Monday, April 6, 2020

The Garden of Hanging Faces

Summary: A short story set in a work-in-progress setting called Amasia, inspired by neoclassic, symbolist and similarly romantic paintings from the western art movements. The story will probably be shaped into a properly mapped, playable location. Many elements of the story are left vague and without explanation or context, in order to be further explored in future pieces.

"In remembrance of Johann Emanuel Bemer" by Caspar David Friedrich

Deep within the Everwyld lies a rusted gate, adorned with fading Xylonian craft hidden under the grasp of pulsing vines and moss. No charted map leads here and not even a forest trail dares to point the way. 

Behind the once lavish gate, the remains of a cracked marble path go onward, all the way up to a vast, labyrinthine mansion. At the center of the villa, a thriving garden of unfathomable greenery and the home of a giant, lonely oak tree. On its aeon old branches hang the faces of every living man, woman and child ever to die on the grounds of the estate. All but one.

If you listen closely, they have a broken story to tell, each face uttering nothing but a single word, together unfolding the long, disharmonious tale about the only soul whose face is not among their numbers. 

The estate once belong to the Countess, her name long forgotten. A wondrous woman, a master of magic, yet her womb barren. Unable to become a mother, she re-purposed her grand estate halls into an orphanage, housing and loving the children least fortunate.

By some miraculous twist of ritualistic magic, an intervention of an ancient nature eidolon or something altogether different, the Countess became with child and eventually a beautiful daughter was born. But soon enough the great torrential rains which changed the world came and went, or so they say. The rains brought sickness. Many in the orphanage fell ill and soon enough death followed. And with death came the Seedtime. 

The daughter was the first to perish, youngest and most fragile. The rest of the children slowly withered away and died, one by one. All their deaths flowered, the bodies slowly bursting with vines, branches, blossoms and buds, sprawling the garden beyond its boundaries and throughout the mansion.

"Rusałki" by Franciszek Siedlecki
For some reason, the Countess endured, along with her court of dryads. She was a mere shell of her former self, the tragedy of her lost children crushed her. What little will she had left was used for magic, crafting wooden faces of the ones she lost and hanging them on the branches of the great oak tree.

Eager to restore the happiness of their master, the dryadic servants brought new children, the ones lost in the luxuriant forests surrounding the estate, but each child would wither away upon entering the garden, aiding its relentless expanse.

It was all in vain, for the Countess showed neither action, nor emotion towards the newly discovered children, save for the never ending ritual of crafting the wooden faces, constantly fueled by the dryads who knew not what they were doing.

The fickle, mortal life of the Countess ended, some say with suicide, yet her sorrowful madness lived on through her servants. The dryads, unaware of the concept of human mortality, continued to try and cure the sadness of their mistress, her corpse now eaten by the vines and weeds, yet her face not appearing on the branches herself. No matter how tireless and desperate they were, the only result of their effort were more faces up on the branches of the great oak, to them just another sign that the Countess still prevails, forever crafting.

The dryads, evermore locked in an agonizing loop of fruitless trial and error, roam the forests still, bringing any who wander down the beaten forest path, mindlessly dragging any living thing to their death. Most of these poor souls don’t ever make it alive to the overgrown garden. And the result is always the same. Under the weight which they carry, the old oaken branches are slowly reaching the earth and the thicket grows.

Some whisper that the Countess, long before the first orphan came into her home, played a part in the mortal machinations that led to the birth of the seeds of Everwyld. Others say that the now decaying wealth was once earned through cruel deeds and unholy practices which even the circles of Um-Yoh would cower from and that all the death, suffering and madness are nothing but a curse well deserved.

Whichever part of this tale is true, one thing is certain. Deep within the Everwyld, past the immortal gate and broken marble stones, amid the lush garden sprawl, one can still hear a faint, sorrowful mumbling chant of a mother sitting near the great oak tree and the cacophonous story told by the hanging wooden faces, pierced by the screams of the next dryadic victim.

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