The Living Manor
Ruined manor walls give way to broken floors flushed with a red, demonic glow. Beneath crumbling marble tiles writhes mounds of decomposing flesh and a large, beating heart.
Angelic statues decorate these ruins, overgrown with flowering plants that defy the stench of rotting meat. A once-luxurious planetarium looks out at dead trees and greying, sodden forest.
Stones litter the floor of these ruins, along with fallen timbers from the burned-out rafters above. There is an abandoned larder and multiple entryways.
You arrive in a town surrounded by cloying mist and greyish, decaying trees. Water pools in your footsteps and seeps out of the wagon-wheel ruts left in the thick mud of the road. Timbers on buildings are spongy with rot, and the mortar in stone walls has been worn away; allowing the damp breeze to whistle through the cracks.
The people here move slowly, with dark circles under their eyes. The tavern is awash with a warm orange glow, and—seeking to buy supplies—you enter. Water drips from loose shingles on the ceiling and the stench of unwashed bodies, hard liquor, and vomit drifts over to you. It comes from an old man in torn, dirt-covered rags with bloodshot eyes, huddling in the corner with a near-empty bottle.
An old woman, seeing your adventuring gear, intercepts you. Her silver hair is tied in a neat bun and her red dress is worn, but clean and lovingly kept. There is a spark in her green eyes. She offers to buy you a bowl of hot stew if you listen to a proposal and will pay you handsomely if you accept.
She can’t stand to watch the life being sucked out of this town any longer. Nobody else believes her, but it was different when she was a little girl. The forests were lush, the fields green. The town was alive with trade and each spring they would have the most wonderful celebration. People would travel from all around to see it.
That all changed when the manor burned down. The family who founded the village had lived there, you see. And they were loved. But one day their baby boy went missing. Their oldest son, about six, claimed he’d seen one of the house staff handing him to a stranger. When no-one would tell them who gave the child away, they began torturing, then executing, their loyal workers—claiming they’d conspired to kidnap their baby and that they wouldn’t stop until he was returned.
The reality that those parents wouldn’t believe was no-one knew where the babe was. None had seen him. But the family just wouldn’t listen, and the bloodshed was immense. Far too many good people died.
And then, when they took a group of villagers to interrogate, there was talk of an uprising. After nights passed and those villagers didn’t return, the ones who were left marched up to the mansion. They locked the family inside and burned it to the ground…
Ever since then life has slowly drained away from this area. Slowly, so slowly almost no-one noticed, the produce began to rot in the fields, waves of pestilence struck, and livestock began to look thin and half-starved.
The old woman looks you in the eye and asks you to go up to that old mansion. To find the source of the curse and destroy it, once and for all. As a reward, she will give you a golden broach that has been passed down through many generations of her family. She takes it out from a hidden pocket, unwrapping it carefully. Delicate gold petals surround an emerald, forming the shape of a flower.
Eyeing the pricey reward, you accept. At that moment, the drunk staggers to his feet and insists that he’ll come with you. He claims he was a groundskeeper there as a lad and knows the area well. That he was never able to pay his respects to those who died and can act as a guide up the treacherous path.
You shrug and accept. He doesn’t speak much on the trip up to the manor, being slow to answer questions and often responding with grunts, not words.
The stench of the burned-out shell of the mansion reaches you before you see it, overpowering that even of the drunk. It smells like damp ash and decomposing flesh, causing you to gag and draw your shirt up over your nose. The drunkard pales and slows, letting you take the lead and lagging behind.
A few steps into the building the floor crumbles beneath you, but you manage to step back. Beneath you beats a decomposing heart, surrounded by writhing, rotting flesh. Thick tendrils of the tissue slide over the edge, leaving smears of blood in their wake, seeking to drag you into the pit and subsume you into itself.
You slash the tendrils with your sword, ducking beneath their searching forms and evading their grasp. It becomes a dance that you lose yourself in, blood from the horrible limbs spraying throughout the room. Breathing heavily from the combat, you slip on the slick tiles and can feel your heart leap into your mouth as you plunge into the pit.
You can feel the hot, wriggling mass of limbs pulsing beneath you, some of them wrapping around your neck, others your armpits. Desperate, you writhe around just enough to stab your blade through the heart beside you. It shudders, and as you wrench your blade out a jet of blood follows. The heart leans to one side, deflating, and the limbs clench; strangling you.
Just as you begin to see sparks dancing on the edge of your vision, another spark drifts past your nose. Orange, real. The limbs slacken and you feel yourself sinking as the flesh dissolves into embers, until nothing is left but ash. Feeling tiles beneath your body, you stand on shaking legs.
Standing over where the heart was, you see the bones of a baby boy. Footsteps ring out behind you and you turn to see the drunk, who rushes past you sobbing, before kneeling and cradling the bones in his arms.
The mists surrounding the town lift and the grey skies turn blue. Sunlight streams down through the remaining rafters, and a lone bird begins to sing.
The man, between sobs, explains that the baby was his younger brother and that he was responsible for the massacre. He’d been jealous as a boy and had been rough with him—he’d never meant to kill him! When he’d realised what he’d done, he’d hidden the body here, in the hidden passages only he had found. In his panic, he had told his parents he’d seen his brother taken by the maid—he didn’t think they would do what they did.
He’d been hiding down here when the villagers burned the house down… it’s the only way he escaped. He has been living in torment ever since. Now, with the curse lifted, he feels he can finally begin to redeem himself.
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