The bozdog paced slowly towards Taylor, carefully and deliberately placing one huge grey paw in front of the other. Its fur was rough and muddy and its black eyes remained fixed intently upon her face as it drew closer. Its stocky body resembled that of a bear, but its face was dog-like, with a long, blunt muzzle and yellow fanged teeth. The hackles across its shoulders stood up raised and stiff, like a paintbrush or a carpet drenched in spilt chocolate milk. As Taylor gasped in terror, the bozdog pulled back its lips and growled at her, a long low sound that set her teeth on edge. She urgently needed to pee. Or run. Or both.
"Look away. Don't look it in the eye whatever you do." The mountain dragon hissed frantically in Taylor's ear. "It's come down here to get water and you are in its way. Move slowly to your left and allow it a free path to the stream. It is traveling alone, which isn't so bad. Bozdogs in packs are those that you need to be the most wary of. Slowly now, and don't make any sudden movements."
Taylor tore her eyes away from the terrifying creature and inched to the side, slowly, slowly, just as the mountain dragon had told her. Her entire body was trembling and her knees were weak with fear, barely able to support her. She had no doubts that the bozdog could tear her to pieces in a matter of seconds. It was nearly twice her size, and there was no way those large fangs were designed for eating salad. Several slow, agonizing minutes later, Taylor reached a tree at the side of the clearing and sagged against it in relief. "Am I far enough away" she whispered to the mountain dragon, who had hovered protectively above her head for the entire painstaking journey. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the bozdog, apparently now unbothered by her silent presence in the clearing. The beast drank thirstily from the stream, filling the immediate area with the rude sound of its noisy slurps.
"Stay still and keep quiet," the mountain dragon said softly. He landed on Taylor's shoulder and efficiently folded his wings before leaning in close to her neck. He felt warm against her skin, pleasant and comforting, just like Sox whenever Taylor watched a scary movie on her own. He wasn't too bad when he wasn't aiming red hot flames at her, Taylor decided.
An eerie wailing noise suddenly rung through the forest. The bozdog lifted its huge head, listening, and then turned and lumbered back into the undergrowth, twigs snapping and breaking around its ungainly body as it shouldered its way forward. Taylor rubbed at her ears to ease the ache on her eardrums as the wailing continued unabated. "What is that terrible sound"
The mountain dragon launched himself into the air with a snort. "It's the Fabula. She is calling her cronies home. Hurry, we have to get out of this forest before night comes." He flew towards the grove of ferns they had emerged from earlier and disappeared into the middle of the lush green fronds.
"Wait! What is the Fabula" Taylor ran after the mountain dragon, pushing her way through the ferns and back to the path, but there was no sign of him when she reached the trail. Turning in the direction in which she had been heading previously, she continued on, warier than ever now and alert for any sudden movements or unusual sounds. She trudged onwards, under the dark canopy of branches towards who knew what, and found her thoughts drifting back to Amy, as they often did. Amy's betrayal still caused a painful ache in her heart, a daily ache, as Taylor struggled to make sense of how she could have done such a thing to her closest friend. And she still popped naturally into Taylor's head, as she had done when Eos appeared, though Taylor supposed that was only natural after their long years of friendship.
Amy had attempted to speak to Taylor several times after she caught her with Matthew in the library, urging Taylor to talk to her and tell her what was wrong. Taylor had simply refused to answer her. She could not even look at Amy without feeling the prickle of tears in her eyes and a deep sadness that threatened to overwhelm her. She had always had Amy's back and she had been sure that the same undying loyalty was returned. It hurt that she could have misjudged Amy so badly. The situation had made Taylor question everything that she thought she understood about other people. It felt safer to retreat into herself and her books, away from any chance of being hurt. Losing herself in made up fantasy worlds was a whole lot easier than dealing with reality, she had decided. At least in books you knew exactly what you were dealing with.
A strident birdcall roused Taylor out of her thoughts and she pushed Amy out of her head before the familiar pain could settle in and make itself at home. She stopped walking and looked around, feeling as though she had been walking for hours. Since leaving the clearing, the path had twisted past countless trees and several identical patches of ferns, winding its way into small patches of sunlight and then out again. The dank, wet odour of damp leaves filled her nostrils and her arm itched after being snagged by the grasping thorns of a small vine as she passed. She could feel a blister forming on the heel of her left foot, just a small burn as yet but with the promise of more trouble to come. She was beginning to feel very hungry, ravishing even, and her stomach rumbled noisily to remind her of how long it had been since she had last eaten. She had seen not seen the mountain dragon since they left the clearing. The eerie sound of the Fabula had once more called through the treetops, causing Taylor to peer fearfully up through the clustered leaves, but even then the mountain dragon had not reappeared.
She rounded another bend and was relieved to see a bright spot in the midst of the gloom. Quickening her step, Taylor hurried to the edge of the woods. Ahead of her now stretched another field, this one also bordered by yet more high mountains. She took a deep, shuddering breath, glad to be finally out of Torwood Forest.
"What took you so long!" The mountain dragon swooped irritably in front of her face like an enraged bumblebee. "I am hungry. Hurry up, Everett has prepared dinner." The mountain dragon flew on ahead, across the field, without waiting for a response and Taylor hurried after him.
"Who is Everett And who is the Fabula" Taylor's toe kicked against a small stone half buried in the grass and she stumbled, reaching out her arms to break her fall as she thudded heavily to the ground. She rolled onto her back and lay winded, looking up at the stalks of grass waving above her head.
The mountain dragon dropped down to land on her chest. It blinked its green eyes at Taylor from where it sat, just inches from her face. "This is no time to take a rest," he said scathingly. "Perhaps if you stopped asking questions and concentrated on where you are going, you might be better off."
"I'm not resting! I fell over." Taylor struggled to sit upright and the mountain dragon, taken by surprise, tumbled off her chest to land in her lap. He righted itself and rattled his scales crossly.
"You have to tell me who the Fabula is. And who is Everett" Taylor demanded. "I am not going any further until you tell me."
"Gracious." The mountain dragon shook himself again, irritation radiating off his small body in perceptible waves. "I suppose if we are to get anywhere I will have to tell you something. The Fabula rules the Obsidian Realm. She is evil and wicked, but unfortunately, she has control of the entire kingdom. Apparently you are here to help us defeat her." The mountain dragon raised his emerald gaze and looked at her with a disheartened expression, making Taylor very aware she had not lived up to his expectations. "But I am not feeling terribly confident in your abilities at this stage." He sighed and flapped his wings to launch himself into the air.