Standing at the now closed entrance it took several tense moments for my eyes to adjust to darkness. To my surprise some light remained. A luminescent fungus grows around the cave reflecting off of crystal deposit. Not enough light to read by, but enough to prevent me from tripping on a stone and falling to my face, at least I hope. Recalling the words of General Joshua that the chalice need not be chained to my wrist I unraveled the bindings and using the same chain secured the goblet to my waist. With Dragon’s Bane and Dragon’s Scale in hand and arm I ventured deeper with in the cave.
A few minutes later I entered a carved chamber with passageways leading in three different directions. A circle and strange symbols where carved into the floor. The walls and ceiling were overflowing with shimmering veins of metal. Littered around the room were the skeletal remains of previous contestants of the challenge, proving the warnings of about the dangers and especially the risk of entering alone was no exaggeration. While cautiously stepping over one of the fallen I was startled to hear a wicked laughter echoing throughout the room. I demanded the jester reveal himself. From a crevasse in the ceiling a thin wiry pale skinned creature lowered its head for a moment to offer a trade. I’d hand over the chalice and he’d show me the way out. I rebuffed his offer and continued on. The north passage led me to a dead end minus as small gap in the rock perhaps large enough for a man to squeeze through. I returned to the open chamber and tried the east path.
This led me to a large crystal lined room with a pool of milky water. Before it laid several slivery goblets. Everything about this room screamed a trap for all those looking to quickly fill their chalice and be done with the challenge. No I would not fall to the temptation and turned back. Once returned to the starting chamber Creature’s voice rang again telling me most die in that room, but that was merely one test passed and many more lay ahead to kill me. I traveled west for the better part of the day. I wasted countless hours at a time walking down a path only to find a dead end. I slept here and there losing track of time being absence of the sun and stars.
Finally I reached the end of the path and stepped to the edge of a chasm. Down below laid the largest maze I could even imagine. A large horned figure down below caught my eye and I quickly backed away. It was true then minotaurs stalks the maze. I used the pollen worn by the Ja’han warriors to mask my scent and returned to the ledge. At the center of the maze was a glowing room. I thought it wise to invest the time to study a path from here lest be lost for a month down below. Time passed quickly as I tested my knowledge of the path I’ve chosen rehearsing it in my mind over and over again. The Minotaur returned and looked right in my direction, my heart nearly stopped anticipating its call of alarm, but none came. The best sniffed and snorted, but continued on his path through the maze. Perhaps there is a chance I will make it out of here after all.
Along the chasm were several iron lifts in various degrees of disrepair. Selecting the best one I gingerly stepped on the platform and pressed forward on the lever. The lift dropped like a stone, slowing only when reaching the natural curve of the chasm bottom. Gears screeched and grinded and the lift slowed and finally stopped at the bottom. The noise I’m sure could have been heard all the way back home in Dhaelon so I ran into the entrance of the maze trying to put as much distance between me and the source of the noise.
The maze proved to be as difficult as it looked from above and if not for the time spent studying it I’m sure I would be lost ten times over. After several hours I headed the approached of a Minotaur. I quickly ducked into an alcove, but it provided no place to hide. I felt the ground tremble has it approached and then it was here, right in front of me. Standing over nine feet tall with muscle like knotted flesh under a reddish fur. Its horns were shaped like two scimitars, its solid white eyes set upon me. I gripped Dragon’s Bane tightly planning my first series of strikes when it charges at me, but with a great snort its milky eyes passed over me and it continued on. With a renewed vigor to get to the center and out again I pressed on and after hours finally reached the center.
The wall and floors were covered in the glowing moss nurtured by a pool of crystal clear water. The strange metal veins were concentrated on the ceiling in amounts not see anywhere else here. My excitement for reaching the center of the maze was short lived when I saw the corpses of past champions. A few of them held journals recording their trip here. Some made it this far but with wounds too severe to carry on while others were too lost and starved to carry on. A few wrote last word to loved one should another survive the trial. I placed these letters in my pack with an unspoken promise to deliver their last words. Then I knelt before the pool and filled the chalice. As soon as it was filled an ornate gem popped off revealing a very precise and deliberate hole in the chalice. As if the journey out of the maze holding the goblet steady enough not to spill the contents I now had to hold my thumb over the hole while doing so.
I retraced my steps out of the maze moving at a cautious pace not to spill a drop trying my best to navigate around the patrolling Minotaurs. My luck finally ran out. I heard the bellowing of one in front of me and one behind me. With only a moment to act I ducked into a small path found the helm of a fallen warrior and threw it over the wall creating a racket of noise sending the Minotaurs into a frenzied pace in the wrong direction. It worked the one on my trail ran right past me and the one ahead changed direction.
An hour later I stepped out of the maze only to find the King of the Minotaurs, larger and with a deeper reddish fur, but the most noticeable feature to me at the time was his one golden eye. He released a hellish laugh standing in front of the last functional lift. In a voice like grinding stone he spoke and motioned to his gold and silver armor, “I wear the chalices of the fallen champions I’ve killed and I have a special place just for you.” I was unable to convince him to let me pass as my quest is for noble means. His answer was in form of a massive double bladed axe swung at my head. I step to the side just in time to avoid the blow.
With one hand holding the chalice the best I could do was move a few steps at a time while defending against the onslaught of his blows. I eventually made it to the lift. While following through on a swing against me the Minotaur King’s hoof stepped onto the lift and he recoiled in pain. I threw back the lever and the lift slowly began ascending. Hope that I’d actually succeed arose inside of me knowing only a few more seconds and I’d be out of reach of the massive axe. 20 feet up and out of reach I sighed with relief watching the Minotaur pace away, then with a burst of strength and speed it leapt into the air and landed on the platform and mere inches away from me. I tried to kick the beast off of the platform but it was too massive. His axe swing just missed me, but with each moment on the platform the Minotaur suffered extreme pain, his fur began to smolder causing him to give up his attempt and leap off the lift using his axe against the wall to slow his decent down. As the lift stopped having reached the top I looked back down at the Minotaur King, he roared in hate and frustration.
Once I caught my breath I continued on back to the entrance. Creature ever watching congratulated me on my success but offered me one last chance to hand over the chalice. I couldn’t help but laugh at the offer and suggest he leave this place. It spoke of guarding its gold and fled. Just before stepping into the open chamber I spotted six Gnolls lying in wait. With no way passed them I was forced to fight, but I would do so on my terms and use the hallway to my advantage. I called out to goad them into charging me. I faced two at a time, which typically would present little challenge, but with my focus split between the attacker and the chalice, they found it easy to land strike after strike. One by one Dragon’s bane ran through their fur and armor. I offered them the chance to surrender but it was no accident they were here waiting for me by order of their leader Gruthalmus.
After slaying the last Gnoll I tented to my wounds as best I could with one hand and reached the entrance. I poured the water into the ceremonial bowl and the entrance opened. The fresh air was intoxicating, the warmth of the sunlight was like a mother’s embrace, but the best sight of all was Princess Anneka standing before her warriors. With great reverence I presented the chalice to the Princess. She quickly noticed the hole in the goblet, but before she could inquire further Joshua reminded all that what occurred inside the Walk of the Champion must remain a secret. Aden did not waste any time or words announcing that Faelwyn and Andrew left on a simple scouting mission and were killed by Jackal men or as I would know them, Gnolls.
The news was shocking and I was taken aback. My feelings had never swung from such joy to sadness so fast. I asked to pay respect to their graves. Aden smugly said that no bodies were found, Jackal men drag their victims away to be eaten. As revolting as the thought, it gave me hope. Those two have survived worse than Gnolls and there is the chance they still live. I demanded to be taken to where they were last seen. Many protested that the ceremony of the Champion must be conducted first. The Princess pointed out that it can be delayed for up to two days although these delays were typically reserved for healing the returning Champion. Aden had a very suspicious change of heart and volunteered to send his best and most trusted men with me. I wonder how those Gnolls could have gotten into the Walk of the Champions and how did they know to wait for me. Regardless it was settled I would leave immediately to find Faelwyn and Andrew.