So this one time, a bunch of druids decided to save the world by destroying it, and so they grew a giant tree that would pulverize all the cities of the world between its roots. It would take a hundred years--it almost lasted a hundred years--but in the end, even the god-tree, Aglabendis, fell.
Aglabendis was over a mile tall. It's bark was thicker than city blocks. It's leaves never turned brown or fell. Instead, a constant rain of petals fell, tumbling from the billions of flowers that covered it. Each flower was unique, like a snowflake. Aglabendis produced all possible flowers because it was all possible trees.
It was not a tree of wood and sap. While your axe could bite into its grain, and your fingers become sticky from its sap, the deity was not composed of these things, in the same way that a human is not composed of their clothing. The poet Uman ko Ayam claimed that "all we perceive is paint upon the veil, when the Immortal is merely air and scent".
It was a god. Not because it was worshiped (it wasn't) or that it granted prayers (it didn't). It lacked an agenda. It even lacked anything we'd recognize as a mind. It was a god because it was a piece of a higher reality. It was a thousand times more real than the world around it. If the world was a book printed on rice paper, Aglabendis was an iron spike that nailed it to the table.
So it was all the more surprising when the tree was killed. Poisoned. By forces of Civilization.
But the tree couldn't die. It was, almost literally, a Platonic ideal of Life. But it couldn't live, either, not with poison filling its phloem.
Removing a god of Life by killing it is a bit like removing a water fountain by drinking from it. It's possible, but you need to empty the reservoir that the fountain is connected to. This isn't to say that there are any parts of Aglabendis that are extra-dimensional (none are), simply that its definition was too big for our world. That's sort of what transcendent means.
When it was alive-alive, it grew constantly and impossibly. Now that it is dead-alive, things grow upon it, constantly and impossibly. And this will continue for as long as it takes for the reservoir to run out--sometime between 50 and 500 years, according to scholars.
And so now, the great trunk of Aglabendis rots, but does not vanish. It is eaten, but it is not consumed. This is the Great Rot, 24,000 square miles of mildewed hills.
|this is pretty close to what I imagine|
except this picture doesn't look cramped enough
or smelly enough
or like EVERYTHING YOU WALK ON IS ROTTING
This is not some untamed wilderness. 55 miles of the Rumhoney Road passes through it, itself part of a major trade route. Asria maintains a fort on the northern boundary, and claims the whole Rot as part of its domain (a completely pointless and untested claim). And the client-state of Truaga maintains a much smaller fort at the southern boundary. The Rumhoney Road runs along the eastern boundary, along the shores of the Saltsea, while squinty-eyed mountains mark the western boundary.
The road has wardens who maintain it, drawn from Asria's exiles, criminals, and lepers. The Rotsmen, as the wardens have come to be called, are a severe, penitent group. The work is dangerous and brutal, and any recruit who does not adopt a strict code of honor and brotherhood is quickly swallowed up by the hills. As a result, the leprous Rotsmen behave with nobility, professionalism, and loyalty. (Except for the newest class. But they'll be dead soon.)
The Rotsmen wear leather armor and blue-painted horsehide capes. Their headpieces look like the plague doctor masks, except that their masks are actually quite functional: the nose of the bird mask is filled with rose petals and other sweet stuff. In addition to smelling super bad all of the time, the Great Rot will also give you lots of skin and respiratory diseases.
Also, a few of the Rotsmen elite wear metal armor, so I suppose their bird masks would be shiny bird helmets, yeah?
The Rotsmen work to keep the road open. The obvious problem is that the Great Rot grows too damn fast. 10' tall mushrooms sprout, grow, and die all in the space of a month. Any path that is cleared is overgrown in less than a day.
So the road is not a road. It's a series of (12' tall) posts that run along the hilltops and ridges. They have long top-beams pointing to the next post in the series. Usually the next hilltop post is visible enough to keep navigation simple, but if posts all eventually become overgrown and must be replaced. And of course, when the fungi are sporulating, you might as well be in a thick fog.
The posts nearer to the border forts have been replaced with metal, which is much more durable. But iron is extremely expensive, while labor is cheap. So not may posts, not many at all.
The pointing top-beams of the posts so long that they resemble gallows. (They were made this long so that they would remain recognizable, even when they were covered with fungi 2' thick.) And that's what the Rotsmen call them. "There are 122 gallows along the road," a Rotsman might say, "and I love each one more than the last."
There is an alternative to Rumhoney Road. You could always go underground.
When Aglabendis was trying to turn the cities into gravel, it sent out its roots throughout the world. Each root was wide enough for a grizzly bear to travel through it. (This is how a stationary tree conducts ambushes.) Those root tunnels persist, and the Rotsmen sometimes travel through them.
Compared to the above-ground, the root tunnels are somewhat safer. Or at least, they are more consistent, compared to the strange seasons of the mushrooms, or the pulses of rot that sweep the bacterial prairies.
It is sometimes difficult to find the entrance to the root tunnels, even for experienced Rotsmen. And it is easy to get lost once you are within them. There's a lot of terrible things down there--the ruins of the druids' machinations, unquiet hives, jelly nests, rooms that are filled with 4' of maggots, and all sorts of restless spirits.
From border to border, the Great Rot is filled with oozes. There are far too many to kill. Rotsmen often joke that as soon as you leave one behind you'll come across another. It is absolutely true. Oozes, jellies, and slimes of all kind thrive within the Great Rot. On days when the visibility is good, a traveler can stand on a hilltop and see dozens or hundreds of glistening gobs of color, squirming down below them, like watching traffic lights change from your hotel room balcony.
Surviving in this land of oozes depends on (a) not attracting their attention, and (b) not lingering in one place once you have it. Since oozes are attracted by smells and vibrations, travelers are advised to carry as few rations as possible and walk lightly. Rotsmen are experienced with oozes, and can confidently walk past them, just outside of pseudopod range. Or at least they can when an ooze is busy eating a mushroom instead of just drying itself out atop of one (and it takes years of practice to tell the difference).
Mechanically: the more food you're carrying, the more random ooze encounters you're going to have. The faster you travel, the more random ooze encounters you're going to have. Horses are fast, but risky--the hooves will attract all the nearby oozes, but the horse goes much too fast for them to catch. Of course, the horse will tire eventually, and that's the tricky part.
Resting within the Great Rot is usually accomplished by either (a) finding a safe spot in one of the root tunnels, or (b) camping out atop a large, gilled mushroom. It is important that the mushroom is sporulating, since if the gills are closed, oozes will be able to access the top of the mushroom. And since sporulation is sporadic, there are times when it is near impossible to find a suitable giant mushroom. Ziplines are sometimes sacrificed to make a quick exit from a mushroom cap, since slimes sometimes gather beneath the mushroom at night. (It's also a good idea to hang your rations from a separate mushroom.)
Although the Great Rot is immune to forest fires, it is vulnerable to slime waves.
Things That Aren't Oozes
Well, there's at least one ghost of a dragon somewhere around here. There's also poison dryads (victims of the same poison that killed Aglabendis) and the Suppurations, which are pits in the ground where oozes behave weirdly under the influence of red gems.
There's the obvious stuff like giant rats, otyughs, and persuadable maggots (see: Book of Mice, pg 16).
Unquiet hives build themselves up, like vast termite mounds. Hundreds of insect-sized holes are visible on them, and they are filled with buzzing--but there are no insects. Looking directly at a hive gives people a sensation that ants are crawling on their skin, even though no ants are there.
Fungal angels wander the land, to whom symmetry is abhorrent. They will undo symmetry wherever they find it.
Shaggy mycotheriums plod across the landscape like rhinoceruses. They know no fear and will examine travelers by smell and by using their mouth-tentacles to palpate them. Although they will eat rations, they have no interest in eating live creatures. However, corporeal undead will be quickly pursued and snapped up, like a candy.
Lastly, there is the October King. This is either a popular boogieman among the Rotsman, or some great opponent buried deep in the wilder parts of the Great Rot. Rotsmen who have travelled into the foothills of the mountains, where the actual stump of Aglabendis still stands report seeing extremely strange things.
Most feared among the Rotsmen are the dead hands of the October King, which are vast swarms of dead leaves that move as fast as wind, slip under door cracks, and kill their prey through suffocation or millions of small scratches.
|this is fungus|
specifically, rotting wood