The Dark Times; Part 24
The cowled figures had been paying little or no attention to the lifeless shape of the unicorn lying on the floor when they had first entered the cave. They all had their backs turned at it and their attention focused on Aituár, and they were completely taken by surprise when the unicorn descended on them.
Licorne ran his spiral sharp horn through four of them in one go. To Aituár's surprise they dissolved in puffs of sickly green smoke. As she struggled to free herself from the hands that were holding her, Aituár saw the unicorn lash out, sending some of the figures that had been
trying to sneak up on him from behind flying, hitting the wall with a thud.
Aituár managed to slip away and pulled back to allow the unicorn free range. Licorne was like a silver flash of fury, attacking the cowled figures without mercy, again and again. It seemed that the horn was the only part of the unicorn that had the power to dissolve them.
When all the figures had either vanished into smoke or fled, Licorne finally slowed down, breathing heavily.
'We must hurry' said his voice inside Aituár's head.
'Their master is not far away, and you most complete your coming-of-age ceremony in order to gain all your powers.'
'You seem to already have control of at least one power – that of healing – for which I am eternally grateful. You will need more than that though, in order to defend yourself. Antaja left before I was attacked, to prepare another ceremony – we need to meet up with her.'
Licorne started trotting back into the passage, the same way that Aituár had come.
'But there is nothing there!' objected Aituár.
'Yes, there is – in the shaft.' replied the unicorn, 'Follow me!'
And without halting the unicorn leaped right over the edge, into the dark pit. Aituár hesitated, asking herself if she trusted the unicorn, and the answer was yes, infinitely.
She took a deep breath, and jumped.
There was darkness all around her, but Aituár felt as if she was floating rather than falling down. She landed on something soft and springy, but she could not guess what it was.
'Follow the light' said Licorne's voice in her head. Aituár looked all around and, sure enough, there was a yellow light some distance away. She tried to stand up but the ground was too soft, and she lost her balance.
Instead Aituár started crawling on her hands and knees, and now she noticed that the surface beneath her felt squishy and a bit slimy. It was probably just as well that it was too dark to see what it was. As Aituár got closer to the light she felt hard rock against the palms of her hands. Relieved, she got up on her feet and proceeded with care.
The light came from a small cave and looking inside, Aituár could see an odd pattern on the floor, with a lit candle on either side of it.
'I am glad that you made it here' said Antaja and stepped forward.
'Let us hope that they will not manage to find their way down here before we have completed the ceremony.'
'First of all' said Antaja, 'I need to know if you saw something in the crystal ball before we were attacked.'
She looked at Aituár, who frowned, trying to remember.
'I am not sure but... I saw something moving, and it looked like a... like a lion, but with the head and wings of an eagle.'
'A gryphon' said Antaja thoughtfully.
'I wonder how it fits in with your future? Well, you will find out sooner or later – we had better get on with the ceremony now. Stand in the middle of the pentagram.'
Aituár did as she was told, and Antaja began walking in a circle around her, outside the pentagram, chanting and throwing pinches of an oddly coloured powder up in the air.
Some of the powder fell into the candle flames, and soon a spicy fragrance started spreading in the cave. Aituár was beginning to feel odd – one moment she would be cold, the next burning hot. She felt something stirring inside her chest, a tingling feeling that spread all the way out to her toes and finger tips.
Suddenly the inside of the cave faded out of sight, and it was replaced by a series of mental images flashing past in Aituár's mind. Neni, the blind man, a dragon's egg, Wotan, the dark horseman, the soldiers, Jeremiah – the images became a blur.
'Focus Aituár, focus!' said the unicorn's voice in her head. Aituár tried to slow down her mind, and bits and pieces of the images seemed to form a new picture – that of a gryphon. The gryphon again! What could be the meaning of that?
Will the ceremony succeed this time?
Or will they once more be interrupted?
And exactly which kind of powers will Aituár gain?