The first few steps were pure exhilaration.

Heather soaked in the adrenalin of disobeying the Elder's orders and in a burst of impulsive nerve, turned to the Elder and stuck out her leafy tongue. The Elder only shook his pale, spotted head and walked away, clearly disappointed. Heather turned back to Engle and skipped up to him in a fit of giggles. She did it!

Engle only cocked his head to the side, his eyes filled with more confusion than anything. Heather forgot that Elders looked like trees to most mortals. Mortals... Heather suddenly remembered the silent warning the Elder had entered her mind with. She was a mortal now. She could die like a human now...

Suddenly Engle's voice pierced through her thoughts. "Heather? What was that about?"

Heather shook her head and looked up at the armored man. "I just left the forest," she said in a hushed voice, still unbelieving of what she just did. "Now we've both broken too many rules for our own good."

Engle didn't seem to understand the severity of leaving the forest, and simply shrugged. "Alright, but we should keep going. It's getting dark. Sorry for getting you into trouble."

Heather nodded. There was no point wasting time over a moment in the past. Heather sighed and continued walking down the bare patch of earth, the voices of the trees slowly abating to a dull pulse. Engle looked up to the sky and Heather followed suit. The sun was nearly submerged behind the mountains, leaving behind streaks of gold and pink. For the first time Heather became strangely aware of her exhaustion.

For the first time in all of Heather's three hundred or so years of living, she yawned.

Heather yelped. "I think something's wrong with my lungs," she exclaimed. Heather yawned again. "Did you see that?!"

"You're tired," Engle explained. "You're fine, it's normal."

"No it isn't. This is not normal!"

"Calm down! It's called a yawn and is perfectly normal... at least for humans."

"But I'm not a human!"

"I can see that," Engle sighed. "Let's find some place to stay for the night. I have a feeling it might be dangerous to stay out in the dark."

Heather nodded and started to follow Engle as the last traces of sunlight faded from the sky. Soon, however, a strange artificial light could be spotted floating in the distance. Heather stared in wonder at the glowing yellow squares that seemed to expand the closer they got. Soon Heather was near enough to see that the glowing squares weren't actually floating, but supported by a bigger square made almost entirely of trees.

"Engle I don't know about this," Heather said as he began to ascend the wooden stairs up the landing and towards the door. "This place is made of dead trees."

Engle sighed again. He was also visibly exhausted. "Look, this is called a building. The trees keep us safe, like a birds nest."

Heather glanced up at the large building. Directly above her head was a piece of dead wood hanging on two chains, advertising the words The Laughing Giant. Heather shivered and followed Engle reluctantly into the bright chaos.

Inside the building, Heather was met with the rancid smell of men and mead. Lamplight flickered from every corner and eyes watched the two newcomers in distrustful qualm as they made their way to the bar. The tavern keeper eyed the two strangers in disgust.

"We don't serve Nymphs or strangers here," the man with a grizzly beard and red cheeks said, his voice a low rumble.

"We're not looking for a drink, just a bed," Engle replied, taking up a menacing stance, leaning slightly towards the dirty tavern keeper over the bar. At first the man didn't reply, but as he saw Engle reach for the pistol at his waist, the man went rigid with fear. Heather could tell the tavern keeper didn't want any trouble.

"Room's second floor, first door to the left. Three crowns a night."

Engle gave a curt nod. "That will do." With that Heather followed Engle up the rise of tree-boards, to the second level of the building and into a smaller box with a window, a mirror and a cot. Engle set down his helmet and weapons and sat heavily on the cot after letting out a sigh.

"You want the bed?" he asked. Heather looked around. Nothing seemed very bed-like to her. Where was the moss? Where was the nest he was talking about? Heather shook her head. No, he could have his cot. Heather preferred the solid feel of wood.

That night Heather fell asleep without even realizing she had done so. Heather never slept before. She had never before experienced the bliss of utterly empty darkness.

The End

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