The Dark Times; Part 27
'Step back while I try to open the door' said Antaja.
Aituár took a few steps back, getting ready for the worst. Would there be someone waiting for them on the other side of the rocky wall?
Antaja examined the wall, sang an incantation, felt with her hands all over the wall and tried another incantation. Nothing happened. This went on for some time, until Antaja finally gave up.
'The door has been sealed - by a magic stronger than mine' said Antaja with a worried frown.
'We have no choice but to go back again.'
They followed the passage back to the shaft that they both crossed with a long leap. The small cave where Aituár had found Licorne was now empty, and there was no sign of the unicorn. There were several openings gaping like black holes in the walls, but Antaja chose one without the slightest hesitation.
They proceeded in silence, not knowing if there would be someone lying in wait for them. Déomarr had woken up after his little nap and was now perched on Aituár's right shoulder. The dragonling was now the size of a half-grown kitten and would barely fit into Aituár's shoulder bag. She would have to get a backpack soon.
After what, to Aituár, seemed like an eternity of trudging along in a narrow, dark and winding passage a hint of pale daylight could finally be seen ahead. As they got closer Aituár saw that it was sunshine, filtering through a mass of undergrowth hanging down like a curtain covering an opening.
Antaja gestured to Aituár to stay where she was, and then carefully approached the curtain, listening intently. She gently pushed the tendrils apart and stuck out her head. After a while Antaja stepped out, out of sight. She soon returned however, with a relieved and reassuring smile on her face.
'All is calm' said Antaja, 'Come!'
Aituár carefully stepped through the curtain, with Déomarr audibly breathing in the fresh air with obvious pleasure through his widened nostrils. Outside Aituár spent a moment just enjoying the warmth of the sunshine - it seemed to be so long ago since she had last seen the sun.
As she looked around, Aituár could not help but smile at the idyllic scenery surrounding them. There were three swans swimming in a small lake, with a small cottage perched on the shore. Antaja was already heading for the cottage, and Aituár hurried after her.
'Do you know who lives in that cottage?' asked Aituár breathlessly once she had caught up with Antaja.
'The cottage used to belong to Neni, before she left to search for you, when you were still just a baby' replied Antaja. 'Those few of us that know about the cottage use it every now and then on our travels, and in times of need.
Antaja stopped abruptly.
'At least I hope we are the only ones who know about it' she said slowly.
'It worries me that there is a creature out there with powers so much stronger than mine.'
'Aituár' she said, taking both Aituár's hands in hers, 'you need to know what to do, where to go in case we would get separated. There is this wizard who might be able to tell you what lies behind all this, what your mission in life is. You will find him in -'
Antaja's voice broke off, and Aituár could hear the reason why. Hoof beats were approaching from somewhere behind the cottage, but whoever it was, was still out of sight. Aituár felt a shiver down her spine when she realized that she had not seen the dark horseman1 for some time - could that be him now?
Aituár pulled her hands free and prepared for the worst, focusing her mind. The two witches turned towards the cottage, standing side by side. The dragonling seemed to feel the tension too and was leaning forward, like a hawk looking for prey. Whatever it was, they would face it together.