Another Three Things

Root People

The passages to undeath are many – to some, this is a reminder that nothing taken from the world can go without returning to it. Our bodies are not our own; burial is a delusion of the rich, cremation a theft from the future. When we vacate the flesh, the next renter comes and claims it for themselves, or else the crows and vultures reclaim it. So say necromancers and philosophers.

One possible occupant is the root people. In their floral form, they appear entirely innocuous – they resemble hyacinth, but with a greater variation of colors. Most are red, like azaleas. People call them corpse flowers, for reasons that will soon be obvious. However, most people aren’t aware of this particularly etymology, and assume the name is some symbolic export from their neighbors, or perhaps a joke about the flower’s pleasant scent. This is because, aside from appearing innocuous, they actually are innocuous. No malevolence floats from them. Dogs will not bark, and the bees and things will patronize their blooms as willingly as any other. Genera of gardeners have tended them, unaware of their capabilities. The only anomaly about them is an unusually dense and well developed root system, compared to other plants of the same size. Medicinally, the plant is a powerful purgative and antiseptic, but the bitter taste, difficulty of cultivation, and overall rarity make it undesirable for this use.

Caladium Skull by Benny Rachman

Of course, if any of their seeds or cuttings end up near a recently deceased corpse, the plant will “move in,” returning the corpse to a semblance of life. The fleshy stems and roots spread through the body, driving out decomposers and returning the body to life. And life is the proper term – the arisen root person isn’t undead by any means, and the usual methods of repulsion and destruction won’t work.

The seeds must take root early on in the decomposition process, if they hope to stop it. Otherwise, the flowers will grow and bloom, but not take over the rest of the body. This process takes a day itself, so freshness of the body is critical. The root person speaks (haltingly) with the voice of the dead, and will have their gait, reflexes, physical tics, and gestures – the plant is occupying the brain, and has yet to bring its own personal touch, as it were. Most of what they say at this stage isn’t going to make a lot of sense, though it will be legible. The higher functions of semantics will take a week or so for them to incorporate into their root brain. Even then, don’t expect a lot in the way of thrilling conversation. Social rules and cues are even harder to grasp, so expect a perpetual empty stare, long pauses, and obstinate refusal to understand idioms.

They also have most of the human’s memories, but generally aren’t aware of them and don’t find these particularly interesting to talk about. Interestingly, if the root person was made from a plant’s root cutting, or a replanted specimen, they’ll have “memories” of their time as an immobile plant. Most of these relate to rainfall, soil conditions, and times they were stepped on. The information is all but useless without anything resembling human sensation to contextualize it. Aside from the mundane esoterism (who cares if the rain droplets in one spring were much heavier and very slightly colder than all subsequent and preceding springs?) of it all, even establishing a chronological order is a pain because their memories are about as fallible as any humans.

As for disposition, the root people are harmless in most cases. They tend to hang around the edges of human society, of course, because seeing dear old grandma with stems and flowers poking out the left side of her head gives people all sorts of dangerous ideas about their intentions. They mostly walk around, look at things, and dawdle in the sun – they still get most of their energy from photosynthesis, and are therefore constrained in their energy-expending activities. Not that they can’t eat – their digestive systems are all at least somewhat functional. They just don’t mind hunger. Well, it’s more accurate to say that most of them prefer it, because they are gluttons. I mean this in the general sense – by which you might think I mean, they pursue food, drugs, sex, and other pleasurable sensations without restraint. And that certainly is the case for the more developed root people. But I really mean it in the even more general sense – they are gluttons for sensation itself.

Everything humans experience – even just in the regular course of things – is alien to them, and they don’t really know what to make of it. Obviously things like consciousness, language, and eyesight are all completely alien to them, and they do experiment with these from time to time, with their boldness and ingenuity growing as they do. But when they’re starting out, they hew to the more familiar. So things like hunger, sleep, sunlight. Obviously, a plant doesn’t experience any of those in any way that could be mistaken for how a human does. Nevertheless, plants still rest at night in something resembling our sleep, reach towards sunlight in a way the suggests recognition, and desire for the fundamental material of life in a way that is comparable to hunger. They can’t just sit down and enjoy a prime cut of meat, perfectly cooked yet. After all, they don’t have anything to really compare the steak too, the same way a child might not. But the child’s lack of context comes from a lack of steaks they’ve eaten – a root persons lack is that with the additional, internal discord of sensation. They haven’t had time to realize that hunger is the less preferable state to satiation, that pain is less preferable to pleasure. You could stab one, and it would not only survive it easily (the roots that grow through their body make them very hardy) it might not even occur to them to be upset. No doubt they’ll feel pain, but they don’t really know what pain is yet, so all in all your scuffle will be forgotten sooner rather than later.

Emptiness of the Hollow by Shelby Kerberg

Of course, this does mean that they have next to no preservation instincts when starting out, and that quite a few end up burning at the stake, silently consumed in choking white root-fed smoke. But those that do survive go on to become very convincingly human. They begin to talk with an easier affect, pick up on social cues, seek out carveries and bath-houses and brothels. They learn to act out the language of discomfort and pleasure: sighs of relief, groaning in pain, salivation at a the prospect of a good meal. I say acting, which maybe implies that they don’t mean it, but they do. By acting, I mean imperfectly replicating, because you never shake the impression that they don’t quite “get” the whole pleasure/pain dichotomy. A root person might look forward to a day at the spa with equal excitement with which they look forward to a four month trek through the snow-blasted wastes of the highest mountain glaciers. Granted, some normal humans look forward to that, but that’s because they enjoy it. The root person might hate it, might know they have sore feet, numb limbs, and constant sunburn on their agenda. They do it anyway, because they never quite shake their excitement for pure sensation, of which agony is one side. This might appear as a form of masochism, but that doesn’t quite describe it correctly. Masochists seek pain probably because it is pleasurable to them – the root person seeks pain because it wants to know what that kind of pain feels like.

They’re not sociopaths – well, not all of them anyway. They understand right and wrong perfectly well, and are capable of empathy. They’re built off of human templates, after all. If the person they were in their previous life enjoyed feeding the village children and tousling their hair, then the root person probably will too. But part of them will wonder what they would feel if they took a village child and ripped their spine out. It’s not a lack of empathy, just a distance to it. They are permanent tourists in the brain they inhabit.

Of course, they can also develop moral frameworks. One thing that they develop quickly, thought not immediately, is self-preservation. If they want to keep feeling, they have to keep being alive. Murdering people to measure your own reaction is a very good way to not be alive anymore. So root people with a decent amount of contact with mainstream human society generally keep the exploratory spine extraction to a minimum. But if they grow up on their own, or in the presence of bad actors, then they can come out with very warped senses indeed. A new root person will understand that murder is wrong eventually, as the moral sensibilities of their old life returns. But someone they trust can easily convince them to kill someone anyway, if guarantees of safety are made. The residual guilt they feel for murdering someone is, to them, just another experience. Their strength, toughness, and pliability, combined with a widespread reputation for guilelessness, makes them excellent minions for sorcerers, wizards, and other criminals.

A less extreme example can be seen in the independent communities of root people. Almost none of them have any respect at all for burial rites, and regularly commission grave robbers to bring them corpses necessary to propagate their race – the closest thing they can get to the joys of parenthood and reproduction*. It’s a tidy racket; the robber gets the goods they were buried with, the root people get the body. And they generally can’t be made to understand why humans would prefer they didn’t do this. After all, its not like they were using the body. They don’t realize that humans derive comfort from burying their relatives, either because it never occurred to them or because it was more convenient to just feel the feelings that told them not to.


That’s one example, but by no means the picture of root people society. Anything from pet-rearing to dinner etiquette to indoor speaking volumes might have different expectations, or none at all. And the less said about all the weird sex that goes on, the better. Adventurers and mercenaries are frequent go-betweens for root-people and mainstream society. Unbound as they are by the usual rules of morality, they find the root people’s eccentricities far more tolerable. Aside from the aforementioned grave robbing, which as of late has developed a specialty field for specific kinds of corpses, they can offer protection or serve as factors for rare and eccentric pleasures and goods. Usually, this means drugs, but if your party is able to reassemble the famous imperial bath houses (or maybe just smuggle them in), they won’t say no.

* The reproductive systems of root people are generally intact, and any child born to root people parents are just regular humans.


I’ve mentioned previously that the world is littered with the obscene weaponry of a now bygone industrial era. This is another one of their weapons – a self-replicating horde of all-consuming insectoids. A gray-goo scenario, without the goo.

The singular sumereforme is best described as shell-less, fleshy, isopod the size of a small dog, with a single bright green eye usually near the front of its body. I say usually because their replication is so feverous that it seems many mistakes are made in the process – most of them have some kind of asymmetry – shorter legs on one side, an extra eye or a blind one, hunchbacks, L-shaped spines, protrusions of the chitin-like material that passes for bone or hair. The only constant factor is the chittering maw into which they place the world. They sometimes take on the properties of the things that they eat – stone-eating forms will be gray with tougher skin, wood eating forms will be sap-colored, and so on, though they are usually the sweaty beige of sickly human skin.

As you may have guessed, the sumereformes eat to reproduce, which allows them to eat more. This is how they were applied as a weapon. A single sumereform is placed in the back alley of a city, or the outskirts of a farm. It begins eating, and laying eggs that grow to maturity over the course of six hours. They target infrastructure – anything of use will do: concrete, streets, rail and power lines, apartment blocks, in the past. Nowadays, its mostly crops, forests, castles, city walls, and homesteads. Really, they’ll eat anything but dirt. Destruction and reproduction are their only real goals, but they are generally intelligent enough to avoid attacking a target that is killing a lot of them, and can be devilishly clever and slippery when only a few of them exist. The strength of their self preservation instincts are inversely proportional to their population. Once they reach a terminal population, they throw their lives away with reckless abandon. What constitutes a terminal population varies from place to place and time to time – they have a lot less to eat, generally, but a medieval society’s ability to contain an outbreak is also far inferior to the society that created them.

Sumereformes are masters of coordinating their movement and latching their bodies together to form structures. The most common of these is the egg-puck. It’s basically a continuous cylinder half the height of a man and about as wide as a barn. The center contains a ‘hatch’ of sumereformes that cover the vulnerable eggs as they wait to hatch, and who move out and over the top of the puck to join other swarms. The puck itself also moves, to either hoover up eggs or protect the eggs at the center if they are threatened. Climbing on top of it is not recommended – they’ll suck you down and consume you. While the egg puck is a constant of any infestation that grows past a certain size, very large or embattled infestations will form more obscure structures. They frequently form chains and throwing arms to launch clusters of sumereformes over walls or great distances, to spread their infestation faster – their lack of rigid skeletal structure means at least some of them survive this. Siege towers, bunkers, and egg castles have also been recorded.

Isopod Model by Eric Keller

When they move, they move as a group, or swarm. Usually, they just run over and cover their targets, but they are capable of latching their bodies together with their spindly limbs to form more complex war forms. The most common, and easiest to form, is a cylindrical form that they use to batter through barricades, when eating them isn’t fast enough. Spheres or wheels are employed when speed is required, and ridiculous multi-armed forms are employed when only a few sumereformes are available and they need to fight off skilled combatants. They’re most feared in their wave form – a moving peak of multicolored cartilage and flesh, that runs at and crashes against their target, breaking it down and speeding up the incoming feast, while sending some of them flying onto other targets.

You may now assume that sumereformes are quite intelligent, judging from their ability to judge their own fighting capacity and form structures. This is true – every sumereforme is at least as intelligent as a human. However, they tend to resort to clever solutions only when their numbers are insufficient for brute force, and it isn’t exactly clear why. Maybe they prefer to hide their intellect, to retain the element of surprise against those that assume they are mindless. Still, a few of them can probably understand language, even if their disgusting mandible mouths can’t form words. They might even understand politics, geography, and military strategy, based on the movements and target selection of hordes. Everyone who has tried establishing contact has ended up getting eaten, however. Sometimes, sumereformes are found far ahead of their front – possibly serving as scouts or spies. No one knows how they communicate with each other, but it seems related to their instinctual ability to chain together. They don’t seem to care for their own lives beyond ensuring the success of the infestation, and certainly don’t care for the humans and livelihoods they destroy.

Nothing short of a master wizard can stop them once they reach critical mass, and even then it isn’t guaranteed. They can be killed easily with conventional weapons, but too many of them run over armies, and too few will skitter away. Ingested poisons have no effect. But none of that matters. Getting an army to stand against them is impossible. The peasantry will flee into the cities, crowding behind and below the walls, leaving home and hearth to the consumption. The aristocrats will abandon their estates, birds and beasts will flee and gorge themselves on the weak, falling off the roads. All know that it isn’t any use, and only the most stubborn or desperate or arrogant humans will remain, practicing their arts of delusion. They will live to regret it.

As you may gather from their description, sumereformes are not pretty, but their effect exists beyond aesthetic displeasure. A scholar once calculated that the amount of mass embodied in a sumereforme swarm is actually far greater than the amount of material they consume – a clear violation of the conservation of mass. In a world of wizardry and sorcery, this is no grand achievement. Energy is conjured from nothing for most spells, and mass is no object, either. But these transgressions send waves through the world. Any human can sense them if they hone the skill, and most animals notice them automatically. It only requires practice, no magic itself – the methods of wizards are rougher, less refined, often composed of the same animus they seek to detect.

If a wizard’s spell is a faux pas, undetectable to those untrained in reality’s etiquette, then a sumereforme front is serial homicide. Both can be said to be wrong, but one is really, really wrong. A spell, is hole in the fabric of reality, a misplaced thread or stitch. Sumereformes are a grease stain spread over it, a warping of reality to fill in more space and mass than it did before. Even oblivious and untrained humans will sense it coming. Those who can sense the arcane report it as a form of uneasiness, a sort of mental or emotional discomfort. Even a single scuttling body will trigger this in any human – this is actually the best tool to hunt them down. When the wave is coming, the symptoms become physical – sweats, nausea. Hallucinations and delirium have also been reported by those closest – bottled in by siege. By the time the retching begins, you won’t be able to outrun them, and your horse will have already escaped, or broken its legs or neck trying to.

The only recourse is to wait them out. Perhaps their creator feared they would grow out of control, perhaps its divine providence or a flaw in their creation, but the wave of skittering bodies will begin dying after reaching a certain number. By the end of the hour, the barren, stripped ground will be carpeted with their corpses. Some cities and castles managed to hold them off until this moment, fighting back with trenches of fire and boiling water or sand. These strongholds sometimes survive the initial event, if not the ensuing famine. Once the dead sumereformes decompose into oily, tepid liquid, it will be at least a year before anything grows on the soil again, and so the victory is sullied by the need to clear the countryside.

Isopod Creature Concept by Habib Kassassir

Sumereformes strike periodically in the same places, over and over again, and their effect bears out in the comparatively lower population of these areas. These are the lucky ones, they only have a swarm every thirty or forty years. Some regions with prime agricultural land go unoccupied – they have one every ten, or five, or more, if people move in. It seems that before they die, they create an embryo. Fakes of these items sometimes appear, to gull doomsday cults, wizards, or particularly mercenary kings. The genuine article appears similar to a man-sized sumereforme curled into a sphere. The geometry of the object is impossible – all of it is visible from any angle, and none of it is transparent. Also visible is the center point that appears to lead to a larger interior when looked into. They float ominously above the ground, and nothing that falls into them ever comes out again. No one knows exactly how they are created, and none of their activations have living witnesses. The most popular theory is that after a swarm dies, one of their number seeks out an isolated area to gestate into the embryo until conditions favor another outbreak.

Cog People

They come in many sizes and materials, matching whatever purpose they were built for. They are, as the name suggests, the cogs of gearwheels and great machines. Some are barely larger than a fingernail, but the first were formed of peerless metal and as large as houses – the gnashing teeth of the failed utopia, machine, and state of Glund. Their arrival was a mystery, attributed to the spontaneous organization of the energy expended by energy. Their arrival was also a delight, at first, to their accidental creators and new masters. They are all dead now, Artificers and servants both, along with the land and spires of oceanic basalt they raised. However, though its original theater is spent, crushed, abandoned, and cursed, the pitiless war fought to extermination was only half completed. The men of Glund and their wisdom is gone, their works gutted for copper and steel. But before the first cog people died, they passed their gift of Provocation to their lesser brethren, to the water wheels and construction cranes of the wider world, and to the delicate, childish imitations of other mechanists.

NecroTek by u/Raikos371

These are the cog people you see now – misshapen little men of wood and brass and stone. The vast, vast majority are made of wood and fit snugly in a man’s palm. Larger ones generally don’t exist because of the lack of need, and smaller ones are generally beyond current technology’s ability to fabricate. Every cog person is an individual with their own inner thoughts, but for many purposes they act as a group with their cog clan – the other teeth of the gear they were once a mere part of. They view their fellows as siblings, whom they are loathe to abandon. Work, recreation, education and political activism are all carried out collectively. The de-toothed wheel or cog that they were part of is the physical and spiritual home of the cog clan. Cog people rarely move far from their family or their home, but instead carry it with them wherever they go. A cog person deprived of their home or clan is considered the greatest tragedy imaginable in cog person literature and history.

They confederate with the small peoples, and find themselves similarly exploited if they try to stand on their own. A small repeat of that schism that followed the birth of their ancestors. Millers, astronomers, mechanists, and military engineers all fear that their designs will be Provoked, and shortly enter into rebellion. For the same thing that gives the cog people life – endless toil – also destroys them, wearing their bodies into cold, dead nubs.

Yet many actually seek out and encourage the creation of cog people – only on their terms. There are benefits – the cog people are better able to weather decay, and can correct jams on their own. Most importantly, they are self-propelling, as their ability for independent locomotion also allows them to turn their wheel-homes on their own power. A lazy, unscrupulous, or desperate engineer might do this to save time, or put a machine where they normally wouldn’t fit. The rites that cause Provocation are the best kept secret of the cog people, but it is known that running gears and cogs without making them perform any useful work will eventually cause the cog people to spontaneously generate. After this, they can easily be made to work for 24 hours a day, every day, until they wear down and die. Cog people (when created) possess no knowledge beyond the instinct require to move themselves and the machine they originated from in tandem with their wheel-fellows.

Cog people hire themselves out for work – usually whatever they were originally designed to do, but they also design new purposes around their existing bodies. The costs to their employers are typically enormous, far exceeding the wages of apprentice craftsmen and even many journeyman and masters. Their prices are based on a minimum to coat themselves in oil, grease, and wax, both recreationally and to protect their bodies. None of those things are cheap, yet still their prices are higher. These excess funds are used for education and entertainment – paying sages, tutors, musicians, and the like for their services. They are also terribly fond of sport – watching and playing – and frequently patronize local champions and athletes. They also develop highly convoluted games of their own, including miniature size obstacle courses that rival Rube Goldberg machines in complexity.

The Last Star: The Orrery Study by Mabel Valor Che

Despite their ruinous costs, the idle rich will use them to rush a job, or perform some mechanical task previously thought impossible. The nobility also employs them in a variety of economic intrigues, to undercut other guilds by overflowing markets, or to ruin mills owned by their rivals. Cog people congregate in the city of Fihan, for a number of reasons. It is a city large enough for them to find work, and for them to spend their cash. Fihan’s economic and social life has received quite a jolt, and is now prone to violent revolts and reprisals targeted at the cog people, the ruling classes, or whoever happens to be on hand at the time.

However, they also gather there because of the Seven, the clan that nominally rules them. The Seven are a religious organization that awoke (or purposefully chose) Fihan for its proximity to Glund. The restoration of those crags and the recovery of the sunken machines that rose them is a popular aspiration, propagandized and sustained by the seven cog-people of the Water Clock IV of Fihan – all reclaimed cog clans are named this way: function, number of their clan’s arrival, and location. For individuals, their number is appended to the front. The Sixth of Water Clock IV of Fihan was a prophet, who proselytized the return to the sunken and decrepit land from which their forbears originated. They were killed as a rebel, but their seven clansmen continued their work and is the de facto ruler of all free cog people.

Of course, arranging the passage to Glund is a difficulty. It rarely appears on modern charts, but even besides that, the architects of Glund sought to build their utopia as far away as possible from the baser societies. As such, it occupies an otherwise unused stretch of ocean that few ships have the desire (or capability) to travel to. The famous Seawall of Glund also doesn’t have any ports – seafaring was not the intended method of arrival. And of course, the country itself offers no chance for resupply, its interior long ago sunken and flooded, and filled now only with ghosts, automate, and the isolated forward parties of the cog people.

The Seven, then, are tasked with organizing the efforts of all cog people to realize this project, as immigration clan by clan is a financial impossibility. This mostly involves finding and liberating the cog clans Provoked throughout the world. The rationale is that single ship can carry a lot of cog people, and more cog people leads to more tithes for buying passage. This has led to a continent-wide intelligence network (mostly hosted through the various small people species) to identify enslaved cog clans, and the Seven and cog society in general have acquired a reputation for cloak and dagger tradecraft. If the hyalines are the intelligentsia of the small people, the florids their mass infantry, and the gnomes their shock troops, then the cog people are their secret police. Their network has even expanded into the courts and parlors of human society, and they employ an entire corps of human agents, many of whom are unaware of who they actually serve.

Finding art for these posts is always a goddamn chore, but this one is especially annoying for whatever reason. So here’s some evocative art of an assassin. Apocalypse by Oliver Odmark

However, this isn’t a mission without controversy – some accuse the Seven of encouraging humans to create cog clans, for the purposes of liberation. Recently, some of the subordinate clans have taken to slitting the throats of whoever used the cog people – the previous deterrent of burning their works and house down was apparently ineffective. The goal of the dissenters is to simply make their own new cog clans, but this has historically been somewhat taboo to discuss. The Seven take a very hard stance on this matter – only very specific and somewhat esoteric conditions traditionally allow such actions. The culture of the free cog clans enshrines equality above all else. While this is mostly aspirational, (larger clans or those made of stronger material definitely tend to be more powerful, excepting the Seven) questions of ownership, seniority, and fealty nevertheless pose constant difficulties. To the cog people, their societal hierarchy is a purely consensual, meritocratic buy-in experience, so having some clans in vassalage to others is a political boundary many aren’t willing to openly cross. The easy answer is that the newly created clan owes nothing to their ‘parent’ clan, but they need to be educated, and many believe that the parent should have special privileges.

None of this even considers the costs of creating a new clan, which generally requires a human smith or machinist, who for their part avoid accepting such commissions, either by legal order or a good sense for self preservation. Another issue is the quality of the child clans. Is it ethical to make a child clan out of wood, when longer lasting and stronger materials like iron and brass are available? If clans are allowed to reproduce only in brass, than the poorer, smaller, and less powerful clans are left out. These small clans are the ones that are most eager for all restrictions to be lifted – they can’t grow except by creating allied (or subservient) clans, and their status in cog society is static.

Currently, the sailors and captains of Fihan have also sworn solemn oaths not to aid the cog people in their mission, and so the Seven have run into another obstacle. Their current plan involves constructing their own ship, powered by purpose-built cog people (this being one of the special conditions where it is allowed) to carry them to Glund. The project has cog society in an uproar at the perceived hypocrisy of the Seven, who have stretched their intelligence resources thin trying to root out or exclude dissenters while trying to kidnap the mechanists, shipbuilders, and smiths they’ll need for the project.

Untitled by Georg Baselitz

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