The three grooms would never have come this deep into the wood, if Sir Longen hadn’t ordered them to find his wayward destrier, Bradbend. The stallion was truly a marvelous horse, but its legendary ability to escape its stall was more than a nuisance.
As they walked through the forest, none of them could hide their fear. The gnarled trees and heavy undergrowth were somewhat unnerving, but the horrors they feared most were the wood’s legendary phantoms, the ghosts of a legion of rebels, chased to this dark place, then slaughtered by the soldiers of the Empire. The three men muttered superstitiously to each other as they moved through the brush.
Then, with relief, they spotted Bradbend! He was peacefully cropping at the grass in a small clearing. The men spread out to surround the elusive warhorse, crooning softly to it as they approached. Kiley was the first to reach the clearing, but stopped dead in his tracks, a look of incredulous horror spreading across his features! As the other two caught up, they too froze, horror-stricken by the contents of the field.
There, lying on the ground, were dozens of bodies, withered, distorted, and grey. Mute gasps of terror and agony were written on each misshapen face; blank grey eyes stared fearfully at unseen assailants!
In their midst, the stallion munched contentedly on the moist grass.
The strange fungi called “Plutonen Bulbs” or “Liche Fungus” are most often observed in areas where numerous creatures have been slain. They have the needs of other fungi, preferring a moist, cool environment to grow in, but they are clearly a creation of necromancy: After a period of heavy rain, they will spring up in places that have seen a great deal of traumatic death. They tend to grow in massive colonies, which form quickly, growing over the course of several days. Each of these colonies tends to take the shape of some creature that died in the immediate area, gradually assuming the form that the deceased had just prior to death. As this effect is based on the psychic residue of the deceased, colonies seldom form an exact double of the corpse, instead tending to have exaggerated features that reflect the victim’s self-image. The distortions are most noticeable in cases of suicide, where the image may reflect the victim’s self-loathing, or violent deaths, where the death wound and the victim’s suffering may be exaggerated.
Somehow attuning to the “echo” of a life that has been traumatically snuffed out, colonies of Necronen Bulbs will grow into an approximate form of the deceased, as they looked when they were dying. Growing into the approximate shape of the deceased, they eventually begin to emit an unearthly phosphorescence. The light emitted by these colonies is not bright enough to see by, but can be rather unnerving.
The Uses of “Liche Fungus”
Plutonen Bulbs tend to dry out over the course of a few weeks, each colony leaving behind a withered-looking husk. These husks become quite fragile, and burst open at almost any touch, belching forth a massive cloud of foul-smelling spores. These spores taste as unpleasant as they smell, and have been used to repel predatory animals in some regions.
The portions of Plutonen Bulbs visible above ground are only a portion of the whole fungus. Beneath the soil, they tend to extrude hundreds of small bulb-shaped nodules, each of which stores water for the fungus. In dry environments, these nodules can be dug up for water, although harvesting them without dousing oneself in pungent spores can be difficult.
While it does not require a residue of traumatic death to grow, Liche Fungus grown away from such an environment does not seem to grow as quickly or as large, forming flabby nodules perhaps two handspans across. A few alchemists have experimented with the virtues of such a fungus and have determined that it can be made into a potion that will allow one to predict impending death. Unfortunately, the revolting taste and smell of this concoction have limited its use, as the drinker is often taken by violent retching, lasting long after the potion has worn off.
In a few areas, spores of the Plutonen are kept as a means of recreating death scenes after the fact. Investigators will sprinkle the spores through an area to recreate a death scene. This allows them to determine whether the deceased was moved after death or other changes were made to the area. This is done in only the most thorough of investigations, however, as the area must be kept moist for several days, and eliminating the fungus afterward can be problematic.
The Origin of Plutonen Bulbs: The Fall of Torimus
In the history of religion, few sects have been as obsessive in their ancestor-worship as the Necrannen Brethren. Their obsessive genealogical research and determination to render spiritual homage to every last one of their forebears made the worshippers of Necrannen famous for their persistence.
It was a great misfortune for their humble sect that they were more determined than prudent. When Cleus, the addled nephew of bloodthirsty Emperor Setentian, converted to their sect, they began ferreting out the details of his family history with their legendary bloody-mindedness. In a matter of weeks, their determined research had uncovered secrets of his lineage that the Emperor would prefer never be divulged.
The bloody-handed Emperor, not one to trust to the discretion of men of religion, dispatched the infamous Basilisk (23rd) Legion to annihilate the sect and raze their temple compound (particularly its damning genealogical researches). When they arrived at the temple, they set to work with the grim efficiency that made them infamous, slaughtering all within and putting the ancestral shrines of finely-carven wood to the torch.
As they completed their bloody task, the Legion’s commander, Torimus, was startled to see Camrich, the Necrannen High Priest, stagger to his feet. The dying man lurched toward him, asking, “Do you remember me?”
In response, Torimus quipped, “Yes, but I’ll have forgotten you by tomorrow.”
The priest nodded his head in negation and opened his mouth. From within the man poured forth a spray of foul-smelling powder, a veritable torrent of spores. When he was done, all that was left of the dying priest was a dried husk.
A few days later, Torimus awoke to find himself surrounded by dozens of his victims, all frozen in their death throes. It happened again the day after that.
A few weeks later, Torimus fell on his sword, hoping that he could escape the endless legions of the dead that constantly grew around him. Some say that the husk of Liche Fungus that sprang up where he fell can still be found in the ruins of his villa, barely recognizable as human.