Their superiors chalked it up as a tunnel collapse, and sent more men in. They vanished as well.
A third time they sent men in, and they too vanished. The project was abandoned, the mines considered cursed, and the tunnels sealed. Everyone forgot about the incident.
But, a decade later, people in a nearby town swore they began to hear knocking underground, in their basements, in their homes. The sound of digging, and yelling down below. As though the miners were still alive and sane, ten years after being buried.
Priests were called, priests of the True god to perform exorcisms, priests of Gothos to set the angry dead to rest, and even a priest of the Drowned god was contacted, in an attempt to flood the mine. But nothing worked. All who tried to go down disappeared, and all who stayed on the surface were useless.
On night, a pickax, rotten and rusted, burst through the town's square.
People saw friends, family, all the lost miners, flood from the hole, along with everyone else who had ventured into the caverns. They were warped, changed, and disfigured. Fungus-like growths crept from their eyes, their spines, and their orifices. The guardsmen readied arms against their once-friends, their once-family, prepared for battle.
But the fight never came.
EmphasisMine, Clicker Nouveau
Like this, with eyes
Like this, with eyes
But the fungal being's intentions were not to kill, but to hug.
After much screaming and crying, with the fungal beings attempting to comfort their long-lost friends and family, they were given a chance to explain.
They called themselves 'the Embraced.' They spoke of an enormous cavern, full of luminescent mushrooms and strange creatures, far beneath the earth. And living in the middle of that cavern was a mass of fungus, spraying spores in every which way.
The fungus spoke to them, apologizing, saying it regretting luring them down here. But, it was lonely, and wanted company. It needed someone to be it's companion.
Lots were drawn, and a young girl, one made the equivalent of a slave for the other miners, was thrust forward, crying and screaming. She was drawn into the fungal mass, gently, but with enormous force.
The effect was immediate. The fungus's entire personality changed, becoming childlike, friendly, and very curious. It was now a near-perfect copy of the young girl. It introduced itself as 'Vihe.'
It spoke to the miners. The Embraced refused to speak of it's exact words, but what is known is that by the end of it's speech, each and every one of the miners walked willingly, with no magical coercion or threatening, into the fungus.
But instead of being absorbed, they were changed. Spores implanted in their bodies, in their brains, and took hold. Each of them had the mind of this new being riding backseat, speaking to them.
They could speak to each other, to the fungus around them, and were connected to the world. They wept with happiness, for they knew this was where they belonged in life.
And so, the first of the Embraced were born.
Jason Levesque, 'Musroom Girl', found on google imagesIt took over a century for the world to get over their presence. They were effectively telepathic plant-people, all connected to a hive mind being controlled by a seven-year-old. It was hard to get used to.
Many empires and cities wanted them as soldiers. They were big, strong, could speak silently, and had the confidence of a youth. They were convicted by nobles, experimented on by mages, and shunned by the common folk. But they continued on their way in the world, the same as anyone else. They became fishermen, bartenders, farmers, and tradesmen. And they took the downtrodden, beggars, serfs, slaves, and sent them in Vihe's direction.
And so, over decades, the Embraced ranks grew, and grew, and grew further still. Their numbers are still small, and so little of them actually wield any real power, but they are all family.
Many noble families have made it a crime punishable by disowning to become an Embraced.
Although Embraced can be (and often are) sad, they are never depressed or crushed enough to commit suicide. If Vihe had been almost anyone else, the Embraced could never have been. But, due to a combination of single-mindedness, curiosity, and childlike joy, the Embraced are never sad for long. They see too much beauty in the world for anything to be really bad.
Embraced are universally curious, and optimistic. Vihe, if you get a chance to speak with her, is much the same, except in the body of a giant mushroom.
They eat food, like people. It's like a mushroom growing off of a living tree, or a baby inside a pregnant woman. It gets some of it's own nutrients, but it also draws a lot from the tree or person itself.
The Embraced fungus is a parasite of sorts. It can't actually survive on it's own (although that is not set in stone, I have some interesting ideas for fungus golems).
A starving Embraced might even be able to eat the fungus growing off of them, if they were really desperate. Most wouldn't try. They are a race of optimists, so most of them would just hold out the hope that they were getting help soon instead of tearing out chunks of hive-brain.
Otherwise, they would actually have to eat a bit more than a regular person, to account for both them and the fungus.
There has only been one time in history when the Embraced have rallied as a race, and not just as individuals. This was known as 'the Tide War.'
The Tide War
The Tide War began when a desert queen, now called Feena the foolish, decided the sight of Embraced was too much for her to bear, and the world would be better off without them. She rose an army, and set out to destroy Vihe.
The fungal goddess's response was quick, brutal, and final. Every Embraced, from all around the continent, mobilized. They set out, saying their goodbyes, and headed towards Vihe's cave. Many of them brought allies as well. Farmers brought beasts of war, merchants brought mercenaries, and city folk brought families.
The hired folk managed a proper assault on Feena's forces, but the attack of the Embraced was described as 'like the Tide.' Unstoppable. Men, women, and children hurling themselves soundlessly into their enemies, fighting until their bodies simply stopped working. Vihe had taken direct control of them, erasing all pain and fear from their minds.
Many protested her brutality, but not the surviving Embraced. they were silent on the matter, except to relay her words to any who asked.
"I had a choice. I could let Feena's army kill me, and then let the Embraced die off. Or, I could sacrifice a few willing Embraced to save us all. I do not like what I did, but I needed to do it."
Many have tried to argue, but she protects her belief with the stubbornness of a child. Her and the Embraced are alive, and to her, that is all that matters. Family.