Lessons of the 'Loths
(based on Faces of Evil, by Colin McComb)
I'm the Unnamed. I forced all the other words I could be known by far away, where the 'loths couldn't find them. I thought that'd be enough to protect me from them when I spilled their darks.
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't.
Maybe you've heard the official story of my disgrace, how it turned out I was a yugoloth spy spreading misinformation. At my trial, they made much of my namelessness, how they couldn't even call me "the defendant" - even titles wash off me like water. They said it was proof I'd been touched by the ultroloths, the faceless ones.
I tell you now that this was a lie. The 'loths got to the Harmonium somehow, made them scrag me. They got to the Guvners, made them try me. They even got to Enkillo, who I'd put my trust in, got him to testify against me. But can you pronounce a verdict on someone without a name? That, even the Fraternity of Order didn't know, so I was held in a kind of limbo - like the plane of my birth, neither one thing nor the other.
But maybe you knew that. Maybe that's how you knew to come to this holding cell and seek me out. Or maybe you just knew. For some people, it's like that.
I still know more about the 'loths than any mortal still alive, so I can help you out. And I will; what's a berk in Limbo got to lose?
On the Generation of Fiends.
The spawning pits beneath the Tower Arcane are vast and empty, filled with more space than the yugoloths would ever use. At least, more than they'd use for anything but death traps, ambush points, and pretty treasures that'll damn your soul easier than all the violent parts combined.
Here's the truth: the spawning pits are just for show, and for scragging fools. The real breeding grounds are elsewhere. Did you expect anything about the 'loths to be simple? They're further below, or possibly in another layer or even plane. Some think they're in the mysterious third layer of Elysium, even, but that's just more 'loth propaganda.
If you get there, you'll see row upon row and column upon column of husks, hanging from the ceiling far above. These are the exoskeletons of the mezzoloths, dergholoths, and piscoloths that the arcanaloths have created by their alchemical craft, but not yet filled with fiendish life. These insectoid lowest castes are prefabricated, and they wait to receive the wicked spirits that will put them in motion. The spirits are formed from the invisible essence of the Furnaces, channeled through infernal engines coiled down even deeper.
As you can see, everything about the yugoloths is artificial, and artificially sustained. There's nothing "natural" about them; they lack even the loathsomeness of the hordlings; they're dry and cold, without emotion. There are some that think that this is all an adaptation they made when they moved from the Gray Waste, but there are husk caves just like them beneath that plane's tower of Khin-Oin.
Mezzoloths are also generated through a foul and awkward mating. Passionless and hermaphroditic, yugoloths are ill-suited to this act, and they perform it only when they're too far away from their towers to use the less personal method. Any two lesser yugoloths of the same caste may mate. Three days afterwards, one of them gives birth (via a Caesarian section) to a maggotlike, writhing creature, covered with long nail-like bristles and short clawlike limbs. They buzz almost as fearsomely as dergholoths, though without supernatural effect, and they attempt to murder their mothers, who will probably die anyway from blood loss unless one of its fellows bothers to save it. If it doesn't eat the yugoloth that gave birth to it, it must be fed some other sentients, or be fed or injected with some liquid distillation of evil. Larval mezzoloths grow rapidly, but their carapaces don't harden for several weeks. In that time, they are more vulnerable and lack most of their spell-like abilities. I found out about some prime berks who learned how to summon a mezzoloth worm. They fed it puppies they got from a local animal shelter, which was an act barely evil enough for it to live on. They thought that by keeping it weak they could kill it and use its carapace for armor or some stupid thing, but as soon as its shell started to grow in it killed them all with poison gas and planeshifted itself back to Gehenna. And lone mezzoloths are resourceful blighters; this one ended up conquering a village full of fiendish half-orcs and ruling it for over thirty generations before the other 'loths finally caught it and promoted it against its will, installing a yagnoloth in its place.
On the Promotion of Lesser Forms.
When a mezzoloth demonstrates great duplicity and ambition, finally realizing its superiors are no match for it physically, the dergholoths become terrified and beg the piscoloths to promote it. They remember, if vaguely, what they would have done in the same situation. Usually a few dergholoths end up dying anyway before anything is done, and if the piscoloths decide that the mezzoloth is unworthy of this "honor" it is transformed into a canoloth instead, and the foolish dergholoths are destroyed for their faulty judgement. Or, worse yet, transformed into orroloths or skeroloths and made to clean up after them.
Not that it's their fault for having faulty judgements. They're made to be that way. As part of a mezzoloth's "promotion," its mind is torn asunder and its spirit is transplanted into a prepared dergholoth shell. Part of its mind remains in the abandoned mezzoloth husk, though, shattering its intellect just as it was starting to get canny. This also weakens it physically and magically, but teaches it lessons about division and conquest. In addition, it allows a slain dergholoth to reform, if it's killed outside the lowest planes of evil. This is an advantage that only greater 'loths otherwise have.
To partially fill the void left this process, dergholoths are bound to petitioner spirits which exist uncomfortably with the fiend in the same shell. The fiend learns from and wars against its mortal half; before it can be promoted to piscoloth status, it must completely devour the rival soul, leaving nothing but knowledge remaining. If, by some chance, the petitioner manages to win instead, it remains in its dergholoth body for the rest of its existence, with no chance of promotion but many chances to die.
Although these trials leave a dergholoth quite mad (a madness they are able to transmit to others through their chattering), it strengthens their will and teaches them the true essence of command. As mezzoloths, they learned that dominating others wasn't merely about strength, and then had that lesson reinforced when much of their strength and even mind was torn away. As dergholoths, they learn the value of a completely ruthless spirit.
Piscoloths, once again reunited with their dormant minds, lack the powerful motivation dergholoths have for recommending their immediate inferiors for promotion. Still, a truly talented protégé is a tempting tool for their own advancement. Only the most manipulative and unshakably sadistic dergholoths, those that can and often do convince legions of mezzoloths to die for them, earn a piscoloth's eye. They go to the edge of the River Styx, and call the mysterious hydroloths to guide them.
Hydroloths are vastly alien and incomprehensible to piscoloths; they aren't as cunning as they were in their piscoloth forms because their intellect has been spread throughout the foul waters among them. The transformation of a piscoloth into a hydroloth does not involve a pre-created form; instead, their shells are peeled off and left for another spirit to inhabit, while the naked, fleshy intermediate form is cast into the waters. Many die then or succumb to amnesia, but some manage to reach out to the elemental spirits of evil that dwell in depths, who save them from drowning long enough for them to evolve into a fully aquatic form. With elemental aid, their minds, pulled from their bodies by the Styx's powers, retain enough cohesion to allow them to continue to learn and function. Hydroloths are better qualified to judge a dergholoth's progress than piscoloths are, for what is madness by a piscoloth's standards might be genius to a hydroloth. The hydroloths have abandoned logic and reason, and now seek to increase their intuition, in order to master the hidden courts of the Styx elementals. The politics of the spirits of the underworld waters are as convoluted as the river's own twists, and it takes centuries for a hydroloth to master them.
Once they do, the marraenoloths know it. The marraenoloths know virtually everything about the waters - their spirits are spread even more thinly than the hydroloths' are, flowing from one skiff to another so that every marraenoloth is known to every other, and 'loths and skiffs are one. The marraenoloths pick out which hydroloths have become subtle enough to be worthy of transformation to gacholoth status, though the nycaloths have final approval, and the authority to banish a mistaken marraenoloth from its skiff, crippling it until it manages to create a new one.
When a hydroloth becomes a gacholoth (in a ceremony where runes of fire are burned into the 'loth's watery soul), it's seen to be subtle enough to enter the courts of rival fiends. Their minds singular again and carefully trained by the nycaloths, gacholoths are artists of disguise, secret saboteurs and sleeper agents that may serve under the tanar'ri and baatezu without their knowledge before striking at the perfect moment. They are not the virtuosos of espionage that the nycaloths are, but they serve well enough in their brutal and limited purpose.
They also secretly watch the yagnoloths. Yagnoloths, who were formally gacholoths themselves, are kept ignorant of the gacholoths and nycaloths that observe their courts from the shadows. They are the rulers of 'loth subject towns and fiefdoms, tasked by the ultroloths to keep anything weaker than the Faceless Ones as brutally oppressed as possible. One reason for this is that the ultroloths don't want to be bothered with such lowly tasks. If an arcanaloth is causing trouble, or a nycaloth is stupid enough to get caught, the yagnoloths will take care of it and leave them alone. Another reason for the yagnoloth oppression is their ability to devour the essences of those they destroy; a yagnoloth, from its throne, can create a vast collection of skills and memories which will prepare it well for its time ahead.
The nycaloth observers and their gacholoth aids report to the arcanaloths what they learn in the yugoloth dominions and the realms of other lower-planar entities. They also tell the jackal-faced fiends when a yagnoloth is ready for its initiation as a marraenoloth.
Marraenoloths abandon the wealth, lands, and privilege they acquired as yagnoloths, and their minds and spirits are bound to their skiffs and the River as a whole. The transformation ceremony involves long, slow starvation while buried alive in their boats. Nycaloths watch them to see which ones are worthy of transformation to greater yugoloth status; the arcanaloths call the gacholoths in seperately to confirm a nycaloth's observations, although the arcanaloths don't reveal to them what those observations were. Both the nycaloth and the gacholoths risk terrible punishment if either of their judgements are deemed unsatisfactory.
On Greater Forms.
Greater 'loths seem to be a race of a different order than lesser ones. They seem to have been created first; the lesser 'loths were creations of the greater ones, which makes them creations of creations, dimmer echoes of the baernaloths' original making. The greater yugoloths can reproduce their own kind, if they see fit, without involving lesser 'loths at all. However, this is still a passionless and uncomfortable act, and they prefer not to.
Nycaloths are dog-headed winged 'loths. Their typical role is as spymasters in the Blood War and tutors of the gacholoths. Because sexual reproduction creates inferior nycaloths who have not learned the complex lessons of the lower castes, they're commonly created from the marraenoloths, the skeletal boatmen of the Styx; after their wings and improved jaws (and, in some examples, extra pair of arms) are grafted on them in painful occult rituals, they are force-fed and slowly gain flesh and scales over a period of months. As nycaloths, the lessons they learn are of political intrigue and the workings of politics, seeing the yagnoloth courts with an unbiased eye as well as the plans of the pit fiends and balors from their hidden perches. After many long centuries of service, an arcanaloth may decide a nycaloth is promising enough to recommend to an ultroloth for promotion. The cold, sceptical stare of an ultroloth is not one the arcanaloths enjoy having sit in judgement of their apprentices and themselves, but it is sometimes useful to have lower-ranking arcanaloths in their debt. In addition, any opportunity to observe the recrusive ultroloths is useful in preparing for an arcanaloth's final step.
The penultimate caste of greater yugoloth is the arcanaloth: the deal makers, the tempters, and book keepers of the Blood War. They write the contracts that other races (especially the tanar'ri and baatezu, but sometimes mortals) make with their kind, scribing them on the tortured and still very much aware flesh of damned souls, and they keep the library in Gehenna where all their contracts are stored. They can also create baby arcanaloths by mating with one another, but they almost never do. Young arcanaloths spend centuries or millennia as scribes and accountants, never rising to positions of power. Normally arcanaloths are made from nycaloths after profane surgeries removing their wings (and extra arms), flaying off their scales, and writing runes of magical power on their spirits with the same arcane pens they use to write contracts on the souls of the damned.
Ultroloths are the ultimate yugoloth caste. They can theoretically mate with one another, but their young are always arcanaloths. The rank of ultroloth can only be earned by defeating an existing ultroloth and taking its place. After the usual flaying and plucking out each of their hairs one at a time, the rites that complete the process involve words of power that blast off the arcanaloth's face, leaving them a horrid blankness except for their hypnotic eyes. Most disturbingly, arcanaloths have to perform these rites on themselves; no other ultroloth will help them. Ultroloths are masters of the yugoloth race, keepers of secrets and elaborate schemes that stretch back to the beginning of the lower planes.
The baernaloths are the incarnations of primal evil who created the yugoloths (and, accidently, a race called gehreleths or demodands native to Carceri). Baernaloths are sadism, forgetfulness, madness and despair. They are one of the allegedly four progenitor races representing various alignments who were around before the Outer Planes existed in this form. There is no way for yugoloths to become baernaloths; probably an arcanaloth who defeats one becomes an ultraloth, which would explain how ultraloths came into being in the first place. There are hardly any baernaloths left; mostly they wander the Gray Waste seeking ancient memories, torturing any they come across. Some have fallen into hibernation. Most are mad.