A Snake in the Garden - 10/10/2022
The spear pierced my armor easily, and I felt the metal bite into my flesh. I would have probably screamed at the pain, if I wasn’t already in pain from the caustic vapors that surrounded me. As I spun myself to the right, I dislodged the spear just in time for my shield to catch a claw with its edge, knocking it away. I stumbled out of the miasma, and glanced at my arm, where I saw blood pooling on the surface and smoking; all horrid affects of the poisonous cloud that surrounded Bookshelf and myself.
Unlike most of the other things around us, I actually knew what I was facing; A mezzoloth. They made up the bulk of yugoloth armies and were the fodder for the Blood War that raged in the Lower Planes where I came from. But “fodder” was a poor way to describe a six limbed, insect as tall as a human, and as broad as a dwarf. Strong, resistant to magic, heat and cold, and able to spray their poisonous blood into a toxic cloud, they were more than a match for denizens of either the Abyss or Baator.
That meant for most mortals, an encounter would be fatal, and things were not starting out well.
A pair of arrows slammed into the ‘loth, each making a cracking sound as each pierced its carapace. It turned its head and chittered at Adrissa and The Blade. Both were notching an arrow, when the second one didn’t even turn, but instead simply dissolved into nothingness. Not a breath later it reformed next to the pair. Adrissa shrieked, as she tried to move away, and was rewarded with the spear piercing her in the thigh. She managed to limp away and get some distance, allowing her to loose a second arrow into the mezzoloth that attacked her. The Blade took advantage of its distraction, and circled around, loosing another arrow into it.
Bookshelf pointed a finger a the one that had attacked me and a beam of cold light slid over its shell. However, there was no sign of frost or ice like there usually was on most of his targets. I shook my head and reached out with a strand, and enveloped in a dark miasma, causing it to shudder as I yelled, “You can’t use elemental magic! Something else!”
As I was shouting the other one, brandished his spear, as Adrissa and the Blade started to run down between the walls, and gain some distance, confident in their archery skills. But the mezzoloth had other plans, as it pulled from its carapace a fleshy bud. It threw it behind the pair, and yet another cloud of toxic poison enveloped the pair.
“You’ve got to be sodden…oh no,” I realized that while the four of us had managed to get out of the caustic clouds, the clouds seemed to have a mind of the their own. They seemed to drift closer, and on the other end, the second cloud was doing the same. It wouldn’t be long before they converged, and everyone would be subject to their caustic effects. “They’re close…AUGH!” I yelled, as the spear pierced my armor again this time in my lower back. I almost collapsed from the pain from the wound, as well as my skin still sweating blood.
I turned, and summoned another miasma, this one clearly doing more damage as its shell started to flake away from the darkness I summoned. It in response chittered, and simple retreated into the fog, while its partner did the same. Bookshelf and I ran over towards Adrissa and The Blade, putting our backs together.
“I can’t see them for a clear shot,” The Blade grumbled.
“Same here,” Adrissa said breathing heavily. “And the poison is getting closer.”
“Bookshelf, do you have anything that can help here?” I asked. “At this point I need to see them.”
“Maybe. If we are lucky,” Bookshelf said. He reached into a pouch and removed a vial and, tossed the contents on the ground, which looked like water. As the water hit the ground it formed a pool that grew and grew.
“Elemental stuff won’t help much,” I reminded Bookshelf about my earlier warning.
“This is more like a beating,” the warforged said, and the pool of water erupted, into a wall of water that rushed toward the cloud and where we last saw the ‘lolth. The wave ran into the cloud, and we heard it collide with something, followed by angry chatters. As we watched, the cloud of poison and pain, sank down and disappeared into the earth. There on the ground, knocked on its back was the mezzoloth, its spear laying nearby, just out of reach.
I didn’t need to say anything, as the two archers shot the vulnerable fiend. I concentrated a moment and threw a pair of strands at it. A pair of purple bolts, leapt from my fingers and homed in and struck the yugoloth squarely in its midsection. It quivered a moment, before its limbs went slack and it started to melt into a puddle of goop, the colors of its shell leaving strips of color on the dirt.
“One down,” I panted and turned to look at the second cloud approaching us.
“I doubt the same spell will work again blindly,” Bookshelf said trying to spot a target in the dense poisonous cloud.
“We need something to draw it out,” The Blade said. “But I’m not sure wh—I can’t see.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked puzzled for a moment, as I saw the cloud sink into the ground, and the mezzoloth start to walk towards us calmly, its spear ready.
“Now what?” Adrissa said. “I can’t see either.”
“It’s a field that douses light,” Bookshelf said, as they turned towards the crunching footsteps of the fiend. “I might be able to dispel it, if I can figure out where the center is.”
I didn’t look directly at the loth, instead I turned my head as if equally blind. I had done this exact trick on hapless goblins several times, and creatures not used to being blind tended to panic. But the darkness that the loth summoned was nothing to me; all the colors of the day were visible to me, as was he.
“I have a better idea,” I said trying to hide my smile. “Get ready the one with the webbing.” I focused deep within myself. Not the strands, but the core of my being; the spark of the divine.
“Doesn’t help if I can’t see!”
“You will.” I said quietly. I opened my heart, let it pour forth. That familiar rush along my spine, was not just a simple warmth, but a raging fire. I could feel the wings unfurl and spread, as I whispered and raised my rod into the air.
“Y ao maia.”
Light burst forth from my rod and I watched the loth reflexively shield its eyes. That was all it took for Bookshelf to create a morass of webbing, anchoring the fiend to the ground. Surprised at the darkness falling away, it had no time to react, and it was quickly peppered with arrows as it struggled to escape its silk prison. In in matter of moments, it was over, as I hurled more purple bolts at it and Adrissa and The Blade continued to fire more arrows, while Bookshelf stood back and waited. It wasn’t long until it too melted away as it perished.
The Blade squinted and looked at me, “You can probably dismiss that. It’s a bit bright.”
“Actually, I can’t.” I said, looking at the light I created with a bit of amazement. “The power I put into it will fade, but not for a while. I think.”
“You think?” Bookshelf asked surprised.
“I’ve never tried to do that,” I said feeling a little winded. “All I knew is that powerful light can destroy darkness. I’ve created enough of it to know. But” I turned to look towards the direction we were heading, “We might need to hurry.”
“She’s right,” The Blade said, picking up some discarded arrows. “We cannot assume this was the only pair.”
Adrissa’s eyes went wide, “Rosa, Sage and Doxx! You don’t think they are—”
“—I do,” I said.
“We’d better make haste,” Bookshelf sighed.
We ran down the length of the fortress as fast as we could. Two mezzoloths were enough to hurt four of us badly. But there were only three of the others, and the ‘Loths didn’t have to contend with ranged attacks. It wasn’t that far in truth; it was just the dread that kept the distances long in the mind. But only made it worse as my heart pounded and prayed, I didn’t have to bury the others.
We rounded the corner together, and as we ranI could feel the breeze blow towards us, and there it was. Burnt nuts and rot; the same smells that assaulted my nostrils earlier in the form of toxic clouds. Ahead of us I could see what looked like an inner bailey that led into the interior of the fortress and there in its shadow I could see a long figure on the ground, its staff discarded nearby.
“Sodding…DOXX” I yelled and skidded to a stop and dropped to my knees ready to apply what power I had left, when Doxx rolled her head to look at me.
“I’m…fine. Just resting here,” Doxx said, shielding her eyes, “Isn’t that light a bit much?”
“Sorry…needed to keep darkness at bay,” I said sheepishly
“You sure?…its damn near blinding.” Doxx growled.
“Where are the others?” The Blade demanded of the old woman.
Doxx raised an arm and pointed to a hole in the stone next to the gate of the bailey. I turned my head and smiled as I saw a tired Rosa step through it. “Over here,” she said smiling, but the tone betrayed an exhausted soul. “I just patched up Sage,”
“I’ll just be a moment,” I could hear the Juggernaut say from somewhere within the bailey.
I sat down heavily on the ground. “Damned ‘loths. We’re lucky to be alive.”
“Eh?” Doxx said her head on the ground and turned towards me. “What’s a ‘loth’?”
“Yugoloths. Where I come from, they are just evil fiends fighting for the top bidder of their services. These were mezzoloths. The…weakest of them.” I said as Doxx’s eye grew more disbelieving them.
“The weakest? What the hell does that say about---” she started.
“—The rest are even worse. But they still pale to the Baatorians and the Tanar’ri in power and numbers,” I replied. “But what happened here?”
“Well,” Doxx started. “We were approaching the gate here, when a pair dropped a pair of poisonous clouds. They stayed inside of them and kept darting in and out of the poison. We weren’t making much headway until Sage came up with a solid idea.”
“Which was?” Adrissa asked.
“I picked up one, and slammed it into the wall, until it could no longer think clearly.” Sage said poking his head from inside the hole in the stone wall. “Fortunately, the wall broke soon after, killing it. That allowed us to defeat the second one.”
I nodded approvingly. “Works.”
“Is everyone feeling better?” Rosa asked earnestly.
“Well enough to find this other gemstone,” Doxx growled. I extended a hand and helped her to her feet. She grunted, but then walked over to Sage her gruff face softened a bit. “Thank you. You…you…saved my life.”
Sage nodded and clapped the old woman on the back a little harder than intended or perhaps as much as the old woman wanted based on her wince. “Its of no concern. My pleasure in fact. It feels good to do the function I trained for.”
The interior of the bailey was a shambles; the wooden beams that supported the upper floors had been burned away, leaving behind a hollow shell of a building. Clear that nothing much remained, we made our way through the wreckable, and entered the courtyard of the inner bailey. It was nothing that I expected.
The inside grounds were clear of snow. The ground was covered with a purple heather that looked unhealthy. Scattered around every five paces there was a trunk of a twisting tree, each with a deep maroon color to its bark. At the top, the tree’s crown, spread out in all directions like vines on a wall. The broad dark crimson leaves created a canopy that prevented us from seeing the sky, and how thick this canopy layer actually was. But spread across the branches that fanned out everywhere, were roses of sickly green and yellows, all shedding the occasional petal on the ground. The riot of color was fascinating, and vaguely nauseating as well.
“What the in Dolurrh is this?” Bookshelf asked quietly. “This isn’t natural.”
“No,” The Blade agreed. “It is not. And it is concealing something in branches above. I am sure of it.”
Aw…caught so easily by an elf. I’m ashamed. But I am bored, so maybe I am not?
Startled at the voice in our heads, we looked at each other in alarm.
Oh, and so many of you have come after that small little stone. Perhaps this will be fun
“What is…that?” Adrissa asked, her teeth clamped tightly together.
“Something powerful,” Rosa muttered. “And evil. This twisted garden is just…choked with it.”
I looked around, and I could hear motion in the leaves above, as something made its way along hidden branches above us, causing the trees to creak, and petals to flutter down. But while the ‘garden’ was still, the voice in our heads was not.
Oh…I have been so bored, and I do want to play. And I’m sure you want that little bauble at the center of it all. Please hurry…I do want to get started!
“I don’t like it nagging at us,” Doxx muttered.
“Well until we see it, there isn’t else we can do.”
“It could be lying!” Adrissa almost yelled. “Why should we believe it.”
Oh, I love children; they always have a finger on the pulse of fear and things that parents are afraid to say. How tender she must be. I so do want to taste her.
I was feeling very protective of Adrissa, so I shouted in return, “So she’s wise beyond her years, not to trust a fiend like you.”
Oh…how disappointing; I wanted to surprise you all. Especially you Myrai.
My heart skipped a beat, as I heard my name called out in my head. As I stood there, I wondered how it knew anything about me, and to my sinking heart, it spoke my fears.
You’ve come a long way to hide little Aasimar. Not that you could really hide for long. This is a remote place but…not that remote.
“Who are you?” I shouted; my heart having none of the confidence I tried to put into my voice. The others glanced at me equally puzzled, but we all just watched the canopy above us.
A friend. A fiend. Does it really matter. Come to the center of my garden here and we can…share some tea and talk about it? I have it on good authority you like
red spindle bloom tea after all.
My heart now pulsed quicker. The voice was wrong; I didn’t like that tea at all. But I did share a pot occasionally with a friend in Sigil. But I have never told anyone who the tea was for, and we never drank in public. So, to have it exposed to everyone was unnerving. “Sure thing,” I said, trying to suppress any quavering in my voice. “I’m sure there is a story you want to tell.”
Of course; I’m bored. But you aren’t far from my garden’s center. Best we talk there.
Sage made a clicking sound, and pointed with his armblade ahead, and there was perhaps the largest trunk of a rose bush I had ever seen, its trunk so wide I couldn’t possibly put my arms around it. We moved as a group warily and were only a couple of paces away from it, when I could see another box on the ground; discarded like its contents were unimportant.
I thought I was going to be stuck here for a long time waiting for no one to show up. But how happy I am that the wait was all worthwhile.
“You going to show yourself?” I challenged.
Of course I am! I can’t peel the flesh from your bones otherwise. Or take your scalp as a prize for my collection. Of course, your eyes are unique as well. I do hope to take my time with you, so we can…well you can at least, scream about all the pleasures I have planned for you before…well she comes for you. All too brief for me…but I’ll make sure you remember it all.
“I find it troublesome you are so interested in one of our group,” Sage roared back. “And I am sure she will give you no such pleasure, as you will never get the chance.”
“That’s right! You, can taunt all you want you..you..loth!” Doxx shouted back in the air.
‘Loth? Oh no…I may be far from home, but I am no mere Yugoloth come to play—
I felt the pressure of air pushing against me, and I rolled to my left, trying to raise my shield up. But I was too slow, as a curved blade slashed by, and cut deeply into my arm holding it aloft. As I hit the ground on my now bleeding left arm, the pain now registered, causing my hand to spasm uncontrollably. Nearby I heard the whistling of more blades cutting through the air, and the sound of metal on metal along with a strangled cry from Rosa. I caught myself and regaining my balance and stood again and only found that I desperately wanted to cower and hide.
The fiend was easily half a body taller than Sage. Her face was beautiful, pale as snow and her long berry blonde hair was braided, each ending in a iron skull shaped bead. Her smile was one fully immersed in rapture, eyes far away, and a smile that betrayed a fiends dreams’ coming true. Her body was adorned with a simple harness, on which scalps, fragments of horns, and couple of hands dangling by her hips while her chest was bare of armor or anything resembling modesty. In her hands her swords were ready to strike, while squirming in the coils of the creature’s serpent like tale, poor Rosa was being squeezed, and I barely make out the word “Help!” as the air was forced out of her. The fiend now turned and leveled six sharp purple edged blades in my direction, the smile now twisting into one of cruel amusement as its voice echoed in my head, while the others tried to surround it.
No…only the best for our little aasimar. Only something that a high ranked Tanar’ri like I can inflict on your poor mortal body. You can pray to your god for death if you like; but there will be no salvation from my blades. I will tear your flesh slowly, as I carve you like an animal, and then break every bone in your limbs, one joint at a time. You can beg for death of course; how could I deny you hope, false as it will be. But I’m only a taste of what is to come…Myrai.
So first up, I'd like to apologize for my tardiness. I had been a victim of a neck injury that has caused some nerve damage in my left arm, and needless to say, typing prose has been a bit difficult. As I write this, I still only have partial sensation in my left hand. On the plus side, I can type this!
The party spliting up was a foolish decision, which Doxx's player regretted making, and his bacon was saved by Sage. Now it would have meant that there would have been four mezzoloths working together, but it would have been more interesting in my opinion. If only that was the only problem.
I remember the day well, when the DM put the miniature on the bored, and Sage's player (my son) said. "So, that's not what it looks like of course." to which the DM replied, "Nope. It looks exactly like that." At that point most jaws dropped (Adrissa, my daughter didn't, because she had no idea what it was) as everyone else had played an edition or two before and remembered seeing them in passing. It had a CR of 16, and it was a deadly encounter as presented. Everyone gulped; and we did the only rational thing possible.
We paused for dinner, and discussed tactics through dessert.