24 | An Inner Sanctum

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"Wait," Evanna called out as the little monk took off like a startled rabbit, one hand clutching the basket while the other bundled up his trailing robes.

His diminutive form disappeared from view amidst the foliage. Then silence fell, except for the susurration of leaves and trickling water.

"Are you...lost, miss?"

Evanna revolved on her heels to face the open-faced young monk who was standing not far from her. His clear complexion and perfectly bald head added to the friendly aura he exuded. Relief washed over her despite the raging headache.

"Um, yeah." She hastily bowed to him in greeting. "I ventured too far into the forest."

"I see." He motioned for her to follow him. "You look like you can do with some rest. Are you hurt? You have scratches on you."

"I'm okay, thank you," Evanna said, trotting up to him along the trail. "What is this place?"

"This is a forest monastery. Mahathero is out today, so only a few of us here." He glanced at her as he led the way. "What's your name?"

"Evie."

"My name's Bhante Samadi."

Close behind the monk, Evanna climbed stone steps that meandered up the rocky outcrop. A welcome breeze brushed her skin, and she paused to soak in the scenery. The pain in her head abated to a bearable thrum.

"Were you lost in there for a long time?" the monk asked.

"Not that long." She mopped her forehead with the back of her hand. "I'm so sorry about earlier..."

"Oh, that's alright. Our little Soma Thero gets scared easily."

They arrived at the old cottage, and the pleasant tinkle of wind chimes filled her ears. Two monkeys walked up to her on all fours. Her lips tweaked into a smile as she mouthed "hi" to them.

"How did you get lost in the forest?" he asked, ushering her inside. "Anyone looking for you?"

"It's a bit of a long story." She experienced a sudden pang of worry. "I actually do have to head back."

As she hurried in, the floorboards groaned infinitesimally under her weight.

The interior was cooler, and a faint fragrance greeted her—that of flowers and incense. It was fairly spartan with a low table, atop which sat a ceramic pitcher and white yunomi cups. Mats and cushions lay on the floor. Evanna noticed the shoe rack by the door and slipped out of her sneakers.

"I saw there's a road not far from here that leads to the city," she said, her eyes attracted to the indigo flowers next to the pitcher.

"That's roughly two kilometers from here. There's a tuk driver who often comes this way. He'll be happy to give you a ride if you want to go to the city." The monk surveyed her for a moment. "Will you be alright?"

"Yeah, I'm cool—thank you, Bhante." Her hand reached up to press her temples and faltered halfway. "When would the tuk be coming?"

"Hard to say..." He peered at her. "You seem upset, Evie."

It was like his observation triggered a switch inside, and the emotions she was holding at bay threatened to surface.

She composed herself with effort. "I—I have a lot of stuff going on."

"Help yourself to some flower tea." He motioned towards the pitcher on the table. "It's butterfly pea."

"That would be...nice." She looked down at her sweaty, dirt-coated hands. "Can I wash my hands, please?"

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