The Enchantress’ Challenge: Maze of Misery
This is the fourth and final chapter in The Enchantress’ Challenge. To start from the beginning, click here.
Kavarus finishes reading the next clue, and turns to Lyendah and Waylon. “My journey continues, but what will you do now?”
Lyendah’s gaze flicks toward Waylon, but she doesn’t look him in the eye. They are both silent.
“You fools!” Kavarus shouts. “You have a second chance. You should take it. Be together. I would give anything for more time with my love.” He glances between them.
Lyendah is the first to speak. “Waylon, you know how sorry I am. Can you ever forgive me? I know I don’t deserve to be happy, after the pain I caused you, but you do.” She takes a deep breath. “I would like the chance to give you happiness again,” she whispers.
Waylon turns to her. “We’ve both suffered enough. Kavarus is right. We should appreciate the chance we have to be together again.”
Waylon takes Lyendah’s hands in his and brings them to his lips. Then, he pulls her in for a tight embrace. She tilts her head up to his and they kiss passionately.
Kavarus quietly turns and walks out of Shadow’s End without a word of goodbye. He does not begrudge them their happiness, but he cannot bear to look on their love. And besides, he has another challenge to face.
Aurantia smiles down at the image in her scrying pool with tears in her eyes. Her sister is safe and happy. She knows she will not be forgiven for her part in their suffering, but this is enough.
Despite how her warlock father always tried to keep them apart, telling Aurantia it was not fitting for an enchantress to associate with mere mortals, Aurantia and her half-sister were always close. Until the dreadful events that lead to Lyendah’s curse.
She didn’t regret sending Waylon after her, for only a mortal could enter the Cavern of the Dead, and clearly his help was needed in the end. But she was sorry for his suffering. Maybe one day she will visit them and apologize in person.
She turned her thoughts back to the scrying pool, following her hero as he left Shadow’s End and rode for the Decaying Desert.
Black sand swallows up the desert sun, but that has no effect on the scorching temperatures. Kavarus’ days are filled with unbearable heat, and his nights are haunted by visions of him butchering his own family. Some days he rides through the night, fighting against the coming nightmares. Eventually, he succumbs to exhaustion, but there is no dreamless sleep for him anymore.
Eventually, a large, gray sandstone structure appears in the distance like a mirage. Twisted faces formed into the outer walls look as if they are trying to push their way out. Kavarus shivers. He has found the Maze of Misery.
Kavarus draws his sword and walks on the balls of his feet, ready to strike at whatever lies ahead. The halls seem to stretch abnormally as he walks on, disorienting him as they twist and turn. “Kavarus,” a voice bounces off the walls, seeming to surround him. He turns in circles; he knows that voice.
A vision comes to life around him. A young Kavarus practicing in the yard with a wooden sword. “Kavarus,” the voice says sternly, as his father marches into view. The child halts.
“Why are you wasting your time playing. There is work to be done.”
“I am working, father. I’m training to become a knight.”
His father scoffs, picking up a nearby sword. A real one. His father swings the sword at him. “You will never be a knight.”
Consumed by the vision, Kavarus almost doesn’t notice the blade swing down from the ceiling. He steps back just in time. His father’s voice fills the room. “You are not strong enough.” Another blade swings down, and Kavarus leaps forward, stumbling. “You are not quick enough.” Kavarus tries to focus on the blades in the maze, the real blades.
He times his step forward and feels a rush of air at his back, as blades swing in front and behind. “You are not honorable enough.” Kavarus shakes his head to ward off the words, and leaps forward again. “You are just not good enough, Kavarus.”
Kavarus roars and dodges through the final blades. He turns back to face the obstacle he overcame. Watching the blades swing, he whispers, “I am good enough. I am a great hero, father.” With that, he turns and leaves his childhood behind.
The twisting hallways reappear briefly, before another vision flares to life. This time Kavarus is a knight, battling an opponent with a real sword. The clash of metal fills the air. Kavarus watches as his past self fights a well armored opponent with a glorious looking shield. He groans.
The Kavarus in the vision has old, warped armor and no shield. While he is a talented fighter, his opponent easily wounds him with each strike, wearing him down. He is knocked into the dirt, defeated, and his opponent laughs.
“You need to get some real armor, Kavarus. You won’t win any tourneys without a shield.”
Kavarus glares at him. That’s easy for him to say, coming from a wealthy family. Kavarus had to save for months just to afford his sword. A sudden thought appears. His opponent could easily buy a new shield, if his was stolen. He doesn’t need it as much as Kavarus does.
But he shakes his head. The knight would never let Kavarus steal his shield without a fight. It would be an embarrassment. He would have to wound him, catch him unawares…
Kavarus stands, as the knight turns away and removes his hot armor. It’s now or never.
Kavarus swings his sword into the knight’s shoulder. It cuts deeper than he expected. The knight falls to the ground and cries out. Kavarus snatches up the shield, and then decides to take the armor too.
He glances at the knight before leaving. Blood pours from his wound, but surely someone will hear his cries and come to help. Kavarus needs to flee.
As the Kavarus in the vision runs, the ground beneath him begins to crumble. It takes a moment for Kavarus to realize that the actual ground is falling away in front of him. He needs to act.
He sprints back a few steps, so he can take a running leap. He pumps his arms and propels himself off the edge of the remaining floor. His stomach drops as he flies through the air. More ground continues to crumble, and he’s not sure if he will make it.
His body sprawls on the ground, just landing on the other side of the chasm. Before he can breath a sigh of relief, his feet fall out from under him, and then his knees. He scrambles forward, trying to pull his legs back on solid ground. The ground continues to fall as he crawls, matching his pace. He needs to get his feet up, so he can run.
With a shove, Kavarus leaps forward. Feet connecting with the floor, he runs. Finally, the past fades from view. Kavarus turns back to the pit behind him, and drops to one knee. He deserves to be at the bottom of that chasm, not the innocent knight he slayed.
After a moment, he rises to his feet, dreading what he knows must come next. The halls warp around him again. He sees his old home, where he lived with his wife and daughter. The small cottage sits nestled in the quiet hills, surrounded by wildflowers. Heavy footsteps disrupt the silence, and Kavarus wants to cry out a warning.
Half a dozen knights march into view, as if they need that many to face a woman and a child. One of the knights pounds on the door, and his wife answers. At first she smiles to see the knights, but at the expressions on their faces her smile falters. She steps outside and pulls the door behind her.
One knight grabs her, and another kicks down the door, yanking Kavarus’ daughter from her bed. When Tatiya sees her daughter, his wife pulls free and runs to her. Tatiya whispers in his daughter’s ear. His wife tackles the closest knight, and the girl runs. Tatiya stumbles forward after her. That’s when the first arrow flies.
It strikes Tatiya’s leg, but she keeps limping forward, yelling for her daughter to keep running. An arrow whizzes past Kavarus, but he hardly notices, consumed by seeing the death of his family for the first time. Another arrow hits Tatiya in the back. She falls.
Pain lances through Kavarus’ calf. He looks down to see an arrow stuck through his leg. He doesn’t care. He watches as his daughter is struck next. He falls to the ground at the sight. An arrow whizzes just above his head. Kavarus sobs, as the light fades from the eyes of his loved ones.
He lays on the floor, as another arrow flies above him. Let the arrows hit me, he thinks. I can’t go on anymore. Just then, a glowing purple orb appears several yards away. Inside, is a roll of parchment.
Kavarus rolls away from the next arrow and pushes to his feet. This is it. Just get to the last note, he tells himself. He pushes through the pain in his leg and half hops, half runs to the glowing orb. He notices a pile of treasure at the end of the hall, but he doesn’t care about treasure anymore. He snatches the parchment from the air, and unrolls it.
Travel back through the Decaying Desert, and then go north to the Bellowing Peaks. For your next challenge, you must climb the highest peak and make it down to the other side.
“I am in no condition to climb a bloody mountain!” Kavarus screams to the enchantress. He knew these mountains, and they would be dangerous for a healthy man to climb.
With a flash, a kit with a salve and a wrap for the wound appears.
“I will not go on. I can’t,” Kavarus announces. “I’ll probably kill myself climbing this mountain, and then what? More torturous challenges, surely. You’re just toying with me, aren’t you?”
No response from the enchantress.
Kavarus falls to the floor, wailing. “I can’t face anymore. I’m not good enough. My father was right. And I don’t deserve my heart’s desire. You saw what I’ve done. I don’t deserve happiness. I don’t deserve to see my family again. I don’t even deserve to be a knight.”
Kavarus sits on the floor for a moment. After composing himself, he reaches for the healing items. He spreads some of the salve along the wrap. With a grimace, he snaps the end of the arrow off. Then, he grips it just above the point sticking through the other side of his leg and pulls the arrow out. He wraps his leg tightly to stop the bleeding. It’ll do for now.
Kavarus stands and hobbles to the pile of gold. He stuffs his pockets; he’ll need a new sword and shield now that his were lost to the maze. He limps out to find his horse.
“I’m going home,” he yells to Aurantia. “I’m not the hero you were looking for. I’m just not good enough.”
Just on the other side of the Bellowing Peaks, Aurantia sits in her cottage. She has been waiting for a hero who would believe in themselves, against all odds. A hero who defies their past, and fights for a better future. She will keep waiting.
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