Larvae, also called soul larvae, were a form of evil petitioner that were consumed and sold by the denizens of the Lower planes. They were the primary source of income for the night hags and had a variety of fiendish uses.
Soul larvae were 5‒6 ft (1.5‒1.8 m) long, yellow, worm-like monsters whose squirming bodies appeared both sickly and fat. They oozed an odorous, viscous slime from their bodies that coated the ground they wriggled across like a slug's trail, producing a noise like a vomiting dog as they moved. The actual body of a soul larva was fluid, almost liquid in texture, and the foul stench of their sticky secretions never seemed to fade. Rather than the head of a worm, soul larva had a much more disturbing feature, a grotesquely deformed head with facial features reminiscent of their former mortal form.
Soul larvae were wretched, miserable creatures stripped of the intelligence and personality they had in life apart from faint, leftover recollections. Despite their greatly reduced mental faculties they could still understand the languages they knew in life, and scholars that studied them believed them to possess their own crude and indecipherable language of instinctual body motions. On rare occasions, soul larvae were known to retain full knowledge of their past lives, a fate in many ways worse than being reduced to an unthinking slug.
Those in the Gray Wastes were generally lacking in ambition, typically lying down in the emotionless wasteland in massive piles, barely moving, if not at all, unless provoked somehow. In their practically motionless hordes, some occasionally wormed their way to the top while others sank to the bottom, sometimes biting each other or those bothering them. Larvae from other planes were known to struggle more in an effort to survive, such as ones from the Shadowfell that attempted to escape.
Although pitifully weak, the fangs of soul larvae were still dangerous and caused those bitten by them to bleed profusely. They also harbored a deadly, degenerative disease that could result in painful skin rotting for those bitten. Three weeks into the illness, a victim would need to lie completely still to avoid further health risks but death would still come after a month with only cure disease magic as a viable cure.
Only when compelled to by a more powerful entity would the larva of the Gray Wastes swarm their assigned foes. Otherwise, they generally left others alone even when a mortal was in their midst, although it was possible to drown in a sea of the wriggling worms when they were packed closely enough together, an experience that often proved extremely traumatizing.
Soul larvae lacked any kind of society or culture of their own and to most were mere horror stories used to scare children straight, but were immeasurably important to those of the Lower planes. Larvae were the epitome of untapped, evil potential, able to serve a myriad of purposes throughout the evil-aligned planes. In terms of economy, soul larvae were a form of basic currency for night hags, evil deities, liches, devils, daemons and demons. They were worth approximately 1,000 gold in the Abyss, although its denizens rarely used material payment. They could be used as food, especially for entities that required life forces to survive such as liches, or as a kind of base "soulstuff" for dark rites requiring esoteric components.
Most importantly, soul larvae were a foundation for several populations in the Lower planes, and given the incalculable amount of fiendish life lost in the Blood War every day, a number that only ever seemed to increase, such creatures were extremely useful for restocking armies. Soul larvae, as the tabula rasa of the Lower Planes, could be used to create new fiends by devils and demons as needed. To some, all larvae were equally pathetic and so their selection was randomized, while others were more discerning. Once transformed, they were just as likely to reach the pinnacles of their respective societies as any other member, but the number of larvae that rose past the lowest rung was abysmally low, much less the number that managed to become true fiends at all. It was claimed that larvae that showed particular promise were allowed to skip the unthinking castes of demon and devil society and immediately become lesser members. Larvae were the primary, if not, the only way to create quasits and imps, which harvested souls from mortals to further increase fiendish populations, thus allowing them themselves to advance, making them crucial to Lower planar ecology.
The weakest of mortal incarnations within the Abyss were soul larvae that barely survived in its infinitely hostile lands. Demons had learned ages ago during the Blood War how to shunt most soul larvae to the Woeful Escarand, allowing the nalfeshnees known as the Lords of Woe to promote larvae as they saw fit. The pompous nalfeshnees promoted almost all souls that they didn't use as food, turning the inept into manes, the sufficiently malevolent into dretches and the reciprocally arrogant into rutterkin. The nalfeshnees' guidelines served more as vague suggestions than iron rules that they would likely ignore at a whim, arbitrarily deciding what to do with larvae as they came. Their claims of astute judgement were in all likelihood false and the chaotic system mostly farcical as some nalfeshnees were known to willfully promote weak larvae or take other steps to embarrass their balor masters.
Unlike the whimsically capricious choices of the demons, devils allowed the harsh and unwavering process of natural selection to weed out all but the most durable and determined of soul larvae, removing favoritism or subjectivity from the equation. Only the best larvae of Baator, about one out of every couple thousand, were molded into the amorphous lemures, one of the ultimate examples of baatezu imposing their form of law over others. Soul larva seen as unfit were used for one of their plethora of other purposes or transformed into gaunt reflections of their former selves after being purchased in the markets of Dis, forced to serve as the walking damned in a tormented form for an intended eternity.
The larva trade was focused in Hades due to the fact that the souls there were as equally accepting of law as they were chaos, allowing the hags to contend with both sides equally. Baatorian larvae were too immutable in mindset, fixated on their form of order and often times difficult to adapt to the baatezu version of lawful evil. Abyssal larvae on the other hand were equally stubborn for the opposite reason, many times proving too malleable and unstable to keep their tanar'ric forms for long before returning to their larval state and merging with the Abyss. Although each side would hate to admit it, the baatezu loathed to be reliant on others and the tanar'ri claiming they only participated to counter the baatezu, it was ultimately easier for both the larvae of purer evil quality from Hades, ensuring the profit of the night hags.
Night hags had long since monopolized the soul larvae trade, having learned how to quickly discern larva quality with unrivaled efficiency. While the best larvae were sold at a premium, the worst were culled, sometimes eaten by the hag herself, or sold at discount to those that didn't know better. It was possible to haggle the price of a larva with their hag owner depending on how much she needed the money and they were willing to trade in gold, magical items, information, favors or even the customer's own soul. They were gathered by the hags and their servitors in great herds, with branding irons used to mark and move the vermin along as they followed slime trails to find more of them. Larvae were used by the night hags as leverage, traded with powerful fiends for freedom on the lower planes and with liches in return for the destruction of their enemies, often potential customers that refused to trade.
The larvae trade was both complex and constantly expanding due to the continuous increase in planar inhabitants and was centralized in a particular spot in the Gray Wastes. Few hags chose to covey, but the largest and longest-lasting was the Grand Larva Emporium of Oinos. Whether demon or devil, all fiends came to the Emporium for its fine quality larvae to the point where it could be unquestionably called the commercial center of the Lower Planes. The massive bazaar operated on an ideal spot next to the River Styx where merrenoloths ferried passengers by the hundreds for a day's worth of shopping and yugoloth mercenaries, as equally well-armed as they were paid, executed any that attempted to disrupt trade. Entire larvae herds were brought in by night hags that rented a spot from the covey that owned the Emporium and an equally vast variety of clients disputed prices and carefully examined potential purchases.
Larva byproducts could be found in a wide range of lower planar merchandise like the distilled larva liquor known as "Yellow Wurm Stout" or a female-marketed perfume called "Evil", many of which could be found in the Emporium.
A great proportion of larvae were used to power wicked spells and heinous rituals by entities such as night hags, liches and rakshasas, their life essence used as an energy source. The recipe for creating an altraloth for example, required a huge cauldron of Styx water and larvae to be sealed from wax made of their slime residue. At the end of the process, the larvae fully dissolved and their essence was consumed to complete the metamorphosis resulting in an explosion of caustic larval fluid and the emergence of the new being. Night hags also required a hundred soul larvae and a month's time to craft a new heartstone if their old one was destroyed or made irretrievable.
Larva were just as likely to be used for magical purposes as they were to be consumed, resulting in the permanent, absolute obliteration of the soul's existence and the shriveled husk disintegrating. Demons were among the most well-known for their consumption of soul larva and did so as a method to gain power within the Abyss. Some did so immediately upon finding them while others hoarded them in order to feast in times of need and undergo a dramatic power increase. Demonic overlords often demanded that their minions bring regular tribute in the form of soul larva in a form of protection racket yet others still willingly offered the soul larvae to their lords to curry favor with them. Destroying even a damned soul was seen as distasteful at best and utterly revolting at worst to most non-evil beings and doing so could have adverse effects for some beings. Other fiends also consumed soul larvae energy, as did some liches in order to sustain their undead bodies.
Soul larvae were petitioners that could be described as mortal souls trapped within the bodies of maggots rather than being maggots themselves, and without them the lower planes would be without several distinct fiends. The exact process of promotion was varied depending on the fiends in question and for several types, unknown. Quasits and imps were formed when greater demons and devils 'twisted' soul larva into new forms. Baatezu subjected soul larvae to lava pools for eleven days of agony before allowing them to reemerge as lemures, while demons manipulated the dubiously defined laws of the Abyss, typically having the Lords of Woe drain them of negative emotion before transforming the dazed husk into a tanar'ri with torturous ceremonies.
Many soul larvae, if not absorbed into their plane, became fiends without outside input, undergoing their own metamorphosis depending on their location. The hordlings of Hades were believed to be the result of the already obstinately hateful larvae allowing their unique negative emotions to fester, thus retaining their individuality and twisting them into entirely original forms. Larvae within the Nine Hells only became lemures when transformed by baatezu and when left unchecked for long enough, would naturally become nupperibos. Through tenacity and good fortune, soul larvae in the Abyss could evolve and adapt to their native layer, with generations of larva going by in the less hospitable sections before those that progressed towards sentience and power took on forms appropriate to their homes. Through this process new demonic life could spontaneously arise in the Abyss, although the most wicked tyrants, and brutal overlords were known to immediately take on greater forms.
Soul larvae were made from the most self serving mortals that followed neither gods nor archfiends and could manifest on all the lower planes. Whether in the Nine Hells of Baator or Infinite Depths of the Abyss, their lives were typically a constant battle for survival against otherworldly conditions, fiendish predators whether sentient or otherwise, and with each other. They were capable of reproducing themselves, although they didn't mate and felt no compulsion to breed. On incredibly rare occasions, innocent souls could be turned into soul larvae, such as through a special sacrifice to Demogorgon where the victim was thrown into the 558th layer of the Abyss, the Fleshforges.
Those with the least amount of struggles outside of boredom, the majority, arrived on one of the Glooms of Hades and even living mortals that stayed too long on the plane were at risk of being transformed. Rarely did larvae on Oinos appear alone and hordes had a tendency to double in size every few days due to the "attraction factor" a phenomenon exploited by night hags that kept massive herds for extended periods of time. Even within the lowest layer of Pluton, larva could be seen squirming in the black dust. They were also known to appear within the similarly miserable Shadowfell where rather than lay uselessly around doing nothing they futilely tried to escape.
Night hags were able to turn mortals on the Prime Material Plane into larvae by locating the already corrupt and tormenting them in their dreams while ethereal before they died, leaving the hag with a particularly powerful and evil soul larva. The altraloth Anthraxus' Staff of the Lower Planes could transform non-night hags besides himself into soul larvae upon them touching it.
Soul larvae were opportunistic eaters willing to consume anything, even each other.
Fiends had learned ages ago how to twist larva into lemures, manes and other Lower planar creatures and that corrupting mortals gained them an easy supply of new followers. However, soul larvae were known to have existed even before the first mortals appeared, having been present in Baator before it was taken over by the baatezu.
A night hag branding iron for soul larvae with a lower planer alphabet letter could be found in Castle Neutomas. It had been obtained by and was a favorite treasure of the famed planewalker Mordeia the Great, who stole it when she and her companions disguised themselves as a lich and its court. The group was confronted by night hags and their mephit servitors before they nonchalantly grabbed a it when noone was looking and used a cubic gate to instantly escape Hades.
Rumors and Legends
The origin of the soul larva was ancient and highly speculative thanks to the penchant for deception and disregard of history by many beings of the Lower planes. In The Book of Derelict Magieks, and other yugoloth history texts it was stated that an ultroloth, typically presumed to be the General of Gehenna, was responsible for the larva's ability to evolve and change into other types of fiend. Supposedly he created a "purifying" jewel called the Heart of Darkness to rid the yugoloths of the ethical extremes of law and chaos, funneling them into nearby larva before sending them off to the Abyss and Baator where they would become the demons and devils respectively. Those that believed such stories postulated that by doing so the yugoloths drained their living spark, rendering them incapable of creating new progeny from the larva and forcing them to rely on mating to increase their numbers. On the other hand, rumors had it that an Arcadian zoologist from Gehenna locked a soul larva in tank where it slowly took on the form of a farastu demodand. More outlandish theories were that night hags were a form of advanced larvae with so much hate that they rose above hordlings and became even more dangerous fiends. Such ideas explained their connection to larvae and ability to turn mortals into them, but then raised questions of why they didn't turn larvae into hags.
Of the few rumors that managed to come from the fortress Malsheem within Nessus was one of apocalyptic destruction, saying that the Dark Eight were plotting to commence an ancient ritual known as The Bringing, that would supposedly destroy the tanar'ri or give the devils the power to do it themselves. The ceremonies required were said to be long and invoke enough magical energy to threaten the life of pit fiends, using the life force of a million soul larvae, to be sacrificed and annihilated all at once, in order to power it. Regardless of its truth, the baatezu had been trading with the night hags at an unseen pace.
- Ambrosial was the herald of the hag goddess Cegilune, a colossal larva with the strength of a purple worm bred to exact divine retribution on its deity's behalf. Bloated and thrashing, the massive, mindless maggot's fat face couldn't be properly seen under its countless rolls of enormous flab.
- Alvarez, The Purging Duke, was a soul larva that proved his hatred so cunningly that the nalfeshnee that judged him turned him into a chasme demon.
- Orcus was believed to have started his demonic existence as a larva before slowly working his way to demon lord status.
- Vanthus was a mortal servant of Demogorgon turned into a soul larva upon death.
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Achaierai • Barghest • Canomorph (Haraknin • Shadurakul) • Hell hound • Hordling • Howler • Larva • Maelephant • Marrashi • Night hag • Nightmare • Rakshasa • Succubus • Vargouille • Yeth hound
Fiendish creature • Half-fiend (Alu-fiend • Cambion • Draegloth • Durzagon) • Tiefling (Fey'ri • Maeluth • Tanarukk)