The Illusionist’s Maze

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illusionist

The light of day recedes and a chilly, silence covers the air as you step over the threshold into the infamous maze.

From the outside, it looks just like a dark, overgrown cave entrance in the side of a rugged mountain, but local legend said that an immortal wizard had built the maze out of boredom. Since before the village was founded, he has always lured adventurers into the maze’s clutches with the promise of treasure. But his true aim is just  to amuse himself across the endless ages with the falsely heroic struggles of those who step into his realm.

No one knows how true the legend is, but it is a fact that no one had ever come out of the maze alive. If the ancient, forgotten language chiseled into the rock face is anything to go by, then it is also true that the maze predates the small peasant village a couple miles away. It likely even predates the current line of kings ruling this quiet little land.

A tingle runs down your spine as you pass a decrepit statue of some old man gazing out at some unknown era. The rock is weathered, cracking and covered with moss and ivy, much like the walls of this place. Perhaps he is the wizard, you think, or maybe not. You doubt that you will ever truly know, but the same curiosity that drove you to leave your own small, little farming village and explore the wide world drives you deeper into the dark maw of that ancient structure.

You turn the first corner in the maze and the light and noise of day fades away. It is replaced by a tense, brooding darkness. The chill air is still and the very maze seems to be waiting in anticipation for your next move. It feels like hidden eyes are watching you with ill-intent.

In front of you are three corridors heading off in separate directions. You can instinctively know that only one of these options is the right one, but which one?

You light a torch you are carrying. Its tar-tip splutters to life, casting a flickering, sickly light around you. You check your weapons: your sword is strapped at your side and your dagger is slipped into your boots. You call the former Big and the latter Small, because you are both a practical man and you know that all great adventurers name their blades. It gives the bards something to sing about much later, but all of that is far from your mind right now.

The air from the one corridor smells vaguely of rot and something much, much fouler. The air from the other two corridors smells old, but fine. As you step forward, though, you notice that one of these other two tunnels has deep scratch marks on some of its stone wall and you sense a lurking doom waiting for you at the end of it. It almost feels like you know that you should not walk that corridor.

And so you choose the remaining corridor to follow and begin to walk carefully down it, all the while watching for traps and things far worse. The hair on the back of your neck is raised and you still feel like unseen eyes are quietly watching your every step.

Suddenly you are surrounded by a thousand, dark-eyed rouges. A sputtering torch in their one hand with the other hand hovering over the hilt of a sword at their side.

You smile. This is the first of the illusions. They are all you walking down the corridor that you are walking down. You stop and look carefully at each one of them. They are all exactly the same. They are all your reflections wrought by magic in this dark place.

You take a small step forward. They all take a small step forward. You raise your torch and peer around. They all raise their torches and peer around.

And then you smile and your sword flashes out. Steel shatters the illusion and a terrible howl pierces the heavy darkness of the maze. The one reflection was fractionally too slow to follow your actions. The one reflection did not have the same scar you have just below your chin where a kobold’s wicked claw tore the skin. And the one reflection falls dead at your feet, shifting into a dark, hairy beast with claws and teeth like a mountain bear.

All the magic mirrors on the walls shatter and blow away as foul-smelling dust. The darkness in the maze seems to retreat for a moment like a wounded animal, before rushing back to surrounded you.

Your torch flickers and you are standing alone in the same tunnels again, but with a slain beast at your feet.

You wipe the blood off Big on the beast and sheeth it again. You can feel the comforting weight of Small in your boot. You smile grimly and step over the beast, continuing on your way.

It will take more than that, old man, to trick me, you think, as you wind your way down the dark, endless corridor and deeper into the maze.

Right at the end of the maze, an ancient old man is standing. His skin is taunt over his bones making his near skeletal features look chiseled into the darkness that surrounds him. Brustling white eyebrows cast his face in more shadows than the darkness and in his hand he holds an old, warn wand with evil runes carved into it. He smiles and looks at the person lying on the altar before him.

The person lying there is you, but your eyes are closed. Your fists clench and you twitch in your dark, enchanted slumber. Your sword, Big, lies impotently broken in three pieces on the other side of the room and your dagger, Small, is nowhere to be seen. A single drip of blood slides from your nose, down your check and drips onto the cold stone altar, sizzling when it touches it.

“He is encountering the cyclops now,” the ancient wizard rasps, an evil smile dancing across his thin lips, “And then it will be the Chamber of Spiders. I wonder if he will die there again? Maybe he will pass that one this time. He did choose the right corridor this time, but how far will he get?”

An evil laugh echoes off the cold walls in that chamber, but you are oblivious as you walk through what you think is the maze.

But what you do not know and what you will never find out, is that you have already walked that maze and you have already come up against the ancient wizard there. And, trapped in his illusion, you will now walk that maze for eternity or until he is bored of you.

Because, that, dear adventurer, is the Illusionist’s Maze: It does not exist, but you remain trapped in it walking it again and again.

And the evil laughter grows louder while you squirm on that altar, mentally battling a great, smelly cyclops in a cramped, dark corridor filled with spikes…

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