The Dark Times

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The Dark Times; Part 23

Aituár waited and waited, but in vain. There was no sign of Antaja, who had gone to investigate the light shining ahead of them in the passage.

Aituár was debating with herself whether to go after Antaja when something happened that made her make up her mind. She could hear distant sounds of fighting behind her, which must mean that someone had found the secret door and opened it - but was it friend or foe?

Aituár slipped out of her sandals and started moving forward, cautiously and without making a sound. She scanned the walls on both sides of the passage, looking for a crack or crevice where she could hide, but the walls were smooth. The eerie silvery light stayed as distant as ever. No matter how many turns Aituár walked by she did not seem to be getting any closer to it.

In the semi-darkness Aituár could suddenly feel a sharp edge under her left foot. She lit the candle to see better, and what she saw made her draw in her breath. There, right at her feet, was a shaft so deep that Aituár could not see the bottom. It stretched from wall to wall, effectively barring the way.

Could Antaja have fallen down, not seeing the edge in time? Aituár picked up a stone and dropped it into the shaft. No matter how long she waited, she could not hear it hit the bottom. Maybe Antaja had managed to jump across to the other side?

Just as Aituár was trying to calculate the distance to the other side of the shaft steps were heard from behind her. To judge from the sound it was several people rapidly approaching the point where she was standing. Aituár walked back a bit and then turned around. She thought to herself 'Here goes all or nothing!' and started running
towards the shaft.

A huge leap took her to the other side, and Aituár quickly stepped around a bend in the passage to get out of sight of her pursuers. The eerie light seemed closer now, and Aituár started running towards it. Not much use being careful now, not with her pursuers so close behind.

At the end of the passage Aituár found the source of the light. It was Licorne, lying lifeless on the uneven floor of a small cave! There was a deep wound in his chest, and it was bleeding copiously.

Terrified Aituár knelt down by the unicorn's side. She tore off a piece of her petticoat and tried to stop the bleeding. After having wiped off most of the blood Aituár found that it was a deep, clean cut. She held one hand pressed against the wound while digging in her shoulder bag for a healing ointment. After applying the ointment Aituár tried to press the edges of the wound together with her fingers.

While Aituár was trying to figure out how apply a bandage the most astonishing thing happened. Before her very eyes the wound started growing together, started healing. The cut grew smaller, and soon there was just a thin line left of it. But as Aituár looked up the cowled figures appeared, having caught up with her. They grabbed hold of her arms and pulled her away from the unicorn.

Aituár fought as well as she could, kicking and screaming, biting and scratching. But they were too strong for her, and soon they had her arms pinned to her side. One of the cowled figures ripped Aituár's shirt and bared her left shoulder, exposing the butterfly-shaped birthmark.

'This is the one!' said a hoarse voice triumphantly.

'Master will be pleased.'

Meanwhile Aituár had detected something moving in the corner of her eye, but she took great care not to look directly at it, to avoid attracting attention to it. She pretended to give up, standing very still with her head bent down as if in shame.

The attack came quite unexpectedly.

Which attack? By whom?

Who is this Master?

And what does he want with Aituár?

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