Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Psychedelic and Poisonous Terrors of the Jungle

This post is technically an addition to the pseudo-Caribbean setting of The Lawful Neutral, where the Old world meets the New one.

Because I am gracious, even if you are a thin blooded gaunt and a worm-spined egg stealer and therefore will not explore this setting’s other posts, everything in this one should still be clear enough to use. If you are however of fair heart, look here for the setting’s idea, here for the background generator, here for a guide to Hoodoo.

Here’s a quick thematic summary, for the egg stealers.

In the Old World, there’s no wilderness left. No real wilderness. The King of Woods, the King of Beasts, the whole lot all have nature on schedule, playing neatly to the pan-flute tunes of the monarchs that preside over it. The boars and eagles and fish and bugs may as well be dancers in masks, all choregraphed to the neatly designed dance of how nature ought to behave- for it is only proper. Nature will never be a problem in the Old World, it’s just a scenery. A décor.

In the New World, there are the gods, or perhaps it is more appropriate to call them spirits, or loa, or kami, or something along those lines. Their relation to the land is much less one-directional. Are they the spiritual expression of a nature both physically and metaphysically untamed? Is the wilderness the material vessel of the capriciousness of the spirits? This question remains unanswered, for a large part because it is of little importance to the native population. They are much more concerned with surviving yet another plague of giant wasps whose venom turns your bones and teeth into sugar crystal. Hence, their approach to the matter of theology is very different from that of the Old World. Here, the best people can hope for is to placate the gods, to please them and to coax from them the safety of one’s people and the blessing of the jungle’s bounty. Priests, spirit doctors, mambos and houngans are first and foremost skilled in dialectic between worlds to maintain a relationship with the spirits where the wasps only come if someone deserved it.

That's the idea. Now I can talk about what I want to talk about. The unknown. The terror. The wilderness. THE JUNGLE.

art by Henri Rousseau, 1907
The landscapes, fauna and flora of the New World's continent are fucking bizarre. The jungle is a mishmash of landscapes that squeeze out the minds of dandy Old World explorers into their own eyes like extra sour death lemons. Not only is the nature completely different from anything native to the continent the settlers came from, even the laws of physics have little say over this place.

Here are some places you could find in the jungle:

Shadow forests where there are no animals, but only the shadows of them. The canopy is your best protection against the tiger and snake shadows that are eager to rip you to pieces once you enter the light. The shadow figures you make with your hands become actual animals here. Be careful when making a fire, because where there is light, the predators can exist. If they kill your shadow you're bound to the forest. You have no shadow anymore and can't leave. There's a ritual fire you can make that if you light it in front of you, you'll regain a shadow- but it also works backwards, making real tigers to fit any shadow that enters its light.

Dream-cities, places where old explorers or natives have died, and the plant(?) called Li Ki Bati has taken seed in their brain to form parts of life-sized buildings using their memory by eating their dying soul. Because of this it rains a lot in dream-cities. The buildings are usually not complete and different pieces of architecture interlock to become a ruin that never was anything more than a ruin. Inside the buildings it is incredibly cold, and there grow many flowers that are typically of the colours Cosimand, Vanta-white, or just orange, and they grow fruit that attracts Li Ki Manje, who eats humans and looks like a giant-moth-komodo-dragon-man.

Blood Swamps are filled with insects and flies that eat carrion, and most of the bigger animals that live there are animated skins cut open at the stomach. They fly like kites. The swamp itself is filled with the innards of these creatures, the water is reddened with blood and stray organs and such float in it. They are all connected, like a web of water plants or a mangrove of entrails. Lots of colourful flowers bloom from them and there are human skins that ferry through the swamps with boats made of all the bones of the native animals. Beware the dense muscle dredges: they're like quicksand except, well, undulating muscle. On brain islands, there grows a herb with broad purple leaves that induces a spirit trance when chewed.

Art by Arthur Gurin
Tower mangroves have only a sparse amount of trees, but they all go infinitely high up. That's not a superlative. They keep going. When they're sawed through, they don't fall down but hover in place, and faceless grey apes come up from the water to repair the cut with the mangrove's mud. When it dries and falls off the cut is healed. A mangrove ape's hand makes crops bear plentiful fruit when it is buried in a field, but they come up in gangs, have the terrific strength you would expect of an ape, and their saliva is paralytic. Some of the trees are hollow and filled with water. Fish swim up and down them.

Siga Yo de Grans Bwa are thick hollow pillars the size of skyscrapers, made of dried mud and solidified basalt, and underneath them is an active volcano. Inside, where it is very hot and filled with smoke and ash, live petro spirits who can cause forest fires, and giant termites who drink rum that they brew to appease the spirits so they don't possess them. If you breathe in the ash a spirit can possess you and make you act rash and hot-headed and possibly commit arson. At the base of the pillars everything is petrified by the heat and constant ash clouds, but the Pompeii-ified animals can become possessed by the local petro.

Flat forests are like if you had found yourself in a giant pop-up book. Everything is flat. The trees, the plants, the rocks are all flat, and they seem to turn so that you are always facing their front if you look at them (they appear to do this for everyone at the same time). If you have a head in both worlds (are a sorcerer or a Vodou/Hoodoo priest), or you possess the eyeballs of one, you can avoid this trickery by walking backwards. On the backs of the flat scenery lizards with dragonfly wings sunbathe, and on some the back is a horrific face that will insult you and put a curse on you if you look at it and will try to eat you if you come close.

Starry Lakes are lakes that are mostly shrouded in the canopy of trees with broad thick palm-like leaves that grow out of the water. Where the water is in the shadow it looks like a starry night sky, and you can only paddle through it if your boat has a live bird on it, else it will fall downwards into the upside down sky. There are islands in these that are made of a red rock which is hot like coals to the touch. On them live white crocodiles that turn into constellations when they dive into the lake. Touching the sky-water affects you with radiation (constitution damage) and frostbite.

In dinner gardens there are birds called Koulè San Fen, which have psychedelically colourful patterns on their feathers and eat only the fruit of an pomegranate-like tree and the meat of dead monkeys. What kills the monkeys is unknown, but they always appear boiled or grilled expertly, served with fruit and sauce and a glass of port wine on a set table. If there suddenly appears a seasoned monkey in the garden, leave it to the Koulè San Fen. If you sleep here, there is a chance you wake up cooked and being eaten by pretty birds. The boiled monkeys are called Makak Dine Yo. If you eat one, you will become a cannibal and your children will have the faces of monkeys. The Koulè San Fen will also be royally pissed.

Art by Henri Rousseau, 1910
That should give you an idea. Also, a lot of things in the jungle are poisonous. Flowers or plants, the bite/sting/claw/spikes/eyes/touch/sound of an animal, the water of a lake, the water of the rain, the sunlight, the shadow, the air, all kinds of things could be a terrible venom to outsiders.

Here are some things those venoms might do to you:

Turn your bones and teeth into sugar
Make you delirious and give you a fever
Make you vomit fire
Add vertebrae to your spine until you rip in two
Make you very drunk
Turn your eyes inside out (blindness)
Give you gangrene
Turn your flesh into papery layers like a wasp’s nest
Give you haemorrhage so bad your bloods runs out of every pore
Skin you over the course of a week
Eat away your memories
Make your face less and less pronounced until it is gone
Make a baboon burst from your chest cavity
Turn your nails and fingers into beetles (they grow back and do it again)
Lurch you into another dimension
Slowly cleave your spirit from your body
Make you sweat petrol
Make your teeth grow stuck together
Make you possessed by spirits
Turn your skin hard like an oyster shell

Every poison has a cure, however, the cure tends to be some obscure plant that grows in a dangerous place, or something like aged hippo manure. Spirits could cure a poison for you as well, if you can please them enough.