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Of Liches and Madmen

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"Beyond my house, there was this place thickly wooded... near an old cemetery. People had said that this cemetery was haunted... and, that one time, in every year the dead would rise up from their graves to walk again. I heard this tale first spoken by children, and I hastily disbelieved them, at first. Now... as I recall my memories in this old age... I remember well, what transpired to alter my erring opinions. I just wish, that I could have changed, many of the tragic events that arose from lack of knowing. But... I shall not get ahead of myself here. You have come to my home seeking tales of the macabre, and thus, my true story is more frightful than any legend of your own land, doubtless. So... make yourself as comfortable by my fire, and prepare yourself for these events I did survive, and of which I shall relate."

That old man's face... spoke of having seen much... and lived more than he had seen. As a visitor to his house, I was prepared for eccentricity but something more was afoot here... as this man was clearly not as mad, as tales led me to imagine. I had, indeed, come seeking a tale. His tale... although, I told him any would do. When I think back on the matter, it was rather strange. Not just the tale but something else that I will relate... after I have related the full tale to you, dear reader. Wasting small time, this is what the old man told me, in his own words, as I had so recorded within my journal on that deathly cold night... as I sat by his roaring fire:

"In my youth, I was impatient. Darkly impatient, was I! Discontent, with my life as an artist and a poet, and lost in my studies of the magical arts... I had a mind to leave my home... and see what could be made, of my simple fate. However... I settled for a simple walk in the summertime. I did not wish to go near to the cemetery, however, and so instead I walked on towards the woods that lay past the bounds of it. But on this day, a woman and her child warned me against going into the forest. They called me by my full name, which I had found passing strange, for I knew them not. 'Come, sir! I, and my child, know you well. Walk with us... and we shall take you to a safer place... something wicked is to swiftly transpire in those woods, and you do not wish to be a part of it. Please, listen!' and so I heeded the woman’s advice, and allowed her to lead me toward a small village, nearby. On the way, I recall the child calling me 'brother', and I found her turn of phrase to be strange. I had no sister, although I always truly longed for one. Perhaps I am a tad eccentric after all? But no matter... for it was not to be. At least not in this child's sad case."

"At any rate, the odd woman and child brought me to their village, and in the center of it's quaint cluster of quiet cottages, with their high peaked roofs and their wood-paneled walls, there lay a grassy hill, high enough to reach the second story of many of these homes. In a truly peculiar turn of events, I was instructed to seat myself upon the hill and wait thus with the child whilst the mother went to get her home ready... to receive me as a guest. And whilst I sat there, I looked at the girl and saw her as though for the first time. She was like any other girl you might find in any other such village... she was pale blonde of hair, bright blue of eye, and wearing in a pretty white dress with a pink band to adorn her long locks. 'Do not worry, brother!' Said she... in her strange manner... once again. 'Soon, we will both be safe.' and so I was filled with dread, as I contemplated just what it was that might imperil us, demanding our sudden safety. So, at length... the mother returned and told the girl and I to follow her to their small cottage... which: we did. After a rather pleasant meal... the woman did again call me by name, and therefore ushered me into her daughter's chambers where the girl was happily playing with some toys. I was instructed to keep the child pleasantly occupied... and to keep occupied myself until the next day. 'But, do not leave this house before dawn, no matter what you hear occurring without, lest I lose my child... and you... to the horrible catastrophe that occurs each year.' And so... I was left, to ponder all this. I was told by the girl: that, long ago, a great number of the villagers went into the woods to look for water during when water was scarce one year, and so that afflicted the land, in a past age. The villagers found some water, but it was poisoned and all who drank it died and were after buried in the cemetery. But a legend holds that once a year, on the day of their deaths, they do return to visit their loved ones, and even their descendants, for a single week. During that week, it is said they walk amongst the living by day, and haunt the woods as zombies... every night. Children and visitors, are kept safe, but sometimes meet with death anyway... when some of the dead become too angry, to appease. I, of course, did not believe a word of this story, and thought the girl just a bit morbid, for having imagined this. I lived not so very far away, after all, and I had never even heard this tale... nor heard of any such terrible events."

"Since we would be together all night, I asked that little girl her name. She told me it was Cecelia... and that her mother's name was Suzanne. I remarked, that her name was a pretty one, for a pretty child. She had blushed, which I indeed expected she would. She then did stand up from the floor, arranging her skirts with care, and sat down upon her bed. She looked deep into my eyes, and said to me in a serious manner: 'People in this land are a lot like tiny moles, hiding in the dirt. I wish I could just yell to the moles to all wake up and so they would. Let me wake you up, my dear brother!' and, she suddenly leapt upon me, planting a savage kiss upon my lips which left me wondering if she had gone quite mad. 'Child... I am old enough to be your father... a good thirty winters have I seen! This behavior... it is not proper.' But then, I realized her true intent, for my eyes became sharper, and able to see things in a clarity that I can only describe as supernatural. She giggled cheerily... and sang: 'Wake up, mole! Slumber no more. See, what lies beyond your front door.' And I looked outside of a nearby window... and saw that many of the people walking about in the odd village were not in any way people, but the walking dead. 'Is this how you see things?' I asked the girl, and she said to me: 'It is how things really are.' And I shuddered at the odd thought of those undead, posing as the living. The child threw her arms about me, and she begged me to protect her. I promised that I would, and that I would never allow any of those living dead to get her." She smiled, but there was the hint of something else about her grin, which was troubling me just a little. I thought I glimpsed something hidden, a curious thought, perhaps, that she knew and thought better than to reveal to me in what was my unsteady state of mind."

And, I noticed the old storyteller was weeping, his story stopped for a moment so that he could compose himself. "What is the cause, of your grief... sir?" I inquired, and he said to me: "My grief is without end... for the reason that I shall relate to you. You see: I took it into my head to protect that child, at all costs. So I asked the mother if she could take us unto the safest place in the entire village, wherever that was. She then bade the child and I to follow her. It was upon the fifth hour of the afternoon by now, and night still very distant. Summer is yet a good time for escaping the dead. Better than autumn, let me assure you! But even in such a season, fate can be cruel. We came to another cottage, but this other one was locked... and a maidservant informed us that the place was being repainted, so we could not enter. That was when the mother, Suzanne, brought her daughter and I back to the hill and there laid out a blanket on the grass and strongly ordered both Cecelia and I to share it, and to remain seated thus, until early morning. I then noticed... a cross was emblazoned upon the blanket. 'Is this the safest place... in the village?' I so asked Suzanne, who was now speaking with another woman who had just come to converse with her. 'It is the only safe place.' Replied Suzanne. So I lay back, looking at the sky. All of a sudden... Cecelia had plopped herself atop me and her bright face was looking down on me like an angel. 'Brother... I... want to leave this village if you would take me away. My mother cannot protect us both forever, and surely your home is a far safer place than mine?' I did find this curious, for the child knew very much without knowing in any certain manner. She had a true gift for inner sight... reading my thoughts with a precision I was starting to find a bit unsettling. I went to speak and she kissed my left cheek. I went to speak again, and she kissed my right cheek. She reminded me of some playful puppy, and I realized! She had no father I saw... and not one sibling. I was like both to her, and I found myself thinking of her as my own, the more I was around her. Perhaps that was what drove me to protect her so... or perhaps something about us that was, kindred on a deeper level. I will never know, now. All I knew in that hour, is that she made me laugh, and I loved her for that, at least... as I needed joy."

"Night, had fallen, and still the heat of the summer was hot upon the land... the living dead were all gathering, in the woods near the village, and likely those woods I had been warned to stay clear of as well. Probably: off to feed upon some prey... without alerting the living. I could hear their screaming, moaning, and animal-like cries. It was as if this hill upon which we sat was perched between the living realm, and that of the restless, evil dead. Other children were upon the hilltop as well, each kept safe upon some cross blanket like the one I and Cecelia sat on. But not one adult was to be seen, save for myself. All had seemingly vanished, or gone indoors. That was when a horrible fear overtook me. 'We, are going to be sacrificed! My gods, they are going to feed us to the undead...' and at once I took Cecelia into my arms and ran down the hill, towards the old wall made of stone that surrounded the village. As we neared it, the dead swarmed around us, but I spied a safe path and, with the girl still in my arms, pursued it. Soon... we came to a large pile of old cloths, and we hid beneath. The entire night, we thusly remained hidden whilst outside the fiends tore up some animals and from what I could discern fed upon them. No people could they find to thus gorge their appetites on! We would not have been sacrifices, after all, and I had led us into peril for nothing. At this point, I intended to grant Cecelia her wish, and take her back to my home with me, away from this village of the dead, where she could be safest in my care forever. Dawn had risen, and the dead went back amongst the living, to masquerade as living beings themselves. It was time to leave, and I led Cecelia by the arm to the edge of the village. But, not sooner did we reach the road than the girl took ill. The farther we got away from the place, the worse she became, and by the time I got her to my home she was on death’s door. Whilst I cared for her... a thick mist built up beyond my house... like a living thing, with it’s own terrible will and power. Soon, I realized there was nothing as I could do... and I just held her. I held Cecelia in my arms, and watched ever so helpless as her life left her body. Her final words to me were: 'I do love you, brother. Thank you for freeing me from that place!' Her last act: was to kiss me, removing her gift of sight from me. I had to bring her back to her mother. I had to carry her all that way... to face my failure and Suzanne’s anger at my foolishness. I wept, ceaselessly. I kept kissing the dead child's face. Her left cheek: then her right. Then, I bid her farewell and I commended her to her mother's arms. I: nearly passed out. My final whisper, unto Cecelia, was: "I do love you, too, my daughter in spirit!"

"Suzanne told me that those within the village could never leave, because the place had the power to keep them there. Taking them away meant death. But there was one like me, she explained: a girl, just a little bit older than poor, lost Cecelia had been, who also had the gift of second sight. 'Take her, and leave! Neither of you should have to suffer... of our doom.' Was the last I heard from the grieving mother. She forgave me... and she said I was too brave to see the truth before. I agreed... and then went to the hill... where, a small gathering of some happy children: were playing. Ah they were playing! Just like any a normal bunch of kids... as if nothing had ever happened. Amongst their number was this girl with curly, reddish brown hair and green eyes that sparkled like emeralds. She wore a child's version of a gypsy dress, and I so knew her to be the one that Suzanne spoke of, from the description she had given me before we parted ways. Her name was Holly... and, I called to her: 'Holly, you and I are going home. To my home... which will be yours ever after. What say you?' and so Holly rushed madly into my arms, this reminding me much of Cecelia's manner. She said, wet tears in her eyes, that she had formerly been Cecelia's closest friend, and she asked me what became of her. I did tell her the truth; and we cried together, finding much solace and comfort, in our shared sorrow. 'We can just leave, right now, Holly...' I then explained even through my tears: 'We do not have to... watch each other die... like I had to watch dear Cecelia.' And she asked me why Cecelia often called me 'brother'... and how it was Suzanne knew my name. I told her of the sight that it was revealed as they possessed, and that she too was said to possess. As to why the girl was always calling me 'brother', I reasoned it was because she saw within me a kindred spirit. Why else, would she have shared her deepest perception with me... as she did? Holly then called me by name, and did say to me: 'Let us depart this land of blood, and tears.' And, having never told her my name... I knew she, indeed, had that sight and was the one I sought. So, we left for the road to my distant house. I held her hand, and I began to cry at once. She said to me, strongly: 'I, am not going to die on you... father. So, please, do not weep any more! Find your strength in my love for you, and find your purpose in loving me as you loved Cecelia. It can overcome death itself!' On hearing this, I picked her up and I kissed her left cheek, then her right. I was happy and thought we had... won."

"Upon the way home, little Holly and I noticed that the mists which I had seen earlier were still present, and growing thicker. By the time she and I were at my house, all outside was a gray world containing nothing but howling winds. Then, a thought came to me, and I did ask Holly to kiss me in the same manner Cecelia had done; and no sooner had our lips met than the gift of second sight returned to me once more. I peered out of the window, and saw that those mists were all alive, and reaching out for my house like hands. Suddenly, Cecelia was standing between Holly and I... where I could not see her before. She asked me how much I was willing to sacrifice to keep Holly from the village... forever. For, it was revealed, the odd village wanted to keep her for it's own despite her being an outsider who had lived in that place... but had not been born to anyone there. 'How, could you be here? I saw your life leave you!' I remarked. Holly then saw Cecelia's new ghost, and let out a shriek. 'Brother... the mists are a gateway, unto many other realms! Some realms where the dead may so speak with the living as I speak to you now. Your sight makes the power much keener, and the gift is what is now calling the mists. So many with the gift: all drawn to you. But do tell me... oh my dearest brother, dear heart, what would you be willing to sacrifice... for Holly to be spared the full horror of my fate?' And I confessed that I would give anything, even my very soul: if that was what was required. Cecelia then said in a deeply commanding voice: 'So be it!' and, the mists did become almost a pearly white. Suddenly, they faded, becoming darker and darker, until soon they were gone entirely. When I looked out the window once more, I saw... that we were not in the same place where we had been. This world, this domain you call 'Ravenloft' at times, brought me here... and Holly also. However, we were not the same as we had once been before we... arrived. Although, perhaps, our love has gotten stronger, deeper, although in ways less innocent than it had once been, as time went on... much has changed, markedly. You see my friend... I am now fully of this realm, and so is Holly, and so we have become like shadows of all that we were. And, truly we are content! Do you find that odd... or perhaps eccentric?"

Then I noticed it! The old man was not old, as I had thought... his flesh, was wrinkled as it was for a very different reason. He had become, a lich! He then clicked his long and sharp fingernails together... and that little girl, with curly, reddish brown hair, and piercing green eyes came out of her room, very much dressed like a gypsy. She opened her mouth to smile, and every tooth in her mouth was sharpened like unto small fangs. What she had become had no name. The demon-child sat upon the lap of the lich, in every way a parody of a normal child, and it's father. She kissed him on the left cheek, then on the right... and he thusly said to me: "Perhaps you should leave now, my human friend. You do have your macabre story, and now my dear daughter is growing rather hungry at this hour. For your life’s safe... you should depart. Your blood is warm, and it is our doom that we drink such." And depart I did! Since that very day, I have not returned to that part of the land. I did hear... that it lies within the domain of a powerful lich-lord, and that the lich I had spoken to, he was a favorite of the lich-lord’s court. But, how was I to know? I had come seeking a story, and I have left with more of the truth than my fragile mind, was willing to accept. May the gods, have mercy on me! For, I have known death's company.

And, in this way, the patient finished his mad tale... straining, against his straightjacket, as he slumped back into the corner of the padded cell. The tall physician looked over the insane man's journal, seeing that it was all as the patient said it was. "So, this was what drove this poor devil so mad!" he said, casually, but with a hint of surprise. The physician... then said to a female assistant: "Schedule my next week off. I am going to travel to the land where you found this man. I should like, to meet this supposed lich... and see for myself if dark magic truly can overcome death... where our science cannot." At that, the patient laughed very madly... saying: "Be my guest, good doctor! It is a small matter, and there is always room for one more in these cells!" and this changed the physician's mind. "On second thought, cancel my trip. I need more time... to work with the patients, after all. Yes... that would be so much safer. So much safer for me... indeed!"

- End –

Of Liches and Madmen © Chaos_Theocrat

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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