The toads came always from the direction of Les Hiboux, as if to drive him back toward Mere Antoinette’s dwelling. They bounded against him like a monstrous hail, like missiles flung by unseen demons. The ground was covered by them, the air was filled with their hurtling bodies. Once, he nearly went down beneath them.
– Clark Ashton Smith, “Mother of Toads”
I first read Smith’s “Mother of Toads” several years ago in The Dark Horse Book Of Witchcraft*. Smith is one of those author’s I had never encountered as a child, but these days his dark and eerie writings inspire far too many twisted and terrible thoughts. Thoughts that, at times, turn into actual ideas that may prove useful to others.
The Toads on the Road are Ensorcelled
“Truly,” Victor Gianni says as his eyes turn to those at the nearest table, as if seeking to ensure that his voice was not so loud as to attract unwanted attention, “the toads are magically-distorted and are beings of evilness.”
Gianni took a long drink from his mug and wiped the wetness from his chin, “I heard only this morning that the ensorcelled toads are growing more numerous and soon none of us will be able to escape the wizard’s trap.”
For weeks the town has been beset by an unusual number of toads. Hopping, croaking, and generally everywhere at once the toads were at first a marvel and the townsfolk spoke of the toads but thought little of their numbers. “Merely the rains,” the people generally said when discussing the ever-growing number of toads in and around the town. It wasn’t until a man died, his horse slipping as it crushed a bizarre number of toads on the outer road, that the whispers started.
“The toads are ensorcelled,” the people spoke as they peered about to be certain they were not heard.
Whether are not the growing number of toads is actually the work of magic or simply nature at work will consume someone’s time should they decide to look into the mystery. And if it is magic, what does a wizard or sorcerer have to gain from burying the town in a legion of toads?
It is Magic at Work
A natural event, while entertaining, is not what adventurers are searching for so it is best for all if we connect this unusual event to arcane efforts. A few ideas for why a wizard would unleash a plague of toads on a town include:
- Someone in the town offended him and, in his madness, the wizard has decided to punish the entire town for one minor offense.
- A spell gone horribly wrong has opened a portal to a demiplane populated by billions of toads. If the adventurers do not discover and seal the portal it is possible that their entire world will be overrun and conquered by toads.
- A force of evil wizards is testing a new spell that transforms any creature it touches into a toad. Has the area near the town seen a drop in deer, rabbits, and birds?
Regardless of the true reason for the toads, with work this simple idea can be turned into an event that will be spoken of for years to come.