So Sayeth The Scrolls Of Su’umunish:
In the ancient days, the Tribes of Men chased the Dragon down out of Ong-Jjangarrut, the Nest of Fear, and the Terrible One, He That Cometh Of The Void, was wounded by the weapons of Mankind. The Dragon fled the Tribes and the Tribes chased forth the Dragon across the Earth, for the Gods of Men hurried them forth at their heels.
And everywhere where the Dragon’s blood was shed, there sprung up black and awful forests filled with snakes, and the Tribes chased the Dragon and cut down the evil trees where they grew. But there remained one tree that was not cut down- that dark tree, heart of evils and poisons, with its roots in deadly minerals and foul waters, the Tree of Curses.
And that tree sat in the forest which is called Ssaher and grew like cancer, its roots steeped in the Dragon’s blood and in poison waters, until it was a tree as great as a giant, awful and rotten and full of evil. And dark things which were chased forth by the Tribes of Man, the spawn of the Red Sky, and of older times still, came to lurk in the tree, as they came to lurk in all dark places of the world.
And this tree is the Tree of Curses, which Man knows not the secrets of, as Man knows not the secrets of any other thing.
Oh, luckiest of the creatures of the Earth is the mortal, Man, who knows of himself but still does not know anything! Fortunate Man, whose mind is easy being not concerned with the things over which the Gods of the Earth and the Gods of Men may worry when even Time is old.
Enough Of Legends… What Is This Tree?
Across plains white with alkali dust and bones, through blue-misted vales of nodding flowers, over mountain passes mentioned only in the oldest of tales, distant from every settled land and believed mythical since the age when Uon the Great Sage invented the first writing, there is the great dark forest which is known as Ssaher, the Mother of Serpents.
In this dreaming land, no man dares to raise his hand against the forest- the few scattered tribes who dwell in this swampy wilderness of eternal twilight live as beasts, daubing their bodies with mud and bark, and hunting with stones and sharpened wooden skewers, eating their meat raw. These strange and atavistic people know nothing of writing or of law. They live in fear of the dreams and nightmares of the ancient and brooding world around them, and all, man, woman, and child, have dwelt their entire lifespans in the belly of the trackless marsh.
So it is with superstitious awe and fear that these primitives regard the heroes, having been drawn to this distant wilderness by legends of evil and of treasure, and from stories by Wrulic wanderers of a wilderness unsullied by man, spotted from atop the haunted peaks of the Mountains of the Black Flock. And they are drawn, these heroes, by legends of the Tree of Curses.
In the dark heart of the great Ssaher, the darkest, thickest, and most evil part of that primal wilderness, where the marshy lands of that karsted country descend and the foul waters pool into a vast, still lake of stagnant black murk, there grows a tree. Let us not waste words describing the myriad dangers encountered by the heroes in traversing the great swamp of Ssaher, not the least of which are the omnipresent snakes, of all sizes, all deadly-fanged. This is no normal tree, that any fool can see with his eyes, for if the other trees of Ssaher are giants, this tree is a god. Its gnarling roots rise out of the filthy, red-tinged lake like the battlements and towers of some primeval fortress painted with man-sized beards of moss and crusty, intricately sculptural masses of fungus the size of wagons. As the heroes follow their eyes up from the roots, the trunk, as big around as the keep of a mighty Herasorn fortress, rears above them. The vast, naked, and twisted branches of the Tree shatter the dull sunlight in a way that seems nearly inimical, much different than the eternal twilight made by the treetops of the endless swamps around it.
Strangely, from where the root-bundled hillocks and ponded morass of the swamp shades into this still, pestilent lake, some one in ancient days has constructed a causeway out across the waters. It is an uneven pathway of piled gravel and slick clay, here and their lost amidst the filthy, pink-tinged waters, with snakes crawling amidst the stones, and little hummocks of swamp grass and loam. In other places the path is marked out by leaning wooden poles, 10 to 15 feet tall, some coated in moss or eaten away by rot, others marked with grisly signs: human skulls, filthy and blackened, naked of flesh, with their noses or teeth stoved in, or with their domes purposely decapped, roped together. A stray breeze, rare in the still air of the endless forest, causes the skulls to clack like chimes. It is an eerie warning.
At the far end of the causeway, the heroes can perceive a set of slick steps, built from piled rocks, below set of great double doors, made from beaten bronze, grimy and tarnished with age, and figured with bizarre images of men transforming into various frightful hybrid animals (snake-horses, wolf-eagles, and other strange lycanthropies).
As they approach these doors, they are surprised to find a water-warped book mouldering on the mossy steps, some of its pages scattered into the sick surface of the lake. It is a copy of the Tractate, the Mitraic holy book; it has been thrown open to a verse in the Second Book Of Prayers. Faithful Mitrans in the party will recognize it as 2nd Prayers 12:45, the "Sobering Warning Of Pcotas": "Beware, all ye of any caste, who disturb the empty house, who open the still tomb, who hide from the eyes of the God of Gods in the houses of pagans, for you are trespassers in death’s precinct."
Their steps laden with omen and anticipation, the heroes ascend the crumbling rockpile steps and put their hands to the bronze doors. However, as if there have not been enough warnings, a serpent appears from a small hole in the wood near their heads and slithers out to curl around the handles of the door. Its head raises and waves back and forth, and it speaks softly to them, saying:
"Mortals- do not be foolish. If you disturb that which is older than old, the agony of your bodies will be nothing in comparison to the agony of your souls. Turn away!"
And then it is gone, sliding silently into the still lake.
Trespassing In Death’s Precinct
The heroes shove the great bronze doors- they slide wide with an ear-raking squeal.
The first thing noticeable is the smell- an all-consuming cloud of rot and wetness, the smell of a thousand thousand mouldering corpses combined with the swampy stench of decaying wood. All is silent, but for the echoes of the doors and the soft wet sound of soaked wood crumbling.
When their eyes adjust to the dim light or if they thought to bring torches, the heroes perceive the great chamber in which they stand. Far above their heads, above the doors through which they entered, a shadowy haze of dull, syrupy light seeps into the chamber through a brush-clotted hole in the trunk the size of a man. It is a very long, narrow, crescent shaped lacuna in which they stand. To their left and right, just beyond the light, stairways are carved into the wooden walls up to tunnels which vanish into the trunk. Before them,
Tabernacle Of The Rotten Prophet
-Scriptures Of The Pale One
-behold! pagan blasphemies
Tomb Of The Anchorite Serpents
-one of the primordial god-serpents, Nnssahh
-foul humans covered in fungus and moss that eat flesh
Aeries And Branches
-unfortunate trespassers’ corpses hung from branches
The Caverns Of The Maggot-People
-wandered by maggot-people, hideous, blind, pale beings descended from lost humans
-piles of human remains (and also the mouldering near-unrecognizable corpses of stranger things)
Ruins Of An Unknown People
-pillars and ancient carven fortifications intermixed with gnarled roots, whole surfaces running with seeping filthy water and blood
The Corrupted Taproot
-tree’s dark central root descends into a lake of foul and ancient blood
The Dragon’s Blood
-a misshapen horror (snake? or mutated dragonlike being? probably undead or rotting or something disgusting like that), born from the blood of the Dragon, emerges to devour the heroes
-a great rotting black heart hangs from the taproot above the blood lake, beating abominably (killing the heart kills the tree)