"Sure I seen a harpoon cactus, same way anyone with sense looks at them, from a distance. If you can see the individual leaf mats you got to close, good luck or good riddance." - Jasper Cameron, Leader of The Bronze Ravens
The Harpoon Cactus has a very similar appearance to other members of the prickly pear family. It differs in 2 main ways. The first is that it has a large, long taproot in addition to its wide-ranging fibrous root system near the desert surface. This taproot does not to reach down to the water table, but is used to store water and "prime" the bio-hydraulic mechanism on which the harpoons operate. The second is the tendency for mature plants to be surrounded on the ground by patches of leaves that appear both healthy and edible. These "leaf mats" mark areas where a victim has been claimed, and serve to lure prey into the unmarked ring of harpoons. The workings of the harpoon mechanism are actually quite fascinating. As the plant "dries out" the first thing that happens is the connective tissue of any extended harpoons contracts, drawing the harpoon back underground. Next, the harpoon chamber tightens around the harpoon, creating a rather effective water seal. Then, the fibers around the taproot chamber and water channels contract and tighten, pressurizing the mechanism. Lastly, the trip mechanism becomes rigid, arming the chamber. (Illustrations forthcoming)
Genetics and Reproduction
Like many members of the prickly pear family the Harpoon cactus can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Sexual reproduction is through the pollination of its flowers. After pollination a sweet, bright blue fruit is formed. Seeds are dispersed by both birds and rodents that feed on these fruits. Asexual reproduction is only possible during the regions infrequent lightning storms. In conditions when moisture is high it is possible for a pad that has been detached from the parent plant to take root and continue living. It is theorized that this allows a plant to "survive" lightning strikes.
Dietary Needs and Habits
The harpoon cactus, often considered a carnivorus plant, is more accurately a hemovore, getting a vast majority of both the nutrients and moisture needed to survive from the blood of its victims. The actual poison used is unknown, but according to the experience of several scholars (all deceased) it is known to have paralytic and hallucinogenic properties, as well as acting as an "osmotic pump" forcing water in the victims body towards the area of penetration. The plant is also theorized to have properties similar to the foxglove family as a heart stimulant, as it was noted by the surviving apprentice of one of the above scholars that despite his master's apparent extreme dehydration he still had a strong, regular pulse for much longer than his outward appearance would have suggested.
"Do you know what it was like.... DO YOU?! I had to sit there just watching and recording, as Master András had asked. First came the short cries of pain, quickly interrupted. Then I watched as their bodies crumpled to the ground, eyes wide with fear, as I think out of all of us approaching the cactus it was assumed that at least one master would avoid the harpoons... Next I watched as if weeks passed in mere hours. I watched their bodies dry out, more and more, until they looked like mummified remains or a zombie. I would have thought they were dead, but as they became more and more dehydrated it became clear, even from a yard or more away, that they all still had a steady and strong pulse. I am sure that they were still alive when the vultures and lyrebirds started in on them. I even got to watch as a brave jackal ate his last meal before falling victim to the neighboring cactus." - Hugo Kirsch, Former Apprentice to Master András.The bodies of the Harpoon cactus' victims are summarily disposed of by the various scavengers of the desert, many of whom have developed the ability to digest bone. This leaves the area around the cactus relatively free of remains.
While there is a Druid grove in the Myrhdor Desert that is protected by cactus fields, the Harpoon Cactus has yet to be successfully domesticated.
Uses, Products & Exploitation
The fruit can be harvested and eaten or used to make jam, mead, wine, or other fruit products. Particularly skilled or incredibly foolish assassins have been known to try to harvest poison from the harpoon cactus, although whether any have succeeded is up for much debate.
Perception and Sensory Capabilities
Harpoon channels are pressure sensitive. The lower the water reservoir of the cactus, the more rigid the trip fibers become, and the lower the pressure required to trigger the harpoons release.
Civilization and Culture
Interspecies Relations and Assumptions
Pads and fruits are eaten by rodents, birds, and bats. Its flowers are also edible. It also bears noting that the Harpoon Cacti share a close symbiotic relationship with the desert lyrebird. The lyrebird is capable of accurately mimicking the sounds of everything from the giant desert hauler-tortoises and elephants to jackals and hyenas, drawing unsuspecting creatures to their doom. Investigating cries for help with no apparent source has also been known to cause many a desert caravan to lose both guards and pack animals. Indeed, the disappearance of famed Charred Brigade was attributed by its sole surviving scout to lyrebirds and the Harpoon Cactus.
Origin: Natural Evolution
Sapphire Doldrum MeadShould one be feeling exceptionally brave, incredibly lucky, or exceedingly desperate, the brewmasters of the Order of Half-Pints will pay handsomely (3gp per fruit) for the fruit of the Harpoon Cactus in order to make their world famous Sapphire Doldrum Mead. This mead bears the same azure color often seen in calm equatorial waters. While the Half-Pints swear that there is no magic involved in its creation, it has an almost mystical calming effect which, along with its color gives the mead its name. For this reason it is often prized as the drink of choice for delicate trade negotiations and at peace talks. That being said, it has been pointed out often by Brewmaster Bellowbell that while waters in the doldrums are usually known for being calm, they are also known for their sudden violent squalls.
The Last Retreat of the Charred Brigade
"We knew better. Knew... avoid the desert... but th.... th..... they were decimated, routed. We were *cough*... ordered to run.....*cough* survivors down. Twilight came, their forces just *cough* just out of reach all day. It..... it was dec... dec.... we would hunt them in the night *cough*. Used the... the usual c-c-calls to... signal... safe paths. Suddenly it sounded li...like we had... *cough* twice the scouts w...we c..c...came with. The whoop of a crane, the call of a plains owl... led us ri...right into a c...c...cactus patch... shouts of "run" and "this way"" from every direction.... make no mistake we weren't defeated... army. The birds.... who knew.... learn..... so fast. Nearly 700.... men, gone... single night. The birds..." -Unnamed scout of the The Charred Brigade , on his deathbed, Cause of death: dehydration and exposure.