The Gopher King: Chapter 3

As predicted there was a knock on the door. The Viceroy could communicate with the ghoul through sheer force of will, as could any of the liches in the Diosian Lodge. This reduced the amount of spoken words significantly, but the result was that when any of the liches did utilize the gift of speech they sounded raspy and harsh. Their native language, Sikilian, was a dreadful and ghastly one to begin with, and when spoken by a hissing undead monster every utterance had the ring of stark raving evil resounding through each syllable.

Focusing on the ghoul in the hallway, the Viceroy queried mentally, “What is it that your master desires?”

The ghoul had only a simple measure of intellect but was able to respond to the lich’s telepathic link with the simple statement, “The Lodge is convening, your dreadfulness.”

At that the ghoul scampered off back whence it came. The Viceroy, having had no capacity or need for breathing in hundreds of years, nevertheless went through the familiar motions of taking a deep breath and sighing heavily. He tapped his fingers on the arm of his throne and gave consideration to what this could possibly be about. The Lodge rarely convened because there were precious few things that warranted their communal attention. There would have to be something of dire intent to summon all of the liches to a gathering. These meetings never took long to conduct, and the congregants would arrive nearly instantly via teleportation magic, and when the meeting was concluded disperse in the same manner.

Not all of the liches would have to use magic to come and go, of course. The Ash King and the Viceroy were already within strolling distance of the Grand Hall of the Damned. One of the many elements that made the Ash King the most prominent of the Diosian Lodge members was that this unholy and utterly sacrilegious site lay within the domain of Vincasikilia. The mighty capital city of Starigrad lay along the great Dolonau River in the north central portion of Vincasikilia. South-southeast of this metropolis about a hundred miles was the place wherein the Diosian Lodge was first founded in the waning days of the Third Imperium. The site, the bane of all good people in Partum, is the necropolis of Zar-Grojna. The site of countless horrors and crimes against God and man, it is a lifeless and desolate place. All around are crypts and mausoleums with legions of silent undead standing guard over the dust and ashes that once passed for culture and wisdom in these Sikilian provinces. In the middle of the abandoned and desecrated temples stood the pinnacle of Sikilian debauchery and evil; the Grand Hall of the Damned.

Taking a look around the dungeon room he had called home for quite some time now, the Viceroy tried to think if there was anything he needed to take along with him. Naturally nothing came to mind. He was only being asked to attend as a formality and he knew it. The other eight were going to decide what to do and then charge him with getting it done. Unless this was a cataclysmic issue that imperiled multiple Lodge members there was no other predictable outcome. The Viceroy stood up and clasped his bony hands together. With a slight mystical utterance the Viceroy cast his spell, and in a sudden flash of green and yellow light vanished into the fetid gloom-filled air of the dungeon.

In the next instant the Viceroy reappeared some hundred and fifty miles away in the council chamber of the Grand Hall of the Damned. The once active epicenter of all things done in the name of the Diosian Lodge, the Grand Hall was now a filthy and neglected monument to the wages of sin. There remained the huge circular table with twenty-one thrones arranged around it. The table was open in the center, and in the middle of the table was a great pit that delved for untold distances deep into the earth. Once it had been a place where human sacrifices were tossed to their certain doom, but now it served as little else than a bottomless trash pit. There were only nine full members of the Diosian Lodge left so most of the thrones were left covered in dust and cobwebs. This room was so well known to the nine lich lords that they could teleport here without error from anywhere they happened to be. Anyone who wasn’t a member of the Lodge had a decidedly more difficult time gaining entry. So pervasive is the magic surrounding Zar-Grojna, and the foul motivations behind them, that even the most learned archmagis of Partum have yet to find a way to get past the wards and enchantments.

This huge round room was covered by a dome crafted from smoked glass several stories up. A pair of massive doors crafted from steel and precious metals led out of this room to the reception chamber where in days long past the Diosian Lodge would sit and hold court for those brave or foolish enough to seek out their council. Unlike the arrangement of thrones placed equidistantly around the circular table in the Grand Hall’s council chamber there were only nine thrones here, placed in a semi-circle. Seven steps went down as in an amphitheater to where the supplicants would stand and present their cases to the Lodge members. This room was a half circle at the throne end and then ran straight to square corners at the far end wherein the visitors would enter through another pair of gigantic doors crafted from steel and cold iron. Unholy runes and symbols decorated the walls and doors of this blasphemous place, inscriptions of powerful magicks designed to prevent scrying and teleportation by anyone not properly initiated into Lodge membership.

The Viceroy surveyed the scene, noting that nothing had changed here in many decades. In both rooms he located his proper place, the tall backs of the stone thrones bearing his personal sigil; a hand wreathed in flames. It was for his role as the “Hand of the Diosian Lodge” that he was given this as his emblem. Every lich in the Lodge had their own emblem that spoke to the role they generally played. The Ash King’s was a crown with dagger-like blades on the top pointing skyward. Like all of the sigils, flames surrounded the primary symbol. In the reception chamber the Ash King’s throne was situated in the center of the nine. The Viceroy was placed on the end to the Ash King’s left hand. The hierarchy was spelled out clearly here for visitors to note. In the council chamber, where none save the Lodge members themselves were permitted to go, it was less obvious as the thrones sat in a complete circle around the pit and the table.

In the reception hall on either side of the Ash King were the thrones belonging to the Witch Queen and the Blade of Vengeance. Moving out from there were the thrones of the Dread Admiral and the Patriarch of Fate, then the Prince of Pain and the Iron Count. On either end was of course the Shadow Sovereign and the Viceroy. These were the nine remaining members of the Diosian Lodge. As the Viceroy stood in the doorway between the two chambers the other liches began to arrive. Each one teleported into the council chamber close to each of their respective thrones. Nodding to one another in silent acknowledgement, they moved with eerie silence to where the Viceroy stood. He bowed and stepped back to allow them to pass, and then moved to his seat in the reception chamber.

As soon as the Ash King entered the Grand Hall he began telepathically communicating with the other eight members. “We have been approached by a night hag who wishes our assistance. She and her sisters are trapped here and have been for some time. They are willing to exchange something of great value to us if we will open up a gate for them to return to the Gray Wastes. Her name is Malindra, and she is waiting outside of the Grand Hall to present her offer.” The liches sat down in their thrones and the one known as the Shadow Sovereign waved his left hand and the front doors to the reception chamber swung open with a flourish.

The vaulted ceiling in this room had no dome but there were many tall and narrow windows of the same smoked glass as comprised the dome in the council chamber. There was light enough in here, but it still maintained a dismal and oppressive atmosphere. It suited the lich lords perfectly. Outside in the sprawling atrium stood a phalanx of undead soldiers splendidly attired and holding banners in the colors of the nine liches. In the center of the atrium stood a woman of exquisite beauty, even from a distance. Unlike most visitors that sought the aid of the Diosian Lodge this creature seemed utterly unconcerned with the ghastly armed guards all around her. She seemed unfazed by the sunlight filtering through the clouds outside as the hood of her flowing black cloak rested pushed back from her forehead. When the doors swung open, she turned to face the seated liches and purposely strode inside.

Pushing her hood back completely, the woman shook her head from side to side to free her hair. It was a deep purple color and matched perfectly the shade of color around her eyes and on her lips. She had a faint smile and her eyes betrayed a sinister playfulness. She stopped just short of where the steps began at the foot of the thrones, and her smile grew.

Spreading her arms wide, she looked up to each of the liches and said in a strong, heavily accented voice, “My most fearsome majesties, I bid thee thanks for hearing my humble proposal.” The woman clasped her hands together and held them close to her stomach. “I am Malindra, and I have come to offer you treasure most precious if you deign to open for my sisters and I a gateway home to the Gray Wastes from where we are currently forced to reside in the wretched land of Maelonbourg.”

The Diosian Lodge members looked at one another, wordlessly exchanging information via telepathy before returning their full attention to the night hag before them. By means of this communication they had determined that it would be the Ash King who should speak for them. He leaned forward ever so slightly in his seat, and his voice was as harsh and cracked as it was coursed with malevolence.

“What treasure do you possess that would interest this gathering?” The Ash King’s voice echoed off of the stone walls of the reception chamber.

Nonplussed, Malindra responded confidently, “We have accumulated a large number of larvae that we intend to take with us back to the Gray Wastes. I am authorized to offer you ten percent of the total that we have gathered in exchange for a gate sufficient for us to take the remaining larvae home with us.”

The liches could not conceal their delight, for even one larva was a difficult and valuable thing to acquire. A lich able to feed off of the energy of a single larva would be able to strengthen their physical and mental being, allowing it to become more powerful and for a considerable time. With enough larvae a lich can even attempt the transformation to the next level of its existence; becoming a demilich. The members bombarded each other with telepathic impulses expressing their desire to get as much larvae as they could lay their withered, bony hands on. The Ash King had to hold up his hands to signal them to cease the chattering in his skull so that he could respond to the night hag’s offer.

Malindra could tell she had piqued the interest of the undead masters of the Sikilian Confederation. In a sultry voice wholly unsuited for her audience that was utterly devoid of carnal desires she asked, “Do we have an arrangement, most powerful and dreadful of this world?”

The Ash King’s voice once more reverberated in the reception hall as he answered, “Give us some time to discuss this matter. The doors will be opened when we are ready to make our decision known.”

Malindra nodded her head and pulled her hood up over her head. She then turned and strode out the doors into the atrium. The Shadow Sovereign waved his left hand again and the doors closed behind the night hag. Again the Ash King was bombarded with the mental messages sent by his peers.

Without speaking a word the Ash King sent back his own message. “Let us retire to the council chamber to decide this notion. We’ve no idea the power that night hag has to read our thoughts. She might not be as strong as all that, but to risk our position would be foolhardy.”

The liches stood and made their way to the council chamber. The Viceroy opened the doors for the rest, and after they had all entered he dutifully closed the doors, and with a muttered spell sealed them and the entire hall. Then he joined the others around the great circular table. The Diosian Lodge peered absently into the open pit before them, and the discussions began in earnest.

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