"Itaea's word is law." Taylor jumped at the sound of the voice in her ear. Ulysses hovered in the air beside her, his blue wings beating rapidly up and down. The expression on his handsome little face was solemn and calculating. Taylor glanced over at the others, only to see that no one was paying them any attention as they clustered around the table of food. She turned back to Ulysses. He was so close that she could see the fine, dark hairs of his eyebrows and feel the small breeze made by his wings against the face. His dimples were absent as he glowered at her. "Yes, I think I am beginning to understand that," she said carefully.
Ulysses held her gaze for a long moment. His brown-eyed stare was hypnotising and Taylor felt herself pulled against her will into their dark depths. "Watch your step," he said softly, so softly that she was not sure whether she had heard him correctly. He whirled around and flew across the room to land with two booted feet in the middle of the table, next to the now half-empty plate of scones. He turned his back to her and launched into an animated conversation with Lyric. Taylor stared after him, left feeling uneasy by the encounter. Nothing at all about the dark fairy made her feel relaxed or comfortable. Amy's face suddenly came to mind. For a fleeting instant, Taylor wished she was here so she could talk to her about Ulysses.
"Taylor! Come and join us," Hammond called from the table. "Don't sit over there all by yourself. You are with friends here and there is plenty of food for everyone." He banged his paw on the table and Lyric grabbed for the pitcher of water to steady it.
Eos turned his beautiful head to gaze at her and Taylor thought his eyes looked hauntingly sad. She had the impression that his argument with Geodhun had stirred up recollections he did not want to remember. She wanted to go over and wrap her arms around his neck, but somehow she knew that he would not appreciate the gesture. Instead, she went across to join the others around the table.
The door to the bedroom opened and Itaea and Geodhun emerged. Itaea padded over to the table and took the buttered scone offered to her by Lyric, murmuring her thanks although the expression in her eyes was distant and faraway. Geodhun landed on the table next to Ulysses, where he sat moodily staring at his talons and refusing any offers of food.
Taylor thirstily downed a glass of water and took a bite of a cookie. Waskel leaned over eagerly. "Do you like it"
She smiled at him around a mouthful of cookie, glad of his friendly overture when the room contained so many swirling, unpredictable moods. "It's delicious, thank you."
Itaea roused herself and gazed solemnly around the table. "If everyone has eaten we'll continue our discussion."
Eos stepped quickly forward in a clatter of hooves. His broad chest bumped against the table and Hammond again lurched across to grab for the water jug. "I can't stay. I must travel to the Outpost of Illusions. Mistost is expecting me."
"You can't fly after dark," Hammond said anxiously. He took his paws from the water jug and gazed entreatingly at the unicorn. "It's too dangerous. You know that. Surely Mistost can wait until the morning comes"
"No, I am going now. I know the safe route. Everett, please unlock the door." Eos clip-clopped across the floorboards to wait impatiently by the door. Ulysses sprung up from the table and flew after the unicorn, only to disappear out of sight behind Eos's flowing mane.
"Be safe," said Itaea, but Taylor noticed she did not try to persuade Eos to stay. Everett again began the long, complicated task of pulling back all the locks and bolts on the door.
Taylor glanced at the mountain dragon but he was paying no attention to Eos's departure, his attention still fixed sulkily on his own clawed feet. Everett wrenched back the last bolt and opened the door, allowing another blast of cold air to whip into the room. Taylor watched as Eos pushed himself off the step and flew up into the night sky. She leaned forward to speak to Geodhun, lowering her voice so the others could not hear. "Did Ulysses go with him"
Geodhun shrugged. "Who knows The dark fairies and unicorns are an erratic and unstable lot. They suit each other. It will do you well to keep clear of them, Taylor."
"Is everyone ready" Itaea turned her head to look at them from where she once again stood in front of the fire.
Taylor helped herself to another cookie and walked back to her chair. The others followed her to gather in a small circle around Itaea. Geodhun left the table last, flying across to perch himself on Itaea's head, any disagreement between them apparently now forgiven.
"Geodhun, please continue with your tale," said Itaea. She gave a small sigh as she sunk down to the floor to gaze into the flames, as if all the answers to all the questions were contained within the fire's orange heart.
Geodhun stretched out a taloned foot and picked delicately at his tooth. "As I was saying, the Obsidian Realm was once a peaceful place. Beasts, mythical folk, and creatures of all shapes and creeds lived together in harmony. That was until the Fabula arrived."
"The Fabula," Everett and Waskel repeated in unison, their voices hushed. They clutched at each other and stared, wide-eyed, at Geodhun.
"Quiet, both of you," murmured Itaea. "Let the mountain dragon continue. This story has taken long enough as it is and I am growing weary."
"When the Fabula first began to rule over our lands, we thought she would govern us in peace and harmony. We made her welcome and we opened our homes and our hearts to her. However, over time she began to turn creatures against each other. Slowly and insidiously, she wove her dark web of destruction. She invited her own awful creatures into the Obsidian Realm. She stood before us and smiled a traitor's smile at our faces as she betrayed us behind our backs. She carefully distributed her creatures of darkness throughout the Realm. The bozdogs, the maggarts, and the helions infiltrated our once peaceful land. The Obsidian Realm was no longer safe."
"The helions," squawked Everett and Waskel.
"Goblins!" cried Hammond. "You are not helping matters! Let Geodhun speak. Let him tell his story." He glared at the goblin brothers until they shrunk back under his stare and snapped their mouths firmly shut.
Lyric picked up his wide tail and held it up to his furry little face like a security blanket as he peeked nervously at the mountain dragon.