Mother of Witches: Part Six
Tasha’s Hideous Laughter
(Spoiler alert for Iggwilv’s Legacy: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth)
It’s no laughing matter, but here’s how the spell works. You need some tiny tarts—two or three will do—and a long feather. Concentrate while uttering the incantation. Clutch the tarts in the one hand (gods know why) and wave the feather in the air. You know: “tickle-tickle.” As if you were tickling your target, much as a giddy child might employ the feather to tickle a playmate or as frisky young lovers sport with one another, the one teasing the other into laughter. The effect will be that the poor chap so bewitched finds everything and every matter about him hilariously funny. He loses himself in convulsive spasms of hideous laughter from which he scarce can recover to catch his breath. Some laugh until they pass unconscious. That’s the spell for which she is most famous, a “harmless prankster’s charm” which young apprentices all over the Flanaess are eager to transcribe into their books. They think it a mere joke, but it’s a wicked spell and no laughing matter. Tasha’s laughter can be deadly. While so incapacitated under the spell, the hapless and witless victim makes himself vulnerable to attack, for he can scarce find his legs, much less defend himself.
Daughter of Baba Yaga
Who was Tasha, and how did she become the blight of our world? The one of which we speak has acquired many names: Natasha, Hura, Tasha, Ychbilch, Louhi, and Iggwilv. Likewise, her fame has won her many titles including Witch Queen of Perenland, Dame of North Reach Farm, the Yatil Witch, Mother of the Old One, and Mother of Witches. The latter title rightfully belongs to Baba Yaga, her adoptive mother, but Iggwilv inherited it, which is to say, she stole it, along with the dangerous arcane treasures she looted from sealed vaults in the old crone’s infamous hut. Natasha believed she had no recourse but to steal those treasures of deviltry and spell lore, for the old witch trusted her daughter not at all. Safe to say that Baba Yaga schooled her rebellious daughter only so far in the magical arts as she deemed good, but Iggwilv desired to unlock deeper and darker secrets.
Hura of Lopolla
She left her name as Hura in the annals of Tusmit and al-Ket when she took up residence in a tower on the outskirts of the City of Lopolla and applied herself to her foul research—all the while planning a great heist. Employing her rare powers of persuasion and the magical arts she had acquired through a lifetime of practice, she seduced, charmed, enchanted, and murdered her way into the pasha’s court. Before she was finished, she had plundered the Vault of Daoud. Among the treasures she claimed for herself was Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn of which the old tales of Tusmit speak. The brazen theft and outright sacrilege pushed the people of Ket to take action. They rallied together and, with the help of a powerful wizard, they saw her driven from her stronghold into exile.
Tasha and Zagig
Smarting from the insult, Natasha longed for more power with which she might avenge herself. She cast her eyes upon the archmage Zagig Yragerne, a name still remembered today throughout the Flanaess and especially in Greyhawk city. He was one of the most powerful wizards the Flanaess has ever known or ever will know. Not since the time of the cataclysms has there been another such as him.
Travelling under the short name Tasha, the daughter of Baba Yaga settled herself in Greyhawk and implored the insane wizard and master of that city to take her on as an apprentice. Tasha needed to employ no spellcraft or enchantments to snare the mad man. Despite his great mind and legendary power, he had placed no wards of sufficient strength to defend his heart from love. The wiles and charms (both natural and unnatural) of the seemingly younger woman captivated his attentions and his affections. He took her into Castle Greyhawk, and he gave her the run of the place. Incurably smitten, he paid no heed at all to those who warned him against taking on Baba Yaga’s daughter as a personal apprentice. Any who dared wag their tongues about the scandalous nature of that relationship incurred his wrath. Some who merely raised the insinuation were polymorphed into unpleasant forms which served as reminders to others against meddling in his affairs.
In those days, Tasha was numbered among the Company of Seven. She adventured in the circle of those most potent masters of magic. They traded in spells and competed with one another in creating their own spells, many of which are still transcribed into spellbooks and onto scrolls to this very day. Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, as it has come to be known, was one of her own inventions and, they say, she modeled it after the sound of her own cruel voice. But most of the spells she wrote will not be found in the spellbooks of descent wizards or magic users, for they are abominations and blights upon our craft.
Tasha and the Prince of Deception
Zagig initiated his apprentice into forbidden arts and taught her the nature of the denizens of the outer planes, their strengths, and their weaknesses. He showed her how he could summon up fiends from the Abyss. Tasha learned. Working together, master and apprentice called up the abominable Prince of Deception, Fraz-Urb’luu and imprisoned him in a bas-relief in the bowels of Zagig’s insane labyrinth.
The summoning piqued her hunger for greater power. Determined to learn the art herself, she obtained secret audience with the prisoner. Without her jealous master’s knowledge, Tasha questioned the trapped archfiend and plied him with subtle questions, always dangling the hope of his freedom before him. Long hours she spent—days, weeks, and months—sequestered in the hidden chambers deep beneath the castle engaging her prisoner. Employing all her arts, she deceived the Prince of Deception and recorded all his words as he negotiated for his release. Sorting through his whispered lies and half-truths, she learned countless secrets—all of this without the knowledge nor the consent of her master.
None know what words transpired between the woman and the monster, but I recount them as they were told to me. Press your ear against the door; peer through the keyhole, watch through the scrying glass …
The archfiend spat at her, “You are not the first to draw a summoner’s circle. A witch called Vihara once snared me and called me up. She was the first to wield my name, and she was thrice the witch, four times the woman, you will ever be.”
Tasha laughed disinterestedly, “If she was half my worth, you would still be her thrall.”
“I was her thrall,” the imprisoned creature admitted. “Such that I would not readily leave, even when she bade me go. I took her back with me, and she bore me a son.”
“Surely such offense against nature is not possible, neither here nor there from whence you came,” Tasha tried to sound nonchalant, but the edge of her voice betrayed her curiosity.
“Oh, it is possible indeed,” the abomination smacked his lips and leered.
“Empty words and vain boasts,” Tasha laughed—a hideous laugh that lasted too long. “Surely you and all your kind are as sterile as mules.” Do you see her stratagem? Only by scorning and mocking the vain creature could she pry out splinters of truth.
“Did she not bare me a son?” the bas relief sniffed contemptuously like a man defending his dignity.
“Well named are you, Prince of Deception. You have no sons nor daughters except for your many deceits. Your lies shall be your heirs.”
“Look into the matter yourself, drossel! His mother named him Tsojcanth, ‘the little deceiver’ by her own tongue. Yes! You recognize the name, don’t you?” the liar snarled as the truth spilled out despite himself.
The Little Deceiver
Indeed! She did recognize it. Aside from scholars of magical history, few mortals remember the name Tsojcanth, but Tasha did not number herself among mortals. She must have learned the name from her own studies of legends and lore while still a schoolgirl in the hut of her mother. The Oeridian archmage named Tsojcanth was said to be a student of great magic and a warden of all Oerth. He was said to have defended the world from the assaults of archfiends and their minions, from Orcus and Graz’zt, and he slew the wielder of the horrific Hand of Vecna. Tsojcanth was also mentioned among the names of those that stood against the forces of the mad god (whom we dare not name), lest the Slumbering One awaken. Tsojcanth’s length of days unnaturally spanned the lifetimes of many men, and nations looked to him for salvation more than once. But his many battles and extended years exhausted him, and the time eventually came when even the great Tsojcanth must go the way of flesh. They say that he retired from the world and made his crypt deep in a mountain cavern.
“Lies, lies, lies!” the Prince of Deception laughed. “Let me tell you the tale of the real Tsojcanth.”
“Tell me what you will,” Tasha agreed. “But I adjure you to tell me no lies. If you do, I will know it, and I will wrack you most cruelly.”
The hideous nightmare imprisoned within the bas relief statue continued, “From within his cradle, my son evoked phantasms so real that even the abyssal ones were deceived.” The filthy deceiver boasted like a proud father bragging about his precocious child, but then his tone abruptly changed. His voice assumed a melodramatic whining note of self-pity as he lamented, “The ungrateful drop of puss abandoned me! Left his doting father’s side! The Little Deceiver came of an age and returned to his mud-sucking mother’s world, and here he remains.”
“Ungrateful and disrespectful,” Tasha concurred. “A pity you lack adequate ability to scry out the crypt where he hides himself. I’m sure that, if you had the power to find Tsojcanth, you would pay him a visit and teach him a lesson in honoring a father.”
Fraz-Urb’luu belched in rage, “You dare call me inadequate? I know where that pot of piss hides himself!”
“If you did, you would surely have tipped the pot over by now,” Tasha insisted. “I do not believe that you know where he is, and I don’t believe that you can find him.”
The fiend exploded with a blistering series of insults, misogynist slurs, threats of violence, and foul invectives before declaring, “I know precisely where the hole in which he hides is!”
“Perhaps you do, but I will only believe it when I hear you tell me the place. But even if you do know where he hides, I am sure you are ignorant of his true name, otherwise, you would certainly use it against him.”
In this manner, Tasha learned all about Tsojcanth, where to find him, and how to wield his true name. The mage, she learned, only masqueraded as a mortal. Tsojcanth deceived the whole world into applauding him as a hero of good and truth. He was, in fact, none other than Fraz-Urb’luu’s own son—the cambion offspring of his sacrilegious union with a witch. This notion planted a profane seed of thought in Tasha’s head which took root and bore a bitter fruit.
Tsojcanth concealed himself in caverns hidden in the Yatil Mountains where the boundary between this world and the abyss is worn thin. “He guards the way between our worlds because he fears us,” the fiend said. “He fears some worm-food summoner finds the weak spot and summons up one stronger than he!” This notion planted another seed of thought in Tasha’s head.
The Pillage of Castle Greyhawk
By interviews such as this, Tasha obtained the secrets she sought and supposed that always she held the upper hand, never suspecting that the Prince of Deception might be the more clever of the two. Surely he laid snares before her feet, directed her path with half-truths, and set her course to carry out his will on Oerth.
After many such conversations on various subjects of interest to her, Tasha came to believe she could wring nothing further from the deceiving fiend nor learn anything further from her lover. She abruptly took her leave, fleeing Castle Greyhawk in the middle of the night, but not before pillaging her master’s library. She escaped with spellbooks, ancient scrolls, and great tomes of magic, but the most valuable of all was Zagig’s collection of summoner’s spells and bindings called the Tome of Zyx.
Tasha took credit for all the devilshine and spellcraft between its covers, plagiarizing the whole of it into her magnus opus, a wicked codex called Demonomicon. She stole away with everything Zagig valued most: his research, his spell books, and his heart. Moreover, she made away with knowledge of the secret world of the abyssal beings. Fearing her spurned lover’s reprisals, she disappeared into the Yatil Mountains, on a quest to find the lost caverns of the legendary mage Tsojcanth where she hoped she could further satisfy her wicked lusts and greed.