From the Report of Meryl Dunestal, Day 6.
I have journeyed north with the riverboats as per our agreement. While the merchants were acquiring the drugs for which the Swamp Harvesters are famous, I was introduced to a native guide. We haggled over the price of his services for some time. He settled on a great length of silk rope and my favorite knife. Yes, the one with the ruby set into the handle. You will pay me a little extra for that sacrifice.
The next morning he poled us into the swamp. I soon realized he was likely as skilled as he claimed. Only the gods know how anyone survives in this den of disease. The fog never let up. My guide could easily have tricked me to my death. Had I not owed this favor, I would not have trusted him. We spent the next few weeks examining many of the items you desired, although some he would not show me. I don’t know if I’ll ever recover my health.
It took me some time to make him understand the first thing I wanted. The Harvesters call this plant F’lunin, or Snakevine. F’lunin is not a word I recognize; I do not know how they learned the name.
There is one thing you need to know. I have no idea where he took me, or how I would get back to that location. My guide knew who I am. It amused him to show me what I wanted while never allowing me a means to possess it. The day cannot come soon enough that we will be done with these people.
Postscript. You’ll love this. The whole time I observed the Snakevine, I thought I was at least acquiring valuable information. In fact, the sentences for certain crimes are death by F’lunin. So, anyone who wants to see a Snakevine can easily do so if he waits around long enough. My guide knew this, of course. I urge you not to underestimate these people, as uncouth and as primitive as they may seem.
Description. I saw at least two specimens at different places in the swamp. Both were a healthy dark green, except for the pods, which were a mottled brown-green that reminded me of various edible nuts. The pod may be thought of as the “body” of the plant, a disc-shaped seed about two feet in diameter and one foot thick. Its surface was ridged and looked very hard (although I did not verify this firsthand). The guide would not illuminate me, and seemed to consider this privileged knowledge. I did not ask him the obvious question of why he’d show me anything at all. I know when to keep my mouth shut.
Approximately eight to ten tendrils hang from the pod, extending up to five yards. These were about as big around as my wrist, and looked quite strong. The last foot or so of the tendrils flattened slightly and became wider, something like a paddle. One side of the paddle appeared rough, and was dotted with tiny thorns.
Habitat. The Snakevine prefers high ground, or at least land that seldom floods. My guide spotted one due to the animal bones scattered beneath it. He claimed that it was ready to move on, since it somehow knows when its presence has become obvious. No, it is not intelligent, just aware that food has become a little scarce.
But it is a parasite, for it depends on trees for its habitat and offers nothing in return. The Snakevine usually hangs draped over trees, looking very much like any other vine. The highest part of the plant is the pod, which is often nestled in the crook where a main branch leaves the trunk. The tendrils extend almost to the ground and wave about slowly, almost as if it were searching for prey.
The Snakevine is nomadic. Imagine that, a plant that travels! After a few weeks in one location, the remains of its victims begin to pile up beneath it. Then the pod detaches itself from the tree. The tendrils drag the plant along the ground for some time until another suitable tree is found. It looks much like a snake as it moves, slow and deliberate. The tendrils wrap themselves around the lower branches and pull up the pod. The pod attaches itself to this new spot.
Diet. Make no mistake; the Snakevine is a meat-eater. While the pod attaches to the tree by extruding roots, and may derive some sustenance by tapping into the tree’s root system, it survives by killing small animals. I think it could also capture a weak or unwary person.
We watched from a distance as one Snakevine subdued an immature swamp dragon. The swamp dragon crawled carefully from the water’s edge, passing near the tree from which hung the vine. I am sure the swamp dragon did not touch a tendril. Somehow the vine knew the creature was near, perhaps by sensing air currents. It happened so quickly I jumped (yes, I am ashamed to admit this). Suddenly, a number of the tendrils entangled the swamp dragon. The thorny side of the paddles pressed against the swamp dragon’s hide. The swamp dragon struggled for no more than a few seconds before it was still.
I do not mean that it was dead. I could see the fear in its eyes. It just could not move. As I had suspected by now, the paddles secrete a paralytic poison prized by the Harvesters, although it may be somewhat more potent when injected by the Snakevine itself. In any case, the tendrils were able to raise the body and place it next to the pod. My guide tells me that the flesh is sucked through the paddles, and that after a few days the bones will fall to the ground. An extremely slow death and the swamp dragon will be conscious through much of it. Then the tendrils will drop and wait for the next victim.
Who can you find foolish enough to hunt these things?
Reproduction. My guide was reluctant to discuss this aspect and I was not lucky enough to see it first-hand. However, I could piece together the following from his words. He was not as careful as he thought.
When it is ready to reproduce, the Snakevine collects a victim at a fresh tree, but does not eat it. Instead, one of the paddles releases a seed into the body. The Snakevine then abandons its progeny, which feeds off the carcass and grows. Within a week or two, the seed can take root in the tree and begin extending it own tendrils. The parent’s gift gives it just enough nourishment to last until it can hunt on its own.