Chapter I : Three Solos into a False Fugue
Solo the First: The Immortal.
It was just one more ordinary day at the Mineral Town clinic. A new shipment of medicinal herbs had arrived from the city, from the mountains and from wherever else the herbs came from, which he and Elli would spend the entire day going through and sorting.
Business at the clinic was typically slow at this time, a little after lunch before the town residents started coming in with upset stomachs and too early for exhaustion cases. It was, in essence, the closest thing he had to a lunch break.
He didn't take breaks, but this unofficial pause made for ideal sorting, so the Doctor got down to work without an reservations or expectations for this day to differ from any other day. Things tended to stay mostly the same in Mineral Town: sure, the seasons changed, crops grew and failed, people got married, had children, the ownership of stores changed--but there would always be a grocer's, there would always be families and harvests, and there would undoubtedly be the perpetual need for a doctor.
He might have sighed about that a long time ago, but that would have been when he was younger and more prone to seeking adventure and excitement, like so many of the new farmers that passed through. Now, though, he had learnt that he was as much a part of the town as the square or the farms. Something that would forever stay the same: always the doctor, just the doctor.
He had long suspected that this would not change, and had sufficiently quashed his feelings of wanderlust and any notion of spending his life with another person. Even Elli, he felt, though she was a competent nurse, hadn't-- at least to his knowledge-- reached that bitter epiphany for herself yet. He hoped she never would.
It would be better, he reasoned, if she found someone that could make her happy. As far as he was concerned, he would work alone.
That didn't bother him much. It wasn't a grim realization, only a practical one, and he chose to think of it that way. There was work to be done as doctor, and he would see to it that it got done--nothing more, nothing less.
Just as he was beginning to tear upon the shipment box, he heard a scrambling outside his window, and peering out, saw a cluster of women talking excitedly in the square. They seemed to be pointing down the long road heading south toward the abandoned farm and chattering at a feverish pitch.
The doctor stared out down the lane, and for a moment thought his ears caught the distinct clash of metal striking against fleshy and a concurrent yelp of pain.
For a moment, he worried, but then shook it off. Must be the blacksmith's boy clobbering his hand again. Honestly, if it wasn't the third time this week…
Strolling along to the supply cabinet, he sought out an ice bag and a roll of bandages. He had a feeling someone would be paying him a visit soon.
Although, he mused, stealing another glance out the window and not quite wanting to believe that the change was possible, perhaps the truck had brought something more from the city after all.
Solo the Second: The Rogue.
"You idiot boy! I've had it up to here explaining to you the correct procedure for extracting pure copper from its ore! If you'd just left the mixture simmering--"
And there he went off on one of his famous rants again.
Gray had practiced tuning out his grandfather at times like these: he knew that he should have left the copper liquid on the fire for a while longer, but the noise had made him turn, and, in the process, shift the pot he'd been holding out of the direct heat. Now, the copper had congealed into a gloopy, half-tainted mess that was sure to stick to the bottom of the container and give him hell to clean out.
He was still facing the door of the smithy, trying to discern the cause of the sound when his grandfather broke in upon his thoughts.
"You don't listen to a thing I tell you! Goes right in one ear and out the next! I don't even know why I took you on as an apprentice. All you've done is waste my time without learning anything. I knew a boy from the city was trouble from the start--"
It always came back to this. Alright, so he'd lived in a city all his life and hadn't been used to the ins and outs of farming, was that a problem? Wasn't that something you'd expect of a city boy?
He'd been happy--no, excited-- to answer his grandfather's invitation and move to the country. His reason for coming was to help, not to make the old man's life a living misery. Couldn't his grandfather see that? The old man shouldn't have asked for him in the first place if he planned on cursing him at every corner.
Gray was doing the best he could, honestly. The work was hard and the days were long, cooped up in the blacksmith's, but he wasn't shirking from any responsibility that he knew of. He just wished it could be enough, for once.
Initially, he'd gone out and met the townspeople, who seemed as nice and welcoming as he could have hoped. However, gradually, after more and more evenings coming back to the inn tired, covered with soot and the last biting insults on that day's performance, he stopped making the effort. It was too exhausting, and Gray was beginning to get the feeling that maybe a farm town wasn't the best place to be after all. Even in a city, where everyone's anonymous, he'd never felt so isolated as he had felt here.
Still, he couldn't help but reach out on occasion.
He'd started going to the library to read up on different ores, aspiring to impress his grandfather one day. Truth was, he admired the old man. The reason, in fact, for his being yelled at was that when he'd heard the sound and turned, he'd been concerned that his grandfather had hurt himself with one of the tools.
Looking back on it, he doubted it was possible for as great a blacksmith as Saibara to even consider injuring himself (Gray's thumbs and right pointer finger still throbbed dully from previous incidents that week), so Gray, despite the best of intentions, had been wrong.
Maybe he would have been better off in the city. At least there he could be right on occasion, or at the very least, if he was wrong, he'd be wrong where everyone else was too busy to notice.
But it would be nice to have somewhere that felt like home again.
And as he let the rest of Saibara's lecture wash over him and shifted the pot back into the flame, curiosity overwhelmed him and he wondered what that peculiar sound had actually been.
Solo the Third: The Displaced.
The strange noise heard all across Mineral Town, it turned out, had been caused by a large, metal tool escaping the grip of its owner's hand and whacking someone hard on the head.
"Well, it's your own fault for believing that phony real estate ad! There comes a time when you need to ask yourself questions about business deals and you missed your opportunity for it. You should have investigated the property and the contract more before being so quick to buy."
Mayor Thomas straightened his hat at this point, which had gone slightly askew due to the repeated assaults with farm implements. "So, if you're quite finished now…"
Nothing more came. This was good, because he'd already been hit with a hammer, a hoe, a watering can, and an axe shaft. He had been starting to worry what else that girl had in her rucksack.
"Now you've seen the farm. The bus for the city leaves tomorrow morning with fresh produce. You can go home and we'll forget about this whole thing."
The girl he was talking to, blonde, dressed in pale blue overalls, bit her lip. Why was it that after being told by countless sources that country folk were kind and unassuming, did her first experience with one lead her to dismay, anger, and possible bankruptcy?
"I can't do that." Claire said. "I've sold everything to come here: my stuff, my apartment--I even quit my job at the coffee shop. There's no way I can go back now." She stared out at the broken, desolate field despairingly, looking at the what the last of her savings had bought her. "So, I guess this is what I get from not reading between the lines. Serves me right, huh?"
Major Thomas was instantly apologetic. "Don't fret, you'll find something…"
A thought hit him.
"Why yes, of course! Why don't you give it a shot anyway? It'll take some work--"
Claire cocked an eyebrow.
"--well, alright, maybe a lot of work, but you could do it, right? You wanted a farm, and it may not be the best, but it's a farm nonetheless. Just do your best and make something out of it. I'm sure you'll find a way."
Not noticing him leave and not caring enough at this point to wave goodbye, Claire let her gaze sweep out across the ragged terrain. It would take ages to get this farm going again. Whole families often had difficulty making ends meet living off the land. She'd have to make everything work all by herself, with no friends, no connections, and no promise for anything better if she failed miserably.
In short, she was alone.
After pulling a few weeds, Claire scooped up her new puppy--she really needed a name for him, didn't she?-- and entered her new house.
To be utterly frank, the place was a mess. The windows were fogged over and spider webs clung to the ceilings in all the really hard to reach places. There wasn't even a kitchen in here, or a sink…much less anything resembling a proper toilet.
If she was one to slip into despair, she would have locked herself in the farmhouse for the rest of the day. Claire, though, was not. She made do with what little cleaning supplies the previous inhabitant had left, and spent the rest of her first afternoon getting things into shape. By the time she left her farm for some refreshment at the inn, she'd made her bed up with fresh sheets, organized her tools, and found her puppy a nice place to sleep.
The streetlights greeted her as she made her way into town. Nothing had changed. She was still alone.
Claire gave the night a cocky grin. Sure, she was alone. She'd make her own fortune here in Mineral Town, just like the heroes did in all those fairy tales she read.
Granted, they didn't go off to farms to have adventures, but the basic purpose was the same. And, for the first time that night, she was starting to feel a bit less out of place.
A boy watched her as she entered the inn, and decided to wait until the excitement of welcoming the new villager had passed before heading in. He knew there wouldn't be much sleep tonight with all the celebration, so he stared out at the stars, wondering.
Across town, another man tossed and turned in his sleep, worried about something he couldn't quite place, but felt as though it might unravel everything.