Spirit of Discord
***This is my very first Ravenloft FanFiction – don't rail against it too badly, please. :D The characters of Maverick and Cedryc are mine completely but Strahd, Barovia, etc etc. all belong to Ravenloft and Wizards of the Coast. Just thought I'd clear it up. Enjoy!!***
There was no end to the death. The hills stretched on for miles and the bodies on the grass were as abundant as clouds in the dark, angry sky. The remaining men were still fighting; battle lust consuming them like rage that drove them on well past their physical limits. On the brink of exertion, they still stood, blood swords and axes making chops and swings, more heads went flying, fresh blood and gore would spray in all directions and paint the battlefield an even deeper shade of red. Maverick licked his thin dry lips and sighed. Such a waste…! Ever practical, he wasn't ever one to waste good blood, and he couldn't understand why men insisted on waging their pointless wars that left perfectly good blood spoiled and the bodies mutilated beyond recognition so that absolutely nothing could be harvested. He sat back in his chair and set the crystal sphere back down on the table, unable to look on. Such a waste, such a terrible waste…
Shivering, Maverick pulled his thick black fur blanket around his shoulders even tighter, trying to shut out the chill. Bitterly, he realized that a blanket had little to no effect when the chill was emanating from inside rather than out. Sighing, he shrugged the blanket off slightly, and ran his hand over his head. Whoever might be watching would only see his careful illusion of a frail man in his late thirties, with deeply tanned skin running a hand through his shock of blonde hair. Underneath the illusion, the reality was bone scraping against bone as his skeletal hand ran over the remaining tufts of white hair that still clung to his skull. Everything about him, down to his expensive yet worn clothes, was an illusion. The fur blanket hung depressingly useless over his narrow shoulders, and the chair, though plush, was uncomfortable. Of course, he was a lich. Liches weren't supposed to feel comfort, or warmth, or anything, really. They were dead things, not even bearing the title of "undead" such as a vampire might. They were literally dead, their bodies and minds animated by magicks so black and filthy not even the most daring of sorcerers dared trod their path.
The scraping of key against lock grated painfully against his sharp hearing, sharper than even the keenest of elves'. The iron door creaked open on rusty hinges, and Rhyes, Maverick's old and devoted human servant, stepped in the room holding a battered tray that had seen one age too many, and on top of it was a bottle of dark purple wine and a glass.
"I thought you might want something to drink, sir." Rhyes explained in a voice shaky with age. His trembling hands picked up the bottle by the neck and he proceeded to fill the glass with the dark, plum-colored liquid. The wine was ash in Maverick's mouth, but it was the keeping of such customs that were a somewhat comfort in making him feel like he still had a scrap of humanity. Or at least they had, once upon a time, these days they seemed more like habit.
Maverick didn't thank him, and Rhyes did not require thanks. Instead the old servant silently swept up the bottle and glass once it was evident his master was finished, and he walked out the way he had come, pausing to bolt the door once again.
Ultimately bored, but physically incapable of performing any activities, Maverick heaved a dry rattling sigh and picked up the crystal ball again. The war had long ended, and the soldiers had abandoned their dead, which the scavenging crows were now making a feast of. Waste, waste, waste.
"Eternal boredom," came a familiar, sneering voice from beside the chair. "Didn't picture that in your glorious fantasies when you killed me, did you?"
"I didn't picture an eternal annoyance, either," Maverick's voice was scratchy and thin, a result of too many centuries misuse.
"Beginning to wonder if it was all worth it?" the voice continued to taunt as it drew a little closer. "After so many centuries of slowly decaying while you remained aware of the process, of having to waste precious magic on covering up, only to waste more magic to keep the illusion pulsing and strong, even when there is no one around any longer to see you in your sorry state?"
"Enough!" Maverick hissed, and waved his hand irritably. It went right through the ghost that sat perched on the arm of his chair, which made the ghost chuckle – only further fueling his anger. "Away from me, Cedryc, I've no use for you."
"You never did," there was a hint of venom in the ghost's hollow voice.
Maverick ignored the bitter tone, and lifted his hand weakly, wincing as if it pained him to do even that. He glared darkly at what he knew appeared to be a very tan flesh-and-blood human hand. He saw right through the magick. It was just a limp, skeletal hand, long dry of all body fluids; the only thing on it was the simple beaten copper band that held all the magicks that kept the illusion together.
"If I were to remove this ring," he whispered so that it could barely be heard. "I would be a pile of dry bones. Nothing more."
"Depressing," Cedryc responded unsympathetically. "Ever think of doing it and ending this miserable existence? Setting us both free?"
"There is nothing I would like more, sometimes," his eyes rolled to the corners of their sockets pointedly. "Then I remember what brought me to this in the first place."
"Pride and greed?" Cedryc suggested.
"It's here in this castle, Cedryc, I know it is." He ignored the ghost completely, and was speaking to himself. "If I had the strength, I would never cease my search until I found it."
"What delayed you, all those years?" Cedryc asked sardonically. "Ah yes, that's right. You were off conquering worlds, convinced you were immortal, convinced no blade could smite you, no magicks could harm you…"
"And they couldn't," Maverick smirked with the memory, his thin lips vanishing altogether. "I slaughtered men by the thousands and soaked up their lives, their blood ran from my pores, their souls I kept in a glass jar and drank, I was a god in their eyes. A great and terrifying god!"
"And then this," Cedryc said with a note of satisfaction. "The fall of a god, you became weak, your skin began to harden and peel, your flesh began to rot, maggots made homes in your eyes and you wandered the world like some shambling leper. Then you pulled out your books and used the last of what magick they contained to create this grand illusion. To keep the great god and king alive in the hearts of men. But that didn't happen, did it? You no longer had any magick, you fell from memory when you couldn't perform any wonders, it was a time of peace, and gods were no longer required in day-to-day life. You fled to this infested rat hole that you have the nerve to call a castle and became just a man. And after that, a ghost. Like me."
A painfully long silence followed those words. Maverick spent it staring into the distance, lost in his thoughts, memories of long ago…
Cedryc shifted restlessly, moving from one end of the room to the other, unable to drift in one spot for long.
Hours passed, or perhaps days? Both lich and ghost had long lost any concept of the passing of time … it mattered little to either of them anymore. Mortal life was as fleeting as the tiny white flowers that blossomed on the weeds that wrapped around the stones of the windowsill. The only sign of life at all in the castle.
Finally, Maverick spoke again.
"Cedryc, make yourself useful, bring me my spellbook."
"You exhausted all those spells, remember?" Cedryc replied testily, his voice fading in and out. "And you can't learn any new ones. That is part of your curse. And if you ask me, this whole thing has more curse than merit, so just yank the ring off your finger and end our misery."
"I just had a thought," Maverick replied, without acknowledging Cedryc's suggestion. "Now bring me my spellbook."
Cedryc shook his head, and vanished through the closed door. A moment later, the door opened, and Rhyes stumbled in, holding a thick leather bound spellbook in his shaking hands. He set the book in his master's lap, and Maverick shooed the servant away once more, taking a moment to run his hands along the cracked binding and marvel at how little magic there was left.
It had been left to decay for years, he couldn't even remember the last time he had opened it. The last few pages had lumped together into a soggy mass, and the parchment had gone yellow and fragile with age. He slid his finger along the edge and then delicately opened it up. Once, he recalled, the pages had been filled with spells and incantations, a collection of his that had been compiled over the years. And as each spell was used again and again, the ink had begun to fade, and once Maverick had used up all the magic, it would vanish completely.
Eventually, all the pages of the book were blank.
Save for one, he knew from the very, very faint pulse of magic (like placing your finger on a dying heartbeat) that there was still one spell left within the many pages of the volume.
"Have you the strength?" it wasn't so much as a sarcastic remark against his physical strength as to his ability to conjure up the necessary power.
"I will find the strength," Maverick's voice was no louder than a sigh. He began to painfully slowly turn the pages, and search each blank page carefully, making sure he missed nothing, not even the faintest trace of ink.
"Here it is," he said at last. He lifted the book a little closer to his face, his arms trembling with the effort, and could just barely make out the faded words, written in loose, flowing handwriting across the page. The description underneath the spell was brief, 'good for finding lost things'.
He mustered everything he had in him, drawing together his power, he began to recite as loudly as he could, "Averium Shaktra."