The last remnants of cloud had disappeared and the sky was once again a brilliant blue. The sun shone warmly on Taylor's back, drying the last of her wet clothes and steaming the moisture from her hair. Drops of water glinted prettily on the grasses and the tiny pink wildflowers raised their faces to the sun. The Obsidian Realm was a pleasant place to be when the weather was good, she decided. However, she needed to find the mirror and get back to her own room before anything else weird happened.
"Hey! Watch where you're putting your feet." The voice from the grass was high and displeased.
Taylor looked down to see Sheldon staring up at her, his scaly brow creased into an annoyed frown. "Sheldon! I am sorry. I didn't see you there. I'm just trying to find my way back to the mirror."
Sheldon ran his pink tongue across his lips and blinked his bulging eyes. "There is no point in looking for the mirror. The rain has washed it completely away." He darted forward, back into the grass, and now Taylor could see only the end of his tail.
"Sheldon, don't go! What do you mean the rain has washed it away I need to go through it to get back home."
The lizard poked its head up through the grass and gazed at her as if she had no brain in her head. "The rain makes everything fresh and new," he pronounced the words slowly and carefully, as if he thought she might have trouble understanding the simplest of concepts. "You won't find your mirror here. It's been washed away to another place and time." Sheldon pulled his head back into the grass and with a final flick of his long tail, he was gone.
Taylor looked around helplessly. Everyone was speaking in riddles and no one seemed able to help her. She dropped her hands to her side and as she did so, she brushed her hand against the pocket of her dress and up against something that nestled there. Her phone! Uncaring that she had taken so long to find it, she pulled out the device and peered at the unresponsive screen. No service. She poked hopefully at a few buttons but nothing happened. With a sigh, she pushed the useless phone back in her pocket and instead pulled the sword from its sheath. She turned it over and over in her hands, noticing at once that it was heavier than she had expected. The blade was silver and looked very sharp as it glinted in the sunlight. The handle was a tarnished gold colour and a single, ruby-coloured gem was set between four claws on the top. It was very impressive to look at but she doubted she would know how to use it even if she tried. She slid the sword back into its sheath and spun around in a circle again, desperately searching the grass for any sign of the mirror.
Itaea's soft voice suddenly enveloped her, warm and reassuring. "Taylor, you can trust the mountain dragon," she said, her words carried to Taylor's ears by the breeze and wrapping themselves tenderly around her. "He has been sent to help you. Please, do as he says." Taylor stared at the gently waving grasses, trying to catch sight of Itaea's brilliant white fur, but all she could see were the tall stalks of tussock, dotted here and there with swaying pink wildflowers.
Taylor looked back towards the forest. Everyone she met was telling her that she needed to find her way through the woods. She really did not want to go in there. Who knew what dark secrets the tightly packed trees and bushes held She shivered at the thought.
"The first step of any journey is always the most difficult to make. After the first step, you just need to rermember to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Simple." Sheldon scampered nimbly across Taylor's foot, making her jump. With a reptilian laugh, he whisked his tail and disappeared back into the grass.
Taylor took a deep breath. She braced her shoulders and walked towards Torwood Forest, gripping firmly to the hilt of the sword to make herself feel a little braver. The branches and twigs pulled at her hair and clothes as she pushed her way into the trees. Dry leaves crackled under her sandaled feet as the wind in the tree tops settled and hushed. Spiky plants clawed at the bare skin of her arms as if desperate to pull her back. She stopped pushing, breathless already from the exertion. This was impossible. The undergrowth was too dense. There was no way she could get through. She peered into the distance, through the scramble of branches and leaves, and could make out a little faraway patch of light. She felt her first surge of hope. Perhaps the dense trees soon gave way to a clearing or a path She yanked the sword from its cover and slashed valiantly at the trees in an attempt to clear away some of the branches.
"Foolish child. That is not how you do it."
The scornful voice startled her and she nearly dropped the sword. She spun around, only to find herself face to face with the most wondrous creature she had ever seen. Just like Itaea, the beast was a brilliant, snowy white, but that was where any similarity ended. The animal standing in front of Taylor was a unicorn just like the ones she and Amy had drooled over in books, its coat glossy, its horn a twirl of shimmering gold, and its doe eyes large and lustrous. A pair of soft pink wings lay folded closely against its sleek back. As she stared, the unicorn tossed its head, its silky mane flying around its head in careless, perfect disarray, just like the models in a shampoo commercial. It gazed at her from under long, black lashes and snorted derisively. Taylor felt the rush of warm air from its nostrils brush against her hand, along with a rush of the animal's contempt, and she felt the need to defend herself. "Who are you And how should I be doing it I can't get through the trees, and everyone has told me that I need to find my way through the forest, though I have no idea why it should be my problem."
The unicorn tossed its head again and pawed its hoof irritably on the ground, scraping up a small mound of fallen leaves and twigs beneath its impatient foot. "I am Eos." He sounded bored, too bored to bother himself with the likes of Taylor. "You mustn't slash at the branches. Don't you know anything You need to do it like this." He stepped gracefully forward and lowered his large, beautiful head. He daintily hooked his horn under a low hanging branch and quickly whipped his head back, effortlessly breaking the branch and sending it flying over his back to land with a thud in the long grass of the meadow. He repeated the movement with the next branch, rapidly making inroads through the dense trees.
Taylor lifted her sword, noticing the sting of the burn on her palm for only an instant and then it was gone. She adjusted her grip on the sword and followed Eos's lead, placing the blade of the sword under a branch and quickly flicking it upwards. To her surprise and delight, the branch snapped easily in half, flung by the movement of the sword into the air and over her head. Heartened by her success, she continued on to the next branch.
"Watch out!" said Eos glared at her crossly as the branch narrowly avoided missing his head. "Don't be so careless."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to, Eos." She did not want this beautiful creature to be annoyed with her. She wanted him to like her, and to perhaps offer her his soft muzzle for a pat. She couldn't wait to tell Amy she'd met a real unicorn! As soon as the thought formed, Taylor pushed it aside. She would not be telling Amy anything.
The unicorn tossed his head and again pawed irritably at the ground. "You know what you are doing now. Continue and you will find the path through Torwood Forest. I have to go." He turned and galloped away across the field, his long tail streaming out behind him like another glorious TV commercial.