Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.
- Walter Savage Landor
Prologue: Forest of the Damned
A low, thick mist hung over the desolate, dead forest, like a shroud covering a long-since rotted corpse. Figures flickered here and there, dashing in-between shadows cast by trees that looked to be eternally locked within their writhing agony. From within darkened crevices, if one looked hard enough, they might see gleaming pairs of eyes staring back at them. Nothing broke the all-consuming silence that dominated the land, no being daring to be the first to announce their location to the other horrors that stalked the fields and tree lines.
Once, this land had been one of renowned beauty, where lords and kings alike went to forget their worries and relax, engaging in the thrill of the hunt with the wide variety of animals that had roamed within, wild boars being especially favored. Many lush and fruitful orchards and farms dotted the landscape, bringing great wealth to the lord of the realm. Now it was a twisted mockery of its former splendor, overrun with creeping foliage and blackened rot, with the only beings to roam it now were those who were truly desperate to escape justice and creatures that better belonged in feverish nightmares. Crumbling ruins, overrun by gnarled ivy and towered over by contorted trees, dotted the landscape, faded reminders of past glories, ambitions, and folly. The few who risked entering either returned broken in mind and soul, or never returned at all.
Incredibly, despite all of this, there were a few that still dared to live deep inside the belly of this desecrated landscape. Within a rundown and almost forgotten hamlet, overlooked by a bald hillside that hosted crumbling halls and pillars, a few souls too stubborn or too fearful to brave the old, lone road that had not yet been consumed by the twisted advance of the corrupted forest still lingered, though their time, like the road and the hamlet, was fast approaching. The forest did not tolerate those who attempted to oppose its expansive will for long, and had many resources with which to slowly but surely finish slitting the throat of the last remnants of civilization, a civilization which had been dying a painful death for decades now.
Slowly, with the all the ponderous speed of thought that it was capable of mustering, the forest halted in its efforts, having sensed a fresh batch of interlopers well within its domain, a most unusual event. A black coach thundered along the old road, that long, winding scar upon its body; within it three souls bound for that tumor inside the heart of its body, the Hamlet. One consumed by apathy, another by the conflicting drives of duty and honor, and the last driven to complete a task without understanding fully the expectations that would be placed upon him, or the ramifications of his impending actions.
It pondered what to do with these meddlers for a few minutes, its vast, seeping conscience focusing its prodigious strength on a simple yet adequate solution to this new dilemma, before sending the appropriate instructions to various plant life in the area towards which the coach was now speeding.
Nothing survived here without the blessing of the forest, or the blessing of the Lord of the Depths. These outsiders would learn this soon enough, for in the shadow of the Darkest Dungeon, only the bravest or the most foolhardy persevered, with the rest doomed to fuel the growth of the encroaching shadows.
Time, and the countless fiends that awaited them, would tell which category these newcomers resided in.