This piece originally appeared on Tribality.com as part of my System Agnostic column. You can read about this concept (not related to Salt in Wounds, with notes on how to adapt it to your scifi or fantasy game) there.
The Fungal Sieve
Controlling Dungeon/Creature at the Core of Heartsblood Marsh
After spending decades of his life establishing Heartsblood Marsh, Afrindi Gunterhix despaired. Given its artificial nature, he didn’t have faith that the marsh would continue serving its purpose without a steward. The grippli he’d imported had descended to base savagery, and every other druid he contacted considered his life’s work an abomination. Without other options, Afrindi decided that he would have to live on and guide the Heartsblood Marsh beyond his lifespan and his mortal frame. To that end, he created/merged with the Fungal Sieve - the pulsating core of the swamp.
The mad druid combined several types of fungus (including Ophiocordyceps unilateralis) and teased these into the form of a chimeric fungus. Gestating the new growth near the dam he’d built to shunt the Tarrasque blood tainted waters into the thousand twisting streamlets of Heartsblood Marsh; the Fungal Sieve grew quickly. It filtered as much magic (as well as any indigestible inorganic matter) out of the Red River, forcing treasures and junk alike into pockets and pores spread about its body. And as it grew, Afrindi Gunterhix poured his essence into it until the gnome was nothing more than an empty husk and the gnarled weave of fungus reached the size of a small fortress.
When Afrindi’s body finally fell, lifeless, it was absorbed by the Fungal Sieve. At the core of the creature/structure, it is said that Afrindi’s face can still be seen and spoken to. However, this is only the word of the most devout grippli that worship the Fungal Sieve as a God.
Recently, the sieve has begun to spore. Rather than creating viable copies of itself, the sieve instead put out a fine mist of spores capable of infecting vertebrates, shooting fungal tendrils deep into the afflicted creature’s flesh. Any creature thus infected is compelled to work tirelessly to increase the amount of organic material fed into the sieve’s massive filter/grinders and otherwise tend to Heartsblood Marsh according to the designs of Afrindi. Fourth generation Grippli sometimes choose infection as a relgious right.
Currently, the sieve has the intelligence of an average human being, although an entirely alien mindset. It primarily uses scent to understand the world, with this sensory information being processed through an intricate series of thousands of olfactory pits (making sneaking up on it potentially impossible) and it communicates with its off-shoots and servitors via overlapping mists of pheromones. Nearing capacity with its current river and sensing a growing scarcity of food, the fungal side of the sieve starts to grow it’s next iteration of spores; ones that are intended to drift downwind to create child copies of itself. Thus far, Afrindi has been able to stifle this biological imperative.
The sieve is riddled with tubules large enough for a human sized creature to crawl through (or a child sized creature to walk through). It is also full of room size bladders and empty organs, in which a variety of strange creatures seek shelter (including the spore infectees). These are used by the sieve to force air, water, and other important matter throughout its body. Hostile creatures attempting to move throughout these tubules will most likely have to face crushing, grappling damage alternated with washes of digestive enzymes or water (in addition to housed creatures and parasites) as the sieve attempts to kill any intruders.
Near its core are its filter-grinders – thick, web-like strands of fungus coated with alternating rows of bony growths. Blood Tainted Water and food is shot through this area and matter is digested or sorted and squeezed out to the rest of the sieve’s body. These filter-grinders can also be reached more easily by following the stream’s path directly into the core of the sieve; but the fast rushing flow of water over innumerable rapids make such entry perilous.
Above the filter-grinders looms the face of Afrindi, thick strands of fungus rooted into his eyes and translating the olfactory senses of the sieve into something approaching vision.
The sieve is slowly crawling upstream towards Salt in Wounds at the rate of about a tenth of a mile a day.
Creatures and animals exposed to the sieve’s spores have a chance of being infected and colonized by the sieve. Fungal tendrils spread throughout the creature’s body and upon colonization by the sieve the infected are compelled to dump food ‘upriver’ of the sieve so that it can flow/float into the creature and be absorbed, or to dig ever longer the trenches the divert Tarrasque tainted water into the fungal fields of Heartsblood Marsh.
Marching and working its converts past the point of collapse and exhaustion, the sieve will then callously digest any infested that has outlived its usefulness.
If threatened, the sieve will compel all its infected to rush to its aid; these creatures will fight to unconsciousness to defeat anything the sieve deems a threat. Infected do not control their own physical actions but can talk and think, most of them have long since screamed themselves hoarse calling ineffectual for help or sobbing. Almost all sieve slaves have seen the fate of the infected no longer able to feed the sieve.
One of the creatures currently enslaved carries on his person a small vial filled with an antifungal powder powerful enough to kill the sieve as well as instructions on how it might be used. Unfortunately, it will only be effective if applied directly to the filter-grinders without dilution; if attempted to be applied elsewhere the sieve’s ability to regenerate and chemically adapt will make the attack less than lethal.
Several pounds worth of precious metals (gold, silver, and platinum) can be found secreted in specially shaped bulbous protrusions. In addition, scattered throughout the sieve are the remains of numerous adventurers and others that have been consumed – while all organic material (including leather, paper, or any animal or plant product) long since been digested the sieve protects its soft, vulnerable innards from inorganic, metal objects (like weapons and armor) by encapsulating such things in semi transparent cysts scattered throughout its body.
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