Near the border of the King’s lands, beyond the fields men know, stands an ancient forest, wild and impassible. Humble villages have grown up near the gloomy forest, cottages built with sod and stone, but made with nary a branch from that twisted woodland. The people of these impoverished hamlets stay well clear, never venturing beneath the canopy of that fey-haunted place, for they know that the Twystened Sidhe claims all that lies within Destinen Wood.
The Trespass of Sir Palomar
Sir Palomar gazed about him warily before he bent down to pick up the pheasant his arrow had struck. The dead bird seemed ill-formed, with its head devoid of feathers and its legs oddly misshapen. Worse, he could see that the thing’s eyes were as the multifaceted eyes of an insect, rather that those of a bird. “Truly this wood
accursed!” he told his squire, Richelm. “Perhaps the traveler’s tales are true and we had best be gone ere nightfall!”
Richelm nodded his fearful agreement, unnerved by the uncanny bird. Twilight was approaching, and the superstitious villagers had told the two men that anyone that strayed into Destinen after nightfall would be lost forever. As he looked around, Richelm realized with dawning horror that he could no longer spot the footpath that they had traveled to reach that point. Although no wind was noticeable, an ominous rustling was audible, as if the trees were whispering, one to another. As the day’s light faded, fear began to grow in the young squire.
A Dark and Twystened Place
As one approaches the haunted forest known as Destinen Wood, it is hard to resist a sense of foreboding. The trees themselves are bent and warped, almost resembling figures writhing in agony. Footpaths fool the eye, as what seems a clear trail one moment is discovered to be a dead end when one tries to navigate it. Illusions and enchantments have been woven over these paths, meant to bewilder the enemies of the Twystened Sidhe, the Dark Lady of Destinen. Only one bearing her favor is able to freely travel the forest’s paths; others will often discover they have become lost.
The disorienting magic of the trails is only the first of Destinen’s many baffling mysteries. The temperature within the wood is warmer than the surrounding lands and the humidity higher, so the forest is often deluged with rain, even if the nearby villages are parched. Those within the wood may find themselves bathed in sticky sweat, a magnet for the land’s numerous biting insects. Alarmingly, sound does not propagate normally among the gnarled trees and patches of thorny briars: Someone calling from within 30 feet may sound like a distant echo, while strange snatches of sound, like the sinister laughter of the Dark Lady’s courtiers, may carry for miles.
The Abominations of Destinen
While wildlife and birds appear to be abundant within Destinen’s wild growth, closer examination will reveal that these creatures are often distorted and warped from the shapes normal to their species. Numerous wild and bizarre creatures dwell in the twisted forest; chimerical monstrosities, some never before beheld by mortals, haunt the impenetrable thickets and shadowy clearings beneath the ancient, gnarled trees. Some of these creatures are deadly pets of the woods’ dark mistress, while others are mortals, curst and distorted in body and mind after they displeased the capricious Fae that rules this evil place.
The pitiful creatures known as “Sheel Deer” are commonplace within the forest, their segmented carapaces rattling as they hide within the many thickets and tangled undergrowth of the woodland. Slower than normal deer, the mottled surface of the rigid shells covering them camouflages well within the dense undergrowth.
The disgusting Bellowes Beastes, while rare elsewhere, here are found in profusion. Many of these creatures are the loyal pets of the Twystened Sidhe, and will fearlessly attack intruders, all the while uttering the deep, echoing roars peculiar to their kind.
Other threats that wander wild within the baffling pathways of Destinen include any number of bizarre, unique hybrids. The massive freak called the Bluthold hunts both intruders and unwary inhabitants of the forest with an unsleeping malice. A many-legged abomination that resembles a hellish amalgam of a tick and a huge bear, this creature’s shrewd tactics and twisted evil suggest that was once a thinking being, reshaped and accursed by the twisted Lady of Destinen. This horror prefers to strike from ambush, seizing foes in its four powerful forelimbs as it attempts to bite and drain the victim’s blood. After exsanguinating its victim, the vile creature will often shred the remains into small pieces, so that the remains can be devoured. While it avoids the sadistic Elvish patrols of the Gardein Hwit, it will not hesitate to attack others it may encounter.
The unsettling creature called the Moniton is one of the few abominations of the forest that is unlikely to immediately attack those it encounters. A misshapen, roughly humanoid mass of drooling mouths and blind eyes, it crawls through the forest pleading incoherently for someone to cure its accursed state. A few of its innumerable eyes still retain some ability to see, so it will accost strangers, desperately trying to enlist their aid in its campaign against the Twystened Sidhe. While it can be killed, those bitten by it may find themselves transformed into a similar pathetic horror. The creature does not ordinarily use this power on those it meets, but if it is attacked, it will ruthlessly defend itself. Once a foe is overcome by the thing’s curse, the original moniton will attempt to overpower the newly accursed creature, devouring it if possible. While this horror is determined to end the reign of the Dark Lady, it is also quite mad, and loses its train of thought with every shift of its amorphous form.
The Hunted Ones
A handful of refugees have hidden in the forest, once enslaved by the cruel Aelfen courtiers of the Court of Dark Memory. The Aelfen, although unforgiving, are not completely unjust, so most of these wretches were enslaved as punishment for crimes against the folk of the forest. Those wretches the Aelfen claim as slaves are bound with enchantments that prevent their escape from the gloomy wood. While the spells that she has used to enshroud the forest in confusion can make it difficult for intruders to find their way about, the Twystened Sidhe’s binding magics make it completely impossible for these unfortunate thralls to find a way out of the forest. Trapped by her magic, the Lady’s enemies spend their days hidden, hoping each night that she will not decide to hunt them down and kill them or reshape them with her vile magics.
The Paths of the Punished
Sir Palomar staggered away from the thicket, his wounded squire Richelm a heavy burden. The unnatural thing that had ensnared them had clung to poor Richelm, tearing him with its vicious spikes; he had been gravely injured before Palomar’s blade finished it. Palomar silently prayed that he would find a way to escape the accursed wood before Richelm was beyond hope of a chiurgeon’s care.
Reaching a spot where the trail met some sort of forest road, Palomar paused. The road ahead was lined with corpses, each one barbarically impaled, dangling from trees with spears through their chests. The stench of rot almost made the knight gag, but when he saw their feeble twitching, the corpses’ agonized struggle to free themselves from the impaling spears, he fell to his knees and vomited.
As one approaches the central groves of Destinen Wood, the forest takes on a deceptively bright and cheerful aspect. During the day, it can be seen that the central paths are wide and well cared for; in the moonlight, they glow with night-blooming flowers and dancing fireflies. Intruders among these deceptively tranquil grottoes will soon discover new horrors, even more terrifying than the woods’ previous encounters. There, impaled against trees, are the remains of those who have angered the courtiers of the Twystened Sidhe. These unfortunates were not merely slain; the Aelfen necromancer Mortemayne has “restored” them, making them into pitiful and accursed undead. These things writhe and twitch, impaled in eternal agony.
Worse yet are the guardian creatures that lurk at the crossings between the paths: A type of uncanny composite undead, disgusting, freakish horrors called Bound Ones. Surprisingly fast, these hellish watchers lurk near many of the junctions and intersections of the forest’s labyrinthine trails, where they ferociously attack any who fail to display the favors of the Twystened Sidhe or her Court.
The Court of Dark Memory
Near the center of the forest are the hidden halls that house The Court of Dark Memory, one of the last bastions of the Unseleigh Courts. The bizarre courtiers that dwell within these strange halls are barely recognizable as Aelfen folk, for they have been touched by the corrupting magic of the Twystened Sidhe. The folk of the Unseleigh Courts have always been wilder and more varied than the “Elves” of the Seleigh Courts, but these creatures have been shifted in strange and terrifying ways. Mortemayne, the Castellan of this strange place, rules over the household of the Dark Lady, ensuring that the Twistened Sidhe’s needs are well met. Strangers coming to this place may be surprised to be welcomed after the deadly trials they have endured to reach the dark court, but the Unseleigh Aelfen courtiers are eager to greet newcomers: If they are not amusing and novel, then perhaps they will be useful pawns in the courtiers’ Byzantine power struggles.
The Gardein Hwit
The most distorted and tortured of the corrupted Aelfen, these creatures are the personal guard of the Twistened Sidhe. Forever bound to loyally serve their liege, they were once Faerie Knights of the Unseleigh Courts, haughty and beautiful, deadly and subtle. The guardians of the Gardein Hwit have fallen far from the paragons they once were.
These hellish guardians have each been reshaped into unnerving monstrosities, each combining strange aspects of horror and beauty. The bizarre alterations and perversion of their once-beautiful forms fill many of them with wrath and despair, an unending anger that can only be expressed against those outside the Court of Dark Memory. Magically compelled to be true to their charge, they cannot betray her: They patrol the forest, discharging their duties with as much cruelty and sadism as possible. Filled with suffering, they make all around them suffer.
The Court of Nemeroud Helletouched, the Fallen King
The Dark Memory is not the only court that remains in the haunted Destinen Wood. One of the Twystened Sidhe’s lovers retained his majesty, if not his humanity. Most of the Dark Lady’s victims are hunted and slain by her courtiers and their dark guardians, but she ordered that Nemeroud not be molested: She would not have her court slay a king, even if he was only a king of men. The terrifying creature that once was monarch over all the land still lives within the forest, hidden and exiled. Altered from the shape and limits of humanity, King Nemeroud has lingered within these woods for hundreds of years. He tried to return to live among men a few times, but gave up hope: A creature seemingly crafted of burning stone, clad eternally in royal robes that likewise burn with cold blue fire, the Helletouched King is a nightmare, not a ruler.
Insane, yet strangely wise, King Nemeroud holds court within a hidden grotto. A throne crudely carved from the remains of a hollow tree dominates the stony hollow, sheltered by towering oaks, perhaps the only unwarped trees in the whole forest. There he dispenses his off-beat wisdom and deranged (yet, not unsound) advice to a motley group of courtiers: A few Aelfen exiles, an elderly knight, and a handful of animals. The Aelfen exiles are strange and fey beyond even others of their kind. His lone human courtier is the aged knight Sir Dernwulf, who swore to discover the fate of the last of the High Kings nearly 50 years ago. The knight’s quest successful, he was touched by the plight of the ancient monarch, and chose to remain with him in the forest. The oddest members of his court are a family of strangely intelligent foxes. These creatures silently wait on the lost king, bringing him the strangely-mutated game of the forest for his food and silently giving warning when strangers approach.