Elder Tamara and I collected the girl in charge of the first farm that experienced problems. A cute Slavani with a nice set of horns atop her head, and a straw hat. Along with her, we brought the farmers from a dozen other fields to see if there were any commonalities in their problems.
Her farm was one of the furthest from the village, bordering a forest to the south. The forest was thin, with sparse trees and bushes, yet still healthier than the brown and brittle stalks of corn that marked the valley.
“This was the first harvest that went bad?” I bent down to poke and prod the dirt. It was dry and dusty.
“Yes ma’am. I’ve always had good harvests here, but this past season everything just… died.”
“Hmm,” I scratched my chin. “What a mystery!”
My mind raced with the possibilities. You got someone to poison the soil? Subterranean creatures to suck nutrients out? A cult of Casters to spread a deadly mist that ruined the crops? My body trembled with anticipation at the thought of cracking such an enigma.
The farmer continued, “I guess the amount of corn I’ve been harvesting has kept going down for the past few seasons though. Ever since about 5 years ago.”
I nodded, so it was a continuous decline, not all at once. “What about the other crops? Have they gone down too?”
“Huh? Nah, I just plant corn. No other crops.”
“Everyone plants corn,” Elder Tamera puffed her chest and her ears perked proudly. “Our village is the largest exporter of corn in the whole region! Year after year, the local towns have been eager to trade for huge carts full of the stuff.” Her shoulders and ears slumped, “at least before the traders stopped coming.”
I looked around to the group of farmers, they all seemed proud of their corn fields. Then, I sighed. “Well that explains why your soil is such garbage right now. You need to rotate your crops!”
The farmer shook her head, “I do. This time I planted them while facing north, last time I was facing east, and so on like that.”
I couldn’t help but give her a soft smile. I walked over to pat her head as gently as I could. “Oh, you poor, poor, adorable little fool. No, Master is very clear about this. She demands all farms grow a variety of food from harvest to harvest. Corn now, then wheat, then maybe cabbages or something. If you only grow corn then of course Master is going to get mad and ruin the soil as punishment!”
Elder Tamera’s eyes went wide, her ears trembled, “Th-there was a rule like that?” The other farmers murmured among themselves about how they had no idea.
“Yes, but luckily it’s easy to fix. Start rotating your crops, don’t make that mistake again, and Master will forgive you. It’s a very low-level sin, that’s how you were able to get away with it for so long.”
Some of the Slavani accompanying us ran off to tell their neighbors of the discovery, while we went off for the next issue to solve.
Next on the list was the river. How’d it dry up?
I knew the answer was ‘because you wanted it to’, but you always enforce your will through the manipulation of physical means. If I figured out how you dried the river, I could work backwards from there to figure out why you did it. If I know why, I know what needs to happen to fix it.
So Elder Tamera, some farmers and I traced the dry riverbed and followed it northward to the hills. There were small irrigation canals to divert water from the river to the many farms over the region. The canals were dug perfectly and efficiently, so I could tell you weren’t mad about that.
As we continued north, I saw more straw and cloth statues in your image, keeping watch over the land. As custom dictates, we gave a salute to each statue we passed.
“I only just noticed that I’ve yet to see a bird plundering these farms,” I said.
“Yes!” Tamera bounced excitedly. “When the trouble started, our first thought was to craft a few hundred statues of Master and place them around the territory. While it didn’t fix the drought or the soil, Master rewarded our quick thinking and kept birds and scroungers away from what remained of our crops. It was that bit of mercy that gave us the inspiration to pray until help arrived.”
Each of the statues were unique, I could tell the farmers worked hard and put a lot of love into every stich.
Following up the mountain, we reached a large lake. There were some fish swimming and birds fluttering about, but what caught our eyes was a massive pile of wood and mud that blocked the water from exiting into the river.
“Beavers?” The elder cocked her head.
I shook my head, “worse. This isn’t the work of simple beavers. This is targeted, calculated. This dam was specially made to kill your village. This is the work of the Peer-Beaver.”
Fear shook the hearts of my companions. They backed away and hid behind a few trees while I stood tall against this new foe. “A P-p-peer Beaver? What are those?” Tamera asked.
I edged closer to the dam. “Legend has it that, when Master first colonized Y’varda, Her children reached an unprecedented golden age of prosperity and safety. The first Slavani grew too lazy and content with their lives, so Master took a group of local Y’vardan beavers and… enhanced them. Gave them the intelligence of a Slavani, but without our charm, magnanimity, or kindness. They’re cruel creatures that only exist to keep us from the sin of complacency.” Considering the size of the dam, it must have taken a while to build. I can only imagine the horrors that were inflicted upon my sisters when they tried to clear the Peer-Beavers out.
One such Peer-Beaver emerged from a bush on the far side of the dam, dragging a large branch to add to its home. My companions lost heart and cowered behind the trees, while I must have looked so cool, walking headlong into danger.
“Alright, Peer-Beaver. Time for you to pass along, okay?” I climbed up the dam and scuffled my way across. “You’ve caused a bit of problems for the village down the way,” I stood over the beaver, bending at the hip to establish dominance. He stood on his hind legs and looked up at me with cold, dead, black eyes. “Now pack up your crap and move somewhere else, pal, or I’ll have to move you by force.” I flashed him a confident smile.
He stared at me for a second… then swung around and slapped my ankle with his tail. My leg was swept out from under me, “ah!” and with it went my balance. I fell into the river with a cold splash.
…You made them too clever, Master.
I can’t swim, unfortunately, so I impotently flailed around in the water, gurgling and making amess. Those Workers weren’t going to stop quaking in their overalls and help me, so I only survived through your intervention of my staff still being attached to my back. Through that small bit of physical contact, I was able to use your magic to levitate myself back to land.
As I laid there, coughing up water, the Workers had used their wings to escape into the branches above. The beavers came out of their den to watch me struggle, and one scuttled over to a tree to stare up at my companions.
“Aaah! It’s right here!” One Worker screamed.
“Look at it’s beady little eyes! So creepy!” Another followed suit.
“Save us, Caster Tria!” Tamera pleaded as she hugged the trunk.
I swear, Master. You can’t rely on Workers for anything.
“Th-they’re not gonna kill you, calm down! Sheesh, you’ve been out here this many times and never figured out they aren’t deadly?”
“Huh? We’ve never been up here though.” Tamera looked at the others and they were all in agreement. “None of us even knew this was here.”
“…W-well idiot! Then of course the river was blocked off! This territory was entrusted to you by Master, and she made these Peer-Beavers specifically to punish Slavani who fail their due diligence!”
Her shoulders slump forward, the group was devastated. “O-oh…”
I used your magic to toss the Peer-Beavers into the lake one by one, then dismantled the structure. “From now on, you have to make sure you send patrols out all the time. Master owns this planet, she just loans it to us as caretakers. You can’t disregard your duties like that.”
The Workers hung their heads in shame for failing you. I, however, could hold my head high and look down my nose at them. I’ve NEVER failed you that badly. I couldn’t help but put my hands on my hips and, while watching the flowing river break apart what remained of the dam, feel a burst of moral superiority over them.
Then a Peer-Beaver swam ashore and bit my ankle in retaliation for destroying his home.
“AAAGH! MASTER’S FOOT!” I fell to the wet ground and the beaver scurried back into the lake before I could retaliate.
Now that they knew that Peer-Beavers weren’t deadly, they… they couldn’t stop giggling.
It hurts, Master… being laughed at by heretics.
We got back to the village and all the villagers were on their knees, praying to the small stone statue of you that was placed above the well. The water had returned, of course they were thanking you.
“Hey!” I yelled, grabbing their attention. “We’re not done yet, we’ve merely restarted the water’s flow. This pitiful village has been shirking its duty as the warden of Master’s lands, I need to investigate everything top to bottom before I heal your crops.” I walked up to the well and sat down on the rim, my legs crossed and my arms folded. “I want the details on every single bit of misfortune that has befallen this village, and how exactly you all incurred Master’s wrath. Form a line.”
The villagers looked to each other, but complied nonetheless and formed a line starting at me and heading all the way out into the field.
It was a lot of small things that I know you hate. A girl watered her flowers every day even though they only required water every other day, so you killed her plants in retaliation. A girl cut her sandwich horizontally instead of diagonally, so you made her bite her tongue as she ate. There was a rock garden behind the church that was meant to display a message when you look down on the village from heaven, but the handwriting was atrocious. No wonder you were mad.
Can you believe there were some houses where not a single window faced north? Disgusting. You were too lenient, in my opinion.
As I worked, two girls approached me, both wearing overalls. One stood tall and had a sour look on her face, a girl named Betty Jiselle Elks. The other looked meek and nervous, and her name was Ashley Coral Randles.
“What happened with you two?” I asked.
“We’re ranchers,” Betty said, “us and a few others, from that ranch over yonder.” She pointed off in a direction as if I’d know which property she was talking about. Then, she slapped her friend on the back and pushed her forward.
“B-but,” Ashley was forced to speak, “well… So, we’re pretty good ranchers, I think, but, uh… well, all our chickens died.”
I looked between the two of them, Betty looked down at her sister with an accusatory glare. “Your village,” I carefully spoke, “has gone through quite the divine reckoning as of late, it’s only natural. How did it happen?”
Ashley gulped. “Well, ya see… I was on watch duty, right? And we have this bad problem with foxes out here. So, I was in the chicken coop, standing guard, but then, the darndest thing happened! I fell asleep! Then when I woke up all our chickens were eaten by the foxes and, well, once you started talking about how Master works in mysterious ways, I started thinking that she must have made me fall asleep because our farm was being punished, right?”
Betty grumbled, “being punished for hiring you, maybe…”
I raised an eyebrow, “why’d you fall asleep?”
“Cause… I was tired?”
“Why were you not well-rested before taking the night-shift?”
She looked up at her sister’s scowl, then her ears drooped. “S-see, I was supposed to take a nap in the day, but, uh, I snuck out of the house to play with a friend the next farm over.” Ashley turned her head, avoiding Betty’s glare. “B-but!” Her ears perked up again, “surely it’s some test or trial or divine punishment! It’s not really my fault that I fell asleep, Master wanted me to and, therefore, cutting my rations until I’ve paid the farm back for all the chickens I lost must be some kind of heresy, right? Cause I was only fulfilling my part in Master’s plan?”
I narrowed my brow. “…Master doesn’t set us up for failure like that. The intervention would have been to send the foxes the one time you happened to fall asleep, not making you fall asleep just so she can punish you.” The girl’s face dropped, “or maybe Master had nothing to do with it and it was just bad luck, not everything that happens in this world is the result of Her, you know.”
Betty grabbed her sister by the bicep and yanked her away. “Right, I thought so. Thank you, ma’am. Sorry for wasting your time.” She dragged the poor girl away, whispering a few insults.
The day continued like that for a few more hours. Slavani came up to me and I worked through their easily solvable problems. By the time the line was finished, the village was a bustle of activity, dozens of projects going on in order to renew your favor.
I hopped off the well and Elder Tamera approached, ringing her hands, swishing her tail, and looking around at all the work going on. “Will our village really be saved after this?”
“So long as you gals don’t mess it all up again, yes.” I slapped her on the shoulder with a smile, “don’t worry, I’ll stay with you for a bit longer to make sure everything is settled. Who knows what kind of heresy is still lurking in this place.” I walked towards the church and got a brush to help scrub the stone walls. “Besides, you don’t have any more food, right? I’ll have to use Master’s magic to keep you all from starving again, at least until the next harvest finishes.”
She bows her head and grabs a brush as well. “Thank you, Caster Tria.”
“By the way, a lot of the heresy I saw here was some pretty basic stuff. Does this village not have a Seer or a priest?”
She shook her head. “Not for a long time now. No Caster of our own either. I guess nobody’s noticed…”
“Is there nobody who can read?”
“Of course not, we’re all Worker strains. Why would we need to?”
That’s a common problem for these smaller villages. When I complete my journey across Y’varda, I’ll need to get my university to work on a mass literacy program or something.
“So without a Caster, how are new batches of Slavani spawned?”
She shrugged. “Last Caster came by some 13 years ago and I guess it just hasn’t been an issue yet.”
“That’s cutting it close. Every spawn pit should make a new batch at least once every 15 years to keep their numbers up.”
“Yet here we are…” She sighed.
I pulled away from the stone wall and tapped my chin. “That’s a problem. I was never trained to spawn more Slavani so I can’t do it myself… didn’t you say that trade has dried up and you don’t get merchants anymore?”
She nodded. “To export our corn, we had to load up our carts with sacks and deliver them ourselves.”
Something didn’t seem quite right, so I went over to my bag and pulled out a map of the continent. It was a newly printed version, so it should have had all the towns, roads, rivers and villages necessary for travelers. The map was a mess, covered with notes I had taken during my journey.
“Hmm…” My finger traced over the parchment, trying to find this village. “Yep. You guys ain’t here.”
“What?!” Tamera went to my side, her shoulder and face pressed against mine as her eyes scanned the map. “I… don’t know what any of this means.”
“Your village should be here,” I tapped the map. “But it ain’t there. There is that new road though.”
“Remember the story of how I got here? I was walking along a dirt path and came upon a fork in the road. There was a snake to the left so I went right. If I went left, I would have found the road that connects these towns, Thelri and Gomara,” I tap them on the map. “See? This road bypasses your village completely. No wonder merchants are sticking to the paved road and not braving some snake-infested dirt path.”
“Well… well what are we supposed to do about that!? How dare they just sidestep us!”
I shrugged, “I guess you could build you own road to connect to this one.”
“How far would we need to build it?”
I studied the map for a second, trying to calculate the shortest route in my head while taking into account how the geography bends. “10 miles?”
“T-ten!? That’s really far! This is a small village, we don’t have the kind of resources to build a road like that… most of the stone we dig up is used for tools, or added to the church.”
I rolled up the map to put it back in my bag. “How about setting up a rest stop? Right on the road. Travelers will see your stop, come in to rest, barter for your goods, and you’ll spread word of your village so a priest or Caster will find you. Seems like the best option to me. Instead of walking to towns, you cut the distance in half and maintain your own store.”
Elder Tamera scratched her chin. “That makes sense… yeah, we’ll see about that.”
I gave her a lighthearted smile, “just make sure to name the rest stop after me, haha!”
She narrowed her brow. “We’d name it in Master’s honor. It’s the only option, since She saved us from poverty, death and heresy.”
“Y-yeah, right… it was just a joke…” Were it not for you lending me your magic, and pushing me towards this village, they would have died as heretics. It was only thanks to you that they rejoined your light. Sorry for joking out of turn, Master.
After every other issue was solved and the village was cleansed of heresy, it was time for me to get to work.
I climbed to the top of the bell town on the church, overlooking the vast fields of dead corn stalks intermixed with small, irrigated valleys of clear water. The Y’vardan sun beat down on me, and a warm with swept from the north. All my sisters stood below in the village square, craning their necks and putting their hands over their eyes to get a better look as I worked your miracle.
With the twisting wooden staff held in both hands, I closed my eyes and quietly said a prayer. The orb on the end glowed bright, like a small green star as I put the output at maximum.
Then, suddenly, the glow stopped! The light collapsed in on the orb, leaving nothing but black for just a moment.
When the glow returned, small green particles floated out. A swarm of millions of flakes carried along magical winds to every edge of even the most distant farm. The slightly-glowing green specks blocked the sun and casted their own green shadow over the land, the Workers below were bright-eyed and slack-jawed at the display.
As the particles fell, plant life grew. Moss atop stone, new strands on thatch rooftops, branches from wooden planks, grass or flowers along the dirt. As the dancing spots landed on the dried, dead husks of corn, they quickly returned to life. Growing tall and proud, with thick leaves reaching wide and brushing against each other in a vast forest of crops.
My sisters cheered, laughed, hugged each other, screamed words of praise to you, Master. The symphony of such widespread, impromptu worship was a blessing on the eardrums. Not long after I finished spreading the green particles, my sisters ran out to check on their revived crops. They’d have to get to the harvest soon.
When I climbed down from the church, I was swarmed with praise too. Only as an avatar of your will, but it felt good nevertheless.
Starting the next day, the village was thriving, and everyone got together with the harvest. Sadly, your magic couldn’t revive the dead animals, so we’d have to purchase new ones for the ranchers at a later date.
For the next half a year or so, I helped establish a small rest stop on the road and turned the village into a productive little settlement worthy of being put back on the map. They got their own dedicated Caster, a Seer, and your territory has never been in more capable hands.
It was with a heavy heart, but I had to leave the village not long after everything was settled. It was fun, but I had to continue my journey across Y’varda. I’m sure I’ll meet Elder Tamera and everyone else again one day.
-With love, Caster Tria Hel Malcrucia, 17th Student of Caster Kariga Futus Vine of Class 13, born in the Hethalwell University Spawning Pits on Crown World Y’varda.