Cackling Willows of Last Laughter
Cackling Willows of Last Laughter

Cackling Willows of Last Laughter

(welig hlahjan)

Last Laughter; now there’s a burg with a poor sense of humour if I ever saw one. It’s located between Carceri and the Grey Waste on the Outlands, and it’s so named because of the hideous cackling shrieks that roll in from the dreary grey wilderness. They also say it’s the last place folks feel like laughing before they reach the ‘Waste. Fortunately, I’ve never been anywhere near the vile place; I’ve got apprentices who do that sort of thing for me. The blood who got this mission was Kloie Horfveldt, an outspoken tiefling associate of mine:

I’d assumed the locals were joking when they told me the horrible guffaws which echo through the streets at night were from the trees by the rank River Sorrow out of town. They told me those trees were the only wood for days around, and that’s why all the cases in the burg were built from mud or stone. It seemed the sort of sick joke they’d try to bob a newcomer to this awful place with, and while I wasn’t keen on going to check out the chant, the Druid’s instructions were clear.

It was with heavy feet that I trudged across the grey plain to the river. I could smell the rancid thing from miles away. For all their lies and double-talking, the locals had told me that while it wasn’t part of the Styx, it wasn’t a good idea to go near it anyway. Then they laughed like barmies when they told me the trees I sought leaned over the banks of the river.

Sure enough the trees were bent over the grey flow like old bubbers at a bar, fronds dangling into the putrid water. They seemed quiet enough, but I still approached quietly, so as not to disturb any monsters which might be lurking in the shallows. I wasn’t more than a hundred paces away when I heard talking – it was a smug, self-satisfied sort of a voice:

“I don’t care what you think, I still say you’re a loathsome little weed.”

There was a chorus of approval from the copse near me. I dived into a bush (which thankfully remained silent), hoping I hadn’t been seen by the speakers.

Near the centre of the copse, a sapling willow trembled violently, like an angry tree might. “How dare you!” it squealed, in a voice like a child’s. “Why, I ought to cut you down!”

“Like to see you try,” came the smug voice again. “Mine could beat yours in a fight, even if it were blind. Which it isn’t.” Then it laughed, a scary, loathsome laugh, which resonated across the flat land.

Again the sapling bristled, and I was aware of a sulphur stench in the stagnant autumn air. Noxious fumes billowed from the roots of the tree, and out of the mist stepped a small black gargoyle – a spinagon if I wasn’t mistaken. The fiendish thing looked around in shock for a moment, until the tree commanded it to chop down the smug willow. It hesitated, then ran towards the tree with its gleaming back axe held high above its head.

It hadn’t even landed a blow when green fog issued from the earth around the willow being threatened. From the cloud waddled a gruesome bald monster; an amnizu baatezu. It too looked stunned for an instant, until the willow commanded it to “Do away with the pathetic creature, and the weed over there, while you’re at it. There’s a good fellow.” Then that laugh again, this time both mocking and intensely self-satisfied.

The fiend’s muscles tensed, as if resisting some spell, then it raised its slimy green hands. A tiny ball of fire shot towards the sapling and blossomed into a globe of flame – the sapling was blasted out of the ground. Then the amnizu crushed the spinagon with a single squeeze of its claws.

The smug willow’s mirth became even more unbearable, and the amnizu began to cast another fireball, this time at the willow itself. “Tsk tsk tsk,” warned the willow. “That’s not allowed, as you know.” The amnizu stopped and bowed its head, growling an unintelligible insult.

“Oh, and as you’re here, do something about that little snoop hiding in the bush over there, baatezu.” The willow guffawed, and was joined by the rest of the copse in laughing at my discovery.

I turned and ran away, as fast as I could back towards that horrible town, with planty cackling ringing in my ears.

…And that’s where her journal entry ended. The innkeeper of the tavern which Kloie returned to that night said no trace of her was ever found. Luckily the contingency spell I’d placed on her journal functioned, or we’d not even know about the willows. It’s such a shame about Kloie.

Though the report’s clearly incomplete, I conjecture that these trees have evolved a mechanism for summoning baatezu to defend themselves. Maybe the baatezu owed some plant Power a favour, or perhaps the baatezu have been blackmailed into service because the willows know some terrible dark about them. Although I’ll be damned if I can think of anything a tree could hold against a baatezu! Whatever it is, there’s clearly some resentment involved on the fiend’s behalf.

As for the willows, I imagine the fiends’d be an effective deterrent to woodcutters, or inquisitive people. I expect the willows’ve grown complacent and arrogant in their safety. Well, if I had a fiend at my beck and call, I suppose I’d be smug too.

Source: Jon Winter-Holt,

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