December 13 at 12:00 AM
Photo by Teodoro S Gruhl
The woods around the old vineyard were cursed. Everyone believed this, except the aged Viognier himself, Lord Vangley.
At the dawn of his estate, mortals were shipped in from all over the world, and secured in a staging area, which would later become The Black Swan Inn. Blood slaves were then led over the rolling hills, and buried neck deep in the dark soils.
Over several generations, the Vangleys toyed with their captives, alternating between a variety of tortures to see which combination procured the richest blood. Due to inactivity, the bodies of slaves bloated and atrophied over time. After several months, they could not physically walk nor stand. Even if an opportunity presented itself, they simply could not move.
The blood lords could not get enough of the sumptuous essence. Bodies matured over several harvests produced the most fertile soil, which in turn bore the ripest fruit. Fused with the fermentation of his finest grapes, Lord Vangley cultivated a potent brew, one that he indulged in to this day.
When the Vangleys founded Vissorouy, they gave up their death fields and wicked ways. They freed the remaining slaves, and offered a remittance and plot of land.
Everyone started anew, most notably the founding family.
Even the elder had to be careful when indulging in the tonic. It primed the hunter's passion for blood rage. Even though the vineyard had been abandoned decades ago, plenty of bottles remained. What prolific yields they once reaped.
As for the humans who expired in the fields, many believed they became trees themselves, snatching back the land from their master, and waiting to exact revenge on the Vangley family and all who bought into their doctrine.
Like a moth to flame, Vangley drew closer to the light emanating from inside the old manor. As he emerged from the fields, tangles of thorns recoiled. Rocks kicked up and flew aside; broken tiles of the walkway shook free from the earth, and remade themselves as he stepped over. Even the glass from the windows solved their own puzzle, snapping together perfectly into single panes.
Vangley hid behind a birch, staring at the manor from afar. Something moved inside. He crept closer, slipping from shadow to shadow. He followed the shrub line to the window, and peered in.
Inside the floor was bare but clean, the fire with fresh logs and crackling embers. A vacant chair still rocked, if ever so slightly. It seemed like a familiar trap; one that he would set in his younger years.
He waited awhile for someone to come, watching the shadows play across the walls. When no one came, he stepped inside, against better judgment.
"My lord," came a voice.
"Who is there?" He turned.