The Gopher King: Chapter 1

The shuffling of the Viceroy’s feet was quite nearly the only sound to be heard in this deeply buried underground chamber. Often the dripping of water was the only other thing to be heard as the droplets worked their way through the earth above, the stones that comprised the ceiling, and then plopped unceremoniously into dank puddles that permeated the entirety of this place. Every now and then the Viceroy would fill the void of this decrepit dungeon lair with his own hissing voice as he carried on lengthy monologues. There was the occasional incident wherein the Viceroy would drop something, and the resulting noise never ceased to startle him against the backdrop of the otherwise deathly silence. There was no light because the Viceroy didn’t need it. His ability to see had been heightened supernaturally when he had become a lich, an undead wizard of enormous power; his mortal eyes replaced in his otherwise empty eye sockets with blazing pinpoints of green light. He did not need to eat or sleep and required nothing in the way of creature comforts. All he sought was the blissful solitude of the quiet darkness. It eased his thoughts to be alone.

This hadn’t always been the case. Untold centuries had gone by since the Viceroy had been born into mortal life among the people of Schlosswald. His had been a privileged upbringing, but the Viceroy had difficulty remembering what his early life had been exactly like. His memories of any mortal existence were jumbled like puzzle pieces floating about in a wooden box. Every now and again the box would be bounced about, and one or two pieces might connect but in the process several more would be disjointed. All in all, the Viceroy didn’t have a clear recollection of his previous life and the further back he tried to delve the harder it got to bring any of it into focus.

He knew that he had been a sorcerer but how that had all come about remained a murky mystery to the Viceroy. What he did remember clearly was his search for knowledge. It had always been an obsession with the Viceroy to learn all he could and from whatever source he encountered. He had been invited to join an elite organization of scholars that lived and studied in the lands south of his homeland. They were a curious bunch of people in every sense of the term “curious.” Most were mages such as himself, but a few were priests that felt constrained in their intellectual pursuits by the Church and needed a group of like-minded thinkers. Their infrequent gatherings formed the earliest happy memories the Viceroy could conjure. Unlike the perpetual darkness and silence of his current surroundings these get-togethers were filled with light and sound. They had met at palaces and regal manor homes, in cloistered gardens and festive urban bistros. Music had always played an element in their meetings although the Viceroy had no memories of having been a singer. He vaguely recollected knowing his way around a harpsichord but there was no such instrument to be had in the Viceroy’s current environment.

There was precious little at all to be had in the Viceroy’s current environment. Aside from a dozen or so decaying books on a ramshackle set of shelves, a couple of crates that contained piles of miscellaneous items found here and there during the Viceroy’s most recent outings, and the once ornate little throne that he spent countless hours perched in making his contemplations. He was aware of every insect that happened into his chamber, and via magical means used them to learn what was going on in the world above. The Viceroy especially appreciated the centipedes because they were always the most articulate. Beetles were a constant disappointment, often not even returning from their errands. On rare occasions a lizard or two might happen in as well but these were not useful to the Viceroy. In fact they had a tendency to eat the centipedes and this would irritate the Viceroy. It was not uncommon for him to use his magic to incinerate these reptilian pests the moment he sensed them in the room.

Fortunately the Viceroy had extraordinarily strong senses. He did not rely on mortal methods, and his connection to the negative energy from extraplanar sources imbued him with sight beyond sight, and the ability to hear that which made no earthly sound. This made his existence nearly intolerable during those times in which he so desperately sought peace for his rambling, racing mind. The biological properties that made up his mortal brain had long since decayed, replaced with magical energies emboldened with wicked intent and cruel desire. The bulk of his essence, that which truly comprised his identity and what remained of his soul, had been placed with the utmost care into a phylactery that he had spent over a decade crafting back when he was mortal and cared about time. He never went anywhere without it, keeping it close to him. Most creatures that shared the Viceroy’s existence went to terrible and horrifying lengths to hide their phylacteries, but the Viceroy had no place of his own in which to hide his.

Not even this foul little festering room deep beneath the land of the living could be considered as his own. The Viceroy was residing here due to the hospitality of one of his peers, a lich lord that went by the fearful title of the Ash King. Few on earth knew or remembered the true name of the Ash King, and even fewer knew the name of the Viceroy. But the Ash King had something the Viceroy did not have. The Ash King ruled the land of Vincasikilia, the largest of the states that comprised the Sikilian Confederation. The Ash King was informally known as the chairman of the Diosian Lodge, the unholy cabal of liches that governed several nations in southeastern Partum. The towering fortress from which the Ash King ruled sat above an extensive array of dungeons. In one corner of this labyrinth was a single room well removed from everything else of note to the Ash King. This room he had agreed to loan to the Viceroy whenever he was needed by the Ash King. Every one of the Diosian Lodge members had a similar place set aside for the Viceroy to dwell in for brief periods of time whenever he visited. This was because the Viceroy had no place of his own in which to reside.

Many centuries ago the Viceroy had ruled the small nation of Karinthia in the northern part of the Sikilian Confederation. It was a land of alpine mountains and scenic lakes crisscrossed with rivers amid picturesque meadows. It was an idyllic setting that was gradually perverted by the dark sorcery of the Viceroy into a nightmarish hellscape filled with abominations and terrors beyond the imaginations of men. Like all of the liches of the Diosian Lodge, the Viceroy felt safe and secure in his realm. He built castles to defend his foul property and staffed them with lesser undead and inhuman horrors to prevent Karinthia from falling into the hands of his enemies. All of these considerations were for naught, though. Reclaiming Karinthia as part of Schlosswald was of the utmost priority for Geldenreich, and the unfettered might of the golden empire was trained upon Karinthia with disastrous results for the Viceroy. It took a couple of years for the forces of Geldenreich to fully accomplish, but they did eventually conquer the whole of Karinthia, leaving the Viceroy homeless.

Now the lesser member of the Diosian Lodge was reduced to spending his time going from one of the other lord’s domains to the next. He would stay for as long as he could, trying to be as unnoticed as possible. As miserable as a lich’s memory is regarding their lives as mortals, they rarely forget anything that is going on in the here and now, up to and including the presence of another lich residing in their basement or garden shed. To that end the Viceroy could only go unnoticed for so long at each of his benefactor’s domains. Besides, his peers often required the Viceroy’s talents in dealing with whatever issues arose affecting the Lodge. These duties he undertook begrudgingly knowing that his peers had not come to his aid when Geldenreich had attacked and conquered his beloved Karinthia. He would grouse without ceasing for the duration of these assignments and for his troubles he would be given some token of thanks and yet another invitation to stay awhile in some nearly forgotten corner of some lich’s property.

Of all of the places the Viceroy occasionally called home this was his favorite. The Ash King was frequently the Lodge member most likely to demand help from the Viceroy to undertake some task too difficult for his other minions but too small to engage the interest of the Ash King himself. Residing deep in the dungeon of the Ash King’s sprawling fortress was the most sensible place for the Viceroy to be. The downside was the humiliating disrespect shown by the Ash King towards the “lesser peer in the cellar.” This prompted the Viceroy to indulge in his own pursuit of isolation not merely so that he could ponder his schemes but to avoid being the object of ridicule among the members of the Ash King’s court. This discomfort wasn’t as severe as one might think because the Viceroy was powerful enough in his own right to disintegrate anyone in the Ash King’s court that displeased him. It was this fact that caused the courtiers to be far more gracious and respectful when the Ash King wasn’t present. Even the most terrifying of the Ash King’s undead and living cohorts could be destroyed instantly with little more than an utterance from the Viceroy.

Despite having lost his earthly realm the Viceroy was not without his power. Over the centuries he had tackled a number of problems on behalf of the other members of the Diosian Lodge. He had slaughtered adventurers seeking to vanquish his fellow Lodge members or to disrupt the plans of the lich lords. He had unseated powerful princes who stood in the way of the expansion of the Sikilian Confederation. Free of other concerns the Viceroy could devote enormous magical energy into fighting and demolishing those he was set against. Having his phylactery close at hand meant he could come and go just as he pleased. He didn’t have the same concerns as his peers, and he was much more attuned to using his magic in the most offensive ways imaginable. Quietly and without being noticed, the Viceroy had been honing his power right under the noses of the other Diosian Lodge members. Running their errands and doing their chores had made the Viceroy a devastatingly potent opponent. Far from being the “lesser peer” the Viceroy was developing into the most dangerous member of the organization. Alone in the dark and damp chamber in a far corner of a dungeon maze the never-ceasing thoughts of the Viceroy spun plans of vengeance and devastation. One day he would have his revenge against Geldenreich, and the mocking jeers of the Diosian Lodge would be set aside forever. For now he waited. He would allow the machinations of others to open the doors for him to pursue his own goals. There was even now a plot simmering that would give him the best chance he had yet had to set his own schemes in motion. Then somebody else would have to be the errand boy.

 

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