[Story] The Hermit 11

Nimrathis sipped his last vial of moonglow. Why couldn’t they sell it all year? He supposed it wouldn’t be so special then, but he loved the flavor and the way the sparkles made his ears tickle. If he wanted more, he’d have to return to Moonglade for the festival. Neither he nor Bear had planned to go at all — in fact the only reason he remembered was when he saw the paper lanterns being hung over the inn. It had been years since he’d attended, before he’d been forced to leave his old home and return to the forest. It had been the two seninels’ idea, and they had both put on the expensive silk gowns that were traditionally worn. Seeing them like that was strange, more feminine but also somehow more untouchable — not as if he meant to touch them anyway. Or didn’t he? Nimrathis took another small sip of the effervescent blue drink.

Mostly it had gone just as he remembered it; the buildings around the lake adorned with lights and lanterns, the vendors selling fireworks and delicious snacks. When he was a child, there were never any strangers, but now the festival permitted people from all over the world — even the eastern kingdoms. Nimrathis stared in curious wonder at the human woman, and could hardly believe that the gnome was actually a real creature. How could they truly understand what the festival was about — their lives were scarcely a blink of time. Though, Nimrathis reasoned, perhaps they had more ancestors because of this. If the druids didn’t mind the strangers, he supposed it was all right. He stayed close behind Bear and Norr, the bear he had brought with him. The others had stayed behind to sleep, Bear said. In truth, Nimrathis would have rather, but once he got some dumplings and moonglow, he was glad that he had come. They sat on the bank of one of the small ponds and waited for the fireworks. Nimrathis hoped they might see a glimpse of Omen, but he didn’t appear while they were there. He suspected the dog might simply be a story to scare children, so he didn’t ask the others about it.

Zhyra agreed that they could return to their camps — with conditions. The sentinels would still come by to ensure they were safe, and they were required — that’s what she said — to respond. What if they were asleep, or if he was practicing? Zhyra didn’t really answer that, and he could tell she was growing annoyed by their questions. It didn’t matter, his home would be his once again. There had been no sightings of orcs in the past several months, and they reluctantly agreed to let him and Bear go back into the woods.

His little cave wasn’t much, but it was home. Nimrathis hurried along the deer-trails, hoping that no creature had claimed it in his absence. He noticed the scent first, the wet and smoky smell of a doused fire, and his ears laid back in irritation. Someone had been here! It wasn’t orcs, at least. He could tell from the size of the tracks and the scarcity — elves moved more expertly in the woods than did loud, clumsy orcs. But what elves would be staying here, and why? He checked inside his cave and was relieved to see they had not slept there, at least. Only the forest outside it. Nimrathis had no way to tell whether they would return to this spot or not — he could only wait.

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