The rest of the walk back to Runa’s town consisted of her asking Tabitha all sorts of questions about where she was from and looking up at her with stars in her eyes at every response. After all, it wasn’t every day that somebody got to hear about flying metal tubes, virtual worlds within a world, and how rude somebody could be to a fast-food worker! Well, that last part didn’t make Runa too excited. If anything, it made Runa scared of the world that Tabitha came from. She simply couldn’t understand how somebody could be so rude and horrible.
And when it came to talking about rude customers Tabitha had to deal with, there were many stories she got to tell Runa. If anything, she ended up going on a whole, rambling rant about customer after customer. She finally let out all of the negative feelings she had toward her customers onto Runa.
“Ah… it feels good to get all that off my chest,” Tabitha said. “Thanks for listenin’. It ain’t every day I get to rant like that.”
Runa nodded, happy to be of service even if it made her terrified of Tabitha’s world. “You’re—you’re welcome. If it makes you feel any better… everybody in the village is really nice. We all look out for and take care of each other.”
“Sounds like some good folk. Well, as long as they won’t yell at me because I got an itchy nose and scratched it against my arm, because they think I must be sick and am tryin’ to get them sick since I’m handin' them their bagged food while wearin' gloves, I won’t have a problem with them.”
“I… don’t think any of them would do that. I—oh! We’re here!”
Tabitha perked up as soon as she heard that, shoving away the negative thoughts associated with her former customers as the village ahead came into view.
The country girl in Tabitha’s heart couldn’t have been more excited at what she saw.
Beyond the trees was what looked like a small, rural village of wooden houses with the backdrop of a coniferous forest in the distance, rolling hills, and a river that ran right through the village before bending away. The houses were all pretty simple in how they were designed, each one with a slanted roof and chimney, but they were so cozy at the same time. It was the kind of village that, if it was in a movie, looked like it was designed to be the epitome of cozy, rural life. Either that, or it was designed to be the setting for a horror movie where everybody living there was a psychopathic murderer with an axe and taste for human flesh.
Tabitha really hoped it was the former rather than the latter.
That aside, she saw that some of the houses were connected to large, fenced fields with what looked like an insufficient number of livestock grazing in them while others were connected to larger buildings that looked like shops or inns. Not only that, but Tabitha could see even more people like Runa with bestial characteristics going about their daily lives in the distance. Only, there was next to no consistency from what she could see. Some of them looked like they were even more bestial with limbs covered in fur while others looked even less animalistic. Tabitha expected them to basically all look like Runa with canid ears and a tail but, instead, none of them looked like her from those she could see.
But if there was one thing that really caught Tabitha’s attention…
It was the only building in the village that had an active chimney with billowing smoke rising from it. It wasn’t just that, either. There was a pile of what looked like unrefined rocks sitting outside it, another pile but of wooden logs with a cover over them, and the distant sound of a hammer meeting metal over and over again.
Tabitha had no idea who was in there, but they were already her best friend as far as she was concerned.
But while that might have been what caught Tabitha’s attention, the sight of her and Runa with an injured leg was what caught the attention of a lightly armored man with a bow and sword who came running up to them. The small, rounded ears atop his head reminded Tabitha of the earlier bear’s ears, and his right arm was significantly larger and furrier than his left arm.
“Runa!” the man shouted. “Are you alright?!”
Some of the other villagers in the distance stopped what they were doing to look over at the commotion.
“I’m alright, Elias,” Runa replied to the worried man. Though, even if she said that, it didn’t make the worry on his face disappear. Instead, Elias turned his attention toward Tabitha. “Who is this human you’re with? Did she hurt you?”
“Oi,” Tabitha said to Elias. “It’s awfully rude to look right at somebody and talk about them to their face. If you’re gonna look at me, talk to me, not somebody else.”
Runa, not knowing whether to feel more awkward, worried, or entertained by Elias’s expression, had no idea how to react and went quiet.
As for Elias, he looked like a child who just got scolded for being rude and had no idea how to respond. All he could muster was a nervous, “I—I’m sorry.” Fortunately for him, taking a deep breath helped him relax. “We don’t often see humans around here, and you have one of our own injured within your hands.”
“Yeah, because I’m helpin’ her. Does it look like I’m holdin’ her hostage? Come on now.”
“I—well,” Elias paused, looking Runa over. Between the splint for her leg that he knew she couldn’t have made on her own and the fact that she was using Tabitha as a crutch, and the fact that Runa was the one holding the basket with the strange-looking spear in it... “Alright. I—I’m sorry for being rude. I was just worried about her.”
“Listen, you just apologized which is more than any customer has ever done for me, so it’s alright. Besides, it ain’t like I can’t understand your concern. Name’s Tabitha, by the by.”
Elias nodded and said, “I’m Elias. Thank you for helping Runa.”
Before Tabitha could say anything else, Runa had to set the basket down and bring her hand up to cover her mouth as she couldn’t hold back her laughter. “E-Elias! You—your face! I haven’t seen you look that way since that time Lucas yelled at us!”
“Don’t—don’t remind me of that!” Elias whined.
“Oh, I can’t wait to tell Lia about it. I wonder what she will think of her husband still making such faces!”
“Please, Runa! I—”
“Hold on now,” Tabitha interrupted. “I don’t mean to interrupt or anythin’, but it’s been a long day and I’d like to go relax. Also, I feel like a third wheel right now. So, I’m gonna leave you two to it.”
“Wa-wait!” Runa said. “What about—what about helping us?”
“We can uh… get started on that tomorrow, alright? Besides, you should probably let the others know or somethin’ that I’m here to help before I go pokin’ around. But first, ya need to get your leg checked out. So, go get your leg checked out, let people know what’s goin’ on, and I’ll go do my thing in the meantime.”
Elias looked down at Tabitha’s leg, still bandaged using a strip of her pants, and asked, “What of your own leg?”
“It’s fine! Probably.”
Runa looked down at Tabitha’s leg next. “I… I didn’t even notice you were hurt. You were hurt but you helped me make it back here. I didn’t even—”
“I’m fine. Promise. Look, I’ll get it checked out uh… tomorrow or somethin’. I just really wanna relax right now.”
A worried sigh left Runa’s lips, but she nodded. “Alright, but you have to promise you’ll get it checked out. Our village alchemist can—”
“Y-yes? She’s our doctor and—”
“Does she got a cauldron and all that? Can she brew potions and stuff with it?!”
Both Runa and Elias looked confused, and slightly concerned, over Tabitha’s sudden excitement. Even so, Runa nodded.
“Sweet! Alright, I promise! I’ll check her out as soon as I can!”
“I think the point is for you to get checked out,” Elias said.
“Yeah, yeah, same thing. Blacksmithin’ today, alchemy tomorrow… well, ain’t I just the luckiest gal to ever exist.”
“Blacksmithing?” Runa asked. “I—I thought you wanted to relax?”
“I do. That’s why I’m checkin’ out that obvious blacksmith’s place.” Tabitha pointed at the building she meant, causing both Runa and Elias to gulp when they saw where she was talking about.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Elias said. “He can be very… aggressive toward travelers. Especially the human kind.”
“Nobody is scarier than my Gramps was. I’ll be fine. Now, ya gonna take Runa or what?”
Elias could tell that there was no stopping Tabitha, so he took Runa from her and sighed. “Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.”
Tabitha smirked and gave him a thumbs-up. “I’ve got this.” She then took her spear from the basket and was about to leave before remembering something. Looking at Runa’s waist, she pointed at the sickle and asked, “By the by, can I have that?”
“The… the sickle?” Runa asked.
“Yeah. I don’t got me any gatherin’ tools yet. Might as well start my collection.”
“It… should be fine?”
“So, I can have it?”
Runa looked down at the sickle, still not entirely sure why Tabitha looked at it with such excitement, and then nodded to Tabitha.
“Sweet, thanks!” Tabitha took the sickle from Runa’s waist and set her eyes on the blacksmith’s shop… and then remembered she was forgetting something else. “Oh. Right. My bowl.” Next came shoving her bowl into her pocket. Now she could go to the—
“Thanks—thanks again,” Runa said. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I hope.”
“Heh. Ya can count on it.”
Now Tabitha could go to the blacksmith’s! With her spear, a bowl, and now a sickle, Tabitha ran off toward the blacksmith’s with eyes of excitement and dreams of everything she might find there.