Taylor stared after the unicorn until he disappeared into the distance. She wished he had stayed with her a little longer. Why was everyone here in the Obsidian Realm in such a rush Sighing, she lifted her sword and continued working her way through the trees.
Twenty minutes later, Taylor cut through the final branch with a satisfied grunt. She pushed through the path she had made to arrive at the source of light she had glimpsed earlier. It was a small clearing in the trees, where the sun shone down brightly to flood the area with warmth, birds whistled happily, and a vibrant carpet of flowers grew beneath her feet. She shoved her sword back into the sheath, closed her eyes, and raised her face to the warmth of the sun, grateful for the light and heat after struggling through the darkness of the forest.
"Don't get yourself too comfortable. You still have a long way to go."
Taylor quickly opened her eyes, startled at the sound of a voice. The mountain dragon was perched on a branch just above her head, watching her closely.
"Can you tell me why it is so important for me to get through the woods Everyone seems to be in such a rush and no one is stopping long enough to explain anything." Taylor placed her hands firmly on her hips to show the dragon that she meant business.
The mountain dragon flew up into the air in front of her face and hung there for the briefest of moments, his emerald eyes drilling into her own. "Follow the path. Don't be so impatient. You don't always need to know the end result in order to begin a task." He tutted and flew off into the trees.
"Stop talking in riddles!" Taylor shouted after him, frustrated now by all the half-said explanations. She peered closely at the point the mountain dragon had entered the trees and suddenly glimpsed a small path winding its way into the woods. Pleased with herself, she strode across and began to follow the track deeper into the darkness of the forest.
The path twisted and turned, leading Taylor deeper and deeper into the woods. She soon noticed that she could no longer hear the sound of birdsong. The air was still and hushed under the heavy blanket of branches, and a mass of leaves and vines entwined high overhead to make a thick, dark mantle that blocked out the sun. The ground felt damp and dank where it touched the edges of her sandal-covered feet. She shivered in her thin dress, hoping that the path would soon reach the other side of the woods. She thought longingly of her own safe, warm bedroom. If she were home, she would be curled up under her blankets in her bed by now, reading a book and nibbling on candy.
A loud crashing sound in the bushes at the side of the path made her jump in fright. Too frightened to run and too frightened to stay, she watched as a large, lumbering form pushed its way through the undergrowth before disappearing from sight. She looked around frantically, aware that she was alone with little to protect her. Were there bears in these woods Snakes or wolves I should never have come in here by myself.
"Keep going. It is only a stray bozdog. They will not hurt you if you leave them alone. Or unless the Fabula commands them. Or, I suppose, they might attack if they are hungry. Actually, you are probably best to keep right away from them. However, keep going for now and don't be distracted from your path." The mountain dragon appeared as if from nowhere and alighted on Taylor's shoulder. His small weight was a comfort, despite the prickle of his claws, as it meant she was no longer alone in the dark woods.
"Why do you keep flying away I don't want to be in here by myself. The forest is scary." Taylor glared at the mountain dragon, twisting her head so she could see him and so he could see that she was annoyed.
"Keep walking." The mountain dragon pressed its talons down harder, making Taylor yelp. "You need to reach the other side by nightfall. Torwood Forest is no place to be alone after dark."
Taylor reluctantly began walking again, crunching her way through the leaves that lay scattered across the forest floor. "What do you mean, I need to be out of here by nightfall I should be back in my own bedroom where it is already evening. You have to tell me properly what this place is. Why am I here What were you doing in my house"
The mountain dragon sighed heavily, a puff of smoke riding the exhaled air in front of him like a long drawn out illustration of his exasperation. "You ask too many questions."
"I think I have a right to know."
The mountain dragon flexed his feet and pushed off from Taylor's shoulder to hang, suspended, in the air in front of her. "Follow me." He decisively veered off the path and into a fern-filled area at the side of the track.
Taylor hesitated and glanced around. She had the choice of following the dragon into the ferns or continuing on the path through the woods on her own. Somewhere up ahead, where the path turned, she thought she heard the sound of running feet. She quickly stooped and followed the mountain dragon into the ferns. The soft green fronds brushed against her legs and arms, tickling her skin, as she pushed her way through the undergrowth. She could no longer see the mountain dragon; she could see nothing but curling green strands of fern. Hoping she was still heading in the right direction, she continued pushing forward. She pushed aside another stem of delicate fronds and saw that she had emerged beside a gentle, flowing stream. Clear water trickled over small rounded stones and boulders, and the air here smelled fresh and clean. Dappled sunlight shone cheerfully through the leaves overhead and speckled the earthen floor. The mountain dragon was crouched on a flat stone, its snout deep in the clear water as it drank. Taylor sat herself down beside him and reached her scooped hands into the water. The stream was cool and refreshing and she was suddenly aware of how thirsty she had become.
The mountain dragon lifted its head and shook itself, causing its scales to rattle musically against one another. Tiny drops of water, dislodged by his furious shaking, flung through the air and landed on her leg. The mountain dragon sighed happily. "That's better, though we can't stay long. The sun will soon set. I wanted you to take a minute to rest and refresh yourself before we continue."
"Thank you." And Taylor was grateful. The mountain dragon had been helpful, even if he had declared that he was not her friend and that she was not the right girl, whatever that meant.
The mountain dragon hopped across to another rock, this one bathed in a welcoming shaft of sunlight, and stretched out his wings in the warmth. Taylor admired the kaleidoscope of colours that shone from his wings under the caress of the sunbeam. He cocked his head and thoughtfully returned her stare. "The Obsidian Realm does not follow the same hours as your world. We have night and day, but time here in the Realm is very different." He shuddered and refolded his wings to hold them tight against his body. "The nights can be very long and dark. It was not always like this, but we have become used to the new ways. To answer your other question, I came to your house to find you. Itaea said that you were the one."
"Itaea, the white panther Why would she say that And what does "the one" mean The one for what Oh!" Taylor jumped to her feet as something large and menacing crashed through the undergrowth towards them.
"Stay still!" cried the mountain dragon. He spread his wings and sprung into the air. "Stay still and do exactly as I say!"