"Aye now, you lads! Attend me words," cried Guild Journeyman Dunforth to the apprentice pooskers and rat-catchers gathered near. "Today, we’ll be clearin oot a nest o’ myrie bugs frae the old mill’s ruin. Laird Cothinn ‘ll be paying the Guild a pretty penny to see em gone, too. They’re nasty uns, they are! If’n ye let em bite ye, ye’ll be up, achin’ and yowlin’ fer days, so dinna let em get ae ye!"
As he handed out the tools, issuing the young men pitchforks, burning brands and sulfurous pots of toxic powder, they began to look at the rubbish-strewn ruin with a new sense of apprehension. From within, myriad sets of small, faceted eyes stared back, as if the crawling myriapods within suspected that their small kingdom would soon be laid to waste.
The Offal Eaters
Common within many cities, Myrie Bugs (Chilapodae Sycophates) are regarded as a nuisance, rather than a threat. Dun-colored myriapods known to grow up to 15 inches long, these creatures have a segmented thorax with between 10 and 16 pairs of legs, one pair for each segment. While they resemble centipedes in many ways, each has several segments that grow together to form a rigid abdomen with vestigial legs projecting rigidly from each side. When agitated, the myrie bugs’ abdomen projects up above the creature in what is believed to be a defensive display. This can present a rather odd appearance when the creatures are attacking someone that disturbed their nest, as they scuttle forward, hidden beneath layers of debris except for their abdominal segments, which may project up like sharks’ fins in the sea.
If left alone, myrie bugs are rarely aggressive; they seldom bite humans unless their nests are disturbed. Social creatures, the bugs will often choose a common nesting area, where each of the females deposit their egg cases. Once eggs have been laid, the creatures aggressively protect the nesting site. These nests are frequently large piles of rubbish or offal. Myrie bugs seem to prefer a parasitic existence within the debris left by other species to any other habitat, but were likely native to warm, swampy regions before the rise of civilization.
The myrie bug’s bite is seldom lethal, but can have some extremely unpleasant side effects. Those bitten will note a powerful feeling of exhaustion and weakness, but will be unable to sleep. They desperately need to rest, but can’t make their bodies comply. Those bitten repeatedly note even more extreme symptoms. They suffer seizures and convulsions, and begin to have nightmarish waking dreams or hallucinations. Deprived of sleep for weeks, their mind begins to lose its ability to tell reality from delusion; paranoid fantasies and hysterical fears choke rational thought. Magical or artificial means of forcing sleep give no relief to victims of myrie bug poisoning, instead forcing prolonged, surreal hallucinations. Animals bitten by myrie bugs quickly go mad, often having to be put down.
Some lands use the toxin of the myrie bug as a means of torture, either as part of interrogation, or in one memorable case, as punishment for soldiers who fall asleep on duty. While the toxin itself is fairly stable and keeps well, the best-known antidote is much more difficult to maintain, with a tendency to degrade rapidly.
Parts of myrie bugs are also common ingredients in spells and unguents. One common spell which uses them is Dismott’s Incantation of Alertness, which eliminates the need to sleep (without the fatigue and discomfort normally associated with the bug’s toxin). Oudall’s Clinging Mantle is an archaic charm that allows the subject to climb (or tunnel, should they choose) more effectively, although it has been eclipsed in effectiveness by more recent enchantments. More exotic than these, Vorm’s Ointment of Planar Vision allows the user to peer into other levels of reality and alternate dimensions, although it must be used with discretion, as not all dimensions are suitable for human minds to perceive.
While myrie bugs can be unpleasant vermin, when conditions are perfect for their growth they occasionally become much worse. In areas with unlimited food and a warm, moist growing environment, myrie bugs occasionally hatch out larger, more aggressive specimens known as myrie stalkers. These slow-moving, awkward scavengers eventually grow to over 16 feet in length and become fiercely territorial. Their poison produces similar symptoms to repeated bites from their smaller cousins, with many victims becoming disoriented and helpless instantly and potentially dying in minutes. As these creatures often dwell in the garbage and offal heaps found near towns or cities, it is very rare to actually see these bugs actually grow to near their deadly full size. In most cases, myrie stalkers are swiftly exterminated by neighboring humans as soon as they see the creatures wandering their newly claimed territory. They are easily spotted as they wander, spraying out a foul-smelling discharge to mark their territory.
The Accursed Heralds of Atlnichet
Bitten while the band of pooskers were struggling to clean out the verminous creatures’ nest, young Prentiss Giles showed a much more severe reaction than even the veteran poosker had ever seen. Almost immediately, he had begun thrashing and recoiling in horror, claiming that something was looking into his soul. He tried to cover his eyes, but it didn’t seem to help.
Even the chiurgeons were baffled; one bite shouldn’t have had so severe an effect on a healthy young man. They had no idea of the nightmare to come.
While the hazard posed by the larger members of this species is well known, few regard myrie bugs as more than unpleasant scavengers. Their true nature is a mystery to even the wisest of sages.
Myrie bugs are actually the teeming progeny of a bizarre and alien entity. This insectoid monstrosity has been known by many names: It was worshipped as the god Atlnichet by the lost civilizations of the tropical Kwan-Zhanalin peninsula; the ancient druids of Tir Earrach feared it as the insect demon Natlinicheth; even the ancient Sallvian priests had legends of the devourer Nadlaniket, eternal foe of their beloved cat goddess. Bound from returning to our reality by ancient magicks beyond any contemplated by modern mages, this unearthly being ceaselessly yearns to return. The magicks binding it periodically weaken and fluctuate, in accord with the stars and the seasons. At those times, the toxin of its disgusting spawn becomes much more potent, putting the victims in a trance-like contact with the nearly-immortal mind of the species’ progenitor. The creature’s alien thoughts relentlessly batter the unsleeping mind of the victim; projecting antediluvian vistas and incomprehensible images. Some magicks can block the assault of inhuman thoughts, but few other techniques offer relief. In the absence of protective magic, victims have sometimes been forced to use potent hallucinogenic drugs to render the bizarre images meaningless by scrambling their thoughts even further.
When the stars are right for Atlnichets return, a few of those bitten perversely begin to enjoy the horrible experience. Given the chance, they will return to the nests of the foul creatures, only slightly disoriented by the toxin. Once there, they are not bitten by the vermin within, but instead seem to enjoy the myriapods crawling touch. Those with magical knowledge will then often begin casting the spells needed to weaken the creature’s ancient prison. Fortunately for the sanity of the world, this appears to be a long-term scheme, as no immediate results have ever been apparent.
Giles lay in his bed, strapped in and sleepless, as the confusing alien thoughts and hallucinations assailed his mind. Bewildered and helpless, he could barely feel the myrie bugs that had crept into his chamber as they crawled onto him, snuggling comfortably against him and clinging tightly to their progenitor’s new friend with their numerous clawed legs.