Friday, February 21, 2020

Crypt-Cities: The Greenherders.

Islands of Green in a Sea of Death

You wouldn't expect there to be much of a rapport between Nomads and Holt-Dwellers. Their borders were fluid yet haphazard and cause for tensions for centuries, and that was before the curse of the Awakened gripped the land, before your kind started shambling about and the soil started to die beneath their feet.

And for the most-part, no, they are not on very friendly terms.

But that didn't stop a handful of them from working together when the world began to die.

At first, it was just a couple of the Dwellers who were desperate to move to a healthier tract of forest. The old growth had been dying away, allowing the Nomads to expand their grazing territory. The green-wardens bought their way into a traveling band, who brought with them dozens of wagons laden with plant life. Pots, sacks, and entire troughs of rich, black earth housed hundreds of shoots, sprouts, saplings, and other young green lives desperately trying to grow. When the waste-wanderers dropped them off at their destination, they were given a few choice specimens in payment.

Over time, more nomads gave more holt-dwellers transportation and protection, particularly when an entire community was suddenly cut off from the rest of a forest by sudden natural or unnatural disaster. Some were small affairs, while others saw entire trees uprooted and safely replanted. Something of an understanding formed between the two peoples, and cultural exchange grew deeper.

It isn't entirely clear when the plants started walking themselves.

Maybe some of the old wood-shapers started to meddle in few fields of esoteric knowledge, or maybe they'd always had access to it.

What is known is that a few hundred years ago, the transitional grass belt became populated by mixed bands who herded both animal and plant. Simple words, lassos, and crooks were enough for the beasts, but it took a special kind of magic to coax a shrub into uprooting itself and squirming forward under direction on roots like so many clumsy, twisting legs.

Over time their art was honed and perfected. Soon, trees could drag themselves along by their roots. Before long, entire groves would walk or stumble at the lead of these Greenherders. They were far slower than draft animals, but comparatively implacable so long as they had water to store and good soil to root in at the end of a journey.

It was a natural conclusion of the process to weave them together. Roots not needed for movement were made to knit themselves together into vast meshes which could hold and bear the weight of good soil. Specialized roots bored deep into the earth to tap increasingly hard-to-find groundwater reservoirs. Over time this practice was strengthened until earth, stone, other plants, and even pools of water could be carried by these increasingly large agglomerations of flora.

They could even be inhabited.

Rather than subjecting them to the harsh wastes, the herders loaded their animals up onto a bed of animated earth before every major migration. The dead, human or beast, began to be buried amid those groves so that their every element could benefit their nascent ecosystems. Villages were built on the backs of those groaning forests, entire generations living and dying within view of a wasteland which they were almost able to separate themselves from entirely.

But as the earth continued to wither and resources stretched thin, the greenherders split up. Their bands ranged far and wide, each adapting to the strange and unique hardships of the region which they ultimately found themselves in, following the old paths known only to the Nomads. Roots dug deeper to pursue the fleeing water reserves. Vines as fine as hairs with fingers like cilia cling fiercely to soil for fear of losing a grain. People once at the forefront of a sociable, trans-cultural exchange have become reclusive and wary.

Now, it is vanishingly rare to see more than one or two of these walking green islands in a lifetime.

But when you do, it can be such a sight.

walking island by CoconutMilkyWay

Rot Blossoms

In their quest to become as resource-efficient as possible, a few more unorthodox innovations were made by the greenherders. Simply feeding the dead to the land is rather tame, after all- even if the idea is horrifying to the Awakened.

Their botanists hazarded to guess that a whole body could be made to benefit nature just as much as all its parts. So, they cautiously adapted plant life which could root itself directly in dead flesh without waiting for fungi and other decomposers to break it down first. A few relatively minor mishaps occurred in which calipers and pruning sheers became surgery implements and personal grooming tools, but before long the greenherders enjoyed hauntingly beautiful success.

Cropped from an image by Lora Zombie

A myriad of different plants were raised to grow from decaying flesh, but over time the umbrella term of "Rot Blossom" caught on and stuck. Normally innocuous elements of greenherder islands, Rot Blossoms have taken on quite a different character among the pained, raspy whispers of the Awakened worldwide.

You know them well, don't you? Bet you hate to hear someone confirm that all of the rumors are true, huh? Quit your knee-knocking and pay attention before you break a joint.

Yes, Rot Blossoms can infest the Awakened.

Your flesh may be animated, but it is most certainly decayed. And the slower rate at which you decay actually makes your kind an ideal bed for some of them. They can take root and lazily drain the nutrients from you until there is nothing left of a husk, unable to move as it overtakes your entire body in its sweetly sick tendrils, left to wait for some unlucky scavengers to happen upon you and start the whole cycle over.

Of course these aren't the ones to be feared. You can simply avoid their little boring seeds, or rip a sprout out long before it could suck you dry, resulting in minimal damage to your carcass.

No, you need to fear the ones with minds of their own. The ones released into the wastes by accident, never intended to be used on the Awakened- and therefore the ones without any well-known guards against them. The ones with the same walking-roots as the titanic green islands, but on a minute scale. The ones whose seeds can fly in on the wind, land on your shoulder, and then worm their way into your ear canal. It's just a few finger-widths of wriggling from there before they hit your rotten brain.

That's when the fun starts.

It can take over what little is left of your motor functions from there- subtly at first, of course. You'll think it's you deciding to go this way instead of that, or to lie down in the sun with your head tilted just so, despite never having done so before. But over time its control will grow more overt and difficult to resist without inflicting massive, potentially debilitating trauma upon your own skull.

By the time the first buds erupt from behind your death mask to bloom in the parched air, you'll be powerless to do anything about it.

If you're lucky, you'll have fallen for its intoxicating presence by then, and won't really mind.

What's that? 

Of course you will still be conscious.

Not even burning to ashes can fully kill you, so why would a little decomposer-turned-parasite?

With no heed given to the ever more agonizing pangs of the Need to find a crypt-city, it will lead you far astray. But it won't force you to do it alone, oh no. It knows an ambulatory host is better than a still one, and it has no use or interest in healthy, living bodies. So it will make you bring it to other Awakened, in order to grant its seeds to them. And other Awakened will come in search of you in turn, either to destroy you if they have the sense to, or to join you, damn that alluring reek.

There are tales of truly pungent flower beds tucked away in the ruins of the world; rumors of fallen crypt-cities overgrown with this aberration of nature.

Rot Farm Skeleton by Maciej Kuciara

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