Ashford Manor

*Artwork by Ace The Killer and Brodie Hancroft*

The flames of what was left forgotten, this is what encompassed Ashford Manor in its final moment.  The rise of smoke and ashes in the air sealed the fate of the Trickster and the princess, forever separating them both from each other.  One left to die, one to never feel the sweet kiss of death, both of them were separated by the princess's groom to be.  The wedding would never be, and the story of the Trickster was forever hidden so that no one could see....until now.  As this tale once belonged only to the whispers of time, the mention of this story has been kept secret until this very moment.  For you, reader, are the one who uncovered the origins of the man who exists beyond death and life, the man who sucks the life out of anyone ensnared in his trap, the one known as the Trickster of Ashford Manor.  

This all dates back to the early day of the first English kingdoms.  There was a princess from one of the kingdoms who was destined to marry a prince from a neighboring kingdom that was constantly warring against the princess's kingdom.  The princess's father decided the best action would be to marry off his princess as a peace offering to the other kingdom.  The king of the neighboring kingdom agreed to the offer and agreed to have his son marry the princess as a unifying pact between the two kingdoms.  As was custom, the princess was expected to be the prince's bride for life, but she was distraught over not having any affections for him.  Feeling her heart being strained and feelings of betrayal left her to reside mostly within her resting chamber.

She resided in her chambers for days on end.  After hearing of her inevitable betrothal, her father sent the royal fool to meet her at her chamber.  The fool was young and new to the castle.  His first job was to perform for the princess.  He had never met her before and was anxious to perform for royalty.  He made his way to the chamber doors and knocked on them to signify his arrival.  

"Who is it?"

"I am the new royal fool, your highness."

"I did not call for a fool to entertain me!"

The fool hesitated for a moment, unsure of what to do.  He tried his best to reason with her, speaking as smoothly and calmly as he could.  "I was sent here to provide you some entertainment and joy."

"I do not want to be entertained by you."

The fool thought of other options by which to be able to try and help the princess. "Then perhaps I may join your company and listen to your worries?"

The princess was silent for a moment, pondering this offer.  After a few minutes of thought, she gave the fool her answer.  "Then yes, please come in."

The fool bowed in respect to the princess and looked around the room for a suitable chair.  After finding one, he sat down in it and positioned himself to face the princess.  "I have heard of your strife and have come to provide company.  Please share with me your emotions."

The princess slowly, but surely began to open up to the fool about her anger and disagreements with her father's decision, as well as her distrust and dislike for the prince she was arranged to marry.  Many of her complaints, problems, and emotions poured out and the fool stayed and comforted the princess.  After the princess had relieved her conscious of her emotional burden, the fool began to perform a silly skit for her, helping her to feel better and more at ease.   The princess finally laughed and felt a smile form across her face.  For the first time in a long time, someone cared to listen to her and make her feel better.  She began to like the young fool.

The fool continued on his performance and stayed longer with the princess, each of them sharing with each other stories from their personal lives and entertaining each other.  The fool was beginning to grow a liking for the princess as well.  The princess gave the fool permission to call her by her name of Victoria.  The fool asked that she call him by his name of Joel.  The fool left as the sun went down, but before he left, the princess made him promise that he would be back the next morning.  He promised he would return and then went on his way.  The next morning, the fool arrived after the maids had changed the princess and brought her her breakfast.  He knocked on the door and spoke aloud to her.

"Good morning, your highness!  May I be granted entrance?"

The princess replied back to the fool quickly, "Yes!  Please, come in!"

The fool walked in to meet the princess, dressed in outdoor attire.
"Come with me!  Let us go out to the garden!"

The fool hesitated at first.  He had never been invited to the garden, and any venture to the royal garden without anyone of royalty would surely mean swift punishment.  "Yes, your highness! Let us head to the garden."

The princess giggled a bit at the mention of her as a royal figure.  "Please, Joel.  Call me Victoria."

The fool took the hand of the princess and they made their way out to the garden.  They walked past the many rooms and decorations that lined up the walls of the hall they walked through as they made their way to the garden.  The fool had never seen such ornate decorations like this before and felt inferior to the grand sculptures and paintings that towered above his head.  They made their way out to the garden and walked past the flower beds and flowering plants.  There was a bed of lilies laid, a bench was set up next to it.  Both the fool and the princess took their seats in front of the flowers.  "Joel, these flowers mean a lot to me.  Below these flowers lie my mother.  I never had the opportunity to meet my mother.  She died during my birth and my father blames me for her death."

The fool immediately lowered his head in respect for the princess's mother.  "I never knew this, Victoria."  He tried to help liven her mood and focus on the brighter side of her mother having passed.  "Well, the flowers at her grave are certainly beautiful."  

The princess smiled at that remark, "Yes, these flowers represent the beauty she had, even in her death."

The princess laid her head on his shoulder and he began to whistle in tune to the birds.  They remained in the garden for awhile, answering each other's questions and talking about their hopes for their lives.  As the sun began to set, they both went inside and made their way back to the princess' chamber.  "Thank you, Joel, for joining me today."

"I would do anything for you Victoria, anything you ask of me."

They parted again, slower this time and with a bit of strain in doing so.  The fool continued to spend time with the princess, day in and day out.  The fool would spend time with and entertain the princess, their feelings growing stronger, all of this cumulating into their confession one day during an afternoon in the garden.  They were relaxing in the same spot they always did, the fool whistled and the princess would hum in tune.  The princess was the one who broke the silence.  "Joel, I don't ever want you to leave.  To be fair, I hated everything about my life as soon as I learned that I was to marry the prince of the neighboring kingdom.  That was until I met you.  You showed me the beauty and happiness that exists in the world, and I do not wish to spend my life with anyone but you."

The fool turned his head to face her.  "I feel the same way, Victoria.  I do not feel that I could live with you, now that I have come to know you.
I have grown more than a fondness for you."

The princess silenced the fool before he could continue.  "I love you Joel, and I want you to marry me instead."

The fool hesitated at first, but he knew that he wanted the same.  "I love you to Victoria, and I want to spend my life with you."

"I will be your queen, and you will be my king."

As the princess said this, the fool moved his head in to kiss her lips.  Both of them became entranced in each other until they were broken apart by the voice of a man that the fool did not recognize, but a voice that filled the princess with fear and dread.

"What is this?!?  Victoria!  You are to be my wife, and here I find you with some fool!"  The prince marched over to the fool and picked him up by his neck.  "I will have you tortured for your transgressions, fool!"  The fool struggled to breathe within the prince's grasp.

"Phillip!  Put him down!  He cannot breathe!"

The fool was beginning to lose the air in his lungs when the prince dropped him to the ground and kicked him in the side.  "I will have one of my guards come to retrieve him, as for you Victoria-"  the prince reached abruptly for the princess' hand, "you will come with me to my manor house, where we will prepare for our wedding."

The princess cried out to the fool for help, but he was incapable of standing on his feet, let alone race after the prince.  A guard shortly arrived and swiftly kicked the fool in his face, making him lose consciousness.  The fool awoke inside of a dungeon.  A dungeon master and the prince awaited him.  The prince slapped the fool in the face to ensure that he was awake.  "You slimy, witty cunt!  You managed to win over Victoria's heart, but you have not won the right to marry her."  The prince punched the fool's exposed body, bruising him further with every blow.  "But I would not expect anything less of such a filthy fool."  The prince hesitated.  "No!  You are a low down, evil, and twisted trickster!  Nothing is good inside of you, and we will punish you for this."  The prince walked away from the fool and left the dungeon master with specific instructions.  "Make him suffer, and when he begins to fall asleep, make sure that he leaves this world with a smile.  A fitting death for a trickster like him."

The dungeon master accepted the prince's instructions and began to beat the body of the fool, breaking bone after bone.  As the trickster began to cough up blood, the dungeon master began to look for a knife to slice into the fool.  The heavy torture devices the dungeon master had struck the iron bonds that held the fool to the wall.  The fool knew he had one chance for survival and with the dungeon master's back turned, he took it.  In one quick moment, he broke the metal bonds that held him to the wall and darted straight for the blade that the dungeon master was looking for.  He immediately drove the blade deep into the skull of the dungeon master and drove him to the ground.  The fool began to repeatedly stab his torturer, wanting to ensure that his dementor was no more.

The fool picked up the blade and began to make his way up the stairs when his heart ran cold as screams ensued up above him.  The sounds of people being slaughtered and a roaring fire were clear beyond the entrance to the dungeon.  The fool opened the door and was mortified to see flames engulfing the entire manor and the entire gathering of people from the princess' kingdom had been brutally murdered at the wedding in a large ambush.  The princess laid slain at the altar, her father dead nearby.   The fool tried to break through the door, but it wouldn't budge.  He used the knife and hacked his way through the lock that kept the door shut and forced his way outside.   He heard the prince laughing in the distance before riding off on his horse away from the manor, having slain the king and his only heir to the throne.  

The fool ran to the side of the princess, the woman that he loved and wanted to spend his entire life together, laid slain across the steps of the altar, a sword having stabbed straight through her heart.  The fool began to weep over the loss of his one true love, the flames of the manor house slowly engulfing the areas around him and filling the air with smoke.  The smoke and his injuries slowly caused the world around him to fade until he finally succumbed and fell unconscious.  When he awoke, everyone, save the princess and the king, was now skeletons, dry and worn by age.  The skies around the manor were a dark gray and cast a shadow over the flame-touched manor house.  The fool in his confusion began to walk around the manor house, soon realizing that he was no longer a part of the world he once lived in.  

The fool made his way inside of the manor house and explored the empty rooms that were left dusted and barren, everything haven been worn by age or burned by the fire.  The fool searched for a shovel and returned to the skeletons that remained outside.  He began to bury every last one of them, giving them each a grave.  He finally arrived at the grave he dug for Victoria, the one woman he ever loved.  He laid her down in her grave and covered her fresh grave with some nearby lilies that were growing nearby.  The fool came upon the king and began to dig a grave for him, but a strange thought crossed his mind.  

The king looked somewhat similar to the fool in body stature and in facial resemblance.  He took the face of the king and carved it off as well as stripping the king of his royal clothing.  He began to dry the face and shape it into a mask.  The fool placed the mask upon his face and practiced speaking normally through it.  The king's face acted like the fool's and would mimic the facial movements of the fool.  The fool made his way to the end of the trail leading to the manor and pressed upon the barrier, slowly forcing his way through the barrier that kept him at the manor.  With enough force, the fool exited the realm that the manor, as if he had left a large bubble.  

He noticed the grasslands and the road leading away from where the manor once existed.  In its place was fresh grassland that had grown over where the manor once was.  At his feet was a coin with an imprint of the manor stamped upon it.  The fool placed this coin in his pocket and continued on down the road.  He made his way back to the castle of the princess, only to find the flag of the neighboring kingdom flying high above the castle.  He slowly made his approach to the side of the castle and snuck his way past some of the guards.  He made his way up the steps of the castle when two guards told him to halt.  They requested his information and which kingdom he hailed from.  The fool began to speak, but the mask altered his voice to resemble that of the now dead king.  "I am the king of this castle, and demand to speak to the current occupier of my castle."  Both of the guards knelt in respect to the fool, completely convinced that he was the dead king that many hoped was not dead.  

The guards led in the fool directly to the prince, where he was seated lazily upon his throne.  The prince groaned at the presence of the guards.  "Ugh!  Who have you brought to meet me you worthless scum?!"

The fool began to speak.  "I am the king of this castle, and demand that you leave at once."  The prince showed a face of fear at the sight of the fool, fearing that the king had returned for revenge.  The prince quickly dropped to his knees before the fool.  "I deeply apologize for having taken your throne, you-" as the prince was saying this he began to reach for a knife within his pocket, but the fool was much quicker than the prince.  The fool drove is knife straight into the prince's throat, cutting off his approach and speech.  The prince whispered his final word to the fool "Imposter!"  The two guards turned in a realization that the fool was not actually the king, but they were not quick enough to react.  The fool drove his knife into each of their throats, filling their lungs with blood and choking the life out of them.  

The fool knelt down to meet the face of the prince, stared directly into the dying eyes of the prince.  "You were right, Phillip.  I am a trickster.  I am the Trickster of Ashford Manor."  The prince's breath ceased, and the trickster began to remove the prince's face from his body.  He picked up his mask and held it up to view it.  The trickster heard the stomping of footsteps, more guards were heading towards the throne room, the screams having alerted the guards.  The coin accidentally fell out of the trickster's pocket as he turned around to face the oncoming guards.  But as the coin fell to the floor, the throne room began to fade away, and the manor came back into view.  The trickster began to walk back to the manor and hung up the face to dry into a mask.  Once the face had dried into a mask, the trickster removed the face of the king and tried on the face of the prince as a mask.  But as soon as the trickster had placed this mask on his face, he felt different thoughts rush into his head.

The trickster began to crave power, immense power, he felt thoughts and voices began to rush into his head, madness was approaching upon him  the longer and longer that he wore the mask, and he loved the feeling that the mask gave him.  He began to laugh uncontrollably, finding himself changing as his face and the mask began to stretch from the laughter.  The mask became brittle and began to split.  The mask cracked in half and the remaining half became stuck to his face.  The mask and the dark desires of the now deceased prince now controlled part of the trickster, forever splitting him in two.  His mind began to fade, as well as the surroundings of the manor, slowly the longer he remained in the manor, but the trickster learned that he could wear the mask of the king to gain some collection of thought.  However, wearing more masks also had its price.  Wearing the mask filled him with new life and helped keep him from fading, but wearing the mask also had a price.  The trickster could not remove the mask that was once the prince, and any mask he would wear would further change who he was, further driving him into madness.

As heavy as these costs were, the trickster continued to enter into the real world to obtain masks.  He would put on grand performances, take a bunch of people from each crowd, and take them back to his manor where he would carve out new masks for him to wear, each one slowly breaking down the trickster further and further.  The trickster was forever bound to the manor and continued collecting masks to continue his ongoing metamorphosis.  The remaining half of the prince's face forever marked half of the trickster's face, having turned one of his eyes black, and having turned porcelain white.  He painted a cross mark around his eye and a permanent smile on the side of his face that was still covered by the mask.  The Trickster of Ashford Manor still collects masks to this day and remains forever bound by his madness and by the manor itself, forever to exist beyond life and never to meet the sweet release of death.  He exists only in legend, but tales of his performances have been documented around the world.  The Trickster of Ashford Manor exists within the legend from which he is forever bound to, continuously being twisted by the masks that he wears.  However, there is one part of him that will always exist.  He will never stop searching for his queen.


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