Oh , eternal lords of the forest and swamps, messengers of the Great Lord, do heed my prayers and entreaties! As I wander across the swamp in search of fish for my children’s bellies, I beg of you to send one of the Ignusho to ward me from the great dangers and perils lurking in the wilderness! And most of all, I beg of you to never give me any reason to look over my shoulder!
-Traditional prayer of the swamp fishermen
Excerpts from a traveler’s notes in the Yokarun wet-lands
As I wandered through the foul morass of the swamps, I suddenly found my ears assaulted by a harsh hissing coming from a thicket of mangroves. Turning my head in that direction, I immediately reached for my sword, fearing the attack of some deadly reptile, the foul like of which abound in this morass. But my native guide immediately grabbed my arm and roughly forced me to turn my head away before I could have a good look at it. ‘‘The ignusho seek only to protect the living trees from harm and desecration. Harm no tree and they will leave you alone to go your own way. These things are sacred. Never attempt to stare at one for that will be the last thing you do.’‘
My curiosity sparked by the guide’s strange words, I have since then endeavored to learn more about these mysterious things. Always, when they are spoken of, an air of reverence and danger seems to surround them. Both adored and feared by the native tribes, these massive reptiles are believed to be the scared embodiments of the loa, or forest godlings that live within the mangroves, watching over every living thing that steps within their ancient domain. Traditional accounts speak of massive lizards that measure well over twenty feet long. Ebon black, they possess long snakelike necks that sway from elongated bodies endowed with powerful tails shaped like those of a great eel’s, an appendage that no doubt allows them to be at home in the shallow bayous and pools that abound in any swamp. Powerfully muscled, their great bodies are covered with armored plates that are capable of turning even the most determined spear thrusts away. Massive spines oozing a deadly toxin line their backs, and their wicked claws ooze a similar ichor. It is said that if either ever so much as scratch a man’s skin, his very flesh will be consumed by the lethal poison, causing arms and legs to decay and rot at a monstrously swift pace. It is a truly painful death as the hapless wretch screams in agony, doomed to stare helplessly as the toxin runs throughout his body, ravaging living flesh and turning it into a rotting mess. It is said that the agony of the victim is so great that it prevents the soul of the unfortunate man from leaving for the after-life, causing him to linger as a shade whose screams of pain can still be heard echoing through the dark morass years after he fell prey to the assaults of the lizards.
The beasts themselves are immune to the venom of other deadly swamp creatures, and for this reason are never preyed on by other things said to be even more hideous and terrifying in aspect if that were possible.
But a prudent traveler has no reason to fear them needlessly. Unlike the accursed Red-Eyed Crow of nightmarish lore, these mighty reptiles seek no malicious delight in harming and devouring wayfarers that wander into the swamp. Content to feed on deer or any other large game they can seize and drown, the Ignusho recognize a human for what he is and thus see far more than an easy meal blundering around on two legs. For as the legends of the fishermen have it, these creatures themselves were once human souls like us. The old story-tellers have told me that, every now and then, when despair seizes hold of a mortal, he might decide to seek to end his misery by drowning himself in the dark waters of the swamps. But his soul will not be permitted to flee the mortal realm as he had wished. Nay, instead the loa seizes the foolish soul in its clutches, transmuting him into its eternal slave. As the soul finds itself enmeshed in the mystic binds woven by a hungry loa eager to ensnare its prey, the great mangrove will vomit forth an Ignusho into existence, a mindless beast with no spark of consciousness within it. Into this twisted shell, the errant soul will be thrust by the rapacious loa, to exist forever as its warder.
Tasked to patrol the boundaries of the domain claimed by its master, the Ignusho will slither through the dark fens, watching every sentient being that wanders within. Every now and then it will unleash its eerie hiss, warning the stranger that his arrival has not gone unseen. Every move he makes, every action he undertakes, will be witnessed as the beast doggedly tails him, the loa witnessing everything through its thrall’s eyes. So long as he makes no move to harm any mangrove within the dominion of the loa, the Ignusho will do him no harm. On the contrary, its presence will scare away the other dangerous denizens of the swamp, protecting from danger the one it stalks. Even the much dreaded Red-Eyed Crow that assails wanderers in the swamp, will recognize the guardian of the loa for what it is, and will not molest the human it escorts. But on no account must the wayfarer ever look back and attempt to stare his protector in its eyes. Only a fool would do so. And his last sight would be that of a twisted human face seized with a demonic fury and shame as it screams its silent agony in the yellow orbs of the lizard. Deeply ashamed of the folly that led to its miserable fate, an Ignusho will not hesitate to slay the one that dares to look upon its source of humiliation, wanting nothing more than to doom him to a fate very much like its own.
All the prudent ones that enter the land of the Ignusho understand this, from the Voodoo sorcerers seeking to practice their dark rituals under the power of the loa, to the cannibalistic semi-men said to haunt the darker reaches of the swamps.
If you ever hear the hissing of a large reptile, be careful never to look into its eyes, my native friends in the village keep telling me. I do not belief a word of it of course, but it is an entertaining story none the less. Huh, before I left, they even pressed on me a necklace made of large claws that they believed an Ignusho shed, saying it might keep me safe from the Red-Eyed Crow as I make my preparations to wander the swamp alone tonight, in a part where the power of their resident loa does not reach. Not very likely to serve as as a charm against the Crow, since only yokels would belief in the existence of either creature.
-An excerpt from Marcus Horad’s Illustrated Guide To The Barbarian Lands Beyond The Empire.