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Chapter 24

The Mysterious Grotto

Hate is a flame that burns everything.

Arrived at the bottom, a mysterious grotto (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) opened up before Aron's eyes. A muted light bounced off the rocky walls. From the crevices spiraled cone-shaped formations of various sizes, growing either from the ground up or from the ceiling down. Wherever the prince's eyes wandered, he saw fantastic, multi-colored sculptures of solid rock - bodies, hands, fingers, noses, towers, and a castle with a petrified waterfall. The prince hesitated to go on. He was all alone and the sight of the hooded, black man leaning against the wall, seemingly waiting for him, rather gave him the creeps. Aron thought what would happen if Monti woke up and didn't find her master. But then his curiosity got the better of him. With halting steps , the prince traversed the cavern until he reached the edge of an underground lake. The water was a bright green. In the middle floated a small island. Again Aron rubbed his eyes. On a throne in the center of the island sat suddenly and unexpectedly no other than Ozelot.


"How did he get here?" Aron wondered. He hadn't heard or seen anything. Even though Ozelot still had his human form in part, yet because of his malice he still retained his beast-of-prey head. Ozelot gave Aron a long, glowering look until he finally said: "I put you to the test. The flask with the life elixir did not contain any poison." And as if to proof his claim, the rat that had been lying dead on the floor before ran over Aron's feet.

"All I wanted was find out whether you would forget your good principles. But you showed discipline and mental fortitude."

Those were Ozelot's words, but his thoughts bespoke a different language: "What a golden heart this Aron has. I'll avail myself of it now." Fortunately, the prince, he couldn't read thoughts. That's why he believed what he heard.

"You have a truly royal character and I shall reward you for it. I'll propose an exchange," the lord of darkness continued his speech. Did Ozelot mean what he said? Aron again rubbed his eyes. Then he pinched his arm. That hurt. Now Aron knew that he was wide awake.

"An exchange then," repeated Ozelot. He rummaged around in the pocket of his cloak and pulled out the flask containing the bright green liquid.

"Maybe Ozelot really just wanted to put me to the test and it isn't poison after all," the bad thoughts tried to take possession of the prince.

"I'll leave the life elixir, which will immediately make you big and strong, here for you. In return you will give up your parents." Ozelot's beast-of-prey eyes stared for long time into Aron's honest eyes.

At this moment the shadow spirits entered. Quietly and like an impenetrable mist hovering above the water's surface, they formed a line around the lake. They wore black capes with hoods pulled deep over their faces. The shadow spirits spread bad thoughts all around and tried to shake Aron's love of his parents once and for all. Their voices were indistinct and soft at first, then they swelled, getting louder and louder: "Forget your parents. They abandoned you. They never loved you."

Aron stood rooted to the spot. "They only think of themselves; they didn't comfort you when you were alone; they didn't protect you against the dark of night," the bad thoughts continued to plague him. Ozelot flashed a grin. Aron covered his ears.

"I don't want to hear any of this!" he screamed. But the shadow spirits had no mercy, they kept on babbling: "They treated you like their dogs. All you were supposed to do was obey; they never took you into their arms."

"Yes, they did," screamed Aron beside himself with despair. "They did too take me into their arms!"

"And did your father go horseback riding with you?" asked the heartless shadow spirits.

"No," Aron lowered his head."And did your mother ever read you a story?" they asked furthermore.

"No," Aron lowered his head even further and warm tears rolled down his cheeks. "They never had time," he whispered.

"They had no time for you because they didn't love you," concluded the shadow spirits. The pain he caused Aron made Ozelot burst into malicious laughter.

"Stop it!" Aron screamed. "Parents always love their children."

The shadow spirits scorned: "Is it love to never take any interest in your dreams? If they punish you with indifference? If their self-interest is greater than their dedication, and if they argue over every stupid little thing?"

Again Aron's eyes filled with tears. "I have special parents. They are the king and queen. Maybe they know better what is good and believe that a nanny can replace the parents," he attempted a defiant defense with firm voice.

"Don't entertain false hopes. Everybody thinks his parents are special. In reality, all they are in the end is ordinary people," was the shadow spirits' verdict. "They don't know you at all. Or did they ever listen to you? Frankly, you must admit, all they ever did was order you around. Forget about them. You won't miss them. A love that never existed can't be missed."

Aron howled like a wounded animal. Filled with rage and despair, he put his right hand in his pocket clenching his fist. Just then he noticed the energy sphere with his gold dust, his wish for a good family. He clutched the energy sphere tight when he heard the shadow spirits ask: "What's it going to be? The life elixir in exchange for your parents. Everything has its price! Decide or you'll never see the sun again!"

"I won't pay with my parents' lives. Nobody pays with this parents. I'd rather stop growing," Aron yelled at the shadow spirits. Ozelot could no longer conceal his true nature.

"Let's put the cards on the table," the dark ruler screamed. "For the last time. The elixir or your parents!" Impatiently, he held up the flask to Aron and the shadow spirits began to chant a lament. They had disseminated enough bad thoughts. But the little prince wasn't intimidated. He saw through Ozelot's cat-and- mouse game and yelled with all his strength: "And I still love my parents, now and forever, no matter what!" He wouldn't exchange his parents and were it for all the gold in the world. Not for a clone as the miracle maker had attempted and not for the elixir. He took a stone from the ground and flung it at the bottle with the bright green magic potion. Again, the angel's colossal figure stood over Aron, his hands held protectively over him. The bottle in Ozelot's hands burst and landed in a thousand pieces on the ground. The good thoughts had finally carried the day. While the shadow spirits around the lake were engrossed in their song, the battle neared its end.

Ozelot was fit to be tied. How much time and endurance he had wasted on this hopeless venture, he now came to realize. All his ambition, all his bad energy, his grandiose plan for the conquest of Nubia, all had been for naught. (1) This little nincompoop of a prince remained undeterred, and thus the house of the lord of darkness was bound to collapse. Yes, if it had only been a matter of the prince, in that case Ozelot might have been able to reconcile himself to the loss. But what counted for Ozelot was always the grand scheme. It was all or nothing. At stake was total power over the sunland. A single, tiny weakness on the part of Aron would have sufficed to land the decisive coup. Now the little prince had thwarted his bold plan and Ozelot was going stir crazy.

The wild animal howled unrestrained until the thunderous decibels echoed from the rocky walls. Sparks of hatred flashed at Aron from Ozelot's beast-of-prey eyes. To avoid being hit by them, Aron, in his anguish, clapped the two sun amulets on his wrists together twice. Once again Aron had to awaken the sun spirit. And once again he shot through his eyes the sun rays transformed into fire. The sun's energy ignited into licking flames all around the island and the fire fairies encircled Ozelot. When the flames threatened to devour the island, Ozelot howled for the last time. The evil of an entire life burst into unimaginable hatred. Ozelot's scheme to poison the prince through evil had failed. Now hatred poisoned his own heart. IRA turned against her master. As if pierced by an arrow, the lord of darkness sank to the ground. The fire fairies jumped over him and the black baron faded away like a star in the sky. In his malevolence he had completely wasted himself. Ozelot had turned to ashes. The reign of evil had collapsed. All that was left was an island swimming in a ring of fire.

The shadow spirits rose up and shattered on the rocky walls. next

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