Zipper and the Celt rode towards Perperikon. They had almost reached it when darkness fell.
“I am tired,” the old man said.
“OK. We’ll have a rest,” Zipper said and dismounted the horse.
They sat down under a tree and took out water, wine and dried meat. They had their meal and set off again.
When they approached, the old man said:
“There something not good. Here hover black forces. Feel evil.”
“What do you mean?” Zipper asked.
“Not sure. There is something, not good.”
He had barely uttered that when dark shadows emerged from behind the trees. They seemed to float out of nothingness. Zipper took out his sword and assumed a fighting position. In the darkness they could not make out what these creatures were. The creatures started surrounding them. Zipper was furious, and he was the first to attack. He approached one of the creatures and saw its eyes. Large, malicious and bloodshot. The creature was rather hairy and nasty smelling. Zipper waved his sword and cut off its arm. At that very moment he felt somebody jump down on him from the tree. They fell and rolled over. Zipper was already enraged. He saw that some of those repulsive creatures were approaching him, and he turned round in a circle, brandishing his sword. He managed to slaughter one creature, and wounded the others. He saw the Celt with the corner of his eye; to Zipper’s astonishment, the man was fighting well, brandishing his wand. Sparks were coming out of the wand top, and wheever he hit some of the creatures, the creature flew off metres away and collapsed lifeless.
Zipper had already felled about ten creatures, but there were more coming.
“We must run!” the Celt cried.
“I am not going to run,” Zipper replied.”I will kill them all, the nasty beasts!”
Then, from somewhere deep inside the forest, a strong roar was heard. The creatures stopped and then made in the direction of the roar.
“Where have they gone?” Zipper wondered.
“That some call, signal,” the Celt said. “Their leader calling.”
“So we have to kill the leader,” Zipper said and jumped on the horse.
“You are doing very well with the wand,” he remarked to the white-bearded man.
“Yes, that gift to my ancestors from Zalmoxis. It very strong!” the Celt replied.
On the way, while riding, Zipper slayed each creature he overtook.
Somewhere among the tree branches there were lights flashing, and the outline of a fortress was emerging.
“We reached Perperikon,” the Celt said.
“But why are those creatures going there?”
“They attack fortress.”
“Skedesa is inside,” Zipper uttered with pain in his voice. “So she is in great danger. We have to reach there quickly.”
Unfortunately, the forest thickened, and they could not continue on horseback. They had to leave the horses there.
They dismounted and continued on foot. They had to cut off branches and bushes to make progress.
The more they approached, the stronger the cries, moans and roars from the fortress became. That was alarming for Zipper, and he hurried more and more.
They reached the foot of the fortress, and they saw it was very steep. It was surrounded by almost vertical cliffs and rocks on all sides. But the creatures did not have difficulty climbing.
“Where is the gate?” Zipper asked. “Do you know?”
“I know, but when danger happens, they cover entrance with stones,” the Celt said.
“So it will be difficult for us to get in,” Zipper said in a worried voice.
Then he saw a creature that had prepared to climb. He jumped on its back and hit it slightly on the head with the handle of his sword.
“Climb up, you beast! You will take me to the fortress.”
Initially the creature was stupefied. Then it tried to get rid of him, but Zipper hit it several more times on the head, and that seemed to bring it round. As if it understood what they wanted from it, and slowly started climbing up. Zipper was also catching hold of the sharp ends of the stones, just in case. When they had reached the top and Zipper caught the edge, he climbed up and was inside the fortress. Then he kicked the creature, and it flew down and fell, hitting the rocks below. Soon he saw that the Celt had also captured a “mule” and was also climbing. He smiled, despite the tension he was under. He waited for the Celt, and in the meantime cut down the repulsive hairy creatures. He saw that there was a violent fight raging inside the fortress. The screams and roars were coming from all sides.
The two men came in, and they killed each creature on their way. Zipper met one of the guards of the fortress and asked him:
“Where is Skedesa?”
“Who?” the man looked at him in astonishment.
“My woman was brought here. Her name is Skedesa. Do you know where she is?”
“No, I don’t,” the guard replied, and he sounded sincere.
“What are these creatures?” Zipper asked.
“Bloody Mouths. Blood suckers,” the man said.
There was no more time for words. They went in search of Skedesa. At some time, they saw one of the creatures in the middle of the fortress. It was much larger than the other creatures, and it threw off the soldiers that attacked it to both sides.
“That is their leader,” Zipper said. “I’ll kill him!”
He dashed straight towards the creature, and when he was a metre away, he did a somersault and kicked it in the chest with stretched legs. The creature moaned, staggered and took several steps backward. Then it tripped into a lifeless man and fell. Zipper flourished his sword and drove it in its chest with all his might.
The creature let out a blood-curdling scream that made the fortress shake. It wriggled for several seconds before it died.
Having witnessed the death of their leader, the creatures took flight. The defenders of the fortress regained their confidence and started attacking them more violently. They overtook the creatures and killed them with ease. Zipper went in search of Skedesa again.
He asked everyone that he met, but nobody had heard about her. Either they lied to him on purpose, or they really didn’t know.
Finally Zipper got angry. He caught one of the soldiers by the hand and asked him:
“Tell me, where is the woman that the priest brought here a day or two ago?”
“I don’t know,” the soldier replied, but Zipper felt he was not quite sincere.
He hit him strong in the face with his fist, and the soldier fell. Blood started trickling from his face. Zipper made for him to hit him again, but then the soldier said:
“I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you, just don’t hit me.”
“I don’t know about her, but I know who can tell you.”
“The priest’s uncle.”
“Where is he?”
“Here in the fortress. He is locked in a cell.”
“Take us to him,” Zipper ordered.
“If you are making it out and cheating, I’ll kill you at once!” Zipper told the soldier on the way.
“I am not cheating,” the man said. “You’ll see.”
They reached the cell. They found the keys and went inside. There on the ground, covered with a lot of hides, was lying an old, skinny man. He had white hair and a long beard. When they entered he looked at them with curiosity.
“You are coming to ask me help you with something,” he said.
“Yes, old man. We want to know where the priest took my woman.”
“Priest!” the man laughed. “He is not even fit to be a spell maker! Despicable worm!”
“Tell me, do you know where they went?” Zipper repeated his question.
“Most probably in the hiding place in the white fir forest,” the old man replied.
“And where is that?”
“There is a secret passage under the fortress. It leads to that forest. Then it is an hour’s walk to the hiding place.”
“And why you here?” the Celt asked.
“Because my nephew is a villain. He took me here and locked me. I have been here for over a year.”
“And what happened to make him lock you?”
“Nothing. I am the priest of Perperikon. He is an impostor and usurper. He asked me to teach him all the sacraments, but he did not manage to learn them properly. Finally he was not approved as a priest, and obsessed by fury, he proclaimed himself one. He poisoned me with some herbs, and finally, when he saw he would not be able to bring me to death, he locked me here.”
“So he very bad man,” the Celt said.
“Yes. A very bad man,” the true Thracian priest replied, nodding affirmatively.
“Well,will you take us there?” Zipper asked.
“Voluntarily,” the prisoner replied. “I want to see how that scoundrel will pay for what he has committed.”
They set off, but they progressed slowly, for the old Thracian could not walk very fast. The tunnel was narrow, and they went in a file, one after the other.
“We should be approaching the exit,” the true priest of Perperikon said.
But what was their astonishment, when at some time they found themselves in front of a pile of stones which were blocking the exit.
Zipper, who was leading the group, stopped and got angry.
“The way is blocked,” he said.
“The scoundrel blocked it,” the old Thracian said.
“So what are we going to do now?”
“We will have to get back and take the way around, but that will take us almost a whole day.
“Let’s go then,” Zipper said.
They went back to the passage entry, but there was another surprise expecting them.
Someone had locked the secret door to the passage on the outside.
“That impostor has his people everywhere,” the true priest said.
Zipper, who was already on the verge of bursting out with anger, went to the wooden door and started delivering strong blows on it with his sword. He started cutting the wood, but it was thick. When he got tired, he stopped and looked enraged.
Without thinking, the Celt took the sword from his hands and continued cutting. Finally, in about an hour, they had cut out a small opening through which they could see outside.
They saw that there was no one on the other side of the door, but the door was propped with a transverse beam and some upright beams.
“I remove them,” the Celt said.
He took his hand out through the opening and started pulling the transverse beam.
Finally he managed to remove all the beams, and they went out. They went to the exit of the fortress.
“But isn’t it blocked with stones?” Zipper asked.
“There is a stone in the wall which can be taken out. We’ll pass through there,” the old Thracian said.
Soon they were outside the fortress, and they headed for the hiding place, through the thick forest. They were progressing rather slowly.
The sun was setting. The old Thracian priest could hardly walk. They had to take a break and a rest.
Zipper was very tense, but he was trying to curb his emotions.
The Celt prepared him some potion, and soon Zipper fell asleep.