Soul strangler

The following documents consists of what could be recovered from a folder owned by Glowstick Bluebottom after their office burned. It is thought to be a dissertation written by a student on plant biology.
   

Bardrels-Basil's moving pub

by Pouaseuille

"... And then, as everyone looked into the depth, they saw a dark silhouette. And they knew that the well was HAUNTED!!"   In a desperate attempt at being dramatic, our storyteller threw a bit of dry peat in the campfire, suddenly raising the flames. The audience was nonplussed. Disappointed, the young teller sat down in a hunch and proceeded to roast an apple on a stick.   "By the spirits, that's a tough crowd!" a deep voice rose from the dark. Everyone turned toward the source of that statement, a Pure Nomad sitting slightly further from the camp than everyone else. Even while sitting on a tree stump, they were towering over all of us.   "Think you can do better?" the storyteller asked defiantly. Though they tried not show it, they were intimidated by the presence.   The tall nomad leaned toward the fire. "Well, if you're inviting me. I know a story or two. Even lived a few myself. Let me think... Ever heard of the Soul Strangler?
— Extract from Campfire Stories an anonymous book gathering stories heard near a bardrel's moving pub.
  Growing in some localized regions of the Middish Plains and the North of the Cylinder, the Soul Strangler is a both creeping and arboreal ivy known for its dangerosity for sapient lifeforms. The following essay gathers information on the plant, its symbiotes, and its cultural impact. Sources for this document include expedition reports from members of the Library as well as collected books unrelated to the Library itself.  

Description

 
Soul strangler leaves
by Pouaseuille
Soul strangler leaves and fruits
by Pouaseuille
  Soul stranglers are thought to be closely related to other fast growing vines. In particular, it shares multiple similarities with the invasive Frenzy Ivy. In the same fashion as the invasive ivies, soul stranglers have two leaf types. The primary leaves, also called juvenile or creeping leaves, are palmately lobed, and typically only pigmented on the side exposed to circle light. Leaf stems usually grow and rotate so that the leaves are correctly oriented.   Secondary leaves, also called adult or tree leaves, or even tea leaves, are unlobed, cordate, and usually thicker than the juvenile leaves. They only grow on the arboreal stems of the plant, during sexual reproduction. [...]   Soul strangler seeds are adapted to propagate through the air. After pollination, the pistil grows several thin hair-like structures, and dries out. The fruit, small and dry, can then be transported by the wind before being deposited in a new area.  

Reproduction

  Soul stranglers are known to reproduce both sexually and asexually. In a similar fashion to other fast growing ivies of the Cylinder, the plant's creeping vines are usually capable of vegetative propagation. Every stem can produce both leaves and roots, and separated fragments can usually turn into autonomous individuals. [...]   The plant's uncommon sexual reproduction pattern is the origin of its name. Unlike most plants, soul stranglers bloom is not triggered by seasonal or meteorological changes: it is triggered by the capture of sapient creatures. According to the professor-explorer Redthorn Slyrunnah in their book Plants of the north:  
In fact, it is utterly fascinating. See, the plants won't flower if they reach a dead body. Not all living things work either: if you manage to drain an intelligent animal of all its Ghostpowder, and completely sever its connection to the consciousness flux, the blooming won't start either. However, if you manage to fully trap a spirit and a lot of ghostpowder in an object, and connect it to the global consciousness, you may manage to trigger a flowering!
 
Capture by a strangler, first stage
by Pouaseuille
  According to observations, the flowering doesn't start immediately after a plant reaches a host. The process starts over roughly a dozen of days.  
  • While the vines remain creeping close to the ground, their growth pattern change when potential hosts stay nearby: some vines tend to grow around, and to separate from the ground. Some of these semi-arial vines produce small, hard and spiky roots.
  • As soon as a vine sticks itself around a suitable host, it starts a rapid growth spurt. Roots start to dig into the host's skin for stabilization, and vines start to twirl around the host.
  • As the plant surrounds its victim over a few days, it takes possession of the host's connection to the mental world. It also drains the victim's dormant ghostpowder, and repurposes them for its own growth. The victim slowly dessicates itself, and becomes a rigid trunk for the now quickly growing plant.
  • Capture by a strangler, advanced stages
    by Pouaseuille
       
  • In the case of a standing, human-size creature, it typically takes six to eight days for a stalk to reach the top of its host. As soon as it does so, the stalk starts to grow upward, and to divide into more stalks. This is when the flowering starts. Adult leaves are produced on the arboreal stalk, along with small inflorescences.
  • It has been noted that the arboreal forms of the plant typically last longer than one blooming. In addition, the flowering of one individual has been shown to trigger the flowering of other nearby trees. As a result, a "blooming wave" can propagate through an area that has been infested by Soul Stranglers for a while as a new host is captured.  


     

    Symbiosis

      It seems obvious that the capture of an individual by the ivy would be very unlikely under normal conditions. Even if one gets a stalk stuck to their skin, they could relatively easily get rid of or cut the stalk. This is why, long before mental parasites were first understood, some phenomenon was thought to influence minds in the vicinity of Soul Strangler colonies.   As research on the subject evolved, it was recently demonstrated that in most cases, soul stranglers share a highly mutualistic relationship with a form of Brain gnats. The parasites typically slow down potential hosts, and even paralyze them as they get closer.   While brain gnats are a very diverse group of mental parasites, the ones symbiotic to Soul Stranglers tend to share similar characteristics. They also behave differently from regular folkloric gnats. Indeed, while mental parasites typically spread through the discussion of their existence between hosts, and gain power by slowly occupying an increasing amount of mental space of their hosts, brain gnats have access to another source of brainpower. It is currently thought that as the ivy grows around and dessicates its victim, the victim's mental capacities partly remain. Simply, they are entirely occupied by the brain gnat itself. As a result, while the host is functionally dead, the parasite's presence in the consciousness flux remains.   This is thought to be the reason why "Ivy gnats" are so powerful in the vicinity of soul stranglers, and the reason why they manage to completely parasite otherwise healthy hosts. As an individual previously infected by the gnat approaches a soul strangler colony, the fraction of their mind already occupied by the gnat acts as a weak point for a mental attack. The individual is incapable of defending themselves from the gnat, and gets quickly dominated.  
    Try to imagine the sensation. You feel compelled towards some place. You don't really understand why: perhaps you've heard some story in a nearby village, perhaps your lover died and you remembered a tale from your childhood. Whatever the reason, you've gotta go to the forest.   Then, as you get there, you trip on a stalk. Or two. Or perhaps you heard it was part of a spiritual trial to collect yourself on the vines, and that you'll be stronger if you ever get out of here. But as the vine coils itself around your feet and its roots dig into your skin you realize you won't.   A part of you, deep down, is starting to panic. The rest of you, though, doesn't. You feel numb. Slowly, as the roots dehydrate you, your body gets weaker. You think less about you, more about the vine. In fact, "you" starts to disappear. Your memories, your emotions... All gets erased as you become the vine.
    — Extract from an report written in 5489 by Miller Herbalwack, a scholar shaman used to collaborating with the Library on spiritual topics.
     

    Soul strangler trees

    by Pouaseuille

     

    Uses and cultural presence

      As a result of its mutualism with brain gnats, soul stranglers have an important presence in Middish culture. They are at the center of a wide array of local superstition, rural folk tales, and even urban legends. According to expeditions in Middish territory, both nomadic and sedentary groups are known to share stories about some local haunted forests, sad tales of lovers turned into plants, and myths of some ancient human-shaped tree guardians of the forests. All of those stories were confirmed to be brain gnats almost directly linked to a specific Soul Strangler colony.   While they are notably dangerous and require a decently protected mind to collect them, the plants also have some notable uses. Once dried, the arboreal leaves and fruits are used as an infusion, known for its bitter taste and its strengthening and slightly hallucigenic effects. As for the branches, they provide a high quality source material for ghostpowder-based enchantments. Indeed, the branches are already adapted for the internal circulation of ghostpowder. As such, they last notably longer before being altered by the corrosive substance. The preparation methods... [...]   Most of the end of the essay couldn't be recovered. Because the author student was not yet identified, it is unknown whether any copy of the full essay exists within the Library.


    Cover image: by Pouaseuille

    Comments

    Author's Notes

    This entry was written for the 2021 Peculiar Plants Challenge. It had been a while since I managed to participate in a challenge: I'm glad I made it!


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    23 Mar, 2021 19:54

    Wow! Like basically everything you write, I love it! The reproduction systems of both this plant and the plant in my challenge article is the same too. (What a quiescence!)


    Come and join my Discord or check out my world! And While your at it, have a look at my Plant Challenge Article, don't forget to leave a like :)
    23 Mar, 2021 21:15

    Thanks a lot for this comment! I'm not writing as much as I'd like these days, it's always motivating to read a nice comment :)   Indeed, I just read your article, I liked it! Going to give you a bit of feedback.

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    Master Brinsmead
    Caitlin Phillips
    23 Mar, 2021 21:03

    Oh wow, this plant is scary! The illustrations (which are absolutely stunning and perfect!) really reinforce this.

    Cait x
    23 Mar, 2021 21:16

    Thank you! I still struggle a bit with finding a satisfying way to digitalize my watercolors, I'm glad you liked the illustrations!

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    Sage Spectral42
    Spectral 42
    23 Mar, 2021 21:44

    First things first, this article is simply beautiful. The artwork resonates with me on a level I do not fully understand. Splendid job.   I love just how "scary" this plane is, and despite that, it still has a natural beauty about it. Fantastic job!

    Live long Dream big
    23 Mar, 2021 22:23

    Thank you! I'm glad you liked the entry, and the artworks!

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    Sage Serukis
    Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull
    23 Mar, 2021 22:52

    I love the conceit that this is part of a student dissertation. It's things like this that make an article really slot into a world, I think. :D   The artwork is beautiful, by the way, and rather haunting. This is such an interesting plant. I love its symbiotic relationship with the gnat. Kind of terrifying, really!

    Emy x   Welcome to Etrea! Please check out my peculiar plants entry! :)
    24 Mar, 2021 08:16

    Thanks! I'm glad the idea of the article being a dissertation works well. I want all of my entries to be supposedly in-world documents, and I struggled a bit with ways to explain articles of this sort of length.

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    23 Mar, 2021 22:53

    First of all it's amazing how many great art pieces of your own making you have added, love it! This plant sure seems scary, especially the quote about how one becomes the vine was really well done. The intro was also a great way to start the article and drew me in immediately.   On discord you asked if there should be illustrations that you should still add but I think you have already covered that pretty well so more is not necessary. I think in the second quote in the sentence 'Most of the rest of you, though, doesn't' that you can drop the 'most of'. Besides that I don't have any real remarks.   Perhaps it would be nice to add a bit more about how the symbiosis with the gnats works as I still don't know how the gnats actually reproduce after the ivy has trapped the victim. How do they find a new victim to lead to the ivy ?   In all this was a great article! Well done!

    Feel free to check out my world Niorathand my plant article Mizarin Nightlight
    24 Mar, 2021 08:15

    Hello! Thanks for your kind words. I'm going to eddit that suggestion.   As for the gnats, well, the hard thing to wrap one's head around is that they are not strictly speaking physical entities: it is more of a mental parasite, close to Richard Dawkin's definition of a meme.   In our case, the potency of such things is increased by the fact that in the Cylinder, all living entities are constantly connected and quickly communicating, forming what they call a "consciousness flux". Think of this as a sort of computer simulation, or a super fast social media in which people constantly receive and input information about their thoughts.   The gnats have two sorts of impacts: they are a story, that spreads through cultures through people tellign each other about it. And, as people, get more "infected" (spend more and more of their mental energy thinking about the story), they start to influence their host and trick them into being used by the plant. As the host gets turned into a trunk, though, a part of their "mental energy", their presence into that consciousness flux, remains. The gnat can thus still use this to influence more strongly people it already has infected, to make them spread the word more, or make them go closer to the ivy forest.   In any case, I don't know if I'll have the room to detail more the gnats here, but I am already working on a new that is about them :)

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    24 Mar, 2021 08:46

    Thanks for the clarification! :) That seems like a very interesting concept ! If you have that article ready I will definitely read it :)

    Feel free to check out my world Niorathand my plant article Mizarin Nightlight
    24 Mar, 2021 04:08

    Well isn't this just a terrifying and fantastic plant! :D I love anything that takes a host and then drains it, and I absolutely love the illustrations showing that happening! The added detail with the symbiotic brain gnat is great too, I had been wondering how people might get caught up in it, and then the answer was provided!   I think putting this together as a student's essay is really neat too, I definitely enjoyed that format of the article! Great stuff all around :)

    Cathedris, the world of God-Husks and New Magic, welcomes you.
    24 Mar, 2021 08:17

    Thank you! I'm glad you liked this, and that the student essay format worked well enough :)

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    24 Mar, 2021 14:10

    Gosh this is a really fascinating article, congratulations!! The concept of these plants is absolutely terrifying, and I loved how you've developed the different aspects of their biology. The symbiosis they have with the brain gnats is especially intriguing. Also obligatory mention of the art which is just great!   I can't help but picture walking into an area filled with soul stranglers, just a field of vaguely humanoid killer plants, seeing them and knowing your death is close... wouldn't want this to be me

    Feel free to check out my submission to the Peculiar Plant Challenge !
    24 Mar, 2021 18:17

    I'm glad you liked this entry! I am making an article on brain gnats at the moment, as these weird entities are responsible for a lot of folkloric trouble in this world :) Thanks for the kind words regarding the artworks!

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    Sage dinosaurbob
    Bob O'Brien
    25 Mar, 2021 00:21

    Love the artwork!!! This is one creepy plant (pun somewhat intended!) I love the concept. I'm going to have to come back and read up on ghostpowder and the consciousness flux... they sound like fascinating aspects of your world as well!

    25 Mar, 2021 18:50

    Thank you for this this comment! I'm glad you liked this :)

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    25 Mar, 2021 17:15

    The scientific terminologies that you used to describe the plant greatly suggest that this is a more informed world. I'm disappointed we didn't get the instructions for the infusion though.    I get that there are cultures who would have eventually learned to take advantage of a plant like this, but if it could cause such a haunting death and being a sort of a pseudo hive mind. Why wouldn't earlier cultures have developed techniques for eradicating a found colony, if there were such myths about a carnivorous forest?   It just seems to be a knowledge gap between these two extreme perspectives. How did it gravitate from one to the other?

    Check out my Work: Valley of Man|Four Quadrants
    25 Mar, 2021 18:49

    Hello! Thank you for this comment.   In fact, the level (and methods) of understanding of the Cylinder World is highly variable from one group to another: the people who wrote this article are scholar with a somewhat informed, and very systematic way of describing the world. It is not the case of the majority of the cultures around them, though.   Regarding the eradication of colonies, there are a few factors to take into account. Firstly, roughly half of the population of the Cylinder World lives a tribal, semi-sedentary to highly nomadic lifestyle: as a nomadic civilization cannot sustain a high population, nomadic-dominated areas represent something like 95% of the world's total surface area. This domination of nomadic, seemingly low-technology groups is caused by a phenomenon that literally buffs people who grow up in environments with low population density, and makes them very substantially more powerful than urbanites. So, you have a huge majority of the world that consists in "wilderness", where plants grow as they please. Some non-human species exist that contain this "ghostpowder" and are potential hosts to the deadly plant, but are not capable of founding civilizations complex enough to invent the idea of burning down colonies. Besides, in the wilderness, the most powerful nomad ethnicities tend to regard "nature" as some form of divinity, and fairly frequently go on crusade against environmental destruction. The "spirits" of this world, pretty tangible and powerful entities as well, regularly wipe out sedentary cities.   In addition to all that, the brain gnats itself have a protection effect on the forests. As these entities influence any being that is somewhat informed of their existence, they can easily produce an effect where subjects who are barely infected by the gnat (and thus can't be influenced enough to be completely paralyzed when near the plant) are repulsed from the forest, while people who are more affected are irresistibly attracted to it.   So, here is it: the plant was not eradicated because it is hard to do so, because religious fanatics and literal go on crusade against you if you do so, and because of the mental parasite that tells you not to. Still, fire and large-scale destruction was used more than once against colonies! It was orchestrated by sedentary cities when the colonies were too close from their sphere of influence.   Sorry for the humongously long answer ^^' I don't think I will add all of this in the article itself because it would be a bit too long, but I'll try to make things clearer from articles surrounding this one.

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    27 Mar, 2021 19:24

    What a delightfully creepy plant. And we get a free parasite with it as well! Two for the price of one.   I do have to say that I had to search for the meaning of several plants as I never had biology in inglish. Nevertheless it was a good read.

    Journeyman Monkos
    Andrew Booth
    27 Mar, 2021 21:17

    Love it! The art is amazing and really ties the article together, gives it a very cohesive feel. And the tone of the article is perfect for a student dissertation - formal and informative, but not boring. I must say I'm curious where the idea of the spiritual trial comes from - is there any basis that you can in fact survive an encounter with a soul strangler? Nevertheless, not a plant I would like to come across any time soon. Great article!

    Creator of the world of Mythia, where writing is magic!
    29 Mar, 2021 07:32

    This is a great article and you have amazing art! I love your plant, even it's name is creepy XD   Some notes I took while reading the article:   I like your story in the introduction, it is funny :D (by the way, you have a typo and wrote "they they")   I like how you describe and show your seeds being to explain why they can be transported through the air.   You could write a short mouse hover snippet for the articles you link in the article, that would make it easier to continue reading the plant article without being interrupted checking other stuff. You've got it for some articles but not all of them right now.   "While the vines remain creeping clost to the ground" Do you mean close?   You reproduction drawing is very cool, as well as the one in symbiosis. Also very creepy XD   In your section "This is thought to be the reason why "Ivy gnats" are so powerful in the vicinity of soul stranglers, and the reason why they manage to completely parasite otherwise healthy hosts. As an individual previously infected by the gnat approaches a soul strangler colony, the fraction of their mind already occupied by the gnat acts as a weak point for a mental attack. The individual is incapable of defending themselves from the gnat, and gets quickly dominated." I wasn't entirely clear on the explanation. The individuals who approach the ivy was previously contaminated by the ivy gnat? If so how? Or is it just by any other kind of gnats and this provide a weak point for the ivy gnat to invade too, and then the ivy gnat overpower the other gnat?   Oh, I think it becomes a bit clearer in the next section, with the ivy gnat propagating through specific tales. I think you could clarify that a bit in the symbiosis section though.   Once the vine consumes the host, the consciousness of the host disappears, right? What becomes of the ivy gnat then? Because the advantage for the gnat is that when it gets closer to the vine, the host starts to think more about it and this allows the gnat to occupy bigger parts of the brain and to get more powerful, so that's an advantage for it. But it doesn't seem to last since the host ends up dying.   I love the idea of the gnat, spreading through tales, and their symbiosis with the ivy. This is very cool and creepy XD And it makes me see the first image and quote differently now XD

    Feel free to check my my plant challenge article!
    29 Mar, 2021 09:53

    Hello AmélieIS, thank you for this very complete feedback. I'm glad you liked this article! I corrected the typos you noted and am working on the mouseover snippets of the related articles.   As for the gnat, indeed, people approaching the forest are usually already infected by it.   What happens to the victim's consciousness after it is consumed by the host is fairly complex. Say, in the Cylinder world, you have two major forms of "consciousness materials": the first is people's brains, and as much as they are constantly repaired and protected by the weird thing called ghostpowder, they do end up destroyed by the vine. The second, however, is that "ghostpowder" thing: think of it as a sort of "utility fog" that doubles as a neural network, or at least something that can be coded on. In short, it is responsible for most of the fast, unconscious exchanges between entities in the "consciousness flux". It is what allows for a gnat to grow in influence.   In the case of the soul strangler, this second part is not destroyed. the "utility fog" part of the ghostpowder is repurposed by the plant to help its own growth, but the "conscious network" part is kept by the gnat: a plant does not have a brain by itself and does not need to extend its own consciousness.   In any case, while I'll leave part of that deeper explanation out of the document, I'll still try and reorganize that part to make it clearer.   Thanks again for your appreciation!

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    30 Mar, 2021 19:04

    This was a carefully created plant. The fact that you added a symbiotic entity was top notch! I'd love to read an article about "Ivy gnats". Maybe a good article for future challenges ;)   The only thing that I found a bit hard was the fact that this plant is used, without any qualms apparently (?). I feel like a plant with this reproduction method would have certain cultural taboos about its use. If they don't, is there a reason for this? Is the reproduction method actually "liked"? Or maybe unknown? The section on "uses and cultural presence" was a bit lacking in those regards.     Your art was also amazing and helped a lot towards the visualization. It really ties the whole "student's thesis"/ academic work theme of the article.

    30 Mar, 2021 19:09

    I just saw the link to the gnats. So, do ignore that comment. It may be worth linking it more than once for those of us who may slip on it initially xD

    31 Mar, 2021 08:40

    Hi! Thank you for this kind comment. Indeed, the presence of the gnats influences a lot people's knowledge of it. Still, the use of the plant raises quite a bunch of ethical concerns among most cultures. People who actively use that plant are rare, and mostly "natural" nomads with a pretty alien moral compass.   I'm going to link a bit more the brain gnat article ;)

    With love,   Pouaseuille.   Feel free to check out my entry for the Peculiar Plant challenge! Or don't, if you don't want to.
    31 Mar, 2021 23:20

    This plant is WICKED.   And Awesome.   Wicked Awesome!

    Sig.png
    NACL is the first of my books - and World Anvil might help me get an idea of how to get the sequel to be even better. :)
    7 Apr, 2021 18:34

    This is a very interesting read, and your artwork is perfect. I particularly like that the victim becomes the plant more than just physically, but metaphysically as well.

    9 Apr, 2021 08:34

    This is absolutely incredible. I still remember seeing your Frenzy Ivy on reddit for the first time and now you've made them even better by adding this new variant. Masterful worldbuilding!