"Are we ready yet?" asked Timmy in a whiney voice. The four of them (Cosmo, Wanda, Tootie and Timmy) had been preparing to leave on their quest all morning.

"No wait!" cried Tootie suddenly. "I have to go to the bathroom!"

"Ooh, me too!" said Cosmo.

"Have we got everything?" asked Wanda as the two sprinted for the house. "Cause we're not coming back if you've forgotten anything."

"No Wanda, we've got everything," said Timmy.

"Maybe we should check again…" suggested Wanda.

"Wanda, we've checked five times already!" interrupted Timmy impatiently. "We have everything!"

"Did you leave the lights on?" asked Wanda suddenly.

"Yep," answered Timmy. Since he was moving out, Timmy had to sell the house to the Dinkleburgs. Which also meant the Dinkleburgs would have to pay any electricity bills.

"Great," said Wanda. "All we have to do is wait for Tootie and Cosmo and we can be off."

"Awesome," said Timmy. "This standing around is driving me nuts. But I kind of wish Strangalf could be here."

"You mean you actually want a controlling and powerful version of Jorgen travelling all the way to Riverdwell with us?" asked Wanda incredulously.

"Well at least he can still do magic," pointed out Timmy. "No one would mess with us if Strangalf was with us."

"Maybe not," said Wanda. "But the fact is he isn't here. We'll just have to do the best we can by ourselves."

"Well how well is that going to be?" asked Timmy, and Wanda didn't answer.

---

Finally at about lunchtime the small group set off, heading east out of Shireton. There was a lot of complaining about sore feet, especially from the two fairies who weren't used to walking at all.

"Guys, when we get out of here, I promise I'll never take your magic for granted again," said Timmy to his godparents.

"Neither will we," replied Cosmo with an exhausted sigh. "I'd kill just to have my wings back. We've been walking all afternoon."

"I know," agreed Wanda. "Except for those two hours we stopped for afternoon tea."

"And that half an hour we stopped because I had a stone in my shoe."

"And that hour we stopped to look at that really pretty stream."

"So basically," interrupted Tootie," we've been walking for about an hour all together."

"Well it was a tough hour," said Timmy. "Good thing we had all those breaks in between, right?"

Tootie giggled, then suddenly stopped walking and motioned for the others to do the same.

"Hooray!" said Cosmo, sitting down. "Another break!"

"No, I can hear a horse!" said Tootie excitedly.

"Maybe it's a pony!" said Cosmo, and they both squealed with excitement.

"It's probably Strangalf coming after us after all," said Wanda.

"No…I don't…don't think so…" said Timmy to himself, looking back down the path. He couldn't see anything because of the sun shining in his eyes, but he knew something was heading towards them past that bend in the road.

"Timmy, are you okay?" asked Wanda, suddenly noticing his strange mood.

"Yes. I mean, no. Not until we get off the path. I really think we should hide."

"Timmy, why?" asked Tootie curiously.

"I don't know," he said. "I just don't want anyone to see us." His three companions shrugged and trudged into the woods surrounding the path, hiding behind some bushes. Timmy lingered on the road; he wanted to run and hide deep in the trees, but at the same time he felt a strange desire to stay exactly where he was. Just in time his cowardice and common sense kicked in and he managed to run into hiding with his friends. His departure of the road came none-to-soon, because just as he left a horse and rider appeared. The horse was black, and huge. Timmy didn't know a lot about horses, but he did know that this was a powerful beast. Its hoofs glinted maliciously, and its muscles rippled in the sunlight filtering through the trees. But the sense of fear Timmy had from the horse was nothing to what he got from its rider. The figure was dressed all in black, and Timmy was unable to tear his eyes away. The rider turned its head (or what Timmy guessed was its head) in their direction, apparently trying to sniff them out. Timmy got an unreasoned terror from it, and the only thought he had was to hide from it. He had an overwhelming desire to slip the ring on. His hand crept closer to it without even realising what he was doing. And what did it really matter if he put it on? It was just one tiny ring… Timmy frowned with annoyance when his hand was pulled away by Tootie grabbing it in fear as she watched the path. The black rider moved to the edge of the road and seemed to debate wether to venture further into the woods. Thankfully it seemed to think the better of it and turned back, quickly saddling and galloping away.

The four friends let out deep sighs of relief.

"That was scary," said Tootie. "I wonder what it was?"

"I don't want to know," squeaked Cosmo.

"Whatever it was, it was looking for something," said Wanda ominously, looking at Timmy. "Or someone. Or someone with something."

"Who cares," said Cosmo. "It's gone now. I hope we never see it again."

"Me too," agreed Timmy, speaking for the first time since the rider had left. "I wonder why it did go though."

"I was thinking of throwing something into the bushes over there to make it go away," said Cosmo, and the others sighed in exasperation.

"Cosmo, like an agent of extreme darkness and evil (if that's what it was) would fall for that," said Wanda.

"Come on everyone," said Timmy, interrupting. "Let's get away from here. And let's stay off the path, in case there are more of those things around here. I'd rather face Francis than that."

---

They continued walking to the side of the path in the cover of trees. They were all unsettled by the rider they had seen, and screamed hysterically more than once when a rabbit would run in front of them. When dusk was starting to fall they froze with terror as they heard the sound of hoofs ahead of them.

"Riders!" squeaked Cosmo, and they all stopped dead. They were even too frightened to hide properly, and had only the darkness of the trees to conceal them. Their eyes were glued to the road, and instead of seeing a deep darkness, they saw a gentle glowing light.

"Timmy!" gasped Tootie happily. "They're elves!"

Timmy immediately relaxed and heard Cosmo and Wanda making scoffing noises behind him.

"Stupid elves," said Cosmo. "Making us worry like that."

"Come on!" said Tootie excitedly, ignoring Cosmo. "Let's go meet them!" She ran out of the trees with Timmy hurrying after her, Cosmo and Wanda trailing grudgingly behind.

Timmy and Tootie came out of the forest and watched the elves go past. Timmy looked on in wonder; he'd never seen such beautiful creatures before in his life. He was used to magic, but these creatures seemed to have something different to the stuff Cosmo and Wanda used every day. He watched as though in a dream as the elves passed, and barely realised they had gone before the last one walked by.

"Hello, small children," said the last elf with a smile, stopping in front of them.

"Hello," said Timmy, giving a small wave. "Uhm, I guess you're wondering why we're out at night so far from home."

"No, not really," replied the elf. "Such concerns are below me. Plus it's not really night and your homes are just down the road. It'd take you about an hour and a half to walk back."

Timmy laughed uncomfortably. "Yeah… Well you see, you aren't the first people we've met. There was a creepy guy on a horse we saw a little while back, about 200 feet that way, and he was wearing all black…"

"Black, you say?" said the elf. "Riding, you say? Hmm, this bodes ill."

"It what?" asked Timmy, but the elf paid him no regard.

"If the Black Riding Hoods are about again then you may be in some danger. Come, children, tonight you shall journey with us. And those friends of yours in the bushes too."

Cosmo and Wanda came out of some bushes behind them, grumbling and looking unhappy about the prospect of spending the night with elves.

"Hurry, we shall take you some where safe where you can eat and rest for the night. You'd best walk in the middle of our group; you may become weary before we halt for the night."

"Does this mean we're walking again?" complained Cosmo.

"You are young; if you were thousands of years old like we elves, walking would seem less wearisome."

"Don't believe it," said Cosmo sulkily, but he let himself be led to the centre of the elves.

---

After walking for a long time (longer than they had all day, at any rate) the elves finally halted. The four friends were led into a grassy clearing off a larger clearing where the trees reached overhead to form a sort of roof.

"Welcome to the green hall," announced the elf that had found them. "This is where I, Lord Goldir, will treat you to a meal; the best we can provide. Now I have introduced myself, perhaps you would care to tell me your good names?"

"Sure," said Timmy. "I'm Timmy Turner, those are my fair…uhm, my fair god parents Cosmo and Wanda, and that over there is Tootie."

"Very good, and a pleasure to meet all of you, I am sure," said Goldir. "But certainly enough time for talking will come after you have eaten. Please make yourselves feel at home; our hall is open to you, and our food is ready for hungry travellers such as yourselves."

The four starving friends grabbed the gilded plates they were given and didn't turn down anything they were offered. When their plates were piled with food, they found places to sit. Cosmo and Wanda chose a corner and were looking rather bitter about the grace and elegance the elves had.

"How come we aren't like that," muttered Wanda.

"I know," said Cosmo. "Last time I checked, all elves did were make toys for Santa." They sat in silence watching the lady and men elves smile and laugh and dance.

"They are really pretty though," said Cosmo.

"Yeah, they are," agreed Wanda. "And their food is really good." They both sighed dreamily, and watched the elves for a little while.

"You know what Wanda? Maybe elves aren't so bad after all."

"I think I agree with you on that one, Cosmo."

Timmy had chosen to sit near Goldir, and of course Tootie had to sit near Timmy. Even though Timmy didn't have the attention span to listen to some of the answers Goldir gave, he listened attentively to some of the bloodier tales he was told.

Eventually, when the pile of food on Timmy's plate was greatly diminished and the music the elves were playing had become softer, Goldir turned to Timmy with a serious look in his eye.

"I have said much to you, young Timmy Turner, but you have told me little. Perhaps it is due to my habit of talking in long sentences and valuing my opinions above your inferior ones, but perhaps it is because you have something you wish to keep hidden?"

"What? Well…but…I…" he quickly looked around to see if his friends could be any help, but Cosmo and Wanda were asleep. Even Tootie was snoozing were she had sat to eat her dinner.

"Fear not, young Turner. Your secrets will not reach the enemy from me."

"Then you know something," said Timmy. "Or you're a really good guesser."

"It is true, I do possess some excellent guessing skills," said Goldir with a smile. "But in this case, I know the enemy pursues you. I…"

"So Strangalf told you about the Ring?" interrupted Timmy. "You know that I'm heading to Riverdwell?"

"Actually, no," said Goldir. "I was just about to say I do not know why the enemy pursues you."

"Oh," said Timmy. "Whoops."

"You are lucky Timmy Turner. I am an elf, therefore trustworthy. But I would suggest you do not repeat that to anyone else. But let us speak no more of it. Surely you must have questions?"

"Well actually, now you mention it, I…"

"The Black Riding Hoods must be first on your mind," said Goldir. "And I must interrupt you. I will say nothing about them, other than they are scary, and are to be avoided at all costs."

"Actually I wanted to know about that delicious dinner. What was in…"

"Your mind strays to your journey ahead, of course," said Goldir. "Naturally you wish to know what is ahead of you. You must move quickly, Timmy Turner, towards your next goal."

"Well, I really wanted to know… No, I can't remember. So what's my next goal?"

"It is the Old Forest. It is what you are going through next."

"Will it take us long to get there?" asked Timmy

"Less time than you'd think," said Goldir with a twinkle in his eyes. But then he looked to Cosmo, Wanda and Tootie curled up sleeping and sighed. "Then again…"