Gehreleths in the Mist --Intro & Part 1

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This is my attempt to spark interest in the demodands, who I feel are somewhat ignored in D&D. This is the introduction and Part I of an ongoing essay collection.

This is my attempt to spark interest in the demodands, who I feel are somewhat ignored in D&D. This is the introduction and Part I of an ongoing essay collection.


Gehreleths in the Mist by B. Agnus

The following is my account of my time among the demodands, of what I observed from their society and what I came to understand. This account is my attempt to challenge the notion that these proud fiends are nothing more that the backwater hayseeds of the lower planes, and in fact have a complex civilization largely centered on the destruction of all the others. Our arrogance has blinded us to their majesty, and their threat.

This work is based on the years that I used certain measures to gain acceptance into demodand society. All the information contained within is naturally biased by my own perceptions, though I have corroborated with known several first hand sources and planar scholars in order to present alternate angles of the Truth.

I hope the information I have obtained will help you to understand the danger these fiends pose. The risks I undertook will be worthwhile if the reader can tear the veil that conceals the machinations they work from afar and among us.

All knowledge has its price, a lesson instinctual to the shator nobility. This price hangs over the heads of many of my sources, most especially a former ambassador of the 'leths who shall remain nameless. I know for myself, I now see betrayal even in the eyes of angels. And the question that strikes me is am I paranoid from my time in the Red Prison, or did my time among Apomps' children merely open my own eyes?

But only time and perseverance shall reveal the diamond that is Truth. For now, I can only offer thanks to those who aided me in my search for this particular facet of It.

to that whose price is above rubies,

B. Agnus-=-=-=-=-=-

Part I: Interview with Farastu, One of Two


"What happened to the boots of white snakeskin?"

It was my second interview with a farastu for a small demodand piece we were working on, but it was with a different member of the sub-species separated by two days and an infinite ocean of hungry black solvent. The comment took me by surprise. When one thinks of the memories these beings share, one recalls stories of summoners being slaughtered by 'leths for past wrongs committed against another of their kind. No one mentions the little things the fiends took note of. But of course the story, as always, was in the details.

Our piece was on the pan-fiendish culture of the lower planes, an attempt to see if there were mythologies across the Desolation shared by those who called those pits of despair home. One such myth spoke of an ancient demodand empire stretching across the planes. We weren't trying to verify the myth, not at the time anyway. We simply wanted to understand what the legend meant to those it named as former custodians of all Evil.

"The empire never fell." That is the response these tar covered things give me again and again, a subtle smile on their lips. Farastu love secrets, it is the coin they gather as they dream of being among those chosen to rise. Aside from bullying, it is one of the few expressions of power they have here.

That is why I have bought their stories with offerings of authority. Of course, these fiends won't run the bakeries of the Jade Emperor unsupervised. Better to have a god or two watching them than to let these self-styled "Traveling Kings" loose on the unsuspecting Prime.

Here then are the two stories of the farastu, and the beginning of my sojourn into their world. And, of course, I will tell you what happened to my boots.

Farastu Number One, Interview

My first interview lies in a pit of tar. The farastu invited me to join it, but I declined, standing just beyond the tar stained rim. The creature looked hurt, obviously taking pride in having sat in a crater long enough to produce the pool. Such feats garnered respect among the demodand's fellows, showing patience where others let their hatreds drive them. But my black leather armor, and the brown clothing beneath it were already stained by the red sand of the plane. It would be hard enough to get out without adding tar to the mix.

Though I'm staring down into the black beads of its eyes, the fiend exudes confidence. After all, it knows its god is watching through the third eye around its neck, the one that catches present and past with its gaze. Its hard to ignore it, that presence that seems to blow whispered warnings on the back of your neck. Apomps has circumscribed me, Apomps is the air I breathe. Even the red light that flies from the soil into my eyes so that I can see, even that carries the taint of the gehreleths' father. To put it mildly, it was making me impatient to leave.

"Tell me a story. Tell me the story." The creature smiles, closes its eyes and leans its head back and begins to draw out the memories from the black triangle around its neck.

It was cold then, but you wouldn't feel it on your skin. When visitors shivered, it was because of the cold licking their Selves, their Atmans. It didn't matter why they came to the layers of the empire, they almost always found or lost their way to the citadels of black ice. Frozen by the closing of hearts, the belief that all love leads to betrayal, it was despair and depravity that kept the walls unmelting even in the fires of Phlegethos. Streaks of glowing red ice lit the winding corridors to guide our visitors--mostly angels and rilmani--to our courts. It was different from the present. The peace we brought to Evil was like our homes, the quiet of the mausoleum overshadowing even the raging tide of the Abyss. The angels still hoped to meet the fiends with love instead of steel, and the rilmani thought to broker treaties to ensure the Balance. Even slaad could be found courting with maelvi! We were all so much younger.

Each citadel was ruled by a shator philosopher-king who brooded over its lands, watching from twisted spires the work of their satraps, the farastu. Farastu hunger for domination, and so require others to complete them. They seek to control, even as they serve those who give them power over the lesser races.They rule fiefs of sky, land, and sea in the name of the overseeing shator, who is more symbol than ruler. Standing high atop towers carved from frozen black, the greatest of demodands seem almost like banners when the wind strikes their wattles of flesh.

Farastu held court for their own vassals, ranging from varrangoin magi to hordling scholars. They ensured that trade and discourse between the Evil of Chaos and the Evil of Order were unimpeded by the demented monsters that seemed to arise from the very substance of the malefic universes. Yet always did their eyes turn to the black ice. Always did their hearts recall the beloved masters who had made them whole. It was not the love a mortal vassal has for his majesty, instead more akin to the farmer who loves the rain that nourishes his crops.

The Farastu ruled that which was civilized, but the demenses of Evil ever demanded blood and toil to ensure peace. Hordes of wretched mutations threatened to gnaw the seven Hearts of Darkness as ulcers gouge the stomach, as grubs burrow into the fruit. War would cause Evil to turn upon itself, destroying everything built upon the ruins of the ancient ones. The Kelubar were the guardians of Evil's empire, delighting in slaughter and razing. The slime covered gehreleths are sustained by destruction and death, as though the presence of other cut into their very identities. The farastu knew better than to challenge these great generals, promptly if not gladly giving up their pets and servants to the draft.
After all, no tanar'ri nor baatezu was worth the price of a shator's displeasure.
It is hard to remember when we found the first baatezu, the first tanar'ri. But the Light Eaters began to give us trained devils as gifts, and the baatezu quickly became our favorite slaves. And the slaad quickly began to hunt down the demons for sport. While we acquiesced and let the the whimsical shapechangers of Chaos onto our grounds, we found it far more amusing to keep the tanar'ri as our pets.
The demons, in their twisting varieties, became quite popular within the empire, among both us demodands and our lesser subjects. We filled menageries with them, and pitted them against each other in arenas of black ice. They eventually were regarded as a form of currency, to be exchanged for goods, favors, or others of their kind. The devils were far more boring but also far more reliable. They were quite useful as messengers, as pack animals, and as fodder against our elusive nemesis. Even the hordlings, who had apparently been dealing with these barbaric monsters for eons, had yet to discover a way to prevent them from arising out of the planar matter. Devils were sent across the multiverse in service to our interests.
What was curious was the hatred the two dim-witted species reserved for one another. The baatezu, forced to trek across infinity at our command, despised the tanar'ri who were granted the stability of remaining with their masters. The demons, for their part, begrudged the devils the freedom we gave them.
We ruled over all of the Abomination of Desolation, the Seven Truths--Callousness, Domination, Will, Despair, Betrayal, Passion, Madness. Our minds were a web of shared memories, ensaring Evil in the strands of our thoughts. And at the center of this net, catching even the slightest vibration of caught prey, was the Attentive Spider who listened with her body to the Voice made from an infinite number of dark whispers and screaming threats, husky seductions and murderous laughter.
The Attentive Spider was the Veiled Wasp that remained unseen, but whose gentle droning could be heard in every Maelvi fortress, every Hordling Library. Even in the darkest darkness, where the Light Eaters dwell, the sound was an ever present reminder of our power. She brought Life from the soil of Death, the corpse was her womb. Even the barbarians in the Fringes feared her, knowing she hated them for their uncleanliness, stillborn mutations soon to be scoured away.
The Veiled Wasp was the Grub at the Heart of Worlds, eating away at the foundations of the pathology, the weakness that was called "Good". An infinity of demodands made up the Burrower, walking across the planes, guiding mortals to the Path. We met elves as they emerged from silver lakes, dwarves carved from hard stone, men hiding in caves. Digging into their fledging cultures, hollowing them out until children became soldiers and captured enemies became livestock. Those we blessed were feared, and they took the reputation of fiends and came to believe themselves so until they died. Then they came to know us, and knew that for all their atrocities they could never be as beautifully naked, unclothed of all moral weakness.
The Spider listens with its flesh, learning all the facets of Evil as it sits in the center at the Heart of Darkness. And so we know what awaits us, where we may flourish. The Wasp maintains the Empire, reminding all those who serve that we see through the eyes of the dead and thus are ever vigilant. The Grub gently, carefully gnaws at the multiverse. Like a worm or larvae, it eats its way into the core while the outside skin remains a lush, radiant red. You will see it, grown fat from the inside, from the seeds that would have been the future. But then, like Persephone--or perhaps another woman primeval, hmmmm--you have already taken a bite.
What did we call this Spider, this Wasp, this Grub? We simply named her Mother, a noun unique to one being in our language. Apomps.
When did it all begin to go wrong? Ah yes, I can see the memory of the ancient shator who first sees the approaching tide in Waste. A chaotic mass of animal parts and gargoyle like skin. Lobster claws, jackal faces, chitin covered flesh. And driving this rag-tag cancer were tall, wasted creatures who seemed more sheep dog than general. Ram headed men and women afflicted with a wasting disease.
Where had they come from? Why had they not been scryed or scouted before this dark moment? Why had Apomps, our Mother, not warned us of this attack? But there was no time for pondering.
The farastu prepared the citadel's defenses, releasing the tanar'ri pets to stall the enemy. The kelubar readied the baatezu regiments. Indentured horlding magi flung spells into the morass. The barbarians were inexorable, all the finesse of Evil was lost to their animal minds. They only sought to destory everything around them, controlled by the dessicated freaks that were little better than apes but strangely tied to the glooms.
We named these creatures demented, in our tongue the word is "bai'yrn". The Bai'yrn destroyed that first citadel, an event being echoed across the Wastes. Soon, within a matter of centuries there would be little left there but broken pillars that reminded us of our former glory. Something to focus our anger and our humiliation, lodestones for our misery.
At first, the incursions were few and far between. The Bai'yrn would destroy a citadel, we would rebuild it. In the beginning, the cancer was confined to the Wastes. In the farther stretches of the Abyss, the Varrangoin had noted an increase in the tanar'ri population, which stimulated our economy as new varieties of demons could be traded. While in the past most had been little better than rabid animals, some among their number could be trained. This made them more entertaining in the coliseums, though they were too intractable to assign any meaningful tasks. The Light Eaters told us that the baatezu also seemed to be getting smarter, making them better slaves. We thought nothing of it at the time.
Then reports came in from the Carvers. In the windswept depths they had created, infestations of the Bai'yrn hordes had been breeding like the vermin they were. A dwindling race, the Bai'yrn had essentially taken over. Our citadels fell quickly in Panedmonium to this onslaught. A similar scenario was playing out on the three layers of Acheron. Where the Maelvi had gone, if they had betrayed us, we did not know. We have never seen nor heard from then again. The celestials, who had long sued for peace, began to feel that in our weakned state they might scour Evil from the multiverse. Shards of black ice littered the Seven Truths. Our empire was eroding, and we wept in rage at all the knowledge and wisdom that fell to the barbarians who grew like fungus from the Lower Planes. Something beautiful was dying. The ones we captured bore the brunt of our displeasure, though we learned little from these pre-lingual specimens.
At long last, we found a Bai'yrn who spoke our tongue, having learned it from the demodands who had kept him alive. Freed by his own kind, he became the voice of the horde, the "Oino". He named his kind The Tide, "Eu Goliath", a corruption of common demodand. Crying out our destruction in a halting stutter, this one became the leader of his kind. He was the first of his swarm to be named, calling himself Anthraxus. The inspiration for the moniker remains a mystery. This name was not based on any language in the Desolation, and if it has any meaning at all it is not to be found in the endless vault of our memories.
The faratsu stopped, dipping its head in the pool of tar it had created. When it's head emerged again, it focused its beady gaze on me.
"Have you ever loved anything?" it asked, doubtful for some reason.
I was caught off guard, but I immediately thought of Sherizad who was waiting in the Outlands for my return. Though she wouldn't be pining like some dazed child, but I could see a moonbeam streaming through a hospital window as she stared in the direction of Curst...
"There's a woman," not mentioning her name of course yet wondering why I was about to spill my heart to a tar-covered monster. Perhaps luckily, the farastu wasn't interested in the slightest. It waved a pale-skinned hand dismissively.
"Spare me the illusions you weave to distract yourself from the emptiness of your life. I care nothing for your breeding psychology, or for whatever tasks you perform to wile away your years."
I felt a hot wave rising to the surface of my mind. Farastu were the pettiest of creatures, never missing a rare chance to condescend another. Dismiss me, dismiss my job, but to dismiss her! But defending her would be pointless, even dangerous.
"I love the Truth." I offered. At this, the farastu nodded sagely. Or perhaps it was all demodand kind, adding my answer to the bottomless well of shared memory. They would always know my voice now. Or--and this touched my heart with frost--it was the Triple-Aspected one, who lived off of Truth as a blood-fly lives off of cattle. After all, if there is no trust, there can be no betrayal.
Even as I thought this, something twinkled in the farastu's eyes, and the left orb flashed its lid closed for a sliver of moment. The fiend seemed dazed a second after, or perhaps that was my imagination. Right or wrong I took a step back out of useless caution, disturbed.
Had Apomps just winked at me?
These precious things, let them bleed, let them wash away.--Tori Amos
Yes, you love the Truth. Would you die for it, for your story? I'm sure of it, but I think you are more than a hapless martyr. You would crawl, but would you debase yourself? That is what determines true love, does it not?
Our love for the Empire was strong, but it was our love for Evil itself that drove us. The Spider, the Wasp, the Grub, our Mother was the reason and object of our Love. As the Bai'yrn followed Anthraxus in his blind rage, as the Eu Goliath strode upon our works, we wept and we screamed. As Rilmani infiltrated our weakned courts, as angels swooped down upon our way of life, we were the child struck for no reason it can fathom.
Why, Mother, why? As our citdaels fell, as we came together in a final stand against the Tide, she finally answered us. It was all for Love. She showed us a wheel of infinities where before there were unplaced planes and layers. Chaos locked in stalemate with Law, the insipid weakness of Good taking root in far too many hearts. Our slaves and our pets locked in war, Evil drowned in stagnation.
We could not look away, not while at least one shator stared into the future. The black triangles forced us to confront the Truth. To save Evil we must relinquish our very civilization. The Bai'yrn must be allowed their barbaric rule, where Evil becomes a toy in the hands of spoiled children. By retreating, we would keep our secrets safe, by transforming we would safeguard the silk finesse of our darkness from the coming nihilism of the exemplars' squabbles.
And our Mother would drink the blood of fiends that fell in a purposeless war, corpses that would come to outnumber all the stars in all the skies in all the universes. She would gorge herself, and billennia later she would arise to challenge the champion of Good, hidden in the shadow of a god's spine. When this holy one stabbed the Heart of Darkness, it would be the hollow heart of a Eu Goliath. Then the Mother would pierce Good's heart from behind.
Betrayal, greatest of virtues, would mark our Victory against Time and Destiny. But first, our citadels, black stars shining our Truth, must break and be offered in libation.
We are long forgotten, those who would remember us have moved on from these planes of existence. I speak not of what we are now, as we are memories traveling through corpses. What you see before you is a mere echo, a shadow of glories past. Just as Evil has become.
The yugoloths cannot ever truly understand the true nature of that which they arose from, and so they must brutalize its shape into something baroque. Their obsessive hope is to know the Mystery that drives them. They are puppets who follow their strings, wishing to comprehend the stage and the hand which guides their movements. In this manner they have even created the Blood War. In their arrogance they believed they can dissect the secrets of our Empire, using the tanar'ri and baatezu to describe every facet of their souls. But to grasp a stone named the Heart of Darkness is not to grasp the true heart of Evil.
It is hard for us. To look upon the Styx, which was born from the sacrifice of so many of our citadels. To know our glory lies in shards that dance a purposeless dance in the depths of Acheron. We were given that much, that Ocanthus would be placed far from us lest we gaze upon our undone works constantly. In Hades, in Carceri, even in the depths of Nessus you will remnants of our grand history. But you can never hope to understand our burden, to find out who we are now.
The yugoloths, they will die to ensure Evil reigns. What a paltry gift is one's death, in a multiverse of infinite souls! We live endlessly for our cause, despised across the multiverse that has forgotten our greatness. We live in the present with the past tied to our backs, our eternal memory holding open our wounds. Our comfort is miniscule, akin to a grain of sand. It is the black ice on the wind, so small the cut is painless, working its way into every yugoloth eye.
Like the fang of the Spider, the sting of the Wasp. Like a Grub, burrowing its way deeper and deeper into the fruit, digging until it finds its way to the core of the fiend. The Heart of Darkness.

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