The Gopher King: Chapter 6

Malindra didn’t like the corner she had been backed into by the coldly impenetrable undead sorcerer. Up to this point she had dealt nearly exclusively with the living beings of Partum. And there were a bewildering array of living beings on this continent to be sure. Malindra had spent years looking for anyone that had the magical prowess to do what she needed to have done. Using her wiles in the guise of a breath-takingly beautiful woman Malindra had gotten a lot of good information. Using her cunning and deadly power as a night hag she had coerced even more information. But nowhere along the line had she dealt with someone immune to every trick she had in her considerable arsenal of gimmicks. The only recourse that the lich gave her was to tell everything she knew in as much detail as he saw fit. She held no leverage over him in the slightest and she hated the feeling of powerlessness that it gave her.

Her options limited the night hag sighed in surrender as she began telling the Viceroy what he wanted to know. “My two sisters and I came to this place by way of a magical portal in the castle of the Marquis de l’Ombre. The goal at the time was for Colldrenia to marry the Marquis and use his power here to enhance our power in the Gray Wastes. With his connections in the Abyss, the Marquis was well-placed to increase our larvae sales ten-fold. We would need the market to be opened up if we were successful in harvesting larvae from the humans in this plane.”

The Viceroy chuckled and said, “You planned on going straight to the source instead of waiting for nature to run its course, eh? A daring move for a night hag. One that isn’t without consequences should the plan fall through.”

Malindra nodded her head and scowled at the Viceroy. “That is exactly what happened. That damnable Marquis is as unpredictable as he is infuriating. He turned against Colldrenia and threw all of us out of his castle. The wards on the place are such that nobody can access that portal without his consent, and we were surely never going to get that. So Colldrenia proceeded to infiltrate the power elite of nearby Maelonbourg and initiate a plan to begin harvesting larvae in great quantities. I was tasked with finding a way to get us all home to the Gray Wastes with our larvae, and Tragallia, our other sister, was sent out to find more humans to make our endeavors all the more lucrative and recruit more help to secure our work. She must be doing quite well because there has been a steady stream of unfortunate souls with which to work.”

“So all three of you have been busily engaged in this enterprise. A fine work that has paid off well thus far if the numbers of larvae you claim are indeed true.” The Viceroy said coldly. “How industrious.”

Malindra sat proudly on the bench and glared with narrowed eyes at the Viceroy as he continued to speak. “So this Marquis that spoiled your initial plans is of tanar’ri origin?”

Malindra nodded her head. “Yes, my gruesome liege. He is a cambion. One of the most skilled assassins to ever stalk the planes but irrationally erratic. Since setting himself up as a lord in Chute de l’Ombre he has been an on-again off-again foil for many plans hatched in the lower planes. He isn’t as much tanar’ri as he is a pest.”

There was an awkward silence before the Viceroy asked, “So then the plan to come to the prime material plane from Hades in order to directly harvest larvae initially came from whom?” he eyed the night hag with a cold accusatory glare that was belied despite his limited facial expressions.

Malindra smirked again, and returning the lich’s stare replied, “Our mother, Garstynnia. She came to this plane a couple of centuries ago seeking knowledge and found it to be ripe with malevolent souls for harvest. It was she that suggested we pool our abilities to increase our resources.”

With a deep soulful chuckle the Viceroy asked, “Where is your mother now and why does she not figure in your return to the Gray Wastes?”

Malindra shrugged her shoulders and answered, “Mother keeps to herself. She has her own designs in the Wenigzustand. She seems to be content here in this world.”

The answer wasn’t wholly satisfactory to the Viceroy, but he let the matter drop. There were only so many uninvolved actors in the play that he was going to bother keeping up with. He never took his gaze off of Malindra and gestured at her as he asked, “Why do you maintain your physical form as this instead of your true self?”

Malindra threw her head back and cackled with unfettered delight as she replied, “My true form draws unwanted attention and serves no purpose other than to terrify and anger the locals.” Still laughing she continued, “I have grown accustomed to this form and the power it holds over men.” She subtly moved her body to illustrate her point. This was unnecessary in light of the fact that no lich had ever had even the slightest inkling of sexual desire whatsoever. The futility of this struck Malindra again, and she couldn’t help but laugh all the more. “Most men, anyway.”

The Viceroy might not have felt any desire for Malindra’s sultry form, but he did appreciate a good jest. The lich joined in the night hag’s laughter and their jocularity echoed in the ruins of the courtyard. “If you wish to maintain this illusion, that is of no consequence to me.” He said, still chuckling. “I have no intention of hiding who I am, though. If you want me to assume another identity it will cost you an additional fee.”

Malindra shrugged her shoulders again and said, “It will be irrelevant. Once we reach Maelonbourg our work is all but complete. What the mortals here would call a cakewalk.”

The Viceroy motioned for Malindra to stand up and said, “Then let us be on our way. Take my hand and focus your thoughts on Maelonbourg.”

The night hag stood, and without hesitation placed her hand in the hand of the Viceroy. With an incantation uttered in a low tone the world around the two of them seemed to pause, and then spin with increasing speed. The scenery around them blurred as if it was racing by like a tornado. Malindra felt a little woozy from the effects of the spell and the effect began to dwindle. The sensation of spinning lessened and the world around them began to stabilize as a new landscape began to take shape. Instead of the ruined and shattered courtyard the Viceroy and Malindra found themselves holding hands on a small hill. Behind them stood a derelict winery of some sort, and before them lay the devastated land of Maelonbourg, it’s dead flora and neglected soil more barren than any part of Sikilia that the Viceroy had ever laid sight to. A couple of miles beyond that were the still smoking ruins of what must have been a great city. Now there was just jumbled chaos, and instead of a city full of hobgoblins there appeared to be an undetermined number of aimless hobgoblins shambling about all around.

Releasing Malindra’s hand, the Viceroy looked at her and said, “I don’t recall you mentioning a heap of smoking ruins. I would have remembered that. Are we in the right place? What in the hell did you focus your thoughts on?”

Malindra couldn’t have hidden her shock had her life depended on it. “This is Maelonbourg!” she said excitedly, “But this isn’t how I left it just a few weeks ago! What happened to the city?”

The Viceroy began walking towards the ruins and the assorted hobgoblins that had yet to take notice of their arrival. “Let’s find out.” He said coldly. “I don’t think you witches understand what a cakewalk is, that’s for damn sure.”

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