Part 2: Tree of Wailing Souls
by Eric L. Boyd
Mintiper Moonsilver is one of the legendary bards of the Forgotten Realms, and tales of his adventures have long been recounted around hearthfires across the North in musical, poetic, and narrative forms. Transcribed in Silverymoon's Vault of the Sages by the Keeper of the Vault, Mintiper's Chapbook is a compilation of the Lonely Harpist's ballads, poems, and tales. Selected pages of this chapbook have been annotated and passed into this chronicler's hands and shall be revealed here in a periodic column.
Tree of Wailing Souls
While making their way across the hinterlands of the North, Lunargent and his five companions chose to make camp atop a nearby tor crowned by a massive, gnarled oak tree. Although the hill's summit was easily defended against orcs and other monsters, the night that followed was one of nightmarish horror, for the band had lain down to sleep in the bower of a monster.
Lunargent was the first to realize that something was wrong, for he awoke with a start in the middle of the night to realize that no one had woken him up for his shift on guard duty. Near the edge of the firelight lay one of his companions apparently dozing against the trunk of the great oak instead of standing watch on his shift.
As he made his way over to the slumbering form of his friend, Lunargent tripped over a rock that had not been there when he lay down to sleep. Bending down to examine the stone, Lunargent realized with dawning horror that it was the severed head of his friend, apparently torn off the rest of his body by a bloody tree root that lay twitching on the ground nearby. A mad cackle from the base of the tree drew his gaze to his friend's body. The twin head that had lain atop its shoulders rose into air while ranting insanely, revealing that it was affixed to the end of a thick branch.
Moments later the hill erupted with roots that sought to ensnare the interlopers. The great oak's branches swung back and forth, bludgeoning the companions as they awoke. A dozen heads at the end of branches danced to and fro above the fray, spitting curses and spells on the combatants below. In response, the companions unleashed gouts of spellflame, but to no avail, for the Tree of Wailing Souls refused to burn.
With desperate haste, Lunargent and his companions fled down the steep-sided slope dodging the grasping thicket of roots that erupted wherever they stepped. With Tymora's favor, four survived, including Lunargent, but the mad shrieks of their dead companions never ceased to echo in their heads.
commonly recounted folktale
attributed to Mintiper Moonsilver
Year of the Moonfall (1344 DR)
The tale of the Tree of Wailing Souls is one of the more popular "ghost stories" recounted by bards across the North to audiences ensconced in front of a warm fire with a full tankard in hand and the door firmly barred. As with many such stories attributed to Mintiper, the hero of this tale bears the name Lunargent, an obvious alias for "Moonsilver." However, it is never clear in such tales whether or not the events recounted actually happened and, in cases where there is some kernel of truth to the tale, whether or not the hero is Mintiper himself or someone else whose tale he is retelling. 
Of the many such stories attributed to Mintiper, sages such as myself have long been curious about the Tree of Wailing Souls in particular. The supposed location of this unholy entity is never twice the same when the tale is recounted, however, a detailed examination of Mintiper's known travels coupled with a pattern of similar accounts by other travelers suggests a probable location atop Turlangtor.  Moreover, the existence of such a massive tree atop that peak might account for both the hill's common name and the disappearance of more than one group of misguided seekers of the only recently rediscovered Grandfather Tree. 
If it does exist and is as old as I suspect, the Tree of Wailing Souls represents both a grave threat to the region  and an opportunity to learn more of the legacies of Ammarindar, Delzoun, Eaerlann, Sharrven, Siluvanede, and even Aryvandor. Its alleged power to trap souls suggests that it might contain the trapped sentiences of beings who lived during the height of these ancient empires. Might one be able to contact or even free such spirits and learn more of the North's ancient heritage and magical lore? 
 The tale of the Tree of Wailing Souls is in large part true, based on a nightmarish night spent by Mintiper Moonsilver and the five other survivors of the Battle of Turnstone Pass, just before they entered the northern High Forest. Although Lunargent has become so popular a character that he appears in many tales that did not originate with Mintiper, most, if not all, of those authored by the Lonely Harpist are actually first-hand accounts. It is simply beyond the imagination of most individuals that even the legendary Lonely Harpist could have had so many adventures, accounting for the skepticism in the Keeper's annotations and similar commentary by other sages.
 The Tree of Wailing Souls does indeed lie atop Turlangtor, the westernmost peak of the rocky heights that lie to the south of the River Rauvin and run east to Turnstone Pass and so named for its proximity to the Woods of Turlang. The tree's taproot descends deep into the heart of the bedrock that forms the core of the hill, and its roots entwine nearly every boulder and pocket of dirt in the tor's mantle. Every attempt to kill the Tree of Wailing Souls, whether by burning or other means, has failed, for the tree never fails to regrow to an even greater size from the roots that remain unscathed. In all probability, the Tree of Wailing Souls can only be permanently killed by ripping the tor apart down to its base, a feat beyond the ken of all those who have tried. Even that might not be enough though, for the tree's tenacious hold on life may well be attributable to the lingering energies of warped elven High Magic from ages past. However, those seeking merely to escape the tree's clutches can prevail if they inflict sufficient damage to destroy that part of the plant that grows above ground. Although ultimately hollow, such a victory effectively deprives the Tree of Wailing Souls of the ability to attack for days or even weeks thereafter.
The Grandfather Tree is an Uthgardt ancestor mound unlike any other that lies in the depths of the High Forest, east of the Lost Peaks. This massive oak tree was lost long ago when the Blue Bear tribe was driven away by its guardian spirits, and it was only recently rediscovered on Shieldmeet in the Year of the Banner (1368 DR). The Tree Ghosts, a tribe that split off from the Blue Bear tribe many years ago with the advent of Tanta Hagara's corruption and whose members had long sought their original ancestor mound, now dwell near the Grandfather Tree, working to preserve it and the surrounding forest.
In years past, more than one seeker of the Grandfather Tree mistook the Tree of Wailing Souls for the legendary ancestor mound of the Blue Bear tribe. Such mistakes are understandable in hindsight, although no less fatal, for both trees are of monstrous proportions and tower above their surroundings. One consequence of such ill-fated pilgrimages is that many relics and other items of magic have been lost upon the slopes of Turlangtor. Whether the Tree of Wailing Souls draws such items down into the hill or whether they are recovered by later travelers is unknown, but only a few lost items of magic have been recovered in the tree's immediately vicinity. Among those items still believed lost are the Meerschaum Eye of the Covey, the Sacred Bundle of Ursas Blueclaw, and the Stoneblade of Athalantar. Travelers in the region are advised to be careful should they chance upon such items on the slopes of a steep-sided hill, for it may not be Tymora's fortune that smiles upon them, but the leering heads of the Tree of Wailing Souls.
 In appearance, the Tree of Wailing Souls is somewhat akin to a cross between a red oak tree and a death's head tree, as detailed in the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium: Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness, but it has a unique set of powers unlike any other found in the Realms.
Standing over 100 feet in height with a trunk over 20 feet in diameter at its base, the Tree of Wailing Souls has literally thousands of branches and roots. The Tree of Wailing Souls has 30 Hit Dice and a THAC0 of 1. The trunk of the tree has 150 hit points and an Armor Class of 3 (from the toughness of the bark). It takes 1d8 points of damage to sever a limb or root, each of which is considered to be AC 5, but such damage does not count against the trunk's total. The Tree of Wailing Souls is largely resistant to magic (75% Magic Resistance) and wholly immune to magical and nonmagical fire.
The Tree of Wailing Souls can physically attack anyone standing atop or flying near the slopes of Turlangtor with its branches and roots. Anyone within 30 yards of the summit of Turlangtor or the trunk of the tree is subject to 1d8 bludgeoning attacks by the tree's branches, each of which inflicts 1d12 points of damage. Anyone standing anywhere on the slopes of Turlangtor must make a successful saving throw vs. breath weapon every round or be enmeshed in the tree's roots. (This is equivalent to a nonmagical entangle spell of unlimited duration. The victim or his or her allies must sever 3d4 roots to release him from the tree's ensnaring roots. If not rescued, those trapped by the roots will eventually starve to death, and their souls will be drawn into the tree.)
The Tree of Wailing Souls can manifest as many as a dozen heads at a time at the tips of its branches. Each head is identical to that of a past victim and retains the spellcasting abilities, innate magical abilities, and psionic powers it had in life at the time of its death, as well as a fragmentary collection of memories. Spells are regained twenty-four hours after being cast, and spell-like abilities and psionic powers return at the rate they would have at the time of death. The Tree of Wailing Souls contains literally hundreds of trapped spirits, and it can vary which heads it manifests as it pleases, withdrawing or manifesting at most one head per round. Curiously, the Tree does not seem to select which heads it manifests based on the attendant powers it can employ, but rather choosing heads most likely to horrify whomever (if anyone) currently stands atop Turlangtor.
In lieu of water and sunlight, the Tree of Wailing Souls subsists on the blood and souls of sentient beings. The tree absorbs any blood shed on the ground within reach of its roots (i.e. anywhere on the slopes of Turlangtor). Once a single drop of blood of any creature's blood is absorbed, that victim's fate is thereafter tied to the tree, unless a remove curse is for some reason cast before the fated being's death. Upon death (i.e. upon dropping below 0 hit points), the victim's soul is drawn into the tree in a fashion akin to the 8th level wizard spell trap the soul, no matter how much time has passed or how much distance lies between the cursed victim and the Tree of Wailing Souls (assuming the victim is within Realmspace at the time of his death). Once this occurs, the trapped soul can only be freed by physically severing its head from the tree and placing it in contact with whatever remains of his or her mortal form. Fortunately, the tree's desire to terrify usually results in a victim's head being manifested while his or her companions confront the Tree of Wailing Souls from the slopes of Turlangtor.
 It is theoretically possible to contact the trapped sentiences within the Tree of Wailing Souls, although any such communication will be tinged with the taint of madness and hindered by fragmentary recollection. Such communication might be established by means of psionic or magical telepathy or by necromantic variants of the tongues spell. As severing a head effectively "kills" the communication channel with the trapped sentience until the tree manifests chooses to manifest the being's head once again, all such communication must take place on the slopes of Turlangtor while simultaneously battling the Tree of Wailing Souls. If such communication is ever attempted, some of the spirits that might be reached include King Connar V, one of Ammarindar's later dwarven monarchs, Neldarnoth the Thrice-Cursed, a Netherese refugee who became one of the most admired Ascalhi archmages ere his disappearance, Taanyth Vyshaan, once an elder of the ruling clan of Aryvandaar during the Fifth Crown War, Usunaar Neirdre, a Siluvanedenn dragon-rider who vanished during the Seven Citadels' War, and Valdyr Battlehammer, clanmaster and legendary runecrafter of Delzoun at the height of the Northkingdom.
General references to Mintiper Moonsilver are cited in the first column of "Mintiper's Chapbook."
Tree of Wailing Souls
- Turlangtor is first mentioned and located in Dragon #236, p. 57.
- The Woods of Turlang are discussed in The North: The Wilderness, pp. 52, 68, and in FR5 -- The Savage Frontier, pp. 10, 49.
- The monster known as a "death's head tree" is detailed in the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness, pp. 28-29.
- Turlang the Thoughtful is discussed in The North: The Wilderness, pp. 52, 68, and in FR5 -- The Savage Frontier, pp. 10, 49.
- The Grandfather Tree and the Tree Ghost tribe are discussed in The North: The Wilderness, pp. 19, 22, 31-32, 54-55, 57, and in FR5 -- The Savage Frontier, pp. 25, 52, 54, 64. The Blue ear tribe is discussed in The North: The Wilderness, pp. 11-12, 18, 29, 31-32, 54, and in FR5 -- The Savage Frontier, pp. 23-24.
- Meerschaum is a type of carvable hardstone resembling bone, as discussed in Volo's Guide to All Things Magical, p. 44. A covey is a group of three hags, and a hag eye is usually gemstone through which members of a covey can observe goings-on, no matter how far away it is borne, as noted in the Monstrous Manual, pp. 181-182.
- Sacred bundles are the holy symbols of shamans of Uthgardt, as detailed in The North: The Wilderness, p. 32, and Powers & Pantheons, pp. 69-70. By its name, the Sacred Bundle of Ursas lueclaw suggests itself to be a relic of an early shaman of the Blue Bear tribe.
- Ties between the folk of long-fallen Athalantar and the Tree Ghosts of the current day are noted in Dragon #218, p. 26. Helm Stoneblade was Athalantar's first king after Elminster dethroned the Magelords, and the name of the Stoneblade of Athalantar suggests that he or his descendants wielded it.
- Details on Aryvandor, Ammarindar, Delzoun, Eaerlann, Sharrven, and Siluvanede are scattered through a wide variety of sources. The primary sources are Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves, FR11 -- Dwarves Deep, Hellgate Keep, and Dragon #218, pp. 26-37.
- King Connar IV is mentioned in Hellgate Keep, p. 16, so King Connar V is a later monarch. The history of Ascalhorn is discussed in Hellgate Keep, pp. 4-8. Siluvanede and the Seven Citadels' War are discussed in Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves, pp. 32-33, and Dragon #218, pp. 34-35. House Neirdre is discussed in Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves, p. 116. The Vyshaan clan of Aryvandaar is discussed in Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves, pp. 21-23, 29-31.