2.11

“Oh, let’s be honest.” Benoir smiled mischievously at her. “I love showing off everything we have here around the aviary. You’re an appreciative audience; I like that. So.” He clapped his hands, making Caprice flutter on his shoulder. “What would you most like to see? We have some amazing flowers, some startling herbs, some scandalous vegetables…” He gestured broadly and melodramatically all around the garden.

“What about…” Nilien hesitated. “Well, what about insects? If there are any?”

“Oh, you’re clever.” He clearly approved of clever, smiling even more broadly at her. “We do indeed. Magic insects, as a matter of fact. This way. There’s an apiary, but magical honeybees still sting, so I imagine you’ll want to avoid that for now. That’s in that corner.” He pointed to the far left, although she couldn’t see more than a few feet for the density of the foliage. “The beetles are very shy. I would have to leave Caprice somewhere else to have a chance of seeing them. And sometimes they can be a little aggressive when they feel cornered. Ah, this way.” He turned down a path almost entirely covered over with greenery. Leaves and vines brushed at Nilien’s hair as they walked.

You should be efficiently sized, like I am, Ember informed her. This is the proper size for walking through gardens and forests.

“But not for climbing down ladders,” she reminded the fox.

Nonsense. I just didn’t feel like it, that’s all.

Nilien politely stifled a chuckle. “Of course.”

“Shh,” Benoir whispered. “We don’t want to spook them. Here, move very slowly.”

Nilien did as she was told. She stepped up next to Benoir at his gesture and found herself standing in a small, dimly-lit circular clearing in the plants. Here, the light from the “sky” was more like a clear moonlit night, casting everything in grayish shadows.

The air in the clearing was alive with activity. At first, Nilien thought it was full of petals and leaves being pushed by the wind. It was only when one of the petals landed on her outstretched hand that she realized it was a moth — a large moth, with elaborate patterns on its wings in green, blue, and pink. When it spread its wings, they covered her palm.

“Easy,” Benoir whispered, and the moth fluttered off again. “Sorry,” he added, hanging his head. “They get startled easily.”

“I see.” Nilien smiled at him. “They’re huge. And beautiful.” She glanced down to find that a reddish-orange moth had landed on Ember’s nose. The fox was holding very still, trying to see the moth. “Are they magical, then?”

Benoir pointed slowly up into the air to their left. There, several moths were glowing brightly, and as more of the brown-tan moths gathered to the light, they began to glow as well. He gestured to the other side of the clearing, where several of the green moths were dancing in a swirling pattern. The nearby leaves and flowers were moving as if in a strong breeze.

“This place is amazing.” Nilien stepped forward to take a closer look, moving as slowly as she could. “I could spend forever in here.”

“-Right through here.” The voice seemed to be coming from a long ways away. “See?”

“We’ve got to go,” Benoir hissed. “Now.”

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