One of the Arch-Dungeons of Adel, the Wraithwood is a member of a family of massive, seemingly living spaces that exist beneath each Nation of Adel (and the Abyss Isle and Noshiki), their exact positions shifting, shrinking and growing as they are sealed or “destroyed” and thereby forced dormant, until such a time as their evil can resurface months or (if lucky) years away. Each Archdungeon is a piece of the Lost World so foul that it continues like a cancer within the land, spawning corrupted presences, and endangering the population as its tendrils rise to the surface, opening new entrances. Their size, shape and what a brave and foolish soul may discover within vary greatly each time the dungeon resurfaces.
The Wraithwood is the “iconic” dungeon of Imperial Emderuer. In the past, when Emderuer ruled over the whole of the Adelian world as the seat of the Aptoan Empire, the Wraithwood was quickly contained wherever found, but it has many times existed in such secluded areas, and for so long, that it wreaked intolerable havoc before it could be cleansed.
Adelians have a mostly peaceful relationship with their land, having learned to care for it and renew it, and live within and alongside it. One can only imagine the horror of a rural village as their ancestral lands cease to cooperate with them. The landscape grows alien and hostile as the Wraithwood takes hold of a place, corrupting the very essence of natural Life, and bringing with it the twisted mockeries that Lost World magic and science sought to create in its place.
Basic Features And Powers
The Wraithwood is one of the more insidious archdungeons in that its presence, even after prolonged growth, is not very easy to discern. At first, the Wraithwood takes hold of a forested area and begin to twist it to owns designs. Animals become more aggressive. Nearby crops slowly fail. The weather turns darker and more hostile. Only after many months, maybe even seasons of such abuse might nearby villagers start to see obvious changes. Flora turns thick and chitinous, more insect than plant. Alien fumes smoke up from puddles of black goo. Strange animals begin to wander the surroundings. The Wraithwood begins to transform the surroundings into a replica of a Lost World forest.
While the Wraithwood begins above-ground, its influence is most powerful, and its heart most vulnerable, deep below. The Wraithwood is like the trunk of a massive tree, within which it hosts increasingly horrific and alien landscapes. The topmost portion of the Wraithwood is whatever landscape it has chosen to manifest as it “branches” above-ground. Openings in the soil lead to vein-like pathways into multiple levels of underground forests and alien habitats. Through the trunk, the adventurers reach the Heart of the Wraithwood, its “roots,” and take their chance to kill the alien forest, for a time. The Wraithwood, like all of the Archdungeons, has revived several times before, and even when killed it could emerge once again at some unspecified point in the future, to the misfortune of anyone around.
The Wraithwood corrupts the Adelian element of Life. Anything can be twisted to its purpose. Animals are seeded with fungi and seeds that grow within and without them, using their flesh and form to cultivate themselves. The surrounding forest takes on new, horrific character as the Wraithwood drains its natural life and restores its own abominations to prominence. Even an Adelian such as a Iomadi or a Cuporo could become part of the Wraithwood, if his or her willpower is not strong enough to resist its lures. Men and women have been found lounging in corners of the wood, near-catatonic and covered in moss, fungus or even grotesque fleshy flowers, their bodies serving as little more than ambulant garden plots for the Wraithwood. They were trapped, perhaps foraging or hunting, and put to purpose as hosts. Though this condition can be reversed, the surgeries involved are horrifically painful, and survival is far from guaranteed. Even if physical survival occurs, the mind and soul may have been irreparably poisoned by the sheer malice of the Wraithwood.
Where the Wraithwood appears, disaster soon follows. Over its history it has consumed several small villages, slowly and insidiously. For the numerous rural Adelians, who depend on their harmony with nature to give them sustenance and succor, the Wraithwood’s callous machinations always end in tragedy. Ancestral, sacred lands of many villages have been ruined, and those villagers have had to relocate or seek shelter with other local villages, or even disperse, losing their long-held bonds to survival alone in small family groups, or move to the cities and towns. Government efforts to relocate them rarely prove fitting – villagers don’t want to live in the large cities controlled by the government. They want to raise their animals and farm their crops, and live alongside nature in their own communities, as they always have. As such, the Wraithwood is perhaps one of the more tragic of the Archdungeons, despite being responsible for less casualties than the other, and having no truly dramatic detailed history like the Hellmouth. The Wraithwood strikes at something of unfathomable value in Adelian society: their long-held peace, balance and reliance on the forces of nature around them.
Below are some of the important landmarks of the Wraithwood. Some can manifest above ground, while others can only manifest inside the “levels” of the Wraithwood trunk below ground. Each could be very vast or insidiously small, a hidden grove of horrors within an otherwise normal forest. These are not the only landmarks in the Wraithwood, but they are the most common permutations spawned by its control and corruption of Life.
The Fungal Forest
The Lost World barely saw the sun through the clouds of polluted, eerily-colored gases that grew to compose much of its sky. Beneath this gloom, mushrooms of all kinds flourished, growing disturbingly aggressive to survive in the sulfurous wastes and other harsh corners of the fallen land. The Wraithwood knows this environment quite well, and the fungal forest it produces is thick with tall caps, and roiling mists thick with yellow and green spores. Foul smells grow overwhelming the closer one comes to the tips of the largest fungiforms and their drippings. It is a sick landscape, with tortured remains of trees and animals serving as hosts dozens of tiny caps, and the larger trees consumed and replace by new fungal structures. Many of the mushrooms are covered in oozing pustules of colored liquid that irritate the skin if touched, and eventually slough off the flesh of the mushrooms into pools that play host to gross, amphibian things beyond description.
The Naiad Grove
Manifesting inside the the Wraithwood trunk, the Naiad Grove is a vast underground sea, home to the aquatic abominations of the Lost World. Vast tangling reeds dance in the seemingly still waters, and tangles of thorny coral creatures, some long since calcified, others glowing in the dim, murky waters, create a geographically complex environment. This dark abyss can only be braved by those properly prepared. Any who fall to Naiad Grove from above, unprepared to breathe, somehow, in its deep waters, find themselves trapped and soon drowned or eaten. The only way out of the Naiad Grove is down, to the next deepest levels of the Wraithwood, which somehow manage to keep the water contained above themselves. The kelp seems to grow eternally up from an endless bottom; the landscape is arrayed beneath the swimmer in impossible ways, at times seeming to slope like large natural hills and open into vast fissures, then suddenly hitting bottom and forcing the swimmer to brave undersea caves to twist around and find themselves in another seemingly bottomless abyss.
The Lotus Garden
The Lotus Garden is alien because of its incredible, incongruent beauty. Knee-high bases of alabaster hold evenly-spaced columns, atop which honeycombs of glass reflect the sun (whether or not it could be present) in several radiant colors. These structures link together into a complex of gardens and displays, with tall and aromatic trees, beautiful flowers entangling every surface, lush and ripe fruit and vegetables in arm’s reach. One might even have guests here, finding placid souls who have stumbled upon the garden in the past, and are in such peaceful repose they only wave, smile, and continue to partake of the garden’s pleasures. In reality, these people are trapped within themselves.
There are enemies everywhere, and invisible to the captivated eyes. Everything is a poison, rotting the soul. It is impossible to express the sheer, stupefying agony that overcomes anyone who consumes too much of the bile permeating the Lotus Garden. The people trapped there are not placid – they are in such incommunicable agony that their minds have collapsed, and their existence is a bleary confusion of silent suffering. Only those with incredible fortitude and willpower can resist the garden, and should they attempt to destroy it, or free its captives, then the flowers, fruits, and even the fountain statues can come to life, hungering for new guests to populate the Garden’s halls in ageless suffering.
The Wizened Wood
A gray vale of dessicated trees, the Wizened Wood is covered in a perpetual fog that disorients all those who walk within. Explorers should nail a rope to the floor near where they enter the wood, to find their way again outside – it may be impossible otherwise. Through the fog and the thickets of skeletal vines and bushes, thick with dead leaves still hanging vainly unto their branches, one can become easily lost, without any identifiable landmarks or any variation in colors or shapes that can distinguish one cluster of hollow gray trees from another. The Wizened Wood contains no life, but it is a potent source of necromancy, and many necromancers have attempted to create ritual spaces within to ease some of their most taxing experiments. It is also a good source of bones, as many skeletal remains, animated by the Wraithwood’s influence, prowl the Wizened Wood in search of life to end. Many creatures take the bones of those they kill, and amass them to become skeletal titans, casting their gargantuan shadow over any who bring warmth into the Wizened Wood.
The Grove of Flesh
Bursting with vivid, warm colors from many buds, flowers and fruits, from branches and bushes, the Grove of Flesh appears an invitingly fresh tropical jungle. Tall green trunks and low brush cluster in tight thickets, their branches dripping with dews, and extend overhead forming a vast, verdant canopy. The soil is rich and deep brown, and the air is refreshing, cool to breathe and moist, maintaining a perfect atmosphere. Though the trees seem to move with a breeze, it does not ever blow as strong as this movement would suggest. This is in part because the trees aren’t moving with a breeze, but by themselves. Every plant is very much alive and aware in the Grove of Flesh. Some quite cruelly so, as they were not once plants. Cutting into the trunks of the trees exposes muscle and sinew and issues jets of blood and pus. Shearing away the branches from a bush reveals vestiges of warped animal or even Adelian life. Some are still not completely consumed, and may yet be saved from their fate, but for many, they become irreversibly a conscious part the landscape.
The Grove of Flesh seems to have no animals, but many of the more vicious plants are still deft predators, able to uproot and attack anyone off their guard. Fruits and berries may in actuality be insect-like plant creatures, camouflaged and waiting. Even those plants that were once Adelians may harbor ill will towards intruders, resenting their free forms while their own bodies have been warped out of shape without remedy. The Grove of Flesh is insidious in its designs. Any wound that festers within the Grove, however minor, begins the mutation process. Soon the victim experiences lethargy and depression, and this slothfulness gives the plants time to expand through the inactive body. Alchemy and Adelian science may be able to cure up to the middle stages of the disease, but once a person is no longer discernibly humanoid, there’s little that can be done to help them. Even if the plant matter were sheared away, the body would be twisted.
The Wraithwood carries with it creatures that sought it out in order to survive the cataclysm of the Lost World. As everything they knew fell to ruin, they hid in the Wraithwood and other archdungeons, cast into the darkest corners of the renewed world. Alien beings with grotesque shapes and indecipherable emotions skulk, safe from the wrath of the Wraithwood, and follow any trespassers, waiting either for a chance to dine, or simply to watch the cruel show as the forest consumes them. Strange chitinous flying beasts, and many-eyed and many-mouthed gargantuan things with thick limbs, and small amorphous oozing creatures, and many more monstrosities exist only there. Though they may find their way outside through it, they can not live long in the atmosphere of the World of Adel. They needed the landscape of the Lost World, and outside of it they are like fish on dry land. These horrors are susceptible to weapons and magic as any living being, but they are tough and terrifying, with organ systems and skeletal structure barely recognizable as targets.
Because of its close ties to the Lost World, the Wraithwood has significance to many inhabitants of the new world as well. Elves consider the Wraithwood a sacred ground, though the dungeon thinks very little of them in return. It will stave off its predation, but only if there are Adelian targets to harm and the Elves cooperate in such machinations. If the Elves feel too at home, the Wraithwood will quickly teach them who is superior. Adelian scholarship, particularly fringe sections like the Diesel Society, have plumbed the Wraithwood and tried to study and catalog many of the phenomena found only within. It is through these studies that they have extrapolated what the environment of the Lost World was like. However, it harbors endless mysteries for them still, and such expeditions are by necessity quick, and the knowledge gained from them is quite incomplete. Educated guesswork is all that can be constructed out of the madness of the Wraithwood.