Art by, Atomic
Danger Level: Medium
Commonly Infects: Dryads typically infect a non-intelligent animal before then infecting plants and the ground. They will take over wild nature and usually only aim for cities after everything else has been taken over.
Attack Method: Does not attack when in its weaker stage. Even when it has reached its colossal stage, it will shy away from threats and step on anyone foolish enough to come near it.
Summary: The dryad is by far one of the most devastating of all clockworks. It sneaks around infecting nature until it has irreversibly damaged a planet to the point that it can never be safely reclaimed. Anyone affected by the dryad or its infectious land will be twisted into a crude animalistic shape, wandering the flesh wasteland as a beast.
Original Creator: Atomic
Not counting subtypes, the dryad has two forms. The first is taken upon first infecting an individual, typically that of a fair sized animal native to the planet. The animal will become seemingly encased in wood, but this is instead a particular type of flesh made by the infection called bloodwood. As its name suggestions when cut or damaged the "wood" bleeds. It also naturally leaks out excess blood, infecting the ground below it.
While in this stage the dryad grows an umbilical cord like organ and attaches it to the ground. In weeks the land it's connected to will convert into a loose pulpy flesh bundle that can be easily scooped up with bare hands. This flesh will continue to transform the dirt around it into meat, while extra nutrients are funneled into the dryad itself, allowing it to become bigger. Once it reaches a large enough size, it will move onto its final stage, a colossal.
Now covered in dense bundles of bloodwood the colossal will remove their umbilical cord if one still exists at this point and roam the landscape, passively bleeding all over the area. While it resembles the original creature it infected it is frequently is reported to appear as an advanced godly version, leading to many honoring it in their final days.
To those not taken in by its powerful charm, all they can see is a monster of destruction. If a dryad has grown enough to reach its colossal form then it is too late to reclaim the planet.
Dryads are skittish clockworks and avoid most organic creatures, a trait rare to see in the typically all-consuming clockwork. When small they latch on to a safe spot, attempting to blend in and only moving when trouble arises. If anything kills them all land they have infected will continue to grow but at a slower pace until another dryad is created. This can take months to years to happen. Typically authorities will spot the infected land and burn it before another dryad can be made. The low creation rate for dryads is due to how aggressive dryads are to each other.
If two dryads meet or are made aware of each other, they will fight to the death. Typically the older and thus larger dryad will win. If a dryad even senses another, it will drop all the tasks it was doing to rush for it, even if this is detrimental for its survival. If both dryads have reached their colossal form they will refuse to interact, setting up clear borders between their infectious lands where the infection doesn't touch. If a total planetary takeover is guaranteed it's recommended to protect any new dryads in an attempt to create a safe road of passage.
All visitors to a taken over world should willingly put themselves and everything they brought with them in containment. While extra dryads being created is a rarity, when the illness is taken into an entirely new environment with seemingly no other infection near it the rates will skyrocket. The disease is horrifyingly common within lawless regions, where pirates land on planets while ignoring all warnings and refuse to enter containment when they realize what they have done. These pirates then land on multiple other planets bringing their infection with them until the illness finally destroys their mind and body.
While dryads are typically noted as infecting planets, they will take root in any location if given a chance, such as space stations or even ships. These dryads are shorter lived compared to their planet-side relatives that can last thousands of years. This is because they will eventually trigger an airlock or pierce the hull of their environment and expose themselves to the vacuum of space. As with most clockworks, once they are exposed to the vacuum of space they die out within a few weeks or months depending on the size.
The land infected by a dryad will eventually, after around one to ten years undergo a conversion. The surface of the infected landscape will change to mimic a natural environment. The flesh will shift and change colors to appear as a flowing hillside for example. Rock and trees once covered in putrid flesh will revert to their natural looks, but just under all of this attractive appearance is just the same monster as before. Animals will return to the landscape believing it to be safe once again, only for blood to pour out of the foliage they attempt to consume. Miners will try to break apart rocks just for a red goo to flood out.
The dryad infection will create what looks to be a safe haven, only so it could infect more creatures, some who were seeking asylum from other infected lands created by the dryad.
Infected land doesn't know quite how to react when "naturalizing" unnatural landscapes such as cities. This leads to unusual events, such as buildings textured with grass, cruise ships appearing to be large twisted trees, and vehicles seemingly carved from rock.
Once dryad land is converted into "natural" land they become far less flammable, as such finding a dryad infection early is crucial for the quickest and safest removal possible. After it has reached its natural state, the top layer of the land must be scraped off and disposed of before the fleshy under-soil can be burned away. This process is more intensive and poses a higher risk of accidents, thus infections, as opposed to the safer firing of firebombs from the sky.
Once a large enough land has become extremely infected even the murder of the colossal dryad will have no effect. While its master and caretaker has died, the land will continue growing. The smaller clockworks will eat from the landscape to provide for themselves while awaiting orders from their fallen mother.
Hamadryad: Hamadryad are animals personally infected by the dryad as opposed to being affected by consuming or walking upon the flesh land. Hamadryad take the appearance of the first stage of a dryad but lack any umbilical cord. With no attachment to the land, they kill any nearby fauna and bring it back to the dryad to be consumed or converted. Hamadryads move where the dryad goes. Should a hamadryad be unable to follow or locate their dryad they will take root in infected land and await a signal from their master. Should no sign come, their job in this world is considered finish. Their body will in a few weeks meltdown into a flesh slurry that returns to the ground, the only thing that remains of their existence is their hard bloodwood outer layer.
Meliae: Meliae are intelligent species that are infected by either the dryad or the infectious land it creates. Once thoroughly infected the body twists itself, gaining and losing mass as needed, into a crude shape of a local fauna. These attempts at conversions often look monstrous as many of the original person's features will still be there, a bit disfigured. The infection will even attempt to add on features to complete the intimidation, usually doing a poor job of it. Examples of this are covering the face in fur while leaving the rest of the body bare while attempting to make a furred animal, and expanding hands to ridiculous scales to form fins, while only making a creature that would surely drown if it tries to swim. It is currently unknown why the dryad infection causes meliaes in intelligent species, but it does create some success in causing some to throw themselves into the infected lands to "return to nature" after seeing the horrible forms of local roaming meliaes. This hints that it's possible this is psychological warfare as opposed to a physical one.
Flame resistant body: The bloodwood of dryads is flame resistant compared to most other clockworks because they are not coated in the typical flammable slime other clockworks have. This is because dryads start and nurture infections, as opposed to running around causing infections themselves. Due to them lacking infectious coating it is actually rather safe to touch a dryad as long as their blood and mouths are not handled.
• All clockworks created by infected dryad land except for hamadryad are highly docile and wander about as "peaceful fauna" in the landscape. Should the dryad ever grow tired of feeding off the land, it will use the infected ground to communicate with all of these docile clockworks to come to it and be consumed, something which they do without question.
• It should be noted that while the process of turning an intelligent species into a meliae are typically accurate, there is about a 5% chance of intelligent species being turned into a general clockwork. There's an even smaller chance of random objects and animals transforming into a meliae. A few famous cases involved a building being twisted into the vague shape of an avian, and a large crab seemingly trying to replicate the form of a crocodilian.
• Dryads and those they infect are frequently seen frolicking and playing in their environments. Once full takeover has occurred any non-informed onlooker would be horribly surprised to find out that this world of seemingly endless peace, where no animal harms the other and all live in harmony is just the remains of a feeding ground. A closer look would show that the animals are disfigured residents, the soft flowing grass are sensors for a monster, and under every rock is a scab of pulsating flesh. A hidden paradise, ruined.