Mother of Witches: Part Five
“At first glance, it seemed a featureless, endless plain, not that anyone would wish to even glance at it in the first place.” The meaningless color of the sky over the unending and undulating landscape looked like the delusions of a fever-induced dream. The wind gibbered, chittered, screeched, screamed, and wailed. The putrescence of the ever-rotting world of puss and popping tumors assaulted the senses in waves. Her eyes watered; her senses reeled, and she asked herself, “Have I this time gone too far?” How far has she gone? Into the lower realms of the Abyss seeking a merciless fiend, a warrior of the Blood War, a restless unforgiven spirit of Oerth.
Interview with a Hezrou
“Six centuries since I have been named by the likes of flesh and blood,” the belching hezrou reflected as it tore the twitching limbs from the torso of a lesser tanar’ri. It carried out its grizzly task like one accustomed to his handiwork, like the skilled hands of a fisherman cleaning a fish. His victim, an enormous scorpion with the screeching head of a hag, spit and squealed with pain. The hezrou warrior tossed the legless wriggling body aside and turned his full attention to the woman that stood before him. “By which deviltry didst thou findeth me, and what wouldst thou have of me?” the beast spoke an ancient dialect of Old Oeridian. A heavy perspiration of stinking liquid moistened the abomination’s naked skin as if the effort of dismembering his foe had induced a heavy sweat. Nearly a half-ton of leering toad towered over the slight frame of the dark-haired girl. The nightmare beast peeled back its hideous lips to reveal rows of spiked teeth. It might have easily snatched the girl up and swallowed her whole. Or so it seemed.
“Not easily!” Tasha answered the question. She recoiled at the maleficent odor of the sticky goo slicking the creature’s unholy flesh. She forced herself to swallow lest she wretch and lose her bearing in the presence of the fiend. “My quest for Your Ruthlessness began in my own personal tower on the outskirts of Lopolla where I applied myself to learn the lore of that land.”
“Twas named Hlupallu in my day,” the hezrou swatted a vrock from the air, crumpling it against the stones. He crushed the writhing bird beneath his massive toady foot. Giant baby-faced maggots wriggled up from the ground to feast on the ichory flesh.
“Indeed. The same,” Tasha continued undistracted by the gooey carnage at her feet. “In the course of my studies, I came upon mention of a magnificent treasure vault, not-long concealed, containing wondrous magics once collected by the wandering mendicant, Daoud of Tusmit.”
“Never heard of him,” the hezrou feigned disinterest.
“But I have heard much, for much there is to hear! I would, if I may contrive it, pilfer all the baubles that one-time pasha possessed.”
“What’s that to me?” the toad-fiend croaked, but she had now piqued his interest.
Tasha and the Pasha
“Went I first to the palace of Ibrahim, the son of Daoud, and showed myself to be a type of lady in their presence. I did murder my way to prominence in his harem, slay my rivals and, using what powers of persuasion I possess, seduced the pasha and quick became the favorite. Then I said, ‘Oh Ibrahim my lord, if’t be true thou dost love me, thou wouldst indeed reveal unto me the secret place of thy father’s wealth.’ Spake he, ‘I would tellest thee fairest of all flesh in trade for thine affections, but sworn am I to never reveal the place of that well-hidden vault.” Thus I did press upon him, night after night, and he became as soft putty in my fingers. At length he did succumb to say, “One there is who mayest tell thee more. His name I revealest to thee for a price.’ ‘Name it,’ said I. Said he, ‘If ever thou shouldst gain entrance therein, I would have the ring that once my father wore. By that ring did he command the djinn, the efreet, the marid, and the dao.’ To these terms I agreed, and he bade me swear most devastating oaths against my own soul should I betray him or fail to deliver the ring.”
“So that one named me and sent thee hither?” the hezrou asked.
Fair Elena and Pharol Al-Sammal
“Nay! Not so!” the girl cackled hideously with her own amusement. “He named one spellmaster and archmage called Pharol Al-Sammal who doth keep hidden temple to Hadyan and shrine of Boccob in the hills beyond Sefmur.”
“Never heard of him,” the hezrou dismissed the name.
“But I have heard much of him. Not long after your time, this Al-Sammal rose to prominence among the scholars of the Zashassar and now is numbered among the greatest spellcasters of all Oerth. Many liken him unto the Mad Mage of Greyhawk city. I knew too-well that if I should appear before that one, he would at once smell me out. In my stead, I sent my sister, Fair Elena (may she rot) to learn the lore. Yet not without a price. Said that saucy tart to me, ‘I should like the magical carpet upon which Pasha Daoud once did fly.’ I trothed her that and, again, swore against my own soul most devastating oaths should I not deliver the shit-stained rug unto her hand.”
“So then, that wizard What’s-He-Called didst name me to her and sent thee hither?” the belching toad asked. The manner of the tale intrigued him not a little, and he sought to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
“Nay! By the One Who Yet Slumbers, again I say nay!” the girl swore. Her green eyes shone keenly as lit by some inner deviltry of her own. “This wizard called Pharal al Samal told my sister the tale of one spellcaster and summoner more ancient than himself. He it was that built the treasure vault of Daoud, hid it away from all eyes, and entrapped it with magical traps, wards, sigils, seals, devices, and triggers such that none might ever pilfer it, no matter how puissant. If ever I hoped to find the vault or trespass therein, I should first need acquire the passwords and keys, and these are known by none but their creator, the Archmage Survarris of the Ekbir Zashassar, a disciple of the Black Vizier of Zeif (if not the man himself).”
The Missing Soul of Survarris
“Aha! Tis not me thou dost seek, but that fiddle-sucker Survarris! I might have known, for he was once-a-time my master in the Zashassar—before the unfortunate incident.” The abominable toad’s tone turned melancholy. A pensive sigh escaped his throat.
“Indeed! I seek Survarris. But where should I find him? Not on all Oerth, for he had been cast into the Nine Hells where none who live are accustomed to walk. I besought my twisted mother, that child-abducting old crone who dwells in the poultry-legged hut, and I begged her go to Hell to find Survarris for me. Not without a price did she agree, ‘I should like Daoud’s ancient tome, Manual of the Planes, which the Tusmistite stole from the Charcoal Palace in the City of Brass.’ I swore to my mother, against my very own soul, that I should deliver the book unto her hand.
“When my mother, the Mother of Witches, did find Survarris, she discovered his slain and tormented body bereft of his soul. ‘To where has this one’s soul been removed?’ she inquired. Those baatezu devils that knew his fate replied, ‘If we tell thee, thou shalt give us a token from among the spoils.’ ‘Name thy price,’ spake my mother on my own part. They made demand, ‘Daoud possessed a Cube of Gates. We have need of such a toy that makes easy coming and going from world to world.’ They bade her speak devastating curses against my soul if I deliver it not unto them. For that promise, the devils did reveal the whereabouts of the missing soul, and they did name none but thee, O Merciless One, the jailer of it. Moreover, they revealed unto my mother the place where the soul of Survarris now sulks.”
“In this cranny-crammed cranium sulks that maggot’s soul,” the hezrou laughed. The stench of his laughter caused Tasha to blanche despite her stoic resolve. A blackened-crystal human skull engraved with silvery sigils and glowing with unoerthly grey aura appeared hovering in the syrup-like air beside the enormous fiend. The skull floated at the creature’s right shoulder. “Survarris didst create this gewgaw from the skull of an Ur-flan lich. But I didst bind his soul up in it and entrap him in his own trap. So he remaineth, mine own prisoner inside this bony noggin. Thus did I repay a debt for a treachery the bleeder once did visit upon me when I yet served as his apprentice in the Zashassar.”
Having come so close now to her objective after so many trials and long journeys—indeed, having descended by costly means to these very depths of the lower realms—Tasha struggled to govern the excitement that rose up in her breast. Her voice tremored, “Allow me, I beg thee, to query him. Surely Thy Mercilessness can compel thine old master to reveal those cyphers, codes, and passwords I shall require to look upon the secret vault and safely trespass therein!”
“Ha! By the blood and bones! What wouldst thou give unto me if I should favor thee. Hast thou not already promised away the ring, the rug, the book, and the cube?”
Tasha considered the matter but a moment before inquiring in sweet honeyed tones, “How did Your Mercilessness come to this fetid place? Perhaps I can yet shew thee some favor.” The girl stood straight and shapely-tall before him. She thrust forward her chin, and she appeared all the more beautiful by way of the contrast with his oozing putridness. Recently come into full blossom and yet clad in the harem scarves of Lopolla, she enchanted the hezrou with her comeliness, her flowing black hair, her keen intelligent countenance, and her wicked green eyes that gleamed like evil emeralds.
The Hezrou’s Tale
“How camest I unto this place? Shall I indeed tell thee the tale?” The repulsive stinkpot of blighted flesh lowered himself to the ground and drew up his strange-jointed knees under the sloppy chin of his wide maws. After a bout of disturbing flatulence, he eagerly launched into the telling, “Six centuries past, at which hour I wast yet an issue among the Kalgonites, our king retained a certain Bakluni spellbinder to make war upon his enemies, those Flanmen of Old Ahlissa. The lickspiddle fools did worship a lich, a pretender who didst deceive them by false-naming himself Vecna. The Bakluni dweomercrafter, Surrvaris by name, didst smite the Ur-Flan lich and make a prison of its own hollowed skull (this same cranium that dost hover here beside me) that he might employ its villainous deviltry.
“In those days, I wast not but a scrawny, pitiable orphan cur, much-harassed by those older and stronger than me. And I did loath all, and I did loath mine own life. Then this Surrvaris put eyes upon me and did purchase me and bare me back unto his native land, as far as the West from the East. He didst apprentice me to his craft in the Zashassar of Ekbir where secretly he did school me in forbidden Suelish deviltry and summoner’s arts. He it was that did shew me the art of fashioning an iron flask and binding up a demon therewithin—no small cantrip! I did later turn that trick to my advantage.
“Beyond all his pupils in dweomercraft I did excel. Surrvaris did grow jealous and fearful over me and ere long did seek means by which to undo me. He deceiveth me, that one, into summoning up a wild glabrezu that it shouldst slay me, but I didst prove the quicker and made escape of its grasp. Amok it ran among the halls of the Zashassar like unto a wild boar thrashing in the potter’s shop. The fiend didst slay nobleman and scholar, slave and serf. Surrvaris made denials for his part. He did pretend the fault all mine and betray me unto the high court of Ekbir. For heresies they did condemn me and sentence me unto death, thus I did flee unto the waste places of Ull.
“I didst continued the craft and rose unto the ranks of the archmage, more powerful and terrible than my master. Ogre magi did obeisance before me, and I did summon up fell servants more fearsome yet. A score of years and half again did pass ere I made return unto my home among the Kalgonites of Old Ahlissa and took mine vengeance upon mine brethren.
“I slay the king and all his sons with mine own hands! Mine ogres and demons seize command over all his servants! Terror and fear I cast upon all men! I show my enemies no ruth! In misery and tyranny, I didst school them.
“On a time I did fashion an iron flask, like that of mine old master, of power sufficient to entrap a great one from among the tanar’ri. Verily! I did summon up a powerful lord of fiends and beset him with magic, trapping him within mine flask. I didst command him make war upon my foes. By his power, I didst ravage and rape all lands about me. Thus they didst name me Merciless, and I didst teach them the worth of it.
“Then came a time I did wax careless. I took upon myself the metamorphosis of a nalfeshnee fiend, forgetting the power of mine own iron flask should it be used against one such. Clever that Dark Prince in mine flask, for he didst bide his time ‘til midst of pitched battle with mine foes. Then he did use mine own flask to jail me therein that he might at once find release from his prison.
“Hence he bore me with him back to this Abyss and made me his miserable slave. He did debase me into a lowly dretch, and in this form I did serve him many decades until, when occasion made demand, he loosed me to smite against Orcus and Demogorgon. Ferociously I must now fight his wars. I do prove myself of such good use that he hast now paid me mine reward with this fearsome form thou dost behold before thee today.”
With those last words, the hezrou stood again to his full height and spread his limbs to display his physique before the witch. He studied her keenly to see what impression his great bulk made upon her, but her face betrayed no inner thought. The moment passed, and his peacockish grandiosity deflated. He sank back down to sit upon the ichor-soaked soil of that forsaken world.
Tasha took courage and drew near the hideous bulk, reached out to him, and touched him with slender fingers. She stroked his pocked and oozing face and played her hands across his slime-slicked skin. “Poor, poor Tuerny,” she sympathized. “An archmage made to grovel and crawl. I would that thou wast mine own sire. Surely I wouldst sit upon thy lap and whisper in thine ear what secrets I do keep.”
The hezrou made a slushy gurgling noise in its throat, and its frog-like eyes bulged and fixed hungrily upon the lithe woman. She climbed gingerly up onto his bulking heap of stinking flesh, wrapped her slender arms around his massive head, and whispered into his ear, “If thou wilt tell thy servant the true name of that Prince of Darkness who so abuseth and debaseth thee, I shall free thee of his chains. I shall summon him to Oerth and bind him in that world, and Tuerny shall take his royal place. Only speak that fiend’s name into mine ear.”
“How sorceress, daughter of Baba Yaga though thou be? Thou art young, and thou hast not sufficient puissance to imprison a mighty tanar’ri prince.”
Tasha giggled girlishly. “Oh Tuerny, Tuerny! Never fear over that! I shall find a tutor and learn the art. But first I must find entrance to the hidden treasure place of the Tusmistite that I might take the ring, the rug, the book, the cube—and also a certain wondrous lantern lensed with cleverly cut gems. By its secret ensorcellment, I may yet learn to tame the tanar’ri prince. Only grant me leave to consult the soul of Surrvaris and one boon more: the true name of the fiend that binds poor Tuerny so.”
He handed her the black-crystal skull, hesitated only a moment, and then spoke the name of Graz’zt into her ear.
Rasgon Greysage, “The Golden Age of Tusmit,” Canonfire! (http://www.canonfire.com/cf/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&p=47194)
Joseph Bloch, “Looking at the lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Part Two” Greyhawkgrognard.com
Gary Gygax, Come Endless Darkness (Trigee Enterprises, 1988)
Roger Moore, Greyhawk Adventures: Return of the Eight , (Wizards of the Coast, 1998)
Rick “Duicarthan” Miller and Mike Bridges, “Tuerny the Merciless,” Oerth Journal 25:39-44
Owen K. C. Stephens and Gary Holian, “The Demonicon of Iggwilv,” Dragon Magazine 336:76-78
Special thanks to Carlos Lising for his creative input. Visit Casl Entertainment for great Greyhawk content.
Artwork: Iggwilv in the Vault of Daoud. Commission for Greyhawkstories by Ladyloth.