The safe haven was a log cabin, the likes of which Diango had never seen before - a flat-roofed house whose outer wall was entirely constructed out of timber. It had a glass-paned window and a door and inside was furnished just like a cottage, and even had a fire crackling in the hearth of its cosy living area.
“This is ... astounding,” he told Tallulah.
“I’m glad you like it.”
“Thank you so much - I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you.”
“Oh, I don’t ask for repayment. Just promise me you’ll always be ... you. Your selfless, lovely self. That’s all the joy in the world for me.”
“Right,” Diango said. “Always be me. Sounds easy enough.”
For the rest of that season (which was Autumn), Diango was the happiest Tick in the world. Each day he went hunting and foraging, taking Tallulah’s advice on what food to take to his parents, which he delivered every evening, and learnt the name of a new flower, which the fairy said could be useful knowledge in a romantic situation.
“A romantic situation?” Diango had found the idea embarrassing when the fairy had spoken these words.
“Well, yes; you might want a lover one day.”
Diango had never considered it - he had spent almost the whole of his life up until this moment stuck at home, rarely seeing a girl of his own age, only knowing about love because his mother had told him the story of her courtship of his father.
“I think I’m content for the time being,” Diango told Tallulah truthfully.
She gave a shrug of her tiny shoulders.
“That’s well and good, but you might become lonely when Winter comes - I’m going to receive an assignment which will last some twenty years.”
“Twenty years?!” Diango exclaimed, shocked. It seemed an inconceivably long period of time.
“Fairies live to see a thousand years,” Tallulah laughed. “Twenty is nothing.”
Diango didn’t respond and pushed the thought to the back of his mind, though he found himself henceforth trying to glean as much enjoyment from Tallulah’s company as he could. Since Diango was an only child, Tallulah was his first real friend. If he had cared to do so, he would have confessed to imagining that he would enjoy her companionship indefinitely.
The arrival of winter coincided with the commencement of the downward spiral of Diango’s mood. On the first day, which was Tallulah’s last with him, she took him to a stream in the Forest to find him another friend. At this stream sat three nymphs - beautiful young women with clear, slightly pale skin (even in the case of one whose colouring was dark brown) and long, curling hair. They had bright, oddly-coloured eyes: one’s were turquoise, another violet, and the dark-skinned one’s were bright amber. They also had pointed ears. Nymphs, Diango knew from the education in supernatural creatures that he had received from Tallulah, either embodied a type of tree or plant, though didn’t share any physical similarities with this, instead possessing magic to be able to heal it when struck by disease and encourage it to grow taller or bear fruit.
“Hello, everyone,” sang out Tallulah as she led Diango to the group of females, who slightly resembled young human women.
The nymphs looked up at her and smiled.
“Oh, hi, Tallulah.”
One of them - the one with turquoise eyes, who had hair like liquid silver - caught sight of Diango. The expression on her face became one of open disgust.
“Ew. What’s that?”
The other girls followed her gaze and one of them actually shuddered.
“He’s ugly. What are you doing with an ugly boy, Tallulah?” This question was asked by the nymph who had shuddered - the violet-eyed one, who had bright gold hair.
Diango felt stung. True, he had always known that he wasn’t handsome like his strong, blue-eyed father (whose looks even hunger hadn’t truly taken away), but to be openly insulted for something that he couldn’t help? It was horrible.
Tallulah looked shocked.
“Diango is beautiful. How could you call him ugly?”
The dark-skinned nymph rolled her eyes.
“You fairies. You see things so strangely. Now, could you take him away? He’s ruining our therapy.”
Diango, furious and deeply wounded, stalked away of his own accord. It looked to him like the next twenty years were going to be lonely. And what if Tallulah decided that she didn’t want to come back to him? What would he do then? He decided that he hated those nymphs, for being so cruel to him. He could only hope that not all creatures of the Forest were like them.
But they were. After Tallulah departed for her assignments, Diango tried to find friends on his own. But the only ones who let themselves be found were beautiful, heartless men and women who either laughed or became offended by his talk of desiring friendship. During this time he got attacked by the mate of a lycanthrope, who had wrongly suspected that Diango wanted to steal her from him. When Diango was eventually slapped by a witch of the moon, Diango gave up on ever finding anybody who would look past his face and see his heart as Tallulah had.