Taylor looked around at the other creatures. By Itaea's side sat another goblin who looked a lot like Everett. Everett clapped his hand on the goblin's shoulder and cheerfully introduced him to Taylor as his brother, Waskel. Next, he introduced a badger named Hammond, and a happy-looking beaver, his mouth parted into a perpetual grin, called Lyric.
"And this is Ulysses, the dark fairy." Itaea motioned towards a strikingly handsome young fairy of perhaps six inches high perched on the back of Hammond's chair, who Taylor had overlooked. Ulysses stared at Taylor insolently, without acknowledging her greeting, until she blushed and turned her head away to escape his scrutiny. Taylor's cheeks burned as she stood awkwardly where she was, hoping that someone might offer her a seat.
Itaea rose to her feet and padded gracefully across the floor, her paws making a soft, muffled sound against the wooden boards. Just like Sox. "You did well to find your way through Torwood Forest," she said warmly. "I am very proud of you."
Taylor smiled gratefully at Geodhun. "Geodhun helped me. I couldn't have done it without him." She meant what she said. The mountain dragon had been her saviour during her journey through the woods, especially during her encounter with the bozdog. She knew that she would have panicked without Geodhun's sporadic but helpful appearances.
Itaea looked amused. She turned her large head toward Geodhun, her beautiful eyes sparkling. "So, Geodhun was helpful, was he Well, well. It seems our little mountain dragon isn't as prickly as he would like other people to believe."
"Someone had to help her," said Geodhun indignantly. "You gave me the task and I fulfilled it to the best of my ability." He ruffled his scales and turned his back to Taylor to stare at the fire.
Taylor darted her eyes back towards Ulysses. An amused smirk was playing across his face as he listened to the conversation. He casually raised a hand and brushed a lock of brown hair off his brow and Taylor watched the muscles flex in his tanned arm. The wings that protruded between his shoulder blades were an iridescent blue, reminiscent of deep oceans or brilliant summer skies. Taylor thought he was the most perfect creature she had ever seen. He turned his head, boldly meeting her eyes, and she shuffled uncomfortably and looked quickly away to speak to Itaea. "Why am I here"
Itaea stretched her paws out in front of her and arched her back, her body lithe and strong in the orange glow of the fire. She began to pace the confines of the small cottage, striding restlessly backwards and forwards between the table and the mat, her tail twitching. "You were chosen to come to the Realm to help us. I sincerely hope that you will chose to stay and help. However, at all times you must remember that you have free will, and that you are always free to make your own decisions."
Geodhun cleared his throat. "If I may interrupt"
"Of course." Itaea stopped her pacing and looked enquiringly the mountain dragon. "Say what you will, Geodhun."
Lyric raised his paw in the air and jumped up from his spot beside the fire to speak his first words since Taylor had entered the room. "Can I speak first"
Everyone turned towards the beaver. He clasped his paws in front of his rotund belly and grinned around at his friends, his smile infectious and enchanting. "There is something very important that I need to know." He took a deep breath and banged his flat tail enthusiastically against the floorboards. "I need to know if it is breakfast time yet."
Everett looked surprised, then flustered. "Oh my goodness, is it morning already What kind of host am I" He walked quickly towards the kitchen and began pulling pots and pans out of the cupboards.
"Everett, wait." Geodhun scrambled to stay upright on the goblin's shoulder. "The night is not yet over. There is no hurry to prepare breakfast."
"There is plenty of time to eat." Itaea's voice cut through the cottage, its undoubted authority bringing an abrupt stop to Everett's flurry of activity. She swung her massive head back towards Taylor. "The nights in the Obsidian Realm are long, longer than you would consider to be normal. Morning will not come for quite some time."
"Was I the only one who slept If it is night time, why is everyone awake"
Hammond stood up and pushed his round glasses further up his broad nose with a black clawed paw, fleetingly reminding Taylor of Mr. Evans, the school History teacher. The badger inclined his head courteously toward her. "Excuse us. You must think that we are all very rude. I promise you that we are not always so disorganized. Please, sit down." He pulled out a chair for her and motioned for her to sit before addressing the mountain dragon. "Geodhun, speak now. Tell us what you were about to say."
Geodhun flew from Everett's shoulder and alighted on the top rung of the spindly chair shared by Everett and Waskel. Itaea resumed her pacing, the tip of her tail flicking backwards and forwards as she stalked around the room. Everett padded out of the kitchen and sat cross-legged on the mat in front of the fire. Lyric sat down with a sigh and a final, hopeful look towards the kitchen. Ulysses scowled at Taylor, meeting her gaze and holding it. Taylor ducked her head to avoid his stare, feeling her cheeks grow hot again.
Geodhun began to speak. "As Itaea has already said, Taylor, you have free will and the ability to make your own decisions. However, as you may have already noticed, I am never far away and whenever I can I will gently guide you away from danger. However, you must be prepared for what lies ahead of you. Your path will not be easy."
"I don't understand. What do I have to prepare for What is it that I am supposed to be doing here No-one has told me." Taylor held her hands out helplessly, palms up.
A loud whistling sound came from outside the cottage, accompanied by the rattle and clatter of something heavy landing on the roof. Itaea pulled her lips back into a snarl and Lyric tumbled off his chair in surprise. Ulysses flew up from his perch beside the fire to land on one of the rafters. He put his hands on his hips and stared up at the ceiling, as if trying to peer right through it. Everett and Waskel squeaked and clung to each other while Hammond looked around nervously, his eyeglasses glinting in the firelight. "Is it the Fabula" he whispered.