On the next morning Skedesa woke up and felt she was feeling much better. She stirred, now her arms and legs were relaxed, and she felt strength in them.
She raised her head and looked around. The hunter was sleeping in one corner, and his spear lay beside him. The woman was gone.
Skedesa rose slowly and quietly, then she softly stepped on the ground. She saw a pair of sandals and put them on, then she tied their laces around her ankles. She made slowly for the exit, taking care not to make noise.
The woman servant was in front of the entrance to the hollow and was picking nettle.
She saw her and smiled at her.
“Are you better, girl?” she asked.
“I’m better,” Skedesa replied. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know that myself,” the servant said. I have never been here before. We walked in the dark for a long time, and I don’t know anything about the place.
Skedesa looked around. The forest was thick and difficult to pass through.
“If I had the strength to climb on some tree and look around, I could perhaps find out more,” the gladiatress thought.
“You won’t dart in flight, will you?” the woman looked at her with anxiety and sternness.
“How could I?! I can barely walk,” Skedesa replied, but she knew inside her that she would seize the first opportunity to escape.
“OK, because the priest will punish us severely if you escape, and then he will find you all the same!”
“He will find me, but I will be ready to face him!” Skedesa thought.
“Shall I help you pick the nettle?”
“If you wish.”
They picked enough nettle and returned to the hollow.
The hunter was still sleeping and was snoring softly. Skedesa could kill him instantly, but she decided to give herself time to recover her strength. There were no signs that the priest was coming back soon. It seemed to her he had departed for the end of the world.
And in fact she was very near the truth.The priest had gone to the cave that was the entrance to the kingdom of Hades. There, thousands of years earlier, Orpheus had descended to search for his beloved Euridice.
But the priest had gone to that place to call dark forces as his allies. He wanted to become powerful and to be able to impose his will on mortal people with a single word of his.
He had stopped before the abyss, and he was reading spells, casting herbs into the fire that was specially lighted for the rite.
There were weird and ominous sounds and gurgling of stinking water and vapour coming from the cave opening. From time to time, thick black suffocating smoke blurted out and scalded the trees and the bushes. They withered instantly and turned to ashes.
“O power of powers of powers! Thou reignst over the most powerful kingdom! Send me a gift, so that I can collect the souls of people cursed by just uttering a word! Let them obey me, like obedient slaves, and follow me like sheep. Quietly and uncomplainingly. And I will bring them to thee, as gifts!”
The thick smoke intensified, and a fearful gurgling spluttered out. A scraping sound uttered:
“Priest, you are very weak, and you are not trained for a priest, you have not completed your training; but you are furious, and I like angry and evil people. They are my servants. But to obtain the power you demand, you shall have to sacrifice the woman you want to become your wife!”
“Skedesa?!” the priest said with pain and grief.
“Yes! The woman warrior! Her blood shall give new fury and power to my servants – the dark shadows.”
“But if I sacrifice her and she does not become my wife, I will not be able to avail myself of the “Tear of Eternity”, and I will not be able to float in time,” the priest thought.
“Well, what do you decide? Ooooo, wait a little. That woman is very special, isn’t she! She has the “Tear of Eternity” inside her!” the evil voice was heard from the abyss. I have wanted that tear for years! You shall bring me that woman!”
The priest was scared. He was already sorry that he had demanded a gift from the powers of darkness, but he realized it was late.
“If you do not bring her to me, I will immediately snatch you and subject you to the most horrifying pains!”
The priest was trembling, having become aware of his huge mistake.
A thick black cloud enveloped him, and he started suffocating. As if they were pressing his entire body and squeezing out his soul. He lost consciousness and dropped to the ground.
Zipper, the Celt and the priest of Perperikon were about two days’ ride from the entrance to the kingdom of Hades where the evil priest was lying.
“Wait a little,” suddenly said the priest of Perperikon. “Something scary is going on. Someone has summoned the powers of darkness. Someone who cannot control them! I sense the moaning of the forest and the animals. The whole mountain and the ground are shaking!”
Zipper and the Celt stopped and looked at him. There was alarm in their eyes.
“Yes, you right,” the Celt said. “I felt that too.”
“It’s true, I also felt how the ground shook,” Zipper said.
“That is the scoundrel, my nephew,” the Thracian priest said with pain in his voice.
“And now, what are we going to do?” Zipper asked.
“We have to go there and make the demons return to their kingdom under the ground.”
“What about Skedesa?” Zipper said. “I shall not forsake her! You go, and I will go to search for her. When I find her, we will come to join you.”
“Very well,” the two priests agreed.
“The cave is in the north slope. It is called “The Throat of Hades”, the Thracian priest said.
“We’ll find her,” Zipper said and left.
The two priests mounted on their horses and set off towards the ominous cave.
The closer they approached, the more running animals they came across. The trees became more and more withered, and their branches were broken. Only flocks of black ravens stood on the branches and crowed fearfully, as if rejoicing in the imminent peril.
The sky was covered with heavy black clouds which seemed to be intent on collapsing on the ground and smothering it. The air was brimming with fear, terror and death.
“We have to summon Avtavor – the Inexplicable!” the Thracian priest said.
“You know about Avtavor?!” the Celt was surprised.
“Of course I know. I am probably the last one that can summon him!”
“No, you not the last,” the Celtic priest smiled.
“If we do not withhold the powers of the underground kingdom, soon eternal winter and pestilence will set in,” the Thracian man said.
“Let us tell Roman people and call them help us,” the Celt offered.
“No, they are powerless in front of the might of the darkness. The only thing Romans can do is kill people, destroy and build temples to their imaginary gods! Only the space power of Avtavor can aid us!”
They got on a high hill where a large stone sacrificial altar was built. They gathered a lot of wood and sat down.
“We will have to wait for two days, until the moon becomes full,” the Thracian priest said.
“That not very good!” the Celt stated. “In that time evil destroy lands far and wide.”
“That is right, but we have no other choice.”
“I try summon with my wand,” the Celt said.”It strong Gift from Zalmoxis. And Zalmoxis got it as gift from Avtavor!”
The Thracian looked at the wand and nodded.
“Very well, if you think that you will be able to cope.”
“But I must carry out ritual of purging and preparation.”
“If that is necessary, do it.”
The Celt went away.
“Where are you going?” the Thracian man said.
“There is hot spring nearby. I get in it. I purge there,” the Celt explained.
Then he hid in the forest.
Zipper was riding slowly among the trees and listening. He was wondering if he had taken the right direction towards the cave where Skedesa was.
After some wandering he found out he was moving in a circle. That made him angry. He dismounted the horse and put his ear to the ground. It seemed to him that he heard steps. He lay there for more than half an hour, and finally he really heard human steps. They were still far away, more than five hundred steps away, but they were slowly approaching.
Zipper went in the direction of the steps, cautiously hiding behind the trees. When he clearly heard the noise of the person’s steps, he hid and waited to see him.
It was a Thracian. A man, about thirty years of age, with a bow and a spear. He was walking slowly, and he was inspecting the trees and the ground.
“That man has come out hunting,” Zipper thought. “But why is he alone, so deep in the wood?”
He decided to attack him and take his weapons, and then ask him about his intentions.
He sneaked on the man and jumped on him. He took his weapons and tied him.
“Who are you, and why are you alone so deep in the wood? What are you doing here?”
“I am hunting,” the man replied.
Then Zipper saw his bag. He looked inside and found two wild ducks.
“So you are hunting. Well, I see you have shot two ducks, won’t that be enough for you? You are clearly hunting for someone else. Who for?”
The hunter looked at him in silence. It was evident he was hiding something.
“Well, tell me who you are hunting for, before I tear off your tongue,” Zipper said angrily and jumped at him, sword in hand. He resented violence, but the situation did not allow for compromise and politeness.
Having seen Zipper’s fury and his eyes flaming with rage, the hunter said:
“I am hunting for two women!”
“Two women? Who are they?”
“My wife and my daughter,” the man replied.
Zipper looked at him inquisitively. “I don’t believe you. And where are they now? Where are they?”
“In our settlement,” the captive man replied.
“Where is that settlement? I didn’t see any settlement around!” Zipper murmured.
“It’s not near. Beyond that hill,” and the man beckoned towards the nearby hill.
But Zipper knew there was no settlement there, for he had come from that direction.
“Well then, liar, it is clear you don’t respect me and you are lying brazenly. Be that as it may. But you will get what you deserve.” And he went towards the hunter with a sword pointed at him, ready to stab him.
The captive man, aware that he was in danger of getting seriously wounded, spoke in a desperate voice:
“OK, OK, they are not my wife and my daughter.”
“And who are they?”
“Two women. I found them in the forest, and I have been taking care of them,” the hunter had made up a new lie.
“I want to see them. Take me to them.”
Then they rose and set off.
But the hunter was prevaricating. He started going slowly, he tripped and often fell, and he strayed around.
In the meantime the impostor who had proclaimed himself the priest of Perperikon had already reached the cave in which he had left Skedesa.