Skedesa and the woman servant were sitting in the “hollow” and cleaning the spinach, when they heard the sound of horse hooves outside the cave.
“The master is coming back,” the woman said and jumped to her feet in embarrassment.
In a moment the impostor turned priest dashed in, and when he saw that Skedesa was able to stand on her legs, he grinned maliciously.
“Well, Skedesa, you were not able to become my wife, but you shall be the gift for Darkness.’
The gladiatress frowned and said:
“I shall be no one’s gift, you villain!”
Then she jumped up and grabbed the two swords propped on the wall. She stood facing him, ready to fight.
He eyed her with something like pity and said:
“Weapons shall not help you! They are formidable for people only!”
Then he opened his mouth, and thick black smoke erupted, then it promptly enveloped her and started smothering her.
She dropped the swords and squatted on the ground. Then she lapsed into unconsciousness.
The woman servant had also passed out smothered by the smoke.
The impostor took Skedesa in his arms and carried her outside. He swung her across the horse and took it by the reins. Then he rode off slowly.
Zipper and the hunter were a couple of hours’ walk away from there, at the time when the impostor turned priest took Skedesa away.
Having realized that the man was making a fool of him, Zipper jumped on him and started hitting him. He took out his sword and cut him it under his chin. Blood gashed out of the cut.
“You’ll be dead!” Zipper said. “If you do not take me there within minutes, you are finished. I’ll find them on my own.”
“We are going at once,” the hunter said in a trembling voice, as he had understood he could no longer pretend, for his life was in real danger.
In about half an hour they approached, and Zipper saw the entrance to the cave in the distance. He hit the hunter hard on the neck, and the man dropped unconscious. Then Zipper rushed to the cave.
He got in and saw the woman servant lying on the floor. He looked around feverishly, seeking Skedesa, but there was no trace of her. Yet he saw a couple of hairs on the bed and recognized them as her hairs.
He went to the woman and started shaking her to make her come to. But she didn’t move. He poured some water over her, and it was only then that she opened her eyes.
“Where is Skedesa?” Zipper asked quickly.
“I don’t know. The master took her away, to some place,” the woman replied with pain in her voice.
“How come you don’t know?!” Zipper almost screamed.
“I don’t know,” she repeated. I swear, I don’t know!”
“Didn’t you overhear something, didn’t he say anything?”
“It seems to me he mentioned that she shall be a gift for Darkness.”
“NOOOOO!” Zipper screamed, enraged. “When did he take her away?” he asked.
“I don’t know, I can’t say. The priest let out smoke from his mouth and I dropped unconscious. Perhaps a quarter or half a day has passed.”
Then Zipper bolted through the forest, to reach his horse. He found it and spurred on it. He had to go to the Throat of Hades cave, where his companions were heading as well. He only prayed lest it would be too late.
He rode like the wind. Soon he approached and saw a forest enveloped in black clouds and dust. The withered trees without leaves and broken branches. And he felt the cold and the whiff of death.
A spiteful wind was blowing and freezing his bones. He toured the place, but it seemed the impostor priest had not arrived yet. And in fact Zipper was entirely right in thinking so, though he was not certain.
The priest and Skedesa were progressing rather slowly, because the horse was exhausted and could hardly walk. The priest knew that soon the animal would drop and would not be able to continue. And when that happened, he would have to carry her, first in his arms, and then on his back.
With the fall of night, the impostor decided to stop for shelter. He found a shelter and left Skedesa under it. He lighted a fire and roasted several snakes for supper.
In the meantime the Celt had finished with the purging and preparation for the rite of summoning Avtavor.
They lighted a large fire. They went around it for three hours and chanted spells and prayers. Exactly at midnight the sky shone in radiant light. A bright hole opened as if from the depth of cosmic space, and a beam of light headed directly towards the fire. The flames soared higher in millions of hitherto unseen colours, and the two priests dropped on their knees and riveted their eyes on the spectacle.
A voice was heard that seemed to be coming from all directions of the Earth:
“I know why you are summoning me! And I shall help you!”
Then two beams seemed to caress the priests and penetrated inside them.
“Now you are protected,” the voice said. “The battle is to be soon.“
In an instant everything was dark again, and the light disappeared, but the two men knew that Avtavor was constantly watching them and would interfere when necessary.
But they did not suppose that the town chief of Philipopolis had learned of the events that had happened to Skedesa. He had sent soldiers to look for her and fetch her to him. He could not accept the fact that gladiator slaves could have escaped without punishment. That would be a sign of his weakness. And then a number of other gladiators would follow their example.
The Romans had reached Perperikon, but it was too late. There was hardly anyone left there. Then they found the cave in which the impostor priest had hidden Skedesa, but the woman was not there, so they continued their search.
One of the spies had found the impostor priest right when he was performing the ritual in front of the Throat of Hades cave.
“There a Thracian was summoning the powers of Darkness,” he reported to the commander of the squadron. “Then the leaves of the trees started falling, and all living beings started to perish.”
“What are you talking about?” the decurion said sternly. “Those are some barbarian tricks. You got scared and let that barbarian priest get away. If you had followed him, he would have taken us to the slave woman!
“They are somewhere near,” the spy said. “Give me some time, and I’ll find them.”
“Go! And don’t fail! I won’t make any more allowances for you!”
“They will probably get back to the Throat of Hades,” the spy reported before he went off.
About one hundred on soldiers on horseback gathered, and their commander decided they should go to that cave.
They were there in a day, but to their astonishment, they saw that everything around was really turned to ashes and dust.
Suddenly black fog enveloped them, and they fell off their horses.
Minutes later they rose, but they were no longer people. The demons of the underground kingdom had penetrated them and taken control of them. They eyes were black all over, and blood oozed from them. Their leader cried out:
“Demons, servants of Darkness, now we are in the shape of humans. We will slaughter them like they tend to slaughter each other.”
Fearful screams and insane howling spread around the barren ground around. Then the “squadron of death” rode off towards the horizon, leaving clouds of smoke behind.
“Master, master,” a soldier approached the Philipopolis chief, calling him in a worried voice.
His arms and legs were covered with wounds, and he was hardly able to breathe.
“What’s the matter? What’s happened?” the chief asked.
“I don’t know, master, we were suddenly attacked by soldiers on horseback, our soldiers, they razed to the ground our camp which is three days away, at the foot of the mountain.
“I know where it is,” the chief cried out angrily. “How come they attacked you? Why?”
“I don’t know. They were like raging demons. They killed everyone that stood in their way. And they don’t die! I personally stabbed one of them with my spear several times, but he did not die. He laughed in a blood-curdling voice and chased me. I fell in a precipice, and I had a miraculous survival.
“Soldier, either you are a coward, or you got scared so much that the fear blurred your mind.”
“Perhaps those soldiers on horseback betrayed us,” the chief said.
Then he ordered his subordinates to send spies to follow any movement in the area. He also sent letters to all nearby garrisons, with the request that they should send as large armies as possible to Philipopolis.
There was clearly a battle in store, and they had to be prepared.
The Roman chief was concerned, although he did not show his concern. “There is treachery, and if those horsemen join the Thracian tribes, they can make a formidable force,” he thought.
But little did he suspect that he was to face much more ominous powers.