Tabitha and Runa continued talking until the latter’s excitement finally calmed down and let her fall back asleep. That left Tabitha alone with her thoughts again, which were entirely focused on all things crafting.
And just to make sure that she didn’t accidentally wake Runa up, Tabitha actually kept her thoughts to—well, her thoughts for once.
I need to take apart ten items for that skill the old man mentioned before. Then I’ve got to get that up to rank three so I can get the one that’ll let me convert items I’ve made into experience. I’m guessin’ that, to rank it up, I’ll just have to take apart a whole bunch of different items? Well, I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. There’s no rush… but I really do wanna rush it as quickly as I can. Though I reckon goin’ monster huntin’ wouldn’t be a bad idea. Hunt monsters, gain experience, get materials, and craft. Gramps always told me that huntin’ for sport is for weak men, but huntin’ for food and hide is fine. As long as I’m actually gettin’ use out of killin’ them, I don’t think I’ll wake him from his grave.
Though, even if she had the resolve to go and hunt wild beasts and monsters, the thought of which made her far more nervous than she would admit to, she still needed to craft herself some better equipment before doing that.
Her to-do list grew by the minute.
Fortunately, she was about to scratch one of the items on her list off as she heard a door elsewhere in the building open. It was hard for her to make out what was being said as Hanne talked to somebody else in the other room. Though, when Hanne came back to where Tabitha was and quietly beckoned to her so as to not disturb Runa’s rest, Tabitha finally had her chance to get out of bed.
“You stay put until your leg is better,” Tabitha whispered to Runa before leaving the room with Hanne.
Tabitha quickly discovered that the rest of the interior basically just looked like a regular house. There was a hall leading to a bedroom, a dining table, a kitchen—the house had everything that a normal house would have. It was just that the back two rooms were for alchemy and doctoring, apparently. Realizing that, she got to thinking about how sanitary things were. If the village doctor basically acted out of their house, and it didn’t exactly look like a sterile environment, then they probably didn’t understand just how risky a lack of cleanliness was in medical environments.
Doctors didn’t start washin’ their hands with soap until the eighteen hundreds… and even then, a ton of them didn’t believe it made any difference. Would folk even believe me if I tried tellin’ them that there was a bunch of bad, microscopic bacteria on their skin that is invisible to the naked eye that could do some serious damage when operatin’ on somebody? Then again, in a world with alchemy and magic and all that, maybe it’s not too big a deal.
“Oi,” Tabitha said to Hanne. “Do ya wash your hands before tendin’ to patients?”
“Hm? Of course,” Hanne answered. “I always wash them off first.”
“Yeah, but with hot water and soap?”
“Why would I boil water for that?”
“Right… hot water access probably ain’t too common. Well, just so ya know, the doctors figured out that: one, hot water kills more germs—nasty little buggers that ya can’t see all over your skin, reduces infection chances and all that; and two, soap helps a lot with gettin’ that bacteria off ya. A lot more people started livin’ when doctors started washin’ their hands first. Now, I don’t know how to convince ya that’s the truth, and I know it might sound crazy, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.”
“I see. Well, it’s something I will keep in mind.”
She’s not buyin’ it, huh? Ah well.
“Now, where are they? They must have gone outside. It is a nice day, so I can’t blame them,” Hanne said, leading Tabitha to the front door and opening it up. Surely enough, a man and a woman were standing just outside of it.
The new woman looked even older than Hanne with hair that began to grey, but the most catching part of her appearance were her heterochromatic eyes. One blue, one brown, both some of the brightest eyes Tabitha had ever seen before. The lower half of her face was slightly elongated more than a human’s normally would be, giving her an even more bestial look than the pointed ears on top of her head, but she looked human aside from that.
Then there was the man she was with. His condition looked far worse than the older woman’s. While she only had ears and an elongated face, the man she was with had a body that Tabitha couldn’t imagine was comfortable to have. The right side of his body looked human as far as Tabitha could tell, but the left side of his body was significantly different. His left leg was digitigrade and looked like pure, black fur-covered muscle. The pants he wore didn’t even bother trying to cover his left leg, only his right. The differences only continued higher up on his body as his left shoulder stuck forward more than his right, and everything was covered in fur. Even his left arm looked more like a beast’s leg than an arm with a padded paw in place of a hand, sharp claws sticking out from it. Though, the difference between the two sides of his body stopped at his cheeks. While the right side of his face was like a normal man’s, the left side was covered in fur right up to just underneath his eye.
More importantly, the man looked Tabitha up and down with suspicious eyes while the woman he was with offered her a smile. “You must be Tabitha,” the woman said. “Runa told us about you last night. My name is Elea, and I am the chief of this village. I do hope that you have found it accommodating thus far.”
Tabitha wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t expect to hear such a polite tone of voice from the chief. It did help her relax a little, though. “Nice to meetcha.”
Elea nodded and held a hand in front of the man next to her. “And this is Simon. He may have a mean face, but I assure you that he is a sweetheart.”
Tabitha looked up at Simon who only grunted and nodded at her. Tabitha nodded back before returning her attention to Elea. “So, ya wanted to talk?”
“At least a little. Runa told us what she could about you, and she told us that you would look into our problem. While I do not expect anything from you—not to say you are not capable, I simply would not rely on hoping for help from a stranger—I would still appreciate it if you could give us your thoughts. I have heard of Summoned coming from worlds with even greater advancements than ours, so perhaps you will be able to recognize something we cannot.”
Smart lady. “Did ya know that washin’ your hands in hot water and usin’ soap to scrub them makes ya extra clean and safe?”
“Is that so?”
“You got it! Trust me, ya start doin’ that and the average lifespan will probably shoot up a couple decades or so, and it’s the simplest thing ya could start doin’ right away.”
“Interesting. Hanne, that sounds especially important for you. Please do consider trying it out for some time and letting us know what you discover.”
Hanne sighed and shrugged. “Alright. I have to admit, it sounds ridiculous, but I won’t refuse if you think it’s worth it.”
“It would do us no harm to test it.”
Hanne nodded. “I understand. On that note, I still have work to do.”
Tabitha looked up at Hanne and said, “Thanks again for takin’ care of me. And I promise that the hot water and soap thing ain’t a lie. Promise on my Gramps’ grave.”
“Like I said, I’ll look into it, and I promise to take it seriously until I have reason not to.” With that, Hanne returned inside and closed the door behind her.
“Now then,” Elea said, “would you accompany us over to the fields? There is much I would like to talk with you about during the walk.”
“Sure thing!” Tabitha said. “I told Runa I’d check things out, so I’d be glad to. By the by, ya got a carpenter here?”
“We do.” Elea pointed to the western end of the village where Tabitha could see a single house with a surplus of logs sitting outside it. “A friendly fellow, he is, though a bit skittish. Do try to be gentler with him than you were with Joseph if you plan on introducing yourself, alright?”
“Ahaha… so, ya know about that.”
“The whole village knows after how loud the two of you were.”
“My bad. Anyways, fields. Let’s go.” Tabitha really just wanted to get it over with so that she could get back to crafting.
Simon took the lead.
During the walk, Tabitha answered all of Elea’s questions and more. Most of them were questions to confirm what Runa told her about, but there were a few other things on the topic of advanced knowledge that she was curious about. Unfortunately for her, there wasn’t much Tabitha could say in regard to knowledge from a futuristic society.
The handwashing aside, they already knew about irrigation, crop rotation, documenting the spread of disease, and so on. Everything that was simple that Tabitha actually felt she could teach was common sense, which she figured would be the case. There were things like combustion engines, electricity, and advanced mathematics… but none of those were topics that she knew well enough to educate others on. All she could do was talk about advanced technologies without any way of explaining how they worked. Though, that was enough to make the wrinkled eyes of Elea light up with awe as if she was a child being told a grand story.
Though, when it came to Tabitha asking Elea about being a Summoned, things began to make less sense.
“Well,” Elea said, “I must admit I have never once heard of a Summoned randomly arriving as you apparently have. The stories involving Summoned typically involve a summoning ritual to summon them, and they find themselves bound to a summoner who grants them a special boon unattainable to those of us native to this world. One of the greatest Summoned that everybody knows the story of is Finnian the Thief. His name might imply a less wholesome nature, but he was a wonderful man according to legend. He was given the power to steal any skill he saw with his own eyes, and he used his skill to slay the legendary beasts that once ruled our world. Only their remains are left, still rotting thousands of years after their deaths.”
Finnian definitely ain’t a name that we had thousands of years ago. Either there’re other worlds out there these folk are summonin’ from, or there’s somethin’ weird with time goin’ on, Tabitha thought, nodding along as Elea talked.
“In every case, a Summoned has arrived for a specific purpose with a known benefactor. Truthfully, we should suspect you of lying as you do not meet the known criteria that all other Summoned meet.”
“Then why do ya trust me?” Tabitha asked.
“Who said I do?”
“That’s a good point.”
“Here is how I see it. Runa believes you and I would not crush that girl’s hopes so easily. It is also highly unlikely a lone human would ever come into our territory with no supplies. Your clothes are unlike any we have seen before, I have not heard an accent anything like yours in my entire life, and Joseph let me know that he could not detect a single lie from you. You may not be a Summoned in the traditional sense, but it is clear you at least believe you are from another world. So, why not entertain that exciting possibility?”
“Heh. I like that. And don’t worry, I promise I’d never lie to ya. I even told Runa herself that she shouldn’t just assume I’m somebody great and all that.”
“I know, she told us. And should it be proven you are a liar with hostile intent—well, that is what Simon here is for. He may be a sweetheart, but he is not without his fangs.”
Simon grunted again just in time for the trio to reach the fields. As far as Tabitha could tell, it immediately looked like they were growing corn in the field in front of her… or at least trying to. It didn’t take long for Tabitha to realize that something was seriously wrong going by how many of the crops were black in color with holes that looked like they were burnt into them.
Tabitha didn’t waste any time in walking up to the nearest, affected crop to check it out. There were no bugs that she could see and it looked nothing like any blight she’d ever seen before.
There were basically only farmers who lived in the same county as her grandpa and her, and Tabitha was often sent on chores to help them out with their harvests. In exchange, they gave her and her grandpa more than enough produce to last them. She was familiar with what blight looked like as well as a few other conditions that might negatively affect a harvest.
What she saw looked nothing like anything she knew.
There was a ruined ear of corn, so she picked it and used Analyze on it.
An ear of Northern Yellowhusk.
“Oi, Menu. Ruined tag,” Tabitha said.
This item has been ruined beyond any usable purpose.
“Don’t exactly tell me much.” She dropped ear and looked back at Elea. “How long has this been goin’ on for?”
Elea sighed and lowered her head, saddened by the sight of the crops meant to feed her people. “Signs of it first showed before the season of frost during our final harvest. We hoped it would not be an issue, and we made sure to grow yellowhusk first this year since it has always been our most resilient crop, but you can see what has happened.”
“Any idea what’s causin’ it? Any theories at all?”
“We believe it may have something to do with the river. The crops closest to it were the first affected and the ones that deteriorated the quickest. But we have been drinking that water and are dependent on it, so if that is the issue… I have no idea what we are going to do.”
“And it’s never done this any other year? And the folk are all fine? Nobody’s gettin’ sick from drinkin’ it?”
“Only the last harvest and now this one, and everybody has been fine. We are considering skipping the next growing cycle to give whatever it is an opportunity to die out, but…”
“But that should’ve worked over winter.”
“So, the water’s the number one culprit. Has anybody tried examinin’ it?”
“Hanne has. She found nothing out of the ordinary with the water. She has also watered her garden with water from the river and her plants have all been fine.”
“I reckon ya get your water from the part that flows through town, right? Not up here by the fields?”
“That is right.”
“Hmm. So if it is the water… then whatever’s in it might not be makin’ it down to the village. Have ya tried movin’ your fields?”
“We are already in the process of that, but it will take time. We have to clear the land and prepare fertile fields, and all of that takes time away from trying to salvage what we can of our current harvest. And because there is no guarantee of that helping, we do not know if it will even be worth it.”
“Definitely ain’t a pleasant situation.”
Elea lifted her head and looked toward the forest. “It is why we have been placing so many traps. We prefer to live in peace with the beasts of the forest, only hunting when we need to, but we have been forced to hunt and trap them if we do not want to starve.”
Tabitha picked up another ear of corn only to get the same result as before when analyzing it. It was a piece that was barely even blackened by the strange affliction, too. “I take it ya know about preservin’ meat? Saltin’ and all that? Fermenting stuff? Pickling?”
“Figured. How about fish? Can ya fish in the river?”
“There have been no fish so far. At least, not in our river, and our fish traps and nets have not worked too well in the river Runa found you by. They keep getting destroyed by the bears.”
“They probably see an easy meal and steal it for themselves, destroyin’ your traps in the process.”
“Most likely, and we cannot afford to watch them at all times.”
“Ya said there’ve been no fish this year. Does that mean there’re fish other years?”
“Yes. They swim upstream to lay eggs during the season of rain, and their spawn swim downstream during the season of growing, which should be now. But no spawn have come from upstream despite us having seen their parents travel upstream before the season of frost.”
“Think that might be related at all to what’s goin’ on with this blight?”
“We have not considered it, at least. It would not be the first time such a thing has happened. The river remained frozen for nearly twenty days longer than average this seasonal cycle, and the eggs have been known to perish during extended freezes.”
“Hmm. Has anybody been upstream at all? Maybe look around and see if there’s anythin’ wrong up there?”
Elea and Simon looked at each other before looking at Tabitha. “No,” Elea said. “We have not permitted anybody to go beyond the reach of our fields.”
Tabitha tilted her head, mainly due to how Elea suddenly sounded a lot more serious. “How come?”
“The forest you see up there,” Elea pointed up the stream, “is fae territory. We leave them alone to live in peace and they return the favor.”
“What if they’re responsible? What if they might be doin’ somethin’ to the water?”
“They would never.”
“But how can ya be sure?”
“We have coexisted for centuries. Even when all our neighbors wished to claim our land for themselves, the fae remained in their forests and only struck out when our invaders dared to enter their territory. So long as the fae are left alone, everybody else is left alone.”
“Hmm. Am I allowed to go up there?”
“You will not be given permission to. However, should you attempt such, you will not be stopped by us.”
“The fae will be the ones to stop you, and you will not return to us.”
Part of Tabitha was tempted to go and explore and see if she could find anything upstream, but she also didn’t exactly want to march straight into hostile territory where she might die. Did she like the idea of a dangerous, adventurous life full of crafting? Yes. However, when she thought of danger, she imagined herself mining rare ores on the backs of active volcanos and things like that. She didn’t exactly imagine herself marching right up to things that might want to kill her. At least, not living things.
“Well, I’ll think about it,” Tabitha said. “I’ve got some other things I really want to do, and I don’t exactly have any idea where to start with this blight. Sorry if that’s not the answer ya were hopin’ for.”
“It is most alright,” Elea said. “Even if you did know what was wrong, I would not expect a stranger to help us solve our problem for us.”
“I promise I’ll help if I can figure out how to. But for now, my craftin’ hands are getting’ itchy. I wanna make somethin’. Besides, I do my best thinkin’ while I’m craftin’. Maybe it’ll help me think of somethin’ to do with this blight.”
Elea offered Tabitha a gentle smile. “Then it sounds like you should go make something.”
“That’s exactly what I’m gonna go do!”
“Whatever it is you plan on making, however, please do be safe. I heard about what happened with the tree. I would rather not have to bury a visitor to our village.”
Tabitha rubbed the back of her head with a not-so-innocent smile. “Aha… I’ll do my best to be careful. Promise.”
That meant she should probably start with making a helmet.
And that meant it was time for some blacksmithing.