Chapter II: The Oak Forest VI

Chapter II: The Oak Forest

“ Grey Blood “

Steel kept the fire going by throwing pieces of oak wood into it. Rina had just asked him a curious question as a follow-up to Thyme’s inquiry: what did he know about gardeners?

“ Gardeners… “ the farmer began the story with a very serious expression, “ They make our lives easier. But unlike us, their role isn’t something that they chose. “

“ I did hear about that from one of the other guards, “ the red-haired Thyme shared what he knew, “ Being a gardener is the only role that is decided by birth. “

Steel nodded.

“ When a human is born, the first thing that his parents check is the color of his blood, “ the older man explained, “ Gardeners have grey blood. “

Rina, who was fairly young, only knew about the role of gardeners. They kept plants at bay and tended to tame plants alongside farmers. She marveled at this information which was new to her and impulsively wrote it down.

“ Grey blood… I did hear about that, but does it mean- “ the guard didn’t finish his question. The grim look on Steel’s face said it all.

“ Some humans, despite the lack of knowledge about science, tried it out of desperation, “ the farmer explained, “ When the Overlord vanished, plant life began to disappear. Humans… did everything to survive. They… we, even went as far as to use our own kind as hosts for droplets of Black Blood which were kept at the Citadel. “

The golden-haired historian continued to write, but her enthusiasm was obviously dampened.

“ There were many deaths. My grandfather was among them, “ Steel looked into the bonfire, now with sad eyes, “ Black Blood is incompatible with most humans. Up to this day, gardeners are rarely compatible with non-gardeners, and a pure gardener pairing usually ends up in sadness due to having stillborn children. Even just touching grey blood usually triggers an allergic reaction on non-gardeners. “

Rina already knew the rest of the story. Gardeners, or greybloods, could influence plant life. They could hasten the lifespan of a plant, strengthen it, repair it, or allow it to flourish even in very harsh environments. However, unlike the Overlord, gardeners cannot influence the movement of plants and they cannot make plants grow out of nothing. Their role was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing to Towns but a curse to the gardeners themselves. The first ones were horribly disfigured by Black Blood, but eventually, later generations looked more like humans except for the color of their blood and the incredibly sharp thorns along their spine. Such thorns do not cause injury to the gardeners themselves, but the sharpness of those features and danger that it posed if concealed eventually led to the creation of backless clothing for them. Additionally, there was the sadness of wanting a different role, but the pressure to remain a gardener due to necessity.

While the three people around the campfire continued their conversation, Hunter arrived at the stream. He walked up a little further and arrived at the pond where, just as the last rays of sunlight began to vanish, the tamer saw something that made him look twice. A familiar large brown hat, a cloak and a bundle of brown clothing lay at the side of the clear pond. In the water, there stood a familiar figure who stared at him eye to eye. That figure was small, black-haired, wide-eyed as if in shock and… and…

Everything went dark.

“ Puppy! “ was the next thing that Hunter heard.

The tamer couldn’t breathe but he could flail his arms around. He then heard a clonking sound and after that, he was free! But, from what? Hunter gasped for air, and then he looked up. Puppy grunted at him while Errol held the tardigrade back. Rina and Thyme seemed terrified, but Steel was laughing so hard.

“ We found you… “ the farmer said between gasps and laughs, “ … your head, in Puppy’s mouth… slobbering… Errol hit him with that big old book… “

Steel held his stomach as he sat down and continued to laugh. Thyme was extremely pale, and Rina seemed as if she’d faint. All that time, Errol scolded his pet; the little historian’s hair was still wet and sloppy under his big hat. A thick copy of History of the World was on the ground beside the tardigrade.

“ It’s alright, “ Hunter finally spoke, to the couple’s relief, “ It was my fault. “

The tamer looked at Puppy. Despite his grunts and hmfs, the tardigrade looked nothing like the deadly creature that killed the sunflower. His antennae were not protruding, and it seemed as if he wanted to say something. Hunter, much to the group’s surprise, put his slobbered forehead against what seemed to be the tardigrade’s snout.

“ I’ll keep that secret, “ Hunter whispered.

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