The Enchantress’ Challenge: Curse of Shadow’s End
This is the third chapter in The Enchantress’ Challenge. To start from the beginning, click here.
As Kavarus exits the Cavern of the Dead, the same dark mist that brought him there begins to billow out of the entrance. It stretches its tendrils toward the town and spills forth at an alarming rate. Kavarus begins to run after it.
For a moment, Shadow’s End is swallowed by the dense mist, covered in darkness. Kavarus steps into the mist, and it thins out enough for him to see where he’s going. He walks through the streets, his footsteps muffled in the fog. A blur of blue flashes across his vision, followed by eerie laughter.
People begin to emerge from the fog, but their skin is tinged slightly blue, like the apparitions in the cave. Kavarus steps back, glancing for a way out. A hand grabs him from behind and yanks him back.
“In here, quickly,” a voice whispers.
With another tug, Kavarus finds himself in an alleyway. A woman directs him into a doorway and slams the door shut behind him.
“How did you do it? How did you escape the cavern? All the apparitions are coming for you, so you must have done it. Mine are out there somewhere, looking to torture me further,” the woman says.
“I killed them,” Kavarus answers. “My wife. My daughter.” His voice cracks, and he puts a hand against the wall to steady himself.
The mysterious woman pats his shoulder. “They aren’t real. I wish I would have realized that in time,” she says with a sigh. “Then I wouldn’t be trapped here with them.”
“This is the curse Aurantia spoke of then? You are trapped here with those you have wronged?”
The woman stills. “Aurantia sent you?”
“In a way,” Kavarus answers. “This is one of her challenges. Her instructions told me to find a way to break the curse of Shadow’s End.”
“If she thinks this will make up for what she has done…” The woman’s eyes are distant, and she shakes her head as if to rid it of unpleasant thoughts. “Well, I’m not stubborn enough to refuse your help.”
Kavarus nods, but doesn’t prod further. He also has a past he doesn’t like to share with strangers. “Tell me what you know about this curse.”
Aurantia grips the edges of her scrying pool and leans in to stare intently at the unfolding scene. She listens to Lyendah as she tells of the last 12 years. Aurantia hangs on every word, the sound of Lyendah’s voice strange after all this time.
“I know that those of us who wandered into the cavern and couldn’t face our pasts were teleported here, along with any of their undefeated apparitions. Anytime someone tries to leave, they are dragged back by the fog. The creatures here can cause us pain, but they cannot kill us. No one here can…injure themselves, either.”
Aurantia sucks in a breath and drops her head. What Lyendah must have suffered in this place, she cannot bear to think of it. The only thing that keeps her from flipping the scrying pool is her desire to make things right. Her mind drifts to a moment long passed.
“Can I come with you? Please!” a young Lyendah asked her.
“No, you will get hurt.”
“You will protect me,” Lyendah insisted.
Part of her was touched by Lyendah’s faith in her, but a mortal couldn’t go where she was headed. “I will be too distracted to watch over you,” she replied.
“I’m not a child anymore. I’m stronger than you think!”
“No you are weaker than you think. Just because you are of my blood doesn’t mean you can be like me. You have none of my power. I’ve already been alive longer than you will ever live. Stay here!”
With that, she stomped off without turning back. She didn’t notice that Lyendah did not turn toward home, but headed west, towards Shadow’s End.
Kavarus’ voice interrupts her thoughts. “How do I break the curse?”
“I don’t know,” Lyendah replies.
Kavarus pauses, as if in thought. “Have you noticed anything unusual?”
“Have I noticed anything unusual?” Lyendah laughs darkly. “In this place, everything is unusual. We are hunted by our pasts during the day, and at night we can hardly sleep for the screaming.”
Aurantia lifts her head. She knows this type of magic. She snatches up a piece of parchment, scribbling a note. In a flash, it appears in front of Kavarus.
For a curse this powerful, a soul must sustain it. Only a living sacrifice would allow it to continue this long. You must find the sacrifice and free their soul from its bonds.
Kavarus reads the note and curses, before handing it to Lyendah.
“‘Free their soul from its bonds’. Does that mean we must kill someone?”
“I’m afraid that’s likely,” Kavarus replies.
“If they are the person whose screams wake me each night, they will welcome death,” she says gravely.
“Do you know where the screams come from?”
“I have a general idea. I can take you, but we will be followed by the apparitions. They will want to stop you.”
Kavarus nods and pulls out his sword. “Let’s go.”
They slip through mist-cloaked alleyways in the fading light. A blur of movement at the end of the lane causes them to press themselves against the wet stone wall. Once they allow time for the apparition to pass, they continue on.
Darting between buildings, Kavarus spots a dark stone fortress looming ahead. Iron spikes jut from the top of the walls and a large gate bars the entrance. He shivers. This must be the place.
Lyendah cries out behind him, and he spins to see her being tackled to the ground. She wrestles with a man who grips her around the throat. Kavarus swings his sword, about to strike the man, when Lyendah squeaks out a “no”.
Kavarus hesitates. It’s then he notices the man’s skin isn’t tinged with blue. He places the tip of his sword under the man’s chin. The man rolls off Lyendah, but he doesn’t stop glaring at her.
“She sent me after you, but it’s as much your fault that I’m here as her’s,” the man spits out.
“I know.” Lyendah hangs her head. “I should have never gone off trying to prove myself to her.”
“You should have never left me,” he fires back. “You didn’t spare a single thought for what it would do to me if you were harmed. You chose her over me, and like a fool, I came after you.” He turns away in disgust. “I’m still a fool, because I spend my nights here searching for you, despite that I cannot kill you in this cursed place.”
“I’m so sorry. I never would have asked you to come. I’ll never forgive her for sending you after me.” Her face sets in determination. “I’ll get you out of here. We’re going to break the curse.”
The man turns back to them, but he doesn’t look at Lyendah. Kavarus nods his head in confirmation.
“I’m Waylon.” The man offers a handshake to Kavarus. “I’d like to help you.”
Waylon turns to face Lyendah. He stands above her for a moment, watching her. Finally, he reaches out a hand to pull her from the ground. When she is on her feet, a moment passes before he releases her. They share a look full of feelings that Kavarus cannot read.
He pays them no mind, and begins walking toward the fortress. They follow in silence. Kavarus studies the fortress as they approach, looking for the best way in.
“There’s a dried up sewage tunnel that we can go through,” Waylon tells them, as he steps forward to lead the way. “I’ve hidden inside it before. I’m not sure where it will lead us, but it should get us in the fortress.”
As he follows Waylon around the stone wall, Kavarus feels like he is being watched. He turns his head and thinks he sees movement.
“We need to move quickly,” he tells Waylon.
They reach the tunnel, and Kavarus lets the other two enter first. As he ducks in, he pauses to look behind them. Blue people move towards them out of the mist. Too many to fight.
“Run!” he shouts.
Their feet pound the tunnel floor, as water drips around them. Kavarus knows the moment the apparitions enter the tunnel, because it fills with a blue glow. As they run, the glow gets brighter. He can hear the shuffling of bodies behind them, when they spot a door ahead.
Waylon swings open the wooden door. As Kavarus bolts through, he hears a grunt. Lyendah has fallen, and the apparitions are almost upon her. His first thought is to leave her and save himself. But he knows without a doubt that even if he were to break the curse, if he lets Lyendah die, Aurantia will never grant him his wish.
Kavarus charges, sword slashing at the closest blue figure. “Get her inside!” he yells to Waylon.
He keeps fighting, backing toward the door, until Waylon yells back that they are safe. He swings again in a wide arch, and spins around. He rushes through the door, and Waylon slams it shut behind him.
“We need to keep moving,” Waylon says. “That door won’t hold them for long.”
“It’s almost dark,” Lyendah replies, breathing heavily. “We just need to stay ahead of them until dark.”
They moved toward the interior of the fortress, just trying to put distance between themselves and the creatures in the tunnel. After a few minutes, a scream pierced the silence.
Wordlessly, they turned toward the sound. Horrible, painful screams continued, and they followed the sound like a guiding light. They came to a room with a blue glow emitting from underneath the door. Kavarus turned to the others, and they nodded. He drew his sword and pushed the door open.
In the middle of the room, was a man engulfed in blue flames. He writhed and cried out in agony. The man was so consumed by his pain, that he didn’t notice them enter.
Kavarus wasted no time. This man would surely want him to end his suffering. He thrust his blade through the flames, right into the man’s heart.
The man’s scream cut off suddenly. Kavarus yanked his hand away, dropping his forge-hot blade. It melted away in the blue flames.
A thrum fills the air, as the flames die out. A parchment flares into existence before them in a burst of purple:
Travel through the Decaying Desert to reach the Maze of Misery. Doubtless you have heard of the maze, and the treasure it holds, but none have yet survived it. You must be the first.
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-Clever & WTF
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