Deep within the myriad winding paths of Destinen Wood, the overgrown forest trails open up to become sun-dappled pathways. Where thorny growth had obstructed travelers, here smooth flagstones of weathered marble lead past alabaster statues of exquisite beauty. Flowered creepers and ivy climb intricate wooden trellises and sheltering gazebos in hidden grottoes; despite their obvious age, these decorative structures are as solid and beautiful as the moment that they were first crafted. After sunset, night-blooming flowers and dancing fireflies transform the paths into a wonderland of mystery and natural beauty.
These vistas of faerie wonder are soon supplanted by images of uttermost horror: Past the initial turnings of the labyrinthine paths, they are often lined with dozens of disemboweled bodies, impaled against trees. These are the victims of centuries of the Unseleigh Court's justice, their spirits bound within their bodies by the ruthless Aelfen necromancer Mortemayne, grim Castellan of the Court of Dark Memory. At night, these twitching, tortured undead glow with alien phosphorescence, a bizarre corpse-light drawn from their very souls. The unnaturally gnarled trees sway and writhe in the uncanny phosphorescence as the imprisoned victims tug feebly at the stakes impaling them.
One familiar with Destinen Wood's horrifying legends might know to turn back at this point, for they have reached The Court of Dark Memory, whose fey inhabitants are all too eager to welcome visitors into their inhuman amusements.
Guardians of the Twisting Path
While it is rare for unexpected guests to encounter any of the Aelfen folk of the Court at this stage, these outermost gardens are not untenanted. The dreadful composite undead known as Bound Ones wander these paths, undead guardians placed by the Dark Lady's Castellan, Mortemayne. The impaled bodies found along the paths give them an ample source of new material if they are damaged, so they are even more formidable threats when encountered there.
Members of the Dark Lady's sadistic guardian soldiery, the Gardein Hwit, also stalk patiently among the bewildering garden labyrinth. Their keen eyes watch for intruders, eager to capture them and bring them before their misshapen ruler.
Even the flowers and plants lining the pathways can be lethal. The products of subtle enchantment, many of them are surprisingly dangerous, with strangely toxic saps and magical effects. Such deadly flora as lush Springthorn Ivy, which entwines those approaching it in strangling, constricting vines (and causes an irritating, if harmless, rash), clambers across elegant statues and climbs up the trunks of gnarled Heresiarch Trees, whose roots trap the feet of unwary passerby and slowly drain their blood.
Towering Giant Foxglove flowers spill forth clouds of dangerous pollen when disturbed and bizarre, magical flowers called Morphweed transform all that touch them, causing unwary passerby to suddenly sprout tufts of grassy growth, odd flowers, or vine-like tendrils.
Those passing these haunted gardens will find themselves looking out over the secret heart of accursed Destinen Wood. Strange mists obscure much of the vista before them, but the labyrinthine gardens encircle a massive pit or quarry, its sheer walls overgrown with millennia of moss and lichen. Hidden within the mists, a black and sinister lake waits far below. Through occasional breaks in the omnipresent mist, sheer-sided islands can be made out in the pit's depths, their crowns covered with fantastic and intricately-adorned structures. This is the true home of the Court of Dark Memory.
The marble stairway down into the pit is broad and well built, with plants and mosses covering its ancient stonework. A subtle hazard grows among these plants: The intoxicating Flutter Bloom, which deludes those unfortunates inhaling its potent scent into believing that they are effortlessly flying. The rocky shore far below bears the bloodstains of those who have fallen to the blooms' allure.
Additional guardians await within: Strangely warped soldiers of the Gardein Hwit clamber agilely over the mossy walls of the pit, nimbly grasping the stone with jagged claws that project from each of their joints. These warriors, the Clingclifs, are gifted archers. The descent of those visiting their shadow-haunted court of their liege will be watched carefully by these spider-like guardians.
The Path of Bone
Those successfully traversing the 320 stairs that wind into the misty depths will next encounter a strange and eerie sight. A delicate bridge, seemingly carven from thousands of yellowed bones, reaches from the land toward the islands that house the Unseleigh court beyond. Spires and turreted towers can be made out through the mists beyond, rising like dreams or visions within the perpetually foggy pit.
The Court of Dark Memory
The Halls of the Court of Dark Memory are an echo of ages long past, when the elder races held sway over the pristine land. Their lofty arches and intricate arabesques are decorated with the figures of elves and other races, their shapes strangely abstracted and distorted. Intricate decoration covers every surface, with inlaid metals and stone adorning ancient hardwoods.
Strangers reaching this dark court may be surprised to be welcomed after the deadly trials they have endured, 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 bizarre creatures that dwell within these strange halls are barely recognizable as Aelfen folk, for all have been touched by the corrupting magic of the Twystened Sidhe. Small groups of courtiers will greet newcomers with the insanely convoluted couplets of archaic Aelfen poetry and vaguely alarming non-sequitors. These strange comments, unnerving and bizarre, are a sort of test. The courtiers seek to discover how knowledgable their guests are about the Unseleigh Court's ways. Those who show themselves to be well versed in Aelfen culture will be treated much more cautiously than those ignorant of their ways.
Folk of the Court
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. All of them bear signs of the corrupting touch of the Dark Lady of Destinen, and those few whose corruption takes the form of madness instead of physical disfigurement are perhaps the most disturbing of all.
Many of the Aelfen folk are servants, slaves, or thralls, each covered with the scars of a lifetime of serving the cruel and powerful. These wretched souls are magically bound to serve: Many will break out in bloody welts if they even think of fleeing their bondage. Despite this, many of them harbor deeply hidden dreams of freedom, yearnings they cannot deny, no matter what the cost. Others grasp at any hope of advancement within their servile ranks, betraying and conspiring to gain the favor of their masters.
Among the courtiers, one of the most forward is the androgynous being known as Regal Twain, whose shifting features constantly transform between a rough male appearance and an ethereally frail female form. Regal Twain prefers to be addressed as whichever gender he (or she) most resembles at the time. The hermaphrodite would love to subtly steer strangers into conflict with Mortemayne, the Dark Lady's Castellan. If Mortemayne loses the Lady's favor, Regal Twain may be able to seize his position.
Mortemayne loyally rules over the household of the Dark Lady, ensuring that the Twistened Sidhe's needs are well met. He decided centuries ago that no suffering is too great, if it frees the courtiers from the Horned Lord's curse, so he doesn't hesitate to manipulate anyone he meets in his quest to seek new and potent magical powers that might cure their affliction. Mortemayne appears untouched by the curse, but this seeming is mostly illusion: His true appearance is one of such gruesome horror that it makes his necromantic creations seem tame by comparison.
"Panthress" is another one of the court's subtle predators. An Aelfen maid whose shapely form is covered with colorful fan-like growths that flutter and shake with each passing breeze, she wears a veil to obscure her unnerving compound eyes. Panthress seeks to someday supplant the Dark Lady in her rule. She also seeks magical power, but does so through guile and stealthy theft. Given the chance, Panthress is likely to slip subtle elixirs of control into the food or drink of those who might aid her schemes.
Additional information can be found in the following areas: The Twystened Sidhe, sinister ruler of a grotesque court. The Horned Lord, once a powerful lord of the Court of the Unseleigh, long gone from the lands of men. Mortemayne, the Castellan of the Court of Dark Memory. The Gardein Hwit, the Aelfen personal guard of the Dark Lady, now distorted and terrifying as their mistress. Haunted Destinen Wood, defiled and warped by the malign influence of the Twystened Sidhe. The Bound Ones, revolting undead that guard the approaches to the Twystened Lady's stronghold within the forest. Bellowes Beastes, perversions of nature, reshaped to become the favored pets of the Dark Lady.
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? Responses (7)-7
Quite a dangerous place to be.
And quite an interesting place, with a certain dream-like quality, though decidedly on the dark side of dreaming. The Mortemayne link seems to be broken, you may want to fix that (or just note that it will be posted later).
The victims of the local justice are a particularly nice detail. I could imagine an expedition to actually consult one for their wisdom, or whatever remains of it. In fact, there should be some creature sneaking around, doing just this, listening to their words... and their pain and insanity. I wonder what that creature would be like...
Mortemayne has been fixed, now all that remains to be completed are the subs for the Horned Lord, the Gardein Hwit, and poor Sir Palomar.
A classic set of subs!
I had this one almost done a few months ago, but I decided to put it on the back burner when Valadaar's Unseen Fortress appeared.
Given their similar subject matter, one could easily use ideas from one to supplement the other.
Wow this is a rather dangerous, but interesting place to be...