it's cold. you have been wandering lost in these woods for quite some time. whether or not you embarked in this manner deliberately only you know, nevertheless the sun will soon retire under the horizon once more. the scarce amount of orange-tinted leaves that still persist on the branches amplify the low orange sunlight beaming into your eyes. through your squinting, you barely see a shape lean out from behind a thin birch tree. startled, you stop dead and sharpen your awareness into a knifepoint.

a gentle grovetender advances one pace towards you, gesturing for you to follow her before she takes off in the opposite direction. motivated by sheer curiosity and potential shelter for the evening, you comply. you lose sight of her a couple times, but it isn't difficult to follow the crunching of leaves under her tall socks. as dusk falls, she turns and waits for you at a narrow stream. you arrive at the bank, opening your mouth to speak. before you can get a word out, she suddenly turns again, bounds over the stream using a flat stone jutting out of the middle, and effortlessly disappears into the dense thicket of the other bank. taking the hint, you plant one foot on the earth and step onto the stone. the distances aren't much bigger than your normal gait, so you cross fine.

you examine the thicket. surely the density of this should be a pretty significant hindrance. you glance to your left side then right, shake your head, and climb in. you struggle in the foliage for nearly a minute. something snags around your ankle, you fight with it, and soon you become tangled. still focused down at your quandry, a hand grasps around the four main fingers on the arm you were using to keep the bramble at bay. the grovetender's hand pulls you towards her. you seamlessly pass through the plants as if they were air.

a wave of comfortable warmth washes over you. you find yourself in a perfectly circular clearing. the plant growth here is verdant green, and there are clusters of dancing fireflies. at the center lies a small, old, ornately carved stone fountain, the basin chipped on one side. around the fountain is an arrangement of about a dozen potted flowers in assorted colors, a quaint plaid-clothed table with tea prepared, and two wooden chairs. an embering fire pit sits alone, far off. the only sounds you can hear are the swaying leaves in the soft breeze and the trickle of water in the fountain.

"welcome to my sanctuary," she finally speaks. her breath condensates despite the warm temperature. "make yourself at home, treat yourself to anything," she says as she excitedly retrieves a large blanket to set on the grass, "the stars will be out soon. you can see them all from here! Please, rest a while."

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