The voice is that of a youthful maiden, a furtive whisper without a pause for breath.
Every city has them – the shunned and abandoned places, where even beggars do not go. The places where tortured deaths have stained the world, where nightmares bloom in darkness, and where things from beyond await a whispered word to grant them passage.
Not so far from here is one of the worst. Gather now ye who dream, and hear my words. Let us peer into the past, across the veil of some two centuries. There burns a spark of flame, a rage to set the world afire.
Caught in crystal, the glitter of lighting-spells scattered a myriad colored rays across the grand ballroom and those therein assembled – a hundred costumed nobles and their entourages of servants and guards. Tensions ran high – but the king had promised dire retribution upon any who breached his peace, and none were foolish enough to challenge that directly
Lord Chalding was the last of his direct line and the banquet was being given by some of his political enemies – but failing to attend was unthinkable; it would allow those enemies to deal and maneuver unchallenged.
The drink was not poisoned, or corrosive, or primed to explode in alchemical flames. None of the usual spells or detections reacted. It was far more subtle than that. That night his sleep was deep – and grew deeper, a stasis so profound that even divination showed him dead. Resurrection was attempted, and, of course, failed. Interrogations were conducted – but his enemies denied before spells of truth that they had harmed Lord Chalding in any way, and denied as well that any agents of theirs had brought him harm.
And it was true. THEY had not harmed him – but Lord Chalding, his spirit entrapped in his undying but quiescent flesh, felt the knives that probed, the casual brutalities of being prepared for burial – and was buried as he had requested amongst his beloved gardens. There roots grew in and through him, and worms ate, and he felt it all – as his maddened, anguished, and yet undying spirit too was absorbed by the eager, burrowing, roots along with his flesh.
And hatred burned within the trees and flowers, within the very worms that crawled – and from ruined flesh, and twisted soul, and charnal worm a horrid life grew and flexed it’s wooden limbs, felt the pulsing of it’s crawling nerves, and opened a thousand jaws of mold and vermin, unholy strengths growing across the years. His old enemies had taken his house – and one day a daughter of the clan was wandering the gardens, and pricked a finger upon a thorn, and bled – and a scattering of crimson drops, the blood of his enemies, brought focus, purpose, and a target to the brooding malignance that Lord Chalding had become at last.
And through all the tortured horror of her death, the girl was not permitted to scream.
The search through the gardens and beyond for the missing girl failed to find her bones, now deep beneath the earth in Chalding’s fleshless arms – but led to many small injuries from a thousand thorns. And that night, in the silence beneath the crescent of the moon, thorny vines moved and strangled, wooden limbs struck and crushed, and the vermin of the fields crawled, and bit, and poisoned – and the descendents of Lord Chaldings enemies vanished, leaving only parts of bodies partially pulled beneath the hungry gardens, a few marks of desperate defenses, and thirsty earth well-watered by a river of blood.
And the voice falls silent – and beside each awakening dreamer lies a single blood-red rose.
Despite his endless torment, Lord Chalding cannot (or will not) surrender to death and pass beyond while any descendants of his enemies endure – and, every so often, blood is drawn from an unknowing scion to fall upon the earth and another bloody death or disappearance will follow. Perhaps bloodstained bones will be found scattered amongst flowers and trees, perhaps those same bones will be found bound down by suddenly-sprouting roses and devoured by vermin in their own beds, and – far more likely – perhaps no trace of the victim will ever be found.
With it’s primary claimants vanished, distant relatives disputed the ownership of the manor, in a legal tangle which would have taken years to unravel at the best of times – but those claimants who actually visited the slowly-crumbling estate often lost their taste for dwelling there, succumbed to it’s ominous aura, and left the lawyers to debate their claims as mere formalities. For decades now the manor has stood vacant and unmaintained, and while the barristers have argued, the city has grown to engulf it – and the rumors have spread. Now, few dare pass within it’s gates. While few if any know what links the victims, by now almost anyone could be carrying the damning blood of Lord Chalding’s ancient enemies – and, ever so slowly, the gardens spread, Lord Chalding’s prized crimson roses sprout in new locations, and other people in the lands about vanish.
Still, the reputed unholy powers of the haunted gardens have yet to reach beyond the walls in any verifiable way – and sterilizing the gardens to a depth of twenty or thirty feet to lay the rumors at last would be an enormous effort.
Today, the grounds are a wildly-overgrown patch of century-old forest in the midst of the city. While fires have – of course – occasionally been set, or spread from nearby buildings, the thick wet growth has always smothered those fires with unnatural speed – and vines, thorns, and riotous roses fill such ashen wounds within days with a ferociously thorny vegetative scab.
The manors wrought-iron front gate was chained shut for many years, and some enterprising priest bound it further with a holy seal – but the passage of time has crumbled and rusted the ancient ironwork. Now one gate is hanging from one hinge and the other is laying on the ground – and what was once a broad carriage drive up to the front of the manor is little more than a narrow path, a tunnel wrapped in two hundred years worth of overgrowth and the ever-present roses, their sweet scent masking the corruption beyond. Within twenty or thirty feet the curve of the old drive will put anyone who dares pass the gate out of view of the street – and curiously muffle the sounds of the city. By the time anyone approaches the door, the sounds of the city will have almost vanished – leaving visitors with the troubling thought that any cries for help from the house are most unlikely to bring a response.
The structure of the old mansion is still mostly intact; the stone walls stand firm, the ancient preservation and fireproofing charms on the timbers have held the floors roof mostly intact (if rather leaky), and ancient slates still cling to their seats here and there atop the roof – although it has been many years since anyone was bold enough to try to pass the roses and briars which have engulfed the walls and roof to find out. The warped and weathered wood of the front door is a testimony to the perishability of paint – and within the foyer, the first impressions are of chill, damp, the sickly-sweetness of roses and rotting flesh, and the underlying odors of mold, decay, and death.
To the right, an archway opens into green twilight – what was once a sunroom, it’s stained-glass dome now obscured by ivy and vines on the outside. while pallid, rustling, rose-canes have forced their way in through broken panes in the floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows. No one remains but bursting crimson roses, draped eerily across whatever remains within the chamber as if nature was providing a funeral wreath. Ahead the foyer opens up into a massive room – once the great hall and ballroom of the house, now a dark and cavernous chamber with a collapsed section of floor. To the left, a warped and heavily-sealed door is – once again – sealed with the sacred magics of some long-forgotten priest, although here the ancient symbols are undisturbed.
Perhaps most dangerously of all, Lord Chalding was survived by two bastard daughters – and those of their descendants who are untainted by the blood of Lord Chaldings enemies may walk the halls physically unmolested (if corrupted in mind and spirit) by Lord Chalding and his vine-infested abominations and other monstrosities. Over the decades, the deep cellars have sheltered his descendents in vengeful covens, demonic cults, and gangs of thieves, all gaining access through ancient tunnels and relying on the dangling roots which will bind and strangle those not of Lord Chalding’s bloodline should they attempt to pass for security and warning.
In d20 Terms, Lord Chalding is probably best represented as a Ward Major – hostile, deadly, and very VERY difficult to kill. His bones, and those of his “bride”, may be the center of the ward – but they now rest deep beneath the gardens, surrounded by deadly plants and venomous vermin.
If you want to look back, here we have…