Biggs was right. By the time they were half way around the lake due west, the rushing sound of the river had turned into a mighty roar. Finally they looked to their right to see the impressive bridge, made of one huge rock that would lead them over the bubbling masses of water. The impact of the water here between the rocky banks of the river had formed an enormous gorge in the course of centuries. A milky haze covered the monument and a beautiful rainbow was visible. Simon and Richie were quite impressed. There was definitely no bridge like it in Portsmouth.
They approached the riverbank slowly and stood still in amazement at the bridge. The water raged so powerfully here along the rocky banks that the ground trembled under their feet. Hesitantly they took a few steps onto the bridge. No matter how much they stretched their necks, they could not make out what was on the other side of the bridge, which was completely covered by fog.
"And Asragur made this bridge out of only one gigantic rock?", asked Richie incredulously without looking away.
"That's how the saying goes", Simon answered, also fascinated.
"It would no longer make sense to look for a shallower place to cross, would it?", Richie asked, with growing unease. Simon looked at him questioningly.
"Well, I don't feel so good about this fog over there. I have the feeling we are being watched", Richie stammered anxiously.
"Let's just start out slowly. If anything happens, then we'll run as fast as we can to the other shore", Simon suggested, also worried about the thick wall of fog. He also had a feeling as if something was hiding in the veil of fog on the bridge. But he tried not to let on.
Slowly, step by step, they pushed forward onto the bridge. The raging water shook them to the core and got louder and louder. About halfway across the bridge, right before entering the curtain of fog, Richie suddenly stopped.
"What's wrong?", Simon asked.
"I believe I just saw something tall and dark scurrying through the fog. It could have been only a shadow. I'm not sure. But my instinct tells me we had better get out of here quickly", he told Simon with chattering teeth.
"Richie, nothing's there", Simon tried to assure his friend, whose knees were shaking.
Slowly they moved forward until they were surrounded by mist. They could barely see their own hands in front of their faces and yet dared to move deeper into the fog. From somewhere a whisper made its way to their ears. It seemed to be farther away but was drawing closer and becoming clearer. A deep and evil voice spoke to them from all directions.
"There is no escape for you two. You are doomed, little humans!"
Simon and Richie turned around in a circle. But they couldn't make out where the voice was coming from, which became more threatening. The fog turned darker by the minute and they were about to lose their orientation.
"You Fools! What do you mean by going up against me? Nobody will get in my way and go unpunished, nobody! You shall find death here and Asragur's legacy shall perish along with you", the voice threatened.
It grew darker. They stood in the middle of the bridge and could hardly see anything. Somebody started in again speaking threats. Or did the fog itself had a voice? It was dangerously close. In desperation, Simon pulled the sun crystal hastily out of his backpack.
"Run, Richie, run!", Simon shouted against the raging of the water and the horrible voice. He grabbed Richie by the arm and they ran for their lives to the other side of the river.
The crystal lit their way through the fog and they heard an angry roar behind them that turned into a real storm, threatening to sweep them off the bridge and into the deep gorge below.
The bridge just wouldn't end. They ran and ran, and didn't dare look back. A black wall of fog was right on their heels and ready to swallow them up. A cold, horrifying laugh came from behind them and reached to their very core. With their last ounce of strength, out of breath, Simon and Richie jumped into the reed belt that was growing on the riverbank.
An angry outcry sounded from the end of the bridge. Simon turned, only to see the dark haze retreating and being replaced once again by the rainbow. Suddenly it was clear to him that they had narrowly escaped a tragic end. Richie laid panting beside him and Simon also fell back in exhaustion.
Simon and Richie remained in the reeds without moving. Then Simon sat up and took another fearful look across the bridge. It all looked so peaceful, as if nothing had happened. The water was rushing out to sea and the rainbow was colourful over the impressive structure of the bridge. Richie then joined him, daring a peek from out of the thick reeds and glanced wide-eyed at Simon.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?", he asked and also peered in the direction of the bridge. Simon could hardly believe what they had just experienced. He looked at Richie and slowly nodded.
"We just had our first encounter with Rodan", he confirmed what Richie was thinking.
"But isn't he supposed imprisoned at a castle in the middle of Lake Eldor?", Richie wondered and looked at Simon.
"He is still there. At least I hope. Though, he seems to be powerful enough meanwhile to spread fear and terror throughout the land with his magic. I think it won't be long before we meet him face to face. We must hurry to Leyhda to warn the elves", Simon decided and stood up with shaky legs.
"I don't want to know what Rodan will be capable of once he leaves that castle. In future we will have to take better care", said Richie and struggled to his feet.
"This encounter could have gone wrong. I'm glad we have the sun crystal. I never thought we would need it so soon. Perhaps Biggs knew more than he was allowed to say?", Simon supposed and they set out to the south.
"It's enough adventure for me today. I just want to get to Leyhda as quickly as possible. They certainly won't seek to kill us over there. Besides that, I'm hungry", Richie mouthed to himself.
It took a while for them to fight their way through the high reeds. At some places they sank to the ankles in morass and got soaking wet feet. Here and there a frog or a snake crossed their paths, while totally ignoring the newcomers.
They finally made it out of the reed belt and found themselves in a large wet meadow. Thirsty and pestered by mosquitoes, they could see the beginnings of a dark forest in the distance.
"Leyhda must be somewhere ahead in that forest", Simon poked at Richie and pointed to the tree tops up ahead.
"It's about time", he was panting in exhaustion. "My feet hurt, I'm hungry and thirsty and I'm tired of walking", Richie complained.
The sun was no longer so high in the sky and Simon only hoped that they would reach the city of the moor elves before nightfall. They pulled their remaining strength together and took off marching towards the dark and mysterious forest.
With birds singing, they were relieved to reach the forest and the cool shade of the first trees. A branch snapped and there was a loud noise in the forest. Simon and Richie were nearly startled to death when they saw a large deer break through the undergrowth and quickly make tracks.
They continued on for a while in silence. A small creek crossed their path and they were happy to finally freshen up and quench their thirst. Right when they wanted to set out again on their journey, something zoomed through the air all of a sudden and hit Richie on the back of the head.
"Ouch!", he cried and jerked forward.
"What's wrong?", Simon wanted to know and saw Richie rub the back of this head.
"Something hit me on the head", he moaned and looked around rubbing his aching skull.
"It was probably just a bumblebee", Simon tried to calm his friend, when suddenly he also got a painful blow to the head.
"Ouch, what the heck?", he exclaimed. Richie looked at him enquiringly. Simon was now holding his head as well and, looking around, discovered a small yellow green apple on the ground. Simon picked it up and showed it to Richie.
"I don't think they simply fall from the trees here", Simon said and at once had the feeling that they were being observed.
"We won't be alone much longer", he whispered to Richie, who was searching carefully in the bushes along the path.
Simon had been right. Suddenly, two figures appeared from nowhere and blocked their way. Simon and Richie were scared to the marrow of their bones. They had neither heard nor seen anybody coming. Now here they stood in the middle of nowhere, far away from home and were once again under attack. Richie was about to lose his composure.
With a scowl on their faces, two elf boys stood in front of them. At least Simon supposed elves looked like that. The shorter of the two was about as tall as Simon. He had long brown hair worn in a braid. Nothing escaped his watchful green eyes. He kept a straight face and aimed his slingshot at Simon and Richie.
The taller of the two stood with legs spread and hands on his hips and looked at them grimly. His hair was also long but lighter. The two unfriendly elves had narrow faces and pointed ears. They were dressed in the colour of the summer forest. A coarsely woven shirt reached down to their thighs and was held in place by a leather strap, where there was also a knife in a leather sheath. They also wore leather trousers and there were light boots on their feet, laced with cords. The taller elf came toward them.
"This is moor elves country, you are trespassing", he said gravely, examining the two strangers and their weird clothing.
"We're on our way to see Elian", Simon shot back and was about ready to punch this show-off in the nose.
"You want to see Elian? Well, well", the elf continued with his attitude. "There are many creatures who wish to speak to Elian, but few who reach their destination", he hissed and pulled his knife, causing the shorter one to snicker. Pointing the blade at Simon, he stepped closer.
"If you want to see Elian, you'll have to get by me", he threatened.
"That's right", the shorter elf added from behind his comrade.
"However, if you are ready to pay toll, we could let you pass through", he said while guiding the blade of his knife along the strap of Simon's backpack.
"We have nothing that we could give you", Richie boldly said. "And if we had, we wouldn't give it to you. Definitely not to highway robbers like you", Richie pressed forward and lifted his fists.
"Ah, four-eyes can speak after all", the elf turned his knife from Simon towards Richie.
"I could slit your belly open or turn you into a toad before you can count to three", the elf snarled and came dangerously close to Richie.
"That's enough, stop that now! Nanik, Dakko! Leave them alone and get out of here!" They heard the bright but sure and loud voice of a girl, who suddenly appeared between the adversaries and stood protectively in front of Simon and Richie.
A small, dainty elf girl, with long, curly hair, spoke with courage.
"Nanik", she addressed the taller of the elves. "What is this all about?"
"Get lost, Anjoux. This has nothing to do with you. Mind your own business", Nanik hissed at her, while the short Dakko hid behind this tall friend.
"Our forest is off limits to those two. We tried to tell them in a friendly way. They supposedly want to speak to Elian. Yeah, right! Rodan surely sent them to spy on Leyhda", he accused Simon and Richie. He looked at them, ready to attack.
"That's right!", Dakko added his two cents behind Nanik's back.
"You should be ashamed of yourselves. We elves don't start fights. You still don't understand that, do you!", Anjoux scolded.
"The day is going to come, you blockheads, when you two will really have to prove how courageous you are. But not today", the girl was enraged.
"Uh, excuse me", Simon butted in. "My name is Simon and this is my friend Richie. We came through the great world Gateway. The eagle Nephtor brought us to Xuria so that we may appear before Elian", he explained to the three incredulous faces. Anjoux's eyes were wide.
"Then you are the Chosen One?" she asked Simon excitedly.
"Well, yes, at least that's what I've been told. Although I can hardly believe it myself", he replied and looked bashfully to the ground.
"Well, Elian will be pleased that Asragur's prophecy is finally going to be fulfilled. The moor elves have been longing for years now to end their underground existence".
She turned to Nanik and Dakko and snapped: "You fools wanted to collect toll from the one who has come to save Morana? Very awkward indeed! I wonder how Elian is going to react to this!"
"No, Anjoux! Please don't say anything to him. We had no idea who was standing before us", Nanik tried defending himself and Dakko.
"That's right, we really didn't know", Dakko added.
Anjoux gave the two ruffians the evil eye.
"Then apologize to our guests and promise them your support for their difficult task ahead. These days we can't afford to refuse free passage to our only hope for a peaceful future", she ended her lecture.
Nanik and Dakko lowered their heads. They had no other choice than to apologize and to give in. Otherwise they would bring on themselves a much longer lecture from Elian and would be punished to boot.
"Yeah, OK, promised", Nanik murmured. And the four boys made up by shaking hands.
"We are sorry. Welcome to Morana. Of course we would be glad to help you", they spoke sheepishly.
"So, with that clarified, we'd better be getting back. It will soon be dark", said the dainty elf girl and naturally led the way deeper into the forest.
After a while, Anjoux suddenly stopped and raised her hand. She listened to the forest, put her finger to her lips and indicated the others not to make a sound. She looked in every direction. From somewhere arose a rustling sound that quickly spread throughout the forest. She looked up fearfully to the treetops. In spite of approaching danger, the little elf did her best to stay calm. She saw a small cave hidden in the thicket and led her troop over there.
"Let's go, quickly! Over there and don't make a sound", she whispered.
Simon and Richie had no idea what could cause the elves such a scare. Squeezed together in the little cave, they hardly dared to breathe. The two boys were pretty queasy. The spooky noise they had heard passed by them over the treetops. And the call of the ravens sounded in the forest.
They were looking for them and seemed to be circling above, because all of a sudden the telltale cries of Rodan's scouts were all around them. They pulled their heads in and sat closely together in the cave, in the hope that the spectacle would soon be over.
"They are already looking for you", whispered Anjoux. Rodan must have found out that the Gateway to Morana opened."
"Yes, we know", Simon whispered back.
"Before this, we were threatened by a voice that came out of the mist over the bridge. It suddenly turned dark and we were almost plunged into the gorge", he recalled with horror.
Anjoux couldn't believe her ears.
"You mean you've seen him?", she asked flustered.
"No, we could only hear his voice. He must have somehow gained power over the fog", Simon supposed.
"Yes he did long time ago. And he gets stronger from day to day. But I think it will be a while yet till he can leave his prison. Otherwise he would have appeared in person", Anjoux reasoned with relief.
"We need to use the time left to us", she spoke to the group and clenched her fists in determination.
Nanik was the first one to venture out of the cave. He quietly crawled out into the open and listened to the forest.
"The coast is clear. They're gone", he announced and so the others crawled out, happy to stretch their legs again.
"That was close", Dakko said and looked around uneasily.
"Nobody should ever find out where Leyhda is located. That would surely spell our doom", Nanik spoke to Simon and Richie, wanting to make clear to them, how serious the matter was.
"And you really heard Rodan's voice?", he enquired.
"Yes, just a few hours ago. It was pretty spooky and very dangerous. But we were able to escape", Richie explained, gladly showing off some in front of the elves.
"That's probably why he sent the ravens. For sure he is sitting in his castle about now and boiling over with anger because he couldn't touch you", Anjoux thought out loud and hurried the group along, for dusk was falling on the forest.
Rodan paced back and forth in the dreary hall of his barren, damp prison, tearing his hair with anger. Everything had gone wrong today. To be sure, he was already powerful enough to command the ravens and to use the fog for his evil purposes, but he still was not strong enough to break Asragur's spell completely. He remained the prisoner of the dragon king.
To all appearances, the Chosen One was human. But how was it possible that the World Gateway allowed two of them to enter? It just didn't make any sense to him. And this perplexity drove him up the wall. He would gladly kill them both. There could be no doubt about it. He didn't yet know how. But it was one thing he was sure about. They would die a slow and cruel death.
Today he had failed. He stood on the tower of his dark dungeon and shouted his anger out over the lake and into the night. And the waters of Eldor were transformed into raging waves. Even the ravens had lost track of the children. Rodan decided that such inability would not go unpunished. He laughed horribly at these thoughts.
The Chosen One and his companion were in Xuria, that much was sure. They will seek Elian's help. And without doubt he will not refuse it to them, the old fool. Rodan would plan something special for Elian, the mighty leader of the elves.
His expulsion out of the moorland still bothered him terribly. The moor elves would pay for it with their lives, each and every one of them. But there was time enough for that. First things first, the children had to go, no matter how.There were so many dreadful ways to take the lives of those intruders. He didn't have to commit himself to one certain method at this time. One thing was sure: He was becoming stronger and mightier from day to day. And the death sentence for the Chosen One had already been pronounced on his arrival in Morana.