The Gopher King: Chapter 2

Passage of time meant nothing to the Viceroy when he was waiting. He spent a lot of time on stand-by. He waited on the other lich lords of the Diosian Lodge mostly. Uncounted days and even years would pass before they would call upon him and send him off on some foolish crusade. The Viceroy almost never had any personal interest in any of these endeavors, but he managed to find some entertainment in the tasks presented. For instance if he was charged with stopping a group of thrill seekers from upsetting one of the Lodge’s nefarious plots, the Viceroy would take particular delight in tormenting them. He would often initiate elaborate gimmicks to gain a measure of control over these hapless mortals, placing them entirely at his mercy. But the Viceroy had no mercy for the living. His anger at perceived slights and offenses against him in the distant past fueled his anger in the present.

There were few monsters in the known world as wicked in intent as the Viceroy. His thirst for other’s pain was unquenchable, and the methods he had at his disposal were many and diverse. One of his favorite designs began with incapacitating his victims. This was easily accomplished merely by the energy draining touch common to all liches. Just a tap, or the poke of the lich’s finger was sufficient to render the target utterly immobile for several minutes. Once his prey were thusly paralyzed the Viceroy would gleefully use one of his razor sharp and plague-ridden fingernails to slice into the victim’s forearm. Using his loathsome talons he would carve a curse into the living flesh, frequently worded as a riddle or pithy observation about the victim’s personality or temperament. As he carved his sacrilegious missives the blood from his victims was sucked up into the fingernail of the Viceroy as a luxury writing pen draws ink from an inkwell. This blood in turn gave the lich lord a strange and horrific power over future actions of the victim.

In addition to bearing the marks inflicted by the Viceroy for the rest of their lives like branded cattle, the luckless persons would find themselves at the mercy of the Viceroy in terrible ways. First of all he could, with the mere utterance of a word, cause them to remain paralyzed for as long as he wished, regardless of how motivated they were to carry forth with their actions. Secondly, the Viceroy was able to reach into the dreams of everyone he had marked in order to disrupt their sleep, relay messages, and even root around in their memories to seek out information useful to the lich. Third, the Viceroy could command his marked victims to animate after their deaths and serve him in unholy devotion for the rest of eternity. In one swift attack the Viceroy could utterly wipe out an entire group of enemies without killing a single one of them. None of the other members of the Diosian Lodge had the ability to mark in this way and they coveted his ability to break up the enemy with such ease and maliciousness.

Taking on enemies one on one was where the Viceroy excelled. He didn’t have the vast armies at his command that his peers did, nor did he have the material resources to raise, arm, and control such forces. Whenever he travelled abroad and needed more help than he had on hand the Viceroy would simply enter into a local cemetery and let his dark necromantic powers work their magic. Merely by concentrating the lich could raise up an army and set them to his will. The effect was so chillingly powerful that undead would be raised for miles around wherever the lich was at and instantly be under his sway. This was a deeply disturbing use of the lich’s natural abilities, but it paled in comparison to the control his peers could wield over their own minions. The Viceroy could only control so many of these undead but the other Lodge members had other minions, either intermediate undead able to lead their own battalions, or necromancers seeking the approval of their lich lord who raised up armies and placed them under the rulership of their undead sovereigns. Whereas the Viceroy might be able to raise and dictate commands to a thousand animated corpses, the other members of the Diosian Lodge can summon forth and field armies ten times that size or more. This was fine for how these lich lords conducted their affairs. But the Viceroy had no land to defend or resources to protect. His armies could be tossed into the fray with nary a thought for consequences or their survival. Having an expendable force available anywhere he went had proved deliciously effective in most of the missions entrusted to the Viceroy. Many were the occasions when he would unleash his shambling corpses upon his foes and while they tied up the enemy with chaos and carnage he could focus ever more devastating magical energy to further his specific goals. And then, just like that, he would teleport away and leave his undead servants fighting away, slaying whatever they could get their rotting hands on. He hadn’t a care in the world for using these throw-away soldiers to follow up and take advantage of any weaknesses his enemies left revealed. If the job was done the Viceroy would simply call it good, make note of where his opponents had failed, and tuck that bit of information away for later use. One never knew when this kind of data might come in handy.

This was how things were now. The Viceroy had a supernatural sense for remembering the obscure and trivial details from each encounter he had while working on behalf of his Diosian Lodge comrades. He couldn’t recall with any veracity the events of his mortal life, but most everything he did since crossing over into undeath stuck with him like an unshakeable shadow. Shortly after the transformation the Viceroy stopped using his mortal name and since had only been called by his title. Not long after that he had adopted the colors green and yellow for his attire and much of the décor in what used to be his home, the palace of Wansturren. These colors had been prominent in the ensigns that flew over his fortifications and that represented Karinthia. The Viceroy steered towards vivid coloration, too, a bright green and yellow that couldn’t be missed no matter how far away they were. He even now wore a small golden crown, inset with emeralds and with a bright green cap. The cloth had worn out a hundred times over the years and the Viceroy had always dutifully replaced it. The gold was of the highest quality and therefore didn’t tarnish as would cheaper alloys. None of the Viceroy’s gold ornaments were anything less than pure, causing there to be a stark contrast between the often-tattered cloth of his garments, the gaunt and partially mummified appearance of his skeletal body, and the pristine golden adornments he had such a passion for. His robes were brightly striped with green and yellow and tended to billow out from his emaciated form when he walked. The hems of his robes and gowns swept up all of the muck through which the lich treaded. These clothes were never washed but rather replaced when they began to deteriorate beyond the point that the Viceroy could stomach wearing them out among his associates.

The Viceroy was not by any measure the most vain of the Diosian Liches. He was, however, among the most conscious of how he appeared to others. It was difficult enough to be treated with disdain by creatures inferior to himself in magical prowess and martial ability. It was inconceivable that the Viceroy would let anyone view him as weaker than he was. He had an eye for emeralds but really any green-hued gemstone would have caught his interest. He had rings on most every finger that over time he had magically altered to stay on his bony digits. On each arm he wore a bracer inset with precious stones, and around his neck hung three different necklaces and amulets. What magical properties any of these baubles might have possessed had never been divulged by the Viceroy to anyone else for fear that they would covet these treasures themselves. As he had no permanent home to keep treasure like his peers, the Viceroy had to be content to own what might be considered “portable loot.” He had no need for coinage or currency because he simply took what he wanted from those weaker than himself or humbly, even grovelingly borrowed them from those perceived as more powerful. This limited his options for ever securing a base of operations for himself because he could not hire capable, free-willed henchmen.

Obtaining sufficient treasure to ever seize or develop a real estate project from which to reestablish himself as a proper lich lord again had been on the Viceroy’s bucket list for centuries. He had never encountered a sufficient hoard to finance such an endeavor, though, that hadn’t already been laid claim too by whoever had initially sent him on the task. The other liches were quick to take anything that they could for themselves. Payment to the Viceroy generally came in the form of mystical knowledge and whatever pure gold jewelry he found that had green gemstones. This and the grudgingly open invitation for him to stay under the dubious safety and protection of the other Diosian Lodge members had been deemed sufficient recompense for a creature unable to have held on to his own domain when he had it.

None of this had particularly endeared the Viceroy to the other liches of the Lodge. He groused privately about how he was treated, the means by which he was paid, and the conditions under which he had to exist. It didn’t change the efficiency with which he worked while engaged, nor did it redirect the fury with which he lashed out at those targeted by his wrath. The effect was to make the Viceroy an even more bitter monster than he otherwise would have been. He no longer sought a means to reclaim Karinthia. He wanted a parcel of land far removed from his peers. It mattered not that they would not be on hand to lend support should he suffer attack again from outsiders; the Lodge hadn’t given any support the last time when he was right there among them. He would somehow make it work no matter how far away he had to rebuild a home for himself. And the Viceroy was beginning to ponder that the further away, the better it would be.

These were the thoughts that kept circulating in the grotesque mind of the Viceroy. One should not assume that he was haunted by these things, but rather that he had given them safe haven in the demented nightmarish intellect that fueled his every move. He nursed these notions as a doting parent would tend and nurture a child. His plots and schemes were his offspring. Most of them were formed quickly and released upon the world with dreadful results. But these mental meanderings in which he imagined a place he could call home in a land far removed from the lands of the Sikilian Confederation were special to the Viceroy. Sitting alone in the unrelenting darkness in the relative comfort of his small, slowly decomposing throne gave the Viceroy a sense of calm and comfort. He listened intently to the sound of the water droplets leaking from the roof and splashing into the puddles on the floor. Here and there he could detect those worthless beetles tiptoeing about the stonework. He sensed another sound beyond the heavy iron door of his sanctum. The sound of footsteps jogging along the outer corridor. It was the unmistakable noise made by one of the wretched ghouls that served the Ash King. There was only one reason for it to be shambling down in the depths of this dungeon. The Viceroy was about to have his ponderings interrupted.

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