Malindra looked at the Viceroy as they walked through the atrium towards what had long ago been the courtyard. Trees and shrubs had been breaking through the pavers for centuries. The overall effect was that it seemed more of a derelict garden than a courtyard. The night hag seemed unconcerned about the condition of the grounds, and the Viceroy had stopped caring for such things the moment he had crossed from mortal life into undeath. Malindra studied the Viceroy carefully as they moved. “What do you want to know about Maelonbourg?” she asked. The Viceroy had precious few facial expressions to utilize seeing as his physical form was basically a mummified corpse. It wasn’t as though he even had eyebrows to raise or eyes to shift furtively.
The Viceroy’s response was deliberate, and his voice cracked from disuse. But there was a hidden forcefulness in his tone that was ever present. The Sikilian language lends itself to sharp accents on cruel sounding syllables such that even something as simple as directions to the local grocer will sound like a dire threat to burn down one’s home and devour their offspring. He answered Malindra’s inquiry by saying, “Tell me everything. I want to know who is in charge of this place, who or what lives there that might pose an obstacle, and what forces exist that challenge anything I am being tasked to do.”
Malindra smirked as she replied, “That is a lot of information to give.”
The Viceroy didn’t even look at Malindra as he retorted haughtily, “And my powers are far in excess of anything this trivial. Asking me to traipse about the Wenigzustand counting worms for witches.” The Viceroy would have spit for emphasis before continuing except that a lich generated no saliva. “After you tell me everything there is to know about Maelonbourg you will tell me everything there is to know about you and your coven.”
Malindra stopped in her tracks, and with her hands on her hips she all but scoffed as she asked, “Why should you need to know all of this? Why is it not enough to just get on with it and have it done?”
The Viceroy stopped as well and turned his piercing pinpoints of green light at the night hag. Malindra for a moment felt quite small and insignificant. His voice was getting stronger and less crackly. “Do not take me for some petty chump, Malindra. You came to us for help. You agreed that I would open a gate for you and your sisters, and that I would take payment for this in the ten percent share of the larvae. In addition to this, for all other tasks and duties that I perform you agreed to pay me apart from this arrangement. Is this not accurate?”
The night hag shifted her weight nervously and said, “Yes, that is what I agreed to.”
The Viceroy chuckled ominously. “Then I intend to stroll slowly to Maelonbourg. I might even take a detour. Or maybe I will go the scenic route by way of Lusatia. If you want me to go hastily then you will need to pay extra. And that payment is in information.”
“Why are you being difficult?” Malindra asked crossly. Her good mood at securing the help of the Diosian Lodge had soured quickly in the face of this obstinate creature. “Perhaps another of your group will be less obstinate!”
The Viceroy stepped quickly to within inches of Malindra, causing the night hag to take a step back and hold her hands up defensively. “You will find my brethren far less agreeable than me. And if you attempt to back out of our agreement, I shall vaporize you, your sisters, and take all of your damned larvae for my own.” The Viceroy’s pinpoints burned with hellish intensity. “You knew I would be the one given this job. You also must know that I have nothing to lose if everything goes wrong. And having learned all of this well before you approached the Lodge for help you must also be aware that I am not against causing everything to go horribly, terribly wrong for nothing more than my own amusement.” Pointing his bony finger at Malindra with the yellowed, razor sharp talon within striking range of her face, the Viceroy continued. “So start talking, my pretty companion. You have my help. If you want it done quickly, you pay. If you want me to play a role subservient to you, you pay. If you want anything other than what I am going to do on my own and in my own time and by my own means, you pay even more. Got it?”
Malindra was seething, and her eyes narrowed as she did her best to stare down the lich. But it was no use. The overpowering aura of the undead wizard was affecting even her, and she had to divert her gaze. Trying to keep her cool Malindra said calmly, “I understand, your majesty. I’ll tell you all I know about Maelonbourg.”
The Viceroy lowered his hand and chuckled with an ominously dark tone. “Excellent. Our trip is roughly eleven or twelve hundred miles. The more your information pleases me in detail, the faster we will travel. So sit here on that bench and tell me about Maelonbourg.”
Malindra went to the bench that the Viceroy indicated and sat down. She took a deep breath and began telling the Viceroy about the little country that the night hags reluctantly called home. “Maelonbourg was a small realm ruled by an elven king. My sister Colldrenia managed to insert herself into a position to foment a revolution among the majority population, which happened to have been human. After the elves were driven out or enslaved, Colldrenia then turned her attention to subjugating the humans. As you already know, only humans of a selfish or wicked nature can be turned into larvae. By using fear and pain to manipulate the people Colldrenia was able to bring out the worst in even the most virtuous souls. Bit by bit they turned on one another and in their contemptable behavior opened themselves up to be turned into larvae.” Malindra paused before continuing. Her gaze danced along the ruined nature of the courtyard, distracted momentarily by the juxtaposition of life and decay.
“The results were predictable in the land itself. Maelonbourg began to wither from the roots up as the life of the realm was consumed in unstoppable evil. The vineyards rotted away, and the forests began to dry and shrivel. Rain brought no relief and the wildlife began to migrate outwards from Maelonbourg. As the humans were weakened Colldrenia began to recruit hobgoblins from across the Wenigzustand to come and serve as her soldiers and servants. As the humans of Maelonbourg that hadn’t fled were either killed or changed into larvae, Colldrenia opened up trade with a nearby orcish state to trade the previous wealth of Maelonbourg for human slaves. She even gave them some of the elves in exchange for more humans. Any of the humans that were too noble for transformation were broken down until they were either suitable or dead. It is a full-time occupation to do this, you see. Colldrenia has had her hands full.”
The Viceroy displayed no emotion or signs that he understood but stood rigidly in front of Malindra as she talked. After another deep breath, Malindra continued. “There is nobody in Maelonbourg that can stand in your way to complete this task, and no power in the realm that can challenge Colldrenia’s rule. I believe that the Marquis of Chute de l’Ombre has an axe to grind against Colldrenia, but he is a buffoon. Like us he isn’t from this plane, and doubtless he has better things to do in any event. You ought to have nothing but smooth sailing.”
The Viceroy was silent for some time as he mulled over this information. Sensing that Malindra had no other bits to volunteer he said, “Tell me more about the states bordering Maelonbourg. Are they likely to be interested in what happens there?”
Malindra looked at the Viceroy and a curious smile began to creep across her lips. “That is a curiously worded question, your lordship.”
Unmoved the Viceroy said, “Tell me about the states bordering Maelonbourg.”
Malindra took another deep breath and in a resigned tone said, “To the west is the forested land of Chute de l’Ombre. To the north there is a short border with the orcish land of Oublier. To the east is the mostly human country of Wientäler. In the southeast there is a short border with a heavily forested land called Riesenwald filled with faerie folk and the like. And in the south across the Marruse River is the country of Fanolania. Most of the people that fled Maelonbourg did so into Fanolania.”
The Viceroy asked, “And do any of these states have an interest in Maelonbourg?”
“I don’t know, my lord. I would think that if they did then they would have taken action by now. My sister Colldrenia has been working at her craft in Maelonbourg for a number of decades without being challenged.” Answered Malindra. She again studied the lich’s face for any hint of what he might be thinking, but she was beginning to suspect that she already knew the direction his thoughts were taking. “I don’t see anyone moving against you if you were to take over the place when my sisters and I leave.”
The Viceroy continued staring at Malindra. “Your perceptiveness is a credit to you, witch. Tell me about yourself.”
Malindra was surprised by this demand, but asked, “What would my unholy lord wish to know of me?”
Continuing to stare at the night hag, the Viceroy said, “This is not your natural form and yet you use it when deception is unnecessary. You claim to be miserable in this plane and yet you took the time to master a relatively obscure language just to communicate with us. And your sister has engaged in a detailed and time-consuming plot to corrupt and destroy an entire country, small though it be. None of this says to me that you and yours are in distress or necessarily stranded. So tell me about yourself. Explain to me all that is Malindra.”
Malindra shifted uncomfortably on the bench. “And then will you take me to Maelonbourg?” she asked.
The Viceroy chuckled menacingly. “That is a separate task, witch. I am inclined to speed along to Maelonbourg based on the information you have already given. If you want me to take you along with me so that we can both arrive there in the blink of an eye, then you will have to tell me a good deal more than just how nice Maelonbourg used to be or what your shoe size is.”
Malindra bit her lower lip and clenched her fists on the bench. “What more can I tell you to speed us both along on this journey?” she asked in a hissing tone.
Laughing with a chilling timbre the Viceroy said, “Tell me all about yourself, your sisters, and while you are at it you may as well tell me about your mother. Take your time and leave nothing out. You’ve had this long to get as far as you have in your quest, a few more hours won’t kill you.”
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