Spontaneous Driftwood Palaces
They form on the banks of cloudy, forested rivers, and are all but guaranteed at oxbows. The structures rarely reach a man’s height, the name is derived from the great and growing example on the bend of Philom Run, which is now usually visible over leagues of floodplains. This and most other occurrences are more appropriately named spontaneous driftwood towns.
Their cause has stumped wizards and wise men for centuries. Nothing and nobody builds them. The driftwood is dead as usual. Yet it hops out of water, skips over muddy banks, and skates across other bits of driftwood. It looks nothing different from two irregular magnets forcing past each other to settle into a final position. This all occurs fast enough to watch, and after heavy rains spectators will follow the floods to watch the new deposits slide into place, or the old to assume new forms.
The style of the architecture has been imitated by many river societies. Domes and cupolas, bulbs and arches, low vaults and large skylights are each well accounted for in the rambling asymmetric assemblages. The people of the regions believe their gods bewitched the wood to construct the houses of the first men, who emerged from the fertile banks. If so, they’ve long moved into more sturdy and permanent housing, leaving their dregs and mystics and chronically poor to the creaking messes.
An evolutionary isolate, a taxonomic enigma. Wizards suspect one of their number is responsible, and they might be right. As the name suggests, these plants are capable of launching projectiles great distances. Unlike their name suggests, the barrel is actually a modified stem, not a flower.
Only one species uses this ability for reproductive purposes, blasting their seeds like grape shot. In fact, it has become an incorrigible pest, and the people in its native range (in both senses of the word) are well advised to remain indoors during a bloom. Other species fire when threatened (rarely, as they have no natural predators) or at random.
A number of mad schemes involving these plants have spring up over the years. Siege engineers have attempted them, but their aim is too poor and they take too long to grow. Lumberers once tried to use a larger species to launch their product over hilltops, but the final condition of the wood and the complaints of the people in the landing zone put that scheme to rest. Introducing the seed launching variety as an invasive species remains the most successful use to date. There are some rumors or urban legends of wizards and rascally children using them to cross vast distances as part of some greater scheme. All recorded attempts to use the cannon plants for transportation have ended in corpses in most cases and considerably less in the rest. The plants are also a feature of heraldry, denoting the bearer as capable of outbursts of great strength or fearsome rage.
A great slick mass, the length and speed of a fast, angry steam train. The former part of their name derives from their place of birth – great iron deposits. The latter derives from their slimy secretions and ability to absorb nutrients through their skin.
From their birth form as a pinkie length white worm, they grow to their great sizes over the course of a half century or more. Their final color depends on the stone and metal they eat, but most turn up red owing to iron, and all of them are red on the inside, since iron was the first thing they ate. They burrow the entire length of their range in youth, covering dozens or hundreds of miles in a mere decade. They spend their adolescence growing wider instead of longer, their useless mandibles atrophying away as their slime becomes acidic. After they reach the width of two ox-wagons, most of the worm’s internal organs become redundant, and their alone loses its ability to burn through rock. Around this time, the worm finds another iron deposit to lay its singular egg and then die.
However, some poor but enterprising shepherds and farmers discovered that the could extend the life of the worms by feeding actual nutritious food through the mouths left from their tunneling phase. Furthermore, most of the worm’s organs can easily be removed without harming it, and through direct manipulation of its nerve tissue, it can induced to move forward or backward. It can live indefinitely in this state.
You may know where this is headed.
Those shepherds that long ago discovered and claimed the worms are the great power brokers of their age. Empires have risen and fallen on the sufferance of the Worm Moguls and their incomparable logistical advantage. Kingdoms and principalities elongate and warp along the axes of the worms’ boreholes. By feeding them a special diet, their slime allows them to reach artificially high speeds. The people along them live with much greater access to trade goods, but live in the shadow of the bitter wars between tycoons, who are as rapacious and fractious as their 19th and 20th century American counterparts.