Art by, dr9com9ge
Danger Level: Medium
Commonly Infects: Beings with fragile skins/exteriors and those in hot climates.
Attack Method: Ceramici swing at their foes with powerful fists or throw hard, slime-filled balls at high speeds.
Summary: Ceramicis appear similar to pottery and are extremely destructive towards their surrounding environments. They can create slime-filled "pots" or "bombs" that break when thrown and explode under high temperatures. Upon death, ceramicis explode, becoming bomb-like themselves.
The first signs of being infected by a ceramici are more internal than external. The victim will start to feel a certain "looseness" inside their body, as if all of their internal organs were becoming gel-like or liquid in form. This isn't far from the truth, as the first effect of the infection is dissolving the victim's innards into an amorphous, clay-like substance only held together by the victim's exterior. Internal organs other than connective tissue stay intact, but are altered in ways that allow them to continue to function while being rearranged within the body.
By the time the victim's insides are about halfway towards becoming a thick pile of formless clockwork flesh, their skin or exterior begins to rapidly thicken, hardening and cracking, making them look like a cracked piece of pottery in the shape of a person. This exterior shell often gains a gloss similar to glazed pottery, further adding to the look. The "fired" and plated exterior is hard and sharp, but brittle. However, it is tougher than it might appear, and is generally about as durable as a cinder block.
Witnesses have likened a fully-developed ceramici to "a wet clay-like monster in a conveniently person-shaped (albeit cracked) jar". The clockwork can move its shell-like exterior from any angle to expose its insides. As its insides are mostly formless, a ceramici could open its back and reveal a toothy mouth, lungs, or even a brain beneath, since ceramicis are able to safely rearrange their insides with little difficulty. However, the clockworks rarely do this unless eating or fighting as their insides dry out easily when exposed to open air, which makes it harder for them to move.
Ceramici exteriors are far less infectious than their interior. Much of the internal flesh is located in the arms of the clockwork, giving them significantly greater throwing strength. Many ceramicis develop thicker and wider arms because of this. If the victim did not already have opposable thumbs, they will often grow them or mutate non-opposable thumbs to fulfill the role.
The one internal organ that stays stable inside a ceramici is often referred to as the "kiln" of the clockwork. It is a hollow space of metal shards arranged to form a sphere, opened and closed by the amorphous flesh surrounding it, just like the "fired" exterior of the clockwork. Usually located where the stomach of the clockwork would be, it is capable of creating intense heat and pressure that does not harm the ceramici unless it is pulled apart or damaged. Whenever a ceramici drops powdered rubble into an opened kiln, it takes mere minutes before the ceramici can produce the finished product, often expelled by dumping it out of the kiln into its internal flesh and having its unfired insides push it to its palms, creating the effect of having a clay pot rise inexplicably from its hands.
Indeed, the product of ceramici kilns looks similar to sealed clay pots, with healthier clockworks creating more uniform products than their less healthy brethren. The exterior of the ceramici's newly-created pot varies based on the composition of the rubble used to create it, but its contents are always the same - clockwork slime. Kept sealed by a barrier, the contents of a ceramici's pottery is infectious for decades after creation, only gradually starting to lose effect once the pot is broken. The pots are often stored within the ceramici's flesh until pushed out for the purpose of attacking. They are rarely completely filled with slime; a pot will contain far less if the ceramici has eaten more rubble than meat or metal.
Oftentimes when thrown at something hard enough, ceramici pots break, launching a slurry of slime and sharp shards at the target, akin to a shrapnel bullet. They also explode when subjected to high levels of heat, such as fire. For this reason, many have taken to calling them "bombs'' instead of pots.
Ceramicis are also found to explode when burned, killing the clockwork at the cost of creating a bomb of hard, porcelain-like shards and slime. Ceramicis take damage from being burned, but will only explode once exposed to high temperatures for several minutes on end, so it's recommended to use highly controlled fire on them before dealing the final blow with a blunt weapon.
On top of their sharp exteriors and a tendency to create bullet-like slime pots, ceramicis' breath is often described as being like silica powder but more harmful. A thick, powdery white substance that covers surfaces like ground-up chalk, if inhaled, it can cause choking and even long-term health issues. It may temporarily blind anyone unfortunate enough to have a ceramici breathe on their face. Due to the amorphous interior of ceramicis, this breath can emanate from anywhere on the clockwork, yet it commonly emits from the head or mouth area regardless. This breath is made of the byproduct of kilns after they have created bombs, and as such, many bombs have splotches of the noninfectious powder when being expelled from the ceramici on their surface.
Should a ceramici start to starve, their insides will begin to dry out, significantly lowering agility in the clockwork. Bombs produced will contain little to no slime, and the ceramici's powdery "breath" will lose much of its potency. Outside of the lack of chalky breath, starving ceramicis appear little to no different from healthy ceramicis, their exterior remaining exactly the same. When a ceramici dies, through starvation or any means but heat, the kiln organ will start to deteriorate, releasing its heat and pressure and slowly expanding outwards. The dead ceramici will burn from the inside and eventually explode, though without any soft flesh remaining, the attack will likely be noninfectious. Ceramicis with deteriorating kilns are called the omodamos, or crudebaked. Ceramicis that start exploding due to exposure to external heat are often called by the same name, but are not true omodamoses.
The ceramici strain can fester in a person for years before ever becoming noticeable, unless they undergo thorough medical testing. Those with a dormant infection exhibit undesirable or unsociable behavioral and physical traits, but overall well within the range of normalcy. This includes instances of hoarding, destructive behavior towards objects, thick and dry skin, asthma, and/or pica, though these symptoms appear to such a minor degree that they are rarely diagnosed or medically addressed.
What causes the infection to activate is heat. Whether through fever or an external source such as spending extremely long amounts of time in hot weather, any widespread application of heat for an extended period of time (typically 2-3 days, small breaks allowed) will advance the symptoms of the ceramici strain. Once activated, the victim will typically exhibit extremely destructive behavior towards their surroundings, feelings of anger or apprehension towards objects and people often for no other reason than "being in their way". They will then attack, the increased strength in their arms and fists due to the greater concentrations of flesh adding to the destruction. Ceramicis will almost always attack using a fist or equivalent. Surrounded by what they have destroyed, ceramicis will eat it all- meat, metal, and all inorganic materials. Entire buildings toppling due to a ceramici is not unheard of, and most will eat their way through the rubble to consume the flesh of whatever creatures got caught in the crossfire. While the meat and metal sustains the clockwork, everything else is processed into becoming the shell for their "ceramic" bombs. Ceramicis often carry these bombs with them, as many as they can, and all excess that they cannot fit in their bodies without exposing the clay-like flesh underneath are left behind for a person to eventually find and break. Finding a site of destruction strewn with small, hard spheres is often a clear sign that a ceramici was in the area.
When not smashing something with their fists, ceramicis may target distant enemies by summoning their bombs out of their bodies and throwing them at great speeds. If the bomb doesn't kill the enemy, the slime contained within will be freed to cause infection. Ceramici will only switch from melee to ranged attack to fight a moving target out of arm's reach, and ceramicis will rarely follow their opponent unless they are so far away that the ceramici can do neither melee or ranged damage. The clockwork strain has never been recorded using any other item as a weapon or tool.
Although ceramicis generally eat every inorganic material and piece of flesh they see, the clockwork has little ability to distinguish material for its bombshells from proper clockwork food. They can be tricked into starving simply by feeding them only rubble and keeping all meat and metal safely away. However, ceramicis will almost always attack moving targets over stationary ones and will stop eating the rubble of a building they have destroyed to attack a passerby.
Ceramicis are hostile towards others of their kind. If two should meet, fist-fighting and bomb-lobbing would generally occur. Outside of direct conflict, ceramicis will destroy any discarded bombs they find that it cannot detect as being created by itself. This releases the slime held within, and if the area is highly concentrated with discarded bombs, can result in a ceramici effectively salting the land with another ceramici's slime. The slime dries out and becomes largely noninfectious after several days, but retains its flammability.
A ceramici's exterior can easily crack and break due to blunt force trauma received from fighting other beings or from collapsing structures. To protect itself and prevent drying out, many have been observed replacing lost shards of their exteriors with broken shell parts of other ceramicis or other sturdy materials, creating a ceramic patchwork appearance.
Asbetos: The heat produced by the kiln is weaponized by this subspecies in a way other than creating bombs. An extremely heat-resistant but less infectious strain than other ceramicis, they are categorized by the superheated powder breath they exhale which burns the air around them and anything the powder touches. The bombs they produce and release are generally warmer than usual, but not to a harmful degree. However, creating bombs is an extremely unstable process for the clockwork, and it is not uncommon for an asbetos clockwork's kiln heat and powder to overheat its internals and send it into a crudebaked state.
Sabaktes: While the exterior of a ceramici is generally smooth and glossy, sabaktes possess extremely rough and jagged scales that allow them to gouge through flesh. Their exterior is sturdier, but it is also heavier, making the damage when the ceramici explodes far less powerful due to their exterior being too heavy to generate much force.
Syntribos: Syntriboses possess a relatively soft and weak exterior, similar to greenware, or dried but unfired pottery. However, they grow extremely padded and heavy limbs, similar to several layers of arm or leg armor stacked upon each other. They possess a magnificent swinging force but are far slower and more susceptible to bladed attacks compared to other ceramicis.
Crudebaked: Also known as the omodamos state, a ceramici enters this whenever it dies or its internal kiln organ is damaged. The kiln loses control and overheats the rest of the body, causing it to explode. If becoming crudebaked via external heat, the amorphous interior will still be mildly infectious, but any other method of death will cause it to explode several days afterwards with little to no infectivity.
• One of the first notable disasters involving ceramicis consisted of a potters' guild that was attacked, causing devastating amounts of damage to the pottery. This led to the guild shutting down due to an inability to pay damages. Modern accounts of ceramicis describe the clockwork as being especially vicious and destructive towards actual clay ceramics, targeting them over moving objects and people.
• Ceramici pots, if slime inside is disposed of and they are properly cleaned, can become safe for handling and use as normal pottery. However, this process is extremely risky and typically deemed not worth the trouble.
• It generally takes a few days for a ceramici to explode after death, but extreme cold can negate that and prevent the clockwork from exploding at all, even if moved back to normal temperatures later.
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