Ruin Worms

As hostile as the Underdark is, the will to survive and thrive in the sentient peoples of the world is strong, and somehow settlements, towns, even cities have been built in the unwelcoming depths of the earth. That being said, sometimes trade caravans from the surface, winding through the lightless tunnels and caverns, will arrive at their destination to find only shattered stone, fallen towers, and pulverised buildings. This, though they don’t know it, is the work of Ruin Worms.

Their skin is rough like stone, segmented into boulders and shards of sharp, rocken plates. They are huge, like the shadows of Cathedrals. Their maws are filled with thick, iron-tough arms like the legs of massive insects, ringed all around in a unbroken circle of crushing and smothering. They can burrow through the earth, but only slowly, dragging their mighty bulks through the stone and heart-rock. Despite the fearsome appearance of their mouths, Ruin Worms aren’t very effective against foes such as people and beasts. They can bring their weight crashing down upon aggressors, but they are also slow, and are left vulnerable after doing so. They could swallow prey, where their powerful (if inflexible) mouths can pulverise what is inside down to powder, like the rock they chew their way through. But even that is fraught with peril for a Ruin Worm. Even a modestly lithe opponent might slip through their teeth-arms relatively unscathed, and even if they are unarmed, a Ruin Worm’s digestive tracts aren’t equipped to handle solid food. A blockage such as that might cause severe problems for a Ruin Worm that isn’t able to expel it quickly enough (though it should also be noted that if it is deadly to the Ruin Worm it is also most certainly deadly to whatever caused the blockage as well).

The Ruin Worm’s prefered method of hunting, if you can call it that, requires the demolition of cities. Slowly as they force and strain their way through the earth, they riddle the substructures of a city with a web of tunnels, backfilled with a milky-grey, sandstone-like excretion of the worm’s, formed from the detritus of the tunneling. This excretion is strong enough to support the tunnels for a time, but will slowly erode, but usually slowly enough for the Worm to compromise the entire foundation of a city, nearly silently and invisibly. When the time finally comes, the worm releases a jet of enzymes from its rear, which starts a cataclysmic chain reaction, destroying the Excretion, and causing the sudden and total collapse of the city above.

The oozing and pulverised sludge of the cities inhabitants can feed a Ruin Worm for the months and even years it requires to find and collapse a new city, the fleshy slurry sitting and fermenting in the worm’s slow, but exceptionally efficient digestive tracts. Thus those that might somehow survive being swallowed by a ruin worm must not only contend with escaping the Ruin Worm before it and thus they both, die, it must also do its best not to be overcome by the rotten and liquefied remains of the city’s old inhabitants.

The only reason Ruin Worms have even been identified at all, let alone been identified as being the doom of cities beneath the world, is that for months after a city’s collapse, a Ruin Worm will sift through the rubble of the cataclysm, filtering out the rubble and retaining whatever flattened and crushed organic matter might remain. Sometimes they will even hibernate or sleep within the rubble of civilisation, resembling just another pile of ruin and rubble. One such worm was discovered slurping up the pounded remains of a previous set of intruders who had apparently not realised the danger posed by a piled up coil of stone.

If knowledge of the existence of Ruin Worms is obscure, even more so is knowledge of their origins. Some speculate they were created magically, specially transmuted as weapons of sabotage and terror. Some tell the tale of a deep-dwelling, primal beast-god, enraged by the predation of man upon its hunting grounds, and its revenge wrought in the shape of earthen serpents that devoured cities. And yet others describe how they are yet myths, wild stories invented wholesale by merchants keen to keep others off their turf. Surely this last explanation is the most likely though; the processes by which creature’s such as these are far too wild and unbelievable to have actually occurred. The faint rumbling beneath your feet is probably just the seasonal quakes starting a little early.

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