Tales of Lost Omens: The Snare

Thursday, July 18, 2019

“There. Yes. Those two.” Excitement, wet and thick, curdled Chemurr’s voice. She coughed and swallowed noisily, but she was too agitated to keep the phlegm worms from crawling back up. Her swollen fingers clenched around Gaiter’s arm. “Come, boy.”

Gaiter pulled back. He knew it was stupid, dangerous. You didn’t annoy Chemurr ever, but especially not when she got like this. He hated the phlegm worms, though. Hated them too much to be smart, sometimes.

“How—how do you know?” He made the question tremulous, fearful, hoping Chemurr would be satisfied enough with his terror that she wouldn’t demand more. It wasn’t a stretch. Gaiter really was frightened half out of his mind. “Did the Great Master tell you so?”

“The Great Master doesn’t have to tell me that, boy.” Chemurr’s grip tightened with her scorn. Her fingers squelched against Gaiter’s bones. “I can smell it on them. The stink of delusion. Thinking that what they do matters.” Her nostrils flared, sniffing, and a phlegm worm dropped out.

Gaiter flinched. He couldn’t help it. Nor could he help looking at the thing that squirmed across the cobblestones, fat and segmented and slimy, its skin whorled with runes that shimmered with greasy, unreal colors and made his eyes ache. He tore his gaze away, hastily, his eyes burning with tears.

If the light had been better, he knew, he’d have been able to see a pink tinge on his fingers as he dashed those tears away. Blood. His eyes were filmed with it, just from a glimpse of a phlegm worm. A longer look, and he might have gone blind. Mad. Worse.

It didn’t bear thinking about. Trying to ignore the grub, Gaiter studied the figures Chemurr had pointed out. There were two, cloaked and hooded despite the warmth of Egorian’s summer night. They moved quickly, but with a burdened caution that suggested they were carrying some fragile or heavy contraband beneath those cloaks.

He couldn’t smell anything from them, but that wasn’t a surprise. The hooded figures were fifty feet away, and Chemurr and Gaiter were crowded into the recesses of a stinking, unlit alley, hidden by shadows and the Great Master’s magic. All he could smell was stale urine, rotting fish, and Chemurr’s thick breath, fouler than the rest.

The hooded figures had stopped. The street around them was momentarily empty. Quickly, they tossed back their cloaks and drew out… a covered bucket and… paintbrushes? Gaiter squinted and leaned forward.

One of them pulled a collapsible ladder from under his cloak, shimmying to the top and balancing with impressive dexterity as he painted a pair of silvery-blue crossed swords over a banner displaying the red-circled cross of Infernal Cheliax. The other held the paint bucket and dipped the brushes, handing them up to her partner.

“Why, they’re rebels,” Gaiter blurted, too astonished to keep the thought to himself. He didn’t recognize the mark, but no one else would dare deface Imperial insignia. Rebels. In Egorian! Perhaps the devilers’ control wasn’t as absolute as he’d believed.

“Rebels and devils, devils and rebels,” Chemurr crooned, as if she could read Gaiter’s thoughts. She gurgled a wet laugh, audibly swallowing another phlegm worm in the middle of it. “Yes. That’s all anyone thinks about here. They chase each other round and round, and everyone forgets about us. Just as the Great Master wants it. Oh—here come the devils now.”

A Hellknight patrol had spotted the painters. They shouted a warning, made unnecessary by the clatter of their heavy spiked armor. As good as alarm bells, that armor. The rebels tossed their brushes aside, leaving a final swipe of blue across the defaced banner, jumped down from the ladder, and ran.

Several terraced buildings in the late afternoon sun, the light filtering down from the upper left. The buildings are surrounded by leafy trees and plants grow on the sides of the buildings and terraces. On the right, the terrace in front of a building is neatly manicured and has a small group of people in robes gathered. One holds a staff with a glowing red end up to the sky as the others look on. A cloaked, hooded person watches from the stairs leading up to the terrace.

Illustration by Tomasz Chistowski

The Hellknights hadn’t a prayer of catching the light-footed vandals. Gaiter was astonished that they could run at all in that massive, spiked plate, let alone so quickly, but even so they were falling behind by the second.

They knew it too. One of the Hellknights blew a carved bone whistle. The whistle was soundless, but the bone-prickling baying of hellhounds rang out in response. Three of the infernal beasts came rushing to join their armored masters, their fire-wreathed bodies swift and bright in Egorian’s dark night. They pursued the fleeing rebels relentlessly, gaining ground as quickly as the Hellknights had lost it.

“Now,” Chemurr hissed as soon as the Hellknights were past their alley.

“Now?” Gaiter balked again. Twice in the same night. He really was tempting fate, pushing back on Chemurr like this.

But the Hellknights were still in sight—they’d only have to turn around to spot him—and he’d seen what the Chelaxians did to the Great Master’s servants. Despite everything else Gaiter had seen, everything else he’d done, those screams stayed with him. There was a reason they’d stayed out of Thrune lands so long. The devilers could be as cruel as the Great Master himself, and their questions were as sharp as their knives.

“Now.” Chemurr’s fingers tightened so hard on Gaiter’s arm that one of them burst, soaking his sleeve with wriggling slime. “While the rebels and the devils are distracted with each other. Or do you not wish to accomplish our Great Master’s work?”

Gaiter swallowed, nodded, and ran.

Darting up the ladder that the rebels had left behind, Gaiter swept one of the discarded brushes across the blue swords, working the changes he’d seen in his dreams. Subtle alterations made more so by the Great Master’s will. A curl here, a swish in the brush texture that suggested an almost-word there, a fold between the overlapping red and blue that suggested some other color, an un-combination, an unraveling of the others that allowed a tiny, tantalizing glimpse beyond their mundane reality.

He climbed down. Sweat soaked his shirt. That was bloody too, just as his tears had been before. He could smell the meat-and-iron taint of it. The Great Master’s presence was too terrible for his poor mortal servants to withstand.

“Good.” Chemurr stood at the base of the ladder, looking up with satisfaction. Her hood had fallen back a bit, showing a bit of her face.

Gaiter swallowed again, shuddering. The Great Master’s presence was terrible indeed.

“Will it… catch the Hellknights?” He wasn’t sure whether to dread or hope for that. The snare he’d woven felt too fragile to catch a will like theirs.

“No.” Chemurr’s snort was choked by another worm. “Those mighty knights don’t scrub vandals’ paint themselves. They’ll send slaves. Halflings. The resentful, the powerless. Fertile soil for the Great Master’s secrets to seed. But…” She trailed off. The silence stretched into squirming discomfort.

Suddenly Chemurr’s hand shot out. Her fingers squelched around Gaiter’s face, muffling his screams even as they pried his jaw open. The swollen pustules in her palm split open, filling his mouth with the wet slurry of her dissolving humanity and with phlegm worms.

They poured into him. Writhing, biting, burning, melting. Gaiter felt his throat corrode into red melt, and then he was swallowing that too, desperately, trying to keep from drowning in his own dying flesh. His legs swelled together and burst, puddling into slurry as the worms coursed through the liquefaction and smeared it like ink across the ground.

And then he couldn’t feel anything. He could still hear and could see the banners that his eyes had fixed upon before they’d stopped moving or blinking, but he felt nothing. Only dread, and a last distant knot of pain somewhere in his chest, aching as it faded. His heart, maybe. His soul, before the phlegm worms ate it.

Chemurr laughed. She was licking her palm to seal it up again. A sound he knew too well. “Traitor boy. Did you think the Great Master couldn’t sniff out your delusions, too? That you would escape. That you would repent. No matter. Even the disloyal are useful. The Hellknights don’t come to study vandals’ banners. But they’ll come for you. And the snare you are—well, you might catch one.

“Rebels and devils, devils and rebels. Playing their little games while the Great Master laughs.” Chemurr crooned, softly, as the last of Gaiter’s sight and hearing melted into roaring black and whirling, poisoned stars. Not death. Not peace. An infinity of rushing madness, a fall that never ended. And Chemurr’s voice, and the phlegm worms, forever. “While the Great Master laughs.”

Liane Merciel
Contributing Author

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Tags: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Tales of Lost Omens Web Fiction
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Grand Lodge

22 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Excuse me, I have to go be violently ill now.

Dark Archive

4 people marked this as a favorite.

Huzzah!


8 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

Nope. No thanks. No. Nope. Nooooooope.


Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Oh... uh...
hmm...


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Wow, that was...just...uh.... *shudders*

Grand Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.

That was cool!

SM


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'm intrigued! Is the Great Master the Whispering Tyrant? I like the tension between the two big bads.

Shadow Lodge

*blog post meant to sell a meta-region is casually dismissive of that meta-region's defining elements, and would like you to pay attention to this other thing instead.*


Also wondering who this Great Master is...something to do with Age of Ashes, perhaps?

Shadow Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Darth Game Master wrote:
Also wondering who this Great Master is...something to do with Age of Ashes, perhaps?

Meh, it's almost certainly something Lovecraft-y, what with the blatant references to Color Out of Space and Call of Cthulhu. They could be red herrings, I suppose, but they're probably not.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

I'm pretty sure the Great Master is one of the following: alghollthu (perhaps a Veiled Master?), a cultist of one the Great Old Ones, or else maybe even something from the Dominion of the Black..


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Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Eww, gross. I love it.


5 people marked this as a favorite.

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me
I think I'll go eat worms!
Big fat juicy ones
Eensie weensy squeensy ones
See how they wiggle and squirm!

Down goes the first one, down goes the second one
Oh how they wiggle and squirm!
Up comes the first one, up comes the second one
Oh how they wiggle and squirm!

I bite off the heads, and suck out the juice
And throw the skins away!
Nobody knows how fat I grow
On worms three times a day!

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me
I think I'll go eat worms!
Big fat juicy ones
Eensie weensy squeensy ones
See how they wiggle and squirm!


MMMMmmmmmm MMMMmmmmm Somebody call for a cleanup?


10 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
zimmerwald1915 wrote:
*blog post meant to sell a meta-region is casually dismissive of that meta-region's defining elements, and would like you to pay attention to this other thing instead.*

Huh? Casually dismissive? This is more like a major announcement that Cheliax no longer has to only worry about rebel upstarts like the Bellflower Network. The players don't just have to contend with Hellknights, they also need to figure out who, or what, is trying to take over Cheliax!


Maybe it's the Demonic State in Isger and Cheliax that I have been wondering about, piggybacking on the unwitting Glorious Reclamation.

Or maybe it's the precursor to the Devourer of Starfinder time . . . .


Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Maybe it's just phlegm worms being phlegm worms?


4 people marked this as a favorite.

What I nice story to share with my friends to hook them on PF2. :>


6 people marked this as a favorite.

Age of Worms in Golarion?


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Sweet Desna O___O

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber

I would have said Demon or Daemon for the Great Master, but Great Old One works too.

An old evil of Cheliax that spawns in the minds of the resentful and the powerless, and that has a thing for worms.

Great job.


4 people marked this as a favorite.

Hmm... Re_the Great Master:
A conqueror worm, perhaps? Or even a worm-that-walks associated with an Old Cult?

Regardless, that was a well-written death scene, & the description of the worms & their effect even when just looked at... <shudder>

Excellent job!! :D

Carry on,

--C.

Silver Crusade

6 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Well that happened.... WHY LIANE, I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS????

Heh, good read, disturbing, but you have my attention.


Cool story, love it.
Has a bit of a Nurgle feel to it.
Show's nicely that evil can be really grizzly.


4 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

This feels inspired by the 'smoking/vaping' gauntlet that one must travel through at GenCon if one steps outside, and then dealing with someone who has concrud in addition to having not bathed in days/weeks/months/years.

Only YOU can prevent phlegm worms!:
Remember to bathe at least once per day, brush your teeth, get enough rest, wear non-cloying deodorant, and eat modest food.

Shadow Lodge

steelhead wrote:
This is more like a major announcement that Cheliax no longer has to only worry about rebel upstarts like the Bellflower Network.

And doesn't that strike you as dismissive of the Bellflower Network?

Not that they don't deserve it, they've been completely ineffectual so far. But there could have been some effort given to changing that.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
The Raven Black wrote:

I would have said Demon or Daemon for the Great Master, but Great Old One works too.

An old evil of Cheliax that spawns in the minds of the resentful and the powerless, and that has a thing for worms.

Great job.

It really smacks of cultist of a great old one or dominion of the black cultists. That flavor of madness tends to be their stock in trade.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

No one is guessing a Worm That Walks?

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/legendology_dnd_article12_pic Main_en.jpg


^ Yep - already proposed as an option!
Sixth post above yours.

(Absolutely plausible!)
:D

Carry on,

--C.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Now this is my kind of Story!


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Blog post said wrote:
She gurgled a wet laugh, audibly swallowing another phlegm worm in the middle of it

I was drinking water when I read this. I nearly threw up.

That's the best thing I've read in a long time!


4 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Remember kids, Thrune may be bad, but so are a lot of other things! SLEEP TIGHT!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

phlegm worms!! What the hell are those things? Fodor's does not recommend visiting Egorian anytime soon. LOL!


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
zimmerwald1915 wrote:
steelhead wrote:
This is more like a major announcement that Cheliax no longer has to only worry about rebel upstarts like the Bellflower Network.
And doesn't that strike you as dismissive of the Bellflower Network? Not that they don't deserve it, they've been completely ineffectual so far.

Not dismissive, just acknowledging it takes more to topple an empire (even a crumbling, corrupt one) than a well-networked anti-slavery network and rebellions in a couple of cities. I'm interested to see what else is chipping away at Cheliax's might from the shadows!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Oh my GAWD .... that was disturbing. I’m intrigued and queasy at the same time.

Shadow Lodge

steelhead wrote:
Not dismissive, just acknowledging it takes more to topple an empire (even a crumbling, corrupt one) than a well-networked anti-slavery network and rebellions in a couple of cities. I'm interested to see what else is chipping away at Cheliax's might from the shadows!

I presume you don't mean to imply that random cultists are actually involved in the rebellion against Thrune in any meaningful way, or that their activities are in any way integral to the regime's eventual fall. I presume you mean to imply that their activities are indicative of a general social rot that showcases the regime's unfitness to rule.

Because if I presume incorrectly, then yes, that would absolutely be dismissive of 1) the organizations that are engaged in active combat against the regime and 2) of the meta-region as a place to tell that sort of story (which is the point of the division of the map into countries - to give various kinds of storytelling "natural" venues).

Silver Crusade

4 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

How is having multiple groups working independently to bring about a regime’s downfall dismissive of those groups?

Shadow Lodge

7 people marked this as a favorite.

Zimmerwald has very specific ideas about how narratives work, based in real world events and sociology. Which is a fine framework to work within but Paizo is in no way bound to that.

Shadow Lodge

Rysky wrote:
How is having multiple groups working independently to bring about a regime’s downfall dismissive of those groups?

You have presumed but not established intentionality on the part of the Great Master's cult. In this story it is in no way presented as an anti-regime force. It is presented as not merely an apolitical group, but a group above petty politics that nevertheless profits off the political preoccupation of the political actors. This is 1) dismissive on the part of the author of politics itself and thus the kind of political storytelling that centers on tyrannies and rebellions and 2) dismissive on the part of the mysticist characters towards the worldly preoccupations that they have transcended.

Grand Lodge

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

TL;DR: He's a critic.

Shadow Lodge

TOZ wrote:
Zimmerwald has very specific ideas about how narratives work, based in real world events and sociology. Which is a fine framework to work within but Paizo is in no way bound to that.

To be sure, it's not as though Paizo must only ever tell one kind of story per meta-region, or per country. It just strikes me as odd that they've defined this meta-region in terms of one kind of story it is suited to telling (the blog post is telling the story of the decline and incipient fall of an empire, and presents worldly/political player archetypes), but then choose to sell it using a completely different story. This is, to my recollection (I could be wrong!), not true of any of the other meta-regions. It strikes me as dismissing or shying away from the concept.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

*pinches ridge of nose*


8 people marked this as a favorite.

How did the story about the Efreeti mocking his master tell the story of the Entire Impossible Lands?

What of the Halfling who tossed a daemonic knife down a s~@*er?

Or the Pirates allying with Mermaids to send Sea Devils to a much earned watery grave.

It’s just a story highlighting one facet of a dynamic world. Yes there is instability within Cheliax but it’s not just Firebrands and Silver Ravens, there are much darker forces that would also love to see Cheliax grind into the ground as this story hints at.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Great Story. And more than a little gross^^

Can't wait to read more about this.

Contributor

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Excellent story! Well done, Liane! Horrific and gut wrenching, to be sure, but it gives a nice snapshot of the myriad conflicts going on.

Liberty's Edge

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber
VerBeeker wrote:

How did the story about the Efreeti mocking his master tell the story of the Entire Impossible Lands?

What of the Halfling who tossed a daemonic knife down a s*!~er?

Or the Pirates allying with Mermaids to send Sea Devils to a much earned watery grave.

It’s just a story highlighting one facet of a dynamic world. Yes there is instability within Cheliax but it’s not just Firebrands and Silver Ravens, there are much darker forces that would also love to see Cheliax grind into the ground as this story hints at.

I do not feel that the Evil described in the story wants to put Thrune down as much as it wants to increase its own reach. And opponents of Thrune that would ally with it are likely to regret it bitterly should its schemes succeed.

The Exchange

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Perhaps Thrune is the lesser of two evils in this instance? Better the devil you know and all that?

Silver Crusade

5 people marked this as a favorite.
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Marc Waschle wrote:
Perhaps Thrune is the lesser of two evils in this instance? Better the devil you know and all that?

*looks back over Hell's Vengeance*

Let's just kill em both.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

You never truly know a Devil.

And besides *flashes Silver Raven pendent* They wouldn’t take me anyhow.

Shadow Lodge

VerBeeker wrote:

How did the story about the Efreeti mocking his master tell the story of the Entire Impossible Lands?

What of the Halfling who tossed a daemonic knife down a s!+&er?

Or the Pirates allying with Mermaids to send Sea Devils to a much earned watery grave.

Each of these sold the meta-region on its core appeal, whereas the message here seems to be "you can ignore the core appeal of this one, and do more interesting things, if you like."

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