The Enchantress’ Challenge: The Cavern of the Dead

The Enchantress’ Challenge: The Cavern of the Dead

This is the second chapter of The Enchantress’ Challenge. If you haven’t read the first chapter, The Gorgon, you can read it here.

Kavarus had thought Shadesmere was dead, in the sense that it was bare and lacking in human presence, but now he realized he wasn’t quite right. Shadow’s End is like the personification of Death himself. A living, breathing entity that is waiting over your shoulder to take you out at the precise moment you show any weakness. Where Shadesmere was eerie in its quiet emptiness, Shadow’s End is thrumming with an undercurrent of impending doom.

There are people living here, more than at Shadesmere, but they look like the sort to slit your throat at the slightest provocation. Kavarus highly doubts he will find a pleasant innkeeper to show him the way to the Cavern of the Dead. Something is off about this town and its inhabitants.

Kavarus leads his horse along the cramped alleys, trying not to inhale the scent of decay. Anxious to move along on his journey, he stops the first man he sees that doesn’t look at him like a piece of meat to be devoured. 

“Have you heard of the Cavern of the Dead, Sir?” Kavarus asks.

The man’s cackle ends in a harsh cough. “I don’t know what’s funnier,” the man says. “You thinking I mightn’t know about the Cavern of the Dead, or you calling me ‘Sir’.” He laughs again. “Everyone here knows about the Cavern of the Dead. The question is why are you looking for it?”

“I should like to travel there,” Kavarus replies.

“Oh, you’d like to travel there?” The man laughs even harder, rasping loudly. “Eh, who am I to care if you get yourself killed?” He points a gnarled finger to the east of town. “Just travel in that direction and you’ll soon find it, or more likely it’ll find you.”

Without another word, the man walks off, cackling the whole way. Kavarus has no choice but to tie his horse up at the edge of town and walk into the dank woods.

As Kavarus’s feet crunch dead leaves, onward towards the direction of The Cavern of the Dead, a dark mist begins to creep forward. The closer he gets, the denser the mist becomes. Soon it is surrounding him, like misty fingers wrapping around his body, moving up from his legs towards his torso. Kavarus feels slightly uneasy as the tendrils begin to engulf him. He tries to shake free of them but the mist seemingly responds by quickly covering him whole. After a moment, Kavarus can’t move as he feels the misty limbs tighten around him. An eerie whisper fills his ears, speaking tongues of a language Kavarus does not know. Before his panic can spread to action, he is pulled forward with a surge of strength and his vision goes black.

Kavarus feels foggy as he regains consciousness. He is on his back, putting his hands back to push himself up and his fingers meet cold earth. It is dark and smells musty. A distant trickle of water is all he can hear. 

Light, he will need a light to guide him or he will fail. Aurantia thinks as she watches Kavarus on the cave floor through her scrying orb. She wouldn’t normally offer aid so quickly, but she feels this warrior may have potential. With a few chanted words, and the flick of her long-nailed, but groomed, fingers her task is done. She nestles down to watch the events unfold.

Kavarus has just gotten to his feet. Pulling out his sword, he plans to follow the direction of trickling water. Suddenly he hears a faint voice, a woman’s voice, and a purple orb appears just above his head. It swirls and bobs around his head, illuminating the cavern with an iridescent purple glow. He looks at it curiously, and takes a few steps forward. The violet orb follows him. Knowing who sent the orb, for there is no one else who could, he gives a slight bow and thanks the Enchantress. Kavarus then continues forward into the depths.

The path Kavarus follows began to narrow, curving downward and inward at once. He has to dunk his head and walk awkwardly for a few moments, until the pathway narrows to a small tunnel. Kavarus shakes his head; he is going to have to crawl through this part with no end in his immediate vision. He motions to his new companion, and to his surprise the swirling violet orb bobs in response and dips into the tunnel first. With a sigh Kavarus gets down on all fours, which is difficult in his shield, so he slings it onto his back and inches forward. His elbows and thighs scrape along the rocks and dirt of the cavern floor. Finally, the tunnel ends and he comes into an open room, fairly large, lit by a single blue flame on the far wall.

Kavarus knew this would be a battle. He wraps his right hand around the hilt of his sword and pulls it free. As if in response to the ring of his blade, the blue flame flickers erratically and a spark flies free landing on the ground. From that spark Kavarus watches as it grows and transforms into a figure of a man. As his shape begins to fully form through swirls of blue, Kavarus almost falls over in surprise when he notices the apparition’s shield. His shield. The color drains from his face and he suddenly feels nauseous. He has a moment to steady himself before the man forms fully: a Knight taller than Kavarus, clad in full armor and shield glimmering. 

“You…” the Knight croaks. “You killed me, and stole MY SHIELD!” 

The Knight rushes Kavarus and he lifts his shield in reaction, the Knight’s sword bashes against the shield and lets out a loud ringing. Kavarus rolls backwards and takes a defensive stance. 

“You are a rat, Kavarus!” the Knight hisses. “I had my back to you!”

Kavarus didn’t want to hear it anymore, he didn’t want to remember. He wanted a shield to protect his family, he was the only one who could, but he failed. Shaking his head as if to clear his negative thoughts, he charges the Knight and at the last moment ducks low. Spinning on his knees, he slices the Knight’s legs off, then follows with an upward stab through his lower abdomen up through his back. 

“Kavarus…” The Knight’s voice trails off as his body dissipates in the form of blue smoke. 

Kavarus stands up and swings around, eyes blazing, searching for his next target. What he sees stops him cold, and his sword and shield clatter to the ground. He takes a tentative step forward and stretches out his hand. Before him stands his daughter and his wife, whom he thought lost to him.

“My angel,” he whispers, as he touches his daughter’s cold face.

It isn’t the same, but he doesn’t care. It is close enough to the real thing. He embraces his wife, squeezing her close as tears prick his eyes. He could stay here forever. He doesn’t need the enchantress anymore, or her challenges. 

“I’ll never leave you again,” he tells his family. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. Can you forgive me?”

Kavarus pulls back to look into his wife’s eyes. They begin to glow red, and she looks at him with a fury that she never had in life. He stumbles back a step. She launches at him, trying to claw at his face. 

“Tatiya, stop!” he screams, backing away.

With an inhuman roar, she tackles him. She’s stronger than she should be, and he falls to the ground. He tries to push her off as she scratches at him.They roll across the cavern, until he spots his sword. He shoves her again and picks up the sword, getting to his feet, but he can’t bring himself to swing it.

He falls to his knees before his vengeful wife. Tears stream down his face. “Please forgive me. We can be together now, you just have to forgive me.”

His daughter walks slowly to him and takes his hand. His wife watches with a snarl on her face, but she doesn’t attack. He pulls his daughter into a hug and rests his head on top of hers. 

A horrible pain flares in his left shoulder. He cries out as his daughter bites into his skin. Without thinking, he swings the sword in his right hand, connecting with her back.

“NNOOOO!” he screams. 

He reaches for his daughter, trying to undo the damage, but his wife is upon him now. Terrified by her savagery and the demonic glow in her eyes, he swings wildly.

“You are not Tatiya,” he tells her, voice shaking. “That was not my daughter.” His voice cracks. “You are not real.”

With those words, he stabs his wife through the heart and drops to the floor, sobbing. 

Aurantia watches the scene in her scrying pool, but turns away at the end. She should give Kavarus a moment to grieve before sending the next note. She ponders her next task, hoping the hero is up to it. 

After he proved himself with the gorgon, she was certain he could succeed. That’s why she helped him at the beginning of the cavern. She needed him to make it this far, and go on to break the curse. But after this latest display…well, not many could go on from that. But he must.

Finally, she turns back to the pool to see the hero wipe his eyes. The scroll vanishes from her hand and reappears in front of Kavarus in a dense purple fog: 

The people of Shadow’s End are cursed, and you must free them. By conquering the Cavern of the Dead, you’ve already taken the first step. The true nature of the town and its curse are now revealed. Travel back to Shadow’s End and do what it takes to break the curse.


What Do You Think?

What do you think of the story so far? What spooky challenges do you think Kavarus will face next? (Our favorite may just get a spot in the story!) To celebrate spooky season, we will be releasing chapters of The Enchantress’ Challenge each week! Click here to read the third chapter, The Curse of Shadow’s End.

Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

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