Simon was stunned. He felt like every bone in his body was broken, no surprise after falling from that far up. He couldn't move nor open his eyes.
It was quite a bit cooler and more humid than it had been on the stairs. Dazed, he lay on the cold ground and listened to the silence. He was only aware of a gentle, constant "splish splash".
Simon couldn't believe that they had really done it. They had actually jumped! Carefully, he tried to move his arms and legs. Thank goodness! Nothing was broken. But what was about his friends? He slowly opened his eyes and glanced around.
Anjoux had already got on her feet and was stretching her battered bones. Richie and Dakko also got up and looked around disoriented.
"Phew, that was close! My strength was ebbing for a brief moment. I didn't think I could do it", Anjoux said and looked upwards. There was nothing to see but a large black hole. There was no trace of the stairs anywhere.
"We can thank our lucky stars that we weren't crushed by falling rubble", Richie remarked and shivered when he saw the remains of the stair steps scattered all around them. They had reached their destination. The Well was only a stone's throw away from them, in the back part of the mountain. Alert, they peered around and perked their ears. The only sound was the babbling of the water.
They cautiously stepped over the fallen debris of the stairs and walked towards the light that fascinated them more and more.
Again and again they looked around at their surroundings. They knew too well that Rodan would not allow them to leisurely walk up to the Well. The murmur of the Well grew louder. It was growing lighter all around them.
"There it is!", Simon cried out. "Let's go" Get a move on!", he told them and ran ahead in excitement.
"I can't believe it! We're finally here!", Richie cheered, beside himself with joy.
"Psst!", Anjoux hissed at him. "Keep quiet. Your echo can be heard throughout the mountain!"
Richie bit his tongue and looked around in alarm. Still, he was so happy that they had finally made it to the Well. His whole face was radiant. He knew that all would be well and that he and Simon could return home soon.
This grotto was indeed a magical place. They knew that at once. The stone here was a lot lighter in colour than what they had seen in all of the caves and passageways behind them. Of course it could have been due to the thousands of tiny sun crystals in the walls that made them feel like they were gazing up into the starlit skies of Morana.
Long sparkling stalactites hung from a sea of stars throughout the cave. They approached Morana's sanctuary, the Well of Hope, slowly and in awe.
This is where their journey would end. Melancholy stirred a bit in Simon as he thought back to all the adventures he and Richie had been through. He still didn't have the slightest idea what was expected of him. How was he, Simon Knox of Portsmouth, supposed to accomplish something so great? Was he really the right one for the job? Or had Grewels been mistaken when he puffed him and Richie through the Gate from the Great Hangman?
"Look there! Those must be the sacred stones!", Richie tore Simon from his thoughts. Richie pointed at three smoothly-ground heavyweight granite boulders that surrounded the left side of a nondescript basin, into which a steady trickle of water flowed from the rock wall behind it.
"It's odd that there is no writing anywhere", Simon was somewhat disappointed as they approached the boulders. He looked closely at the stone and ran his hand over the smooth surface of the granite. Nothing happened. They stood in front of the sacred stones, without a clue of what to do next to reveal Asragur's prophecy. There was no doubt that this was the place. That was for sure. Perhaps they had overlooked something. Dakko and Richie tried their luck as well. Neither could they see anything, even though they pressed their noses flat against the cold stone. They gave up.
"Simon, I've got an idea!", Anjoux said, suddenly excited."I'm not sure but I think that the key to the prophecy of the dragon king is his scale you are wearing around your neck. I could be wrong but as far as I know, Asragur wrote the prophecy on the sacred stones with his own blood. It might be that something that belonged to the dragon king is needed to make the words appear - for instance, the scale that he wore over his heart. It must be the key to the revelation of the prophecy", Anjoux explained.
"But why in the world was the prophecy revealed to Grewels? The way I see it, he didn't have the scale with him when he drank from the Well. He found it here first", Richie considered.
"Hmmm", Simon brooded. "Because he is from the same blood", he mused.
"That's it, Simon! That's the solution!", Anjoux exclaimed triumphantly.
"That's right! That must be it!", Simon said and brought out Asragur's scale from under his cloak.
Dakko and Richie had no idea what they were talking about. They couldn't follow their friends. "What do you mean? The scale is the key to the prophecy? Would somebody please explain? Dakko and I can't understand a word of what you are going on about", Richie asked for an explanation.
"It's really quite simple", Simon began. "Grewels was the one who had come to the Well to quench his thirst. The prophecy of the dragon king was not only revealed to him for his purity of heart but also because he descended from the cliff dragons and thus is of Asragur's blood. However, I don't believe that the entire prophecy was revealed to him. Remember the way he introduced himself, after landing in Aunt Aby's garden with noise and stench, nearly burning down our tent? He introduced himself as the "Excubidor" of the Well. That means he is the guardian of the Well, but not the Chosen One.
I am the Chosen One!
The prophecy was revealed to Grewels at that time because Asragur's spell was weakening and Rodan was growing stronger. The time had come for the guardian to go out in search of the Chosen One.
The stones only revealed to him that he was to find me. It's why he brought us to Morana. Everything else was hidden to him as it is to us. To this very day he has no idea what will be demanded of the Chosen One to keep Morana from falling into darkness.
I am the only one to whom the stones will completely reveal Asragur's final words. Here and now! Since I am not of the same blood as the dragon, the scale is my only link to Asragur and thus to the last part of the prophecy. Asragur's scale is the key to everything. It will show us how Morana can be saved from the rule of the black elf." Simon studied the scale of the dragon king in his hand. He stroked the smooth surface gently with his fingers and closed his eyes.
"Simon, what's going on? What do you see?", Richie asked impatiently.
"Psst", Anjoux hissed. "Give him time. He must concentrate", she checked Richie.
"I can feel his heartbeat!", Simon whispered as he inhaled deeply and turned to the sacred stones. Excited, he kneeled down before the granite boulder in the middle. His heart was beating wildly. The throbbing in his hand also increased. Simon's breath caught. He felt Asragur's heartbeat stronger than ever now. The throbbing grew louder and he could actually hear the blood rushing through his veins.
He became unbearably hot. A moment later he could no longer distinguish his own heartbeat from that of the dragon. Like in a trance, Simon pressed his hand with the scale of the dragon against the cold stone. Instantly he had the feeling of being drawn into the rock. There was a stabbing pain in his chest. Simon moaned with pain.
The blood of the dragon king slowly began to flow over the stones, forming the last words of Asragur in his mind's eye. The fading heartbeat of the defeated dragon droned so loud through Simon's body that he feared his own heart would explode. He was drawn deeper and deeper into Asragur's fate. Simon floated weightlessly between both worlds.
He was Asragur, the mighty ruler of Morana, flying over his empire one last time. He saw the memories of the dragon king, one image after another rushing by. Beautiful pictures of happier days when Morana had thrived. But also ugly abysses, painful experiences and times of grief and suffering had characterized the life of the king, a life that had seeped, drop for drop, from his ravaged body. The voice of Asragur droned on relentlessly in Simon's head and pounded the words of the prophecy into his memory.
All at once it was over. The voice was silent and the scale of the dragon in Simon's hand ceased to vibrate. Simon was knocked away from the sacred stones by a mighty blow and landed among his friends, who bent down over him in concern. Exhausted, Simon remained lying and held his painful chest. "Ouch, that hit home!", he moaned and rolled onto his back. "Oh man, you're bleeding!", Richie cried in panic and at once Anjoux opened Simon's shirt to doctor his wounds as quickly as possible. But Simon warded off her attempts and straightened up. "It's nothing. I'm fine!", he tried to calm them and brushed the dust from his cloak.
"It's nothing? Boy, it looks as if someone tried to rip the heart out of your body!", Richie was upset and looked aghast at Simon's bloody shirt.
"Richie has a good point there, Simon. You look a bit worn out, if I may say so myself. At least let me have a look to make sure you're all right", Anjoux urged.
"OK, if you must", Simon grumbled and reluctantly raised his shirt.
"That's strange", the little elf mused. "It's mystifying. There's nothing to see except for a scar." Simon glanced down at himself and even Dakko and Richie stepped closer to have a look at the mark on Simon's left breast.
„Wow! It's the shape of Asragur's scale. That's far out", Richie commented and shivered. Simon covered himself again and looked towards the Well.
"Did you get the answers you need?", Anjoux asked and touched Simon's arm gently.
"You can be sure of it, little elf. The Chosen One has been well prepared for that which is to come", they suddenly heard Rodan's sinister voice, which filled the entire mountain around them. Alarmed, they turned around in all directions. From everywhere his ominous voice resounded in their ears and his grim laughter caused the mountain to tremble. The flapping of wings could be heard and at once Richie and Dakko made ready with their bows. Black fog fell upon the Well and covered the sacred stones. Anjoux whispered in Simon's ear. For a short moment he looked at her blankly. But then he nodded and placed his hand on the dagger that Lhasmo had entrusted him with.
Richie and Dakko shot arrows randomly into the fog in the hope of doing their all-powerful adversary some harm. But it wasn't to be.
A figure emerged silently from the shadows between the rocks and approached them slowly. And again Richie and Dakko shot arrows through the air. But in vain! Just like that, Rodan grabbed the arrows out of the air and flung them back to his attackers. The arrows pierced through the boys who, with silent screams on their lips and wide open eyes, dropped their bows before they turned into statues of stone.
"Richie! Oh no, Richie!", Simon screamed and wanted to rush to the aid of his friend. Anjoux held him back, though, and shook him hard on the shoulder.
"You can do nothing for them at the moment! It's his magic! We'll take care of them later. Trust me!", she tried to calm him.
"And then there were only two of them left", Rodan laughed in satisfaction and pointed at Simon and Anjoux. Sure of victory, he drew closer to the two. He stood still at a short distance and eyed the two children. Simon discreetly looked for a way of escape.
Rodan was blocking the path to the Well with a mocking grin."Welcome, Simon Knox. It is an honour to finally meet Asragur's Chosen One. Even though this pleasure admittedly will be of short duration", Rodan welcomed Simon with a slight bow.
"And just look at the charming little companion you brought along", Rodan continued, turning his cold eyes to Anjoux. "Elian's second-born, the half-breed Anjoux. Your father must think highly of you when he allows his only child left to him to venture on such a dangerous and yet hopeless journey."
Anjoux tried to stop her ears from listening to the lies. Still, his words were painful. Was he speaking the truth? Rodan sensed the doubt arising in the little elf. He came a step closer.
"Oh, you had no idea! You really don't know, do you?", Rodan drilled.
"I hear only the lies of an embittered old elf!", Anjoux growled and clenched her fists.
"You don't believe me? Then watch carefully!", Rodan ordered. All at once, Simon and Anjoux found themselves in the moorland of Xuria hundreds of years ago. Transfixed and mute, they listened to Rodan's voice and witnessed the tale that would end here and today.
"Elian was a respected warrior in the land. But fate dealt him a severe test. Just a few days before, he had been the happiest man in the whole moorland, because his wife Arelia had given him a daughter, whom they named Milah. Arelia however died giving birth. The little Milah grew up and thrived. She was Elian's only joy. However, as a member of the Council of Elders, it was Elian's duty, not only to think about his own happiness but also the well-being of all and to have an ear for the worries and needs of his people.
The day came when I was called to appear before the Council of Elders, who then banished me from Xuria. Afterwards, Elian had no rest, but rather dark premonitions robbed him of his sleep at night. Worried about his daughter's life, he decided to take measures for Milah's safety.
On a cold winter night he left Leyhda with the child, to hide her from me beyond the borders of Xuria. Even though it meant that he would never again see his beloved child. He then returned to his people a few days later. Nobody knew the whereabouts of the child. It was said, however, that he had hidden his daughter in another world. Elian fell for the mist fairy Limohé's charm many years later. At that time, his people had already hidden themselves deep into the earth for fear of my revenge", Rodan laughed.
Simon and Anjoux were standing again back in the cave.
"You are as beautiful as your mother was", Rodan remarked thoughtfully and waved his long, bony index finger around in the air. Anjoux's curls began to dance. The little elf tried her best to ward off his disgusting touch. Rodan smirked. "And just as contrary, which didn't help the beautiful Limohé either. What a shame", he laughed and came towards Simon and Anjoux.
"You will soon stop laughing. This day you will pay for all you've done. Never again will anyone have to fear you. You will lose more than your power today", Anjoux spoke with a strong voice and stood her ground. She looked at Simon. Her look was one of courage and determination, as she signalised Simon and nodded.
The two children instantly vanished into thin air. But before they could reach the Well, Rodan blocked their way again. A bright flash from the black elf's hand hurled Simon against the sacred stones, where he remained motionless. Raging, Rodan grabbed the loathsome little elf by the neck and lifted her in the air.
"You are a stupid little creature! Didn't your mother's fate teach you anything?", he grumbled in rage and tightened his grip.
"I'm not afraid of you, you monster! Kill me if you want, but my death will not change your fate. By the time the sun rises over Morana, you will be history", Anjoux prophesied and gave Rodan a powerful kick in the chest.
"You foolish little half-breed", Rodan gasped angrily. "Nobody who stood in my way has ever gone unpunished. I will rise over Morana before the sun comes up. Neither you nor the Chosen One can change that fact. Both of you have failed", he laughed grimly and continued to strangle Anjoux.
"Hey, leave her alone!", Simon shouted in fury and threw a stone at Rodan's head. Rodan turned around full of rage.
"Come on, here I am! I'm the one you want. Right?", Simon drew Rodan's attention to himself.
"Simon, don't! Focus on the Well and follow your destiny. Free our country and don't worry about me. Do it now, otherwise it will be too late!", Anjoux beseeched him and tried to break free of Rodan's cold grip.
"Don't worry, Anjoux. I know exactly what I have to do!", Simon replied and gazed at Rodan in defiance.
"I'll take care of you later", Rodan whispered and gave the elf a kiss that sucked the life out of the little body. Anjoux collapsed in herself and Rodan dropped her lifeless body to the ground.
"And now it’s your turn, my brave little hero. I do hope that your friends come to appreciate your sacrifice as much as I will. You can be proud of yourself. Your blood will seal the end of Asragur's reign and allow Morana to rise to new greatness", Rodan whispered, who dissolved before Simon's eyes and fused with the shadows that surrounded him. Simon gazed around at his surroundings. He had to stay alert. At any moment Rodan could appear at his side and render him harmless. If Rodan succeeded in ambushing him, then it would be difficult to put his plan into practice. They would have to stand face to face. Simon otherwise didn't stand a chance up against Rodan's magic power. He had to use Rodan's own arrogance against him. He had to act quickly and lure Rodan out of his hiding place.
Only two steps separated Simon from the basin, out of which the Well of Hope had once gushed forth. Time was running out. Morana's lifeline had dried down to a mere trickle. It wouldn't be long before the Well surrendered its last drops into the clear water of the bottomless basin. Simon peered around anxiously. The shadows of the huge grotto seemed much darker and ghostly than they did a few moments before. His hand slid under his cloak. His fingers frantically closed around the handle of the dagger. The black blade, stained from the blood of the dragon king, was Simon's only hope now. He couldn't bungle it now, forcing himself to take a deep breath.
"It's now or never!", Simon thought."I'm ready, Rodan! Come and get me!", Simon tried to lure his opponent out of hiding.
"Seems to me your power is waning, Rodan. You're not afraid of a human child, are you? Are you a coward or what?", Simon mocked, glancing around ready for attack.
Nothing! Not a sound could be heard. Rodan had vanished from the face of the earth. Before Simon could continue mocking his opponent, a swarm of black flies came buzzing out of the darkness and encircled him. The number of flies increased, making it that much darker around him. Rodan's cold laughter grew louder in his ears. Simon was losing his bearings. But before Simon knew it, the insects fell to his feet and the tall figure of Rodan was materializing in front of him.
Simon felt paralyzed as he looked into Rodan's rage-distorted face. He couldn't show any weakness now. Before Rodan had completely materialized, Simon lunged at him and rammed Asragur's dagger into his chest, pushing Rodan with him into the deep basin.
At once they were sucked down into its cold depths. Simon was still hanging on to the dagger. Rodan struggled with all his might, but his magic spell seemed to be broken. Simon's strength dwindled. He let go and was pulled down into the depths.
He saw Rodan above him, floating in the water. With the last of his strength, he pulled the dagger from the chest, saw in amazement that the blade was now sparkling silver, and let it fall. The water around Rodan turned dark with his blood and blurred his dark contours. Only Rodan's face could be recognized, and managed to spout off at Simon one last time.
"Be assured, this is not the final victory. The battle for Morana is not over yet. I will not give up so easily. I will find a way to obtain what is rightfully mine. We shall meet again, Simon Knox!", Rodan threatened, before the rest of him dissolved into the clear water.
Rodan had vanished. Simon could hardly believe it. Astonished, he looked up. Instead of the blood he had seen in the water before, the beautiful sun crystals shone their bright light down into the water.
Simon was exhausted and let himself drift around in the water. The undertow caught him again and pulled him down further. He let it happen. He had no more fight in him. The deeper he sank in the Well, the more weightless and free he felt. All worries, fears and hardships were gone, just like that.
A warm, gentle prickle passed through his body. Hundreds of clear air bubbles whirled all around him, filled with Simon's wishes, hopes and dreams. After making his final wish, he glanced up above one last time. A sea of shimmering air bubbles floated up to the surface.
It was finished. Simon had nothing more to give. Asragur's prophecy had been fulfilled and hope returned to Morana. New life would be created and peace could finally return. For Simon, however, the journey had come to an end.
Just as the dragon king had done once upon a time, Simon also sank down into the Well. Like an empty shell, he floated down to the bottom, where he would forever find his peace. He had lost all feeling. The dragon king's voice spoke to him one more time, before he closed his eyes forever.