OverviewThe hantsutile is a small floating plant found mainly in the seas north of the continent of Hrzune. Its main body is composed of a tight knot of wood surrounded by a mostly circular mesh of thinner branches, around a meter wide. The branches are covered in a large number of green clover-like plants with single large leaves, which are used for photosynthesis. These plants are commonly referred to as 'the eyes of the hantsutile', due to their circular shape and the brightly colored spot at their center. Growing from the bottom of the branches is a large amount of small roots, around 10 - 20 cm long, which the hantsutile uses to gather water and some other nutrients from the sea. As the hantsutile would be easy food for many sea-borne creatures, it has evolved a unique and powerful defense. Hanging from small nodules on the bottom of some of the branches are tentacles that look similar to those of a jellyfish, but are actually composed of a material similar to what makes up plant stems. Produced in the tentacle nodules are small doses of an incredibly lethal neurotoxin, which is delivered to any creatures unfortunate enough to touch them by small thorns grown on the tentacles. The top side of the hantsutile is protected by thorns similar to those on the tentacles, which are also capable of delivering the toxin to predators. A fully grown hantsutile will generally have between four and ten tentacles.
Hantsutile MatsA defining feature of the hantsutile is its ability to form large mats of hundreds to thousands of individual plants, although these larger ones rarely happen naturally. A hantsutile reproduces by budding off several new hantsutiles. If conditions are good, these new hantsutiles will remain attached to their parent when fully grown and will begin budding off new plants themselves. If good conditions last, the mat will continue to grow. However, storms and other changes in the habitat's condition can cause every individual in a mat to fully split apart. While individual hantsutiles only live for around 30 - 40 years, a mat can theoretically live indefinitely. When one individual dies, it will eventually detach from the mat. Once this has happened, one or more of the surrounding hantsutiles will begin budding off in the direction where the dead hantsutile had been. When more than one bud starts growing into the same area, either one will out compete the others, killing them off, or they will grow into each other, which causes their outer branches to entangle. Often this tricks the hantsutiles into permanently thinking they are not fully grown, preventing them from reaching the growth stage where they begin producing toxin. In order for the largest mats to form, they must be either incredibly lucky or have groups of people who work to prevent the mat from splitting apart. Members of the hantsutile tribes are known to use sails and oars to move the mats if local water quality or weather is poor and even sometimes move the mats out of the way of large storms. By avoiding conditions that would cause the mats to split apart, they are able to continue growing almost indefinitely. They will also often remove hantsutiles that have grown into each other to prevent sections of the mat from not producing toxin. The largest mat currently known is over a kilometer in diameter, making it likely over 600 years old.
UsesThe toxin produced by the hantsutile can be used to make two main products. By diluting the toxin with a solution of water and a few other chemicals, it can be made into a rudimentary general anesthetic. When given to patients, it severely numbs the nerves across the entirety of the body and induces extreme exhaustion, but does not necessarily induce unconsciousness. The other use is considerably less beneficial. When fermented over a period of several years, the hantsutile toxin becomes a powerful drug, capable of inducing states of extreme euphoria in its users. However, it is highly addictive and even small amounts can be lethal, making it extremely dangerous to use. Both of these uses make the market for collected hantsutile toxin extremely lucrative.
Hantsutile TribesThe high value of the hantsutile toxin means that those who are able to reliably collect and sell it are able to make large profits. Since an individual hantsutile or a small mat will be hard to find and will have a relatively small amount of collectable toxin, most harvesting efforts focus on finding and collecting toxin from the larger hantsutile mats. Some time in the past, some groups of people began to sail out on ships and stay onboard near the larger mats, constantly harvesting toxin as the mat regrew it. After a certain amount was collected, members of the group would ship it back to shore to be sold while others stayed near the hantsutile, preventing others from getting access to it as well as continuing to collect more toxin. This allowed for consistent profits to be made. Over time, these small groups grew in size and complexity, until they were entire small communities. In the modern day, these groups, often referred to as the hantsutile tribes, can be found around most of the largest hantsutile mats. There are around 40 to 50 known tribes. Most tribes live on large wooden platforms (often made out of wood harvested from the mat) lashed to the outer edges of the mats. The platforms often have light structures to protect from the weather while still remaining buoyant. But, due to the mild climate in which most hantsutile mats are found and the difficulty of getting building materials, most tribes will reserve built structures for protecting their resources. While very few resources other than fish can be collected or farmed out at sea, the money made from selling the hantsutile toxin easily provides enough to purchase what the tribes lack. Harvesting the toxin is one of the most important jobs that must be performed, however, it is extremely dangerous. The most common method of harvesting the toxin is simply slicing tentacles off from the bottom of the plant. This is the most dangerous step since even a slight prick from one thorn can be fatal to a fully-grown human. Once removed the tentacle will be crushed and then strained to extract the toxin. To transport and sell the toxin, small boats crewed by tribesmen will sail to the nearest coastline, where the toxin can be sold in bulk to merchants in harbor towns. To find their way back to their tribes, the boatmen generally use small devices known as linked compasses. Linked compasses are magical items that use a simple enchantment to always point to its paired compass, rather than to north. By leaving one part of a pair on the mat, the sailors are able to determine where they should sail.
ReproductionAround a year after the hantsutile reaches its adult size, between one and four small buds will begin to grow around its edges. Over a period of several months, these buds will grow into knots of wood, similar to that in the center of the hantsutile. The knots will then begin to grow into individual hantsutiles themselves, by slowly growing out outer branches which move it farther away from the center of its parent. Each new hantsutile is usually genetically identical to its parent. The parent hantsutile will not begin growing any more buds until all of its buds have fully grown and split off.
Bud StageA young hantsutile starts as a bud on the outside of one of its parent's outer branches. Over a period of around two months, it will grow in size until it resembles the knot of wood at the center of its parent.
Initial Growth StageThe initial growth stage begins once the bud has reached the size of the knot of a fully grown hantsutile. Over a period of around two years, the hantsutile's branches will grow out from the knot. During this stage, the roots and clover will begin to grow from the branches. At the end of this period of growth, the hantsutile will be about at its full width of around a meter.
Secondary Growth StageOnce the hantsutile has reached its adult size, it will begin to grow the nodules that produce its characteristic toxin as well as the tentacles which hang below it and the thorns that adorn its topside. This period takes about a year until the tentacles have reached their full size of around 2 meters in length. The toxin begins development in each nodule when its tentacle is around halfway grown.
Adult StageEven once the hantsutile has reached its adult stage, it will still remain connected to its parent if the conditions in the area are good. The younger hantsutiles will then begin growing their own buds, which is what allows the hantsutiles to form large mats. However, if the conditions are poor (i.e., nutrient-poor water, frequent extreme weather, etc.), the children hantsutiles will break off from their parent and float away. For around the first month after reaching its adult stage, the threshold for what counts as bad conditions is much lower than it will be later. While the hantsutiles can still split off after this period, it will take much worse conditions.
The Eyes of the HantsutileWhile they appear to be just another part of the hantsutile, the clover-like plants that grow from the top of the hantsutile's branches are actually an entirely separate species. The clover collects energy by photosynthesizing, which it shares with the hantsutile, and the hantsutile provides water and other resources to the clover. It is not clear how the hantsutile aquired energy before this relationship developed, but many researchers believe that the hantsutile may have originally had its own less-efficient leaves that eventually stopped growing once the clover adapted to provide energy for them. While most parts of the hantsutile are basic greens and browns, at the center of each of its clover-like leaf is a brightly-colored spot, which can be various shades of green, red, blue, yellow, purple, or orange, giving them their nickname of 'the eyes of the hantsutile'. Since the hantsutile does not have access to pollinating insects due to their habitat being far out at sea, and individuals being widely spread apart, these seem to have no real purpose. Because of this, it is believed that the hantsutile clover may have originally been a land-based species before adapting to live on the hantsutiles.
Regrowing Removed PartsEven in nature when not being directly harvested, hantsutiles can lose their tentacles. Because of this, they have the ability to regrow them a potentially infinite number of times. To prevent overtaxing its resources while growing , a juvenile hantsutile will only grow one or two tentacles at a time. However, once it is in its adult stage, it will attempt to regrow all missing tentacles at once and do it much faster than before, likely to avoid having a weakened defense if split off from its parent. In addition, it will produce toxin for the tentacle as soon as it begins to grow. Since this is such a resource heavy task, it is very possible for a hantsutile to run out of energy and die while attempting to heal. The average hantsutile has the ability to safely regrow two to three tentacles at a time. It is possible for it to regrow five or six tentacles without dying, however, this is still taxing and can leave the hantsutile weak. Regrowing lost tentacles takes around four to six months. If a hantsutile loses one or more tentacles during its secondary growth stage , it will simply extend the time spent in this stage, rather than attempt the more taxing type of regeneration that the adults undergo. For those who regularly harvest the toxin of the hantsutiles, they must be careful to avoid removing too many tentacles at once and allowing the hantsutiles to regrow fully before harvesting again. There are stories of hantsutile tribes who, in times of economic hardship, over-harvested their hantsutile mats, causing them to break up and forcing the tribes to disband.
Salt ManagementAs the hantsutile gathers its water from saltwater oceans, it naturally collects large amounts of salt which it must deal with before it reaches lethal levels. The hantsutile does this by sequestering salt in small nodules along its branches filled with a highly concentrated solution of water and salt. Once the nodule fills, it seals up and breaks off from the branch, taking the salt with it.
30 - 40 Years