sigh, I wandered over to my bed, setting my alarm a few hours earlier, and curled up under the cool blankets. Before Dew got up, I’d take care of most of the farm work and get a head start on the farm so that she didn’t have to worry about it.

With that, I drifted off into a dreamless sleep, urging myself to ignore how it seemed to feed the shadows that danced in the back of my mind.


*PLEASE NOTE*


Growing times: the growth of produce will be the same of that in the game, and as we are taking that to be the way of the Stardew Universe, it’s not astounding to have crops grow that quickly (i.e. fully grown parsnips in four days).

Chapter Text

Oddly Prismatic

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.

"Oh!"

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.

"Huh…"

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.

"What's up?"

"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."

"Yes!"

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.

"Hey… wait!"

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?"

"Star!"

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.

Mines:

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.

"Oh!"

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.

"Hello?"

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."

"Righty-ho!"

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."

"… Okay."

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.