The small group had been marching through the woods of Xuria for two days, with Lhasmo in the lead. Whenever the group stopped to rest, Simon and Richie used the break to receive instructions from Teldan on how to handle their bows. Both Simon and Richie proved to be quick learners. Time and again they increased the distance to randomly selected targets, most of which they hit with precision. They were nearly as skilled with their knives as were Nanik and Dakko. Anjoux instructed them in the art of thinking away. However it soon became apparent that Richie was not one to focus on a single point over a longer period of time. But it really didn't matter to him. That kind of mental exertion was not his thing anyway and he could well do without the headaches the exercises caused. However he was quick to learn and went hunting with Teldan and Nanik nearly every day.
In contrast, Simon loved his lessons in how to think to another place. It seemed to Lhasmo that the boy had the innate gift of adjusting to any place or situation from one moment to the next. Of course he suffered from the side effects Anjoux had described to him and Richie. But he wasn't worried about it. On the contrary, he practised all the more concentrated and harder whenever he started getting sick. Even when his efforts had not yet produced the desired success, Lhasmo and Anjoux encouraged him to continue learning diligently and under no circumstances to give up. For the day would come, of that they were sure, when Simon would be skilled and strong enough to cross that threshold and easily think from one place to the other.
Three days after they broke camp, the forest began to clear and the spacious lush meadows of Xuria stretched out before them. It was noon already and so they decided to spend one more night in the protection of the trees. After leaving the forest behind them the next day, it would only be a matter of time before Rodan's scouts would discover them. An inevitable fact, though unsettling, that they could do nothing about.
Their path was as predestined as Simon's arrival had been in Morana. Everything happened for a certain reason, at a predetermined time, Lhasmo was always wont to say. They would have to depend on each other more than ever now, which could only serve to strengthen their ties for the impending battle against Rodan.
Lost in thought, Lhasmo sat in the shade of an old gnarled tree. A light wind picked up and the sun penetrated the canopy of the treetops and tickled his nose. They still had a long and dangerous way to go. He had already travelled part of this way before and was aware of the dangers they would encounter. He was worried. He could not say for certain that his friends would return home safe and sound. Morana was no longer a safe country as it had been in the days of the great dragon king Asragur. They would have to remain alert at all times. Since Asragur had sunk down into the depths of the Well and banished Rodan to Eldor, many creatures of Morana now lived by their own rules. Hard to imagine, the disastrous situation in the land if those creatures joined forces with Rodan someday.
Lhasmo's fosterlings still had no idea of the test coming their way at the holy Lake of Gozhal. He would have to hurry them along the way during the next three days, as the shells of Gozhal will open only at full moon, to reveal their precious contents.
Teldan and Nanik were busy skinning the two rabbits they had bagged. It had been a lucky day for hunting, for a nice fat swamp grouse, already plucked, was lying in the grass.
Dakko and Richie had also gone to search for something edible.
"Man that hurts!", Simon exclaimed.
"Way to go, Simon", Lhasmo heard Anjoux's euphoric voice say. "You are almost there!", she explained happily and ran up to Simon, radiant with joy."Listen boy. Don't give up now. That last try looked really great", she exclaimed and was persistent in persuading him to try again.
With his hands on his knees, Simon stood bent forward in front of her. His head was throbbing. He saw stars and again had to fight the nausea. He slowly straightened up and flashed Anjoux an angry look.
"Are you crazy?", he raged. "What was that all about? Whose stupid idea was it to throw stones at me? You hit me in the head", he complained loudly and rubbed his forehead with a reproachful look.
"Simon, that was great!", Anjoux replied excitedly, ignoring his protests. She hurried up to him and beamed with joy. "You almost made it this time. Congratulations, my dear. You are making extraordinary progress."
She inspected his aching forehead. "Oh, it's only a scratch. You can hardly see a thing! Granted, you'll probably have a small bump, but it will be forgotten in a few days", she dismissed Simon's objections. He was still upset. "Why did you throw stones at me in the first place? I thought I was supposed to focus on thinking away, not on getting my skull crushed by you."
"I'm sorry", she apologized. "I honestly expected you to vanish at once. You were hardly visible, nearly invisible. I thought it couldn't hurt if I helped it along a bit. Remember, this gift might save your life some day. Not long from now you will be able to escape any dangerous and hopeless situation in a twinkling of an eye, as fast a lightening. The stone would not have hit you if you had been more focused on your destination", she justified her unusual method.
"I figured it was probably my fault", he pouted. "What do you mean, I was nearly invisible?", he wanted to know in spite of this aching forehead.
"Well, it was just as I said. Somehow you were still here and yet you weren't. As if you were dissolving before my eyes", she explained what she had observed.
"You really think so?", he was incredulous and Anjoux nodded joyfully, causing her curls to dance around in her face.
"Now I understand. It also felt different this time", he described his latest attempt.
"What do you mean?", she wanted to know.
"Well", Simon began. "Except for the usual nausea and headache, I could very clearly see the place I wanted to go to." He pointed over to the tree where Lhasmo was sitting in the shade. "It was quite strange really", he continued. "I was standing here with you in the meadow and saw the stone you threw flying towards me. But I couldn't dodge the stone in time. Neither could I hear what you said to me shortly before that", he said, clearly amazed.
"You wanted to think your way to the tree over there where Lhasmo is sitting?", Anjoux encouraged him to keep talking.
"Yes, I think so. At least that was the picture I had in mind. I had the sensation of being in two places at the same time. But I just couldn't arrive. Know what I mean? Somehow I floated above the tree without knowing how to come back down. It was a strange feeling."
"Oh Simon, that's wonderful", Anjoux beamed at him. "You've almost made it. The moment you clear your thoughts of the place you are leaving, you will arrive at the place you were focusing on", she explained. "Come on, let's try it again", she encouraged him to concentrate on a destination once again.
"All right", he sighed and gave in to her zeal. "But don't you dare throw anything else at me", he warned.
"Don't worry", she assured him with a wink. "I will approach you very slowly, step by step. Don't let it confuse you. Focus on the place you want to go to. As soon as you feel you are very near to your place of choice, then wipe away the mental picture of your starting point. No matter how captivating it might be. After that, all you need to do is focus on touching the ground with your feet. The rest will take care of itself. You will see. Are you ready?", she asked and returned to her starting position.
"Sure, OK. Let's try it again", Simon said and started concentrating.
He saw Anjoux slowly coming towards him, the butterflies swarming around her and her blond curls bobbing around her face from the light summer breeze. Suddenly the image before his eyes began to change. He became more and more removed as Anjoux's contours blurred. At the same time, a second image began to take shape in his mind. Richie and Dakko had meanwhile returned from their excursion and were proudly showing their grass apples and mushrooms to Teldan and Nanik, which they had collected for supper. He could hardly see nor hear Anjoux.
Simon was now hovering over Teldan, Richie and the elf boys. Their faces came into focus and he could hear their voices. He was getting sick and dizzy. But this time he would make it. And so he began to imagine how it would be to feel the soft grass under his bare feet and to suddenly appear in the midst of his four laughing friends.
He just imagined their bewilderment and surprise at his sudden appearance out of thin air. With this exhilarating thought, all at once he felt the wet grass under his feet. The image of Anjoux had completely vanished from his thoughts. From one second to the next his new place of arrival pulled him with a violent jerk into the here and now.
He suddenly materialized on wobbly legs next to Richie, who gave a yelp and jumped to the side. "Where did you come from all of a sudden?", he asked bemused and came closer.
"From somewhere over there", Simon pointed behind them and could hardly believe that he had actually thought himself from one place to the other.
After things calmed down again, Anjoux appeared just as suddenly among them and gave Simon a big hug. "Simon, you did it, you really did it!", she squealed with delight and hopped around joyfully. "It was so cool to see how you slowly dissolved into thin air. As if that's what you do all the time", she congratulated him. Simon turned red and looked bashfully to the ground.
"Well", he stammered. "I actually thought I would botch it again. Everything moved so slowly, like in slow motion. I thought it would be faster."
"Believe me, it all happened very quickly", Anjoux assured him. "You were great! At first everybody thinks it's much too slow and that the moment of thinking away takes forever. But believe me, it only took a fraction of a second", she explained, proud that her instructions had resulted in quick success.
"How are you feeling now?", Richie wanted to know, who had calmed down again.
"I feel pretty good, actually. I'm still a bit queasy in the stomach, though", Simon replied.
"Man, you gave me quite a scare there when you appeared out of nowhere. I had almost peed my pants", he grinned at Simon.
"We will practise a bit every day now", Anjoux decided. "You will soon learn to concentrate on places farther away."
She turned to Richie and gave him a wink: "Richie, you're welcome to join us, you know. With a little practice, you could do the same thing."
"No thanks! Anything but that!", Richie declined with a wave of the hand. "The last time I tried it, I had to vomit all night long. Sorry, but I'll have to pass", he refused Anjoux's offer and firmly shook his head. In secret, he gladly let this cup pass from him. The others laughed.
"So this evening all of us have reason to celebrate", they heard Lhasmo say, who was also pleased that both Simon and Richie had made such progress, each in his own way.
"Let's set up camp and prepare the evening meal", Teldan suggested. "We have to get an early start in the morning".
As on previous evenings, they made themselves comfortable around the campfire. Full and satisfied, they sat around the crackling fire and listened again to Lhasmo's exciting tales. Although they would be getting up at dawn the next morning, it was pretty late when Simon and Richie were finally wrapped up warm for the night in their cloaks.
"Now that's what I call an exciting day", Richie said. "It's still hard to believe that we are here. And now you can just think yourself from one place to the other. That's far out!" Richie locked his hands behind his head and looked at the twinkling stars peering through the treetops.
"So how did it feel?", he asked curiously and turned to Simon who was also staring up at the night sky.
"Kind of crazy", he began. "I still don't exactly know how to describe it. You have a feeling of being at two places at once. It tears you in two parts and can make your stomach revolt. And then, all of a sudden, after concentrating on the place you want to go to, you are lifted up to a certain height. You feel like you're floating while everything around you begins to rotate. In your thoughts you start getting closer to your destination.
You focus on the image you see and then on touching your feet to the ground. The rest takes care of itself. The ground pulled me like a magnet. As soon as I touched down, I was standing next to you", Simon described the memory of his first success in thinking away. "That sounds so cool", Richie whispered excitedly. "I hope you don't forget how to do it when we're back at home again. You think it might be possible for us to think ourselves away together? That would be so brilliant! The places we could visit, Simon. Just imagine", he dreamed aloud.
"Well, I believe I need a lot more practice. But Anjoux hinted that it might be possible. However, there would be some risk involved", Simon explained.
"What kind of risk could there be?", Richie wanted to know.
"I'm not sure if I know exactly. The way I understand it, both of us would have to mentally picture the same place in order to reach it. That would take a lot of practice. If the companion, for example, does not keep every single detail of the destination in his mind's eye, he might not arrive there and forever roam around somewhere in nowhere. That's something like the way Anjoux explained it to me."
"Got it", Richie replied, no longer so excited now about travelling through the world with Simon.
"Well OK, you have a lot of practice ahead. Maybe it will work someday".
"Sure", Simon mumbled and snuggled down into this warm cloak. "Sleep well, Richie".
"Good night, Simon".
The camp quieted down, the embers of the campfire gradually burned out and the two friends, as well as the others, fell quickly asleep.
At the crack of dawn, Lhasmo gathered everybody around him and hastened them to break camp. "We will be leaving the protection of the forest, my friends. From now on be watchful, for Rodan's scouts are lying in wait everywhere", he warned them. There was no way he could know that the raven Agraq had revealed their whereabouts long before to his lord and that Rodan was already devising his sinister plans.
"The holy Lake of Gozhal is a two-day's march from here. It is situated in the middle of a small valley. We have to reach it by all means before these two days expire. You can expect long marches and only short breaks for the next two days. If Rodan already knows our location, then he will also be aware of where we are headed and will do everything to thwart our plans", Lhasmo explained.
"You are leading us to the holy lake?", Anjoux was surprised. "Has the time finally come?", she asked incredulously.
"Yes, my child", replied Lhasmo. "In two days from now the full moon will shine over Gozhal and the shells will once again open. We can't lose any time". Lhasmo turned to go and waved the others to follow him.
"Do you have any idea what awaits us, Anjoux?", Richie wanted to know.
"And what's this about a holy lake and shells?", Simon also wanted to know.
"All in good time boys”, Anjoux answered. “Let's go. I'll tell you the secret of the lake along the way. But for now we need to make haste. Every minute we fiddle around here could cost us", she consoled them and turned to go
So Simon and Richie would have to wait and see, and joined the others. However, they couldn't get rid themselves of the feeling that their first hard test was imminent.