The first to voice their opinion was the Witch Queen, ruler of Dalmatia, but this was true to form regardless of the situation. As the only current member of the Diosian Lodge that had been a woman in her mortal life the Witch Queen often had a radically different view of things than did the other members. Her sigil was a skull wreathed in flames and she wore crimson and orange colored robes. She was more aware of the impact fine clothing had in defining nobility than anyone else in the Lodge and this occasion was no different. Her gown commanded more attention than she did. Keenly aware of her physical form’s appearance the Witch Queen was the undisputed mistress of illusion. There was no call for it now, so the fabulous clothing she wore was hanging on a skeletal frame with skin dried tightly over the bones. Her eye sockets contained pinpoints of orange light instead of eyes, and her transmitted thoughts dripped with sarcasm. The Witch Queen took a stand in favor of the deal but that they should bargain upwards for twenty percent of the larvae. The night hags were sitting on a wealth all but immeasurable, but it only had value if they returned to the Gray Wastes.
Second to speak, as allowed by the protocols laid down over the centuries, was the Blade of Vengeance. He ruled the land of Makesikilia, and his sigil was a flaming sword. Like a good many of his now vanquished brethren who were on the forefront of the Diosian Lodge’s expansion in the early years of their reign, the Blade of Vengeance was as much a warrior as he ever was a wizard. He wore black and red and gave little thought to his appearance other than to strike fear in all that saw him. He liked to wear armor but not for any protective purposes. It gave him bulk and the aura of a more imposing physical form than he now could claim. His eye sockets were pinpoints of scarlet red. His position in the night hag’s offer was to play along until they knew where the larvae were and then slaughter the hags and keep all of the larvae for the Diosian Lodge. The Blade of Vengeance was never known for his moderation.
The Dread Admiral was third and as was often the case his input was short and to the point. He ruled Bregsikilia in the northeast which contained a number of islands and a fair amount of Sikilian coastline. He had enslaved a number of evil aquatic races and spent a good deal of his personal time at sea in a grand ship crafted from bones. The Dread Admiral preferred dark uniforms and flowing capes embellished with blue and green accents, and his sigil was that of a shark swimming in fire. His eye sockets each had a pinpoint of white light that shifted colors to blue and back again. He voted to accept the offer as presented, more than likely due to his intense desire to conclude this business so he could get back to his nautical activities.
Fourth to make their intentions known was the Patriarch of Fate, the only remaining priestly lich in the Diosian Lodge. When he had first become acquainted with the group of mortals that would one day seek out infamy as this wicked and despotic organization he had done so with the explicit blessing of the Patriarch of the Holy Imperium Church, Callidus Magna. Callidus was to be the last of the Patriarchs as it would turn out, because the fall of the Third Imperium also brought about the collapse of the Church hierarchy. The Patriarch of Fate seized control over all of the holdings the Church had throughout Sikilia when this occurred and crowned himself the supreme authority of all spiritual matters therein and took control of the region of Sercsikilia. His sigil was an open eye surrounded by fire, and he wore ornate but well-worn clerical robes of grey and white. His eye sockets housed pinpoints of bright red light that shifted to white whenever he entered a trance that allowed him to see into the past and future with eerie reliability. His vote was drawn out and eloquent in favor of accepting the bargain but urging the Ash King to seek a greater percentage of the larvae.
The fifth member to chime in was the Prince of Pain. Even by the standards of the Diosian Lodge the Prince of Pain was a sadistic and malevolent monster. He delighted in torture and torment even if there was nothing to be gained save the victim’s misery. His eyes were pinpoints of deep red light, and he wore white and black robes that gave a checkerboard feel to them. He preferred robes that had large hoods in them so that he might hide his terrifying visage from his prey until he was ready to strike, and when he did he used the traditional implements of punishment. The Prince of Pain ruled the small region of Dardania, a land littered with gibbets and crosses and the remains of those that met an untimely end at the hands of their lord. His sigil was a flaming scourge and in in fact kept a similar weapon on his belt at all times. Cunning to the core, the Prince of Pain suggested that before they accept any offer the Diosian Lodge should ascertain exactly how many larvae were being discussed. If there were only ten of the accursed beings then ten percent was a humiliatingly small price to pay for safe transit to the Gray Wastes. There was tremendous psychic clamoring among the liches as they too realized the wisdom in this inquiry. Regardless, the Prince of Pain thought they should ask for a higher percentage.
Sixth in line to offer their opinion was the Iron Count. A thoughtful and methodical plotter, the Iron Count tended to offer his considerations slowly. Always with an eye towards avoiding future troubles, the Iron Count governed the land of Rascia. His eyes were pinpoints of bright red light. His sigil was a shield wreathed in fire, and he wore black robes trimmed with vibrant green. He was responsible for maintaining many of the defensive wards utilized in the Grand Hall of the Damned and true to his nature his vote was to not do anything to make enemies of the night hags. He reminded all of his peers that once in the Gray Wastes the night hags had more allies than the Diosian Lodge could ever muster, and any complications for acquiring larvae at a future date must be avoided at all costs.
The seventh lich to give their input was the Shadow Sovereign. Ruling the tiny region of Seversikilia in the far north of the Confederation, the Shadow Sovereign had developed a reputation for being innocuous towards his neighbors to the point of not acting like his brethren in most any regard. Trade routes through Seversikilia linked the lands of the Forkanzan city-states and the powerful empire of Geldenreich. Most of his energy was spent in isolated study and research so the Shadow Sovereign had almost no dealings with his associates in the Lodge. He wore dusty and filthy robes of grey and blue, and his eyes were pinpoints of light blue light. His sigil was that of a crescent moon in a flame. His advice to the Lodge was to seek a bigger percentage of the larvae, but even ten percent was a fair amount depending on the number of larvae involved.
This left the Viceroy as the last to give his counsel before the Ash King made a decision. He already knew that he was going to be stuck with going along to verify the larvae count, open the gates needed to get everyone moved, and probably end up getting suckered into doing half a dozen idiotic side missions before all of this came to fruition. While the other liches gave their opinions the Viceroy thought about what he knew of Maelonbourg. It had been a long time since he had travelled to the little states of the north, referred to collectively as the Wenigzustand, but he remembered one of them being called Maelonbourg. He struggled to recall any information about the place, but it seemed as though it had been ruled by an elven king. Quite a lively and beautiful place as he remembered it. Not unlike his beloved Karinthia. When his time came to give his two-bits, the Viceroy suggested that whoever had to open the gates be given an additional share of the larvae for their trouble, but otherwise the deal was fine as it was presented.
There was a ripple of amusement among the Diosian Lodge liches as they thought it quaint that a lich with no home should need any larvae at all. The larvae would need to be housed within the Grand Hall of the Damned for safe keeping was the thought of most, and while there were those that were angling for an immediate distribution of the squirming, loathsome treasure it did make the most sense to keep them where they would be safest from prying eyes or meddling spirits. Why, they had a perfectly good bottomless pit just sitting here with no better function to serve than this exact notion. Depending on how many larvae the liches ended up with they may need just such a space.
After several minutes of telepathic back and forth the Ash King held up his bony, withered hands and signaled an end to the debate. He wore robes of black and grey and had upon his skeletal head a crown of gold that had dagger-like spikes reaching skyward. His eyes were pinpoints of bright red light, and his demeanor was at all times that of an impatient man being pestered with insignificant things far beneath being worthy of his concern. He announced that he would ask for a precise number of larvae, and then push for a higher percentage of the haul. If they were unyielding on the number of larvae to be given over to the Lodge he would ask for a reduced price in future dealings with these particular night hags should any of the members need to acquire more larvae at a later date. The psychic murmurings indicated that he had a good scheme and so the Lodge adjourned from the council chamber and returned to their thrones in the reception hall. All but the Viceroy were tickled almost to tears that they were on the cusp of attaining larvae for their dark and malevolent development. For his own part the Viceroy was keenly aware that nobody had backed his idea for an extra share although everyone knew that he was going to have to do all of the work. Literally everything about this was going to be a chore and his cut was going to be the same as the liches that stayed home and did nothing? Even for a creature easily perturbed and annoyed this was a humiliation.
Once all were seated the Shadow Sovereign waved his hand and the front doors to the reception hall swung open once more. The unearthly beautiful woman outside smiled slyly as she walked in and strode to the spot at the bottom of the dais where she bowed ever so slightly and held her hands clasped in front of her stomach. With her hood pushed back off of her head she gazed at each of the Lodge members and awaited their verdict.
“We have given much thought to your request and offer.” The Ash King’s voice was louder now and resonated in the archaic stone chamber. “It is generally agreeable, but we should like to know how many larvae are at stake here before we acquiesce to a percentage.”
The night hag’s smile didn’t fade or budge as she replied, “My sisters and I have harvested about nine thousand souls representing the most deliciously selfish and unrepentantly sinful humans that Maelonbourg had to offer.”
There was a stunned reaction from the Diosian Lodge, and had they been capable of the genuine article there would have been a loud gasp from the assemblage. Nine thousand larvae! There had never been any larvae in Partum before this time because night hags didn’t live and work here, and their primary activities are to create larvae from the lost souls that wander in the Gray Wastes after death. Anyone seeking to get their hands on a larva would have to travel to the Gray Wastes and negotiate with a night hag. But here was the greatest cache of larvae any lich could ever have dreamt of right in their own backyard!
Leaning forward with an even more sinister air about him, the Ash King said firmly, “We would want fifteen percent of the larvae for our work.” There was always a hissing aspect to his speech, and the Sikilian language is itself an exercise in how to sound diabolical. “One of our members will have to leave their concerns in the Confederation for the duration of your project, and any amount of time spent outside our borders can represent a serious security concern, as you no doubt understand.”
Malindra threw her head back and laughed with a sort of a cackle that seemed excruciatingly out of place coming from the form of this young, vibrant woman. “Our offer is firm at ten percent. Our ordeal in this plane of existence has been unbearable and the only thing making any of it tolerable is our goal of getting this prize back home. There are other wizards we can deal with in Partum if this esteemed college doesn’t wish to partake.”
The Ash King held up his hand and said, “If our take is only ten percent then we will want considerations in future negotiations for any larva that we might need to procure. It is fair concession and a solid foundation for what will undoubtedly become a lucrative business arrangement for us all.”
Malindra’s body language gave away her position of strength in this interaction. She contemplated briefly the counteroffer and then said, “Alright, my noble and terrible lord. Ten percent now and a reduced price for larva purchases going forward.” Her smile broadened as she surveyed the liches with her curiously gleaming eyes. Resting her gaze on the Viceroy, Malindra asked with a hint of amusement in her voice, “And which of your august assembly will be accompanying me back to Maelonbourg?”
Sitting back in his throne with a terribly pleased look to him the Ash King replied, “It has been decided that one of our most powerful peers will take on this task. The Viceroy will create the gate you seek in order that you may return to the Gray Wastes, and he will open a gate to bring our portion of the larvae back to us. Anything else he does on your behalf will need to be negotiated between himself and you and your sisters. Is this agreeable?”
Malindra, still smiling, pulled her hood back on to her head as she answered, “Yes, your majesty. This is perfectly acceptable.”
“Then I shall leave you two to discuss the minutiae for this task.” The Ash King declared. “The Lodge hereby adjourns. Good luck to you.”
The Shadow Sovereign opened the front doors once again, and Malindra turned and walked out into the atrium. The liches stood, and mentally impressed upon the Viceroy that he damn well better not screw this up. The Viceroy tried to keep his head up as he walked out into the atrium, but his anger welled up. Travelling all the way to Maelonbourg wasn’t his idea of time well spent. They would be crossing over plenty of hostile territory and the Viceroy wasn’t keen on doing so much as lift a finger to help out the rest of the Lodge. What a bother. The Viceroy felt a greater need now to have a home of his own where he could just sit and be left alone.
The doors to the reception hall closed, and the Viceroy stood in the atrium with Malindra and surrounded by the undead guards that kept silent watch over this unholy site. Malindra and the Viceroy looked at each other. With something of a shrug, the Viceroy said with a purely theatrical sigh, “So… tell me about Maelonbourg.”