The City of Bronze is the last outpost for civilized travelers intent on heading southward to the most dangerous and darkest of the dream wilds. Many balk at the price asked for admission, and still others feel that the great frozen sand wave may yet crash over the city. Those travelers tend to gravitate toward the Great Tree of Llem.

Camps ring its base, mostly temporary migrants or desert nomads, and some have even built into its ancient boughs. Unique and the last of its kind, the Great Tree towers even over the Sepulcher of Korton far to the north in height; it alone seems to have stumbled upon the secrets to finding water deep in the desert sands with impossibly deep taproots. It offers the only shade for miles, and its vast leaves collect dewy water for parched travelers.

However, not everyone comes merely for rest and succor or to avoid the City of Bronze. Some arrive intent on walking the Bough Steps.

In the time before the fertile lands that were turned to dust and sand, some brilliant or mad ancients carved steps spiraling around the outer circumference of the trunk, within the hard, dead bark. These stairs go to the top of the tree, but those who live or regularly visit never venture beyond the very lowest of the branches.

Higher than that, few have ever seen. Tales of a great treasure of the ancients spur many to try. Those who return from the Second Bough tend to be weary and irritable, often complaining of strange sounds. Nearly half of them die within the week, succumbing in their beds or suddenly taking their own lives. Travelers returning from the Third Bough are nearly always insane.

Only a handful have ever returned from the Fourth Bough, and they have all been not only insane but badly wounded. A memorial near the start of the Bough Steps records the names of the four who have made it to the Fifth Bough–still some distance below the crown, but the highest from which any living being has ever returned. All of them were terribly maimed, missing major limbs and covered with a pattern of scars not unlike the folds of tree bark. Two were all but catatonic, moving as if in a dream, and two were manic, raving for hours in strange tongues. And all four had brought back some sort of tainted gift from the boughs. One could turn any liquid they touched to sand, if they wished; they perished by plunging their hands into their own body.

Rumors persist of a man–or woman–who reached the crown and returned. They are said to resemble the city of Korton, entirely devoid of light but for a bubbling white inferno of radiance shining out from their gaping eyes and mouth and a network of barklike lines in their surface.

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